HC Deb 19 June 1980 vol 986 cc1799-912

Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Mather.]

4.36 pm
Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

NATO is composed of maritime nations, unlike the Soviet Union, with substantial dependence on the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic. The members of NATO include 14 seagoing nations whose merchant fleets comprise 65 per cent. of the world's total, whose share of all the tonnage being embarked and disembarked world-wide is also 65 per cent. and which account for 40 per cent. of the world's cargo in transit on the high seas. These same nations consume about two-thirds of the world's total oil production, about half of whose current supply is afloat at any given time. The sea area of NATO command includes 14 million square miles, on which the average sailing day finds some 3,000 ships.

In opening this annual debate on the Royal Navy I do not think I can do better than to begin with a review of any possible threat to reinforcement and supply in the North Atlantic, with a view to the assessment of the adequacy of NATO's current and foreseen response to that threat and the effectiveness of the Royal Navy's contribution.

In strategic terms the North Atlantic is absolutely crucial to the security of the Alliance. First, its freedom is vital for the reinforcement of Europe. Secondly, its Northern region is the only area where the naval forces of another alliance, the Warsaw Pact, have year-round unhindered access to the Atlantic Ocean. Thirdly, the bulk of the Warsaw Pact's naval forces, the Soviet Northern Fleet, is based on the Kola peninsula. Why this concentration? Why is that fleet the largest of the four Soviet fleets? It includes 171 submarines, of which 91 are nuclear-powered, and 70 per cent. of its nuclear-ballistic force. Furthermore, the Soviet surface fleet has received 20 new classes in the first 10 years, including its first two light VSTOL aircraft carriers, with two more under construction. It currently has approximately 270 surface combatants, including 20 with anti-ship missile launchers. It has been reported that what could be a nuclear-powered cruiser of 30,000 tons is being fitted out in the Baltic. Substantial improvements have been made in amphibious capability and in land-based air power. The profile throughout is undoubtedly offensive.

Why such a striking transformation on the part of a nation historically preoccupied with defence of the homeland? While expressing natural concern about the developing capabilities of the Soviet navy, it is imperative that we avoid exaggerated and alarmist views which might all too easily nurture a hostile posture. The cause of peace is much too important to permit any such risks.

It is also necessary to recognise some of the constraints under which the Soviet Union operates. It still lacks the capability to project power into distant regions against opposition, or to fight a sustained war. That is because it lacks significant sea-based air power, underway replenishment and at-sea repair capabilities. Its warships lack endurance and have very little reload capacity. It lacks an extensive network of overseas bases.

Geographically, the Soviet Union is at a disadvantage as its four naval exits are easily blocked, although it is seeking overseas bases. While the range of its strike aircraft is increasing, the lack of air cover will continue to be a serious handicap. Furthermore, the necessary movement of its massive merchant marine, fishing and oceanographic fleets prior to hostilities would undoubtedly provide a useful warning of any impending action.

The exact priority of missions for the Soviet navy is a matter of some dispute. Most analysts agree that while defence of the homeland against carrier battle groups and submarines, and protection of the Soviet SLBM fleet, continue to be given top priority, the interdiction of NATO's sea lanes now ranks high on the list. The Soviet's main force against the sea lanes consists of the submarine and aircraft based on the Kola peninsula. In fact, land-based aircraft rather than submarines are now believed to pose the greatest threat to the sea lanes. It is significant that Soviet naval aviation received the new Backfire before the Soviet air force. There are 40 to 50 naval Backfires in the Northern and Baltic fleets, all armed with PGM and anti-ship missiles. With air refuelling, their range could extend from the Kola to well south of the Azores. It is estimated that they are capable of sinking 20 to 40 ships per day, compared with the two, three or four per day sunk by the U-boats in the Second World War.

Recent Soviet exercises have demonstrated an increasing interest in the sea lanes. Whereas, before 1963, Soviet naval manoeuvres were restricted in scope and area, since that year a new manoeuvre pattern has emerged based on two exercises a year. The area covered now extends to the whole of the Norgewian sea and occasionally into the central parts of the Atlantic. The latest exercises have appeared to rehearse attacks against simulated Western reinforcements and convoys.

Despite the many unanswered questions about the newly launched Soviet Alpha submarines, it remains a matter of broad consensus among Western naval analysts that NATO enjoys a considerable advantage over the Warsaw Pact in its ability to detect, track, localise and, if necessary, attack, opposing submarines. That advantage can be maintained so long as NATO keeps the technological lead that makes possible the inclusion of the most modern and sophisticated equipment on board its ASW platforms, at acceptable costs. But the numerical advantage enjoyed by the Warsaw Pact over NATO in submarines may substantially offset NATO's qualitative superiority.

The numerical strength of the Soviets would enable them to deploy their submarines to lie undetected and engage naval submarines in transit. Such a dedicated mission would require a large number of Soviet submarines to pass through chokepoints in transit from bases to open ocean areas, whereas NATO's submarines are not so constrained. Accordingly, a barrier-type defence against enemy submarines leaving home waters is more feasible for NATO than for the Warsaw Pact. A second mission for Soviet attack sub- marines would be to help defend Soviet ballistic submarines from possible attack by opposing naval forces.

The two missions for Warsaw Pact submarines with which NATO is most concerned are operations against NATO surface naval forces and shipping. The interdiction of allied shipping is likely to grow in importance, because Soviet military writings now pay more attention than in the past to the possibilities of a conventional war in Europe of a long duration. As a result, NATO must determine how it can best deter that threat, or respond to it. That would depend on the availability of NATO's limited naval assets for that purpose, in sequence with other demands. Alongside those naval assets, and complementing them, will be the maritime patrol aircraft. Their presence would be vital for patrolling the barriers, protecting the strike fleets, and covering convoys. I come to my first question. Is the Minister satisfied that there are enough MPAs, and that there will be enough of them in future?

The primary concern of the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic-based in Norfolk, Virginia—is that he has an insufficient number of assets available for both a sea denial strategy and a forward defence strategy. He does not believe that he can resupply and reinforce Europe, and fight the threat from Kola at the same time. Carriers apart, his greatest concern—as I interpret it—relates to the shortage of escort vessels. Both are a function of the limited resources available for construction and modernisation of increasingly costly naval forces. How far are their numbers and availability also a function of the continuing disagreement in Washington about the role of the United States navy's contribution to NATO?

This year's United States defence budget contributes little, as did last year's, to resolving the future requirements of the United States navy, especially the role of carriers. A reminder in the Congresssional Budget Issue Paper for the fiscal year 1981 takes on an added significance. It is that the United States relies on its allies to :

  1. " 1. contribute to barrier defences that restrict the Soviet Fleet's access to major sea lanes.
  2. 1803
  3. 2. provide escorts to protect convoys transiting the sea lanes.
  4. 3. ensure the safe passage of convoys in restricted waters and entrances to major ports."
What assurances can the Minister give the House about the capacity and ability of the Royal Navy to meet adequately each one of those three basic requirements—each one of which the United States is plainly looking to its Western European allies to discharge—given our role in the Eastern Atlantic and in the Channel?

In a major war in Europe the most important transatlantic military and economic shipping would converge on the English Cannel, and pass through to the North Sea ports of Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. Given the opportunity, the Warsaw Pact could be expected to concentrate both submarines and air attacks on shipping in those waters. The Channel sea lanes and North Sea ports would be excellent sites for Soviet minefields that could be laid by submarines or aircraft.

Despite NATO ASW barriers and air defences in the central region and the North Sea, it would be necessary to provide escorts to shipping plying the North Sea, either crossing from British ports to Germany and Norway or sailing into the North Sea from the English Channel. Moreover, it is probable that some minefields would be sown, and might be re-established by subsequent submarine or aircraft missions.

In sum, although the North Sea allies are gradually modernising their escort and mine counter-measure ships, they may not have enough of either type to meet the requirements of a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict. Those forces may be too few to cope with a serious effort by the Warsaw Pact to mine the English Channel or major ports. The deficiency, moreover, could be increased if West German minesweepers and destroyers were detailed to mine-laying roles in the Baltic, as currently appears to be the plan.

Finally, only Britain devotes any effort to the problems of clearing deep-water mines. Yet it is outfitting only 12 new trawlers for this mission and the technology of deep-water mine-clearing is largely unproved. Yet In time of tension or war "— as stated in paragraph 328 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates, we in Britain : would supply the main weight of forces readily available in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel. More than that, the Government believe that : certain improvements in the Services' worldwide capability should be considered. They say in paragraph 409: These include … additional afloat support". Is the Minister sure, as I asked his Secretary of State in the two-day defence debate four or five weeks ago—that the Royal Navy can do both ; that the Royal Navy can provide for the North Atlantic, given what I have said so far—and I am by no means finished—and fulfil a growing global role? Is he sure that his Secretary of State has, as he claims in his Defence Estimates, got his balance of priorities right? If so—and I repeat the question I have already put to both—why have only three warships been ordered during the last year, and not one escort vessel? The lack of orders in our shipyards is causing great concern on the part of management and men. My hon. Friends will no doubt be asking this during the debate, as will, I expect, some Conservative Members. Why have there been only three orders this year?

Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

Was not the reason that the hon. Gentleman's Government took all the orders out of the drawer immediately before the election, so that the drawer was left bare? [Interruption.]

Mr. Duffy

As my hon. Friends have said, I wish that were true. No, it is a convenient answer. It has been supplied before, and it does not ring true. Moreover, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman knows that, because he is very close, not merely to the general scene, but to this particular scene and to the shipbuilding industry. He knows, on the one hand, of the need and, on the other hand, of the capacity to supply in the yards, especially on the Tyne. I know, therefore, that he was not really serious but was doing his best for his side in that intervention.

Let me repeat this question, because my hon. Friends will be mentioning it repeatedly. Why have shipbuilding orders dried up, not merely given the need of the Royal Navy but given the need in the yards for jobs, and the desperate need of some of our yards for orders? Moreover, this is at a time when some of our yards have been pulled around by British Shipbuilders. I have in mind Cammell Laird. My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) will be commenting on this matter later. I spent a full day at Cammell Laird about five weeks ago. I have known Cammell Laird since I was a sailor. I have seen it through its great days and through its difficult days. I was truly thrilled by the improvements that have been wrought there. A transformation has taken place.

But what is the use of going through all the pain and anguish that Cammell Laird has done if it is suddenly confronted with the situation that faces it now, when there are no orders in prospect? There is a sudden fear that it might all have been in vain. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead will be coming back to that matter later, and I dare say that he will not be the only contributor to the debate who will be developing that theme.

Can the Minister deny that a decision to proceed with the Polaris replacement will reduce the number of jobs in the yards building surface warships, unless the Army and the Royal Air Force agree to an increase in the defence Vote assigned to shipbuilding? What are the consequences of a possible decision to replace Polaris on impending obsolescence? There can be no doubt whatsoever in the mind of any hon. Member present of the crucial importance of a one-for-one replacement policy for our older escorts in the 1980s. Shall we get that one-for-one replacement?

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

In view of the serious threats of interdiction of sea lanes across the Atlantic and the importance of preserving supremacy at sea in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas, does the hon. Gentleman believe that the United Kingdom defence budget should be much more orientated towards sea power and a major ship construction programme than towards a static and inflexible presence in Central Europe?

Mr. Duffy

In fairness to those responsible for the central region, I might be going too far if I were simply to answer "Yes", despite my deep commitment to the Royal Navy and, moreover, to our maritime posture. But what I can say with conviction and will be saying repeatedly during the next few minutes, is that I firmly believe that our greatest need—certainly the greatest need of the Royal Navy, and it could be the greatest need currently of the Alliance, not merely the Royal Navy and SACLANT—is for escort vessels.

What of the impact of a Polaris replacement decision on the construction of submarines? Will the Minister, therefore, comment on shipbuilding policy? In the event of a decision to go ahead with Polaris replacements, where is that specialist warship-building capacity that provides us with our Trident submarines and our nuclear power—attack submarines as well as the new 2400 diesel-electric—to come from?

What has happened to the type 24 frigate? Is there not a need for a somewhat less sophisticated type of escort than the type 22? There is an obvious requirement for more ASW platforms. But the cost of the type 22 must of necessity restrict the supply. If we were to accept a certain limitation in capability and size, would we not still contrive an effective ASW platform? What submarine commander would run the risk of tangling with a surface vessel in the belief that, because it is smaller, it must necessarily be a less effective unit? Does not the Minister think that Vosper's modernised frigate proposals provide a simple, cost-effective, answer to the overwhelming need for more escort vessels at a moderate price and with relatively quick delivery?

Beyond the range of land-based air power, quite different problems arise. Is the Minister satisfied with the present relationship between fleet defence and land-based air power? Is there not a case for delineating more clearly the areas of sea/air power as opposed to seaborne air power?

Is the Minister quite clear as to the role of the new Invincible class of carriers? The British journal Navy International, in its May issue, referred not only to the problem of self-defence for these ships—and more and more questions are being asked about their self-defence ; they have been asked elsewhere by some hon. Members present—but also to the split role, with an apparent reduction in capability in both roles.

As a result of so many policy changes, might the "Invincible" no longer meet the requirement for either a dedicated ASW platform or an area defence platform for the Fleet? Would the Minister care to comment on the value of only five Sea Harriers on board such a vessel? Such a complement, assuming one or two under maintenance and one on standby, would leave only two Sea Harriers to deal with a saturation air attack. Is that realistic thinking, even for a lay person? Conversely, there is also a reduction in ASW capability, surely the prime role for this type of vessel.

Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)

Was the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the proposals for naval construction and naval defence that were intended by his own Government when he left it?

Mr. Duffy

Yes. It is only fair to say "Yes, as I understood them." However, as I have said, as a result of the many changes in policy that have proceeded, there are these growing doubts now about the role of "Invincible". These are fully reflected in the specialist literature. The hon. Gentleman is in a position to check on this matter, as is any hon. Member present. Such doubts have grown in volume quite markedly over the last year, as compared with the previous year or the year before that.

For those carriers to be a cost-effective force, should not a fourth and possibly a fifth be ordered? I do not see how three such carriers can effectively carry out their assigned role, given the probability of detached deployment that the Secretary of State presumably has in mind, and the global role that he foreshadowed in his Defence Statement, as well as periodic refits.

Further, what is to happen when "Bulwark" and "Hermes" are with- drawn? Is the "Invincible", as Navy International asks, a case of too little, too late and insufficient in numbers?

Is there not a crucial area of deficiency in the self-defence capability of many of our new vessels? I have in mind specifically the threat posed by a saturation attack of surface skimming anti-shipping missiles, launched either from the air or by surface ships. We have the Sea Dart for medium-range defence, and the Sea Wolf for point defence. But should either or both of those systems be overwhelmed—as is conceivable in a saturation attack—what form of close-in defence does the Minister visualise for such costly and high-value targets? That question is exercising the minds of all our NATO neighbours. Has the Minister any plans to acquire last-ditch defensive systems such as Goalkeeper, Phalanx or Seaguard?

In the area of mine warfare, I should like to ask the Minister two questions. First, in view of certain limitations that have been experienced in using the French PAP104 minehunting vehicle in waters that are often exceedingly cloudy and muddy, does the Navy intend to acquire a number of the new Italian remote control submersible minehunters with on-board sonar? Secondly, in view of the probable deployment of the MCMV and the EDATS type trawler minesweepers elsewhere, what provision will be made for keeping the major ports in the Channel open? Is there any intention of acquiring an MCMV for inshore and estuarial work?

I note from the Defence Statement that the Minister has in hand a study on amphibious lift. When does he expect to be in a position to report? When might we expect his announcement of the order for the first batch of new landing craft?

In ordering deep-sea trawlers to reinforce mine counter-measures, I ask him on behalf of my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), who have important engagements in Yorkshire today, to give urgent consideration and, indeed, preference to the many such admirable vessels that are laid up on Humberside.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West who, with a number of my hon. Friends, is visiting the Selby coalfield today, received a letter from the Minister which disappointed him, because it informs him that the suggestion that he made in the defence debate about a possible conversion of the "Arctic Buccaneer" and the "Arctic Galliard" for mine counter measures is not deemed entirely suitable. Although my hon. Friend was grateful for the attention that was given to the matter by the Minister, he asks him to look at the matter again.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Keith Speed)

There must be some misunderstanding. I said in my letter that they are not suitable for offshore patrol and that they are not my responsibility as weather ships. I did not say that they were not necessarily suitable for mine counter-measures. That is still being studied.

Mr. Duffy

I am grateful to the Minister, because he will know the distress that is felt on Humberside. With his naval background, he will also know the massive role that was played by Hull and Grimsby, and by Humberside generally in two world wars. He will know that that is one area in Britain that deserves well of the Royal Navy, and I hope, therefore that the Navy will pursue the possible opportunity of making a return to Humberside. I cannot believe that among some of those deep-sea trawlers that have been laid up in recent months on Humberside there are not some that, with conversion, might not be suitable to the Navy for mine counter-measures, especially bearing in mind the urgent requirement.

I remind the House that a large number of men and women are employed in civilian defence work, apart from those employed in the Armed Services. I pay tribute to those quarter of a million people who are directly involved and to another quarter of a million who are involved in defence industries such as shipbuilding, aircraft manufacturer and electronics. Those people, and many of our trade unions—the TGWU, the AEWU, the GMWU, UCATT, EEPTU and the boilermakers' union—are all deeply involved. They value the opportunity to serve, develop and produce the equipment required by the Armed Services. Like Ernest Bevin, the great Foreign Secretary in the post-war Labour Government and a great trade union leader who also helped to found NATO, they believe that they are serving the cause of peace. They know that peace in the world was never won through weakness. Britain must be properly defended.

In the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers): We want to keep Britain free—free to elect a Labour Government through the ballot box, free to create a fair and just society, free for our trade unions, free for both this generation and the next. We want to preserve our way of life. This means co-operation with our allies and armed forces, adequate enough to deter potential enemies. As my right hon. Friend pointed out on that occasion, that is precisely what the previous Labour Government did. They put their weight behind the crucial SALT talks. They sought urgently to make progress in reducing conventional forces at the MBFR talks in Vienna. They worked for a speedy conclusion to a comprehensive test ban treaty. They insisted that détente between East and West remained at the top of the international agenda. No Government have a better record in their pursuit of peace.

5.8 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Keith Speed)

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) for the way in which he has approached the debate. I agree with many of the points that he made. However, a man from Mars listening to his speech would never realise that his party voted for cuts in defence expenditure during the last few weeks, and entered the last general election campaign calling for cuts in defence expenditure. But he, as Minister responsible for the Navy, worked hard for the Royal Navy. His heart was always in the right place. He set a very high standard in the office that I now occupy—a standard that I have tried to follow. This is the first debate on the Royal Navy in which I have taken part as Minister responsible for the Royal Navy. The hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions, some of which will be answered in this speech, I shall try to answer others in my reply.

I start by looking at the framework within which the Royal Navy of the 1980s operates—a framework securely based upon NATO. The North Atlantic Alliance is maritime by name, and it is highly dependent upon its maritime strategies. The foundation of NATO'S political and military strength is the United States' commitment to the defence of Europe. Crucial to the credibility of this commitment is the ability of NATO to keep open the lines of communication from North America in times of tension or war. Were the Warsaw Pact maritime forces ever to be allowed to dominate these lines of communication, the Alliance would be in serious jeopardy. Under Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union, Sergey Gorshkov, over the last quarter of a century the Soviet Union has built up its navy from a predominantly coastal defence force to a modern, powerful blue water fleet, capable of projecting sea power throughout the world.

The Soviets are able to threaten Alliance interests in the North Atlantic in times of tension or war. Their maritime power also constitutes an important instrument in the projection world wide of Soviet foreign policy. To quote the words of Admiral Gorshkov : Among the many factors characterising the economic and military might of our country, an ever greater role is being played by its sea power, which expresses the real capability of the State to effectively utilise the World Ocean in the interests of building Communism". The 1980 defence White Paper dramatically illustrated the expansion of Soviet naval deployments world wide over the 10-year period 1968–78. In the same period the size of the United States navy declined. More recently, the invasion of Afghanistan has brought home to us in the West in the most telling way the extent to which the Soviet Union is willing to use military force to achieve its objectives. It was a grave act of aggression which rightly met with world-wide condemnation. It also met spirited local resistance and Moscow now faces the prospect of a long guerrilla war of attrition against those who refuse to accept Soviet presence and domination of their country.

The consequences of the Soviet invasion have been and will continue to be serious for the West. As the Secretary of State has said, it has opened the eyes of many people to the true character and global nature of the threat. It has forced us to re-examine our ideas of defence in the NATO region and to consider seriously the scope and need for defence co-operation outside the Alliance's boundaries. I am convinced that one of the themes that will dominate defence thinking over the next few years will be how best to harness the co-operation and co-ordination of effort towards meeting the threat as we now perceive it.

Mr. Tarn Dalyell (West Lothian)

Before the Minister leaves the question of Soviet armaments, what can he say, if anything, about the so-called Typhoon, the probable Soviet equivalent of Trident, as a second strike submarine? If the hon. Member cannot answer immediately, perhaps he will say something later about it in the winding-up speech.

Mr. Speed

I shall try to deal with that specifically in the winding-up speech when I shall deal with a number of aspects of Soviet weapons. At present I am trying to deal with the more strategic issues.

The House will recall that in response to the tense situation in the Middle East early this year the Americans withdrew the carrier "Nimitz" and her escorting ships from the Mediterranean and redeployed them to the Arabian Sea. Since then they have maintained a considerable maritime presence in the area—a telling example of the inherent flexibility of sea power. For the longer term the concept of the "surge force" is proceeding apace, and the Americans are actively engaged in seeking the necessary local facilities to support the increased deployment levels currently in the area and to facilitate the rapid projection of forces in an emergency.

The gain in the United States naval presence in South-West Asia clearly has implications on the availability of United States forces in the NATO area. As the Alliance's Defence Planning Committee has recognised—and here I quote from the communiqué of its meeting in joint ministerial session in May— Ministers agreed on the need for ensuring that at the same time as the United States carries out the efforts to strengthen defence capabilities for South-West Asia … allied capabilities to deter aggression and to defend NATO Europe are also maintained and strengthened". In consequence, the Alliance also agreed on a number of near term defence measures designed to improve force capabilities in the NATO area. These measures derive mainly from existing national plans with a particular impact on readiness. In addition, the Alliance called for a report to be considered by Ministers at their next meeting in December on further specific measures to be taken in the longer term. This report will take account of developments in the general international situation and particularly of events in South-West Asia. It will also look at the possible implications of the diversion of United States reinforcement forces, which are currently available for the defence of the NATO area to possible commitments in South-West Asia.

We for our part are determined to play our full part in responding to this challenge to the best of our ability. First and foremost, we remain wholeheartedly committed to the Alliance. At the same time, we need to consider the best use which can be made of our long experience of world-wide naval operations.

The main maritime threat to the Alliance in the Atlantic comes from the Soviet northern fleet based on the Kola peninsula, particularly its powerful nuclear-powered submarine force, and maritime power is essential to the success of the Alliance's strategy of deterrence. It is to counter this threat that the Royal Navy of today is primarily oriented towards anti-submarine warfare. This said, it retains a significant anti-ship and antiaircraft capability to respond to the threat posed by the large number of ships and aircraft in the Soviet northern fleet.

NATO's strategic capability is based largely on submarine-launched ballistic missiles and our contribution consists of the four Polaris submarines. This, we believe, is a key element in ensuring deterrence. All our major ships—about 70 in all—and the whole of our conventionally armed submarine force of more than 25 nuclear and diesel-powered boats are assigned to NATO. We also contribute to the Standing Naval Force Atlantic and Standing Naval Force Channel—two multi-national forces which demonstrate in a very practical way the co-operation between the navies of the Alliance. Their role includes the need to be able to deal with the submarine threat and to keep the Atlantic and Channel sea lanes open for reinforcements and resupply.

Thus we have a major role to play. Geographically we are well placed to do so ; and historically we have a long seafaring tradition on which to rely.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

My hon. Friend has mentioned our worldwide experience in naval matters. He has also mentioned the fact that there has been a deployment of United States naval forces to South-West Asian waters. Does he believe that mere would be an advantage in our world-wide experience being used in some deployment of our own naval forces to South-West Asian waters to supplement experience in the United States navy there as well?

Mr. Speed

If my hon. Friend will bear with me for a while, I shall deal with that point. In a nutshell, the answer is "Yes, but not on a permanent basis." I shall have something to say about such a deployment in a moment.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

My hon. Friend said, quite rightly, that our forces were based in NATO, but will he confirm at the same time that the Polaris submarine is under our personal control in this country? Obviously its role is with NATO, but is it not a fact that we still control the ultimate deterrent?

Mr. Speed

That is so; but the commitment of our Polaris forces is primarily in the first instance to NATO.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

Will the Minister clear up one other point about the number of Soviet submarines in existence? The Secretary of State sent me a letter after the defence debate in which he said that, counting both nuclear and non-nuclear submarines but excluding reserves, the Soviets had about 350 submarines. That would be more than four times the total that Germany had at any time in either of the two wars. Is that the effective total of submarines today?

Mr. Speed

I confirm that that is correct.

We also make a significant contribution to NATO's maritime effort on the southern flank, although here the responsibility lies primarily with the littoral States of the Alliance. This year our deployments in the Mediterranean will be about 20 per cent. higher than last year in order to maintain the Alliance presence in this sea, including the deployment to the area of a group of ships earlier this year following the "Nimitz" and her group's departure. At present, for example, the frigates HMS "Brighton" and "Dido" and the ASW carrier HMS "Bulwark" are in the Mediterranean. Other ships in the area of the Straits of Gibraltar in the past few days include the assault ship HMS "Intrepid" and a group of three frigates and three submarines on an exercise.

Outside the NATO area it is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) suggested, incumbent on us to use our particular capabilities and experience as flexibly as possible to respond to the global threat. Diplomatic and economic means are, of course, open to us and used to foster our interests. Military resources, too, can be brought to bear in several ways, and the Royal Navy will play its full part. For example, we provide personnel on loan to friendly States to help them build up their defensive capability. Training courses are also provided in naval establishments in the United Kingdom.

The Royal Navy is particularly well equipped to carry out temporary deployments which provide a practical means of demonstrating our continued capability and interest outside the immediate area for which we have responsibility under NATO. As I speak, a task group of destroyers, frigates and afloat support is about to enter the Indian Ocean. Later in its deployment it will visit China. That represents the first visit in 30 years by the Royal Navy, and is a sign of the increasingly cordial relations between our countries. The group will not return to the United Kingdom until the end of this year. We also frequently deploy ships to the Caribbean, partly in order to discharge our responsibilities to our remaining commitments there, and partly to demonstrate that we share the general concern of many of our allies to maintain the stability of the area. Today, for example, HMS "Eskimo" is on passage back from a tour of duty as Belize guardship, and has been relieved by HMS "Glasgow".

Elsewhere too—in places as far apart as the Falkland Islands and Hong Kong—the Royal Navy and Royal Marines continue to undertake tasks in support of national commitments, and to contribute to the capability we can bring to bear to meet ad hoc requirements around the world.

Mr. Wilkinson

My hon. Friend has given an interesting exposition of Royal Navy deployments round the globe. As the Soviet navy has emerged as a worldwide force, should we not re-examine the Brussels Treaty and ascertain whether other European Alliance nations—particularly Germany—can assume a greater ocean-going role? At present, the Treaty specifically prohibits that.

Mr. Speed

The Federal Republic of Germany and other countries have been examining that aspect. For example, the Italians recently made a round-the-world deployment with considerable success. Other NATO countries are acting along those lines. I am not sure that my right hon. Friend is correct to say that those nations are prohibited. My information is that there are certain provisions whereby they can deploy forces outside the NATO area. They may well wish to do so. My hon. Friend is right to point out that European NATO navies have such a task.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Speed

I wish to get on, as other hon. Members wish to speak, and there will be a winding-up speech later.

I spoke a moment ago of the maritime threat to the Alliance in the Atlantic and of the forces available to meet it. The threat is increasing, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and it is therefore vital that we continue to maintain the capability of our own ships, submarines and shipborne aircraft. I therefore agree with the hon. Member for Attercliffe.

We plan, therefore, to press ahead energetically with re-equipping our naval forces. The Soviet nuclear-powered submarine fleet will continue to grow during the 1980s and the primary role of our forces in the Eastern Atlantic is to combat it. One of our prime weapons in this field of warfare is our nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine. If we can negotiate a satisfactory price with the builders we plan to order a fourth boat of the improved Trafalgar class vessels later this year which, on entering service, would bring our SSN fleet to 16. The command and control of anti-submarine warfare forces will be provided by the new class of anti-submarine carriers—the Invincible class ships. HMS "Invincible" has been accepted this year and I was very impressed when I visited her a few weeks ago. "Illustrious" and "Ark Royal" are under construction. The first two ships of the new type 22 class of anti-submarine warfare frigate, "Broadsword" and "Battleaxe" have also been accepted this year and a further four are on order. Carrying Lynx helicopters and improved detection equipment, those vessels will make a major addition to our anti-submarine warfare capability, and further orders are planned.

There will be a number of improvements in ASW weapons. It is intended that a new submarine-launched heavyweight torpedo will enter service by 1990 to replace the current Mark 24 Tigerfish. Both a new British development and a further development of the United States Mk 48 torpedo are now the subject of a design competition. This phase is due to end in January 1981 and a choice between the options will then be made. The new lightweight torpedo Stingray—designed to be launched from surface ships, helicopter and maritime patrol aircraft—will, when it enters service in the mid-1980s, be by far the most advanced weapon of its kind in the Alliance, if not the world. It will progressively replace the Mk 44 and Mk 46 torpedoes, currently in service with the Royal Navy and the RAF. Some 4,500 people are expected to be employed on Stingray production. It is a costly project, but I must ask whether, in the face of the growing threat, it makes sense to make a massive investment in ASW ships and aircraft unless we have the weapon with which to be certain of killing the submarine. Only Stingray will fulfil that requirement.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

The Minister has set out a considerable list of so-called improvements that he would like to see. Defence expenditure is already completely out of accord with the expected rate of economic growth. Will those improvements be made within the present defence budget? If the Government decide in favour of Trident, will that not lead to considerable reductions in the standard of living?

Mr. Speed

The answer to the first question is "Yes". The improvements have already been costed, and come within the budget. Unless we can enjoy life in freedom and under the protection of the law, the hon. Gentleman's constituents will find that it is hardly worth living.

As the hon. Member for Attercliffe said, the growing number of Soviet aircraft, particularly the Backfire bomber, that can now be deployed into the Atlantic, armed with improved air-to-surface missiles, are a major threat to NATO's surface fleet. We believe that to counter the threat effectively "layers" of air defence are necessary to protect our ASW task groups. They comprise air defence fighters, medium-range area defence missiles, shorter-range point defence missiles and electronic warfare techniques. The Sea Harrier operating from "Hermes" in the first instance, and from the antisubmarine carriers as they come into service, will provide the Royal Navy with the first of those layers. Initial deliveries of this aircraft have been made, and the first front-line squadron was commissioned at Yeovilton last March.

The Sea Dart medium-range missile system provides the second layer, and this is being deployed to sea in the type 42 destroyers, six of which are now in service with a further eight on order, and on the anti-submarine carriers. We plan to make improvements to this system to maintain its effectiveness to the end of the century.

The third layer is provided by the Sea Wolf point defence missile system, which is entering service with the type 22 ASW frigates and some of the Leander class frigates when they refit. In view of the threat, and the capability of this missile system, we shall be considering a much wider fit, including the Invincible class.

Finally, electronic warfare is playing an increasing role in the fleet and substantial improvements are planned for ships, submarines and aircraft. We believe that these will prove to be a most cost-effective means of countering both air-to-surface and surface-to-surface missiles. Among the improvements planned are electronic support measures, such as Abbeyhill, designed to provide early warning of hostile radar emissions ; electronic countermeasures, including new radar jammers, and decoy systems, designed to confuse anti-ship missiles in the later stages of their approach. These will enter service on some vessels later this year.

One of the most dramatic aspects of the growing Soviet naval threat has been the expansion of its surface fleet, and further improvements are expected during the 1980s, with the introduction of new classes of ships and weapons that will increase its size, range and striking power. I confirm what the hon. Gentleman said about that. Our response is the anti-ship guided weapon launched from submarines, surface ships, aircraft and helicopters. Our hunter-killer submarines will be armed with Sub-Harpoon. The first to carry it will be HMS "Courageous" in 1982. Exocet will be fitted to more Leander class frigates. The Sea Skua surface-to-air missile will enter service next year and will be carried by Lynx helicopters, while the Sea Harrier and the RAF's Buccaneers and Tornados will carry Sea Eagle, the supersonic sea skimming anti-ship missile due to enter service in the mid-1980s.

A fourth major threat to our ships and submarines in wartime would come from naval mines. The Soviet Union has large stocks of these weapons, which can be laid from submarines, ships or aircraft, and the continental shelf around Northwest Europe is particularly vulnerable. To counter that threat we plan to introduce new mine countermeasure vessels, and the first of the Hunt class of MCMVs has already entered service.

I am pleased to take this appropriate opportunity to inform the House that an order has been placed today with Vosper Thornycroft (UK) Ltd. to build four further mine countermeasures vessels of the Hunt class. The first of that new class of vessels, HMS "Brecon", entered service six months ago in December 1979 and the second, HMS "Ledbury", was also launched in December. The vessels have Paxman diesel engines and glass-reinforced plastic hulls, with a low magnetic signature, and have both a mine-hunting and sweeping capability. They will play an important role in safeguarding the waters of North-West Europe, which are particularly vulnerable to Soviet naval mines.

The current order announced today is worth just over £100 million, and will bring the total number of MCMVs in service or on order to nine, two of which are being built by Yarrow and the rest by Vosper. The four latest vessels will be called HMS "Brocklesby", "Dulverton", "Chiddingfold" and "Hurworth".

Before leaving the review of our plans for new equipment, I should like to consider the next generation of warships. The cost of building modern warships is escalating rapidly. We are not alone in facing that problem, which is common to all the maritime members of the Alliance. There is no evidence that other countries are able to build ships of comparable quality more cheaply. The complexity, and, therefore, the cost, of our ships is a direct response to the increasing sophistication of the threat.

However, while we cannot allow ourselves to be outmatched by the equipment ranged against us, we have to consider carefully the balance in our fleet between high-quality and high-cost vessels and less sophisticated and cheaper ships. We are looking at the possibility of much simpler ships, perhaps based on merchant ship hulls, as a means of carrying more anti-submarine warfare helicopters to sea. Secondly, we are considering whether the successor to the type 22 frigates could be a simpler, smaller, cheaper vessel, while retaining sufficient capability to make a proper contribution to anti-submarine operations in the Atlantic. There will be pressures on us in both directions. On the one hand, the threat will ensure that the capabilities that we need will not be available cheaply. On the other, there will be pressure on us to stretch our limited resources as far as possible and to economise in the use of manpower. It will not be easy to get the balance right, but we shall have to try. There is no prospect of more hulls in the water unless we solve that problem, and the work is proceeding with urgency.

At present, some 24,000 people are directly employed on Royal Navy contracts, the vast majority of those being in development areas. Many more are employed in associated industries as a result of Royal Navy contracts. The naval programme provides work for the three specialist warship builders—Vickers at Barrow, Vosper at Southampton and Yarrow on the Clyde—as well as needing the capacity of other warshipbuilders.

The Royal Navy has a major programme of surface warships and submarines under construction.

The hon. Member for Attercliffe had his fun in the defence debate and again today about ordering ships. I do not begrudge him that. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) was right. I am bound to remind the House that the timing of the two destroyers and two frigates ordered by the hon. Gentleman's Government last year was interesting. Having done nothing for a long time and with, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a distinctive outflow of skilled manpower, the Labour Government were defeated in Parliament on 27 March 1979, and a general election was announced. Surprise, surprise—the four orders totalling nearly £400 million were anounced on 25 April, just in time for the last edition of the weekly papers before the general election on 3 May. That is fair enough; I am grateful for the fact that the ships were ordered. But that was done just prior to the election. They will be delivered in due course.

Since then, we placed an order in September last year at Scott Lithgow for a unique seabed operations vessel, to be called HMS "Challenger", which is designed to replace the ageing diving tender, HMS "Reclaim", and provide a seagoing platform for the developed naval saturation diving system. It will be equipped to find and inspect objects on the seabed and, where appropriate, recover them. That sophisticated ship will be a "one-off", and is expected to make a very valuable contribution to the successful development of man's ability to work on the seabed at great depths. When I visited the international naval technology exhibition at Rotterdam earlier this month, the ship was the subject of a great deal of international interest.

Last July an order for a Trafalgar class SSN was placed with Vickers and a number of smaller vessels have been ordered from various shipyards. As announced on 5 March, contract negotiations on offshore patrol vessels have proceeded, and we hope to place an order with Hall Russell of Aberdeen for two very shortly.

I have just announced the order of four MCMVs from Vosper. Before leaving the fleet, there is of course the vital question of fleet support, particularly as far as the five dockyards are concerned. I know a number of hon. Members wish to raise the problems of the dockyards in this debate, and I hope, with the House's permission, to deal with those in more detail in my winding-up speech.

In the debate on the Defence Estimates I reminded the House of the high priority that the Government attach to getting the right kind of men and women for the Armed Forces, and the problems that we faced when we came into office. The Navy has special problems. Even in the span of my experience there have been tremendous changes in the sort of men needed by the fleet. Today's warships, with complex propulsion units and weapon systems, will count for nothing if we cannot recruit enough men and women of the right educational standards and attitudes of mind. We must recruit, train and retain them.

We seem to be succeeding. Recruiting is going well. In 1979–80 we recruited the highest number of ratings for several years, 30 per cent more than in 1978–79. We also recruited almost 20 per cent. more officers than in the previous year.

However, recruiting is only part of the story. The key to a fully manned and fully trained fleet is retention. On the whole, retention is more important, head for head, because it means that we keep men and women who are trained and experienced, and, by definition, content with their lot. It also means a great saving in overall costs, and it takes the strain off the Navy's heavily burdened training machine. As with recruiting, the evidence from retention is that this Government's policy is succeeding. Notice-giving by ratings in 1979–80 was 25 per cent. down on the previous year, and the number of men who have withdrawn notice has doubled. The number of officers applying for premature retirement was reduced by some 40 per cent. over the previous year and is now almost down to the traditional level.

However, despite these trends, I cannot report to the House that our manpower picture is yet satisfactory. We are still suffering from the effects of the heavy notice-giving of over a year ago, because of the 18-month time lag for the notice period. The trained strength of men in the Royal Navy actually dropped in the last year. We expect the graph to bottom out this autumn, and thereafter we hope that it will move steadily upwards. However, we are significantly short on the Navy's total trained requirement for men.

Moreover, overall figures conceal shortages in key areas. We are seriously short of junior seamen officers and junior engineer officers; and short of nearly 1,000 artificers—about 12 per cent. of our requirement for that group. We are working on the problem, and, with sound trends in both recruitment and retention, we can feel cautious optimism. However, it will take a lot of hard work before I can hope to report a more satisfactory position. Moreover, we are approaching the demographic trough. The number of 16 to 19-year olds, from whom we recruit so extensively, will diminish from the middle 1980s. We must therefore expect a continuous struggle to ensure that we get the numbers and quality of men needed for the fleet.

Another important option is greater employment of women. The WRNS already make a valuable contribution to the naval service and their recruiting and quality are excellent. The average length of service of WRNS officers equates to that of short service male officers. For WRNS ratings, it is improving and is now a little over half that of the men.

Obviously there are difficulties about employing women in the Navy, because of constraints on combatant and sea service, which limits their employment with the fleet. However, the Navy is increasing the specialisations open to WRNS officers, and broadening the scope for WRNS ratings in technical fields—for example, the first air mechanicians are now on courses. Many other options are being looked at, including operational duties short of combat, and we hope to see an expansion for the roles of women.

In the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service our main task has been the rather novel one of ensuring that there are fair opportunities for male nurses. We have agreed in principle to the establishment of an integrated naval nursing service within the QARNNS, and that should quickly improve the men's career opportunities.

In the defence debate I spoke extensively about pay and conditions of service, and the House knows that we have continued to honour our commitments to restore and maintain full comparability of Service pay. For the Royal Navy we have also provided worthwhile improvements to the compensation paid for those who have to endure particularly arduous conditions, and improvements in separation allowances. Rail cards have been greatly welcomed by the Navy, which suffers particularly from family separation.

No less important is the Royal Naval Reserve, which, though much smaller than the Army reserves, is nevertheless essential for the Navy's readiness for war. The reserves perform some vital wartime roles, notably mine counter-measures, naval control of shipping and some communications tasks.

Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)

I hope that my hon. Friend will take into consideration the important fact that some naval accommodation is becoming redundant. Would it be possible to make that accommodation available to the families of men who are serving in the Navy or leaving the Navy?

Mr. Speed

We are considering the possibility of selling married quarters to ex-Service men. I hope to say a little more about that when I reply to the debate.

We have a planned strength for the RNR of 6,750, but I regret to say that we are 1,500 short. However, the improved training bounties announced last summer, together with the introduction of a new class of minesweeping trawlers, should boost recruiting and retention.

Last year, I announced the introduction of an RNR air branch, drawing from pilots who have not long left the Navy and hence have recent flying experience. They will not form separate squadrons but will be used mainly to augment the front-line squadrons. We are looking for 50 officer aircrew at present, and the signs are that we should get them.

In sum, the manpower picture for the Navy is partly of strongly encouraging trends, partly of daunting problems with us or looming ahead. I have spoken largely of numbers, and many of our manpower problems have to be resolved mainly in that form. Those are the problems which I see constantly in London. There is another side to manpower, which I discover whenever I can get out of London to visit the fleet and establishments. It is the cheerful and exciting atmosphere of a fine and robust Service full of professional pride. There is, I believe, a deep sense of confidence in the fleet that it is getting the right ships and weapon systems for its tasks. The arrival of "Invincible" has been a particular fillip to morale.

We cannot neglect either the equipment of the Navy or the numbers. But hon. Members have had direct contact with the Navy in recent months and will share my view that throughout, in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines. QARNNS, WRNS and the reserves, we have men and women of quality and enthusiasm which will compare with any we have known before.

I have not yet mentioned the Royal Marines. I am pleased to say that officer and other rank recruitings are buoyant. Last year they achieved their highest ever peace-time recruiting target. A glance at their history and the operations which they have been involved in recently stands as witness to their unparalleled record of courage and flexibility.

The importance of the Marines' role under NATO demonstrates the confidence which the Alliance has in them—a confidence which is fully justified, as I saw during a recent visit to their annual three month winter deployment in Norway. A large proportion of the Royal Marines is specially trained for mountain and Arctic warfare throughout the Norwegian winter, and very impressive they were under the most arduous conditions. The fact that our commandos have worked closely over many years with the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps is an excellent example of allied co-operation.

The same is true of the prestocking in Norway of oversnow vehicles for both the United Kingdom and Netherlands forces. It has long been recognised by the Alliance that its flanks are key areas, and the Royal Marines are proud to have so important a role there.

But that is not all. The House, I am sure, will join me in recognising the valuable part played by the team of Royal Marines in the Rhodesia ceasefire monitoring force. It was a truly remarkable operation. Both this country and Zimbabwe owe a debt of gratitude to the men of the Commonwealth force for the vital work which they did in helping to bring the country to independence peacefully.

Only last week the Marines were called upon again when a company and headquarters element of 42 Commando, the spearhead unit, was flown to Vila, New Hebrides. That was one of the longest-range deployments ever undertaken at short notice by the Services. Three VC10 aircraft and seven Hercules were involved to transport about 250 men, their vehicles, communications equipment and other supplies over 10,000 miles. The first aircraft left last Friday afternoon, travelling via Canada, the United States and Fiji. They arrived on Sunday morning local time and the deployment was completed by Wednesday. That operation demonstrates in the most practical way the well-organised efficiency and flexibility of our contingency arrangements.

In a sense 42 Commando—which, as I have indicated, provided the men now in the New Hebrides—epitomises the varied and demanding tasks which we ask the Royal Marines to perform. Last autumn, they were in Hong Kong as part of an emergency reinforcement to the garrison. Earlier this year they were training in Norway ; and now they are in the New Hebrides.

But we should not forget that at home, too, the Royal Marines have important jobs to do. The 41 Commando has just embarked upon a tour of duty in Northern Ireland while 40 Commando has recently completed a one-year residential tour there. The Royal Navy also make a valuable contribution to the activities of the security forces in Northern Ireland.

I should also like to take the opportunity to confirm that, as forecast in the defence White Paper, a new unit of the Royal Marines has formed at Arbroath. Among its tasks will be that of responding to any incidents on our offshore gas and oil installations. That is the Commacchio company which has already been mentioned.

I spoke earlier about the role of the Royal Navy in NATO and the importance of our efforts in EASTLANT, on the southern flank and in deployments outside the NATO area. I should like to say a few words about the role that the Royal Navy has to play in peacetime. With the likely introduction throughout the world of extended economic zones, that role has never been more important. Traditionally it has involved the Royal Navy in fishery protection, a task which it has, of course, performed outstandingly.

Now, however, we have a massive investment in offshore oil and gas installations and it is vital that they are kept under regular surveillance and that arrangements exist to protect them. Both the Royal Navy and the RAF have a contribution to make.

There is a programme of frequent patrols by the Island class of offshore protection vessels and flights of Nimrod long-range reconnaissance aircraft. I have already mentioned that we have Commacchio company which has the ability to react to any incidents on the rigs and it regularly carries out exercises to test and improve our ability.

Another important peacetime role of the Royal Navy is search and rescue. In 1979, Royal Navy helicopters attended more than 350 incidents, rescuing more than 300 people. I pay tribute to the Services, particularly for the part that they played in the Fastnet operation in August. More recently, both the Navy and the RAF were involved in the rescue efforts following the collapse of the oil rig support platform Alexander Kielland in the Ekofisk area of the North Sea.

Further afield, an important example of humanitarian aid occurred in the past year when the island of Dominica was ravaged by a hurricane of exceptional force last August. HMS "Fife", a guided missile destroyer, accompanied by the Royal Fleet auxiliary "Cherry-leaf ", was despatched at once to the area. Immediately on arrival work was set in hand to restore basic services and tend the injured. The island's communications with the outside world had been cut, and "Fife" performed a valuable service in helping to co-ordinate the rescue operation by providing radio links with other Governments and international relief agencies. The crew cleared the road between the capital, Roseau, and the airport, restored the island's water supply, flew food and medical teams to outlying settlements and rebuilt the island's hospital. That work continued until normality had begun to return.

I have mentioned that operation at some length because I believe it right that the House and the country should be aware of the extent of such humanitarian efforts. They are fine examples of how the Royal Navy engenders good will and saves lives at home and abroad.

I have spent a great deal of time dealing with Service manpower, but I wish, also, to pay a warm and sincere tribute, as the hon. Gentleman did, to the civilian support without which the Navy could not operate. Civil servants serving the Navy come in various guises : the armament expert dealing with nuclear weapons; the skilled electrical fitter in the dockyard working in unimaginable discomfort; the stores clerk providing the vital part to a sonar set; the master of one of our large fleet support tankers; the scientist designing the electronic countermeasure sets of the next decade. All these are a far cry from the traditional image of the civil servant, though, of course, they are needed, too. But the Senior Service is well served by all its support staff. Of that there is no question.

The important thing, as I said in the defence debate, is to see that the organisation is as taut and efficient as possible so that resources and manpower are not wasted, but, also, that the management structure of big industrial enterprises like the dockyards is fully accountable and can manage its business.

Finally, I confirm that the last year has been one of advance for the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. Morale is high, as is the quality of the professionalism and dedication of our men and women in the Services. This Government, notwithstanding the severe economic difficulties facing us as a nation, are implementing the NATO target of an increase of 3 per cent. in defence spending in real terms. The threat we face demands no less.

However, with the cost of high technology and high quality weapons and equipment, there are difficult decisions of priorities that we have to make in our defence expenditure. We cannot by any means do all that we would like. We have constantly to be looking for better ways to manage our defences, save manpower and safe money.

This warning note has to be sounded because resolving our defence problems inevitably relies upon resolving our economic problems. In this first 13 months, we have made a good start in achieving both.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you have just come back to the Chair, you will not know that, during his speech, the Under-Secretary of State made a momentous announcement about policy, namely, that a British naval unit was going on a courtesy visit to China. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that this announcement should have been made, not by the Under-Secretary, with all courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, but by the Secretary of State for Defence or the Prime Minister. This is a reckless gesture. It is playing with fire and raises the deepest policy implications.

Mr. Speed

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a matter of public knowledge. It was announced by my right hon. Friend, when in China, at least two months ago and has appeared in all the national press.

5.53 pm
Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

I am pleased to have caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, in what I consider to be an important debate. As my speech progresses it will be clear that hon. Members are taking part in the debate for slightly different reasons. We live on an island. We have to depend for our survival on imports and exports. It is indisputable that the main form of transport is ships. Our ability and capacity to build ships is of the utmost importance for our economic and strategic survival.

Since my election to the House in May of last year I have been astonished at the tremendous amount of mail that hon. Members receive. All the mail is opened, most of it glanced at and some of it read, before being filed away, some in the waste paper basket. I was, however, struck by the heading on one letter that I recently received. The letter was headed "The one open highway". I did not agree with a lot of the contents, but I should like to quote the letter to the House.

The letter said : Nearly 20 years ago, a disgruntled observer of the Parliamentary scene wrote an article in the Journal of the Royal United Services Institution with the above title. He subtitled it 'Some thoughts on British sea power in the next 40 years, engendered whilst listening to an exceptionally gloomy and ill-informed debate on the British shipping industry in the House of Commons'. What I had to say then is more than ever applicable today and therefore perhaps worth repeating. When Mr. Jenks delivers my manure, he brings it by horse and cart because, in spite of space ships, jet aircraft and gas turbine motor cars, he finds that with his horse and cart he can deliver manure with an economy and a certainty which please his customer and repay him.

Manure for the fields of England, and food and goods for the underfed and rapidly increasing millions of the world—neither needs space ships, missiles or jets, but just safe and certain means of carriage, so that losses and the cost to the customer may be as low as possible.

If Mr. Jenks' horse became Pegasus and took wings, it could perhaps lift those books on the Table of the House to the tune of 15 lb. or so and carry them through the air. But it we taught the horse to swim it could tow 50 or 60 hon. Members through the water—that is to say, 15 lb. through the air or 9,000 lb. by sea at one-fiftieth of the cost, albeit far more slowly. That is what the power of one horse can do.

Sea power, maritime supremacy, admiralty, call it what you will, depends on traffic and that includes the ability to traffic. The need for a Navy stems principally from the possession of a merchant fleet and the need to ensure that those merchant ships have unhampered passage over the sea routes of the world.

That sums up the importance of our sea trade and our capacity to build and sail those ships. As anyone in the shipbuilding industry will confirm, merchant shipping, naval building, ship repairing and engine building are all part of the whole. The condition of one will affect the other. It is as important to have an effective Navy as it is to have a shipbuilding industry to build the ships for the Navy.

Under the Aircratt and shipbuilding Industries Act, British Shipbuilders is required in carrying out its activities to have full regard to the requirements of national defence. That requirement of the corporation should be reciprocal. The sector of the industry that fulfils those requirements should be kept reasonably in work. This is essential. Since the beginning of 1979 there have been only two orders. That is what I was informed, although I understand that there have been three. Those orders are a nuclear submarine at Vickers, Barrow and a seabed operations vessel at Scott Lithgow, Greenock.

British Shipbuilders has been particularly embarrassed by the expectation of orders from the Ministry of Defence. Firms have responded to invitations to tender. They have attended contract clarification meetings and provided revised designs and tenders. They have retained work people in the expectation of substantial orders, only to learn that the orders are not forthcoming. Over the past year this has cost the corporation a lot of money and has affected the morale of many workers, particularly those in the follow-on or mixed yards.

I mention the Ministry of Defence because of the Royal Fleet auxiliaries, which, I am told, are satisfactory with the Doxford engines. Doxford's in Sunderland is living on extended life. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier) and the trade unions have been holding urgent talks with British Shipbuilders about the rundown and threatened closure of these works.

I urge the Minister seriously to consider giving orders to the Ministry of Defence so that these engine works can get through their present difficult period. There is a need not only for warships to be built and manned, but for them to be serviced at sea. This is the duty of the Royal Fleet auxiliaries, which, as I have already stated, are entirely satisfactory with the Doxford engines.

Naval work is very important to the Swan Hunter group on Tyneside. The number of men employed on naval work rose from 14.7 per cent. in 1976 to 67.2 per cent. in January 1980—from 1,689 to 6,597.

The Minister mentioned an order worth £100 million that had been given to Vosper's. That is about a quarter of the order given by the Labour Government just before the general election.

The White Paper states : The Ministry of Defence has … been experiencing serious problems in recruiting and retaining certain types of staff … Establishments such as the Royal Dockyards … are affected very severely … One way of tackling this problem is from the demand end by ensuring that the Department … does not take on work which can more sensibly be carried out elsewhere. About three weeks ago, when I was travelling from Newcastle, I met on the train a chap with whom I had worked in the shipbuilding industry. He was a Tyneside fitter. He was going for an interview at Chatham. He was living in my constituency in a three-bedroomed council house on a nice estate. His children were going to good schools. Because of the lack of employment he was having to travel to Chatham to be interviewed for a job in naval work, although shipyards on the Tyne are crying out for work.

British Shipbuilders has offered to undertake refitting work on major warships to help to recover the effort lost in the Royal dockyards. It would make good sense to put the base load warship refits, such as type 21, type 42 and type 22, back to the yards that built them. The yards have the skills, and refits would help them to even out the humps and hollows of employment within the yards on new construction. Such a policy would move jobs to the North-East and away from the over prosperous South and South-East.

British Shipbuilders' plans are being jeopardised by the non-appearance of public sector orders. When the restructuring plans for the British shipbuilding industry were agreed last year by British Shipbuilders, the Government and the trade unions, that meant a substantial running down of capacity. British Shipbuilders set a target of winning 45 new orders, which is equivalent to an annual output of 400,000 GRT, in order to maintain work at the core shipyards during the rundown of the labour force. The Government agreed that the public sector would order a number of ships. British Shipbuilders has nearly reached its target months ahead of schedule. In addition, the unions this year agreed to modest wage increases.

In March last year British Shipbuilders reached an historic agreement with the unions on a single, nationally negotiated wage round covering manual workers and staff. That replaced 168 separate wage bargaining units. Stoppages in British shipyards dropped from 348 in 1972 to 20 in 1979. The number of days lost by stoppages dropped from 4 million in 1972 to 120,000 in 1979.

When we talk of the Royal Navy, it is important to discuss the capacity to build the ships for the Navy. That capacity will be in serious trouble if the murmurings that we hear from the Government Benches about denationalisation, or privatisation, are turned into fact.

I wish to quote from an exceptionally good article by Geoffrey Goodman in the Daily Mirror of 17 June. It sums up the morale and conditions on Tyneside: I have been in the North East, on the Wear and the Tyne to see what British Shipbuilders—the name of the state-run body that now runs our shipyards—are doing to try to live in an atmosphere of world slump, fearful economic problems and with an unfriendly Government. My conclusion is : Management and workers are doing a remarkable job. Sir Keith Joseph, the Industry Secretary, and his Junior Minister Adam Butler, still refuse to lift the threat of destruction that hangs over the shipbuilding industry. The Government are still toying with the notion of selling back to private enterprise the shipyards which specialise in naval warships. Without doubt that would mean the end of any viable merchant shipbuilding industry for Britain. There wasn't a man I spoke with on the Tyne or the Wear who believed that this could be done. The two sections must live together—or the separately. In fact the strongest critics of the Government came not from shop stewards but from senior management, some of them ardent supporters of the Thatcher Government. Yet they know there is no way that this, or any other Government can break up the State-run British Shipbuilders without destroying one of our most skilled industrial possessions, causing terrible social problems and simply handing over taxpayers' financed naval contracts to a minority. The industry was nationalised in March 1977, though it was July of that year before BS took over.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the flow of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but quotations from articles should be of reasonable length. Otherwise, it would be possible for hon. Members to read quotations from articles and go on for hours, as they did in the 1880s. I know that the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind.

Mr. Dixon

I apologise if I was going on for too long. It is one of the best and most profound articles that I have read about the British shipbuilding industry and the area that I represent. There are only a few more sentences that are very important. The article continues : In three years they have tried to streamline and improve what was mostly a bankrupt industry with 86,000 workers. Today BS is down to about 73,000 workers and struggling to survive on subsidies and very few orders. I will tell you what that would mean for the North East—let alone Clydeside and Mersey-side : devastation. In the North East alone, the largest shipbuilding zone, about a quarter of a million jobs depend on the shipyards, directly or indirectly. So there is only one solution—the industry must be held togther, weather the present economic storm, and prepare for better times as a single modernised unit. In the Sunday Telegraph on 9 June Desmond Harding wrote an article about the row over compensation for the warship yards. A total of £50 million is being claimed by the three warship yards—Vosper, Yarrow and Vickers. There is talk of a settlement in the near future. I hope that that settlement will not involve handing the yards back to their previous owners.

It is appropriate in a debate about the Royal Navy that I should fire a shot across the Government's bow. On 24 March this year 600 delegates from all the shipbuilding areas attended a shipbuilding conference. Resolutions were passed stating that in no circumstances would the men in the industry accept any fragmentation of the industry. They said that if the rumours were true that the Government intended to fragment the industry and sell part of the warship yards to private owners, the conference would be reconvened immediately. A resolution by the Shipbuilding and Allied Industries Association agreed with the trade unions that there should be no fragmentation of the industry.

At last year's TUC conference it was unanimously agreed that the TUC would not stand aside while shipyards were hived off to private enterprise. John Chalmers, the general secretary of the boilermakers' union, said in the monthly journal : We must warn the Government that whilst we shall continue to play our part towards the greater efficiency of the industry, we will not allow the dismantling of the industry from its present structure under public ownership. At the technical, administrative and supervisory section of the AUEW conference in Bournemouth recently it was said that mass meetings at Vickers and Yarrow had carried almost unanimously motions to oppose moves to hive off the warship yards. A delegate from Vospers described any plan to hive off nationalised industry as an obscene asset-stripping exercise. In relation to shipbuilding, he referred to the vultures who formerly owned the warship yards as still waiting in the wings for compensation.

Mr. Atkinson, the new chairman of British Shipbuilders, in the June issue of Shipbuilding News was asked whether he agreed that there should be denationalisation. He said : If there are facilities that are not required for the efficient operation of the business it will be my job to dispose of them in order to reduce borrowings. I would rather sell a piece of land not wanted than face a man and tell him that he is redundant. I take that to mean that Mr. Atkinson is not in favour of the fragmentation of the British shipbuilding industry.

It is important to have a strong Navy, but it is equally important to have the capacity to build the ships for that Navy. It is no good our going blue in the face talking about defence if we cannot build the ships. It is not much of a defence to have a rear-admiral and a chief petty officer swimming up the Channel with machine guns strapped to their shoulders because we do not have a shipbuilding capacity.

If the Government, having begun to dismantle British shipbuilders for reasons of political dogma, are opposed by British Shipbuilders, by the management organisations and by the trade unions, we shall surely have industrial confrontation, and that industrial action will be political because the Government will have made it political. That industrial action will have my support and, I hope, that of many of my hon. Friends, be- cause the men in the industry will have been forced into that action.

Just as the country needs a Navy, so the industry and British Shipbuilders require naval orders. Although it is true that 40 per cent. of current naval orders are on the Tyne—with the Swan Hunter group—unemployment in the area approaches 15 per cent. The length of time required to carry out naval orders is important to mixed yards because they provide a base upon which to work. That kind of order does away with the peaks and troughs of merchant shipbuilding.

When I worked in the shipyards—which I did all my life—I would certainly rather have erected awnings on the passenger deck of a liner than on the poop deck of a cruiser. However, we live in a real world and we know that it is necessary to defend our right to sail the seas and defend our shores.

I tell the Government that it is, equally, the right of shipyard workers to defend their jobs and their industry. Though the Minister has anounced orders to the value of £100 million, I wish that he would stop pussyfooting around and get some more orders for the industry. Those orders are required immediately if we are to maintain the industry's labour force.

6.14 pm
Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)

The speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) was a model of an Opposition speech by someone who has always had the interests of the Navy at heart and who has given the Navy his single-minded attention for so long. Equally, I must say—and I hope that the hon. Member will not take my remarks as malicious—that there was a faint element of hypocrisy about his whole performance.

During his time in Government, the hon. Gentleman spoke of the Invincible class as being anti-submarine cruisers. The moment he is in Opposition, he calls them carriers and castigates the Government because those vessels cannot perform both duties simultaneously. I reckoned up the cost of all his questions to my hon. Friend about what was to be done and about what assurances there were that certain things would happen and whether certain equipment would be provided. I did the sums in my head, and the cost came to approximately £0.8 billion.

Though these things, of course, are all desirable I have to ask whether they are all feasible even to those who, like me, have always argued for the interests of the Navy and for the urgency of its re-equipment. I think that there was a faint element of incredibility about the whole scope of the programme for which the hon. Gentleman argued. However, I do not intend those remarks in a reproachful way.

Mr. Duffy

In relation to the point raised by the hon. Gentleman, I assure him that I am on record, while in Government, as referring to the Invincible class as carriers.

Mr. Clark

In that case, I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I have the greatest respect for his attitude to the Navy while he was in office.

I should like to confine myself exclusively to the question of Devonport dockyard, which adjoins my constituency and which draws a large part of its work force from among my constituents. I have refrained from pressing my hon. Friend too closely on this matter over the last four or five months because he has given assurances at practically every Question Time that the celebrated report on the Royal dockyards was to be issued in the near future. That was a phrase that he frequently used.

That had the effect of restraining those of us who would like to ventilate some of the urgent anxieties and problems that have been bedevilling the dockyards from doing so in too public a manner. We are still waiting for that report, however, and it is many weeks since we were told that it was just about to appear.

There is an old accounting saying in the City that tells us that bad figures are always late, and that when a balance sheet is overdue that means that something is the matter and that someone is trying to conceal it. I hope that that does not apply in this case, because there are many pressing problems that have caused great anxieties and heart searchings in Devonport dockyard. I must, in fairness to all concerned, mention some of them briefly and hope that my hon. Friend will say something about them when he replies to the debate.

On the matter of apprentices, I have tabled written questions about the cost of full-term apprenticeships and the projected plans for apprentices over the next three or four years. Apprentices are the nucleus of our skilled labour force of the future. Whatever the constraints on our current condition and whatever adjustments and reorganisation may have to take place in the yard, I urge my hon. Friend to make provision for an expanding intake of apprentices. There is no theoretical limit to the number of apprentices that can be taken in other than cost because, as my hon. Friend knows, they are doubled up in the work schedule.

In three or four years' time—which is the germination period of full apprenticeship skills—we may very well need a skilled force in reserve. It would be a great pity if, in the interests of short-term economies, the apprentice intake were to be cut down this year and in the years immediately to come. That would have a sad and demoralising effect on youth employment in my constituency. Apart from that there is also the question of comparability and wage rates. Industrial civil servants believe that those rates will be restricted to 14 per cent. or whatever the agreed figure is. One tries to avoid the word "norm", as being evocative of the previous Government. That 14 per cent. will be a guideline figure. I put it to my hon. Friend that it would be a great mistake if a figure were plucked out of the sky and applied to all trades, callings and vocations in the complicated multi-tiered spectrum of dockyard employment.

There are certain key skills that have to be rewarded on a scale comparable to what those skills can bring to the person with the relevant qualifications in civilian employment. Unless that is recognised, we get what is called the Portsmouth syndrome, where skills are drawn out of the yard into civilian employment, which means that the yard is incapable of handling certain tasks or has its capability of handling them reduced, which in turn means that the orders and contracts go to civilian yards, or even abroad, which means that the dockyard continues to run down and the labour force becomes demoralised and out of balance.

I urge my hon. Friend carefully to consider wage scales inside the structure so that skills, especially scarce skills and those into which he believes the new technologies and the new emphasis will be guided in the years to come, achieve proper recognition and the morale of the work force is not dampened by an overall blanket limit that cannot pay regard to the wide differentials that exist within it.

I was invited to address the shop stewards of the AUEW at Plymouth—the first time that a Conservative Member of Parliament has ever been their guest. They treated me with the greatest courtesy and enlightened me on many factors in the running and the problems of the dockyard of which I had hitherto been ignorant. I am sure that there is no need for me to remind my hon. Friend of specific examples. No doubt they have been laid on the table during the course of the considerations of the committee of which he is chairman.

There are certain factors that warrant attention—for example, gangs standing idle for long periods waiting, possibly, for an urgent call or for a ship that is coming in suddenly, and perhaps being disappointed at the last moment. There is the on-cost factor that makes it much more difficult for an Admiralty dockyard effectively to compete with an outside contractor in certain areas. Those are two of the elements that have led to a general sense of corporate anxiety in the dockyard.

There are many rumours flying about. There are many stories of possible redundancies and wastage. The sooner the report is published and everybody knows where he stands, and a clear, confident and positive future for the Devonport yard can be assured, the better it will be for all concerned.

6.23 pm
Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)

I speak regularly in defence debates when I manage to catch the eye of the Chair. I often find myself in an exposed position in the Labour Party. I believe that we should have a defence capability. I do not have the comfort and certainty of belonging to a pacifist or neutralist group, or the absolute certainty of being on the other side of the fence among the John Wayne "Gung Ho" type Member of Parliament, one or two of whom are in the Chamber today and from whom we shall, no doubt, hear.

I have previously declared my interest. My constituency is landlocked. However, I am an honorary grand admiral of the Nebraskan navy, which fits me completely to speak in a debate of this description.

The Government are making momentous decisions. The Minister said that difficult decisions are to be made. That may turn out to be the understatement of the year. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) accused my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) of faint hypocrisy. There is no monopoly of hypocrisy on the Opposition Benches. The Tory Party in opposition scream constantly for enormous increases in defence spending.

It is delightful to see the enormous change in morale that has supposedly taken place in the Services since the Conservative Party has come to power. What the Government are managing to do with a 3 per cent. increase to which the Labour Government were committed is somewhat amazing. How so much is to be done with hardly no increase in growth is something on which the Ministry will have to exercise its mind.

I am certain that the Government will find themselves in an enormously difficult position in committing Britain to the Polaris replacement. They are entitled to make that decision, but we must be aware of the costs. We are talking about £5 to £6 billion. The cost of any project that the Government announce can virtually be doubled, either because they have their facts deliberately wrong or accidentally wrong or because of a combination of both. In deciding to go for a replacement—whether it be four or five submarines—the Government will commit an enormous proportion of Britain's defence budget to something that could be considered by some to be a spurious deterrent.

The arguments are finely balanced. The Government will have to make a series of major policy decisions consequent upon committing Britain to a replacement. Where are they to find the money, when no increase in defence expenditure has been allowed for save that for inflation and the 3 per cent. annual increase? So many things need to be done within the defence budget, and the Government cannot do them all. Unless they have found the answer to the problem, which appears to have eluded previous Ministers, they will find that they cannot have their cake and eat it.

It is interesting to consider what the Government state in paragraph 806 of the White Paper. It seems that they are preparing their supporters for a change of policy in the not too distant future. By all accounts the Secretary of State only just managed to get the 3 per cent. increase from his colleagues. There has been a remarkable transformation, bearing in mind what his party said while in oposition. Paragraph 806 states : But we shall not feel obliged to adhere slavishly to a particular growth path, nor shall we consider it a failure of policy if we modify our spending plans in either direction from year to year as new information becomes available. The problems are momentous. It is clear that the Government have made a decision on the Polaris replacement. We have not been involved in the decisionmaking process. Bearing in mind the poverty of information that is made available to us, it is difficult to discuss these matters in defence debates. However, I make no apology for dealing at the outset with the Polaris replacement. The replacement is a Navy programme. It involves enormous cost, which may inhibit the Navy in fulfilling its other responsibilities, as well as having that effect upon the other Armed Services.

The replacement of Polaris contradicts the central feature of our defence strategy, namely, that we are a member of a collective alliance. The argument advanced for replacement is "We could in direct emergency go it alone." That is not a situation that I should like to see transpire. At present, we have four Polaris submarines, and it is probable that only one is on duty at any one time. Like Lord Carver, I can think of no realistic scenario in which we would want to take on the Soviet Union independently of the rest of our NATO allies.

The so-called strategic argument for replacement is based on an anti-NATO argument. We are saying that there may be circumstances in which we would go it alone. We may trigger off an American response by embarking on a mutual exchange with the Soviet Union. It is an anti-NATO argument, and the Soviet Union could seek to exploit the divisibility of NATO if the argument were pursued.

Many arguments have been advanced for the Polaris replacement. It is contended that it will maintain us in the big league. That is hardly true. Polaris did not give us a seat at SALT, and there are countries without nuclear weapons but stronger economically more highly regarded by the international community.

Mr. Alan Clark

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that he is arguing his case from an ad hoc standpoint? He knows very well the leads and lags in weapon development He knows that the second generation—the Polaris replacement, as he calls it—independent strategic nuclear deterrent must have a life of at least 25 years. He must recognise—especially in view of the trends in American policies manifest even in the past two or three years—that in the next 25 years the whole shape of the Alliance many change out of all recognition.

Mr. George

That again is a dangerous argument. It is part of a "little Englander" or "big Englander" philosophy. If we want to go down this route of a genuinely independent deterrent—or, as some people suggest, collude with Europe—the costs will be alarming.

We may discuss the so-called independent deterrent. I was re-reading Schlesinger's "A Thousand Days" to look for inspiration on how the Skybolt/ Polaris negotiations proceeded as a guide to what may be happening now. I regard it as embarrassing and humiliating for Ministers to race over to Washington pleading with the Americans to give us an independent nuclear deterrent. It is almost a contradiction in terms to call that independent. We have argued, as some other people have, that we should have it because the French have it, but we should leave them to their folly.

Some eminent people suggest that Polaris could have a life of as long as 15 or 20 years. Even if we pull out of Polaris replacement, we shall still have a nuclear deterrent for 15 or 20 years. We can play a better part in NATO by concentrating on conventional forces and leaving the strategic deterrent to NATO as a whole.

Some argue against Polaris replacement on moral, philosophical or religious grounds. I argue on strategic and on cost grounds. There are a certain number of things that we can do with our £10,000 million a year. We cannot have a strategic deterrent and improve our conventional forces. We shall end up with an emaciated conventional presence and an inadequate nuclear deterrent. The opportunity costs are too high as well.

We have heard a great deal about what the Navy will have. What is the Ministry doing? Is it already thinking of what will have to be cut to find the money for Trident? What negotiations are taking place between the different Services? Will they have any effect on the British Army of the Rhine, the main battle tank, the Tornado, the Jaguar and Harrier replacement, the Territorial Army, pay, research and development, shipbuilding, or the air defence of the United Kingdom? How shall we pay for this neo-East of Suez policy that we seem to be hearing a little more about? Ships are going out to the Indian Ocean. We hear often enough how stretched are our resources. If ships and fleets are to be there, will they not be diverted from what should be our major responsibility within NATO—namely, defending the Channel and the eastern Atlantic? We may be overstretched.

Many Government supporters regretted the passing of the days of our imperial grandeur and East of Suez presence. They are coming again to the fore. Apparently we shall have a wider defence interest, as the White Paper says. Now we shall spend a great deal of the money which should be spent in performing the functions that we can do best. Admirals want to sail out as far as they can. However, we can do best for NATO by concentrating in the areas that we are assigned to at this stage.

A great deal has been said about the strength of the Soviet navy. A lot more will be said about it. I suspect that few will do what my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe did—and that is to show the weaknesses of the Soviet navy. There is a great danger of deliberately looking through the wrong end of the telescope, and trying to create someone who is 50 feet taller than he is in reality. This is not to minimise the growth of the Soviet navy. Undoubtedly the Russians have improved in both quantity and quality. They are sending their vessels far wider than hitherto. We often hear that the Soviet Union has no right to a navy, even though it is a large, continental Power.

I assure the House that I am not speaking as an apologist for the Soviet Union. Others are far more capable of doing that than I am. All I want to point out is that the Soviet Union at the time of the Russian-Japanese war had the fourth largest navy in the world. It was not the fourth largest after that war, although it had the largest submarine fleet by then. Nevertheless, the Russians were then a large naval Power. They now have military reasons for a right to a navy, to combat what they perceive as the NATO threat, and they obviously have sound economic and commercial reasons. And why not? Why should they expect to be second any more than the Americans would want to be second? There are many reasons why they see the need to expand their navy. I do not think that the expansion has been as enormous as many people have told, or will tell, us. I do not want to read out numerous quotations. Suffice it to say that a recent article in the Naval War College Review in the United States—not a particularly revolutionary document—said : But in fact there has been no spectacular increase in the size of the Soviet Navy". Harold Brown said : There is no great adverse trend there in terms of ships. The defence correspondent of The Observer said : Yet the Soviet Union is building fewer ships than NATO and is not replacing all the vessels that are scrapped. Rear-Admiral Harvey, Chief of Naval Intelligence, said : The size of the Soviet Navy will not significantly change in the next 5 to 10 years. In fact, there might be a slight decrease. I do not seek to minimise the threat. Clearly, the Russians have an expanded presence and a great capacity to sink many of our vessels, but we should not get too paranoid about the size of the Soviet Navy. The Soviets have a right to a navy, the same as we do. They have a right to expand their navy, as we do. It is wrong, however, in terms of public opinion, for policy makers to over-exaggerate their strength.

Let us consider some of the Russian weaknesses, including the enormous weaknesses of geography. The Soviets can be strangled in the event of any conflict. There is the difficulty of supplies and the fact that they have four separate fleets which it would be almost impossible for them to link up. Reinforcements are difficult for them. They have an inadequate logistic capability. As many authors have said, the increased pace of change has been too quick for them and therefore they have considerable overstretch. In spite of the power of Admiral Gorschkov, undoubtedly the Navy has failed to secure in the Soviet Union that share of the cake that has gone to the other sections of the armed forces. It obviously has inadequate sea-based air power.

America's allies are strong in naval terms, but the Soviet Union's allies are not. Their strike and reconnaissance bombers are vulnerable to attack beyond the range of land-based fighters. Their reliance upon electronics can be negated by a number of American devices, not least the United States Prowler aircraft which could render much of their naval forces quite defenceless.

The Soviet construction techniques are dubious in many cases. An American admiral called their navy a fair-weather fleet. Observation by trawlers, has questioned a great deal of their seamanship. Many of the supposed major ships which they have constructed appear to be unseaworthy; two major vessels have been withdrawn and are now used for training puroses. Therefore, we should see the matter from that side.

Obviously the Russians have their strengths, but in most categories NATO has considerable superiority. In aircraft/ helicopter carriers there is a balance of 31 to 4 in our favour; with cruisers the balance is 1.4 to 1 in our favour; with frigates it is 5.2 to 1. Our ships are better equipped and have a higher state of operational readiness. According to American intelligence, only 15 per cent. of Russian submarines are under water at any one time, as opposed to 55 per cent. within NATO.

The Russians suffer, too, in terms of leadership. There is not the same strong naval tradition as there is in Britain and the United States. The preoccupation with discipline might be an Achilles heel for the Soviet Union and one which can be exploited. While I do not seek to say that there is no threat—clearly there is—it would be wrong to overstate the case.

Regarding the strengths and weaknesses of our own Navy, I am glad the Minister said that there might be a change of thinking in terms of quality and quantity. As some admirals have recently pointed out, large surface ships are vulnerable. Perhaps we should consider, not the major ships which are so expensive but more smaller and less costly ships. Resistance to such ideas is very strong, however, within the Admiralty. I hope the Minister is able to prevail upon his civil servants to bring about a change in this conservative attitude.

I would like to see greater use of hovercraft. Investigations in this respect have taken 15 years. It has been put to me by a naval man—this might reduce some colleagues to hysteria—that the use of airships could supplement sea reconaissance, thereby allowing Nimrod and helicopters to do those things for which they are better qualified. It takes a long time to inject any major change of thinking into the Navy, but perhaps the Minister will be able to do it.

It would be unfair and wrong not to mention detente. I hope we shall get round the negotiating table again. That does not mean acquiescence to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but it is in all our interests to achieve a negotiating posture again. SALT II, when finally ratified, I hope will be replaced by a SALT III. Perhaps detente failed because too much was expected from it. It was not intended to be an end to the conflict; it was meant to improve the management of that conflict. Perhaps too much was demanded of it. I hope that we can be more realistic in the future. I hope that when detente does take off again it will be more successfully applied than in the past, because the international situation in the 1980s will be infinitely more severe than the situation in the 1970s. I hope the agenda for the 1980s will include a return to sanity and a return to detente.

We must, of course, view the Soviet naval threat as credible. Although the Soviet : Union is weak in air power, ASW, amphibious warfare logistics and readiness, it has a great capability to sink our ships and create havoc in the sea lanes—but only if we allow it to do so. The primary function of Navy strategy is to exploit the weakness of the opponent. I believe that enough credibility has been attached to those people who have pointed out our strengths and their weakness to allow this to happen. The Soviet Union, in sharp contrast to the 1950s, now has a navy. It is a force which will not disappear overnight. The sooner we recognise that it has the right to be a naval Power, the sooner we devise a proper strategy within NATO to combat this, the better NATO will be. Finally, let me repeat, let us not rely too much on a strategic nuclear deterrent. Leave that to NATO. We should concentrate on conventional forces.

Mr. Speaker

May I point out to the House that I was firmly convinced that this was an occasion when everyone who wanted to speak would be able to speak. It eases the tension for those of us who are in the Chair—which is not unimportant. I know of 10 hon. Members who wish to speak. Hon. Members can work it out—with 120 minutes and 15 added, I think that is 135 minutes—everybody could still get in with 13 minutes each.

6.44 pm
Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

Although I, too, am an honorary admiral of the Nebraskan navy, I have never seen myself as the John Wayne of the Conservative Party—more the Woody Allen.

One of the hazards of being a Member of Parliament is that from time to time one is invited to review books for national newspapers. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) suffers from the same handicap. I have just reviewed for The Times Hugh Stephenson's book on the first year of Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)—which was something of a "minefield" operation. I say this not to advertise the particular copy of The Times in which it will appear—"Hurry, hurry, while stocks last! "—but only to point out that if it does appear tomorrow it will be alongside a long-awaited piece by Bernard Levin on Wagner.

The point of the story is that in any attempt to write a notice on the progress of the first year of a Government one has to concoct a balance sheet I would put at the top of the success side of this balance sheet the whole problem of defence, for two reason. The first is that the economic stringencies that are about to strike us have as yet made little or no difference to the 3 per cent. increase commitment into which we entered. The second reason is that the increase in the salaries for Service men, acted on so promptly a year ago last month, has worked wonders in terms of Service morale. The whole question of defence comes high on the list of Government successes. Those hon. Members who wish to discover the list of Government failures will have to wait until The Times newspaper finally publishes my notice.

The questions that I pose are these : do we really need a nuclear deterrent? If we do, and if we are prepared to take the Trident missile as the replacement for Polaris, what will be the effect of the Trident programme on our conventional defences? The first question, whether we need an independent nuclear deterrent, is one which I have always found particularly fascinating, and one on which I think I am an agnostic.

On the one hand, there is Lord Carver's view, that he can see no circumstances in which the United Kingdom would be prepared to use its nuclear force without the United States using its force at the same time. This is an argument of some importance. On the other hand, there is the subtle and sophisticated argument, that the simple fact that one has a nuclear capacity of one's own, were we to be defeated in a conventionally fought war in Europe—which is the real likelihood—and then be faced with a prospect of invasion, the fact that we had three or four Trident submarines at sea would enable our leaders at that time either to surrender our society intact or, more usefully, to come to some sort of modus vivendi with the Soviet Union itself. For a small amount of money, in comparative terms, that is not an unimportant factor, and it is something which in the debate on nuclear weapons is not often discussed.

All too often the debate about nuclear weapons revolves around all the simplicities of "Would you rather be Red than dead?" If that were the choice, any rational human being would be Red. I would land up in Siberia, and so would my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark). He and I would last about the same length of time in the same camp. But society as a whole would survive and absorb the catastrophe. The question is not whether we should be Red or dead. The question is how to avoid ever being placed in that dilemma. That is what defence is about. Defence is how to survive and be fret if one is threatened by exterior forces. To state it as a choice of being Red rather than dead is an over-simplification.

If we argue that there is, in the last analysis, a serious argument for Britain having its own nuclear force, the question is : what form of nuclear weapons ought to replace the Polaris programme? At the moment we do not know. The arguments that have gone on in the Government between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury have been extremely intense and are still continuing. We are not allowed to hear what is going on ours "not to reason why". We are not Members of Congress but Members of this House. We are here to accept that decision once it has been announced.

If it is to be Trident, it will cost £6 billion over the next decade. Where will that money come from if, as every economic forecast predicts, there is no economic growth over the next decade? If that is so—and most economic forecasts in the past have been proved wrong—whence will the money come? If it is to come from our conventional contribution, from which of three Services must it come? Those are important questions that have not been asked in the Conservative Party, but which should be asked more frequently, and which should be answered.

I think it unlikely that any real savings would be made from the Royal Navy because of the importance of the Eastern approaches and the submarine threat. The Royal Air Force is sufficiently small, sufficiently important, and potentially well equipped to be relatively inviolate. We come down to the British Army of the Rhine as being the likely target for eventual reductions. We have to face now the consequences of any such reduction. We are obliged by treaty to station 55,000 men in Europe. Were we to reduce size- ably our forces in Germany, it would weaken the conventional defence of Europe quite alarmingly, would make the Germans more important in the defence of Europe, and would weaken the cohesion of NATO. I would avoid, at almost any cost, threatening the cohesion of the Alliance, because it is on that cohesion that our freedoms depend. My priority is the Alliance, and therefore my priority is the British Army of the Rhine.

Why do we not at least discuss, before it is too late, a cruise missile alternative as a strategic nuclear weapon? It need not necessarily be the sort of cruise missile that is to be stationed at Newbury and in Cambridgeshire. Quite clearly, it would be of the second generation—faster, capable of flying at supersonic speeds. The argument for the cruise missile alternative is that it would be cheaper. We would not have to build enormous submarines at extraordinary cost to house the Trident missiles. We could put them into nuclear-powered smaller submarines or conventional submarines or into wide-bodied aircraft. There are many alternatives which would enable us to purchase a nuclear capability at less cost to our other military contributions. Those alternatives should be seriously considered.

There is one disadvantage which, if I am honest, I must face. The Trident would be able to give Britain an independent nuclear capability, should we wish to use it. The cruise missile alternative would provide only a contribution to the Alliance in nuclear terms and would not be credible as an independent nuclear deterrent. At present, we attempt to justify the Polaris force by saying that it is at one and the same time a contribution to the Alliance and an independent nuclear force. It cannot be both at the same time. It must be one or the other.

On balance, the possibility of the Soviet Union deciding to choose Britain alone as its target and to pose a nuclear threat to it—regardless of alliance commitments—is most unlikely. Because war, if it were to break out, would break out by accident or miscalculation ; and, more importantly, would be fought with conventional weapons in Europe, the Soviet Union would not introduce nuclear weapons at any level. It will always leave that agonising decision to us. In a crisis, that decision will always be postponed—whether it is for nuclear weapons on the battlefield or for strategic nuclear weapons themselves.

If war came it would have to be won by conventional weapons. Any policy which, for reasons of prestige, or for reasons that have not been properly thought out—let alone announced to the House—weakens the obvious ability of the NATO Alliance to win a conventionally-fought war, and therefore to prevent its ever starting, is not the best policy for Britain.

6.55 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Any hon. Member who has had dealings with the Navy in his constituency capacity—as I have at Queensferry—will know the good sense and depth of feeling with which the Navy handles compassionate cases. I wish to begin by saying that Members of Parliament who represent dockyard constituents, and others in the Navy, receive the greatest co-operation from the naval authorities in personal cases.

I wish to follow the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) in raising only one subject of surprising importance, namely, the Trident. On Tuesday 24 June, in a parliamentary question, I shall ask the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on her discussions with Mr. Harold Brown, United States Defence Secretary, on Monday 2 June, about the United States' proposal that Great Britain should acquire Trident missiles". The right hon. Lady's advisors will be able to detect the supplementary question from my speech.

It was with that question in mind that I interrupted the Minister to ask for any information that he might have about the Soviet equivalent, the Typhoon. I should make it clear that there are problems on both sides, the Soviet Union as well as the United States of America, in this matter.

First, on the question of technology—the nuts and bolts—it is said that the Trident is virtually undetectable and that the nuclear coolant pump improvement is a great advance on that of Polaris. Against that, there will still be the emission of both heat and noise, which are detectable. Is is argued that the Trident is made of materials that move more quietly through water and that it has new metals that can absorb sound waves. Is it not true, however, that the action of steam turbines, propulsion and drive shafts will still be detectable?

Is it not true that ever more sensitive tracking equipment in hunter-killer submarines will be developed, of which the Russians have more than 40. The Minister, in his statement on Russian forces, pointed out that they were engaging in considerable anti-submarine research-Some of us doubt whether the invulnerability at sea is any greater than that on land. But, if it is true that the invulnerability at sea is greater, why do we need cruise missiles? Some of us believe that that is not a good argument for the Trident.

It is argued that Trident communications systems are reliable enough to withstand a nuclear holocaust, so that we could extract posthumous revenge. The Russians are said to have given a high priority to research into anti-submarine warfare and the disruption of communications in the event of war. Shortly after 5.15 pm the Minister referred to the Russian research in anti-submarine warfare—as we can read in Hansard tomorrow. Is it not true that by the time the Trident is operational in 1993 it is almost certain that Russian research—or any country's research—into the disruption of communications will have become that much more efficient? Indeed, it is unlikely that Trident would be undetectable in the year 1993 when the British Tridents, would become operational.

Again, in this connection we have to wonder whether dreadful mistakes could not be made in relation to the very low frequency radio that we gather must be used for Trident. Is it not a fact that the submarine has to approach the surface for the use of very low frequency radio and that it will not penetrate deep down to depths where Tridents might like to lurk.

It is argued that there are enough missiles on Trident that would reach their target. One can be certain that the vlf station near Rugby would have been incinerated by the time that most Tridents had checked their orders, not to mention mass deaths in the East Midlands. Again, if we were to rely on vlf stations, as reported, at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Simonstown, might they not, by the time a decision had been made, themselves have been obliterated? Thus the arguments on technical grounds for Trident are open to very considerable doubt. I invite the Minister to comment if I am wrong in any of these technical suppositions.

Let me now deal with the cost of Trident. The cost has been variously estimated. I do not quarrel with the figure mentioned by the hon. Member for Aldershot—£6,000 million. Some have argued that it would be substantially more. Others have put it at £5,000 million over 10 years. At 1980 prices, that is £400 for every family. It is a huge cost. But a new submarine-carried ballistic missile system would cost many more times, in real terms, than what the old Polaris cost. It should be established that when the Cabinet comes to make its decision the costs of a Trident project and the costs across the £ exchanges would be mind-boggling. Therefore we have to ask : is this cost-effective?

First, is it cost effective in terms of the Navy? I think that we all have to ask : what else gives way? Are there to be cuts in Britain's naval Atlantic contribution to NATO? Are there to be cuts in the British Army of the Rhine? Is there to be no main battle tank in the 1980s? Are we to forgo a Jaguar replacement? It may be a combination of several of these choices.

I think that those who have talked to naval and Air Force officers know very well that there is genuine concern, even in the Services, that if Trident is ordered, "What will have to give way?" I thought that the hon. Member for Aidershot put it very well in an article that he wrote in April, in which he said : The bill will have to be paid for at the expense of other projects. How do we fulfil our NATO commitment? That is a question which he asked again in another form in his speech. It is a very valid question. The Minister should answer it, or attempt to answer it, tonight.

I was amazed that we went through the opening speech without any detailed reference to Trident. Indeed, whereas in the very full West German defence White Paper, translated into English, there are references to Trident, in our own defence White Paper, curiously, there is no refer- ence to it. In a sense, this is the major decision that has to be taken by the Cabinet this year in defence.

Secondly, we must look at the Trident decision in terms of what is symbolised by Brandt. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) initiated a debate some Fridays ago on the Brandt report, and hon. Members present will know that the House debated that report again on Monday. There were many speeches on what ought to be done. There is that impressive letter to the Heads of Government meeting in Venice from the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). No one doubts that all this—even one, two or three of the proposals—will cost a great deal of money.

Therefore, we are entitled to ask the serious question—without being glib about cutting defence expenditure in order to provide for the Third world ; I know that things are not quite as simple as that—what is more effective, the kind of enormous expenditure involved in Trident, or expenditure on some of the recommendations of the Brandt Commission? One has to balance the risks of alleged non-deterrence against the risks of doing little or nothing about Brandt. That is something which should be openly argued in this House.

We also have to ask : at what stage does one cry "Halt" in the level of sophistication of arms? Is there any end to this ratchet effect of weapons becoming ever more sophisticated? Some of us would think that the Tornado, carrying some fairly formidable weapons, is itself a deterrent. No country in the world could be sure that it would escape without great damage if it knew that a fleet of Tornado aircraft were available to its opponents.

Therefore, we come again to the question of the British independent deterrent. Those who talk about a British independent deterrent had better understand that it implies a British willingness to blow up the planet. The aim of a deterrent is to deter, and, in Britain's case, by injecting one small element of uncertainty into the calculations of an adversary. I am not sure that this uncertainty injected into the NATO balance is at all wise. Besides, for reasons of time and quick decision-making, Britain could not act independently of NATO in a nuclear war.

Thererore, I put it to those who have to decide these matters that they are putting forward a project which is a bee-sting project, which in fact, if not in theory, is retaliation from the grave ; that most of us would be frazzled and the Trident would represent a last desperate fling for revenge.

Indeed, one wonders whether one is not being taken for a ride by the propaganda of many of the arms manufacturers in relation to this project. It seems that this is a project for which the need at least has to be proved. Many of us are very doubtful indeed whether such a need exists.

Speaking for myself, previously I would have gone along with the proposal that only the best and most sophisticated is good enough for the Services and British Service men. It is a proposal in which I have always believed since I have been a Member of Parliament, and before that. The Ministry of Defence view that we should buy the best there is may have applied to Spitfires and Hurricanes in their time, and may apply to F111s and Tornados, because one is putting Service men in them, but it is questionable whether the same arguments are quite so powerful and conclusive when it comes to a missile deterrent the equivalent of which, in terms of fire power and destruction power, one may think one nearly has already.

That brings me to the question of control. Is it true that there is every likelihood that Congress would insist on joint control? If that is true, it would take away any kind of independent deterrent. I may argue that non-independent deterrents are a good thing, but the House should be clear about the terms of what is being proposed. Deep down, the argument for Trident may be that somehow a British possession of Trident would commit the United States to Europe. That is the sophisticated argument. It goes like this : if Britain fired missiles, Russia would not know where they came from. It would not know the difference, and it would assume that it was an American attack. The United States would know that and it would not dare to turn its back on Europe.

Is that much of an argument? We come back to Aneuran Bevan's famous response at the time of another discussion on armaments when he asked whether it was likely that the Russian's would examine the labels on atom bombs if they were dropped on them to see where the bombs came from. We all know that in practice no one would have any time or disposition to ask any such questions. The argument that Trident would tie the United States to Europe is not convincing. I argue that the expense involved in the provision of Trident is absolutely unjustified.

We should look at the position from other people's points of view. I was a member of a Labour Party delegation visiting the SPD in Bonn earlier this week. I found that many of our SPD colleagues were thinking along the same lines—people such as the chairman of the foreign policy group in the Bundestag, Frau Maria Schlei, who is a Silesian by birth, comes from Berlin and is a member of the Bundestag. If these matters are sensitive to anyone, surely they are sensitive to people such as Frau Schlei, a Silesian from Berlin. Many in the SPD argue that we must look at Pershing, cruise and Trident missiles from the other side, from the shoes of the Russians.

I understand the nature of the present Russian threat, but we must also examine ourselves a little. What about the discussions on the demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean? What about the failure of SALT II? Was that an American responsibility? There are two sides to the argument. I begin to wonder whether there are not people in the Ministry of Defence who are playing a sort of réal politique, a global political game.

We read in the newspapers of the power and influence of Mr. Michael Quinlan, who has apparently prepared a paper on deterrence theory for the Treasury defence material division. Mr. Peter Hennessy asks whether this could be published intact without jeopardising national security. I do not know whether Mr. Hennessy has seen Mr. Quinlan's paper, but I wonder whether the sort of Green Paper that was requested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) could not have included the arguments that Mr. Quinlan and others have put forward to their political Ministers.

I doubt whether a submarine-based missile is correct for a medium-sized power. Some hon. Members would like to know a great deal more about how these decisions are made. It is not good enough to confine a decision such as that on Trident to a Cabinet Committee—Cabinet Committee Miscellaneous 7. I do not expect Members of Parliament to be included in discussions on the most sensitive decisions on British defence policy—I know how the system works—but a decision such as that on Trident should at least be considered by the full British Cabinet.

It is no secret that in the past Governments of both parties have confined such decisions to small groups of personally chosen senior Ministers—Ministers chosen by the Prime Minister—and a small group of civil servants and defence officers. Surely such decisions should be made by the whole Cabinet, so that other Cabinet Ministers cannot complain afterwards that decisions were taken about which they knew nothing. That applies to both parties, but certainly members of the Labour Cabinet who should have been consulted on certain matters have told me that they were not consulted. We should not be content to leave decisions such as that on Trident to a small group of Ministers who may be influenced by powerful, intellectual, global strategists. The decision should be made by the widest range of senior Ministers.

In my view, the only justification for Trident is along the lines that we would rather be dead than Red. That is absurd. We must establish a meaningful dialogue with the Russians. The SS20s and the Russian submarines—I asked a question about Typhoons because I do not doubt that Russia has the equivalent of Trident—make the world a dangerous place. We must return to SALT II and to questions such as the demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean.

We must avoid actions such as the routine visit of a unit of the British fleet to China.

Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear". I regard that visit by a unit of the British fleet as a matter of momentous significance. The Under-Secretary says "What is new?", and he rebukes me for not knowing about a decision which he says was announced on the Floor of the House two months ago. I do not know whether it was announced by the Secretary of State for Defence in China, but I asked all my hon. Friends who were present at the time whether they know that a British token force was paying a courtesy visit to China, and no one knew about it. It came as news to most Labour Members, and I wonder to what extent it is news to Conservative Members. Some Labour Members see this as a gratuitous and reckless act at a time of tension. It should have been announced in a statement by the Secretary of State for Defence or preferably by the Prime Minister. It was a major act of policy, and it should not have been spatchcocked into a speech on a Supply day by an Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence.

Any hon. Member who thinks that that is absurd reveals that he does not understand the nervousness and the jitteriness that the Russians feel about the Chinese at present. One of the causes of the trouble was Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Neil Cameron going to Peking—by what authority I know not—and making public statements about Moscow being the enemy. It is that sort of statement that makes dialogue on SALT II, and possibly SALT III, more difficult.

Finally, in an Adjournment debate last Friday the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, in referring to my speech, used the words "hysterical and paranoid". In more delicate language, the Secretary of State rebuked me at Question Time for making things no easier. I am not one for swapping compliments or abuse, or for taking part in vendettas, but both Ministers will excuse me if I use the same adjectives to describe the policies of their Prime Minister in relation to the Russians.

7.20 pm
Mr. Churchill (Stretford)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who devoted much of his speech to the importance of the decision on the Polaris replacement—a matter on which I intend to touch in my remarks this evening. However, I cannot go along with the hon. Member's conclusions on that point, or with his jittery concern about our decision to send a minor naval force to visit China. He talks of the Soviet Union being jittery about the "yellow peril"—he did not use those words, but the Russians are not above referring to the Chinese in such terms, as was confirmed to me a few years ago by Premier Chou En-lai himself. If one looks at the military equation between those two Communist giants, one sees that it is in a ratio of 100 to 1 in favour of the Soviet Union in terms of brute military force. That is true of their general purpose forces and even more of their nuclear capability. There is no substance whatever in the Soviet Union's claim that it is frightened of China. That claim is for domestic and foreign propaganda consumption, and regrettably there are some in this House who are gullible enough to swallow it in small doses.

I welcome the fact that the debate was opened by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), who fought a valiant rearguard action as Navy Minister against his own colleagues in order to protect the Royal Navy against the worst depredations intended by the Left wing of his party. The whole House will be sorry that his right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), the former Secretary of State for Defence, cannot be in his place in this debate as he would have wished to be. We all wish him a speedy recovery and an early return to his duties in this House.

I congratulate my hon. Friend HMS "Speedy", who opened the debate, both on being the first Navy Minister to have a vessel of the Royal Navy named after him while in office and on his able contribution to the debate this afternoon.

It is two years since the House of Commons has had a chance to debate the Royal Navy and I wish to begin by paying tribute to the men and women who serve the Queen on the high seas. For so long, self-denigration has been a national pastime among many of our fellow countrymen. It may come as a surprise to our allies—and possibly even to our fellow citizens—to learn that, after the two great super-Powers, the Royal Navy remains the largest, most capable and most powerful Navy in the world and is second to none in the calibre of its manpower.

The Royal Navy provides 80 per cent. of NATO's ready forces in the Eastern Atlantic. In addition, it has a world-wide capability as well as a powerful force of nuclear fleet submarines. Since 1969, it has had the primary responsibility for Britain's independent strategic nuclear deterrent and it is a credit to the Royal Navy that it has maintained its Polaris patrol to this day, unbroken even for 24 hours.

It is a welcome change to have a Government in office who believe in defence. That is something greatly appreciated by the Forces themselves. Their morale has never been higher, and this is in marked contrast to the situation that existed two years ago. In their first year of office, the Government have notched up a proud record of achievement. It is not easy to reverse the neglect of many years, but the Government have made an able start. They have restored Forces' pay to full comparability, so that members of the Armed Forces now feel they have a future. This is most important. By their policy of giving a proper bounty to territorial forces and reserves, the Government have brought about an important increase in the strength of these reserves. The Minister touched on the formation of a Royal Naval Reserve (Air) branch. That is something that is long overdue. It is only sensible that we should find some meaningful war-role for those who have left the Royal Navy or the other Services in order to fly with Alan Bristow and others in the North Sea. I am sure that they have a valid and important contribution to make.

The Government's improvements relate not only to the Royal Navy. A parachute battalion is now at seven days' readiness, an extra squadron of Lightnings is being made available and Hawk aircraft are being armed with Sidewinder missiles. The Government have accepted United States ground-launched cruise missiles in this country and have committed themselves to a replacement for Polaris. This is a significant list of achievements.

But let there be no illusions—there are still formidable deficiencies, and these will continue for many years ahead. The most critical gap will be in the capability of Britain's independent deterrent. I wholeheartedly endorse the Government's decision to go ahead with a Polaris replacement. But that will not come on stream until the mid-1990s. What is to happen until then? Since 1969, Britain has been able to guarantee only a single Polaris submarine on station, but we have always had a capability in a tension period of placing 50 V-bombers on three-minute quick-reaction alert. This has been a formidable supplementary capability. It is clear that the penetrability of these ageing aircraft is now low in terms of Soviet missile defence belts and the Government have taken a decision to scrap the Vulcans in the near future. It fills me with anxiety that the RAF is to lose, for the first time in my lifetime, the capability of striking a potential aggressor in his heartland. On present form, there will be a 13-year gap in our deterrent capability.

We are today moving into uncharted waters. The Kremlin leadership is ageing and aggressive. A massive Euro-strategic nuclear buildup has taken place during the past four or five years, with the deployment of more than 100 Backfire nuclear strike bombers and an equivalent number of SS 20 mobile intermediate range ballistic missiles.

Figure No. 3 in the defence White Paper demonstrates that NATO is currently outnumbered by 4½ : 1 in European theatre nuclear systems. That imbalance must give rise to grave fears for our future security. In recent months the USSR has gained the edge over the United States in intercontinental capability. However, both the United States and the other super-Power have such over-kill capacities that it is almost inconceivable that the deterrent policy would fail in relation to the continental United States.

We happen to live in Europe. It is there that the great phalanxes of NATO and Warsaw Pact forces find themselves face to face and, in places, eyeball to eyeball. The imbalance in Europe is great, and is now becoming critical. The 1980s will be a period of maximum danger. It is difficult to believe that the Kremlin will at all times consider that a single Polaris on station is a sufficient deterrent to any adventure against Western Europe—an adventure that might embroil the world in another world war.

The Government are placing all their nuclear eggs in one submarine. They appear to have no other plans to strengthen or modernise our deterrent until 1995. The hon. Member for West Lothian may be right to assume that the Government will choose the Trident. However, I believe two serious possibilities may be overlooked. First, we cannot ignore the likelihood of a Soviet breakthrough in underwater detection technology. It is more than conceivable that such a breakthrough will ensure the detection, acquisition and ultimate destruction of missile submarines in their deployed locations. Until now no Royal Navy or United States missile submarine has been tracked by the Soviet navy, despite it great efforts to do so.

Technology is progressing at a great rate. Despite the difficulties of underwater detection, and despite the fact that submarines will become quietier, there can be no doubt that there is a serious danger that this breakthrough will be achieved and the advantage of placing missiles in submarines which cost a great amount of money would overnight be negated.

But there is an even more pressing threat to the Polaris replacement which my right hon. Friend is keen to promote. I wonder whether the Cabinet has considered that that decision will have to survive at least three general elections before it becomes operational. If, by mischance the Labour Party were to come to power in any one of those elections, is it not likely that it would cancel the programme?

One must bear in mind the speeches that we have heard, not from the lunatic Left—who mecifully have not been with us today—but from Opposition Members who believe in defence, who are patriots at heart and who wish to see the nation's interest safeguarded. On financial grounds, if on no other, they are opposed to continuing such a costly replacement programme.

We must consider both the possibility that the Polaris replacement will never see the light of day and the fact that one submarine is not enough to see us through until 1995. There is a powerful case for arguing that the United Kingdom should acquire a limited number of cruise missiles—either air-launched cruise missiles, to be deployed on wide-bodied jets or on the Tornado, or ground-launched cruise missiles such as the United States will deploy in East Anglia and Berkshire. Another option would be to acquire submarine-launched cruise missiles for deployment in our 12 fleet submarines, or in a newly constructed class of diesel-electric submarines. They could be operational by 1984 and the cost would not amount to more than the British Steel Corporation's deficit during the past 12 months—probably less than £500 million.

The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston has the capability and capacity to do the work on the warheads that would be required now that the back of the Chevaline programme has been broken, and before the Trident programme is under way. It would be possible to do that if the national will was there and, above all, if the Government were willing to make the commitment.

I recognise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had a struggle with the Treasury and his Cabinet colleagues to get a commitment to 3 per cent. growth in real terms. I suspect that he found support and a strong ally in the Prime Minister.

It would be churlish not to recognise that the Government have given priority to defence expenditure at a time of stagnation in national production and of cuts in public expenditure. However, I make no apology for saying that 3 per cent.—even if it were a genuine 3 per cent. rather than a Treasury-rigged 3 per cent.—is inadequate to meet the level of threat that the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and leading Cabinet colleagues know to exist. This figure is nowhere near sufficient to rectify the many glaring deficiencies in our defences. In fact, 3 per cent. is no more than is needed to stand still as the cost of replacing high technology military equipment is running ahead of inflation.

It is axiomatic that if the defence budget is not increased the diversion of 5 per cent. per annum to provide for the Polaris replacement will mean a reduction of 5 per cent. in total defence expenditure. Millions of those who voted Conservative at the last general election did so partly for reasons of defence. I venture to think that this is not what they had in mind when they put their crosses on the ballot paper.

I believe that a figure nearer 20 per cent. is needed to make an impact on our national defence capability. That would do no more than bring us into line with what our French and German allies are spending.

I shall be corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) if I am wrong, but I believe that it is commonplace to assert that the Chamberlain Government took inadequate steps to build up our defences in the latter part of the 1930s. I was therefore amazed by the statistics produced by the House of Commons Library which show that in the years 1937 and 1938 Chamberlain increased defence expenditure by no less than 95 per cent. in real terms, taking defence from 3.5 to 6.3 per cent. of GDP. The following year he further doubled that figure to 12.5 per cent. of GDP. Britain's economic difficulties were far greater in the 1930s than today when the Government expect to receive revenue from North Sea oil and gas of £10 billion in each of the next five years. Who can say we cannot afford to devote one-fifth of that sum—£2 billion—to increasing our defences, or is it all to be squandered on Civil Service pay rises and inflation-proof pensions for air marshals and Members of Parliament?

In the late 1930s the international situation was gravely menacing, but the threat is even greater today. In the two years since the House last debated the Royal Navy, the international scene has darkened markedly. The USSR has gained superiority over the United States in every parameter of strategic power, save only in number of warheads. The imbalance of Euro-strategic weaponry has increased to 4.5:1 with, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out earlier this week, the deployment of one SS20 missile each week, each with the equivalent destructive power of 100 Hiroshima bombs.

Iran has been lost to the West, and the Soviet Union has invaded Afghanistan—a vivid reminder, for those who need it, of the aggressive nature of Soviet imperialism. It is no wonder that our people are worried, and are talking for the first time in my life about the possibility of a world war in the years ahead. A young mother asked me the other day "Will my children live to see the trees that we planted in our garden this spring?" I find such talk frightening, but it is realistic. We in Europe are not doing enough to prevent war. Britain could play a key part if we had the will so to do.

I do not believe that the Soviet leaders want war; but neither did Hitler. He wanted to dominate Europe without a war. It was our British bloody-minded-ness—the fact that we refused to submit—that led to war. It was we who declared war on Hitler. That fact is often forgotten. We must be careful not to invite adventures. I welcome the deployment of the United States cruise missiles, but I am not happy that they should be confined to the two proposed bases, except when smoke signals are being sent up by the Kremlin. Those concentrations will make an attractive and easy target if a future Soviet Government should decide on a Western European venture.

Britain can strengthen her defences—desirably in concert with her Allies—but in the last resort alone, to the point where we can safeguard the future peace and freedom not only of our people but of the peoples of Western Europe. Furthermore, we can do so without a shot being fired. Can there be any more vital or noble task to which this House can set its hand? The need is urgent. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out in the Defence Estimates debate, the present situation is one of great peril.

At last we have a Government whose rhetoric reflects the gravity of the world situation. It is time for that rhetoric to be matched by a credible and effective response. That requires cash. I trust that my right hon. Friend will gird himself to do battle once again with the knights and gurus of the Treasury, armed with the clarion call of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 19 January 1976, in her speech entitled "Britain Awake", in which she declared : It is a time when we urgently need to strengthen our defences. Of course this places a burden on us. But it is one that we must be willing to bear if we want our freedom to survive. Throughout our history, we have carried the torch for freedom.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. Seven hon. Gentlemen have indicated their wish to take part in this important debate. Front Bench speeches are timed to begin at 9.25 pm. Speeches of about 15 minutes will enable the Chair to call all those who wish to speak.

7.46 pm
Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) is well known to us as a cold war warrior. If he was a more substantial figure, he would terrify us. He and others who think like him are a greater menace to world peace than anyone on the Left of the Labour Party. He made the arrogant assumption that we who take a different view from him are less patriotic.

Mr. Churchill

I did not say that.

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman came near to implying it.

Mr. Churchill

The hon. Gentleman should read Hansard tomorrow.

Mr. Hamilton

It is nonsense to talk like that. These debates inevitably call into question the Government's priorities. The Government insist that we must live within our means, especially when it comes to housing, health or education. They go out of their way to say that we must cut school meals and milk and make nurses and old-age pensioners suffer.

Mr. Churchill

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hamilton

I shall not give way now, in view of the instructions to be brief. I shall give way later, if time allows.

The hon. Gentleman criticised the Government because they were not spending enough on defence. He went so far as to say that there should be an annual increase of 20 per cent.

Mr. Churchill

Not an annual increase.

Mr. Hamilton

I took down the hon Gentleman's words. He jibbed at the 3 per cent. in real terms and said that it should be 20 per cent. The current overall expenditure on defence is about £8,000 million a year.

Mr. Churchill

£10,000 million.

Mr. Hamilton

That makes it even more frightening. The Government are proposing in real terms a 3 per cent. increase on that figure year by year. That is what I wish to challenge.

I am not on what the hon. Member for Stretford described as the lunatic Left. I am in the lunatic centre. The hon. Gentleman ought to be careful about the words that he uses. He said that there are formidable deficiencies within our defence forces. But there are such deficiencies in our education service, in our Health Service and in all the other services that some of us champion in preference to defence.

I will not be brainwashed by the continuous sabre rattling that we have had from the Prime Minister and other Ministers since the election. They have incited our people to believe that a third world war is becoming inevitable. It is a terrifying performance and it does no service to anyone.

The figures for particular weapon systems are no less terrifying. I shall refer only to the Stingray torpedo. The Public Accounts Committee, of which I am a member, has produced evidence on that system. The evidence is available in the Vote Office and what I have to say is based on the evidence that the PAC heard from the Ministry of Defence.

The weapon goes back at least 10 years, so there is no party point in my comments. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) made a conscientious and, in his view, realistic speech about our defence requirements and how we were meeting them. No hon. Member would deny that my hon. Friend was a conscientious Minister in the previous Government, and he spoke today as an equally conscientious ex-Minister. If I had shut my eyes and listened to him and the Minister, I would have found it difficult to tell which was the Tory and which was the Labour spokesman.

The original estimate for Stingray 10 years ago was £82 million. By October 1978, it had risen to £700 million, and at current prices the estimated cost of development and production is £920 million. The PAC was told by the Ministry that that £920 million was the £700 million of 1978 updated only for inflation and VAT increases and not for any modification of the system. Of course, the £920 million is the figure for September 1979. The chances are that it is now over £1,000 million.

The United States has also produced a torpedo, the improved mark 46, some of which we have already acquired, though apparently it is a torpedo with a different purpose from that of Stingray. The PAC inquiries revealed that the story of the United Kingdom torpedo development is not impressive. A previous torpedo, the Mk. 31, ended with no practical results and after considerable expenditure.

We were told that some lessons about management and control arrangements were learnt in the course of that exercise. But they were expensively and only partly learnt. The Minister dismissed the topic in a paragraph or two in his opening speech, but even now there is no certainty that the Ministry knows what it is doing in this matter.

Giving evidence to the PAC on 27 February, Sir Clifford Cornford, the chief of the Defence Procurement Department, said : I have to acknowledge that we have had a long and not very easily explicable history of failing to measure up to what is required to make a torpedo satisfactory. You recalled the Mark 31 torpedo and its time. We learned some lessons, I believe from the Mark 31, but Mark 31 unfortunately did not go as far. I am quoting from the gentleman's evidence. It may not make much sense to hon. Members. It did not make much sense to me at the time. He went on : It was stopped before going far enough down the programme for us to learn some of the things which patently with hindsight we know we did not know. Is that clear? He continued : I think that we have only really fully appreciated the problems of torpedo development in Stingray itself. Later he said : It was only, I think, in 1978 "— that is after eight years or so—— that we really got the first full appreciation of what was involved in such an exercise. You will, I suspect, ask me how I know that we have got it now. I do not know that we have got it now. I am very confident that we have got it now, and I think that the confidence stems from the performance that we have had collectively with the contractor since that time. That terrifies me. Those are the words of a knight in control of defence procurement spending £920 million of taxpayers' money. The Government are always telling us about taxpayers' money, yet we are given that rubbish by the top authorities in the Ministry.

We are not ended yet Much of the evidence has been sidelined because security is involved—we must not let the people know what is going on—and much is sidelined because it is a lot of nonsense. The Minister said earlier that it was the most sophisticated weapons system in NATO. In fact, none of our NATO allies wants the damn thing.

Mr. Speed

indicated dissent.

Mr. Hamilton

The Under-Secretary ought to read the evidence from his Ministry. None of our allies wants the system. The evidence given to us was that the Germans operated in the Baltic and for some reason their requirement was different from ours because we operated in the North Sea. When we asked if anyone else wanted it, we were told that there was nothing to show them, that we had nothing that worked and that until we get a torpedo that works there cannot be any sales for it.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there have been successful firing trials of Stingray? Will he also comment on the importance, technologically and for employment, of making sure that we retain the capacity to produce such weapons?

Mr. Hamilton

When hon. Members are weak on argument, they fall back on the fact that work on a weapon employs a few thousand men. The Minister said that 4,500 men were employed on a project—as if that were a defence for spending hundreds of millions of pounds in such a profligate way.

Of course, it is important that men should have jobs. The Minister referred to recruitment to the Armed Forces. No doubt he will get the numbers he wants when we have 2 million to 3 million on the dole. They will be coming forward because there will be nowhere else for them to go. But that is no argument for wasting money in such a way. I shall come in a moment to the tests and trials that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) mentioned. We have no guarantee that this wretched system will work or that we will be able to sell it to anyone else.

Asked what would be the cost of cancellation of the project, the Department said that it would be £150 million or £160 million. The torpedo is still at its development stage. The Department went on to say that there is still a vast range of laboratory experiments in train, as well as full scale experiments in water. One has to try torpedoes in water.

I shall quote this top civil servant again. He said : The purpose is to find out whether it works, why it does not and how to put it right. This would make a marvellous "That Was the Week That Was" satirical programme for television. This is the kind of evidence we are getting from people handling taxpayers' money in large quantities.

The target cost for the completion of the development stage is £215 million, give or take the odd £20 million. Presumably the £930 million refers to the total supply of these torpedoes to the 400 or so aircraft and ships eventually to be armed with it. When the Department was asked our contribution to the NATO anti-submarine force, the answer was that we would be providing about one-tenth of the total anti-submarine force, or 50 per cent. of all anti-submarine operations in the Eastern Atlantic.

When the Department was asked how much it would cost us to acquire the same number of improved United States Mk. 46 torpedoes, the answer was £200 million, plus £150 million for compensation in the event of cancellation of our own torpedo, making a total of £350 million. When this alternative proposition was put to the Department, it tried to convince us that our torpedo was for quite a different purpose from that of the improved Mk. 46 weapon and that we would therefore prefer to go our own way.

In answer to a question on these matters in the House last Tuesday, the Secretary of State expressed the view that there is no doubt about its need". He admitted, however, that there had been a series of under-estimates as regards the cost. The Government and I had to make an assessment about its future, and we concluded that it was right to go ahead".—[Official Report, 17 June 1980; Vol. 986, c. 1317]. I wish to emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). One of the reasons why the House is almost empty for these debates is that hon. Members feel impotent and unable to influence decisions. They feel that the decisions are made at some level over which hon. Members have no control. They stay away because they say to themselves "We are spending £920 million on the system and we cannot do anything about it". I should like to know at what level these decisions are made. Are they made by a small clique of top Ministers, or by the whole Cabinet? What is the procedure?

I should hope that if I was a Minister I would be reasonably intelligent about these matters. I am, however, clay in the hands of skilled engineers and technologists, admirals and air commodores. I would not know what they were talking about. Those are the people who make the decisions. We are the poor politicians. We have a bunch now on the Government Front Bench who come to the House and say that, after due consideration, they have decided to spend £920 million of the taxpayers' money on something they are not quite sure will work.

Mr. Trotter

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the American improved Mk. 46. If he looks further into American development, he will see that a new torpedo is being developed, the advanced lightweight. The Mk. 46 is limited, even when improved. So the Americans also recognise the need for a new development.

Mr. Hamilton

All I am saying is that the Americans are in this business, and we are in it. Hardly anyone else in the NATO Alliance is in it. We are footing the bills. The Americans have an enormous market and potential for their weapon system; we have not. It is, therefore, a much greater effort proportionately for us than for the Americans.

Mr. Churchill

Is the hon. Gentleman incapable of taking any pride in the fact that, in this field of high technology, British industry is years ahead of all competition, whether the Warsaw Pact or the United States? We are talking not of one torpedo but of a whole family of torpedoes and future generations of torpedoes. This could be an investment that pays off many times over in overseas orders once the system is proved.

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman should read the evidence from the Department. It said that it had made a mess of it. The fact is that none of our allies and no other navy in the world has yet expressed any interest in this weapon. I do not accept that the hon. Gentleman is in any way an expert in these matters. He is loud-mouthed about them, but that is about the limit. I consider that I am as great an expert, if not a greater expert, in these matters. I can see the matter in a much wider context. The hon. Gentleman spends all his time on defence matters. That is his prerogative.

I take a great interest in the Health Service and in education. In the last fortnight I have attended protests by nurses. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that £920 million spent on the development of this torpedo is about half of the total cost of nurses' salaries in the Health Service. That is a legitimate comparison to make. I do not believe that we have got our priorities right, nor does the general public.

At the time of the last Conservative Budget the Government made great play of a public opinion poll that appeared in The Sunday Times on 30 March expressing general approval of the Budget. Several questions were asked of those who took part in the opinion poll. Asked where they thought public expenditure cuts should fall, 30 per cent. opted for cuts in defence. Only 24 per cent. opted for an increase. Conservative Members should not think that, by sabre rattling and by spending far in excess of what we can afford in defence, they are taking the public with them. They are doing nothing of the kind.

In the same public opinion poll, there were massive majorities in favour of increased expenditure on education and the Health Service. If by embarking on the kind of exercise we are debating today we impoverish those services, the Government are doing a disservice to the nation. I do not believe that if defence expenditure was cut in the same way as education, health and other services have been cut world peace would be jeopardised to any great degree.

When I examine the figures and hear evidence given to the Public Accounts Committee, I think more and more how desperately urgent is the need for multilateral disarmament. I do not believe in unilateral disarmament, although I concede that people who do believe in it are genuine and no less patriotic than anybody else. It is nonsense to pretend that we can play any meaningful part in world affairs other than by exercising the utmost energy in achieving disarmament. Instead, we are pushing towards a third world war.

I hope that the Government will say what they think about achieving agreement on SALT II and going on to SALT III. World peace depends far more on that than on whether we have an updated version of Polaris or any other weapon of destruction.

When I was a schoolboy I read about the activities of the Krupp armaments manufacturer in Germany. That organisation made millions of pounds by the simple process of producing armour plating which was bullet-proof to all known missiles. It sold it throughout the world. It then set its researchers on producing bullets and missiles that could penetrate the armour. It flogged them to each country. So it goes on. If we produce a sophisticated torpedo and it works, the Russians will not sit on their backsides ; they will know about it and produce a counter to it. There is no end to it. It is time that the nonsense was ended before we are all dead.

8.12 pm
Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth North)

I do not agree with much of what the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said. However, one of his comments deserves its place in the record. He said that having listened to the opening speech by his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) and to the speech by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State he found it difficult to distinguish between what they said. Thank God for that. That is what should happen in defence. The House should transcend party policy.

Mr. Duffy

Before the non-serious remark by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) is taken too seriously, I must remind the House that I raised all manner of questions in my speech that could not possibly find an echo in the speech by the Under-Secretary of State and could not provide a basis for resemblance. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) confined his speech to Polaris. I said nothing that is inconsistent with the speeches by my hon. Friends.

Mr. Griffiths

I did not wish to cause misunderstanding. I was approving of the tenor of what the hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State said.

An island nation such as ours must take note of any potential naval threat. I am pleased that the Government accept the challenge posed by the Soviet naval buildup. It has been said that we should not exaggerate the degree of threat. There is a danger of building up a bogy which is greater than the reality. If one examines the absolutes of numbers it is not difficult to make a case that the Russian fleet, in terms of the size of its coastline and population, is no greater than the navies of other countries.

I prefer to measure the threat of Russia's navy in terms of our vulnerability. It is not a question of how many ships a foreign Power has but rather to do with the dependence of Britain on seaborne traffic. Because of our vulnerability we must take account of the rise of any naval power which is not committed to long-term friendship. If and when we achieve detente we would not regard the armament build-up of another power as the direct threat with which the build-up of the Soviet navy is now regarded.

The Royal Navy requires increased capacity to meet the growing threat. The threat is growing in numbers, in scale and in the areas in which it operates. What type of capacity build-up do we mean? It is not sufficient to spend more on defence. That does not solve any problems. To say that we need more ships does not solve the problems. We must be cautious in expenditure because there are so many divided counsels on the best way to spend.

Everything was so much easier in the early days of the Dreadnought when, under the educating role of the Navy League, the public could take up as a popular cry "We want eight and we want weight." Today the problem is not simply a matter of committing ourselves to more expenditure. We must ensure that our expenditure gives us the most effective defensive naval power. It is unlikely that we shall be able to acquire all the vessels required. There will always be elements of deficiency. We must recognise that no country, not even the richest, can afford 100 per cent. of what it would like to protect itself.

We must look for flexibility in our expenditure. We must have flexibility in our approach to the broad strategy. At the tactical level we must have flexibility in the equipment that we purchase and in the use of vessels. That, rather than sheer numbers, is the key to our future naval expenditure programme. I welcome the development of the Invincible class. The Admiralty is wise to place the new sophisticated vessels in the capable hands of the Portsmouth Royal Navy base.

The second point is that we should ensure that our vessels—whether of the most modern design or of a more elderly design—are used as intensively as possible. That depends on the way in which the vessels are maintained. In particular it depends upon the way in which they are turned round during refit.

I wish to say a word or two about the essential role in development of the Royal naval dockyards and the naval bases that are associated with them. The ships of the Navy are only as efficient as the men who service them. The ability to turn vessels round quickly has the same effect as building more ships, but the process is infinitely less expensive.

I remind my hon. Friend that he spoke earlier of the importance of the improved morale in the Navy. That has come about over the last 12 months and is related to improvements in wages and conditions. It is equally essential that we maintain the morale of those who work in the dockyards. They are as entitled to as secure a future as those who take on Service commitments. They are entitled to the same pay and conditions as obtain in other walks of life.

For that reason, I believe that consideration should be given to bringing the industrial civil servants, whose work backs up the work of the Navy and that of other Services as well, under the general umbrella of the Ministry of Defence. If we look to improve our defence capacity I believe that the Ministry of Defence should be in charge of the budget which pays the wages and salaries of the Indus- trial civil servants who form a key part of that defence capacity.

I trust that, as part of the maintenance of morale, we shall soon hear that the study group set up by my hon. Friend to examine the role of the naval dockyards, which has been awaited with anxiety over recent months in those cities where the dockyards are located, will be reporting. We look to that report with confidence, but an early statement from my hon. Friend would relieve much anxiety.

The third way in which we can ensure the flexibility of our naval response to any threat follows closely on the point made by the hon. Member for Fife, Central concerning the supply of equipment to our naval vessels. Wherever it is possible to maintain a United Kingdom capacity to supply the necessary equipment we should take that opportunity—particularly in the case of Stingray.

I am sure that the Marconi workers in my constituency will take the strongest exception to the remarks of the hon. Member which by their nature and tone were calculated to do great harm to the remarkable export prospects of the Stingray programme. Stingray is a complete, system of missiles which has potential sales not only to our smaller NATO allies but to the United States. The successful firing trials of Stingray took place in the United States and it was in the United States that we were able to demonstrate that the system works and that it is four years ahead—as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) of the comparable American alternative. That is something in which we can all take pride. Trade unionists on the shop floor as well as top management in my constituency take the greatest pride in the achievement of a British company that has been successful in one of the most fiercely competitive industrial sectors in the world.

In considering the replacement of the heavy torpedo, I can assure my hon. Friend that interesting proposals can emerge from the same source that produced Stingray and I trust that such proposals will be given the same sympathetic consideration.

The Navy is much more than what is affectionately known as "the Grey Funnel Line". The Navy consists of the ships, the men, the equipment, the naval dockyard back-up. design work by hundreds of firms far away from the sea coasts and the morale of the totality that makes up the Service. The Navy represents the spirit of the people of this country and I am glad to see that the Government are pledged as firmly as any Government in the past to recognising that Britain is still a great world naval Power. Long may it be so.

8.25 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) will forgive me if I do not immediately follow on from his contribution. However, I shall return to it.

I begin by accepting the challenge thrown out to us by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). He said that we should not support defence expenditure just because it provided jobs. I represent an area which is desperately hungry for work. In my constituency there are now nearly 9,000 people registered as unemployed, and there are many thousands more who have given up the prospect of a job and have not registered. There are under 300 registered jobs available at local jobcentres.

When we have had Divisions in the House after debates on the defence strategy of the Government I have made it plain in the Lobby where I stand. I have explained to the workers in the shipyards that, although I have voted in a certain way, every Member has two other duties. First, we have to ensure that the Government's defence policy makes sense not only from our viewpoint but on the basis of the premises on which they have constructed their strategy. I shall come back to that issue shortly. Secondly, given that we have a large and growing defence budget—a budget growing in real terms, as has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members—one has the duty to make sure that one's own area receives a fair share of the budget and the work that comes from it.

The contributions that we have so far heard in the debate divide neatly into two. A number of hon. Members have displayed their considerable knowledge and skill in painting the grand global survey. Other hon. Members have made contributions more limited in scope but contributions which have been important in spite of that.

I wish to paint on the smaller canvas. In doing so I wish to look at the premises on which the Governemt have constructed part of their Navy budget and to suggest that there is a glaring and glowing inconsistency here. It is not so much that the Navy's left hand does not know what its right hand is doing as that the Navy's left hand is beginning to stab its right hand.

There is a growing problem for the Government in fulfilling their commitments for the Navy as outlined in the defence White Paper, especially when one considers their record in placing public sector orders in our shipyards. The number of orders that we hope for are not forthcoming, and there is a real danger that some of the mixed yards—the yards that compete for both merchant and Navy work—will go under. If those yards go under, then the Government will not have the capacity to fulfil part of their defence strategy on the Navy front.

By posing these questions I am also asking how well the policies of the Department of Industry, specifically those on shipbuilding are related to the issues thrown up by the Ministry of Defence.

The best starting point for exploring this area is to consider the Aircraft and Shipbiulding Industries Act 1977. We there find the duties that the House has laid upon British Shipbuilders. The Act provides that it shall be its duty. in carrying out its activities to have full regard to the requirements of national defence". When the Secretary of State for Industry announced support for the corporate plan of British Shipbuilders in the House in July, we assumed that before making that announcement he had been in full conversation with his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. The corporate plan provided a significant rundown in shipbuilding capacity. About 20,000 shipbuilding jobs were to be lost With this slimlining, there was to be a major injection of Government funds, and, importantly for our debate, a number of yards were designated as mixed yards.

Once a yard is made a mixed yard, it becomes difficult for it to compete effectively for merchant shipbuilding orders. If such a yard is successful in fulfilling some of its orders from the Navy, its overheads increase significantly. They are overheads that have to be carried when it is competing for merchant shipbuilding orders.

In the corporate plan that was approved by the House we assumed that the Government would fulfil their side of the bargain by bringing forward public sector orders for the yards designated as mixed yards. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) in the Chamber, because I am about to turn to the essence of his contribution. When my hon. Friend was asking pertinent questions of the Minister about public sector orders, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) made a waggish intervention about the timing of orders shortly prior to the general election. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that Old Mother Hubbard had given away all the orders before the general election and that when the new Mother Hubbard reached the cupboard there was nothing much in the cupboard to give away.

Mr. Trotter

I was simply stating a fact. That intervention was made not during the speech of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) but during that of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy).

Mr. Field

I am pleased to be corrected. However, both of those interventions need not have been made. A number of the mixed yards are facing a real crisis because of a lack of jobs. Had the Government fulfilled their side of the corporate plan by bringing forward public sector orders—the commitment which, presumably, they knew they had to fulfil last July when underwriting the shipbuilding industry with a great deal of public money—there would not now be the crisis in the mixed yards that there obviously is. Given that there is a crisis, it is clear that there has been a shortfall in the number of public sector orders.

The House will not be surprised if I spend a little time talking about Cammell Laird in my constituency. I was grateful for the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy). He reported on his visit to the yard a few weeks ago. I am not sure whether he used the word, but I think that it is appropriate to say that we have seen a revolution in the way Cammell Laird now goes about shipbuilding. There has been a complete transformation, according to my hon. Friend. I would use the slightly more emotive phrase "a revolution in the yard". Against a background of falling order books—and there are only two orders now in the yard—there has been an impressive increase in productivity.

We know that it is difficult to increase productivity when the order books are good. It is a massive achievement to do that when the workers are working themselves out of their jobs in the real sense of the term. Even today, when we were hoping for an announcement about work for the Cammell Laird yards, that massively impressive record in shipbuilding continues. I hope that the Government supporter who ask for a similar revolution in industrial relations in other parts of industry will be mindful and speak, if not publicly, at least quietly to their Ministers and say that success on this scale should be backed and not penalised.

If one of the successes on Merseyside is not rewarded, what lessons does that hold for the rest of the working populalation on Merseyside who are looking about to see whether they should make similar changes in industrial practices and whether it is in their interests to follow increased productivity? If Cammell Laird is not rewarded, the outlook for Merseyside, and many other areas of the country, is grim indeed.

Given that I have an obvious constituency interest here, I want to end by posing two questions to the Minister. The first is general. I was pleased that in today's debate he announced orders. I am pleased for those yards that have received them, although at other times a number of us have raised questions about whether this is the best way to spend our money. However, there was no announcement for work for Cammell Laird. As we have a real banquet this evening, with the same Minister opening and summing up the debate, I hope that he will spare some time to say something about the orders that we on Merseyside desperately want. Secondly, I should like him to address himself to the general question of the Ministry of Defence role in fulfilling the corporate strategy for British Shipbuilders.

I believe that the Minister announced new work totalling £100 million. That is good. However, if the orders stop there, and given what the Ministry of Defence must have guaranteed as its contribution to British Shipbuilders in July last year, will the problem of redundancies in our shipyards be ended with the Minister's announcement today? Will today's orders from the Ministry of Defence fulfil 100 per cent. the commitment which it must have given to British Shipbuilders a year ago? If not, what will be the size of the shortfall if no further orders are announced? How many more jobs must go? Alternatively, looking on a more positive side, what other orders must be announced to fulfil the commitments that were outlined to the House in July last year?

My contribution is to paint on the smaller canvas and to present the real needs of a job-starved area, Birkenhead, on Merseyside. In doing so, I hope that I have not been rowing only a constituency boat—if I may put it in those mixed terms—although I should be happy to do just that.

The dilemma and problems of Cammell Laird illustrate the much bigger problem for British Shipbuilders in general and for the Ministry of Defence in particular. British Shipbuilders now has a number of mixed yards which are vulnerable and which could go under. They will go under if the Government are not able, for one reason or another, to fulfil the commitments that they made last July. If the yards go under, the Government will be hard pressed to fulfil the requirements that they outlined for the Navy in the defence White Paper.

At the end of our banquet, when the Minister replies to the points that have been raised in the debate, I hope that he will deal specifically with orders for Cammell Laird, the difficulties which the absence of public sector orders causes for mixed yards and, if those yards go under, the difficulties that the Ministry of Defence will encounter in its procurement policy.

8.39 pm
Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)

I hope that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) will support the additional spending that would be called for by adding to the warship building programme of the Navy, as I certainly would, coming as I do from an area of a mixed yard. I hope he would also support, as I do, the proposal that the orders should be allocated strictly on the basis of which are the most efficient yards. I say that without any personal reflection on any yard. I state that as a general suggestion. The work ought to go where the yards are best fitted to carry it out.

We have had our attention distracted from the naval scene in recent months by the operations of the Soviet army and air force in Afghanistan. Yet we enter the new decade with a dramatic improvement in the Soviet naval posture. The years of very high spending are paying off in all three Soviet services, but it is perhaps most apparent in its navy, as its ships sail out from their bases into the waters of the world.

The threat during a time of war is obvious to everybody—from the submarines, the surface ships, the aircraft and mines. There is, however, also the enormous influence of this great and expanding naval power in peace time. In 1965 the Soviet navy spent 6,300 ship days at sea outside its own waters. Last year it was over 50,000 ship days outside its own waters. Putting that into terms of the average number of ships, in 1965 there was an average of 17 Soviet warships on the high seas. It is now 140 at any one time.

These remarkable achievements art the work of one man at the top, Admiral Sergey Gorshkov. He has had a remarkable career. He is 70 years of age and he has commanded the Soviet navy for no less than 24 years, during which time he has turned it from a weak coastal defence force into a world-wide navy. No wonder he is a Hero of the Soviet Union—four times awarded the Order of Lenin and four times the Order of the Red Banner. He is also a writer. In his books he spells it out for us. In "Sea Power and the State "he says : Soviet sea power, merely a defensive arm in 1953, has become the optimum means to defeat the imperialist enemy and the most important element in the Soviet arsenal to prepare the way for a Communist world. There is no doubt at all what is his motive in presiding over the build-up of this great navy. He says that it is a navy that can win battles for his country without even firing a shot, simply by its presence in crisis areas far from Western Europe.

Any Government in deciding their defence programme have to arrive at a number of very delicate balances. There is the balance between other demands on the limited funds available—the division between the navy, the army, the air force ; within the navy, the types of ships and weapons. What is, sadly, all too obvious, is the enormous cost of all weapons today. The Minister announced in this debate an order for four new minesweepers at a cost of £100 million—so we have now reached the stage where it is £25 million for a minesweeper. We are talking about enormous sums. Every time a shell is fired it costs £400. The costs are just as great for the Soviets as they are for us, but by spending 13 per cent. of their GNP on their military programme, they have built up their services despite the great costs.

During the Korean War we increased our share of GNP on defence to 13 per cent., under Clement Attlee, at a time when it was thought that there was a danger of war breaking out. I suggest that that danger is no less today than it was at the time of the Korean War, yet we spend no more than 5 per cent. of GNP on defence.

There are some delusions around. In NATO there is a great deal of talk and a little tinkering. A 3 per cent. increase, some of which is more illusory than real, is of course better than cuts. At least we have a clear recognition by NATO of the problems, though I believe we are not doing enough in NATO to meet the challenge before us.

I wonder whether, when the carriers were abandoned in the Royal Navy, we fully understood, when the decision was taken in the 1960s, what sort of navy was being built up by the Soviet Union for the 1980s. They are now moving into full scale carriers—very likely nuclear ones. I see no sign of adequate replacement by the remainder of NATO for the American ships that will have to be deployed in the Indian Ocean. One of the two American carriers from the Mediterranean has already gone to the Indian Ocean. We shall no longer see as a normal feature of the defence of the southern flank of NATO the great air power of two carriers. As a result of the invasion of Afghanistan, that air power has been halved. That is one effect of the Afghanistan invasion which is felt very close to home.

There has been talk in the debate about the need to move to smaller ships. That is probably right. We shall have to do that to obtain the necessary numbers. That trend has in fact been in existence for some considerable time. While the first of the 45,000 to 50,000-tonne Soviet carriers are completing in the Baltic, the last of our carriers, the "Ark Royal", is rusting away, waiting to be turned into razor blades. I hope that there will be some support for the proposal to moor the "Ark" at Greenwich as a museum. I hope that this great ship will be preserved for the rest of time, so that the children of the future can see the Navy as it was in a previous era. If that could be done, I am sure that most hon. Members would welcome it. It may not be possible because it is too costly a project. I understand that the GLC is prepared to find finance and I hope that the Minister will do his best to help.

We should not delude ourselves that small ships are as capable as large ships, because they are not. We are becoming a Navy of small ships, and, therefore, a Navy of less capable ships. It is a difficult balance. Large ships are sometimes very vulnerable. It may be that more small ships is the answer. The trouble is that we are not getting the increased numbers that we need. If we are to become a small ship Navy, it is essential that we have larger numbers. Value for money is what it is all about. We are certainly getting excellent value for money so far as our manpower goes. We might argue among ourselves whether we are getting value for money with the Stingray torpedo, but we are certainly getting value for money in the men and women who serve so skilfully, and with such dedication, in the Service. Morale is good.

I would like more ships to be retained in the reserve squadron. Because of the shortage of manpower that we inherited, which will take some time to put right, ships are having to be decommissioned and kept temporarily in the reserve squadron. It should be a permanent feature that ships taken out of normal service at the end of their lives are kept for much longer periods than they have been in the past, in the reserve fleets at Chatham.

There are large numbers of sailors who are ashore receiving training, on courses, or involved in instruction work. The numbers are higher than in the other two Services because, inevitably, the life of separation in a sea-going career requires that sailors are based ashore some of the time so that they see something of their families. Therefore, there is a large amount of trained manpower ashore which could man the reserve ships in an emergency.

I support the idea of using helicopters from merchant ships. That is a way to get value for money. I hope that we shall have some trials in that respect, and not simply talk about it—as we have done for some years.

I turn to the building of the ships. I fully accept the need to get the types right. They are expensive, and will have to last until the next century. I hope, however, that we shall be given some details in the not too distant future of the expected building programme. There should be a five-year rolling programme, as there is in the United States, so that everybody knows the projected programme. There are uncertainties in the shipbuilding industry which could be resolved by announcing the programme for the next five to six years as soon as possible.

If we wish to maintain the strength of the Navy we need an increased building programme. In the 1960s, 67 new ocean-going ships were commissioned. In the 1970s, only 30 new ships were commissioned. The trend is obvious for anyone to see. If we do not increase the building rate, the Navy will decline. That is a statement of fact. It may well be that there are unpleasant economic consequences in that situation, but it is a statement of fact.

I shall not go into the subject of weapons tonight—other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate—except to say that I am convinced that we must have cruise missiles at sea in our Navy. That does not mean that I am talking about a nuclear weapon aimed at the heartland of the Soviet Union in a strategic role. I am saying that we shall be outranged at sea, just as much as in the old days of the sailing ship when the chap with a 32-pounder could sink the man with a 16-pounder before he could get close enough to fire. At sea, that is the sort of situation in which we shall find ourselves in a few years' time if we do not go for cruise missiles.

We have the Exocet as our surface-to-surface missile now—replacing the gun—with a range of about 20 miles. We are buying the Harpoon for submarines, and that has a range of about 60 miles. We are not buying it, as far as I know, for the surface ships—there has been no announcement of that. In America it is to be found on submarines, surface ships and aeroplanes as well and that is something in which we should certainly copy the American example.

But the Americans are now going ahead on the installation of the Tomahawk cruise missile on all three—their surface ships, submarines and aircraft at sea. Fleet trials with this weapon in the United States Navy are now being carried out at a range of 300 miles. They have managed to use those weapons and to target them at that sort of range, and it just will not do for us to go into the next generation with a weapon with a 20-mile range when others have the sort of ranges about which I have been talking for their weapons.

If there is one point in my speech to which I should like the Minister to reply, that is the one I should particularly like to hammer home. What shall we do in order to obtain weapons with adequate range? I must spell it out. The alternatives are not adequate. We cannot rely on the Royal Air Force to provide air attack because there are very large parts of the world in which the Royal Air Force will not be available. We cannot rely on the Harrier. It has been said, quite authoritatively, that the Harrier was not designed to attack surface ships. We cannot rely on helicopters to carry missiles because they are too vulnerable and they are not long range.

I apologise to my hon. Friend if I have demolished those arguments which, perhaps, he would initially think of in reply to my comments, but no doubt he will be able to think of some other answers, perhaps even by talking of buying cruise missiles.

The sea is not vital for the Soviet Union, but it is for us. If they lose at sea, they have not lost the war. If we lose at sea, we have lost the war, because we should not be able to import the raw materials necessary to keep our economy going and we should not be able to bring over the reinforcements from America. The men may fly, but the materials must come by sea. We are talking about millions of tons.

It is true that it is not just the quality of equipment that matters. It is also the quality and skill of the manpower. I believe that we have an advantage here over the Soviets. It is probably our greatest asset that we have enormous skill and professionalism in our sailors, whereas the Soviets inevitably have to rely largely on conscripts, and I do not believe that they can be as good. But we cannot ask our sailors entirely to make up for the inadequacies of the equipment on our side, the numbers and perhaps, in the future, the quality by their own skill. That is not fair, and we cannot expect skill and dedication alone to be sufficient to correct the ever-growing imbalance that one sees stretching ahead.

Out of the Black Sea or the Baltic, there will be sailing, probably later this year, the first of the 25,000-ton nuclear battleships which have been built by the Soviets. I choose my words carefully. I understand that that is what they are—ships twice as big as any comparable ship in the American Navy and, sadly, about six times as big as the ships in our Navy. Why have they built them? It is not too certain. Ships of that size make an awful lot of bubbles when they go down, but in peace time they are very impressive ships.

Shall we all be surprised when the "Kirov", or whatever she is called, sails out? Shall we all say "My goodness, where did that come from?" Let no one tell me that it has not been known in the Ministry of Defence for a considerable time that these ships are building, and, behind them are, almost certainly, 40,000-ton or 50,000-ton nuclear aircraft carriers. Therefore, let us be thinking and debating now what we shall do to counter those massive ships and the power that they will have on the world sea lanes when they come into service.

Britain may no longer rule the waves, but it is essential that, with our allies, we ensure that Russia does not do so.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There is a bare 30 minutes before the winding-up speeches begin and five hon. Members wish to speak.

8.55 pm
Mr. Chris Patten (Bath)

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter) will excuse me if I do not follow him, but I want to be brief in order to allow as many hon. Members as possible to speak.

I wish to concentrate on one issue that is of great concern to a small, but too often forgotten, group of my constituents, and constituents of other hon. Members namely, the treatment of widows who have married Service men after their retirement from the Armed Forces. I raise the issue in this debate partly because there are many widows of sailors in my constituency.

The issue was last raised substantively on the Floor of the House by the late Airey Neave in an Adjournment debate in 1971. Four other hon. Members intervened in that debate ; none is still a Member of Parliament. But the arguments that have been put forward by the Government against making a change are the same now as they were then.

I had hoped that we could avoid going over the same hurdles again, that we could encourage the Secretary of State for Defence to take a fresh look at the problem. Hon. Members know only too well that widows receive no pension when they marry a Service man after he has retired. The situation was changed a little by the Social Security Pensions Act, 1975, because of the general contracting-out provisions in that legislation. Widows of members of the Armed Forces who were serving on or after April 1978 receive some pension for the service that is per- formed after that date. So, eventually time will dispose of the problem, but how long is "eventually", and how many widows and families will suffer in the meantime?

The nature of the widows' entitlement to a pension under the Armed Forces pension scheme is clear. It is earned not by contributions, but by service. That was made clear at the beginning of the last century in Royal Warrants that spoke about rewards for good and faithful military service". There is a clear distinction between other public services and the Armed Forces. In one case the entitlement is achieved through contributions, and in the other it is achieved through service. It is curious that Ministers pretend that that distinction does not exist.

The present position is especially unfair to Service men, as many of them do not marry until they retire. Until the last war, officers were discouraged from marrying until they were 30, which made it far more likely that they would not marry until they retired. The problems that many Service men face when they retire and when they marry within a few weeks or months or completing, say, 20 years' service are considerable. They will be starting a family late in life, and they will be constantly worried by the prospects of their widows and families having no pension when they die. There are countless personal cases that I could mention if there was a little more time. I simply say as neutrally as possible that there is little to recommend a system that leaves all but destitute widows and families of men who have given the country considerable service.

The present regulations are particularly unfair in the case of early retirement. That is recognised in other European countries where, within certain limitations, they operate in a more humane and civilised way. It has been argued in the past that the Commonwealth has the same system as Britain. That is not very much of an argument. We cannot justify deplorably bad behaviour by saying that other people also behave badly. We know that the Commonwealth inherited our regulations. That is one part of the imperial legacy over which we should sympathise with it.

Comparability studies are not particularly popular at present. As I pointed out earlier, there is a unique status to the entitlement of Service men and their widows to a pension, but I want to make a comparison with our pension scheme, which is splendid and wholly justified. We make our contributions, which earn our entitlement. Our entitlement is earned by our contributions, not by our service in the House. When we retire, our entitlement remains bought. It is not refunded. If that is good enough for us it is perfectly reasonable to apply the same principles to Service men, the only difference being that in their case the entitlement is bought through service rather than financial contributions.

Finally, I wish to say a few words about the Government's arguments that have been adduced down the years against this case. One might assume that the arguments would be overwhelmingly powerful in order to persuade so many humane and sensible Ministers to reject them, but that is not so. They are arguments of the sort that might have convinced Widmerpool, and which might nowadays convince a particularly norrow-minded assistant secretary in the Treasury. That breed has its uses when it comes to controlling public expenditure. But I would not have believed for a moment that those arguments could have convinced such generous and broad-minded people as the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy.

Two main arguments are put forward against the proposal. The first is that of retrospection, which is an old friend of ours. It is argued that it is wrong to adjust pension provisions retrospectively. That is a rotten argument. The existing pensions provision for the Armed Services—and for pensions generally—is shot through with wholly admirable examples of the retrospective correction of anomalies and unfairnesses. The Forces family pension scheme of 1952 has a good deal of retrospection in it, and the recommendations of the Grigg committee in 1958 and again when they were further implemented in 1963 also contained retrospective elements.

Even if there were no examples of retrospection to undermine the argument that this is some inviolate principle, I wonder whether it is a principle at all. I can see that there is a principle involved if, retrospectively, one takes away from a person a right to which he is entitled, or something which he has been promised, but I do not see that there is any principle in giving someone a right or an entitlement which has been unfairly withheld. That is not a breach of principle, it is an act of justice, and we should distinguish between the two.

The other argument is that of cost. In a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), the Ministry of Defence said the other day that the cost of this proposal would be between £8 million and £10 million. However, the Ministry does not tell us how many widows are involved. The last figure that we had was 3,000 in 1971. It would be interesting to know how the figure of the cost is arrived at without knowing how many widows are involved.

I agree that £8 million to £10 million is a lot of money, although it is a tiny fraction of the overall defence budget. But no one is talking about that amount of money, because the cost would depend on the number of limitations that were applied. Anyone who has ever argued this in the past has been prepared to vary the conditions under which the pension would be paid. When Airey Neave raised this matter nine years ago he mentioned three conditions—that the husband should not be over 65 when he married, that he should have completed 20 years service and that the marriage should have lasted at least two years. There are other similar conditions that could be put forward, all of which would vary the cost of the proposal. But it is crucial that we should have some sort of scheme, and the central argument is that we should concede the principle, not the terms on which it is conceded.

When Airey Neave argued in favour of that, he also argued for pensions for the over-80s. He won that argument despite the fact that similar arguments of retrospection and cost were put forward. Common sense, humanity and reason have prevailed. I hope that those same qualities will prevail now. In the Budget, the Government helped all widows. I hope that they will deal once and for all with such heartless treatment of Service men's widows. They have endured that treatment, and we have tolerated it, for far too long. I hope that my hon. Friend will indicate that the Ministry of Defence will reconsider this issue.

9.5 pm

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

I shall be very brief. I emphasise my gratitude, and that of many other hon. Members, to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy). When he held a post in the previous Labour Administration, he was kind to many of those interested in naval matters.

It is obvious that all aspects of the Navy are important. As always, the problem is one of balance and priorities. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) made an extremely important point, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). It was emphasised that if the Polaris replacement costs as much as certain figures suggest, serious decisions about priorities within the defence budget will have to be made. Similar problems obtain in the Navy. When Duff Cooper was Secretary of State for War in the 1930s, he spent much of his time writing memoranda on the role of the Army. When he became First Lord of the Admiralty, he discovered that it was not necessary to carry out a similar exercise because everyone knew what the Navy's role was. Today, there are differences of opinion about the Navy's role. I believe that should deterrents fail and a conventional conflict break out, its role would be to win—with our NATO Allies—any battle in the Atantic and northern seas.

The awesome surface capacity of the Soviet Union has rightly been emphasised. However, a key battle would take place under the sea. The hon. Member for Attercliffe also emphasised the strength of the Backfire bomber force. If such a conflict arose, the elimination, or at least the containment, of the Soviet submarine capacity would decide the outcome. That capacity is already formidable, and it is growing. Defeat in such a conflict would be cataclysmic, just as defeats in the same battles during two world wars would have been.

The White Paper on defence states that Fleet submarines are the primary antisubmarine vehicles. Only 10 are in service, and, as my hon. Friend announced, only five have been ordered. In the Eastern Atlantic alone, NATO submarines are outnumbered 70 to 45. The balance has deteriorated.

In paragraph 326 the White Paper states : The Royal Navy's forces are largely structured for anti-submarine warfare. The three new anti-submarine carriers are not yet in full service. Two of them have not been delivered. They do not have a point defence system. I welcome my hon. Friend's remarks. The absence of a point defence system on a ship which, when fully equipped, will cost about £300 million, represents an extraordinary and an alarming deficiency. I am glad that my hon. Friend has indicated that that point will be met.

It has been promised that Stingray will be developed and deployed at a cost of £920 million. We have also been promised a successor to Tigerfish. We have two Type 22 anti-submarine frigates, and one Type 12. The Lynx and Sea King helicopters have a powerful anti-submarine capability. However, they are highly vulnerable and complicated, and have a limited bad weather capability. Only two Type 22s exist. They are larger, heavier and more expensive than even the Type 42 destroyer. Only eight in all are envisaged.

The key question is whether we should move from the Fisher principle that the Royal Navy always travels first-class to the principle of greater numbers of smaller specialised anti-submarine vessels operating in concert with the more sophisticated command vessels. In that context, the development of the Spey engine as a more economical and efficient propulsion unit than the Tyne and Olympus combination should be carefully considered.

The difficulty is manpower. In paragraph 332 the White Paper states : The Royal Navy has substantial manpower problems. That problem has been touched on by many hon. Members. One problem has been the number of ships that have been available and accordingly there have been career problems for men who wish to serve at sea. With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), the development of the Type 21 frigate, which has been outstandingly successful, demonstrates that not all naval design wisdom is in Bath.

Mr. Chris Patten

Just a lot of it.

Mr. Rhodes James

Perhaps all the political wisdom resides there, but not all the naval wisdom. The "not-invented-here" syndrome is not helpful to the Navy, and in certain respects has been harmful. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) would perhaps agree.

The point was made in the current issue of Navy International by Vice-Admiral Sir Richard Smeeton, who concludes with the words : We have the necessary technical and industrial skills to organise a crash programme of new naval construction, all of which is within the present state of the art. Have we the national self-discipline and political will to attempt survival? Sea power and sea defence reside in many factors. I am not saying that the anti-submarine aspect is the only one. However, it is a key factor. I am not convinced that the NATO Powers are presently capable of winning such a battle. The resolution of that should be a key priority for the Ministry of Defence and the Navy.

9.12 pm
Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) touched on cost in the early part of his speech, but he brushed it aside and went on to talk of other matters. I wish to deal with that aspect.

The Minister gave us a long list of naval commitments that the Government wished to meet. Other hon. Members have added others that they should like to see fulfilled. It is depressing to reflect that, while we are continually told by the Government that public expenditure must be cut and that we are living beyond our means and must be prepared to reduce our living standards, they can envisage such a lavish increase in military expenditure. Defence expenditure is to be increased by 3 per cent. per annum in real terms for a number of years hence. I asked the Minister when I intervened earlier in the debate whether the programme that he was outlining would be fully covered. Although he assured me that it was carefully costed, I anticipate that, in the light of inflation, we shall be faced with considerable supplementary Defence Estimates in due course. The Minister and the hon. Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter) commented on the high cost of new weapons. I believe it is totally wrong to slash health, education, housing and welfare expenditure, while hankering after a world-wide role that we can never fulfil in our current situation.

With present Government policy, defence expenditure will increase, particularly in the nuclear field. Parliament has been given a full explanation of the £1,000 million spent on updating Polaris. However, the decision on the replacement of Britain's nuclear deterrent has to be taken in the not too distant future.

I take the view, as do a number of my hon. Friends, that Britain would be safer without nuclear weapons on our soil, whether largely under the control of a foreign Power or entirely under British command. As long as we have nuclear weapons, any potential adversary with such weapons will have part of its nuclear force targeted against Britain. The outbreak of war, even accidentally or on the basis of a conflict in which Britain was not involved, would bring with it the likelihood of a nuclear attack on Britain which would destroy life as we know it.

Allowing our homeland to be used as an offensive nuclear base carries with it a tremendous cost. We should be regarded as a primary nuclear target area in the event of the outbreak of hostilities. It is wrong that the House should permit that. For these and other reasons, I strongly object to the Government allowing nuclear bases on British territory or renewing the British nuclear deterrent. If Britain is to go ahead with the nuclear deterrent, the cost will be astronomic.

If the Government decide to replace the Polaris submarines with any form of nuclear deterrent, the cost will be great but particularly so in the case of Trident. The United States has already invested huge sums in the development of appropriate submarines for the Trident missiles, so any British deterrent based on that missile will not be fully independent in any case. We could not manufacture it ourselves and its availability would be entirely dependent on United States' consent.

The cost would still be prohibitive. Various estimates have been made of the total cost, ranging from £6,000 million to £10,000 million and I have seen others. That would be a crushing addition to any one year's defence expenditure, but we are told that the spending would be spread over a number of years. Even so, it would represent an intolerable burden.

Particularly in view of the depressing economic outlook facing this country in which, far from achieving economic growth we shall be faced with positive decline in the economic sphere, we should say clearly that we cannot afford to embark on such an adventure as the replacement of Polaris by Trident.

It is important for us to have an effective naval force to carry out a limited range of functions, but we cannot afford to carry out a programme of the size envisaged by the Government. In such a debate, at least some hon. Members should make it clear that they believe that the present expenditure on naval purposes is much too large. It must be cut and I look forward to the day when a Labour Government are returned to power and carry out that task.

9.18 pm
Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) described himself as speaking for the lunatic Centre. As time is short, I shall not follow the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) down the trail of the lunatic Left.

Mr. William Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman is on the lunatic Right.

Mr. Brotherton

I add my congratulations to the many that have already been offered to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), not only on his speech, but on the fact that, as I know from what I have been told by many of my friends in the Royal Navy, he was held in high regard by the Service during his time in the old-established and honoured post of First Lord of the Admiralty.

It is over 30 years since my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I first met. His speech today was a credit to the Britannia Debating Society of the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, to which we both belonged in the latter years of the 1940s.

I wish in the short time available to me to raise three points. It will presumably come as no surprise to the House that I start with the fishing industry. I do not intend to talk about the fishing industry in the context of actually catching fish. I want to talk about the fishing industry with regard to the Royal Navy. During the last war, the vast majority of those who swept mines and manned the mine-sweeping service for the Royal Navy came from the fishing industry.

The announcement today of four new minesweepers is very welcome. I implore my hon. Friend to consult our right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to point out that the more we allow the British fishing industry to decline, the less will be our capability to sweep mines should a war come. Hon. Members should remember, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) said, it does not matter to Russia if Russia loses a sea war, but if this island of ours loses a sea war, we have lost everything. The Russians have a considerable mine-laying capacity.

I wish to say a few words about my own branch of the Service, the Fleet Air Arm. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the decision to re-activate the reserve branch of the Fleet Air Arm. I know that my hon. Friend is going to Yeovilton next month. It is my regret that I shall not be able to join him at the party. A number of retired officers will be there on that memorable day. I should like to say how much the Fleet Air Arm Association and the Fleet Air Arm in general are appreciative of "Invincible" and the two new ships being built, the "Illustrious" and the "Ark Royal". I have a particular affection for these two names. In 1950 I was the midshipman of the watch in HMS "Illustrious" when the Queen, now Her Majesty The Queen Mother, launched the "Ark Royal" at Birkenhead. I hope very much that I shall be able to attend the launching of at least one of these two ships, albeit in a different capacity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth referred to the future of "Ark Royal". Some hon. Members will have seen today in The Times London Diary a piece about the future of the "Ark Royal". It is not my intention tonight, in view of the time available, to speak for long on a comparatively trivial matter. There are a number of great and important matters to discuss. I should be grateful, however, if my hon. Friend could spell out with some clarity the position regarding the disposal of "Ark Royal". If The Times report is to be believed, the trustees say that they are willing to top any offer that may be made by any shipbreaker who wishes to buy the ship.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend can say what are the Government's proposals for replacing the Sea King helicopter. The time is rapidly approaching when this aircraft has to be replaced. My hon. Friend may care to say a few words about the future of the WG34 helicopter, and whether it is the Government's intention to purchase this aircraft to replace the Sea King.

My third point will not find favour on the Opposition Benches, particularly this week, in view of the regrettable and sad happenings in South Africa. We are a maritime nation. We live or we perish by the sea. Some months ago I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence whether he had any plans to meet the South African Defence Minister. He replied "No". I repeat tonight my belief that Her Majesty's Government should, as a matter of urgency, enter into negotiations with the South African Government with a view to reactivating the Simonstown Agreement. Many of my hon. Friends have spelt out tonight the danger of the Russian Maritime threat, the new Russian aircraft carrier, the Russian nuclear battleship and the fact that the Russians have 150 ships at sea. If one looks at the map of world shipping one sees that, on all 365 days of the year, it is black around the Cape of Good Hope. That is one of the focal points of world shipping. Without the Simonstown Agreement the Royal Navy and the Alliance are virutally defenceless.

I sometimes wonder whether the Western Alliance in general—and Britain in particular—has a blind spot and believes that the world ends at the Tropic of Cancer. It does not. The world-wide Russian fleet is a threat to Britain. Because it is a threat. I believe that it is the Government's duty to reactivate the Simonstown Agreement.

The Minister is doing a thoroughly good job. The morale of the Royal Navy is high. If he reactivates Simonstown, he will be well-nigh perfect.

9.25 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

I shall be brief. I intervene mainly because of my interests in the air bomb capability of the Royal Navy. The most potent weapon at sea in the last war was the fixed-wing aircraft. We ignore that at our peril. Even today, with the massive ships that the Russians are building and will have at sea shortly, the only real deterrent is a fixed-wing aircraft with an attack capability and manned by highly skilled aircrew determined to get through to the targets.

Much has been said about missiles. I am reminded of the Duncan Sandys White Paper and when the RAF was to fly only missiles. I remember that time vividly because of the effect that it had on the RAF and the deep depression that was suffered. I am glad that that was not the last time that the RAF flew fixed-wing aircraft. We look forward to many years of flying fixed-wing aircraft.

Recently I had the good fortune to be on board an Invincible class ship. I was impressed. It is a marvellous floating platform designed to cope with submarines and defence. However, it has no real capability, as I understand it, of launching a fixed-wing aircraft that can deter. I do not put the Harriers in that category. I am speaking of aircarft that are capable of flying at supersonic level and which in the hands of the right men can get through to the target.

When the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) spoke about expense I was reminded that between the wars many people had no confidence in a private venture fixed-wing aircraft. It was called the Spitfire. Thank goodness the Royal Air Force recognised its worth and ordered it in sufficient quantities in time for it to make an impact during the Battle of Britain and throughout the war.

I have concentrated on a narrow sphere. Time is short. I remind the Minister of the RAF's experience of concentrating on missiles when it was thought that missiles were the answer. My view is—and the Americans have discovered this on a number of occasions—that if one puts men in modern equipment, anything is possible. In one moonshot, all systems told the men to abort. They decided not to do so, and they were correct. When determined humans are put into flying machines, they can achieve much more than is thought possible.

9.30 pm
Mr. Duffy

We have had a good and informed debate and one that has, undoubtedly, been worthy of the Royal Navy. It is one, moreover, that has maintained the high standard that many of us who have participated in such debates in recent years have come to expect.

So far as I can discern a consensus, it is that there is a current trend in the balance of maritime power that favours the Warsaw Pact and that our quality advantage may no longer suffice. That quality may now have been eroded by quantity.

If I may speak for my hon. Friends, I think that there was a consensus among Opposition Members that there should be more escort vessels, more utility vessels and cheaper vessels. We felt that greater attention should be paid to cost-effectiveness. It was felt among my hon. Friends that more vessels should be built on Merseyside and Tyneside and in the less fashionable areas. They felt that vessels should not be built solely in the lead yards and in the South of England. We were not concerned only with saving money, though that is important. We were stating where we believed our greatest need was at the moment.

We also took a balanced view, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George)—he was kind enough to say that he echoed my words—of the Soviet threat. That is not to say that we minimise that threat; there could be no question of our doing that. But we feel that we dare not, in the cause of peace, take an alarmist view lest that view should nurture an undesirable stance.

The Opposition are sceptical about the Polaris replacement, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps we are sceptical on the ground of cost and perhaps on the principle. The cost opportunity has been spelt out in terms of welfare programmes as well as in terms of defence. We welcome some of the Minister's announcements. They are consistent with our views and arguments. We welcome the simpler type 22 that is to be put in hand, and we welcome more sea platforms for helicopters.

In pursuance of obvious cost-effectiveness, we hope that the Minister will bear in mind what has been said by my hon. Friends. My hon. Friends who have spoken did not place the main emphasis of their remarks on the Polaris replacement, though that is important. It is so important that I wish to say a word about it.

If there was one aspect of the great debate on Polaris that united both sides of the House—it was emphasised in a striking speech by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) and by some of my hon. Friends and by hon. Gentlemen whose speeches I did not hear because I could not be present throughout the debate—it was that we have not been given enough of the facts. We do not expect all the facts on every issue, but on great and momentous issues—and could there be a greater one than this?—we believe that we are entitled to more information than we have been given. Perhaps I might return to that issue at the end.

Mr. Dalyell

Is my hon. Friend prepared to endorse a request that Mr. Quinlan's paper that apparently——

Mr. Duffy

I was about to say that.

Mr. Dalyell

All right. Will my hon. Friend endorse that it will be published?

Mr. Duffy

I will certainly do that. I was coming to that point and intended to mention my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) in that regard. I know that my hon. Friend will understand my anxiety to complete my remarks within my scheduled time.

I turn briefly to those of my hon. Friends who did not put the main emphasis of their remarks on the replacement of Polaris but who felt bound, as I did, to talk at a lower level—the level of shipbuilding policy, particularly as it relates to the constituencies of my hon. Friends. I think particularly of my hon. Friends the Members for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) and for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I know just how deserving are the yards that are their responsibility on the Tyne and on the Mersey. I know how deserving they are of the Navy, of its attention and of its ordering.

I should like to dwell more on what my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead said about the transformation that has taken place in the Cammell Laird yard. Time does not permit me to do that. I merely say that the apparent neglect of the yards in the North in favour of those in the South will, I know, be redressed by the Minister. I appeal to him to give that issue his most serious attention.

I cannot neglect a reference to Stingray in view of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who in some unforgettable words has cast the project in an even more dubious light. Despite all the good things that the Minister said about Stingray, will it last into the 1990s? Will it be effective in both shallow water and deep water? Will it be able to deal with the Alpha submarine threat?

I know that this can be done only at the design stage—preferably it should be done at the thinking stage—but in future let us undertake any such projects only on the basis of co-operation with our allies. The United States and the French as well as ourselves are going down the same path. On cost grounds alone, we cannot proceed any longer with such projects except on the basis of standardisation, rationalisation and interoperability. I accept that Stingray can perform other tasks and do the work of more than one type of torpedo.

The Minister began his speech by reminding the House that the greatest single factor in all our assessments of the Armed Services is the Service man and woman. As he rightly said, the space and importance given to personal matters in both volumes of the defence statement indicates the high priority that is given to getting the right quality and quantity of men and women. I liked the beginning of his speech on 29 April. I like to think that the main emphasis that I placed during my three years in the Navy Department on the many facets of its work was on personnel.

Between the great age of fighting sail and fighting aeroplanes, the Royal Navy has passed through four technical revolutions. There have been enormous strides during the lifetime of everyone present. The Navy is still on a rising curve of technology and exploration, yet we still tend to take for granted the men and women in the Services. We still seem to assume that he and she will face the challenge and will be capable of meeting the growing demands. The Min- ister will be aware after his first year in office that personnel cannot be taken for granted. I hope that no one in the House will take the Service man for granted.

The United States navy is a fine navy. It is now more combat capable than at any time since Vietnam. Its major problem, however, is personnel, especially the rate of re-engagement, which has fallen by 50 per cent.

Despite increased pay, the United States navy's most urgent problem is how to keep its top flight professionals within its ranks. Quite a number of ships of the Atlantic fleet are not operationally ready due to lack of personnel. The desertion rate is as high as 29 per 1,000. The United States navy knows that it cannot take its personnel for granted. I know that the Minister will continue carefully to consider morale and manning and their effect on operations. I know that he will be sensitive to a report that appeared in Now on 21 September 1979 that the Royal Navy was lowering its entrance standards. I do not believe that is true. I know that the Minister would like an opportunity of publicly rebutting that charge.

Before returning to the subject of the Polaris replacement, I want to say a word, as I promised I would, about the dockyards. I want to ask the Minister, as have other speakers, when he plans to publish the report of the study group. He will be well aware, as are other Members of Parliament, especially those who are connected with the dockyards, of the great decline that has taken place in those yards in recent years in industrial relations and, inevitably, in performance.

Looking through the Defence Estimates, I saw a familiar name, "Andromeda". That seems to have been in dockyard hands for longer than I care to tell the House. I want to ask why the frigate "Hermione" was transferred from Chatham to Devonport. The "Argonaut" will have achieved the dubious distinction of having undergone conversion for some 4½ years—about 18 months longer than she took to build—by the time she has been completed in the summer.

By the end of the current financial year, the number of warships refitted under contract is expected to be substantially increased. There we have it. There is a falling off of standards. How far is that a function of falling morale? Work is being pushed out on contract. Those factors must hang together. Where is the problem? What is the root cause?

We who appreciate the work of the dockyards—and the Navy is fortunate in its dockyards and manpower—know that in them there are 36,000 trade unionists, and as good trade unionists as any member of the Opposition would wish to meet and talk with. They are loyal to the naval movement. However, they are now under pressure, strain and tension which is almost unbelievable. In part, that is a product of the nature of their work in maintaining the seagoing fleet. It is not easy ; it is a continuing process. There is always a backlog, which never seems to be overcome, and an overload then develops.

Inevitably, the dockyards suffer from competition. In the Portsmouth dockyard there is competition from the private sector next door which pays more money, and skilled tradesmen are lost. That leads to further imbalance. It is easy to say that the explanation lies in the falling-off of performance and, therefore, productivity. I suggest that it may lie in attitude, motivation and money.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who unfortunately cannot be with us this evening because of a pressing engagement elsewhere, asked me to bring to the attention of the Minister his concern about the Devonport dockyard. He is specially placed, not merely because it is in his constituency but because he was a Minister with responsibility for the Navy. Indeed, during his period of office he was responsible for the decision to modernise that dockyard and build the frigate and nuclear refitting complexes, which ensured its long life. He is now very concerned at the fall-off in numbers. This year, the dockyard in his constituency is to lose more than 600 jobs, mainly those of men—450 industrial and 235 non-industrial. He is also concerned about the cut in overtime and the cutback in apprentices and because pledges given by the Conservative Party at the 1974 and 1979 elections about that dockyard have not merely not been upheld but are being put into reverse.

No member of the Opposition wants to spend a penny more on defence than is absolutely necessary. I closed my earlier speech by describing the Labour Party's record in Government in the interests of peace and disarmament. None of us wants tension or confrontation policies. We all subscribe to the inherent pointlessness of war and recoil from the senselessness of war. The commitment to peace of us on this side of the House, however, is a condition of a further commitment to make the lives of all men richer, more meaningful and more secure, a desire to free mankind from the degradations of poverty, hunger, disease, fear and strife. We shall not be deflected from our pursuit of those goals.

As all politicians know, however, the choices are rarely simple and clear cut with all the good and valid arguments only on one side. Human nature, with all its contradictions, takes care of that. There is one matter on which we can all agree. The basis for the pursuit of our ideals is our free and sovereign society. We are the custodians of a value system developed over many centuries. Our societies have been painstakingly developed to serve this value system. Neither our societies nor our values are in any way perfect, but they are by far the most humane and the most capable of improvement.

Among the many things that worry our voters, however, our state of military preparedness is not a main item—but they were not worried about most of the problems facing them today when those problems were still small enough to be manageable. The responsibility on the shoulders of Members like us, who will sit through a debate like this, is an onerous one, for we, above all, surely are obliged to explain convincingly to the electorate why defence is necessary and in what form, and thus how peace can be preserved. That is our responsibility, our duty. Yet, as the hon. Member for Aldershot pointed out in reference to the replacement of Polaris, "ours not to reason why." There is an entitlement on the part of all of us to be better informed about the facts. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian pointed out, how otherwise can we conduct an informed debate on such a momentous issue unless we are in possession of more facts?

9.46 pm
Mr. Speed

We have had a good debate. In the time at my disposal, I shall try to answer the points which have been put to me. Those which I cannot answer tonight I shall answer in writing to the hon. Members concerned.

Let me remind hon. Members of the Preamble to the Articles of War of 1652: It is upon the Navy under the providence of God the safety, honour and welfare of this realm do chiefly attend. Today, nearly 330 years later, with the Polaris strategic deterrent, our dependence on free access for our vital maritime trade and the protection of our new mineral wealth off our shores, I do not think that things have changed very much.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked me about China. I confirm that during his visit to Peking in March my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced that he had accepted an invitation for the Royal Navy to visit China. I confirmed this to the House immediately afterwards in answer to a question from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) on 25 March. The hon. Member for West Lothian also referred to the Soviet submarine missile, Typhoon, which is the equivalent of the American Trident. The latest information that I have is that the Soviet Union has not yet developed this missile. It is very likely that it is making strenuous efforts in this direction.

The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) made an eloquent speech reviewing, as he sees them, the problems of the large mixed yards, including Cammell Laird of Merseyside, and he referred to the roles of the mixed and core, or specialist, warship yards. A number of other hon. Gentlemen raised the question of shipbuilding in the debate. I draw their attention to the different but complementary roles that these yards play in implementing the Royal Navy's ship construction programme.

Broadly speaking, the core yards provide the programme with an indispensable design and "first of class" major warship construction capability, while the mixed yards provide the follow-on construction capacity which is needed to give the industry the flexibility and the capacity which the programme needs. The hon. Member for Birkenhead drew attention to the very considerable achievements of his constituency yard of Cammell Laird in its role as a large mixed yard. In doing so, he called for a fair share for Merseyside. I am sure he does not need reminding that almost all the nation's shipyards, and certainly all three of the mixed yards, are in areas of high unemployment. My hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) advanced that argument.

There is no overriding case for selecting any one of these yards for special treatment. It will not surprise my hon. Friend to hear that cases of behalf of several yards, including all three mixed yards, have been made to Ministers by the hon. Members concerned asking for fair shares for their constituency yards.

As my hon. Friend knows, from a recent meeting attended by myself, my hon. Friends the Members for Wirrall (Mr. Hunt) and Bebington and Ellesmere port (Mr. Porter) and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker)—I am delighted that she is here tonight to support me in this important matter—I am well aware of the industrial problems at the Cammell Laird yard and the need for an early order. In particular she, he, and my other hon. Friends have been pressing me to allocate an order for a support tanker for Cammell Laird.

Tenders and re-tenders for two vessels were sought from Cammell Laird, Scott's, Swan Hunter, and Harland and Wolff in 1978–79. The costs were greater than could be accommodated within the defence budget, the tenders lapsed, and letters were sent to the firms explaining the position. The market is being further explored with a view to establishing whether the substitution of a second British-built standard tanker is operationally and financially satisfactory. Those inquiries will be extensive and are likely to take some time. For the first ship, Cammell Laird has already started work on a suitable ship and must be a strong contender for an order if it is possible to place one. I can say no more tonight.

Various hon. Members referred to the dockyards. As I said earlier, we attach the greatest importance to the contribution made by the five Royal dockyards in support of the Royal Navy. As the House knows, in October of last year a study group was established under my chairmanship to examine the role, organisation and structure of the four home dockyards for the next two decades. The findings and recommendatons are now being considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his right hon. colleagues. The Government's proposals will be set out fully in the form of a consultative document, which will be issued as soon as possible. I understand that hon. Members want that document as soon as possible both for themselves and for those they represent.

Hon. Members will understand that a subject of such complexity and significance needs to be carefully considered and cannot be hurried. My right hon. Friend has said that it is our policy that consultative documents should be as comprehensive and as open as possible and should form the basis of full and thorough consultation with all interested parties before final decisions are reached.

Mrs. Peggy Fenner (Rochester and Chatham)

Will my hon. Friend say something rather more specific than "as soon as possible", which he said to me about seven or eight weeks ago?

Mr. Speed

I am afraid that I cannot do that, because it does not lie within my hands. It depends not only upon my right hon. Friend but upon his right hon. colleagues. "As soon as possible" means just that. I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the various points that have been raised in debate about the urgency of the matter.

The answer to the fears that have been expressed by various hon. Members about redundancies in dockyards and to the question raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) is that the Royal dockyards, in common with all Ministry of Defence departments, must achieve savings in civilian manpower costs this year to meet Civil Service payroll cash limits for the financial year 1980–81. A 2½ per cent. reduction in Civil Service manpower costs is required. In the dockyards, the necessary economies will be found mainly by a mixture of reducing numbers and overtime levels. Information about the reductions was given to the dockyards in May, but the actual measures to be taken are still a matter for consultation.

I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) for raising the problems of apprentices and the more general problems of pay comparability within the dockyards. I would not wish to anticipate my right hon. Friend's decision, but I assure my hon. Friend that the study group under my chairmanship looked closely at those issues and many other matters that have been raised tonight. The problem with apprentices in the Royal dockyards seems to be one of retention after they have qualified rather than one of recruitment. All too often we pay them considerable sums of money to leave the dockyard, as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) knows well. We have made certain suggestions to try to deal with that matter.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central was somewhat selective in his quotations from the Select Committee report. I have confidence in the Stingray project, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths). All the trials—many of which have taken place since February—have been extremely successful. I can tell the hon. Member for Attercliffe that it is the only torpedo that is capable of the tasks that he outlined. That is not true of any other torpedo in the Western Alliance. I believe that once this torpedo is, and is seen to be, operational—that is the key point; I go that far with the hon. Member for Fife, Central—there will be considerable opportunities to sell this weapon to other members of the Alliance. I am sure that that will happen.

My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) referred to particular problems which are part of a whole series of what I think he called injustices and anomalies that arise on the pensions front. I accept that the lack of a pension for widows of post-retirement marriages is one of the imperfections of the Armed Forces pension schemes. There are certainly other imperfections which, weekly if not daily, are brought to my attention by hon. Members on both sides of the House. In an ideal world, and with unlimited funds, I should like to correct them. Unfortunately, not only are resources limited but the Armed Forces pension schemes cannot be isolated—although my hon. Friend argued very strongly for this—from other public sector schemes in the way suggested.

My hon. Friend rightly referred to the cost, which we have estimated at £8 million to £10 million a year for the Services alone. That is on the best estimates of the figures from our statistical office, and I am prepared to write to him giving him, perhaps, more details of that matter. If the concession—and it would be a concession at present—were extended to the rest of the public service, as I fear it would have to be—I should certainly be under pressure from my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Civil Service—the costs would be infinitely more than that. I am at present looking right across the board at all these problems in the question of public pensions, but so far I can offer my hon. Friend no immediate early solutions, notwithstanding the very kind things that he said about me.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth argued frequently and persuasively for improved weapons to attack well-armed surface ships in the future. He chooses to call specifically for cruise missiles in a non-nuclear role, and he cites the Americans' widespread adoption of Tomahawk. I am grateful to him for listing the excellent weapon systems that we already possess, so enabling me to concentrate on the future. We shall, of course, continue to ensure that our anti-surface ship weapons are adequate for their task, but it would be wrong to say now that a particular type of missile will do the job better than another type. Those which use the technology of cruise missiles are among those that we are studying.

Several hon. Members raised the question of accommodating the cost of a successor to Polaris within the defence budget. I shall resist the temptation to go down the line of what the successor to Polaris might be, because that is certainly not within my power and does not lie within the purview of the debate. However, I remind the House that we are committed to a real 3 per cent. growth in defence expenditure. This means that, even allowing for expenditure on a successor system, we expect to be spending more on conventional programmes in coming years than was planned when we came to office.

A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Alder-shot (Mr. Critchley) and for Stretford (Mr. Churchill), argued eloquently for cruise missiles, either in addition to or instead of Trident submarines as a successor to Polaris. I would only repeat, as my right hon. Friend made clear during the debate on the Defence Estimates on 28 April, that the Government are continuing the examination of all the options for an eventual successor to the Polaris force. Furthermore, my right hon. Friend has on many occasions given an assurance that once the decision has been taken he will publish a document giving the fullest possible explanation of all the considerations involved.

The hon. Member for West Lothian and my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford suggested that we should not count on the continued invulnerability of missile-firing submarines. We have addressed this question with great care, not least with the Chevaline programme, apart from any possible successor to Polaris. It is true that the Soviets are investing massively in both anti-submarine forces and technology. But so also is the United States. Neither super-Power has shown any signs of achieving a major breakthrough in anti-submarine warfare. They continue to invest heavily in submarine-borne strategic deterrent systems and in nuclear-powered submarines for maritime warfare.

At the same time, Britain's more modest investment in technology for protecting our submarine forces against detection and prosecution continues. As our sub marines become quieter, we remain con fident that we shall be able to maintain our lead over the Soviets on anti-sub marine warfare. The difficulties of detecting, identifying and then destroying a submarine are enormous. While we must not be complacent, we believe that our submarines will remain well-nigh invulnerable for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it seems——

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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