§ Mr. Speaker
Before we begin the debate, I warn the House that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members have told me that they hope to catch my eye. Even with the two days allowed for the debate it will be impossible to call all hon. Members unless speakers impose self-discipline. Hon. Members who have said that they wish to speak have a good claim, on constituency grounds, or because they serve on a Committee, or because they have a deeply held conviction.
I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot).
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Nott)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1981, contained in Cmnd. 8212.I hope that I shall be forgiven for opening the debate with a quotation from the "Wealth of Nations". In 1778 Adam Smith wrote:arms and their ammunition are becoming more expensive. A musket is a more expensive machine than a javelin or a bow and arrows; a cannon or a mortar than a ballista or a catapulta.Indeed, he was right. I hope that his perception of the problem, some 200 years ago, will be equally understood by the House today. It is reflected in the introduction to the White Paper that is now before us.
An explosion in defence technology has brought with it an explosion in cost. For instance, if we are to increase the flying hours of the RAF's fast jet pilots by one hour only, once per month, it will cost another £8 million a year. That is happening while the massive forces of the Soviet Union continue to grow remorselessly, and are armed with increasingly sophisticated weaponry. The position is grave.
We have a choice. Either we can continue to pretend that there is no problem, that we can wish away the threat or imagine that the United Kingdom can somehow sustain, replace and enhance its operational effectiveness without a fresh look at how we perform our tasks—what we are doing, and why—or we can continue to drift down the path that led, this year and last to cuts in ammunition, fuel, training and deployment, and will lead inevitably in the next few years to increasingly degraded operational ability.
I will not choose the latter course, although it is easiest politically, in the short-term, to take the easy course. We owe it to our countrymen, the defence of the nation, and more especially to the men and women of the Armed Services, to face these issues now and to face them bravely. No one who comes to my office can fail to be heartened by the immense contribution of our Armed Services and all who support them in a civilian role. We must not let them down by avoiding necessary decisions during the next few months.
The work of the Armed Fores is spelt out in the White Paper, and the whole House will wish me to pay tribute to it. I am sure it will not be misunderstood if I single out only one aspect of that work, namely, the contribution of the services in Northern Ireland. The defence White Paper emphasises their determination and skill in support of the RUC in the fight against pure thugs and murderers.
The versatility of our forces has been well and publicly demonstrated during recent days, as alongside their police 161 colleagues they have, with coolness, discipline and restraint, maintained the rule of law while confronted with gangs of rioters armed with rocks and petrol, and nail and acid bombs capable of killing, injuring and maiming—and all the time in the glare of often unhelpful media publicity.
The House will share my outrage and revulsion about the news this morning of the murder of five soldiers in Northern Ireland while on patrol in their Saracen armoured car outside Newry. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends.
I want to say one or two words about the civilian work force. I deplore the intrusion into the Civil Service of tactics in a pay negotiation more usual, sadly, in certain parts of private industry. But the action taken by small numbers of MOD civil servants highlights the immense contribution that the bulk of the work force makes, year in and year out, to the nation's defence. Well over 110,000 of our non-industrials—I want to emphasise that our 117,000 industrial staff are not involved in the dispute—are working normally. Indeed, many of them—some at places such as the Clyde submarine base and Rosyth, where industrial action has been most marked—are working extra hours and applying great ingenuity to ensure that production and repair work continue unhindered.
The vast majority of the Ministry's civil servants are not bureaucrats—they are welders, plumbers and electricians producing tanks and other armaments; they are fitters, boilermakers and blacksmiths, refitting and maintaining ships; they are scientists and engineers researching and designing our equipment; they are teachers of Service men's children overseas. They provide the foundation on which the superstructure of our fighting forces is built. The vast majority are expressing their loyalty to the Department in this present difficult period in a practical way, namely, by getting on with their jobs. The support and loyalty that any person holding my office consistently receives from the defence machine, the Chiefs of Staff and my other principal advisers is one of the most heartening and warming aspects of the job.
I began my speech by mentioning our future operational effectiveness, and how we could maintain it and enhance our front-line capabilities in spite of remorselessly rising costs. I see my task as a simple one, and no amount of special pleading from one part of our defence establishment or another will divert me from it. It is to form a defence view—not a single Service view—of how we can conduct our tasks within the Alliance in the defence of freedom and democracy.
At no time have I contemplated, sought, proposed or recommended—or been asked by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to contemplate, seek, propose or recommend—any cut in the published defence budget of the United Kingdom. Some of the suggestions in the press, especially—and I have never before singled out a newspaper in such a debate—the report by the naval correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, are pure invention. I emphatically deny that the Navy will be reduced to little more than a coastal defence force without carriers, with other parts of the Fleet drastically cut, and the Royal Marines disbanded after 317 years' service. If such ridiculous notions exist anywhere, we have not seen them. They may exist somewhere in the Ministry of Defence, but not in papers that I have ever seen.
§ Mr. Churchill
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be no cut in the strength or capability of the Armed Forces of the Crown?
§ Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)
Would there not have been more justice if the Prime Minister had had one or two admirals in and read the Riot Act in relation to the article that the Secretary of State has quoted than in sacking the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed)?
§ Mr. Nott
My right hon. Friend has had no cause or reason to call in any admiral. In this exercise, about which I want to say more, the admirals, without exception, have behaved with utter loyalty. They have done all that they have been asked to do, and could not have been more helpful in the exercise that I shall describe.
I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will understand the issue, but what I have been trying to do in the past two months during this exercise—I have had the most loyal support from all the Chiefs of Staff in this endeavour—is to build, from the bottom up, the basic structure to which we should gear the equipment and manpower requirements of our Armed Forces for the next 10 years and beyond. The basic structure will represent for each of the Armed Services the most crucial and the most relevant elements of our defence capability. It is not itself—and was never intended to be—a defence programme as such. Its bare cost could never be a proper measure of what our defence budget provision ought to be.
In examining a range of options, in building a series of different models of the possible shape of our forces in the 1990s and beyond we are in new territory. I must not say "uncharted seas". It requires realism about the resources likely to be available in the next few years and, above all, it requires fresh thinking. To describe the results which are coining forward in this exercise as cuts or, still more, to attach alarming figures of many billions of pounds, before the structure is converted into a real-life programme based upon the increasing defence expenditure shown in the White Paper, is either deliberately to misrepresent the exercise, or totally to misunderstand what we are doing.
If I could persuade the doubters to think in terms of change—rather than always talking in terms of cuts, we could sustain the morale of our Services whilst we undertake the necessary exercise for their benefit and that of the whole country.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Will my right hon. Friend reassure one doubter? In an Adjournment debate I drew attention to the fact that 1,400 defence civil servants were being moved from the South-East, where they did their job effectively, to Glasgow, where the Department admitted that they were doing the job at a greater cost and less effectively. Can my right hon. Friend reassure the House that before any cuts in equipment programmes, disbandment of units or other drastic measures of that sort are undertaken, that sort of nonsense will stop?
§ Mr. Nott
I believe that my hon. Friend is referring to the Hardman report. As far as I recall, that report was produced in the early 1970s and involved the dispersal of civil servants in every Department round the country, in accordance with the widespread demands of every party that that should be part of our regional policy at the time. As far as I am aware, that dispersal process has nearly ended. That should not worry my hon. Friend now, much as he might have been concerned several years ago.
Much informed opinion and discussion has surrounded two of the questions that naturally concern me, namely, reorganising the Rhine Army within the framework of our Treaty obligations, to improve its military effectiveness, and reviewing the balance between the several complementary ways of carrying out anti-submarine warfare in the East Atlantic and the Channel.
Due to security considerations, it is unfortunately not possible to debate all these issues in depth in the widest forum, but perhaps I could give the House an insight into several important issues. It is not disputed—certainly not by me, to give but one example—that the Royal Navy has a major "deterrence by presence" role in the East Atlantic and that it can perform, particularly with the new carriers such as "Invincible", a major role in out-of-area activities, particularly in support of the United States world-wide.
But in the pursuance of anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic a whole new set of questions has arisen and must be considered in any serious study of the future. The situation here is changing. It is not simply that the new class of Soviet missile-firing submarines have great speed, range and endurance, and hence, with the Backfire bomber, pose an increasing threat to the surface fleet and reinforcement, but that sonar technology is improving and the means of countering it as well. Unfortunately, it is not possible for me to argue the merits and deficiencies of active and passive sonar, and of how it might develop in the future, but I can give the House an insight into this fascinating area
There are several means of conducting anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic. Most of them are complementary, but not all are mutually exclusive. The hunter-killer nuclear submarine—that is nothing to do with the ballistic missile submarine, or Trident—has been described by many people, mainly in the Navy, as the battleship of the future. It is essential that we enhance the numbers, if the resources can be found to do so.
The Nimrod II conversion, the most advanced maritime patrol aircraft of its kind—with its Searchwater radar, magnetic Anomaly detector and computer-linked system for plotting and killing submarines by active and passive sonar buoys—carries a very large range of weapons, including, shortly, Sting Ray. It is recognised as a tremendously effective system for conducting area search and for localising its adversary for the kill. I refer here to the Nimrod.
The surface fleet and anti-submarine helicopters are complementary to the submarine and the maritime patrol aircraft. In anti-submarine warfare the principal devices—towed array sonar or dipping sonar, operated from helicopters—are useful systems, especially within a narrower radius than that normally operated by the maritime patrol aircraft. But it is not necessarily true that towed array needs a platform as expensive as a £120 million type 22 frigate. If we have too expensive platforms we shall have fewer resources to multiply our sonar capacity by other means.
164 Hence the Royal Navy's current ambition—in which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) has played a major role—to design and produce the type 23 frigate at half the cost of the type 22, as a means of towing towed array. Further down the line we must also consider whether an even simpler and cheaper vessel than the type 23, with sufficiently quietened engines, can perform the function of towed array sonar. That is not as fanciful and ridiculous as some traditionalists may think.
We must consider, too, the platform from which the ASW helicopter is carried. It is not necessary, perhaps, for it always to be carried on an expensive carrier, requiring air defence destroyers as an escort and maybe even the United States strike fleet as well.
A helicopter can be borne, at least in theory, on a relatively simple, crude platform or even on one of the merchant ships that it is protecting from Soviet submarines. Thus, the argument is not solely about numbers, although, of course, numbers count. It is mainly about quality and effectiveness, and how we can best deploy our limited resources in meeting the Soviet submarine threat.
How we do so is both a technical question and a matter of judgment. I assure the House that judgment tends to vary somewhat, depending on who one is. It might be that the submariner takes one view, the frigate captain another, and the maritime aviator yet another. Sometimes judgment varies with rank, experience and background, and sometimes it varies between those who have Royal Navy establishments in their constituencies and those who do not. It has even been known to vary in emphasis between one service board and another, although I would never suggest that any such problem exists at present.
In the end, the buck stops with me. I am the Secretary of State for Defence as well as being chairman of each of the Service boards. When we have finished all our studies and completed the option exercises for carrying out the 101 operational functions that make up our total defence capability, a recommendation—and then a decision—must be made. They will be made not on the basis of sentiment but solely on a judgment of cost-effectiveness, because the country can no longer afford both to defend itself against its enemies and to be sentimental on the way.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
will the Secretary of State confirm that it remains the Government's policy that co-operation with our allies through membership of NATO is the first fundamental requirement of British defence policy? If that is still the case, will he confirm that the present understanding in NATO is that we keep about 55,000 in troops in Germany and continue to provide 80 per cent. of the readily available maritme forces for the defence of the Atlantic?
§ Mr. Nott
I have already said that we are considering, as one option, the reorganisation of the Rhine Army to make it more effective within our treaty commitments, I was referring to the Brussels Treaty, which mentions 55,000 men.
Our force declarations to NATO are changing year by year, just as the declarations of every other member of NATO change year by year. They are subject, in the normal way, to discussion and agreement with our allies within the NATO context. Any changes that we make will be subject to the same procedures.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I accept that the right hon. Gentleman was talking about options and emphasis, but the emphasis of his remarks suggests that the possibility of type-22 orders in the immediate future is extremely remote. Is that a fair deduction and, if so, will he inform us of the time scale in which the decisions will be made and when work will begin?
A total of 5,700 jobs in my constituency depend on naval orders. I am not ashamed of making that as a vested interest statement, and I am anxious because those jobs will start to be lost from next month. We need decisions fast in order to end the uncertainty.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
I accept the need for simpler corvette type ships instead of frigates, but is my right hon. Friend saying that our intelligence was inadequate when ships such as the "Ark Royal" were ordered, only two or three years ago? Has the situation changed so much that they may be irrelevant?
Was not one of the roles of the three through-deck cruisers to be the carrying of the Harrier, and was not another an anti-aircraft role in shooting down Russian aircraft that would be used for guiding missiles from long range? If the "Ark Royal" and her sister ships are not to go into service, what will shoot down the guiding aircraft in the Atlantic?
§ Mr. Nott
I do not know who has ever said that the "Ark Royal" or the carriers are not going into service. I am not aware of having said or suggested that. I said earlier that it seems that the ASW carriers are ideal ships for out-of-area activities. I believe that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) put his finger on the valid point. When the ASW carriers were ordered several years ago—the first was ordered many more than three or four years ago—the situation was not the same as it is today. Any decision that I make as a result of the review will not flow through into the new shape of the Fleet until 1990. The development of the Oscar class submarine—the missile-firing submarine with a 250 mile range—involves a breakthrough in technology. However much we may be using our ASW carriers, I do not believe that we would order them if we were making the decision today. Times have changed. However, I will be going to the launching of the "Ark Royal".
I conclude this section of my speech by saying that in considering the future allocation of resources we must arrive at the right balance between the different roles—both now and in the future—that our forces could be called upon to play—both inside and outside NATO—between manpower and equipment; between weapons, including war stocks, and the platforms that will carry them; between our Regular forces and the reserves—if I can find the money, I want to increase our reserves—and between the different layers of direct and indirect support that our fighting services require.
That study will continue for some time yet and, while it is necessary for me to keep my right hon. Friends informed of progress, I do not anticipate that I shall be seeking any decisions from them about my final proposals before July—whereupon it would be my wish, as I have already told my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, 166 that we should have a full debate on all the issues. The suggestion that I seek to avoid such a debate is only one of the more preposterous imputations that I have read recently in the pages of the press.
§ Mrs. Peggy Fenner (Rochester and Chatham)
In order to alleviate the misery and apprehension of vast numbers of my constituents, will my right hon. Friend allude to the part of the front page of The Daily Telegraph today that refers to the closing of two dockyards and the fact that we shall have to wait until July for the ultimate decisions?
§ Mr. Nott
I cannot be drawn into commenting about the quite unbelievable things that appear in The Daily Telegraph every day. I have already referred to yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph. Today I read from the same correspondent that my chief scientific adviser enjoys a position that is almost unrivalled in the Ministry and has access to me in a way that is not enjoyed by the Chiefs of Staff. I simply do not understand where that comes from. I estimate that I have seen the Chiefs of Staff three or four times as often as I have seen the chief scientific adviser. Indeed, I have hardly seen him at all. I regret that, because he is an exceptional fellow, but I have just not had the time to see him.
§ Mr. Frederick Mulley (Sheffield, Park)
As a previous victim, I offer my sympathy to the Secretary of State for what happens to him in The Daily Telegraph. Not only was part of the rubbish that that paper printed when I was Secretary of State for Defence provided by some of the Secretary of State's hon. Friends—I do not think that he was involved—but it was used by Conservative Members in defence debates as though it was biblical doctrine. Perhaps what happens in The Daily Telegraph is the responsibility of some of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues.
§ Mr. Nott
I share one thing with the right hon. Gentleman. I am concerned because The Daily Telegraph has a wide Tory circulation, and I am genuinely concerned that anyone should believe what is printed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I refer, of course to a particular defence correspondent.
That brings me to the amendment of the Shadow Cabinet—or part of the Shadow Cabinet, because there appear to be two rival amendments from the Shadow Cabinet, each bearing the name of a different hon. Member. It is surely unprecedented in a defence debate that two members of the Shadow Cabinet should table two different amendments. It is true—and I am sure that in due course the Opposition will make good fun of it—that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and I had a minor difference of view about the speech. However, Conservative Members are united in their determination to maintain the effectiveness of our defences. The Labour Members who opened, for the loyal Opposition, each day's debate in the two-day defence debate last year have now both left the Labour Party, so the defence spokesman for the Labour Party last year no longer belongs to that party. This year two members of the Shadow Cabinet table amendments that partly contradict each other.
Nevertheless, I shall attempt to find a common policy between the rival factions in the Shadow Cabinet. I refer to Trident, because Trident is the single strand that appears to unite both rival factions. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. 167 Healey), the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and successive Labour Governments supported Polaris, and secretly developed Chevaline, which after all, is a modernisation of the missile system—it is hard to understand why we should be criticised for continuing the modernisation process with the Trident missile system, which is the logical successor to Chevaline.
I understand that some people believe that we should run on the Polaris submarines. They should know that we need new submarines anyhow, because the present submarines are nearing the end of their life, and the new submarines for Polaris represent about three-quarters of the cost of the Polaris successor system—Trident. If it was right to preserve an independent strategic nuclear deterrent through all the years of Labour Government—and secretly to update the missile system with Chevaline—what has made Labour Members change their minds?
The Soviet Union now possesses 60,000 tanks. It can field 10,000 combat aircraft of ever-increasing sophistication, range and destructive power. Every six weeks the Soviets launch a nuclear submarine, armed with either a ballistic or a cruise missile system. They have 5½ million men under arms. More important, they are deploying each week one new SS20 MIRV-ed missile, targeted against our cities, and that is two years before the cruise missile is even due to be deployed in Europe.
If Mr. Brezhnev and the Soviet marshals read the amendment tabled by one faction of the Shadow Cabinet about nuclear-free zones in Europe and closing down our bases, they would either jump for joy or regard it with the same bemused contempt as I do.
So I come to the argument about money and the cost-effectiveness of Trident. Of course, money spent on Trident is money that is not spent on something else. However, the only real question that we have to ask is: what is most likely to achieve our sole objective in NATO—the preservation of peace? There is no other objective. Deterrence turns on what the other side thinks—not on what we think. Surely, it is not suggested that if the Soviets were asked their view—and gave an honest answer—they would sooner face an increment to BAOR's armoured strength, when they already have 17,500 tanks to our 600 on the central front—a total of 7,000 tanks for NATO—or more Tornados, when they already have a numerical superiority in modern combat aircraft. Even the expenditure of tens of billions of pounds could hardly affect that one way or the other.
Trident is not just a numerical addition to the nuclear deterrence of the United States; it involves a quite different multiplication of risk to a potential aggressor which we, alone in Europe, are qualified to possess. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] In Europe we have the experience. We had an independent strategic deterrent for many years under the Labour Government. Which would the Russians choose: more tanks, or Tornados, or Trident? I suggest that one has only to ask the question to know the answer.
Finally, the estimated cost of Trident at about £5 billion, representing perhaps that part of a total estimated amount on defence equipment over 15 years of over £80 billion, and most of it spent in this country, is for a whole defence programme—missiles, boats, bases and all, the whole thing. The £10 billion—that is what it would cost at current prices—on our Tornado programme does not include the development of bases, support, and all the complex weapons systems such as JP233, defence 168 suppression systems, and all the other things that go with Tornado to give a true comparison with Trident. The same is true, obviously enough, for the 24 "Invincible" class cruisers, which a speaker in another place recently implied that we could get for the Trident money. He did not compare like with like.
In the end, the comparative deterrent effectiveness is not a matter of alternative costings. It comes down to judgment and common sense. I have some sympathy, surprisingly enough, with the deep emotional abhorrence that the Leader of the Opposition feels for nuclear weapons, because I share it. However, it leads me to different conclusions about what is the safest and best way of stopping the mad nuclear arms race. I share the abhorrence of the whole awful thing. But I find it hard to understand those who argue against Trident on the utilitarian ground of deterrent cost effectiveness. If one asks which will give more pause to an adversary contemplating aggression—Trident or an increase in our conventional forces—the answer is plain.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
My right hon. Friend has been helpful in dealing with speculation. Will he comment on press speculation that defence expenditure is compartmentalised and that the Trident expenditure will come out of the naval budget thus diminishing other naval expenditure?
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
Will the Secretary of State come to the House before the matters are decided, or will he merely give us the chance to debate decisions which are already firm in the Government's mind?
§ Mr. Nott
We do not normally have Whips on a statement.
I come to the question of arms control. [Interruption.] Hon. Members will have the opportunity of deciding which Shadow Cabinet amendment they wish to support if they are called. They should trouble themselves with that problem and then trouble about my statement when it is made.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
When the Secretary of State makes comparisons between Trident and other systems, that frightens people. The continual assertion that Trident is much better in terms of overall defence expenditure carries with it the inference that the Government are coming round to thinking of using the nuclear weapon, and using it quickly.
§ Mr. Nott
I understand that that argument is widely advertised by members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and others. the idea that any Western democratic nation could conceive of Trident or any other nuclear weapon as being required for "war fighting" is too fanciful for words. We are talking about weapons of mass 169 destruction. They are required for deterrence and the prevention of war now, as they have been since the war. I must say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have said at Question Time before, that before Hiroshima and Nagasaki 50 million people died in the Second World War. That was before nuclear weapons were used. Since the two sides have had them neither side has come near to contemplating in any circumstances the use of the weapons. In some extraordinary way one must ask "Have they not become weapons of peace?" I just pose the question.
Finally, I turn to the question of arms control.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
Not only is CND worried about the scenario of Trident. Up to now we have never been able to visualise anything but a gradual build-up. Can the Secretary of State imagine what might happen, particularly if the naval strength is reduced to any great extent, if the Eastern bloc were able to cut our supplies and yet not make war? If we bank on Trident, we must fire that or nothing. That is what is worrying people who are not members of CND.
§ Mr. Nott
I understand the argument about the opportunity cost of one weapon system against another. We have estimated that about £5 billion will come out of an equipment programme of £80 billion. For all the reasons that I have given, I believe that it is right to spend that money. The hon. Gentleman has a different view. I take his points about convoys and reinforcement and the ability of the Soviet Union to cut our supply line. That is why earlier in the debate I explained how important it was for the Royal Navy "deterrence by presence" role to continue and why we want an out-of-area capability in the Gulf. Surely that is one of the most likely places where the lifeline of the West might be cut by the Soviet Union if it had any aggressive intent.
§ Mr. Nott
No. Many hon. Members wish to speak.
I come to the question of arms control. In doing so, I am mindful of the condemnation in the Opposition's amendment about ourfailure to pursue vigorously disarmament talks".I must set the record straight on that accusation. We believe in arms control. I endorse, as did all NATO Ministers last week, the need for arms control negotiations. Who would not? The present arms race is utter madness. However, arms control can be successful only if we respond more effectively to the threat which faces us.
When the West enters a disarmament negotiation with the Eastern bloc from a position of military weakness, we also suffer from equally serious negotiating weakness. The weakness stems not only from the fact that the West is clearly not in a position to make good existing military disparities—and I have described them—but because there appears very often to be an in-built need on the Western side to keep up the pace of the negotiations; a need which sometimes takes scant account of the military and security risks involved.
Against this, the East appears to have no need to worry about the demands in the process of the negotiations coming from its own public opinion because it does not 170 have one. The result of the differing approaches to arms control negotiations, is that, although the West may enter into the process of negotiation with laudable objectives in both military and political terms, the West has pressures on it to make progress leading to concessions in the face of intransigence and lack of compromise from the Eastern side.
I am not suggesting that the pursuit of arms control is a hopeless task. I pray that it is not, for the sake of all of us. I want negotiations to succeed, but we have to be realists as well as politicians. I am mindful of what a Conservative politician once said:I do see fresh opportunities of approaching this subject of disarmament opening up before us, and I believe that they are at least as hopeful today as they have been at any previous time".—[Official Report, 3 October 1938, Vol. 339, c. 50.]That was Neville Chamberlain—in October 1938.
§ Mr. Nott
It is an old one. If the right hon. Gentleman were to say that, the country would throw him out as well.
It is not necessary for us to be in a position of military superiority. NATO, as a defensive alliance, does not seek such a position. However, we cannot hope to negotiate fair agreements from a position of substantial or growing inferiority. Arms control has a part to play in our security, but fresh initiatives can never be a substitute for necessary defence. We must be guided by our minds as well as our hearts. For that at least is a requirement of any Government, if not that of every loyal Opposition.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I beg to move to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:regrets that in the current economic climate there are no measures proposed by Her Majesty's Government to reduce the excessive and uncontrolled defence expenditure to the same proportion of gross domestic product as that of the United Kingdom's major European allies; deplores the failure of the Government to review the number and size of defence commitments and to cancel the Trident project which distorts all defence priorities; and, believing that the safety of the world depends on easing international tension and reducing nuclear and conventional alms, condemns the Government's failure to pursue vigorously disarmament talks with the major countries concerned.The amendment encompasses the main points of criticism which we have of the Government's Defence Estimates, upon which we shall divide the House at the end of the debate.
Initially, let me join the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State in paying a sincere and deserved tribute to the members of our Armed Forces. Let me also join him, in a year which has seen an unprecedented amount of sneering at the civilian employees of the Ministry of Defence by hon. Members opposite, in paying a tribute to them. I think that the work that they do in supplementation of the defence forces is worthy of the highest praise. Many of them in the technical branches are retired Service personnel, which makes the jibes at their loyalty that we frequently hear totally grotesque.
If I have to single out a single section of the Armed Services for special mention it must now, as for a number of years past, be those who serve in Northern Ireland. Their courage and dedication—evidenced by the horrific 171 death of five people earlier today, in pursuit of the objectives we give them in supporting the police authority—are admirable. I can neither understand nor share the view of those who lay the blame for the tragic situation in Northern Ireland upon our soldiers. They have acted at all times in support of the police and I hope that the present difficult situation will not reverse the process of handing back responsibility for law and order to the civilian authorities.
As paragraph 503 of the defence Estimates points out, for the first time since 1971 the number of garrison troops in Northern Ireland exceeds the number of those who are there under emergency powers—a fact which again directly contradicts the statements of those who talk about the United Kingdom sending more and more troops to Northern Ireland.
The debate on the defence Estimates is normally the high spot of the defence year. Even in this year, when it was to be a mere preliminary to the decisions which will be taken in July by the Secretary of State, it would have been the highlight. But as in some soccer matches, what goes on on the pitch is hard put to compete with what goes on on the Tory terraces, because the crowd is restive and the Secretary of State was given a comparatively uncomfortable time while he was talking about his own Estimates. He only treated us to a taste of his Woosterish sense of humour when he started to talk about the problems.
I enter the quarrel somewhat diffidently because it is almost like intruding on private grief——
§ Mr. John
Well, I have served in the Ministry of Defence, which I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman, who interjected from a sedentary position, has ever done.
It started off in a gentlemanly enough manner with the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) writing in The Daily Telegraph. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman; I have always thought Tory voters to be deluded and now I realise that the basis for their delusion is their predilection for reading The Daily Telegraph. I think he should attend forthwith to the issue of Queen's Regulations about refraining from reading such wicked lies about this country; otherwise their morale will sink to rock bottom. But the hon. Member for Aldershot had no such scruples about an attractive offer and he wrote very fairly on the possibilities facing the Secretary of State in dealing with the present defence and equipment situation.
This was followed very quickly by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who used the time-honoured Tory formula about being sure that no Secretary of State could be contemplating such a step. That was a pretty ominous cracking of thunder, but it was quickly overtaken by the then Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Navy, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and his attempt at the weekend completely to torpedo the plans of his own Secretary of State. [Interruption.] Well, he was not dismissed because he parted his hair on the wrong side of his head. He made an uncleared and critical speech on what he conceived to be the possibilities, and at midnight, the witching hour, as I understand it, the Prime Minister dismissed him. It may have been a case of acting with speed and repenting at leisure. May I express my personal 172 sympathy to the hon. Gentleman? I wish him well and I hope that he will feel able to enlighten the House about the motives that led him to take the course he did.
Of course the Government are the victims of their own excesses in this matter because they talked in Opposition about there being absolutely no constraints upon defence except the threat we had to meet. That was reaffirmed by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who was truly bewildered when the Government of which he was such a loyal supporter suddenly changed their course and were no longer talking about matching expenditure with the threat but about economic considerations and the need to fit defence expenditure within those considerations. Indeed, he is not the only Member on the Government side to have taken the frothy rhetoric of the Conservatives in Opposition as the truth.
What we are up against, and what the Government's Lobby fodder will have to swallow, is that the Government will be planning this summer to cut public expenditure further in many other fields and that in that situation we cannot, in the present state of the economy, bear the present size of defence expenditure.
The Secretary of State this afternoon found yet another formula for disguising a defence cut. He said it was a change in expenditure, it was not a cut. On that basis the Health Service has not been cut, industry has not been cut; the expenditure has just been changed. The fact is that cuts in expenditure and the Budget finance are always understood to be cuts in planned expenditure rather than cuts in the immediate year. There have been very few such cuts, at least before this Government took account of the situation.
What was made clear in the Estimates by the printing of internal memoranda, the authorship of which was attributed—and I say this diffidently—to the Secretary of State, is that the programmes have run ahead of our ability to pay for them. He may deny that that is so, but that is the logic of the situation on which he is acting—that the present size of the projected defence expenditure for the next decade is larger than we can bear.
On this, the defence estimates are studiedly vague. They talk about the need for plans, for ensuring value for money. But the message which comes across quite clearly this afternoon is that for the next decade finance will need to be cut, and by a very substantial amount. There is no doubt about that, because of the economic record of the Conservative Party since they came to office.
This year we are spending upon defence 5.2 per cent. of our gross domestic product. Apart from the United States, that is the highest percentage of GDP of all the major NATO countries. It compares with Western Germany's 3.3 per cent. of its GDP, France's 4.4 per cent and Canada's 1.8 per cent. GDP is the fairest measure of our ability to bear any particular expenditure. Indeed, it is the very measure which the party in Government has used to support massive cuts in public expenditure, so it is hypocritical now to deny that GDP is not such a fair measure.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is extremely significant that of all the European members of NATO we are the only country that does not have National Service or some form of conscripted military service? Is it not therefore entirely appropriate that we should pay a little more for the privilege of not being compelled to bear arms in defence of our country?
§ Mr. John
The lesson of National Service is that the defence value that we get out of National Service men is not worth the immense training effort we have to put in to get them to a state of readiness. Hon. Gentlemen may shake their heads. I did National Service, so I know at least as much about it as some of those who are shaking their heads.
§ Mr. John
No. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady will not be able to contain herself for long; perhaps I will give way later.
It is not a fair comparison to say that the Allies have National Service, and we are paying extra because we have a professional service. We have a professional service because we believe that the skill and value of our professional forces is so much better, that that is the best way to defend ourselves. I do not dissent from that. I have the greatest admiration for our professional Armed Forces and I believe that they should be kept professional. That does not explain the disparity between our 5.2 per cent of GDP and the 3.3 per cent. of GDP of West Germany.
§ Mr. John
My hon. Friends will deal in more detail with industrial matters, but my fear is that with the present rate of decline the primary manufacturing capacity of the country will be destroyed by the Government and all that we shall be capable of is the occasional sub-contracting work. That may be why Tory Members are so effusive in their welcome of whatever the United States is ready to offer us in that line.
My fear is also whether there has been the control over the defence budget that we were led to expect. In the past year we have already had a supplementary budget for £200 million; then we had an overspend of £260 million. Now the Armed Forces pay award has exceeded the cash limit and the money will have to be found from elsewhere in the defence budget. Finally, and most puzzlingly, what are we to make of the episode of the three SSN boats, which came to light not in the defence Estimates but in a Ferranti advertisement? That had not been announced, and the initial Ministry of Defence reaction seemed to be totally at sea—if I may put it that way without offence to the hon. Member for Ashford. That experience does not give me the impression of the rigid control of the budget and the value for money of which the Secretary of State boasted and which we were led to expect.
July will signal the end of that. Whatever the screams of pain, the Secretary of State will have just one attempt to rationalise defence expenditure. He must, therefore, ignore the complaints of his Back Benchers in this debate and the inevitable attempts by each Service to preserve itself intact in carrying out this defence exercise.
I shall not embarrass the Secretary of State by promising our support for him in that exercise. He could probably do without that as he could do without a hole in the head. I promise that we shall judge him fairly by two criteria. First, will the cut be a realistic cut which will achieve our acceptance in the Alliance of a fair burden? I hope that the current newspaper fuss will be neither a deterrent to him nor an indication of that oldest of dodges, certainly by the Conservative Government, in which the worst scenario is first trailed so that there are gasps of admiration when something less is done later.
174 The second criterion by which we shall judge the Secretary of State is whether the exercise provides within the expenditure available to us for defence the best possible system of defence. It will be condemned if it nibbles at equipment, or if it achieves an equality of misery in the sense of keeping the Services happy by making each equally miserable.
The right hon. Gentleman on this occasion must look at the roles which we fulfil, both as to their number and their scope. Not all the roles we attempt are equally valid if expenditure is to be restricted. To stretch smaller resources more thinly over uncut commitments will mean our doing nothing well. If this role reduction is achieved, the Secretary of State can feel that he has done his task well and he can regard the loss of the Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Navy as a little local difficulty. He may complain about newspapers broadcasting the expectation of large cuts in the defence budget, but if he does not fulfil them, the conclusion will be drawn that he has lost the battle within the Cabinet and within his Ministry. Unless he comes up to scratch his position will be gravely weakened, and he will be held to be a lame duck Secretary of State.
I revert to the question of the opportunity that the House will have to consider these cuts.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
Is the hon. Gentleman's definition of a successful Secretary of State for Defence one who cuts defence massively?
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
Yes, I would. Before the hon. Gentleman concludes his speech, will he give the figure per head of population which France, Germany, Italy and the United States spend on defence? In most cases the amount is considerably larger than the amount spent by the United Kingdom. What is important is not just the percentage but the amount that is spent.
§ Mr. John
The amounts that are spent by countries and the calculation of how much is spent per person vary according to the criteria. I was saying that with our present enfeebled economy the most valid way of making the calculation was as a percentage of GDP. I stand by that. It is certainly defensible, even against the hon. Lady's hectoring.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) asked whether my view of the Secretary of State was that he was a passive cutter. But no one who heard the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon would accuse him of passivity. He believed in what he said. He believed it was time, in his words, to cut through the single Service rivalries and bring about an all-round improvement in the country's defence capability at less cost. The only conclusion that can be drawn from his failure to achieve that is that he has lost the battle in Cabinet, that he has been passive with his colleagues when he has not been passive in his Ministry. [Interruption.] The state of understanding of the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) is not my business. It is that of his electorate, and his puzzlement will receive its just reward in due course.
I come back to the question of the consideration which the House will be able to give to these proposals. The Secretary of State stated with a bold declaration that these 175 matters would be fully debated by the House in July. At the end of his speech he said that they would be fully debated upon a statement. If I may call upon you in aid, Mr. Speaker, a statement does not enable everyone who wants to make a point to be called. It is a wholly inadequate way of discussing the matter. We do not expect in the last days of July a Government statement and half an hour of questions, followed by three months of recess in which irreversible decisions can be taken.
We demand, on behalf of the whole House, not merely on behalf of the Opposition, that these matters should be the subject of a full-scale debate and that they should be discussed fully and properly. We would consider providing a Supply day but it is the responsibility of the Leader of the House, as the custodian of the rights of the House, to force his colleagues, however unwillingly, to give the time that is proper to a subject. No one can say that this is a frivolous subject. No one can say that it does not deserve the consideration of the House. We are considering a proper allocation of the money likely to be available to us.
This leads immediately and directly to the Trident project, with which the Secretary of State has dealt and with which I shall deal, even at the risk of rehearsing our exchanges of last March. The Secretary of State, according to reports of his discussiona on the defence review he is undertaking, has talked simultaneously in terms of no sacred cows while steadfastly maintaining that there is one sacred cow—the Trident project. In our debate in March, I accepted the Secretary of State's valuation of the project cost although I expressed scepticism of it. My scepticism of the cost of the project has, I believe, been justified.
Whatever the Secretary of State may say now, newspaper reports of a unanimity that is beyond mere speculation place the cost already at £6,000 million. Even though the right hon. Gentleman relates that money to future defence equipment expenditure, it is a substantial part of the new expenditure budget that is likely to be available to the Ministry of Defence. We warned that such an escalation of costs was dangerous to the whole of the defence budget—and it has not yet finished. I understand that no final decision has yet been taken about whether the Trident missile will be the C4 or the D5. The choice will make a tremendous difference. I understand that the British choice at the moment is the C4 missile. A choice has not yet been made by the United States. If the bigger D5 version of the Trident is chosen, we shall either have to pay a further £750 million or lose the commonality of equipment with the United States which is advanced as one of the great merits of the project.
The Secretary of State was uncharacteristically petulant at the last defence Question Time when pressed about costs. Despite his behaviour, or perhaps because it was so out of character, I believe that the £5,000 million estimate that he has given of the cost of the Trident project will prove a gross underestimate when viewed historically. We have talked at the moment only about the financial cost of Trident. The Government have been extremely coy, both in the Chamber and before the Defence Select Committee, which has been examining these matters, about the opportunity costs that will arise—the other projects that will be squeezed out, deferred or cancelled to keep the Trident project in being.
I dealt with this matter in our last debate. I shall restrict myself this time to reminding the Secretary of State that 176 not only The Daily Telegraph, but every newspaper has as its common theme the fact that the post-July Navy was likely to be heavily geared around the hunter-killer submarine. What the newspapers have not realised is that the Trident programme is likely substantially to interfere with this approach. In an answer given by the then Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy on 11 May, it was stated that there was no intention presently to open the Cammell Laird shipyard to accommodate the building of nuclear submarines. That is the only other yard in the United Kingdom capable of taking upon itself such work. All work, I understand, is to be carried out at the Vickers yard at Barrow. This was confirmed by the right hon. Gentleman today.
However, the right hon. Gentleman has failed to tell the House that every Trident submarine built at the Barrow yard displaces the hunter-killer submarine building programme on a one-for-one basis. The right hon. Gentleman is delaying a vital and essential part of his new Navy for many years through the building of the Trident submarines. I wonder how this policy accords with the Secretary of State's cogitation. Despite his remarks today, all these measures are being taken to achieve a marginal addition to the Alliance's nuclear capability. It is a national capability, in the right hon. Gentleman's view. However, no one in his right senses would contemplate its being used independently of the United States deterrent.
For that reason, the whole of the rest of our effort towards the Alliance in military terms will be severely distorted. We have only just begun to see the opportunity cost—or, rather, the opportunity detriment—of the existence and continuance of the Trident programme.
I say sincerely to the Secretary of State that not since the disastrous days of the Sandys White Paper in 1957 will we have had so many defence eggs in one basket. The right hon. Gentleman must seriously consider, and reconsider, even at this stage, the Trident programme to see whether a more balanced defence programme is not a better contribution to our allies.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
The hon. Gentleman argues at length against the Government's decision to go ahead with Trident. The Opposition's position is made clear in the official amendment. The hon. Gentleman has, however, failed to inform the House of the position of the official Opposition on the strategic nuclear deterrent. If he argues against the pursuance of the Trident programme, he owes it to the House to say whether the Opposition propose an alternative, what it would cost and whether it would be as effective or whether, as some of us are beginning to suspect, they want us to remain in that business at all. It is time that the Opposition officially came clean.
§ Mr. John
The hon. Gentleman has not read the debate of 28 March. The burden of my remarks at that time was that we should remain part of the Alliance but that we could no longer afford, due to the displacement of other defence tasks, the national nuclear deterrent. We voted against it as an Opposition last March. I hope that the position is now clear to the hon. Gentleman.
I was discussing the distortion of the other defence programmes which has not yet been appreciated by our allies, especially the new United States Defence Secretary. What the new United States Defence Secretary believes, based upon an exchange of letters that took place, is that the so-called savings on the Trident project would 177 automatically be used to increase spending on force improvements. When he realises, as the Opposition now do, that the Trident project will displace other projects and other capabilities, his disillusion will be as great as that of Tory Back Benchers now and in the next five to 10 years.
There are other ways in which expenditure can be avoided. This explains why I did not initially give way to the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman), although I later did so. I wanted to return to what I regard as the lunatic flirting with a form of military national service for the unemployed. Apart from the other manifest weaknesses and objectionable features of the system, the Secretary of State will know—his chiefs of staff will tell him if he does not know—that it makes no military sense in the modern world for Britain to have National Service as a defence contribution. It is far too costly for the military improvement that it gives. I hope that we hear no more of it and that it drifts off into the amended quasi-voluntary service idea of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser).
Nor does the ill-fated rapid deployment force for Britain make any sense. The very mention of it drew horror from the proposed beneficiaries of the force and it was clear that it could not be used except with their consent, as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged. We are in the highest degree unlikely to get that consent in the very area in which we want to use it.
Time after time in defence debates we stray almost into the realm of foreign affairs. That is because we try to forecast not only the military but the political environment in the next 10 to 15 years. Before dealing with that and before leaving defence proper, I shall say a few words about the military balance between East and West. We have set out in the tables in the Estimates the military balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. These are helpful in providing a general indication and I welcome them. However, the Secretary of State must recognise that the tables merely present quantitative figures.
These figures suffer from the weakness that they can be used to prove any argument that one wants to advance. They can be used to prove the argument of those who call for greater defence expenditure. They are often used as a weapon of propaganda rather than to present a realistic balance. They suggest that there is a growing and inexorable imbalance. The Secretary of State, both today and in the Estimates, at paragraphs 300 to 303, has sought to portray an imbalance that is being increased each year.
Ideally we want a balance that is neither complacent nor alarmist. To talk of numbers without attempting to make a qualitative assessment is misleading. I shall give a few examples. On page 17 we are given the balance of soldiers between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. We are told that it is 1:1.2. That ignores the poorer quality and motivation of Warsaw Pact troops. Unwilling conscripts who serve longish engagements do not compare with the professional dedicated Service men that exist in our forces. We rightly admire the members of our forces and they can be regarded as achieving more than a 1:1 ratio with their opposition in the Warsaw Pact.
If the recent "World in Action" programme is correct, there are severe problems in the Russian army with racial hostility and drug-taking. That does not take into account the restlessness of the allies within the Warsaw Pact. That must be weighed—the Secretary of State was most remiss 178 in not doing so—in the military balance. If he thinks that the Polish army, the Czechoslovakian army and the Romanian army are as monolithic and allied to the Soviet Union as they were 10 years ago, he is misreading the entire situation.
Secondly, we must bear in mind equipment and roles when we seek to make a qualitative comparison. The right hon. Gentleman talked about submarine warfare. We are sometimes prone to ignore the fact that there are geographical limitations on the basing of Russian submarines, and especially on their points of entry and departure. In addition, we are much in advance of the Warsaw Pact in anti-submarine warfare, as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged. That is put in some circles as a seven-to-10-year advantage, but in an article in the February edition of Scientific American it is said that it is unlikely to be matched in the foreseeable future. That, too, must give us an advantage that must be weighed in the balance.
It is not much good having a crude balance of equipment that ignores how much is operational and ready for service. For example, the air force balance in favour of the Warsaw Pact is at least partially offset by much better NATO serviceability rates. I refer again to the same article in Scientific American, which states that, on any normal day, only 11 per cent. of the Russian submarine ballistic missile force would be in operation, compared with 60 per cent. of the American counterpart, which makes good the disparity.
Finally, let me end by saying—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members are curious people. They profess to be interested in defence and want always to indulge in a great debate. However, when they have the opportunity for such a debate they profess universal boredom. They make the cheap, easy and simplistic points that they used to make in Opposition. They are incapable of leaving them even when they are in Government.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
This has been a very bad day all round for Conservative Members. Does my hon. Friend appreciate that there has already been one sacking—the dismissal of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed)? However, the Prime Minister talked today about working as a team. We have had the resignation of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller). We have recently been informed by the tape of another resignation. It appears that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) has packed his bags and gone. No wonder Conservative Members look downcast.
§ Mr. John
That is why, when it was said of the hon. Member for Preston, North that he had never been a Minister, I said that he should not despair because at the rate that the Government are using up Conservative Members as Ministers he might have an opportunity.
The central feature of the amendment is the search for peace. Although there is an imbalance in conventional terms in favour of the Warsaw Pact, it is not so wide as to disqualify us from undertaking serious and detailed discussions with the Warsaw Pact about disarmament. NATO is concerned not only with a deterrent force but with detente. We believe that we were entitled to look for far more support than the Government have given Chancellor Schmidt in his attempts to persuade the United States to negotiate seriously with the Russians. This 179 morning's edition of The Times describes the plea that the German Chancellor has made to President Reagan to hold talks with the Russians seriously and urgently.
§ Mr. John
No, I shall not give way. I am conscious of the groans from Conservative Members. Those groans have been reinforced by some of their interjections.
Our anxiety about the sincerity of this operation has been added to by what Mr. Weinberger said on "Panorama" last night. He seemed to assume that the talks would not be serious or were bound to fail and that SALT II was dead. That latter opinion may be right, to the great regret of the United States. However, efforts to limit strategic arms must continue and so must negotiations on cruise and SS20 missiles. To suggest otherwise is to cast doubt on the sincerity of public pledges to that effect. NATO countries other than the United Kingdom will be giving close attention to current and future statements. In bringing greater pressure to bear to fulfil the accord, Chancellor Schmidt seems to have received little or no public support from the British Government. They do not appear as eager to do so as the German Chancellor.
There is anxiety in Britain about nuclear weapons. That is not confined, as the Secretary of State said, to the victims of a Soviet plot. Nor is it motivated, as Mr. Weinberger says, by a willingness to subjugate ourselves to the Soviet Union. On the contrary, we are deeply committed to liberty and freedom throughout the world but not necessarily to the sterile anti-Communism upon which Mr. Weinberger seems intent.
We believe that the world is at risk unless the nuclear arsenal is diminished, and the risk is growing year by year. We cannot ignore conventional arms. The bellicose statements of this Administration and of some foreign Administrations seem to play little or no constructive role. The contrast is stark between Government stridency on the dangers of war and their laryngitis on the possibility of negotiating peace.
The Government do not put nearly enough emphasis upon the effort to negotiate disarmament. We are all well aware of the difficulties involved, but that does not absolve the Government from trying. In neglecting that, they are neglecting—in the widest sense—the defence of this country. Even a catalogue of domestic disasters such as that of the present Government, may, in historical terms, pale into insignificance beside the charge that, despite the difficulties, they failed to be urgent enough in the search for peace and disarmament. In their timidity in that area and in their other shortcomings, they have failed to secure the defence of this country. For that we condemn the Government.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) will not expect me to follow him down the paths along which he led the House. I disagree with much of what he said, but I thank him for his personal reference to me.
I expected to make a speech today in slightly different circumstances. However, I start by paying a sincere and genuine tribute to the men and women of the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Women's Royal Naval Service, Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service and all their civilian support, who have given me so much 180 support, friendship and kindness for the past two years. This country is well served by those people. As the outgoing Minister responsible for the Royal Navy I a m deeply grateful to them.
Last week, in Tenterden in my constituency, I made a speech which I regarded, and continue to regard, as representing the policy of my Government, of which I was proud to be a member, and the policy of my party, of which I am proud to be a member. I argued that the dangers that would ensue if there were a downgrading of the Royal Navy were such as to imperil our national security. Some have argued that if I felt that way, I should not say so in a speech but should approach the Lobby or other people behind the scenes. I believe that that is the negation of leadership. I was the Minister responsible for the Service. One should not act in a hole and corner manner if one feels that one is expressing views which I hope all my right hon. and hon. Friends will hold when looking at the world as it is today.
I accept what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, that no decisions have been taken on the difficult task on which he, my colleagues and I have been engaged during the past few weeks and months. The mixed fleet of the Royal Navy has a role in peace and in war which is fundamental to the security of this island, which depends so much for its existence on seaborne trade—in fact, to the tune of about 96 per cent. of its imports and exports.
In my speech last week I was not arguing for an uncontrolled increase either of defence expenditure or of expenditure on the Royal Navy. I was not arguing that defence expenditure should operate in a sort of economic vacuum. That makes no sense at all. However, I was not elected by my constituents, nor was I appointed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to preside over any major cutback in the surface fleet of the Royal Navy. There have been arguments in the press over recent months that that was one of the major options that would be available to my right hon. Friend in the difficult studies that he was undertaking. I reject that option now and will fight it through to the bitter end.
Commentators have remarked on Trident, which has also been mentioned by my right hon. Friend and by the hon. Member for Pontypridd. I was very much concerned with Trident on a day-to-day basis, because my right hon. Friend asked me to do that. I believe that Trident is essential for the strategic and national defence of this country. I do not resile from that for one minute. My right hon. Friend was correct in everything that he said this afternoon. However, Trident is a national, strategic: defence system and therefore should be funded in the same way as Polaris, which is national, and not at the expense of any single Service.
In sharp contrast to 25 years ago, the Soviet Union now has a huge and growing blue water fleet operating above and below the seas in all the oceans of the world. As I remarked in my speech—it is fitting to remind the country of this—the Soviet Union has two aircraft carrier in commission— and we believe that it is building more—two helicopter carriers, a new nuclear battle cruiser— with more to come—probably the most powerful surface ship the world has ever seen, with the exception of the American nuclear carriers, 380 submarines, 38 cruisers, 87 destroyers, 185 frigates, more than 370 181 minesweepers, hundreds of other vessels and a massive building programme that is churning out submarines and surface ships, as my right hon. Friend said.
If one looks at Russian history and its geography, one realises that by no stretch of the imagination can that fleet be needed purely for defensive purposes. It is not. Admiral Gorshkov was appointed chief of naval staff of the Soviet Union 27 years ago. I have a personal admiration for him, because he has achieved much for the Soviet Union. He wrote:The Soviet Fleet is a powerful factor in creating favourable conditions for the building of Socialism and Communism".He is practising what he preaches. He went on to say:In many cases a show of naval strength without taking armed action may achieve political ends merely by exerting pressures through its latent power or by threatening to take military action.I quoted those remarks in my speech last Friday evening. On Saturday morning the Soviet fleet appeared off Lebanon, doing just what Gorshkov told us it would do. That has happened over the months and years. We have done the same ourselves to a lesser extent from time to time.
I could not tell the House on how many occasions, even since I have been the Minister responsible for the Navy, we have sent ships to different parts of the world to help our friends or to help against the natural disasters in various islands in the West Indies, and so on. That is the great advantage of maritime power. On one day one can have a high profile and the Fleet can be there on the horizon. On the next day there can be a low profile and the Fleet can draw away below the horizon, or it can move in to render first-aid or emergency services. With the greatest respect to my colleagues, that is something which, by definition, standing armies and air forces cannot do.
Much has been said about standard nuclear submarines, which are not ballistic submarines. That is the best antisubmarine weapons system. Those submarines are expensive. Currently the price is about £160 million each. Including those in operation and under construction, we have a total of only 15. Because, inevitably, some are under refit—submarine refitting is important for safety and other reasons—only 10 or 11 are likely to be operational at any one time. Alas, it is two years since we ordered the last one. With the best will in the world, a nuclear submarine cannot be used in the role of a surface ship in the Gulf of Oman, in the Belize guardship in the West Indies, in Hong Kong and in all the other areas where surface ships are used. In addition, being nuclear powered, these submarines cannot sail through the Suez Canal. We must recognise that there are substantial limitations to their use.
Again as I said in my speech, we cannot continue to have frigates costing £130 million a time, excellent though they are. With my right hon. Friend, I repudiate press reports that our modern ships are poor weapons platforms and not properly armed. They are first-class ships, but, frankly, we cannot afford them in the numbers that we need. In the Navy debate last June I advanced the case for the type 23 frigate at half the cost, for the much cheaper minehunter and for seriously considering converting tankers to helicopter carriers for anti-submarine purposes, which is a sensible dual-purpose role for them. All that makes a great deal of sense. Inevitably, the resources that 182 any Secretary of State has are limited. The best being the enemy of the good has all too often been the rack upon which Secretaries of State for Defence have been laid.
My hon. Friends the Members for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) and for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) and other hon. Members representing dockyard constituencies are concerned about the rumours. For a number of weeks there have been grumblings and problems about the dockyards. I feel strongly about them. I led the study into their operations and activities. I confirm what my right hon. Friend said, that no decisions have yet been made. Reports that decisions have been made are entirely speculative. The rumours were around long before the imbroglio this weekend. There is a blight because of uncertainty—and we are talking about a considerable number of jobs. I hope that as soon as possible my right hon. Friend can remove the uncertainty.
Last August I made a commitment on the Fleet as it stood and as I would wish it to continue. There is a need for United Kingdom dockyards. I ask the House to consider the employment consequences, not only for the dockyards, but for British industry generally if the Royal Navy and the other Services are degraded and run down. It is all very well for Opposition Members to talk about public expenditure on defence, but they forget the hundreds of thousands of people involved in support for defence and the defence industry—shipyards and radar and armaments factories and the spin-off to commercial firms. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have written to me to complain about lack of orders. It is proper for them to do so on behalf of their constituents. We should bear the whole defence industry in mind when we consider the economic progress that we all wish to make.
I wish to put one point to my right hon. Friend about which I feel deeply. At the very first Admiralty Board meeting that I chaired when I became Under-Secretary of State we took a decision, which was subsequently made public, to put into the reserve fleet prematurely five frigates and a cruiser. Back in June 1979 there had been such a run-out of skilled Service personnel, particularly on the electrical and engineering side—chief petty officers, petty officers and junior to middle-rank officers—that we did not have enough personnel to keep the ships at sea. The run-out was largely due to pay and other factors. I shall not make political points, but Opposition Members know that to be true. Had we not won the election, my predecessor would have taken the same decision.
I cannot speak with authority about the other Services, but if a man wishes to leave the Royal Navy he has only to give 18 months' notice. The people about whom we are talking are skilled. Even in the recession they can get a job with GEC, Marconi, Westinghouse and so on. Industry will snap up highly trained and technical people who are well disciplined and capable of high responsibility. At present they are serving the country well and are well paid, but if they feel that they may have no future because the Service is being run down, we could have an uncontrolled run-out that would make my first Admiralty Board meeting seem like a tea party. The maintenance of morale is vital. We can always acquire more ships, aeroplanes or tanks, but skilled men and women cannot be picked up or trained at the drop of a hat.
The tradition, morale, expertise and capability of the Royal Navy have been built up not overnight, but over many generations. We are an island nation. We have a specific and unique NATO contribution, which, because 183 of our geography, is largely maritime. It has been said that the Royal Navy provides 70 per cent. of the NATO force in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel. My future is unimportant against that background.
I am profoundly uneasy that decisions could be taken—although they have not yet been taken—that would have a damaging and lasting effect on the surface fleet and its support. In this general debate on the Services, with the spotlight partly on the Royal Navy and the need for our maritime power and presence, at the end of the day the argument must convince the Cabinet that to degrade our maritime effort would not make sense in peace because of our geography, and in war because of our NATO commitments.
The other night when I made the speech that has aroused so much comment I concluded with the words of another famous Russian, Solzhenitsyn:The threat lies not so much in the capabilities of its enemies as in the indifference of the West.Let us make sure that we do not allow that to happen here.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
The confirmation by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and the Secretary of State that the Government, after all their boasts about increasing defence expenditure, are looking for economies comes as no surprise to those of us who have consistently argued that their proposed defence expenditure would be a crippling economic burden that we could not sustain. The right hon. Gentleman has denied that Trident, costing £5,000 million over 15 years, was more than we could afford without grave damage to our economy, but the defence statement declares:We must re-establish in the long-term programme the right balance between the inevitable resource constraints and our necessary defence requirements.That is a clear admission that they are out of balance, although a vociferous band of the right hon. Gentlemen's hon. Friends does not agree. To continue to increase defence expenditure in real terms, as the Government did last year at a time when the gross domestic product is falling is a recipe for accelerating the alarming rate of economic decline and reductions in spending on education, health and welfare.
The case for much deeper cuts in defence expenditure than the present Government are ever likely to contemplate is therefore stronger than ever, particularly as, in my opinion, such cuts could undoubtedly be achieved without diminishing but rather enhancing the security interests of the British people. Therefore, on both economic and security grounds, I believe that Britain should cease to be a nuclear power in military terms.
The case for cancelling the Trident decision is not merely that it would save £5,000 million, or whatever that figure may rise to over 15 years. The possession of Trident would make Britain not less likely but more likely to be the target for a nuclear attack. As long as Britain retains nuclear weapons on her soil or they are carried by ships or aircraft operating from bases in this country, by the very logic of deterrence to which the White Paper refers nuclear weapons will be targeted against us.
The need is therefore not only to cancel Trident but to dispense with Polaris and the older systems of delivering nuclear weapons and to refuse utterly and completely to accept cruise missiles on British territory. Whatever is said in the House today, more and more people in this country 184 are coming round to that point of view. The danger of a crisis escalating into a nuclear conflict is very great, even if it is not intended to exceed conventional limits. I quote from page 23 of the defence statement:Selective air attack with nuclear weapons against specific targets might be necessary to demonstrate political will and to induce an opponent to stop aggression.In other words, Britain contemplates using nuclear weapons first in a case of what it regards as aggression. On the logic of deterrence, what possible reason is there to believe that the other side would not plan to retaliate with nuclear weapons in those circumstances? A chain reaction would then be likely to follow.
I accept that Britain would still be very vulnerable to the effects of nuclear weapons even if they were not directed at these islands in the case of dispensing completely with nuclear weapons but the dangers would inevitably be far less. Operation Square Leg last year envisaged a 200-megaton nuclear attack on Britain. That is the equivalent of 16,000 Hiroshimas, where a 12,500 ton TNT-equivalent bomb was dropped. Without a shadow of doubt, such an attack would be the end of Britain as we know it.
No defence system which has as a consequence of its use the destruction of the population that it is supposed to protect can possibly be regarded as effective. It is the equivalent of mining one's home to protect it against burglary. If it goes up with the occupants inside there is no defence whatever. I therefore believe, on grounds of safety as well as of cost, that Britain should now renounce nuclear weapons utterly and completely. This is not merely an attempt to opt out. Britain should use its renunciation as part of a plan designed to achieve a nuclear free Europe and nuclear free zones in other parts of the world, leading, one hopes, in the last analysis to a world in which all powers will agree to renounce nuclear weapons. Knowledge of how to manufacture nuclear weapons is likely to remain as long as the human race survives. Nevertheless, there could be agreement riot to manufacture and target such weapons. That must be our aim.
World expenditure on all arms, nuclear and conventional, was expected to rise in 1980 to 500,000 million dollars—6 per cent. of total world output. In prewar years, only half that percentage—3 per cent. of world output—was spent on arms. The increase is continuing. It is being justified in many countries by arguments similar to those which are advanced in the defence statement and which are advanced in this country repeatedly particularly by Conservative Members.
The Brandt report and many other studies underline the folly of this escalation which devotes scarce resources to the production of means of mass destruction in ever-increasing quantities. I have no brief whatever for actions which boost the arms race, wherever they may occur—in the West, in the Soviet Union, in the Third world or anywhere else. Nevertheless, I believe that the misdirection of production to the rearmament programme is one of the greatest threats not only to Britain and the British people but to humanity as a whole. Ultimately, as human beings, we are all poorer and less secure if it continues.
I do not suggest that Britain should embark forthwith on a pacifist policy of complete disarmament, or that the Soviet Union and her allies are justified in many of the things that they do. But we in Britain must face the fact 185 that we cannot possibly afford nuclear retalitatory capability and at the same time make a major contribution to NATO's naval strength, commit ground troops to the Continent of Europe and maintain, as the right hon. Gentleman said today, residual world-wide aspirations. I believe that we must cut back.
This could be part of a plan to stem the arms race throughout the world. One way in which we could embark on such a course would be to renounce nuclear weapons and to become a non-nuclear power. In the long run, humanity will look back on this generation as having lived through perhaps the most dangerous period that the world has ever experienced, because more destructive power exists in the world in which we live today than at any previous time in its history.
In those circumstances, to sit here and accept glib arguments which entail a continued escalation in the growth of destructive capacity throughout the world would be a complete condemnation of us. I therefore make no apology for raising my voice today in this way as I have raised it in the past. I believe that the road ahead for this country lies in cutting back massively on our military expenditure. The same is true for mankind as a whole. The road forward for humanity certainly does not lie with the hawks, whether they speak from this House, the Soviet Union, the United States of America or anywhere else.
For that reason, although it has not been called, I entirely support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland), which opposes any defence policy based on the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I begin by saying how grateful I am to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye at this early stage in the debate, principally because it enables me to commend the second report of the Select Committee on Defence, dealing with these Defence Estimates, which I hope will prove helpful to the House in the Debate. I place on record the thanks that the Committee owes to its staff in drawing up the report and making it available so speedily. If I bear some responsibility for the wording of it, I do not wish to comment on that in any way. It is a report to the House, and I hope that the House will make good use of it.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), on behalf of the Back Benches, for a courageous speech and no doubt also for a courageous act. I know that he has fought hard for the Navy. I am sure that he will continue to fight hard for the Navy. He may find it easier to do so from the Back Benches, although I was much encouraged to hear what he said about the understanding of the position, and of the importance of the Navy as an element in our overall national defences, shown by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I hope that I can add that the whole House should derive encouragement from my right hon. Friend's excellent speech today. He has helped us to see the whole question in its right perspective.
These long-term costing exercises come round with some frequency. It may be that this one is a little more fundamental than some that have gone before it. But one familiar feature is that they are accompanied by the sound of grinding axes up and down Whitehall. There has been 186 in recent years a tendency for the noise to grow louder and sometimes to approach a crescendo. I am a little surprised that it has not impinged upon my right hon. Friend's normally sensitive hearing. But, if I may leave the axe grinding for a minute, I should like to quote to the House from an article written in the RUSI journal nearly two and a half years ago by a distinguished naval officer, who was then a vice-admiral and Chief of Fleet Support, and who is now Sir James Eberle, the Commander-in-Chief, Fleet.
In the article Sir James starts by saying:Although the proportion of the British Defence budget devoted to equipment has risen during recent years, the effect of this in increasing the size and capability of UK forces has been largely offset by a continuing rise in the procurement costs of new weapons. Indeed, over the last two decades, the steep rise in the cost of the new generation of weapon equipments has been the dominant factor affecting the size and shape of UK forces, and particularly the Royal Navy. Allowing for inflation, the cost per ton of warships has risen during this period by a factor of from 10 to 15. In the early 1960s; a Leander class frigate cost some £4 million. Her replacement today may well cost some £50 million.There is Adam Smith brought up to date, if I may put it to my right hon. Friend. As we heard earlier, a replacement might now cost over £120 million.
Sir James goes on to say:This increase is not merely the result of inflation, but is also effectively a measure both of improved performance and of the increasing complexity of the operational environment in which we must operate at sea, factors which are together often described under the term `quality'. Quality in this sense is being bought at a very high price".Sir John defines that price as follows:In war little can be gained if nothing can be risked. If a single unit is so large and valuable that its loss would, of itself, be a major defeat then it is clearly unsound to place it at risk … As the number of our ships reduces, we face the danger of our ships becoming too complex, too large and too valuable to be put at risk.Part of Sir John's answer to that problem is given in the last part of the article, where he says:We need to harness technology, not to improve weapon performance in the traditional means of speed, range and capacity, but to retain present capabilities whilst making the systems smaller, simpler, more reliable and less costly. How successful we shall be in this depends as much upon the wisdom and perception of those officers who produce the operational requirements as upon the skill of the scientists and engineers who translate those requirements into hardware. This is a challenge that we, the military, must meet.And, if I may so, not only the military, for ultimately the answer has to come from my right hon. Friend. But that is a clear and concise definition of the problem confronting the Navy in the 1980s.
Earlier in the same article, Sir James says something which carries me straight to my next point:Deterrence at the highest level rests on the twin pillars of capability and credibility. Credibility is essentially a matter of political will and is not part of our quantity/quality equation. But capability is a function of both quality and quantity. The quality in this sense is a measure of the enemy's perception of the probability, when the order to fire is given, that the warheads will get through to their target. For effective deterrence it is essential that this perception should be of a very high order. Quality therefore is paramount.It is the quality argument that seems to me unanswerably to carry the day in favour of the Trident decision that the Government have already made. It may not carry the day with the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens), but for any who are prepared to advocate a nuclear alternative—some cruise missile system to replace Polaris—it has to be said that this is only wishful thinking. Whether it is Air Vice-Marshal Menaul, Mr. Russell 187 Lewis, in today's Daily Mail, or my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), I fear that their preference for a cruise missile replacement for Polaris is not one that can be home out by a serious analysis of the costs or the credibility of the deterrent that would result.
I hope that before long the House will have the advantage of seeing that argument set out at length in the report of the Select Committee on Defence on the nuclear replacement.
But meanwhile, for those of my colleagues who saw the programme last night in which Mr. Caspar Weinberger was interviewed on "Panorama," and held his own well against the usual incisive questioning of the BBC—if "incisive" is a word that the BBC would accept—it is right to remind the House that his comment on what would happen if the Opposition amendment were to become Government policy was that it would mean the beginning of the end of the Alliance. That is a diagnosis to which I subscribe and to which practically everyone in America to whom I was able to speak, when I was there six weeks ago, subscribed without reservation.
When hon. Members vote on the amendment tomorrow night they ought not to be under any illusion that they can in some magical way retain the credibility and coherence of NATO while cancelling Trident or while going further, as some Labour Members would like to do—or, indeed, as the Leader of the Opposition would like to do—by coming out of the deterrent business altogether. Many Labour Members below the Gangway are only too eager to get all the United States bases out of this country—not just the cruise missiles but all the other American nuclear bases and the American supply dumps as well.
The slippery path is there for all to see. The Opposition amendment is an open invitation to the Russians to sit back and do nothing, while the whole NATO system and the security of the Western world crumbles to their advantage. If hon. Members on the Opposition Benches do not see that, their search for popularity in the ranks of the CND is blinding them to the realities of international politics.
I should like to make one other point about Trident. The fact that the position is as I have described it seems to me to be greatly to our advantage, because the Americans are clearly very anxious that we should remain the linchpin in Europe of the Atlantic Alliance. Even though it proved impossible—for reasons that I shall not go into—to obtain offset orders for British industry as part of the Trident purchase agreement, it is open to us now to make it plain to the Americans that we have equipment that they should buy from us on its merits for their forces and that, if bought, would provide a great many jobs and so do much to strengthen the industrial base in this country. That would do much to help those whose livelihoods are bound up with the defence industry. Occasionally, Opposition Members are the subject of such pressure that they feel bound to speak up. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said that he felt no shame about advancing the case for defence employment in his constituency. His voters are as intelligent as he is, and are as unlikely as anyone else to vote for a Government who will run down the entire defence complex and wreck NATO.
§ Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)
Would my hon. Friend care to consider the lack of commitment to the sale 188 of Hawk trainers shown by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) in last Thursday's foreign affairs debate?
§ Mr. Onslow
The lack of commitment of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) to several things cannot escape our notice. The right hon. Gentleman's lack of commitment to this debate is fairly remarkable. Although his name appears second on the Opposition's amendment, I do not believe that he has been in the Chamber today—[Interruption.] If he was in the Chamber, he was unusually inconspicuous. However, I do not wish to dwell on the subject of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, whose contribution to our political scene is interesting but not conclusive.
I turn to the industrial base of defence. We do not spend money on defence in order to provide jobs, but we should spend money on defence in a way that will provide the best opportunity for employment and for technological progress. We should seek to make our industry as competitive as we can. We should ensure that manufacturers are able to spread their overheads by selling their products to other nations that are willing to invest in their defences. That prompts me to remind the House that the value of our defence sales overseas in the past 12 months was over £1,000 million. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State selects a replacement for the distinguished industrialist who is retiring later this year from his position as head of defence sales, I hope that he will choose another distinguished industrialist and not a superannuated ambassador. I sincerely hope that no one will even suggest the latter course. One of the principal desires of civil servants in my right hon. Friend's Ministry is to keep disturbing papers from him. I am sure that there would be no disturbance if my right hon. Friend were to approve the name of a distinguished industrialist.
§ Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)
Many of us were interested to see the point that his Committee's report made about subvention from the Department of Industry. We were interested in the Secretary of State's comments. The report does not state the Committee's precise view. There are obvious advantages, but there are clearly dangers as well. What was the Committee's view?
§ Mr. Onslow
I confess that the Committee was more anxious to get the report out than to work to decimal places. We said that we noted that the Secretary of State "would not rule out" the possibility. We might have put things more positively, but we were in a hurry to complete the report. Perhaps we did not dwell on that point, or on others, as much as we might have done. For example, we did not make as much as we might have done of the inadequacy of the present profit formula for defence contracts. That is beginning to cause serious difficulty to defence contracting firms. It should, and I hope will, receive urgent attention.
It seems to me that the way in which defence contracts are placed is designed more to defend civil servants against the inquisition of the Public Accounts Committee than to give the taxpayer the best value for the defence equipment that is bought.
§ Mr. Nott
I have listened to my hon. Friend's speech with great interest. He has touched on a crucial area. Since the Ferranti case, the Public Accounts Committee has helpfully—but in a difficult way—pushed our whole 189 procurement process in a certain direction. I can think of nothing more helpful to the country than consideration of this issue by his Committee. Great changes are needed. I mention that, because my hon. Friend made some points in that direction. Ultimately, any change must come from the House and not from my Department. That is an important point.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
It would help if right hon. and hon. Members did not turn their backs to the Chair. I sometimes have difficulty in recognising the faces of Back Benchers; I certainly cannot recognise their backs.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am delighted to have drawn my right hon. Friend so far on that subject, though I have to be a bit cautious in my response. My colleagues will know that the Select Committee on Defence would be reluctant to pick a fight with the august and senior Public Accounts Committee. Nevertheless, we might well find some way of addressing ourselves to the problem, provided that we could do so without becoming bogged down, and provided that other Committees did not feel that we were trespassing dangerously on their territory.
Defence debates concern the availability of money to keep the peace. In this century, such debates inevitably concern the Alliance; those who belong to it and contribute to it and also those who do not belong to it or contribute to it. In a recent speech in the United States of America, Mr. Caspar Weinberger wondered how long the West could countenance a situation in which the proportion of gross national product that Japan devotes to defence remains at 0.75 per cent. Given the competition that we face from Japan's technological industries, some of us might say that it would even up the balance if the Japanese taxpayer were to pay rather more to defend himself—if the Japanese taxpayer, who depends on oil from the Gulf, were to take a larger share of the cost of ensuring that oil reaches him safely. I recognise that it is a difficult problem, but the first political question that I studied seriously was the rearmament of West Germany. Without giving anything away, I can say that that was 30 years ago.
I think that we have dodged the question of Japan's rearmament for long enough. We must now face the problem, however difficult it may be. I suggest that it is time for Japan to join other Western nations in defending, within a firm Alliance, the common interests and the peace that we will wish to maintain.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
The amendment that stands in my name and that of other right hon. and hon. Members has not been selected, but nevertheless my remarks will be related to it. Its substance reflects the main policy statements that were endorsed by the Labour Party at its conference last year.
Certainly, the following argument is not irrelevant to recent remarks made by Mr. Caspar Weinberger. It is only fitting that some of the central issues should be addressed by those of us who support the campaign for European nuclear disarmament and who oppose any defence policy that is based on the use, or threatened use of nuclear weapons, including Trident and cruise missiles.
One of the key factors in this debate is the alleged arms imbalance. It was a relief to find, when the Secretary of 190 State introduced the debate, that he did not choose to repeat some of the arguments that he employed last year in his introduction to the statement on defence Estimates. For example, this year's statement does not contain the sort of figures on page 15 of last year's Estimates. That page contained information on longer-range land-based theatre nuclear forces to the end of 1979. It included a description of the Soviet SS20 and SS4/5 rockets, and gave the total as 530. Land-based missiles for NATO amounted to nil. That is an invalid and illegitimate comparison. The comparison is not, and should not be, between land-based missiles but between the SS20 in particular, and Poseidon or—in the context of this debate—Polaris. That is quite apart from carrier-based nuclear weapons.
This tendency to compare like with unlike, glibly spilling incomparable figures from Conservative Benches, leads to misleading conclusions.
For example, in relation to tank warfare, it was made quite plain by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute that the figures produced by the Institute of Strategic Studies were misleading because they included the reserve tanks of the Warsaw Pact. We do not have reserve tanks of the same date and vintage as the Warsaw Pact Powers. Such a comparison on a tank-for-tank basis also excludes the fact that the tactics of tank warfare employed by the two sides are essentially very different. We have a considerable number of tank recovery vehicles, with the tanks also being highly specialised. The Warsaw Pact countries have a policy of abandoning vehicles in the field if they are disabled or fall into disrepair. Therefore, a qualification should be made in the figures.
That is not the crucial argument. The argument that has been missed so far in the debate is that, against the Secretary of State's figure of 17,500 Warsaw Pact Power tanks, NATO has 200,000 anti-tank guided weapons, which is not an inconsiderable number especially if we take into account that the terms of reference in the debate about so-called conventional weapons, such as tanks, is no longer, or should no longer be, the terms of reference of the Second World War. Following the recent conflict of the Arab-Israeli war, it became clear that anti-tank weapons were, and can be, highly effective in stopping a tank onslaught or a major tank offensive. That war also made it plain that anti-aircraft guided missiles, now with highly mobile launch systems, can be extremely effective.
Those facts should be viewed in the context of our consideration of the role of Trident and other weapon systems. The background not yet stressed in the debate is that not only has the Soviet Union been building up its nuclear and non-nuclear forces—as is admitted on both sides of the House—but the United States is also building up its programmes in that area. There is not only the issue of new sea launch systems—to which the Trident, allegedly, will make a contribution—but the possibility of a new medium range bomber. There are the cruise missiles, the MX system—a massive defence expenditure programme in the United States on which, it has been alleged, more concrete is being allocated than to the whole road building programme of the federal authorities to concrete-line the missile tunnels for that weapon. Of direct relevance to the debate today is the neutron bomb and the possibility of its deployment not only by France but by the United States.
A key issue is the alleged Soviet threat. I am not a defender of the Soviet Union. It is not my aim to defend its political or social systems, which I regard as not only 191 reactionary but, in many respects, repressive. But I want to introduce into the debate an analysis of the nature of the Soviet threat. We must question both whether the Soviet Union wants to go to war and under what conditions it would do so. Much of the argument that we hear, not only from the Conservative Front Bench but from the Back Benches——
§ Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the Soviet Union may not wish to go to war, it carries out annexation by military force, as in Afghanistan?
§ Mr. Holland
If the hon. Gentleman had waited, he would have found that I was coming to precisely that point.
It is a crucial assumption of much of the Government's defence strategy, and of defence strategy based on nuclear weapons, that there is an actual Soviet threat to Western Europe, including Britain. If we assume that, we must not do so simply by looking at the Western European frontier, or a war front between the Soviet Union and Britain alone. It has long been conventional military wisdom, part of which still remains valid, that if to fight a war on one front is difficult, to fight a war on two fronts is foolhardy. Yet envisage the number of fronts on which the Soviet Union would risk war, if it were to undertake an offensive in Western Europe. It first could be in Western Europe itself and against NATO forces; secondly, with China; thirdly, on its Islamic frontiers; fourthly, with a direct exchange between the United States and the USSR with intercontinental missiles either of current generation or MX; fifthly, with sea-launch weapons; and, sixthly, probably from now on, with a satellite weapon system—in addition to facing a possible rebellion or revolt in its Eastern European satellites.
That is a realistic scenario. It is a possibility confronting the Soviet political authorities and the Warsaw Pact Powers. If they undertook an offensive in Western Europe, it would be a matter of fighting not on one front, but on six or seven fronts.
That perspective is important in relation to the point raised by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) about Afghanistan. As the Select Committee judged, and gave as its view, the position in Afghanistan reflects not so much clear evidence of aggressive tendencies by the Soviet Union world-wide, but a failure of its diplomatic and political intervention in a country that has been recognised since the 1950s—when it rejected Western aid and support—to be essentially within the Soviet sphere of influence. I stress that I deplore the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and what the Soviet Powers are doing there. But the possession of nuclear weapons itself, has not made it possible for the Western Powers, especially the United States, to respond to a specific act of aggression, invasion or occupation such as the Soviet Union has undertaken. America cannot easily intervene in Afghanistan, precisely because it is muscle-bound by nuclear power.
I turn to the Secretary of State's reference to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which I extend to the current Campaign for European Nuclear Disarmament. He said that the idea that any Western democratic nation would use these weapons was inconceivable. That remark has already been challenged in relation to Britain's defence policy. What has happened has been a qualitative change in the nature of nuclear weapons since the first generation 192 of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which may have had, in a specific historical context, a relative deterrent capability.
The difference is that the first-generation intercontinental ballistic missiles were literally unusable unless both sides were to face mutual destruction. In the parlance of the military specialists, that is neatly described as MAD—mutually assured destruction. That is not so with the new generation of nuclear weapons, deployed in a theatre context and stressed to be tactical rather than strategic in the Government's presentation of the Defence Estimates.
The deployment of tactical nuclear weapons, especially the threatened deployment of neutron weapons, in a theatre context is a major qualitative change in nuclear warfare. Those specialists who are concerned to support the case for weapons such as the neutron bomb argue that those are limited-radius radiation bombs and not mass blast bombs. They affect an area of only a few kilometres rather than threaten the wholesale destruction of a nation. However, the United States' specialists are considering using neutron bombs not as deterrents in the old style of unusuable weapons but as weapons designed to be used. They are usuable and are designed to be used as anti-tank weapons. The argument has been made in France, where ex-President Giscard d'Estaing declared that France was considering deploying neutron bombs because they were a cheaper and more effective form of anti-tank warfare. However, if these tactical weapons are considered to be usable and, in some sense, safe, their advocates must assume that there will be no escalation in their use.
According to the United States authorities, up to 40 neutron bombs would be used per tank division of the Warsaw Pact Powers. If there is a Soviet threat in the manner assumed by the Conservative Party, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact Powers would be out of their minds to invade Western Europe with one tank division. If they were serious they would use 10 tank divisions or more in the first wave.[Interruption.] I am glad to hear Conservative Members agreeing. If they were to do so and, in return, we deployed 40 neutron bombs per tank division, instead of one small, clean, limited radiation weapon, as the neutron bomb is conventionally described, more than 400 neutron bombs could and probably 'would be used across the centre of Europe in such an exchange.
That causes many Labour Members great concern. Speaking for myself, such facts on the emergence of a new generation of usable tactical weapons underlie my support for the campaign for a European nuclear-free zone.
It is in that context that former senior military officers and Lord Mountbatten in his last and, in a sense, most important speech—hardly reported in the British press or media—warned against the escalation from tactical to strategic nuclear weapons and described the escalation that I have related to the use of neutron bombs as virtually certain. Lord Zuckerman, a former chief scientific adviser to the Government, pointed out that there is an 85 per cent. probability that if tactical nuclear weapons are used there will be an escalation to an all-out nuclear holocaust in which we will all be losers.
The important element relevant to military thinking and reasoning is that in any frontier-type confrontation, the loser is always likely to escalate the scale of the engagement if he has effective weapons available. The fear that should be shared by hon. Members on both sides 193 of the House is that a border incident involving tactical neutron bombs could escalate to the use of neutron and other nuclear weapons and an all-out holocaust.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Does my hon. Friend also recognise that Lord Mountbatten repeatedly made it clear that the destiny of the free world depends on Britain's remaining a member of the North Atlantic Alliance? As my hon. Friend is the distinguished theologian of the BenniteMarxist faction of the Labour Party, will he make it clear that if that faction is successful in the battle for the soul of the Labour Party his intention is to follow the diktat of Lord Mountbatten and for Britain to remain a member of NATO?
§ Mr. Holland
That intervention from what, by convention, I am obliged to call an hon. Friend hardly deserves a reply. It is official Labour Party policy that we shall remain a member of NATO. The Secretary of State for Defence said that NATO depends on Britain's presence and Britain's nuclear role. NATO depends on nothing of the sort. There are only two so-called independent nuclear Powers in NATO today. One is French and the other is British. Other countries in NATO do not deploy nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Holland
France is not part of the command structure of NATO. That point is well taken. The essence of the argument on deterrence that we have heard from both sides of the House was put by the Secretary of State for Defence earlier. It is claimed that deterrence works because we have had nuclear weapons. The Minister said again today that since Hiroshima and Nagasaki there had been no nuclear war. Whether the Secretary of State is familiar with the term I do not know, but he will be aware that that in itself is invalid reasoning. It is a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc, or the argument that because there has been no nuclear war in Europe, nuclear weapons deterred it.
It is arguable that deterrence may have played some role in post-war conditions. Clearly the deployment of nuclear weapons has a considerable influence on the overall environment. But the inference of a general claim from the existence of nuclear weapons is invalid, as it cannot be proved. Crucially, deterrence has been changed by the new nuclear weapons and their proliferation. In other words, tactical and usable weapons are different from the alleged mutual deterrents of MAD.
There is a further important factor in debate—the implication in deterrence theory of what one might call confrontation or the "chicken" theory. Bertrand Russell made the analogy with two vehicles or war machines that confronted and approached one another, but one swerved. Conservative Members, and perhaps some Labour Members, may have been unduly influenced by events 20 years ago and the deployment of Soviet missiles in Cuba, when Khrushchev and the Soviet authorities faced collision and swerved when the United States threatened to use nuclear force or further destabilise the situation if the missiles were not withdrawn.
But that analogy is not relevant to the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons today. The missiles in Cuba were 194 strategic missiles, aimed at the heartland of a country, and not tactical field missiles of the type currently deployed. In addition, that view of the role of deterrence implies someone able to climb down, which, in turn, implies political control rather than a war machine locked into an exchange of weapons in such a way that a political climbdown is not possible.
One of the problems of the deployment of the new weapons at a local level and the feasibility of their being used in response to a conventional war is that we are proliferating a doomsday machine, not simply in the sense of a Strangelove fantasy but in the sense of an entirely new form of interlocking nuclear exchange systems, with implied escalation from tactical weapons to nuclear weapons.
I also submit that the deterrence argument favoured by the Secretary of State is wrong in the key analogy that he has chosen, namely, the use of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in his false analogy with Chamberlain and appeasement. A Member of another place asked whether the United States would have used the atomic bomb if the Japanese had had the weapon. That analogy is with the wrong weapon in the wrong war.
The weapons that threaten us are tactical and not strategic, in the sense of 1945 strategic weapons. They explicitly threaten the beginning of the third world war in Europe rather than the quicker ending of another war in another theatre. Whether atomic weapons would have been used by the Americans in 1945 if the Japanese had had them would have depended on a range of factors, including, first, a military evaluation of their effectiveness; secondly, the effectiveness of their delivery systems—at the time the Japanese could not have reached United States homeland targets comparable to Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Thirdly, an evaluation of the acceptable loss if the Japanese had been able to use such weapons on military targets in the Pacific, as well as the fourth and crucial question of who could use them first and inflict a potentially crippling blow.
In an era in which senior United States politicians now have admitted the possibility of a first-strike use of nuclear weapons, such issues are highly relevant. It is invalid to infer from what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear weapons would not be used and deter war.
Ministers, including the Secretary of State for Defence, also neglect further implications of their arguments. If the deployment of nuclear weapons is the only defence against an aggressor, the logical consequence is that India must have nuclear weapons to defend itself against Pakistan, Southern and Central African countries must have nuclear weapons to defend themselves against South Africa and, in the Middle East, if Israel has nuclear weapons the only valid defence against them is nuclear weapons in the hands of other Powers.
It would be useful if Ministers would face those arguments and follow through the logic of their reason, for it is a prescription for nuclear proliferation world-wide as the only form of defence. But if that is not their reasoning, logic supports our case and the amendment to which I have put my name, namely, that a non-nuclear defence strategy is feasible. If that is the case we must ask why, if it is possible for other countries, it is not possible for us.
§ Mr. Cormack
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the beginning of our debate Mr. Speaker appealed for brevity in speeches. The hon. Member for 195 Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) has spoken for half an hour. The Opposition side of the House is sparsely attended but many of my hon. Friends wish to speak. Could you use your good offices to ask the hon. Member to bring his paper to an end
§ Mr. Holland
In fact, I have not contributed to any previous defence debate in the two years that I have been in the House.
I submit that non-nuclear defence, as implied by the amendment, is realistic rather than unrealistic. We saw in the so-called cod war that Icelandic trawlers cut through the holes of British frigates because our ships were designed for sounding on nuclear submarines rather than for coastal defence.
We have to face another important question. If an invading force did not use nuclear weapons, would the Government authorise their use as a deterrent, and, if so, in what way? Perhaps they would get Polaris submarines to deliver a death blow on Boulogne or Dover. Perhaps they would use nuclear weapons on an enemy in London. Simply posing that question raises issues that the Government have not faced.
The best defence against nuclear weapons is not to have them and to be known not to have them. It does not follow that there should be no defence against an invader, but defence against invasion by a nuclear or non-nuclear Power could, and in my view should, be based on conventional weapons and the mobilisation of resources towards defence policy in a serious sense. By that I mean not only naval coastal forces and army units but a civilian population able and ready to defend itself by direct action.
The issue is not theoretical. It has been demonstrated in Yugoslavia, which has faced Soviet aggression because it posed the threat of severe destabilisation of the hold of the Soviet regime in Eastern bloc countries. The Yugoslays have a defence force of about 200,000 men. The credibility of that force in deterring aggression by a nuclear Power is both real and a factor directly relevant to this debate. Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact forces have invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia, but they have not invaded Yugoslavia.
A European nuclear-free zone would reduce the possibility of war, not entirely eliminate it. But it would reduce the possibility of war by accident or by incident, namely, a combination of a political or diplomatic breakdown with a misinterpreted military move.
A European nuclear-free zone also would prevent a nuclear war in Europe caused by escalation in the manner described by Zuckerman and Mountbatten. It would do so by causing the major super-Powers in the nuclear scene to withdraw land-based nuclear weapons to their own territory, thereby threatening mutually assured destruction of the old style rather than seeking tactical advantage by using nuclear weapons on the soil of other countries.
Such a European nuclear-free zone also would create the political and military space for negotiation to avoid nuclear war, rather than the far less plausible assumption of bringing in politicians and talking after an allegedly limited nuclear exchange.
For those reasons I recommend the amendment to which I have put my name. The amendment is a plea for serious consideration of the initiatives mobilised by the 196 Campaign for European Nuclear Disarmament, which is supported by tens of thousands of individuals throughout Europe and by many people in dozens of trade unions and political parties. It is not simply a matter of the politics of the Left. The campaign is supported by members of Catholic, Christian Democrat, Conservative, National, Liberal, Social Democratic, Socialist and other parties throughout Western Europe.
If serious consideration of a European nuclear-free zone would give peace a chance, it would not be by total disarmament, but by a nuclear disengagement by the United Kingdom, and the feasibility, therefore—encouraged perhaps by the election of a new President of a new party in France—of major steps towards a European nuclear-free zone. European Nuclear Disarmament literally spells e, n, d—end. If we do not make a beginning towards that, it may literally be the end for all of us.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
I suspect that the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) and I have one—and only one—aspiration in common, and that is that I detest as much as he does the existence of nuclear weapons and all that they mean. However, we differ about what to do about them and how to minimise the risk of their use. I shall not follow the rest of the hon. Gentleman's speech, not least because of the opprobrium that I should merit from my hon. Friends if I were to attempt to answer all that he said. Suffice it to say that, I have as little in common with what he said as did his hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved).
At least the amendment of the hon. Member for Vauxhall, though not called, is honest. It sets out what the Left wing of the Labour Party wants to do—disarrr and to hell with the consequences. I wish that the official Opposition amendment or that standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) were as honest. Both the Social Democratic Party and the Labour Party have put down wordy amendments which dodge the real, difficult question. They both say in words common to both, that the Trident issue is a distortion of defence priorities.
The Labour Party has struggled to find an alternative, and now, from the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman, has committed itself to unilateral United Kingdom nuclear disarmament. That we were told by an hon. Gentleman who for five years sat in the Ministry of Defence, supported solidly the Polaris programme and all that it entailed, and supported the expenditure of £1 billion on the extension of the life of Polaris and all that that entailed. He was a member of the Government—I accept that by then he had left the Ministry—who took that decision, and not one word to the contrary ever fell from his lips. Now, suddenly, have his principles changed; or is it simply expediency? If his principles have changed, it is so astounding a change of principle as to be worthy of a full explanation by him. If it is simply a question of expediency and cost, he should be honest enough to say so. He should be honest enough to say "We need to remain a nuclear strategic Power, but we cannot afford to do so". That, at least, would be honest.
§ Mr. John
I have never regarded the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), ex-Army as he is, as a Colonel 197 Blimp, but, clearly, he has not read the considerable literature that has been around in defence circles over the past few months about the military value of Trident and whether it justifies its expenditure. On the whole, those who comment on these matters, apart from the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir. F. Burden), have come down against the project. They are not being expedient. I hope that the hon. Gentleman knows me well enough to know that I am not given to expediency. If I advocate something, it is because I believe in it.
§ Mr. Mates
I do not gainsay that the hon. Gentleman believes that we cannot afford Trident. I questioned, and I still question, his sudden change in principle about whether it is an essential and crucial part of the British defence effort. Up to now, in his eyes and with his concurrence, it always has been. Now, suddenly, just because of cost, it is not worth it. That is a difficult position to sustain, and I do not think that I am misrepresenting what the hon. Gentleman said.
Let us take a more constructive look at what we need to do in the future. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State today reinforced his determination and that of all Conservative Members that the primacy of defence as a priority in the Government's programme remains where it was when we came to power two years ago. I am certain that the Secretary of State's earlier words need no reinforcement, but it may be worth repeating one or two of his words for the benefit of some observers outside the House. He said on 20 January:The scale of the increase,"—that is, of defence expenditure—fully accords with the Government's expressed determination, which I reaffirm today, of giving the highest priority to our defence in the face of the growing threat from the Warsaw Pact.He went on:Let me make it plain beyond doubt that I share without qualification the objectives. ….to sustain and improve the frontline quality of our forces and of our contribution to the Alliance, which remains the cornerstone of our security".Later that day, in reply to a question from me, he affirmed the Government's determination, from the base that he mentioned, to planthe 3 per cent. real growth in volume in our defence expenditure in future years".—[Official Report, 20 January 1981; Vol. 997, c. 149–56.]My right hon. Friend has not moved from that base, and I do not believe that he intends to move from it. What the press has made of certain other statements that have been made has damaged us and the effort that we are making in this difficult area, and, more important—here I echo the remarks of my hon. Friends—has caused uncertainty among those who work in the defence industry. Yet not one word uttered by the Government has caused that uncertainty. It has been caused by words that have been uttered, leaked and conjectured by the press, which does no service to those whose livelihoods, both within and without the Armed Services, depend upon a certain security and knowledge of what faces them in the future.
Although we give priority and primacy of effort to our defence commitments, it cannot be the only priority or the only consideration in the difficult decisions that have to be taken. It therefore makes the soundest of all possible senses to look comprehensively at the whole burden that is falling on us, not of defence now, but of what is contemplated over the next 10 or 15 years—not because 198 of any increased defence effort, but because of the exponential increase in the purchasing and commissioning of equipment with which to match the efforts that we are determined to make.
That is the nub of the problem that faces my right hon. Friend, and I have no doubt that he will face it with the thoroughness that he has displayed today. Provided that he does it within the terms, which he restated, of our NATO commitment, and within the resources to match that commitment, and with a determination to maintain the nuclear deterrent, he will receive no complaint from thinking Conservatives, within or without this place. The worry that has been expressed, more outside than inside the House, over the past weekend, can be laid squarely at the door of the press and those who have reported matters to the press about decisions that have yet to be taken.
I end with a quick word about Trident. I promised that I would be brief. I am a member of the Select Committee which for the past 14 months has closely considered this matter. Our report will shortly be agreed and published. Our examination of the subject has been a tremendous education for me. We have examined officials and Ministers, not only in the United Kingdom but in the United States, and we have taken a wide and philosophical look not only at the deterrent itself but at its cost in relation to other defence expenditures and, above all, its place in the list of priorities.
I am convinced that my right hon. Friend and the Government were right to give Trident priority when they made the announcement. That is not because we are entering a new generation of a different type of deterrent, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall argued, but because it is no part of our defence thinking to say "There is a task which we must discharge as part of our role within NATO and the Western Alliance but we are sorry, we cannot afford it." That is where I take issue with the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). That is not the way that we should go. I do not want any Conservative Government to go down that path. No Labour Government went down that path when it came to the crunch.
It is crucial to ensure when phasing in the programme that Trident does not distort the defence budget. The effect that it will have on planned expenditure is not much greater than the effect of Polaris. If one adds Chevaline the effect is similar. We must not let the issue get out of proportion in the debate in the coming months. We must not regard the Trident programme as an enormous weight that will bear on the whole of the defence budget. It is part of the whole of our strategic and tactical plan to prevent war. Without that integral part deterrence will become much more difficult to sustain. If we do not have Trident, the expenditure involved in matching the other side in conventional and non-nuclear weaponry would be so great as to make the Trident programme look positively cheap.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)
I wish to defend some of my colleagues who have subscribed to one of the amendments. It is grossly unfair for the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) to suggest that the amendment implies that my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to leave Britain completely defenceless. However, I do not agree with the amendment. I wholeheartedly support the amendment in the name of the Leader of my party.
199 I congratulate the Secretary of State on his speech. It is the first major speech that I have heard from him. It was thoughtful and showed that he intends to take his Department firmly by the neck. I hope that he succeeds.
The Statement on the Defence Estimates 1981 begins:The first obligation of any Government is the defence of the realm.I do not dissent from that. I firmly believe that the electorate would never forgive any Government or party which departed from that obligation. It is often said that men and women of my generation are too nostalgic. I am unashamedly nostalgic about the years leading to the last war. I remember the happenings in Abyssinia, Spain and Poland. We saw the rape of Abyssinia. We talked in the League of Nations about sanctions, but there was nothing that we could do as a nation. There was nothing that we could do when the practice run for the Second World War took place in Spain. Then we gave that great pledge to Poland to protect its integrity, knowing that because we had no major forces we could do nothing. We were like neutered tomcats. Many of my generation remember that period with shame. Under no circumstances would I want to go back to it.
In the present economic circumstances we cannot afford sacred cows. It is remarkable how many hon. Members have sacred cows. The fellow who is deeply interested in education makes education his sacred cow. The same applies to hon. Members who are interested in social services, defence or any other subject. It is not possible for any Department to claim immunity. If cuts have to be made they must be across the board.
The Secretary of State has not held office long, but I am sure that he will already have learnt that, whenever defence cuts are mentioned in his building in Whitehall, he will be advised by the chiefs of staff that there must be equal misery. If £900 million has to be cut from the defence budget they will say that £300 million must be cut from each of the Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army. Such advice will be given without consideration of the consequences for our defence.
That is not necessarily the best way to get value for money or the best defence. I compliment the Secretary of State. At least he gives the impression that he intends to try to get the best value for money. If that means saying to one or other of the Services that it must bear 50 per cent., 70 per cent. or even 100 per cent. of the cuts, so be it. We cannot afford to treat defence in the 1980s and 1990s the same as we did in the 1940s.
I do not want to hurt the feelings of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) because, having been a serving officer in the Navy and then a Minister, he feels strongly about the Navy. However, from my recollections of discussions in the Ministry of Defence, I have no doubt that there is a great deal of talk in the Navy about huge convoys crossing the Atlantic from the United States, protected by flotillas of cruisers, destroyers, and through-deck cruisers.
I agree with the Secretary of State that that is just not on. It will not happen that way in any case. Our ability to sail the Atlantic must be preserved at all costs for reinforcements and supplies, but we must look at the practicalities differently. We must think in terms of smaller, cheaper ships simply to provide a platform from which to kill enemy submarines.
Having said that, I certainly hope that the decisions that will have to be taken will not take too long, because the 200 British shipbuilding industry cannot wait for long. At present the British shipbuilding industry—I am thinking particularly of Swan Hunter, on the Tyne—badly needs naval orders. We cannot simply sit and talk or wait for endless discussions in that main building of the Ministry of Defence while the British shipbuilding industry is slipping down the drain.
I want to stress something that is of major importance to several hundreds of my constituents who work in Swan Hunter's yard on the Tyne. If the threats of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) are ever put into effect and the naval shipbuilding facility is sold off to private enterprise, that will sound the death knell for yards such as Swan Hunter, because without naval orders they will not survive. If the naval shipbuilding facility is sold off to private enterprise the merchant shipbuilding capacity of this country as a whole is almost doomed
Trident has been mentioned frequently and I make no apology for returning to it. I want to deal with it on cost alone. When the initial announcement was made a little over 12 months ago the cost over 10 years was said to be £5,000 million. I know that the Secretary of State has not been pleased by some of the things that have been said in the press in the last few days.
§ Mr. Brown
Especially in The Daily Telegraph, as my hon. Friend says; it is the worst of them all and always has been. But I was going to say "by informed opinion". Certainly, leading opinion in this country seems fairly convinced that within 12 months of the announcement of this venture the cost has increased by about 20 per cent. I doubt whether anyone in this Chamber or outside, the Secretary of State or anyone else, could evaluate the final cost of this nonsense. I think a modest estimate over the 10 years must be £10,000 million as a minimum. If we get a 20 per cent. increase in one year, the increase over 10 years must work out at least £10,000 million. I do not think that that can be denied, with the tremendously escalating cost of equipment, so who can say what the final cost will be? Whatever the final cost, it will certainly be a figure that I simply cannot imagine as being affordable, if we are to have the conventional forces we need.
The thing that bugs me about the whole Trident decision is that if we carry on with this commitment to the Trident weapon the only way we shall be able to fund it is by depriving the British Army of the Rhine of the new equipment it so badly needs, particularly the battle tank. I was pleased to read in the statement that the new battle tank is to come on stream in the mid-1980s rather than in the 1990s. That is the future main battle tank, the Challenger. I am delighted to see that and that at long last our troops are to have the protection of Chobham armour, which was a superb British invention and is now protecting the troops of other countries worldwide. I am indeed pleased that, sooner than we anticipated, our troops will have that protection.
What bothers me is that if we insist on this Trident adventure we are going to have to wait longer for the type of equipment, such as the Challenger, which the British Army of the Rhine needs. I am not, like some people, so pessimistic as to believe that if, God forbid, we have a war in Europe it will be nuclear immediately. It will be a war with conventional forces, which means the British Army 201 of the Rhine, which will be at the sharp end and will need the equipment. I will be bold enough to forecast that the Government in office now will not at the end of the day pursue the Trident decision because they will realise that it is just not on in terms of cost. I shall applaud them when they realise this.
I do not want anyone to accuse me of being a unilateral disarmer, because I am not. What I want to see is multilateral disarmament, where we steadily reduce the stockpiles until we get rid of them altogether. But, with the best will in the world, I see no purpose at all in saying, and I do not think that anyone here is daft enough to think, that the United Kingdom could defend itself in isolation today or take any major part in the defence of Europe. It has to operate in terms of the NATO Alliance. I am sure that when the Opposition spokesman winds up the debate tonight he will emphasise the commitment of the Labour Party to continued membership of NATO.
My final words are on the question which was raised at Question Time this afternoon on the guided weapons system for Sea Wolf which Marconi was producing. Hundreds of jobs on Tyneside are involved in this decision and I hope that the Under-Secretary will tonight give us a firm assurance that if there is any change regarding this order for the Sea Wolf delivery system, if there is any question of the order going to a Dutch firm, there will have to be compelling reasons.
The major reason, of course, would be cost, but if cost is to be a major reason, I sincerely hope that the Government will take into account the social consequences that a decision to send this order to Holland would have. It is easy to argue as a Defence Minister that social costs have nothing to do with defence, but in terms of the nation as a whole, if several hundred million pounds are involved in unemployment benefit and redundancy payments, it is reasonable to ask that this should be set against the value of a slightly lower tender from, say, a Dutch firm. I certainly hope that the Minister will be able to say something about that.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) started his speech by reminiscing about the years before the Second World War. I, too, have memories of those years. I remember the then Opposition voting, time and again, against rearmament. I remember the activities of the Peace Pledge Union, which to some extent led to Dunkirk, and as I contemplate the activities of CND and its supporters in the House I feel that history is repeating itself.
§ Mr. Wall
I am well aware of the history. The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that after the Stanley Baldwin period, up to the beginning of the 1939 war the then Opposition voted consistently against rearmament. The Peace Pledge Union had a considerable effect in the country as, in my view, unfortunately, does the CND today.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
It was not until Hitler had marched into and taken Austria that the Labour Government of the day supported rearmament. When I was a candidate in South Shields at that time, Mr. Baldwin came to South Shields and said that if the Tories went to the country on a policy of rearmament the Labour Party would go to the country on a policy of disarmament and peace——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. We are getting deflected. We are debating our Estimates for 1981.
§ Mr. Wall
We are looking to the present and the future rather than the past. I shall leave that particular red herring on one side.
This is an unusual debate. We are not, as we normally are, debating the merits of the White Paper. It is an excellent White Paper, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on preparing and producing it. We on the Conservative Benches know that it is an interim document. It is to the future that the minds of Members of the Conservative Party are being directed. We are thinking about cuts, costs and the redistribution of priorities.
While accepting the Prime Minister's assurance that we have in 1980–81 spent more on defence than our undertaking to NATO—We have spent 5¼ per cent. of the GNP instead of the 3 per cent. promised—I understand that in 1981–82 we intend to have no increase. That means, in real terms, a decrease. In two years we shall have spent 5¼ per cent., whereas we undertook to NATO and to our allies to spend 6 per cent. That will greatly annoy the Americans, who are spending more, not less. They plan to spend between 7 and 8 per cent. of their GNP on defence in the coming year.
Today, we are facing the consequences of a redistribution of our defence effort. That redistribution has been described in the press. If those descriptions are true, the result will be disastrous. In a debate like this one can only take the worst case, and I propose to base my remarks on the worst case, hoping that it will never happen.
Shall we never learn the lessons of history? Twice in my lifetime Britain has been brought to her knees, not by what happened on the central front but by the submarine. Today we face not the 60 U-boats with which the Germans started the first battle of the Atlantic but 400 Soviet submarines, about half of which are nuclear propelled.
The Secretary of State said that the only way to defeat the nuclear submarine is by team work. We need the hunter-killer submarines, the SSN, surface warships carrying helicopters, and maritime patrol aircraft such as the Nimrod II, which is unsurpassed in the world. Hunter-killer submarines on their own are not of much use, because their radius of detection of the enemy submarine is small. Team work is vital.
For year after year successive Labour Governments have cut our defences. If reports in the press are true, no Government have proposed cuts which, if The Daily Telegraph is to be believed, will mean that the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines will be emasculated and 400 years of British history starting with the defeat of the Armada will end. I am glad that my right hon. Friend advised against believing The Daily Telegraph. Any such suggestion made under a Conservative Government pledged to give top priority to defence would fill me with horror if it turned out to be true.
203 That such a suggestion should be made in 1981 is extraordinary, when there is rising tension in the Middle East, in South-East Asia, in Southern Africa, in South America, in the Caribbean and in Eastern Europe. It is not the time to reduce our defences; rather is it the time to increase them.
What is the excuse? In some quarters the excuse is the state of the economy. Let us briefly examine that. The steadfastness of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is paying off. The economy is recovering, inflation is falling and, in due course, unemployment will also fall. Is all this improvement to be destroyed? The essence of the debate is that Britain's defence forces will have to be reduced to save the economy. That is nonsense.
Cannot the House appreciate the effect of these possible defence cuts on the North Atlantic Alliance? It will infuriate the Americans, who are increasing, not reducing, defence expenditure. It will encourage our smaller allies to cut their defences. They will say "If this is the example that Britain, America's major ally, sets, we can do the same". It will give the green light to the Kremlin when the new leaders take over, when Mr. Brezhnev, who believes in détente, finally goes, and when there is the threat of internal unrest both in the satellites and in the Soviet Union itself.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown
Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that President Reagan is enjoying the experience of breast beating as did the Prime Minister two years ago on the question of defence, and in two years' time he will be faced by the harsh realities of Government, as the Prime Minister is today?
§ Mr. Wall
Of course there are harsh realities; I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State knows that only too well. But both President Reagan and my right hon. Friend won the election by putting the defence of their country first. They were absolutely right to do so, and they now have to find means to carry out their promise.
What should be done? If we are to save ourselves from World War Three, the only way that we can do that is by showing that we are strong, improving our defences and making it not worth anyone's while to attack. The danger area is in the next five years. If we can get through the next five years we shall probably have a reign of unparalleled peace and prosperity.
The main nuclear umbrella is maintained and paid for by the United States. The modernisation of NATO's theatre nuclear forces is to be achieved and paid for by the United States. All that we are asked to do is to contribute our share of the other forces. The army in Central Europe may come under attack by between 90 and 120 Soviet divisions, which means, as I am sure my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will agree, that the BAOR must be equipped with better anti-armour defences, and better and more artillery equipped with precision guided weapons.
The particular danger is the second echelon of Soviet armour. We have to find a weapon to deal with that. The Royal Air Force in Germany is highly effective, but the air defence of Great Britain needs strengthening. That is in hand at last, and positive steps are now being taken. I hope that everything will be done to bring forward the air defence version of the Tornado, which is essential to the defence of these islands.
204 The key to the future on the central front if World War Three ever comes are the reinforcements from the New World. Those reinforcements have been stated publicly by senior military officers to comprise over 1 million men, 100 air squadrons and 10 million tonnes of equipment, most of which must come by sea. I agree that the men could fly over in C5s and C3s from the other side of the Atlantic, but the equipment cannot be transported in that manner. Nor can it all be stockpiled in Europe.
This operation must be carried out in the face of the Soviet submarine threat. The United States Navy, the biggest in the Alliance, will have to hold the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom gap to prevent submarines from the Kola Peninsula reaching the deep waters of the Atlantic. The Americans will also operate the strike fleet in the North. This means that there will be nothing left of the United States Navy to deal with submarines in the Eastern Atlantic. They cannot replace our effort.
Britain provides 70 per cent. of the anti-submarine effort in the Eastlant area in terms of surface vessels, hunter-killer submarines, helicopters and military patrol aircraft, yet the press suggests that 50 to 60 per cent. of these forces may be scrapped. The Secretary of State said today that he thought that we should have much cheaper platforms. I agree. It is absurd to pay £130 million for a destroyer.
I am told that the cost of naval shipping escalates by 33⅓ per cent. a year. That is fantastic. However, we need the hulls. I agree that we should have the type 23 destroyer and cheaper frigates, provided that they carry helicopters and are properly protected. We should not, however scrap the vessels that exist today until they can be replaced one for one. I realise that my right hon. Friend's response will be to say that this is all very well but that it costs money. I shall come to that matter later.
It is essential to hold northern Norway and the Faroes. That is the main reason why the Royal Marine Commandos and the amphibious warfare ships are maintained. I do not believe press reports that the Royal Marines are to be scrapped, but amphibious warfare vessels are already being placed in reserve and may be scrapped.
I support the Trident programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) and I have worked together on the Select Committee for over a year on this matter. We hope that our report will be published soon. I believe that the Trident is essential to the future, of this country. It is not, however, relevant to the debate. The heavy expenditure on that programme does not start until 1985–86.
I come now to the most important point that I wish to make. The argument that cuts in the BAOR will be in defiance of the Brussels Treaty is unfounded. The Treaty has already been amended on four occasions. Drastic cuts in Eastlant would, however, excite American anger. I speak advisedly, because I have close contacts with the Armed Services Committees of both Houses. I believe that the cuts would threaten Anglo-American relations, which are at present so good. They might even threaten the future of the Alliance itself. I was speaking in Phoenix, Arzona, six weeks ago. There is plenty of latent isolationism in America today. If we were to give encouragement to its development, that would be dangerous for the future of Europe and of this country.
I have been a member of the North Atlantic Assembly for 10 years. I believe that I have a special duty to warn 205 the House of the effect of the cuts, if they are put into operation, on the North Atlantic Alliance. In spite of the assurances that have been given, I do not believe that the programme described in the press has yet been discussed with NATO. It could not have been discussed, because my right hon. Friend says that it is speculation. It is, however, essential that discussions take place with NATO before any decisions are announced.
§ Mr. Nott
Is my hon. Friend saying that he feels that we could reduce our commitment in the BAOR by a variation of the treaty? I am interested to know what my hon. Friend thinks. I thought that he was hinting at what I had described. I am sure that he appreciates that we hold 65 kilometres of the front.
§ Mr. Wall
It has been stated that the political difficulties of reducing the BAOR would cause a much bigger row in the Alliance than the political difficulties involved in decreasing our ASW effort in Eastlant. The Brussels Treaty applies to the BAOR but no treaty applies to Eastlant. I do not believe this to be true, but the last thing that I want to do is to play one Service off against another. The three Services should stand together. All need improvement.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
On the issue of the Brussels Treaty, will my hon. Friend remind the House that in the late 1960s a brigade was brought back from the BAOR? My hon. Friend would perhaps not wish to suggest that that is repeated. There are, however, other means of effective defence in the central region, such as better use of air power.
§ Mr. Wall
I should have thought that air power had been improved when the two tactical air forces were brought under one command. Much more can perhaps be done. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will say, however, that such proposals cost money and will ask where this money is to be obtained. I would argue that money is not everything. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that our future depends upon the North Atlantic Alliance. That is our defence. That was our guarantee at the end of World War Two. It will continue to be our defence if it is kept sufficiently strong and deters attack because any potential enemy knows that he will be hit back if he attacks anywhere on the land front, or at sea or in the air.
Unless there are concrete discussions with NATO before a decision is made concerning any change in priorities, the integrity of the Alliance faces grave danger. Smaller countries will opt out and the Americans will become furious. I do not blame the Americans. Why should they spend blood and treasure on defending Europe—these were the remarks that I heard in the United States—when Europeans will not spend their own money? It is true that the Europeans are spending money. They are not, however, spending as much as the Americans. There is a lot to be said for the American argument. If this situation continues, there is the danger of American isolationism.
I believe that the debate could mark a turning point. If the plans appearing in the press are approved by the Cabinet we will start a process that could lead to the dissolution of the Alliance and the Finlandisation of 206 Europe. This is a serious matter. I am not attacking the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend has done a good job. I believe that he will do an even better one. However, he needs the support of the House, particularly Conservative Members, to demand more money to keep our forces properly up-to-date, to change the priorities over the years and to make certain that the deterrent in NATO remains supreme and protects us against a third world war. Unless that happens, there is a grave danger of a third world war breaking out in the next few years.
My hope now lies in the Prime Minister, whose courage and steadfastness will, I am sure, save the country economically if she continues on her present path. The excuse of the civil servants is that to save our economy we must virtually destroy our defence forces. That is nonsense, and I believe the Prime Minister will refute it. British history, from the time of Queen Boadicea to Elizabeth and to Victoria, has shown the strength and the patriotism of women in high places. The "Iron Lady" will surely not wish to go down in history as the leader who saved the economy of the country but endangered its defences. I appeal to her—at this stage one can only appeal to her—to ensure that the forecasts appearing in the press do not become reality. The credibility of the Conservative Party and even the future of the country are at stake.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I should like to weave a path between reality and the myth generated by NATO, the Government and most Conservative Members about the balance of forces between NATO and Russia. According to the myth, Russia is powerful and expanding her forces, not least her nuclear forces, at an alarming rate, and we have to catch up. The vice-chairman of the Conservative parliamentary defence group, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) said on 3 March:However, I ask the House to consider the proposition that the Soviet Union in central Europe, measured in terms of policy, achievement, territorial aggrandisement or adventures, has been consistently on the retreat since 1948.If one measures the extent by which the strength of the Soviet Union has been eroded in central Europe by defections of one kind or another since that high point at the time of the Berlin airlift, one sees that effectively, it has lost Austria, half of which it occupied, and Finland, over which it exercised almost total dominance. It has lost, irreparably, Yugoslavia. It has lost Rumania in all but name. In Hungary the regime has become more relaxed and more inimical to Soviet influence. Finally, there are threatening developments for the Soviet Union in Poland. Seen from the Soviet side, this shows a steady pattern of retreat and disintegration."—[Official Report, 3 March 1981; Vol. 1,000, c. 193.]The SALT II treaty gives 11,894 strategic warheads to the United States and 6,005 to the USSR. Those are not my figures any more than the quotation was my quotation. Those are the figures that are given in the SALT II treaty. That is not exactly a picture of NATO with catapults and the Soviet Union moving rapidly ahead.
According to the Institute of Strategic Studies, the USSR's theatre nuclear delivery capability is 819 while NATO's is 555. However, NATO has about 7,000 tactical nuclear weapons and the Warsaw Pact has 3,550. That is the balace according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
In 1978 the Pentagon admitted and accepted that the Soviet inventory of tactical nuclear weapons was "probable far smaller". The Institute of Strategic Studies 207 observes in the current issue of The Military Balance in page 4, for example, that the Russians will expect to have a total of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles of about 6,000 by about 1985. That total will reflect an increase. However, page 3 of the same volume states that the United States total is 7,301. The picture to be drawn from that information is rather different from the manic picture to be drawn from the information supplied by the NATO Alliance, the British Conservative Government and Conservative Back Benchers.
Page 111 of the Institute of Strategic Studies' current document says:Apart from having greater economic resources, Alliance countries, including France, maintain rather more men under arms than the Warsaw Pact.The figures are supplied. It adds:the Soviet Union has a large number of her divisions and men on the Chinese border.Those are not my figures. I do not have any figures. I gain my figures from official documents. It is worth saying that the figures produced by the Institute of Strategic Studies are provided not by an organisation hostile to NATO and the West but by one that supports NATO. The information that it receives is filtered by NATO Governments. Therefore, it is likely to be exaggerated in favour of NATO rather than against.
When I tabled a question about the Estimates in the Defence White Paper of 1980—the relevant words are repeated in the current document that the House is debating—I was told by the Minister that, as the Soviet figures were so unreliable we had to make our own estimates of its expenditure. Apparently this is done in great detail every year by assessing the cost to the Soviet Union of all known items of spending and aggregating them for the purpose of comparison according to the NATO definition of defence expenditure.
In other words, the Ministry of Defence guesses what the Russians are spending and says, "It is an enormous amount and we must catch up." However, it is merely a guess. In answer to my question the Ministry of Defence said, in effect, "This must be right because the Pentagon has made the same guess and it, too, says that the Russians are spending more than they claim that they are spending." I cannot think of two less objective sources of information about "the other side."
Conservative Members may not share my view of the exaggeration of Russian expenditure. However, there is another source. In the magazine Sanity that is published by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of which I am a member and supporter and always have been, Senator Nino Pasti of Italy, a former member of the NATO military committee and former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for NATO Nuclear Affairs, wrote as follows:The truth is that NATO forces, both conventional and nuclear are stronger than those of the Warsaw pact countries. During the last ten years the Soviet Military budget has remained stable. My colleagues were unhappy about this situation, because they could not justify increases in their own expenditure. So they invented a 'pricing' system. It is easy to see how the figures were inflated to show higher Soviet expenditure.I am sure that Conservative Members will not pay much heed to that opinion, but it is a different view. They cannot deny that it is an authoritative source for a different view. It means that there is a large question mark hanging over the assumptions on which our massive defence expenditure is based, which is increasing by 3 per cent. I say that that defence expenditure is too high and that it can and should be reduced.
208 It is true that the Trident programme is only to be embarked upon. We hope that there will be a general election before the programme gets under way. We hope that a Labour Government will be returned with a massive majority, committed to stopping the programme. We shall have to bring forward public expenditure to create and provide jobs for peaceful purposes. That is part of our policy and it is one of our most important and abiding tasks.
The Trident programme is slated to cost £5 billion. When that figure is mentioned, hardly an eyebrow is raised on the Tory Benches with the exception of those of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who is on record as saying that Trident will reduce expenditure on conventional forces. That seems to be exactly right.
Of course, we shall preserve our conventional forces. Of course, we shall preserve defence facilities in Britain. We shall do so so that we may use those conventional forces if and when the need arises. We shall be prepared to make a contribution to United Nations action if we are called upon to do so. The notion that Britain can afford £5 billion or £6 billion at current prices on the Trident programme is nonsense at a time when every aspect of our nation is being eroded.
For example, teachers are being sacked and facilities are being cut back. Children are now sharing books. Parent-teacher associations are being encouraged by the Secretary of State for Education and Science to raise money so that it may be spent on text books. However, we are prepared to spend £5 billion to £6 billion on Trident. What sort of priority is that?
Last week we discussed a Bill that included the proposal to cut back 1 per cent. of the over-provision that the Government claim that they have made for pensioners, widows' allowances and invalidity benefits. Every area of welfare is being cut back. No one can deny that the National Health Service is being forced by financial restrictions to examine every area of its expenditure.
Against that background Trident is the one area that is producing a massive commitment from the Government of £5 billion to £6 billion at current prices. My right hon. and hon. Friends say "No" to Trident. It is not necessary even in terms of the limited thought processes of those on the Conservative Benches.
If Polaris is a deterrent, why do we need a version of Trident that is twice as powerful? Why do we need to up the nuclear stakes? If one Polaris boat carries more firepower than was expended by both sides throughout the 1939–45 war, which is true, why do we need a boat that carries twice the amount of firepower that was expended. during the Second World War? Is not a boat with perhaps ten, 12, 14 or 16 2-megaton weapons sufficient? Why does the nuclear rate have to be increased? Yet that is what we are doing.
The people who support the notion of mutual assured destruction had their wish in 1963 when there was enough fire power for both sides to blow each other off the face of the planet Earth if they put a foot wrong. Since 1963, while people have uttered platitude after platitude about multilateral disarmament, which means waiting for the other side to do something, every country which has had nuclear weapons has been spending more on them and has been increasing month by month and year by year the number of nuclear weapons on the planet Earth. If deterrent worked in 1963 why do we need to do that? It does not add up.
209 Year by year we are moving towards the abyss. As more nuclear weapons exist, the greater is the danger of one going off. The arguments used by Conservatives are that that increase is absolutely necessary in order to deter and that we have to be a nuclear power. Over 100 countries are not nuclear powers. If they follow our argument, they have every justification for obtaining nuclear weapons. Therefore, let us get rid of nuclear weapons and set an example to those hundred nations, many of which signed the non-proliferation treaty. When those countries signed that treaty, they said that they would sign it on the basis that the nuclear powers made some effort to get rid of the nuclear weapons and power. What has happened since the non-proliferation treaty was signed?
Year by year the nuclear powers have increased their dependence on nuclear weapons. Therefore, some of those countries are saying, as they did last year, that they are having second thoughts about the non-proliferation treaty because no effort has been made to reduce nuclear weapons. By saying "No" to Trident and "No" to cruise, the United Kingdom would demonstrate to those non-nuclear nations that moves were being made towards a reduction of the reliance on nuclear weapons. That would enhance peace.
It is true that the Caspar Weinbergers and anti-Communist fanatics of this world, who can only see a little red dot in front of their eyes and who cannot see the world on a wider basis, may be disappointed, but millions of people in the United States will say that they want their Government also to recognise that the expenditure on nuclear weapons proposed by the Reagan Administration is madness and totally unnecessary and that it exists only to provide some fat and lucrative contracts for the defence lobby which helped to put Reagan into power in the first place.
§ Mr. Cormack
I intervene in order to put it on record that the former Leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), and the present shadow Foreign Secretary both subscribed in broad terms to what the hon. Gentleman castigates as the Weinberger doctrine. He should admit that most experienced people on the Opposition Benches, who have had real dealings with the Soviets and experience in defence and foreign affairs, also subscribe to that philosophy.
§ Mr. Cryer
I do not speak for my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). If the former leader of the Labour Party wishes to speak, I have no doubt that he will do so.
The Labour Party has its internal arguments. In some areas, I am in a minority and in some areas my right hon. Friend is in a minority, but policy is decided democratically. It is decided democratically at the annual conference and there is not a more democratic organisation in a political party in this country. However, I object to people like Caspar Weinberger telling this nation on a BBC television programme how it should organise itself and telling our political parties how they should make decisions. We are friends of the American nation not on the basis of subjugation, but on the basis of equality. That equality does not invite American statesmen to comment on our internal matters and internal policy decisions.
210 While I am talking about the American position, I shall remind the House that in the defence Estimates about £25 million is our contribution to the installation of cruise missiles. I make it clear that there is a massive and growing body of opinion outside the House against the stationing of cruise missiles in this country. The supporters of the Government's defence policies cannot make 100,000 people demonstrate in Trafalgar Square in support of the massive expenditure on Trident, cruise and the rest.
The reason for such deep and abiding opposition to cruise missiles is that they represent a dangerous escalation in the nuclear arms race. They are not retrievable. There is an argument that the F111s are here already with American nuclear bombs on board. I do not endorse that, but at least one can signal a pilot to turn back. One cannot turn back cruise once the key is inserted. Cruise is sent on its way by American personnel, not by joint United Kingdom and American personnel. There is no right of veto over the use of cruise missiles.
The formula for the use of cruise missiles was adopted in 1951 by the then Labour Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, with President Truman—when Parliament was not sitting because an election was being held. The formula was designed not for nuclear weapons, but for the use of American personnel in bases built for their use here, or handed over for their use. Those are entirely different and dissimilar areas, yet the same formula is trotted out, that, in the light of the circumstances at the time, there will be consultation over use. We know that a nuclear war can start in a matter of minutes, so consultations in those circumstances are purely academic. The fact is that cruise is subject to the control and discipline of the Americans and is not subject to any veto by the United Kingdom Government.
Since I have embarked on an analysis of the respective positions of both sides, I must add that it is common consent that both sides mutually distrust each other and look at each other's actions with a certain suspicion and caution. In those circumstances, if there is to be a reduction in the nuclear arms race, there must be verification. It is a crucial element of arms control that each side, being suspicious of the other, can look at the other side and say, for example, that it does not believe that the Russians are telling the truth about expenditure. I have no doubt that the Russians say precisely the same, that the imperialist West is building up arms. Under those circumstances there must be some means of verification. Cruise is a weapon which is least open to easy verification. In our international systems of satellite photography, cruise is one of the weapons most unlikely to be detected.
The Government have put forward the advantages of cruise. They have said that it can be shoved on the back of a lorry, taken down a road, put in a garage, in a wood, on a hillside and the rest. That is put forward as an advantage, but it is a crucial disadvantage to arms control and limitation. That must be taken into consideration.
For those reasons, people outside led by the Labour Party, are saying "No" to cruise. Therefore, the £20 million to £25 million for expenditure on cruise is a waste of money. We hope that there will be an election before cruise arrives here. We shall tell the Americans to take back the cruise missiles.
It has been suggested that we should somehow dictate to Japan—that was the implication, although the word "dictate" was not used—that the Japanese should spend more on defence. They spend less than 1 per cent. of gross 211 national product on defence. They are to be persuaded that that is wrong. Why should the Japanese, who are the only nation who have had nuclear weapons used against them, change a policy that seems to be highly successful? They have spent money and devoted ability to produce things that people want, and have been enormously successful at it. That is the example that we should follow. We should reduce the enormous sums that we spend on defence and channel the money to goods and services that are needed throughout the world.
The House has debated the Brandt report. Many people have said kind things about it, although some Tory Right-wing extremists thought that it was nonsense. The report emphasises that the West is wealthy but that many nations are poor and do not have enough to eat and do not have sufficient clothing and adequate shelter. On page 14 it states:The military expenditure of only half a day would suffice to finance the whole malaria eradication programme of the World Health Organisation, and less would be needed to conquer river blindness, which is still the scourge of millions … One-half of one per cent. of one year's world military expenditure would pay for all the farm equipment needed to increase food production and approach self-sufficiency in food-deficit low-income countries by 1990.However, the Conservative Government continue on the treadmill. They are proud of the 3 per cent. increase in real terms in defence expenditure.
A Minister has been sacked because he appeared to raise his voice against the minor cuts contemplated by the Government, but the majority of the world's people do not have enough to eat, and even by reducing military expenditure by a small proportion we could have enough money to bring enormous relief to the suffering. We have the moral choice. we should opt for people and against the massive arms race.
Finally, the Conservative Party believes in freedom of choice, but a small elite group— perhaps half a dozen or a dozen—may, if the unhappy day comes, initiate action that will lead to mass extermination. An image may appear on the radar screen, and the observation tower may confirm that a missile or something that looks like one is on its way, and the Prime Minister, depending on the circumstances that she and her advisers choose, may initiate nuclear action. I asked in a Parliamentary question whether she would do so, and she confirmed that if the circumstances were right she would make the decision.
§ Mr. Cryer
Someone jovially asks, "Will we have a referendum?" It is a jest when half a dozen people can initiate action that irretrievably and inexorably will bring about mass extermination, certainly wiping out virtually the whole of Europe.
I would give people a choice, which is more than the Conservatives are doing. They would press a button, believing that they were right, and the minority or majority of dissenters would be committed to a radioactive cinder heap. They may be wrong. They may make a misjudgment. I do not allow any Government of whatever political persuasion to have that right over my life and the lives of my family, community and nation. If we are to have a real freedom of choice, we must get rid of nuclear weapons. they are far too costly, and they deny freedom of choice, so are anti-democratic. We should use the money to save people and not to threaten to exterminate 212 the world. It is a moral and political choice. The only proper decision is to get rid of the nuclear weapons and form an initiative for peace.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. A great many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. Speeches in excess of 20 minutes will make it difficult for them to do so.
§ Mr. Victor Goodhew (Sir Albans)
I shall not go at length into the arguments that can be put against the standard CND speech, but I should like to ask the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) one question: does he believe that the United States would have dropped its atomic bombs on Japan had it known that the Japanese could deliver one back to Washington the next day?
I wish that the hon. Gentleman had been with me last autumn, when I spent a month at the United Nations as a delegate at the first committee on disarmament. He made the sort of speech that representatives of all Warsaw Pact countries make in propagandist efforts to destroy the will of the West. He would also have found that there is such a lack of mutual trust that the only basis for disarmament or arms control is verification, and that is where we come unstuck with the Russians, which is not surprising. Their cynicism, is shown by the fact that when they were fighting in Afghanistan and killing Afghans, many of them unarmed, they put down a resolution in the committee entitled:Urgent measures for the prevention of war".One cannot be much more cynical than that. Those who echo the cries of the Russians and their allies should remember that.
In his absence, which I absolutely understand, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his speech and the Statement on the Defence Estimates, which were presented extremely well. I am disturbed that he has to say that a review is under way. We have had defence reviews in the past. They always create uncertainty, which is damaging to Service morale. Every time we have a review the Services say that they have been here before, and their anxiety about the future becomes very great. At present they are probably trapped by unemployment. One only hopes that their morale will not be as shattered as in the past. To that end, speed is essential in getting on with the review. We cannot have it hanging about for months on end.
§ Mr Goodhew
Speed is essential in announcing the results of the review. I want to see the announcement made in the shortest possible time, instead of having to wait through the Summer Recess, which I fear may happen.
It is sad that a Government who have restored morale greatly in the Armed Forces by tackling pay find once more that the career prospects in the Services seem to be at risk and that the morale that has been built up will again be damaged. I repeat that it is essential to get on with the review as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend said that we should have a full debate in July, and I hope that: he has that sorted out with the Leader of the House. I hope that an announcement will be made then.
I am disturbed by the rumours, and wonder what their source may be. It is indicative of where it might be when 213 one considers the action of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who has for the time being sacrificed his career because he feels so strongly about the rumours. He is in a better position than the rest of us to know where they come from and whether there is truth in them. I have much sympathy with what he said in his speech, as I am sure many hon. Members have.
One problem is that the rumours have had such wide circulation and we have not had much to refute them. My right hon. Friend attacked one journalist, but there was not much enlightenment in what he said. There was one gleam of light, or rather a flashing red bulb. He said that the hunter-killer nuclear submarines were the battleships of the future. That would merely cause me to think that my hon. Friend was quite right to say what he did, whereas he is supposed to be wrong. I am therefore rather confused about that.
I remember the discussion about going from manned aircraft to missiles some years ago, when we suddenly found that we had it wrong and had to go into reverse. If we are talking about going all-submarine, I ask myself what is the point of saying that we must have a Royal Air Force strong enough to defend the home base if the Navy is to be denied the ships with which to protect the merchant shipping bringing food and supplies without which we cannot exist. That seems somewhat incongruous if we are thinking along those lines.
I accept entirely the need to be cost-effective, but this again causes me anxiety. I remember when cost-effectiveness in the Armed Forces was first discussed the TSR 2 was cancelled. Thereafter, we had the most terrible time. We had to do without and to make do for a long time until, quite recently, we obtained a replacement aircraft, which is now doing a very good job. That was the result of that attempt at cost-effectiveness. I hope that we shall not get it wrong this time.
I wish to impress upon my right hon. Friend and his colleagues the need to purchase British wherever possible, whether it be aircraft, ships, missiles or whatever. One never really gets down to the real cost to the taxpayer of weapons systems bought from abroad as compared with those purchased at home. The cost to the Ministry of Defence shows up as a very large figure in the White Paper, but we are not told how much of that comes back to the Exchequer in the form of taxation on the salaries and wages of those employed in the armaments industries, avionics, electronics, and so on. We should not fall too easily for tempting offers from the United States or anywhere else if we can produce what we need here. I should like to see an attempt made to put down the comparative cost of missiles or aircraft available abroad, comparing not the cost to the Ministry of Defence but the cost to the taxpayer, because that is the true cost.
I emphasise that when I talk about public expenditure cuts across the board, I do not accept that defence comes into the same category as other Departments. I have said this before, and I say it again. If an individual feels that he must cut his standard of living when the going gets rough, he may cut down on various items. The one thing that no sensible person does is to cut down on insurance policies, because that is the one way to disaster. I regard our defence expenditure as an insurance policy on which we depend for the security of our country.
214 You have appealed for brevity, Mr. Deputy Speaker. So much has been said already that I feel disinclined to go into great detail about the weapons systems, missiles, and so on, in which I am interested. I simply say to my right hon. Friend once again that I hope that he will consider very carefully the effect of all this on the morale of the Armed Forces. We depend so much upon their good will and dedication. I therefore close by thanking them, through him, for all that they do, because every hon. Member knows that we owe them a great debt.
§ Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)
I associate myself with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) that the one thing that we cannot cut down is the cost of defence.
The debate has centred largely on the question of Trident. There have been two angles in the argument against Trident. The first comes from the anti-nuclear lobby. The second is the argument about cost. I wonder how many people, when they think of the cost, think of the other side of the coin, in terms of employment and the money that will be spent in this country in the production of Trident. I also agree that Trident is a national commitment, not an individual Service commitment, and that the cost must not be borne by the Navy or any other Service alone.
On the subject of cost, I go further. I ask that instead of four nuclear submarines we should have five. The mistake was made with Polaris in having only four. Annex C of the White Paper shows that of the four, one is currently undergoing a long refit. Instead of the four Polaris submarines, we have effectively three. Those submarines take time to get to the patrol area and to come back. It takes time for them to be rearmed and refuelled. For much of the time, therefore, there are not three or even two Polaris submarines on patrol. Often, there is only one. If there were five instead of four, this would double the effective force at sea at any one time.
The Minister referred to the disturbing press reports over the past few days to the effect that the whole future of the Navy is at stake and that it will no longer be an effective force. In many ways, the Minister has answered that point. Nevertheless, in my constituency there is grave concern about the future of the Navy and of the dockyard. In the Portsmouth area, 80,000 jobs with the Navy and the dockyard are at stake. People are rightly asking why, if millions of pounds can go to bolster up British Leyland and to save jobs there, defence costs should be cut and those 80,000 jobs put at risk.
I therefore ask for a categorical assurance from the Minister—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) feels the same way—that Portsmouth dockyard will not be closed. It is not merely a question of the effect on employment and morale in Portsmouth. There are more naval training establishments in the Portsmouth area than anywhere else in the country. Those establishments depend entirely upon Portsmouth dockyard for the maintenance of their very sophisticated equipment.
I wish to follow what has already been said about the protection of convoys. It has been suggested that submarines can do the job, but there is no doubt that in any future war, as in all past wars, the bulk of our supplies of raw materials, food and manufactured goods of all kinds will come by sea. Those supplies will have to come in 215 convoys, and the convoys must be protected. Nimrod aircraft give outer cover and outer detection of submarines, but there are far too few. The convoys will need close protection of the frigate type, as in the last war.
As was also shown in the last war, there is a need for hunter-killer groups. There is no doubt at all that the only effective hunter-killer today is the nuclear fleet submarine—the hunter-killer submarine armed with conventional torpedoes. They are the only vessels fast enough to keep pace with and to catch other nuclear submarines. In bad weather, certainly, no surface vessel could do that. As the last war showed, we need the complete team—the long-distance reconnaissance aircraft, the close escort and the hunter-killer. I believe that in the last war about 60 convoys were at sea at any given time. We do not now have the ships or the aircraft to provide sufficient protection.
The Minister also did not say anything about the protection of our North Sea oil supplies. This is a matter of grave concern. I should be grateful if we could have more information on what the Minister has in mind about the way in which those oil rigs can be protected.
We have heard a great deal today about the cost. I am sure that economies could be made in the ships of the Navy. We could have simpler ships—ships built on a modular pattern, with less specialised requirements. The American navy uses a far greater proportion of ordinary commercial bits and pieces. We should have fewer changes in specifications, especially when there is a refit or when a ship is being built, because the cost escalates every time a change is made. There could well be the acceptance of the built standard throughout the life of a ship, instead of having very long and very expensive refits. Such refits mean fewer ships available, and that escalates the cost.
There is a further point with regard to the fitting up of merchant ships. We could do what was done even before the First World War, so that fittings are installed to take armaments or helicopters. Those modifications and strengthenings should be built into the ships when they are being constructed. But whatever is done, nothing can replace a balanced Fleet, including major units and a major surface fleet. Trident cannot replace it; submarines cannot replace it. Whatever the result of the review that the Minister is carrying out, I hope that he will bear in mind that we must have a strong surface Navy as well as submarines.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)
I wish to declare an interest, in that I have been engaged in the defence industries for much of my industrial life.
In this valuable debate we have to address ourselves to the nature of the threat that we face and how we can meet it at the minimum sensible cost in terms of money and of our resources. I should like to deploy the argument that by using the best of our technology we can offset the sheer weight of Russian armaments, which we cannot meet man for man, tank for tank or aeroplane for aeroplane. In his gallant speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) referred to the threat that is towering ever higher over these islands. He paid a professional tribute to the work of Admiral Gorshkov in the last 20 years in achieving the supremacy of the Russian Navy.
It is interesting to consider the way in which, in the last 15 to 20 years, the threat has grown against us. Two 216 distinct components are involved. First, the size of the threat has varied slowly and often imperceptibly with time. Over the 15 years in which measurements have been taken with a fair amount of accuracy it can be seen that the percentage of gross national product that the Russians now devote to their armed forces is 13 per cent. That is an enormous proportion, which cannot be compared with that of any other nation in the world. As the figure has grown to the 13 per cent. level, they have deployed increased fighting capability right across the spectrum of their war machine.
The second component of the threat to which we should pay attention is the style of the threat. This also varies very slowly because of the time that it takes to develop weapon systems. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said this afternoon, we have seen a tremendous increase in the numbers of Soviet tactical aircraft. They are now deployed with three times the range and twice the payload of 10 years ago. Whereas in 1970 there were no Soviet army attack helicopters, today the Russians have three times as many as has NATO.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend felt that he could nor refer this afternoon to the style of the threat undersea, but I am told that the latest class of Soviet Typhoon submarine has a speed capability under water more than double that of the type 22 or type 23 frigates about which we have been arguing. In other words, if one tows the sonar across, one just watches them go by. I am not surprised, therefore, that a radical re-thinking has to take place of the way in which, within our resources, we can meet these threats.
From my knowledge of technology, I should like to extrapolate how I see the threat developing in the next 10 years in relation to what the Russians can do and what we can do to meet it.
At the end of those 10 years the Trident will be on station. In those 10 years, however, there will be two more generations of technology in Russia, and certainly one more generation of politicians. We are starting from a position, in relation to the Russians and their anti-ballistic missile defences, where they have done the courtesy to the United Kingdom nuclear deterrent of putting their one and only anti-ballistic missile defence system across the path. that the Polaris missiles would take into Moscow.
We are starting from that level. There is also the tremendous amount of work that the Russians are carrying on at their research establishments at Sharagyn and Semipalatinsk on laser and charged particle weapons, to a point where the Ministry of Defence has to face the question: with the Tridents on station, how many Trident missiles will get through, and will this weight in the balance be sufficient to act as a real deterrent to Russia?
I think that we can achieve an out of balance position, in order to make the Russians pay attention to us, if we can have access to the American work that is continuing in this area. Perhaps in his reply, my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to say whether in the Trident agreements the Government have rights to the United States counter-work which will enhance the Trident programme over the next 10 years. I commend to his attention the Defence Advanced Projects Research Agency, the "White Horse" project in the United States on defence against missiles outside the atmosphere, and the Livermore research laboratory's defence against missiles inside the atmosphere.
It is important to make sure that we have the balance in our favour. When we look at the way in which the SALT 217 negotiations can develop inside and outside SALT II, we find that under SALT II over the next 10 years the Russians will legally be allowed to advance from about 6,500 nuclear warheads to over 12,000. In other words, within SALT II they are allowed to double, but outside SALT II, taking account of the fact that they are developing five new inter-continental ballistic missiles and medium-range ballistic missile systems at present, they would then advance from 6,000 warheads to 21,000.
Those are numbers quite beyond comprehension in terms of devastation that they could bring. Those who have said in the debate today that Trident is so much the ultimate deterrent that it will never be used should face the fact that it is not only Admiral Gorshkov but President Brezhnev, in his own writings about the Soviet Army, who has said that they regard atomic weapons as part of the inventory of weapons that they will use in any conflict. There is no question about that. It is not the ultimate for them as it has to be for us.
We have to be aware of the fact that in the capability that the Russians have demonstrated in firing existing weapons they ought with their accuracy to be able—these are United States' estimates—to be able to take out 90 per cent. of the Minuteman missiles on a first strike into the United States. So the balance is difficult, but it must come down in our favour if the investment in Trident is to be the deterrent that we want it to be.
My next point concerns the other battles that will have to be faced in the 1990s. The technologies that we deploy in our computers and on our drawing boards will have to rival those that are being deployed in other NATO nations—in competitive and weapon terms—in order to outstrip work undertaken in Russia. It takes 10 years for the concept of a modern weapon—stretching across those two generations of technology, which can change the concepts in mid development—to reach the point at which it can be put into practice. That time scale automatically implies that we should pay more attention to the resources and brains available in Britain.
Even if we were able to look through the diplomatic mists to 10 years hence, we would not see a happier or calmer world. Therefore, we must make preparations not only for Trident but for the other types of warfare that we might have to face if the Russians chose to deploy their forces against us. If we do that, we can still maintain the right to have a strong voice in the councils of Western defence.
I shall put forward four ideas which I hope will commend themselves to my hon. Friends and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I hope that they are worth examining in terms of trying to review the defence equipment procurement and methodology of the Ministry of Defence.
The first idea is easier to put forward than to practise. In the American vernacular it is called "zero budgeting". An examination, at least, should be undertaken. When we are so tight on the resources that can be deployed, we should have a team which in parallel with existing work, will justify every type of defence in terms of its relevance, its dating and obsolescence, as well as the total cost of ownership. It is not so much a question of buying a weapon in the first instance as of how much it will cost over the 10 to 15 years in which it will be kept in commission. It 218 should ask the question, and report to the Ministry of Defence on whether we can afford each and every commitment that we have.
The second idea concerns technical specifications. Are they relevant to the operational needs that will be faced in 10 years' time? Fifteen years ago I was responsible for producing a photo processor. It was a monster device with whirring wheels, which were supposed to take the nice films from Victor bombers that came back from reconnaissance flights. It was supposed to turn them out at high speed. It was a huge machine. We had a contract from the Ministry of Defence to produce 10 of them. Under the terms of the contract we were required to conduct a test, which consisted of dropping the equipment off the back of a lorry to see what would happen. It was called "the drop test". It broke in half.
If it is thought that such things cannot happen today, I must tell you that there is today an extremely good and expensive weapons system, which requires excellent test equipment to accompany it. This contains commercial standard components. No military components can match these commercial components. They are excluded from all the drop and vibration tests, but the rest of the equipment has to go through those tests although it is part of the same package. An item can be dropped, when it is known that it will break. The commercial part is not required to be of military standard. That is ridiculous. I am told that the development expense involved is colossal.
Who is questioning the relevance of technical specifications in such expensive equipment? That equipment must work properly if our defence system is to work. Those specifications should be examined, not to get rid of commercial equipment, but to bring a bit more in. Usually, military specifications cost five to 10 times more than items that could be bought off the shelf if a commercial standard were sought.
The Ministry of Defence rightly wants to save money. I hear that there is an edict around to the effect that no vehicle or weapons system should be built with an out-of area capability. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force made a wise speech and said that we should have a deployment force that is able to operate in the Persian Gulf. However, if the equipment is not to have an out-of-area capability at the design stage, it must be remembered that something that works in Britain will not work in the sun and sand of the Persian Gulf. Should we acknowledge that the style of the threat changes with time and reflect that in our specifications?
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) raised the subject of warship needs. I am sure that he appreciates that the specifications put out for the Royal Navy are often not in sympathy with those required in most parts of the world. It must be to the chagrin of British warship builders that they see the Italians walking away with contracts that they used to win in South America. Indeed, only this evening a naval architect told me that when one worries about the type 22 and type 23, it should be borne in mind that if the Navy were to cut down on what it wanted to carry in its vessels and got more armaments in, the price could be reduced to a quarter or one-fifth of what is now paid.
I should like to impress on the Secretary of State and his colleagues that we should look at design in terms of the total sale of the end product, instead of in terms of what the Navy wants. To evaluate the result of all our efforts 219 to standardise and reduce costs, one should look at what is on the frontier of the Iron Curtain. The British Army's First Armoured Division faces the Soviet Union's Third Shock Army. There are equal numbers of men, but the Soviets have twice as many tanks. What is the specification of a Russion division, when it means that it has twice as many tanks for the same number of men?
At times we have questioned the memorandum of understanding on which so much of our armaments trade with the United States of America is based. I have looked through it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will have one more look at it. I can find nothing that would preclude the United Kingdom from having an offset agreement under the Trident agreement with the United States of America. If 30 per cent. of Trident is built in the United States of America, it will be equivalent to 75,000 jobs for a year in Britain.
We must erode the duplication of expertise that is practised at two levels on the same contracts in the Ministry of Defence and in industry. We must try to shorten contract times. It is time that costs money, rather than men or materials. I commend the American practice, whereby the American Department of Defence delegates the job of running the contracts to prime contractors. We must give industry a power that is not used often enough in the Ministry of Defence. I refer to the power of management to say "No" to change. Above all, I should like to see the deployment of brains of British industry, because that will give us the technology to win the peace of the 1990s.
§ Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)
I shall make a short speech. I wish to raise the subject of the Admiralty's shipyards on Tyneside, as a result of the rumours that have appeared in newspapers in the past few days and as a result of the resignation of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed).
As a result of the recession in the merchant shipbuilding industry, a large proportion of the work done on Tyneside is shipbuilding for the Admiralty. Indeed, the new "Ark Royal" is being built on Tyneside. Thousands of jobs are involved. Many of my constituents work in the shipbuilding industry on Tyneside carrying out Admiralty work. Since the reports appeared in the newspapers during the past few days there has been a great deal of rumour and worry about the Government's plans for local employment for thousands of workers on Tyneside. We want to know the position. Governments have played cat-and-mouse with Tyneside for years. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) in the Chamber. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will no doubt support my remarks.
Because of the recession in merchant shipbuilding on Tyneside, a large proportion—about 70 per cent.—of work is for the Admiralty. As the Government appreciate, the fundamental difference between merchant shipbuilding and Admiralty work is that Admiralty work takes much longer. I am told that it takes between 12 and 18 months to build a merchant ship but that to build the cruisers currently being built on Tyneside takes anything up to five years. The strong rumour on Tyneside last weekend was that the construction of the new "Ark Royal" would cease, thereby jeopardising about 4,000 jobs in an area of existing high unemployment. The workers on Tyneside are entitled 220 to know the position. They have a long and honourable record for hard work, good industrial relations and great skill in merchant and Admiralty shipbuilding.
I declare an interest because Blyth was a submarine base during the war and has a long and honourable tradition with submarines. Large numbers of Navy personnel live in my constituency and many of the best regiments in Britain recruit in Northumberland. We need to know the position on Tyneside. Unless the air is cleared and the Government's intentions stated unequivocally and precisely, the present worry will escalate, much hardship will be caused and greater uncertainty will be created in an area of existing high unemployment.
If the jobs go—and thousands of jobs are involved—no other jobs will be available, thanks to the Government's asinine policy of abolishing special development areas in the North-East of England. If the Government now cause the loss of further jobs in the North-East, especially on Tyneside, with its Admiralty contracts, thousands of men will be thrown out of work without any prospects of alternative employment. There are no jobs in the North-East, as a direct result of the Government's policies—deliberate policies to smash regional aid, knowing full well that there are no alternative jobs.
I do not for one moment subscribe to the blimpish speeches that have been delivered from the Conservative Benches tonight. However—and this should be said—I passionately believe in the defence of Britain. I find the defence policy of the Labour Party confusing, to say the least. The cheap blasts from the Conservative Benches do not help when we are discussing a serious matter. The Labour Party takes the defence of Britain seriously. I ask the Government to be sensible and to have regard to the rumours widely circulated both in the press and in the House during the past few days.
What are the Government's plans for cutbacks for the Navy? They will inevitably involve a cutback in Admiralty shipyards on Tyneside and in the North-East of England generally, at a time when merchant shipbuilding is in, deep recession with no real prospect of improvement in the foreseeable future. The cutback in Admiralty shipbuilding on Tyneside will mean the diminution of the large number of works currently being carried out—quite apart from the "Ark Royal"—and thousands of men will be thrown out of work. The Government must clear up that uncertainty.
I am not interested in the internal machinations of the Tory Party. I am not interested in the disputes currently taking place within the Government. I am interested in jobs for my constituents. The Government's behaviour during the past few days has created enormous uncertainty. I ask the Minister to explain the position and to allay the fears of workers on Tyneside.
§ Mr. Robert Hicks (Bodmin)
I find it somewhat disconcerting that we are holding our annual debate on the Defence Estimates against a background of profound uncertainty about the future distribution of expenditure within the overall defence budget. It has been suggested by the press that the Royal Navy would have to bear the brunt of any such redistribution of resources. A figure a 75 per cent. of savings in the Royal Navy budget within the overall defence budget has been mentioned. I find that difficult to comprehend.
It is recognised that in recent years the Soviet bloc has established parity in strategic nuclear weapons and a 221 substantial superiority in conventional weapons. In the West, we have seen a considerable Soviet maritime buildup with a world-wide naval deployment. The Royal Navy has a role to play in combating that threat and a specific function in anti-submarine warfare. It is important that the quality and effectiveness of its anti-submarine strategy should be maximised.
Many Conservative Members feel that the Royal Navy has a unique and vital contribution to make, not only to NATO but to the defence of our national interests, both in peacetime and in war. It would be wrong for the Government to make a decision to downgrade that function.
I want to mention two related aspects—the morale of the manpower serving in the Royal Navy and the effect that any such downgrading will have on both the regional and the local economies of parts of the United Kingdom. I make no apology for mentioning that the part of the United Kingdom that I serve has a strong defence tradition. The importance of the Royal Navy and its associated activities to the Plymouth region and the South-West and to my constituency in south-east Cornwall cannot be over-emphasised.
Over 20 per cent. of the work force in Her Majesty's dockyard at Devonport lives in my constituency. Furthermore, all the non-officer intake into the Royal Navy undertakes its initial training in the Bodmin constituency, at the two shore bases of HMS "Fisgard", where the artificers train, and HMS "Raleigh" where the ratings train. Those two shore bases at Torpoint, together with the dockyard, have a major impact on the economic activity in my part of the country, where unemployment is currently 14 per cent. At present, 590 artificers are undertaking their part I and part II training at "Fisgard", where 134 service personnel and 110 civilians are employed. A major investment programme is planned for the future. Across the road at HMS "Raleigh" a £14 million capital works project has just been completed.
I ask the Under-Secretary who is to reply to consider the effect of all the uncertainty on the morale of those who have just joined the Royal Navy and those who are already embarked on a Service career.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asked the House to look at the decisions that he has to make as changes rather than savings. That may be a fair request, but in return I ask him to appreciate the anxieties of those already serving in the Royal Navy and those who have just joined. We all recall the traumatic experiences suffered by many of their predecessors as a consequence of political change. That is why I always worry when Ministers, of whatever Government, talk about fundamental reviews.
I recognise the complexity of the problem facing the Government. Money is short and it is important that we get the emphasis right, but I ask the Government to recognise the role and functions of the Royal Navy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State represents a constituency in Cornwall and will acknowledge that once a force such as the Royal Navy is relegated in status it is enormously difficult to restore its position if it is subsequently realised that a mistake has been made. I earnestly hope that my right hon. Friend will not fall into that trap.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
I start by reminding the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman) that by concentrating aid to the regions on smaller areas the Government are ensuring that areas such as Tyneside have a better relative position for the future than they had under the aid scheme of the Labour Government.
I echo what the hon. Gentleman said about the uncertainty that has been caused on Tyneside by speculation in the press over the past few days, especially about the fate of "Ark Royal". I was delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be attending the launch of that ship in two weeks' time and I am sure that he will see the good sense of putting such a valuable asset into service. I remind him that there are many other roles envisaged for "Ark Royal" apart from anti-submarine warfare, to which he alluded.
My right hon. Friend has a painful and difficult task in his review, and it is bound to cause concern and upset. However, we should emphasise that, unlike previous reviews, this one is not based on cuts in spending. It is instead seeking a better way of spending the greater sum that will be available in real terms. More than £12,000 million is to be spent this year, and that is the highest figure in real terms for 12 years. In addition, it is envisaged that the figures, high as they are, will in the future rise by 3 per cent. a year, after allowing for inflation. It is not the Secretary of State's fault that these increases are not enough to pay for the ever-increasing cost of new technology.
Defence Ministers in all Western countries face the same problem. Unfortunately for us, Marshal Ustinov, the Defence Minister of the Soviet Union, does not operate under the same financial constraints. As a result, Soviet forces are being re-equipped with high-quality equipment and we can no longer rely on the quality of our equipment to make up for our numerical inferiority.
The problem of ever-rising equipment costs is certainly not new. The Defence Estimates for 1939 stated:One factor which has led to increased expenditure is the ever increasing complexity of modern armaments … The ingenuity of the inventor is for ever resulting in new devices and improvements which, while they add to the effectiveness of the weapons in question, also add appreciably to the cost.That was the situation in 1939. I should add that the cost of the whole Air Force in that year was £200 million. We have come a long way since then.
Our debate today takes place in something of a vacuum, while we await what may be major changes at the end of the review. It is rather like discussing a company's annual accounts when we know that the accountants have been specially called in to review the workings of every Department.
Leaks were inevitable, because details of parts of the review were widely known throughout the Services. The rumours have undoubtedly been harmful. It is a pity that the excellent statement made by my right hon. Friend to the Procurement Executive a few days ago was not published a little earlier, as it made clear the background to the review and would probably have dispelled many of the most alarming and scaring of the headlines. The Royal Marines must have choked over their breakfast toast when they read that the whole of that magnificant corps was to be disbanded, according to the front page of one newspaper. I was very glad when my right hon. Friend denied that suggestion today. However, some concern 223 must remain in the corps on the ground that there is no smoke without fire. I am sure that everyone, whether on Tyneside, in the Royal Marines, in Portsmouth, Devonport or Chatham, will want the general uncertainty to be cleared up as soon as possible.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
I listened carefully to the Secretary of State's statement, and he did not deny the story on the front page of The Daily Telegraph. He seemed to suggest that it was purely speculation and therefore must presumably be one of the elements taken into account in the review that is to be announced in July.
§ Mr. Trotter
As I understood my right hon. Friend, he certainly denied that the scale of the cuts suggested in that newspaper was in any way accurate. To my memory, he specifically denied that the Royal Marines were to be disbanded. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is nodding to confirm what I say. So the Royal Marines can eat their toast with some relief tomorrow morning.
Difficult balances need to be struck by the Ministry. A balance needs to be struck between the different missions of the Services, and again between buying new equipment and running costs. Above all, we should cut out the harmful cuts that have often been made in fuel, spares and training, which are all bad for morale and efficiency, but which take place because there is no other way of balancing the books at the end of the year. There also needs to be a balance between the near-term and long-term objectives. It can take 10 years to introduce a new weapons system. If our judgment is wrong, we may deter a war today but find that we are too weak in 10 years' time. Then there is the difficult balance to be made between the numbers and the quality of the equipment. Of course, numbers count, but so, against the sophisticated navy and other forces of our opponents, does sophisticated equipment. However, if we have a highly sophisticated system, we have a high cost.
Beyond that, there is the main question, which is one of economics for the Government as a whole, rather than for Ministers in the Ministry of Defence. If the Soviets keep on increasing their military spending by 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. a year, and we in the West increase ours by only 3 per cent., can we, by any degree of skilful allocation of funds, prevent the adverse balance tilting too far against us so that our safety is at risk? I suggest that there is nothing sacrosant about a 3 per cent. annual increase. In fact, in the mid 1960s' when as a country we were poorer, we spent more in real terms than we are spending this year.
It is right that my right hon. Friend should consider all options, and I support what he is doing. I wish to make a few suggestions. First, it is important that the Ministry of Defence itself—the organisation and, if I may use the word, its bureaucracy—should be subjected to exactly the same review as are the Royal Marines, HMS "Ark Royal" and all the other fighting units. There is room for considerable economy in the Ministry of Defence, and it is important that those who serve in units can see that the headquarters, too are affected by the changes that affect them.
More could be done to bring down the cost of equipment for the Forces by spreading overheads over larger runs if we pursued the possibility of exporting more equipment. Mention has been made in this debate about 224 the difficulties of exporting warships. I have found from my own travels abroad that we have lost out on a generation of submarines. One now finds German-built U-boats in many navies in the Third world.
That is mainly because we have not put into production a new conventional submarine for our Navy. It might be a good use of funds to bring forward production of a few of such submarines. We shall need them eventually, for training if for no other reason, because nuclear submarines are too expensive for that role. If we brought production forward to the near-term we might be able to obtain submarine exports and work for our shipyards which are in such desperate need.
More international co-operation is required in production. The two-way street across the Atlantic must be made into a road with both carriageways of equal widths. Too often in the past, it seems to be a motorway in one direction and a country lane in the other. There are now hopes of major exports to America with the Hawk, the Harrier and perhaps the JP233 and Stingray.
Whatever else my right hon. Friend may do when reallocating funds, there should not be a reduction in the number of people serving in the Forces, even if that requires us to keep on old equipment that we would rather have replaced by new. The quality of our men and women is first class, but their numbers are not excessive. We have only two-thirds the number in the Services that Germany and France have. With old equipment they can still give a good account of themselves, and certainly a better account than if they did not exist.
I hope that we shall consult NATO before the reallocaton takes place. It must surely have views about our commitments and the changes that we make. Above all, the House and the country should be informed. of the principal options that were available and why the decisions are taken. There should be no secrecy. Defence is a unique subject, but it is important that we are given the details of the alternatives and why the choices are made by the Government.
Normally, there are no detailed discussions of defence proposals in this House. We treat defence unlike any other subject. For instance, if there are changes in social service provisions we expect to have a debate and a vote on the details of each change. The position here is unlike that in America, where, each year, every item of the Defence Estimates is subject to scrutiny and vote by the well-informed congressmen and senators who specialise in the subject.
There must certainly be a further debate in the House as soon as the review is completed, and there should be debates on each of the three Services as soon as possible, so that the role of each Service can be discussed by the House in a way that is not possible in a general debate.
There has been much speculation about the future role and size of the Navy. Changes could have serious implications both for the safety of our Mechant Navy and for the future of our shipbuilding industry. I remind the Secretary of State that 60 per cent. of the shipbuilding industry in Britain today is engaged on Royal Navy work and only 40 per cent. on merchant building because of the rundown in orders for merchant ships.
We should not build £100 million ships just to provide work. However, many people believe that the money is better spent on them than on subsidies poured down the 225 drain for such businesses as British Leyland. I accept the need for simpler ships, and my right hon. Friend hinted at that. It is one way of maintaining the necessary numbers.
The number of surface ships in the Navy has already fallen by nearly one-third in the last few years. I cannot believe that the 1,500 merchant ships which the White Paper reveals would have to cross the Atlantic in a month during a war to bring reinforcements and supplies from America could be escorted adequately by submarines and aircraft alone. Surely there must be surface ships, who can shoot down long-range missiles fired from Soviet submarines, aircraft and surface ships. Only a surface ship can deal with such an attack. A submarine certainly cannot.
Some would say that a war in Europe would be so short that convoys would be irrelevant. We cannot be sure of that. The Germans have a strong Army and a small Navy. We have the opposite. That is not just because of our history, but also because of our geography. Our back door is the Atlantic. If we do not defend it, there is nobody else to do so. If the Atlantic sea lanes are not kept open, we face defeat in Europe by strangulation. That might be slow, but it would be just as certain as defeat by direct assault. It is something that we cannot allow.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)
We are holding this debate in a crucial period for working people in this country and for people throughout the world. The year 1980–81 will no doubt be remembered as a period of bizarre economic dogma sponsored by a bizarre and economically illiterate Government who wreaked havoc on the people and the economy of Great Britain. Members of the Opposition take no great pleasure in reminding the people of Britain generally that all our warnings without exception have become a terrible reality; billions of pounds of cuts in the vital social services, bankruptcies by the thousand, industrial production reduced to the level of the 1929 depression and 2½ million officially unemployed, with even the Government admitting that predictions of 3 million or more unemployed are likely to be fulfilled in 1981.
The year 1980–81 will surely also be remembered as a period that ushered in an even more unfriendly, unwholesome and dangerous situation in the shape of seriously deteriorating international relations. Certainly 1980 was the first year since the 1930s that an economic slump, mass unemployment and a growing Right-wing authoritarianism were locked in a ludicrous embrace with a dangerously accelerating arms race. These Defence Estimates are part of all that.
No one should be complacent because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said at the miners' gala in Scotland last year, no arms race in history has ended without war. I would argue that anybody with eyes to see knows that the threat to our schools, housing, health, employment, living standards and, indeed, life itself comes not from some mythical Soviet menace to which we have to respond in these Defence Estimates but from the International Monetary Fund cuts, the EEC, the investment and pricing policies of the multinationals and the United States-inspired arms race.
Hon. Members should ask themselves whether it is the Soviet Union or the Prime Minister that is responsible for 226 the massive deflation being imposed on this country, the decline in industrial production, reminiscent of the 1930s, the slashing of public spending, the mass unemployment affecting the country, the flight of capital, the chronic under-investment in British industry and the fuelling of the arms race. Those are the real dangers facing working people in this country.
It is encouraging that the British people not only have begun to get wise to the Government's domestic programme but also are beginning to see through their foreign adventures as well. We have to call them adventures because they certainly do not resemble anything that could be considered a policy. This opposition was expressed most recently in the local government elections and also in the opinion polls and the people's demand for withdrawal from the Common Market. More important for this debate are the growing movement against war, against United States bases in Britain and against the deployment of nuclear weapons on British territory, the shrinking support for Trident and cruise missiles and the absolute lack of support for the neutron bomb and post-colonial dream of President Reagan or our own Prime Minister, the rapid deployment force.
The whole basis of our foreign policy, which is really a slavish obedience to the United States, and bellicose military adventurism, is in the process of being rejected by the British people. Even anti-Soviet hysteria, which has been a true and trusted ally of reactionary politicians in the past, is beginning to be questioned by peoples and Governments all over the world. Certainly we on this side would argue that, from the end of the Second World War and throughout the cold war, the Soviet threat was usually posed in terms of a Russian arms build-up and numerical or technical superiority. We have heard this again today. Both the bomber gap scare of the 1950s and the missile gap scare of the 1960s, were subsequently exposed for the lies that they were, but not before a new twist had been given to the arms spiral by the United States and the arms producers in the name of catching up, which we have heard again today, and not before the arms manufacturers had pocketed appropriately large profits.
Today we see a new generation of nuclear warheads and missiles which the Americans argue are capable of being used in a first-strike capacity and as part of the so-called theatre of limited nuclear war. They have been perfected and churned out—the cruise missile, the MX missile, Tridents, neutron bombs, planes that fly through radar and a new long-range bomber. This is at a time when the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that the United States superiority of strategic warheads over the Soviet Union is 10,000 to 5,000.
It has been said that this is merely a response to the events of Afghanistan. That is a lie which should be nailed immediately. These projects do not appear out of thin air, as has been said from the Government side today. They take years to research, design, cost and prepare. The West German Defence Minister admitted recently that the preliminary decision to deploy cruise missiles in Europe was taken in 1975. We know, too, that a decision was taken in 1977 to increase the NATO arms budget by 3 per cent. each year in real terms. That was the year in which the go-ahead was given to Trident.
An $80 billion procurement programme was agreed to in May 1978 in Washington at the same time as the United Nations was holding its special disarmament session in 227 New York. We now know that as Carter was almost literally boarding the plane to take him to Vienna to sign the SALT II treaty, he gave the green light for the MX mobile underground strategic system which we saw in the "Panorama" programme last night.
The Brussels decision to deploy 572 cruise and Pershing missiles in the territories of Western Europe, like all the other insane decisions, was taken before, and not in response to, events in Afghanistan.
While we are talking of hypocrisy, it is sickening that the Americans should use the Soviet military contingent in Afghanistan as the hypocritical excuse for breaking off the arms limitation talks and for a military build-up. Are memories in the House so short? Have we forgotten that, at the height of the bombing in Vietnam, the SALT I treaty was prepared, and while the Americans were still fighting in Indo-China the first stage of the Helsinki agreement was begun.
The arms race of which these Estimates are a part has its origin in a number of objective conditions which we do not have time to consider in detail tonight. One that must be mentioned in the context of the renewal of the Soviet scare campaign is the growing influence of the military industrial complex in the West.
The current arms build-up began when SALT II was refused ratification by the United States Congress, not because of a military fear by America of the Soviet Union but because of the fear for profits if detente and the peace process went any further. It was not Marx or Lenin who warned of the military-industrial complex; it was Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address as President of the United States in 1961. He said:We have created a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. The total influence is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the federal Government. We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. In Government we must guard against unwarranted influence by the military industrial complex.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Will the hon. Genteman kindly inform the House who wrote or prepared this speech? Surely it is not the product of even his own perverted logic.
§ Mr. Ross
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to participate in the debate, I am sure he will make every effort to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If he wishes to disagree, it would be helpful for him to make a useful contribution.
There is no doubt that detente is bad for business. Between 1970 and 1975 world military spending grew by only 1.1 per cent. a year. The 1977 NATO decision was for a 3 per cent. annual increase. President Reagan, encouraged by the Soviet scare, projects an even bigger increase. We are not debating United States spending, but we are part of it. The United States will be spending $1 trillion in the five years up to 1985. Military and industrial complexes clearly recognise the problems involved if SALT II negotiations had come to fruition. The mouthpiece of American capitalism, the Wall Street Journal headed its front page on the concluding day of the Senate hearings by saying "Reject Salt now". Even the prestigious American stockbrokers, Drexel, Burnham and Lambert expect defence issues to out-perform the market. While the profits of many other industries are likely to shrink, they say, defence producers will show rises of 10 to 20 per cent. this year and next.
§ Mr. Ross
Hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have many disagreements with the contents of the Defence Estimates. I should like to see the money put into other areas much more concerned with working people. I should like to see the Government extending diplomatic, cultural and trade contacts between countries with different social systems. It is not all one way. These contacts help to break down barriers. They lead to relaxation of tension and the building of mutual trust and confidence. They also hold out the prospect of material and economic benefits for the populations of the countries concerned. I am sure that the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), who keeps trying to intervene, will be pleased to learn that, last year, West Germany's trade with the Soviet Union amounted to 16 million deutschemarks, for which I am sure the people of West Germany were grateful.
We should also like to see the Government take a greater interest in the elimination of racialism and Fascism and give support to the world's national liberation movements. I would prefer to see the Government supporting the sort of attitude taken by Socialist countries in their economic boycott of South Africa. I do not agree with the adventurism of the United States in supporting the Fascist countries of South America and its apparent decision to establish some contact with South Africa and Argentina. That cannot benefit people in this country.
We should also like to see support for the developing countries, the newly independent countries and those in the non-aligned movement. We should support their efforts to achieve a new international economic order and to help to free them of the new colonialism of the multinational corporations. It is not the Soviet Union, a country more or less self-sufficient in raw materials and natural resources, but the Western countries, especially the United States, which are seeking to use military might to maintain political and economic conditions favourable to the big business enterprises of the West. The United States maintains 500,000 Service men in 2,500 overseas bases to prop up and insure the world-wide profit interests of Western capital. Overseas earnings are now the major feature in big business balance sheets.
Whereas, in 1964, 38 per cent. of Western multinational corporation profits were earned abroad, the figure in 1971 had jumped to 69 per cent. Clearly, the Western multinational corporations do not seek to help the developing countries in the manner that we would wish to see.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to draw your attention to the fact that the hon. Gentleman—I have to call him such—is reading. He is clearly reading from a prepared script that I suspect was not prepared in the House. It is surely the custom of this place that hon. Members should have occasional recourse to notes and that right hon. Members, on the Front Benches may have recourse to more copious, notes owing to their special responsibilities. I suggest to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman is reading. I suspect that his text was not prepared in this place.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
It was the principle a few years ago that if an hon. Member was reading from what were evidently more than copious notes, he was interrupted. That practice seems to have 229 slipped a little. If the hon. Gentleman can adopt what was our previous practice, no one would be more happy than I.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is wrong. Ministers have alway been allowed to read from their notes. It used to be the practice that Back Benchers used notes only occasionally.
§ Mr. Ross
I apologise to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) if he finds my contribution distasteful. I am sorry if he does not like it. However, what I am saying is true. If the hon. Gentleman wished to disagree with the content of my speech, I could understand his intervention. I accept that he does not agree with me but hon. Members do have the right to make a contribution to debates in the House.
§ Mr. Ross
I am always much concerned about what I say in the House. I recognise the importance of this place. This debate is especially important. I shall continue to use extensive notes because I think it is important that what I say goes on to the record in exactly the way in which I would wish it to go on the record.
I was alluding to the role that we would like to see the Government play in preference to the Trident nuclear submarine. I shall give the House one further example. Last year our televison screens brought us news and pictures of the cruise missile, a missile that can travel 4,000 miles at 300 miles a minute. We were given the guarantee that it could land on an area no larger than a football pitch. That was supposed to the achievement of science in the 1980s.
During the same year the same television screens brought us different news and different pictures. That news and those pictures came from the Ogaden, India, Uganda, Africa, Asia and Latin America. We were shown appalling scenes of children in their millions starving to death. We are told by the United Nations that one out of every 10 babies born in the Third world last year is already dead and that 300 million are stricken by malnutrition. This is at a time when the world has spent $450 billion on its arms bill. During every hour of every day the world spends $50 million in preparation for its own destruction. One and a half days of world military spending would provide adequate food for 60 million undernourished expectant mothers, reducing if not eliminating infant mortality. A fortnight's military spending would provide adequate food for the 300 million starving children for 40 years, and 1 per cent. of all military spending would pay for the farm equipment that is needed to help poor countries to achive food self-sufficiency by 1990.
If Western politicians, including Conservative Members, are looking for breaches of human rights, they should turn their attention to the daily criminal violation of human rights of hundreds of millions. There are families without shelter, disease-ridden cities and children needing food and going hungry.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What has this to do with the debate on Defence Estimates?
§ Mr. Ross
Such comments bring the House into disrepute. We are talking about Estimates that involve many thousands of millions of pounds. Labour Members would like to see that money spent rather differently. Many of the constituents of the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) agree with me that the money should be spent differently.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) will find out at the next general election.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman will be given his reward when the Government are forced to go to the country to ask for its support for Defence Estimates of this sort.
All the world-wide problems are problems which we could begin to resolve if we were not wasting the money in the Defence Estimates. There are many areas in our own country where that money could be used rather than being wasted on armaments which could never be fired without being the end of us all.
Last night, on the valuable "Panorama" programme, some leading politicians from the United States disagreed with some of the thinking which has gone into the Defence Estimates and the defence spending in the West. Congressman Les Aspin even said thatthe system in the United States could not absorb the total amount of money which was being thrown at it.Those are not my words, but the words of Les Aspin. Admiral Gene La Roque said thatthe emphasis was on winning rather than limiting a war.All those comments lead me to suggest that this debate would make much more sense if we were talking about real jobs and real prosperity for working people. However, we are talking about producing weapons which cannot and could never be used. If those weapons were used, they could lead to the end of the civilised world as we know it.
I am one of those who has tabled an amendment which Mr. Speaker saw fit not to call. I shall join my right hon. and hon. Friends in voting against the Defence Estimates because they do nothing for the ordinary people in this country or for the needy people of the Third world. They do nothing to bring down tension and to build confidence between countries. All they do is seek to escalate an arms race which can have no other ending than the end of a world in which people could talk to each other and have mutual exchanges of confidence-building measures. In the Defence Estimates there are no peace proposals. The people of Great Britain cannot say that their children can look forward to many years of peace with other countries.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) has made free of the words "we on this side of the House". It is a tragedy that the Liberal Bench and that occupied by the new Social Democratic Party are empty, because that phrase will reinforce the members of the Social Democratic Party in their decision to leave a party that talks nonsense of a kind that I have seldom heard in the House.
The debate is meant to be devoted to a discussion of the Defence Estimates, but naturally we have spilled over into new territory because decisions will be made over the next few months. We await those decisions with interest. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has made it clear that those decisions will be harsh and that they are necessary. My hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate have made it clear that they accept that the central point in those decisions has been the decision on Trident, and most of us accept the need for it.
I know from my Service career that there can be no question of our spreading our capability across every area. I repeat that the decisions that we have to make will be harsh, but they cannot be made in isolation from our NATO Allies. The most important thing that we have to remember is that we are no longer independent. We are interdependent within the Alliance. Changes made unilaterally are bound to affect the Alliance and our capability to work closely with our Allies.
In opening the debate the Secretary of State made it clear that there had been and would be discussions with NATO. I hope that in winding up the debate my hon. Friend will repeat the assurance that decisions made as a result of our defence review will be made in concert with our NATO Allies and that no decisions will be taken without their full consent and approval.
There is a need for a total rethink. To take one example, we all know that the old concept of the NATO operational area is well and truly dead. The whole of the NATO strategy must be realigned as a consequence.
Russia has a total global strategy, although some Opposition Members do not accept that. At present we do not have one. In particular, the Soviet Union has developed a massive intervention force. It is estimated that within 48 hours it could move no less than 50,000 men and their equipment into the Gulf by air alone.
We talk of a rapid deployment force, but we are entitled to ask the Government: how rapid, and how much force? Equally, we must all question the fact that at present almost the total component part of the rapid deployment force is American. I felt for the Secretary of State when he was interviewed on "Weekend World" the other day and was questioned hard by that tough interrogator Brian Walden, who asked what we should be providing towards the rapid deployment force—would it be a battalion, a company or what? At that point it seemed that we were hovering between a company and a battalion, which is not good enough for those of us who believe in the concept of such a force.
We cannot accept only an American rapid deployment force. Middle East oil is vital to our survival. It is more vital to us than it is to the United States. It is therefore essential to create as soon as possible a European rapid deployment force, complementary to its United States counterpart. Some say that that is impossible and that our European allies have no interest in such a force, but I 232 disagree. There would be interest in Turkey and in France, particularly if it was a separate European force to be deployed alongside a United States force in the Gulf. I add one point. Such a force must not be the present ACE mobile force. It must be additional to it.
If we consider where such a force might be based, it is not by coincidence that there is a sudden upsurge of interest in the sovereign base areas in Cyprus. Hon. Members on the Opposition Benches question whether we should hold the bases or whether they should be renegotiated. That is a measure of the importance of the bases. They are the key to our strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The most important point is that, if we are to have such a force, quality must be the key to its effectiveness. We have made a good start in the United Kingdom in restoring a genuine parachute capability, but it is only a start. I hope that at some point the Government will say that we have dropped a battalion group from aircraft flying in formation and not in stream. I know that that is their wish, too, and I hope that the announcement will be made sooner rather than later. We should aim at a minimum of a battalion group, with all arms and services included in it. From that, we should build up to a maximum of the re-establishment of a parachute brigade group.
In that context I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army whether it is not rather strange to have an elite parachute batallion carrying out guard duties in Edinburgh at this time. 'We all know that there is a need for some Army force to be deployed in an anti-tank role with helicopters. To have an elite batallion of that kind stuck up in Edinburgh at this time seems a waste of undoubted ability.
Whatever force we form, excellence and quality must be our aim. As a former parachute soldier, I know only too well the priceless asset that this country has, not only in our parachute forces, but in our Royal Marines. I know that Conservative Members and many Opposition Members deplore any talk of a cutback. Indeed, we believe that there should be expansion.
I come next to a much narrower point, which is nevertheless important. For any expansion, we require manpower. I think that my hon. Friend will accept that the Army, particularly, is often working on a very low establishment figure. That is a drawback to the efficiency of many forces.
I could understand it if the volunteers did not exist, but they do. In my constituency alone, I know of seven youngsters who, having been trained in the cadet force with the aim of going into a Service career, have hooked into their careers office with a good background, only to be told at the last minute that there is a ceiling on recruiting and the Service cannot take them, but that it' wishes them well in their civilian careers.
In this context, I make one suggestion. The budget of the Ministry of Defence may well have reached its ceiling, but could not some small part of the massive funding of the Manpower Services Commission be set aside specifically for the basic Service training of these youngsters? Of course, there would be an interdepartmental battle, but I am sure that the Ministers could hold their corner. If they could grab £10 million or £20 million from the Manpower Services Commission, they could do a great deal of good. Indeed, if that support could be obtained from the Manpower Services Commission, far more good would be done in the training of those 233 youngsters than will be done by some of the job opportunity schemes in action today. Even if at the end of six months those youngsters could not be called forward for regular service—and one would hope that from such a pool they would be called forward—at least they would come out with some basic training, they could go into the Territorial Army and in my view they would be better equipped to carry a job in civilian life.
I know that we are looking anxiously at the clock. I applaud the statement of the Secretary of State today that adequate time will be given for a debate after the review has been carried out. I think that all Conservative Members expect that and hope that it will come about. We have backed our Prime Minister in her forthright support for adequate defence forces both for this country and for the Western Alliance. We shall continue to do that, and we shall give our support to our Ministers as well.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
The debate has been rather 'different from the one that we should have expected, had not the furore at the weekend directed the attention of the House to some of the serious issues being considered within the Ministery of Defence. In that respect, we owe a considerable debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) who, in the normal course of events, would have followed me in winding up the debate. Although he is absent from the Chamber at this moment I pay tribute to his sincerity and courage in blowing the whistle on what he clearly knows to be a major and massive exercise going on behind the closed doors of the Ministry of Defence, which would otherwise have continued undiscovered behind the debate taking place in the House today and tomorrow and would have been produced in what we now know to be a brief and inadequate statement placed before the House in the dying days before the Summer Recess.
I should like to remind the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) that the Secretary of State did not promise, as we wanted him to promise, a full debate on the enormously important review that is taking place. The Secretary of State changed the phraseology, even within his own speech, to say that all that we could expect was a statement. Labour Members—and, I am sure the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues—would be completely dissatisfied if the Secretary of State chose to announce the outcome of this major and fundamental review of Britain's defence by that inadequate and inappropriate method in this Parliament.
We know know that the implications of the review go far beyond the thinking that has been published in the Defence Estimates for 1981 that we are debating today and tomorrow. Some of the thinking that was elaborated upon within these documents is now being seriously questioned by the Secretary of State, with his devotion to the cause of monetarism that has wreaked so much havoc on the economy of the country, and now promises to have the same effect on the nation's defences.
Despite the Secretary of State's diversions on the iniquities of the defence correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, one point that he failed to mention was that all the editorial comment of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of this week, in all the newspapers of this land, was unanimous on one point—if only on that one point. That 234 feeling is shared by the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and all those newspapers that have chosen to comment on the matter. It is that the defence of this country is to be seriously compromised by the Government's decision to exempt the Trident missile system from any kind of review of its expenditure. They are unanimous that the Government must consider Trident as part and parcel of their defence review. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider that point this evening, and that when he has the outcome of the review he will bear in mind the views and apprehensions of people inside and outside this House.
One of the impacts of this debate—whether in the Chamber or within the Ministry of Defence—will be on Service morale. During their period in Opposition, the Conservatives often made great play of the morale of the Services. It has to be remembered by Conservative Members that pay is only one factor in building the morale of the Armed Forces of this country. If our Armed Forces are to be starved of ammunition and fuel, and of the training that is desperately needed, morale will be affected, irrespective of what we pay them.
The hon. Member for Ashford made the point clearly and tellingly when he referred to the dilemma with which he was faced when he chaired his first Board of Admiralty meeting. That dilemma could again face the incoming Under-Secretary of State for Defence if the apprehensions that are being caused by the prospect of the review are allowed to drain morale further. That is irrespective of the pay that the Government are giving to the Armed Forces. There is also the matter of resources available to them in the discharge of their duties.
I should like to refer to what was said by the right hon.Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) in the last defence debate under the Labour Government. The right hon. Gentleman is now the Lord Privy Seal and, according to the press, he has been holding the fort for the Foreign Secretary in Europe while the Foreign Secretary has been dragged into the post mortem of last night over the dismissal of the hon. Member for Ashford. On the occasion of that last defence debate, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham was the principal defence spokesman for the Conservative Party. He said:The Conservative Government will pay our Service men properly. They will restore their status. They will foster their morale. They will see that Service men have enough good equipment, fuel, ammunition and spares with which to fight and train".—[Official Report, 13 March 1978; Vol. 946, c. 79.]Only two years into the Conservative Government that the Lord Privy Seal foresaw, the Secretary of State has stated in the Defence Estimates thatThe economic pressures… have also led to deep cuts in procurement of ammunition, fuel and oil, and essential spares, so that activity—training and certain deployments—has been held back too severely.The Sunday Times described morale in the Armed Forces as brittle. That is a serious underestimation of morale in certain parts of the Armed Services. Tanks cannot move, soldiers cannot fire, ships cannot go to sea—when they do they cannot sail at full speed—men cannot get adequate training at sea or on land, weapons cannot be effectively tried out, and troops are sent home for long periods at Christmas in order to satisfy the Treasury's cash limits. Countless numbers of ships are mothballed. At such a time, morale in the Services is undoubtedly affected.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that the morale of the Armed Forces 235 is somewhat brittle under this Government. However, we have increased expenditure on the Armed Forces. Opposition Members below the Gangway demand far more extensive cuts. If they were carried out the morale of the Armed Forces would not only be brittle; it would be in pieces.
§ Mr. Robertson
The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that the Conservative Party came to power defending the defence budget and promising to improve it and to strengthen basic equipment in the Armed Forces. By and large, as a result of decisions to pre-empt large amounts of resources—which have been agreed by both sides of the House—our Forces are being starved of the basic elements that are needed if they are to do the job.
Many Conservative Members have spoken about the state of morale after the weekend's coverage of the cuts that are clearly envisaged, at least in some parts of the Ministry of Defence. At the core of the issue lies the Government's decision to pre-empt at least £5,000 million on Trident. Indeed, the figure is likely to be considerably higher than that. That will place enormous and increasing strain on our resources.
Hon. Members have clearly been influenced by what the Secretary of State described as "speculation" in the press. Uncharacteristically, the right hon. Gentleman chose to pick one journalist for special treatment for his projections of what the Ministry of Defence is considering. Mr. Desmond Wettem, the naval correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, cannot, presumably, count himself in any honours list that the right hon. Gentleman may suggest.
I fail to see why Mr. Wettem should be singled out for approbrium. Indeed, the Secretary of State was apparently rebuked for daring to question the authority of The Daily Telegraph on anything other than naval matters when he chose to extend his criticism beyond the narrow issue of the The Daily Telegraph's front page. Although The Daily Telegraph gave more detail than other newspapers, it told the same tale as most of the other heavyweight newspapers on that day.
On its front page, The Times carried the headline:Threat of Tory revolt on £1,000 million cuts in defence.The article continued:Mr. John Nott, Secretary of State for Defence, is due to see Mrs. Margaret Thatcher today to disclose plans to cut £1,000 million from defence spending over the next 10 years, three quarters from the naval budget".The article outlined several programmes that would be cut as a result of the plan. The article stated—even The Daily Telegraph did not mention it—that the cuts included the planned successor to the Tigerfish heavyweight torpedo. The newspaper articles contain a catalogue of proposals that cannot have come solely from the minds of their naval correspondents. The Secretary of State did not say that it came from the fertile imaginations of Fleet Street. He assumed that it came from within the Ministry of Defence. The only detail that we can expect must come from those with a vested interest. The indirect criticism deployed by the Secretary of State showed that he suspected that the leak came from the subterranean depths of his Department.
It is worth reminding the House about the catalogue of proposed cuts that appear to have been leaked by someone with a vested interest within the MOD—for example, 29 of the 63 surface ships of the Royal Navy; 30,000 Service men and women employed by the Royal Navy; two Royal dockyards specified as Chatham and Portsmouth—the 236 hon. Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) and Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) mentioned the apprehensions raised by the speculative stories that have caused grave discontent in the areas that will probably be affected—"Ark Royal" and "Invincible" will not be put into active service; the abolition of the Royal Marines;, the abolition of the Sea Harrier force; the mothballing of 60 Sea Kings, the abandonment of the type 23s and the abandonment of the heavyweight torpedo.
We need from the Minister not a denunciation of the Naval correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, but a firm assurance that those poposals are not being considered. The Secretary of State said that he had not seen any such proposals, but he was careful not to say that they were not being considered as part of any package that might come about through the fundamental review now taking place.
When the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy chose publicly to say "Hands off the Royal Navy" there as not a denial by the Prime Minister that the Navy would not be protected; what happened was that the Under-Secretary was dismissed. That is hardly likely to be reassuring to anybody in any part of the country that might be affected either by military cuts as a result of the proposals or the huge civilian effects that would be felt almost instantaneously in the shipyards and the helicopter, torpedo, electronics and dockyard-related industries.
In the right hon. Gentleman's denial of the stories he embarked upon a theory that in some ways contradicted the Defence Estimates for the role of the Royal Navy. Paragraph 329 of the Defence Estimates states:The conventional defence of Central Europe depends crucially on transatlantic reinforcement and resupply.Conservative Members said how important that is. I do not know how long they see a possible war continuing, or how long it can continue before reinforcements and supplies are needed from the other side of the Atlantic.
Paragraph 332 of the Defence Estimates, in an apparent contradiction, states:Our maritime forces are primarily designed for antisubmarine warfare, as the most dangerous threat is from Soviet submarines.That appeared to be the track down which the Secretary of State went when he expanded his arguments this afternoon. We must know—the House and the country have a right to know—precisely what the Government envisage as the role of the Royal Navy, and whether they see a duplication, even a needless duplication, of some of its future roles.
All those working in industries either directly or indirectly related to the proposals—alarmist though they may be—which have been put forward as coming authoritatively from within the MOD, have a right to know whether their jobs and futures will be endangered by a change in the Government's view about the way in which to conduct the defence of Britain. Both defence and defence-related industries have a right to know about future ordering.
The Lord Privy Seal, when in Opposition in 1978, said:The House will be aware that cuts in defence expenditure are measured by cuts in planned expenditure and not by cuts in what was actually spent the year before. "—[Official Report, 13 March 1978; Vol. 946, c. 69.]What the Secretary of State is proposing to cut now will affect the Royal Navy not tomorrow, next week or next year, but in five or 10 years' time. We are talking not only about the Royal Navy, but about the warship ordering programme. Hon. Members from both sides of the House, 237 including my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) and Blyth (Mr. Ryman) and the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), have all expressed the same concern about the impact of the Government's indecision on the warship building programme.
There will be changes in the warship building programme irrespective of the Government in power or what view they take of it, but it is unforgiveable that the Government, who came to power committed to building more and defending the country, dither around on the outskirts placing no orders. The Financial Times said about two weeks ago that in naval matters urgent decisions are needed, or skilled staff will leave the shipbuilding industry.
The remarkable thing is that the indecision led Vice-Admiral Sir Gerard Mansfield to say in The Times yesterday:the message is clear."—in relation to the shipbuilding programme—The Conservative's fine words in support of deterrence have not yet been matched by their actions.This dithering and indecision is likely to prejudice large numbers of jobs in the industry, irrespective of what comes out of the defence review.
In his opening speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) referred to the sudden mysterious, surprising appearance in an advert in the magazine Defence of the names of three new submarines that had not previously been known by the public. The announcement of the names of HMS "Torbay", HMS "Tireless" and HMS "Tactician" were announced for the first time to an amazed world in an advertisement placed by Ferranti Limited in the magazine Defence.
When I tabled a question to the former Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy I was told that there was no information with regard to that indiscretion by Ferranti Limited but only that no inquiry was necessary. If the Government go ahead with their unquantifiable programme for Trident submarines, the size, nature and location of which have still not been announced, it will have an effect on the capacity of Messrs. Vickers and Yarrow to build the SSN programme that the Secretary of State said would be the centre-point of our new maritime defences.
The evidence presented to the defence Select Committee last year clearly laid out that in the words of the Ministry of Defence official thatunless there was extra capacity which was made available, the advent of a successor to Polaris would cause some delay in the building-up of the SSN programme".That has not been satisfactorily explained either by the Defence Estimates or by anything that the Secretary of State said. It can only cause increasing confusion.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, the future of the type 22 frigate has pointed to the indecision and confusion that has been caused at Yarrows, in Glasgow. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West and the hon. Member for Tynemouth have said that in the shipyards in their area—the Swan Hunter yards—the indecision is now a major factor in the minds of those who live and work there. It is incumbent on the Government as soon as possible—certainly sooner than July—to say how the shipbuilding ordering programme will go, to allow the 238 shipbuilding industry to make the necessary plans if they are to be capable of delivering the present generation of warships, never mind the next generation.
The Tory Party came to power two years ago as the party, supposedly, of defence, of firm words and fine, even if unquantified, promises. The Government promised increased and more effective spending on the nation's defence and they have delivered neither. Instead, with their obsession for the Trident extravaganza, they are debilitating our forces, they are emasculating our defence efforts, and they will squeeze the effectiveness of our Services, whose morale and usefulness has been needlessly prejudiced.
Instead of a rational look at how our defence needs match our national resources, we are seeing a series of chaotic panic measures, conceived in haste, compromising the effectiveness of our defence effort, damaging our shipbuilding and high technology industrial capacity and making a laughing stock of our Armed Forces.
Overnight, those measures have produced an overheated war of words on the front pages of the press which will do enormous damage to the morale in all our Armed Forces and the industries associated with them. It is a fact underlined by the events of the past 24 hours that the effect on morale of this botched, leaked inter-Service battle, will be considerable.
The effect on our continuing undisputed defence capacity and our participation in NATO, to which the Labour Party is still emphatically committed, of clinging to an outrageously expensive nuclear fig leaf, will be traumatic. We have to thank the hon. Member for Ashford and the leaks in the national press for bringing the issue before the people and their Parliament—the people who should know and should decide. It is clear that the Government still have much to answer for.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army (Mr. Philip Goodhart)
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), whom we welcome to defence debates, said at the start of his vigorous speech that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was not serious when he said that he wanted to have a full day's debate when the Government's defence proposals were published. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, although it is not within the power of my right hon. Friend to ensure that a debate will take place, it is our intention to seek a full debate.
So far, this has been a debate of notable speeches—not least by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—rather than a notable debate. The House listened with attention and respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) who made a distinguished speech in every way. I regret that he was speaking from below the Gangway. He was the first person to welcome me to the Ministry of Defence and, on personal grounds, I deeply regret his departure.
My hon. Friend, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friends the Members for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) shared an enthusiasm for cheaper and simpler vessels. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) vigorously reminded us that the cost of Trident was not out of line with other defence costs.
I regretted that more hon. Members were not present to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. 239 Holland), who added his name to an amendment signed by one of the two candidates for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party.
We were told by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) that the hon. Member for Vauxhall represented the new wave in the Labour Party. I thought that I heard the hon. Gentleman say that the United States could not intervene in Afghanistan because it was muscle-bound by nuclear power. I found that remark riveting. I shall contemplate it at leisure in the months to come.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) asked that in considering purchases of foreign equipment we should bear in mind the real social cost. I can assure him that that is done. However, surely one of the principal messages that flows from this debate is that we must seek cost effectiveness at almost all costs. I assure the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West (Mr. Brown) that that will be taken into account in looking at the Sea Wolf improvement programme, although it is too early to say when it will be possible to reach a decision on the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren), in another notable speech, mentioned the cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom on the potential improvements to Trident which may be developed by the United States. As he knows, we have had a long and successful history of Anglo-American co-operation and information exchange on nuclear matters. I am confident that that will continue.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Bristol, North-West)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Warren) referred to offsets for Trident. I wonder why no such offsets have been arranged? Is my hon. Friend aware that if reciprocal sales of defence equipment from the United Kingdom to the United States were made to offset this £1,500 million bill, it would in effect double our total sales of defence equipment from the United Kingdom in the year in question.
§ Mr. Goodhart
My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings referred to the memorandum of understanding on this point. It has been signed and cannot be renegotiated at this stage.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and others asked about the effect of the Trident programme on plans for building nuclear powered hunter-killer submarines. The sixth and last Swiftsure submarine is about to enter service and HMS "Trafalgar", the first of the next class, will be launched later this year. Two further vessels in this class are already on order, and further orders are planned. The precise timing of the further orders will depend on the results of the wide-ranging review described by my right hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd began his speech with an attack on the Government for the proportion of the gross national product and gross domestic product that was being devoted to defence. I was somewhat surprised at the terms of his argument and by the terms of the Opposition amendment, because in the past the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) has deployed precisely the same argument against Labour Secretaries of State and Ministers of State at the Ministry of Defence and the argument has been shot down successively by the right 240 hon. Members for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) and Stockton (Mr. Rogers). I was therefore somewhat surprised to hear the argument advanced by the principal Opposition spokesman.
§ Mr. Goodhart
Since the middle of the 1960s, through the long years when the Labour Party was in charge of our defences, in terms of the proportion of GDP Britain was constantly near the top of the NATO league. I prefer other measures when it comes to judging the size of our defence effort.
When I last spoke in a defence debate before the general election I reminded the Government that in defence expenditure per head of population we had sunk below the level of Belgium, Holland and Norway. Our pe:7 capita contribution to the Alliance was comparable with that of Denmark. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) reminded us, things have changed dramatically since then. Now our per capita contribution to the Alliance has surged ahead of Norway, Holland and Belgium and we are third in the league, just behind France and just ahead of Germany. All that extra expenditure has helped to pay for a substantial increase in our defence capacity.
In an avowedly nostalgic speech the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West looked for an improvement in BAOR. On the central front the hitting power of the 1 British Corps has increased significantly and will continue to increase in the coming year, if only because the plans which the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, West helped to draw up have come to fruition faster than expected.
In the past year the number of manned tanks increased from 475 to just under 600 while the introduction of the TOW anti-tank missile on our Lynx helicopters is giving an enormous boost to our anti-tank helicopter capability.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mt. Hall) wanted more artillery for BAOR. An additional purchase of M109s is a powerful boost for the Royal Artillery. It is difficult to over-emphasise the importance of the virtual completion of the re-equipping of BAOR with Clansmen wireless sets. For the first time we have wireless sets with the right range, which are reliable, robust and easy to operate. Equipment, however good, is of little value if we do not have the men to operate it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford reminded us that when he came to office he had to put into mothballs five frigates and one cruiser because the men were riot there to man them. They were not there because of the dramatic outflow of Service men and officers from the Armed Forces in the last two years of the Labour Government, because of the mistreatment of our Armed Forces over pay.
In the last two years the position has been reversed dramatically. Far from worrying about people flowing out we are worried about the number of people who are anxious to stay in. The Opposition will undoubtedly say that that is due in part to the level of unemployment. However, it is also partly due to the splendid way in which the Government have honoured their pledge on pay and maintained comparability.
Just before Easter I spent a couple of days in Northern Ireland and on my return I remarked to a senior general 241 that, among all the troops that I had visited there, no one had mentioned the Armed Forces pay review which was then under consideration in the Ministry of Defence and at the Treasury. "Well," he said, "they have every confidence that you will honour your commitment." That commitment was indeed fully honoured.
The hon. Member for Hamilton suggested that morale had been severely affected by the necessary cutbacks on ammunition and petrol for training. I wonder how he thinks he would improve the morale of the Armed Forces or the training of the Armed Forces if, by some chance, the amendment put down by the Opposition were to be adopted tonight, for it would at a stroke remove £4. billion from the Defence Estimates. Does he think that there will be more training as a result of that cut? If the hon. Gentleman doubts that figure perhaps he would like to tell us exactly how much he believes would be removed from the Defence Estimates. I have given him the figure; it is, on our estimation some £4. billion.
Meanwhile, the explosion of the landmine near Newry this morning has provided a tragic background to the first day of our debate. As the hon. Member for Pontypridd and the Secretary of State said, this reminds us of the debt that we all owe to our Armed Forces in Northern Ireland.
During the past year, the work of the Armed Forces has drawn praise from the widest cross section of the community. One tribute to part of our Army even came from our former colleague Mrs. Bernadette McAliskey, who had the good grace to say, "We will both be eternally grateful" to the soldiers who saved her life when she and her husband were shot at their home outside Coal Island.
In the circumstances it was not surprising, therefore, that the suggestion by the right hon. Member for Bristol, 242 South-East (Mr. Benn) that British troops should be replaced by United Nations forces has not gone down too well. Even the New Statesman, which can hardly be called a friend of the Northern Ireland policy of successive Governments, was moved to use the words "implausible" and "preposterous" when referring to this idea.
In part, the general derision with which this idea has been greeted owes something to the knowledge that, while United Nations forces may be good at monitoring the activities of other conventional armies, they are wholly unsuited to coping with the mixture of hooliganism and terrorism that sometimes seems endemic to parts of Northern Ireland.
In part this derision stems from a recognition that the British Army has shown exceptional, indeed unique, restraint in the past decade in protecting innocent civilians from murder and mayhem. We are all well aware that this task is often turbulent and sometimes dangerous. So far this year the main brunt of casualties has been borne by the UDR, whose skill and devotion to duty is too rarely acknowledged. But now, with this tragic incident, the balance is redressed.
I am sure that the whole House is united in sending our condolences to the relatives and comrades of those who have been killed. This tragedy is a short, sharp reminder of the duty we in the House owe to the Armed Forces.
Debate adjourned. —[Mr. Cope.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.