§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Gummer.]4.33 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Nott)
Last week I laid before the House a White Paper on the Falklands campaign, and in my statement on that occasion I described the steps that we are taking to make good the losses of equipment and to provide for the future defence of the Falkland Islands. I also set out the additional measures that we intend to take to increase the mobility and flexibility of our Armed Forces for future operations in the NATO area and elsewhere.
The history of the campaign and the lessons learnt and relearnt have been debated widely in recent months. In my speech this afternoon, rather than go over all the ground again, I shall concentrate on the broader implications of the Falklands experience for our defence policy generally.
In winding up the debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will answer any questions raised on the garrison or the equipment programme. I shall consider, in particular, to what extent, given the resources at our disposal, it would be desirable, or possible, to shift the emphasis of our defence policy away from its principal focus on Europe towards a wider world role. It was just this kind of change that was demanded of me in the immediate aftermath of victory.
It is, I think, a matter of some interest that our debate on defence strategy, already prevalent but greatly stimulated by the Falklands campaign, is also paralleled by a similar debate in the United States. The choice for the Americans between a maritime supremacy strategy which stresses the domination of the sea and the generation through collective effort of a more credible conventional defence in Western Europe and elsewhere is also being debated with equal vigour in the United States.
The main criticism of the Government's present strategy was, I thought, best caricatured by The Times, which described British forces as being "muscle-bound" on the central front. According to that view, we should make a smaller military contribution on the Continent of Europe and place more emphasis on our maritime role and in particular on out-of-area capabilities. Our long history of empire, our geographic position as an island nation and our long naval traditions—so it is asserted—uniquely qualify us for a world-wide maritime role.
I am bound to say that I find that oft-repeated assertion a rather partisan reading of our history. I remember well an intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who reminded us that our list of national heroes actually containsthe Black Prince, Henry V, Marlborough, Wellington"—and that their achievementsare at least equal to the achievements of Nelson, Rodney, Drake, Raleigh".My right hon. Friend added:The difference is that before the advent of modern weapons the Channel provided the moat behind which we could mobilise. Therefore, all that we needed was a standing Navy, not a standing Army. There was also a political advantage because there was no danger of a military coup."—[Official Report, 6 July 1982; Vol. 27, c. 173.]Perhaps I might be permitted to say that a standing Army has posed no problems for me—it is a standing Navy.
In considering the options, I have to say that policy making is not an academic exercise. The plain fact is that 846 we do not start with a blank sheet of paper. Things would possibly not look as they do today if we did. The truth is that our defence policy—like our political system—is necessarily evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The size and disposition of our forces are the result of events in the post-war world and, in particular, the development of the NATO Alliance since it came into being 30 years ago.
If, in designing our defence policy, we could start afresh—if we had a blank piece of paper, I accept that—the natural Alliance role of the British Army on the Continent of Europe would probably be in the provision of a highly mobile armoured reserve, with shorter lines of communication to the United Kingdom and greater flexibility than is provided to us by our NATO task of forward defence on the East German border. That counsel of perfection is not open to us.
Defence policy is dictated not solely by military criteria, where the best is so often the enemy of the good, but overwhelmingly by the politics of the Alliance. This can be illustrated by one simple fact. Last year we contributed just 9 per cent. of total Alliance expenditure primarily on the defence of Europe, or, to put it another way, our allies contributed 91 per cent. of the defence expenditure relevant to the defence of the United Kingdom—the American contribution being more than 50 per cent. of the total.
Those who propose setting off in a new direction to pursue the world-wide blue water role—swanning around in a silver sea—must face the fact that changes in our defence policy must be judged against the fundamental question whether they would help or hinder the Alliance, given that its cohesion represents to us 90 per cent. of the defence of Britain. The prime duty of the British Government is to defend the people of these islands. I emphasise that.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
In this evolutionary approach to defence expenditure, will my right hon. Friend—or the Under-Secretary of State—touch on paragraphs 237 to 240, which deal with procurement and improvisation? I hope that he will talk about some of the remarkable successes in radar procurement and so on, and I am sure that he will be aware of the concern over many years about defence procurement, the committee system, vetting and so on. Will my right hon. Friend comment on those issues?
§ Mr. Nott
I shall not touch on those matters. I decided to talk broadly about defence policy, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will answer any questions of that kind.
We have, of course, residual responsibility for the defence of our remaining dependent territories, including the Falklands, Gibraltar and Hong Kong. We have a number of obligations arising from agreements entered into with friendly States or with the United Nations—for example, in Brunei and Cyprus. We have a duty to protect British citizens throughout the world, and if necessary evacuate them in a crisis; and, of course, we have extensive economic and trade interests in the Middle and Far East, North and South America and Australasia. The scope and reach of our commitments—although reduced in recent years—remain extensive.
On page 31 of the White Paper I set out the principal means that we adopt—military training in more than 30 847 countries overseas, training of friendly nations here, and occasional naval deployments to show the flag—to exercise our influence world-wide. I recognise the unique part which only the Royal Navy can play, in times of peace, in projecting a British presence around the world. It is in this context that I recognise a requirement for a significant surface fleet with its own organic air support and early warning, defended better with greater point defence. This role justified the replacement of all four ships that we lost with the best that money can buy.
But for a nation in somewhat reduced economic circumstances relative to our larger neighbours on the Continent—and most starkly in relation to the United States—we do not have the choice of doing everything. We can no longer afford to be the policemen of the world acting in the same role as the United States. Even it has its problems in trying to pursue this task. Given our history, it is only natural that our aspirations are larger than our purse. We have no choice except to be ruthless in deciding our priorities. If I may say so, the strategy must come first and the programmes of the Royal Navy, Army and Air Force must be tailored to fit that strategy—not vice versa.
The size and shape of our forces must primarily reflect the challenge from Soviet technology in Europe and the East Atlantic.
A lesson of the Falklands, which some dispute—but how I do not understand—surface ships are highly vulnerable to modern missiles. That is a principal theme in Cmnd. 8288.
As the 1980s progress, the weight of the potential strike from these systems will be such that point defence systems, however multiplied, will be hard pressed to cope. It will be increasingly difficult to prevent some submarine-launched missiles in particular and, indeed, some air launched missiles getting through. In addition, as we have seen recently, one missile can cause immense damage to the modern surface ship, however we strive to improve their survivability. The Argentines had two modern submarines and five—just five—air launched missiles. At the present time the Soviets have about 2,000 submarine and air-launched missiles, including the most up-to-date stand-off systems. The weight of missile strike against surface platforms would be immense.
We must therefore continue the gradual shift away from the surface fleet into maritime air and submarines. We must go for smaller, less expensive and less vulnerable surface platforms. We must not exaggerate the role that the carriers can play in a NATO context. While we can sustain destroyer and frigate numbers at around 55 over the next two or three years, it is inevitable that they will decline to about 50 beyond the mid-1980s. They should decline, to accelerate the shift that I have described towards submarine and maritime air. We must continue the process started in "The Way Forward" of changing the emphasis of the fleet to meet the missile threat, which we only barely glimpsed in the Falklands.
I make the point again. It is here in Europe that we face the overwhelming preponderence of Soviet forces, and it is only here in Europe that we can be brought to our knees by military means. Accelerating Soviet technology forces us to adapt and change our traditional attitudes and programmes, and if it is true that an attack on the central front is not likely in present circumstances, it is simply because that it is there that we are best, albeit inadequately, prepared to meet it. The premise that 848 because deterrence works we can afford to relax it, whether it be on the central front or anywhere else, is a dangerous doctrine.
I have no doubt that in military terms BAOR and RAF Germany—integrated into the early warning, ground air defence and air combat capability of our allies—are situated in the right place for the forward defence of Britain. In the Falklands, deterrence failed, partly because of the lack of in-place forces.
So far as these islands are concerned, the first line of defence for our people lies in our allies' territory. Because Germany is not Britain, it does not mean that Germany is not the place to defend Britain. Even our smaller neighbours play their part in our defence, as we in theirs. Take one of many instances. The F16 combat aircraft, 116 of them, contributed to the Alliance by Belgium, are effectively part of the defence of the United Kingdom.
The fact of the matter is that the Alliance is currently under strain. This has happened before, but the present strain has its roots in a basic difference of view between the Americans and many Europeans about how to deal, politically, economically and militarily, with the Soviet Union.
It was not helped by the weakening of confidence in the quality of American leadership during the 1970s and by an apparent consensus among different groups in the United States, arrived at from a mixture of motives, that the United States should devote less to the defence of Europe and more to its interests in the rest of the world. I referred earlier to the current Washington defence debate on this issue.
Finally, there has been a growth of anti-nuclear sentiments in Western Europe—provoking what is perceived to be anti-Americanism in Europe—and also a period of sustained and severe economic recession, with all the divisive influences that such recession generates.
Certainly now, more than at any other time, it would be pure folly for us to destabilise the current situation on the central front. With 55,000 British troops committed to the forward defence of Germany, we provide our share of a political contribution, mirrored by the American contribution of more than 200,000 troops committed to the same task.
At a moment when the Alliance is passing through the strains that I have described—with the Stephens amendment now before Congress—and with concern expressed about the pressure on the United States to deploy more of its troops to an out-of-area role, nothing could be more damaging to our national interests than a move by Great Britain to reduce its commitment on the Continent of Europe.
The Falklands experience offers us no lessons on this score, but it is necessary to ask what might happen if the prospect of partial United States withdrawal from the defence of Europe were to come about. It might, of course, bring about a more determined European attempt to arrive at a collective security arrangement among the European members of the NATO Alliance. More possibly, it might fan pressures by neutralist groups within Europe to seek closer accommodation with the Soviet Union.
I must state emphatically my own opinion that detente may be one thing, and I favour it, but a shift among our European allies towards greater political and economic integration with the Communist bloc would seriously disturb the current balance of power in Europe against the 849 interests of the United Kingdom, and through the centuries it has been our constant preoccupation to maintain that balance.
If we conclude then, as I believe we must, first, that our main priority must be to preserve the cohesion of the NATO Alliance, in particular the American commitment to the land defence of Germany, and, secondly, that we do not have sufficient resources to allow us to undertake new and wider commitments, is there any rationalisation of our NATO commitment that makes sense? Should we go, for instance, for greater military specialisation or defence equipment specialisation than we have now? This is often the chosen theoretical route of those who constantly remind me that the cost of maintaining our present four main roles will become untenable. Normally, of course, the argument that we cannot afford to maintain all four roles is used as just another means of criticising the modernisation of the deterrent. In other words, it is just another argument to deploy against British nuclear weapons. I am all for rationalisation and specialisation where our capability will be enhanced, but, as I see it, Britain, as a sovereign nation, cannot afford to abandon any of her major sea-air, land-air capabilities. She certainly cannot afford to abandon our defence against nuclear blackmail in a world of nuclear weapons.
If we pursue the specialisation route—a fashionable one, often pronounced in debates such as this—for several years, our forces would become unbalanced. If we went for greater specialisation within Europe, it would not be many years before we lost the tri-Service capability tailored to NATO, and also our ability, through balanced forces of all three Services, to respond to a threat to our unique national interests, which we so successfully accomplished during the Falklands campaign. Greater specialisation among the allies would certainly succeed in diminishing our ability to respond outside the NATO area. Moreover, the additions which I announced to our programme last week enhance both our NATO capability and our out-of-area capability as well.
The right way for Britain is to retain the four main roles which we currently undertake and to keep on the present course. I believe that we have the resources to maintain that aim.
The truth is—in spite of the fact that some critics see it otherwise—that the defence budget is not at present under strain. I know that it suits the argument of the anti-Trident lobby to assert that the defence budget is under strain, but the pressures on me to add to the programme within the already announced defence totals are much greater than any pressures to reduce the programme and to cut the forward plans. At present there are no pressures on the forward plans of the Ministry of Defence. With the 3 per cent. real growth until 1986, to which we are committed, we can maintain all our present defence roles if we resist the temptation to add to our equipment programmes further at this stage. Beyond 1986, while equipment cost escalation could always cause problems, we have been very careful not to over-programme in the longer term. That is what the unpopular, much criticised Cmnd. 8288 was all about. We cut about £10 billion out of the forward plans to ensure that we were not over-programmed in the late 1980s. In budgetary terms, so far Cmnd. 8288 has proved successful.
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
Is it not true that the defence programme is not under strain at present because, as stated recently in evidence to the Select Committee on Defence by officials of his Department, his Department is again in a period of underspend? Is it not because of the chronic inefficiency of his Department in not spending the funds voted by the House that the defence programme is not under strain?
§ Mr. Nott
I cannot say until well after the end of the financial year whether we shall be £100 million or £200 million underspent or overspent oil a programme of £15 billion. If the Ministry of Defence is underspent by £100 million or £200 million on a programme of £15 billion, its forecasting and budgeting processes are better than those of any private sector firm in this country. We are talking about tiny percentages of the total defence programme.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I fear that his analogy will not be generally appreciated in the world. Has he not missed the point? I shall leave the defence experts in this debate to argue about defence priorities in terms of money, but does he not realise that the whole budget—not just for defence, his parochial patch—is under strain? Does he not realise that the Government have increased the tax burden on people in the United Kingdom since they came to office?
§ Mr. Nott
The Government consider that the security of the nation is vital. So do all our allies. That is why there is the aim, to which the Government subscribe, of a 3 per cent. real growth in NATO generally. We subscribe to that aim, and we are following it successfully.
My next question then is: where should we place our priorities in the future? To say that I believe that we have the right strategy at present in maintaining all four of our additional roles is not to say that I am satisfied with every aspect of our arrangements. I am not. Where we are weakest—in some cases seriously so—is not in our ability to intervene world-wide on the Falklands pattern, but in our capacity to defend the United Kingdom base. It is not far from home that we need to look for any changes of emphasis, but right here on our doorstep.
These islands are in a crucial position as the unsinkable aircraft carrier of the Alliance, the route through which American reinforcements would come in the event of conflict, and as the key rear base of European NATO. The defence of the United Kingdom base is the only part of our conventional distribution which is relevant to every possible defence policy option. Together with our independent nuclear forces it is the core of our national strategy, and although we have already taken the significant steps to improve our home defences it is right here that more needs to be done.
With the Alliance fully committed to the defence of the central region, the threat to the United Kingdom base comes from three principal sources. The first comes from the accelerating Soviet programme for long-range conventional bombers, which can carry huge loads of conventional munitions and which are increasingly likely to have the range and stand-off capability to devastate key towns and military targets in the United Kingdom. It is true that they would need to pass through the air defences of our allies, but we still need to strengthen further our 851 insurance against the Soviet air threat to the United Kingdom, particularly from long-range attack over the North Sea.
With the resources at our disposal we have taken several measures to enhance the air defence of these islands. The programme is going forward with the Nimrod early warning, the Tornado air defence version and the air defence ground environment. As a back-up force, we will have the Hawk aircraft, armed with Sidewinder, and also, of course, Bloodhound. However, we are still short of air defence aircraft, and the key decision for the future—I take the first threat to the United Kingdom home base from Soviet conventional bombers—is whether to multiply the Tornado air defence aircraft, with its sophisticated radar and modern stand-off weapons. That is a key question. The question is: will we be able to afford this and also go down yet another new road with the building of a more agile combat aircraft now provided for in a demonstrator? This decision will be for 1985, and I am glad that I shall not have to take it.
My opinion is that we require an aircraft that can sustain itself on patrol over the North Sea for long periods by air-to-air refuelling and with the ability to hit approaching Soviet supersonic aircraft before they release their standoff missiles at the United Kingdom and its targets. If we could multiply our air defence aircraft, they could also perform a dual purpose role. When not defending the land mass of the United Kingdom with the necessary range and weapons, dual purpose air defence aircraft would also be available for the defence of the fleet at sea. Therefore, I put the provision of greater numbers of the right air defence aircraft at the top of my list for defence priorities for the next five years. It was also a principal reason for ordering last week six Tristar aircraft for air-to-air refuelling—to sustain our air combat, particularly our air defence aircraft, for long periods on patrol.
The second threat to the United Kingdom could come from small groups of Soviet forces targeted against key points on these islands. Another area for greater concentration in the future must therefore be the development of the home defence force and a further build up of our territorial reserves. We have made a start in that direction, but we need to accelerate this programme. Not everything can be done at once and there are dangers in moving too fast.
It follows from the need to enhance what I like to call our second and third line Army that there is a limit to the amount that we should spend on the equipment modernisation programme of 1 British Corps. 1 British Corps is the jewel in the Army's crown, but it must not be allowed to take too high a proportion of the total resources. There needs to be a shift in the Army equipment programme—which I have attempted to make in agreement with the Army department—towards providing more mobility for our home defence forces on the one hand and for our British Army of the Rhine reservists on the other, by the provision of a simple armoured vehicle, further additions to the medium helicopter lift made last week and a move towards creating more air-mobile forces as a reserve for 1 British Corps, so that we can move around the battlefield and bring up the reserves. Those are my priorities.
Next, I come to the third and last threat and another important area to the United Kingdom—the defence of the Channel, the protection of our ports and the problems of counteracting Soviet mining and conventional submarines 852 in shallow water right around our shores. There is no doubt that we need to increase the building of trawlers for the Royal Naval Reserve. Our countermining capability is insufficient. We need also a large offensive mining capability. By mining ourselves the lanes in and out of the United Kingdom we could make the protection of our ports and the access to them that much safer.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
The Secretary of State has understandably concentrated on the wider implications for our defence policy. However, when will either he or the Minister who will wind up the debate—I should prefer the right hon. Gentleman to do it—devote some time to the real issues of the Falklands, why a war occurred there at all and whether, once it had broken out, the search for a negotiated settlement was pursued as relentlessly as the search for a successful military solution? Will he accept that the three paragraphs at the start of the White Paper are wholly insufficient? When will we have a full ministerial statement on the real issues?
§ Mr. Nott
If the hon. Gentleman is called to speak, he will have an opportunity to make a speech on that subject when the House debates the Franks report.
I conclude by saying that we must plan for a force structure primarily geared to our NATO roles on the Continent and in the East Atlantic. However, within the agreed defence budget, the emphasis needs to be put more on the defence of the United Kingdom home base. By the kind of measures that I announced last week—the purchase of Tristar refuelling aircraft, Chinook helicopters, changes to the make-up of 5 Brigade—we can increase the mobility and flexibility of our NATO forces, enhance the combat effectiveness of the RAF—the key need for the defence of the United Kingdom base—and at the same time provide for ourselves, if we ever need it, a sufficient out-of-area capability and one that is within our means.
I believe that the measures announced in the White Paper are right for the defence of the Falklands in the future. However, they also significantly improve those elements in our defences that I have described today. The lessons of the Falklands conflict are described in the White Paper at some length. I shall not repeat them here today. In the last resort, we have learnt the lesson that matters more than any other. It is that, if deterrence fails, the loss of life and expenditure of money are out of all proportion to the insurance needed to prevent that. We have learnt, too, that at the point of decision in battle men count more than machines. Many tributes have been paid to all those British people who played a part in the Falklands campaign, both military and civilian. What that campaign showed us was that we have the skill and the courage to continue to play a key role within the Alliance. I repeat that defence policy is more than anything about the politics of the Alliance. Our room for manoeuvre in choosing new directions is constrained, for without the cohesion of the Alliance the British people would be in grave peril.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
The Secretary of State for Defence correctly told the House that he was going to paint the defence picture with a broad brush. That he did, and I, in my turn, intend to do that also. However, I hope that he will not take it amiss if I say that his real duty was to start much more with the past than with the future. The 853 future will lie in the hands of his successor. I must say here and now that the Opposition, who did not particularly require or want a debate of this sort at this time just before Christmas, will be insisting on a proper debate when the right hon. Gentleman's successor takes office. I say that for the simple reason that his successor will be the one who will tell us what the future policy will be, not what the present Secretary of State intended.
On 3 April, when the House met to consider the invasion of the Falklands, I said that there were three Ministers on trial—the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister. I added that that was not the moment for judgment, not the moment for recriminations, but that that moment would come.
The military strategist and historian, Sir Basil Liddell Hart, advised all those who wished for peace to understand war. It is now six months since the guns fell silent in the Falkland Islands, but the blast of war still echoes in our ears, and Her Majesty's Forces remain in the South Atlantic on the alert. As the fog of war gradually lifts from Britain's latest battlefield, it is right for the House to consider what lessons should be learnt, the better to prevent any recurrence either in the South Atlantic or elsewhere in the world.
It has been said that the first casualty in any war is truth. In this case, truth is also one of the final casualties, for the truth is that the Government's White Paper completely evades the biggest single lesson of the Falklands conflict—that it was an unnecessary war which the British Government failed to prevent, leaving Britain in a position of having to fight to restore to the Falklanders' rights which should never have been lost in the first place. That is the primary lesson of the Falklands conflict.
This was a war in which the professional skill and bravery of the Services have justly been acclaimed and to which everybody should pay tribute. How near it was to disaster—like so many wars in which Britain has been involved in the past—the commanders themselves bear witness. That is not to take away their laurels; it is to add to them. However, is there not another lesson hidden within it? Is not the central lesson that what we witnessed in the Falklands was a military success made necessary by a devastating political failure for which the Secretary of State for Defence and, above him, the Prime Minister bear an appalling responsibility?
The Greek historian Thucydides, in his analysis of the Peloponnesian wars in the fifth century BC, concluded that the chief quality of statesmen was foresight. That quality was wholly lacking in Her Majesty's Ministers in the first three months of this year when a series of danger signals should have prompted action similar to the preventive action that was taken in 1977 by the Labour Government. The White Paper's transparent and shabby attempt to rewrite history by beginning its narrative only on 2 April cannot disguise the fact that by then Ministers had already failed in their duty. That much was acknowledged by resignations of the Foreign Secretary and his fellow Ministers.
Memories fade. White Papers too often are designed to see that memories fade, but it is worth recalling that the Secretary of State for Defence was so demoralised that he offered his resignation on 3 April, not because he thought that he was right, but because he knew that he bore responsibility for what had happened and that others 854 should now take over his place—[AN HON. MEMBER: "What about honour?"]—I am talking not about honour but about sense.
It did not require fantastic prescience to see the direction that events were taking in February and March. Ministere received intelligence briefings on those matters, and they should have known all the facts. It is not necessary to ask the weather man to know the way the wind blows. The Government were warned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), as early as 9 February, that General Galtieri would interpret the Secretary of State for Defence's decision to scrap HMS "Endurance" as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve. On that date my right hon. Friend asked the Prime Minister whether she was:aware that the Government's decisions to withdraw and pay off HMS 'Endurance' when she returns from the South Atlantic is an error that could have serious consequences?The Prime Minister replied:The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there are many competing claims on the defence budget … My right hon. Friend therefore felt that other claims on the defence budget should have greater priority."—[Official Report, 9 February 1982; Vol. 17, c. 856–57.]Other claims had greater priority than £3 million for HMS "Endurance". The Secretary of State is keen now to say that, after all, "Endurance" was not scrapped, and that she played her part in the war in the South Atlantic. That misses the point. The point is that the announcement to scrap her was taken in Buenos Aires as a sign that, as far as Britain's Secretary of State for Defence was concerned, the Argentines could do what they wished.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
Some of the right hon. Gentleman's points may be valid. The Franks report will confirm or disprove what he has said. Is not the right hon. Gentleman in danger of spoiling a good speech by introducing too partisan a note? Would it not have been better if the Labour Government had implemented Lord Shackleton' s proposal to lengthen the runway, in which case none of the tragedies might have befallen us?
§ Mr. Silkin
The right hon. Gentleman is a very good intervener, but he has got it wrong on this occasion, and he knows it. The problem was primarily a defence problem, with certain Foreign Office difficulties associated with it.
In the months when the Galtieri regime took power and openly said what it intended to do, the Ministry of Defence, which is the responsibility of the Secretary of State, should have been most aware of the dangers. Another point that bears on that is the landing of an Argentine Hercules aircraft at Port Stanley and the occupation of South Georgia, which the right hon. Gentleman may remember, by so-called scrap merchants from Argentina. If nothing else, that should have awakened the British Government and the Secretary of State for Defence to the imminent dangers.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
Has my right hon. Friend noted that the Prime Minister, in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), not only said that retaining HMS "Endurance" was a low priority for the Ministry of Defence, but that General Galtieri or anyone else should note that if any action were to be taken it would be resolutely met by the British Government? Does my right hon. Friend accept that there was no hint that we were prepared to take the determined action that was taken, but too late?
§ Mr. Silkin
My right hon. Friend is right. To have said that to the Prime Minister who was in charge in 1977, when we had taken the appropriate action, was the most stupid of all the many stupid answers that the right hon. Lady gave on that point.
On 29 March this year, in the debate on Trident, four days before the Argentine invasion, I warned of the current dangers to the Falkland Islands. The Secretary of State may remember that. That same day Sir John Fieldhouse was returning to his headquarters at Northwood because the situation, in his words, had worsened. On that day the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) asked the Secretary of Statehow can we apparently afford £8,000 million"—the hon. Gentleman understated the figure—to meet a threat in 13 years' time … when we cannot afford £3 million to keep HMS 'Endurance' on patrol to meet a threat that is facing us today?The Secretary of State for Defence replied:I do not intend to get involved in a debate about the Falkland Islands now. The issues are too important to be diverted into a discussion on HMS 'Endurance'."—[Official Report, 29 March 1982; Vol. 21, c. 27.]The Government failed to act in time. The immediate consequences of that political failure included acts of heroism, great courage and professional excellence by British Forces, but they included the loss of 255 lives and 777 injured on our side, plus many hundreds of Argentine losses.
Whatever our differences about the origins of the Falklands conflict, the fact remains that a campaign was fought and it must be assessed for the military and technical lessons that it has to offer. The development of organic airborne early warning and point defence weapon systems should reduce significantly the threat to surface warships from Exocet-type missiles and bombs. The right hon. Gentleman underestimates the effect that they can have. That development is particularly welcome.
The replacement of the lost Harriers and their strengthening with additional, more advanced Sidewinder missiles is another laudable move. We recognise the merits in boosting the 5 Infantry Brigade's capacity to conduct airborne operations and in enhancing the RAF's tanker fleet, to all of which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Some decisions are inescapable. Extra Phantoms and Rapier units must be bought if the United Kingdom's air defence is to be maintained.
However, there is yet another major area where we part company from the Government. That is in the lessons to be drawn for the Royal Navy and dockyard support for the fleet. For all the talk in the weekend press of a U-turn in naval policy, the Government have not altered course. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Defence on being much franker today than when he made his statement the other day. The Government have reduced speed. The Secretary of State for Defence has undergone no deathbed repentance of consequence. He is simply trying to use the four new frigates that he has ordered to lay a smoke-screen to conceal his manoeuvre.
The ultimate objective of reducing to 42 the operational escort fleet of destroyers and frigates available to NATO has not been renounced. The death sentences on Chatham and Gibraltar dockyards have not been commuted. In reading a death sentence for Gibraltar, perhaps we are thoughtlessly preparing the way for a Mediterranean Falklands.
856 Portsmouth has been granted a stay of execution, but that is all. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) should advise his constituents, in the words of Shakespeare:Know, worthy Pompey, That what they do delay they not deny.In view of the Government's inability to anticipate attacks from General Galtieri, it is wise for them to increase Her Majesty's Forces' ability to respond to the unforeseen by developing a United Kingdom rapid deployment force that is able to function outside the NATO area. The White Paper fails to spell out that any such "fire brigade" contingency operations would soon require reinforcement and resupply on a scale that could be conducted only by sea and would thus demand services of an adequate surface fleet with its own air defence.
The case for retaining an adequate surface fleet has been boosted, not weakened, by the events of recent weeks and months. The Falklands operation required that ships on the disposal list be brought back from the dead.
The recent disclosure of American plans to shift its European command headquarters from Stuttgart to High Wycombe in the event of hostilities breaking out on the Continent confirms one point of vital significance to the United Kingdom's defence policy—that the Americans recognise that the short, sharp war scenario so favoured by the Secretary of State for Defence is wide of the mark.
The American Government's expectation is that their logistics headquarters would be involved in shifting 1 million men and 30 million tonnes of equipment and supplies across the Atlantic, 90 per cent. of which would come by sea. Without those reinforcements and supplies, NATO has no viable strategy in Europe, as Admiral Sir Henry Leach pointed out at the Royal United Services Institute in June this year. Yet only last year the Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic acknowledged that he had only half the minimum number of escort vessels that he required.
The Secretary of State may try to rewrite history if he wishes. He cannot rewrite geography. An island people with a proud, unconquered tradition require for their defence a fleet that is capable of sustaining their freedom and independence. Jargon which describes the NATO area as "the area" and anything else as "out of the area" belies that geography. To an island there is one area only—the sea.
It is standard practice for discussions about possible East-West conflict to assume an initial outbreak of hostilities in West Germany. What is consistently overlooked—and is overlooked by the White Paper—is the existence of the Soviet 400-vessel submarine fleet.
Great Britain contributes 70 per cent. of NATO's antisubmarine war effort in the North Atlantic. The Secretary of State might have added those figures to his statistics. Our strategic position and traditions equip us for that role, but we cannot fill it properly without an effective surface fleet backed up by support facilities ashore.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that Great Britain's contribution to NATO's need to bring 1 million men and 30 million tonnes of equipment across the Atlantic is better provided by surface vessels than a combination of Nimrod and hunter-killer submarines? On which side of that argument is he coming down?
§ Mr. Silkin
We have never been able to bring men, munitions and support across the Atlantic to this island without surface vessels. That remains the position.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) is giving the impression of having fallen into the same error as the Secretary of State by coming down heavily on the side of the MPA and the SSN without appreciating that the mix requires surface vessels and that the first two cannot be properly deployed without the adequate provision of surface vessels?
§ Mr. Silkin
That is right. The White Paper confirms that the Government intend to continue the defence programme they adopted in June 1981. There is no difference. They have added the Falklands garrison and a naval squadron. The bill for conventional defence will be higher. However, nothing has been done to deal with the fundamental problem that the costs of the four roles to which the Secretary of State referred—Trident-Polaris, maritime defence of the northern Atlantic and the Channel, United Kingdom air defence, BAOR and RAF Germany—will inevitably run ahead of the resources available. That is the dilemma inherent in a defence programme in which the £10 billion price tag for Trident missiles has an overriding priority. It is that, above all, that sinks the Secretary of State's defence policy.
The supporters of the CND would regard the expense of Trident as less important than its immorality. The Government, in their affection for nuclear weapons, should not be unfair to the supporters of the CND. I have had, and still have, disagreements with them. Some members of the CND were critical of the sending of the Falklands task force. I did not just disagree with them; I did not believe that that was part of their purpose. Some members of the CND want Great Britain to quit NATO. I regard that as a wholly mistaken and barren concept.
If the CND advocates civil disobedience, I oppose it on that also. However, I shall defend it against the crude abuse to which it has been subjected by members of the Government. Accusations of naivety and irresponsibility do not come well from complacent Ministers, who have shown themselves incapable of taking the most elementary precautions to safeguard the Falkland Islands, or from the Prime Minister, who seeks to use an issue of such importance as a defence against accusations of her own irresponsibility.
We all have our own ideas of what lessons can be learnt from the Falklands war. It would be better perhaps to leave the last word to Rear Admiral Woodward, as reported in a brilliant interview last Sunday by John Winton. He said:Now, of course, I am left wondering whether there were better ways of achieving the same ends.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
Order. Before I call the first Back Bencher, Mr. Speaker has asked me to appeal for brief speeches, as many right hon. and hon. Members want to take part in the debate.
§ Sir Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) seems to have spent an unconscionable amount of time debating the Franks report, which has not yet appeared. I should prefer to deal with the immediate lessons that can be learnt from the Brown Paper which is now in the hands of most of us. I 858 congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his valedictory speech and tell him that the standing Air Force is on his side.
There are at least three obvious lessons to be learnt from the campaign, which, whatever the right hon. Member for Deptford may say, was one of considerable brilliance and ultimate success against remarkable odds and great difficulties. The first lesson that emerged is that it is the primary duty of any Ministry of Defence to meet the unexpected. On this occasion it was truly met.
Secondly, although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State talked about the importance of alliances, interdependence and combinations, it is clear, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has pointed out, that when a nation or its honour is in danger it is not questions of interdependence but national will that rules supreme. That emerged in the most remarkable way during the campaign. That point also applies when dealing with nuclear weapons and I shall return to it.
Thirdly, the fact which emerges from the campaign and which was acknowledged in the speech of the right hon. Member for Deptford and with which I agree to a large extent is that we must deal with the costs of defence. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the defence of the United Kingdom. He knows that in speech after speech I have said that our air defences are inadequate. If we are to have the burden of a new aircraft, and an expeditionary force of brigade size, plus the other things mentioned in the White Paper, there will need to be either cuts in the defence budget or a realignment of priorities.
Where are they to come? Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends and also the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) have suggested that there should be cuts in BAOR. That is one possibility. I have suggested that it would be cheaper to call up people under a scheme of national service. That idea has not met with much support in the House, although American generals, I know, are talking about it a great deal.
The obvious priority to look at again is the Trident programme. Whatever one's views, the Trident programme will impinge enormously on the defence budget in about six years' time. It will probably be taking 10 per cent. of the whole armaments budget. I made a long and boring speech on 31 March about Trident, giving various reasons why we should oppose it. I wish to summarise those points. It is the wrong weapon. It comes at the wrong time. We are buying it from the wrong firm. In addition, there are new important points emerging. The thing has not yet been built. That is quite important. It is rather like the row that is taking place at the moment in the American Congress about the Pershing II. Congress has withdrawn the grant because the dashed thing has not yet been constructed. Where it has been constructed, it has failed test after test.
There are other more important points. If we come into negotiation with the Soviet Union on these matters, Trident will undoubtedly be part of the negotiations. With Trident we are moving upstream and up military market.—[Interruption.] One of my hon. Friends says "Nonsense". He should read the newspapers rather than say "Nonsense" to me. It is made clear beyond peradventure in today's American papers that if there are negotiations on START, the Soviet Union will insist on the British Trident force being brought into such strategic negotiations. Should such negotiations take place, and 859 should we have Trident, I am certain that one area from which it would go would be these islands, because the Americans would want to keep it for themselves.
Most important, perhaps, looking 10 or 15 years ahead, is where money for the new weaponry will be devoted. The United States, ourselves to a lesser extent, and, certainly, the Soviet Union are in the charge of generals, scientists and industrialists who do not know where to stop. We are not moving into the development of more nuclear weapons. Those weapons are clearly no longer an instrument of war. There is deadlock over such weapons. They are for destruction or deterrence. They can never be used by intelligent generals. We are moving into the even more frightening phase of the use of what are called smart, conventional ballistic missiles.
If I were prepared to spend the money today, I could arrange for a rocket to be fired from New York or Moscow which could simultaneously deliver a bullet to kill you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Queen, and the Prime Minister in the Cabinet Room. That is a fact. This is where the developments are taking place. Outside the nuclear range we are moving into what are called the smart, conventional ballistic weapons. The idea of pushing for the Trident now is mistaken. Not only will we probably never get it, but it means disturbing and busting up our military budget and our military thinking.
The right hon. Member for Deptford referred to CND. There is throughout Europe a feeling of danger among ordinary people who are not politically motivated. For politicians, militarists or those in the Armed Services to disregard this would be the height of folly. If one looks at the map of Europe today, one sees that the only country where there is no opposition, or very little, to nuclear weapons is France, because that country has control of its own nuclear weapons. Whatever the negotiations about Pershing, cruise or other weapons, one fact should be borne in mind by the Government in negotiations. It is important that the Prime Minister and the Government of this country should have a finger on the trigger. Unless we get that, we shall be in grave difficulties.
At the end of what I hope has been a short, if rather high-pitched, speech, I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his speech. I wish him well out of his difficult office and hope that his successor will be a man of equal ability.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
I am glad to follow the spirited speech of the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser). There are not many of the 1945 vintage left. I think, however, that there is still some good wine left in the bottles, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will continue to dispose of it, as he always does.
I shall regret the departure of the Secretary of State from the House. The right hon. Gentleman has intelligence and ability, as his last testament this afternoon has shown. It is a testament that I think will repay study. It was a most interesting speech that will need an answer. It was all the better, I suppose, because his Department clearly did not have much to do with the writing of it. I regret it always when men of ability like the right hon. Gentleman leave the House in mid-life. The House and democracy need the best of our talents from all parts in the country. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman were not going, despite our disagreements on policy.
860 All hon. Members congratulate the three Services, the Merchant Navy, the dockyards, the Civil Service and everyone who took part in the Falklands war. Two factors that stood out were the remarkable capacity for improvisation that resulted in victory and the superb training of our men.
There is one matter on which I should like further clarification. It affects Wales, in particular. I refer to the loss of the "Sir Galahad". It is mentioned only in passing in paragraph 124. The reasons for the loss of life are passed over. Three of those killed, belonging to the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, were from my constituency. There is a residual bitterness about what happened, and it requires further explanation.
The question that I wish to ask absolutely genuinely is whether Northwood knew that "Sir Galahad" was carrying men for disembarkation. If so, did it give approval? I may be wrong, but I understand that "Sir Tristram" had been carrying supplies only because of the possible danger that some Argentine aircraft would get through if there were an attack, and it was thought too dangerous on a previous occasion for "Intrepid" to cover ships like "Sir Galahad" and "Sir Tristram".
I would not say that it is commonly stated in Wales that a different decision was taken, but there is this feeling among those who have tried to investigate the matter. Parents and wives deserve an answer. If there was a later decision that "Sir Galahad" should carry not supplies but the Guards for disembarkation, we should be told something further about it in order to clear up the atmosphere that has been left behind as a result of what took place.
The lessons to be learnt are both military and political. I assume that hon. Members will be dealing with the political lessons when we debate the Franks report on the Falklands.
The military lessons are important today. I shall concentrate on broader issues, but I shall make some specific points while we await the Franks report. An important issue, on which I hope the Franks report will enlighten us, is whether Ministers considered the possibility of sending a force and decided not to do so, or whether there was no such consideration. From the leaks that have emerged, I can well understand that the intelligence reports may not have pointed to an imminent invasion; but that did not relieve Ministers of the responsibility of considering whether such a force should have been sent to the Falklands as a precautionary measure. That was the issue in 1977, and I do not wish to discuss it further now. Ministers will be open to challenge upon that issue. I hope that the Franks report will elucidate it.
In the accounts of the warnings that were given to General Galtieri, part 1 of the White Paper does not show whether the general was warned that the Government would not acquiesce in the occupation of the islands and that we would then retake them by force. I hope that the Franks report will also make that matter clear.
The first lesson is so obvious that I should think it is in the forefront of everyone's mind. It is that a potential enemy should know in advance what one's general, not detailed, response will be. I hope that the Franks report will esablish whether, on this occasion, we communicated our resolve to retake the islands. A message could have been sent directly through our ambassador, through President Reagan, or in other ways. We must know that.
861 I believe that if the junta had thought that we would retake the islands, it would not have launched the assault. That is why I have always argued that this was an unnecessary war. How right the Secretary of State was to say today that when deterrents fail one pays a much higher price.
The second lesson is that the war that one prepares to fight is not the one that arises. There is, therefore, a need for maximum strategic and tactical flexibility. The Secretary of State moved towards that argument today, and he correctly pointed out that it cannot be done at once.
In the Secretary of State's own testimony—we do not know what policy his successor will follow—he did not rate highly enough the prospect that we could become involved in wars other than those for which we are prepared. One need only pause to consider the position in the Malacca straits or the dangers that we run in the Hormuz straits and other choke-points through which our trade and industry pass.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) was right constantly to draw our attention to the need for a strong naval arm together with adequate air cover to provide the greatest flexibility for Britain. That is the third lesson. Such flexibility enables one to deter, to signal intentions, to rescue and to exercise control over an area.
When the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone was speaking about our army heroes, from whom one does not wish to detract, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) said to me "Yes, but Wellington could not get to Portugal until after the battle of Trafalgar". That lesson is worth remembering.
The fourth lesson is that, despite the Secretary of State's view, we cannot afford all our existing roles in central Europe, the Channel, the western Atlantic, the nuclear force and home defence.
One of my criticisms of the White Paper, which the Secretary of State will not admit, is that the Government have evaded the hard choice. We must reduce significantly or eliminate one of our roles during the 1980s. I am certain that the choice must be made, whether we wish it or not.
Today, Aberdeen university published its unofficial estimates for the future. I am not competent to examine them. The university has considered the possible run of the estimates in future years against our commitments. It supports the view that I have consistently put forward, that a further defence review will be necessary and that it will result in us not being able to maintain our present level of support. The only way to evade that—although we cannot do so totally—is to achieve some growth in the economy. Of the two risks—reigniting inflation and losing £15 billion to £20 billion a year of potential production—I take the first. I would risk reigniting inflation, although I do not believe that it would happen for reasons that I shall not outline now because the House would not wish me to do SO.
There is a growing gap between the perception of the Government and many British people about what should be done. However, there is growing agreement outside the Government that coalesces into some propositions, one of which is the need for stronger support for a maritime strategy. Another, referred to by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone, is that there must be no successor to Polaris if one of our roles must go. Provided that we run Polaris and do not disturb the NATO nuclear bases in 862 Britain—they are essential, and we must still mount that argument—it would be better, as the right hon. Gentleman said, not to proceed with Trident in its present form.
As time goes on, we must modify our stance on the Falkland Islands. That proposition will not commend itself to the Prime Minister, who has invested much determination and stubbornness in the matter. However, I remind the House and, through it, members of the public that successive Governments were always ready to negotiate the future of the Falkland Islands provided that the Argentine Government would give up their claim to absolute sovereignty. Provided that they were willing to do that, the Government over which I presided, and this Government, were ready to discuss other arrangements for the Falkland Islands.
Public opinion undoubtedly believes that, because of the loss of life, the spilling of blood and the treasure that has been expended, we should hold on to the Falkland Islands in all circumstances for as far as we can see into the future. I would not concede total sovereignty to the Argentines, but, as soon as the dispute broke out, in the first of my many speeches, I argued that we should be ready to come to an agreement if the Argentines—either the present Government or a future civilian Government—would show common sense. I do not believe that the Falkland Islanders can prosper and develop their future in a developing world if they live in total hostility to the mainland of Argentina.
There must be a solution to the problem. Many solutions have been put forward in the past, and I shall not refer to them now. But, whatever the Prime Minister may feel about the matter, we should begin to think about moving in that direction, provided that we do not concede total sovereignty to Argentina.
The fifth lesson arises for the British people as it arose for the Americans during the Vietnam war. For the first time we have had a change in public perception. Battles that are fought thousands of miles away are fought in the eye of the television camera and the results, in all their vividness and awfulness, are brought into people's drawing rooms. There must be substantial consideration of the way these matters are handled. I do not plead for censorship, but there are circumstances—I felt this during the whole of the campaign—in which it is not possible at one and the same time, when we are asking men to sacrifice their lives, to satisfy all the requirements of the media for news. I am glad that University college, Cardiff, has been asked to study relations between the media and the Government. Such a study has already been carried out by a Select Committee. If, God forbid, we are involved in such a situation again, we must avoid what happened last time.
I have tried to be brief, as you have asked, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I conclude with only two thoughts. First, if one prepares for a short war, it may mean that one has to fight a long war because of the inadequacy of supplies. Secondly, the campaign was a damned close run thing. We were lucky in many ways that the losses were not greater and that we did not have to fight for much longer.
The one obvious lesson with which I conclude—it is a cliché—is that our commitments must not outrun our resources. They must be brought into balance either by reducing commitments or by increasing resources. There is no other way if the safety of our Service men is to be guaranteed.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
I agree with very much of what has just been said by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), but for reasons on which I shall elaborate in a moment I cannot follow him entirely down his path on the future of the Falklands.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his speech this afternoon, which was a thoughtful contribution to the defence debate. I did not agree with everything that he said, but I do not expect that he thought I would. I wish my right hon. Friend every possible success for the future. I am extremely sorry that he will be leaving the House in due course, for the reasons that have been given.
Unlike the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), I believe that the White Paper that was presented last week is a considerable improvement on last year's. In discussing the Falklands, let us remind ourselves—we need to remind ourselves—that although it may have been a close-run campaign, we did win. Already Siren voices in the media and elsewhere are almost turning what was a considerable victory 8,000 miles away, without air superiority, in appalling weather conditions, into a defeat.
In Britain we tend to remember the last war in terms of Dunkirk, the "Hood" or the "Prince of Wales". No doubt, in due course, the Falklands campaign will be remembered by the "Sheffield", the "Coventry" or the "Atlantic Conveyor" rather than by the substantial victory in winning back the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
I am concerned about the future of the Falklands, because my attention has been drawn to the magazine of the Argentine air force, Aerospacio, which is published in both Spanish and English. The October edition states:Nothing has been forgotten nor will ever be forgotten. This claim which has been standing firm for 150 years is a common goal which will not be negotiated … It is necessary to find answers inciting us"—the Argentine air force—to follow the way we must cover in order to achieve the final goal which all of us want so much, that is, the recovery of our Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands.We cannot say that we have not been warned.
What has not been mentioned so far in the debate is that we must be alert to the fact that some of our so-called friends are slightly juggling with the truth of the campaign. When travelling abroad I have been disturbed to learn that certain French commercial interests seem to have a distorted and one-sided view about the campaign. When I recently visited Australia I was disturbed to learn that the press, Senators and Members of Parliament were being told that the Mirages were more than a match for the Sea Harriers, which we know is not true, and that the Argentine Roland defence system was shooting Sea Harriers out of the sky and was infinitely superior to Rapier, which again we know is not true. The claims made for Exocet have been fantastic.
I was also told that it had been widely spread about that the cost of the Sea Harrier is comparable to the cost of the F18. I told that to my right hon. and hon. Friends, because I believe that the British defence effort is being undermined in this way by whispering campaigns, which I fear in certain circumstances are being backed up possibly even by French embassies in different parts of the world. Our defence attaches should consider this, so that the real truth of the Falklands campaign can be told to our friends and, indeed, to our would-be customers wherever they happen to be.
864 With regard to the maritime lessons, I welcome very much the decision to order the type 22 batch 3, which will be the best anti-submarine frigate of its type in the world. Apart from all the job and other implications, it will provide a considerable capability not only for the Royal Navy but for NATO in the eastern Atlantic. It is a most welcome decision.
I echo and endorse what the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said about the world-wide choke point, which my right hon. Friend ignored in his speech. Since October 1980, Royal Navy ships have been patrolling the Gulf of Oman with American, French and, indeed, Australian partners from time to time, well outside the NATO area, but that is because Western Europe, Britain, America and Japan rely upon oil coming oat of the Gulf. The Iran-Iraq war could at any time flare up and menace British tankers leaving the Gulf. That is why our ships are there. For many years we have had what is euphemistically called "a Belize guardship"—a modem frigate or destroyer—ostensibly based on Belize, but in practice, as my right hon. Friend knows, it has a roving commission in the Caribbean.
It was my experience at the Ministry of Defence—I am sure that times have not changed—that the ship has been often called upon to stand just below the horizon when there have been particular problems in the West Indies. There is a surrogate power in the West Indies called Cuba, which is always stirring up trouble on America's back patch. The Americans like the British and the Dutch having an influence in the West Indies, because there are many places where traditionally and historically we can go, where we have good friends and influence, where the Americans find it much more difficult. Gibraltar has already been mentioned. Now there is also the Falklands.
With regard to the Malacca straits and other choke points, there are many examples over the past 10 or 15 years, whether it is confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia or other incidents, sometimes small and sometimes large, where the dispatch of surface vessels—it has to be surface vessels—has prevented a comparatively minor outbreak perhaps turning into something extremely substantial. It is a strange irony that, because of the nuclear stalemate, small pinpricks of wars, but sometimes more major confrontations such as that between Indonesia and Malaysia, have been growing. On average there are now one or two a year. That concerns our national interest and has nothing to do with NATO. My reading of recent history and projections show that we shall be involved for a long time to come.
My right hon. Friend also referred to the vulnerability of surface ships in the South Atlantic. Two frigates and two destroyers were lost. They were vulnerable because they were sunk by missiles or bombs, although the two frigates were covering the troops landing in a specific position where normally they would not have been put.
My right hon. Friend will also know that landing 5,000 troops and all their equipment on a hostile shore without one man being lost is no mean achievement. I believe that a sacrifice, the loss of those two ships, was worth making. But, having said that, and considering the losses, if ships are vulnerable, I am bound to draw to my right hon. Friend's attention the losses of the Argentine air force and to suggest to him that aeroplanes are also vulnerable.
Of course, in modern warfare all weapons and equipment can be vulnerable unless one has the right type of counter weapons and equipment. The secret of the game 865 is to reduce vulnerability by having better electronic counter-measures, better sensors and better weapons with which to protect oneself. I greatly welcome the fact that the White Paper produced last week proposed that close-in weapons systems should be fitted to many of our destroyers and larger ships so that they will have the final protection that has been so desperately needed for some time. Until now, financial, not technical, restraints have prevented their being fitted.
I am bothered by the hints dropped by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the numbers of frigates and destroyers. I believe that 55 is the minimum number needed if we are to discharge our obligations to NATO, the South Atlantic, the West Indies and to the Gulf of Oman. Even without half-life modernisation, ships have to be refitted and repaired. Accidents do happen. Therefore, at any given time a certain number of ships will be non-operational. I regard 50 as the bedrock minimum. If we drop far below 55 we shall be unable to discharge properly our various responsibilities to the Alliance and to our national interests.
I understand that the new type 23 frigates are likely to come on stream in 1990. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether they are likely to come on stream before then. If they did so, I should be delighted. I hope that the Leanders and the Rothesays can be kept going. They acquitted themselves extremely well in the South Atlantic in the Falklands conflict. They can contribute substantially to the effectiveness of our frigate destroy force during the next few years. For all sorts of reasons, it would be wrong to dispose of them prematurely during the next few years and it would not save much money.
There are several other lessons to be learnt. One ship did particularly well in the South Atlantic. There is nothing new about it, because a similar ship served the fleet when I was in the Korean war. I refer to the "Stena Seaspread" which is a floating mobile repair ship. From all reports, the mixed naval-merchant crew did particularly well. Without going for some expensive goldplated type of ship, I hope that a similar ship can sail under either the flag of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary or of the Royal Navy. It does not matter which, but the RFA may be more suitable. There is much to be learnt and gained from that exercise. It would help the fleet and would also provide training.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)
With his great knowledge of such issues, will the hon. Gentleman try to persuade the Government to consider using emergency support vessels in the North Sea, such as the "Stena Seaspread"?
§ Mr. Speed
Indeed, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. We do not want to reinvent the wheel. We must keep down costs and use the expertise and experience gained in existing ships. There is great expertise and experience in the North Sea and I hope that the Minister will say something about that.
We keep relearning the lessons, but it is important to press home the fact that we may not even have a weekend in which to fit replenishment-at-sea gear or helicopter pads to important merchant ships. I know that a long time ago great planning was done. Much staff work was done at the Ministry of Defence so that matters could be dealt with quickly when an emergency arose. I should like many of our key merchant ships—whether container ships or 866 tankers—to be fitted with the equipment as a matter of course. That might incur a little additional expenditure when the ships are built, or they could be fitted when in service with their owners. However, if they were so fitted we should then need the minimum of time for conversion. That means that some of the crew may have to be trained as supplementary members of the Royal Naval Reserve. We may not have the dockyard facilities or the time to undertake the type of conversion work that was undertaken so brilliantly at the beginning of April.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirmed unequivocally last week that sensors, communications and weapons systems are to be modernised, as and when required. We must not, and cannot, send ships to sea if they have inadequate radar or sonar sets or have inadequate weapons systems. If our forces are to be credible, it is only fair to the men who fight for us that their equipment should be up to date and should be able to meet the threat.
Two aspects still concern me greatly. The first will not be new to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I refer to Chatham, and in particular to the nuclear refitting capacity there, which will be lost with the Chatham naval base. Just over a year ago it was announced that about £65 million per year would accrue from closing Chatham dockyard. If we retained the nuclear refitting capacity the savings would be much less, because that represents a comparatively small part of the base. We may be talking about £25 million or £30 million per annum. It is no criticism of Devonport to say that we need both Chatham and Devonport. We know how brilliantly the hunter-killer submarines did in the Falklands conflict, although traditionally one does not say much about the activities of submarines.
If that programme is to remain credible, the refitting capacity must also remain credible. That means that Devonport and Chatham must go hand in hand. If a modern hunter-killer submarine was delayed by six months because of a lack of capacity or whatever at Devonport, and if the capital cost is now about £160 million, that means a loss of interest on capital of about £9 million to £10 million while the vessel is idle awaiting a refit. That is about one-third of the cost of running the nuclear capacity at Chatham. I am not asking for the whole thing to be overturned. I am trying to be realistic. I recognise that to some extent decisions have been taken about the whole naval base at Chatham, but I beg the Government to think again about the nuclear side. Once we have lost that capacity, we shall be unable to retrieve it. The teams and the specialised equipment will have gone. We may bitterly regret closing that capacity, because hunter-killers are rightly an important part of the fleet.
One other point that worries me greatly has been touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Sir H. Fraser) and others. I accept that the defence budget is not under the pressures that it was under a year or two ago. However, I am worried about the situation in a few years' time. The Royal Air Force will need new aircraft. The Army will need new vehicles and equipment. The 2400 submarine and type 23 frigate will be needed for the Navy. However, defence inflation is always higher than traditional inflation. At the end of the decade, Trident will be at its most expensive and I fear that we shall be unable to get a quart into a pint bottle. Something will have to give.
867 I have put forward my ideas, which I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) shares. We should at least take a fresh look at a second best system that is still viable, and at the possibility of using cruise missiles in submarines as a deterrent. I wonder whether we can afford to do all that is necessary and carry Trident as well. The exchange rate is now about $1.60 to the pound, and that must increase the cost.
I am not a CND supporter, and I am not in any way sharing the unilateralist argument, but I am worried that the next Secretary of State but two or three will face fearful equipment problems because Trident could be milking so much out of the defence budget. The situation will be very difficult unless we do something brutal to the BAOR, to the Royal Navy or to the equipment programme of the Royal Air Force. None of us would want that. Therefore, we must start doing something about that now. We should not wait until the crisis is upon us.
It is a measure of the Secretary of State's success that we now have a breathing space. Now is the time to take action. If we wait until everything crowds in on us, it may be too late. I am not being churlish, because I accept that we have moved a long way towards the type of Royal Navy that I believe in and want. Therefore, in a spirit of Christmas and New Year I thank my right hon. Friend for the White Paper. I cannot accept all his views on defence and I know that he cannot accept all mine. Nevertheless, I wish him a very happy Christmas.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Bristol, South-East)
Millions of people in Britain of many political allegiances, and of none, opposed the task force and the Government's handling of the situation in the Falklands from the beginning. It is right that our voice should be heard in this debate.
The real lessons of this tragic and unnecessary war are not dealt with in the White Paper, which is little more than part of the campaign for a bigger defence budget. The Secretary of State spoke of world affairs as if they could be thought of, primarily, in military terms. In some cases, he spoke as if war has already broken out.
The real lessons of the Falklands are political, not military. The first lesson is that the future of the Falklands should have been settled years ago by negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, as the United Nations decided it should be on 16 December 1965. All Governments—two Conservative and two Labour—since 1965 can be criticised for not taking those negotiations seriously. For example, the Argentine claim and its historical basis have never been presented to Parliament or to the British people as having any serious basis. That is not the view of the majority of the United Nations.
Secondly, Parliament and the public were never told of the islands' dependence for their life support upon Argentina in respect of trade, transport, education and health. The true cost of replacing that support is only now becoming apparent. Successive Governments have failed to think through the future of those outposts of empire such as the Falklands, Hong Kong and Gibraltar, which have been left as anachronisms in our post-imperial circumstances.
§ Mr. Benn
No, I shall not give way, as many hon. Members wish to speak.
868 The real responsibility of the House should be limited to the protection of the people who live there and not based on the protection of the territories themselves.
The armed invasion by Argentina, which was a clear breach of international law and which the United Nations recognised as such, drew from the Government the first serious British peace proposals. These were published on 20 May and withdrawn on the same day. I have alluded to those proposals before. I shall refer to them again briefly.
The Government, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister published those proposals for a mutual military withdrawal, or a United Nations administration with British and Argentine participation, and for real negotiations under the United Nations about the sovereignty and administration of the islands. If those proposals had been offered at any time since 1965, they would have settled the issue without bloodshed. They would have carried the full support of the United Nations and still would. The House should not forget that they will have to form the basis for any permanent settlement.
Instead of following that course, the Government deliberately chose a military solution. To justify the war, they adopted a policy that has brought discredit on the Government and on Britain.
§ Mr. Benn
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman has not been listening to what I have said. I was saying that if the Government's peace proposals of 20 May had been advanced at any time in the past 17 years, the matter could have been settled without bloodshed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) appears to be indicating support for that view.
§ Mr. James Callaghan
My view is simply that, as long as Argentina insisted on absolute sovereignty, there was no chance of coming to any conclusion with her.
§ Mr. Benn
The proposals that the Government issued on 20 May deliberately left the issue of sovereignty open. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East, who was once Foreign Secretary, will know, as will every other Foreign Secretary since 1965, that they would very much have liked an agreement with Argentina but that one of the factors involved was fear of public criticism if they were to come out openly with the plans that were known to be in discussion in the Foreign Office.
I should like to deal with the way in which the Government justified the military action that they took The first argument was that it was a war against Fascism, but they armed the junta right up to the last moment. They supported a Fascist junta in Chile, just as they supported Fascist Governments all over the world, including Turkey and South Africa.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) once served in a Cabinet.
§ Mr. Benn
Even now, the Government appear to be assenting to a big bank loan to the Argentine Government.
869 The Government pretended that the task force was sent to strengthen our hand in negotiations, but from the start it was intended to reoccupy the islands by force.
The third lesson is that the Government have isolated Britain in the world by their actions. There was full United Nations support for Britain on 3 April, but after the 4 November debate in the United Nations, even the United States was on the other side. The Hispanic world has remained united against us, France and Germany, our major partners in the EC, have renewed arms supplies to Argentina, and British communities all over Latin America have been in danger.
The fourth lesson is that, in the process, the Government have undermined the role of the United Nations as a peace maker, when our only real hope of avoiding a nuclear war is by international action under the United Nations.
The fifth lesson is that the Government committed hundreds of millions of pounds—probably billions of pounds—to an enterprise that is doomed to fail, in that Argentina will, in the end, acquire a leading position in the control of the Falklands. The figure now quoted—we have only been allowed the information in dribs and drabs—is £2 billion to £3 billion. Each year, £400 million—more than £1 million a day—is to be spent on the garrison. A further £30 million to £35 million has been allocated for development. Between £1 million and £2 million per Falkland islander has been spent on this enterprise, the lessons of which the retiring Secretary of State says are only military. The Government caused untold human suffering for those courageous men who died and for the families whose sons were killed or maimed in an enterprise that cannot achieve its prime purpose.
I shall go further and say what I know will not be popular among Conservative Members. I deeply feel, as do others, that the Government used the sacrifices of the dead and wounded to boost the political standing of the Conservative Party in general, and of the Prime Minister in particular. [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] They invented and exploited the "Falklands factor", and it has been paid for in blood and bereavement. That view is widely shared throughout the country.
The next charge that I level against the Cabinet is that it deliberately released the poison of militarism into our society. They praised war and killing and suggested that that dangerous virus was the best remedy for our national ills and that it would in some way restore our pride and self-confidence. In that campaign to reawaken militarism in Britain, Fleet Street, the BBC and the ITN played a considerable part in spreading the poison.
I have made grave charges against the Government, but more and more people in Britain know that those charges are true, and the verdict of history will confirm them. After all that has happened, the Government have failed because everyone in the world knows that in the end the Falkland Islands will go to Argentina, just as China will recover Hong Kong and Spain will recover Gibraltar, however many warships and aircraft we build.
There are, however, two more hopeful lessons to be learnt for the future. First, nuclear weapons were unusable in this case and will be in any modern war because no country dares to use them. There is no doubt that there were nuclear weapons on board the ships, despite the 870 Government's denials, but even if the Argentine army had secured a military success those weapons could not have been used.
The second point has a broader political bearing. If all the money, the human effort and the planning by Governments that now go into war were devoted to fighting poverty, disease, ignorance and injustice, those scourges could be ended once and for all in Britain and throughout the world. That argument is well understood by many people who do not follow detailed defence debates. If the "QE2" can be requisitioned to take troops to the South Atlantic, it can be used to take food to the starving peoples of Asia. The methods of war can be used to meet the underlying problems of people in this country and throughout the world.
Let anyone who doubts that recall that in 1945, after the horrors of the Second World War, the British people chose peace, reconstruction and social justice and rejected Mr. Churchill, who was arguably the greatest war leader in our history. I believe that the British people will act in the same way when the real lessons of the Falklands tragedy sink in, and in so doing they will reject the leadership of the present Prime Minister, who has inflicted so much suffering on our people and so gravely damaged our national interest.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (Daventry)
One can scarcely envisage anything more distorted than the view of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) that national support for our troops in the Falklands was some kind of militarism instilled into the people of this country by the Prime Minister for party reasons.
Nevertheless, throughout the whole of this argument the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East has at least been clear and consistent—and totally wrong. His view is entirely out of step with that of the vast majority of the people of this country, including the vast majority of Labour supporters. In a sense, however, I have more respect for the right hon. Gentleman and for the 30 or so Members who voted with him in the final Division on the Falklands crisis than for those Opposition Members, including the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) who opened for them today, who gave half-hearted quasi-support while constantly seeking political opportunities to sneer at the Government's motives and to score points.
This is the first time that I have participated in a debate on the Falklands and I wished to be non-partisan, but in view of the speeches that we have heard from the Opposition today and on previous occasions I shall make three short, sharp political points.
First, the blame for that unnecessary war lies with the Argentines. It was their aggression and their international crime, not ours, it was their crass folly in underestimating the willpower of the British Government and the British people and the skill and courage of the British forces which led to disaster and caused enormous damage to the Argentines as well as to us.
Secondly, in so far as there have been errors of judgment by British Governments, such errors go back over 20 years or more. I do not wish to anticipate the Franks report, although the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) sought to do so. Certainly errors of judgment have been made in the past. I remember clearly the occasion to which my right hon. Friend the Member 871 for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) referred—the rejection of the Shackleton proposals to improve the Air Force. I was a member of the Cabinet in the then Labour Government, so I must share the blame, but so, too, were the right hon. Members for Deptford and for Bristol, South-East, and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East presided over that Cabinet, so we all share the responsibility.
§ Mr. Prentice
I take responsibility, as constitutionally I must, for the actions of any Government of which I was a member if I was a party to the decisions—something that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East conspicuously fails to do. I believe that the Franks report will reveal other examples of errors for which successive Governments can be criticised, but such criticisms must be seen in the perspective of the major crime of Argentina which was responsible for the tragedy.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) has said, we scored a great victory. We achieved that mainly through the skill and courage of our Service men, but also through first-class political leadership. Time and again, in the history of this and other countries, the courage of Service men has been sacrificed due to indecisive political Governments. The close collective leadership of the small group of Ministers and chiefs of staff who met several times a day gave the clear lead that made victory possible. Everyone who participated in that, whether senior Service men or Ministers of the Crown, deserves the gratitude of the country and, I believe, will receive the tributes of history.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, as always, made a stimulating and thought-provoking speech. That is one of the reasons why we shall miss him. I join those who have expressed their regret at his imminent departure from office and indeed from Parliament, as he is a political figure who will be sadly missed. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend and his Department on the White Paper, which is written with a clarity and panache that is rare in such documents. For that reason alone, it should be compulsory reading in every Department in Whitehall.
I wish to comment briefly on two points. First, my right hon. Friend seemed to suggest at the beginning of his speech that there was some kind of intellectual conflict between the concept of our defence as being based on Europe and that of a world-wide role. Many of us accept that our role in Europe is paramount but believe that there must be some adaptation to the changing strategy of the Soviet Union since the late 1960s. With deadlock in Europe—certainly throughout the period of Mr. Brezhnev, and it would be rash to assume that there will be any change in the near future—there was a growing adventurism by the Soviet Union. This was seen in its support for guerrilla movements and revolutionary movements that it could exploit, in the use of Cuban mercenaries in Africa, in the successful help that the Soviet Union gave to the Communists in Vietnam, and in the growth of the Soviet Navy and the number of ports throughout the world to which it has access. In other 872 words, Soviet strategy has become much more worldwide. That is something to which all the NATO powers, clearly not Britain alone, must try to work out a counterstrategy.
I am indebted to the International Institute for Strategic Studies and to its survey on military balance in 1982–83 for its estimate of the number of Soviet military personnel serving around the world. In addition to the 95,000 in Afghanistan, there are about 4,500 in Vietnam, about 2,600 in Cuba, about 2,500 in Syria, about 1,750 in Libya, about 1,500 in South Yemen, 1,000 in Ethiopia and substantial numbers in Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Angola, North Yemen, Iraq, Kampuchea and the Seychelles.
§ Mr. Nott
I should like to clarify my view on this. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the nature of this threat and the manner in which it has accelerated. That analysis is correct, and I share his concern. I have no conflict of concept about this; it is purely a question of conflict of resources, which is my only concern. As I see it, we simply do not have sufficient funds both to meet the primary European and NATO threat and at the same time meet, in the way that he and I would like—we have the same aspirations—this broader threat. It is a conflict of resources which is our difficulty, not one of the need to meet this threat.
§ Mr. Prentice
I shall comment on my right hon. Friend's points in a moment. However, in trying to work out a counter-strategy, clearly it is not a military response alone that must be considered. All policies—political, military, economic, aid and trade, investment policies and the like—are involved. We must win the battle for hearts and minds around the world.
The military aspects point to the conclusion that is borne out by the White Paper, that we need more of our weapons systems to be able to fulfil a role either in Europe or in some other part of the world where the equipment can be so designed. I believe what my right hon. Friend said about the greater mobility of 5 Brigade and what he said about the Royal Navy. It enables these forces to play more than one possible role, according to the varying position year by year, and that is all to the good.
Many hon. Members have referred to one aspect or another of resources, and many of my hon. Friends who have studied this matter in great depth fear that, whereas the defence budget may not be under much threat at the moment, it will be in a year or two, and hard choices will have to be made. That partly argues for larger defence resources.
At the election, we committed ourselves to a 3 per cent. growth in real terms, in accordance with NATO targets. We have carried out that promise. The White Paper reiterates the decision that the Government have previously announced, that the costs of the Falklands operation and the costs of replacing the losses of the operation will be met by additional funds over and above the 3 per cent. growth rate. I do not know what the figures will be, but for a year or two there will be a greater than 3 per cent. growth in total defence spending.
I set that against the challenge to the NATO powers of the NATO commander in Europe, General Rogers, who has invited us to undertake a commitment for a 4 per cent. a year increase in defence expenditure devoted to NATO. He is not addressing that simply to Britain, but to other 873 NATO partners, many of whom have not reached the 3 per cent. target. All the factors that are becoming apparent point to the need for a defence budget rising in rather larger terms than we and our allies have planned.
I understand the objections that the Treasury will have to accepting General Rogers' advice. I imagine that it will say that it is all very well to spend more than a 3 per cent. increase for a year or two while we get over the Falklands, but it does not want the commitment to long-term spending to be any larger than has already been announced.
General Rogers has put to us many strong arguments, which I cannot examine in detail because of time, but which need more consideration. I should like to see some opportunity for this point to be the subject of an individual debate. The question is tied in with the nuclear arms conflict, because General Rogers is saying that, if we can improve the conventional deterrent in the hands of the NATO powers, we can raise the nuclear threshold. I should have thought that there was everything to be said for that. It should also enable us to do at least more of the things that we wish to do. For example, there are those like myself who have accepted the arguments for Trident, but still want to carry out the other role.
Those like myself who were opposed a year ago to what seemed to us to be cuts in the Navy and were glad that some expenditure was restored, but do not want to Army and the Air Force cut, will find that our hopes are more feasible within a 4 per cent. a year rise in expenditure. Those of us who wish to maintain the four roles in the NATO area, and also have a better out-of-area capacity are again attracted to the idea of 4 per cent. There will still be difficult choices to be made, but they will be made within a larger framework. I ask my right hon. Friends whether they will think again as to whether they can respond positively on this issue.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)
It would be interesting to follow the right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) in some of his personal remonstrances, because I knew him in a previous incarnation. It does not lie in his mouth to speak of honour and consistency in politics. If I remember it correctly—I may be getting it wrong—he resigned on one occasion from a Labour Government because defence expenditure was too high.
§ Mr. Douglas
I shall give way in a second. I am trying to avoid a conflict, and may be making a mistake. As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman was defending his own Department, but at the same time he was looking at the claims for Government expenditure overall and one of those claims was defence expenditure.
§ Dame Judith Hart
I wish to correct the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James). His right hon. Friend did not resign from a Labour Government because aid expenditure was cut. It was, in fact, increased after his resignation.
§ Mr. Douglas
These are interesting commentaries, but there is the danger that the House may be trying to rewrite history. We are examining the lessons of the Falklands conflict. One of the lessons that we have to learn from it is that relationships between allies change.
Paragraph 202 of the White Paper says:From the outset the Government were heartened by the understanding and support of the United Kingdom's partners in the European Community, our Allies in NATO and, not least, our friends in the Commonwealth".I have taken the view, fairly consistently, that part of the difficulty in which we found ourselves could nave been overcome had the United States made its position clear. President Reagan, in his wisdom and to protect his own position, is now touring South America to rebuild what he considers to be fences that have broken down. I am not unfriendly to the United States, but if the United States President had been more wholesome in his support during the early period of the conflict and had made it plain to the Argentine Government that the sanctions would be reinforced that had been brought against them some of the difficulties in which we found ourselves could have been overcome.
The Secretary of State made an interesting speech but it was not based on the White Paper that is before us. It was based on a previous White Paper that was issued in June 1981, Cmnd. 8288. The right hon. Gentleman has moved slightly from that position because of the force of events but his analysis—his last will and testament, so to speak—is based on the 1981 document. That is where I find that I have some criticisms of his view.
The entire House should be disappointed that throughout the debate so far the Prime Minister has not seen fit, for reasons best known to herself, to be present to hear the views of right hon. and hon. Members. That is a stricture that should be put to her. It is a sign of the importance that she attaches to the debate.
§ Mr. Douglas
We are debating a White Paper and it is for the Prime Minister to show some respect to the House and to listen to hon. Members' views of the lessons that should be learnt.
Cmnd. 8288 emphasises our NATO role. That means that we must be clear about the particular and peculiar role that we can mount for NATO. I believe that we are considerably overstretched in trying to perform the four roles. We should put it to NATO that our particular and peculiar role lies in naval strength and strategy.
I welcome the proposals in the White Paper to replace some of the ships that we lost with better ships. I welcome the proposals for the oncoming type 23s. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) says that it will be the 1990s before they come on stream. I hope that the Minister will say that that is wrong. If we are to depend on submarines, it is not good enough to state in paragraph 26 of Cmnd. 8288 that we shall be making progress to one SSK a year when only a week ago the Secretary of State suggested in the House that we were making virtually no progress in producing a conventionally designed submarine.
If we are to take account of the lessons that are to be drawn from the deployment of SSNs in the Falklands conflict, there is an overwhelming reason for not proceeding with Trident. Although many Conservative 875 Members voted in support of the Trident programme, the two speeches from the Conservative Benches in this debate, with the exception of that of the right hon. Member for Daventry, have been opposed to Trident. If the Trident proposal were to be put before the House again in, for example, six months, I believe that the Government would be defeated.
§ Mr. Douglas
Let us try, and let us see what happens. Let us examine all the strains on our resources.
We have seen the essential need and requirement to preserve the British flag fleet. The ships that were used could not have been acquired from foreign merchant navies. They had to be from the British flag fleet and they had to be British manned. The volunteers were British seamen. I welcome the change of view that is apparent from the announcement that studies are to take place on the interrelationship of the Merchant Navy, Merchant Navy personnel and the Royal Navy.
The Secretary of State made some interesting remarks about minelaying and mine countermeasures vessels. I invite him to take account of the roles of MVs "Cordella", "Farnella", "Junella", "Northella" and "Pict". These ships came from the Merchant Navy but they were manned by Royal Navy personnel. I saw some of these ships when they returned to Rosyth. With no disrespect to the civilian side, they returned in much better condition than that in which they went out. They had been well and comprehensively maintained. We must be concerned with not only the building of ships but maintenance and servicing in the civilian sector.
In talking about the dockyards, I shall transgress only slightly to talk a little about Portsmouth. I should not like Conservative Members to transgress and to talk about Rosyth. I hope that those representing Portsmouth constituencies will forgive me if I make a few remarks about the Portsmouth yard. I shall quote briefly from the consultative document to illustrate the dangers that I see overall. Paragraph 3 states:There is no intention to extend the use of naval personnel at the expense of the civilian work force.I advise my unions not to believe that. Anyone who reads the consultative document will realise that that is the firm intention. If the Minister contradicts me when he replies, I shall be happy to be told that I am wrong. Anyone who has spoken to port admirals or dockyard managers will know that one of the measures that they have in mind to overcome some of the so-called demarcations in the dockyards is the use of naval personnel. The hon. Member for Dunfermline says "Do not believe that".
I have been told that some of the personnel of HMS "Plymouth" have written to the Prime Minister to complain about the treatment that they have received. The ship was damaged and it came into Rosyth for repairs. The repairs were carried out expeditiously. The men on active service were given an increase because they were on active service and because the ship was under repair and they had to go ashore and pay for their accommodation through no fault of their own. I take it that this anomaly has been examined carefully by the Ministry and that the men will receive the payments that they had to make while ashore. It seems that it was an unfair imposition.
I have seen some of the work that was done in the dockyards and it seems likely that overall dockyard facilities will become overstrained. I ask the Minister to 876 recognise that the centralisation of management and organisation was fair when we had four or five dockyards but to realise that it is essential to decentralise the organisation if we are to have two or two and a half yards.
I understand that announcements will be made relating to capital expenditure for Rosyth. If we embark on a programme of capital expenditure to upgrade the facility of Rosyth, we should also upgrade the personnel. A fine job has been done in refitting the old Rothesay class ships. Better facilities are required for the type 21s, possibly the type 22s and, in future, the type 23s. I do not think Rosyth ought to be used as a laying-up base for ships such as the Dreadnought. I pressed the Minister on this matter last week and received a fairly evasive reply. Can we have a clear reply as to the future of Rosyth in relation to ships no longer required for service? If large sums are to be expended on capital development, valuable quay space should not be used for the laying up of vessels for political purposes.
What lessons have we derived from the Falklands operation? I do not take the same view as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr Benn). I am sorry that he is not in the House. I do not like referring to Members who are not present. The lesson that we learnt was that, when the British people are presented with the task of defending democracy, they will respond to it. They do not like the bully. In particular, they do not like Fascist bullies. Therefore, the British people were right to respond. The overall lesson will be that we will have to do deals with the Argentine but certainly not with an Argentine ruled by a Fascist dictator.
§ Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)
Six years ago today, on Tuesday, December 21, 1976, I made my maiden speech, and immediately followed my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) who announced his resignation from the then Labour Government. One of his reasons was the £50 million cut in overseas aid which was agreed by that Government at the insistence of the IMF.
It was also the occasion when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made his maiden speech as the then Opposition economic spokesman. He made some kind remarks about me, but said at the end of his speech:the House will greatly miss my hon. Friend's predecessor, Mr. David Lane".—[Official Report, 21 December 1976; VoL 923, c. 606.]No doubt that has been true. I emphasise one point which the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), who is no longer in the Chamber, made, that at no stage over the last 20 years had any Government seriously intended or tried to resolve peacefully the problem between this country and the Argentine over the Falklands. He ignored the attempts in 1955 to take the matter to the International Court of Justice, and, above all, ignored the attempts made by the Government between June 1979 and September 1981, when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Foreign Office, to endeavour to resolve the situation peacefully.
If the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, were present, I would draw his attention to Hansard of 2 December 1980. He was not in the Chamber then. I would draw his attention to the statement of my right hon. Friend 877 the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) who, when introducing proposals which were denounced by all Opposition parties, said:The essential elements of any solution would be that it should preserve British administration, law and way of life for the islanders while releasing the potential of the islands' economy and of their maritime resources, at present blighted by the dispute."—[Official Report, 2 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 129.]This debate has moved over the immediate White Paper into the Franks commission report. I do not intend taking the matter further than that in answer to the absent right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East.
When the Government's record is related fully, the endeavours of Lord Carrington and his colleagues to find a peaceful resolution to the dispute between May 1979 and the invasion of the Falklands will bear very close inspection.
Reference has been made to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. He and I have had our disagreements, occasionally vehement, since he responded to my maiden speech six years ago, but for neither of us has our friendship ever been affected. I thank him for the Government's decision last week, which is of supreme importance to Cambridge, about the Tristar replacements for the RAF. In a very real sense this episode was one of the lessons learnt from the Falklands conflict. The heroes and heroines were not confined to those who sailed and fought in the South Atlantic and their relatives; they include those who willingly and devotedly worked for them in Britain, including my own constituents at Marshall's. I thank my right hon. Friend most warmly for that.
The debate today is concerned with the Government's report to the nation on the military lessons learnt during the conflict. Obviously, this report cannot be complete. It would be foolish and irresponsible to make public every performance of our equipment and thereby give information which would be of value and interest to our enemies. Given those limitations, I regard the report as being as complete and objective as is reasonable.
In a debate on 19 June 1980 I expressed some of my concerns about the Royal Navy, and I made specific reference to the lack of a point defence system for the new Invincible class. That public reference formed part of some private reports that I have made to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), then responsible for Navy matters. They make interesting reading today.
I still find it surprising that problems of ship design and equipment that seemed glaringly obvious to an amateur, albeit one with a considerable interest in naval matters, should have escaped the attention of others. To put it mildly, it was unfortunate that it took a war to demonstrate the perils of sending into battle a large, expensive, heavily-manned warship armed only with one medium-range missile and the endeavours of its own aircraft, which were very few in number, which could easily have been overwhelmed by a large and determined air attack. It is good that this lesson has been learnt, but with frightening possible consequences. I still find the episode totally incomprehensible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford wrote in his interesting book:The problem against was moneyand added that he was determined to rectify the situation 878as soon as the money and Sea Wolf systems were available".I do not wish to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, who has been dramatically vindicated in so many respects. I find it a sober commentary on the Navy's order of priorities that in its efforts to achieve greater funding and resources this one came so relatively low. When I raised this matter privately with an eminent admiral I received a notably unsympathetic hearing.
This episode may be regarded by some hon. Members as a minor part of a much larger situation, but in my view it is highly significant. I do not recall at any time in our naval history that we have produced a major warship incapable of self-defence. The argument that such a ship would be protected by others is not impressive, because what happens if the others are eliminated or prove ineffective? What then?
These apprehensions, which concerned me so much that I raised them publicly on the Floor of the House as well as in private—not my normal practice in defence matters—were augmented after I paid a private visit to Yeovilton in March this year, when the pilots of the Sea Harrier squadrons spoke frankly to me of their concern about their equipment.
Within weeks, they were unexpectedly in action in the South Atlantic, and performed brilliantly. That is a glittering tribute to their skill, courage and quality of training and to the robustness of the Sea Harrier. It is also a tribute to the skill and dedication of those who maintained and serviced the Harriers.
The fact remains that the Sea Harrier has severe limitations, not least in speed, range and armaments. Too few were available. I invite the House to consider what was proposed. We had a virtually defenceless warship, representing not only a huge target but a huge investment, carrying a large crew and a relative handful of subsonic aircraft, which was originally designed and intended for a totally different role. It can at least be argued that it was something to have any ship at all capable of high speeds, with modern sonar and radar and a few subsonic fixed wing aircraft. The Government then announced that it would be disposed of. The sheer enormity of the episode still astonishes me, and it should continue to astonish the House of Commons.
The Ministers and Service advisers of previous Governments must bear the brunt of the censure for the situation that this Government inherited. However, a little humility all round, which has been absent from this debate, might be more appropriate to the situation that we confronted and now confront.
On another occasion, the House will consider the deliberations and conclusions of the Franks commission. However, when a military regime is contemplating the achievement of its purposes by force and evaluating the probable response of its adversary, it is influenced by signs and messages of that adversary's resolve and capability. When the reasonably moderate Argentine regime with which we negotiated was deposed last December and replaced by a sinister and incompetent successor, the latter came to a military calculation that I regard as understandable. It saw that the complete emphasis of British defence was on the NATO area. I did not dissent from that judgment at the time. There was to be a reduction in the number of Royal Navy surface ships; the dockyards were to be curtailed; "Endurance" was to be scrapped; and our one modern British aircraft carrier was to be disposed of just after it had completed its full trials.
879 Add to that the paucity of the British garrison in the Falklands and South Georgia, and we have the classic ingredients for a calculation that turned out to be a major miscalculation, although in my view it was not unreasonable. That is the most important of all the military lessons of the Falklands conflict, and, sadly, it is the oldest of all.
Wars are seldom the result of meticulous design by dictators but of miscalculation, often owing to calculated vagueness and misunderstandings on our part. Germany did not expect us to declare war in 1914 or 1939, and it is possible—just possible—that had it had the certain knowledge of British intervention on those occasions, it might have drawn back. However, like the Argentine junta, Germany added up the signals and decided that Britain was militarily of little account; that defence expenditure was highly unpopular and that there was a strong pacifist element in the Liberal and Labour Parties dedicated to the drastic reduction in armaments in favour of peace at any price.
Thus, in 1914 and 1939 Germany miscalculated, and the Argentines did so in March 1982. The overriding question is whether one can really blame them. That is the lesson of the Falklands conflict.
§ 7.6 pm
§ Dame Judith Hart (Lanark)
I shall follow closely the devastating speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James). However, there was a confusion of dates in his reference to his right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice). I was talking about his resignation in 1969.
I shall concentrate on only two or three points. As the House knows, there was considerable resistance to the Falklands war. I was privileged to be chairman of the Falkland Islands peace groups. As the House also knows, we had an extremely jingoistic popular press, and I believe that on occasions legitimate dissent in this country may have been suppressed by the Ministry of Defence. I may be wrong, but if this issue comes under the heading of security, we shall not be told whether I am right or wrong.
During the period when peace negotiations were still just possible—after Secretary Haig had departed and the United Nations Secretary-General was making his last efforts following the Peruvian initiative—a British academic and I drafted a letter for publication. It was signed by a dozen prominent Argentines, including academics, writers and scientists, and a dozen people of similar status from Britain.
That letter appealed only for negotiations and the avoidance of war. A national Sunday newspaper was extremely interested in it, and a copy was sent to it on Saturday morning. The newspaper telephoned me to say that it had received the letter and that it was still extremely interested. The letter also went to the Press Association.
On BBC television's 6 o'clock news, which on a Saturday is a short bulletin, there was a brief reference to the letter, but that was the end of all reference to it. The Sunday newspaper did not publish it and other newspapers did not touch it. I am not necessarily saying that a D notice was placed on that letter, but a respected colleague in another place told me "But, my dear, you do not have to place a D notice on something, you merely need to tell an editor that a D notice might be placed on something." I am 880 not a believer in the conspiratorial theory of history, but I believe that genuine dissent was not allowed full expression during the Falkland Islands dispute.
Before I come to the essence of my remarks, I want to take up something that was said by the former Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Navy, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). He gave a little warning about the possible future behaviour of the Argentines. He was quite right to do so. Words have been bandied around the Chamber about trade and the supply of arms for Argentina and it is true that the Fascist dictatorship of Argentina was supplied with arms by Governments of both parties when they were in office. However, to be fair, it was this Government who went on supplying it until March of this year.
It is also fair to say that the Government and members of the Conservative Party woke up remarkably late to the dangers, iniquities and cruelties of Argentina's Fascism. The truth was delivered to them like a blinding light as soon as the Argentines committed their act of aggression. Suddenly, the country, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were aware that there was rather nasty Fascism in Argentina. They were not aware of it before.
Under the Labour Government we had a substantial programme for Latin American refugees. The present Home Secretary reduced that programme. The Labour Government supported the joint working committee for refugees in this country, which helped refugees from Chile and Argentina. The Home Office cut its expenditure. That organisation barely exists now, because it does not have the money from this Government that it had from the Labour Government. There was a sudden awakening—particularly in the most jingoistic press, which had never uttered a word about Fascism in Argentina until the war—to the fact that there was a pretty nasty dictatorship in Argentina and that there had been much cruelty and many killings, and that many people had disappeared.
I say that in the context of the remarks of the hon. Member for Ashford, because we should have a clear idea of what dictators can do in defence of their position. We know—I expect that this will emerge in the report of the Franks commission—that what appears to have provoked the eventual invasion of the Falklands was a large trade union protest gathering only a few days earlier. There are protest gatherings now in Argentina. One of two things will happen. Either there will be a gradual liberalisation and a future return to democracy, or the very opposite will happen and the military dictatorship will become more rigid and more suppressive. It is therefore wise to be aware of the possibilities.
My main theme is that of the hon. Member for Cambridge. He spoke of his first days in the House six years ago. It was 20 years ago, almost to the day, in the 1961–62 Session, when I promoted two debates, both on defence. One was an Adjournment debate, and the other was in the Estimates debate. The subject was the danger of accidental war. At the time the matter was not much discussed. The Minister who replied to the debate treated my fears about the dangers of accidental war with less than heavy respect. I based my remarks on what was then the report of the Rand corporation at Ohio university, which has analysed the elements which could make accidental nuclear war possible.
When we consider the miscalculation that led to this war, we should bear in mind that next time the 881 miscalculation could involve nuclear war. It is therefore necessary to take every possible step to allow for the elements of accident and misunderstanding that may arise. The hon. Member for Cambridge was right. The diplomatic miscalculation is much more probable than computer errors or psychiatric breakdowns, which are also part of the dangers.
The Falklands war should never have happened. The hon. Member for Cambridge spoke of what was almost an invitation to Argentina. What worries me—it does not come out in the White Paper, and it should do—is that the sending of the task force was an adventure which, by the sheer military logistics, ruled out the possibility of later meaningful negotiations, because of the climate in the Antarctic and the distance. When the task force reached the Ascension Islands I asked for a pause for peace, because people were ready to negotiate. We were apparently ready, as was Mr. Haig, the United Nations, the Peruvians, and everyone else, to have negotiations to avert a war.
I believe now that I was naive. [Laughter.] In that case, perhaps hon. Gentlemen agree with me that the moment the task force left the country, military logistics prevented any possibility of peaceful negotiations. Hon. Gentlemen cannot have it both ways. When I asked for a pause for peace in the Ascension Islands, it was clearly already too late, because of the military logistics. If hon. Gentlemen do not agree with that, the only alternative belief is that once the task force left our shores it was already too late for any meaningful negotiations.
When one side has adopted a mistaken view of the intentions of the other side, the situation is extremely dangerous for a country which is supposed to have a greater maturity of judgment, and at least is not a Fascist dictatorship. Britain should have allowed the potential for negotiation. In my view, there should have been negotiation, as clearly in future there will have to be. The whole Falklands tragedy shows the danger of a miscalculation causing a war which no one wants and which no one intends. We must take great care, because the implications are relevant in our nuclear age. Next time, it could be nuclear war.
§ Mr. Chris Patten (Bath)
At the beginning of the debate we heard a piece of particularly ripe Bennery, and I suppose that the speech of the right hon. Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) to which we have just listened was the matinee version. However, behind the sound of the teacups there were one or two pretty vulgar noises.
The right hon. Lady should recognise that hon. Members who supported the sending of the task force believed that, in doing so, we were striking a considerable blow against totalitarianism. That pretty clear point was made, among others, by Mr. Sonny Ramphal, and I think that he was absolutely right. The right hon. Lady would not have sent the task force; she would have sent diplomatic telegrams and an annual subscription to Tribune full of articles about the wickedness of the Argentine regime. That may have been a deterrent, but it would not have been sufficient to shift the Argentines from the Falkland Islands.
The House would have wished there to be a peaceful settlement, but the fact that we were prepared to stand up 882 for 1,700 of our people on the other side of the world was a lesson to many in other countries who are also threatened by totalitarianism. That lesson has been learnt by many Labour Party supporters who perhaps do not care quite as much about their party as once they did.
I listened to the wit and urbanity—
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
A short time ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart) made the point that there are Fascist Governments in many places and that the Fascism in Argentina was not discovered by the Tories until Argentina attacked the Falklands. Were we not trying to get rid of those islands for years? Did we not let Diego Garcia become an American nuclear base, thereby getting rid of 2,000 innocent people who were under our tutelage, without raising our voice? Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should not talk about freedom and liberty.
§ Mr. Patten
I knew that it would be a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman. The difference between us is not whether we regard Argentina as having a Fascist regime, but whether we think it was right for us to send a task force to get the Argentines out of the Falkland Islands. The hon. Gentleman would have allowed them to stay there and impose a Fascist regime.
I want to deal more obviously and prosaically with the White Paper than did the right hon. Member for Lanark. One is well advised in politics not to look a gift horse in the mouth. In that spirit, although I have anxieties similar to those expressed by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), I welcome the White Paper. It has been better received than its predecessor—and it is not difficult to see why—because it provides a better balance for our defences.
The additions to our naval strength are particularly welcome. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) referred to the batch 3 type 22 frigates. They are marvellous ships. I pay tribute to those who work in the Navy department in my constituency who helped to design them. I am also pleased, as are other hon. Members, by the decision to strengthen 5 Brigade.
It is fair to say that the adjustments to the proposals in last year's White Paper probably owe more to General Galtieri's ill-judged and ill-starred ambitions than to the reasoned, and sometimes less than reasoned, arguments that we have heard from Service men and politicians at home. I accept that the White Paper does not represent a U-turn, but it is at least a partial vindication of the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford. Fortune does not always favour the brave, but in his case I hope that it does, and soon.
I do not say that to criticise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He is the latest in a long line of Secretaries of State who have been trying to bring our commitments into line with the resources produced by a weak economy. He cannot be blamed for the fact that that is an ever more difficult task to accomplish. At least he is right—I make the point, although my constituency interests should press me to express the contrary view—in his strategic judgment not to abandon our NATO commitments in Germany in order greatly to enhance our maritime role. The proposition that we could do so is naive. It would be politically damaging to Europe and it would be destabilising to the Alliance. My right hon. Friend's judgment on that is wholly sound, but I wonder about the economics of his proposals.
883 When one looks at the splendid plans set out in this document and then looks at the prospects for the British economy for the next few years, on even the most favourable assumptions it is difficult to accept that this is quite such a comprehensive and conclusive defence review as we have been led to believe. We are not facing a uniquely British problem. Even Mr. Andropov has difficulties with his defence expenditure, although it is easier to tackle such problems in a despotism than in a liberal democracy. The Americans certainly have a problem, and that is one reason why the American federal deficit is so large at the moment, helping to push up interest rates, therefore depressing the economies in the rest of the Alliance and making it more difficult for us to pay our defence bills.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) referred to General Rogers' speech. There is a good argument for changing the 3 per cent. commitment in Europe to 4 per cent. and for Europeans to do more to defend ourselves. However, few of us are hitting the 3 per cent. pledge at the moment. It is difficult to envisage circumstances in which it would be likely that we would do very much better than Europe in the next two or three years. The prospects in a humanly, not divinely, induced recession of doing more seem to me to be a little bleak.
Britain's economic difficulties create two problems. First, we get less defence for the money that we spend. Twenty years ago, equipment procurement took up about one-third of the defence budget. Today it takes up getting on for half. The money that we have saved from cuts in civilian manpower and from withdrawal east of Suez has gone towards meeting the 6 per cent. real growth in equipment costs over the last few years. Those costs will go on increasing, and it is not easy to see where the money will come from to pay for them. One can obtain some savings from greater weapon efficiency and reliability. One can simplify specifications, although I have been a little worried by the suggestion made by one or two manufacturers in my constituency that standards are being lowered in order to cut costs. We should try to get greater collaboration on research, development and procurement in Europe, as the Klepsch report and the GreenwoodDavignon proposals suggested. However, past collaborative efforts have not always been blessed with great success.
All that is extremely useful, but I doubt whether any of it will lead in the next few years to bringing the costs of killing and living into a more direct relationship. At the moment the only real success that we have had in controlling equipment costs has been through cruder measures, such as the moratorium. Recently, the Select Committee on Defence discovered that the effects of that moratorium, which was lifted about 18 months ago, are still depressing expenditure under Vote II—the equipment Vote—even after all that time. Crude measures work, but I doubt whether more sophisticated measures, welcome though they are, will have much success in reducing the 6 per cent. real increase in equipment costs.
At the same time as we are getting less defence for the money that we spend, our weak economy is increasing the pressures to spend less on defence. I agree that those pressures have been eased for the time being. Last year Treasury Ministers were rampaging across Whitehall like Kirke's lambs. This year the Falklands campaign has kept them in camp. I wonder how permanent that will be.
884 When I consider the situation two or three years into the next Parliament, on present plans and taking account of the figures in opinion polls, with Trident in full swing and shipbuilding programmes at their peak, I do not think it likely, to use a Wilsonian phrase, that the Treasury will stand idly by. Either an economic miracle will transform our prospects—that does look absolutely certain—or defence spending will come under great pressure again. As The Economist perceptively stated this week, something will have to give.
The truth is that our economic failures in the West are doing more to undermine our security than the KGB has ever done. I suspect that history will judge that in that sense we have more to fear from Milton Friedman than from Yuri Andropov. Unless we can rebuild our international economic framework, which helped to guarantee our prosperity and security for a couple of decades after the war, and unless, within that framework, we can inject some demand and growth back into the world economy, our defences in the West will be undermined, first, by lack of resources and, second, by political tensions, which will result from the transfer of resources in substantial quantities from welfare programmes to defence. In other words, competitive budget cutting, competitive deflations, competitive devaluations and competitive trading policies will eventually, unless we are careful, lead to uncompetitive Armed Forces.
There is a story, which is doubtless apocryphal, about fishermen on the banks of the Seine in June 1940 who were so obsessed with the job of catching their supper that they failed to look up when the Nazi tanks rolled into Paris. We sometimes seem to be equally absorbed by minutiae. Alas, we do not catch much supper. But there are much bigger issues at stake. Unless we show more imagination and political will in coming to terms with these issues, we are all too likely to put at risk many of the values that it is the final purpose of our defence commitment to preserve and protect.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not present. I want to say a few words of tribute to him. We shall be sorry to lose him from the Front Bench, and we shall be sorrier to lose him from the House, as I understand is likely.
I have not always seen eye to eye with the right hon. Gentleman, as many other hon. Members have not. In a debate about three weeks before the Falklands crisis arose I spoke of my fears about our naval weakness. I am old enough to know that had it not been the Falklands crisis, about which I can say that I was right, it could have been another crisis when the right hon. Gentleman would have been right and I would have been wrong. It does not behove any of us to be arrogant when we are discussing defence. Each campaign has its own lessons to teach us. All that we can try to do is to learn from the lessons of the past.
I shall say a few words about the campaign generally. I was surprised at some of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), although I have heard them many times before. Many of the things that he said during the campaign were completely contradicted by what happened. If it was not him, certainly some of his hon. Friends talked about the devastation of 885 Port Stanley and the hundreds of civilian lives that would be lost. None of those things happened. Of course, they need not have happened.
We are talking about 1,700 people. At what point do people who talk about numbers start to pay regard to the individuals? Was it for those 1,700 people or for a principle that we went into the Falklands? Each of the issues must be considered on that basis.
I was 100 per cent. behind what the Government did during the Falkland Islands crisis. However, one had to ask oneself whether a principle was involved and, if so, whether one could do something about it. I could have accepted that we could not do anything about it, if the odds were so much against our doing anything about it. When one joined the Army in 1939 to save Poland and ended up by selling the country to someone else, one can accept anything in political life. All that one has to do is to be realistic and to do what one can to defend principles. If one cannot do so, one must just sit back and accept.
However, I could not do so. I believed that there was a principle at stake. The Prime Minister and the Government deserve the greatest tribute. I am not saying that there were not faults beforehand. I am talking about after the campaign started. It does less than service to the people of this country when we hear right hon. and hon. Members talking about the Government and the press beating up a campaign of hatred and war—that is not so. The people realised what was at stake. Few people of an older generation were averse to what was happening and to the action that we took in the Falkland Islands, because they had lived through it before. I lived through the 1930s. I have heard all the arguments before. Nothing new is coming out in the unilateral disarmament movement that I had not heard time and again in the 1930s.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
There is no difference. The principle is the same. I am talking about multilateral disarmament, which I hope everyone wants to see. When the official Opposition want to attack the Government they say that the Government should have made it clear that they would get a bloody nose if they went into the Falklands. However, the same people, with the greatest respect to them, are dedicated not only to unilateral disarmament but to cutting down conventional forces. An increase in conventional forces is the only thing that will stop the early use of nuclear weapons.
It is 17 years ago this week since I refused to support the Labour Party when it was seeking to axe the Territorial Army. I took that stand because I believed that the threat then was a nuclear threat. Other people have now found that it is a nuclear threat. I thought that it was 17 years ago. I believed that the only way to overcome that threat was to act in such a way that we would not have to use nuclear weapons. The only way to do that was to build up conventional forces.
When I am talking about conventional forces, I am talking about reserve forces, not just the reserve forces in the Territorial Army or the Royal Navy, but home and civil defence forces. They are the backbone of a country that is determined to see through an issue once it enters into it. To say that home and civil defence forces are no use is to presuppose that there will be a nuclear war. Wars never 886 take the course that one expects. The only certain thing about any conflict is that it never follows any particular pattern.
I was interested to hear the Secretary of State say that our defence is in our home base. That is the first priority that we must consider, whatever the lessons of the Falklands. Unless we are prepared to hold the home base, all the other things are superfluous. That is why I supported withdrawing our forces from Singapore and Aden, despite criticism. I realistically looked at the fact that one can lose battles out there, but one loses a war on the home base. One must be realistic about expenditure.
If one tries to be prepared for every event, one is prepared for none. One must do what is possible. I want to mention one or two lessons that the Falkland crisis taught us. It is important that no Merchant Navy ship should be built without the Ministry of Defence seeing what is being built and how it could be adapted in a time of crisis to serve as part of the fleet. We do not need a tremendous fleet if we make provision for Merchant Navy vessels to act in the way that they did in the Falklands.
I note that in 1985 there will be a role for parachute troops. I cannot understand why it will take that long. I am not plugging that simply because the Parachute Regiment happens to be my old regiment. I should be the first to say that it should be got rid of if there were no good reason for it. I believe that there is a need in certain cases to be able to fly in a company of soldiers within 24 hours. It is better than a batallion tomorrow or a brigade next week. I believe that it is false economy to do away with the means of getting men to a particular place within 24 hours. It is not without expense, because one must have aircraft. However, they could be multi-purpose aircraft. We have heard about tankers being used to carry men. I do not see why 1985 should not be brought forward to 1983.
I have mentioned training before. I have suggested that it might be better to have smaller properly trained forces. Over the past few years we have not allowed the forces to train properly, because we have not let them fire ammunition and use weapons properly. Anyone who has served in the forces knows the difference between dry training and firing weapons. I am glad to see that provision will be made for more realistic training, because there is the dickens of a difference between training and being in the heat of battle. It is essential for the forces to be trained to a high standard, particularly with the sophisticated weapons that now exist.
If we are to deal with the economics of the Falkland Islands defence, it is essential that something should be done about another airfield. The most economicial way of getting forces to the Falkland Islands is to fly them at 24 hours notice. At present we cannot do that. The difficulty is that the airfield will not take the heavier aircraft, and at certain times when the wind is blowing in the wrong direction aircraft cannot land. Planes take about 14 or 15 hours to fly from Ascension Island. They then have to fly back, because they cannot land on the islands. It is one of the priorities that the Government must consider. I believe we can cut down the expense of garrisoning the islands by improving the airfield.
There will be difficulty in taking the people of this country along with us in a nuclear age. I understand people who say that if we have nuclear weapons on these shores, why can we not have a say in whether they are fired? The Government will have to consider that seriously. The public cannot understand how the weapons can be fired 887 without permission from the Government. I hope that in the near future some agreement will be reached with the Americans to enable that to be done.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
After three and a half hours of the almost unrelieved stream of cant, hypocrisy and humbug that we have had to endure from the Opposition—and I have no doubt that there is more to come—how refreshing it was to hear for a few moments some quiet, patriotic common sense from the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw). I congratulate him on what he said. He made an interesting point about the airfield. I rejoice that he will join us on the Select Committee, and I hope that he will do so in time to come to the Falkland Islands in February to see the position for himself and help us to advise the Government.
I believe that it is time to repeat the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice), that we are debating success. There comes a moment when one doubts that. One sentence in the White Paper says it all:It was by any standards a brilliant campaign, marked by exceptional logistic planning and improvisation, and carried through with outstanding skill and fortitude.Much has been said about the skill and fortitude of those who went there. I feel that not enough has been said about those who did not go, but without whom no part of that operation could have been successful.
It was a logistic miracle that that force could be mounted in the time that it was and sustained during its journey and that the troops, when they were there, could be sustained throughout the campaign. It was a triumph for the Services' training and planning for contingencies and the skills and disciplines that had been built up during 30 years of peace. The whole point of our defence effort is preparing for war in peace time, so that when war comes we are ready to face it with maximum confidence.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
Does my hon. Friend accept that it was a triumph for the civilian support in constituencies such as mine?
§ Mr. Mates
I do not dissent from that. Congratulations are as much due to those who stayed at home and made that success possible as they are to those who faced physical risks.
There is a piece in the middle of the White Paper—I hope that I shall not be censored for discussing the White Paper, because no one seems to be paying any attention to it—about procurement and improvisation. There are five good paragraphs, about which I shall not go into detail. However, I want to make one point which the White Paper fails to make. It rightly praises British defence industries for improvising and making early deliveries and for the way in which new pieces of equipment which were asked for in an emergency were provided with the utmost dispatch. It forms part of our dilemma as to whether we buy British. I hope that in any future decisions about whether we procure British equipment or its foreign equivalent those facts will be given more serious consideration than they have in the past.
We were able to speed up deliveries from British industry of radar and anti-jamming devices. If it had been Dutch radar, or other pieces of equipment that we were buying from abroad, we could not have made those ad hoc arrangements and supplied the kit to the Services in the 888 way that we did. If we had been ordering from one or two foreign Governments who might not have approved of what we were doing, we might have had the opposite result. It is a powerful argument for buying British and should be set against all the other arguments.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall
My hon. Friend is dealing with an important point. I am sure that he will refer to the 11-day radar man-pack kit. Does he share my slight worry, which I mentioned in an earlier intervention, that further down the paragraph seems to imply that the lessons learnt in this campaign relate to the Argentine threat and the wartime exigencies, and end with a suggestion that they cannot be carried through? I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in urging the Minister, when he replies to the debate, to support the maintenance of that kind of flexibility, which I believe would be beneficial.
§ Mr. Mates
I do not think that I dissent from what my hon. Friend says. The White Paper draws the right conclusions. We must not learn too many specific lessons from a conflict that is unlikely to be repeated. This is not to say that the general lesson is not as important as it has ever been. It has a greater importance than Governments of both parties have accorded it in defence procurement. It will be crucial, if we are involved in any future military dispute—I pray God that this does not happen—that there is as much British equipment available as possible. This ensures flexibility and control to make sure that our Services, if sent to fight, lack for nothing.
What strikes a slightly jarring note—it has been repeated by some of my hon. Friends today—is the present internecine Service struggle. This must not continue. I wish to state this with all the fervour that I can muster. We cannot have people saying that the Navy has been let down at the expense of the Army, or that the RAF has suffered at the expense of someone else. All that this does is to debilitate our central defence effort. A step was taken to rid ourselves of this struggle when the functions of the Service Ministers were centralised. Many people regret that move. I do not. It does not stop the Service chiefs fighting their own corner. They are doing it on their own behalf instead of having a shop steward on the Government Bench to do it for them. That may well produce a much better result.
The real problem is that the inter-Service rivalry that started with the White Paper "The United Kingdom Defence Programme: The Way Forward" of 1981 has been aggravated, wrongly, by the Falklands conflict. All those who shouted that the Navy was not powerful enough before the start of the campaign failed to realise that, if a difficulty did exist, it was concerned with air supply and air refuelling. These are matters that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had to put right quickly.
It is not a question of one Service being made to suffer at the expense of another. It is a question of very difficult decisions having to be made about priorities in procurement. Those decisions cannot be helped and are, indeed, hindered severely by those who seek to speak on behalf of particular Service lobbies overstating their case and aggravating the problem, leading to a worse answer at the end of the day.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the unedifying spectacle of Service personnel 889 fighting their own corner might have been averted over the last 18 months had they had Service Ministers to whom they could make their representations?
§ Mr. Mates
I do not accept what my hon. Friend says. If one is talking of retired Service personnel, I do not think that any Service Minister would have control of them. There may be some Ministers, whatever Service they represent, or do not represent, who would like to have control over some retired gentleman at the moment.
There are those who have argued over the past year that "The United Kingdom Defence Programme: The Way Forward" would be the ruination of our defence effort, because of its effect on the Royal Navy. There are those who have stated since that time—some pretty ill-informed comments have appeared in the press—that, as a result of the Falklands experience, there has been a U-turn and that my right hon. Friend and his team intend to do something different. It seems to me, reading the White Paper before the House and comparing it with "The Way Forward", that all their predictions and justifications for their actions have been fully vindicated. There has been no U-turn. There is no need for a U-turn. The imbalance in future procurement was potentially so damaging to all our defence effort that someone had to bite on the bullet and take unpopular decisions. That person was my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I thank him for what he has done. I wish him well in the future.
I wish my right hon. Friend's successor, whoever he may be, well. I wish him well with the greatest sympathy, in view of the pressures that will be felt by the defence budget over the next three or four years and also in view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) had to say about an upturn in the economy. I do not think there are many runs to be made by a Tory Secretary of State for Defence in the next three or four years. It will be all pain and criticism from his hon. Friends while he tries to achieve the impossible in balancing the priorities towards which we have to work.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
The central lesson of the Falklands episode is that a war costing 250 British lives-1,000 lives, if we include, as we should, Argentine lives—and £3 billion in resources in order to recover and to hold some minor islands 8,000 miles away which were, are and will continue to remain inevitably within the geographical and economic ambit of Argentina, is out of all proportion to what can remotely be justified. I do not see how anyone can challenge that central statement. This is all the more blatant when, within a few weeks or, at most, months of victory, the prize has been transformed by the humiliation of an American vote in favour of the resumption of negotiations and inevitably the ultimate transfer of sovereignty of the Falkland Islands to Argentina.
It is an episode, too, that cannot be justified in terms of the rationale that suddenly appeared in April. Self-determination for the islanders has scarcely been a staple ingredient of British foreign policy to judge by the way in which the Diego Garcians were unceremoniously bundled out of their island in 1973 in order to make the island over to the Americans. Nor was British concern for islanders, for whose security we were responsible, seen to be any 890 more deeply rooted the next year in the face of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, to judge by our passive stance, despite our explicit role as guarantors of that island's independence.
The cry that the Government were stoutly resisting international anarchy over the Falklands does not wholly carry credibility. That is not to say that I, as much as any hon. Member, did not wholly oppose what the Argentines did. However, that justification does not seem wholly to carry credibility in view of the 17 years spent by successive Governments in making unmistakably clear to the Argentines their intention to negotiate the transfer of sovereignty. The present Government compounded that impression by Departmental action across the board not only by the withdrawal of "Endurance" by the Ministry of Defence, but by the Foreign Office's constant apologies to Buenos Aires about its failure to make the kelpers see sense over the lease-back arrangements, the Home Office's withdrawal of citizenship, the Department of Education and Science's withdrawal of grants, and so on.
It is no disrespect to the superb record of British Service men throughout the conflict to say that the war should never have happened. It happened because the Prime Minister was determined to take the fearful risk of military retaliation at a time when she could easily have lost her premiership as a result of the debacle on 2 April, especially against the background of the desperately unpopular consequences of domestic economic collapse.
It was partly to the credit of the Prime Minister's resolve, in conjunction with the nauseating war hysteria whipped up by The Sun and other newspapers, as well as the considerable good luck of the task force in encountering unexploded Argentine bombs, that the policy came to successful fruition. However, none of that detracts from the fact that the war should never have happened. The central lesson is that we must never again become embroiled in a similar war. That lesson is extremely timely, because there is now a risk that Britain will be sucked into the Central American embroglio in defence of Belize against invasion from Guatemala.
Another central issue that must be raised in assessing the handling of the campaign relates to the search for a negotiated solution after the campaign had begun. As the country knows, once the task force was sent, the Prime Minister pursued her objectives with relentless single-mindedness. However, we are entitled to ask whether she and the Government were equally single-minded, on every occasion, in seeking a resolution of the conflict in ways that might have avoided, at least in part, the terrible cost in deaths and maimings. Questions must be asked and answered now that the campaign is over. They have not yet been answered.
Why did the Prime Minister prematurely foreclose on a negotiated solution on 20 May by withdrawing the draft interim agreement that she put forward only two days before, when the differences between the two sides at that time were trivial? Why did she refuse to retable that agreement when peace was clearly within reach? Why, as a result, did she unnecessarily lengthen and deepen the conflict by confronting the Argentines with the only option of unconditional surrender?
How truly unremitting was the search for peace and the avoidance of the blood bath that was tragically allowed to occur? The Prime Minister, when pressed in the House on 20 May, claimed that there were seven peace initiatives, but that only three had been made public. If those were 891 serious peace initiatives, the public are now entitled to know about them and to judge for themselves how real was the search for peace in the previous six weeks.
Above all, why did the Prime Minister and her inner war Cabinet veto the United Nations Security Council resolution on 4 June? That resolution, which required an immediate ceasefire, was tied to United Nations resolution 502, which required Argentine withdrawal, which had always been Britain's prime requirement. Even at that stage, the lives of dozens of our Forces would have been saved, but for the clear determination of the Prime Minister to go for outright military victory at whatever cost. Those are important and sobering questions that require sober answers.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Was not the true reason for the Prime Minister's determination the fact that, immediately before the campaign, her rating in the national opinion polls was 27 per cent. to 28 per cent.? Clearly she intended to increase that rating.
§ Mr. Meacher
I do not believe that the Prime Minister engaged in the war to retrieve her popularity, which had suffered because of her disastrous economic policies. However, the manner in which she pursued the negotiations, by cold-shouldering the possibilities of early peace, ensured that the only result would be outright military victory, with all the cost in blood that such a solution involved. Her motives are open to conjecture by the House and the nation.
Two further issues should be raised. The first is the cost of recapturing and holding the islands, which is now estimated to be about £3 billion—enough to provide £1½ million to each of the 1,800 islanders. It might be quixotic burlesque to suggest, as some have, that it would have been better, with public expenditure at such levels, if Argentina had invaded Scotland, Wales or the north of England. However, the serious point remains that the expenditure of an extra £3 billion on the temporary recovery of sovereignty, which everyone knows will sooner or later—probably sooner—be handed to Argentina, is an absurdly disproportionate cost when expenditure on infinitely more essential requirements in Britain has been cut ruthlessly and will continue, under the Government's current policies, to be subordinated for this post-empire fantasy of military glory.
The second issue is the enormous and potentially catastrophic risks that were taken with nuclear weapons. It seems clear, although it has never been admitted officially, despite considerable official disinformation, that the "Sheffield", the "Coventry" and probably other ships were carrying nuclear depth charges because of the difficulty of offloading them in time with all the haste at the beginning of the operation. An appalling and unacceptable risk was taken with those ships, especially the "Sheffield", exposed on picket duty well to the west of the remainder of the fleet.
The White Paper expends 46 pages on the military lessons, two paragraphs on the diplomatic search for peace, and just one sentence on the origins of the war, stated broadly at the beginning. No doubt that reflects the Government's scale of values, especially those of the Prime Minister, but it is the reverse of the real scale of priorities in assessing this episode. The Government have not yet been called to account for the real issue—how and why was Britain drawn into war? The day of reckoning for that will remain with the forthcoming Franks report.
§ 8.7 pm
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)
With respect to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), it would be wrong to prejudge the results of the Franks inquiry. My constituents regarded the matter as a clear case of unprovoked aggression. They believe that it was our inescapable duty to respond in the way that we did. My recollection of the proceedings is that the mood of the House was overwhelmingly in favour of the task force being sent, although I appreciate the views of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-West (Mr. Benn), who spoke on the same evening some months ago.
It is most unlikely that this debate could take place in Argentina. If it was taking place, the participants might well be arrested or their meeting might be broken up by the security services. It is refreshing that we can put forward our views fully and freely to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. However, it would not be appropriate to make a host of niggling criticisms. The task force set out much more quickly than was believed possible. Our forces carried out their task brilliantly and the landings were carried out without a single loss. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East said several months ago that there would be a massive slaughter on the beaches, but that did not happen. Our forces carried out their jobs thoroughly professionally. When they landed they faced forces more than twice their number and proceeded to defeat them.
If my right hon. Friend were here now, he would be justified in believing the words of Canning:Of all plagues, good Heaven, thy wrath can send,Save me, oh, save me, from the candid friend.Tonight I shall not play the part of the candid friend. I have an interest in the matter, partly as an Army reservist, but much more relevantly because hundreds of my constituents worked solidly round the clock at Ferranti to make sure that Royal Air Force Harriers could fly off aircraft carriers. In fact, Ferranti sent several representatives with the task force, one of whom, Mr. McAlpine, was decorated for his services.
It is interesting to note that the White Paper mentions the advance technology supplied by Ferranti and others, by stating on page 24:Laser target marking from the ground was used, enabling laser-guided bombs to make direct hits on their targets.That was important, because, as paragraph 243 confirms, the use of ammunition was far greater than had been anticipated. The use of precision attack weapons, such as laser-guided bombs, led to fewer bombs being used and to a saving in casualities. With much greater accuracy there were not the horrible problems associated with increasing casualities by indiscriminate bombing. The use of precision guided weapons minimised logistic requirements. It is a form of stand-off attack, which means that the aircraft does not need to overfly its target.
That was relevant, because three Royal Air Force Harriers were shot down by ground fire. If, from the outset, precision guided weapons had been used, the Royal Air Force Harriers might have been less vulnerable, as they would not have had to fly over the targets. I am glad that that matter is considered in the White Paper and that laser-target marking will be further explored by the Ministry of Defence.
Another important lesson is dealt with in paragraph 237, which refers to the need for improvisation. It states: 893In the exceptional circumstances of the Campaign our procurement processes proved adaptable to meet the wide variety of military needs against very tight timescales. New operational demands were satisfied in record times through the ready availability of a broad spectrum of scientific and engineering expertise in the Ministry of Defence research establishments and the comprehensive resources of the United Kingdom's defence industry.We had to respond and adapt quickly to rapidly changing circumstances and to make use of all available resources. That emphasises the need to have the agile combat aircraft in future years, to which the Secretary of State referred in his speech.
In support of that argument I would mention that before the Falklands campaign it was considered unnecessary to have more than two aircraft carriers. It rapidly became evident that for this type of out-of-area operation more than two aircraft carriers would be required if two were to remain operational, as one might be being refitted and serviced in port. It would be equally unwise and unsafe to suggest that we might go straight to the development of a supersonic Harrier and cut out the agile combat aircraft.
The short take-off and vertical landing aircraft would be capable of travelling at supersonic speeds with a versatility provided by a new core engine. It will not be ready until the late 1990s. The chief executive of the British Aerospace group, Sir Frederick Page, stated in the Sir Henry Royce memorial lecture that it would not be ready before the year 2000. In contrast, the agile combat aircraft would be ready seven to 10 years earlier, by 1989 or 1990. That is well before the supersonic Harrier. It is designed to be the most outstanding fighter aircraft in the world to meet any possible threat in the central region.
The second drawback to the supersonic Harrier is that there is no immediate prospect of international cooperation—certainly not from Germany, Italy or any European country. It is a point of substance, since my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that without international collaboration Government support would not be forthcoming in the form of a Royal Air Force order. Again, in contrast, the agile combat aircraft has good prospects of collaboration with German and Italian industry. That could be consolidated, especially if a Royal Air Force order comes forward in due course.
The third drawback concerns markets. In spite of the brilliant success of the Harrier in the Falklands, there is not yet a great international demand for a supersonic Harrier outside the United States. Here again the agile combat aircraft has the prospect of a large market which has been identified.
In addition, there is a political dimension. Even during the Falklands campaign we needed support from America. If the Americans had not agreed with our policy, we would have been left short of a considerable amount of equipment. It is therefore essential to keep up our own indigenous capability over a wide area in order to retain an independence of action.
One way of doing so is for the Royal Air Force to receive an order for the agile combat aircraft. As paragraph 237 emphasises:The Campaign demonstrated the value of a broadly based national defence industry, and the benefits of an in-house research capability.In the Daily Telegraph only the other day the Prime Minister was quoted as saying: 894We only stay in the business by building the aircraft and going ahead.That sentiment expressed by the Prime Minster is surely in the interests of defending Britain, of maintaining employment and of remaining in the forefront of technological advance in aviation.
It is necessary to have back-up support. The White Paper hardly touches on the fact that the Territorial Army played an active role in ferrying supplies to the ports. I agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), that there is a case for expanding the Territorial Army, and not only that I hope that my right hon. Friend will bring forward the plans to set up an auxiliary air force squadron, returning a flying role to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force by forming a squadron of Wessex 5 helicopters to assist the Territorial Army reinforcing division.
My final point relates to the Parachute Regiment. One of the most important lessons is that we must be able to deter a potential aggressor. At Goose Green, when Major Keeble went forward during the battle to explain to the Argentines that he hoped that they would surrender, he did so by telling them that they were up against the best troops in the British Army. He was speaking no more than the truth.
But only a few years ago, just after I became a Member of Parliament, in 1976, the Labour Government axed the Parachute Brigade headquarters and with it was disbanded the bulk of supporting units, such as artillery, signals, engineering and the troops necessary for any major airborne operation. The joint airborne task force, a combined RAF—Army concept involving 16 Brigade, was disbanded and with it went many of the Hercules aircraft assigned to it. That diminished the parachute role of the Parachute Regiment. Today, I think that few among us would disagree that that was a retrograde and undesirable step. Today, the trend is in a different direction.
I was a member of the Territorial Army when three-quarters of it was axed by the Labour Government. I have cause to remember the matter with some feeling, because the regiment to which I belonged, the Cameronians, was disbanded. It had been formed to protect freedom of worship. I went to its last prayer meeting on the hills expecting that I would be one of the few to witness the sad event. To my astonishment I found thousands and thousands of people. They stretched as far as the eye could see. When I asked them why they had all come, I was told that they knew that a unit that had never been defeated in battle had been eliminated by the stroke of a pen in Whitehall.
At a time when the Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact and Russia are rearming at great speed, we must ensure that our forces are strong enough to deter any possible aggression. If there is one overwhelming lesson to be learnt from the Falklands, it is that failure to deter aggression always exacts a very heavy price for the restoration of freedom and self-determination.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
When I appeared before the Franks commission on Friday 22 October to give oral evidence at its request, Lord Franks made it clear that the very few references that I had made in my original 895 written evidence to the commission to events after 2 April were outwith the terms of reference of that Falkland Islands inquiry.
Therefore, I shall devote my time this evening to the events of 1 and 2 of May—a period emphatically not covered by Franks—and to the circumstances surrounding the decision to sink the "General Belgrano". I do so in the hope that Parliament and hon. Members on both sides of the House will—as it is far from being a straightforward yah-boo party issue—come to judge that there are sufficient disturbing facts to justify an inquiry along the lines of that asked for in question No. 15 for 20 January 1983:To ask the Prime Minister, if she will establish an Inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 into the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the 'General Belgrano' and into related events from 30 April to 4 May"—the procedure of the Lynskey tribunal. The nub of the argument is that, whatever the reasons for ordering Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown, DSO, captain of HM submarine "Conqueror", to fire lethal mark 8 torpedoes—or were they really Tigerfish—at the "General Belgrano", they had little or nothing to do with the immediate military needs of protecting the task force, or ships of the task force at or around 8 pm London time, which is 14.57 hours South Atlantic time, on Sunday 2 May.
By parliamentary question it has been established that the range of the surface-to-surface Exocet carried by her escorts—the "Piedra Buena" and the "Hipolito Bouchard"—was at the most 42 km. I understand that the maximum range of the guns of the "General Belgrano" was 13 miles. By parliamentary question it has been established that when the "General Belgrano" was torpedoed, her position was 55 degrees 27 minutes south, 61 degrees 25 minutes west. By parliamentary question it has been established that she was on a course of 280 degrees—that is, on course for the Straits of Magellan and her home port of Uschaia in the southern Argentine.
By parliamentary question it has been established that there were no units of the task force west of the "General Belgrano". Indeed, in answer to question No. 102 on 16 December, the Prime Minister said:the vessels of the task force were, broadly speaking, to the north-east".—[Official Report, 16 December 1982; Vol. 34, c. 201.]How are we to explain the following statement from the Secretary of State for Defence:This heavily armed surface attack group was close to the total exclusion zone and was closing on elements of our task force which was only hours away"—[Official Report, 4 May 1982; Vol. 23, c. 29–30.]?No less misleading was the statement made in response to a written question on 29 November. It said:Concerned that HMS 'Conqueror' might lose the 'General Belgrano' as she ran over the shallow water of the Burdwood Bank, the task force commander sought and obtained a change in the rules of engagement to allow an attack outside the 200-mile exclusion zone."—[Official Report, 29 November 1982; Vol. 33, c. 104.]Careful checking of the charts reveals that when the "General Belgrano" was struck, it was far to the southwest of the Burdwood Bank, and was steaming in a west-north-west direction. Moreover, "Jane's Fighting Ships" reveals that the draught of HMS "Conqueror" is 27 ft and possibly 55 ft when submerged. The Valiant class of 896 submarine, of which HMS "Conqueror" is one, have sonar that allows them to operate in the shallow waters of the Baltic.
The oceanographers tell us that the Burdwood Bank—incidentally, well surveyed—is in 25 fathoms, or over 150 ft, of water at its shallowest. For the most part it is in 90 fathoms or more, or in 540 to 600 ft of water. Therefore, we may be forgiven for concluding that references to the Burdwood Bank were excuses rather than reasons for torpedoing the "General Belgrano" at 8 pm on Sunday 2 May, whatever the situation may have been earlier.
Questions Nos. 113 and 114 askwhy, in view of the position and the course of the 'General Belgrano', orders were given to torpedo her on a 280 degree course at a position well outside the Burdwood Bank; what positive evidence was available at the time she was torpedoed that the 'General Belgrano' would change her course and make for the Burdwood Bank.The reply was:It would not be in the public interest to go into details."—[Official Report, 14 December 1982; Vol. 34, c. 59.],For that sentence one might substitute "It is becoming far too embarrassing for Ministers of Defence and the Prime Minister to answer these detailed, precise parliamentary questions, albeit they refer to movements of Argentine ships six months or more ago, because if answers were given, the cock and bull nature of some of the previous answers might be exposed." In her letter of 20 December—which I have requested to be printed in Hansard—the Prime Minister told me:I can only repeat that the facts underlying the attack of the 'General Belgrano' are as given to you both in the House and at the presentation by the Task Force Commanders that you attended in the Ministry of Defence on 23 November.The trouble is that those facts do not tally with the position of the "General Belgrano" that was given in parliamentary answer at the time that she was torpedoed. It is within my clear recollection—as I was listening intently—that Sir Sandy Woodward told the few Members of Parliament there that he was concerned that HMS "Conqueror" might lose the "General Belgrano" going over the Burdwood Bank. Indeed, my recollection was confirmed by a parliamentary answer on 29 November which said:Concerned that HMS 'Conqueror' might lose the 'General Belgrano' as she ran over the shallow water of the Burdwood Bank, the task force commander sought and obtained a change in the rules of engagement to allow an attack outside the 200-mile exclusion zone."—(Official Report, 29 November 1982; Vol. 33, c. 104.]But it transpires that the "General Belgrano" was torpedoed at 55 degrees 20 minutes south and 61 degrees 25 minutes west—at least 45 miles to the south-west of the edge of the Burdwood Bank and heading west-north-west. That information comes from the Official Report for 15 December, c. 171.
One thing that 20 years in the House of Commons develops in a man is the instinct to sense when one is being told something that is not quite right. Normally I would have accepted a senior officer's word unquestioningly but then we live, do we not, in an age of misinformation? I scurried back to the House of Commons to start checking the co-ordinates and to make inquiries about the Burdwood Bank.
Delving by means of parliamentary questions reveals the indisputable fact that, for some reason or another, Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward misled those who came to the presentation, which I had hitherto treated as unattributable, but which the Prime Minister used against 897 me in her letter of 20 December. Apparently, there is one set of rules for Downing Street on unattributable presentations and another set of rules for ordinary Members of Parliament. The important issue here is why on earth Admiral Woodward should feel that he had to mislead on this sensitive issue at the presentation and, I understand, at others.
I cannot believe that Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward is other than an extremely competent navigator, mariner and ex-submariner. I do not believe for a moment that he would make elementary errors in his co-ordinates in ascribing the need to sink the "General Belgrano" to possibilities of what might happen as HMS "Conqueror" and the "General Belgrano" traversed the Burdwood Bank.
The only convincing reason why Admiral Woodward should have felt that he had to mislead Members of Parliament and others is that he was asked to pull someone else's chestnuts out of the fire—by which I mean protect the Prime Minister from people alighting on the real reasons why she ordered the sinking of the "General Belgrano".
The proven fact is that when the torpedoes were launched at 14.57 hours South Atlantic time on 2 May, any hazard posed by the Burdwood Bank—the alleged reason why it was necessary to fire—was something of the past, at any rate for the time being. How comes it that the "General Belgrano" was such a threat to the task force—or HMS "Conqueror"—when she was making for her home port? As Commander Wreford-Brown referred the issue the moment he first sighted the "General Belgrano" to Sir Sandy Woodward, the task force commander, who in turn referred the question of what action to take to Northwood, which in turn referred it to the War Cabinet, the threat cannot have been that immediate.
Such is the contrast between the early indications of the "General Belgrano" and her escorts "converging on" the task force and the actual positions extracted by parliamentary questions, The Times of 14 December could carry the headline on page 2:Replies put Task Force on thy land".We face a web and tissue of contradictions and misinformation.
Even more serious is the fact that the opening 10 words of paragraph 110 of the White Paper encapsulate a highly significant inaccuracy which the drafters of the White Paper must have known to be inaccurate to the point of wilful deceit of the House. It reads:On 2 May HMS Conqueror detected the Argentine cruiser, General Belgrano".That is not so, according to my information. I understand from two members of the crew whom I am not prepared to name that the statement on page 157 of the Sunday Times book "The Falklands War" is correct and that HMS "Conqueror" detected the "General Belgrano" and her escorts at least 24 hours before 14.57 hours South Atlantic time, 8 pm London time on 2 May. That would mean that HMS "Conqueror" sighted the "General Belgrano" on I May or, more probably, on 30 April.
In my experience, small inaccuracies are often part of larger ones and seemingly small lies are part of larger lies. If Ministers resent that, they should agree to a tribunal and make the undoctored log of HMS "Conqueror" available to it. It should also be allowed to cross-examine 898 Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown, Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander Christopher MacDonald and Petty Officers Billy Guinea and Billie Budding, all of whom are mentioned by name in the Sunday Times book and other unnamed members of the crew of HMS "Conqueror". Why should there be such discrepancies between the facts and what is said in paragraph 110 of the White Paper?
On Monday 13 December I asked the Secretary of State for Defencefor how long continuously HMS 'Conqueror' had the 'General Belgrano' in her sights or in any other form of contact.That extracted the following answer:It would not be in the public interest to disclose the extent of our knowledge of Argentine naval activity.The same less than helpful answer covered questions Nos. 104 and 105 about the whereabouts of the "25 de Mayo" on 2 May. Ministerial statements to the effect that she was going to perform a pincer operation on the task force with the "Belgrano" are a lot of flannel. As I say, questions Nos. 104, 105 and 114 on 13 December all met with the reply:It would not be in the public interest to disclose the extent of our knowledge of Argentine naval activity.Also on Monday 13 December, I asked the Secretary of Stateif he will outline the considerations of security which now apply (a) to the identity and (b) to the position of Argentine vessels in company with the aircraft carrier '25 de Mayo' on 2 May;andwhether the identity of the Argentine vessels accompanying the aircraft carrier '25 de Mayo' on 2 May is known to Her Majesty's Government.The Minister of State for the Armed Forces replied:It would not be in the public interest to give details of our knowledge of Argentine dispositions."—[Official Report, 14 December 1982; Vol. 33, c. 62–63.]It is widely known that the "25 de Mayo" was accompanied by type 42 destroyers "Hercules" and "Santissima Trinidad" and that they were in or very near port. The Department of Defence seems to think that Members can be fobbed off with any old story about pincer movements unsupported by fact. If there is evidence of a pincer movement, that evidence should be submitted to the tribunal for which I have asked.
I give just one more example of how Ministers are trying to take us for a ride and to fob us off. Let colleagues cast their minds back to 4 or 5 May. Was there not a general impression in Parliament, in the press and in the country that the "Belgrano" had been sunk under the rules of engagement? The Secretary of State for Defence himself said:The actual decision to launch a torpedo was clearly one taken by the submarine commander".—[Official Report, 5 May 1982; Vol. 23, c. 156.]Two months later, however, on 5 July, Commander Wreford-Brown returned to the West of Scotland, hoisted the Jolly Roger—tastelessly, in view of the number of lives lost—and imprudently displayed the dagger to show that the submarine had participated in operations in conjunction with special forces. He then let the cat out of the bag by informing the Scottish press corps that, in the words of the Aberdeen Press and Journal:The situation was reported to Fleet HQ at Northwood Middlesex. The decision to attack was taken by HQ and was confirmed by Commander Wreford-Brown.Eric Mackenzie of The Scotsman corroborated the fact that the commander of "Conqueror" vouchsafed that his orders to sink "Belgrano" came from Northwood.
899 David Fairhall, the careful defence correspondent of The Guardian, wrote on 5 October:The decision to let Conqueror loose on the Belgrano was made by the Prime Minister and members of her inner war cabinet, who were lunching at Chequers on May 2nd.Reports along such lines have never been denied because they are widely known to be true.
I hasten to excuse the Foreign Secretary, as he was in Washington and New York at the time. I refer here to my question of 24 November:Arising out of the discussions on nuclear safety, what did the Foreign Secretary say to his Italian colleagues who are interested for ethnic reasons—because of the number of Milanese and Neapolitan families involved in the loss of life—about the sinking by the nuclear submarine Conqueror of the Belgrano? He could say to them, could he not, that he was in New York when the order was given on Sunday 2 May, about to dine with Perez de Cuellar, that he has a clean sheet, that he was not present at the war cabinet and that he did not know about the order to sink the ship?"—[Official Report, 24 November 1982; Vol. 32, c. 859.]I was then rebuked by Frank Johnson in The Times for failing to provide details of what they had for dinner.
It will be within the recollection of the House that, far from leaping to the defence of the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary murmured gratefully that his discussions in Europe were outwith the scope of the question. He was equally cautious on 8 December, as reported at c. 862–3 of the Official Report, when I reiterated that he had no part in the decision to sink "Belgrano". Of course, we understand that the right hon. Gentleman rightly wishes to distance himself from the Prime Minister and the decision to sink "Belgrano".
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am reluctant to raise this, but the hon. Gentleman's speech, rightly or wrongly, has been read out almost word for word. It seems to me somewhat out of order—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)
Order. The House knows that it is permissible to refer to copious notes, but not to read speeches.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I was just trying to make my speech as short as possible.
Whatever the considerations which prompted the orders from Northwood to launch the "Conqueror's" torpedoes against "Belgrano", by 8 pm London time on 2 May, they were not those of military necessity. A day or more earlier, they might conceivably have been so, but not by the South Atlantic afternoon of 2 May, when "Belgrano" was going home.
Had a new factor entered into the calculations of the war cabinet, minus the Foreign Secretary, between the evening of 1 May and Sunday 2 May? There was indeed a new factor—knowledge of a genuine peace offer. On the evening of Saturday 1 May the Army Council, some 60 generals of senior rank with more immediate powers over their member of the junta than a constituency Labour Party has over any MP, cajoled or persuaded the dipsomaniac, alcholic Galtieri to agree to order the Argentine forces back from the Malvinas. It was the army that mattered, but 900 Admiral Anayan, the naval member of the junta, had ordered his fleet back to port. This is now common knowledge in Argentina, as his decision was furiously contested by Naval Aviacon, the equivalent of the Fleet Air Arm.
The House will easily understand that the Argentine military was penetrated by American intelligence to the extent that President Galtieri's every decision was known in Washington within minutes rather than hours. Neither the Army Council decision, nor Admiral Anayan's order could possibly have been kept from Washington.
Americans whom I feel are trustworthy and in a position to know confirm what I learnt indirectly from General Alberto Menena, a member of the Army Council, that the tidings of Galtieri's decision to withdraw were indeed passed to Washington, and were quickly sent to London and the Prime Minister. Does any hon. Member imagine that a message of import, at that time, from the United States Administration, would not have been passed on to the Prime Minister? It is inconceivable.
Thus, there was pressure from America, from Peru, from the Organisation of American States, from the United Nations and from the Labour Party leadership to accept the first aim of the task force referred to by Sir John Fieldhouse in the London Gazette, to bring about the withdrawal of Argentine forces from the Falklands on the basis of resolution 502, on which so many put "such great store".
The charge laid at the door of the British Prime Minister could hardly be more grave. It is specifically that, along with her Defence Secretary and the chairman of the Conservative Party, but in the absence of the Foreign Secretary and perhaps the Home Secretary, she coldly and deliberately gave the orders to sink the "Belgrano", in the knowledge that an honourable peace was on offer and in the expectation—all too justified—that the "Conqueror's" torpedoes would torpedo the peace negotiations.
Faced with a compromise, involving the withdrawal of Argentine and British forces, and based on resolution 502 which she correctly sensed world opinion would expect her to accept, the Prime Minister calculatingly and deliberately ordered the torpedoes to be unleashed to create an incident which she understood perfectly well would switch the whole war from second into fifth gear. If there had been no "Belgrano", there would probably have been no "Sheffield", no "Atlantic Conveyor", no "Ardent", no "Antelope" and no "Coventry".
Tales of Sir Terence Lewin scurrying off to Chequers to tell the inner Cabinet of the threat posed by "Belgrano" may or may not be true, but certainly Sir Terence's alleged actions are in the category of camouflage—or "misinformation" to use the current polite term. The brutal truth is that on or near her waking hour—
§ Mr. Dalyell
Yes, I am reading, but I want to get my facts correct.
That Sunday morning, 2 May, the Prime Minister was confronted by messages of serious peace proposals emanating from the United States and Peru, based on what was happening in Argentina. Over a period of a least five hours she deliberately and knowingly elected to create an incident of predictably dreadful proportions. The Prime Minister's motives will remain a matter of argument among historians. They will have to take into account the 901 extent to which her perception of British public opinion was such that she did not want to be like that Grand Old Duke of York in marching the task force 8,000 miles to the South Atlantic and marching it back again.
The matter is too urgent to be left to historians. We need a tribunal to turn its immediate attention to the extent to which the decision to sink the "Belgrano" was to do with the soubriquet of Iron Lady and allusions by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about ascertaining the metal of which the Prime Minister was made.
The fusing of personal vanity and political calculation can lead to dreadful results. A tribunal might well take the view that electoral considerations in Britain were not the paramount reason why the Prime Minister ordered the sinking of the "Belgrano". It might perceive that it had even more to do with the leadership of the Conservative Party, because who doubts that in the absence of a scrap—I went to see the Prime Minister and I could judge her mood on 21 April, which is more than most Members did—and military victory per se, the return of the fleet would have raised all sorts of doubt about the wisdom of despatching the task force in the first place.
The sinking of the "Belgrano", when the right hon. Lady knew what she did about peace proposals, was an evil decision of an order that it would not have occurred to me to attribute to any other leading politician of any party since I have been in the House—certainly not to Harold Macmillan, my first Prime Minister, Alec Home or the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). To give such an order behind the back of her Foreign Secretary and possibly in the absence of her Home Secretary—men who knew only too well what war was about—without warning the Government of the United States, whose hemispheric relations would be predictably further injured, and at a point when there was no military necessity, was a criminal act by the British Prime Minister. It was an act of calculated wickedness and reckless folly, the like of which has not been witnessed in the political lifetime of most of us in the House.
There is a duty on this country to initiate an inquiry or tribunal forthwith. If we do not, the truth will dribble out. As I put it in my oral evidence to the Franks commission in relation to earlier events covered by its inquiry, there will be—
§ Mr. Dalyell
I shall finish by saying that there aretalkative, voluble, memoir-writing Americans"—that is the phrase that I used when giving evidence to the Franks commission—who will sooner or later reveal the truth".There are men and women in Washington with much to tell, who will talk at the moment of their choosing.
I wish the Secretary of State well in going, but I must tell him that I am as bewildered as many people at his decision to go after 15 years. I was deeply interested in and fascinated by his speech, but about his decision to go there are many question marks. Our credibility is stretched on this issue, as is the credibility of many of his own 902 colleagues. There are people in Washington who have much to say and at the moment of their choosing they will begin to say it.
§ Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)
It is my misfortune to be called after the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). We have watched him with interest over the months. I think that tonight he has gone over the top in a way the equal of which we have not seen in the House for many a long year.
I live in the West Country hard by Cornwall. People in Cornwall have qualities that we all admire and respect. They have doggedness, determination and resilience. I say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, on possibly his last appearance on the Front Bench, how much we shall all miss him in the House and how much he will be missed by those in his constituency, for whom he has worked so long and hard.
We must learn lessons from the past. In the report of the Falklands campaign, the Secretary of State made it quite clear that his team and all his advisers in the Ministry have learnt those lessons in full. His views on the future make much sense. I am relieved that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and his powerful naval lobby have given approval at 80 per cent. I am more generous. I accept 90 per cent. or 95 per cent. of what we have been offered for the future. It is the 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. which causes me great unhappiness and misgivings for the future.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) referred to the role of airborne forces. Many hon. Members have referred to the beefing up of 5 Infantry Brigade.
We all accept that we need highly skilled and trained forces for out-of-area roles. There must be two essential elements in such trained forces. The first is amphibious—provided by the commando brigade—and the other is a parachute capability. During the Falklands campaign, the amphibious force had to lead. On other occasions we might find the boot is on the other foot.
The Royal Marines already have a structure to support their particular leg. They have a highly proficient and well exercised commando brigade headquarters staffed by marines and charged with training and preparation for every aspect of amphibious war in present day terms and in planning for the future.
The commando battalions, plus all arms and services, are totally integrated within that brigade. I am not sure whether many people really understand that a large percentage of that commando brigade is made up from Army sources. Once men join the commando brigade, to all intents and purposes they become commandos. They wear their green berets with pride and play a full part in the integrated force of which they are part for the time that they are there. That is in total contrast to the airborne forces. The state of readiness of our airborne forces, if the Government have their way, will not measure up to the Royal Marines capability, because we have no equivalent command structure.
The White Paper, in paragraph 304, states that we plan to add to 5 Infantry Brigade… an armoured reconnaissance regiment and in the course of next year we will add an artillery regiment, an Army Air Corps Squadron and certain logistic support units. RAF Hercules 903 transport aircraft are currently earmarked for the Brigade, and the fitting of station-keeping equipment to a number of Hercules aircraft in 1985 will give the Brigade an assault parachute capability. These enhancements represent a major improvement to our capability for airborne operations 'out of area'.That is all good stuff, but it is not good enough.
I have several questions for the Secretary of State which need answers not only for myself with my direct interest in the Parachute Regiment but for many other people who know and understand that if we are to have a really efficient airborne equivalent of that commando brigade it has to be commanded by people who know and understand the capabilities of airborne soldiers who should be ready and able to use their training in the same way as the Royal Marine commandos.
Why, if the presently constituted 5 Infantry Brigade is already over 50 per cent. parachute trained, has the Secretary of State not taken the obvious step of reconstituting that brigade as an airborne brigade with a headquarters which is both parachute and airborne in content with all ranks within that brigade wearing the red beret?
Secondly, what steps are proposed to give an additional parachuting capability to the supporting arms and services within the brigade—in particular the gunners and the field ambulance? This point was made strongly by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth, who knows much about this subject.
Thirdly, what training in close formation flying in relation to existing Hercules aircraft will be given in advance of the fitting of station-keeping radar in 1985? In other words, will we have a proper parachute formation capability now rather than in 1985?
I have touched only on the frustrations felt by many people about the Secretary of State's proposals. The Parachute Regiment, like the Royal Marines, looks for no reward following its part in the Falklands campaign. It asks only that the way ahead in out-of-area roles should involve training and equipment under the command of those who recognise the need and who have a genuine belief that such a role will be important.
Paragraph 305 of the White Paper rightly talks about themargin within the defence programme".I am talking not about the replacement of a type 22 or type 44 ship, but about a small amount of money that would provide an enormous amount of added efficiency. It could be done at minimal cost. In my view, such minimal expenditure at this stage could well save lives in future.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The wind-up speeches are expected to begin at 9.20 pm. Many hon. Members have been waiting a long time to speak, and it will help everyone if speeches from now on are brief.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) spoke about Hercules aircraft. I can speak with some authority on them, having spent 14 hours in one between Ascension and Port Stanley and having sat 2 feet 6 inches away from the mobile toilet. They were 14 appalling hours. Some of my Defence Committee colleagues will be visiting the Falklands in February, but I shall be reluctant to join them for that specific reason.
This is an important debate, as is the one on Shackleton scheduled for tomorrow. They are not separate but are part 904 of the same problem and should be integrated in one's analysis of the short-term, medium-term and long-term future of the Falkland Islands.
I am reminded of what Anthony Eden said—"We are not at war with Egypt. We are in an armed conflict". The Falklands conflict may not have been a declared war, but it had all the manifestations of a war. Any war has a profound effect on the combatants, their forms of government, economy, society and external relations. I believe that some of the consequences of the Falklands war have yet to be perceived. The consequences already have not been inconsiderable, but I believe that there will be further repercussions in the future.
This was a small war, but even they can have profound consequences, and the lessons we learn from them must be observed. After all, it was a war in South Africa that, thankfully, had an enormous effect on decision-making in the War Office, the Admiralty and at Cabinet level and led to the creation of the Committee of Imperial Defence in the early twentieth century.
I disagree with the concept that small wars such as the Falklands war have only a limited relevance. A war tests a country's political institutions and its military decision-making processes. One of the advantages of the Falklands war, if there be advantages, is that it gave us an opportunity of testing the military infrastructure, supply and performance of troops. It also tested the machinery for decision-making, which in some cases was found to be wanting. The House has an important role to play in observing what happened and in pointing out what might happen in the future, in the tradition of the inquiries of the last century, following wars.
The danger is that one may not draw the right conclusions. If this White Paper represents the totality of thinking in the Ministry of Defence on the war—I trust that it does not—I am not at all encouraged. This is a small document. It is not a true synthesis of the lessons that were learned. It is a flimsy document, in which I am disappointed, as I am sure are many of us.
The language is perhaps less formal than is normal in White Papers. In some places, it has the style of a Mills and Boon novel. In paragraph 115, we read the following:The next morning brought clear blue skies, but the landing force had won a few vital hours".The document may not be directed at the general reader, but in my opinion the taxpayer deserves far more information about what happened, the lessons drawn from the conflict, bearing in mind the need for national security and commercial considerations. I hope, therefore, that in the months that lie ahead much more information will be made available to the House than is now available in the document.
One gains much more insight into what happened and the lessons that can be drawn by reading articles in the specialist defence journals. In some ways, the document is too self-congratulatory. Nowhere is the blandness more apparent than in the section on weapons performance. I do not believe thatGenerally the equipment and weapons system performed well in especially demanding circumstances: as well as, and sometimes better than expected",and the limited documentary evidence to support that is half enough. I hope that the Government will be more forthcoming to the taxpayer than they have been so far.
905 Blandness follows blandness. It is infectious. The civil servant who wrote the section on lessons in ship construction deserves an award for skirting over some serious issues. Paragraph 229 says:The threat posed by the sea-skimming missile, Exocet, was well understood before the operation; and counter-measures to deal with it were available to the task force.I wonder whether that is a true analysis of the situation. I could quote a number of paragraphs to demonstrate the flimsiness of the analysis. When the Defence Select Committee considers the document in detail, I hope that more information will be made available to us.
I shall say a brief word about the section on "Public Relations" in paragraphs 256–58. There were many more important issues in the relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the media than were mentioned in those few paragraphs. Many lessons should be drawn from the Defence Select Committee's inquiry. About 28 recommendations were made, and I hope that they will be digested and acted upon.
I should like to refer to one of the important pieces of evidence given to us by the BBC who said:Many of the lessons learned during the crisis must be put to urgent use for in a free society the passage of information is crucial to the understanding by a nation of its own affairs. The BBC believes that understanding can be based only on the disclosure of truth, and that a nation strong in its belief in parliamentary democracy needs neither news management nor propaganda to sustain its will.Few right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned the future defence of the islands—partly perhaps because of the paucity of information. I have met some of the senior military personnel there, and I was particularly impressed by General Thorne, the Military Commissioner and Commander British Forces. However, he has a difficult task, with somewhat limited resources. If too many resources are put into the defence of the Falkland Islands, it will be costly and it will deflect our principal concern away from the NATO area. If we put in too few resources, we run the danger that we had before April of a failure of a trip-wire policy, which had such appalling consequences.
The key to the future defence must rest in the airport. I am not convinced of the need to spend £400 million to £500 million on a new airport. The Falkland Islanders themselves believe that if too much money is spent on the defence of the islands the will of the British people to sustain the islands will be diminished all the more swiftly. The existing airfield at Port Stanley can be adequately expanded to meet the needs of our armed forces.
General Thorne needs far better intelligence advice than his predecessor obtained. I hope that the Franks committee will suggest several ways in which either intelligence-gathering or the response to it can be improved.
The task facing the Government is to determine what the level of force will be in terms of numbers, quality and the equipment available to our troops. Between 3,500 and 4,000 personnel should be adequate if we have proper air cover, adequate Harriers, Phantoms and Rapier missiles. It is important that we have an appropriate number of properly armed surface ships available. The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and I went on board one of the ships on picket duty off West Falkland and I was impressed by the armaments there, not just the missile 906 defence but the enormous amount of other weaponry. That is clearly one of the lessons which has been well learnt by the Navy.
It is important that we have not just adequate radar land and air based. It is important that we have some mobilisation exercises to simulate any reinforcement, should that be required. Lastly, it is important to have the requisite military infrastructure and I was impressed by that being created by the Armed Forces out there, particularly the sappers.
We must think seriously about what will happen to the residue of Empire that we now find ourselves with and where it fits into our overall defence strategy. The final lesson is for the Labour Party and relates to those sections of it who think that out there is a vast number of people of pacifist, neutralist intent with no desire whatever to support any defence effort above a minimal level. I would have thought that the lessons for the Labour Party in 1914 and 1939 were obvious. Even if the public out there are not bellicose in normal times, in a crisis the public expect the Government and the Armed Forces to act competently. That competence cannot be guaranteed unless adequate resources are put into defence.
I do not belong to that wing of the Labour Party that regards a belief in defence as being tantamount to accepting some form of political immortality. The first criterion of any Government, be it Socialist or capitalist, is to guarantee the security of the State. There are few Socialist parties in the world which equate Socialism with pacifism. France has Socialists with every right to call themselves Socialists—more right than many in the Labour Party. Socialism in France is not tantamount to an acceptance of an arms level that would endanger French security. That lesson must be learnt.
On the Saturday morning debate, I sat here and saw people gung ho who had previously denounced me as being a hawk in defence matters, who were not strong believers in defence, demanding a strong response to the Argentine invasion in line with the Labour Party's policy commitment to the Falkland Islands. However, when the line was laid down for them later, some views changed. I am not in favour of an expensive, open-ended and long-term commitment to the Falkland Islands. There must eventually be negotiations and we shall have to participate. In the meantime, while the British public will not accept withdrawal, we must give our Armed Forces out there better protection than their predecessors had before April. The lesson for some in the Labour Party in the field of defence outside of the Falklands issue is that it cannot run along a pacifist and neutralist route and think that the public outside will support it. We should have learnt that lesson in the past. If we go along the route that is advocated by some Labour Members, we shall be hammered by the electorate because the last thing that it wants is a political party which might be thought of as endangering the security of the State. How can we have our experiments and our practice of democratic Socialism unless we can guarantee the security of those experiments from external aggressors?
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
I am grateful for this opportunity to intervene. I want to be as brief as possible, because I know that many of my colleagues want to contribute.
907 I should like to say straight away what a marvellous job the men in the Services, civilians and the dockyards—everyone involved in the campaign—did to achieve such a remarkable success. The conduct of the campaign drew on the tradition, history and above all the training of the Armed Forces so that they could operate, react and adapt to the situation that was demanded of them. In many ways it was a classic campaign, but undoubtedly the overriding use by the Argentine forces of Exocet began to dominate our thinking. I have been very impressed with the White Paper on the Falkland Islands entitled "The Falklands Campaign: The Lessons", but I have drawn rather different lessons from the campaign.
I should like to go through the four lessons that I have drawn from it. The first is that I think that the decision to send a task force of sufficient strength to do the job was of paramount importance and significance. The fact that cost was not to be taken into account enabled the force to be put together with the speed with which it was assembled and to be equipped with all the equipment necessary to do the job. That one decision was of overriding importance in the success of the campaign.
The second lesson to which we all have to address our minds is the acquisition by the Argentine Government of Exocet missiles. The problem to which NATO must now turn its mind is whether we are, or are not, to have some control over the sophisticated weapons that could cause any one partner of NATO considerable damage and difficulty were the weapons to be used against it. I deeply regret the action of the French Government in resupplying Exocet missiles to the Argentine Government. It is now incumbent on all of us in NATO to address our minds to this topical subject.
The third lesson which I believe has to be drawn from the campaign is the importance of satellites for intelligence and communications. I am delighted that the White Paper announces that there are plans to acquire a new British satellite for communications. However, we are entering a space race. It is of immense importance that we take steps within NATO, because it is a NATO matter, to protect those satellites. Something will have to be done. If we rely too much on those satellites, any action by an enemy power to destroy them in space could have colossal repercussions on the conduct of any military operation. We have vulnerable systems there. The lesson that must be drawn is that we must now decide what arrangements and treaties have to be drawn up to govern the conduct of operations in space. There is, of course, the 1967 treaty, but I believe that further treaties are urgently needed. At the same time, I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State always to consider a belt and braces situation and allow for other communications to take the place of satellites, should those become inoperable.
The fourth lesson is for us, I believe. It is that we have to pay for defence and to prepare for the unexpected. It is no use always to believe that we can get defence on the cheap. When a situation such as that in the Falklands arises, we find that we are suddenly called upon to do something unexpected, and we call upon our forces to do it. We are putting them and our whole NATO Affiance at risk if we do not have enough forces available for that purpose.
In that regard I refer the House to the plans for the garrison of the Falkland Islands, which includes a sizeable force of nuclear-powered submarines, destroyers, frigates, Sea King helicopters and patrol craft with afloat support.
908 These will be deployed in the South Atlantic. There will have to be at least two nuclear-powered submarines on station. It seems to me that the proposals for increasing the size of the fleet by building new warships will not be sufficient to take account of the demands of the South Atlantic garrison.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to address his mind to this real problem of how we maintain our position in NATO with sufficient forces, as we have at present, and at the same time deal with the garrison problem in the Falklands. The lesson for the whole country, and the epitaph for the whole business, is that at the end of the day we can say "We did it."
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
The Secretary of State told his right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) that his problem was a conflict of resources. The charge by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), not for the first time, was that the Secretary of State's essential problem was a conflict of priorities. When the Secretary of State recalls the first five speeches made by his hon. Friends, he will note that they had some reservations about his policy and the White Paper. That suggests that they also quarrel with his priorities. I, too, seriously question his priorities.
I suggest that the first lesson offered by the Falklands is that we must relearn many past lessons. The most important of those is the fact that the only certain thing about war, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) said, is its uncertainty. The Falklands conflict was demonstratably the wrong war, fought in the wrong place at the wrong time, based on wrong intelligence. It suggests that we must handle this White Paper with the care with which some of us handled the Secretary of State's previous White Paper. It would be a bold Member who would say that the Secretary of State's successor would not come to the House in, perhaps, measurable time with another restatement of defence policy.
The second important lesson is that the Falklands conflict challenged many of the basic assumptions entertained by British defence planners since the mid-sixties, which so many previous Ministers of Defence accepted and reflected in their exchanges with hon. Members. The first was that the United Kingdom would never undertake any sizeable military operation overseas without direct assistance from its allies. I was brought up on that in the Ministry of Defence.
The next assumption was that we would never again be required to carry out an opposed amphibious assault. I always understood that to be the basic Royal Marine doctrine. The next assumption was that the fleet would not require a mobile repair facility. I should know whether that doctrine existed four years ago. The final assumption, as I said so many times from the Dispatch Box, was that the fleet would not be required to operate without shore-based air support. Yet this afternoon we heard the Secretary of State discount Great Britain's traditional maritime role.
The third lesson is that even more attention needs to be paid to mobilisation and readiness, lest a potential aggressor is tempted into a miscalculation. That troubled my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart). The Falklands emergency called for the transfer of 909 8,000 men over 8,000 miles. An emergency in Western Europe will call for the transfer across the North Atlantic of 1 million men over 3,000 miles.
If the bulk of those reinforcements have not arrived in Europe before the start of a Warsaw Pact attack, the level of the Alliance in-place forces may not allow SACEUR to hold the Warsaw Pact's first echelon of forces by conventional arms for more than a few days, as the Secretary of State knows well.
If one listened to the Secretary of State, one would believe that our problems are largely located on the western front, but they are equally located in the North Atlantic. After listening to the Secretary of State, one would believe that there is no problem in obtaining reinforcements and supply, that our ships are not out of date and that there is no need to worry about their numbers being reduced.
The Falklands campaign reminds us that, even with the maximum practicable levels of pre-positioning of United States equipment and supplies in Europe, a massive flow of reinforcement and military re-supply ships and aircraft, in the face of incredible difficulties, will be required to counter effectively any large-scale conventional Warsaw Pact attack in Europe. Yet the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) said that the Falklands campaign impressed him most on logistical grounds. I believe he said that it was a logistical miracle.
We can imagine the kind of problems to which reinforcement and supply in the North Atlantic will give rise. We must ask ourselves whether the Secretary of State might be relying too heavily on SSNs and MPAs. I value them both immensely, but I do not see how, as I said in an intervention, we can manage without surface ships also. We must have the right balance and mix. The Secretary of State has used the word "balance" more than once in recent weeks. If only on grounds of communication, command and control, we need surface ships to see that SSNs and MPAs are effectively deployed. I know of no professional close to the problems of reinforcement and supply on either side of the Atlantic who does not take the same view.
The fourth lesson is that we can redress to some extent the imbalance in conventional arms by exploiting and enhancing civilian assets. Modern missile systems are much cheaper and more important than the platforms from which they are fired. I am not simply in love with the past or simply in love with ships, although I served in them. I love them, but I am not being romantic.
I recall not merely the armed merchant cruisers of the last war, but the guns that were shipped in ordinary merchant ships and which, in some cases, saved the ships. It is arguable that rapidly convertible merchant ships that could be used to launch missiles would enable us to spend defence money better. I should prefer that to the construction of expensive warships. They can certainly provide platforms for missiles. There has been talk of Arapaho for more than 10 years. We do not seem to have progressed far with it. In less than 10 days, under the pressure of events in the Falklands, a number of United Kingdom merchant ships were converted into operating platforms for a variety of functions, including Harrier and helicopter operations.
The fifth lesson is that merchant ships, contrary to the view of the Secretary of State, are as vulnerable as the 910 defences with which they are equipped. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) made that point strongly. Ships of the task force were armed with a variety of surface-to-air missiles and guns, but only two frigates had defences against Exocet missiles or very low flying aircraft. Lack of airborne early warning compelled the commander of the task force to deploy destroyers on radar picket duty. It was this that cost HMS "Sheffield" its life. It was on such duty when it was hit.
Those on the ship did not know what had hit it. It had no warning of the attack. No electronic counter-measures were used against the missile's radar guidance system, nor was chaff dispensed, although it was used on other occasions with varying degrees of success. Had HMS "Sheffield" incorporated more Sheffield steel in the hull and bulkheads, it would not have been dispatched quite so easily, if at all, by the Exocet missile. That missile is primitive alongside the type of missile that our fleet might have to face in the North Atlantic.
All the ships and aircraft lost in the Falklands campaign are to be replaced. It is not just a question of replacing destroyers, frigates and Harriers. They must, in future, have modern effective defences against modern attack systems, which the task force did not have. Ships engaged in operations anywhere in the world must in future have airborne early warning of aircraft or missile attack, especially missiles. Had British ships of the task force been equipped with both Sea Dart and Seawolf and more effective passive and active electronic counter-measures, and had aircraft been equipped with modern defence suppression systems, the casualties would have been much lighter.
The sixth lesson is that Britain has demonstrated its ability to provide a rapid deployment joint task force more quickly and more efficiently than was thought possible. It was used well beyond the NATO area of responsibility and without help from any other power in the mobilising of the force or the conduct of the operations. Other NATO countries should surely be able to form a similar contribution, although perhaps smaller, to help to keep open the oceans of the world, particularly the oil routes from the Gulf.
The seventh lesson is that we neither take NATO for granted nor rely on it too much. During the Falklands crisis it was in the House seen much less as a guarantee of security and much more as a means of obtaining political support from sometimes reluctant allies. NATO was founded on clear principles, but within the Alliance, as within the House, there was some fudging of principles and interests. The crisis also highlighted the difference in view between those who interpret world events solely in the context of the NATO Alliance and a growing number, I suspect, who view such events in a world-wide context.
Perhaps the most important lesson is the manner in which it pointed up the need to uphold the credibility of deterrence. Had we failed to pay the price that was required, the world would inevitably have had to pay a higher price on some subsequent occasion. None of us can seriously dispute that deterrence has been strengthened and that as a result of what we did in the South Atlantic the world is now marginally less dangerous.
The Falklands campaign was well planned and executed, when all the odds seemed to be against a successful operation. But it enjoyed leadership of the highest quality from the chiefs of staff, the commander in chief of the fleet and the task force commander. They were 911 sustained by men who, in their quality, training and dedication, are without match in the modern world. That combination set the pattern for the successes that followed.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
In this wide-ranging debate, my hon. Friends have raised many questions that no doubt the Secretary of State will do his best to answer. I shall not repeat them now except to mention the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) about the Bluff Cove tragedy. More should be said about the background to that tragedy and what occurred, because considerable misgivings exist. Doubtless the Under-Secretary of State will say more about that.
One of the first lessons of the tragic episode of the Falklands was that the war need not and should not have happened. If the Government had taken some basic and necessary steps to protect the islands, the invasion by Galtieri and his Fascist junta would not have taken place.
§ Mr. Davies
No, it is this debate.
Whatever emerges from the Franks inquiry, one fact is incontrovertible and no Government inquiry can do anything about it. It is that the Government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, failed in their primary duty to defend the Falkland Islands and to protect its people. The Government are the only British Government who have failed to do so during Britain's 150-year involvement with the islands. The consequences of that failure are painfully set out in the White Paper—more than 1,000 British soldiers, seamen and airmen killed or injured, a cost in money of probably £3 billion altogether and the need for a substantial British garrison in the South Atlantic for several years to come.
One of the Government's worst blunders was their failure to ensure that there was a naval presence in the South Atlantic while serious negotiations were being conducted between Ministers and the Argentines. Such a presence need not have been large or obvious. Two hunter-killer submarines would probably have been sufficient. They should have been there as a forward deployment—not necessarily a deterrent—in case the talks broke down and the junta, in its anger and frustration, made preparations to invade.
I find it extraordinary that the defence and overseas policy committee of the Cabinet, presumably chaired by the Prime Minister, should have allowed the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) to go naked into a conference chamber that was 8,000 miles and three weeks sailing away from Britain. That is one major indictment of the Government, and whatever emerges from the Franks committee will be quite separate.
The Prime Minister referred to the talks during the debate in the House on Saturday 3 April. She said:Unfortunately, the joint communique"—that had apparently been agreed in New York—… was not pubished in Buenos Aires."—[Official Report, 3 April 1982; Vol. 21, c. 634.]That was the time when there should have been forward deployment in the South Atlantic, such as the Labour Government used in December 1977.
The Government have now decided to keep HMS "Endurance". It is ironic that the "Endurance" was 912 probably far more valuable in the South Atlantic before the invasion than it is now. While there is a garrison of ships, soldiers and aircraft, the "Endurance" is not essential. It was never meant to be a deterrent, but an important signal that Britain was still interested in the South Atlantic. When the Secretary of State announced that the "Endurance" was to be withdrawn, he sent the wrong signal to General Galtieri.
The wrong signal was also sent as a result of the naval cuts announced by the Secretary of State in his 1981 defence review. They showed that Britain was withdrawing further into the world of NATO, that we were not interested in anything that happened below the Tropic of Capricorn, and that we had neither the will nor the resources to defend the Falkland Islands any longer. It would not have been too difficult for Argentine civil servants to write a persuasive paper to General Galtieri explaining why Britain would not defend the Falkland Islands—the naval cuts, the withdrawal of "Endurance", the lack of a military presence, and the fact that when the Government came to power Britain's foreign policy in South America changed considerably. The Prime Munster and President Reagan saw the Pinochets, the Galtieris and other military dictators as a bulwark against Communism. Many people in Argentina believed that President Reagan would not allow Britain to try to recover the islands by force. Those were all wrong signals and that was one reason why the invasion took place.
The White Paper is in three sections, the most important of which is the final section that deals with the future. It deals with the replacement of ships, aircraft and equipment that were destroyed in the war. It also deals with the improvements that must be made to equipment in the light of the deficiencies shown by the fighting. We must consider the effect on Britain's other defence commitments, as the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) said, especially the NATO commitment, as 3,000 troops and several frigates and aircraft must be retained in the South Atlantic for the foreseeable future. Once the war was over, the Government had no option but to replace the lost equipment, ships and aircraft. They had little option but to make good the deficiencies shown by the war in our arms and equipment. If, God forbid, another war came, it would be criminal negligence of the highest order for any British Government to send British troops into battle knowing for certain that some items of equipment were deficient and had not been put right.
The difficulty, about which the White Paper is rather hazy, will be the effect of having to retain a garrison in the South Atlantic upon our defence commitments, especially our naval commitment to NATO in the eastern Atlantic. Before this White Paper, the Secretary of State made several welcome announcements about the Navy, especially the decision not to sell the carrier HMS "Invincible" to the Australians and the fact that "Invincible" and "Fearless" would not be scrapped. The White Paper does not take the matter much further and the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), who said in the debate that there had been no U-turn, was right. The Secretary of State was much more candid about the matter today.
When the Secretary or State came to office, we had 59 major warships, with about three in the stand-by squadron or in mothballs. The defence review stated that after 1985 there would be 50 major warships and up to eight ships in the stand-by squadron. That means 42 fully operational 913 ships. Those ships must play not only the NATO role but the out-of-area role, including the Falkland Islands, although there were no frigates there at the time.
As a result of the war, the Government must now retain four frigates in the Falkland Islands, but the number of frigates operational and committed both to NATO and to the out-of-NATO area, except the Falkland Islands, remains at 42. Those 42 frigates must carry out not only the NATO commitment but the out-of-area commitment. One or two will be used in the Gulf, one in the Far East, one in the Mediterranean and one in the Caribbean off Belize. That brings us back to the original figure of 37 frigates committed to NATO. The criticisms made of the original defence review remain, and our maritime commitment to NATO is being dangerously reduced.
The Secretary of State may have temporarily molified the retiring First Sea Lord, but I predict that, once the Christmas truce is over, the new First Sea Lord is established in his job and a new Secretary of State takes over the grappling hooks will be out again. I am glad to have that sedentary confirmation from the Secretary of State.
Before referring to one or two other unsatisfactory areas of the White Paper, I should like to mention the problems in another part of Latin America—the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) referred to it—with regard to our military obligations in Belize. It is not always appreciated that the Government have entered into what is in effect, if not in name, a defence pact with Belize, which is an independent sovereign State. The pact was thought necessary because of Guatemala's continuous claims on the State and the land of Belize. It is disturbing enough for Britain to have such a treaty obligation with a sovereign State. What is more disturbing, as we saw a few weeks ago, is that President Reagan travelled around South America and promised to sell more weapons to the military dictators. What are the duties and obligations of British troops in Belize if anything should happen? Did we make the necessary representations to President Reagan about the dangers of selling more arms to the military dictatorship in Guatemala?
The other disappointing aspect of the White Paper is that it offers little or nothing to the naval dockyards, except, of course, praise for the magnificent work they did during the Falklands war. Apparently, there is to be some brake on the rundown in Portsmouth, but very little will come from that in the longer-term. Tragically—I agree again with the hon. Member for Ashford—Chatham and, indeed, Gibraltar are still to be closed. We maintain, as we have always maintained, that the Government are making a major error of policy in closing those two yards now.
Chatham has unrivalled experience in refitting hunter-killer submarines. We do not believe that there will be enough spare capacity in the other yards to do this vital work as quickly and as efficiently as is needed. Not only does the closure of Chatham devastate the economy of the area but it deprives Britain of engineering skills and traditions which will be lost for ever. It deprives a number of young people in that area of the excellent apprenticeships which were always available at the Chatham naval dockyard. The Government should think again about Chatham. If they will not consider keeping it open entirely, at least they should study the scheme put 914 forward by the shop stewards' committee in Chatham to keep part, at least, of the yard open for hunter-killer submarines.
It is also wrong to close the dockyard at Gibraltar. It will not cost much to keep the dockyard open. It needs only one or two refits a year. Given the devastating effect of closing the dockyard on the economy of Gibraltar, the Government will not save much money. We know that the border may be completely opened within the next few months. The economy of Gibraltar cannot withstand at the same time both the closure of the dockyard and the opening of the border.
One reason for the closure of the dockyards is the Secretary of State's obsession with the type 23 disposable frigate. Apparently, the theory is that one throws those frigates away after a time instead of having a mid-life modernisation. I do not believe that the Secretary of State has convinced the House in numerous debates of the virtues of such disposable frigates. On 25 June 1981, the Secretary of State said:We cannot simply go on modernising Leander frigates at a cost of £70 million each when we can build the new type 23 for about £60 million."—[Official Report, 25 June 1981; Vol. 7, c. 395.]The position has changed slightly. In the first place, these type 23 frigates will not be cheap. At today's prices they will cost £100 million—£90 million was the last figure given—and by next year they will cost even more. A type 23 frigate will cost about £100 million. I do not believe that in future the frigates will be thrown away and then replaced by new frigates. At that time, there will not be the dockyard capacity to modernise and refit them properly. I would say to the next Secretary of State that he should consider again the policy on type 23 frigates because it will not work out in the way the Government wish.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I am interested in the figure of £100 million for the cost of the frigates. Where does the figure come from, if it is not from the right hon. Gentleman's fertile imagination? How many more of these frigates does the Labour Party consider we should have, should it ever be in Government? As I understand it, the Labour Party is in favour of having a much larger surface fleet.
§ Mr. Davies
During the debate on the Defence Estimates the figure was given as £90 million. I assume that by next year the figure will be £100 million in view of defence inflation. Because the Labour Party believes in cancelling Trident, our policy will at least provide the adequate conventional forces that we do not have at present.
Page 314 of the White Paper acknowledges the crucial role played by ships of the Merchant Navy. Apparently, 45 merchant ships were in the South Atlantic. The White Paper also recognises the need for an urgent review of merchant shipping with regard to the Armed Forces. All that presupposes that we still have a Merchant Navy. As the House well knows, with the growth in flags of convenience and the registration of ships abroad, there has been a steady decline in the merchant fleet over the years. It has been estimated that if the Falklands crisis had occurred at the end of the decade, and if the decline had continued at the present rate, there would be few British merchant ships left to send to the South Atlantic.
It is all very well to talk glibly about reinforcing decks and doing other work on cargo ships, but that cannot be 915 done unless the ships are British. It is time that the Government started to put money into the British merchant fleet to reverse that decline. In addition, they should also consider the powers in the Exchange Control Act and in the income tax Acts to prevent the deregistering of United Kingdom flag ships. As the House recognises, the White Paper inevitably means that more money will be spent on defence in the next few years. In 1982–83, the total will probably be about £16 billion, or about 5.7 per cent. of our gross domestic product, which, incidentally, is growing very slowly. I believe that that is the highest percentage of gross domestic product since 1963, before the withdrawal from east of Suez. The percentage will probably increase during the next few years, especially as a result of the 3 per cent. NATO commitment, the new frigates and the increasing cost of Trident. Indeed, the senior analyst at Greenwell, the stockbrokers, was quoted in The Sunday Times recently as saying:It is staggering how fast the figures are growing".There will have to be another review of expenditure in the next few years. When the Secretary of State produced his famous White Paper of 25 June 1981 he said:No enhancement of our conventional forces could possibly prove of equal deterrent value."—[Official Report, 25 June 1981; Vol. 7, c. 389.]That is a wrong, and very simplistic, way of looking at the issue.
The right hon. Gentleman still believes that we can have a low level of conventional forces and that we can rely on nuclear weapons for defence and deterrence. However, all the thinking in Britain and in NATO is moving away from that point of view and towards saying that we must have strong conventional forces to avoid the early use of nuclear weapons. We shall cancel Trident and use some of the money saved to provide adequate conventional forces.
When introducing his first White Paper to the House, the Secretary of State said that our defence policy was unbalanced and overextended. He has now apparently introduced his last White Paper and his defence policy is even more unbalanced and overextended. His successor will have to look at the whole issue again. I can only hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do a bit better with his daffodils.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)
One hon. Member who took part in the debate expressed surprise that nearly all of the 46 pages in the White Paper produced by the Ministry of Defence and presented by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence should be devoted to military matters. Of course, I realise that one could talk about other issues, and, indeed, many of today's participants have done so. However, we are not debating the findings of the Franks committee or public expenditure. Therefore, I shall concentrate on responding to the points that have been raised before turning, if time permits, to the performance of our equipment.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) mentioned the tragic events at Fitzroy. That is an important matter. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) also referred to it. The reports on that operation have been studied carefully in the Ministry of Defence. We have concluded that the land force commander's concept for committing 5 Brigade to the 916 south by sea was fully justified in view of the need for an early and concerted operation with 3 Commando Brigade against Port Stanley. The tragedy came about not through any major error but through the ordinary chances of war, involving a combination of circumstances such as difficult and overloaded communications, disruption of plans by weather, and resources being pushed to their limit to achieve an early end to hostilities.
I noted the right hon. Gentleman's words. He said how lucky we were that we did not have to fight much longer. I am sure that he will appreciate that it was substantially in the interests of speed that that manoeuvre was put into action. The risks taken were no greater than some others in the campaign. Precisely the same manoeuvre was carried out successfully at Teal inlet earlier in the campaign, although on that occasion there were no casualties.
Although it may be possible to criticise in retrospect some of the judgments that were made by individuals, they are of the type that will always be made in rapidly developing operations; and no blame is attached to anyone. The decision to press on with speed rather than a slow and methodical build-up was right. The loss of life at Fitzroy was tragic, but the overall loss of life would have been greater—casualties from exposure would certainly have been greater—if our forces had moved too cautiously.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East asked whether the Commander-in-Chief at Northwood knew that the "Sir Galahad" had men on board for disembarkation. He will realise that since he made his speech we have endeavoured to check on that point. I cannot confirm that Northwood knew the precise plans on that day for the "Sir Galahad". Many planning signals were copied to the Commander-in-Chief, who could intervene when he chose. However, decisions were being taken at great speed and the initiative lay, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, with the commanders on the spot. There seems to be no reason why the Commander-in-Chief should have intervened in this case. Logistic landing ships such as the "Sir Galahad" have a troop-carrying capacity comparable to that of HMS "Fearless".
§ Mr. James Callaghan
I am much obliged for that explanation. I only asked about Northwood because I understood—I only asked and I may be wrong—that on a previous occasion Northwood intervened because it was felt that "Sir Tristram" was not capable of being properly defended when carrying men and that the operation had been stopped. I was asking whether, if the operation was stopped in the earlier instance, Northwood authorised it on the second.
§ Mr. Pattie
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East will appreciate that I have taken some care to check that point while also being in the Chamber. I realise that that is what he is asking. I shall do some further work on the subject tomorrow. If the House will allow me, I shall communicate with the right hon. Gentleman on that point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) referred to the annual 4 per cent. increase in defence spending. He asked whether, if we are to spend more than 3 per cent. in the next two or so years, that gives us an opportunity to influence the rest of NATO. I can only tell him that the Government remain committed to plan to implement in full the NATO 3 per cent. a year real growth 917 target up to 1985–86, the Falklands costs being in addition to that. He will appreciate, as he said in his good speech, that many of our NATO allies are having difficulty in achieving the 3 per cent. target, let alone the 4 per cent. one. I am sure that what my right hon. Friend said will have been noted.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas) raised several points. He asked about the future SSK—the type 2400—and what would become of it. Tenders have already been invited from Vickers for the first of class. We hope to place an order next year. With his great knowledge of the industry, the hon. Gentleman will realise that placing an order is an advanced stage in the process. It is important to put that on the record, as many people tend to feel that nothing has happened before an order is placed.
The normal procurement process between the Department and industry is that much pre-design work is carried out. This submarine will be equipped with advanced sonar and with Tigerfish and Spearfish torpedoes. Vickers will build the first of class, and we are currently examining with British Shipbuilders the submarine-building capacity that may be required for the future. The involvement of Scott Lithgow or Cammell Laird will depend on the outcome of the joint study with British Shipbuilders.
The hon. Gentleman also tiptoed beyond Rosyth to Portsmouth to examine the consultative document and seemed to detect in it a suggestion that we might have in mind replacing civilian jobs with naval jobs. I can give an undertaking that that is not envisaged. We are looking, however—I hope that he will convey this to such people as listen to him there—for a substantial improvement in the procedures and the flexibility within the civilian work force in the naval base. That does not mean that we wish the jobs to be taken over by naval personnel. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates the difference.
The hon. Gentleman asked about HMS "Plymouth" board and lodging charges, having given notice in the columns of The Times that he intended to do so. In accordance with the principles of the military salary, unmarried Service personnel living in mess or barracks—I gather that the complaint comes from an unmarried sailor—pay food charges of £1.89 per day and accommodation charges that vary according to the standard of accommodation occupied. Naval personnel do not pay food and accommodation charges when serving on board ship, but, in common with the other two Services, unmarried personnel are charged them when living in mess or barracks ashore. In other words, now that we are away from the Falklands operation, people coming ashore will be liable to those charges as before.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) suggested in a most interesting speech that Milton Friedman was perhaps a greater danger than Mr. Andropov to our defence capability. He might also have referred to the figures produced in the Financial Times today based on David Greenwood's study. My hon. Friend and others like him who are looking to future years and talking about overprogramming, underfunding and so on, will appreciate that it is extremely important to get the assumptions for inflation correct. Naturally, we feel that we have got them right. All the evidence since the Government have been in office shows that that is so. The Financial Times figures appear to take no account of the 918 rapid fall in inflation this year and the expected continued fall next year, including the reduced provision for public sector pay. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Bath would be interested in that.
§ Mr. Pattie
I take it that my hon. Friend is referring to growth in defence expenditure. As I said earlier, our assumption is 3 per cent. growth per year until 1985–86.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), as always on these occasions, made a powerful speech and asked many questions. He and the hon. Member for Dunfermline asked about the Arapaho project. My hon. Friend will know, as he was in the Government, that this project has interested the Department for quite a long time. I remind the House that it relates to the use of merchant ships, especially with helicopters. Our experience gained in the South Atlantic has, if anything, given the project more impetus. We are now prepared to put money in the project next year, but the precise go-ahead for it will depend upon United States co-operation, which we hope will be forthcoming.
In the meantime, we have decided to give the replacement to "Atlantic Conveyor" a number of useful military additions, including a prefabricated helicopter deck. I can also confirm that the type 23 is expected to be in service by the end of 1988, not the 1990s as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford feared.
The right hon. Member for Llanelli spoke about Chatham. I have once again to tell the House that it is our belief that Chatham is not needed to cope with the nuclear submarine refits. Having taken that decision, the House will accept that retaining any part of it would generate, if anything, extra expenditure, and would not enable us to achieve the economies that we desire.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford spoke about the "Stena Seaspread". Taking up ships from trade when required has been one of the great success stories of the Falklands, as he knows. We have to avoid the temptation of adding ships permanently to the RFA service simply because they have proved useful in the rather special circumstances of the Falklands campaign. However, the level and kind of the RFA support to the fleet is being kept under close review.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford also made an interesting observation about his experience abroad, especially in Australia. He spoke about the considerable disinformation campaign mounted by our allies in France with regard to the performance of our equipment in the Falklands. One can only say that anyone who has the ability to suggest that the figures in the back of the White Paper that show that aircraft kills confirmed were 72, with a further possible 14, are not as good as those that the Mirage could achieve is something of a genius. We have come across that tendency in French arms sales before.
Two equipment items are extremely topical in the sense that we have announced them only today. During the Falklands operation, our lack of a specialised airfield attack weapon was a disadvantage. Such a weapon, the JP233, is under development, but it had not reached the stage when it could be readily adapted for improvised use against Port Stanley airfield. However, it was announced this afternoon that an order has been placed for the production of the system, starting with the procurement of 919 tooling and long-lead materials and parts. The JP233 is an advanced conventional airfield attack weapon consisting of cratering and area denial munitions.
In addition, as part of our continuing programme of naval improvements—I pause there to let my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford take that in—and in accordance with our plans set out in Cmnd. 8288, we intend to place a contract shortly with Vosper Thornycroft for design and development work for the first of a new class of single role minehunters. These vessels will complement the larger Hunt class MCMVs, orders for two more of which we placed last week, as announced by my right hon. Friend, and the new fleet mine sweepers for the RNR, orders for the first four of which were placed in September. The single role mine-hunter will be equipped with the new mine hunting sonar and a remote controlled mine disposal weapon.
§ Mr. Pattie
Praise is always welcome, particularly when it comes from my hon. Friend.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw), in his characteristically penetrating and supportive speech on these matters, mentioned among many important points the question of a new airfield for the Falkland Islands. We accept the need to provide a permanent airfield for the islands. Our studies are aimed at identifying the best site and establishing the likely cost of the various options. The cost of an airfield capable of taking wide bodied jets would be substantial, but we shall take full account of the civil as well as the military needs in our eventual decision.
My hon. Friends the Members for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), Arundel (Mr. Marshall) and Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) all spoke about the importance of an adequate defence industrial base. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield said that he believed that our ability to respond and improvise had been directly attributable to having British equipment, which has to be right. This is something that the House must always bear in mind whenever we are taking a decision which involves apparently paying more money to support a British defence system. Usually the foreign system is ready sooner. It will usually cost less because it often comes from a long American production line. The British system probably comes later and it will usually cost more money.
The advantage of supporting the British defence industrial base is immense because of the economic benefit, added value exports and because, in the Falklands instance, I do not believe that we would have been able either to mount the task force or, even more critical, to have made the modifications to vital pieces of equipment unless we had been able to call upon an indigenous defence capability.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West spoke of the extraordinary involvement by his constituents. We have referred to that which took place on the Falklands as a conflict—all sorts of euphemisms have been used—but it was a war for all those who were down there experiencing it. My hon. Friend's constituents from the Ferranti factory were involved with the task force in ensuring that the radars were fully operational. The maintainability and the standards achieved by the Harrier squadrons were superb.
920 My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel drew our attention to improvements that may be possible in the procurement process. I merely say that it was possible because of the emergency to short circuit many of the normal procedures in the Ministry of Defence without detriment to the overall effort. I do not hold out too much hope that we shall be able to return to that basis in normal peace-time conditions because of the proper principles of accountability in the House.
The Sea Harrier was an enormous success. At the outset of the operation we had two front-line squadrons of Sea Harriers and one training headquarters squadron. That produced a combined total of 17 aircraft and 21 qualified pilots. By the time the two carriers sailed they were carrying 20 aircraft and 26 pilots. They provided essential air cover for the task force as it sailed south. Both the Sea Harrier and the Harrier GR3 proved to be extremely reliable aircraft. In over 1,000 hours of combat flying the Sea Harriers had only one engine change. That is a remarkable performance.
Our helicopters were another outstanding success. The Sea Kings kept up a continuous anti-submarine screen 24 hours a day for weeks on end to protect the high-value ships in the task force. The smaller Wessex, Wasp and Lynx helicopters all participated in successful attacks on Argentine ships, the new combination of Lynx helicopters and the Sea Skua missile proving especially effective. These proved to be extremely reliable and versatile aircraft while operating in appalling sea and weather conditions from a variety of ship decks, ranging from those of the size of the carriers to helicopter decks designed for and built on to merchant ship decks and taken up from trade within days.
In the land battle the Sea King or Wessex commando support helicopters, including a squadron of ASW Sea Kings, rapidly converted to the commando role. The one Chinook medium lift helicopter to survive the sinking of "Atlantic Conveyor" proved indispensable for the speedy movement of stores, supplies and personnel, including casualties.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr Duffy) made, as he so often does in these debates, many cogent points about our ships, including what they have on them and what they have not. He is a constructive contributor to our debates. He was such a helpful Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Navy in his five years that one hesitates to say that because he was there for that period he must have had at least something to do with the ships that we now have in service.
The hon. Member for Toxteth said that we went to war not simply for 1,700 people, but for a principle. This is what I take to be the most important lesson of the Falklands campaign, more important than who did this or that, or how this or that equipment worked, more important than the origins of the conflict now being examined by the Franks committee. When the challenge came, we proved—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.