§ Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)
I beg to move, That this House, although welcoming the Government's decision to maintain a strategic nuclear deterrent when Polaris reaches the end of its useful life, is gravely concerned at the rigid constraints and lack of flexibility being imposed upon the Ministry of Defence, which are leading to a dramatic reduction in the Royal Navy's surface fleet, a lack of capacity to refit submarines, unacceptable shortfalls in the number of Royal Air Force front-line aircraft, and excessive planned reductions in the three services' personnel and their essential civilian support, all at a time when the threat facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance has never been greater.
The motion is intended to allow a wide-ranging discussion on defence, because this is the first opportunity that the House has had to discuss this vital subject since last July when the White Paper "The Way Forward" was debated. I stated my concern at that time about our defence policy. My views have not changed, and I am sure that those of my right hon.-and hon. Friends who are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and who speak with knowledge and authority on defence, will express strong misgivings about the way in which the policy is developing.
The Conservative manifesto for the last election stated:We shall only be able to decide on the proper level of defence spending after consultation in government with the Chiefs of Staff and our allies. But it is already obvious that significant increases will be necessary.When my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) became Secretary of State for Defence, one of his first tasks was to obtain an appraisal, through the Chiefs of Staff, of the strength of any potential enemy and, through our planners, of the forces that were deemed to be necessary in war to protect ourselves and honour our alliance obligations.
I am convinced that that study was carried out. As evidence of that I remind the House that when my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) was Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy he carried out an in-depth review of the support services necessary to maintain the composition and size of the fleet that the planners envisaged in peace and regarded as essential in war.
The Royal dockyards' role had to be a major object of consideration in any such study, for they alone, as my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Defence admitted, are capable of carrying out the repair and refitting of naval vessels. My right hon. Friend issued a statement in August 1980 confirming that the four United Kingdom Royal naval dockyards would be required and maintained and that there was more than sufficient work to keep them fully occupied in the foreseeable future.
After only a comparatively short time in office—10 months—my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State issued a White Paper, "The United Kingdom Defence Programme; The Way Forward", the first paragraph of which states:The first duty of any British Government is to safeguard our people in peace and freedom. In today's world that cannot be done without a major defence effort. The international scene is in several areas unsettled and even turbulent.…Soviet miliary power, already massive, continues to grow in size, quality and reach, and the Soviet leaders continue to demonstrate their readiness to use it brutally. The North Atlantic Alliance remains vital to us, and neither its strength nor its cohesion can be maintained without our crucial contribution. This is at the top of the Government's priorities.21 Well said! That situation was considered by the Chiefs of Staff and planners when my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire was at the Department. It was then decided that the Royal Navy must be of such a size and diversity that it would require the full support services of all our Royal dockyards. However, despite his admission that Soviet military power continues togrow in size, quality and reach",my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Defence makes large cuts in our defence capability.
I shall leave it to others to express their views on the situation now facing the Royal Marines, the Army and the Royal Air Force. Hon. Members will not be surprised if I confine myself to comments on the Royal Navy.
Since Chatham dockyard was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in what is now my constituency, the area has maintained a unique and outstanding record of service to the Navy. The dockyard has built more than 500 naval vessels, including the "Victory", and has risen magnificantly to the task of refitting our fighting ships in peace and war.
In an interview last October, which was published early this year in the Swiss-owned publication International Defence Review, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said:I would rather have 100 escorts, frigates and destroyers, than 50. … I would rather have 500, but the only way in which we could have kept the frigate and destroyer numbers up would have been by sustaining the dockyards.In other words, it is the number of dockyards and not the number of ships that are paramount in considering the nation's need for security.
In support of his dockyard closure plans my right hon. Friend claimed in the same interview:Such a closure programme has universal agreement in NATO.He went on to say that the alliance's most senior admiral reported that the dockyard capacity was excessive. He declined to name that admiral beyond saying that "he was not British".
Paragraph 26 of the White Paper states:Our most powerful vessels for maritime war are our nuclear-propelled attack submarines (SSNs), soon to be equipped with the anti-surface ship-guided missile Sub-Harpoon".The importance of such weapons to our naval defence capability was emphasised by Rear Admiral J. R. Hill—a serving officer—in his book "The Royal Navy Today and Tomorrow", written after the publication of the defence White Paper, in which he said:but the fleet submarine—the SSN—is probably the unit of the Royal Navy above all others that gives Soviet tacticians and planners the most problems.Yet in paragraph 40 of the same White Paper my right hon. Friend announced the shutdown of Chatham dockyard. That included the closure of an efficent and tested nuclear refitting and refuelling facility for these submarines, and the transfer of responsibility for their future serviceability to Devonport, which so far has not completed even one refuelling and refit operation.
When he appeared before the Select Committee on Defence, Admiral Pillar, who was then in charge of fleet support operations, reiterated several times that to place the obligation of refuelling and refitting fleet submarines entirely on Devonport would be fraught with risk. All the evidence that I can obtain—much has been made available to me—leaves me convinced that, even if there is a tremendous improvement in productivity, Devonport will not be able to deal effectively with the servicing of fleet 22 submarines to ensure that the necessary number will always be operational. That would apply even in peacetime. Under war conditions, when some fleet submarines would inevitably suffer damage and add to the work load, Devonport could not possibly cope—leaving aside entirely the possibility, always present, that damage could arise to the base itself.
After visiting Chatham on Monday last week my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces said that the complete support programme for fleet submarines at Devonport would be "easy". No evidence is available to support such optimism. My hon. Friend shakes his head, but some of my hon. Friends and I saw his words quoted on the Tape in the House. My hon. Friend also stated that no decision had been reached on the future of HMS "Dreadnought". At 8.20 am last Thursday he telephoned me to tell me that later that day he would announce that "Dreadnought" was to be decommissioned at Chatham with the loss of several hundred jobs in the yard in the spring of 1983—some time earlier than had been expected.
"Dreadnought" was towed from Faslane in Scotland to Devonport late in 1980 or early in 1981. From there she was towed to Chatham and has remained there since last October. I cannot help wondering whether the decision last Thursday was influenced by the debate that is now taking place. Why was "Dreadnought" brought to Chatham if the only purpose was to carry out what is in effect a scrapping job? Why could that not be done at Devonport? It would have been a useful exercise. Above all, what would several hundred men have been doing if "Dreadnought" had not been at Chatham? How can work on her mean that the men will lose their jobs earlier than would have been the case if she had not been there? That is the implication of what the Minister has stated in a letter. What task would those men have been allocated to delay redundancy?
In an interview that he gave when he visited the dockyard and published the following day in the Kent Evening Post—I give the name of the newspaper in case he wishes to refer to it—my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces is reported as saying that the decision to close the dockyard was taken because Britain could not maintain full stocks of weapons and ammunition. He was reported to have said:There was not sufficient ammunition or war stock, so we had to take a critical look at defence expenditure. We knew we would not be popular taking this decision but it is our duty to provide this country with an adequate defence and deter war.If my hon. Friend made such a statement, or anything resembling it, his reason for doing so is beyond my comprehension. It is an unacceptable reason for closing Chatham dockyard and imposing massive cuts at Portsmouth.
Whatever the defence argument against such a policy, it would appear that the Secretary of State is still hell-bent on carrying out his cuts and closures. The closure of Chatham dockyard will mean a loss of 7,000 jobs. All those affected are Government employees. It is extremely unlikely that more than 1,000 of them will be given the opportunity to transfer to Devonport or Rosyth, even if they wish to go.
I heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland refer in the House to the closure of the aluminium smelting plant at Invergordon as a disaster. The subject that we are discussing is no less of a disaster for the constituency that I represent. The disaster at Invergordon was imposed by a private company. The disaster of 7,000 23 job losses at Chatham will be imposed by the Government. Above all, the closure will put at great risk—I use the words deliberately—our ability to service and maintain the necessary number of fleet submarines operationally. These submarines, as my right hon. Friend has made clear, are essential for our naval defence. If that were not enough, the Government have said that the number of destroyers and frigates is to be cut to 42, although eight will remain in reserve. The uniformed manpower of the Royal Navy is to be reduced by 10,000 by 1986. There will be a further reduction of 10 in the number of destroyers and frigates at the end of the decade.
After the autumn NATO exercise "Ocean Safari", Admiral Cox emphasised that defeating enemy submarines could not be done by aircraft or nuclear submarines alonecontrary to some suggestions made in London.Is it not also true that the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral Harry Train, has told the Government that he would be prepared to accept the reduced effectiveness of some British escorts as a consequence of abandoning modernisation if only the overall number of ships could be retained? I should like to know the answer. There is an awful lot of sense in what Admiral Train says. One recalls the vital part played by obsolescent American destroyers in maintaining the freedom of the seas for us in the last war. They were not new vessels, but they were vital for escort duties.
The defence White Paper states that the reason for abandoning the modernisation of the Leander frigates was that the cost of about £70 million wasmore than the target cost for the new Type 23 design.I put down a question asking how many Leanders had been refitted at a cost of £70 million or more. I was told that none had so far been refitted. The cost was an assumption of what might arise in the future.
The Type 23 mentioned in the White Paper is still, I understand, at the design stage. The prototype cannot be commissioned until 1988 at the earliest. Is it still the belief that it will cost no more than about £70 million now that the design study has been placed calling for a sophisticated ship? Hon. Members would be grateful to hear the answer. The White Paper asserts that the Type 23 will beframed with an eye to the export market".Is there any overseas interest? Have any potential markets been indentified and sounded?
We are now told that the aircraft carrier "Invincible" is to be sold to the Australians. I know that the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) comes from Australia. Perhaps that has influenced the agreement that "Invincible" should be sold to them. In his book, Rear-Admiral Hill says of "Invincible", which was commissioned in 1980:The Invincible is most definitely a fighting ship. There is a great deal of built in toughness in protection against nuclear and chemical contamination, in damage and watertight integrity, as well as offensive and sea capability: she is not a ship that any opponent could brush aside, and could be ignored only at his Peril.He continues by saying that herreach extends far beyond herself, not only in her aircraft, but in her capacity for command and control".As Rear Admiral Hill says, Invincible was long in gestation. I believe, as I am sure the Chiefs of Staff believe, that she should remain as a vital part of our surface forces. I am sure that it is wrong to dispose of her. How much did she cost? For how much are we selling her? 24 How much would a replacement with the same capabilities now cost? If the sale has not been confirmed, it must be stopped. If the Australians want an aircraft carrier, why should we not sell them "Hermes"? Although she is 20 years old, she was refitted last year. Why do we not keep "Invincible"?
I return to the necessity in time of war—regrettably, that is the ultimate test of the effectiveness of the Royal Navy—for the Navy to have adequate support services, and none will be more essential than the dockyards. I am convinced that in high intensity naval operations the elimination of Chatham and the heavy cuts at Portsmouth will put our naval response to an enemy at grave risk.
If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will not be moved on any other ground to think again and reverse his decision to close Chatham, especially the nuclear element, I urge him to do so to ensure beyond any doubt that there will be sufficient support facility to keep the maximum number of fleet submarines, which he believes are so important, always operational. I am convinced that Devonport alone cannot be relied upon absolutely to do so, even with the present 12 submarines. With an additional five, it would undoubtedly fail dismally.
We must have the nuclear deterrent, but I am convinced that to use its possession as an excuse greatly to reduce the Royal Navy could be disastrous. That danger will increase if the entire cost of Trident continues to be borne out of the Navy's share of the Defence Vote instead of being spread across the whole defence budget, as is the case with Polaris.
There is no doubt that Soviet military power poses a great threat to Britain and our NATO Allies. Successive Governments, both Labour and Conservative, have recognised that threat. It is certainly as great now, if not greater than it has ever been. In a speech at Somerville College, Oxford, on 4 July 1981 Lord Home said:If the Western democracies are not to become 'political aims' of the Soviet Union, then we have to arm ourselves sufficiently in both the nuclear and conventional fields to deter attack.That warning must not be ignored.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind the House that the debate will end at 7 o'clock. There is a long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak. They can be called only if speeches are brief.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) for giving us yet another opportunity to debate defence matters. As time is short, I shall be brief so that others may contribute to the debate.
Today is the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Singapore—the greatest defeat in this country's history. People lay the blame in every direction except where it should lie. Some say that it was the fault of the men on the battlefield, other that it was the fault of the commanders on the spot. In fact, responsibility for the fall of Singapore lay with those who occupied the Conservative Benches in the 1930s, and it is no use making any other excuses.
I had hoped that when my previous party, the Labour Party, ceased to be in Government the Conservatives 25 would pursue at least one policy with which I could agree, that of giving priority to the defence of this country. Sadly, however, although the Conservatives make all the right noises when in Opposition, when in Government they use every possible excuse to do exactly what they did in the 1930s and—I say this deliberately—in many cases help to betray this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I thought that that would make Conservative Members, who perhaps intend to attack their own Government, a little uncomfortable. However, we are here not to make party political speeches but to consider what we believe is required for the defence of this country.
I should be much happier about the notion that we can get rid of so many naval vessels and yet complete the same task far more cheaply if it did not come at the same time as the proposed defence cuts in particular Services. I appreciate that the overall spending will be greater, but it is not overall spending that makes the Armed Services. It is whether the forces are in the proper proportion for future requirements. When I last spoke on these matters I paid tribute to the Government because, perhaps for the first time in the history of this country, the question of proportion was being considered. If cuts are required, we do not simply impose one-third upon each of the forces. The Conservatives have adopted a more reasonable system in deciding on which forces the cuts should fall. That is to the Government's credit.
I cannot for the life of me believe that it makes any sense to cut spending only on our naval forces at the very time when the greatest threat from the Soviet Union is in the naval sphere. At one time we had a trip-wire defence policy, under which it was intended that we should fire nuclear weapons. If we are to return to that policy, let us be realistic about it. At that time, however, an attack from the East would have had to come overland and not by sea.
The situation is different today. There is now the realisation that the Soviet Fleet is probably equal to those of all the Western forces. Indeed, in terms of submarine capacity, it is probably well ahead. Only a few months ago I said in the House that Britain faced the possibility of being starved by the cutting of our sea routes by Soviet naval vessels, without the Soviets having to move any troops or aircraft. Expenditure on the Navy has been cut because the Government decided that the nuclear deterrent must take priority. That is the real reason. I shall not cross swords with right hon. and hon. Members on the Conservative Benches on the need for a nuclear deterrent, but we know that the present deterrent is capable of taking us into the middle of the next decade.
What makes us so certain that we should put all our eggs into one basket by going for Trident? I disagree with some of my hon. Friends, who say categorically "No Trident". I do not say that. My argument is that I am not convinced that that is the best way of spending our money. Why put all our eggs into one basket for something in the future when there may be the possibility of continuing to update the Polaris system?
We keep an independent nuclear deterrent—and I hope that this is one of the reasons for keeping it—so that if ever an emergency arose, despite our American alliance, we would be capable at least of saying something on behalf of Britain. That is not to disparage our American allies. I have worked with them during the War and in peacetime, and I have a tremendous respect for them, but I never want Britain to be put in the position that, if the American Fleet 26 were not prepared to convoy our ships through to our shores, we would have no alternative but to give in to the Eastern bloc. That could happen.
Therefore, first let us make certain that we are capable of defending our sea routes without the American Fleet. I know that we could not do that indefinitely, but in an emergency—perhaps when no troops have been involved in Europe and no war has started and when the Americans might believe that to come in at that juncture would lay America open to inter-continental missiles—Britain would be left on its own. Would Britain fire Trident in such circumstances?
Not only is the present policy misplaced, but the main argument for a nuclear deterrent is being lost. We are losing that argument in the hearts and minds of the people. We are not defeating the argument that every person can be killed one hundred times over, so there is no reason to go on spending more money. What the people must be told is that it does not matter how many nuclear weapons a country possesses if that country is not capable of getting them to the target. If that is the case, one might as well get rid of the lot of them. That is why the expenditure is required on advanced means of delivery.
Those of us who were in North Africa during the war will know that we had plenty of tanks with 2-lb anti-tank guns, but they did not have much place in the battles against the Afrika Korps, whose tanks could stand back and shoot at our tanks with 6-lb guns. Numbers do not count. What is important is the ability to get the projectile to the target. We are losing the argument, and it is important to win the argument in the hearts and minds of the people, particularly the younger generation.
Those who believe that we need armaments are a dying race. Only members of the older generation, who have seen what happens when one does not have armaments, are convinced. It is understandable that younger people, who have never lived through a war, do not appreciate what happens to people when they are subjected to Nazi-type rule, as so many countries on the Continent were during the war.
The price of maintaining those freedoms can he high. It is important that we explain to our people that it might be expensive to provide the means of protecting those freedoms but that that is not as expensive as the cost of having to regain them once they are lost.
§ 4.5 pm
Mr. Julian AmeryPavillion) (Brighton,
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) will agree that, whatever individual views we have about how the defence budget should be apportioned, the preservation of peace and security cannot be constrained within cash limits.
Mr. Lloyd George once said that a Back Bencher should make only one point in a speech if possible. I shall try to follow his advice. I wish to discuss the future of HMS "Endurance". Britain has had a long and distinguished association with the Antarctic continent. The names of Scott and Shackleton are still in the minds of today's schoolchildren. Not only did they go on voyages of discovery, but they staked out claims to portions of that great and still unknown continent. To strike a personal note, my father drew some boundaries and I believe that there still is a Cape Amery somewhere in that region. I remember seeing my mother launch "Discovery II", a forerunner of the "Endurance." These claims have never 27 been abandoned, though they are frozen in the Antarctica treaty to which we and 12 other nations are signatories. That treaty is to be reviewed in due course. The treaty covers the still dimly discerned economic and strategic interests of the Antarctic continent.
According to the maximum Treasury calculation, which includes, a percentage of the wages of every typist, dockyard worker and telephonist, all the way to Whitehall, the cost of the "Endurance" is about £3 million a year. The real cost is much less. But the cost effectiveness is a relative concept. When that fellow, Christopher Columbus, set out across the Atlantic, plenty of Treasury and Ministry of Defence officials in Lisbon and Madrid asked whether it was really worthwhile. Yet within a generation the recovery of Europe had begun because of the wealth he had discovered.
There is much talk today of space fiction. We must consider not only that but the very real impact that space discoveries can have on defence. Is it so foolish to think that the resources of the Antarctic and its strategic importance should not escape the purview of the House? We do not know the Antarctic's economic resources, but we do know that there is plenty of coal and possibly oil under the permafrost. There might be other important resources about which we do not know very much. We would be foolish to ignore them. Let us face it—it will be easier to get at the resources there than in outer space.
We should also think a little about the strategic aspect. It is often forgotten that in 1942 the Royal Navy landed a group on the Antarctic continent. It was called "Operation Tabarin" after the French casino, Bal Tabarin," with which I am sure the Minister was familiar.
Twenty or 30 Royal Navy personnel tried to ensure that the Germans did not get there because of the damage that they might have done.
We often consider the importance of the routes from the Soviet Union to the Atlantic by the northern passage. What about the southern passage? What about the threat that could develop to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa or South America if hostile bases were established in Antarctica, opposite the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn?
We should, of course, like to see the Antarctic developed for the whole of mankind—that is the idea behind the Antarctica treaty. But there is no certainty that that will happen. There may well be confrontation over resources and bases in the increasingly cold war climate in which we live. There may be some pretty hard bargaining ahead and I should have thought that it was important that we had a say in that.
There is the British interest and that of the Falkland Islands, which must not be overlooked. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and I served in the Foreign Office together. Although the Foreign Office is no doubt perfectly sincere about not wanting to do anything that would be contrary to the wishes of the Falkland Islanders, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will accept that the Foreign Office would be delighted to get rid of the problem if it could do so. For my part I would do everything that I could, for Britain's sake, to discourage the Falkland Islanders from joining the Argentine. There may be untold wealth under the seas and the permafrost of Antarctica. Although today the Falkland Islands may seem to be a happy little community of sheep 28 farmers, tomorrow it could be what Aberdeen is to the North Sea. It could be the base from which a good deal of the development of the Antarctic could take place; a base to which we have a sure title; and a base for areas in the Antarctic continent to which we have a pretty strong title as well.
Strategy and diplomacy do not depend entirely on the total power that a country can mobilise. They depend on the power and influence that can be exercised at the crucial point. HMS "Endurance" represents the influence and power that Britain can exercise at what may well prove to be that crucial point. I ask my hon. Friend not to forget the importance of the old French saying "The absent are always wrong".
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) for providing the opportunity to discuss some of the most basic aspects of the Government's defence policy. I hasten to add that I am unable to go along with all that he and his right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said. I am, however, deeply concerned, with the hon. Member for Gillingham, about the plight of his constituents who face redundancy. The House must address itself to that problem, along with that of the many other unemployed people in Britain today.
In his motion, the hon. Member for Gillingham welcomes the Government's decision to maintain a strategic weapon after Polaris, but is "gravely concerned" at theconstraints and lack of flexibility" that that will impose on defence policy.The hon. Gentleman made it clear that he adhered to the Trident commitment. However, he wished to retain the conventional and naval commitment that he had pressed for, and that would require the continuation of our naval dockyards. If I understood him correctly, both will require heavy additional expenditure. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will face up to such consequences.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
I did not specifically refer to Trident. I said that if Trident were chosen the cost should be spread over the whole defence budget. We need a nuclear weapon, although I do not know whether that weapon is Trident.
§ Mr. Newens
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because he has shown some uncertainty about the best type of nuclear deterrent. Conservative Members must make their position absolutely clear. It is no good tabling such motions unless they do so. The Secretary of State must soon announce whether the Government will buy the C4 Trident missile, as originally envisaged in the announcement in July 1980, or whether they will recommend the D5 version, which is more powerful and expensive.
In reality, the Secretary of State has little choice, as President Reagan has already chosen to introduce the D5. The right hon. Gentleman will not risk ordering a system that the United States of America will have discarded before it can come into service in Britain. However, if the right hon. Gentleman opts for the D5, the cost will rise from the original estimate of £5,000 million for the C4 at 1980 prices—which has been raised by inflation and the recalculation of estimates to perhaps £7,000 million or £8,000 million—to astronomical proportions. Many of us would like to know exactly what is proposed. The hon. 29 Member for Gillingham must tell us how he proposes to finance the naval commitment that he advocates and the deterrent that the Government desire. If he cannot do that, he must agree with me and reject Trident.
Much of Trident's cost will be incurred in the future and the present burden is not great. However, an increased conventional commitment will also involve heavy costs in a few years' time. Therefore, if we are to go ahead with Trident and the conventional naval commitment advocated by the hon. Member for Gillingham, the Government will have to plan for an even steeper and more accelerated increase in the military budget than at present.
Command No. 8288, "The United Kingdom Defence Programme: The Way Forward" recognisesa heavy burden on the British people".Some Conservative right hon. and hon. Members are proposing more.
Expenditure in 1981–82 will be £12,300 million, representing 5.2 per cent. of gross national product. This is scheduled to grow by 3 per cent. per annum in 1982–83, 3 per cent. in 1983–84, 3 per cent. in 1984–85 and 3 per cent. again in 1985–86. The Government wish the provision for 1985–86 to be some 21 per cent. higher in real terms than actual defence expenditure was in 1978–79. The implication of the hon. Gentleman's motion—unless he agrees that Trident should be axed—is that expenditure should be considerably more than 21 per cent. higher by 1985–86 than the real expenditure in 1978–79.
Amongst other things, the Government are already committed to Nimrod, to doubling the air-to-air missiles, to providing a further 36 Hawk aircraft and to retaining the two Phantom squadrons. BAOR will require to be re-equipped with tanks and anti-tank missiles. The Tornado aircraft programme has already cost £10,000 million. The nuclear-powered attack submarines are to be increased from 12 to 17 by 1990. Many other costs will have to be taken on board if the Government's programme is to be carried out.
If Britain tries to continue with the Trident programme and throws off the constraints to which the hon. Gentleman's motion objects, the total burden imposed by way of defence expenditure will be even more unrealistic and insupportable.
I was not clear as to the policy of the Social Democratic Party when I listened to the hon. Member for Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw). I understood that his party wished to get rid of Trident, but from what the hon. Member said it appears that he does not go along with that point of view. He is not dissenting even now.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
There is a difference between saying that we are having nothing to do with Trident and saying, as I say, that I am not convinced that there is not a reasonable alternative.
§ Mr. Newens
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making clear his position. I believe that I am correct in saying that he differs from the position of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) who has said that we should get rid of it completely. Therefore, it should be recognised that the Social Democratic Party is, as on other issues, divided on the polices that it is advocating. I have never concealed my policies.
To return to the point that I was making about heavy defence spending, if we consider defence expenditure in the United States, which will amount to $215,000 million or £113,000 million, a record peace-time budget, we see 30 that that has led to the postulation of a huge budgetary deficit. Undoubtedly the price will be paid, given the monetarist economic regime, in higher and ever higher interest rates which will plunge the world deeper and deeper into depression.
Only eight weeks after the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the public expenditure plans for 1982–83 he had to provide an additional £1,250 million from the contingency reserve for spending programmes. If the British Government seek to accede to the views of those who want the strategic nuclear capability provided by Trident and the increased conventional commitment they will be driving us further along the road to economic ruin.
Even if we could afford Trident, I would argue—if I were an advocate of the nuclear deterrent, which I am not—that the Trident system has a range of 6,000 miles which is totally unnecessary. In addition, the accuracy and the power of the missiles to penetrate silos make it suitable as a first-strike weapon, while the arguments advanced in favour of Trident are for a second-strike weapon. So we are laying out huge unnecessary expenditure if we accept the arguments that are advanced from the Government Front Bench.
I am aware that the case has been advanced for alternative deterrents. Some hon. Members have talked of cruise missiles based on submarines or surface ships but I do not believe that those ideas are starters. Even if they were, they would not make agreement on arms limitation any less tortuous than it is, to put it mildly.
There is an unaswerable military and economic case for Britain to opt out of the nuclear club and maintain instead an efficient conventionally armed force which would be adequate for our defence without threatening economic collapse, which will happen if we carry on as we are doing. Within that conventional defence, it would be necessary to have adequate naval forces. The hon. Member for Gillingham and his hon. Friends ought to address themselves carefully to providing for the defence of the country what is within our economic capacity. Sooner or later we must all face up to the strategic as well as the economic realities of the arguments that I have been seeking to advance.
I note that only last week the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Mid-Oxon (Mr. Hurd), warned, as reported in The Times, at an international conference held by the Western European Union that the Western European allies might no longer be able to afford the most modern advanced equipment tailor-made for their own troops. He was drawing attention to the escalating costs and urging the need for Europe to maintain a strong industrial base. His statement indicates that the realities are penetrating even to the regions of the Government Front Bench. We need desperately to reduce defence expenditure considerably. To achieve this, we should renounce nuclear weapons and refuse to go ahead with the nonsensical Trident commitment.
The hon. Member for Gillingham has to some extent put the Government on the spot to make clear their intentions. I hope that he will press his motion to a vote so that we may see where his hon. Friends stand on this issue. It is not sufficient to table a motion and not to support it in a Division.
Do the Government and their supporters want increased military expenditure to maintain the Trident system or are they prepared to end the Trident commitment to maintain 31 what the hon. Member for Gillingham has described as an "adequate" fleet? It is not enough merely to react against dockyard closures, dreadful as those are. We must formulate viable alternative defence and economic policies. The only defence and economic policy that can be described in that way will involve us in ending the Trident commitment. That is the issue that must be faced by Conservative Members who have been concerned about the reduction in the fleet. They will face it in a few years' time if they refuse to face it now.
§ Sir Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
It was predictable that the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) would talk about Trident. I shall not take up his remarks at any length. I merely say that we are talking about the 1990s. He was honest enough to say that not much money would be spent on Trident in the immediate future. I think that about £80 million will be spent this year. The question is: would the Soviet Union fear two more armoured divisions in BAOR or six more nuclear hunter-killer submarines more than Trident? The answer is obvious to anyone.
I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden), whom I congratulate on initiating the debate, that I understand that on the evidence given to the Select Committee on Defence the cost of Trident will be spread across the Defence Vote and will not be confined to the Navy Vote.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for Harlow shed crocodile tears over American defence expenditure and the American economy. I understood that he and his hon. Friends on the Left of the Labour Party wanted to throw the Americans out of Britain and to leave NATO. Why should he worry about the American economy? He should be rather pleased if it faces difficulties.
§ Mr. Newens
The hon. Gentleman cannot expect me to allow him to get away with that. I think that the American defence commitment is nonsensical and idiotic in both American and world terms. However, I wish Britain to retain its friendship with the United States. I wish the United States to prosper, and that wish extends to every other country.
§ Sir Patrick Wall
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is genuine in saying that he wants to retain American friendship, but how we shall do that if we throw the Americans out of their British bases—their air bases and their Polaris bases—and leave NATO is beyond my comprehension.
When the Government came to power they promised to give first priority to defence, and that is exactly what they did. They immediately increased service pay. They are now spending between 5.3 and 5.5 per cent. of GDP on defence. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team on so doing.
Defence must always be measured against the threat. I believe that the danger will come in the next few years. New leaders will come into the Kremlin when Mr. Brezhnev goes, and his departure cannot be very far off. The arms programme that was started by the Soviet Union in 1962 has now reached fruition. Their armaments will either have to be used or renewed.
The Soviet economy is declining and the Polish disease is spreading to other satellites. The cohesion of the USSR 32 itself is under pressure. It is receiving little financial help or advanced technology from the West, on which it has depended. It is heavily in debt to the West through COMECON, the satellites and through its own trading.
Against that background, can new younger hawks taking over the Kremlin not worry about the future? In such a situation, does not a dictatorship tend to turn the eyes of its people outwards towards aggression against somebody else to take their mind off their own sorrows and privation? If we want to avoid a third world war—I am sure that we all do—we must be strong enough in the next five or six years to deter possible aggression from the Soviet Union. Every effort must be put into defence even if that means greater sacrifices by our people. A third world war would destroy not only our standard of living but ourselves. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham that old ships, old aircraft and old tanks should be kept in reserve for at least the next five or six years.
The traditional dilemma for British leaders is to choose between a Continental and a maritime strategy, and in more modern terms between a short war and and a long war. The Government have gambled on a short Continental war should war occur. They are trying to deter it in the short term and not in the long term. I am arguing that both alternatives could be covered if our defences were made stronger.
The danger period is from now until 1986. Our predecessors in 1913–14 and 1939–40 thought that their wars would be short. They turned out to be long and they they were wrong. We managed to survive those two wars, but if we are wrong in future and the calamity of war confronts us Britain will face the ultimate disaster.
I shall discuss briefly the short war scenario. It means that we must concentrate on the Army and the Royal Air Force. We are already organising the Army in BAOR so as to have battle groups of all arms on the front line. We are increasing their effectiveness but slightly decreasing their strength. There is a serious reinforcement problem. That means that the West's political leaders must make up their minds to use the warning time to get reinforcements across the Atlantic before there is any danger of war being declared.
If the Warsaw Pact attacks, it will do so on a narrow front but in great depth. I understand that in those circumstances about 25 per cent. of its forces will be used in the initial attack and 75 per cent. will be used in the breakout. We must therefore be able to deal with second echelon armour. We must not forget that on the central front the Soviet Union has 17,500 main battle tanks against the West's 7,000. We must be able to deal with that armour at a range of between 50 and 300 km. At present the only means that we have of so doing is artillery or Lance. The artillery might take up to five hours to identify and fire at the target. Lance is a tactical nuclear weapon and in using it we would run the danger of nuclear escalation.
This reaction time will be greatly accelerated with the introduction of the MLRS, with its 12 rockets, each containing over 600 sub-munitions. This weapon system will give us 45 times more effective instantaneous fire compared with a United States battalion of 18 155 mm. guns, or 33 times more effective instantaneous fire than a United States battalion of 11 8 in. howitzers. Therefore, it is an important weapon. It is being developed by four 33 NATO nations. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell us that the system will be in operation in the near future.
With the advanced targeting, identification and communications systems that are now under development, the time for identifying and firing at a target can be reduced to half an hour. By the 1990s it will be further reduced to a period of minutes. This serves to lower the nuclear threshold and makes the use of tactical nuclear weapons much less likely. I hope that we shall have the assurance that precision-guided munitions such as Copperhead will be introduced in the British Army in the near future, I hope also that we shall have the assurance that my right hon. and hon. Friends are giving thought to stand-off weapons for the RAF. Many believe that the RAF will not be able to attack ground troops without stand-off weapons, because of the powerful air defences of Soviet forces. I was pleased to hear about Sea Eagle, but that is designed for the Navy, so I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assure me that new stand-off weapons are being developed for the RAF.
There are two further points about the Army. First, many of us who recently visited Germany are worried that our armour and transport do not seem to have anti-aircraft defences. When one is dealing with a large number of Russian helicopters, some of them armoured, these are an important part of our defence potential. Secondly, Lynx, as an anti-tank weapon equipped with TOW missiles, is an effective weapons system and one in which our European allies would be very interested. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assure me that everything possible is being done to demonstrate this weapon system to our allies with a view to their purchasing it.
I have mentioned the central front, and there is also the important northern flank from which, to some extent, we control the main Soviet fleet base in the Kola peninsula. It is recognised that we must get reinforcements there at a time of tension, but we cannot do so unless we keep the two assault ships HMS "Fearless" and "Intrepid". There are only four hards in northern Norway so the theory of using British Rail roll-on/roll-off ships does not work out.
I hope my hon. Friend will be able to assure me that those two ships will be kept in reserve and not be scrapped as was originally planned. The ships cost £10 million each, the cost of replacement would be £100 million, but the cost of keeping them in reserve, if I remember rightly from an answer to a written question, would be £0.3 million each. Therefore, it would be a good investment to retain those ships, for without them the Royal Marine Commandos would not be able to reach Norway. These ships have command facilities and carry helicopters as well as landing craft which cannot be replaced.
I briefly turn to the long war scenario. We have to remember that about 1 million men or more and 10 million tons of equipment have to be transported across the Atlantic, and 97 per cent. of the equipment has to come by sea. Once again this emphasises the importance of warning time and the early use of that warning time. We must remember that the Soviet northern fleet, based on the Kola peninsula, contains 51 SSBNs, 44 SSGNs or SSGs, 28 SSNs and 74 SSKs. The Soviet Union is now building ballistic submarines of the Typhoon class of 25,000 tons with 20 missiles with a range of 5,000 miles. It is also building the Oscar class SSGNs of 15,000 tons with 24 anti-ship missiles. These are formidable weapons and must be countered.
34 What is the NATO requirement? First, it must protect the strike fleet, which is mainly an American commitment, and, secondly, it must hold the GI-UK gap—the line between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom, which Russian submarines from Kola would have to penetrate to gain the deep waters of the Atlantic—and we also have to provide escorts for area cover or convoy protection.
My right hon. Friend will know that anti-submarine warfare is teamwork. It requires not only maritime patrol aircraft and hunter-killer submarines, but surface ships with helicopters. If one of those factors is left out of the equation it will not succeed. We are told that we will cut down our numbers of frigate and destroyer forces and make up by additional maritime patrol aircraft, but there are only four more to be made up, because the remainder will be used for early air warning purposes. I hope that we will introduce a new class of aircraft, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State will address himself to that problem.
On the SSNs, the hunter-killer submarines, we have in the past ordered one every year. Now it is one every 18 months, and we are going backwards, because we are to scrap HMS "Dreadnought". When we start building Trident submarines we will obviously decrease our building rate of SSNs. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to reassure us that we will increase the number of SSNs on order up to one a year.
I hope, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham has suggested, that even if Chatham dockyard is to chose the nuclear submarine refitting and refuelling complex will remain. I have visited Devonport dockyard, and I am not sure that it could do all the work. Even if it could, it would be wrong to put all our eggs in one basket.
Evidence was given to the Select Committee on Defence that the Type 23 cannot be put to sea before 1986 at the earliest; also, that we want to sell it abroad. If it is merely to tow Arrays it will not be saleable abroad. Therefore, it must be a conventional frigate, armed with the lightweight Sea Wolf and lightweight Sea Dart. Why do the Government not think of a cheaper way of towing the Arrays, perhaps with re-engined trawlers or tugs, which would be adequate for this purpose?
I agree that it is folly to sell HMS "Invincible" to the Australians at the moment. She should be kept at least until the remainder of her class are commissioned. These ships cost over £200 million but could be sunk in the first day of any war, because they have no point defence. All that is needed is a few million pounds to put lightweight Sea Wolves on each quarter of these ships. This should be done as a matter of urgency, as it is unlikely that there would be time to do so in time of tension.
I hope that when the Buccaneers are replaced by Tornado they will be held in reserve and equipped with Sea Eagle, as they would be important to Norway in the event of war.
I turn now to the future. We are entering an era of anti-satellite satellites, fractional orbital bombardment systems and multiple orbital bombardment systems. These are devices that circle the earth in various orbits and from which missiles or bombs can be released on earth targets. These we leave to the super powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. However, space will play a vital part in a future war.
I should like assurances that we are continuing research on high-energy lasers and particle beam weapons for 35 defence purposes. Such weapons are being developed for the protection of American carriers as well as for antiballistic missile systems, and I hope that we are keeping abreast of these developments.
It is always said that we tend to fight the last war. Let us hope that there will never be another war, but if there is let us think of the future rather than of the past.
In spite of all the propaganda in the press and on television, NATO is in good heart. The rearmament programme started by President Carter in 1977 is going well. For 20 years the USSR has spent from 15 to 17 per cent. of its GNP on defence. The equivalent figures for NATO are 5 to 7 per cent. Therefore, we have a great deal of leeway to make up and time is not on our side.
That is why the Government should give even higher priority to defence of the realm than they are at the moment, even if this means spending more money on what is a vital insurance policy for the future of every man, woman and child in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) on his success in the ballot and on taking defence as his subject. However, that is as far as my agreement with him goes. The motion is in three parts. The first welcomes thedecision to maintain the strategic nuclear deterrent when Polaris reaches the end of its useful life.The hon. Member is arguing here that he welcomes Trident and the Government's commitment to Trident following Polaris in the future. I disagree with that view.
The hon. Member then goes on to disagree with the Government imposing cash limits on the Ministry of Defence. I understand the hon. Gentleman's problem in Chatham and he has spoken for his constituents. But it would be wrong for a Government who are imposing such harsh cash limits on other Government Departments, and on expenditure on such desirable activities as social services, not to impose cash limits on defence spending. The motion refers toa time when the threat facing the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance has never been greater".I disagree with that. There is a great deal of sabre rattling and a great desire to encourage and increase the arms race—yet the evidence shows that there is no need to do so.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) said that today is the anniversary of the invasion of Singapore. In the circumstances in which we are now living, we should think not about the invasion of the Japanese military might, but about the invasion of Britain by Japanese industry. Although we welcome it, it is deplorable that the only good news that we are waiting to hear is whether Datsun will come to Wales or Sunderland. We must recognise that the Japanese have been successful in developing televisions and motor cars because they are prohibited from incurring great expenditure on defence. Under their constitution, they are not allowed to spend money on nuclear weapons. Yet we in this debate are talking about spending a great deal more on defence.
§ Sir Patrick Wall
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that Japan depends entirely on the United States for defence. Does he want Britain to be in that position also?
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman is committing himself to wanting the Japanese to spend more on defence. A recent report of the United Nations estimated that by 1980 world military expenditure had grown to more than $500 billion—that is, more than £250 billion. The hon. Member for Toxteth rightly said that youngsters have a deep anxiety about the massive preparations for a third world war, with all its implications for nuclear weapons. He was concerned about that anxiety, but I welcome it because the one thing that will stop the arms race is people asking the Government for their aims. There are now more than 50,000 nuclear weapons in the world, while in 1950 there were probably no more than 200. As the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) asked earlier, what about Japan? If we argue that Britain should have an independent nuclear deterrent, what right do we have to tell any other sovereign State that it must not have an independent nuclear deterrent?
The atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima had a destructive force of 15 kilotons of TNT. Today's strategic and tactical weapons—more than 50,000 of them—have a total destructive power of 15 million kilotons. The world has a destructive capability equal to 1 million Hiroshimas, yet we are saying that we do not contribute enough to that destructive capability.
The Tory Government are planning to spend more than £8 billion on the Trident programme. This debate is timely because the appropriate Sub-Committee is deciding whether to go ahead with Trident—which will be obsolete by the time that it is built—or enter a new Trident programme that will be more expensive. If we do that, we shall have to reassess expenditure, and it may be not £8 billion but £10 billion. If Britain argues that it must possess an independent nuclear weapon, that same argument can be used by all other countries. Does any hon. Member believe that world peace will be made more secure by an escalation in the arms race and by increasing the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons? Arms expenditure is a tremendous burden on the economy. The Blue Papers issued by the Ministry of Defence show that Britain is spending £12.5 billion on arms, which is 5.2 per cent of gross domestic product. It is less than the United States, but greater than the 11 other members of NATO.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)
For the sake of completeness, will the hon. Gentleman give his estimate of what proportion of GNP the Soviet Union is spending on arms? Is it not about 12 or 13 per cent.? Would it not be highly irresponsible if Britain did not seek to defend itself against that manifest threat?
§ Mr. Evans
It is probably correct to say that the Soviet Union spends a high proportion of GNP on arms. However, the Russians argue that their GNP is not as high as that of America. If the hon. Gentleman's point is that the Soviet Union is spending too much on military preparations, I agree with him. We cannot end the arms race if only one side reduces its expenditure. The 37 Opposition are not arguing that defence expenditure should be ended. There has been division in the Social Democratic Party about arms expenditure, as there has been in the Labour Party. There is certainly division among Tory Members. They must understand the problems of the Secretary of State for Defence. The previous Secretary of State lost his job because he stuck to his ground. He is now the Leader of the House. He said that there should be no reduction in conventional weapons. The Secretary of State told Conservative Party members this weekend that if they want Trident and a massive expenditure on nuclear weapons they cannot have Chatham dockyard. They have to make a choice. Yet Conservative Members want Chatham dockyard, all the conventional forces and nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Evans
That intervention proves that there is division in the Conservative ranks. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) is a prominent member of the Defence Committee. He wants all the present defence capabilities, and more. That is what we are arguing about. The Japanese have been successful industrially because they have curbed their defence expenditure. A major problem for Britain since the last war has been excessive spending on arms. Conservative Members should not believe that the arms race preserves peace. It has been a waste of human resources. We should use our efforts to encourage talks on arms control, limitation and reduction. We shall not bring that about by escalating the arms race.
The Labour Party unconditionally opposes the replacement of Polaris by Trident or any other nuclear weapons system. That is the right and courageous stand. From that position we can speak to other nations and tell them that we are prepared to abandon our manufacture of weapons. I appreciate that the Soviet Union and the United States have massive supplies of nuclear weapons. However, we must prevent the continual proliferation of the possession of nuclear weapons. The Labour Party reaffirms its total and unconditional opposition to the manufacture or deployment of cruise missiles and the neutron bomb. It will be interesting to discover the Government's attitude to the neutron bomb. Does the Select Committee on Defence want the neutron bomb as well as Trident? That weapon is an abomination and we must deplore it.
§ Sir Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)
The hon. Gentleman is making much of the question of arms control and disarmament. We all agree with that. He is now saying that in advance of such agreement we should give up the right to have certain weapons with which to defend ourselves. Is he really suggesting that it is better for Britain to announce in advance that it will forgo the right to have certain weapons in defence and hope that the Russians will cut their weapons in accord?
§ Mr. Evans
One can take the argument in whatever way one wishes. The world is already spending too much on arms. I do not believe that the Soviet Union or America will deliberately announce that the third world war is starting on Sunday morning at 11 am. It will not happen in that way. The real danger is that one morning we shall read The Guardian or The Times—if The Times is still in existence because we do not know what the Government will do about that—and we shall find that Paris has ceased 38 to exist. Then we must ask who dropped the nuclear weapon. The real danger of the next world conflagration is that of war by accident. That is why we must stop the nonsense of building more nuclear weapons. We already have 50,000, which is more than enough to blow up this planet and all the planets in the universe. We must call a halt.
§ Mr. D. A. Trippier (Rossendale)
If the hon. Gentleman means what he says, why have we not heard a statement from him supporting the talks in Geneva for a balanced reduction of theatre nuclear weapons? Why has there not been an official welcome from the Opposition or from the CND for the peace initiative that has been introduced by the Americans and which is being discussed in Geneva now?
§ Mr. Evans
I should have been kind to the hon. Gentleman and not given way to him. The Opposition have demanded those talks. The difference is that we wish things to happen and we are prepared to do something to bring them about. The Conservative Party is only talking. I hope that the Geneva talks will be successful. If we read today's newspapers, we see that Alexander Haig is to meet President Ceausescu of Romania. They wish to talk about peace, and yet Caspar Weinberger said yesterday that he wishes the Western powers to increase defence expenditure—which must increase by 12 per cent. to keep up with inflation—by another 4 per cent. in real terms. We shall cripple our economies, which are already in great difficulty.
I agree wholeheartedly with all the efforts that have been made and I am sure that all Opposition Members wish the talks between the United States of America and the Soviet Union to be successful. However, at the same time as making those talks successful and moving from SALT II to SALT III and genuine world disarmament talks, we must consider our defence expenditure and ask ourselves whether we can afford to increase it when we are cutting back on benefits, social services and industry.
Further expenditure is wrong, immoral and should be rejected. That is why I shall oppose the motion.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) will forgive me if I do not follow every word that he said, but I have undertaken to speak briefly. However, I wish to take up his final point about disarmament. Of course we wish that, but how can we guarantee, without an adequate system of supervision, that the other side will do what they say and, secondly, that the disarmament will not be to the disadvantage of our defences?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) on choosing this subject for debate. We approach it against the background of Poland and Afghanistan. A significant point was raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw). There are many young people in Britain who do not know what war is. They do not remember Czechoslovakia or Hungary. They think of Poland as being far away and not a war. It is important not only to educate young people to realise the dangers of war, but to realise the importance that Britain and the Conservative Party attach to our defence to ensure that war never happens again. Those 39 young people are misled by propaganda, which is being hurled at them without any justification and without any historical background.
The priority to defend ourselves and our allies was clearly laid down in the Conservative Party's election manifesto. The preservation of peace must be paid for. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) pointed that out. It is a question not of what we can afford, but how much it will cost to defend ourselves against an aggressor. We should calculate it in that way and not on how much we believe we can afford. We must meet our obligations, and it is essential that we possess, and continue to possess, a nuclear deterrent that makes us independent of the United States of America and every other country. So far the Government have managed to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) mentioned the naval forces of the Soviet Union. We must ensure that our naval forces are adequately protected and that they have the proper equipment on board with which to protect themselves. I believe that our naval forces will be attacked by missiles. Therefore, it is up to us to ensure that our naval forces are equipped with adequate missiles to protect themselves.
The real argument today is about what form of nuclear deterrent we should adopt. I have always been an advocate of Polaris and its modifications. I make no excuse for that. However, the picture has changed and we should think in the longer term of Trident II. We shall be dependent almost entirely for spares and replacements on America. If America puts one version of Trident out of commission, slowly but surely we shall not be able to get the spares unless we make them ourselves, which is almost impossible. Therefore, we should aim for a longer-term nuclear deterrent. At the beginning the Americans may have plenty of spares, but as time goes on those spares will run out and we will not be able, except at an extortionate price, to re-equip our missiles which are rapidly going out of date.
I do not believe that we shall achieve standardisation overnight. It is a slow process and I know that my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence would agree that we must start with small parts, such as ball-bearings. We cannot standardise the major weaponry, such as tanks, but we must attempt to standaridise from the bottom.
During a recession, when armaments are being delivered ahead of time, the Ministry of Defence is always at a disadvantage, because it must pay for them in advance. We must consider a longer-term Treasury approach. Our defence budget cannot be completed in a year. It must be completed over a longer period so that money is not wasted and we receive the maximum possible benefit from our expenditure. At the moment the Ministry is confined by the strictures that are placed upon it by the Treasury. The strictures are old-fashioned, out of date and should disappear.
The vital point is the difference between our strategy and that of America. The Americans have a different problem. They are thousands of miles away. One missile dropped on one city would not dislocate the whole country, whereas one missile dropped on this country would do immense damage. The Americans have a slightly different approach, but it is essential that we and the Americans stick together, because we are the only 40 people capable of producing the defences that are necessary. The Americans have recently realised that there is a danger of chemical warfare. They appreciate that the Soviet Union is building up such weapons.
There must be firm and close co-operation between America and Great Britain. We are interdependent. Although our short-term objectives may be different, our long-term objective is to preserve peace. Everything else must be subjugated to that objective.
Recently, operations have been carried out in Europe to show that it is vital that we have adequate reserve forces. We must consider how we can balance conventional and nuclear forces. I have always said—and I do not take a word back—that we have been able to preserve peace for so long simply and solely because we have had an advantage over the enemy because of our independent nuclear deterrent. As long as we have that advantage, we shall preserve peace. It is the duty of the Government to look not so much at the cost as at the effectiveness of the armaments that they produce. I look to my Government to make sure that the money is not cut back, because we need it to protect this country and the world against aggression.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
Like other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) on having chosen this important debate as the subject for his motion.
The hon. Gentleman has represented his constituency for about 32 years. He has fought and won 10 successive parliamentary elections, each time pledging his party to keep open the Royal dockyard at Chatham. That yard began life in the sixteenth century as Gillingham dockyard. It is the biggest single employer in the Medway towns and the main supplier of engineering apprenticeships. That is why the hon. Gentleman's pledge was so important to the people who live in the area and why the pledge was so often repeated.
As recently as 1980 the Tory Government underlined that pledge in respect not just of Chatham but of all the four home dockyards. It took them under 12 months to pass the death sentence on Chatham and Portsmouth and to add Gibraltar for good measure.
The Government have reneged on one of the Conservative Party's most explicit and most repeated commitments. They now propose to pay their debts to the people of the Medway towns, Portsmouth and Gibraltar in counterfeit currency. The outcome of last summer's review of the Government's defence programme will wreak economic damage in Chatham and Portsmouth alike, but the foundations of the economy of Gibraltar will be shattered. The immediate local impact of the closure and of the rundown in naval depots will be multiplied many times over by the knock-on effects, as the hon. Gentleman admitted.
For example, in my constituency of Deptford and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) good and efficient naval stores will close. The Minister of State knows that we have discussed that. In the end he said that it was inevitable. The ripple effects on employment mean that the loss of civilian jobs, given in last summer's White Paper as being between 35,000 and 40,000, is nearer to 50,000 and probably a good deal more.
41 The hon. Member for Gillingham will bemoan the fate of Chatham, but he knows as well as I do that all the talk of alternative employment is meaningless. The people there have seen it all before and so has the hon. Gentleman. They point to what happened when the Royal dockyard at Sheerness was closed in 1960. Although some people obtained work in the Chatham dockyard—that is about all that happened—Sheerness remains today what it has been since 1960—a black spot of unemployment. At the last count unemployment was 18 . 2 per cent. Once an area is dead, it cannot be revived. One cannot give the kiss of life to a corpse.
The lengthening dole queues at Chatham, Portsmouth and Gibraltar and the cuts in Armed Forces manpower of nearly 22,000, also announced last summer, the cuts in equipment and the reduction in Royal Air Force flying hours stem from a single cause. They represent only the opening frame in a series of cuts in a defence programme that was unsustainable from the moment it was launched, a defence programme bloated and distorted by a single extravagant and ill-conceived project—the Trident missile purchase. It is at that point that the hon. Gentleman's motion avoids the real issue and the recent history of the Government's defence changes.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to recognise that none of the cuts currently confronting us, for the next two or three years, has anything to do with any proposed purchase of Trident. Does he not further recognise that Trident, even at the higher anticipated cost for the D5 system, is, none the less, cheaper than the Tornado programme?
§ Mr. Silkin
I shall develop the hon. Gentleman's second point in my own way. With regard to his first point, the cuts and purchase of Trident are part and parcel of the defence programme, looking ahead, and that is what the Conservative Government and the former and present Secretaries of State for Defence had and have in mind.
It is at this point that the hon. Member for Gillingham evaded the real issue. The first defence change was the removal early last year of the present Lord President of the Council from his post as Secretary of State for Defence. The present Lord President had been ill-advised enough to act as though he believed in the Conservative Party election manifesto of 1979. It was a grotesque error. He proposed to embark on a full scale nuclear capability coupled with a full scale conventional capability. Unfortunately for the Lord President, he fell foul of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not because they thought that the money could be better spent on schools, houses or hospitals—as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) said—but because his policy implied a vast increase in public expenditure by a Government pledged to reducing it. As the Lord President was obstinate, he was replaced by the present Secretary of State.
The present Secretary of State is a man of great resource, not overburdened with a desire to keep electoral pledges. However, he, too, wanted to have his nuclear cake and eat it. His way of paying for the nuclear cake was to cut the conventional capability, including killing off three of our naval dockyards.
The other day, in answer to some questions asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli, the Minister of State estimated the annual savings of the Defence Vote 42 as being "up to" £10 million in respect of Gibraltar and £65 million to £70 million each in respect of Chatham and Portsmouth, all at September 1981 prices. Therefore, the savings on all three dockyards tot up to a maximum of £150 million a year. The House will recall that we are talking about a job loss of at least 50,000 people. At the same price level, according to the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, the cost of 100,000 unemployed is £438 million in transfer payments and revenues forgone, or £219 million for 50,000 unemployed. In other words, what will save the defence Vote £150 million will cost other Departments nearly 50 per cent. above that figure.
However, to achieve that theoretical saving and keep his nuclear status symbol, the Secretary of State has to put at risk the real defence of these islands. We are left instead with Trident—mark II, it now seems—and the pretence of an independent nuclear deterrent. That system deters no one, is not independent of the United States, and does not even get us a ticket to the top table at Geneva. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir V. Goodhew) used the phrase, "going naked into the conference chamber". We are not even going in in our underwear.
To preserve a naval capability, we must have a proper ship refit programme. The closures were not made on defence considerations, for inevitably they cut right down the number of truly operational ships. That, in turn, means that the Government's programme robs the country of the chance to defend itself in a conventional war.
What is true of the sea is true of the air. The Tornado air defence version is being delayed. Will we ever get such a version? Or will history repeat itself, as it has done so often in the past, and will Tornado F2, like many previous projects, disappear for ever? In such an event, it means that the Government will be robbing the country of the defences that it needs in any conventional war. I agree with the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) that the Secretary of State for Defence is gambling on a nuclear conflict. In my view, he is neglecting the possibility of a conventional war.
The policy expounded by the Secretary of State is the peddling of dreams. The reality is that the structure of our defence policy has to change.
§ Sir Patrick Wall
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that I said that in a short war, not a nuclear war, the Russians could break through in seven days. Is he suggesting that we should have the same number of dockyards now as when we had a fleet that was five or six times the size of the present fleet?
§ Mr. Silkin
The hon. Gentleman has asked two questions. If a conflict of five to six days were to bring an enemy—it may not be the Russians—to the Channel ports, it must be a nuclear conflict. That is what the whole of the Government's policy is about. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question, in my view we need to have the four home dockyards and Gibraltar now. I am sorry that the Conservative Government are not willing to carrry out the pledges that were given at the time of the election in 1979 or 1980.
Our defence policy will have to change because in the. 1980s Britain needs an effective conventional defence, both at sea and in the air. We must cease to be deluded by the nuclear illusion. In my view, the Government's policy is failing the nation, and in doing so it is failing the people who work and live in Gibraltar, Portsmouth and in 43 the constituency of the hon. Member for Gillingham. For that reason the Labout Party well understands his determination to put the matter to a vote, and we shall watch with interest the outcome of this debate.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Peter Blaker)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) on drawing the first place in the ballot and on raising the subject of defence. I know how great his concern has been for the effect on his constituents of the closure of the Chatham naval base, which has given magnificent service to the Royal Navy for 400 years. I pay tribute to him, and to my hon. Friends the Members for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner), Gravesend (Mr. Brinton) and Faversham (Mr. Moate), for the untiring way in which they have brought to the Government's attention the point of view of their constituents. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have met them on several occasions. We have met the Chatham Dockyard Defence Committee as well as representatives of the local authorities and trade unions, and we have visited Chatham. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has twice visited Chatham, as has the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Before I deal with my hon. Friend's motion in greater detail, I want to say a word about the extraordinary speech that we have just heard fron the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin). Is he saying that a Labour Government would reopen Chatham, restore the present dockyard numbers in Portsmouth, and reopen Gibraltar?
§ Mr. John Silkin
If the Minister can undertake that the Conservative Government retire today and we have a Labour Government tomorrow, the answer is "Yes", but as we do not know when there will be an election, or even whether there will be a Chatham, it is not possible to answer such a question.
§ Mr. Blaker
In that case, I should like to know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks that those dockyards would do. Labour policy on defence, as I understand it, would involve a cut in defence spending of £3,500 million a year—not, I think, at 1982 prices. The former Labour spokesman on defence matters, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), said that the full Labour Party policy, if enforced, would involve the loss of hundreds of thousands of defence jobs in this country. How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that with what he has just said? I have seldom heard such nonsense as the speech that he has just made.
The right hon. Member for Deptford talked about Trident. He blamed the Trident proposal for our review, which has led to the closure of Chatham and Gibraltar dockyards and to the rundown of Portsmouth. That cannot be true. The present expenditure on Trident is minimal. The problems exist now and will do for the next two years. In a few years' time, as a result of the review, our problems will be diminished. Is he saying that if the Trident programme were abandoned he would spend the money saved on other and conventional defence projects? If he is not saying that, his speech was a tissue of humbug.
It is a credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham that his motion is framed so that it applies not only to Chatham but to defence as a whole, because it 44 enables the House to debate this important subject at a time when we have not done so, as hon. Gentlemen rightly commented, for some months. I shall refer specifically to Chatham later, but first I want to take up one of my hon. Friend's general comments.
Although I do not agree with my hon. Friend's motion as a whole, I agree with him about the importance of maintaining a strategic nuclear deterrent. I agree, too, that the threat facing NATO has never been greater. We all know the disparity in strength between the Warsaw Pact conventional forces and those of NATO in Europe, about which I have spoken on many occasions in the House. We know, too, of the alarming build-up of the Soviet Unions's SS20 missiles, with their triple warheads. Two hundred and eighty of them are now deployed, of which 190 are aimed against Western Europe. Soviet military strength exceeds what could possibly be regarded as necessary for defence alone. The new Typhoon class of Soviet ballistic missile-firing submarines, as my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said, is nearly as large as our modern aircraft carriers, and it is 5,000 tons heavier. It carries 20 ballistic missiles with multiple warheads and a range exceeding 4,000 nautical miles.
The Soviet Union's spending on arms in the 1970s increased by 40 per cent. in real terms. In real terms spending on defence by NATO fell. That is why NATO recently set itself the target of a 3 per cent. increase in spending per year. It is a target which Britain is honouring.
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
I am sure that the Minister would not want to mislead the House. At present we are not honouring the commitment. It was honoured under the previous Government. If the hon. Gentleman looks at his arithmentic he will see that this Government have failed to honour it.
§ Mr. Blaker
The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. On our present plans, spending by the United Kingdom in 1985–86 will be 21 per cent. higher in real terms than when we came to office.
§ Mr. Blaker
As I read the motion, it says that a lack of flexibility is being imposed on the Ministry of Defence in its financial planning. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) also dealt with that important topic. We already have a degree of flexibility to make the best use of resources in the course of the year by out ability, subject to the agreement of the House, to switch expenditure between Votes within the defence budget. But our task could be made much easier if there was also greater flexibility between successive years in the management of the defence budget.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said on 26 January:The principal problem facing the defence budget is that, due to the recession, Ministry of Defence contractors deliver equipment faster than they would otherwise. That has to be fitted into a tight annual cash limit. More flexibility from one year to another would enormously benefit the management of defence resources and would make it much more efficient.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
That is stretching the credulity of I and my hon. Friends to an extent which I am sure my hon. Friend does not intend. It is not enough to postulate the matter as a tiresome abstraction that is incapable of 45 solution. Who is responsible for the position? Has my hon. Friend made a case to them? What can we expect as an improvement?
§ Mr. Blaker
If my hon. Friend allows me to continue for a few minutes the answer will become clear.
Let me first finish the quotation:More flexibility would be a great plus towards looking after the programme. "—[Official Roport ; 26 January, 1982; Vol. 16, c. 736.]My hon. Friend may not know that our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), on 9 February that the Government:recognised the advantages … of introducing some form of end year flexibility … and my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is looking at this again."—[Official Report; 9 February 1982; Vol. 17, c. 856.]Naturally we aim at high standards of financial discipline, but the defence equipment programme, which accounts for 44 per cent. of our budget this year, includes many major items that take years to design and build and often require advanced technology. Nevertheless, our performance in financial control has been creditable.
After some years of underspending, with the consequent failure to use the resources voted for defence by the House, the overspend in the years since 1978–79 has averaged less than 1 per cent. Most businesses, with their facilities for overdrafts and for carrying forward cash balances, would congratulate themselves if they got as close to their targets. But we should be greatly helped if we had an ability to carry underspends or overspends from one year to the next.
The motion understates what the Government have achieved and are achieving in defence. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham spoke of the reduction in the numbers of frigates and destroyers. Even with the fewer ships that we plan, the total number of ship weeks at sea for destroyers and frigates will be almost identical with what it has been.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
The fact that fewer ships are kept at sea for much longer periods will wear them out more quickly, which will mean that they need refits more frequently, so we wish to know whether the refits will be available.
§ Mr. Blaker
If my hon. Friend allows me to continue I shall clarify that point. But that view is not shared by the Admirals with which I have discussed the matter.
By abandoning the expensive mid-life modernisations that have taken up to three years to complete and by doing more training at sea, a greater proportion of a ship's life will be spent at sea.
It has been suggested that the reduction in surface ship numbers will lower the nuclear threshold. On the contrary, had we continued on our previous course, we should increasingly have found that we had ships, tanks and aeroplanes that were under-armed, with inadequate fuel for training and diminishing supplies of spares and ammunition for training or for war. That would have been a fatal and a foolish course to continue on. That would have been the way to lower nuclear thresholds.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
My hon. Friend will know that the Dutch Navy, with its Kortenaer frigates, is not abandoning mid-life modernisation. How can he ensure, for example, that our type 42 destroyers and type 22 or 21 frigates can keep abreast of the threat post-1986 in 46 electronic, underwater and anti-aircraft warfare without modernisation? Our ships will be obsolete if they are not kept abreast of the threat. That view is shared by the Royal Netherlands Navy.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Some of us who went along with the Government's policy of phasing out a number of the present surface ships with great reluctance did so on the assumption that there would be an accelerated build of the type 23 and 2400 series conventional submarines, but there appears to be no sense of urgency in bringing forward either of those designs. That fact is of great concern to many of us.
§ Mr. Blaker
I shall tell the House about the number of ships coming in. We adhere to what we said in the defence review debates last summer about the numbers of destroyers and frigates that we shall maintain.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
Is Dr. Luns, the Secretary-General of NATO, in full agreement with what we are doing?
§ Mr. Blaker
I have not heard from Dr. Luns any dissent from our proposals last year.
Let me tell the House what our plans for 1982–83 will involve. The Royal Navy will take delivery of a carrier, an SSN, two type 42s, a type 22, one mine countermeasures vessel and a seabed operations vessel. In addition, under construction are four destroyers, three frigates, three hunter-killer submarines and six mime-sweepers. HMS "Ark Royal" is fitting out. We announced last week that we are inviting tenders for our seventeenth hunter-killer submarine.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice asked about future SSN numbers. I confirm that we intend to stick to the numbers of hunter-killers previously announced.
We shall be accepting into service later this year the new Sting Ray torpedo which is the most advanced weapon of its type in the world. We are going ahead with the new heavyweight torpedo and with the Marconi lightweight tracking radar for the very effective Sea Wolf missile system. Sea Wolf is an air defence system to protect our ships against enemy aircraft and missiles. It will maintain our capability in advanced radar development and provide work for several hundred people at Marconi.
The House will be glad to know that Marconi and British Aerospace today announced a commercial agreement whereby they will co-operate on developing a vertical launch version of Sea Wolf. In addition, British Aerospace will collaborate with Marconi on the new British heavyweight torpedo and on other torpedo developments. The Ministry of Defence warmly welcomes that collaboration.
We shall be placing an order for the development and production of Sea Eagle anti-ship missiles to meet the needs of the Navy and RAF. Sea Eagle's radar homing head and long range provide an over-the-horizon attack capability that allows a missile to be launched from well outside the effective missile defence cover of enemy ships. It will provide employment for some 2,300.
Finally, on the naval side, in the past two weeks we have had four successful firings of Chevaline, which will maintain the capability of our Polaris submarines. We 47 expect that the operational deployment of Chevaline will occur shortly. [Interruption.]] On jobs in general, in 1981–82, the Ministry of Defence will spend about £5,000 million with British industry. That is about 15 per cent. more in real terms than in 1978–79. A further substantial increase is expected in 1982–83.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because it saves one making remarks from a sedentary position. Before leaving the naval scene, will he tell the House how many ships, including submarines, have been ordered by the Government?
§ Mr. Blaker
The short answer is 15.
At the beginning of 1979, just before we came into office, the Army was nearly 9,000 trained adult males under strength, with a voluntary discharge rate running at about 5 per cent. Recruiting and discharge rates were deteriorating and pay was between 16 and 26 per cent. behind comparable jobs in civilian life. Only two of the 14 infantry battalions in BAOR were able to man their establishment of four rifle companies. The Territorial Army was 19 per cent. under establishment. On equipment, the First British Corps compared very badly with others in Germany. Replacement of the Chieftain tank was not due until the end of the 1980s, if then. We were short of medium artillery. Milan was only about to be introduced. The Army was overstretched, undermanned, underpaid and badly equipped. Today, the Army is up to and, indeed, a little over strength.
§ Mr. Blaker
The number of men leaving voluntarily is insignificant. Northern Ireland now has only three roulement battalions instead of seven at the beginning of 1979.
We are now manning a full front-line tank strength in Germany, which has increased by 126 tanks, or 27 per cent., from three years ago. By the middle of this year we shall have trebled the number of medium-range guns in BAOR, and we already have the FH70 towed medium gun in service. There are over 400 Milan anti-tank missile posts with units and we have increased the amount of Rapier air defence equipment in Germany. By the middle of the decade—right on target—we can look forward to bringing into service sufficient of the much improved Challenger tank fully to equip four armoured regiments.
Capability of our armed helicopter fleet was improved by the introduction of Lynx with its full quota of TOW missiles. During 1982–83 we shall take delivery of 6,500 Clansman radio sets. These are just some of the things we have been doing.
I was asked recently about the reduction of front-line RAF aircraft. It is only natural, when withdrawing from service older types such as the Vulcan and Canberra and introducing new ones such as the Tornado, that there should be a drop in numbers, at least for a time. The early withdrawal of the older aircraft types, mostly bombers or reconnaissance aircraft, was foreseen by my right hon. Friend in a statement to the House over a year ago. However, we are still planning for the full buy of 385 Tornado aircraft, of which the ground attack version is now coming into service.
48 I recently visited the training wing at Honington and I was told that the RAF could not remember an aircraft it had been more pleased with on its coming into service than this one.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
My hon. Friend will not be surprised if I ask him what he thinks will happen in the near and medium future on the replacement of Tornado, Harrier or Jaguar aircraft, which affects his constituency, mine and those of many other Conservative Members. If the Government are not to fund it and if the lead—in time is as long as he knows it is, bearing in mind the number of jobs depending on the P110 going ahead, where does he think the money will come from? Can he give a categorical assurance that we will not end up buying American because we do not build our own aeroplane within these shores?
§ Mr. Blaker
It would take me too long to answer all my hon. Friend's questions. However, I recognise the importance of his questions. I know that he discussed such matters recently with my right hon. Friend. We attach great importance to a satisfactory solution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham spoke with understandable deep feeling when he moved the motion. Reasons for the closure of Chatham, the rundown of Portsmouth dockyard and the closure of Gibraltar dockyard were explained to the House. They arise largely from the rapidly increasing costs of sophisticated modern equipment.
A major decision resulting from our review was to do away with the major mid-life modernisation of surface ships which, for a frigate, now costs about £70 million a time.
It is true that in an answer given some time ago the highest figure for the cost of a major mid-life modernisation for a frigate was about £60 million. However, the frigates then under modernisation were clearly going to cost more than £70 million by the time they were finished. That was explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham——
§ Sir Frederick Burden
With great respect, I consider that it is misleading to state that it would cost £70 million when not one refit has cost that much.
We know that there is a greatly increased sophistication required in modern vessels of war. Surely that means greater work for the Royal dockyards. The Minister stated some time ago that these refits could occur only in the Royal dockyards.
§ Mr. Blaker
If my hon. Friend considers the record, he will appreciate that we have not misled him or the House. We were referring to refits that occurred at the time of last summer's review. Our ability to improve the hitting power of our forces, which was a major objective of the review, would be gravely damaged if we kept open dockyard capacity that we did not need costing nearly £150 million a year quite apart from what we would forgo from the sale of surplus real estate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham believes that we need the nuclear refitting capacity of Chatham. Chatham has done an excellent job in that field, but the best advice from all the experts, naval and civilian—
§ Mr. Blaker
—confirmed to me when I visited Devonport and Rosyth that we shall have enough capacity in those two dockyards to carry out all the refitting of nuclear submarines that we shall need.
§ Mr. Churchill
My hon. Friend has sought to reinforce the point that the Leander frigate mid-life refit costs approximately £70 million. However, it has never been vouchsafed to the House what the cost of the Type 23 will be. We were assured by the Government last year that that would be so much cheaper than the mid-life refit of Leanders.
§ Mr. Blaker
I cannot give my hon. Friend any more information at present. We are still working on that question.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)—I am sorry that he is not present—raised the question of HMS "Endurance". I know that this is a subject to which many hon. Members attach importance. We plan to withdraw "Endurance" from service when it finishes its present tour in the south Atlantic. Naval vessels will visit the area from time to time although not as frequently as "Endurance" has done. We would have wished to keep "Endurance" in service if we could have afforded to do so. It was, as is usually the case, a question of priorities.
The decision does not affect our policy towards the Falkland Islands. We have no doubts about our sovereignty over the islands. The Royal Marine garrision will remain. "Endurance" has, in any case, a very limited military capability. Its withdrawal does not indicate any lessening of our interest in Antarctica. The British Antarctic Survey has its own two ships in the area. We offered "Endurance" to the survey but it was unable to accept it. The survey has its own base and can continue its work without "Endurance".
The Antarctic treaty, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion, referred, provides for demilitarisation in Antarctica. The signatories of the treaty are preparing to meet in an attempt to agree on continuing the demilitarised regime and on arrangements for exploiting the mineral resources of Antarctica within the framework of the treaty.
I wish to say more about Chatham. We have uppermost in our minds the need to carry through the changes at Chatham, Portsmouth and Gibraltar as sympathetically as possible. The needs of each differ. For reasons of time, I shall confine my remarks to Chatham. At my meeting with trade union leaders, I was pressed on the need for certainty. One measure that will help clarify the future of the work force is the declaration of the state of redundancy that we announced last Friday, as we have also done at Portsmouth. This does not mean that anyone is yet declared redundant. However, it enables local management and individuals to plan in a better way for the future. I hope that a significant number of employees will transfer to Devonport and Rosyth to help with challenging tasks in those places. Some may transfer to other Government Departments. But there will have to be a substantial number of redundancies. We shall do what we can to alleviate hardship to individuals.
50 On the disposal of land and buildings, discussions have been taking place between the local authorities and the Property Services Agency on behalf of the Ministry of Defence. The Kent county council has produced a planning appraisal of the historic dockyard. A joint study is being undertaken by the Property Services Agency and district planning officers of the planning potential of the part of the dockyard that may be suitable for commercial use. A number of firms have expressed interest in taking over facilities when the base closes. The most encouraging approach so far received comes from a company that is investigating the possibility of taking over facilities for shipbuiding and ship repair work. It is already known that the Medway towns are one of only three areas in the United Kingdom chosen to benefit from the enterprise allowance scheme.
There has been some discussion of alternatives to Trident and some hon. Members may yet wish to speak on this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) is reported to have said in a recent speech that the Government should take a fresh look at the matter. I wish to inform the House that every time we consider what is the most cost-effective way of continuing our strategic nuclear deterrent we come up with the same answer. It is the answer at which we arrived previously, Trident. If one believes it is essential that Britain should retain an independent strategic nuclear deterrent—an objective in which all our NATO allies support us—Trident is not only the best but the most cost-effective. We are talking about a system that must be effective up to the year 2020 or thereabouts.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) suggested that the Government should examine the possibility of running-on Polaris missiles in new submarines. Like the Polaris submarines, the Polaris missiles are getting old. They will leave United States service this year. Although some stocks of spares will be available, the closing of American production and support facilities would make it difficult and expensive to maintain missiles in operational condition beyond the early 1990s.
§ Mr. Blaker
I am sorry but I am not giving way again. The more one examines the possibility of running-on Polaris, the more one realises that one would be entering into a game of leapfrog, alternately modernising missiles and then submarines to take the modernised missiles. This would be a very expensive game. It would be played at our cost alone.
§ Mr. Blaker
It has been argued that cruise missiles could provide an alternative to Trident. We have examined this option carefully. We rejected it for four reasons. First, in order to be invulnerable to a pre-emptive strike, our nuclear deterrent must, like Polaris, be submarine-based. No other system has anything like the same degree of invulnerability. We have had Polaris submarines constantly at sea for 15 years, under Governments of both main parties. The Soviet Union has never found one of these submarines on patrol. We possess a substantial lead over the Russians in submarine technology.
Secondly, although the unit cost of a cruise missile is lower than that of Trident, it can only carry a single 51 warhead. Trident has a multiple warhead capability. In addition, cruise missiles are potentially more vulnerable to developments in Soviet air defences in the future. Many more missiles would therefore be needed to provide equivalent deterrent capability to Trident. If they were to be put in submarines to gain invulnerability from detection, more submarines would be needed to carry the missiles. Submarines are the most expensive single element in the programme.
Thirdly, cruise missiles have a much shorter range than Trident. There is a limit to how far offshore they can be launched for their guidance systems to operate. This would greatly reduce the sea room for the submarines and hence make them more vulnerable to anti-submarine warfare.
Fourthly, as an alternative to building new boats, the installation of cruise missiles in existing nuclear hunter-killer submarines has been suggested. These submarines, however, could carry only a very small number of missiles. Even converting all our existing boats would not provide an adequate deterrent capability. In any case, the SSNs are already fully committed to existing tasks and the areas of deployment and mode of operation for a strategic force that is slow, quiet and deep are different from those for the hunter-killers whose task is to seek out and destroy other submarines and surface ships.
Another misconception is that cruise missiles could easily be put in a vertical position in the forward end of our own hunter-killer submarines. This is possible for the Americans because their hunter-killers are built to a different design. It is not, however, an option open to us. If we went for a future strategic nuclear deterrent based on the cruise missile, it would be more vulnerable to detection even if deployed in submarines, more vulnerable to likely developments in Soviet air defences, even if cruise missiles were deployed in large numbers, and to have cruise missiles in large numbers would be impossibly expensive—much more expensive than Trident.
I turn briefly to the Opposition Front Bench, which has recently been joined by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara). The team is distinguished by the fact that all, I understand, are opposed to Britain having a nuclear deterrent, although the right hon. Member for Deptford presumably took a different view until May 1979, when he was a member of a Labour Cabinet that not only maintained Polaris but decided to improve it with Chevaline. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), as reported in The Times of 9 February, has condemned the Trident as a first strike weapon. If he is referring to Britain's proposed Trident, that cannot possibly be true, and I suspect that he does not understand the meaning of the term "first strike".
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
Does the Minister agree that one reason for developing the Trident II especially by the Americans is its greater accuracy in taking out military rather than civilian targets and that, for that reason, it is a first strike weapon?
§ Mr. Blaker
Trident is more accurate, but what the right hon. Gentleman has just said confirms that he does not understand the meaning of the term "first strike". He had better do some homework. In case there is any doubt in his mind, I should add that the concept of first strike has no place in NATO thinking, anyway.
52 Labour Members should have a word with the Socialist Government of France, who are building up their strategic nuclear deterrent with a seventh nuclear ballistic missile submarine. On 9 July 1981, President Mitterrand said:The installation of Soviet SS20 missiles and Backfire bombers has upset the military equilibrium in Europe. I will not accept this, and I agree that we must rearm to restore the balance. At that point we should start negotiating.The French Socialist Foreign Minister, M. Cheysson, said of the British Labour Party's defence policy:What does it mean that every nuclear armament will be dismantled? Where would Britain be? Nowhere. Somewhere in the moon with no defence.Labour Members have not even a pretence of a coherent defence policy. Many of them seem not even to believe that there is a Soviet threat. Their support for unilateral disarmament, in defiance of Aneurin Bevan's warning against going naked into the conference chamber, does not increase but rather decreases the prospects for successful disarmament negotiations and does not decrease but rather increases the danger of war. If their lead were followed by Western Europe it would at best put us in the position of Poland—the victim of political intimidation backed by overwhelming military force. It is a course that defies good sense and ignores the lessons of history and it is a course that this Government will never follow.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)
It is not easy to follow the Minister, but, like other hon. Members from dockyard constituencies, including the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden), who should be congratulated on introducing the debate, I welcome the opportunity to speak today. I shall address most of my remarks to the future of the dockyards, and particularly the Royal naval dockyard at Rosyth.
First, however, I must say that it does the reputation of the House no good to catcall the contradiction and divisions on defence policy between or within the parties. If we were not divided on this issue, we should not be alive. It is an issue that must divide human beings and families, never mind political parties. In view of the comprehensive escalation of world defence expenditure, we cannot afford to be complacent.
It is interesting to hear Conservative Members criticise the performance of the various economies of the world and blame the poor performance of the Soviet economy on high defence expenditure amounting to 15 per cent. of GDP, while at the same time say that the American economy would perform better if defence expenditure were increased. Neither of those conclusions necessarily follows. I shall devote some time to the proportion of GDP that Britain spends on defence.
The people of the world, particularly the young, are concerned about the waste of resources. I recognise that we live in a state of fear. Indeed, to paraphrase Churchill, it may be true that it is the state of fear that has kept the peace, but that does not gainsay the fact that billions of people are suffering from starvation and malnutrition while we waste the world's resources in this way.
I make it quite clear that I am not a unilateralist. I recognise that the people of this country, having acquired a strategic nuclear deterrent, are unlikely to be so stupid as to give it up without getting something in exchange. That is just not on, in ordinary trade union bargaining terms, let alone in international negotiations. That is, as 53 it were, a gut level posture, but it does not mean that there should be no discussions or divisions as we try to find our way through this problem.
I turn now to the dockyards. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), when he was Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, embarked on a comprehensive and excellent study into the future of the naval dockyards. The study envisaged an overload in capacity at the dockyards. That has gone at a stroke. The Minister gave the reasons for that—we have heard them before—and it may be that the situation is rolling forward at such a pace that it cannot be reversed.
Taking the Minister at his word, if we roll forward in that way, there will be only two dockyards. I apologise to the hon. Member for Gillingham, as this is a sensitive issue, but I am taking the Government at their word. The result would be two dockyards—one at Devonport and one at Rosyth, with probably 15,000 to 20,000 people employed at Devonport, which has little land on which to expand, and 8,000 at Rosyth.
How can such a manning structure be consistent with the programme of decentralising decision-making in the dockyards, as envisaged by the hon. Member for Ashford? If there are five or six dockyards there is a role for a centralised structure within the Ministry of Defence, but that argument does not apply if there are only two. I want to see an enhanced role for the general manager in the dockyard and more decentralisation of decision-making to dockyards such as Rosyth. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.
There are lessons to be learnt from the loss of the isotope, which engaged the head office in Rosyth and about which I have corresponded with the Minister. Last Monday I spent some time in the dockyard at Rosyth. No one can accuse me of playing to the media or seeking headlines. I would rather play this down, but some things cannot be played down. I refer, first, to the place where the casing for the isotope was discovered and, secondly, to the place where the active source of the isotope was discovered—under the hull of the "Revenge".
It is my considered view, and I choose my words carefully, that someone extremely knowledgeable or very foolish—whether naval or civiliam one cannot tell at this stage—who has access to the hazardous and strictly controlled area involved and who knows how to handle this sensitive resource has been playing the fool. Will the Minister give an assurance that the authorities at Rosyth are not sitting back on their laurels, having discovered the case, but are actively pursuing it and will not rest until the perpetrator of the tomfoolery is caught? That is important to the people within the yard and to my constituents.
I wish to examine some aspects of the relationship between defence expenditure and industry. In percentage terms there is probably a higher concentration of defence expenditure in my area than in that of any other Member. The naval dockyard, Marconi's defence base, a Philips establishment and other attendant organisations are in my constituency. Perhaps I should welcome Government assurances that all this expenditure is going to defence.
It would be an unnatural Member of Parliament who did not want to protect the employment prospects of his constituents at this time, but in my area, and in the country generally, there is too large a commitment in terms of defence expenditure for which we do not get a proper return. We do not get the return in spin-offs. Some of the best industrial and commercial brains are engaged in 54 defence activities, but the nation does not get a return from it. It is all very well to examine the strategic argument—and it is a valid argument—but we cannot, year in, year out, lock up in defence activities high calibre intellectual manpower that is internationally footloose, without a return either in sales of defence equipment or, to put it crudely, in other activities elsewhere.
I do not accept the Minister's assurances on defence expenditure. I do not accept that the Ministry of Defence is good at the project management of these defence expenditures, partly because of Chevaline. If there is a lesson to be learnt from Chevaline, it is in what the Secretary of State said in July last year. He said that its cost had gone bananas. The House of Commons had to wait almost 10 years before discovering what was going on. That is not an anti-Government argument. It is certainly not a pro-Labour Party argument. I congratulated the then Secretary of State for Defence on coming to the House in 1980 and telling us what had happend about Chevaline. When he mentioned it I thought he was referring to a French film star, until someone told me that we were updating Polaris.
The Minister said that there had been some successful firings of the Chevaline missile. That has taken more than 10 years—or almost 15 years when the original reserch is added—and the missile is not even going into a submarine. That is a long lead time. Now we are embarking, supposedly, on either the C4 or the D5 Trident system. Is it really necessary for us to take the decision on Trident now? What is the time scale? I am not in favour of taking the decision on Trident. I do not believe that the British economy can stand it. The Government have made out the case for adherence to an independent strategic nuclear deterrent, but not necessarily the case for doing it now.
I know that the boats have a restricted life span, but that restricted life span takes us into the 1990s. If the Minister is saying that the Government are to introduce Chevaline and phase the missiles into existing boats, does that not give us a longer time scale than the one that the Government are imposing?
There is an inter-relationship between industry and military decisions, particularly naval decisions. British Shipbuilders Ltd. is trying to negotiate agreed redundancies in naval yards. The Trident decision is holding up the long-term programme for British Shipbuilders. That is harmful to our economy. I plead with the Government to recognise that if we are to embark on large naval and military expenditure there must be a considerable tightening up of project management at the Ministry of Defence.
There is no point in the Government's embarking upon research projects that will lead eventually to £500 million, £600 million or £1 billion development expenditure, and then production expenditure, and tell the House only when the development stage is reached. The House needs much more information and more frank discussion about the number of projects embarked upon that may add up to the £30 million, £40 million, £50 million or £100 million plus. The whole area of defence expenditure and the way in which it is reported to the House has to be analysed, for the sake of the nation, the Ministry of Defence and the House.
Like all hon. Members, I hope that the negotiations at Geneva will be put on a more successful footing. I 55 recognise that Britain has commitments. They are valid commitments that must be adhered to so far as is possible within the resources of our economy.
I end on a note of warning. We shall do NATO and the Western alliance no service if we cripple our economy by exorbitant expenditure on defence, which is uncontrolled or little controlled.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
It is a pleasure to be called after the speech of the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas), who speaks so much sound sense about defence. That is a rarity these days on the Labour Benches.
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) for giving us the opportunity to debate defence, particularly the cuts in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Those cuts are disturbing not only to hon. Members who take a close interest in defence, but to the millions of people who, in part at least, when voting Conservative at the last general election did so because of our commitment to strengthening our defences. Today they are puzzled and appalled by what is happening.
Service manpower has been cut by 22,000 across the board—in the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. There is talk of a further strengthening of the Territorial Army, but that will not happen until much later in the decade, and definitely there will be a substantial gap. Thirty two ships of the Royal Navy are to be prematurely consigned to the scrap heap and 56 Vulcans of the Royal Air Force are to be prematurely retired from service next year.
On this, the Government's policy is gravely out of line with that of our principal ally across the Atlantic. The United States is so deeply concerned about the unfavourable military balance, especially on and beneath the high seas, that it is dusting off and taking out of mothballs even ancient battleships from the Second World War which it believes to be priceless assets as platforms on which to place modern equipment and missiles. The United States is pursuing this policy not only at sea but in the air. While Ministers in Britain think nothing of consigning the Vulcans to the rubbish dump, the Americans take a totally different attitude with their B52 bombers which are precisely the same age—it is 21 years since both aircraft entered service with the air forces of the United States and the United Kingdom. Our Vulcans are structurally every bit as sound as the B52s. However, the Americans will use them as cruise missile carriers into the mid 1990s. How can the Government feel that they are so well endowed in defence resources that they can profligately consign 32 Royal Navy ships and 56 Vulcan bombers to the rubbish heap? Even the United States, with its vast resources, feels that they are priceless platforms for positioning new equipment, which would cost much more to replace.
It is significant that the Minister was unable to tell us the price of the Type 23 frigate. That was the anvil on which, in last year's defence debate, the Secretary of State decided to smash the dockyard that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham is doing all he can to save, and to scrap the surface fleet as we know it. We were assured that the Type 23 would cost less than the Leander mid-life refit of £70 million. It is unbelievable that the Government 56 did not cost the Type 23 in detail before coming to the House with such a decision. Not only the older assets of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are being sent prematurely to the knacker's yard. The pride of the Royal Navy's surface fleet, "Invincible", is going, too. Under pressure from Treasury Ministers and knights of the Treasury, the Secretary of State has been hawking it round the world trying to flog it to the best bidder, although it is acknowledged that the threat at sea—particularly that from submarines—has never been greater.
"Invincible" was conceived of as one of three ships. One ship was to be in dock while two were on station. One ship was to keep sea lanes open in the north Atlantic and the other was to keep them open in, perhaps, the Indian Ocean. There will now be one Invincible class ship on station at any given moment. I remain profoundly unconvinced of the wisdom of the decision to sell such an invaluable asset to the Royal Australian Navy at a knockdown price that is far below the cost of replacement if we were to decide that we did, after all, need three vessels.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
My hon. Friend will recall that I asked several pertinent questions about the cost relating to "Invincible". In 39 minutes, the Minister did not answer them.
§ Mr. Blaker
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) will count the number of times that I gave way. That makes a bit of difference to the length of my speech.
§ Mr. Churchill
Not only the Royal Navy has suffered such grievous depredations. The Royal Air Force has suffered, too. It is being subjected to fierce cuts. In Opposition, the Conservative Party was forthright in its condemnation of the Labour Government for the lack of adequate air defence. At that time, there were only 70 aircraft for the air defence of the United Kingdom—five Phantom squadrons and two Lightning squadrons. Sadly, three years after the Conservative Party came to office that remains the situation. The brave promise made when we came to office—that we would take two squadrons of Lightnings out of their crates—has long since gone by the board. We are still waiting for the Hawk trainer aircraft to be armed. I wholly endorse the decision taken, but how much longer must we wait before all the Hawk trainers are armed with Sidewinder missiles?
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the Royal Air Force not only lacks hardware but inherited a lack of fast jet pilots? It takes a long time to train such pilots. It takes a minimum of three years to train a chap and to put him into squadron service. With the best will in the world, the Royal Air Force could not have made up the shortfall since the Conservative Party came into office.
§ Mr. Churchill
I do not wish to take issue with my hon. Friend, because he knows a great deal about the workings of the Royal Air Force. However, many highly capable, recently trained fast jet pilots baled out of the Royal Air Force when the Labour Government were in office. They could have been invited to return if we had had the hardware. Air defence is not alone in not being strengthened. Our strike capability is suffering similarly.
57 The Tornado programme is being cut and the rate of delivery is being reduced by about 20 units per annum. That will add substantially to the cost. What is not produced this year will come into service three years later. I shall be surprised if costs do not escalate by about 50 per cent.
§ Mr. Atkins
My hon. Friend knows that Tornado is dear to both our hearts. Does not my hon. Friend agree that, even when the Tornado comes into full service, it will be very vulnerable unless an urgent decision is taken on some sort of anti-radar device, such as HARM?
§ Mr. Churchill
My hon. Friend is correct. It grieves me that not only former Labour Ministers, but even Ministers in this Administration should so blatantly mislead the public by describing Tornado as a replacement for the Vulcan. Even from the three Royal Air Force clutch aerodromes in West Germany, the Tornado could not undertake the missions accomplished by Vulcans from their bases in Lincolnshire. The Tornado is incapable of striking at the Soviet heartland and recovering at a NATO base. Therefore, it is quite misleading to describe the Tornado as any replacement for the Vulcan bomber. Under this Administration the United Kingdom is clearly abandoning the contributions that with the Vulcans it has made for the past 20 years or more towards a strategic theatre nuclear war commitment. Traditionally, we have provided one-third of NATO's capability. After the end of next year we shall provide none of that capability. All our long-range theatre nuclear capabilty will be returned to the hands of our American allies.
With such cuts across the whole spectrum of defence, it is evident that the Government's defence policy is gravely adrift. It is not geared to meeting the rapidly mounting Soviet threat. I fear that the Government have forgotten the commitment that we made to the electorate before the last election. We are often told that that commitment was to increase defence expenditure by 3 per cent. in real terms. That is not so. That was the commitment made by the Labour Government. We gave a simple commitment—to strengthen our nation's defences. The Government's cuts in the Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and, above all, in manpower and equipment do not accord with the pledges and commitments that I—as an Opposition spokesman on defence—was then authorised to give.
If there is a reason for that, it can be found in a written reply given on 8 February by a Treasury Minister who makes it clear that this year the Government are devoting 10-3 per cent. of their overall public expenditure to defence. This compares with 15.5 per cent. in the mid-1960s, when the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) was Prime Minister. It would require a 50 per cent. increase for this Government to give the same priority to defence as was given to it by the Labour Government in the mid-1960s.
One does not even have to go that far back. Even under the most recent Labour Government in 1977–78 the percentage devoted to defence was marginally higher than it is today. So it is useless to say that it cannot be done. It is a question of priority. If the threat is as grave as my 58 right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would have us believe and, indeed, as the Prime Minister has so eloquently pointed out on repeated occasions, it is high time that resources were provided to match the rhetoric.
§ Mr. Speaker
I did not realise that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) had been seeking to catch my eye. I shall call him later because the debate goes on until 7 o'clock, but only 7 o'clock.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
I shall endeavour to be brief, so that as many hon. Members as possible can get in.
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) on raising what has been a very good debate. I agree with 99.9 per cent. of what my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) has just said. It is interesting that in the last three defence debates—in May and July of last year and again today—we have had robust statements criticising the cutback in our maritime effort. In the last major defence debate two former Prime Ministers shared in the criticisms, yet I have a feeling that there are none so deaf as those who do not want to hear.
If in May 1979 there had been a different result to the general election and the Labour Party had been returned to power, and had embarked on the cuts in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, on closing Chatham, Portsmouth and Gibraltar and, indeed, on the cuts in the Army and in the Royal Marines as well, I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench would have been as vociferous as are my hon. Friends on the Back Benches in opposing the cuts.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for what he said about the cruise missile. I am aware that we have bar-mounted torpedo tubes in our nuclear submarines. Clearly we could not follow the American example there. I would ask my hon. Friend to consider this. After the war new sections were put in the A class and the T class submarines when they were extensively modernised. It is not impossible to consider doing a similar type of installation so that vertical launchers for the Tomahawk cruise missile could be added to existing submarines. They do not necessarily have to be nuclear submarines. There could be considerable advantages in mounting these missiles in conventional submarines which, as my hon. Friend and the House will know, are extremely qui[et, indeed, quieter than nuclear submarines.
We are also talking about replacing Polaris in the 1990s. I hope that we have a submarine building programme between now and then, both for the 2,400 class—I am getting more and more concerned about the deathly silence that is descending upon that project—and for the Trafalgar class, as well as what follows that on the SSNs. Ab initio, as it were, we might have a design section again for vertical launchers for the Tomahawk missile. In range, the Tomahawk is not that far away from the range of the Polaris missile. In the Royal Navy we do not have the same need for a long range as they do in the United States navy.
There have been significant developments in general dynamics and the United States Navy is going ahead with 59 the vertically-launched Tomahawk missile, which it was not doing two years ago. Before we finally go nap on Trident—if we go for Trident I agree that it must be the D5—we must make a long, hard examination. I remind my hon. Friend that no less a person than the Prime Minister, not once but twice in 1980, said that we were going ahead with Trident on the basis that we would not in so doing be cutting back on our conventional forces. I agree entirely. Quite rightly, the Prime Minister said that in a letter to President Carter and she repeated it at the Conservative Party conference in the autumn of that year. Many of us are concerned that we are losing a conventional capability; whether it is through Trident, through the Treasury or whatever, we know not at this stage, but we are concerned.
Mention has been made of the problems faced by the Royal Air Force. I join with my hon. Friends who are getting worried about what has happened to the Hawk Sidewinder programme. Indeed, what about the operational flying hours of pilots? Reference has been made to the amount of equipment, but when we have the pilots they are bumping along pretty well near the bottom of the NATO minimum requirement. There is no question of safety involved.
§ Mr. Blaker
I think that it would be helpful if I said something about the Hawk Sidewinder programme. That has not been delayed. It is going according to plan.
§ Mr. Speed
What we should like to know is when that programme will be completed. Following that, there is considerable concern about flying hours for pilots, particularly jet fighter pilots.
The cutbacks in the Royal Navy have been referred to many times this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham mentioned "Dreadnought". I believe that I am right in saying that if it had been refitted it would have continued until the latter part of the decade. With "Dreadnought" going, this means that effectively our SSN force will be reduced from 16, when the others are completed, to 15. It has been announced that tenders will be sought for SSN number 17, but that will still bring us down to 16 completed. Presumably in due course number 18 will have to be built. As has already been pointed out, there is far too great a time delay in the building of these submarines.
Many of us are worried about the capacity to build submarines. I do not think that Vickers can expand its capacity because it has problems, as my hon. Friend will know, at Barrow in building Trident submarines unless extensive capital works are done. The alternative is that the line might be opened to Cammell Laird, which I believe will not happen.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
If there is a doubt about the building of patrol submarines, Chatham was one of the major bases for building submarines. It built the Oberon class and it has the facility still so to do. That is another reason for keeping Chatham.
§ Mr. Speed
My hon. Friend was anticipating me. What worries me is that we must have a date for the order of number 18 to maintain the 17 that have been promised with "Dreadnought" going. I am worried about "Valiant" and "Warspite"; are they to continue through the decade? If not, we need to have order dates for number 19 and 60 number 20. Anyway, 17 is a reduction on what was originally planned. Let us not pretend that that is a bonus, because it is not. Where will the capacity be for the 2,400. Will it be at Scotts on Clydeside? If it is, fine. Is a prototype to be built at Vickers? Has Vickers the capacity? Just as in the refitting at Devonport, in capacity we are getting ourselves in a right old muddle.
We have got ourselves into an even bigger muddle over modernisation. I do not apologise to my hon. Friend for returning to it. It is no good arguing, as he does, that with new ships coming along—what is called a "short-lifing" policy technically—we need not worry about mid-life modernisation. A short-life policy depends, as the dockyard study made clear in the appendix, on a constant stream of orders, so that after 10 or 12 years a ship is scrapped and replaced by new ships with modern sensors, modern electronic warfare equipment and modern weapons.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State has told us that 15 ships have been ordered by the Government since they took office in May 1979. It is my recollection that the 15 ships consist of four minesweepers, two offshore patrol vessels, five Hong Kong patrol craft, two Type 22 frigates and two nuclear submarines. The critical ships are the two Type 22 frigates. However, that ordering programme is not good enough for a short-life programme until the Type 23 frigate appears, coupled with the possibility of one further Type 22 frigate being altered. We are stacking up a load of trouble in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when all the surface ships of the Royal Navy will be obsolete and dangerous in which to go to sea.
It is no good embarking upon a short-life programme unless there is an ordering programme that matches it. I have heard nothing in this debate, in answers to questions that I have tabled or in any statement made on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, to suggest that there is such an ordering programme. I beg my hon. Friend the Minister of State to understand that this is desperately important. It is something that is understood by the Dutch, the Americans and the Germans. I sincerely hope that we understand it, or are we the only major NATO navy that is in step while everyone else is wrong? I am sure that that cannot be right.
Mention has been made of HMS "Endurance". It has a massive defence capability but that is not all. It represents the White Ensign, the United Kingdom and this honourable House in a far-flung part of the world of immense strategic importance for the future. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House happen to hold it dear to their hearts. Is it suggested that we cannot afford to spend £3 billion to £3.5 billion gross? I estimate that the money that we have put into the De Lorean company would keep "Endurance" going for about 30 years. Perhaps we have our priorities wrong.
I understand that HMS "Speedy" is to be scrapped after two years in service. This is a personal issue because of my name. I understand that it is not to be sold to a foreign navy. If we are to find reasons for scrapping the vessel, let us find accurate ones. It came out on the tapes that the reason for scrapping was the vessel's unsuitability for use in the North Sea. I do not know what has happened since I was in her a year ago doing 42 knots in a force 9 to 10 gale in the Firth of Forth. I know of no other surface warship anywhere in the world that can do that speed in that sort of storm. I believe that the reason is purely financial. It is a great pity.
61 The one criticism that I have of HMS "Speedy", which is an excellent pursuit vessel for offshore oil protection, or for fishery protection, is her relatively limited endurance, which is about 24 hours. However, I do not believe that she is unsuitable for use in heavy weather. That is certainly not so in my experience or that of the crew, with whom I spoke at great length when I spent 12 interesting hours at sea in her in extremely rough and hazardous weather conditions.
We started so well about two and a half years ago in stopping the haemorrhage of skilled manpower from our Armed Services. At a time when my hon. Friend the Minister of State admits that the threat of NATO has never been greater, we now appear to be jeopardising our national security for what I can only describe as a cash register defence policy. This causes me great sadness. It is wrong and I hope that even at this late stage my right hon. and hon. Friends, whose hearts I know are in the right place, will do their best to put things right.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)
It is not my intention to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). The hon. Gentleman illustrated that there are some major divisions of opinion on the Conservative Benches about the expenditures that should take place and the types of weapons that we should have.
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) said during an intervention that expenditure on Trident would be less than the expenditure on Tornado, implying that the Government might seriously consider the advantages to be gained from Trident on the basis of pounds and pence as opposed to those to be derived from the Tornado project.
British Aerospace workers at Preston will be interested to learn of that suggestion. I do not know whether it is any more than a suggestion and I do not know what influence the hon. Gentleman has in Government circles on decisions of that nature. He indicates that he has little or none. It may be that Trident will go alongside Tornado as part of the Government's future defence plan. We have not heard—I accept that this may have been dealt with when I was not in the Chamber—whether the Trident project will intervene with the P110. We do not know about the development prospects that will arise from that development.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
I am fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's sudden interest in the P110 project. When I asked about it in a question to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces the hon. Gentleman also caught Mr. Speaker's eye and asked a similar supplementary question. The response to the hon. Gentleman's question was somewhat different from that which mine produced. The unpopularity of his statements is significant, and the work force of British Aerospace at Preston intensely dislike the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the project and those who worked on it.
§ Mr. Thorne
I have no control over the interpretations that are placed on my remarks by the Government Front Bench or by the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins). I had a meeting with British Aerospace workers and I took on board their argument that if conventional weapons are to be produced they should be produced by British workers in British factories rather than be imported. I agree with that point of view.
62 Defence now means defence against a nuclear attack. The gentleman who produced the document "When the Wind Blows"—I think that it was sent to all hon. Members—did a great service to the House and to the public, who may subsequently have the opportunity of reading the book. It spells out in graphic terms the ridiculous deception that is being played on the British people. I refer to the argument that there is a defence against nuclear weapons.
The growth of CND is relevant to the argument that there is a defence against nuclear attack. Why has there been such a major growth in CND membership over the past two or three years, especially during the past year? It seems that there are certain simple explanations. Many more people are becoming aware that either of the two super powers would be able to disintegrate the world, to smash it into smithereens. The possibilities of life would be non-existent should a nuclear war take place. Most people—I am sure that this applies to everyone in the House—want to live.
I have recently had the privilege of being presented with a granddaughter for the first time. One immediately thinks, without being emotional or sentimental about the matter, about the baby's prospects for the future. Many young people pose the issue in precisely that way. In spite of unemployment and the absence of opportunities in education and other spheres, they want to live. For them, nuclear weapons represent the only real major threat to the perpetuation of their lives. That is the reason for the growth of the CND movement.
Hon. Members on the Conservative Benches seem, from time to time, to subscribe to the notion that CND is, in some way, a Communist plot. We should read carefully the names of the leaders of the CND, the nature of the organisations that contribute to it, the membership that it attracts and the number of statements made by Church leaders in Britain which show their great concern about the threat of nuclear war and the need for people to be conscious of, and responsible for, their actions in this respect.
From time to time Church leaders will make a point in their sermons of referring to this problem. It is an inescapable problem for those who claim to be Christians.
§ Mr. Trippier
Has the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity of reading the remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of All England, who supports the Government's strategy for an independent strategic nuclear deterrent?
§ Mr. Thorne
I did not say that all Church leaders subscribed to the idea of unilateral nuclear disarmament. I was merely referring to the more enlightened leaders of the Church community. I should not like to name names, but we are all aware of the role played by Canon Collins, lately of St. Paul's, among others, with regard to nuclear weapons.
More importantly, what disturbed people recently were the statements by the Pentagon about the possibility of a theatre nuclear war and the prospect of a victory in that war. There is no doubt in most people's minds to which theatre the Pentagon is referring. It is Europe. The very notion that people can contemplate a nuclear war in which they expect a victory means that the whole concept of the deterrent argument is finally dead. No longer do those who advocate nuclear weapons and their development pretend that there is any deterrent left.
63 I know that hon. Members on the Conservative Benches are anxious to return to their disagreements among themselves about what sort of weaponry we should be developing. However, on the Labour side of the Chamber there is an increasing awareness that the whole campaign against nuclear weapons must be developed and that the growth in demand for unilateral nuclear disarmament must be encouraged.
On Tuesday of last week a parliamentary Labour group of the CND was formed. I am pleased to tell the House that there are now 61 Labour MPs who have joined that group, and I am optimistic that that will increase to three figures in the next two or three weeks. We will represent a considerable force of opinion in this country which mobilises behind the banner of unilateral nuclear disarmament.
I am under no illusion about the prospect of the Government taking that message on board, in spite of the increasing numbers anxious to see a programme of this sort pursued. Only when we have a Labour Government, who will inevitably follow today's Government in 1983 or 1984, will there be a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. I accept that there are those within the Labour Party, even within its leadership, who are hesitant about whether the country would be prepared to support a party that is openly and clearly advocating disarmament. It is my view that they do not need to concern themselves. The growth of opinion against nuclear weapons and in favour of disarmament is there and is inescapable. Within various local authorities, in the council chambers there have been debates about making particular towns or cities nuclear-free zones. The use of that approach will increase over the next year or so.
It is also apparent that within Europe the movement to make Europe a nuclear-free zone is on the increase, in spite of the references by the Minister of State to the Socialist Foreign Minister of France. In that country opinions grow daily in favour of the need for a nuclear-free zone in Europe. I have no doubt that, because of the hysteria that emanates from the Pentagon, because of the political situation in Europe and because of the cold war and failure of this House to ensure that the foreign policy that was being pursued by a British Government would be likely to contribute to the ending of the cold war, the move for nuclear disarmament will increase.
In all these circumstances, there will be a growth in the numbers of those who believe that the only way to defend their countries, whether Britain, France or any other part of Europe, is not through the development of more and more horrific nuclear weapons, but on the basis of general nuclear disarmament. In that regard Britain is in a particularly favourable position to make a significant contribution. A decision by Britain to pursue unilateral nuclear disarmament would mean that the political aspects of nuclear weaponry throughout the world would be transformed. The parties involved in decision-making about the development of nuclear weapons would be forced to take heed.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 86, Noes 184.65
|Division No. 67]||[7 pm|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||McDonald, DrOonagh|
|Beith, A.J.||McKay, Allen(Penistone)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||McNally, Thomas|
|Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)||Meacher, Michael|
|Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'yS)||Mikardo,lan|
|Buchan, Norman||Mitchell, R.C. (Soton ltchen)|
|Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n&P]||Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Cowans, Harry||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Cox.T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Palmer, Arthur|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Park, George|
|Dalyell, Tam||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Davidson, Arthur||Pitt, WilliamHenry|
|Davies, RtHonDenzil (L'lli)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Dixon, Donald||Radice, Giles|
|Eastham, Ken||Roberts, Albert(Normanton)|
|Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Roper, John|
|English, Michael||Ryman, John|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Flannery, Martin||Silkin, RtHon J. (Deptford)|
|Foulkes, George||Soley, Clive|
|Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Stallard, A.W.|
|George, Bruce||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Grant, George(Morpeth)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Grant, John (Islington C)||Stoddart, David|
|Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)||Straw, Jack|
|Hardy, Peter||Thomas, Jeffrey(Abertillery)|
|Harrison, RtHonWalter||Thorne, Stan (PrestonSouth)|
|Home Robertson, John||Tinn, James|
|Hudson Davies, Gwilym E,||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Wainwright, E(Dearne V)|
|Janner, HonGreville||Wainwright, R.(ColneV)|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Whitlock, William|
|Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Winnick, David|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Kerr, Russell||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Leighton, Ronald||Mr. Stanley Newens and|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradf'dW)||Dr. John Gilbert.|
|Alexander, Richard||Chalker, Mrs. Lynda|
|Alison, Rt HonMichael||Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Churchill, W.S.|
|Arnold, Tom||Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne)||Clarke, Kenneth(Rushcliffe)|
|Atkins, Robert(PrestonN)||Clegg, Sir Walter|
|Atkinson, David(B'm'th, E)||Cockeram, Eric|
|Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone)||Cope, John|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Costain, SirAlbert|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay)||Crouch, David|
|Benyon, Thomas(A'don)||Dean, Paul (North Somerset)|
|Berry, HonAnthony||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Best, Keith||Douglas-Hamilton, LordJ.|
|Biffen, RtHon John||du Cann, Rt Hon Edward|
|Blaker, Peter||Dunn, Robert (Dartford)|
|Boscawen, HonRobert||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Boyson, DrRhodes||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Braine, SirBernard||Eyre, Reginald|
|Bright, Graham||Faith, MrsSheila|
|Brinton, Tim||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon||Finsberg, Geoffrey|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Fletcher-Cooke, SirCharles|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Forman, Nigel|
|Buck, Antony||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Budgen, Nick||Gardiner, George(Reigate)|
|Burden, SirFrederick||Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)|
|Butcher, John||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Carlisle, Kenneth(Lincoln)||Goodhew, SirVictor|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Neubert, Michael|
|Gow, Ian||Newton, Tony|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Nott, Rt Hon John|
|Gray, Hamish||Osborn, John|
|Griffiths, E.(B'ySt. Edm'ds)||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Griffiths, Peter Portsm'thN)||Page, Richard (SWHerts)|
|Grist, Ian||Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil|
|Gummer, JohnSelwyn||Patten, John(Oxford)|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Hamilton, Michael(Salisbury)||Percival, Sirlan|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Pollock, Alexander|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Proctor, K.Harvey|
|Heddle, John||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Raison, Rt. Hon.Timothy|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Rathbone.Tim|
|Hill, James||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Hogg, HonDouglas(Gr'th'm)||Ridley, HonNicholas|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Howell, Ralph (NNorfolk)||Rossi, Hugh|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Sainsbury, HonTimothy|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Hurd, Rt. Hon Douglas||Scott, Nicholas|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Shelton, William(Streatham)|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Silvester, Fred|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Kershaw, SirAnthony||Speed, Keith|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Speller, Tony|
|Lamont, Norman||Spence, John|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Squire, Robin|
|Lee, John||Stainton, Keith|
|LeMarchant, Spencer||Stanbrook, lvor|
|Lennox-Boyd, HonMark||Stanley, John|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Loveridge, John||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Luce, Richard||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Thorne, Neil(llfordSouth)|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Thornton, Malcolm|
|MacGregor, John||Townend, John(Bridlington)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll)||Trippier, David|
|McNair-Wilson, M.(N'bury)||Vaughan, DrGerard|
|Major, John||Viggers, Peter|
|Marlow, Antony||Waddington, David|
|Mates, Michael||Wakeham, John|
|Mather, Carol||Walker, B.(Perth)|
|Mawhinney, DrBrian||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Wall, SirPatrick|
|Mayhew, Patrick||Warren, Kenneth|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Watson, John|
|Mills, lain (Meriden)||Wheeler, John|
|Mills, Peter (West Devon)||Whitelaw, Rt HonWilliam|
|Moate, Roger||Wickenden, Keith|
|Moore, John||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Morrison, HonC.(Devizes)||Wilkinson, John|
|Mudd, David||Wolfson, Mark|
|Murphy, Christopher||Young, SirGeorge(Action)|
|Neale, Gerrard||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Needham, Richard||Mr. Donald Thompson and|
|Nelson, Anthony||Mr. Ian Lang.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ It being after Seven o'clock, the Proceedings on the Motion lapsed, pursuant to Standing Order No. 6 (Precedence of Government Business).