§ [FIRST DAY'S DEBATE]4.24 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Nott)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1982, contained in Cmnd. 8529.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I request that you are a little more precise because of the nature of the people who have suddenly discovered an arresting interest in prayers, which they never betrayed when they were on the Labour Benches, and then litter themselves on what is traditionally the Tribune Bench, which is part of the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Speaker
Although this does not directly relate to my ruling on the amendment, I would have thought that the House welcomed anyone who took a new interest in prayers.
I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen).
§ Mr. Nott
The opening words of the White Paper on defence policy last year wereThe first duty of any British Government is to safeguard our people in peace and freedom.That duty rests on three defence commitments. The first is the maintenance of a credible strategic nuclear capability to deter nuclear blackmail by our enemies. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will say more about that in the second debate next week. The second is the collective security provided through our contribution to NATO of strong naval, army and air forces for the defence of the West. The third is a force structure, within the NATO framework, which has the balance and flexibility to enable us to respond to a challenge to British interests at home or abroad.
The events of the past few weeks have concentrated all our attention on the third commitment—our ability to respond in defence of uniquely British interests—although our determination to resist aggression will have strengthened the whole deterrence strategy of the West. In these past few weeks we have seen British power projected over 8,000 miles into the South Atlantic to restore the rights and freedom of British citizens.
I must single out for a special mention at the outset the Royal Navy: putting the Fleet to sea in such a short time and sustaining it over such a long distance into the South Atlantic have been a remarkable achievement. The many essential refuellings and transfers at sea in often appalling weather required seamanship of the highest order. When the historians come to write about the operation I believe that achievement by the Royal Navy will have a special place.
Our armed forces conducted themselves at every stage with great gallantry under intense attack and in the most hostile climatic conditions. A major amphibious landing has been successfully conducted; a major and decisive land battle has been fought by the men of 3 Commando Brigade, 5 Infantry Brigade and the 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Parachute Regiment against great odds over the 1057 most inhospitable terrain, thus writing another historic page in the annals of the Royal Marines and the British Army.
Incidents of individual courage, initiative, and also compassion, on the part of our forces have been shown at every level and at every stage of the operation. I pay my tribute from this Dispatch Box to the men and women of all three Armed Services and to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service, the Merchant Marine and to the many military and civilian personnel who provided support for the task force. A special place in our thoughts will remain for them and most particularly for those who were injured, and for the families and friends of those who gave their lives that others could be free.
Our forces in the South Atlantic were for the most part equipped with weapons, ships and aircraft which had been optimised under successive Governments for battle under very different circumstances. Some, such as our amphibious force, amply demonstrated the advantage that their inherent flexibility confers. The quality of our men and equipment on sea and land and in the air was amply proved.
Let me give a few examples. Twenty-eight of our 32 Sea Harriers were deployed to the area and they achieved at least 28 kills without a single loss in air-to-air combat. There were more than 2,000 operational sorties from the carriers, and one of the most remarkable features of the whole operation was the 90 per cent. availability of all aircraft embarked.
The first order that I intend to place following the Falklands crisis is for new Sea Harriers. All seven Sea Harriers lost will be replaced—and I intend to fund out of the existing programme, rather than out of replacement funds, a further seven Sea Harriers, making an immediate new order of 14 in all for British Aerospace.
The crisis showed that flexibility, adaptability and the imaginative use of national resources were crucial to the success of our operation. Particularly notable was the extensive use made of air-to-air refuelling. Seven Hercules and 13 Nimrods have already been adapted for it, and that will greatly enhance our capability. Hercules regularly made, and are still making, 25-hour, 8,000-mile round trips from Ascension to drop supplies to the task group around the Falkland Islands. Nimrods flew more than 110 maritime surveillance sorties—including regular air-to-air refuelled flights of 19 hours to the Falkland Islands area. RAF Harriers were flown to Ascension direct on a nine-hour, air-to-air refuelled mission and then—almost miraculously—four were flown non-stop to the deck of HMS "Hermes", another nine-hour flight.
The performance of the Victor tanker forces was outstanding and six Vulcans and four Hercules are being converted to the tanker role. We will be devoting increased resources to in-flight refuelling as a major force multiplier—it will be particularly valuable in the United Kingdom air defence region, extending our ability to maintain combat air patrols over the North Sea for long periods and it gives us the ability to extend dramatically the flexibility and scope of the projection of our air power. The first VC10 tanker for the RAF had its maiden flight a few days ago.
One notable feature of the Falklands campaign was the enormous contribution made by shipping taken up from 1058 Britain's merchant fleet and its Merchant Navy crews. At peak, more than 50 vessels were involved. The campaign has proved beyond a shadow of doubt that necessary modifications, such as fitting helicopter platforms and at-sea refuelling facilities, can be made quickly and efficiently. From the container ships not only did helicopters successfully carry out limited operations, but Sea Harriers made several flights in the vertical take-off mode from those ships.
As part of the studies of the campaign, we shall be taking another look at such use of civil resources in wartime. The Ministry of Defence does not claim to have any monopoly of good ideas in this area and I hope that organisations and individuals will come forward with their own suggestions—a point I made when identifying the importance of this area in chapter 2 of the defence White Paper in the section on the use of national resources.
§ Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)
On the Merchant Navy, is it not a fact that if we are to get this type of resource it is essential that we retain the standing of the British flag fleet and ensure that replacements for the "Atlantic Conveyor" and other ships are built in the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Nott
I share the hon. Gentleman's wish that the maximum number of our merchant fleet, now and in the future, should be built in British yards. I do not need to say that the ultimate choice is for the shipping company concerned.
During the whole Falklands operation, our helicopters all performed magnificently. They flew round-the-clock in all weathers to provide anti-submarine warfare support for the task force, to carry out reconnaissance and to carry troops, stores supplies and men. The assault helicopters were most successful in the ground attack role. Our experience during operations in the South Atlantic has demonstrated clearly that helicopter support is vital in the land battle. It is difficult to see a situation in which there could ever be too many helicopters available to our forces.
I intend to authorise immediately the placing of new orders for helicopters to replace losses during operations and also to strengthen our reserve holdings where necessary. We recently ordered five Sea Kings; that order with be increased to 16—eight in the ASW role and eight in the commando role. In addition we shall purchase three Lynx and up to five Gazelles, and we shall replace all three Chinooks lost in the "Atlantic Conveyor". These and other equipment orders that I am announcing today will, of course, be subject to satisfactory terms of contract, including price.
At this point, I should also like to confirm to the House that HMS "Endurance" will continue in service, and after a refit she will continue to deploy to the South Atlantic. I shall return to the Falklands crisis later in my speech, but I must first touch on other matters.
When I published the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" last week, I said that it would serve partly as a reminder and also as a tribute to our Armed Forces who are now engaged elsewhere than in the Falklands. Their tasks may not have attracted the headlines in the past few weeks, but their work has been no less important.
Regrettably, the internal security situation in Northern Ireland still requires the presence of substantial numbers of Service men. They continue to play a vital part in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in containing 1059 terrorist attacks and bringing their perpetrators to justice. Their task is frequently dangerous and disagreeable, but their presence is an essential part of our efforts to ensure that the people of Northern Ireland can be freed from the fear of terrorist violence.
Further afield, our forces in Hong Kong, Cyprus and Belize continue to contribute to the maintenance of peace. Our relations with countries in many parts of the world are also strengthened by the military assistance that our Armed Forces are able to provide. Their professionalism and technical skills are rightly held in high regard. This year Service personnel are on loan to 30 overseas Governments.
That aspect of the work of our forces attracts little public interest, but it is nonetheless very important in helping to maintain peace and stability around the world.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
In view of the news that we have received today from Belize, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that we have sufficient forces there to deter an aggressor?
§ Mr. Nott
I am satisfied that our forces there are adequate at the present time. We are giving assistance to the Government there in the training of their defence forces. That is an important feature for the future.
It is to our NATO contribution that I must devote the major part of my remarks, since the main threat to the security of the United Kingdom remains the nuclear and conventional forces of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. In last year's White Paper we stated:The Central Region is the Alliance's heartland in Europe; the forward defence of the Federal Republic is the forward defence of Britain itself.I make no apology for reiterating those words; none is required, given the realities of the threat. Those who argue the case for renegotiation of the Brussels treaty, the further reduction of our continental commitments, or our withdrawal, ignore three elements in our current strategy.
The first is the straight military fact that there is no adequate substitute for in-place forces. None of our allies is ready to fill the gap; they are already committed and extended to forward defence. A reduction in our commitment would not strengthen the security of the United Kingdom; it would weaken it. Exercise Crusader proved that our reinforcement plans work, but it also demonstrated that there are finite limits to the size of reinforcements that we could sensibly hope to deploy in the warning time available.
But our contribution is not just military—its political significance is equally important. What lessons would the Soviets draw from any reduction in our commitment on the central front at present despite events in Afghanistan and Poland and in advance of any mutual and balanced force reductions agreement? Similarly, what effect would it have on the perceptions of our allies, not least the Americans who expect—and quite reasonably so—to see the Europeans as committed to the forward defence of Europe as they are themselves? The United States maintain, 200,000 army personnel in Germany, as against our commitment to 55,000 men. Isolationism may be dormant in the United States, but none of us can be sure that it is extinct.
Finally, it would cost us more in the short and medium term to bring back our forces, to house them, to create training areas in the United Kingdom and all the necessary support and infrastructure than it does to maintain them in 1060 Germany. We would need more money for such a change, not less. Nor could we afford to disband elements of our Army. The planned size of 135,000 for the Army is the minimum needed to meet our peacetime and wartime commitments. By maintaining a strong land-air capability in Germany we are pursuing the wisest military, political and financial course.
However, we must ensure that our forces on the central front are structured in such a way as to produce the most balanced, effective and powerful deterrent to a potential aggressor. That is being achieved by the reorganisation of BAOR into three larger and more powerful in-place divisions, which will provide the corps commander, by the middle of next year, with what he needs to fight the immediate tactical battle, if necessary in a short-warning scenario. It will also produce a credible corps reserve. As part of this reorganisation a non-mechanised infantry battalion and a FH70 artillery regiment will be relocated in the United Kingdom.
Since the Government took office, as the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" makes clear, we have transformed the capability of our land forces on the central front. The number of manned tanks has increased by over one quarter in the past three years and a ninth armoured regiment has been formed. I can now announce that the introduction of Challenger in the mid-1980s will permit two additional armoured regiments, the tenth and eleventh, to be formed and the provision of a full complement of Chieftain tanks as a war maintenance reserve.
At my request, the general staff has recently been studying the role of the infantry in the 1990s. I am anxious that in all our defence planning, particularly in procurement with its very long lead times, we should look forward to concepts of operations a decade from now when electronic and missile technology will have taken another leap forward.
The infantry will need to operate and keep pace with the tank formations for which they will require more heavily armoured vehicles than we now possess, with intrinsic firepower. The sheer weight of conventional firepower to be expected in the initial battle also requires all our forward infantry to be protected by the latest armour, as well as the mobility to fight in depth. In a relatively small Army like ours, we need forces that are both mobile and flexible to offset the greater numbers of the Warsaw Pact. We are, therefore, looking at a new mix of vehicles for our mechanised infantry in the 1990s, including MCV 80, as well as derivative and alternative vehicles.
Our forward air defence capability also needs enhancement. It will be increased by the entry into service over the next couple of years of self-propelled Rapiers. Sufficient have been ordered to equip three batteries. The delivery of the Blindfire Rapier missile system to 1 British Corps for the towed version has been completed.
To deter, 1 British Corps must be modern and effective, but I am no less concerned at what I would call our "second line" Army and the reserves. The balance of strength and the quality of equipment as between 1 British Corps and the rest of the British Army is a vital issue.
§ Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)
My right hon. Friend has referred briefly to the importance of air defence in the central European region. In regard to tanks, he mentioned the importance of looking 10 years forward. Will he do the same in regard to air defence and recognise 1061 that when the Jaguar squadrons become obsolete, we shall need a replacement for this tactical combat aircraft and many of us hope that it will be the P110.
§ Mr. Nott
I recognise my hon. Friend's great interest in the P110 programme. We should be able to say more about this in the debate on the Royal Air Force Estimates. I recognise that, at the moment, we are not planning for a Jaguar replacement in our programme. I shall be saying more in a moment about air defence in Germany.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
On armour planning on the central front for 10 years ahead, will the Secretary of State say to what extent we shall be able to see eye to eye with our allies in Europe on the same operational requirements and the same provision? Or are we as far away as ever from having the same kind of tank to fight the same kind of battle?
§ Mr. Nott
I regret that standardisation of equipment on the central front is far from being what it needs to be. There is still no agreement—I take one example—on the Franco-German tank. There has been disagreement on that for years. I share the right hon. and learned Gentleman's concern that there is inadequate standardisation. We shall continue to try for it. In the end, it comes back to the industrial interests of each member country of NATO and those industrial interests seeking naturally for equipment to be built by their own people in their own factories. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's general point.
We must defend the United Kingdom base, not just as the unsinkable aircraft carrier of the Alliance but also as the principal source of United States and United Kingdom reserve forces for the Continent itself. The increase that I have proposed in the size of the Territorial Army, the formation of a new home service force, three additional Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment squadrons for the ground defence of operational airfields, and the formation of a new reinforcing division, 2 Division, here at home, with its headquarters in York have all been announced in the past year. We have also recently, on the subject of the reserves, announced tenders for the first batch of a new class of minesweeper for the Royal Naval Reserve.
On current plans, a number of naval Wessex 5 helicopters may become surplus to requirements as new Sea King 4s are delivered to the Royal Navy over the next few years. These plans will need to be reconsidered in the light of our Falklands experience, but if they are confirmed, I would like to examine the use of one squadron of Wessex 5s here in the United Kingdom in support of the predominantly TA reinforcing division.
I would not wish to raise any false hopes in this regard but we shall examine, if this proves possible, whether the Wessex 5 helicopters with the TA reinforcing division might be flown by pilots of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force thereby giving the RAF reservists a flying role again.
I come now to the RAF. We station 12 squadrons in Germany as part of NATO's second tactical air force. They are an essential part of the forward defence of the Alliance, but they also provide a crucial contribution to the defence of these islands since our own defence is integrated into the airborne early warning system and ground-air defence of the Alliance. Enemy air forces will be attacked early and well forward so facilitating, in depth, defence of the United Kingdom home base.
1062 We intend to provide for the United Kingdom itself a much improved and resilient air defence system, with the introduction of the air defence variant of the Tornado, greatly enhanced by air-to-air refuelling, the entry into service of the Nimrod airborne early warning aircraft, and the modernisation of the United Kingdom air defence ground environment.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
Is my right hon. Friend able to give any indication of when the decision on the Rolls-Royce RB 199–67 R engine, the uprated version for the Tornado ADV, will be made, bearing in mind the discussion that has taken place about the possible lack of thrust of the ADV?
§ Mr. Nott
We have made forward provision in our programme for the improvement of this engine. I agree with my hon. Friend that this is an important matter that we shall have to consider shortly. It is a very expensive programme. I am conscious of its need.
Turning now to aircraft, we intend to acquire 60 advanced Harrier GR5s—the AV8B—for the Royal Air Force. The RAF Harriers lost in the Falklands will be replaced by additional Harriers in due course. The virtues of the existing Harrier GR3 have been amply demonstrated in operations in the South Atlantic. The GR3s were equipped successfully with Sidewinder and now have an air combat capability to add to their principal ground attack weapons. Our decision to retain a VSTOL capability to the turn of the century by the acquisition of the GR5 Harrier with much increased range and payload has been fully vindicated. I expect orders for some initial production items to be placed by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, work continues on the Tornado programme which will result in the re-equipment of about half the RAF's front line. Authorisation has just been given to the United Kingdom element of the fifth batch of Tornado production aircraft which will complete the RAF's order for 220 GR1 aircraft and will carry its F2 order—the air defence version—to the 70 mark.
I come now to our maritime-air capability. The adaptability of the Nimrod airframe and its advanced electronics and radar capability make it a quite remarkable aircraft, and if I could find the funds I would dearly like to reopen the Nimrod production line as a major defence and sales priority.
In the past few weeks, we have been fitting Harpoon to the Nimrod maritime reconnaissance fleet. The Harpoon, coupled with the Nimrod Mark 2's Searchwater radar will enable surface ships to be identified and attacked at ranges of the order of 70 miles, more than double the range of Exocet.
Our decision to purchase the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile for use by the Buccaneer, the Sea Harrier and possibly the Tornado is unaffected, but we will retain Harpoon on the Nimrods, for the time being. We are equipping some of our submarines with Sub-Harpoon giving them an anti-ship missile capability, as well as the new underwater guided weapon, the heavyweight torpedo, to which we have allocated very substantial funds in the past year.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)
I am sure that the House welcomes what my right hon. Friend has said about Nimrod and the fitting of Harpoon. Does he not accept that, in many circumstances that some of us can postulate, there would be insufficient bases for the effective 1063 operation of Nimrod? Is he satisfied that there are sufficient bases available to ensure that Nimrod could be used in any future conflict?
§ Mr. Nott
I think I am relatively confident about giving my hon. Friend an assurance in that regard. After all, Nimrods have been performing 19-hour flights with air-to-air refuelling down to the Falklands from Ascension. In my part of the world, in Cornwall, there are many stand-by airfields as well as St. Mawgan. The Nimrod is an adaptable aircraft and can be operated from many airfields. I feel relatively sure that my hon. Friend need have no concern.
§ Mr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
Bearing in mind the intelligence assessment of the threat from Soviet surface ships, with which the right hon. Gentleman will be familiar, will he explain why he is concentrating on arming Nimrods—I assume he refers to the maritime reconnaissance Nimrod and not the AEW—with air-tosurface weapons rather than air-to-air weapons for self defence? Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to put air-to-air weapons on the AEW aircraft so that they can defend themselves?
§ Mr. Nott
During the Falklands conflict we carried out tests by fitting Sidewinder missiles to the Nimrods. That can he done, and there is no reason why Nimrods should not carry Sidewinder missiles as an air defence weapon. However, the Nimrod's radar capabilities, and the manner in which it operates, are such that it should not be under threat from enemy fighter aircraft. The way that Nimrod uses Harpoon keeps it out of range of enemy fighters. That is one of the great merits of the aircraft.
Right hon. and hon. Members will note in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" a section on the maritime balance. This is to some extent relevant to what the right hon. Gentleman said. It shows an adverse trend in the balance of forces in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel, an area of crucial importance to the United Kingdom and its allies. To judge the maritime balance accurately, however, it is also necessary to take into account the different maritime requirements of the two alliances. Should the Soviet surface fleet ever venture out into the North Atlantic it will meet the growing capability of our modern anti-ship missiles, particularly from land-based aircraft such as the Tornado, Buccaneer and Nimrod, where we have the geographical advantage over the Soviets.
I turn now to naval affairs. Over the next few months we shall be considering ship replacement orders following the Falklands operation, but in the meantime I have decided to order, within the already planned programme, another type 22 ASW frigate—the ninth of its class.
It will not be easy in the next few years to sustain frigate numbers because of the losses suffered in hostilities, but we shall press ahead as rapidly as we can with the current construction programme, bringing forward all existing plans as fast as possible. I also intend to retain the County class destroyers "Fife" and "Glamorgan" and the type 82 destroyer "Bristol", which were planned for early disposal by the mid-1980s.
Looking to the future, I am glad to inform the House that I have recently endorsed the general configuration for the type 23 frigate and that we are now ready to undertake detailed development work. We shall shortly be placing a design contract with Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd. I hope 1064 that the first order will be in 1984. Our aim is eventually to achieve an order rate of three new type 23s per year—and this is provided for in our forward financial plans.
§ Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)
It was assumed that the type 23 prototype would be available in 1988. Can we be absolutely assured that all the lessons—and there are many—connected with the Falkland Islands and the vulnerability of shipping under war conditions have been taken fully into account before the order is placed?
§ Mr. Nott
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. In the next few months, as the factual data come back from the Falklands, we must ensure that any changes needed to the type 23 are incorporated in the design. As my hon. Friend knows, we intend to place an order as soon as possible in 1984 so that we can have the type 23 in service by 1988. I should like to see it in service earlier, but 1988 still seems to be the date.
The type 23 will be a general purpose frigate—suited to operations outside the NATO area, but fully able to conduct anti-submarine warfare operations in the harsh and operationally difficult environment of the North Atlantic. The type 23 will, therefore, be equipped with the most advanced hull-mounted sonar as well as the latest towed array for detecting submarines. Its armaments will include two separate trackers for the Sea Wolf point defence missile system incorporating the latest improvements now under development, an anti-ship missile capability, self-defence torpedo capability against submarine attack and a light gun. For quietness to maximise detection ranges on her sonar her main propulsion will be diesel electric, supplemented by two of the new Spey marine gas turbines for high speed boost. We are determined to keep the costs of the type 23 down, but it must be designed to meet essential needs in full. Thus, while the price is now likely to be rather more than originally forecast, it will still be around £90 million at September 1981 prices, against around £135 million for the type 22. I believe that in terms of fighting power it will offer excellent value for money. The type 23 will have a ship's company of about 150 officers and men against up to 250 for the type 22.
The most important feature of the type 23 for antisubmarine warfare will be a specially designed platform for a new helicopter—the Sea King replacement. This will be heavier than the existing Sea King, but it will be very much more agile, enabling it to operate safely from small ships in foul weather. It will have a much greater load-carrying capability and will carry Sting Ray torpedoes as well as advanced sonics. In this respect it will have some of the characteristics of the Nimrod which will make it a formidable ASW system. It will provide a full capability in one helicopter both to detect and kill enemy submarines at longer range.
The intention is to develop the helicopter in collaboration with Italy and jointly with industry. Good progress has been made with the Italian Government—I discussed the project with my Italian colleague as recently as this Monday—and I hope that a joint contract can be signed early next year. Commercial and military versions of the helicopter are also planned to increase numbers and keep down unit costs.
The type 23 will be able to operate as an independent unit with its embarked organic air capability for considerable periods, without support.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
That is encouraging news on the type 23. Am I right in assuming from what my right hon. Friend said in connection with the E101 helicopter that the type 23 will have a hangar rather than just a flight deck? That appears to be inherent in what my right hon. Friend is saying.
§ Mr. Nott
The type 23 is planned to have a hangar which will take the new Sea King replacement. We may also lengthen it slightly so that it is capable of taking the existing Sea King, although clearly the existing Sea King is not a suitable aircraft for landing on decks in bad weather, as my hon. Friend knows.
The House will know the importance that I attach to increasing the submarine flotilla. With its long endurance, speed and modem sonars, the SSN—the hunter-killer nuclear submarine—is a vital part of our armoury of weapons for dealing with the threat posed by the Soviet submarine and surface fleet. SSNs neutralised the whole of the Argentine fleet. Four SSNs are currently being built. We plan to order another—SSN 17—later this financial year, with a further order—SSN 18—following in 1983–84 in order to meet our aim of achieving a force level of 17 later in the decade. If resources permit we also hope to place an order for a further SSN—SSN 19—before work starts on the Trident submarines.
To complement our nuclear-powered submarine fleet we need a successor to the current very successful Oberon class of conventionally powered boats. Quieter than the SSNs, they are particularly difficult to detect and are in many ways superior to an SSN in shallower waters.
Work on the new type 2400 class is now well advanced. I am glad to inform the House that we are going out to tender today for the first of this new class, with a view to placing an order next year. This is a major step forward in an important field and I am sure that the House will welcome it.
I come next to HMS "Invincible" which has given such invaluable service in the Falklands conflict. The House is aware of the characteristically generous offer from the Prime Minister of Australia. We have taken up his offer of discussions and I hope to make a full statement on the subject in due course.
A significant enhancement of our capability would be an airborne early warning radar on our carriers. We are, therefore, as an interim measure fitting a maritime search radar—modified significantly to give it an airborne early warning role—in Sea King helicopters for deployment to the South Atlantic in order to respond to our immediate AEW needs. For the longer term we are conducting urgent studies into the overall need for shipborne AEW.
I must now talk briefly about money. Some of the comment in recent weeks has been conducted as though we could somehow enhance our defences yet further, within the 3 per cent. target, either by robbing one capability or one NATO role to pay for another or by re-organising our procurement processes. There will always be some savings to be made from greater efficiency—we have introduced new procedures throughout the MOD this year—but to suggest that in greater efficiency there is a crock of gold that will finance major new defence capabilities is quite frankly nonsense.
Nor do I believe that any of the capabilities that I have so far described can be safely reduced or eliminated. If we gave up one capability—to shelter under the protection of our allies—what would happen if we found ourselves on 1066 our own again, as we have in the past few weeks? If Great Britain ever abandons a balanced mix of forces—Navy, Army and Air Force—we shall ultimately rely on someone else for a key part of our defence and ultimately we shall be vulnerable to someone else's blackmail.
As I have already announced, warship and equipment losses during the Falklands campaign will be replaced—not necessarily on a like for like basis—out of moneys in addition to the 3 per cent. commitment, and the same applies to the cost of a garrison, although it is too early to say what that cost will be. I have taken note of a motion on the Order Paper signed by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, which urges a significant increase in defence expenditure in real terms over and above the cost of the Falkland Islands expedition and garrison.
Of course the Government will be considering in the annual public expenditure survey whether more can be made available for defence beyond our commitment to meet the 3 per cent. NATO aim in full plus the Falkland additions. But I would be failing in my duty if I were to propose a new defence programme—based on additions to our existing capability—either before we had studied the lessons of the Falklands or without the cash to pay for it. That way lies chaos.
I have noted the criticisms of the Labour Opposition, some of which have been widely voiced, about the size of the surface fleet. But the facts are that we are spending nearly £500 million more in real terms on the conventional naval programme than the previous Government in the year before we took office. We shall still be spending more on the conventional Navy, at the peak of Trident expenditure, than when the Labour Party was in power. It is true that I have made a switch in emphasis in our forward plans from ship platforms to naval weapons, but I made it clear that our force structure must be one that we can afford to sustain with modern weapons and equipment and with proper war stocks. That is less glamorous than maximising the number of large and costly platforms in our armoury but it is far and away the best way of spending money for real security value.
I hope that I have not made a controversial speech—[HON. MEMBERS: "You have"] It is controversial in the defence sense but not in the political sense. I have just seen the new policy document that the Labour Party's National Executive will submit for approval to the Labour Party conference. It repeats the motion on which the Labour Party voted last year:Labour will reduce defence expenditure to the average proportion of the gross domestic product spent by the other European NATO countries.Such a commitment—
§ Mr. Nott
The proviso is:bearing in mind the need to avoid widespread and precipitate redundancies for which no alternative work has been provided, and Britain's need to provide adequate conventional defence forces.Last year the Labour Party voted to reduce defence expenditure to the European NATO average. Such a commitment would reduce our total planned defence budget by about one-third. In the planned 18-year procurement period of Trident, the reduction implied in such a commitment would be equal to about 11 Trident programmes.
1067 A study of the conflict in the South Atlantic and the lessons of it will necessarily take some time. On their return we shall be debriefing the operational commanders at all levels who took part in the campaign. There is, naturally, keen parliamentary and public interest in this exercise. Until we have done so, it would be wrong for us to rush forward in the next few weeks with a preliminary statement of our conclusions. Some aspects, such as the effectiveness of individual weapon systems, will remain operationally sensitive for some time and others will require considerable research and analysis before the facts can be established and the right conclusions drawn. I shall publish a White Paper on those conclusions and what they imply for the future towards the end of the year.
§ Mr. Cryer
The Secretary of State will have seen reports that HMS "Sheffield" carried nuclear weapons and that there may be contamination of the South Atlantic. There have been denials from the Ministry of Defence, but can the Secretary of State say categorically that the reports are untrue and that no nuclear weapons were carried?
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
Does the Secretary of State accept that if we provide all the additional conventional equipment that he has suggested and continue with Trident, we must sustain a vast increase in the defence budget? Is there not a strong case for reviewing the Trident programme and excluding it completely from our future defence plans? That would still enable us to have a reasonable conventional defence force.
§ Mr. Nott
The programme that I have outlined, including Trident, can be contained within the planned amounts that the Government have announced—the 3 per cent. growth in the defence budget.
It is already clear that, by any historical standard, the ships of the task force and its aircraft performed a magnificent feat of arms. The Argentine fleet was largely bottled up throughout the conflict in port or in home waters by our nuclear submarines. Our destroyers and frigates in the front line showed great courage in ensuring that the landing at San Carlos beachhead was achieved with such success. In such dangerously exposed conditions we could not have expected to achieve that objective without losses and damage to our ships.
Repair work to the damaged ships will be undertaken as a matter of urgency. In the immediate future much additional work must be done to repair battle and weather damage and, equally important, to catch up with the normal programme of repairs, dockings, and maintenance periods disrupted by the Falklands crisis. It is not yet possible to assess precisely the extent of the task or how it will affect the rate at which we move towards a naval operating and maintaining base, which remains the intention for Portsmouth, but I can say that no further compulsory redundancy notices will be issued at Portsmouth before 1 January 1983. The 180 redundancy notices already issued before 2 April will also, for the time being, be withdrawn. We should be in a position by early in the New Year to announce a firm plan for the rate of manpower reduction at Portsmouth. The planned expansion of Devonport and Rosyth will continue.
I have considered whether there are grounds for retaining the hold that was put on redundancy notices at 1068 Chatham. However, our conclusion is that the work required on the surface fleet as a result of recent operations can be accommodated at the other dockyards, including Portsmouth, where many of the ships are based.
Chatham has a nuclear submarine refitting load to complete but while we have re-examined the future nuclear work load in view of the proven importance of the SSN fleet, it is with regret that I must confirm our previous plans for the closure of Chatham dockyard and naval base by April 1984. That will also allow for the transfer of specialist staff from Chatham to Devonport to be resumed, which is necessary for the build-up of capacity there.
Gibraltar dockyard may take some of the less complex work arising from the South Atlantic operation, but there are no plans to reverse the decision for it to close next year. In discussing its possible future commercial operation with the Gibraltar Government we have proposed and they have welcomed the possibility of a continued naval work load.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
Is my right hon. Friend aware that HMS "Swiftsure" has already been at Devonport for nearly three years, and it is not believed that she will become operational after refit until next March, so that she will have been there for three and a half years, whereas Chatham is the only Royal Naval dockyard that has so far refitted, refuelled and produced seven operational SSNs? Therefore, how can my right hon. Friend possibly place at risk the future operational efficiency of the SSN fleet, when not one SSN has yet been produced at Devonport, and he stated in the last White Paper that it is the most important naval weapon that we possess?
§ Mr. Nott
The recent record of Chatham in the SSN refit has been excellent, and I have nothing but praise for the work that the men in Chatham have undertaken. It therefore makes it all the more distressing for my hon. Friend, and for myself, to insist that it is necessary to close Chatham. It cannot be kept open within the resources that we now possess.
I should like to have a fall-back insurance nuclear refit capacity if I could, but I am afraid that within our resources it is better to build up the assets that we have at Devonport and Rosyth, and proceed in that way. I regret that I must confirm this closure. I knew that it would upset my hon. Friend, but I am afraid that that is the way it has to be.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the widespread anger in the Medway area, and the tremendous disappointment at his announcement. However, will my right hon. Friend tell us how many SSNs were engaged in the South Atlantic operations? Must not the intensive use of the SSNs in that campaign have an affect on the refuelling and refitting programme? Surely the expansion of the submarine programme must make it common sense for my right hon. Friend to consider his plans for the dramatic cutback on the refitting and refuelling capacity for our submarine fleet.
§ Mr. Nott
I cannot reveal the number of SSNs that were participating in the Falkland operation. We never reveal matters of that kind. We hope to have 17 SSNs in the Fleet by the end of the decade, and the programme for their refit can be done in Rosyth and Devonport. My hon. Friend does not believe that that is the case, and I respect his judgment, but that is the decision that we have had to come to.
1069 The manpower plans of the Royal Navy too will, of course, need to be reviewed in the context of decisions on ships and equipment and the consequential effect on naval shore posts. This review will take a little time to complete, since it must take account also of our studies in depth of the Falklands' campaign.
The "Statement on the Defence Estimates" which I present to Parliament today represents, in the same form and covering the same period as its predecessors, the defence programmes and the activities of our Armed Forces in the period leading up to the beginning of this financial year. I believe that the continuity of these statements is important, and has proved of value to Parliament over many years. That the statement contains the names of ships tragically lost or of matters overtaken in the events of the past few weeks does not negate its value, particularly with reference to the main threat to the United Kingdom from the Soviet Union.
It was, I believe, in accordance with the general mood of the House that publication of the statement was delayed at the outset of the Falklands crisis. Our debate today therefore takes place several weeks later than is normal. In the intervening period our Armed Forces have been engaged in one of the most brilliantly conducted military operations of recent times.
By their bravery and by their skill, by their heroism and by their sacrifice, they have restored the liberty and rights of the Falkland Islanders. In so doing, they have demonstrated the principles for which we as a nation stand, and for which we are prepared to fight. Let those who might seek to attack our freedom, and that of the Western Alliance, be warned. Our defences are strong and it is our earnest intention to strengthen them further, year by year.
§ Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)
I am glad that the words in the foreword issued by the Secretary of State to the statement on the Defence Estimates, in which he praises the professionalism of the Armed Forces used in the Falklands campaign, have been amplified by him today. I happily join him in congratulating our troops on their skills and heroism and in mentioning, because this will be the will of the House, not just those who died and suffered in the campaign but those who may be permanently injured. May we never forget what they did.
The defence statement is out of date and irrelevant. The Secretary of State, if he had wished, could simply have given us a single statement in which he said, "I shall spend a few months—I or my successor—looking at the lessons that have been learnt, and I shall bring the Defence Estimates up to date". That is what he should have done, because this defence statement is out-of-date. It has no real relevance.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am about to explain, if the hon. Gentleman listens to what I have to say, as I am sure he will, with the courtesy that we all know is part of his nature.
It is because the defence statement is about as relevant as a punctured balloon that the Opposition do not intend, unlike the minority parties below the Gangway, to table an amendment. There seems to be no possible reason why 1070 we should try to reconstitute a punctured balloon. We are simply against the defence statement and I propose to give the reasons why.
First, has the Secretary of State—have all of us—learnt lessons from the Falklands campaign, and, if so, what lessons? The one lesson that I hope that the House has learnt applies to present and previous Governments. It is something that we could, with due humility as a House of Commons, understand and learn. The subject comes in paragraphs 404 and 409 of the Estimates. I quote from paragraph 409:We shall also be paying greater attention to the sales potential of projects and programmes authorised for the Armed Forces… We estimate that defence sales transactions will reach £1,800 million in 1982/83.That is a lot of money, and it may be a lot of jobs, but it can also be, as we have learnt to our cost, a number of lives, and a number of British lives.
The same thing happened in the Second World War, when many arms supplies were sent to Japan and Germany and later used against us. If we have not learnt that lesson, all Governments should learn it in the future. I should have preferred the Secretary of State to say something about arms sales, and at least to have told us that he and his successors intended to be much more careful about where the arms were going, as I hope we shall when the Labour Party is in Government.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
I was concerned to note that, when it was stated that the type 23 frigate would be used as a replacement, it was also stated that it would have considerable export potential. It occurs to me to wonder, if it is to be such a vital part of our defence in the future, why we should make it available to a potential enemy.
§ Mr. Silkin
I was about to say that the Secretary of State and all right hon. and hon. Members should consider to what extent we are trying to produce arms for export which are not necessarily suitable for our own defence purposes. That is not necessarily relevant to what the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) said, but it has a general relevance, and is something of which we should all be aware.
Second, in the foreword, the right hon. Gentleman rightly pays tribute to the professionalism of our Armed Forces, and we join him in that tribute. It says thatevidence that our force structure is adaptable enough to permit an effective and timely response to developments both within and outside the NATO areais demonstrated by the Falklands campaign. That is a most extraordinary comment. Had the Argentine Fascists not been so impatient and had they waited a year or two, it would have been demonstrably false. That is a lesson that I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman had learnt.
The third reason relates to the query that was raised by the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins). Here again, the foreword says:The framework of that programme"—that is, the previous programme in Cmnd. 8288—remains appropriate".How can it possibly remain appropriate, in view of the difficulty of sending a fleet 8,000 miles across the world, and when that fleet, in the Secretary of State's own plans, would be decimated in a year or two?
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
The right hon. Gentleman provoked me somewhat by saying that he thought that the defence White Paper was a punctured balloon, although he has not yet proved that statement. As 98 per cent. of the 1071 defence White Paper concerns the Warsaw Pact threat, such as it is, and the threat from the Eastern bloc, to what extent has that changed, except to increase, since we debated the matter, and before the Falklands campaign had its effect?
§ Mr. Silkin
I am coming to that matter in the few minutes in which I hope to be allowed to address the House on this important question.
We and every generation have to learn the lesson that we have been told over and again, that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Each generation learns that. Here I should like to quote the Labour Party's defence policy—more fairly than the right hon. Gentleman did—hoping that the House will bear with me:The central objective of Labour's defence policy is the promotion of peace and security. Britain should have sufficient military strength to discourage external aggression and to defend ourselves should we be attacked".I hope that every hon. Member will agree with that proposition. It is the framework of the Labour Party's defence policy.
There are three elements in any defence policy, and certainly there are three elements in the present Government's defence policy. The first is our policy in the area outside NATO. According to the Secretary of State, the framework in Cmnd. 8288 is appropriate. Despite what he says, much of the surface fleet was laid down in the days of the Labour Government, and it is coming to fruition now. However, the right hon. Gentleman proposes a cut in the active fleet. The fleet of destroyers and frigates is to he cut from 56 to 42. I am glad that we are to replace, although we do not know in what way. I gather that like for like is out. We are not certain how it will be done. What the Secretary of State has told the House this afternoon deserves much more study.
It is also true that, since the start of March, nine ships have been reprieved. "Fearless" and "Intrepid" were reprieved in March. We are glad to hear about "Endurance", but that news came rather late, after the rather contemptuous reply that the right hon. Gentleman gave on 29 March to a question from one of his hon. Friends, and the contemptuous reply of the Prime Minister to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), the former Prime Minister. "Falmouth" and "Londonderry" are already operational, and "Berwick", "Tartar", "Gurkha" and "Zulu" will be operational by the end of July. So that is all right. Nevertheless, we still have a fleet which looks considerably smaller in the years ahead in this decade than it was when the Government came to office.
The hon. Member for Preston, North asked, "What about the Russian threat? What about NATO? Why should we bother outside NATO?" I looked for a moment at the strains that had been put on the Fleet over the past few years, under both Labour and Conservative Governments. There was the Beira patrol and the cod war, and there still is the Gulf patrol. There is the Caribbean frigate and—very relevant today—Belize and the guard ships that are necessary there. There is also, for the future, fortress Falklands. No one has said for how long that will be necessary. The Government have not told us. If the Prime Minister had her way, no doubt it would go on for ever. No doubt the Thatcher-Nichols correspondence will be a gem for naval historians for years to come, but if anyone 1072 were to tell me that 75 marines were sufficient to deter aggression, I would not believe it. We shall need a fleet, and we shall need a surface fleet.
There are other bases too. If any part of the world wishes the British Fleet to continue and wants to have its protection, that area is the Third world. There are good reasons for that. The Third world does not trust the superpowers. It does not trust the United States or the Soviet Union, but curiously enough, it has a great belief in the ability and willingness of the United Kingdom and the British Fleet to protect it.
One day we shall have something else to reckon with. It is all very well for us to say, as we often do, that the United Nations is a powerless and impotent institution. The truth is that the United Nations needs to come into a crisis before war breaks out. It has proved a failure as a viable force when it comes in after a war has been declared or after it is over, merely as an occupying force. For example, when it was in Sharm E1 Sheikh in 1967 it really stopped Middle East wars, and the succession of Middle East wars that followed 1967 owe much to the United Nations forces having been removed from Sharm E1 Sheikh at that time.
All this leads to another consequence. One day there will have to be a directly recruited United Nations police force. It need not be very large, but it should be capable of great mobility and of going to any area in the world. If it is to do that, it needs to be backed up, and it would need to be backed up by a force such as the British Fleet.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Rippon (Hexham)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most regrettable decisions was the premature reduction of British forces in the Gulf by the Labour Government in 1967? Would he and the Labour Party consider it right that there should be an allied naval force in the south Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, since we cannot have a United Nations force?
§ Mr. Silkin
I do not agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), and it would be futile of me to say that I did. Moreover, that is not relevant to the debate. I am prepared to argue with him about history any day he wishes, over that glass of cognac which he once said enabled all arguments to be settled, but not in the House on this defence debate.
§ Mr. Silkin
May I be allowed to proceed? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will intervene later.
If we are to fulfil the obligation of keeping the peace outside NATO, we need a surface fleet. There is a great deal to be learnt about sea-to-air missiles, decoys, electronic counter measures, Sea Harriers and helicopters from the Falklands crisis. There is also a great deal to be learnt in general terms.
I agree with the Secretary of State about the effect that the hunter-killer submarines had during the campaign. They certainly kept the Argentine navy in harbour. In doing so, they saved many lives, British and Argentine. However, they could not protect the merchant ships, the landing ships, the marines who served so gallantly during the war, or the troops who landed there. Only "Hermes" and "Invincible" could do that, and only "Hermes" and "Invincible" did. We were lucky to have other makeshift decks. We were lucky to have "Atlantic Conveyor". 'We were lucky to have the brave men of the Merchant Navy.
1073 It was my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East who, when he was Prime Minister, saw that we had the merchant shipping register. I think that that was about 1978. Would we have been in a position to send the merchant fleet train into the Falklands area if he had not done so?
We must learn that such an expedition needs to be protected by a surface fleet. I have tried to show that such a crisis can happen anywhere in the world at any time. The moment that one destroys that capability, the possibility of our being able to act is destroyed.
Again, I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has learnt that lesson. I doubt that he will be in the same position 18 months or two years from now. However, if he were, could he mount that expedition to the Falklands again? Of course he could not, and he knows that he could not. That should have been the main lesson that he learnt.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend
If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to create a balance in this matter, should he not also draw attention to the incredible vulnerability of surface ships, both to conventional bombing and to advanced missile technology? Does not that highlight one of the basic points in the White Paper that we must gently tilt the balance in favour of our underwater fleet?
§ Mr. Silkin
The terrible vulnerability of warfare is that ships are sunk and people get killed. That has happened in every sea battle. Of course, there may be technical lessons to be learnt. However, the lesson is not that surface vessels should be abandoned. If that were done, how could the fleet train be sent out? With the best will in the world, it could not be done with SSNs. I agree, they are good, but that is not the way to do it.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
The White Paper has been overtaken by the Falklands crisis. My right hon. Friend referred to the intervention of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and the intervention in the Trident debate—which must be spelt out again—when the Secretary of State was asked why £3 million could not be spent to defend the Falklands yet the Government were prepared to spend £8,000 million on Trident. Did they not make a complete hash of Britain's contribution to Western defence and is that not why we should have a new White Paper today?
§ Mr. Silkin
That is right. My hon. Friend is merely underlining what I say.
I said that three elements should be considered. The second of those elements is our position inside NATO. NATO has now been in existence since 1949–33 years; a generation and a half. It is after an event such as the Falklands war that we should reconsider the relevance to NATO of the lessons that have been learnt.
The Labour Party is right to say that our first duty is to defend our island and to deter external aggression. Our first duty should be to protect the United Kingdom and its air region.
Let us consider what is happening inside NATO now—the Russian threat that the hon. Member for Preston, North mentioned. Seventy per cent. of the naval forces guarding the eastern Atlantic and the Channel are British. One quarter of our defence budget is spent on achieving that defence. Ten per cent. of the troops are 1074 British. The Secretary of State gave the figure of 55,000 and over 40 per cent. of the budget is spent on them. The cost of manufacturing investment forgone, the cost of research and development channelled into military rather than civil projects, bears heavily upon Britain.
The Secretary of State made much play, some of it teasing, of the Labour Party's defence programme. He arrived at astronomic savings which would result in a negative figure for defence. Although he was asked to do so, he did not fully quote the extract from the National Executive Council's defence programme.
The right hon. Gentleman never tells us, although it happens to be true—it was denied at one point but I believe he accepted it later—that the amount of GDP spent by Britain in NATO is a greater percentage than that of any other NATO power, not excluding the United States. We have always talked in terms of Germany and "?France" which is both in and out of NATO. Incidentally, on a technical point, why does the right hon. Gentleman exclude France from NATO in this Cmnd. Paper whereas in Cmnd. 8288 he included France? It would be interesting to know what curious mechanics resulted in that.
Britain spends more of its GDP than any other NATO power defending NATO—more than the Americans. It would not be a bad thing if the burden was shared. I fully accept that defence inflation in all countries—West Germany as much as ourselves—is greater than ordinary inflation. That is one reason why more is being spent by the Government on naval defence—as the right hon. Gentleman so often tells us—than was spent under the Labour Government. However, that is no reason why we should have to bear the lion's share the whole time. There should be a more equal distribution.
I do not know what the basis of such a review might be, but, taking the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman in the defence statement, there are about 70,000 British troops and RAF personnel; 10,800 in the RAF and about 60,000 in the Army. Of course, there is a huge backup. About £650 million in German deutschemarks is spent on local German personnel and on their housing. However, France contributes 51,000 personnel.
France is, and always has been, a continental power. We are not. For centuries, our policy has been to use our island as a floating platform for landing troops on the Continent and for sending them wherever they are needed. Why should France contribute only 51,000 personnel, when we contribute 70,000? Sometimes France is in NATO, and sometimes it is not. However, it is part of our defence and an ally of NATO. That is the truth of the matter. Therefore, there is much to be sorted out and settled between us.
Is it right that we should welcome the arrival of cruise missiles in Britain next year?
§ Mr. Best
Both World Wars involved Britain because of treaty obligations that contained a commitment to Europe. Were those obligations wrong? Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that Britain would have had a better chance of survival in those two world conflicts if it had waited for the aggressor to march up to the Channel?
§ Mr. Silkin
It was not wrong to enter into such obligations, but if the hon. Gentleman had listened to me he would not have thought that I wanted to withdraw troops from West Germany. I sought to find a more equitable balance, and that is a different matter. 1075 [Interruption] To do that, I would discuss the issue with our allies. What are allies for? I would point out something that the Government have never pointed out. I would say that we are the paymaster and that it might be right to share the burden a little more equitably.
During Question Time on Tuesday the Minister spoke about cruise missiles and said that they wereintended by the United States, at the request of Europe, to demonstrate its commitment to the defence of Europe."—[Official Report, 29 June 1982; Vol. 26, c. 738.]In other words, the Minister thought of it as a political, rather than a military, commitment. Millions of people all over the world are rightly querying the use of nuclear weapons, and have come to the conclusion that there should be a freeze on them and that their use should be limited as quickly as possible. When I was at the United Nations for the second special session, I saw many people demonstrating. There may have been 1 million, although I do not know if the figure was that high. There have been demonstrations all over Europe. We should be talking the matter over with our allies. We should be considering the matter as part of our policy review.
Let us examine our commitments both outside and inside NATO. What we are talking about adds up to a very large proportion of our budget and to heavy expenditure on defence. That must be so. That brings us to the third element in the defence budget—Trident. I do not know whether the Secretary of State wants to bring his figures up to date. He says that Trident will cost £7.5 billion at September 1981 prices. On reflection, he might care to re-examine that figure. After all, the pound is not worth as much as it was in September 1981. The figure usually quoted for Trident is about £10 billion. That is probably the right figure.
As we always have this argument, I shall put the matter quickly, and if I may, slowly, to the Secretary of State so that he has a chance to disagree with me. [Interruption.] I shall go through the arguments statistic by statistic. The right hon. Gentleman needs to be told slowly, because he always gets things wrong. [Interruption.] By "slowly" I mean slowly in words. During the peak years of the Trident programme will it not cost 10.5 per cent. of all equipment?
§ Mr. Silkin
Is it not a fact that during the peak years the cost will be close to 20 per cent. of new equipment as opposed to all equipment?
§ Mr. Nott
I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, but we do not have a concept of "new equipment". Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will define what he means. At the beginning of every financial year 90 per cent. of the continuing defence budget is committed. We have never had a concept of "new equipment". The right hon. Gentleman is trying to coin a new concept.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am trying to coin a practical concept. I am talking about new orders. Perhaps I was speaking too quickly for the right hon. Gentleman. If he studies the matter, I think that he will find that my figures are right and that Trident will cost the equivalent of 20 per cent. of new orders each year during the peak years.
§ Mr. Nott
That could be right. Is the right hon. Gentleman not in favour of re-equipping the RAF with Tornado? This year and next year Tornado will take up a 1076 far larger proportion of the existing equipment budget—and, if the right hon. Gentleman likes, of the new equipment budget—than Trident will take up at the peak.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am in favour of Tornado, but not of Trident. I have been trying to tell the right hon. Gentleman that for a long time. We cannot have both and that is the truth of the matter. Let us continue with the statistics.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Trident will cost 30 per cent. of the Royal Navy's budget during the peak years? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will check the figure. He will find that I am right. Does he also agree that Trident will cost the equivalent of more than 50 per cent. of new orders for Royal Navy equipment during the peak years? That is what it is all about.
§ Mr. Silkin
If the Royal Navy was asked to choose between having a surface fleet and Trident in the knowledge that there was a limit, the answer would no doubt be different. I fully understand the views of those Conservative Members who say that they should try to get the money for everything they want. However, that is not the way things go. There will be cash limits of a sort, because there have to be.
Trident represents the Secretary of State's attempt to turn Britain into a super-power. That is the whole purpose of Trident.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)
Earlier, the right hon. Gentleman made an eloquent defence of sending the task force to the Falkland Islands. He went on to say that we should think in terms of being able to operate, in addition, outside the NATO theatre. However, if he had been Secretary of State for Defence, would he have dared to send a task force 8,000 miles away unless we had our own deterrent to guard against nuclear blackmail from the Soviet Union, or from any other quarter? I could understand if the right hon. Gentleman was simply arguing that there was some better or cheaper system than Trident. However, that would be a difficult argument to sustain. Nevertheless, if we are to play a role outside NATO—as we have recently done and as we might have to do again—we must have a deterrent force to guard against nuclear blackmail.
§ Mr. Silkin
I have always had great respect for the right hon. Gentleman's views on defence, but this is where he and I part company. There is no meeting of minds on this subject. I do not believe that our own nuclear deterrent would have the effect that he says. There is no agreement between us on that point.
§ Mr. Silkin
In paragraph 102 of the White Paper the right hon. Gentleman says that the cost of Trident is equivalent to that of 300 tanks. He then says that the 300 tanks would not be worth having because of the thousands of tanks in the Warsaw Pact countries.
Let us try another comparison. Trident would be the equivalent of two dozen "Invincibles". It would be the equivalent of over 50 type 22 frigates. It would be the equivalent of 21 more hunter-killers. There is no fairer comparison than that. Therefore, the right hon.
1077 Gentleman's policy is wrong. His policy as defined in the White Paper does not make a suitable or appropriate framework for defence.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I did call "order". It was directed to the hon. Member for Petersfield. I was indicating that he should sit down if the right hon. Gentleman did not want to give way.
§ Mr. Silkin
No he will not. I am nearly at the end of my speech. I do not want to be diverted from it.
The Royal Navy sailed halfway around the world to resolve a conflict, which, with foresight, could have been avoided. The fleet consisted of men carrying redundancy notices on board ships bearing "for sale" signs. That fleet liberated the islands. It kept the Secretary of State in a job for which he has shown himself to be totally unfit. Above all, the Falkland Islands crisis has proved conclusively that last year the Secretary of State adopted a biodegradable defence programme. In common with certain plastic cartons, it rapidly disintegrates when exposed to reality. We have no confidence in the Secretary of State's policy and we have no confidence in him.
§ Mr. Alan Clark (Plymouth, Sutton)
This is the first defence debate—I hope that it will be the last—in the immediate aftermath of a brilliantly successful war. Those who gave their lives in the conflict have bought for us by their sacrifice and by their gallantry an inestimable prize, not only in the prestige that they have brought to this country, but in all the lessons that we can now apply to policy and detail of the way in which we defend ourselves.
In the last 20 or 30 years we have been dealing in unrealities, secondhand information and surmise. At last we now have the immediate recollection and lessons of one of the most successful campaigns, one would say the only successful campaign, that has been fought by a member of the Western Alliance since the end of the Second World War. [Interruption.] I hear murmuring behind me. I do not know whether it is acclaim or dissent. I think that I heard one of my hon. Friends mention Malaya, but there is no comparison. This has been a war fought at every level, by every branch of the Services and against every type of conventional weapon. The lessons from it are still being collated. The esteem in which our Services are held throughout the world, not least in the Soviet Union, has advanced immeasurably.
It is a marvellous thing to be able to come to the House of Commons and make those remarks representing a city that played the most conspicuous part in the task force and in the victory. Plymouth supplied more people as a city than any other town in the Kingdom to make up the content of the task force. Its civilian work force played a tremendously important role in the dockyard. Many of us 1078 heard the Commander-in-Chief in the Falkland Islands reproaching those who said that the youth of this country were rotten or corrupt because, in his experience, he had seen that they were absolutely outstanding in quality.
§ Mr. Clark
I never said anything of the sort. How could the hon. Gentleman say that? He never heard me say that. I challenge him to quote it.
Over the past years many people have said—I am not among them, in case the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene—that the work force of this country has often been bolshie and demarcation-minded. The work force of Plymouth dockyard, which has often been been the subject of oblique criticism if not direct reproach, rose to the occasion brilliantly. All trades worked 16 or 20 hours a day. When 20 welders were called for to go to the South Atlantic when it was clear that it was an extremely dangerous assignment, every qualified welder in the dockyard volunteered to go on the assignment.
The response of the civilian work force in the dockyard was without parallel and was a tremendous encouragement to the wives and families of those who were serving in the Falkland Islands. The whole city was of the same mind about the merits of the enterprise and shares in the pride at its successful conclusion.
It is too early for us to digest the detailed military lessons of the campaign. I accept that it was appropriate to publish the White Paper, although it had been printed when none of what has occurred in the past two months had been anticipated. It is useful as a data bank of detail and certain fundamental truths and dispositions. However, I suspect that the fundamental problems that have beset British defence policy, which are that requirements and resources do not match up, remain unaffected by the experience in the South Atlantic. They may be aggravated by it.
I am particularly concerned that our Estimates for the amount of money that will be available are inadequate for the tasks that we shall have to fulfil and the commitments that we have undertaken.
In the Government's plans for public expenditure until 1984–85, £14.1 billion is allocated to defence for 1982–83, £15.3 billion for 1983–84 and £16.4 billion for 1984–85. We shall need to replace not only all the inventories that have been depleted by the Falkland Islands battle, but equipment that has been lost or destroyed. I understand that Treasury Ministers may have agreed to this idea in principle, but in view of the parsimonious record of the Treasury, it would be comforting to have an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—though preferably from the Prime Minister—as soon as possible that that replacement has been authorised and is a separate accounting item from the progression from £14.1 billion to £16.4 billion over the next three years.
The natural upgrading of requirements for defence replacements will make that much more expensive than the original cost adjusted in terms of the real value of the items that have been lost. Plainly, some of the items of equipment that were lost will now be regarded as obsolete and to replace them along the lines that the Services would wish will be much more expensive than simply adjusting for inflation.
Furthermore, the inflation factor in all weapons systems is an insidious feature of defence accounting and will 1079 cause the estimate of £16.4 billion for 1984–85 to appear much understated. The total figure for that year is more likely to be about £18 billion, so at the very least a further £1.6 billion will have to be found.
§ Mr. Clark
No, I have already accepted that the contingency fund will be used for the immediate day-to-day costing of the Falklands operation.
There is the further problem of replacing inventories—for example, ammunition and missiles that have been expended. Major assets will also have to be replaced, and I suspect that cost inflation will be even more acute than the allowances that have been made. These costs aggravate the continuing and basic dilemma of British defence planning, that our quadrangular commitment is outside the capacity of the resources that are planned to meet it.
Nor do I believe, although I would personally welcome it, that these resources will be greatly augmented. The House knows what this quadrangular commitment is and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State summarised it lucidly. It involves a credible strategic nuclear deterrent, the need to defend the home base of the United Kingdom—in particular its air space—the need to defend the North Atlantic sea lanes and blockade the outlets of the Arctic passage and a commitment to maintain a standing Army on the mainland of Europe.
The question that we have to decide is whether we continue to attempt to discharge all four of these roles, in my view, increasingly inadequately. However good our professional expertise, if that expertise is continually to be constrained by an erosion of the financial resources that are made available, all of the commitments will suffer.
The real problem for the United Kingdom is that it is still attempting to fulfil the role of a super-power in miniature. Within our quadrangular commitment—it largely arose accidentally—it is impossible for us to discard the obligation to our people, together with the role that we have undertaken to play in the Western Alliance to defend Western values. It is impossible for us to discard our commitment to a strategic nuclear deterrent.
The Trident system is probably the best of the successor systems, although there are detailed problems attaching to the real independence that it gives us, about which I am not entirely happy. Nor I think would anyone in the House deny the importance of defending the home base and of maintaining the air defence of Great Britain.
There are, then, only two competing areas in which we have to decide the allocation of priorities if both those areas are not to suffer from a depletion of resources and to be discharged inadequately. The first of these is the maritime role, which, as I understand it, means not only the defence of the North Atlantic sea lanes, the blockading of the Arctic passages and the convoying of resources and men to Europe from America, but the out-of-area capability, the capability to intervene in whatever guise. I was interested to hear the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) say from the Opposition Front Bench that he, too, envisaged the possibility of the Royal Navy being used in future to support, for example, United Nations intervention forces.
If we are to retain the blue water capacity for the Royal Navy that has been so brilliantly illustrated around the 1080 Falkland Islands over the past two months, as well as close defence requirements in the Atlantic approaches, I do not see how we can possibly justify depleting their and our other roles by an allocation of what is at the very minimum one-third of our resources in men, equipment and money to the maintenance of a standing Army on the mainland of Europe.
I have heard my right hon. Friend respond to this argument on many occasions and I am very grateful to him for staying in his place and allowing me to develop it once again. My right hon. Friend's answers vary—sometimes, it seems, according to his mood. He answers under three headings and they are as follows: first, that the Rhine Army is already at an irreducible minimum; secondly, that its removal would open a gap of 65 miles on the central front that could not be filled; and thirdly—this is, as it were, his ultimate fall-back position—that such a course would not save any money. Indeed, he sometimes goes further and says that to alter the size and status of the Rhine Army would actually cost money.
I invite the House to look more closely at these assertions. My right hon. Friend's argument is that the Rhine Army is at an irreducible minimum. The most obvious rejoinder is "An irreducible minimum for what?" If in logic any mass can be reduced indefinitely, and if in mathematics any number can be reduced in size without limit, I do not see what purpose the Rhine Army serves in a military sense that is in the slightest commensurate with its cost in financial and resource terms.
Will two isolated armoured divisions without defence on their flanks, and without proper lines of communication, or with highly vulnerable lines of communication back to their home country, play a significant role for more than 72 hours in a conventional battle on that scale on the central front? In any case, is not that conventional battle by far the least probable of all the possible contingencies that defence planners have to consider? Is it not the case that these resources are being devoted to a purpose that is not only the least probable but the least cost-effective of all the roles with which my right hon. Friend is charged?
If we accept that the Rhine Army's presence on the central front is fundamentally necessary or that a presence of two armoured divisions is necessary to guard against certain contingencies which may be more likely than many of us in the House can assess, we move on to the compulsion of my right hon. Friend's second argument, which is that to remove the Rhine Army would open a gap of 65 miles on the central front that could not be filled. My response is "Of course the gap would be filled."
The gap would be filled in the same way as gaps that opened on the eastern front for three years during the Second World War were always filled—until the very end. When there is a need to fill a gap, when there is a perceived urgent danger, resources will be found and the gap will be filled. That those resources should not come from the United Kingdom is another matter. The notion that a gap will be left indefinitely by our allies in NATO is not credible.
The Secretary of State says that no money would be saved by reducing the Rhine Army. I cannot accept the logic of the argument that if one reduces the size of something that is absorbing one-third of one's resources there will be no saving as a result of so doing.
§ Mr. Churchill
Does my hon. Friend not recognise that for a nation of 55 million we already have a tiny Army and that to do what he advocates would pull the rug politically from under our European Allies and NATO? Is he aware that nothing could be a greater invitation to the United States to withdraw her 200,000-man army from Europe, without which, regrettably, we would be almost defenceless in Europe?
§ Mr. Clark
It may be true that we have a tiny Army, but it absorbs an enormous proportion of our resources that are available for defence. That it would pull the rug from under our allies in NATO is a shorthand way of saying that the existing structure of NATO is long overdue for reconstruction. That leads to the question of rationalisation and the specialisation of roles within NATO. My hon. Friend's final point, that what I advocate would lead to the United States withdrawing its army, is spurious. The United States' presence in Europe accords with its perception of where its interests lie.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
Does my hon. Friend agree that it should also be borne in mind that not only are 55,000 British troops on the Rhine, but that we must pay for 30,000 German civilians to support those troops?
§ Mr. Clark
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is true, the House knows it well. One is easily misrepresented in advancing a concept that has long been regarded as heretical. The House should remember that our original presence on the mainland of Europe and our present disposition arise out of the old pattern of the occupation forces that we sent there, first to hold down Germany and, secondly, when we decided to rearm Germany, to reassure the Russians, the French and our allies that the situation would be under control because we would have our own occupation force, however dressed, on the mainland of Europe.
Those arguments are now forgotten. We are told that we must keep the Army there because its absence will open a 65-mile gap that no one will fill. I see no rational transference of the argument between those two states.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. There is an extremely long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak, and interjections cause delay.
§ Mr. Clark
I am glad that I am stimulating the House, but I welcome your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
A new look at the rationalisation of roles in NATO is long overdue. It is for my right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues, whose function it is to examine diplomatic and foreign relations matters, to discuss the issue seriously with our allies and to persuade them that far higher level of specialisation of roles is the only way of keeping the Alliance effective.
1082 It is folly to ignore the truth of this proposition: there are certain roles for which some nations are uniquely competent; there are some for which countries have a traditional preference; and there are some which, in the jargon of economists, they have a comparative advantage. For the United Kingdom, the maritime role must be the one that we best discharge. I have argued that case before. I never expected to be able to do so in the aftermath of a victory so brilliant, and one so clearly demonstrative of the truth of that proposition.
§ Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)
I beg to move to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:'fully supports the United Kingdom's continued membership of NATO; recognises that this involves both a commitment to detente through negotiations for multilateral arms control and disarmament and to deterrence through conventional and nuclear forces; declines to approve Her Majesty's Government's decision to purchase Trident missiles but despite the present economic difficulties believes that the NATO commitment to an annual increase of 3 per cent. in defence expenditure should be maintained.'There was much sense in what the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) said. Those who know anything about NATO know that the disposition of our forces on the Rhine makes no sense. The same provision could be achieved with greater economy of effort and expense. That matter should be examined.
The Secretary of State for Defence is getting into hot water for sending certain documents to educational establishments. I understand that advice about the role of our forces has been arriving at some educational establishments. It is time that we put the other case. In many instances we are losing the argument by default.
There is a great fear about nuclear weapons. No hon. Member believes that a nuclear war will start by countries firing large-scale nuclear weapons at each other, but if one resorts to a hedge-hopping system of defence on the western front the nuclear threshold will be lowered. That western front would be overrun now, even with the positions that we hold, and even if additional forces went there. If a nuclear conflict takes place, it will occur in those circumstances.
The official Opposition should note that it is no good talking about defending Britain—that implies defence with NATO—unless people are prepared to spend money on conventional defence. It is all very well for the Russians to say, as they now do, that they will never fire nuclear weapons first. They do not need to. If they used conventional forces they would be through within a fortnight. Therefore, the Russians do not need to promise that they will not use nuclear weapons. That places us in a serious moral dilemma—we cannot follow suit.
It is important that we spend even more money on conventional defences than is now being spent if we are to guard against the very thing that everyone fears. People are closing their eyes to the issues if they ask for the withdrawal of nuclear defences without putting the money into conventional defences. I ask the official Opposition to consider that very seriously.
When I spoke on defence about three months ago, I made some harsh comments about the cuts in the conventional Navy. Had the Falklands crisis occurred before then, I should have been full of tribute for what happened. Unfortunately, it took place this year and I was 1083 proved wrong. If it had taken place in a year's time, however, I think that many who spoke in that debate would have been proved right, because we would not have had the resources to mount the operation that we managed to mount. I can see that that does not please the Secretary of State, to whom I intended to pay tribute, as he has much to be proud of in the way in which the forces were got together and sent. That could not have been done by overnight planning. There must have been intense planning on these aspects for a long time. I therefore pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman.
It is easy to start drawing all kinds of lessons from the recent conflict, but I think that that would be unwise, as there are many lessons that we do not yet know and which have still to be learnt. It brought out one thing, however. Although it is true that one cannot have one ship in two places at the same time, sometimes it is unwise to have two inadequately protected ships in one place. There is reason to believe that some of the vessels sent to the South Atlantic were deprived of defences as a result of economies in their construction. If the Falklands operation has taught us anything, it is that a scientific approach to all aspects of warfare must be carried to its extreme. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's comments about weapons on platforms. That lesson must be learnt.
All of this makes me wonder. The Argentine army had only 11,000 men operating on the Falklands. If they had had a large army and a large navy and 200 aircraft capable of dropping Exocet missiles on our fleet, what would have happened? They would not have needed an army or a navy. As I said in the last debate, the important thing is whether one can get one's weapons to their targets, not how many one has.
In its other aspect, the Falklands campaign showed that resolute men with a land-to-air blowpipe missile can easily and rapidly destroy a £10 million aircraft. Indeed, I read that even a NAAFI manager with a machine gun was capable of bringing one down. There are plenty of lessons to be learnt. In considering recent events, not only the present Government but previous Governments should be complimented on many aspects of our defence system, but we must not stop there.
Another aspect of our defences that has been touched on briefly today is our Merchant Navy. Over the past seven years the Merchant Navy has been depleted by about 40 per cent. In that time 12,000 officers and 13,000 ratings have gone. But for the Merchant Navy, the Falklands operation could not have been launched.
What thought has been given to ensuring that Merchant Navy ships that are likely to be used in time of war are constructed in the best possible manner for that dual role? That is how money will be saved. In the South Atlantic, Merchant Navy vessels fulfilled roles that could not have been imagined 10 years ago. Therefore, when the ships are constructed in our yards the Ministry of Defence should take full cognisance of how this is done and put forward proposals to ensure that the ships can easily be converted. On this occasion some of the ships were easily converted, but with more forethought more could have been done.
We might have been better served with other aircraft if the conveyors could have been converted into bigger aircraft carriers. Lifts could be fitted to allow aircraft to be lifted up on to the decks instead of having to be kept on the ships. In the event of a war against Russia, the Merchant Navy will survive by its ability to recognise a threat before it actually strikes. Unless it is protected by 1084 the Navy or, as in many cases it will have to be, by aircraft from the ships themselves, we shall suffer very sad losses indeed.
Tribute has been paid to the Service men, and I add my personal tribute. I do not think that any force has ever come out with more flying colours that that which went to the Falkland Islands. There were not only Service men there, however. There were also men from the Merchant Navy and we have heard how they volunteered for the task. Sir John Fieldhouse, Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet said:I cannot say too often or too clearly how important has been the Merchant Navy's contribution to our efforts. Without the ships taken up from trade, the operation could not have been undertaken and I hope this message is clearly understood by the British nation.I hope that it is understood by the House as well.
In paying our tribute to those in the Merchant Navy who served, and especially those who lost their lives, it must be said that, at the end of the day, whether in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, the loyalty and spirits of the men are what really count, irrespective of the weapons that they are using. I hope that this country will only ever send its men into battles of which we can be proud and feel no sense of shame whatever.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
The victory in the Falklands was a marvellous feat of arms. I think that the whole House would agree with so obvious a proposition. We move on from that victory, however, to discuss the implications of that war and the lessons that we shall have to learn from it. As the Secretary of State and the Ministry of Defence wrestle with this problem and, one hopes, bring out their document by November or December, no doubt the rest of us in our own small way will contribute to the lessons to be learnt. Those lessons will be important, but I believe that they are on the margin. The Falklands Islands expedition was one off. It should not lead us to restate or rethink the fundamentals of our defence attitudes and policy, which I believe were more or less on the right lines before the Falklands crisis occurred.
The most interesting thing to come out of the Falkland Islands affair is the inquiry and the question of warning time and why warning was ignored or disregarded. Warning of surprise attack is invariably disregarded; historical examples are legion. We were in receipt of evidence that an Argentine attack was imminent. The extent of the evidence that exists is not important. What one does with the evidence one receives, looks at and makes recommendations upon is important.
There are many historical examples of people getting it wrong. The most obvious one perhaps is the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941, when Stalin believed, against all the evidence, that Hitler was not about to attack. As a good Marxist, Stalin believed that Hitler would not begin one war until he had finished the other. He deceived himself as to German intentions despite Soviet spies in occupied Europe and intelligence——which was extremely accurate—and the fact that Sir Winston Churchill sent Sir Stafford Cripps to Moscow with the information derived from ULTRA that the Germans were about to invade. We were in no position to reveal its source but, nonetheless, Stalin had plenty of information.
A second, and perhaps even better, example was 8 December 1941 when the Japanese attacked at Pearl 1085 Habour. The Americans could read the Japanese codes. They knew that an attack was imminent somewhere. They failed to alert the admiral in command of the fleet at Pearl Harbour and to instruct him to disperse the fleet. The Japanese sunk six out of eight of the American battleships. It was only by an act of God that the American aircraft carriers were away on routine exercises and that the aeroplanes failed to destroy the dry dock.
The third example took place in 1973 when the Egyptians crossed the canal and succeeded in surprising the Israelis—of all people—with their prayer books in their hands on the holiest of all days in the Jewish calendar. It was over-confidence in that case. Although the Egyptians had mobilised on three previous occasions and Sadat was always declaring war, the Israelis believed that it was bluff and could be disregarded.
In the same way, the statements of the Argentine junta that the British would not celebrate the 150th anniversary of the occupation of the Falkland Islands were disregarded by the people who were supposed to be listening to the information.
Join the club; it always happens. A surprise attack is successful nine times out of ten. Our failures in the past are not important but the implications for the defence of Europe are. If we cannot calculate what the Argentines will do with regard to the Falklands we have no guarantee that we shall get it right when the evidence comes from the Soviet Union about a possible attack in Central Europe. Does that keep the House awake at night?
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
In the three illustrations that the hon. Gentleman has given, the aggressors knew that a response would be made. In the case of the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany, and in the case of Pearl Harbour, the aggressors knew that there would be a response. There is another question to be asked. It is not generally denied that the Government were extremely worried a few days before that there would be an invasion; but did they tell the Argentines that there would be a response if there were an invasion, and that we would re-take the island by force? If the Government did not, they were culpable of great negligence.
§ Mr. Critchley
It is not for me to anticipate the inquiry. It is hardly likely that I shall be a member. The point is a good one. One could argue that the removal of HMS "Endurance" was regarded by the Argentine junta as a signal—wrongly as it turns out, because most signals are wrongly regarded one way or another—that the British would not fight to defend the Falkland Islands. That inquiry will be the most fascinating thing in politics over the next six months.
The new editor of The Times, Charlie Douglas-Home, was for many years its defence correspondent. Charlie has written a great leader today in which he returns to his theme—shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark)—that we should withdraw from Europe and be a maritime power, concentrate on the blue water. I have never been a member of the Navy lobby. As Member for Aldershot it would have been difficult for me. I stand four-square behind our European commitment. We have to use warning in a sensible way and translate it into moving our soldiers forward in Central Europe. The important thing about a military presence in Central Europe is not the reserves but the forces in being.
1086 If the forces in being are ready and available to defend, they deter. It is no good relying on reserves, however effective, well-trained and equipped they are, because they will never be sufficiently well-trained and equipped. The decision to move soldiers in a crisis will always be a difficult one. Mobilisation will be continually postponed. It is forces in being that actually matter.
The Soviets will never make a nuclear first strike on the United States of America or Europe but I fear that war may occur through miscalculation, accident or inadvertence, in which case it will be the forces in being upon which Central Europe will have to depend.
It is not an argument so much on defence grounds as on foreign policy grounds and attitudes. Whenever the Ministry of Defence has held one of its five-yearly reviews it has always been the Foreign Office that has moved to protect the Rhine Army against those in the Ministry of Defence who wish to withdraw or reduce it. The Foreign Office will continue to fight for the British commitment in Central Europe. It is in our interest. NATO could not survive in its present form if Great Britain were to withdraw half its forces from the Rhine Army. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton suggest we replace it with the Spanish army? Who would be prepared to do that job?
The officers of the Conservative Party defence committee have put down what we believe to be a helpful early-day motion to encourage the Secretary of State to extract from the Treasury just a little bit more money. Despite all the argument from Conservative leaders, members of the Cabinet and Back-Benchers we are only fulfilling the commitment entered into in 1977 by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) for a 3 per cent. increase in real terms each year. There are those who might assert that we have not actually reached a 3 per cent. increase. That is hidden in the small print by the Ministry of Defence.
The Supreme Allied Commander, General Rogers, is asking for a 4 per cent. increase in real terms. When he suggested that last month at the NATO summit all our great leaders looked nervously at their shoes. No-one said a word. We should be bringing some pressure to bear on the Secretary of State so that he can argue our case with the Treasury. He will not find it easy, because the mandarins of the Treasury are extremely aggrieved because he has persuaded them against their will that the cost of the Falklands, past, present and future, will come out of the contingency fund. They will be fighting a rearguard action to get some of that money back in the autumn. That will make it extremely difficult for the Secretary of State to go from 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. Unless we do that in real terms we shall never have sufficient money to spend on a variety of desirable objectives. The trouble is that my right hon. Friends cannot agree which of the desirable objectives should get the additional 1 per cent. of the gross national product. There are those who wish for a new fighter aircraft. There are others, like myself, who wish the emphasis to go on an improved conventional defence in Europe so that in the medium term we can be off the nuclear first-use hook. There are others, the Navy lobby, who want a 50-frigate Navy.
It is the 4 per cent. that we want. The 1977 commitment, honourably entered into by the right hon. 1087 Member for Cardiff, South-East, for its time was admirable. But if the Conservative Party is to be taken seriously it must go up to 4 per cent.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Like everyone else today, I must start by paying a heartfelt tribute to the proficiency, skill and resolution of the members of the task force.
From a humble position I saw something of the organisation of the D-Day operation in 1944, which took months to organise. The dispatch of the task force in little more than a few days was a remarkable achievement. It reflects great credit on the defence planners as well as the members of the force. In the circumstances, the Minister can claim credit; he would have been blamed had the dispatch not been so efficiently achieved.
I am not so sure that the same wholehearted applause can be given to the Minister's White Paper, which appears almost completely to ignore—apart from a short foreword—the whole Falklands experience. There must, of course, be a thorough and expert review over a period of the lessons to be drawn; but some lessons can be drawn straight away.
I welcome the fact that the White Paper, rightly, if briefly, commits the Government to the objective of international control, and then reductions, of nuclear weapons by all the nuclear powers. Although we have said little about it today, that is far the most important issue facing the world. The only real hope for progress is agreement between the two super-powers, first, for a standstill and then for a reduction over time of their nuclear arms. The future peace of the world depends on that.
Negotiations on the intermediate range missiles were started between the Soviet Union and the United States in Geneva as long ago as November, and those on strategic weapons began this week. Mr. Reagan has proposed major reductions. It is behind those crucial efforts that the resources of the United Kingdom Government and the so-called peace movement should be concentrated in mobilising public opinion. We might perhaps have been given more information about the progress of the negotiations that began as long ago as November. No doubt they are formally confidential, but I wonder whether the Government could tell us a little of what is happening.
We should not be too pessimistic—people, I know, have become cynical—about United States-Soviet agreement. It is overwhelmingly in the interests of both superpowers to avoid an unlimited nuclear arms race. SALT I was signed and ratified. SALT II was signed and ratified by the Soviet Union; I believe that it would have been ratified by the United States had it not been for the invasion of Afghanistan.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
My right hon. Friend is dealing with a subject that I had hoped to hear more about, so I am listening carefully. I cannot accept his last point. SALT II was withdrawn from Congress before the Russian intervention in Afghanistan.
§ Mr. Jay
There is a good deal of evidence from Washington—although it cannot, of course, be absolutely proved—that SALT II would have been ratified had it not been for the invasion.
I do not believe, however, that anything would be achieved by this country dismantling its small nuclear 1088 forces until real reductions by the super-powers were under way. It would merely weaken our ultimate defences. Those who believe that it would have an influence on the Soviet Union do not live in the real world.
The frailty of the unilateralist argument can be demonstrated b31 asking one question: how would Britain respond in the last resort to nuclear blackmail by the Soviet Union? Only three options would be open. The first would be to capitulate, the second to rely on the United States deterrent and the third to rely on a deterrent of our own. It would greatly enhance my respect for the clarity of thought of the unilateralists if they explained which of these they proposed to adopt.
In any probable or foreseeable circumstances Britain would in fact rely on the United States and NATO. But we cannot be absolutely certain that that will remain true throughout the next 25 or 30 years. As has been said today, there are still isolationist forces in the United States. I say to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) that we should not take the United States too much for granted. On balance, therefore, in order not to be wholly dependent on the United States we should in my view retain for a time an independent deterrent.
Here the lessons of the Falklands campaign are highly relevant. First and foremost, it proved yet again that in all probable circumstances the prime necessity for British defence and indeed for much of our foreign policy is close and practical relations with the United States, however much from time to time we may disagree with them. Without United States diplomatic and material help, we could not have succeeded so completely and quickly in the Falklands campaign.
There are other lessons. We are much more likely to avoid nuclear war if we possess credible conventional defences. And despite the White Paper's almost complete silence on the Falklands campaign, I am still not convinced that the Minister's threatened naval cuts would do other than excessively weaken our conventional naval forces. The task force could not have succeeded without "Fearless" and "Intrepid". Fortunately, the Minister reprieved them before the task force sailed. He then admitted that his original decision was wrong. Neither could the force have succeeded without "Invincible" and "Hermes". Those who 15 or 20 years ago wanted to scrap virtually all carriers have also been proved wrong. I thought that the Minister might really have announced today that "Invincible" would definitely be retained and not sold to Australia. Neither could success have been achieved without a number of frigates and destroyers. Had General Galtieri waited another two years, and the Minister's policies been continued, he would probably have won.
Last year's White Paper and defence debate revealed that the Minister proposed to reduce the total of destroyers and frigates declared to NATO from 56 to 42. Allowing for the loss of frigates and destroyers in the South Atlantic, and for some frigates brought out of reserve during the campaign, what is the present total corresponding to the proposed 42 escort vessels, and how many will he in service in the middle of the decade? I gathered today that a number of the lost Harriers are to be replaced, along with one type 22 frigate. But the Secretary of State did not make it clear whether other losses of surface vessels are to be restored.
The right hon. Gentleman is of course right to say that the main threat to this country comes from the Soviet 1089 Union and particularly from its navy—the first hostile navy more powerful than our own that we have faced for several centuries. But we cannot be effectively defended against the Soviet threat without Atlantic convoys. Some say that convoys may not be necessary in the next war because any future war would be over in a few days. I am not convinced of that, and it is certainly not the view of the White Paper which states:the NATO Allies are dependent on the free use of the seaand that the United Kingdom has tocontain the initial Soviet threat to reinforcement and re-supply shipping.Presumably that will involve convoys. How can we ensure that without sufficient escort vessels? The White Paper does not answer that question, which is also asked today by the General Council of British Shipping, which expresses concern about the lack of convoy protection that seems to be planned.
Convoys can be attacked from the air, and were so attacked in the Second World War, as well as from submarines. Submarines, even nuclear-powered submarines, cannot protect ships from air attack; nor, in most cases, can aircraft. Surely convoys, at least when they are outside the range of shore-based aircraft, can be reliably defended against air attack only if they are supported by properly equipped escort vessels.
Some argue after the Falklands campaign that nearly all surface vessels are too vulnerable to air attack, but could not the real lesson of the campaign be that escort vessels ought to be more effectively armed against air attack, particularly against Exocet missiles, instead of being reduced to a smaller number?
In a notable letter to The Times on 23 June, Lord Carver maintained that the task force was lucky not to have suffered greater damage and he implied that surface vessels were exceedingly vulnerable. No doubt that was true of some of our vessels, given the way in which they were armed, but I noted that on the same day that Lord Carver's letter appeared in The Times there was a report in the Financial Times that the Government are purchasing from the United States Defence Department a weapon known as the Phalanx gun, which, according to the Financial Times, United States naval officials believe would have protected our warships against Exocet missiles.
Is that report true? Are we making those purchases and do the Government believe that the Phalanx or indeed the Sea Wolf are an effective defence? If so, might it not be wiser to have more, if perhaps smaller, escort vessels effectively equipped against modern weapons?
Some will say that we cannot afford all that. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) appeared to be influenced by that argument. But I believe that it is less true than some may believe. Our resources of industrial capacity and manpower are at present not overstretched, but underused, particularly in the defence industries and notably in shipbuilding, aircraft production, engineering, steel and the dockyards.
As a matter of economic policy, a period of underused capacity should be an opportunity to strengthen our defences, just as much as an opportunity to invest more in, say, housing, railway electrification and many other projects. We can afford what we have the capacity to produce.
1090 To argue that the use of surplus productive capacity should be limited by an arbitrarily selected money figure is economic nonsense. And to apply that argument to defence is to risk sacrificing the future security of the nation to what is not much more than an economic superstition.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). I was formerly his parliamentary neighbour and I am delighted to reiterate his remarks about those who fought in the Falkland Islands campaign, both civilians and military, and to pay tribute to them.
Some of our forces have had heavy casualties. My regiment, the Blues and Royals, was lucky, but others, including the Welsh Guards and the Navy, had heavy casualties. All paid a heavy price for freedom, and I endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about them.
I am also glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the necessity of retaining our nuclear deterrent. We are talking about strategy and not tactics, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was right to produce the White Paper and to add his statement to it.
The right course for us to pursue is to find out the faults and mistakes that occurred during the Falklands campaign and, in the light of that knowledge, to have a constructive debate on the issues involved and on future policy. It is also vital that a full investigation be made, not only of the recent events in the Falklands, but of what happened in previous years, so that we can get a comprehensive picture of what took place.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need an inquiry into the events of the past few months that led up to the blunders that were made before the invasion? It would be possible to have a long-term inquiry into out relationship with Argentina and the position of the Falkland Islands, but it is important to have an interim report to find out what went wrong with our intelligence and in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence before the invasion. No one in the Government seemed to know anything about it a week before the event.
§ Dr. Glyn
Surely it is no use looking at the past six weeks. If we wish to establish the facts, we need a longterm investigation to discover what led up to the final events. I am sure that the right way to proceed is for us to have a thorough investigation by Privy Councillors, who will have access to the secrets and be able to judge what happened and what mistakes were made, whether by Ministers, Foreign Office officials, intelligence sources or anyone else. That must take time, but it is the right way to get the full picture that we require.
I was impressed by what my right hon. Friend had to say about the security of the United Kingdom resting on the maintenance of a credible nuclear strategy and the retention of our conventional forces in the West. I believe, however, that a contribution should be made by other NATO countries in Europe. We are, after all, supplying defence for Europe.
Our most difficult task is perhaps to defend areas such as the Falkland Islands and various small possessions in other parts of the world. There is no question but that the Falklands campaign was a success. One of the reasons for that success was that our nuclear umbrella enabled us to 1091 take components of our Armed Forces from various parts of the world to mount what was a superb operation, in the knowledge that the Soviets could not mount an attack upon us.
The real danger is the Soviet Union. This makes Trident 5 and the maintenance of the Chevaline programme of considerable importance until some agreement can be reached between the Allies and the Soviet Union on strategic missiles. Whatever the amount taken from the Trident programme to be spent on our conventional forces, we would never be able to match the conventional forces of the Soviet Union and its allies. We should never allow ourselves to be put at a disadvantage in peace negotiations. The Siberian pipeline was mentioned earlier today. This is a worry. It means that Europe could find itself dependent upon Soviet energy.
It is clear that defence replacements, because of great advances in technology, will be extremely expensive. I am one of those who believe that the defence of our country is so important that cost should be a secondary consideration.
I turn to the future of the Warsaw Pact. While the Poles, the East Germans and the Afghans may not be prepared to fight on their own fronts, there is nothing to prevent their being moved, as we have seen with the Soviets, to other theatres of war. It must also be borne in mind that the ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union—Cossacks, Tartars and so on—who are increasing rapidly, are not so keen, I understand, about the Soviet plan for world domination. I should, however, warn the House that unless we have superiority or until we reach an agreement that is viable, we cannot rely on that fact to protect us.
Russia continues to increase its conventional forces, especially its navy. I am certain that if we can retain nuclear superiority for another 30 years there will not be another war. We have also to meet the expense of retaining our forces in NATO, although this does not prevent our allies from helping in the cost. If we can retain nuclear superiority until a proper arrangement on supervision can be reached between ourselves and the Soviet Union on such arms and all other forces, I am certain that this country can play a major part not only in defence of the West but in the preservation of peace in the world.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Dr. John Gilbert (Dudley, East)
I should like to add my modest contribution to the applause accorded by both sides of the House to the performance of the Services in the Falkland Islands in the appalling conditions with which they had to contend. The men finally involved in the fighting had been at sea for many weeks in stormy seas living in cramped conditions. They can hardly have been at their best to undertake a fight on land. The conditions in which they had to fight—snow, hail, wind, rain, and the cold—would have made most of hesitate to go out for an afternoon stroll, let alone march for many days over mountains to fight what for all they knew would be a well-armed and determined enemy.
It is also fair to say that we had a great deal of good fortune. We were on the knife-edge of disaster. The Secretary of State told the Defence Committee only a few days ago that no fewer than six of our ships were hit by bombs or missiles—he was not sure which—that had failed to explode. When one considers the catastrophic 1092 results when ships were hit by missiles that exploded, we are very lucky that many more of our ships and their brave men did not go to the bottom.
As this is a debate, I should like to take up a couple of debating points before considering the White Paper. Unfortunately, neither Conservative protagonist is now in the Chamber, but I was interested to hear the exchanges between the hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) and for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). I wish that I shared the optimism of the hon. Member for Sutton that any gap occurring in our defences would be filled automatically by some mysterious process of osmosis. If that was the case, we could, I suppose, disband all our Services. The same argument applies to gaps in the Navy, but, unfortunately, I do not share the hon. Gentleman's confidence.
In that mini-debate I take my stand four-square behind the hon. Member for Aldershot. The effect on NATO would be nothing short of catastrophic if we were drastically to reduce our armed presence in Western Europe. Our own security would also be affected. Our troops in NATO, like the American troops defending the United States' interests far to the east of the United States, are defending our security far to the east of our own shores.
I should like to correct some remarks of the hon. Member for Sutton in his absence. According to my understanding, the treaty that binds us to keep our Army at a certain level in Western Europe was necessary to mollify General de Gaulle. The Army was already there as part of our security. The treaty was superimposed on an existing situation in order to give the General the satisfaction that he sought.
At the risk of getting into great trouble with my own side of the House and also causing the Secretary of State considerable embarrassment, I should like to say that the general thrust of the White Paper and the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman on previous occasions have my support, with one major exception. The right hon. Gentleman is right to maintain the emphasis on the air defence of this country and on our Western European presence.
I know that in saying this I lose the support of many of my hon. Friends, but if the Secretary of State has to cut conventional forces, the cuts must be in our conventional surface fleet capability. As the Secretary of State said on a previous occasion, there will be no convoys in the next war. I know that my right hon. Friends, to whom I normally give way on these matters, dissent, but, given the attrition rates, the estimated ammunition consumption in Western Europe, and the level of war stocks in NATO, we cannot sustain a major conventional war in Western Europe for the period required for a convoy to be assembled and to make its way across the Atlantic.
§ Dr. Gilbert
It is the view taken by the Secretary of State in a previous speech from the Dispatch Box. Although I do not remember his exact words, I can clearly recall him saying that the days of convoys were over. I assume that the Minister was referring to transatlantic convoys.
§ Dr. Gilbert
When I had responsibility for defence matters, in a junior capacity, one of the most extraordinary paradoxes I found at the Ministry of Defence was that the Navy was planning to fight a war about six times as long as the Army or the Air Force could possibly sustain it. I am glad to have the Secretary of State's confirmation of the position.
The fatal flaw in the White Paper is the Trident decision. I indict the Secretary of State for his refusal to disclose to the House the true opportunity cost of the Trident and the alternative weapons systems that he rejected in favour of Trident. His reason for refusing to give this information is that he would have Trident anyway. However, he has never put a ceiling on the price he is prepared to pay for Trident. There must be a ceiling because I am certain that that programme will escalate appreciably in cost, in real terms, before we are through.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
When the right hon. Gentleman was part of the decision to continue with Chevaline, did he put a financial ceiling on that?
§ Dr. Gilbert
I had far too modest a position at the Ministry of Defence to have any involvement in decisions on Chevaline. Those decisions were taken far above my level.
As the hon. Member for Aldershot said, the Falkland Islands were a one-off case. There are few strategic—I emphasise, strategic—lessons to be learned from that conflict that are relevant to the North Atlantic. There is a crucial difference arising from the presence of land-based air power in the areas of the North Atlantic with which we are concerned.
Nor are there any lessons to be learned on defence for our other imperial relics. I have scanned the globe and I see Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Belize, and a handful of islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. None of those places stands anything like on all fours with the Falklands.
The Chinese are due to have the sovereignty of Hong Kong returned in a few years. If they anticipate that date by mounting a massive invasion, does anyone seriously think that we will send a task force to throw 1,000 million Chinese back? Of course not. Would the Spanish Government seek to invade Gibraltar? There is not the slightest sign that they have any intention of doing that. They are a civilised Government who, as far as I can see, intend to resolve their difficulties by negotiation rather than by force. Spain has a land border with Gibraltar. With modern weapons Gibraltar would become totally untenable. However, I do not believe that such a situation would arise.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I have already given way twice and although, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I am normally very generous in giving way, I shall not do so on this occasion.
1094 Belize is now a sovereign State. If Guatemala sought to invade Belize there would be considerable pressure from other Central and South American States. We would not be defending that territory alone.
I turn now to the arguments for having a naval ability to police other parts of the world and to deploy our ships far from home—I think it is referred to as "out-of-area capability". One need only look at the problems that might be involved in the rapid deployment force which is, I understand, supposed to protect our oil supplies from the Middle East to Western Europe.
If we safeguard the sea lanes around the Cape, we must protect the Strait of Hormuz. If we enforce a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz, we must protect the refineries in the Gulf. If we protect the refineries in the Gulf, we must stop people blowing up the pipelines and pumping stations. If we are to protect them, we must also be able to secure the oil wells. Every link in the chain must be protected if oil supplies are to be safeguarded against a determined opponent. The inexorable logic of that is that we would be forced to try to occupy large areas of sovereign Middle Eastern States. That idea is clearly preposterous.
§ Mr. James Callaghan
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that there have been two frigates in the Gulf, and two outside it, during the whole period of the Iraq-Iran war? Was that not an important symbol to the contestants in that war that any interference with British shipping and tankers moving through the Gulf would meet with reprisals? Why does my right hon. Friend think it necessary to go through the whole of his reductio ad absurdum when we can have a deterrent at much less cost?
§ Dr. Gilbert
I am attracting some heavyweight opposition this afternoon. I am obliged to my right hon. Friend, because I was coming to that point. I am aware that we have a small force of frigates in the Gulf and that we have had Service men in Oman for many years. I am also aware of the value of a small-scale deterrent against, say, an unstable adventurous power such as Iraq, or possibly the Iranians. However, I am referring to a major conflict which might involve us with the Soviet Union in an adventurous phase under a new leadership. If the Soviet Union, with its considerable capability for stirring up political trouble in the Middle East, was determined—I do not think it is—to strangle the West by cutting off oil supplies, a couple of frigates outside the Strait of Hormuz would not amount to much of a deterrent. The frigates would be irrelevant if the pipelines or oil wells had been blown up. Russian forces would not need to act against the frigates in a hostile way.
§ Dr. Gilbert
I accept that they are relevant now, but I am talking about a major confrontation. All we have in the Gulf is a couple of frigates, but there is no suggestion of an intended attack, or even the threat of an attack, on the oil installations in order to deny the West its vital oil supplies.
I turn to a more cheerful matter—the start of the negotiations on arms reduction. What recommendations, if any, have the Government made to the American negotiators? We must be clear what we need from the negotiations. When one starts from the position that both NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries can destroy each other many times over with their existing warhead stocks, 1095 even a mutual reduction of 50 per cent. will not greatly enhance security, because each side will still be capable of destroying the other. However, at least a start will have been made.
I welcome the American Government's initiative and it is clear that a radically new approach is needed. After SALT I in the 1970s, the Soviet Union deployed three new ICBMs, three new submarines with ICBM systems and outspent the United States of America by about $100 billion on strategic systems during that decade. After SALT II, about which I was not enthusiastic, although it has been observed if not ratified by both parties, the emphasis changed to increases in the warheads that the sides could muster. SALT II did not prevent either side from increasing its nuclear capability in precisely the way that it wished. I hope that the new negotiations, which are a major attempt to reduce the warheads, will be successful.
Modest reductions in nuclear capability will produce useful savings in defence budgets, but to obtain appreciable increases in security we must have a dramatic reduction in warheads. For example, if the Soviet Union has just 100 SS20 missiles with 300 warheads, plus a reload capability of another 300, it could attack 600 high-value targets in Western Europe. I understand that the present American Administration carried out a study and discovered that we do not have 600 high-value targets in Europe. The number of targets, the survival of which is crucial to the West's capacity to continue to wage war in the event of a major exchange between East and West in Central Europe, is well below 600. We must reduce the number of SS20s to a very low level before there is an appreciable enhancement of security.
To have useful negotiations we must have incentives. That is why I support the continued intention of America to introduce improved Pershing 2s and cruise missile systems to Western Europe as an incentive to negotiations on the reduction of the intermediate nuclear force. I hope that we can achieve a zero option. However, we must recognise that our security should be founded not against but with our potential opponents.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
Does my hon. Friend agree that one element of instability in the present position is the fact that NATO is prepared to respond to a conventional Soviet attack with nuclear weapons and that it is likely that NATO must use nuclear weapons fairly early during such an attack?
§ Dr. Gilbert
If my hon. Friend is asking me to subscribe to the "no first use" doctrine, I should find it difficult, but if the Soviet Union says that it will subscribe to such a doctrine, that statement is useless, unverifiable and unenforceable and has no significance in arms control negotiations.
We are in danger in Western Europe of becoming hypnotised by nuclear weapons and by attitudes across the European divide. The danger to all of us is far greater from conventional wars fought up to now outside the territories—
§ Dr. Gilbert
We must attempt to reduce conventional as well as nuclear weapons.
I turn now to the influence of the arms salesmen of the West. The Alliance must think seriously about our international arms sales policies. I hope that we can try to 1096 obtain international agreement on reducing arms sales both area by area and weapon system by weapon system. Unfortunately, however, the problem is not being tackled in the major capitals in the Western Alliance. The trade is overwhelmingly concentrated in a few hands, and it should not be too difficult to obtain an agreement in principle. I hope that the Government will take the initiative on that, because conventional wars have caused millions of casualties and enormous suffering since 1945, added hugely to the poverty of less developed Western countries and reduced our security. I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will tell us that the Government will at least consider that proposal as a means of enhancing world security.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
This defence debate, following the White Paper, comes at an especially opportune moment because it is the first time that the House is able, as was my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his opening speech, to put the Falklands crisis into the perspective of the entire defence scene. During the weeks and months that it continued, it was traumatic and tragic for us, and people could consider nothing but the immediate consequences of what was happening and the immediate assessments of what our troops, performing magnificently as they did, and our other Services could achieve. Of course there was great sadness at the damage and loss of life.
However, history will consider the matter in the perspective in which we are beginning to consider it, in terms of the overall defence, not just of our posture but of that of the West, as a serious and tragic incident of which there have been many since the previous global conflict. It is tragic that we have suffered such losses, but again they must be put in perspective. The loss of ships was unique since the Second World War, and unique measures must and will be taken to put matters right.
If we try to put the loss of aircraft into perspective we must turn to page 53 of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" where we find that, in 1981, 32 aircraft were lost or seriously damaged—22 being fixed wing aircraft and 10 helicopters—as opposed to the seven Harriers that were lost in the Falklands. The moral is that we must put the lessons that will be learned in the coming months about what happened in the Falklands into the perspective of what happens day in and day out, year in and year out, with our Services and the purpose of our strategic balance of forces. To over-concentrate our minds on what happened in the South Atlantic would be detrimental to the defence debate as a whole, just as it is detrimental for several hon. Members—doubtless there will be several more—to raise again, in the context of what has happened, the Trident argument.
There are those who are saying that now we have had the Falklands experience we are mad to proceed with Trident. That does not change the argument one iota. The arguments in favour of proceeding with a strategic deterrent were, to a certain extent, balanced. There were sound arguments against and there were, in my view, far sounder arguments in favour when that decision was taken. What happened in the South Atlantic in the past months has nothing to do with that argument. It was discussed fully in the House on several occasions last year. There was an overwhelming majority in support of the 1097 decision to proceed with Trident, and there is no point in raising that argument again and hanging it on the losses that have happened because of the Falklands operations.
The question of the contingency fund and the Defence Vote has been raised before. The Secretary of State came to the Select Committee last week straight after the publication of the White Paper, and we were grateful for that. I asked him about the reports that had appeared concerning the guarantees that all of the bill for the Falklands operation, actual and to come, would be picked up by the Treasury.
I put it to the Secretary of State that it is not just a question of the cost of replacing the ammunition that was expended, the fuel that was used, and all the other short-term operating costs that the Treasury have agreed to find. No doubt it will find them because they are the sort of costs that come up quickly, and that guarantee could not be wriggled out of. However, I put it to the Secretary of State that we are not talking about this year specifically, or next year but, to a great extent, about extra costs in which the operation will involve the Ministry of Defence for the next four, five, six, maybe even eight or nine years, until we have fully recovered and fully replaced in service those ships that were lost.
I asked the Secretary of State how copper-bottomed he thought the Treasury guarantee would be. He answered me, slightly wryly, "As copper bottomed as any promise ever is from the Treasury." There is one thing on which I am sure none of my hon. Friends will dissent. That is that we must all see that the Treasury is not allowed to wriggle out of any part of that guarantee which has been given and repeated in the House.
The Treasury will not do so this year. It will try next year and in the year after that it will say "Well now, could you not absorb some of the budget, it is really only a small percentage?"
§ Mr. Mates
I know that the right hon. Gentleman was in the Treasury, and I am sure that he is very good at wriggling out of guarantees. If by any mischance he should ever return there I promise that I shall attack him just as hard, if he tries to wriggle his Department out of this guarantee, as I and many of my hon. Friends will attack about the guarantee that we have had, and which we must hang on to like grim death.
I wish to refer to the leader in The Times referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). We do not know who writes these leaders, but if it was the gentleman whose name was mentioned, it was a peculiarly imperceptive effort on his part, with only half an argument, not very convincingly put. It is important when looking at defence priorities in the context of the White Paper and our overall defence effort, that we try to help our Ministers do their most difficult task—strike the right balance between the various needs and the various theatres of operation and with that go the various Services.
The Times heads the leaderToo Much On The Rhineand goes on to argue that the Army there should be reduced. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) is not with us, but the proposition that we disband the British Army of the Rhine and send it back to civilian life, is too ludicrous to stand 1098 examination. Not only would there be the military effect of a gap that would be almost impossible to fill but the influence that we have in NATO because of our contribution in land forces in Central Europe would go.
We should no longer have the command of the Northern Army and probably would not be allowed to retain the command of Allied forces in the northern region. We should lose the post of deputy SACEUR. All of these key military appointments that we hold by virtue of the effort and the commitment that we make to NATO would be gone, and we should have no say in many of the crucial decisions that are taken year in and year out about the balance of forces in NATO and the priorities between various fronts. We are able to have our national interests safeguarded in the NATO context. Therefore, for that reason alone, it would be very difficult to think of any substantial reduction of the British Army of the Rhine.
The Times leader challenges my right hon. Friend to explain why he did not fully examine the financial consequences of a military alternative to his programme by saving on the cost of our peace-time commitment to maintain force levels in Germany. That is exactly what my right hon. Friend spelt out clearly in last year's defence debates. He said how carefully he had examined it, and that he thought there was money to be saved. There was quite an attractive option of making some reduction in the teeth of the British Army of the Rhine. He and his advisers, and I do not dissent from this in any way, having had a little experience in this matter, said that there would be very little, if any, savings and there might even be greater costs.
If one wishes to dissent from that, one only has to look at the parlous state in which we find ourselves as a nation in providing facilities and accommodation in this country for our forces. For some seven or eight years we have had to send our armoured units to Canada to train. There is nowhere in the British Isles where we can carry out the sort of training that is carried out, albeit with increasing difficulty, in West Germany.
If the proposition was that we should bring a division or part of a division back to this country we should simply be building up problem on problem, and the savings in finance would be hardly any, but the efficiency and the effectiveness of that regular force would be severely impaired and we should be far worse off in the end, with no financial advantage to be gained.
The one point on which I agree with The Times leader is where it says that the cost of education, health and housing for the Service families in Germany is at least £450 million a year and that that would not fall on the defence budget if those troops were stationed in Britain. This is an argument that has been rehearsed before, but it has not been pressed hard enough. If it would not fall on the defence budget if the families were stationed in the United Kingdom, why on earth does it fall on the defence budget when they are stationed in Germany? It is still the health, welfare and education of women and children citizens of this country. They should fall fairly and squarely on the health, education and welfare Departments of State in this country and not be put at a cost of a defence budget that is already overstretched in attempting to defend this country.
The last point that I wish to make about the Central European theme is to pick up what the Secretary of State said about the air forces in Europe and about the 1099 difficulties that hon. Members have often expressed about any sort of advance in standardisation on weapons and equipment.
There are 12 British squadrons in the Second Allied Tactical Air Force helping it to play its part in the defence of the central front. In addition, as I understand it, there are American and German air forces dedicated to protecting our part of the central front. We have three national air forces providing the protection and the forward attack capability of the Northern Army group and, roughly speaking, most of the British Army of the Rhine.
There are seven, eight or nine different types of aircraft and an integrated international headquarters and control system. It is here, since, for very sound reasons, we are struggling so hard to achieve some standardisation, that we could take a radical look at changes that would involve rationalisation of tasks rather than standardisation of the equipment.
If that one job, the protection of the British Army of the Rhine, could be done by one air force, with one or two types of aircraft, as opposed to seven or eight, the savings in research and development, production, and short runs, would be enormous. Of course, if we could work out among the NATO nations some way of rationalising the task, we would not be going through the agonies about the naval reductions.
Clearly, it would make much more sense for us to play a greater part in the naval contribution to NATO, and not take part in a NATO fleet which has 100 different types of ships, of frigate size and above. There are 100 different types of ships in the NATO sea chain of command from all the nations who are contributing to it. Here again, the waste in research and development, weapons of different types—non-standardised, not even harmonious with one another—is a fantastic waste of resources which could be rationalised, and the net result would be far greater efficiency.
So, having gone down the standardisation road for many years and got hardly anywhere at all, because of national defence reasons, we should look at a much more fundamental way of rationalising the different tasks that each nation performs as its contribution to NATO. Of course there will be difficulties. We would be putting our faith in the German air force, or perhaps the American air force, to defend our troops. On the other hand, we would be able to concentrate far more on the air defence of this country, which is lamentably weak.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
Does my hon. Friend understand that part of the Royal Air Force's commitment in Western Europe is the air defence of the United Kingdom? It is not there just to defend the troops. It is part of the forward positioning of the Royal Air Force squadrons in the defence of the air space of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Mates
Yes. I am suggesting that, instead of having to split that responsibility because we have always done it on a national basis, we should look at doing it another way. It is a suggestion which, I believe, stands up to quite an amount of examination.
The last point that I want to make is perhaps the most important of all for our domestic debates. We have changed the structure of our home defence organisation over the years, painfully, to try to get away from the perpetual inter-Service rivalries. We have strengthened the 1100 central function of the staffs of the Ministry of Defence. My right hon. Friend has taken another step on this road in the last year or so, with the centralising of some of the power and authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff. Alas, as we are painfully moving that way within the defence organisation itself, it seems that somehow in this House of Commons we are moving the other way, and we are getting Navy lobbies, Army lobbies and Air Force lobbies. Certain right hon. and hon. Members are putting blinkers on and saying, "Whatever you do, you must not cut the surface fleet. I do not mind what happens to the Army. I do not mind what happens to the Air Force." As we are moving away from that thinking in the whole of the Government organisation—for example, by doing away with the Service Ministers, we are trying to concentrate functions so that we get a unity of purpose—I believe that it would be helpful if we could get a unity of purpose, in this House over the whole of the defence debate and the priorities that we have to work out so painfully.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett (Wallsend)
It is a coincidence that this is 1 July, and 1 July 1916 was the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 67 years ago. It was a battle that lasted three months, and the carnage and horror of that battle resulted in the death of the flower of the European armies and some of the armies of the Commonwealth. Today, we are having another inquest—into what happened in the Falklands.
The horrors of the First World War have been reflected ever since in the command and thinking of the British Armed Forces and in the armed forces of Western Europe, with the possible exception of the armed forces of the Soviet Union, where men were regarded as cannon fodder. Since then the need to conserve life has been paramount, as we saw during the Second World War. We see here today the sons, and possibly grandsons, of those who died so that we could have the right to speak on this subject.
It is an indication of our domestic structure that we can speak on defence matters. I wonder whether the people of Argentina, if they had had a say in the policy and conduct of the men in their Services, would have become involved in the conflict with the same enthusiasm as they displayed in the early stages of the campaign. The answer is "No." They would have seen that their services, with the honourable exception of the Argentine air force, were ill-equipped to conduct the campaign in the Falklands. We are lucky that we live in a democracy and can debate these issues.
I pay tribute to the Armed Forces. I take no credit away from the Royal Marines, the Parachute Regiment or the Welsh Guards, but I am amazed that no one in the higher echelons of Government has mentioned the role of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, the Royal Corps of Transport, the Army Service Corps, the Royal Signals, and the whole logistic back-up that makes the success of the men at the front much more likely. I was amazed at the speed and efficiency with which the force was assembled and departed from our shores. I pay tribute to those who, although they did not necessarily carry the weapons that shoot to kill, are equipped to kill when it is necessary and did the work that made the success possible.
I was interested to hear what the Secretary of State said about replacing ships, because I represent a Wallsend constituency which has a long tradition of shipbuilding. When HMS "York" was launched last Monday, a berth 1101 became available for another ship to be built. Unfortunately, I heard nothing in the Minister's statement today about an early contract, and, being parochial, I should have preferred the Yarrow order to come to the Tyne. However, I wish the people well who are to build the ship on the Clyde.
I note that there are to be orders for T23s, on the basis of three per year. I am sure that the management of the Swan Hunter division of British Shipbuilders will have noted that statement and that the design teams will be assembled by the Admiralty when the work is ready.
Many of the ships will be in a bad state after their long voyage and will need major refits. I want the Minister to know that we on the Tyne have a remarkable record for refitting. We can refit ships more quickly and better and get them back into service much more efficiently than the naval dockyards. I know that I am now likely to receive some abusive letters from the men employed in the naval dockyards, but the records are there to be seen, and the record of the Tyne is superior to any.
I want to say a word about the role of the Territorial Army. I am pleased that the Secretary of State is supporting it. Much of the report is obsolete, because the new infantry brigade which is to be designated in the North-East has already formed in York. Its headquarters have been set up, and it has already been given its brigade crest. It will be a brigade composed principally of infantry units. It is a good area in which to place such a brigade, because, as the House will be aware, the North and the North-East are eminently suited to recruitment to the Armed Forces, particularly the Army.
I am always impressed by the dedication and efficiency of the men of the Territorial Army. The new recruits that are being obtained in ever-increasing numbers are often men who have already served in the Regular Army and who are therefore well-equipped and able to fulfil their part-time role. The TA is becoming more and more efficient and effective. If ever the taxpayer had value for money, it is in these units.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) developed a good argument for unilateralism. I was convinced by the logic of his argument and I support him. I should like it to be known that I have never been a unilateralist. I have always recognised the need to defend the nation. I am proud that most of our nation is prepared to recognise that freedom must be paid for.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans
There is a misconception about those who believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament. They are prepared to have armed forces for the defence of the country. However, they suggest that in the present nuclear situation Britain could do that by abandoning its independent nuclear programme. Like Canada, we would have a defence force but we would not be involved in the production of nuclear weapons and their use.
§ Mr. Garrett
There is no basic disagreement between us on that point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) emphasised that in his speech.
Our nation is lucky to have professional Armed Forces. The men who went to the Falkland Islands justified the faith that we had in them by doing their best so that we could enjoy the freedom of democracy which we value highly.
1102 The House has the honour to vote on the Defence Estimates. I hope that they will be accepted and that the money will be used in the nation's best interests.
§ Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) has just said, particularly about the excellent work that was done on the Tyne on ship repair and construction. I shall not enter into the argument about whether the royal dockyards are better than Smith's Dock Co. Ltd. or Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd. That would be wrong and I would upset somebody, one way or another.
Much has happened in the past year. The Secretary of State's speech today was different both in tone and content from the speech that he made a year ago when he opened the defence debate.
I join all those who have paid tribute to the forces that went to the Falkland Islands. I was particularly pleased that my right hon. Friend mentioned the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service and Royal Fleet Auxiliary. It could be argued that they are technically part of the Merchant Navy, but they have been rather left out of the tributes that have been paid. They have done a fantastic job. It is not much fun taking thousands of gallons of kerosene or bombs in the ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary to keep the forces supplied. I pay special tribute to them.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) that there are still many lessons to be learnt. My right hon. Friend is right to send a team to make a proper evaluation. However, with the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, I believe that we can start to draw some conclusions.
First, we must have the closest possible co-operation with the British Merchant Navy in emergencies, whether in the Falkland Islands or elsewhere. We have already learnt that a great deal can be done in a hurry with the appropriate dockyard facilities.
Secondly, the Falklands dispute has shown that where submarine, surface ships, helicopter and fixed-wing aeroplanes work closely together, with good command and control, a great deal can be done, notwithstanding that we were outnumbered in the air by a ratio of up to 10 or 15 to one. That has not been mentioned today, but it is no mean achievement and it should be emphasised. A great deal of our excellent aircraft superiority in the interception of the Argentine air force was due to the good command and control by "Hermes", "Invincible" and the other surface ships.
Thirdly, we must learn—as the Israelis have learnt—that it is vital to keep bang up to date with electronic counter-measures. That is true at any time, but it is particularly true when one deals with missiles of the Exocet variety. I do not believe that Exocets or sea-skimming missiles are the last word and make surface ships obsolete. That is tendentious nonsense. However, one must have the appropriate kit in a ship to provide the appropriate information and it must be used at the right time.
As my right hon. Friend said, appropriate information means organic airborne early-warning radar so that an aircraft can be seen a long way away and be intercepted before a missile is launched. That is the best way to deal with the problem. However, if that cannot be done, at least one has more than a few seconds warning of the missile that is coming towards one. The reason why the fleet does 1103 not have airborne early warning radar goes back about 16 years to the 1966 defence review. However, I do not wish to be diverted to that at the moment.
With the best will in the world, one cannot rely on any other service or nation. The fleet must have its own airborne early warning organic capability in helicopters, along the lines described by my right hon. Friend, so that they can be carried down in quite small ships such as the Castle class corvette, which can operate Sea King helicopters.
There has been some fairly hysterical wild talk about the construction of ships. Let us get at the facts before people start talking, for example, about all the aluminium in the type 42 ships when, in fact, there is little. Many factors arise. We should remember that because of the discipline, the damage control and the modern construction of ships, the casualties were light, even in the ships that were sunk, though obviously every casualty was one too many.
By contrast, during the last war, if a destroyer went down one lost 80 to 100 people. A boiler explosion would kill 20 to 30 people in that area and a similar number in the engine room. The modern gas turbine ship has only two to three people in the engine room. That is one of the reasons why the casualties were remarkably small, even in the ships that were lost. One of the early lessons is that in future we must not have ships designed by the Treasury. That is extremely important and I say no more at this stage.
I agree with my right hon. Friend and the White Paper about the role of defence generally. The first threat is from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries. However, I also put to my right hon. Friend and the House that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries can, and in different parts of the world do, operate through their surrogates. I am thinking of such countries as Cuba, Ethiopia, South Yemen, Socotra and Vietnam.
Why is it that over the last 27 years Gorshkov has not only built up the massive blue water fleet that we have heard about today, but has built up a world-wide string of naval bases, to which he has been adding at a fantastic rate each year? It is obviously not to provide some tropical Dacha for the privileged members of the Comintern. It is much more than that, because that is one way in which the Soviet miliary and political power can be used to probe in a flexible way.
The right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert), unlike the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) does not understand the use and flexibility of maritime power. In the Gulf of Oman we have been using our maritime power, together with that of our friends the Americans, the French and, from time to time, the Australians, to provide a discreet but visible presence to protect our ships when leaving the Persian Gulf. In the recent war between Iraq and Iran we could have taken action, if required. That is a classic example of the flexibility of maritime power without any need to shift large numbers of troops or aircraft.
Where will the threat come from? There has been talk today of the threat coming from the central front. The threat may come from there, I do not know. The threat may come from Europe's southern flank, on the Mediterranean, from the Indian Ocean or from the Pacific. One area that has always worried me is the northern flank of Norway. Hon. Members need only consider the globe to see Norway's strategic importance and how easy it would be for the Soviets to mount an attack. What about 1104 the trade routes round the Cape, which are so important to Britain and Western Europe? Those routes are important because many of the large troop carriers and supertankers have to go that way, because they are too big for the Suez canal.
Wherever we may think the threat will come from, it is almost as sure as God made little green apples that it will come from somewhere else. We may not be able to match Gorshkov naval base for naval base or ship for ship but we should be able to provide the maritime flexible response that NATO has adopted as its own.
There is one factor that worries me, but that has not been given much prominence in our White Papers although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to it. I refer to merchant shipping. It is not fully appreciated that in the Soviet Union there is no more a commercial merchant ship than there is a commercial Trans-Siberian Railway. Such things are seen as an essential part of economic warfare. Their so-called commercial rates are sometimes deliberately designed to undercut Western rates. Their ships carry naval personnel, intelligence scanning equipment and communications equipment the like of which will never be seen on P & O, Sealink or any other ship in the merchant navies of the Western world.
Norway, the United States of America and all the Western merchant navies have been allowed to run down. That will have profound long-term economic and defence consequences. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union's merchant navy and the shipping fleets of the Warsaw Pact countries grow all the time. The Falkland Islands have demonstrated the lack of wisdom behind allowing our Merchant Fleet to drop below a certain minimum level.
If many of the areas in which the Soviet Union has naval bases are "out of area" and if they are beyond NATO limits—as they are geographically—we should take that into account and ask whether after 30 years, we should have a fresh look at NATO. Perhaps we should have a fresh look at the geographical limits and at the way in which we discharge our duties. What I am about to say has already been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), by my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) and by several other hon. Members. When the Foreign Secretary was Secretary of State for Defence at a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in December 1980 he put forward the concept of burden sharing in NATO. He said that NATO should consider whether each country should concentrate on doing what it did best. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister echoed those sentiments at the recent NATO summit conference.
There are great problems in trying to spread the jam too thinly. None of the NATO countries is so wealthy as to have an abundance of resources. When I was a Minister, I was told in Norway that 80 per cent. of Norway's procurement budget was being spent on purchasing the F16 aircraft. That did not leave much for its army or navy. Norway had its problems, and other examples can be found. Burden sharing will take time. However, Britain has a maritime tradition and great naval expertise. The Germans may have expertise in armour and the Dutch certainly have expertise in amphibious warfare and forces, but that does not mean that we should scrap the British Army on the Rhine or the Royal Air Force. However, it 1105 does mean that it should be possible to organise NATO more flexibly in the years until the end of the century than we have done in the past few years.
NATO was created after the war to meet a certain crisis and situation, but it seems to be ossifying itself whether through the process of arms standardisation, geographical area or as a result of the tasks that it is trying to do. It is now time to take a new initiative. I hope that the Minister will tell us the Government's view of burden sharing. We should pursue that concept and persuade our friends to pursue it if NATO is to keep abreast of the threat.
I welcome the Secretary of State's remarks about the type 23 frigate. It would appear that it will not be a Treasury-designed frigate and will be much more capable than appeared possible at one time. We are making considerable progress towards the objectives that I regard as the absolute minimum. I am not giving any order of priority, but I believe that the retention of HMS "Invincible" and of three aircraft carriers at all times is essential. I take comfort and heart from my right hon. Friend's remarks and from what the Prime Minister said some weeks ago. I have done my little bit by doing the occasional Australian television broadcast, telling the Australians why they should not buy HMS "Invincible", and I make no apology for that.
I have mentioned the lessons to be drawn from the Falkland Islands and said that it is important to keep our radar, electronic counter-measures and weapons up to date. In the press there has been much mention of Sea Wolf, which is a point defence missile system which will be shown to have proved itself in the Falkland Islands. It should be fitted to more and more of our ships, just as it is fitted to the batch 3 Leander frigates. There is a case for enhancing Sea Dart.
As the burgeoning threat, particularly from Warsaw Pact ships, grows, we must ensure that our ships are capable of meeting it. In a recent parliamentary answer I was told that of our existing destroyers and frigates, nearly all the type 21s, type 22s, and type 42s would remain in service until the turn of the century and that some of them would be in service after 2000 AD. It would be unthinkable if the ships were not modernised and were incapable of meeting a threat, whether that came from the Argentine, the Soviet Union or anywhere else.
I turn to the subject of the destroyer-frigate force. Six ships—not, as has been said, from the reserve fleet, but from the disposal list—have been refitted in Chatham. As the Minister was kind enough to tell me in his written answer, they are to be commissioned within the next few weeks.
We also heard the welcome news today that the "Glamorgan", "Fife" and "Bristol" will remain. I believe that we must go further. The disposals planned for Leander frigates and some of the remaining type 12 frigates should be cancelled so that we can keep a frigate-destroyer force of about 50 ships in operation. That is the minimum that will be required. It is a reduction from a year ago, but it is an increase on what my right hon. Friend planned, which was 42 ships. If HMS "Invincible" is modernised and we can achieve that frigate-destroyer level, we will have gone a long way.
§ Mr. W. E. Garrett
The hon. Gentleman is much more of an expert than I am on naval matters. Will he give his views on the role of "Fearless" and "Intrepid" and their future?
§ Mr. Speed
I am coming to that point. It looks as though we shall save "Invincible". We have saved "Endurance". "Fearless" and "Intrepid" have been saved. They are crucial not only for warfare but for the future of the Royal Marines. Of course, those ships are not in the first flush of youth. We should be planning their replacement now. Within four to five years we should be building their replacements so that in the 1990s we have the latest thinking in amphibious warfare ships. We have already had an element of modernisation, and therefore when I look at the ships that have been saved and the discussions that are taking place I become much more optimistic than I was even a few months ago, certainly a year ago. The Navy in the rest of the 1980s will be able to discharge its task both in and out of area.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with our minesweeping capacity? The White Paper shows that an enormous number of mines are available to the Soviet Union. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that we could deal with mines if they were suddenly laid all around our coastline?
§ Mr. Speed
I am not. However, to be fair to my right hon. Friend, neither is he. I am satisfied that we cannot go on building expensive Hunt class mine counter-measure vessels. They are excellent, but I accept that the resources are not there for them. I guess that the current price is about £30 million per copy. My right hon. Friend will tell me if I am wrong.
I have always believed that there are three levels of vessel. First, there is the sophisticated ship, such as the Hunt class, which is currently being built. Secondly, there is the single role mine hunter, which is being developed. It is about half the price of the Hunt class vessels. Thirdly, there is the cheaper, trawler-type minesweeper, specifically built for the Royal Naval Reserve to deal with mines. My right hon. Friend announced that tenders were being sought for such vessels. They are overdue. I have been pressing for them. The sooner we can get them, the better both for the RNR and to meet the threat. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) is correct.
At the moment it is perhaps forgotten that throughout NATO there are fewer minesweepers than in the Royal Navy in 1958, yet the threat from mines is appalling. I back 100 per cent. what my right hon. Friend is doing. The RNR sweepers are relatively cheap, yet the RNR will be well able to handle them. The sooner every division can be equipped with one, the better it will be.
With regard to the replacement of ships lost, I am sure that when my right hon. Friend announced that the ninth type 22 frigate was being ordered and that we were keeping on "Fife", "Glamorgan" and "Bristol", he did not in any way intend that as a replacement for the two type 21 and the two type 42 destroyers that were lost. I expect the two type 21 frigates and the two type 42 destroyers not to be replaced by two further type 21 and two further type 42 destroyers. There are no type 21 destroyers to replace them in any case. It would be crazy to do so. I do not believe that the type 42 destroyer is the right ship to replace them now. I appreciate that it is expensive, but there are strong industrial, commercial, military and 1107 defence reasons for going for four type 22 frigates to replace the two type 21 and two type 42 destroyers that we lost.
I accept what the right hon. Member for Battersea, North said, that it is not as though our shipyards and defence industry are overburdened. There is the capacity for work to be done. That will keep up the continuity for Yarrow and Vosper Thornycroft until the type 23 comes on stream at the end of the decade, I hope in good numbers. I believe that the first will not be fully operational until 1989–90. In the meantime, four type 22 destroyers to replace "Ardent", "Antelope", "Coventry" and "Sheffield" would make a significant contribution to the anti-submarine and frigate strength of the Royal Navy. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to make that announcement.
Everything that has been announced, and the general flavour and tenor of my right hon. Friend's remarks, do not lead me to believe that they have much to do with the White Paper that we are debating. The White Paper is out of date and does not contain many positive proposals. However, one proposal was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of which I am sharply critical. I have never suggested that dockyards exist merely to provide employment, agreeable though that might be to hon. Members who represent dockyard constituencies.
The yards exist to support the Fleet, to refit and to modernise. Refitting is necessary after the battle of the South Atlantic and we all insist upon the modernisation—whether with Sea Wolf or Sea Dart or whatever—of our existing ships. It is necessary to ensure that our new ships are kept up to date in the coming years to keep abreast of the threat.
All this cannot be done by Rosyth, Devonport and a small naval maintenance centre at Portsmouth. Even if Portsmouth is not to be brought back to its former glory, it must at least be restored to a significant dockyard level. Chatham is also needed. A significant quantity of surface work is still required, at which Chatham is particularly good.
In addition, I am profoundly worried about the SSN refitting programme if we lose the capability of the Chatham yard. Last year—this was not in the White Paper and it was not debated—a decision was made about "Dreadnought", the first of our nuclear submarines, which is now out of commission and being scrapped. The decision was taken because refitting capacity was not available.
As we are trying to cram many quarts into a pint pot, two SSNs will be unable to have their planned third major refit, and thereby their fourth commission. That is because we are now relying on Devonport for the SSN refittings, a yard which has yet to complete a major SSN refit. We are talking about high-risk technology. I believe that "Valiant" and "Conqueror" could well follow "Dreadnought". That would be a tragedy, because all that we are trying to do in building up the SSN fleet to 17 or 18 would be negated if we were forced prematurely to drop out the older nuclear submarines.
The nuclear refitting complex at Chatham is still working. It is efficient and it has delivered the goods. Both sides of the House agree that our hunter-killer submarines are excellent, and again they have proved themselves in the Falkland Islands. It would be silly to put all that at risk for the sake of closing down the Chatham complex and concentrating on one yard. With the greatest respect to my 1108 friends in Devonport, whom I know well, Devonport dockyard has yet to prove its capacity to refit nuclear submarines.
Our defence policy is now on the right lines, but we still have a long way to go. I continue to have reservations about our policy. With the retention of ships such as "Glamorgan", "Fife" and "Bristol" —I understand that "Bristol" is soon to follow—the heavy redundancies that have been announced, and indeed enacted, for the officers and men of the Royal Navy will be nothing like as high. Obviously I want still fewer redundancies, and I cannot pretend that I am yet happy but I am certainly happier than I was. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has drawn his full conclusions, and if the defence paper that will emerge at the end of the year goes further down this path, he may even get me into the Lobby to support him at the end of the year.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
As much of what I shall say will be at odds with the views of the majority of hon. Members, I shall start by agreeing with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) in the tribute that he paid to our forces on the Falklands. The House will probably know that I think that the invasion of the Falklands was unnecessary and was an unjustified response to the aggression of the Argentines. However, that does not prevent me paying tribute to the tremendous courage and professionalism that was shown by our forces, who were successful in the operation.
I shall concentrate on a much more important issue. Mankind is entering a horrific period in its history. I say that because of the massive escalation that is taking place in nuclear weaponry. These developments are at the disposal of the super-powers and they will be at the Government's disposal. The central issue facing us is how we can lift the threat from our people and from future generations that will occupy these islands and other territories. This is important and germane to the debate, because no other country in Western Europe is making such an irresponsible contribution to the escalation of the nuclear arms race as the United Kingdom under the present Government.
The Government have taken the decision to acquire the Trident II D5 nuclear weapons system. I was present when the decision was announced in the House of Commons. The exchanges on the statement continued for about 35 minutes. Yet it was the most important decision ever taken by a British Cabinet. In opening the debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) focused rightly on the enormous cost of the system. Most of those who have referred to it have spoken of a cost of £10 billion at current prices. Much more important than the financial cost is the enormous destructive power of the system.
The existing Polaris system has the capacity to wipe out between 15 million and 30 million Russians. It is a counter-city weapon which was justified on the basis of a policy of deterrence. That is the policy of mutually assured destruction. One does not need to participate in the massive escalation that is implicit in Trident II to maintain a policy of mutually assured destruction.
It would be monstrous if the Government went ahead with the Trident II development on the Clyde without a public inquiry. The Government were right to have a public inquiry into the development of the airbase at Stornoway. I recognise that there is no statutory 1109 requirement to hold a public inquiry. I know that the Ministry of Defence does not need planning permission. It would be an affront, and there would be deep resentment throughout West Central Scotland, if there were not at least a limited public inquiry. Of course, we want as wide a public inquiry as possible so that the local people can express their views on this enormously important development.
The most important feature about the Trident II development is that it is not a counter-city weapon. The Trident II D5 is a counter-force weapon. It is designed to destroy Russian missiles in their silos. As any school child knows, its only chance of doing that is if it is fired first. That is what is so terrifying about the D5 decision. We are going down the road of counter-force weaponry and first-strike weapons. It is no good Conservative Members shaking their heads because that is what the D5 system is designed to do. It may be that the British Government do not intend to use it as a first-strike weapon, but we must consider the Soviet Union's attitude to the system. We must accept that it has been designed as a first-strike weapon. A counter-force first-strike weapon undermines the philosophy of mutually assured destruction and we are seeing the end of that policy. That is the most terrifying development.
§ Mr. Strang
The D5 has the accuracy to do so. That is what it is all about. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, I suggest that he reads the reports of some of the congressional hearings. The D5 is a counter-force weapon and Conservative Members have acknowledged that. That has not been denied by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State says that it is not the Government's intention to use it as a counter-force weapon, but I suggest that hon. Members read the debate on Trident in which I participated. I shall now deal with another important development—the intention to install cruise missiles and have them operational by the end of 1983. Cruise missiles are relatively inexpensive compared with Trident. A worrying aspect about them is that their size and the flexibility of their launchers makes it impossible to verify them under the current procedures. I hope that the Minister will deal with that point. It causes worry among many people, irrespective of their stance on disarmament. Under current arms control verification procedures it would be impracticable to verify the existence of weapons. That is a disturbing development for anyone who believes in arms control and nuclear disarmament.
Accuracy is another factor. Cruise is a highly accurate weapon. That is why it is a counter-force weapon. That fact represents another lurch towards instability. The development of Trident, MX and cruise has led to a massive upsurge in support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament throughout Europe and beyond. There was a massive demonstration in Britain last autumn. There was another in June. They were probably the largest demonstrations that have taken place in Britain since the Second World War. There have been huge demonstrations in West Germany, Holland, Rome and other parts of Europe. That is perhaps the most important recent political development in Europe. Certainly the most important development in political opinion in Europe, has been the 1110 upsurge of opposition to nuclear weapons and a growing recognition of the fact that mankind has no future if we continue in the present way. It is interesting to note that in the United States there have not merely been massive demonstrations such as the one in New York. The Democratic Party has decided to include a freeze policy as a plank in its campaign in the mid-term congressional elections. That is an important development.
Soviet society is such that it is not easy to understand what is going on there. Nevertheless, I would argue that there is increased anxiety on the Soviet side about the threat of nuclear war. There is evidence to support that view from what has happened recently in Warsaw Pact countries. As a result of the upsurge in anxiety throughout Europe and the United States about nuclear weapons, several initiatives have been advanced by the superpowers. There has been the zero option, for example. It is unrealistic. It is unlikely that the Soviet Union will dismantle weapons that are already in place in return for an agreement not to install new ones. The freeze option that has been advanced by the Democratic Party in the United States is also unsatisfactory. It is, however, more realistic. It would be an important advance towards sanity if it could be adopted as United States policy.
My right hon. Friend the member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) mentioned the Soviet offer not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. That is neither the most important development nor a basis for stability, but it accentuates the circumstances of NATO. We are much more dependent on the early use of nuclear weapons than is the Warsaw Pact. It is built into our strategy and all hon. Members know it. That is an important area of instability. Hon. Members should be worried about it. We should try to increase the gulf between conventional and nuclear war. There is a quantum leap between the damage that is inflicted by conventional and nuclear war. Nuclear war means the annihilation of civilisation as we know it. We should not forget that.
One of the challenges that the Government should take up is to increase that gulf between conventional war and nuclear war by battlefield or tactical nuclear weapons. The distinction is blurred. We have to recognise that there is a chance of NATO being drawn into an early use of nuclear weapons. Once one starts to use nuclear weapons in such conflicts the whole thing will escalate very quickly.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I disagree. He apparently believes that Trident II is wrong and that there must be nuclear disarmament—presumably unilateral. If we took that course and the Russians did not follow, what would be our position? Would we rely entirely on America? Would it be honourable to rely on the American nuclear umbrella, having got rid of our own commitment to it?
§ Mr. Strang
I shall come to that point. The most important element of instability, which should be of real concern to us, is the change in the technology of these weapons, their increased sophistication and the increased risk of war by accident. The whole idea of deterrence is being downgraded and senior people are talking about the possibility of fighting and winning a nuclear war. That is patent nonsense. In a nuclear war, the survivors will envy the dead.
One of the most important documents to be published on this subject was a memorandum submitted by some 1111 very senior and distinguished retired NATO commanders to Foreign and Defence Ministers of the NATO Alliance at a press conference at The Hague last November. That document brings out in an important way the increased risk arising from these nuclear weapons. With particular reference to cruise missiles, it says:The development and installation of these new nuclear weapon systems is especially dangerous because it is coupled with a clear intention to use them in a first strike also against non-nuclear states. In the light of this policy, all nuclear threshold states would feel forced to produce nuclear weapons of their own, without mentioning the fact that the Soviet Union could be tempted to equip her allies with such weapons.One should not overlook the dangers of intentional or unintentional misuse of nuclear weapons, tragic accidents or grave computer failures. The worst of it is the increasing madness of nuclear armament which must inevitably end in a disaster.This behaviour is highly irrational. The decisions taken in the U. S. and the measures planned create dangers unacceptable for Europe.I could continue to quote more in that vein.
I put it to Conservative Members that we cannot continue to go down this road. A start must be made towards nuclear disarmament, and all the arguments point to a start being made in Europe. Leaving aside the merits of the argument, it is unrealistic to expect the United States to disarm unilaterally. It is equally unrealistic to expect the Soviet Union to do so. One has only to think of the example of the Chinese threat.
I believe that the starting point must be in Europe. That is why I support the recent important policy statement of the Labour Party, which I have no doubt will be endorsed at the Labour Party conference. It commits us to cancel the Trident and cruise programmes, to return any of the cruise missiles which may have been installed and to remove all nuclear weapons and bases from British territory. It is important that we aim to achieve that within a few years, certainly within the lifetime of a Parliament. We must have the courage to give a real lead to the campaign for a nuclear-free zone in Europe.
I recognise, of course, that a nuclear-free zone in Europe will still be capable of being reached by Russian missiles sited beyond the Urals, but the road that we are now going down will mean the end of civilisation as we know it. The enormity of the danger is such that someone must have the courage to make a start somewhere.
§ Mr. Strang
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once. I cannot give way again.
I belong to the first generation to spend its entire life under the threat of nuclear war. I believe that if we continue with this massive escalation there will be no chance for the generations that follow to outlive the threat of nuclear annihilation.
§ Mr. Strang
I therefore make no apology for quoting again from this important document, as the fact that it comes from distinguished retired ex-NATO commanders probably gives it greater authority in this House than anything that I could say. It says:The armament logic of former decades which said that a more extensive war potential implied an increase in national security is not valid any more however. Nowadays, more security can only be obtained through less armament. This reversal is not an easy process, but a feasible one. A decision like this demands as much political wisdom and statesmanship, courage and 1112 cultivated leadership qualities as did formerly the doctrine of the use of military force in order to maintain national independence, sovereignty, and freedom.New circumstances require new solutions. We repeat: Our NATO bodies face two options: either to direct towards arms limitation with all its consequences in order to guarantee security for our people, or to maintain their present armament conception which inadmissibly curtails social development programs and increases the possibilities of conflict as well as dangers of war.We recommend to choose the first option which we consider acceptable from a military point of view and politically reasonable.
§ Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) would hardly expect me to support him in his position on Trident. He made two points. One is the cost. Trident costs less than Tornado and only about five per cent. of our defence bill. If we spent that amount on conventional forces it would still leave the Warsaw Pact immeasurably stronger than ourselves and would provide no deterrent. What would the hon. Gentleman do without Trident or Polaris? It would be either surrender or complete dependence upon America.
As has been emphasised, the White Paper we are discussing was written before the Falklands campaign. While some of its contents have been overtaken by events, much still holds good. The Warsaw Pact remains the chief potential enemy. For that reason I am convinced Trident is still essential.
I should like to pay my tribute to all those who went to the Falkland Islands to fight that campaign. I send my sympathy to the relatives of those who did not return. I should also like to pay tribute to the men of the Portsmouth, Devonport and Chatham dockyards for the way in which they turned those ships round and got them to sea in a matter of days instead of weeks. I remind the Secretary of State that many of the men working on those ships and who went to sea took redundancy notices in their pockets.
In the Falkland campaign the Navy had the biggest burden and has the most to learn from its experiences. The Navy suffered grievous losses, and because of that it is argued that surface ships are too vulnerable and should be scrapped and replaced by nuclear submarines. Every item of defence has advantages and disadvantages—whether ships, aircraft or tanks—and is vulnerable to some extent. The argument that surface ships are too vulnerable and should be replaced by nuclear submarines does not stand up. It is noteworthy that not a single ship was sunk by the direct effect of a bomb, torpedo, shell or missile, but by the after-effects.
Missiles pose a new problem that has to be solved. Unlike other weapons—bombs, shells and torpedoes explode on impact and cause a fire—a missile explodes and causes a fire that continues burning because of the unused propellant which is self-generating. An ordinary fire can be controlled by damage control parties, but fires started by missiles require new techniques, know ledge and probably materials. This new element must be faced.
The only sure defence is to destroy the vehicle carrying the missile or the missile itself. If it is carried in a ship, a nuclear submarine can be used, but if it is carried in an aircraft, that is a different matter. The argument for replacing surface ships by nuclear submarines is unsound. The ships themselves were not at fault; they were largely unsuitable for the job in hand.
1113 The Navy is geared to NATO and Europe. The ships are designed and equipped accordingly. They rely on land-based air cover and long-range radar detection. In the Falklands those were lacking. "Invincible" and "Hermes" with their Harriers were not suitable for the job. Their role is principally anti-submarine. We needed a couple of "Ark Royals" with Phantoms and Gannets. But the Harriers, in spite of all the difficulties, performed magnificently and surprised everyone including those who had turned them down in the past.
It is clear from the Falklands affair that our foreign and defence policies are out of line. If we are to retain the Falklands, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Gibraltar and the other dependencies we must have the means to defend them. That means a strong surface Navy. The Falklands operation proved that. It showed that some ships lacked suitable equipment. I am sure that the Government's scrap and replace policy is right. The "Sheffield" could probably have been saved had it had a Sea Wolf, but there was no room for Sea Wolf and its equipment. Even if she had been refitted at vast expense, she would have been of little use.
The defence White Papers this and last year show an overall reduction in the Navy. Serious as that is, I do not believe that we shall reach the figures forecast in the White Papers. It is encouraging that "Endurance" is to be retained, and presumably "Invincible", too. It is encouraging, too, that the first type 23 frigates will be in service by 1988. But long refits are to stop in 1984, so there will be a gap. How will the Minister fill it? Should he not re-institute long refits in the short-term? They are unsatisfactory compared with building new, but would be appropriate in the circumstances.
Coming nearer to home and to Portsmouth dockyard, I am grateful to the Minister for his statement that redundancies are to be frozen. The Falklands operation has shown convincingly that two yards, even if they can cope with ordinary refits, could not possibly cope with an emergency. Damaged warships must be repaired urgently. A reasonable capacity must be maintained at all times. The carrier "Victorious" not so many years ago suffered a serious electrical fire. There were not enough electricians in Portsmouth dockyard to make good and repair the damage without taking them away from and disorganising the refitting programme. As a result, "Victorious" was scrapped. That could well happen again if we do not have reasonable excess capacity.
Only this week, a German destroyer went out of control and rammed a buoy off Portsmouth harbour. The mooring chain was wrapped round both propellers and, I think, the rudder. She was towed into Portsmouth for repair. How will ships involved in such accidents be repaired if there is no spare capacity?
If Portsmouth dockyard is reduced to the level that was planned last year it will be impossible to supply the backup repair facilities that the Navy requires. It is essential that Portsmouth's repair capacity is maintained at the present level. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) that it is equally essential that the nuclear submarine refitting facility at Chatham is retained.
Will the Under-Secretary assure me that Portsmouth dockyard's repair capability will not be reduced, that long refits will continue until the new ships are in service, that 1114 full consideration will be given to all our commitments overseas and that our forces will accordingly be maintained at an adequate level?
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
I start by expressing my condolences to the relatives who lost loved ones in the action in the South Atlantic. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), I did not support the Prime Minister's action in sending the task force there, but as an hon. Member I accept responsibility for asking our men to carry out that action, and the casualties lie as heavily on my conscience as on anyone else's.
There is little in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" with which I agree. It is interesting to listen to defence debates, because defence seems to be the one subject which has no financial restrictions placed upon it. Almost every speech contains demands for even more defence expenditure.
I remind the House that last year we spent, according to my calculations based on the figures in the Estimates, £11,854 million on the arms budget. The proposal for 1982–83 is a real growth of 3 per cent. to a total of £14,091 million. That is an enormous sum and, if properly used, it could not only make a vast difference to the people in this country, but could give much more assistance to those in other countries and perhaps add to the esteem that hon. Members feel that we gained by the successful action in the Falkland Islands.
I should like our country to be held in high esteem not because we were efficient at carrying out military operations, but because we were renowned for our concern for worse-off countries that look to us for help and assistance in overcoming their difficulties, including starvation, the lack of proper medical facilities, illiteracy and so on. I have travelled extensively and I have noted that the countries held in high esteem are those, such as Sweden, that give such assistance.
Not only did we spend £11,854 million last year, but the statistics show that we were second only to the United States among the 13 NATO countries in terms of total defence expenditure and third in terms of defence spending as a percentage of gross national product. When these figures are borne out clearly in the Estimates, it is time for us to examine our position. The Labour Party's suggestion that we should reduce defence expenditure to at least the average of gross national product of other NATO countries, excluding the United States, is a reasonable proposition.
Disarmament has not so far received much attention in the debate. When hon. Members asked about the possibility of a debate on the United Nations special session now taking place in New York, we were assured by the Leader of the House that the two-day defence debate would be the occasion to discuss these matters. I believe that they are important. I accept that we want to spend money properly defending ourselves. I do not challenge that. There is, however, another side to the balance, and it is mentioned in the White Paper. We must try to do so at the least possible expense and with the least possible danger to the peace of the world.
§ Mr. Lamond
I cannot give way. There is not sufficient time. The White Paper is pretty thick. It consists 1115 of two volumes costing £8.50 altogether. I grant the Secretary of State that there is a page and a small portion on the back of it devoted to arms control and security. A paragraph also appears on page 7. It is evident, however, that not much space is given to the other side of the picture, which all leaders apparently agree is essential—or at least they say so when they get to New York. It is stated on page 25:All Western Governments are united in a wish to preserve our security with fewer arms and at less cost.One would never have thought that that was the case from today's debate. Hon. Members have been calling for more arms and more expenditure, yet it is presumably the Government's real policy that appears in the White Paper. I tried while in New York to obtain copies of speeches that I did not have the opportunity to hear. Ambassador Summerhayes, our ambassador, I suppose, for disarmament purposes, mentioned to the 50 or 60 of us in the delegation from Britain that the Government prided themselves on being among the best at supplying information to the public. I cannot support that. I have found information extremely difficult to obtain. The Secretary of State points to the document. That document costs £8.50. I am thinking of the Helsinki final act of which 7,000 copies were published for a population of 55 million in this country.
If the Secretary of State does not believe what I say I should like him to know that a copy of Mr. Gromyko's speech which I wanted was sent to me before I even asked for it from the Soviet embassy. I wanted a copy of President Reagan's speech. I did not have to ask the American embassy; it was in the post. The embassy, I presume, knows that I am interested in these matters.
§ Mr. Lamond
I note the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes but I shall not be diverted. The Prime Minister, who had gone specially to the United Nations to make a speech, was asked if she would place the text in the Library. She said that she had done so. I went to the Library. The staff were very helpful. A copy of the speech was found in a box. I was given it. I was able to unpick the stapling, photocopy it, put it together again and give it back. If that is what the Prime Minister thinks of her own speech, can she be surprised if we do not take it seriously? If she wanted us to understand her anxiety about this part of the balance she would have made sure that her speech was available to Members of Parliament and that it was widely circulated.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) said, the greatest political phenomenon in the past 20 years is the growth of the peace movement. I know that the Secretary of State for Defence is worried about it because he tried to launch a spring offensive against it. But it is not only in Britain and Europe that this interest in peace has arisen. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and I attended the peace rally in New York. My hon. Friend had the honour of addressing the greatest political gathering ever known in the United States. The police estimated the attendance at 800,000, although I would say it was 1 million. Every section of the community was present at that demonstration. Of course the President of the United States has to respond to it. He realises that the demonstration was only the tip of the 1116 iceberg. There are millions of people in the United States and Europe who support the peace movement and who have never been on a demonstration.
The call for peace arises from the terror that people feel because of the change in policy in NATO, led by President Reagan. People say that these demonstrations are against the two great powers, but the demonstrations were not in such numbers until President Reagan took over in the United States and began his bellicose sabre-rattling and made it obvious that he had no interest in building bridges between East and West. The only hope for the future is to build confidence between the two great powers.
Of course some people think that the Soviet Union is waiting to pounce on us, although I do not. People in the Soviet Union think that we are waiting to pounce on them. Whenever I have the opportunity, I tell them that the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister of Britain would never dream of doing that. She has no aggressive intentions of that kind. Nor did my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), when he was Prime Minister. We understand that, but the people of the Soviet Union do not. Nor do the Soviet leaders.
The Soviet Union is ringed by American bases. Five countries have nuclear weapons. Four of them are ranged against the Soviet Union, so naturally its people are afraid. We must overcome that fear of us by building bridges so that we can all benefit from a reduction in world tension and avoid the dreadful peril we face. We can also reduce the unnecessarily high world expenditure on arms—$600,000 million a year. The Soviet Union spends much of that money, but we spend our share—80 per cent. by Western Europe and the United States.
I have already referred the Prime Minister to the many proposals made by Mr. Brezhnev in his speech at the United Nations. For example, he suggested an agreement on chemical warfare. He strongly supported the arms freeze proposals put forward by the Democrats in the United States. According to an opinion poll, they were supported by more than 70 per cent. of the people in the United States. That has been done to try to elicit a response from us. We should realise that the whole world wishes for some response from the major leaders, such as the President of the United States of America.
I end by quoting President Reagan:Isn't it time for us to really represent the deepest, most heartfelt yearnings of all our people? Let no nation abuse this common longing to be free of fear. We must not manipulate our people by playing upon their nightmares; we must serve mankind through genuine disarmament. With God's help, we can secure life and freedom for generations to come".I support that 100 per cent. It is not sabre-rattling but the response of the President to the tremendous demonstrations throughout the world. Unless our Government also respond we can expect a nuclear holocaust in the next five years.
§ 9.1 pm
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
I was very much encouraged by the opening speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. He got it right when he said that he did not wish to alter the general thrust of previous defence policy while being willing to make adjustments in the light of the Falklands conflict. However, I was not encouraged by many of the speeches of Labour Members. Starting with the opening speech of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin), it was a depressing experience. He seemed incapable of making a clear statement about his 1117 party's policy, apart from saying that he had no confidence in my right hon. Friend. I felt like saying at the time that the feeling is amply reciprocated by Conservative Members about the right hon. Gentleman. I would not trust him and his colleagues to launch a rubber duck in a bath, let alone to launch a task force. [Interruption.] I am not dealing with animals tonight.
I pay tribute to the part played by the city of Plymouth in the Falklands conflict effort. The Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the civilian back-up were all magnificent. I felt deeply for those who worried during the campaign and for those who now grieve for injured or dead relatives.
There are some lessons that I hope that we can learn from the crisis; I put four points to my right hon. Friend. I am glad that he is considering the possible retention of a third dockyard. I was relieved and thankful that Devonport was spared and I am delighted that the enhanced role that was intended for it is to be continued. It would be right to consider the retention of a third dockyard, although I realise that that is cold comfort to those who work in the fourth.
It is clear from the major effort produced at Devonport that the dockyard workers are fully capable of undertaking that enhanced role. I make the point because some of my hon. Friends have suggested otherwise.
Secondly, I want to say a word about the vulnerability of surface ships. We cannot conclude that we should not have surface ships or that we do not need more of them. The lesson that we must learn is the need for early warning of intending attacks and that, provided early warning is available, they are well capable of taking care of themselves. That is the major lesson that we should learn from this expedition to the Falkland Islands.
Thirdly—I am not sure that this matter has been mentioned at all in the debate—the Ministry of Defence should look carefully at the role of its information service and that of the media in a modern campaign. We realise that there were difficulties from time to time, and that there was ill-feeling. As bystanders it is difficult for us to judge, but it would appear that this matter should be looked at most carefully, to see whether the censorship was sufficient, or perhaps foolish in some respects, and how we might generally improve this aspect. The media will not go away. They are there, and they should be used wisely. Indeed, some of the reports that came from the Falklands were excellent, and they upheld the best traditions of journalism.
Finally, I wanted to speak about fire hazards on warships under modern conditions.
§ Miss Fookes
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) murmurs, "Steel or aluminium." I had intended to raise the problem of aluminium. Whatever its virtues, aluminium must be studied carefully in the light of the undoubted fire hazard that exists. It is well known that in ships generally, merchant ships as well as warships, fire is the most dreaded hazard, and in warships which are likely to be attacked, the hazard must be increased ten, twenty, one hundredfold. There must be a complete rethink about fire hazards on ships in relation to the use of metals.
1118 There are also more mundane matters. My right hon. Friend may recall that I tabled a number of questions about simple things such as the use of foam mattresses rather than interior sprung mattresses. That sounds so homely and insignificant, until one realises the danger of fire and the possibility of dense and often noxious fumes. The matter arose a few years ago in the House, with the worry about polyurethane foam in domestic furniture. If it was rightly considered a fire hazard in that respect, how much greater a hazard is it when ships are likely to be under attack.
Then there is the coating for wiring and the use of PVC, which again has proved dangerous. I received what I shall call soothing answers from the Ministry of Defence, but they did not altogether soothe me. For example, on the subject of foam-filled mattresses, I was told by my hon. Friend that to give improved protectiona programme has been initiated to replace them with sprung mattresses at the earliest opportunity."—[Official Report, 8 June 1982; Vol. 25, c. 59]I should like to know what the words "at the earliest opportunity" mean. I hope that they mean what they say. If the programme is to be spread over, say, 10 years, that gives me great cause for alarm. More important, why were foam-filled mattresses allowed in the first place? Recently, I spoke to someone on board a ship that I visited about a fortnight ago. I shall give no details, because that would be unfair. One of the officers on board the ship said, of his own accord, "We have been pressing for years not to have foam-filled mattresses". Sadly, it takes a crisis like the Falklands to make us see sense. I earnestly entreat my right hon. Friend to take the fire hazards in warships seriously and to look at all the possibilities. I am sure that there are many other matters of concern in that area about which I know nothing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) was right when he said in his brilliant speech that the Falkland Islands campaign was one off and that we should not go overboard in that direction. However, there is a real sense in which it was not one off, and that is in a political sense. In the dangerous world in which we live, the resolve which a nation shows to defend its own interests is important. If potential adversaries think that we have gone soft or weak, or are not willing to defend those interests, there is a grave danger. One of the most vital lessons that will have been learnt by possible opponents is that there is the will to defend those interests with blood and lives if necessary. In that sense the Falklands campaign will have been seen to make the world a safer place.
§ Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)
First, I should like to congratulate the task force on its brilliant job in defending the Falkland Islands and in freeing the people there from Fascist rule. I should also like to extend my sympathy to those who have lost relatives and to those who have been injured. I should like particularly to mention those in Thurrock, especially members of the merchant marine who, no doubt, left from Tilbury Docks and were involved in the task force.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) has already set out the attitude of the official Opposition by stressing the determination of the Labour Party to ensure peace and security for Britain and to provide adequate conventional forces. He has also 1119 expressed our deep antipathy to the employment of nuclear weapons from Britain. It is from that standpoint that I want to comment on the White Paper.
We were all astonished, having listened to the rumours for several weeks, that the Secretary of State decided to publish the White Paper in this form. When we read it we asked ourselves why he had published it. It was obviously strange to publish a document that was produced before the Falklands crisis and which therefore could not take account of all the political, technical and military lessons which had to be learnt from it. Indeed, it referred to ships that had been lost or damaged during the Falklands operation.
The White Paper shows once again, even in the aftermath of the Falklands crisis, that as far as the Government are concerned the whole stress of their defence policy depends on the deployment of nuclear weapons. It is, perhaps, especially significant that as one goes through the chapters of the White Paper the first chapter is about the nuclear forces and, in particular, Trident. That forms the basis of the Government's defence for the future and it is that that distorts the Government's defence policy.
The Government refuse to acknowledge that their decision to take Trident makes it impossible to fulfil the other aims of defence, not perhaps in the immediate future but in the years to come. Expenditure on Trident will make it impossible for the Government to put the future defence of the United Kingdom on a sound basis. It means that the Government cannot carry out their other commitments as a major contributor to NATO's naval and maritime air capacity.
The crunch will not come this year, but the Government will go out of office—perhaps in 1983 or 1984—leaving the country's defences weak, and placing the burden of providing adequate conventional forces on the next Government. That is ironic, for a Tory Government like to be seen as the Government who alone offer a serious commitment to defend this country.
Yet people should learn from history. It took a long time to sort out the mistakes of the 1957 Tory White Paper on Defence and in future it may be our misfortune to spend a long time sorting out the Government's mistake in going for Trident. The Secretary of State has been offered several figures for the cost of Trident by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, but I shall give him a few more. An interesting aspect of the White Paper is that almost without batting an eyelid, the cost of the Trident programme increased to £7.5 billion at 1981 prices. That means that at current prices, the bill is already £8 billion and that the probable estimate—which most commentators accept—is £10 billion.
In addition, we must consider the impact of Trident's purchase on the capital expenditure programme, which, strictly defined, excludes, for example, research and development. If that programme is taken into account the cost of Trident will amount to 15 to 20 per cent. of the capital expenditure budget in the peak years. That will be at about the end of the decade and at precisely the time when other parts of the conventional forces will need to be re-equipped and replaced. That is why the Government are shirking their responsibility to defend Britain properly. They are pushing the burdens on to the next Government. They will have to be responsible for sorting out the Trident 1120 error. The next Government will have to take the responsibility of re-equipping the Navy and of providing for that.
The Government repeatedly claim that the cost of Trident is only three per cent. of the defence budget over an 18-year programme. I understand why they pick that percentage; it is the best possible presentational figure for them. However, in the peak years the figure will double and will be six to eight per cent. of the overall defence budget. Once hon. Members see how the costs rise sharply at a crucial time in the development of the nation's defences, they will realise that the Government shuffled those problems to one side.
After all, what can be done with Trident? If the Government's claim that it is not a first-strike weapon is taken seriously we can only keep it in Britain and hope to God that we never have to threaten seriously to use it. If we threaten to use it, the other side will not take the threat seriously. Trident cannot be properly understood as a deterrent. No one will believe that we are prepared to risk serious destruction and the possible annihilation of our country by using that weapon. The Government have put their eggs in that basket and that is why it constitutes chapter 1 of the White Paper.
The Government have turned their attention away from the Navy. The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), a former Minister, may be correct to suggest that the Government have begun to learn a little from what he has said in the past and from their mistakes. However, they have a long way to go. What should have been learnt, partly from the Falkland Islands episode, is the significance and importance of the Navy. We are an island and a trading nation and we must therefore defend it at sea. This episode should make us learn that the Navy is vital. After all, 96 per cent. of our imports of food, energy and raw materials and exports of manufactured goods are transported by sea.
The whole operation of the Falkland Islands was brought about by the Navy. The movement of defences, the landing and supply of 9,000 soldiers over 8,000 miles from their base, could have been carried out only by landing ships, frigates, destroyers and carriers. I hope that the Secretary of State will learn that lesson once and for all.
The Secretary of State should also realise not only that we make an important contribution to NATO through the Navy—after all, the Alliance is strung together by ships—but that it has an advantage for us, in our foreign policy and our defence. If we give the Navy priority, that gives us a certain independence in the planning and operation of our foreign policy and defence. That means that we can be free to operate outside NATO, if necessary, to defend our interests or to defend those who require defence. It means also that we are free to co-operate if a future United Nations force should come about.
I now turn to specific questions about the Navy that I hope the Minister will deal with either now or later. In the answer to the Select Committee questioning last week, the Secretary of State said that out of the task force—he declared the number of ships to be 23–16 destroyers and frigates were lost or damaged. That is two-thirds of the task force.
When I was trying to discern how many ships were in the task force, looking at reported sources, I saw the suggestion that there were about 50 ships. Is that figure correct? Which ships were involved in the task force, even 1121 if not continuously? How many were destroyed or damaged? In particular, how many of those ships are due to be scrapped or sold? The Minister has announced the reprieve of some of the ships. Some of the ships that have been reprieved were involved in the task force. It is now time that we got a clearer picture. Before the reprieve, the number that I calculated was 17 due to be sold out of 50. Others put the figure at 29 out of 50. We want to know the whole disposition of the task force. This is the time for such questions to be answered.
We have some information now about ships to be sold or scrapped up to 1984–85. However, we are not told what will happen to the fleet after 1986. That is a crucial area for a number of Leander ships and other classes such as the Rothesay class. We need to know what proportion will be scrapped or sold and therefore what the burden of replacement or refit will be after that stage. If one looks at the age of the ships involved one suspects that a substantial proportion will go and that the fleet might be reduced to some 32 ships by the end of the decade. That number may not be up to date, in view of what the Secretary of State said. If that is so, the number may be smaller. The costs for the next Government to bring that number up to proper strength would be great.
§ Dr. McDonald
I am talking about the end of the decade. We already have 42 ships plus eight in reserve, according to last year's White Paper. It appears that the number will fall below that.
The Secretary of State has spoken of Portsmouth, but he has not given us the impression that he will seriously consider all the dockyards. The Opposition are horrified that the Secretary of State has not taken the opportunity to carry out a proper and careful examination of the dockyard closures, bearing in mind that hon. Members have suggested that the dockyards should be used for the support of the fleet. The review should be of all the threatened dockyards. Other hon. Members, such as the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) are not worried about all the dockyards. In a recent letter to the trade unions at the Devonport dockyard, the right hon. Member said:I am writing to you to warn you about the growing concern to retain the Chatham dockyard … if Chatham was to be reprieved, it would have extremely serious consequences for retaining the present workforce in Devonport … There is no escaping the reality that if Chatham is retained there will be cutbacks in Devonport.The right hon. Member did everything in his power to discourage the trade unions in Devonport from involving themselves in a national campaign to save Chatham as well as the other dockyards.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
The last sentence of that letter from the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who hopes to be leader of the SDP and of the Alliance, and possibly to go to 10, Downing Street, stated:I hope very much that unions in the Devonport dockyard will let their national offices know that they do not support a campaign to retain Chatham.
§ Dr. McDonald
I am glad that the hon. Member added that last sentence. One wonders what the right hon. Gentleman's concern is. Clearly, as a Member of Parliament the right hon. Member for Devonport will be 1122 concerned for his own constituency, but perhaps he has other concerns. I am not familiar with the details of the carve-up between the Liberal Party and the SDP alliance, but the Liberal Party may take responsibility for fighting Chatham and surrounding seats for the alliance and not the SDP.
§ Mr. Crawshaw
I do not wish to enter into this argument, but would the hon. Lady fight for the retention of industries in her own constituency?
§ Dr. McDonald
Of course. I made it clear that any Member of Parliament fights for the retention of industries in his own constituency. Within the Labour Party, we take part in national campaigns to preserve industries as well. Our concerns seem to be wider than those of the SDP.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
I do not think that the hon. Lady was present when a deputation from Chatham dockyard, as well as a deputation from Portsmouth, came to London. The deputations said that it was useless Labour Members being on the platform because they planned to cut defence expenditure anyway, so what hope would the deputations have had under a Labour Government? I gave an assurance that I should certainly fight for the dockyards.
§ Dr. McDonald
Hon. Members seem to be having great difficulty in listening to complete sentences. The complete sentence reads:Labour will reduce defence expenditure to the average proportion of gross domestic product spent by other European NATO countries, bearing in mind the need to avoid widespread and precipitate redundancies for whom no alternative work is being provided"—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) laughs but there is not much alternative work in the Medway towns—and Britain's need to provide adequate conventional defence forces. The need to do that—this is what the Opposition have been arguing tonight—will involve both the well-equipped conventional Navy and the necessary dockyard support for that.I turn briefly to another aspect of defence policy to show that other areas of Britain's defence have been weakened by the Trident decision. Last Friday a major article appeared in the Financial Times and part of it stated thatthe air defence of Britain is so thin that it is better not to talk about it.That is all right if one is the writer of an article that appears in the Financial Times but Opposition Members must talk about the defence of Britain, including its air defence.
The Secretary of State mentioned replacements for and additions to Sea Harriers and Harriers. I know that the replacement of the Jaguar is being considered and I ask for further details of the Government's thinking on the P110. The White Paper tells us that defence procurement accounts for almost half the output of the British aerospace industry. That means that it is sustaining about 40,000 jobs. There will be a need for a follow-on project from the Tornado project if the design team is to remain intact over the next two to three years. I hope that the Minister will tell us a little more about what he proposes for the P110 project and how far discussions with the aerospace industry have progressed. That will be important in future. I have heard the word "Tuesday" being mentioned. I look forward to hearing the answers then if not tonight.
The costs of sustaining the Allied command in Europe have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of 1123 the House. These costs amount to £5 billion. I find it interesting, for two reasons, that the issue has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is a readiness for Conservative and Labour Members to question the money that we spend on the Allied command in Europe, a readiness to argue that the costs should be more equally shared within the Community and a willingness to question the political underpinnings for the sum that we spend on the defences of Central Europe in the belief that the threat from Russia will involve an immediate and direct assault across the north-east plains of Germany.
I doubt whether that will happen. If we are unfortunate enough to find ourselves involved in a third world war, it is much more likely that that will arise by accident as a result, for example, of a conflict in the Third world in which both Russia and the West are indirectly involved. It is interesting that there is a recognition of that on both sides of the House, at least on the Back Benches on both sides of the House and on the Opposition Front Bench. It is a pity that it seems not to be recognised by the Government Front Bench. It would be useful if the occupants of the Government Front Bench could assure us that their thinking is likely to be brought up to date.
If questions are raised with out NATO Allies on the costs of sharing the burden of the Allied command in Europe, we must make it clear that we shoulder the burden of Trident and that we cannot contribute adequately to NATO, that we cannot adequately equip our forces as conventional forces and that we shall of necessity fall back on the nuclear role. That is what the Secretary of State has got wrong and his publication of the White Paper makes one doubt whether he is prepared to learn anything from the Falklands, or anything from the political, economic and military changes. For that reason we shall reject his White Paper and it is for that reason that we expect the Secretary of State shortly to depart and to be replaced by someone who can bring some fresh thinking to the subject.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jerry Wiggin)
Both the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) started their speeches by expressing sympathy for the bereaved and the wounded. May I say on behalf of all the Services that such expressions from all quarters are warmly appreciated? Anyone who has had contact with the wounded will be lost in admiration of their fortitude, bravery, and, above all, cheerfulness. They are a fine example of the best in British life. I am delighted to say that the care that they have received seems to have been first-class.
I occasionally receive queries about how the Services might treat widows. Childless widows receive their husband's pay for three months after his death. Those with children receive their husbands' pay for six months. Their index-linked pensions together give them 90 per cent. of the pension that the husband would have expected to receive at the end of his Service career. A death grant which is equal to twice the annual rate of pension that the husband would have received at the end of his career is usually paid within two weeks of bereavement. Widows are allowed to remain in their Service accommodation for at least six months after bereavement. If alternative civilian accommodation is not available they are not asked 1124 to leave. No widows are evicted on to the street. Any hon. Member who comes across a case of distress will please bring it immediately to my personal attention.
The right hon. Member for Deptford went through elaborate reasoning as to why there is no amendment from the Labour Party.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
We are all very grateful for the concern that is shown for the wives and children of those who have lost their lives. Is it made known to them without any doubt that the facilities that my hon. Friend has just outlined will be made available and that they will not lose their homes in any circumstances?
§ Mr. Wiggin
I believe that it is made known to them. My purpose today was to make that information known to an even wider audience so that there could be no difficulty in such matters.
Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Deptford cannot decide whether he wants more defence for less money or the other way round. That is why we have no amendment from the official Opposition.
§ Mr. John Silkin
I was merely following the precedent of the Conservative Party in 1978 and 1979 and of the Labour Party last year.
§ Mr. Wiggin
The right hon. Gentleman complains on the one hand when there is the remotest deficiency in anything—whether in troops, equipment, aeroplanes or ships—and propounds plans on the other hand that would hardly enable us to have an army let alone a navy or an air force as well.
I shall not go into nuclear matters, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces will deal with them in his opening speech in the second half of the debate on Tuesday that will include Trident and other matters pertaining to nuclear disarmament and arms limitation.
The question of ship numbers and fleet size has been raised on many occasions. The right hon. Member for Deptford intimated that there was a desperate rundown in the Navy about which he did not know and as to which he did not trust the Government. He should note that in this financial year we are spending £½ billion more, in real terms, on the conventional Navy. I cannot repeat that too often. That fact seems to be completely ignored by the Government's critics. It is a fact and it is proven. We have put our money where our mouth is. This year, the Royal Navy's share of the defence budget will be 29 per cent. as compared with 28 per cent. in the last year of the Labour Government. On present plans it will be 30 per cent. by the end of the decade. Our long-term aim is to sustain a force level of about 50 destroyers and frigates. We shall make good our equipment losses from the South Atlantic with money that is additional to that required to meet the 3 per cent. a year real growth commitment to NATO, although we shall not necessarily replace on a like-for-like basis.
I believe that that makes our position abundantly clear. Those critics who constantly claim that there is collusion about numbers may care to bear in mind the fact that there is a permanent difficulty in counting ships. They may be in refit. We do not know what will be the condition of those returning from the South Atlantic and so on. That is why my right hon. Friend has very reasonably said that he does not wish to announce immediate plans on the subject of ships until we have had a little longer to assess the exact position.
§ Mr. Alan Clark
With regard to the percentage of the defence budget allocated to the Royal Navy, my hon. Friend may be interested to know that in the five years preceding the outbreak of the First World War, before we were involved in any Continental entanglements, the Royal Navy never received less than 75 per cent. of the defence budget.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I remind my hon. Friend that my own regiment went to war on horses in the last war. It is time that we realised that things change and there must be an alteration in priorities.
§ Mr. Jay
Moving on from the First World War, we were told last year that after the changes proposed by the Government there would be 42 frigates and destroyers in service. After the losses that we have suffered this year and the replacements on which the Government have decided, and after the return of, I believe, six ships from the disposal list, what will be the number at the end of this year?
§ Mr. Wiggin
The only sensible proposition that I can make is that which I have already made. The Government have not yet made final decisions on these matters. The ships are now coming back in a roulement and we shall have a better opportunity to assess their condition. Far more importantly, however, the replacement issue will be dealt with in the next few months and announced in the White Paper that my right hon. Friend announced in his opening speech. It would be most unwise for me to be drawn into making statements about decisions that are by no means finalised.
One feature of the debate today may have been related to an article in The Times. My hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) and Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) raised two questions about the future of BAOR. The first was whether the Government gave proper consideration to a reduction in the size of the land forces in Germany when the matter was considered last year in the run-up to the White Paper "The Way Forward". It is clear from any study of that that the matter was given substantial consideration and the conclusion was perfectly clear. Despite the temptation to imagine that great economies would be effected, there was no way in which we could substitute the facilities now available to BAOR without greater cost to the defence budget.
The suggestion that if we removed our troops other NATO countries would fill the vacuum is highly questionable. There is no evidence that that would necessarily happen. There must be a grave danger of some kind of domino effect. There would certainly be a marked loss of faith by the Americans and then, perhaps, by smaller countries. Under the White Paper to which I have referred, our forces were reduced to the treaty limits. We do not intend to go below that minimum. Although the intellectual arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton strike considerable chords of sympathy, the practicalities are such that we cannot consider a move of that proportion at this time.
The position of the Royal Air Force in Germany has not been mentioned either in the debate or in the press. The RAF rightly looks upon this very much as its tactical front line. I do not think that we could envisage the placing of RAF airfields without the necessary support from BAOR. 1126 I come down heavily on the side of those who say that the matter has been properly considered and that we should make no changes.
It has been suggested that some of the support costs for BAOR should be carried elsewhere. It is an old subject that has been raised many times. There were one or two critics of the Treasury in the earlier part of the debate. Were those savings to be effected, there would be a transfer between Departments which would not mean a saving to the defence budget and the Treasury would see that we did not gain any benefit from that. The matter of detail was slightly wrong. The Times gave a figure that was the cost of all medical education and married quarters services throughout the whole of the Army and not just in Germany. I do not have the correct figure, but I can certainly obtain it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot made a military point about surprise. He is not here, but I shall deal with the fair point that he raised. He gave three historical examples of surprise being the initial element in a military context. He did not say what he thought we should do about that, except that we should strive to be vigilant and to be there. That is what we are in Germany. The fact that the three examples he gave lead ultimately—after long wars—to victory was not mentioned.
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) mentioned the backroom boys, as he called them—the civilians and others who helped during the operation in the Falklands. I hope that the Government's gratitude has been expressed to all those people. Somebody mentioned to me that civil servants had been left out. That was not the case. Many civil servants have worked jolly hard, as have all the other people who have been mentioned. We are grateful to them.
The hon. Member for Wallsend also mentioned the Territorial Army. Reserves provide outstanding value for money. In the case of the Army they form about 30 per cent. of the mobilised strength of BAOR but only some 4 per cent. of the Army budget. They are a tangible demonstration of the British people's commitment to national security. They strengthen the link between the Services and the community. We have dealt with the minor problem of training days. We have instituted new works projects, increased unit establishments, set up new training teams for the TA, and our expansion plans are going well towards a target of 86,000. We have formed a number of new units.
In the case of the Royal Naval Reserve we are about to order four new fleet minesweepers. That covers the point also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). We are going for the cheaper versions, and I shall be happy to give him the details of the ships that we have in mind. We believe them to be good value. It is our objective to see that every division of the RNR has a ship. I have taken steps to see that where refits take place during the summer, as far as is possible, we can provide a substitute so that training can continue.
The Royal Auxiliary Air Force has been expanded from three to six squadrons for airfield defence. The House heard what the Secretary of State said about the possibility of establishing a flying part to that organisation. I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) has not had a chance to speak about Chatham. The House and the whole country have noted with pride and admiration the dedication and sheer hard work with which 1127 the work force of the naval bases and dockyards—I must single out the contribution made by Portsmouth and Devonport—rose to the massive challenge of preparing ships of the Navy, and the ships of the Merchant Navy that were requisitioned or chartered to sail with the task force.
Equally, the organisation now faces a considerable task in repairing battle and weather damage. Less obviously, but equally importantly, it must recover the normal programme of refits, dockings and maintenance disrupted by the Falklands crisis. Over 100 warships, RFAs and merchant vessels taken up from trade have so far been deployed on operations in the South Atlantic. I shall be happy to let the hon. Member for Thurrock have detailed answers.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
I am greatly surprised that the Minister singles out Portsmouth and Devonport. He should be generous and pay tribute to the four major dockyards. Chatham did its best and served well. My hon. Friend smiles and laughs at the Secretary of State, but this is an important matter.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I was hoping to be as generous as I could, but I believe that little, if any, task force work was carried out at Chatham.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I accept my hon. Friend's word, and I should have included Gibraltar, too.
The Secretary of State explained earlier that it is not yet possible to assess precisely the extent of the task. However, we know enough to say broadly how each yard is likely to be affected. As my right hon. Friend said, the planned expansion of Devonport and Rosyth will continue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham chooses to leave before I make my comments about his dockyard. That is somewhat discourteous.
We have concluded that there is sufficient flexibility within the existing dockyard organisation to cope with the aftermath of the Falklands operation. In the longer term the capacity of our dockyard organisation must be dictated by the requirements of the Fleet and our refitting policy. We see no reason to alter the plans for Chatham and Gibraltar as announced last year.
However, the industrial staff who received redundancy notices at Chatham before the Falklands crisis will have them extended if they so wish, generally by the period for which notices were suspended. The decisions to which I have referred should remove much of the uncertainty which has caused anxiety to the dockyard staff affected. It will allow a number of matters affecting industrial and non-industrial staff to be resolved.
I have already referred to industrial staff. The steps that can now be taken for non-industrial staff include 200 to 300 individual transfers to other dockyards, to other establishments in the Department and to other Government Departments. We can also resume the process of giving notices where necessary to over-sixties in the dockyards, and where clear surpluses are foreseen some offers of voluntary premature retirement can be made.
The Government recognise the problems that North Kent faces over the closure of the naval base at Chatham. We are establishing a jobcentre in the dockyard in conjunction with the Department of Employment. That is alongside the dockyard's personnel centre which gives advice to members of the work force on the prospects for 1128 transfer within Government service. The dockyard personnel departments hold training courses for managers and other matters associated with redundancy, employment, removals and so on.
In view of the time and my hon. Friend's absence, I shall curtail what I plan to say and let him have details of the physical things that we hope to do to ease the problems as a result of closing that large employer in the area.
In particular, the apprentice training school that Kent county council has sought to use at Collingwood should be available at a pepercorn rent for up to four years so that skilled training can continue to be provided. I am pleased to say that, subject to the resolution of certain points, of detail, we expect soon to seek parliamentary approval of such an arrangement.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) might have left the Chamber but many people living in the area would like the information. Will the Minister give the information to the House and to members of my trade union?
§ Mr. Wiggin
I will certainly arrange to do that, but we have only about five minutes left in the debate.
Another subject of considerable importance which has perhaps been put out of people's minds by the Falklands crisis is our Army in Northern Ireland. It is important to stress that it is not a forgotten Army. The spotlight has been focused elsewhere recently, but our forces in Northern Ireland have continued to carry out their duties in support of the RUC. Those duties are often every bit as dangerous and difficult as those undertaken in the South Atlantic and they have been carried out with the Army's customary gallantry and dedication.
The general trend of an overall reduction in the level of violence in Northern Ireland has continued and we have been able to withdraw a further emergency tour battalion from the Province, bringing the total number of major units there to nine.
However, against that general background, the level of violence rose at the time of the Maze prison hunger strikes last year and again later in the year when a series of murderous attacks culminated in the assassination of a Member of the House, the Rev. Robert Bradford.
However, the security forces have achieved some notable successes and there have been a number of good finds of arms and ammunition on both sides of the border. A welcome development in the campaign to bring men of violence to justice through courts has been the successful prosecution in the Republic of Ireland of a number of terrorists who committed offences in Northern Ireland.
A series of bombing outrages and murders at the start of this year have provided a reminder, if any were needed, of the fact that there is no room for complacency in the struggle. The Government's resolve remains to bring the men of violence before the courts and to restore peace and stability to the Province. I assure the House that our troops will be prepared to support the RUC in that task for as long as they are needed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) intervened to ask about Nimrod. I can tell him that Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft can operate away from their main bases. The airborne early warning version of the Nimrod will also have that capability. The aircraft could not normally expect to operate in ways that would run the risk 1129 of their engaging in air combat, although they have radar warning equipment. However, we are considering whether some maritime partol aircraft could be adapted to enable them to carry Sidewinder missiles for self-defence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) warned us to look ahead for the Jaguar replacement. We have made it clear that we will not go for a direct or early replacement of the Jaguar, but we will take full account of the needs of industry in our further studies on future combat aircraft, which will cover both the development of the Harrier concept and Tornado-related developments, among which the P110 could feature.
There are always difficulties in a two-day debate when many subjects are raised, but I have done my best to answer a handful of the points that were made. Time is against us on such occasions, but I have sought to deal with the major issues that have arisen.
We have rightly heard much about the future, but I look back to 1979 and the Government's inheritance of a defence machine which was starved of funds and equipment and manned by Service men whose dedication was tested to the extreme by low pay and by the fact that there was no clear path ahead.
It is easy for the Opposition to proclaim that the Labour Government ordered more naval vessels than we have, but I wonder how they imagine that those vessels could have been paid for, bearing in mind that the Labour Party is committed to further reductions in defence spending and the Labour Government had no clear plans on what was to be reduced. A declaration of intent is no substitute for a pledge fulfilled and I remind the House that this Government acted to bring to reality the fundamental, but ignored, necessities of a defence policy.
We increased Service men's pay to full comparability within months of taking office. The right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) does not want to know; because it is true. We increased defence spending by nearly 8 per cent. in real terms over three years. We expanded the reserves. The TA is now at record strength. We checked the outflow of disenchanted Service men and increased trained Service manpower by 20,000 from its 1979 level.
As to the future, we have not just promised a firm way forward for our defence policy. We have produced it. These are the firm decisions and the hard facts that we promised. It is they that characterise our defence policy—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.