HC Deb 19 July 1983 vol 46 cc180-263 3.36 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I beg to move, That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1983, contained in Cmnd. 8951.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Heseltine

In presenting my first White Paper to the House, I am conscious that the whole subject of defence has become a matter of profound public interest and concern. That is hardly surprising, for at no time outside the conditions of world war has mankind consumed such massive resources in the purchase of armaments and in the financing of military strength.

The NATO Alliance spends an average of 5.2 per cent. of its national output on defence, this country spends 5.1 per cent., the United States 6.6 per cent. and the Soviet Union between 14 and 16 per cent. No state, however impoverished, takes the first fledgling step to nationhood without adding its own demands to the existing world armament trade of about $50 billion a year. In world arms sales the United States sells about $181/2 billion per annum, the Soviet Union $13 billion, France $61/2 billion, this country $3 billion and Israel $1.2 billion.

I start with these figures because they reveal most clearly the simple fact that our defence policy does not exist in a vacuum. We deal neither with an ideal world nor with a world over which we on our own could have more than the most minor of influences. Each of those statistics is the product of countless decisions by sovereign nation states. They articulate the real world in which we live. It is against these that we have to make the judgments and determine the resources that are necessary for our own defence.

To these we must add not only an historic perspective but our views about the motives of other Governments across the world. The responsibility to protect our national sovereignty is so absolute, so central to all our other freedoms, that the task of Secretary of State for Defence must be based on assumptions of the most extreme caution.

Defence is centred on the realities of the world as it is and not as we would wish it to be. We cannot close our minds to the confrontations, tensions and opposing ideologies which exist. We cannot ignore the massive and frightening level of armaments. We certainly cannot ignore the military power of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Whatever one's interpretation of their motives, the indisputable facts are that the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are more powerful today than they have ever been, and in every field of defence.

There are those who see the Russians as a deeply conservative people who feel threatened by an aggressive and alien Western culture. In this view the Soviet Union maintains massive forces to defend the Russian homeland. They also have their history—a history of invasion of Russian territory and massive loss of life in the Napoleonic and first and second world wars. I have no doubt that these feelings are part of the cultural inheritance of the leaders in the Kremlin, but equally I am sure that we cannot give them the benefit of the doubt. They have shown that their intentions are not only defensive; they have shown that they are prepared to sacrifice the economic well-being of their people by maintaining a level of military force that goes far beyond the requirements of self-defence. They have time and again, most recently in Afghanistan, used military force to subject a sovereign nation.

As Defence Secretary, I cannot ignore the continuing and dramatic modernisation of Soviet nuclear and conventional forces. Since 1970 they have introduced three new types of intercontinental strategic nuclear ballistic missiles and at least three new submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The United States, on the other hand, has put only two new submarine-launched ballistic missiles into service. In the area of intermediate range nuclear forces, the imbalance between the Soviet and NATO longer-range missiles and aircraft continues to grow. So far as the conventional balance is concerned, NATO tanks, artillery and aircraft are outnumbered by factors of between two and three to one. Under Admiral Gorshkov the Soviet navy has been forged into a major force able to operate worldwide.

The policy in the White Paper is primarily designed, along with the policy of our allies to meet the risk that this threat presents. The purpose of the Government's defence policy is to preserve the peace and freedom of the British people through the collective security provided by our membership of the NATO Alliance of free Western nations.

There can be no coherent strategy to defend Europe without America. There is no more evident manifestation of American support for this view than the 500,000 service men and their families serving in Europe. I believe it of particular significance that we should reaffirm our welcome to the 60,000 of them who are based in Britain. NATO is a defensive alliance of mutual convenience. There are no aggressive plans within the NATO Alliance. No democratic Government and no electorate would tolerate such a prospect.

In the execution of this strategy we set ourselves four main defence roles. The first, is the defence of the United Kingdom home base. In any major crisis our island role would be no less critical than in earlier times. We would need to reinforce the land base of Europe and keep open the life lines of the Atlantic. We shall continue to enhance the defence of these islands by expanding the Territorial Army from 70,000 to 86,000 and creating a home service force to guard key installations. We shall maintain the major planned improvements in the air defence of the United Kingdom. The first of our fleet of Nimrod mark 3 airborne early warning aircraft should become operational next year. The air-defence version of Tornado will enter service in the mid-80s. The programme to modify 72 Hawk aircraft to carry sidewinder AIM 9L missiles is under way. We shall continue to improve the defence of our home waters by adding new minesweepers and hunters and introducing modern torpedos—Stingray—and active sonars with a better shallow water performance.

For our second role, on the central front in Germany, the BAOR and RAF Germany are the tangible evidence of Britain's commitment to the Alliance strategy of forward defence. In this year alone the Challenger tank, tracked Rapier and the Tornado aircraft will all enter service.

The third role is to provide the strong naval and maritime air forces that are fundamental to NATO's sea defences in the eastern Atlantic and the channel. We plan in this financial year to spend about £750 million more in real terms on the Navy than was spent in the year before we came to office. We shall still be spending more on the conventional navy, even when expenditure on modernising the strategic deterrent is as its peak, than we were in 1978–79.

An extensive modernisation programme for the fleet is in hand. In the last year, orders have been placed for four type 22 frigates, a nuclear-powered fleet submarine; two Hunt class mine counter measures vessels and 10 fleet minesweepers for the Royal Naval Reserve. In all, 33 warships have been ordered since May 1979, valued at £1,875 million.

My predecessor announced that all the ships lost in the south Atlantic would be replaced. In the case of the destroyers and frigates, orders for three of the replacement ships have already been placed. I now intend to invite tenders for the fourth replacement and for an additional frigate beyond those already authorised. I shall be inviting tenders for these two frigates from the British shipbuilders yards of Cammell Laird, Swan Hunter and Vosper Thornycroft.

Lastly, there is our independent contribution to the strategic and theatre nuclear forces of the Alliance, about which much has been said in recent weeks. The Government are committed to the replacement of Polaris by Trident in the mid-1990s in order to sustain this essential element of our defences.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about the negotiations that are taking place with Brazil on the possibility of importing from Brazil 150 Embraer training aircraft? What about these discussions?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend the Minister of State might be able to expand on that matter when he speaks tomorrow. I believe that there are no such negotiations and that the requirement that would be the basis of such negotiations has not been finalised in my Department. If there is anything that my hon. Friend wishes to add to my reply, I am sure that he will take the opportunity of doing so tomorrow.

I have set out the four principal roles that we set ourselves. Inevitably, they add up to a formidable defence budget, this year amounting to nearly £16 billion. This is an increase in cash, after the adjustment I announced last week, of some £1,300 million over last year. A defence budget of such a scale has implications beyond the nation's defence. Our industry and technological base is profoundly influenced by this budget, which by its very scale must involve a social responsibility too. Defence expenditure sustains well over 1 million jobs in the services, their civilian support and in the defence industries. There is a continuing need to provide our armed services with the latest advanced technology, much of which is bound to be developed by our allies. Despite this, about 95 per cent. of the defence equipment budget is spent with British industry.

Naturally I hope to see this continue, but I must ensure that a natural desire to protect a strategic industrial base does not lead to assumptions and practices that produce avoidable cost and inefficiency. I intend to pursue on a wider scale the stimulus of competition in defence procurement and to open up opportunities wherever I can to small and emerging companies.

There has rightly been comment recently about the scale of research and development expenditure within the defence budget. We are spending this year over £300 million on research and some 1³6 billion on development. Together they account for 1.9 billion or over 10 per cent. of our total budget. This is by any standards a major part of the nation's total activity of this sort.

I do not intend to expand at length on my views on this subject save only to make these general observations. First, it is essential that defence research expenditure should be subject to rigorous appraisal to ensure that it will have a military pay-off. Secondly, it is important that wherever practical the national asset that this research represents is exploited for commercial purposes. Thirdly, it must be an appropriate objective of Government policy that, to the maximum extent possible, defence research and development is undertaken by private companies so that there is a general enhancement of the research and development resources of those companies themselves. Fourthly, we must ensure that our development expenditure is not being driven by over-ambitious or gold-plated requirements and that there are adequate incentives to the companies involved to keep down costs.

I mentioned the social opportunity within my Department. I have already announced a services youth training scheme which will provide a year's training with the services for some 5,200 unemployed young people, who will join one of the services for 1.2 months, part of which will be spent in formal training and in gaining some work experience. I can now tell the House that I intend to proceed with a parallel scheme in Ministry of Defence civil establishments which will provide training for a further 2,000 youngsters. We are talking to the unions about arrangements and intend to commence the scheme this autumn.

No one can approach the task of managing the Ministry of Defence without an awesome appreciation of its scale. In keeping with the Government's objective of introducing a range of new management practices to Whitehall and the recommendations of the report of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, we have already introduced the management information system MINIS to the Department. Over the medium term I would expect significant change to flow from this innovation.

A fundamental misconception exists in the minds of those who describe our defence capability, or portray it, as an aggressive force. Nothing could be further from the truth. As its name so clearly states, mine is a Ministry of Defence, and defence in today's world is largely about deterrence. The theory of deterrence is simple. It rests on the need to convince a potential aggressor that no attack by him could gain advantage for him. It is not necessary to be able to deploy superior forces against an aggressor at every level of military capability, but it is necessary to convince an opponent that one has the range of weapons in every class to give one a flexible capability to respond to any attack. One must have a range of weapons systems sufficiently interrelated for an enemy to believe that escalation from one weapon system to another is credible and possible. Not only is such a range of weapons systems needed, but they must be modernised with every advancing generation of technology to ensure that they remain credible against the advancing technology and counter measures of an opponent.

The Opposition amendment refers to a nuclear freeze. But what happens if our opponents do not freeze? Increasingly, our deterrent loses capability as our opponents widen the technological gap between us. What happens if we both freeze to the point that nuclear deterrence is rendered incredible by the advancing technology of counter measures and protective systems, thus leaving only conventional deterrence, where the Soviet Union has a vast superiority?

Equally, a "no first use" declaration by NATO would be an abandonment of flexible response. Flexible response does not imply a commitment to the early use of nuclear weapons, but it means that the Soviet Union must reckon with the possibility that NATO would be prepared if necessary to use nuclear weapons. Deterrence would be gravely weakened if we signalled to the Soviet Union that it could fight a conventional war in Europe without putting its homeland at risk. If NATO ever reached the point of having to consider the use of nuclear weapons, the objective would still be the same: to send a clear and unmistakable signal to Soviet leaders that they had miscalculated the Alliance's resolve to resist and that by continuing the conflict they would be running unacceptable risks. The "no first use" in which I believe is the no first use of any weapons, and the best insurance for that policy is the maintenance of the policies that have kept Europe's peace for nearly 40 years.

As part of flexible response, we must ensure that the Soviet Union would never come to believe that it had such predominance at any level of force—whether nuclear or conventional — that it could terminate hostilities at a point of its choosing. That way deterrence would fail and war would be much more likely. For that reason, we must maintain an adequate capability in intermediate range nuclear forces.

The NATO Alliance, in its twin track decision of 1979, gave the Soviet Union the clearest warning that if it did not withdraw its intermediate range missiles, four years later, in 1983, NATO would deploy its own deterrent system — Pershing 2 and cruise missiles. When that warning was given the Soviets deployed about 120 SS20 missiles, each with three warheads. Today the figure is more than 350. Two thirds of those missiles are targeted on western Europe, so that the number of SS20s aimed at western Europe has trebled since we first issued the warning in 1979.

During that time the NATO RAF Vulcan force has been withdrawn. No responsible British Government could stand aside from this evident and growing threat, especially since the Fl11s based in this country will become increasingly vulnerable to Soviet air defences and counter measures. We should not forget that, even if the full deployment of Pershing 2 and cruise missiles were to take place, they would still represent less than half of the number of warheads already deployed on the Soviet side.

But let the House understand one thing with absolute clarity. Today there are no cruise missiles in Europe. There are no Pershing 2 missiles in Europe, and if the Soviet Union had responded to our zero option initiative there was absolutely no need for them to come here. It is still not too late, but all the indications are now that the most optimistic outcome from Geneva would be an interim agreement not to avoid deployment, but to limit its scale based on equal numbers of warheads on both sides. The Government would welcome that, especially if it led to further deployments that ultimately approached the zero option.

In all that I have said so far, I am merely retracing and updating the policies of every British Government since the second world war. No British Government since the second world war have pursued policies that were significantly different from those that I am presenting to the House today. All Governments identified largely the same threat, and they all responded approximately and appropriately in much the same way.

There are those who define the process of deterrence in the pejorative language of an increasingly uncontrolled arms race. No one, regardless of party, can escape the pressures within every country and every alliance that tend to propel military expenditure remorselessly upwards. President Eisenhower, in a perceptive speech in 1961, referred to the dangers of the military industrial complex. It serves no purpose to single out the senior officers of the world's military establishments or the chairmen of the armaments companies. Each has a clear duty either to ensure that his armed services have the finest equipment they can afford, or that his work people are employed and his company profitable. There is a relentlessness about that process. Every commander is continually searching for the latest technological advance, while every chairman must look to the markets of tomorrow for the sales upon which his company depends. The only way to break into this seemingly relentless process is by political initiative on both sides.

Of course, our people want peace. They would support a reduction in the massive nuclear and conventional arsenals in the world today, but only on terms that are compatible with the peace they have enjoyed for nearly 40 years and not on terms that might destabilise that peace.

They recognise that one cannot negotiate peace with the calculating realists in the Kremlin from a position of weakness. They believe that one enhances the prospects of peace more by remaining strong than by becoming weak. However, they expect us to deploy every energy in the pursuit of balanced, verifiable and fair arms control. They expect that of us, and we have every intention to live up to that expectation. Every aspect of armament control is now the subject of detailed negotiation by the political leaders of the world. To that extent, simply because we are talking the opportunity is as great as it has ever been.

I shall outline to the House this agenda for peace, because it is comprehensive. In the strategic arms reduction talks, which cover United States and Soviet intercontinental nuclear weapons, the United States proposes a reduction in warheads on strategic missiles to 5,000 on each side. That would reduce existing deployment by about one third from present levels. If those negotiations were to lead to a substantial breakthrough, we have made it clear that Britain, in reviewing the future size of its irreducible minimum deterrent, would not stand aside from such a breakthrough. In the intermediate range nuclear weapons talks—

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

When the Secretary of State uses the words "would not stand aside", is he saying that we would reduce substantially the number of Trident missiles and warheads and that we would be prepared to put the Trident missile system into the negotiations and effectively take it into account in such a substantial reduction of strategic weaponry?

Mr. Heseltine

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would understand that what I am saying is that, if in the strategic arms reduction talks there were to be a substantial breakthrough in the scale of world deployment, that would be taken into account by the British Government in deciding their own irreducible level of deterrent in the new context that would then exist. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that statement.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that there is an irreducible minimum and that, however much the Soviets and the Americans reduce, we could not go much lower than what is now proposed?

Mr. Heseltine

My right hon. Friend will have noticed that the word "irreducible" is clearly enshrined in my speech.

In the intermediate range nuclear weapons talks the Alliance proposed the zero option but has indicated that it is prepared to consider a reasonable interim settlement based on equal numbers of warheads. We have gone further. If an interim agreement is concluded after deployment has started, we would seek to extend it further by offering to withdraw those weapons already deployed if the Russians will do the same.

Our proposals in the mutual and balanced force reduction talks for conventional forces in Europe would reduce the number of troops stationed by either side within the area concerned to 900,000 on each side.

On chemical weapons, in March Britain took an important initiative of its own in support of Western moves to bring about a global ban. It has always seemed to me that one of the most exposed positions of those who argue for one-sided gestures of disarmament lies in the experience that we have had with the Soviet Union on chemical weapons. After the second world war, we gave up our capability. The Russian response has been to build up a massive offensive capability. That was a one-sided gesture. Sadly it remained one-sided.

I have no doubt that in private, behind closed doors, there are those in the Soviet Union who fervently wish that the resources of armaments could be redirected to the peaceful pursuit of material well-being. No one can doubt that that is the wish and aim of the Western world. So it must be our responsibility, not only to remain strong against the dangers of failure but, equally, to pursue with every endeavour the prospects of arms reduction and control by negotiation. That is why the genuineness and consistency with which we pursue this agenda for peace are so critical.

It is perfectly true that a basis of trust with the Soviet Union does not at present exist. But let us also understand that it will feel something very similar about us. The quality of diplomacy is measured by the attainment of lasting, verifiable and balanced agreements between nations that do not always share a common trust. We may not succeed, but it would be unforgivable not to try. Many in the world today could point to the need for common survival as the best ground for the development of a common trust. The White Paper sets out our commitment to both.

4.3 pm

Mr. John Silkin (Lewisham, Deptford)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: believes that the plans outlined in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1983 (Cmnd. 8951) do not provide the United Kingdom with a viable defence against aggression; regrets the Government's failure to take any initiative to stop the escalation of the nuclear arms race and, as a first step, to support a nuclear freeze; notes that the Government plans would require the United Kingdom, which already spends more oil the defence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation both in terms of gross national product and per head of the population than any other member of the Alliance, to increase that spending still further; and therefore calls upon the Government to work within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation for a strong non-nuclear defence policy and, in particular, to cease its reliance upon Trident and the deployment of Cruise missiles within the United Kingdom. When the first atomic bomb was dropped in 1945, The Manchester Guardianwrote: Man has at last discovered the means of encompassing his own destruction. The other day I was looking through a collection of letters that I wrote to my parents when I was a young naval officer during world war 2. One in particular caught my attention. It was written from HMS Formidable, the carrier in which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) and I served. On 9 August 1945, the day that the second atom bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, I tried to describe the feelings of the British Pacific fleet, then off the coast of Japan, about the dropping of the atomic bomb. I wrote.

I can only sum up the general feeling best if I say that only a strong international authority can save the world from destroying itself. The tragedy of our time is that, having set up that international authority, the allies of 1945 denied it the real power necessary to create permanent peace. Some 20 years ago another opportunity was lost. The disarmament committee of the United Nations approved the working document agreed by both the United States and the USSR, based upon their agreed principles for disarmament negotiation. That document envisaged a directly recruited United Nations peacekeeping force leaving to the national forces of every country in the world only such forces as might be necessary to defend their territories from aggression.

It was not proceeded with, but such a policy cries out to be undertaken in the increasingly dangerous world of 1983. Why do the Government do nothing about it? After all, throughout modern history the defence of our country has rested upon our ability to survive ourselves until a grand Alliance could be formed that was strong enough to vanquish our enemies. We were never able to do so alone. Global collective security is only an extension of that principle.

The trouble is that the Tory Government have always had an ambivalent attitude to the United Nations and an indefensible policy on arms control. There could not be a better illustration of that than their attitude to the nuclear freeze. I thought that the Secretary of State's attempts to justify the Government's arguments was in the fine tradition of total weakness of argument.

On 13 December 1982 there was a resolution of the General Assembly, which was sponsored jointly by Sweden and Mexico and adopted by no fewer than 119 votes to 17. It called for a nuclear freeze. The Government opposed it. There could not be two weaker excuses than those given on page 8 of the statement. The first is that a freeze would perpetuate and legitimise Soviet superiority". What does superiority in nuclear weapons mean, when both the United States and the Soviet Union have the power to destroy all life on this planet several times over? That is defence provision gone mad. Even using that insane basis, the White Paper reverses the mathematics. The right hon. Gentleman talks in terms of nuclear warheads. Apparently it is a good thing that at last the Russians are prepared to count in nuclear warheads rather than in missiles as such, but the Russians possess 20,000 nuclear warheads and the Americans possess 33.000. That is the gap between them.

The second excuse is that verification would be difficult. I recommend the Secretary of State to visit the Pentagon. When I was there last year, I was assured by the American Under-Secretary of Defence that verification was easy and involved no technical difficulties. In that event, why in the White Paper is it stated that verification is difficult? Why the inaccuracies and why the weasel words of the Secretary of State in answer to his right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Arnery)? I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Pavilion. We have not agreed for a long time. He has his views on the possession of nuclear weapons for our country. He was entitled to ask his question. He got the standard evasion of a Secretary of State who has not the slightest desire to negotiate a peaceful end to nuclear weapons.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)

The right hon. Gentleman did not listen to the speech.

Mr. Silkin

I did. I listened carefully. That is exactly what the Secretary of State said.

Some years ago, the British were principals in these negotiations. Today the Conservative Government leave these negotiations entirely to Reagan, even to the extent of refusing to include Polaris, let alone Trident, in the talks, although many influential members of NATO say that that is the right and sensible thing to do at this point. In the service of Reagan's America, Tory Britain has voted us out of the negotiating chamber and helped to cut our influence for peace in the United Nations. If the Government have ignored the opportunities offered in the United Nations—

Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the current position of the Labour party on disarmament? Some of us got the message that his party was in favour of disarmament. Now he tells us, as does this amendment, that his party favours a nuclear freeze. This is completely different, because it would require no measure of disarmament by the Soviet union and it would let them off the hook.

Mr. Silkin

No wonder the hon. Gentleman was so ineffective during the general election campaign. He did not read our defence policy, our manifesto or our speeches. He does not have the ability to understand exactly what I am saying and what I intend to continue to say.

Dr. Hampson

He has just listened to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Silkin

I will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of our defence policy to read, if he can read.

If the Government have ignored the opportunities offered in the United Nations, what about those alliances that are based on the United Nations charter? It is too often forgotten that the NATO Alliance was founded by the Labour Government in 1949. It came into existence not to challenge the United Nations charter, but to fulfil it. That is why the preamble to the NATO treaty reads: The parties to this treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the U.N. charter and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all Governments. The preamble continues: They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. It is an unhealthy sign that Turkey, with its repellent dictatorship, is a member of such a democratic organisation. Human rights shall be considered not only in Madrid; there is every reason to consider them in Ankara as well. If the Tory Government believe that NATO is about defending democracy, they should be forcing that dictatorship to take account of human rights. Instead, as the resources of aid are cut, the proportion given to the military dictatorship in Turkey increases.

Is that because the Tory Government are so wedded to the Reagan Administration that they are as willing to champion tyranny in Europe as Reagan has done in Latin America? Are the Government frightened that, unless they support the stupidest or most reactionary policies pursued by the Americans in NATO, Reagan will leave the Alliance?

I was interested to hear the Secretary of State talk about the resumption of chemical warfare studies by the Russians. Does that account for the fact that there has not been a whimper of complaint from the Secretary of State about Reagan's decision to resume chemical warfare studies? In this arena there is nothing to choose between the two super-powers, and the Government should be as firm with the United States as they are with the USSR. Both should be called upon—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman wants the United States to continue chemical warfare.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)


Mr. Silkin

I want them both to give it up.

Mr. Heseltine

In the interests of accuracy, the right hon. Gentleman will be fully aware that the Soviet Union has a fully developed chemical warfare capability, which it has used. The United States has largely forgone this. Only recently it took a decision to continue investigations into this matter because the Soviet Union has shown no concern or interest about the relative imbalance of the West in chemical warfare capability.

Mr. Silkin

The right hon. Gentleman confirms what I have been saying — that both super-powers are to blame. Why do not the right hon. Gentleman and the Government protest about them both doing it? If it is right for us to abolish it, it is right for them to do so also. The Government need not worry. There is no fear that Reagan will leave the Alliance. Reagan needs NATO as much as, if not more than, we need Reagan.

The British fleet safeguards the freedom of the United States by protecting the Atlantic approaches and the eastern seaboard of America—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The British fleet, which is the third biggest in the world and the most efficient, guarantees American independence, as it has done for 200 years. As President Roosevelt put it: The best immediate defense of the United States is the success of Great Britain in defending itself. The protection given to America is enjoyed by every other member of NATO.

In addition, the United Kingdom is NATO's paymaster. In terms of GNP and per head of the population, the United Kingdom spends more on NATO than any other member, not excluding the United States. The Labour party has pointed out consistently the unfairness and lack of wisdom of such a policy. That is why we believe in a policy that is not just more in accord with our global objectives but is also more cost-effective. It is time that the burden of defence expenditure—

Dr. Owen

does the right hon. Gentleman remember that in 1978 the Labour Government increased defence spending in line with the NATO commitment of 3 per cent. per year in real terms? I do not seem to remember that he was against that then.

Mr. Silkin

There is nothing wrong with saying that. It is absolutely right. However, the right hon. Gentleman must face up to precisely what has happened to national resources under this Government. During the past four years, since the Government came to power, the gross national product has decreased by over 15 per cent. In those circumstances, the proportion of resources spent by this country on NATO has increased. That is precisely what I was saying. It is time that the burden was shared more fairly.

Instead, the Secretary of State in his press conference on the publication of the statement—he did not talk about it in the House, but he had a press conference—envisaged an increase in our spending on NATO regardless of what our allies might do. I was waiting for him to tell us where the cuts would come. As we all know, cuts have been enforced by the Chancellor. I am sorry that he did not tell us, but perhaps we shall receive more information during the course of what is, after all, a two-day debate.

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

He does not know himself yet.

Mr. Silkin

That is probably true. Are our European allies so wrong to believe, as most of them do, that NATO cannot afford a strategy based on the use of nuclear weapons in Europe? Earlier this year, in the latest war game of several—this one was called "Wintex '83"—as always, NATO rehearsed world war 3.

The war game began, as usual, with a Russian invasion of West Germany. It ended, as always, with NATO firing nuclear weapons first. The West went nuclear because its armed forces could not prevent the red army from overrunning western Europe. Instead of stopping the Russians in their tracks, firing nuclear weapons brought the NATO exercise to an embarrassing halt. No one needed to guess what would happen next. Far from Russia being warned, as the Secretary of State tells us it would be, in this war game, Russia, as it has always said it would, retaliated in kind and attacked with nuclear weapons. A worldwide nuclear war became unavoidable.

That exercise showed the flaw at the heart of NATO's present deterrent strategy, which is based upon the proposition that NATO could not withstand a conventional attack by Warsaw pact forces by conventional means alone. Far from possessing cruise and Pershing 2 missiles as purely retaliatory weapons after an assault by SS20s, NATO would first loose the dogs of nuclear war.

The decision to deploy American cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe was made for political rather than military reasons. It has created a crisis more dangerous than any in the past 30 years, and not just in East-West relations. The proposals have created considerable tensions within the Western Alliance itself, as the debates in, for example, Denmark and the Netherlands have shown. In Denmark, against the express wishes of the Danish Government, the Danish Parliament has voted for the installation of cruise and Pershing to be held up pending discussions with the Russians. In the Netherlands, an uneasy Government with a hostile population are busy trying to avoid having to make up their mind. The other members of the Alliance grow steadily more concerned. Instead of cementing the Alliance, the proposals to site cruise and Pershing in Europe have deeply divided the peoples of the Atlantic Alliance.

These weapons solve nothing. They merely prove that if there is war in Europe it is the United States President who will make the final decision as to whether nuclear weapons should be used, whatever kind words may have been inserted to help the Prime Minister pretend that she has a say in their use.

Mr. Amery

The right hon. Gentleman is assuming, if I understand him, the possibility of a conventional Russian attack in Europe. What other way has he in mind of deterring that, apart from Western nuclear strategy? Is he prepared to go for an increase in conventional forces that would match that?

Mr. Churchill

No, surrender.

Mr. Silkin

I fought in the world war, which is more than the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) has done. I am in favour of a conventional response and therefore I believe in meeting a conventional attack, if such an attack were to come, with conventional forces. I do not believe in nuclear forces.

Mr. Amery

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he wants to meet conventional with conventional, but if we do not have adequate conventional forces to meet the attack, what are the choices? They are either nuclear or surrender.

Mr. Silkin

The answer lies in two facts. First, we have the conventional forces available. I do not have much time, but I recommend that the right hon. Member for Pavilion — I am not being patronising, as I mean it seriously —reads a book that has cone out recently, which he may not have seen. It is called "Not over by Christmas" and is by Colonel Dinter of NATO and Dr. Griffith, the military historian. That puts the case as well as it can be, and should be read. Apart from that, there is all the new technology, which the White Paper also mentions.

Again, the proposals assume that the Russians will not increase the use of nuclear weapons. However, such an assumption is naive. The decision to site Pershing in Europe means that, for the first time, missiles that can reach Moscow in six minutes will be sited on German soil, which is a major change that is bound to affect the Russians and their view of the West's intentions.

The Secretary of State rightly said that, deep in the Russian folk memory, is the vulnerability of Russia to foreign invasion. Tyrants whose eyes were fixed upon Russia have arisen in the West from the lime of Napoleon to the time of Hitler. The results have always been the mass destruction of Russian territory and the loss of Russian lives on an appalling scale. More than 20 million Russians died in world war 2, safeguarding their independence and that of other countries. Nobody who has visited Moscow can have any doubt that the Russian Government and people are united in their determination that this shall not happen again. This folk memory accounts for—I do not say excuses—the building of a satellite empire from the Baltic to the Black sea to prevent the full initial force of an attack being felt on Russian territory.

Mr. Heseltine

What excuse does the right hon. Gentleman have for Afghanistan?

Mr. Silkin

I have no excuse for any aggression, wherever it may be. I have no excuse for Afghanistan, Vietnam or aggression by anybody.

The trouble is that the Russian strategy was originally based on the need for protection from tanks, but missiles travel faster than tanks. The siting of these missiles on German soil inevitably promotes fear and suspicion, and the first results of this are now being seen. Many people fear that Russia will soon locate missiles in other Eastern bloc countries, even though the countries may not want them. Thus, the nuclear stockpiles in Europe on both sides may be increased, and hence the risk of nuclear war will increase as well.

In the face of all this, the Government's decision to increase the installation of cruise missiles on British territory is the reverse of a real defence policy. Such a stance is not resolute but irrational. What is equally irrational is that the Secretary of State appears to welcome a nuclear confrontation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] In Defence Questions on 12 July this year, the Secretary of State was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) whether he would at least delay the installation of cruise missiles pending the negotiations. The right hon. Gentleman touched on that in his speech today. His reply then was: Conservative Members think that four years is adequate if the Soviet Union has any intention of negotiating."—[Official Report, 12 July 1983; Vol. 45, c. 759.] As the intermediate nuclear force negotiations began not four years ago, but only 18 months ago, and are only now in a position to make any progress at all, it is obvious that neither the Secretary of State nor his Cabinet colleagues have the slightest intention of entering upon honest negotiation.

According to page 20 of the White Paper, the total number of SS20 launchers deployed throughout the Soviet Union stands at 351 on latest estimates. The addition of cruise and Pershing missiles to the proposed United Kingdom Trident deployment is equivalent to 500 SS20s, which is a further example of overkill. There is no doubt that the Government are in a small minority. Not even their own supporters are in favour of pushing ahead with Trident. Apart from anything else, the cost is frightening. The Secretary of State, doing what we have seen him do in other Departments, is trying to massage the figures—he is well versed in the practice.

On page 7 of the statement he says: There has been no change in the estimated cost of the Trident D5 system since last year other than for … general inflation and exchange rate changes. At average 1982–83 prices, the estimate is approximately f7½ billion. However, the cost was put at £7.5 billion in 1981, although most observers at that time thought it more likely that the true figure was £10 billion. Leaving that aside, how is it possible to discount inflation of about 15 per cent. since those days, together with a fall in the exchange rate from $1.82 in September 1981 to $1.52 and come up with the same figure as in September 1981? Only the Secretary of State knows, and he is not telling us.

There is another cost that is more dangerous and more difficult than that. To pay for Trident, our country's conventional capability will be destroyed. Our real defences are being starved to pay for a nuclear status symbol that nobody would dare to use in any circumstances. What is certain is the high cost of Trident. During the peak years of the Trident programme, it will cost about 10.5 per cent. of all equipment, will be the equivalent of 20 per cent. of new orders, will be 30 per cent. of the Royal Navy's budget and the equivalent of more than 50 per cent. of new orders for Royal Navy equipment. That is the real cost of Trident, and it is not the end of the story.

We have seen the beginnings of further expenditure cuts, as the new Chancellor of the Exchequer gets into the saddle. Those cuts will increase and will bear more and more heavily on the defence budget. The dilemma is not new. It faced the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) when he was Secretary of State for Defence. The House will recall that he wanted both Trident and an effective conventional defence policy. He was not able to get them both. The then Chancellor rightly pointed out that that would be impossible. When the right hon. Gentleman refused to accept that painful truth, he was replaced by Mr. John Nott, as he was then.

Mr. Nott's recipe was to slash the Navy and delay Tornado—one-sided disarmament of the most crucial nature. The Secretary of State has an additional source of expenditure which he has recently increased—fortress Falklands. When the new Chancellor asks for more cuts, where will the Secretary of State make them? What will be first for the axe? There are four choices. There is the protection of the United Kingdom. There is the Navy and its commanding role in the eastern Atlantic. Perhaps it will be the troops in Germany. Or will it be the abandonment of fortress Falklands?

No doubt we shall see a reduction in all those, but in the end it is the crippling expenditure on Trident that will force the Secretary of State's successor to abandon the nuclear status symbol. I say his "successor" because the Secretary of State cannot afford a review as radical as will be required after this White Paper and yet survive in office.

Even the Secretary of State's bitterest critics cannot deny that when it comes to the art of public relations he has a head start over all his colleagues. Indeed, that would appear to be the only reason that he got the job in the first place. Certainly the White Paper requires all the arts of public relations to make it credible, let alone new or radical. We have a right to expect something better.

The Secretary of State succeeded a predecessor, who, by general consent, was the worst defence Minister since Ethelred the Unready and whose own White Paper was characterised by the then—

Mr. Churchill

Cheap and nasty.

Mr. Silkin

Does the hon. Gentleman find that what the then First Sea Lord said about the White Paper— a con trick and a collection of half truths"— is also cheap and nasty?

The White Paper is a mere rehash of the last one. It is a pathetic contribution from a pathetic Minister. We deplore the opportunity that has been missed to take a new look at defence in the interests of Britain and of the world. That is why we have tabled the amendment.

4.31 pm
Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

The nicest thing that can be said about the speech of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) is that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was happily absent. It would probably have been rather too much for him.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, not only on his appointment but on the introduction of his first White Paper and on having enjoyed a good war. By that, I mean a good election in which the quality of his argument enabled him to defeat, for a time at least, the forces of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. But now his real problems start.

I am convinced that speeches in the House are far too long and I propose to ask only a series of questions of the Minister in the hope that he will respond to at least one or two of them when he replies. I remind him that because of the nature of the debate that will follow his reply this evening he will have a larger audience than he might otherwise have had.

My first question is addressed really to the Foreign Secretary. When will my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and, indeed, the Foreign Secretary, visit Moscow? Throughout the past four to five years the only Conservative Minister to visit Moscow was the Under-Secretary of State, now the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind)—a welcome visit it is true, but right at the end of a five-year period. It is important that either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary sooner or later should pay a visit to Moscow because our lines of communication must be kept open.

I understand that Mr. Ken Livingstone is to visit Moscow. I never believed that Mr. Ken Livingstone existed. I believed that he was invented by the Conservative Central Office. But if it is true that he was not invented by Saatchi and Saatchi and that he is going to Moscow, it is something of a rebuke to us.

I want to direct the following questions specifically to the Minister of State. First, the 3 per cent. additional expenditure entered into in 1978 is to end in April 1986. Will it be extended? Please may we have a response to that tonight?

Secondly, the additional cost of the Falklands will be paid for by the Treasury until April 1986. Will that extra payment be extended?

Thirdly, will our independent nuclear deterrent eventually be included in a START negotiation and, if so, to achieve what Soviet concessions? Will that be verification or inspection? If we are to reduce our independent nuclear deterrent under those circumstances, are we right in assuming that there would be, for example, a reduction in the number of Trident warheads?

Fourthly, will any additional expenditure be allocated to our conventional forces in Europe in order to raise the nuclear threshold à la General Rogers? Most of the calculations that have been made suggest that over and above the 3 per cent. we need an additional 1 or 2 per cent., depending on which calculation is used. It is all very well for the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford to talk about the need for a conventional defence of Europe when deterrence has failed, yet at the same time to be the spokesman of a party which would reduce our financial expenditure by a third. That is utter hypocrisy.

Mr. Silkin

That is quite untrue. If the hon. Gentleman cares to read our programme, he will see that it is untrue for several reasons. One is that the reduction depends entirely upon NATO's ability to defend itself on a nonnuclear basis.

Mr. Critchley

Such an intervention is not worthy of a response. That failing in the Labour party's policy was one of the real reasons why it failed so lamentably even to hold on to the the residual support that it had had for so long.

My fifth question links up with my point that if we are to raise the threshold in Europe we need to spend more money on conventional equipment and men. Is the best that we can hope for in Europe a policy of no early first use?

In every Parliament in recent yeas we have had a fundamental review of defence policy. I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be faced with a similar problem before long. We have only to look at the threatened reduction in Government spending and the implications for defence—already, we have seen some cuts in defence spending; and sooner or later in the 1980s we shall be faced with very hard choices indeed.

Therefore, my sixth and final question is, faced with such choices, which way will the Secretary of State and the Government go? Would they prefer a NATO-based strategy or a more maritime one, or would they resist the temptation to make hard choices and muddle on by carrying out all sorts of commitments rather less well than we might otherwise do?

I have asked what I think are the important questions in defence. The answers will be left to the Minister of State and many will be waiting in the hope and expectation of receiving at least some glimmer of an answer.

4.38 pm
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

It is not inappropriate that I should speak for the first time in this House, in a debate on defence. From both a family and a constituency point of view I find it easy to identify with our security forces. It is a tradition in Ulster for people to volunteer to serve in the security forces. There has never been conscription in Ulster, not even during the last war. In my own family, an uncle who was a captain in the Royal Ulster Rifles was killed in Normandy in the last war, and when terrorism reared its head in Northern Ireland it fell to me to join the newest and largest regiment in the British Army—the Ulster Defence Regiment—and to serve with it from its inception on 1 April 1970 until June 1981.

Historically, the main market towns in my constituency —Dungannon and Enniskillen—are garrison towns, the latter having given its name to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, now incorporated in the Royal Irish Rangers, and also to the Royal Inniskilling Dragcon Guards.

For reasons that will be apparent to most hon. Members I shall not refer to my immediate predecessor, who did not attend the House, did not hold dear any aspect of British democracy and went to the electorate with a ballot paper in one hand and an Armalite rifle in the other. His absence meant that no one from the constituency ever paid tribute in the House to the last working Member, the late Mr. Frank Maguire. Although I did not share his political ideals and he did not often attend the House, I know that he served his constituents. I hope that I shall serve them equally well. I hope also to contribute to the workings of the House, as have other predecessors such as Colonel Robert Grosvenor, James Hamilton and Harry West.

Having commanded part-time and full-time soldiers in the UDR, and having had under my command soldiers from the Regular Army, I understand and appreciate the sacrifices that we demand of our fighting forces. Only last week four members of the UDR died in a land mine explosion in my constituency. The stress that has lasted for 14 years is difficult to put into words. The excellent discipline of our forces in Northern Ireland is remarkable when one considers what they have had to endure in their efforts, working within the law, to keep and uphold the Queen's peace.

In 14 years, 500,000 regular soldiers have served in Northern Ireland on four-and-a-half-month tours of duty. There are now 8,000 serving members of the UDR out of a total of 32,000 who served at some period since 1970. That means that in Northern Ireland there are now 32,000 members or ex-members of the UDR who are targets for the IRA, 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Thinking of those soldiers, I am greatly concerned about how the Government intend to cut up the financial cake for the Trident programme, the nuclear programme and our conventional forces. Last week cuts were announced in the defence budget. Where will they fall in relation to those three areas? I believe that the conventional forces are likely to get a smaller share of the cake and to suffer more cuts than any other programme. That makes me sad.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State, as any new pupil should. He said that defence was based on the principle of deterrence, and he developed various ideas about what might happen in relation to our nuclear programme, finishing with a situation in which nuclear forces were equally balanced. I was sad to hear him say that our conventional forces would be inadequate in relation to potential enemy forces. Sometimes we seem to look too much to the future and to forget the lessons of the past. For almost 40 years we have depended entirely upon our conventional forces in maintaining peace throughout the world, most recently in the Falklands campaign and currently in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State talked about Government determination and strength. We all subscribe to that, but I am left to ponder the lack of Government determination and strength in the past 13 or 14 years. It was not our conventional forces which let us down in Northern Ireland or in any other theatre. It was the Government alone—a succession of Governments of both parties—who bowed the knee to terrorism during that period. I need not emphasise the point by listing all the mistakes that were made, such as flying terrorists to London and giving special category status to terrorist prisoners.

Irrespective of Trident and the nuclear programme, if we cannot defend our own frontiers effectively, how on earth can we hope to contribute to world peace? Does the Minister realise that there are no firm patrol bases left in the west of my constituency? They have been removed for a variety of alleged reasons, but the real reason is clearly that money can be saved by not keeping troops in a fixed position to defend the frontier with Eire where the terrorists cross. It is the equivalent of asking troops in the first world war to leave the front line trenches at night and come back in the morning hoping that the enemy has done nothing in the interim.

My constituency badly needs more firm patrol bases close to the frontier. Their absence puts enormous pressure on the security forces. The dread that that absence inflicts on the community is greater still. Wives, daughters and mothers sit in their homes at night wondering whether their husbands, sons or fathers will return safe, having successfully avoided marauding bands of IRA raiders.

Expenditure is important to our forces in Northern Ireland. What a difference just one small increase in the number of helicopters deployed against the terrorists would make. It is generally recognised that helicopters are essential in the fight against guerrilla forces. I have personal experience of the difficulty of acquiring helicopter hours to transport my troops around the area that I commanded. Commanders are then left with the choice of sending their soldiers in Land Rovers along dangerous roads or across dangerous countryside where there is inadequate security. They have every chance of driving over a land mine, as happened to four young men last week.

By their courage and discipline, the security forces should have earned the House's support. I beg the Secretary of State to keep our conventional forces, and my hard-pressed constituents, in his mind as he shares out the financial cake. I hope that I have shown my own and my constituency's gratitude to and concern for our armed forces. That is not all that those who elected me would want me to convey to the House on their behalf. They would also want me to convey their loyalty and obedience to the House and their steadfastness to their British heritage. Those members of the UDR with whom I have had the privilege to serve are a living example of that dedication. We ask only that hon. Members and the Government never allow that fact to escape them in their debates and deliberations.

4.52 pm
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

The House has listened closely and with great interest to a distinguished maiden speech from the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). He is able and articulate. We especially welcome his kind words for the British Army's contribution to the defence of his constituents. His call for helicopters was an updated version of Nelson's endless calls for more frigates. The hon. Gentleman spoke with great sincerity, knowledge and conviction. We look forward to his taking part in many more defence debates. His predecessor made himself famous through his absence; I trust that the hon. Gentleman will make himself famous through his future contributions to our affairs.

The temptation for politicians, realising their lack of knowledge about defence matters, is to speak with great caution. I advise my new hon. Friends not to be unduly cautious. It was, after all, a general who came up with the famous comment, "There will always be a place on the battlefield for the well-bred horse." I refer, of course, to Field-Marshal Haig.

This year's defence White Paper is to be commended for its style, colour and content. I also draw attention to the calibre of our defence team. The new Secretary of State has shown an astonishing grasp of detail over a highly complex and technical subject in a short time. I cannot help contrasting our team's performance with that of the previous Labour Governments' defence team. Only a few years ago The Times felt moved to draw attention to their lack of ability and chided them for their weak performance.

The Labour party is in hopeless trouble on defence. That was one reason for our election victory. The one-sided gesture of disarmament hangs around the Labour party's neck like an albatross. If it gives it up, it also gives up a number of its general management committees. Labour is divided into three groups. The first is those who genuinely want to improve our conventional forces. They are as rare as hen's teeth in my part of the world. The second group comprises those who wish to cut our conventional forces by reducing defence expenditure in line with that of our allies. The third group contains those who would invite the Girl Guides in tomorrow without a qualm.

The Social Democrats are present in their usual strength. They have a remarkable nuclear policy. I describe it as a policy of wear-out and rust-out. Briefly, one trots out on platforms throughout the country all the arguments in favour of an independent nuclear deterrent and then one day a chap in a white coat with a screwdriver says that the thing is U/S—unserviceable to those who have not done national service—and instantly one trots out all the arguments against Britain having an independent nuclear deterrent.

The threat is ably described in the White Paper. Like all my right hon. and hon. Friends, I fear that the aged leadership in the Kremlin is out of touch with its people and world events. We are sometimes told by the younger generation that it is not arming against the West but has its eyes on China. However, if one examines the capability of its equipment—especially electronics—it is clear that it sees Western Europe as the likely area for action. Communism is for export. It is for insertion even during a period of so-called detente. The Soviet leadership has made it clear that it does not want to use violence, but it is not prepared to allow the lack of it to stand in the way of its political objectives. For most of my lifetime, we have witnessed that violence. I served as a soldier in Berlin when the wall was going up. We have also seen that violence in the snowy wastes of Afghanistan, whence millions of people are now refugees.

What are the Soviet leadership's aims and intentions? Baluchistan perhaps? Or will it be Iran to forestall what the Russians would see as a possible move by the Americans? Will it be Yugoslavia? It is highly likely that the Soviets will attempt to pull that country back into the fold. The sheer weight and intimidating numbers of Soviet conventional forces are a cause for great concern. Professor John Erickson has written: The near frantic rate of military production as well as naval building suggests something akin to a war tempo". I draw attention to the wise words of Lord Home who, with minimum rhetoric, achieves maximum effect. He recently said: War is not inevitable. But the life of the democracies may well hang on whether they have the will to strengthen NATO with conventional arms. And to do so to a point where all temptation is removed from the Soviet High Command to launch a surprise attack and face the West with a fait accompli. Time allows me to touch on only a handful of topics in the White Paper. Our strategic deterrent contributes an entirely independent centre of decision-making within NATO, and thus greatly strengthens the NATO Alliance. A potential adversary finds it much harder to forecast our likely response. Just in case the Soviets should doubt the total commitment of the United States, surely it is prudent for one European country, totally committed to NATO, to hold a strategic nuclear deterrent. To me, Britain is the obvious candidate.

The NATO decision to deploy cruise missiles in Britain and Europe is one of the most critical decisions of this decade. Deployment will redress the serious imbalance in theatre nuclear weapons. I remind Opposition Members that Britain has been a potential nuclear target for the Soviet Union since that country fiat acquired nuclear weapons, back in the 1950s. It will of course remain a potential nuclear target, whether or not cruise missiles are here.

I turn to the vexed subject that has cropped up so often in these debates, NATO's southern flank, the tropic of Cancer. Defence outside the NATO area could become just as important, if not more important, to NATO in the future. I detect a Maginot line approach. In those days, much money was spent on the Maginot line. Today, much money is spent on the close defence of central Europe. Surely, the military lesson of history is that the flanks are the more likely target than the centre.

The quality and quantity gaps between NATO and the Warsaw pact are closing simultaneously. It is vital that we keep one step ahead of the Soviets in research and development. I therefore welcome what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier. By keeping ahead with our technology, we are making the best use of our limited but highly trained manpower. In particular, we must concentrate on improving our surveillance systems and our precision guided missiles. It has been said, "If you can find it, you can hit it. If you can hit it, you can destroy it."

I should like to say a brief word on another important topic, maritime versus continental. The Secretary of State's predecessor dutifully told us over and again about the disadvantage of adopting the so-called maritime approach. I only hope that the Secretary of State will not set his face like flint—to borrow a phrase—against such an approach in the long run. Over the centuries the Royal Navy has proved our particular and appropriate champion. Since the time of Marlborough we have not liked having a standing army in western Europe.

Mr. Dalyell

I heard the hon. Gentleman give courageous and informed evidence on the BBC's "You the Jury" programme on Saturday night. Does he agree with Lord Lewin that there should be a south Atlantic strategic vantage point for NATO? What does the hon. Gentleman say to the argument that was adduced by the person who called him in witness, my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), that much of the Navy was being taken out of its proper role?

Mr. Townsend

The hon. Gentleman tempts me to make another speech on an entirely different aspect of defence policy. I wanted to quote the words of the Select Committee on Defence, and in particular paragraph 16, which says: Any sustained and substantial commitment to defend the Falkland Islands will affect the contribution of HMG to NATO, already strained in terms of manpower and equipment. We have pressed the Ministry of Defence to indicate where current and planned deployments have stretched resources and altered the declarations of forces to NATO and we are not completely satisfied by their reassurances. We cannot disguise the fact that there will be substantial problems and that there will be effects on NATO capabilities". Those words are worth further exploration during this debate. I have always made it clear that we have no alternative but to defend the Falkland Islands at present. However, I do not believe that we should attempt to set up a strategic stronghold for NATO based on the Falkland Islands in the immediate future.

In a troubled and turbulent world, we must have a Government who deal in conciliation from a basis of strength. We have just elected such a Government. Their defence policies should be supported in the interests of peace.

5.4 pm

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) referred to unilateralists, and to three types of unilateralists in particular. I do not know where I find myself in those types, but in my experience very few supporters of unilateral nuclear disarmament — indeed, a very small fraction — are pacifists. Indeed, the overwhelming majority, including myself, strongly support the defence of this country and are as committed to defending it and our way of life as are Conservative Members and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who oppose unilateral nuclear disarmament.

I shall not rehash some of the arguments—some of which did no credit to anyone — that were adduced during the general election campaign. Nor shall I take this opportunity to restate the fundamental case, as I see it, for a non-nuclear defence policy. Instead, I shall look at some of the common ground that exists on defence and try to explain to Conservative Members why we are so alarmed about the road down which the Government are taking us on defence.

We all agree on the need to defend this country. I was pleased to see the Government say in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" that the Soviet Union was not planning an immediate attack. Of course not. Equally, of course, we have to be defended against the possibility of any future attack. We know that. However, we must also recognise that we are now in the most dangerous period of human history and that the overriding objective of this Government's policy in foreign affairs and defence—the two are, of course, closely related—should be to seek to avert the ultimate conclusion of the nuclear arms race, a conclusion which is bound to lead to the devastation of civilisation in Europe as we know it. The threat of a nuclear holocaust is very much on the increase.

I know that the Secretary of State for Defence does not want a nuclear war, any more than I do. However, I am appalled at times by the statements that are made by people in high places, who seem to fail to recognise the enormity of nuclear war. I shall give three brief examples. I listened with great care to the Prime Minister's speech at the Conservative party conference, which was televised live last year. I still remember, as if she said it yesterday, her reference to the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan.

The right hon. Lady said: I want to see nuclear disarmament. I want to see conventional disarmament as well. I remember the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I remember, too, the bombs that devastated Coventry and Dresden. There is no comparison between the nuclear weapons that are now deployed in this country and Europe and their effects, and what happened in Coventry and Dresden.

At the beginning of this year I read an interview with John Mortimer which the retiring permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence gave in The Sunday Times. He said that people go on and on about nuclear war; millions and millions of people died in the 1914 war, it just took longer to kill them, that's all. What an incredible statement. How could anyone in that position compare the devastation of nuclear war and its implications, not just for our forces but for our whole society, with what happened in the first world war?

Recently an appalling circular was sent by the scientific research and development branch of the Home Office to the regional civil defence advisers, seeking to discredit the British Medical Association's report on the effect of nuclear weapons. I hope that hon. Members will read that report, because it represents a balanced view of what nuclear war would mean to this country. It concluded that civilised life as we know it, and the human values and ethical standards on which the practice of medicine is based, would cease to exist in vast areas of these islands.

We are terrified by the statements made by people in high places in this Government—even more so in the Reagan Administration—in which they do not seem to realise that nuclear war, as opposed to conventional war, is a wholly different ball game. In the Secretary of State's speech today—and this applies also to the "Statement on the Defence Estimates"—there was no recognition of the present dangerous escalation of nuclear weapons.

The right hon. Gentleman said a lot about deterrence. We all understand the policy of mutually assured destruction and the idea that the Soviet Union will not unleash its nuclear weapons against the West because it fears the consequences of the West unleashing its nuclear weapons against it, but how on earth could the Secretary of State address so many of his remarks to the policy of deterrence without once referring to the real and justified fear that the development of counterforce weapons and of a counterforce strategy undermines deterrence?

Hon. Members must recognise that. It is one thing to deploy nuclear weapons against population centres and to have a policy of mutually assured destruction, but nuclear weapons are now being developed that have the accuracy to take out the other side's nuclear weapons. Thus, the risk of nuclear war becomes much greater, because the other side fears that we will use our nuclear weapons first to take out its weapons, and vice versa.

I am surprised to see the Minister shaking his head. Many men who are much more distinguised in military matters than hon. Members—such as Lord Carver and Lord Zuckerman— share that view. In their hearts of hearts, hon. Members know that a counterforce strategy represents the most dangerous escalation yet of the nuclear arms race. This country has decided to deploy the Trident 2 D5 weapon system which is specifically designed to be accurate enough to take out Soviet missiles. There is also cruise, which is a counterforce weapon. It is true that the SS20s represent a major advance on the land-based weapons that the Soviet Union has deployed in Europe, but there is hardly any comparison between the next generation of SS20s and the cruise and Pershing missiles, which are much more accurate than the SS20s.

In any consideration of nuclear balance, accuracy must be taken into account. Prominent spokesmen in America and leading experts on nuclear arms will acknowledge that there is a broad balance between the arsenals of the United States of America, NATO and the Soviet Union. The increased fire power and explosive power, and the higher number of megatons that the Soviet Union certainly has by comparison with the West, is at the very least offset by the technological lead of American weapons over those of the Soviet Union.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to take into account in his weapon for weapon consideration the fact that the counterforce strategy is fundamental. It is inconceivable that a country should have a counterforce strategy when it cannot take out all the weapons on the other side. A significant number of them are submarine-launched, and thus housed in submarines that cannot readily be discovered.

Mr. Strang

That is a fair point, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the United States of America is going down the road of anti-submarine ballistic warfare. Military planners fear that if all the land-based nuclear weapons were taken out that would substantially reduce the ability to respond. It is important to bear in mind not only the purpose of the weapon, but the fact that the other side knows that a weapon system has a certain capability.

We are appalled by the way in which the Government do not seem to give any lead to those forces in the world who want to end, or at least to reduce, the present risk of a dangerous escalation in the nuclear arms race. In the White Paper there is an interesting section on a number of nuclear disarmament initiatives. I was interested to read those passages in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" which have a blue background and which are described as outlining the Government's thinking on important general issues. I could not help but feel that the view expressed was more that of the Conservative party than the more balanced view that may exist on some of these issues in the Ministry of Defence.

The comments on the various initiatives proposed on nuclear disarmament make very sad reading. No one is suggesting that the nuclear freeze is an end in itself. However, many people in Britain, Europe, the United States of America and elsewhere suggest that it would be a useful starting point. Of course it does not solve anything, but it would be a useful beginning if we were to agree to freeze the development and deployment of additional nuclear weapons.

Of course it is true that the Russians have more land-based theatre nuclear weapons, but the overall balance is broadly equal between the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Therefore, it is reasonable to put forward that proposition as a tentative stepping stone towards securing real negotiations and reductions in nuclear arsenals.

The next item on the Government's list is the "no first use" of nuclear weapons. That is very important. The document discusses the new technology developed, in particular, in the United States of America, which will enhance the conventional capability of NATO forces, and enable us better to resist a conventional Soviet attack, but, depressingly, it says that if such weapons were developed and deployed there would not be any alteration in the policy of a flexible response. I understand that to mean that there is no question of the Government conceding that NATO will abandon its policy to be the first to use nuclear weapons. That is a deplorable state of affairs. One of the Government's overriding objectives should be to enable NATO, as quickly as possible, to respond positively to the Soviet Union's undertaking that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons.

Of course, that is not an end in itself, but it would represent a great step forward. The Secretary of State says that he would like a policy of not being the first to use any weapon, but that fails to recognise the enormity of the gulf between the conventional and nuclear weapons. We hope that there will never be another conventional war in Europe, or another war in which Britain is involved. However, at present we do not have a chance of avoiding a war that will automatically lead to a nuclear holocaust and to the total devastation of these islands.

Time does not allow me to go through all the initiatives that I have in mind, but the White Paper refers to nuclear-free zones. Surely the arguments against such zones are appalling. Of course they are not an end in themselves, but if all the battlefield nuclear weapons were removed from central Europe, and if no nuclear weapons were deployed both east and west of the divide, it would represent a great advance. However, the Government are just not interested. Their record at the United Nations is terrible. On occasions only two countries out of more than 100 —Britain and the United States of America—have voted against every initiative to halt the terrifying escalation of the nuclear arms race.

Mr. Churchill

Surely the hon. Gentleman would be the first to recognise that if we were to agree to such a nuclear-free zone it would not have any relevance, because nuclear missiles can be fired into that zone from outside, and even from behind the Urals. If the SS20s were moved back that far, they could still strike with impunity at any point in western Europe. That is why it is so important to achieve a reduction in those weapon systems, instead of making absurd geographical no-go area.

Mr. Strang

That is a point that the Government make. Of course I want to see a reduction in those weapons. However, at the very minimum I should like there to be agreement on a nuclear-free zone in central Europe, because it would be a confidence-building factor. Of course that is not an end in itself. It is certainly not a substitute for getting rid of Polaris, Trident, MX, SS20s and so on. It will take us some time to get rid of the nuclear weapons belonging to the Soviet Union and the United States of America. The real danger is of a limited nuclear war that will escalate into all-out nuclear war in Europe. Anything that can build confidence between East and West and give those of us who are terrified of the policy that the Government are pursuing some assurance that something is being done to avert that disaster will be a positive development.

I conclude by quoting, as I did during the defence debate on 1 July 1982, from a memorandum issued by distinguished retired NATO commanders and NATO Ministers. I make no apology for quoting it, because it is important to get it through to hon. Members that the views that we are putting forward are the views not of a small minority, the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets in Europe against nuclear war, but the views of more and more military people who are becoming more and more concerned about the road our leaders are taking us down in relation to the development of nuclear weapons.

The memorandum said: The armament logic of former decades which said that a more extensive war potential implied an increase in national security is not valid anymore 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 cultivated leadership qualities as did formerly the doctrine of the use of military force in order to maintain national independence, sovereignty and freedom.

5.21 pm
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

It is a great honour to be called today to speak as the representative for the new constituency of Gainsborough and Horncastle.

Eighty per cent. of the constituency was represented in the last Parliament by Sir Marcus Kimball. In the few weeks that I have been in the House I have yet to meet a Member on either side of the House who disliked Sir Marcus. His natural charm and relaxed manner belied his steely determination, as many Opposition promoters of Private Members' Bills know to their cost. About 20 per cent. of my new constituency was represented in the last Parliament by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Mr. Tapsell) to whom I should like to pay tribute. I suspect that I shall never be able to match his economic expertise, but I shall certainly try to match his devotion to constituency work.

I am fortunate indeed to represent about 700 square miles of historic Lindsey in Lincolnshire, stretching from the banks of the River Trent across the fertile Lincolnshire plain to the wolds, one of the most beautiful parts of England. As well as about 170 parishes the constituency contains four towns—Gainsborough, which has been an industrial town and port for centuries, the racing town of Market Rasen—I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) is aware of the existence of the racing town of Market Rasen — the ancient Roman town of Caistor and the lovely market town of Horncastle. All those towns are heavily dependent on agriculture, a subject in which I intend to take great interest during this Parliament.

But Lincolnshire is known for something else. All over the county lie the airfields—many of them now disused —of RAF Bomber Command. It was a moving moment for me when I came across a memorial at one of the airfields which said simply this: Royal Air Force Wickenby No. 1 Group Bomber Command 1942–1945. In memory of 1,080 men of 12 and 626 Squadrons who gave their lives on operations from this airfield in the offensive against Germany and the liberation of occupied Europe. Per Ardua Ad Astra. It is a sobering thought for people of my generation who were born not only after the war but in the second half of this century that on some nights during the war more men failed to return to Lincolnshire from one raid over Germany than were killed during the entire Falklands war. I should like to pay tribute to those men.

Of course, during the 1930s many of those men were debating these issues as we are debating them today. Many of my generation are as concerned as young people were concerned in the 1930s about what they see as a continuous accumulation of weapons of mass destruction. But I believe that in the past two years my generation has again relearned the history of our times and has once again concluded that the peace movement is not that; it is the disarmament movement. As Mr. Churchill said on 19 March 1936: False ideas have been spread about the country that disarmament means peace. Disarmament does not mean peace. Appeasement, as Harold Macmillan said, is the father of war.

In a few months we shall celebrate an important anniversary. Fifty years ago the historic East Fulham by-election took place in which a Conservative pro-defence spokesman was defeated by a disarmer. Indeed, he lost a 14,500 majority. During that campaign the then leader of the Labour party, Mr. George Lansbury, said that if he were dictator he would close every recruiting station, disband the Army, dismantle the Navy and dismiss the Air Force. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) did not go quite as far as that, but if his policies had been carried, if the British electorate had been so foolish as to accept them as it accepted the policies of George Lansbury in 1933, peace might indeed have been put at risk.

Is it not strange that the right hon. Gentleman has learned so little and forgotten so much? Has he forgotten his own words, written under the name of Cato in "Guilty Men" published in 1940, when he wrote: The Labour Party went through all the antic motions of resisting militarism. This consisted of adopting pretty well every half-baked disarmament proposition and annually voting against the Service estimates. Individuals and even groups of fools and fanatics were either for peace at any price or war without weapons. Has the right hon. Gentleman learned nothing? Has he forgotten everything? I hope for the sake of the future of our nation that the Labour party will heed the words not of its official defence spokesman here today but of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). Writing this week in that organ of the "Tory gutter press" The Guardian, he said: If we are to respect and trust the people we must begin to listen to their opinions on the policy which lost us most votes at the last election—defence and disarmament. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was telling the truth, that the defence policies of the Labour party played a significant part in losing it the election. I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) that unilateralism as an issue is dead I suspect that as those right hon. Gentlemen go to bed tonight they may think, "Who will rid us of the pestilential priest of CND?"

Those of us who played some small role in ensuring that CND's arguments were defeated can now turn to more interesting subjects. One topic raised in that significant debate of the Church of England Synod caused concern to many. Men of sober mind accept the need for deterrence, given the fact that these weapons cannot be disinvented, but there is genuine concern about our policy of first use which I accept is necessitated by the discrepancy in conventional forces in Europe. That is not denied. That discrepancy is highlighted again and again in the statement. While I do not call for the dismantling of the British Army of the Rhine, which I accept is a necessary trip-wire, I believe that it is unlikely that the 50,000 men of that army could have any more impact on the outcome of a continental battle fought by 2 million or more men than did their forebears of British Expeditionary Forces in 1914 and 1940. If we are to strengthen the conventional deterrent, we must strengthen those aspects where we are traditionally strongest — the defence of the United Kingdom home base, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.

I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is not here. He drew an interesting scenario when he asked what would happen if the Continent was overrun by a successful Soviet conventional attack. Would the Prime Minister then try to turn back or resist the attack by unleashing a nuclear holocaust? He was right to say that it is unlikely that the Prime Minister would press the button. However, I take issue with him, because if we did not have an independent nuclear deterrent, could not the Soviets demand our surrender in exactly the way that the Americans demanded the surrender of Japan in 1945—because they possessed weapons that we did not possess? The right hon. Gentleman's logic is at fault. Let us act where we are strongest. Let us not fall into the trap that we fell into in 1914 and 1945, of weakening our home defences.

I realise that those pitfalls will be apparent to Ministers. I know that they are committed to the preservation of a word that is perhaps the most abused in the English language, which the Kremlin defines as being attainable only by uniformity, but which we have always sought to sustain by encouraging all nations in Europe to follow their own destinies. That word is "peace". I am confident that the statement will make peace more probable.

5.29 pm
Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) on his maiden speech. I have no doubt that his lyrical description of his constituency will stand him in good stead. I did not agree with everything that he said, but it would be unusual to do so. He made his arguments with clarity, cogency and force. He is obviously a student of history. This place welcomes forthright views, and their being made in an articulate manner. We all wish him well and look forward to hearing from him again.

I pay a brief tribute to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who has temporarily departed, both on his brevity which was quite admirable, and on the series of extremely perceptive questions that he asked. He demonstrated that even in an age of all sorts of devilish weaponry, the rapier can still be extremely effective.

I shall pick up only one of his questions. He asked when the Prime Minister would visit Moscow. That is a good question. It is bad that the Government have allowed a whole Parliament to slip by without making any effort to enter into direct dialogue with the Soviet Union. I hope that that question, together with the hon. Gentleman's other questions, will be answered when the Minister replies to the debate tomorrow evening.

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), who has also departed, suggested that the general election resoundingly vindicated the Government's defence policy. That argument has been made by other hon. Members and not only in today's debate. I find it a little bizarre. It is not borne out by the election results, in which the Government lost 750,000 votes, nor reflected in the continuing and widespread anxiety, which goes well beyond those active in the so-called peace movement, that we are at a critical phase in the relationship between East and West when, against all reason and sense, a further dangerous and costly escalation—especially in nuclear arrnouries—may well take place.

The INF talks in Geneva are of special significance, and I wish to relate most of my remarks to them. Their outcome has consequences across the whole area of defence and may determine the nature of East-West relations for a decade. If they fail, there will be an increase in East-West tension and, almost certainly, an acceleration of the arms race. Mr. Andropov's remarks to Chancellor Kohl about palisades of missiles sent a shiver down my spine.

If, on the other hand, the talks succeed—the walk-in-the-woods informal accord to which Foreign Minister Genscher referred yesterday shows that the difference between the two sides is not really all that great— it could well open the way for a much calmer period, in which the relationship between the two major world systems could be better managed and with progress more likely in SALT.

The Liberal party's major criticism of the Government is that, far from bending every effort to achieve an agreement by using all our influence — if necessary, toughly—with the United States, we appear to go along willy-nilly with almost anything that President Reagan says. Why? That we are in the EC does not mean that we go along willy-nilly with everything that our partners there say.

The Labour party made the mistake of saying that under no circumstances would it deploy cruise. That would take the pressure off the Russians to make concessions. The Government proceed in the opposite direction. The Queen's Speech showed a change in their approach. It was not a question of cruise being deployed only if the Geneva conference failed, but that it would be deployed in any event and the number would depend on the outcome at Geneva. In other words, no matter how hawkish or negative the Americans may be, or how unwilling to reach any compromise, we will go along with them. That is neither an independent defence policy, such as the Government claim they have, nor a sensible way to exert influence.

The Prime Minister is known to be a tough, hard and resilient lady. She also believes that she has influence. In such a position she should be saying to the Americans that, unless they are more forthcoming and show clearly that they are prepared to make a real effort to break out of the detailed technical exchange that has dominated Geneva — about balance and notional balance, when there is already a vast overkill capacity—we shall not deploy. We must use our influence effectively.

We already know that the Russians would settle for no cruise, no Pershings and probably 162 SS20s. That is the Andropov offer. The difference between us is, therefore, 162 missiles and 496 warheads, which is less than 2 per cent. of the combined nuclear stockpile of the super powers. Surely it must be possible to bridge so narrow a gap? If we made it plain to the United States that the Government would not find it possible to deploy cruise in Britain unless America showed much greater flexibility, the chances of success in Geneva would be that much greater.

The Liberal party has long opposed Polaris, but it exists. It therefore makes sense that it should be taken account of in the negotiations. Yet the Government refuse to allow the negotiators at the INF talks or START to do so. Given that Polaris is now assigned to NATO, targeted and deployed by the supreme allied commander, why not? At the Vienna talks on conventional arms reductions there is already an arrangement whereby France, although not in NATO, is taken account of. In other words, both sides make an informal calculation by which 50,000 troops are added to the Western side of the balance to take account of France, even though it is not formally in NATO.

Why cannot a similar informal, sensible arrangement be made about Polaris, and indeed, the French force de frappe? Perhaps it is because of the Government's determination to proceed with Trident. If allowance is to be made for the 192 Polaris warheads now, what about the 896 Trident warheads tomorrow? Much of the anti-Trident argument has centred on cost and relevance to our general defence posture. Perhaps too little has been said about the escalation that it will inevitably produce.

These are profoundly important areas where we believe that Government policy is reducing the chance of agreement at Geneva, or, at the lowest, not contributing to it positively. Our view is that, given that this country is limited in what it can do—rightly referred to by the Secretary of State in his opening remarks— it should make its priority, on the one hand, to use its influence positively in NATO, as I have indicated, and, on the other, to make the most constructive contribution possible to the effective defence of the Alliance.

In our view, that can most effectively be done by a greater concentration on conventional weapons, always taking account of what is going on at Vienna. It is wrong to proceed on a policy that bases the defence of western Europe on the threat of first use of nuclear weapons. It is a weak, not a strong, policy because it exposes one, and is dangerous for that reason. It should be our policy to work within NATO so that any conventional attack by the Soviet Union could be deterred by conventional means, thus significantly raising the nuclear threshold. The Government's rigid opposition to the idea of a battlefield nuclear weapon-free zone in the central front is mistaken, taking into account the remarks in the exchange between the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) and the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill).

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) made it clear that the cancellation of Trident would release considerable resources which would enable us to develop our conventional forces more effectively. That, in our view, is the proper priority for this country in maintaining a viable defence.

The Secretary of State referred vigorously — he generally refers to matters vigorously, but on this he was particularly vigorous — to the Navy. He gave the impression that no Government in recorded history had done so well by the Navy as the present Administration. He should be reminded that it is the view of no less a person than Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton that we now fall far short of the requirements of the supreme allied commander, Atlantic. Likewise the view of Sir Anthony Griffin, controller of the navy between 1971 and 1975, that if one projects the position, particularly on escort vessels, we could be down to 40 by 1990. In general, it is the view of many well-informed people that the Navy is well under strength now and that the situation will worsen.

The Secretary of State also referred to the industrial impact of defence spending and said that 95 per cent. of contracts were spent in this country. Perhaps the Minister, when he replies, will comment on NATO defence procurement, an issue which has been discussed for long enough, though we do not seem to have made any progress in that area. I am all in favour of competition, but competition in NATO often produces duplication and waste with weapons systems. We could do far more by way of co-operation.

Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

I am glad that at last the question of procurement has been brought into the debate. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that while all are in favour of the standardisation of equipment, everybody wants that standardisation to be on his equipment? How would he suggest that we resolve that difficulty?

Mr. Johnston

That is right, and the only way to resolve it is by negotiating a method by which one country does one thing and another does another; there must be a sharing-out because if individual countries feel that one or other is given preference, the system will not work.

When the Secretary of State dealt with the spread of arms he talked of the arms makers and others as if they were caught up in some ineluctable process. That was most depressing because the right hon. Gentleman seemed to believe that there was no means of introducing any kind of arms control, and he certainly was not going to do anything about it. Not much has been done about it. Indeed, since Herr Genscher's minimal proposition for a register at the United Nations, there has been no progress. Have Her Majesty's Government a view on whether it is possible to regulate in any way the sale of arms, which causes misery in many parts of the world, particularly in the underdeveloped new countries to which the Secretary of State referred?

We propose to vote tomorrow against the statement. We shall do so because we do not agree that the Government's policy either gives the country the maximum of security which it should or gives sufficient emphasis to progressing arms reduction negotiations. We accept that the Russians are aggressive — I am no defender of the Communist system—and we accept that NATO must have a nuclear deterrent and that, as a loyal member of NATO, we must be prepared to make a contribution to it. But we do not see any sense in the buildup of nuclear overkill, which is what we are seeing now, nor in the inadequate priority given to our overstretched conventional forces.

And we believe that the Geneva talks can, indeed must, succeed.

5.48 pm
Mrs. Anna McCurley (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech in such an important debate on a subject of great interest and relevance to my constituents.

I am proud to represent the new constituency of Renfrew, West and Inverclyde, which has come about as a result of boundary changes and is, in effect, the altered former constituency of Renfrewshire, West. The boroughs of Renfrew and Johnston have been excluded and a small part of Greenock has been included.

Normally when one pays tribute to the former Member for a constituency one is speaking of a person who has been despatched from this House. In this case it is my privilege to acknowledge his virtues in his temporary absence, for the man who previously represented the bulk of my seat is the present hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan). The electorate did not exactly turn out for me in droves, but the hon. Member for Paisley, South showed consummate political nous by moving out when I decided to move in. He is remembered in the constituency as an excellent constituency Member, a kind man and dedicated. If he did not always command respect for his political views, he certainly won it on a personal basis. He is an acknowledged expert on agriculture, and I wish him every success in his new fields or pastures in Paisley, though he will have to go a long way before he finds farms there.

A small portion of the new constituency of Renfrew, West and Inverclyde was represented in the previous Parliament by Dr. Dickson Mabon, who was a distinguished Member. Friends and colleagues alike remember him with affection and respect. The former Members who represented areas within the new constituency were much respected and I have a great tradition to follow.

In the inter-war period Scrymgeour Wedderburn served in this place, and he served his constituents well. He became the Earl of Dundee and moved to another place. His recent death has saddened all those who knew him.

After the war Jack Maclay represented the constituency. He is known in another place as Viscount Muirshiel. He served as the Secretary of State for Scotland as well as being a representative of Renfrewshire in the 1950s and 1960s. He was a distinguished and much loved Secretary of State for Scotland. He carried the title of National Liberal and Conservative. Liberal Members may do well to consider that proper alliance when they are making their frequent pacts with other parties.

When I was studying the information on the background of my constituency, I found that I was representing a portion of Renfrewshire for the second time around. My former regional seat of Pollokshaws, which is now a part of Glasgow, was historically a Renfrewshire borough. Renfrew, West and Inverclyde is a beautiful constituency. It is not rugged like some areas in the north of Scotland; its undulations are gentle and they roll down to the Forth of Clyde. All gazetteers euphemistically describe its climate as variable and the many tourists describe it in other ways less euphemistically.

The industry in the area that I represent is limited. There are small industrial estates, but the bulk of the industry is on the periphery of the constituency, and it is there that my constituents work as well as in the major towns of Glasgow and Paisley. The principal industry within the constituency is agriculture, and the major portion of it is devoted to dairying, followed by sheep, pigs, poultry and some arable land.

The constituency consists of some beautiful villages with rustic industry traditions. These have almost grown out of themselves and have become village towns. There is a need for these towns, as they are virtually, to be supported by stronger infrastructures. I aim to be as assiduous in my attempts to gain these requirements for my constituents as the Member who represented the constituency previously.

The major towns in the constituency are Gourock and Greenock, representing a major area in Scotland for tourism. It is an area that we know in the north as "doon the watter." It is from this part of the watter that we take off for many of the islands that are in the Firth of Clyde. Erskine is a new town which is thriving and developing. It has benefited considerably from the introduction of the previous Conservative Government's legislation, which gave council house tenants the right to buy their own homes. Linwood is also in the constituency. It is a town that is known for its problems in the past, including high unemployment. Even there there are signs of recovery.

Defence is of great importance to my constituency in both conventional and nuclear terms. As the crow flies, the constituency is 10 km from the Coulport base and less than 5 km from the Polaris base. The royal ordnance factory at Bishopton is a major employer in my constituency. It is the largest producer of propellants for use in gun ammunition, rockets and guided weapons in the United Kingdom. It is the sole United Kingdom manufacturer of combustible charge containers. It is sad that trade union prejudices made it difficult to convirce the work force within RAF Bishopton that their prospects need not and would not be jeopardised by the application of some commercial principles to the running of the works.

The livelihood of many of my constituents is dependent on the retention of shipyards, especially in Greenock. There is a need for orders, especially of conventional submarines. Such orders are needed urgently, especially for the type 2400 submarines, which I believe are in the pipeline.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider an acceleration of the programme for spending on conventional submarines and to consider giving a fair share of the contracts to my constituency. I ask also for a fair share of the maintenance work which the yards are competent to undertake. The constituency needs the work, for it is an area of high unemployment.

There are many who sit on the Opposition Benches who find themselves in a dilemma when the argument is raised of whether we should employ people in the defence industry. The industry is a major employer in my constituency and I have no qualms about it, and nor do my constituents, who deal in realities.

My constituents also deal with realities in a wider sphere and, like them, I welcome the Government's increased expenditure on both conventional and nuclear forces. I believe that the Government have got their priorities right in maintaining the deterrent principle, safeguarding national security and upholding our commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. That Alliance would be severely weakened without Britain's support, for strategically Britain's role is vital to the defence of the West. It is therefore essential to have the most efficient, up-to-date and effective system that we can afford to achieve that sound deterrence. I welcome especially the Government's move to go ahead with the Trident 2-D5 system.

Defence was a key issue in the election, especially in my constituency. I believe that I was elected on the strength of the arguments on defence which were advanced by myself on behalf of the Conservative party. I repudiated the claims of the CND and all the followers of one-sided disarmament, and I believe that that assisted me in my efforts to be elected. In general, the British electorate saw off the principles advocated by the CND and the unilateralists. It lent its support to the Government's defence strategy and it is continuing to support what the Government are doing. Indeed, it is urging the Government to continue along the same lines. People are prepared to pay for the independent nuclear deterrent. The clear-cut deterrent principle is widely accepted, especially in my constituency. I am happy to see the Government retain their commitment to the preservation of peace through their independent deterrent.

5.59 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Of the second part of the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley), Shakespeare would have said, "now thrive the armourers". She will not expect me either to examine or to challenge her on the contents of the second part of her speech. The first part was witty and felicitous. She paid a handsome and generous tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) for the work he did in 80 per cent. of her constituency. She spoke movingly of villages, which she and I as fellow Scots know well, that need infrastructure and support and that form one of the most beautiful parts of our island.

I was especially glad that she paid tribute not only to an excellent Labour Member, but to her Conservative predecessor, Jack Maclay, now Lord Muirshiel. He was Secretary of State for Scotland when I first entered Parliament after a by-election, and I have a guilty conscience about him. A previous Speaker, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, revealed to me that it was at the by-election in the rolling countryside of West Lothian that the Conservatives, having gained about 18,000 votes in 1959, lost their deposit. That lost deposit prompted Harold Macmillan in the "night of the long knives" in July 1962 to sack half of his Cabinet. As Harold Wilson rightly said, he sacked the wrong half. Along with Selwyn Lloyd Jack Maclay was sacked, and no one could have been kinder or less bitter about it. Since then, as Lord Muirshiel, he has played a considerable part in Scottish life and worked for good causes. As a council member of the National Trust for Scotland and in other capacities for organisations such as the Historic Buildings Council my family and I know of the sterling work that Jack Maclay has done and I am glad that the hon. Lady mentioned him in her maiden speech.

I was also glad that the hon. Lady paid tribute to Lord Dundee, a friendly man known to many of us who died a fortnight ago. Opposition Members will raise arguments about the substance of her maiden speech, but I congratulate her warmly on its felicity.

Last Saturday evening at 10.15 on the BBC's "You the Jury" programme, which was extremely capably handled by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumrock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), one of the witnesses called by the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) said that so long as the Argentines know that there are nuclear submarines in the south Atlantic they will not invade. As that witness was none other than Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Lewin, hon. Members can drop the pretence that we do not discuss the deployment of nuclear submarines, and we can safely assume that those vessels are in the Falklands area. I emphasise that Lord Lewin raised the subject on that occasion, last week, and not me. Just as we are indebted to him for confirming on the BBC on 30 January that there was no difficulty in communication between Northwood and Conqueror during the period when the Belgrano was sunk, so we are indebted to him for that information, about which Ministers are coy. [Interruption.] That information came from the former Chief of the Defence Staff.

The presence of nuclear submarines opens a can of worms. Either the submarines are hunter-killers of the Conqueror type or they are Polaris "R" class. I hope to heaven that they are the former. If we assume the lesser of the two evils, that presents problems for our defence strategy. Britain has 12 hunter-killer submarines, nine of which are operational at any one time. The reference to that is annex C at page 39 of the defence statement. At any point in time at least three are undergoing refit, as are Conqueror, Churchill and Sovereign at present. One at least will be in transit to or from the Falkland Islands. Simple arithmetic suggests—Ministers can correct me if I am wrong—that at least three out of the nine available submarines are bottled up in support of fortress Falklands, leaving only six hunter-killer submarines for NATO.

What does that mean for our NATO commitment? If it is said that NATO does not need more than six British hunter-killer submarines, why did we build them at such great expense for a requirement that apparently does not exist? Those vessels are extremely expensive. Am I wrong to suggest that the commitment—

Mr. Robert Atkins


Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Gentleman says "Probably", but let Ministers say it. I shall give way on this important issue to those who are seriously interested in defence. Am I wrong to suggest that only six British hunter-killer submarines are available to NATO? As there is no intervention, I shall assume that my suggestion is not wide of the mark, so we can establish that we have a much smaller force of nuclear submarines available to NATO than was deemed necessary.

Let us have none of the cant about how vital the south Atlantic is as a strategic area. When Lord Lewin was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley whether he had asked for a Falklands base before April 1982, he pleaded that it was privileged information. All the talk of defending 300 million tonnes of shipping round the cape — not Cape Horn, but the Cape of Good Hope—is rationalising after the event. We must examine the map. The Falklands are 3,500 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, and I do not understand why the former Chief of Defence Staff chose last Saturday night on the BBC to say that the Falklands would be a good base from which to defend the 150 million tonnes of oil that are carried round the Cape of Good Hope. That is rationalisation ex post facto. If we wished to defend shipping round the Cape of Good Hope, we would do it from the base on Ascension Island, not from the Falklands.

I have come to believe—it cannot be proved—that Ascension Island was being prepared for the Falklands crisis in February 1982, weeks before most hon. Members had heard of a task force. It has been said time and again that it is a miracle that Nimrods could operate so quickly from Ascension Island. I am sceptical about military miracles, which are usually the result of careful planning. There has been no answer to the charge that the Nimrods could not have operated so quickly out of Ascension Island unless there had been careful preparation for such an eventuality long before 31 March, which the House will remember is the date on which, as the Prime Minister told us from the Dispatch Box on 26 October, the Falkland Islands crisis came out of the blue. If I am wrong about Ascension—

Mr. Robert Atkins

The hon. Gentleman is.

Mr. Dalyell

I did not see who said that. I do not think that that comment came from the Front Bench. [Interruption.] I hear that it came from the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins). He may have better information than the Government Front Bench, but I am agog to hear what the Secretary of State for Defence and other Ministers have to say about this, whatever the hon. Gentleman says.

I have to look at the other eventuality. I am not absolutely persuaded that we are just talking about hunter-killer submarines. The second submarine interpretation of Lord Lewin is less likely, thank goodness, but more sinister. Could he have known that we have R class Polaris-carrying submarines down there? In the unpleasant period between the loss of the Sheffield and the landing at San Carlos, an R class submarine penetrated at 12 deg. south 21 deg. west. That is hundreds of miles south-west of Ascension, in range of cities such as Cordoba and out of range of the Soviet Union.

People may ask how I know that. How did I know that the Conqueror was following the Belgrano for over 30 hours? I made that assertion time and again in the House. It was only in the second week of May that, lo and behold, it was substantiated by Commander Christopher Wreford Brown DSO, the commander of Conqueror. I was right that time, and I think that I am not far wrong on this occasion.

I refer to the February edition of Military History. In it is a column from Askari's notebook. Neither Military History nor the columnist Askari is a great Socialist or Left winger, as far as I know, on nuclear disarmament or anything of that kind. Just listen to what Askari writes. I shall have to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) to read the quotation because the light is shining on my glasses.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Askari writes: Still on the Falklands I fear. An informant told me that there was a ship attached to the Task Force which, apart from various supplies, ammunition etc. was carrying Polaris missiles, under a tarpaulin on the deck. He saw this with his own eyes. I know the name of the ship too which does not appear anywhere on the list of those vessels attached to the fleet. Very curious. What would have happened if that one had been blown up and what use could Polaris missiles be down there? To fire directly at Argentina I suppose.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I shall take that as an intervention.

Mr. Dalyell

My hon. Friend has done me the courtesy of reading that out. My simple question is: is Askari talking rubbish? If he is, he ought to be nailed, and the magazine ought to be nailed and contradicted. I hope that the Minister will comment on that when he replies.

The Secretary of State has said that the naval commitments to fortress Falklands are not causing other than minor problems in maintaining Britain's overall defence posture. I am told by my friend Dr. Paul Rogers in Bradford, who has studied these matters in great detail, that In the past 8 months, Britain has maintained a force of at least five, and on occasions up to ten, destroyers and frigates in the South Atlantic, out of a total force of 53 such ships in the Royal Navy. Ships undertake five month deployments, of which slightly less than two months is accounted for by passage to and from the Falklands. For every ship actually on patrol, another ship will be in passage to or from the patrol area, working up for deployment or replenishing after deployment. Moreover, at any one time, the full fleet of 53 ships is not available for deployment. Many forms of maintenance and minor refits will decrease overall operational availability. It is commonly assumed that a navy is effective if it can maintain two-thirds of its ships operationally available. For the purposes of this analysis, we assume the much more favourable estimate of 80 per cent. operational availability for the Royal Navy. Does the Minister disagree in any way with those assumptions? Apparently he does not so we can go on. Dr. Rogers states: If an average of six destroyers and frigates are on station in the South Atlantic at all times, twelve ships will be committed to that deployment out of an operationally available total of, at the most, 43 ships. Even at a conservative estimate, it therefore follows that over 25 per cent. of the entire destroyer and frigate fleet of the Royal Navy is permanently committed to Fortress Falklands One quarter of the fleet that was supposed to be our major contribution to NATO in the north Atlantic is now committed in the south Atlantic. Ministers cannot have it both ways. Either it was unnecessary to have such a large fleet in the first place, in which case we should be told that it was not an integral part of NATO, or we are not making the contribution that was thought to be necessary and is still apparently necessary to NATO. It is either one or the other. I look forward to the Minister saying which it is.

Dr. Rogers states further: It should be added that destroyers and frigates comprise the great majority of the Navy's ocean-going fleet of major surface units … The most notable example of Falklands naval deployments of recent months occurred in the latter part of May 1983. At that time, the Royal Navy had the following ships on station:

Type 42 destroyers

Type 21 frigates

Type 22 frigates

Leander frigates

Rothesay frigate

Then there was also the armed patrol ship, our old friend Endurance. Dr. Rogers states: Actual deployments in the South Atlantic thus included four out of the Royal Navy's nine modern destroyers, the Type 42, and two out of the four most recent frigates, the Type 22 …The distortion in favour of recently built warships is especially striking. The Royal Navy has destroyers and frigates which vary greatly in age and capabilities. In terms of air defence, crucial in the Falklands context, the navy has just ten destroyers equipped with the modern Sea Dart long range area defence missile system—nine Type 42s and one Type 82. It also has just six frigates equipped with the modern Sea Wolf short-range point defence missile system — four Type 22s and two modified Leanders. The conclusion is: it has been the practice to have at least two Type 42 destroyers with Sea Dart and one frigate with Sea Wolf on station in the South Atlantic. Allowing for time of passage, operational availability, etc., this indicates that nearly half of the navy's Sea Dart destroyer force and over a third of its Sea Wolf frigate force is committed, directly or indirectly, to Fortress Falklands. If Sea Dart and Sea Wolf, which some of us have seen on HMS Bristol and elsewhere, were considered to be so vital to Britain's contribution to the defence of the West, how is it that we have committed the system in the south Atlantic and apparently that is all right? Serious questions about the defence of this country, even in the Government's terms, arise out of these matters. Dr. Rogers continues: Thus, not only is Fortress Falklands utilising a large proportion of the navy's destroyers and frigates, but it is using the most modern of these ships. Moreover, many of the remaining ships are 20 to 25 years old and cannot always be considered adequate for NATO purposes. Do Ministers think that Dr. Rogers is talking poppycock? Do Ministers think that I am misleading the House by giving all this information? Since I listened to George Wigg 21 years ago, I have thought that these are serious occasions and that there ought to be serious discussion of defence issues. I give the Ministers an opportunity to interrupt me if they think that I am wrong or am misleading the House. There is no interruption, so either they are being careful or I am far more accurate than most of those who criticise my arguments on defence would have us believe.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

My hon. Friend knows more about it.

Mr. Dalyell

Dr. Rogers states: In giving evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee earlier this year, MoD officials stated that threat assessments for the Argentine Navy would continue to be made and that British force commitments would change in response to new assessments. Dr. Rogers refers to the Argentine rearmament programme, emphasising the major programme of acquisition of modern strike aircraft equipped with stand-off weapons and the re-equipping of the Argentine navy with modern missiles. This is an urgent matter.

During defence questions I referred to the Otomat, which is a missile with a range of six times that of the M38 Exocet. It has a range of 125 miles. It is made by Matra in France and Oto-Melara in Italy. Contracts for this missile have been placed in Buenos Aires. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), who was a member of the Franks committee and formerly a pilot, knows the formidable weapons about which we are talking. Contrary to what has been said by Ministry of Defence officials, they can be married to the wing of an aircraft. We thought that the Exocet was shiplaunched—we discovered to our horror that it can be air-launched. There is, I am told, no great difficultuy about the Otomat being air-launched.

These are the weapons that we must take into account. It is significant that the plans include the deployment of four sophisticated Meko 3600 H2 frigates equipped with the Aspide anti-aircraft missile and the Franco-Italian long-range Otomat anti-ship missile. Six Meko 1400 corvettes and six Type 1700 submarines are being built or are on order. These German diesel electric submarines are formidable weapons. Dr. Rogers states: These additions, together with the planned purchase of a number of fast attack craft, will greatly enhance Argentina's naval capabilities. They must also involve an increase in Britain's commitments to Fortress Falklands. Apart from a probable increase in surface ships, it is implausible to suggest that less than two nuclear-powered attack submarines will be required on station. Allowing for passage, etc, this would involve a commitment of four such submarines. The Royal Navy currently has just nine of these boats operational and they form a crucial component of NATO's North Atlantic forces. In the face of those considerations, we cannot withdraw from the south Atlantic. However, there is a change in the operational commitment that this country has made in NATO.

I have talked a great deal to Dr. Rogers of Bradford and many others. The conclusion is that fortress Falklands is grossly distorting British naval defence postures by requiring more than 25 per cent. of the destroyer and frigate fleet. Dr. Rogers continues: The navy already has out-of-area commitments such as the Persian gulf and the Caribbean, and these together with the very much larger and continuing commitment in the South Atlantic, mean that the Royal Navy's commitment to NATO in the North Atlantic is severely curtailed. It will be even more curtailed if what we read in The Times last week is right, that a major task force is to be sent to the Persian gulf and the far east in a friendly capacity. If those ships are to be sent to the far east, the strain will be that much greater. Dr. Rogers said: In the normal way, all destroyers and frigates in the Royal Navy are supposed to be committed to NATO. Since the Royal Navy has a central role in NATO's North Atlantic naval dispositions, this must be permanently damaging to NATO's overall defence posture in that area. It would be surprising to find senior NATO officers commenting on this remarkable state of affairs in public, as it would clearly be a grave embarrassment to one of NATO's leading member states. However, Admiral Wesley McDonald, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, recently stated that there was a shortfall of 50 destroyers and frigates in the Atlantic alone, with a further shortfall in the Channel area. Is Admiral Wesley McDonald wrong? Is he panicking? Is he suggesting something that is not serious? I should like an answer. Ministers have efficient Parliamentary Private Secretaries and many experts in the official box. I am the most agreeable man when it comes to giving way. Reading the faces of those whose faces I should not read. I suspect that Admiral Wesley McDonald was not wrong and that there is a crisis within NATO on this issue.

Dr. Rogers concluded: In summary, Fortress Falklands involves heavy naval commitments. These are likely to increase as Argentine naval rearmament continues and they are likely to remain heavy enough to distort Britain's naval defence posture severely at a time when NATO believes it has inadequate forces in the North Atlantic. The defence debate is the occasion when facts should be brought out. One quarter of our Navy, which both Front Benches have told us is so important, has a commitment which, 15 months ago, no one would have thought possible. Many people did not know where the Falklands were. Anyone who suggested during any of the previous 20 or so annual defence debates in which I have spoken that one quarter of our Navy should be committed in the south Atlantic would have been thought barmy or bonkers. Apparently, however, it makes sense now. I do not know what the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) said sotto voce—

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

The hon. Gentleman should calm down.

Mr. Dalyell

—but I should like an answer from someone. I am absolutely calm. Sit down, calm down—that is the difficulty. It is the story of my life. I produce all sorts of facts. No one refutes them; all people do is to abuse me. It is a traditional custom. If one cannot answer the case, abuse the wretched herald who brings the news. I am in the position of someone who brings awkward tidings to the Government.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

They used to hang them.

Mr. Dalyell

We shall not return to that. Perhaps it is a good thing from my point of view that they do not hang them these days.

The questions that I have raised were asked by Dr. Rogers, Dr. Malcolm Dando and others who compiled these facts carefully, and who are some of the most careful peace researchers in this country. I am rather careful about where I get my facts from, and I do not take only one source—I have spent a good deal of time checking the other sources. When an hon. Member speaks as much as I do in the House of Commons, many people will talk to him. People telephone me, and not only from outside Whitehall. I have cross-checked and checked again what Dr. Rogers has been saying, and I have found that other experts agree with his facts. They may put slightly different interpretations on them and some may argue that the Falklands are good training for the forces. The hard fact of the matter remains that we gave, right or wrongly, certain commitments to NATO. The House of Commons deserves, in the annual defence debate, some candour from the elected Government about whether we are fulfilling our NATO obligations.

6.31 pm
Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)

I find myself in some difficulty in following the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). He made a powerful supporting speech for an enlarged Navy, but complained that we had too many ships stationed in the Falklands, or going to and from. He also complained about the speed at which the Navy managed to get to the Falklands. Obviously, with the continuing problems of the Falklands, the Ministry of Defence would be foolish not to have contingency plans that it could put into operation at short notice. It is possible that, equally, the Department has plans for bringing those ships back at short notice if they are so needed.

The hon. Gentleman is taking too much notice of, and becoming too obsessed with, the Falklands. As he said, it can be argued that they can be useful training grounds. In the Falklands campaign, apart from numbers, it was largely a matter of morale. I do not wish to provoke the hon. Gentleman in any way, but I remind him that one torpedo from one nuclear submarine destroyed one cruiser, and that was the last that we saw of the Argentine navy in the Falklands.

In general, I support the Government's policy on defence. I support their policy of replacing Polaris by Trident and of maintaining our own independent nuclear deterrent. Where I part company from the Government is in the method of, and proposals for, financing Trident. Polaris has been financed and paid for out of the general budget of the Ministry of Defence. As I understand it, Trident is to be paid for out of the Navy's share of the defence budget, and nothing that the Minister said today showed otherwise. It is important to remember what the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) said, that whereas in the early days of Trident the expense for the Navy would not be great, as the programme builds up it will take an increasingly large proportion of the Navy's budget, and the Navy is in consequence to be cut down and will suffer in its ordinary service.

I draw the Minister's attention to an Adjournment debate on 5 July initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). It was a useful debate, because it drew the attention of the House to the number of dependent territories for which we are still responsible. The Falklands highlighted our responsibility and our problems in looking after and defending these dependent territories. Some defects and deficiencies in our equipment came to light, but, more important, it became obvious that too much attention in design had been concentrated on the NATO role and not enough on our other and wider role of defending our dependent territories.

Perhaps most important was the fact that the Navy could not provide long-range radar cover because in NATO that is provided by shore-based aircraft. How far have discussions gone between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence? What discussions have been held? Has agreement been reached on which of the dependent territories are to be defended, and, if they are to be defended, how will they be defended? Is the Ministry of Defence satisfied that the present composition of our forces, in particular of our Navy, is sufficient in size and design to defend those territories? After all, the first line is still the Navy, wherever these territories may be. The Navy has to be the first on the spot, has to provide backup support and protect the convoys of supplies and the Army with all its equipment. However, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow said, the number of our escort vessels is to be reduced from 59 to 50, which does not make sense. If our commitments are not to be reduced, our Navy should not be reduced either. We already have commitments in the Falklands and Belize that tie up ships.

The composition of the fleet — in particular the frigates and the type 23— is important. The defence statement in 1982 said in paragraph 211: The progress we are making towards the next generation of frigate—the Type 23—reflects our policy of replacing ships rather than undertaking mid-life modernisation. Feasibility studies are well under way, and we expect to finalise the broad design characteristics later this year. That was 1982, and events in the Falkla -ids have changed things.

The 1983 statement says in paragraph 332: Design work is now well under way on the Type 23 frigate. Paragraph 333 goes on to say: Detailed design work is now well in hand at Yarrows, the lead shipbuilders, and we have employed outside consultants to advise". We were promised a new, better and cheaper frigate in 1982. At that time it was thought that the first would be ordered in the middle of this decade, in 1985, but from those two statements it does not look as though that is likely. It takes at least three years to build a frigate, so the first frigate cannot be completed before 1988. It will then have to be worked up and, being a prototype, many adjustments will have to be made in the ship and in future ships of the same class. Therefore, it does not look as though there will be any type 23 frigates active in the fleet until 1990 at the earliest.

What will happen in the meantime? The Government's policy, which is entirely right, is that we should not have mid-term long refits, but should have new ships instead. The present long refit programme finishes in about 1985, so there will be a gap between 1985 and 1990 at the earliest when there will be no long refits and type 23 frigates coming into commission. Is it the Government's intention to fill that gap with type 22 frigates, or will they allow the gap to continue? The remainder of the fleet will become older and its equipment more outdated. Although I agree with the Government's policy, in the short term we should carry our major long refits on some of the existing fleet so that continuity is maintained.

Much emphasis has been placed on the size and the cost of ships and there is continual pressure to make them smaller. At the same time, there is continual pressure to cram more and more equipment into them. Is that sound policy? The Sheffield showed that even with long refits all the equipment cannot be fitted in. There was just not enough room for Sea Wolf. If there had been, the ship would probably have been unstable and capsized. There is no question but that Sheffield was not equipped to save her own life in the Falklands.

Even if the type 23 frigate is up to date when it is designed, new equipment will continually be corning forward which the Government will want. Would it not be a better policy to increase the size of the ships to allow for that extra equipment when it becomes available? On a yacht the cost of a hull used to be a third of the total cost of the boat. I believe that on a naval warship the cost of the hull is only 10 per cent. Therefore, a comparatively large increase in the size of the ship would mean a comparatively small increase in its cost. If a warship were costed out completely, the cost of the crew would far outweigh the cost of the vessel.

I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow that the Navy is inadequate for its present commitments. I appeal to the Minister not to cut the Navy, but to increase it; to spread the cost of Trident over the whole of the defence budget and not just over the navy's share. I support the Government's policy of maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent and strong conventional arms.

6.44 pm
Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

Conservative Members have said two things with which I disagree. First, they said that unilateralism was dead. I assure them that unilateralism and its supporters are far from dead. The cry for it will continue to grow until we set an example to all the powers and make them realise that the world will be safer without nuclear weapons.

Secondly, it was said that the Labour party's policy was discredited at the election. The distorted policy —distorted by the Blonde Bombshell and his friends in the media—may have been discredited, but our policies will stand the test of time. I assure Conservative Members that when the next election comes we shall fight on similar policies and win.

Nuclear war can start in two ways. It can start by design, in several ways. There is the concept of a limited theatre nuclear war in Europe — the war game calculations in the Pentagon in which people believe that they can make the first strike and that fewer people will die on one side than on the other. It can start because of proliferation. Hon. Members today have concentrated on the weapons of the United States and the Soviet Union, but we must not forget that many other powers are now obtaining nuclear weapons or the capability to manufacture them.

It was interesting that the Secretary of State concentrated on the threat from the Soviet Union. I am certainly no supporter of the way in which the Soviet Union is run, but I remember that it fought on our side in the war and sacrificed 20 million people so that hon. Members could still have a Parliament in Britain in which to speak. The only time that we have been attacked in those terms is by the Argentines. According to the distinguished writer Donald Poneman—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will speak about such matters at length—the Argentines are now nearing completion of a plutonium reprocessing plant. They have the technology for a large research reactor and soon they will have the capability to turn out a nuclear weapon each year. If you add that to the analyses of my hon. Friends, it shows what kind of world we are beginning to live in.

If nuclear weapons are good for the big powers, they must be good for other powers. If it is good for us to have them, every other country in the world must have nuclear weapons to make it a safer place to live in. In other words, we must create more and more, and that is the logic of the madhouse.

A nuclear war can also be started by accident. Nuclear weapons, as has been said, and will be said, are terrifying both in their type and in their number. They are probably the result of the most expensive misuse of knowledge ever made by man. That knowledge is being used to create weapons for genocide. In 1977 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said that every few months there were reports of some kind of accident with nuclear weapons and nuclear weapon systems. The situation is getting worse because of the increased number of weapons and because of other factors which I shall describe.

In 1982 the United States reported that the computer systems used to interpret information on possible attack were dangerously obsolete. That is not surprising, given the values of that country. It is calculated that the United States spends more money on brass bands than on nuclear disarmament talks. The other, more important, variable is that when billions of dollars are concentrated on weapons and weapon systems it is not surprising that other aspects are overlooked. The present computer systems are thoroughly suspect and have led to several incidents which could have had terrifying results for the world.

A congressional report prepared in June 1980, in which several distinguished people participated, showed that the North American defence command experienced 147 false alerts in 18 months. That is not just an occasional risk. In addition, there were four much more serious incidents in which B52 bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles were put on a higher state of alert. If one considers realistically the pressure and tension of the bomber crews and the missile command force, one appreciates the magnitude of the problem. If such incidents occur in the United States, which is at least brave enough to document them, they must also occur in Britain, the Soviet Union and every other country which has nuclear weapons.

Several hon. Members have talked about deterrence. Although I have never supported that concept, I understood the argument when two sides each had very big, albeit cumbersome and inaccurate, weapons to fire at each other. I could also see some intelligence in the argument of the multilateralists, although I disagreed with them, but the present situation shows how wrong they were. In the past two decades the world has accumulated a minimum of 50,000 nuclear warheads. While talking about multilateral nuclear disarmament, we have continuously been building up the number of nuclear weapons.

We have increased not only the quantity, but the quality, producing highly accurate weapons with the preemptive strike capability which features so strongly in the calculations of President Reagan, the Prime Minister and others like them. The weapons that we now have are such that the nuclear threshold is continuously lowered, the level of insecurity continuously increased and paranoid fears introduced. That combination makes war by accident a long-term certainty.

You must consider the scenario. If we have weapons such as Pershing and cruise with the radar signature of a seagull, the Soviets will inevitably go on to automatic computer response. That means that two fundamental parts must work perfectly at all times. The radar must not make any misreadings and the computer must not malfunction. A Pershing 2 can reach the Soviet Union from Germany in a very short time: some say four minutes, others say six. Let us take an outside estimate of eight minutes. If the Soviets suspect that a Pershing 2 is heading for the Soviet Union they will not have time to call the Politburo together and say, "What the hell shall we do?" The radar will read that a missile is attacking and the computer will determine an appropriate response—and that response will be to fire their missiles. The result will be to destroy not only mankind but ultimately every living thing on earth.

If you accept 147 errors in 18 months by the nation which boasts that it has the most advanced technology in the world and that the Soviet Union lags behind it in modern technology, it is clear that war is likely to start, not because a Pershing 2 has actually been fired, but because the Soviets believe that it has been fired. In those circumstances, accidental war is not just a possibility, but almost inevitable.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

As the hon. Gentleman has clearly studied this matter in great depth, will he tell us the flight time of the SS20? Is not the scenario that he describes equally likely the other way round?

Mr. Boyes

Of course it is. That is my argument. If it can happen with the Pershing 2, our people may equally well think that they are being attacked by an SS20. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who is clearly also an expert, will appreciate, however, that there is no comparison between SS20s and cruise missiles. The big danger is that the Soviets will not only keep their SS20s but will be forced to create a new generation of weapons. That will result in more tension, more problems and more likelihood of an accidental nuclear war.

Somebody, somewhere, must end this madness before everyone is destroyed. Clearly, that move will not come from the lot on the Government side. The Secretary of State does not want to play war games. He wants to get on with the real thing. I had hoped that before more and more nations, some of them totally irresponsible, got hold of nuclear weapons, someone somewhere would start getting rid of them. I had hoped that the Labour party would win the election so that we could set that example to the rest of the world. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I am pleased to have been elected at a time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) is still leader of the Opposition. No tribute is too high for what that man has done in the cause of peace. Some of you guys and lasses—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not keep referring to the Chair and accusing me of various things.

Mr. Boyes

Some Conservative Members suggested that the Labour leader would not last the campaign, but it is the young boyo from the Liberal party who is taking a few months holiday. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent survived the campaign and is here fighting for the things that we believe in.

I believe that 1983 is the most dangerous year that mankind has faced. Once we have cruise missiles at Greenham common—they may already be there, but the authorities will not say whether they are or when they are coming because they know that we shall try to stop them — we shall have entered the most dangerous period ever, in which nuclear war by accident will have changed from a dream to reality.

6.59 pm
Mr. William Powell (Corby)

During their recent deliberations, the boundary commissioners decided that the county of Northamptonshire should have an additional parliamentary constituency and created one around the town of Corby. I am the first Member of Parliament ever to be returned for the constituency of Corby.

My first pleasant duty is to pay tribute to the two Members of Parliament from whose constituencies the new constituency of Corby was created. Bill Homewood, formerly Member of Parliament for Kettering, came to the House rather later in life than do many, having spent much of his life in the steel industry. It was his misfortune in a way that he was first elected to the House after the decision to close the Corby steelworks had been made. In all matters concerning steel he built a great reputation and was well liked and respected by Members of Parliament on both sides of the House.

Of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), from whom I draw nearly half of my constituency, I can only say that I am glad that he is still with us. Everywhere I go I hear nothing but the highest praise for his extraordinary ability as a constituency Member.

Corby has been associated with steel. Once, no less than 68 per cent. of the town's working population was dependent, directly or indirectly, on steel. That is no longer so as a result of a decision that was made in 1978. However, Corby has witnessed a resurgence since that devastating decision to close the town's sole industry.

It is right that I should pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence who, more than anyone else in our capital city, was responsible for the resurgence of Corby. He made it an assisted area, granted it enterprise zone status and introduced legislation that led to the sale of a substantial number of council houses. Moreover, he altered the instructions to the Commission for the New Towns so that it became the principal body by which the Government funded factory development in Corby.

Many new Members of Parliament have been returned as a result of substantial public interest in defence during the election campaign. We enjoyed notable victories in many constituencies. We have had the privilege and pleasure of hearing from my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) whose victory owes a great deal to defence issues. No doubt the same can be said of the success of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Franks). There were many other constituencies in which deface was decisive.

Although the constituency of Corby is huge — it covers 500 square miles — it has no special defence interest. However, there are two marginal interests—one of which might become important — which it is not inappropriate for me to mention. I share the county boundary between Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire with my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). That boundary is straddled by the Royal Air Force base at Wittering which is the home of the Harrier. Each day, thousands of my constituents live their lives and work at their occupations under the substantial noise of Harrier pilot training. Few of them object to the noise as they know that the work must be done. However, I cannot overlook the enormous noise which that training necessarily causes.

Also on the boundary between Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire can be found the boundary fence of Molesworth airfield. Today it is derelict, but, if it proves impossible to reach a satisfactory accommodation with the Soviet Union over the deployment of SS20s and cruise and Pershing missiles, in four to five years it will be a significant place. The overwhelming majority of my constituents know that their safety will depend on our ability to withstand and deter the threats and weapons that the Soviet Union is prepared to challenge and blackmail us with.

My sense of privilege and occasion at appearing here and speaking for the first time has been tempered with a sense of great sadness because we were treated earlier to a speech to which I reacted with incredulity and dismay. Perhaps I may be pardoned for referring to it in my maiden speech as frivolous. I refer to the speech of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin). Many Conservative Members have been returned to Parliament because of that frivolous attitude towards defence. The Labour party argued in that way during the election campaign. Perhaps I may be allowed one memory of it. I shall not forget an elderly lady approaching me on almost the first day and saying that she had been a Labour voter all her life but that she would cast her first Conservative vote on 9 June because "Michael Foot will abolish the Army". Even if the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) did not expressly echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) quoted of Mr. George Lansbury, many people believed that that was the right hon. Gentleman's view.

The Opposition have paid a high price for not taking defence seriously. I found the speech of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford so unsatisfactory because of the outrageous way in which he chose to refer to our relations with the United States. We are not able to choose the Governments of other countries; we must accept them. I hope that all British Governments will try to treat all other Governments with courtesy and consideration. To speak of the President of the United States, a man who, no doubt, the right hon. Gentleman was hoping to be negotiating with now if his party had won the general election, as "Reagan this" and "Reagan that" shows a depressing want of the respect which I should have hoped would be shown to leaders of all countries.

The problem goes deeper than that. Substantial hostility towards the United States has grown up among a certain section of the British public. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of British people, certainly all of my right hon. and hon. Friends, believe that the peace of the world has been preserved throughout my lifetime by the Atlantic Alliance—the partnership between North America and Western Europe. That is the cornerstone of our hopes for freedom in the future. The right hon. Gentleman said that there is nothing to choose between the two super-powers, that the British fleet is the one that protects the United States, that the United States needs NATO more than NATO needs the United States, and that the United Kingdom was the paymaster of NATO. All of that, and much more in his speech, I found frivolous and outrageous.

This is the annual occasion on which we debate the defence Estimates and the defence White Paper. For me, the highlight of the debate so far, as I had expected, was the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). I hope that the questions that he asked will be answered by the Minister when he replies to the debate. We congratulate the Government on the way in which they have given defence a much greater priority than it was given when the Opposition formed the Treasury Bench, but we fear that the momentum that has built up to improve our armed services will not be sustained in the later part of this decade.

Some alarming decisions may have to be made if our economy does not produce much greater growth than has happened during the past decade or more. The crunch will come, and if it comes when there is no substantial economic growth, uncomfortable decisions may have to be taken, as the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot implied. The Opposition are entitled to draw attention to these matters, and they will be joined by many on these Benches who have the interests and security of our country at heart. I have a personal reason for watching the performance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, because my brother is the commanding officer of his own battalion.

Many issues have been raised in this debate, and it is no job of mine to reply to them. If I was saddened by the speech of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford I was tantalised by that of the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), who told us that if he has anything to do with the next election the Opposition will fight on the same defence policies as they did in the last election. Frankly, every Conservative Member would welcome that. If the Opposition fight on the same defence platform as they did last time, they will have learned nothing. They will have shown that they know nothing, and do not deserve the approbation of our people.

What is at stake in defence debates is the peace of our continent and the world. We on this side will ensure that Her Majesty's Ministers see that as the highest priority in the coming four to five years.

7.13 pm
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

It is a pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell). He began by paying a generous and gracious tribute to a former member of our party, Mr. Bill Homewood, who was a fine member of the Labour party and of this House. His speech went on to display — although I do not agree with its contents — a confidence and clarity in debating skill which I found remarkable in a maiden speech. It was a genuine debating speech, responding to the debate with much skill and with formidable and almost veteran proficiency and expertise. Clearly, he will be a formidable opponent in this Chamber, and I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members look forward to his contributions which, if they are as confident, clear and skilful in the deployment of his argument, however misguided, will add something impressive to our debates.

I should like to consider one aspect of the defence Estimates about which the British people have recently shown concern, and that is the arrangements governing the use of nuclear weapons systems sited in this country, what is commonly called dual-key—or not dual-key—-control of cruise missiles. The Government's policy is described on page 6 of the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" at paragraph 210. I find it less than helpful. Indeed, it does little to allay our fears. If the paragraph does not offer the control that it implies, the British people will quickly come to see the introduction of United States cruise missiles for what they really are — in my opinion, a dangerous escalation of the nuclear cold war, over which this country will have no effective control. Our independent, so-called nuclear defence system will be revealed to be neither our own nor independent.

I want to look at the paragraph in some detail. It says: The arrangements governing the use in an emergency of these American bases and nuclear weapons systems are those provided for in the understanding reached between Mr. Atlee and President Truman in 1951 and reaffirmed by Mr. Churchill and President Truman in 1952. The understanding in 1951 and 1952 did no such thing. For a start, it is a press communiqué. It is not a treaty. It is not a negotiated settlement. It is not a signed document. It is a press release. Are the Government asking the country to accept that a 31-year-old press release is a sufficient basis for the control of nuclear weapons?

What does this press communiqué say? Does it offer a working and workable understanding? It contains precisely two sentences on United States bases. There is no mention of the word "nuclear", as implied in paragraph 210. There is no mention of weapons or weapon systems. There is no mention of the word "missiles".

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

The hon. Gentleman should have read a little further, because it goes on to say: The existing understandings between the United Kingdom and the United States governing the use by the United States of nuclear weapons and bases in this country have been jointly reviewed in the light of the planned deployment of cruise missiles. So it is not an ancient agreement. It is something that has been brought bang up to date.

Mr. Fisher

I shall come to what the hon. Lady says, and I hope that she will bear with me. If she is not satisfied by my treatment of the words, I shall gladly give way to her.

As there is no mention of the words "nuclear weapons" or "missiles", the press communiqué is irrelevant to cruise. I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will explain how it constitutes an arrangement in nuclear weapons systems when none of those things is mentioned in the press communiqué to which the Prime Minister and Secretary of State constantly refer as the basis of this understanding.

The Minister may claim, as the Prime Minister claimed, that after 31 years there is a de facto agreement, but cruise is a new weapon. It is quite different from anything that has gone before, as. the Government acknowledge. Cruise missiles are not limited to bases, which is what the press communiqué said in 1952. They can be deployed anywhere. I hope that the Minister will explain how this press communiqué, which refers only to bases, can conceivably cover cruise.

We are told in the next sentence that use would be a matter for joint decision", but we have not been told by the Government how that joint decision will work, either politically or operationally. At what level will it work? Will it work on a President-Prime Ministerial level between the Pentagon and Whitehall, or between the chiefs of defence staff at base level? The Government have not explained that.

It is the Government's duty to make clear to the House and the country just how that relationship will work. What contingency arrangements are there if, by chance, the Russians should be so inconsiderate as to start a real, or supposed, alert when the Prime Minister is unavailable? Has not Mr. Schlesinger said that American forces have been alerted twice in our country and that the Government have not been consulted because of an "insufficiency of time"? I understand that those two occasions were the Yom Kippur war and the Iranian hostage crisis. What price joint decisions in a time of real crisis.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments on the dual key and I agree with some of them. However, I would have more confidence if they did not come from the mouth of someone who belongs to a party that would not have cruise on any account, whether or not there was a single or dual key. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if those safeguards were built in, he would be prepared to accept cruise missiles on British territory?

Mr. Fisher

No. Like, I believe, all Labour Members, I am not in favour of cruise missiles. We would not deploy them. However, the reality is that they will be deployed by this Government. I, for one, am determined to scrutinise the arrangements under which they are to be deployed and to ensure that the country understands exactly what control of those weapons consists of. I make no bones about my objection, but I am prepared to scrutinise the arrangements.

In the sentences that the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) referred to, we are told that the understanding has been jointly reviewed in the light of cruise. However, in the Prime Minister's answer to a question asked by me on 30 June, and in her answer last week to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland), she did not mention the word "review". She referred directly back to the 1952 understanding. Was there a substantive review rather than simply a formal renewal when the right hon. Lady became Prime Minister? If so, neither the country nor the House has been told. If there was one, where did it take place and on what date? Which Ministers were involved? What additional arrangements were discussed or agreed? Is there another document? What is in it? Why has it not been mentioned, much less released?

During Question Time today the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) said that in the "Question Time" programme that was broadcast on television during the election campaign, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he had seen a document on that understanding. I understood the Prime Minister's reply to be that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had said that he had seen it, he had seen it. That suggests that there has been a review, but when the Prime Minister acknowledged that this afternoon, it was the first time that she recognised its existence.

That is a serious point and I hope that the Minister will relate it to whoever intends to reply to the debate. If that Minister says that there is a document, I can conclude only that it is amazing that the country should learn in such a way of substantial renegotiations or additional negotiations of the arrangements governing cruise missiles. If, on the other hand, the Minister says that there is no document, what on earth was the Prime Minister referring to this afternoon? I shall give way willingly to the Minister if he wishes to answer now. What was the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Foreign Secretary referring to in "Question Time" on television? What is being referred to in the defence Estimates? Either there has, or has not been, a substantive review. The Minister must tell us clearly tonight which of those propositions is correct and which pertains.

The defence Estimates say that the Government are satisfied that such a form of defence is effective. Labour Members are not satisfied, and the country will not be satisfied. Unless the Minister has something very important to say to us in reply to the debate, I suspect that the country will consider that the Government are dangerously complacent on a matter of crucial importance. The Government, the Secretary of State and the Minister tonight must be more explicit and must answer the questions that have been raised in the debate. If they cannot do so, I must conclude that these are not defence Estimates but estimates of escalation that offer no reasonable control over cruise missiles.

If the Minister does not reply to those points at the end of the debate, Labour Members will pursue him on that point and will show the British people the truth of what we said during the general election, with which many people agreed. That is, that this country does not want cruise missiles, because they put us at risk. However, if we are to have them we must have public, clear and formal assurances about what control will consist of. I await the reply to the debate in order to hear what those reviews and controls really are.

7.25 pm
Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

We have heard much from new hon. Members, as well as from other right hon. and hon. Members, about nuclear strategy, disarmament and so on. I wish to concentrate, as I often try to do during such debates, on an area that is not sufficiently discussed. I refer to the defence industrial base and to the problems of defence procurement. However, before doing so, I must mention not a maiden speech, but a maiden constituency.

My former constituency of Preston, North was reconstituted out of existence. I now have the privilege to sit for a new constituency called South Ribble, which comprises parts of three former constituencies —Chorley, South Fylde and Preston, South. Indeed, I thank the former hon. Member for Preston, South who now sits for Preston (Mr. Thorne) for the work that he did in representing that part of Lancashire. I also thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member who now sits for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover), from whom I have now taken over Leyland.

There is more to defence than just the threat. Although I have a real and active connection with the Queen's Lancashire regiment and the north-west headquarters of the Army, also based in my former constituency and near enough to my new one to have a great impact on it, my new constituency has substantial defence interests. Indeed, in the past it also had substantial defence interests. For example, Penwortham castle was built by Roger de Poicteau, who fought at the battle of Hastings. The famous Ribble bridge crosses the Ribble and was the site of an important battle in 1648, during the last period of the civil war. The Unicorn — once a public house but now a restaurant — is where Oliver Cromwell set up his headquarters for that famous battle.

We also have a little place called Cuerdale, which is the smallest parish in my constituency and consists of 29 souls. That is roughly the same as the majority that I had when I represented Preston, North. As some hon. Members may know, it is famous for the Cuerdale haul of Danish gold coins, which were found in about 1840. It is a little bit of Danegeld in reverse, because the Danes ran away and we kept the money. Leyland, in my constituency, is an ancient hundred that is famous, among other things, for its Saxon cross.

However, I wish to talk about the industrial base. Four of the major companies involved in defence that are mentioned in the top 25 in the White Paper are in my constituency. They are British Aerospace, BTR, Leyland Vehicles and, just over the border in Chorley, the ordnance factory, where a substantial number of people work. Indeed, I very much support the Government's policy in that regard. I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister on the Front Bench. He will know of my interest in ordnance factories and in the work that he has been doing to put them op the same basis as Companies Act companies, to bring sales teams into their operations—instead of having to rely on the Ministry of Defence—and to inject private equity capital into them. I know that his work in that respect will come to fruition at the end of the year, and I strongly support it.

The privatisation of the ordnance factories will be a boon for the employees. They have nothing to fear. They already make some of the best products in the world and I am convinced that a facility that allows them to own shares and participate in their future more than they do now will be of great benefit to them. I shall seek to defend them whenever I have the opportunity.

Leyland Vehicles makes many vehicles for the armed services. I share Samlesbury aerodrome with my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office in the sense that British Aerospace has one of its three major plants there. The House will not be surprised to learn that I seek to take the British Aerospace whip. I cannot do much else, but I do so willingly because it employs many people who work hard to make some of the best products in the world. British Aerospace leads the world in many of the areas in which it is involved.

The subcontractors who are involved in the day-to-day operation of defence contracts are also important. I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say that he would pay more attention to directing work towards smaller companies. As many hon. Members will know, there has been considerable concern that major contractors have been taking the leadership on contracts and that contracts have not been getting down to some of the smaller subcontractors in a way that the Defence Manufacturers Association has said it would wish to see. I was delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will be doing in this area.

I take this opportunity publicly to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement on the particular attention that he has given to this area. In the last Parliament he built a reputation in the House for the work that he had done and, more importantly he has built a reputation worldwide for speaking out for British defence, aerospace and other industries' interests in a way that we have not seen for many years. I congratulate him wholeheartedly on what he has done.

There are many battles to be fought in connection with the defence industries. They are important to us strategically because of exports and jobs, and they are important because in many areas we are the best in the world. Therefore, we have a part to play. Defence sales, which I know come within my hon. Friend's ambit, have done very well in the past year, amounting to £2,400 million. I read a report today that there is good news and bad news. The good news is that we have signed a big deal for Sea Eagle to be sold to India; the bad news is that defence sales were not terribly well received by industrialists in China. I allow for the fact that the imperturbability of the Chinese makes selling anything to them particularly difficult, but my hon. Friend may wish to comment on that.

There are areas of concern. The first is an internal problem. I have mentioned this before and I know that my hon. Friend has thought about the matter. I shall be interested to hear whether he is considering doing anything about it. The problem is that of having within the Ministry of Defence many serving officers on a two-year or so term who are involved in defence sales and defence procurement. By the very nature of the work, it takes 12 to 15 months to build them up to be able to speak with authority on a wide range of projects, as opposed to those in which they may have been interested in their former environment. There is room for bringing more professionalism into defence sales and defence procurement.

I believe that the services should be more aware of the importance of industry. That is why I was a little concerned to receive a copy of a letter which my hon. Friend had written—I am sure he had a good reason for it — to a company with which I have been in correspondence about clothing. The company makes a non-inflammable material called "Firotex". In the letter my hon. Friend said: We certainly try hard to help British firms and British products to be successful; but in the Defence field this is incidental to our procurement, and not one of its principal aims. I recognise that it is not the principal aim, but surely it must be an important aim and one of the principal aims to ensure that we are aware that industry—whether on advice from inside or outside the Department or even from civil servants—has a real part to play. The role played by the Select Committee on Defence in the last Parliament in its investigation into procurement and sales is one which my hon. Friend will agree is relevant to what we are discussing. I hope that some more of the ideas discussed by the Committee will be taken into account and used further.

The second and biggest concern is the worldwide problem of protectionism. I am sure that I do not have to bore the House by talking at length of the problems of the two-way street — supposedly a motorway in one direction and a country lane in the other. That is not so any longer, largely because of the efforts of my hon. Friend and the leading industries in this country. There is still a particular problem which largely centres on the United States, particularly in technology transfer.

In recent weeks, months and even years we have seen certain difficulties. Hon. Members may recall the difficulties that we have had with a company called Martin Baker, which supplies ejection seats for a variety of fighter aeroplanes. Perhaps the name of Martin Baker does not spring to the lips of everyone, even those involved in defence procurement, but it is the world leader in ejection seats and safety mechanisms. Martin Baker won a contract fair and square, and then had difficulties because of Congress. Secondly, a manufacturer of nuclear biological chemical suits won an order fairly and squarely, but got into difficulties because of problems in the United States. British Aerospace Hawk won a competition for the VTX TS requirement of the United States, but having won the deal fair and square found itself facing another competitor brought in merely because the American Congress wanted that to be so.

Above all, there have been recent difficulties with the so-called specialty metals clause. This has caused considerable difficulties for industrialists not only in Britain but among our NATO allies. I was so concerned about this matter that I wrote to my right: hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to make my views known on a variety of matters, particularly on a missile to which I shall refer in a moment. I was delighted to receive my right hon. and learned Friend's reply, which said: I share your concern about protectionism trends in the United States. We have made our views on this clear in contacts with the United States Administration. Indeed, the views of the Administration are very similar to our own; as you know, the problem lies mainly in the Congress. I realise that my right hon. and learned Friend worked hard during a recent trip to the United States to put across this difficulty, but he will know that Senator John Tower, who is an important and influential chairman of one of the Senate Committees, was in Britain a week or so ago. I had the good fortune to be able to talk to him on the Terrace about some of the problems. As many hon. Members will know, Senator Tower is a great anglophile and is keen to assist in many ways. He made it clear that the difficulty over the specialty metals clause and the waiver that is so important to our industrialists can be overcome. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister and other hon. Friends to ensure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Departments that can influence this matter keep the pressure up.

I draw the attention of the House to an important editorial in Aviation Week and Space Technology of 30 June, in which the editor, who is influential in these circles, referred to the problem of the transfer of technology. He said: What free traders object to is the dogmatic, everything-is-black-or-white mode of some of the crusaders in the Administration. He is referring to the American Government Techology transfer controls are becoming a religion, a body of dogma rather than a set of complex issues with conflicting advantages and disadvantages … Go-it-alone is a wasteful approach to many European industrialists or government policy-makers, but the muttering about doing just that is a measure of the European resentment of the changing United States policy … Europe has the technology and the supplier tier to go-it-alone if it chooses. There are people in the United States who are aware of the problems of technology transfer. I do not need to mention the difficulties that we are having in another environment in the United States, with the Laker Airlines protection of trade suit as well as the difficulties over the engines for the airbus.

Will my hon. Friend the Minister answer four questions? First, what is happening to air staff target 404 in relation to replacement helicopters? Secondly, what is the position with the helicopters of the Queen's flight? I questioned my hon. Friend about that matter recently, and I understand that the most recent helicopter was built in 1969. We should now consider some change in the flight. Thirdly, is my hon. Friend's Department doing any thing about the current review of the Property Services Agency being carried out by the Department of the Environment? A number of people in my constituency work in the PSA. Fourthly, has my hon. Friend considered the problems of a number of civil airlines with the national air traffic service? I refer especially to the division between military and civil. The civil service is concerned about the refusal of NATS, for example, in relation to Portmoak on gliding. It is also concerned about the problems of separation and the unnecessary doglegging for civil airlines because of difficulties with military airspace.

My right hon. and hon. Friends will not be surprised to hear me raise my final two points. Although I know that my hon. Friend the Minister cannot comment on my first point, everyone knows his strong views about it. I refer to the imminent decision on the ALARM and HARM—the high-speed anti-radar missile manufactured by Texas Instruments in conjunction with Lucas Aerospace, and the air-launched anti-radiation missile largely built by British Aerospace in conjunction with Marconi and other subcontractors.

I wish to emphasise the importance of deciding in favour of the ALARM missile. It is only half the price of HARM, and I hope that the new price that has now been submitted will make it even more competitive. The dual-role Tornado, as opposed to the dedicated-role Tornado, cannot carry JP233 as well as the American HARM missile without a substantial redesign. ALARM has the best equipment to do the job. British Aerospace is offering a fixed-price contract as opposed to a cost-plus contract with Texas Instruments and Lucas. Above all, we would not need a transfer of technology on the seeker head if it were manufactured in Britain. If we decided in favour of the HARM, it would be difficult to achieve a transfer of technology, for the reasons that I gave earlier.

I wish to touch on a point that is important to my constituency and also to surrounding constituencies. I am delighted to see here some of my hon. Friends who represent the surrounding constituencies. The advanced combat aircraft is under consideration at the Preston division of British Aerospace. It is a vital project, not only for industry, politics and local jobs, but strategically for our defence requirements. I shall not go into detail about the aeroplane. Suffice it to say that I and British Aerospace at Preston are pleased with the commitment from the Ministry of Defence. I take issue with one or two Opposition Members who have said that the Government are not doing all that is necessary on the advanced combat aircraft, which is now known as the experimental aircraft project. The Government have done all that is possible.

Hon. Members will know that we are awaiting a vital decision by the German Government, upon which the project will depend. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will urge the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to continue its pressure on the German Government. We do not want the Germans to be persuaded by the French ACX project, as that will cause difficulties for the ACA. The ACA is the best aeroplane of its kind.

I recently read a report that the Americans were toying with the idea of offering a practical fighter—a larger aeroplane with 45,000 lb thrust.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

My hon. Friend's comments about the ACA are of great significance. Does he agree that time is of the essence? If the German decision is postponed because of French approaches, that could kill the ACA project.

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend is right. There is a time constraint on the project. I am sure that the Government have done all that needs to be done to date. Pressure needs to be brought to bear on Messchersmitt Bolkow Bloehm —and through it on the German Government—to ensure that the German Government make a favourable decision. If they do not, not only will there be difficulties for the ACA, but the difficulties in European aerospace cooperation will become even greater. The importance of ACA is that if the German aerospace industry joins the project, the Italian aerospace industry will join it also. There is a real possibility that the French aerospace industry will want a slice of the action. It is important that a decision is taken by the German Government, and we must continue our pressure on them to do so.

I am sorry to have delayed the House over-long, but the matters of procurement and the industrial base have not been previously mentioned in the debate. It is right and appropriate to recognise the important role being fulfilled by my hon. Friend the Minister and other colleagues. The matters are not discussed as often as they should be and their vital importance to the aerospace industry should not be underestimated.

I am delighted to support the White Paper and its conclusion about the defence industry. I cannot emphasise too strongly the role played by my hon. Friend the Minister. I do not say that because I want a bottle of champagne. My hon. Friend has done a remarkable job. I know that many hon. Members across the party spectrum recognise the importance of that job, and long may they do so. We need people such as my hon. Friend to advance the cause of British industry, and especially the British defence industry, throughout the world. I look forward to listening to my hon. Friend when he replies to the debate.

7.48 pm
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

It was a pleasure to listen to the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins). I share many of his views on defence procurement. His comments apply to the mainspring of my constituency, which is Westland Helicopters.

I begin with what hon. Members might call the rhetoric of the defence debate. Taking a cynical view, there is always something of a gap between the rhetoric of different political parties and their actions. I suspect that that is more frequently true in defence than in other areas. There is a most distressing gap between the Government's rhetoric on defence and disarmament and their actions on the ground. An instance of that was the United Nations special conference on disarmament last year. We are told by the Government that multilateralness — if there is such a thing—is closest to godliness.

I have been involved in negotiations on behalf of Britain in international affairs. I agree that it is much better to reach agreements in concert with one's fellows than to take unilateral action. I found it depressing, therefore, that when the Government moved into the most multilateral forum in the world, the United Nations special conference on disarmament, they voted — sometimes in the most dubious and lonely company—against no fewer than 25 motions in favour of disarmament of one sort or another.

Not all of those were crackpot motions. However, this Government who believe in multilateralism managed to vote against an international convention to ban nuclear weapon tests; against an international convention against the first use of nuclear weapons; and against an international convention to provide security for non-nuclear states. I thought that we were in favour of nonproliferation because it must be to everybody's advantage in that it must increase the security of non-nuclear states. Nevertheless, we managed to vote against it.

That is by no means the end of the story. We abstained on a number of issues for which I should have thought that a Government committed to multilateral action in the most multilateral forum in the world, would have been happy to vote. But we abstained on the creation of a nuclear-free zone in Africa; on the creation of a nuclear-free zone in Asia; and we abstained, heaven forbid, on the creation of an international convention to stop the nuclear arms race in space. Any Government who call themselves multilateral and are unable to support at least some of those policies have no logical or moral right to lecture the rest of us about multilateralism.

Nor, I am afraid, is the case much different when we consider that other piece of rhetoric in the defence and disarmament debate, unilateralism. The Government tell us — and I agree — that in general terms international unilateral action is to be deplored. It seems, however, that only some kinds of unilateral action are to deplored. Unilateral action in favour of peace or disarmament is to be deplored, but unilateral action to increase arms we support with some enthusiasm, because that is precisely what the Trident decision is.

The Trident decision will increase independently, unilaterally, our capacity to act by ourselves, and therefore one is forced to draw the conclusion that the Conservatives take the view that unilateral action for peace is wrong whereas unilateral action to increase armaments— and perhaps even bring war closer—is all right.

The Trident decision, on which I wish particularly to concentrate, does harm in a number of other ways. It is probably insufficiently understood by the Secretary of State and his colleagues that the NATO Alliance, which Liberal Members bend to no one in supporting, rests not just on the ability of our armies, navies and air forces, or the strength of the treaty which binds us; it rests also on the political will that holds NATO together.

The Trident decision is admitted—it was admitted by the Secretary of State's predecessor — to have arisen from our lack of confidence in NATO to be able to act, to use the unilateral deterrent, on our behalf. He said that we needed it because we might have to act alone. That undermines the political will which holds NATO together. In our judgment, that is a move not much less destructive to the political will of NATO than the move taken by the French. Indeed, the French went a step further and withdrew from the military alliance. Certainly it is a move which has sent shock waves through political and military circles in NATO, and the comments of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Rogers, go some way to bear that out.

The Trident decision has worked contrary to our commitment to the non-proliferation treaty. Many regard the decision as being against the terms of that treaty, and some believe that it is a breach of that treaty's regulations. If that is not the case de jure, it has massively weakened Britain's capacity to recommend non-Proliferation to other states of the world.

On the one hand we have said, "You must not have more nuclear weapons, but it is all right for us to do so"; we have said, in other words, "Do not as I do but as I say". We have undermined the morality by which we can press ahead in perhaps the most important of all areas, that of ensuring that nuclear weapons not only are controlled but do not spread to other nations.

The Trident decision gives rise to a paradox which springs from the twin decisions to have Trident and to permit American cruise missiles to be on British soil. Simply expressed, that paradox is that, while we do not trust our allies sufficiently to be able to use NATO's nuclear weapons in our favour, we must have a hugely expensive nuclear weapons system. Then we go on to say that we trust them so much that we will allow them to place their nuclear weapons on our soil, without the British people having a fail-safe physical finger on the trigger. I should be grateful if the Government would help to unravel that paradox, one which sends unclear messages to people here and abroad.

Unhappily the follies of the Trident decision do not stop there. I pay tribute to the courageous comments of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who is temporarily absent. He was right to say that the defence resources which will be committed shortly to the Trident system must he taken from other categories, in particular from the Royal Navy. It is its effects on conventional defence that concern me most, and it is the reducing strength of the Royal Navy on which I shall concentrate now, an aspect referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston). My hon. Friend referred to some comments made by Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Hill-Norton, who said: In the vital NATO role, Britain now falls far short of the escorts required of her by the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic". He pointed out that under present financial limits—the Maritime League agrees — the strength of the Royal Navy towards the latter part of this decade will fall significantly short of the irreducible level of 50 escorts which the Ministry of Defence believes are required to fulfil our worldwide role. It is a poor state of affairs indeed that this nation, having made a commitment to NATO, is unable to fulfil its role in the north Atlantic fleet. I fear that that extends further, because that begins to lower the threshold of nuclear war.

Not long ago I was a Royal Marines officer in a commando unit one of whose tasks was to defend the northern flank of NATO against Russian aggression—to defend the NATO flank which encompasses Norway—and at that time we had HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid, a sufficient force to encompass that task. Under the defence review put forward by the Secretary of State's predecessor, those two ships were to be scrapped, and I had sight of the operational plan to carry Royal Marine commandos to the northern flank of NATO—at that time to counter Russian aggression—in a British Sealink ferry.

The life of Fearless and Intrepid has been extended, but we do not know whether those vessels are to be replaced. Will those two ships, those two key elements of the Royal Navy and of our capacity to fulfil our role in NATO, be replaced when their life runs out?

What I have described is bad for defence and for the nation because it lowers the nuclear threshold. Indeed, in that instance, if the Russians had attacked northern Norway, we would not have sent a task force there. The moment at which we would have had to press the nuclear button would have been closer as a result of that conventional force weakness.

That is a factor that has some significance to defence procurement, and my constituency depends very much on the production of helicopters. Indeed, it makes the best maritime helicopters in the world. The strength of the Royal Navy has already been significantly reduced, but it seems that it will be reduced still further as a consequence of the Trident programme. This prospect is viewed with great concern.

The chairman of Westland Helicopters, Lord Aldington, is an ex-Tory Minister who had responsibility for defence procurement. In his recent annual report, he commented that on no fewer than seven occasions the Government had not supported him when faced with certain crucial decisions, especially on the EH 101 joint project with the Italians. He claimed that decisions had not been made in time and that the future of the EH101 project, which will be vital to our defences and to the economy of my constituency, must be decided soon. The decisions have not been made and the future of the project, as I understand it, is in jeopardy.

The future of our defence industries and of our defence systems is an area of considerable concern in my constituency. The position is already dangerous enough, but it will be made much more dangerous if, regrettably, the Trident decision is put into effect. That decision is both illogical and dangerous. It will unbalance our conventional defence effort and lower the threshold of nuclear war.

For all those reasons, my colleagues and I will be voting against the Estimates tomorrow evening.

8.2 pm

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Nottingham, North)

I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to address the House for the first time in this important debate. My constituency lies to the west and the north of Nottingham. It is a city with proud traditions which were so ably described by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) during last week's debate on Second Reading of the Housing and Building Control Bill. I represent a largely residential constituency, and about 60 per cent. of the houses in it are council houses. I see many council houses being improved as the tenants buy them, which is a tribute to the right-to-buy policy.

As I have said, my consituency lies to the north of Nottingham, leaving the city's industries to the south. Those industries include the Boots organisation and the Raleigh bicycle factory. There are also the royal ordnance factories. To the north of the constituency is the small market town of Bulwell, which is geographically separated from Nottingham by the Babbington colliery.

Parts of my new constituency were previously represented by two well-known Members in the previous Parliament, Mr. Michael English and Mr. Bill Whitlock. Michael English was well known in the House as an expert on its constitution and the rules. I am sure that his departure will be lamented by both sides of the House and not least by yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker. He was a parliamentarian to whom I pay tribute.

Mr. Bill Whitlock was liked and respected on both sides of the House. I was talking to a Conservative peer only last weekend and he told me that he worked with Bill for some time and found him to be one of the most pleasant and able of persons with whom he had worked. This became apparent to me in my constituency in a very short time. It soon became clear to me that he was liked and respected by many of my constituents. I am proud to be able to pay tribute to him on this occasion.

I am pleased to be able to speak in the debate for two reasons. Firstly, Nottingham has a great tradition of supporting the Royal Navy. This was evidenced early this year with the launching of HMS Nottingham, a very fine ship which brings great enjoyment to my constituents and to all those in Nottingham. They treasure their relationship with that ship. Secondly, I spent nine years in the Royal Navy. I joined in 1962 at the age of 16 and was commissioned four years later. I served on a complete cross-section of ships and had a variety of jobs in the fleet. I served on minesweepers, patrol craft, frigates and, latterly, HMS Eagle, the sister ship to the Ark Royal, which was not adapted to take Phantom aircraft. I served primarily as a deck officer on HMS Eagle but my sub-specialisation was air defence. Air defence officers sit in the ship's operations room and control the air defence battle. I operated the first seaborne air defence computer, which was designed and constructed by Ferranti. In the 1960s the computer was the size of the office in which I work, but such is the advance of modern technology that a similar computer can today be fitted into a filing cabinet and still carry out the same functions.

As an air defence specialist I watched with interest the events in the Falklands conflict last year. During the 1960s, and until HMS Ark Royal was phased out, it was accepted air defence strategy that the only way to stop a low-level missile attack was to destroy the launch aircraft before the missile was launched. A ship could not do that because the launch aircraft was always over the horizon and not detectable. The only solution was to have low-level intercept fighters controlled by airborne early warning aircraft that detected the incoming plane on radar and controlled the fighter to intercept the attacking aircraft long before the missile was launched. Hon. Members need not be reminded how sadly we missed airborne early warning aircraft during the Falklands conflict.

Much has been made of the next generation of ships and the type of weapon systems that they should have to control the threat of attacks from the Exocet and similar systems. Only one system will effectively deter a low-level missile attack and that is a controlled intercept-fighter aircraft. I view with suspicion claims that ship-launched missile systems could destroy a launched missile. I am not convinced that the Vulcan Phalanx gun is an effective defence against a low level attack. The only defence is an intercept figher controlled by an aircraft with an airborne early warning system.

I welcome the fact that the Searchwater AEW radar is being mounted on Sea King helicopters to provide an early warning system. That is probably the most significant development in the defence of the fleet since the Falklands. I note that the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" describes them as an interim option, but I welcome the fact that the system is to be developed and that the operational carriers will have a complete airborne early warning squadron. That is essential for the operation of the fleet beyond the range of the land-based airborne early warning aircraft.

There has been debate recently, which was highlighted in a "Panorama" programme last week, about the design of the type 23 frigate. My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) mentioned that earlier. I was interested to read in the statement that an alternative design is being considered. The argument focuses on two hull designs, one long and thin and the other short and fat. I shall not examine the arguments for the two alternative designs except in one respect. When I left the Royal Navy, I joined the Royal Naval Reserve and commanded one of the Bird class patrol craft. Those vessels suffered primarily from a design fault in that they were short and fat. They were not seaworthy and, because of their short profile, in winds of more than force 5, 80 per cent. of the ship's company would be seasick and flat on their backs, and the ship could hardly be described as operational. Those limits were recognised by the Admiralty and the Minister of Defence. The reason why I tell this story is that I ask my right hon. Friend to give fullest consideration when considering the arguments for the alternative designs to the sea-keeping abilities of the vessels. If not, we shall have one of the most sophisticated warships in the world but the sailors will not be able to operate it, which completely defeats the object of the ship. That is a plea from the heart of someone who spent many an hour in the North sea hanging over the back of a short, fat ship.

I welcome the continued commitment to NATO in the statement. The fleet was always conscious of its duty to protect the western flank of Europe and the Channel. In our commitment to protect Europe, the Royal Navy has a role, and Britain has its strength in fulfilling that role. I support the statement and the motion.

8.11 pm
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I cannot claim to have been a recent naval officer or a marine commander, but I am deeply interested in the preservation of world peace and in the protection of Britain. The public might be mixed up about the Labour party's policies on defence if they listened to some powerful voices during the election campaign. They sowed confusion deliberately on a grand scale, which discredited the Labour party and lost it many votes.

Everyone should realise that the Labour party's defence policy was thought through over many years, and that deep conflict continued year after year. Before the Labour party puts into its fundamental policy any aspect of political thought, it demands a two thirds majority in support of such an idea at the party conference. The Labour party's defence policy, which was violated by those powerful voices during the election campaign, was decided by a large majority, and that policy was and is for unilateral nuclear disarmament. It must be made clear to the British public that the voices in any contests that may be going on speak purely for themselves, not for the Labour party. I speak on behalf of the democratically decided policy of the Labour party on disarmament.

I profoundly disagree with the defence Estimates, and I wish that the Labour party had the courage to organise itself to go into the Lobbies and to show clearly, by having a bigger array of Members here, precisely what our policy is and why we object to cuts in education, public transport, the National Health Service, benefits to the old and the sick, and in every other aspect of our lives except defence. Expenditure on defence increases steadily year by year, and almost month by month. Britain 's defence policy consists of more than the Estimates. One would think from the Estimates that the Government were expecting a Russian attack at 2 o'clock, just after dinner, on Thursday afternoon.

Let me make it clear that I profoundly believe in the defence of this country. My colleagues have spoken about what they have done. I also have fought for this country. I hold it dear and I want it to defend itself if anyone attacks it. Because of the lies and trickery in the election it is necessary to explain precisely what unilateral nuclear disarmament means. There is a great propaganda machine at the disposal of the Tory party. The Opposition have no propaganda machine. Hardly a newspaper supports us, whereas practically every newspaper all day and night defends any decisions taken by the Tory party. We have to try to get the message across as best we can, as I am doing now.

One of the most significant omissions in the election, made by the four powerful voices purporting to put forward Labour's defence policy was the word "nuclear". CND is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Somehow it was corrupted into being a "campaign for disarmament". Of course, it is no such thing. It is a campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament, but the impression was conveyed that we in the Labour party were campaigning for unilateral disarmament, as if we wanted to get rid of all our orthodox weapons. That is absolute nonsense.

Which party was it that sent its fighting soldiers into the south Atlantic without letting them know about Exocet? Which party was it that began withdrawing the ships when Argentina was about to attack? It was the Tory party. It was disarming this country of orthodox weaponry and selling ships to Australia when we needed them.

Therefore, Tory Members have no need to lecture us on disarmament and rearmament. It can never be denied that our troops were sent to the south Atlantic to face a terrible weapon about which we knew nothing. That weapon is still there. The deaths that occurred in that terrible struggle were due to that weapon about which we knew nothing. It was a disgraceful episode of which our intelligence services had not made our country aware. When ships were being flogged to other nations and we were being disarmed by the Tory party, a terrible weapon was at the disposal of the enemy. Therefore, we do not need lectures from the Tory party on the defence Estimates.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the prospect of British service men having to fight again in the Falklands and possibly die will be decreased greatly if Opposition Members saw fit to back the Government in their intention not to negotiate with Argentina until the sovereignty issue is sorted out?

Mr. Flannery

As I would expect, the hon. Gentleman is utterly confused.

Just before the battle began, the Tory party introduced the British Nationality Act by which it deprived the people of the Falklands of their British nationality. They were negotiating about what was to happen to the Falklands in the background because they were trying to get rid of them. Therefore, let us have no histrionics about what happened in the Falklands. The credit was due to the fighting men in the Falklands and in no way due to the Tory party. If Tory Members can deny that, I should like to hear from them.

I should like to explain, so that it is made clear to the British people, what unilateral nuclear disarmament means. We are fearful that all the world will steadily arm itself with nuclear weapons to such an extent that one day an accident will happen which will plunge us all into Armageddon. That is why the peace movement in the world is much bigger and more international than in 1960, when CND was founded. I was one of its founders.

Millions of people throughout the world are frightened of even small wars because they believe that if, for instance, any of the countries in the middle east possessed nuclear weapons they would be tempted to use them when fighting with their backs to the wall. Everyone knows that South Africa has a nuclear weapon — an explosion occurred three or four years ago in the south Atlantic—and that Argentina is on the brink of having such weapons. We know also that Israel is capable of producing them. We suspect that other countries are on the brink of breaking through the nuclear barrier and having nuclear weapons. If we are democrats who believe that Britain has a right to those weapons, we must believe that every country has such a right. Therefore, as soon as each country has enough money and expertise to build nuclear weapons, it will have them. Something will surely then go wrong and one of those weapons will go off.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament says not that America and the Soviet Union should nuclearly disarm, but that we should set an example by disarming because of our prestige and history. We should dislodge the keystone in the nuclear arch. Having done that with all our strength, and having preserved our orthodox weaponry to defend ourselves, we should say to other countries, "We have set the example. We expect you to join us in persuading the Soviet Union and America to come together to scale down their armaments steadily." It is a matter not just of unilateral disarmament but of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

We hope that our example will spread. That might appear to be a fool's paradise — [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear."] The Conservative party has a history of saying that. Many Opposition Members have never forgotten that, when some of us were struggling against Hitler, Conservative party members were asking all the time for disarmament. If the Government do not believe that, they should examine the columns of the Daily Mail and such newspapers in the 1930s. That is what the Conservative party was doing until Churchill brought it to its senses. [Horn. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It does not matter that the Government say that this is rubbish. This is the story of unilateral nuclear disarmament. This has nothing to do with Britain disarming unilaterally. The Labour party stands four square in defence of this country. We would retain our conventional weaponry. At the same time, we know that the two giants have their nuclear weapons and that neither will disarm until they come together on international inspection of disarmament.

There have been terrible expenditure cuts all over the place and millions are out of work. We think of the £10,000 million, at least, that is being spent on Trident, the increasing expenditure on cruise, which the Labour party opposes, and Pershing missiles. We think of the great peace movement. It is sad that, although there are differences of opinion in the Labour party, no Conservative Members differ from the fundamental view of the Front Bench. They dare not differ from that view.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Does my hon. Friend recognise that a group of Conservatives nationally are opposed to the cruise programme? It is called "Tories against Cruise" and the Government will do everything possible to shut them up and keep them out of this important national debate.

Mr. Flannery

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The powers that be have managed to shut them up, to the extent that I had not heard of them until just now. I cannot believe that they exist.

I have given the facts about unilateral nuclear disarmament. It has nothing in common with the four powerful voices that violated Labour party policy and lost us votes during the election. I have given the real policy of the Labour party. It is one to which we are geared. We have repeatedly passed resolutions on it in conferences. It is a policy against war on behalf of peace. I hope that what my hon. Friend has said is true. One day this policy might envelop the backward ranks in front of me.

8.24 pm
Mr. Alistair Burt (Bury, North)

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech on a topic that is vital not just to the House, but to the country.

The new constituency of Bury, North which I represent is compact, with a near-optimum electorate, in the eyes of the Boundary Commission, of about 66,960. Its compactness does not detract from its varied nature. From the fringes of the moors in the north to the suburban belt in the south, it is a constituency with everything. It is a traditional centre for textiles, engineering and the paper industry. It has diversified over the years so as not to rely over-much on any one of them.

We manufacture chemicals, paint and toffee. I am proud that my own slight but genuine industrial experience was gained in the town's toffee works, sweating over a hot cauldron during a summer not dissimilar to this, learning many things on the shop floor which have stood me in good stead. I shall no doubt, Mr. Deputy Speaker, seek to catch your eye in the future to talk about the town's industries and the problems facing the town.

We have small farms and green open spaces. Nowhere else so pleasantly destroys the myth of Lancashire's "dark, satanic mills". It is a constituency of beauty and peace. If I speak of it in over-affectionate terms, I hope it is realised that that is because I was bred and raised there. It is a fortunate man who can represent his home town. I am proud to be a Bury man in Parliament.

A new constituency is not new. It does not spring fully-fledged with no history. It is born of other constituencies. There are parts of two former constituencies in Bury, North. The first is Ramsbottom, to many the jewel of the constituency, with its independence and pride. I inherited it from my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier). Much satisfaction was felt in the town by his appointment to the Government. He leaves me a hard task to follow and I express the town's thanks for his work. His new constituents are most fortunate to have him.

The second, and much larger part of Bury, North, is from the old Bury and Radcliffe constituency. There is sorrow at the loss of that name from Parliament. There is also regret on all sides in Bury at the loss from the House of Mr. Frank White, who served as a fine constituency Member for nine years.

It is perhaps rare for a new Member to express genuine sadness for a Member of the Opposition whom he has beaten. I am aware from the comments made in all parts of the House that Frank White was as popular and respected here as he was in Bury and Radcliffe. I am not ashamed to admit feeling such sadness. Frank White fought an honourable and decent campaign. The finest tribute that I can pay him is to continue his constituency and industrial work and follow his keen Christian witness.

If any one issue assisted me immeasurably in defeating Frank White, it was defence. The respective attitudes of the Government and the Opposition parties are reflected in the Estimates and the debate upon them. My hon. Friend the Member for Adlershot (Mr. Critchley) suggested that Mr. Ken Livingstone was a figment of Conservative Central Office imagination. There were times when most of us on the Conservative Benches thought that the entire Labour party policy on defence was also a figment of our fevered imaginations and those of Saatchi and Saatchi. Fighting the Labour party on defence is not so much a case of looking for Achilles heel as of wandering into Achilles' tent and finding him busily butchering himself.

The people have a deep-rooted understanding of the need for defence. There is substantial support for the central core of these Estimates, the maintenance of a spending programme designed to equip our forces with the most modern equipment and a demonstration of our support for our NATO allies through commitments. NATO is a collection of free nations. That is its greatest strength, but also its greatest weakness. Should one partner lose confidence in its role and leave or minimise its commitment, as it must remain entitled to do, the alliance could collapse. It is this weakness that is played upon by our enemies. Arguments directed to reducing our will to defend ourselves and to ridiculing our capacity to do so are designed to hasten the day when we say no to our allies. On that day will begin to crumble the walls of the NATO alliance that have safeguarded the peace in Europe for nigh on 40 years.

I do not suggest that those who are sincerely concerned with disarmament and arms spending throughout the world necessarily desire the consequences of such action. However, I wish that occasionally they would see their policies through and look at the lessons of history for the likely result of their views. The clearest lesson of history is that weapons do not begin wars—rations do. Nations attack when they see an opportunity for success, not failure. The easiest way to encourage war is to show disinclination to defend and offer a dance of success to the enemy. These Estimates are welcome because they demonstrate clearly our commitment to NATO, our understanding of the balance of peace and our concern with security and defence.

What of the cost, about which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) spoke? The cost of defence is high, but those who compare the cost of our spending on defence with that on social services are making the wrong comparisons. Do not make that comparison, but compare the cost of defending the peace with that of the cost of war. The cost of peace may be high, but the cost of war would be catastrophic.

It seems that, on the Labour Benches, those words are no longer falling on deaf ears. If we are to believe our morning newspapers, those who contest the leadership of the Labour party are busily examining their naval estimates for a view on defence policy. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has gone so far as to ask that the party learn the opinions of ordinary people on defence and disarmament, although it appears that others, such as the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) do not take much heed.

The message is clear from the Conservative Benches. The Government already have the ear of the people on defence and disarmament. While the people are faced by an enemy determined to add immeasurably to its superiority in conventional and nuclear arms, the people will support these defence Estimates and the policy that they suggest.

I wish to suggest a way for the Government not only to have the ear of the people but to capture their heart as well. I speak with feeling here for the ycung people of my constituency, for I am the youngest Member ever to represent any part of Bury, North. We have, we hope, full and useful lives to lead, and I mean no d:srespect as I look round the House. We have our future before us and we are fighting for it. We seek peace as keenly as the hon. Member for Hillsborough, but he is misguided when he discusses unilateral disarmament as he does. His suggestion that in some way our example in unilateral disarmament will be followed is, alas, the fairy tale to which he referred. Our example would do nothing.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that merely because we have these weapons it is somehow the democratic right of other nations to have them as well. Perhaps he could explain to us how, if we renounce our weapons, it would suddenly not become the democratic right of other nations to have those weapons, and how we could force those other nations no longer to possess those weapons or to disarm. The fallacy is that in some way our example could do some good. The use of our example in unilateral disarmament has been shown before, when we gave up chemical weapons, but were not followed by the Soviet Union. Our unilateral nuclear disarmament would not be followed by the Soviet Union either.

While young people in my constituency and the country seek a vision for the future, we turn to this Government for extra hope. I ask the Government to see in the concern of young people for disarmament an expression of concern for the vision of the future that we want. While we accept that the price of peace is to be ever prepared for the war that we shall never start, while we accept that defence is bought only dearly, we also say that for those who spend much on defence there is a consequent responsibility to do much for peace.

It is the most earnest desire expressed by my constituents that while they understand and support the need for defence and spending on it, they also desire that we apply ourselves as vigorously as we can to our aim of using our strength to promote, encourage and advance the concept of the balanced reduction of all arms and all arms spending.

There has surely never been a better time than this for all nations to begin that process, as nations' economies throughout the world groan under the excessive demands of arms spending, and especially as the Soviet Union faces economic collapse if it continues those policies of defence spending which make ours seem trivial.

We shall not negotiate from weakness, but our defence policy in the Estimates before us will ensure in time that our strength with our allies against the Soviet bloc will be such that we can begin to use that as the great basis for peace. Let us try not just to capture the minds and sound judgment of our people—we already have that. Let us begin our crusade to capture the emotions of the people. That is what it depends on. Let us appeal to their imagination and vision of the future. We can do so by devising a policy which on the one hand shows our determination to be strong and free and on the other offers the open hand of friendship and negotiation.

Our people want to see ahead to the success of the policies before us. They want to be shown how eventually the strength that is represented here will be used to reduce the arms collections of the world. We must crusade for a true peace, not based on the sincere but naive beliefs of unilateral disarmament, but on the sound basis: of the defence policy before us.

There is a saying that from those to whom much is given much is expected. Much is given to the Government in the way of cash for defence, and I am confident, as I am sure my hon. Friends are, that in turn we shall see much from the Government in the way of effort for true, genuine and permanent peace.

8.36 pm
Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)

Those hon. Members who, to put it as modestly as I can, have returned here not for the first but perhaps, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), for the umpteenth time, find it extremely intriguing to assess the new Parliament as we listen, as we have today, to a series of fascinating speeches, not least that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt).

All hon. Members reveal their prejudices in the House. Today, those prejudices have been clothed with a certain elegance and wit which always makes them acceptable, even if they express views diametrically opposed to those of the listener. If hon. Members, like my hon. Friend, continue to speak as they have today, I am sure that they will not only enlighten and enliven our debates, but will make speeches to which we shall listen with pleasure.

The serious business of the evening is the defence Estimates. I begin by referring briefly to a personal experience that I shared with the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin). He told us earlier that he was on HMS Formidable off Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped. He entertained us by reading a letter that he wrote to his parents on that occasion. I happened to be at an RAF station in Palestine when the atomic bomb was dropped, and I am sure that I also wrote to my parents but, alas, the letter has not survived.

The House may be interested to know that I was terribly concerned about the awful power of that weapon and I realised then, young as I was, how it completely and dramatically altered human affairs in a most violent and incredible way. I tried to persuade the young pilots who were flying with me that that was so and my distinct recollection, so different perhaps from that of the right hon. Gentleman, is that they were completely uninterested. They just wanted to get on with the war and fly. Perhaps that is the character of young men. I had a subsequent, perhaps more relevant, experience in 1963 when I visited the museum in Hiroshima in which the Japanese showed what happened when the atomic bomb was dropped. Shortly after that, I also visited Nagasaki.

My recollection of the election campaign is that this was the one really serious argument that challenged us on the platform as the young people who came to our public meetings felt—and often thought—profoundly about it. It would be folly for any of us, whatever our views, not to recognise the depth of those feelings. Indeed, I share the feeling that dropping the atomic bomb was a reflection of the lunacy of the human race. I must therefore ask myself whether the keeping of such weapons is not also an aspect of the lunacy or perversity of the human race. And so it is. The possession of nuclear weapons is a terrifying paradox—offering apparent safety but enormous risk—which the human race has not yet learned to live with or to accept in toto. I believe that we may have to live with that paradox for at least a century.

We may ask today whether one such weapon is ever likely to be used. I believe that the probability against that is very high. Will more than one be used? Again, I think not. The effect on human beings of such a devastating action, whoever takes it and wherever the bomb explodes, would be so profound as to halt us all in our tracks and lead us to review most fundamentally whatever policies had led us to such a decision. The generals and the war colleges discuss the possibility of a first strike in which 500 or 600 of these awe-inspiring weapons would be launched by one continent against another. I believe that the odds against that—thank heaven—are enormously long.

Nevertheless, there are questions that we must ask. The main question is whether the shock administered to the brokers of national and military power by Hiroshima and Nagasaki will last a full century. I believe that it will. Naturally, that is the hope and prayer of all hon. Members. In that century, the human race will have bought, most expensively, time in which to create the only conditions that will ever enable the major powers to agree on a realistic and effective reduction of nuclear arms.

The essential condition is one that we recognise in all areas of human controversy, not least the most serious and dangerous — the condition of confidence and trust between those who negotiate on these matters. Where there is no confidence and no trust, there will be neither unilateral nor multilateral disarmament. The tension, the risk and the paradox will continue and we shall have to live with it until the human race learns to create conditions of confidence and trust.

What are the greatest dangers in this situation? First, as has been mentioned, there is the risk that we shall allow the technological burden to cripple our societies. We already know something of this because the cost of each new phase of technological development is exponential, doubling every two or three years for every society that supports major and complex weapon systems.

Secondly, there is the risk that we shall define as a major western or national interest, in defence of which we are prepared to use this awe-inspiring power something which in the light of history will prove not to have been such a major national or western interest. That is a great danger. It is a question of historical judgment.

Thirdly, we might develop technology of such awe-inspiring sophistication to defend ourselves that it virtually takes control. As the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) said, it could make a mistake. We must develop defences against all such contingencies. Moreover, we must recognise that such defences will require, in the most critical and sensitive areas, discussions and co-operation with those who oppose them.

Mr. Boyes

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is underlining my premise that the biggest danger is that we might have a nuclear war as a result of a technological breakdown. The hon. Gentleman is now saying that we must safeguard against that eventuality. How quickly and by what means can we safeguard against that? His argument is leading us to the point at which it is almost impossible to do that.

Mr. Lloyd

I would be the last to underestimate the risks. There can be no doubt that they are profound. Only confidence and trust between human beings will enable the necessary processes to continue. Only that will take us to a stage at which, mercifully, nuclear weapons will be seen by all sides to be no longer necessary and a major hazard which the human race inflicted on itself for the best part of a century. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am pessimistic about the rate at which that change can be achieved. All history tells us that human beings remain suspicious, pursue power, and do not recognise the dangers until they have paid an enormous price for their folly. Perhaps this time, with two world wars this century behind us, and with a clear knowledge of the price of even a conventional war, we might just have the wisdom to break through.

However, I do not believe that from that argument one goes on to support unilateralism or anything so stupid. What is so tragic about the CND movement is that one can respect its heart but not its head. Peace is an objective, not a policy. That is the important distinction. The human race must take on its folly. Without mutual trust, no reduction of nuclear or any other arms will be effected or sustained, whatever CND or any other group say or do.

The fourth risk should not be overlooked. There are planners and those who examine the whole complex of military, civil and foreign affairs. They will plan for the wrong circumstances. Those who were alive at the beginning of the second world war know that, for about 18 months, the generals, the admirals and the air marshals were fighting the first world war. They fought the war that they envisaged. Their imaginations were incapable of jumping to a post-Maginot line war. So it will be again. The test will be for our imaginations to conceive what the circumstances are, on seeing them, defining them, on attaching the proper risk to them, and in so doing making it clear to our opponents, whom we hope at that time will be less opposed to us than before, what the real risks are. They must do the same to us. That is why there is an overwhelming demand for frankness between those who discuss these matters and exercise power at the highest level.

We must concede at least the possibility — I know that this will stretch the House's imagination — that value systems locked in mortal combat, as those of the West and East now are, will, we hope, win or lose, without the physical destruction of vast numbers of human beings who defend and believe in them and the countries that they inhabit. It is a far-fetched suggestion but it is possible that, in 50 years' time, the human race will fight its battles by dealing with the DNA code in a way that is almost inconceivable today. That is my view of this, the greatest paradox of our times.

A few days ago, in a question to the Prime Minister, I mentioned the interesting subject of arms trade and its definition. I take this opportunity to expand on that subject. The document on which I rely is an interesting one. I have not heard it mentioned in House before, although doubtless it has been mentioned. It is produced for the United States Congress, and it is entitled "World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers", and it is the product of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. I happen to have the 1980 volume here, but I took my figures from the 1981 volume. It contains very interesting and disturbing figures. I shall give the House one or two of those figures and put some questions to my hon. Friend.

The United States is often pilloried as the great capitalist, imperialist warmonger with military and industrial complex out of control. That malignant view of the United States is totally demolished by these figures. Between 1976 and 1980, Soviet arms exports to the whole world totalled $36 billion. The most tragic aspect of that is that $32.9 billion went to developing countries, and of that figure $11 billion went to Africa, from the Soviet Union alone. The front-line states received $3.24 billion worth of arms from the Soviet Union. As I said the other day, United Kingdom exports to the same countries—Mozambique, Angola, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe — totalled $1 billion. That is a large and substantial sum.

Let me compare that sum with the figures in the defence Estimates. The United Kingdom figures for the years 1977 to 1980 amounted to only $370 million, and for the years 1977 to 1982 it was $698 million. We know that statisticians have different definitions which produce different results, and that in arms trade it is difficult to obtain accurate information, but the discrepancy is large — between $1,000 million for four years, and the maximum figure that I get from our figures of $698 million for five years.

Before I leave this subject, I want to give the House an idea of what that means in terms of threat, destabilisation and military destruction. The total weapon systems supplied to Africa in that period were as follows: tanks —from the Soviet Union 2,010 out of a total of 3,250; anti-aircraft artillery — 1,500 pieces out of a total of 2,300; field artillery-2,600 out of a total of 3,900; armoured personnel carriers— 3,200 out of a total of 5,000; supersonic combat aircraft, probably one of the most deadly weapons of today —770 from the Soviet Union out of a total of 930; subsonic, rather less-115 out of 150; other aircraft, where the West scores —Soviets only 85 out of 495; helicopters — 215 out of 520. The final figure was not revealed in our figures; and was obtained only by delving into the American figures; missiles, again one of the most devastating weapons of military balance today —5,390 supplied by the Soviet Union out of a total of 5,600.

We read much about South Africa's intention to destabilise the surrounding territories. What was supplied to South Africa by the United States, France, Italy and others in that period? A mere $460 million. That is 4 per cent. of Soviet supplies to Africa, 35 per cent. of its supplies to the front-line states and 14 per cent. of the total arms imported by front-line states. Who is destabilising whom?

We all know that most of those countries are virtually bankrupt. They cannot pay their bills and have no foreign exchange. They are in great difficulties, and cannot even pay the pensions of British people who worked there and who now live here. Yet those countries can apparently spend $1 billion on arms in four years. But are they spending it, or are we paying the bill? I must have an answer to that question tonight. Who is paying the bill? Is it the United Kingdom? If not, where are they getting the money from? If they are getting it from somewhere else, can they still make the same case for aid that they make so pleadingly — and perhaps in some circumstances, so correctly? I suspect that they cannot. That is my main point.

However one considers the issue, it cannot be described as being in Britain's interests. We do not want to destabilise southern Africa or to assist those who wish to do so.

On a personal note, I had the great privilege some months ago to visit Delville Wood on the Somme. I commend it to those hon. Members who have never been there. There, lying in that beautiful but sad place, are 15,000 South Africans from the South African brigade who died on the Somme for freedom. Let us never forget it.

8.56 pm
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I am pleased to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Lloyd), who made some telling points at the end of his speech about supplies of arms to Africa. However, my main purpose in speaking is to give my total support, of course, to the statement introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. That also means total support for his policy of nuclear deterrence.

It was obvious to all in May and June that defence policy played a most important part in the election campaign. The role that my right hon. Friend played in stating his views on the nuclear deterrent, both sincerely and clearly, was obviously a major factor in the victory that followed. Of course we all want multilateral disarmament. However, until the Russians show some sign of starting to disarm, or even of ending the increase in their armaments, it would be foolhardy in the extreme to contemplate weakening our defences in any way. Therefore, we must certainly increase our armaments as long as Russia does the same. We must also update them so that we do not fall behind in technological knowledge and skill.

I was fascinated by what my hon. Friend the Member for Havant said about the Hiroshima museum. I had the valuable experience of flying my aircraft over Hiroshima and Nagasaki not long after the bombs had been dropped. I decided there and then that that must never happen again to any country. That is why it is right for the Western world to maintain its policy of nuclear deterrence, because no country will drop a nuclear bomb knowing that similar destruction will inevitably follow for it. Therefore, I believe that our policy is right and must be maintained.

No defence debate at this time can be held without every hon. Member rightly remarking on the brilliance of our service men in the Falklands. I refer not only to the campaign, but to their work since last June and to all the magnificent things that they have done since then. The Government have made the right decision about the Falklands. I may raise a tiny eyebrow about the new airport, because, having been to Stanley airport, I think that it might well have been extended eastwards, thus making a satisfactory airport for wide-bodied aircraft. Difficult as it might have been, it might have proved satisfactory.

I very much doubt that over the past year or so the Royal Air Force has received sufficient praise for its brilliant airmanship in conducting the air bridge between Britain and the Falklands. Flight refuelling requires a high measure of skill. Our Hercules and Victor pilots deserve our warm appreciation, as do the Phantom and Harrier pilots who flew out to the Falklands. It is no mean feat to take a single seater aircraft with many stages of flight refuelling on a long flight to the south Atlantic. The pilots deserve all praise for their efforts.

Last Friday the House debated the subject of youth. I spoke about the value to our young people of the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, of which I am fortunate enough to be an honorary air commodore. I believe that young men and women who volunteer for reserve service receive the most excellent training. It is worth while joining our reserve forces for a host of reasons—the Outward Bound activities, the discipline that they receive in the proper spirit, the comradeship and because they know that they are doing a valuable and important job. Everything that the Government can do to promote service in the reserve forces is well worth while. I am delighted that His Royal Highness Prince Charles may have accelerated that idea in the minds of many people by his speech yesterday.

I am particularly pleased with the progress of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. There are plenty of recruits and the squadrons are at a high state of training and are ready for aerodrome defence. I should like to give a few words of encouragement to Ministers. They should do all that they can to provide the best possible equipment—transport and radio equipment—and plenty of it. Young recruits like to see new equipment and to get their teeth into learning how to use it as effectively as possible.

I hope that in the long run—my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) would have made this point had he been called to speak in the debate today; he hopes to speak tomorrow—we will again have Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons in a flying role. We know that this takes place in the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force, which uses light aircraft, but we hope that soon we shall have helicopter squadrons for Army cooperation and other valuable roles.

I should like to make one constituency point. I am interested in the royal ordnance factories and the suppliers of explosives and pyrotechnics. As this is an area of high unemployment, I hope that the Ministry of Defence will be giving as many orders as possible to these factories. Last year a consultative document was published on the future of the royal ordnance factories. What progress has been made in the timetable for their future? Whatever happens, I hope that they develop and will continue their employment and that pension rights will be safeguarded.

Throughout the history of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Flying Corps before it, we were late in delivering our aircraft. It takes much longer to develop modern aircraft from new designs. This applies not only to air frames and engines but to the sophisticated equipment that they now contain. I hope that the Government will make every effort to press on as quickly as possible with the development and flying trials of aircraft that are at present in the pipeline and will be available for squadron service in the years ahead.

Throughout the years that the Government have been in power, "quality" in defence has been the watchword. I hope that we shall do everything possible to maintain the quality of training and equipment. That is the best way to provide our fine men and women in the services with the equipment that they need. The contents of the statement augur well to achieve that in the future.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have called three speakers from the Conservative Benches in succession. You have not given Labour Members the opportunity to make a contribution.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Obviously the Chair must take into account the attendance in the Chamber and the length of time hon. Members have been waiting to take part in the debate. It is a two-day debate and hon. Members will have the opportunity to address the House tomorrow.

9.5 pm

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

I pay tribute to those hon. Members who made their maiden speeches in the debate — the hon. Members for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley), for Corby (Mr. Powell), for Nottingham, North (Mr. Ottaway), and for Bury, North (Mr. Burt). They were all confident and impressive, and were warm in their tributes to their predecessors. Those tributes were especially appreciated by the Opposition because they refferred to many old comrades. Those former Members were much valued in the House and are sorely missed.

Although some of the maiden speeches were controversial, they were generally eve n-handed. The hon. Member for Corby warned the Government defence team that they may yet face a financial crunch. The hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Ir verclyde expressed concern about the royal ordnance factories in her constituency and said that she hoped that jobs would be preserved. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North expressed authoritative and heartful concern about the delay in reaching agreement on the design for a type 23 frigate. The concern and fears that they expressed are well founded.

Some hon. Members were over-generous in their praise of the defence statement, the Secretary of State and his colleagues. We all know that this is not the Secretary of State's White Paper—his will come next year and the year after. The Opposition await both with great interest. I shall say more about possible developments later. We know the right hon. Gentleman well enough to know that he will wish to make an impression on his Department. We suspect that he will face some problems that can be resolved only by the Department getting its way or the right hon. Gentleman getting his way.

Any assessment of the defence statement must turn on our judgment of the defence policies that it sets out. How far are they affordable, especially Trident, with the soaring cost of defence technology? How far do they pursue less nuclear-reliant strategy, especially in relation to cruise? Nothing has come more strongly from the debate today than the concern about cruise, and that was not expressed only by Opposition Members. How far are the policies acceptable to public opinion—not only within Britain, but within the NATO Alliance? How far are they in line with current thinking on arms control?

That brings me to the question of priorities. How far are the Government's defence priorities balanced, sustainable and in line with NATO's needs? How far do they provide for the right kind of leadership in the 80s? What will they look like then, at the end of the lifetime of this Government, and how will the Prime Minister and, in particular, the Secretary of State for Defence be viewed by the people at that time?

First is the question of affordability. The Treasury has allotted almost £16 billion for defence in the current financial year to pay for the well-known components of the independent strategic nuclear force, the defence of the United Kingdom homeland, the maritime capability, a major land and air contribution on the European mainland and, for the first time, a full acknowledgement of an additional item, non-NATO contributions out of area, including forces for the Falklands.

There must, however, be doubt, even among Conservative Members — such doubt was expressed, interestingly in his maiden speech by the hon. Member for Corby—about whether the MoD will get its £17 billion-plus next year, not to mention the £21 billion to £22 billion in 1987–88. There are doubts about the adequacy of the funding as projected because the present cash limits have been set using assumptions about future rate of inflation and the cost of military hardware which look decidedly optimistic. Many analysts believe that the pressures on the defence budget are such that another major defence review will be inevitable in the lifetime of this Government.

The escalation of equipment costs is horrifying, even for relatively minor items such as torpedoes and helicopters. I am talking not of big systems but about the penny packets, as it were. We are already faced with £1 billion systems even when we consider those. There is no way arithmetically that we can contain real increases in costs of that order in our present defence policies. Indeed, I do not know of anyone in the Alliance, members of the legislatures of the member nations—I am referring to people versed in these matters, people who sit on the appropriate committees of their parliaments—who take any other view.

Unlike them, we are taking on Trident as well. We are trying to do what is not possible and we shall soon see the effects of that on, for example, the Navy. That fear was expressed not just from the Opposition Benches but by Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), speaking persuasively and authoritatively for the Liberals, agreed, and as much of his argument turned on the Trident decision, I will now consider that.

When the financial crunch comes and a further defence review is undertaken, the Secretary of State, if he is still in office, will have to address himself realistically to the question where and how best this country can contribute to NATO. Much discussion along these lines has already taken place. It has focused on whether there should be a continental or maritime emphasis, as the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) underlined in a series of typically provocative questions. When the next debate on priorities takes place, the United Kingdom will have to face the NATO-wide preference for a strengthening of non-nuclear capabilities. The Government, unlike the Opposition, have failed to recognise, much less adopt, the radical new thinking on nuclear and conventional nonnuclear strategy that is emerging within the NATO establishment.

Let us consider the less-nuclear-reliance strategy that is being advocated by some member nation Parliaments and by some professionals within the NATO establishment, starting with SACEUR, the supreme commander, General Rogers. Let us consider what they have in mind and what they are now actively pursuing.

Earlier this year senior NATO officials warned the countries of the Western Alliance that they had become alarmingly dependent on nuclear weapons for their defence. There was no sign of such concern on the Conservative Benches. According to General Rogers, the only way out of this danger is for NATO to improve its conventional forces and to spend more on new high-technology weapons, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) argued in his powerful opening speech on behalf of the Opposition.

That thesis has been argued for more than a year by General Rogers and other influential Americans such as Senator Sam Nunn, and it is beginning to be discussed within NATO. The defence Ministers were expected to tackle it when they met in Brussels during the general election campaign. These new ideas received their first non-governmental European endorsement in May in the shape of a report from a group of military and foreign exports, including our former Chief of Defence Staff, Lord Carver.

The tendency which I have described has focused inevitably on cruise. Last month legislators from NATO countries were sharply divided on the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe. Their forum was the spring meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly. During the closed session of the assembly's political committee, seven out of 10 speakers opposed deployment. It is noteworthy that no Minister or Conservative Back Bencher has opposed it during this debate. That demonstrates that Conservative Members are out of tune with thinking within the Alliance and are out of step with their fellow parliamentarians.

Parliaments of at least six NATO countries have shown varying levels of disagreement with NATO's deployment policy. In open debate, NATO's dual-track decision to go ahead with deployment while negotiations continued came in for sharply contrasting comments. There was considerable support for the view that the United States should not demand that Europe install INF weapons. Their benefit was seen as marginal yet their intended deployment has already split the Alliance.

These developments mean that we must turn inevitably to arms control. The sheer expense of the Trident programme is not the only reason why it is being questioned. The programme will come in for increasing scrutiny even from the Government. If headway has been made in the arms negotiations at Geneva, either at START or at the INF talks, a stage may be reached when the question of taking account of the United Kingdom's warheads can no longer be evaded. It is certain that there would be all manner of objections from Europeans and Americans alike if in any reassessment of defence priorities, national elements in the United Kingdom's programme such as Trident or provision for the Falklands, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) argued, were seen as receiving preference at the expense of the United Kingdom's contributions not merely to NATO but to what NATO is now increasingly requesting for its non-nuclear conventional forces.

The Government claim in the first page of the defence statement that We must do all in our power to reach agreement with the Soviet Union on the limitation and reduction of armaments. In spite of Mr. Andropov's latest proposal, the Prime Minister and the Government continue to reject the Soviets' insistence that British nuclear forces should be included in the missile talks. This leads the British Government clearly to favour arms control while refusing to accept any limits on the national nuclear deterrent.

The British Government have made a strong case for excluding British forces from the INF talks in Geneva, but only by implicitly acknowledging the equally strong argument that they should be negotiable in START. We were told by the Secretary of State this afternoon that if there is a substantial breakthrough at START, the Government will not stand aside beyond an irreducible minimum. However, his response to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who reminded him about Britain's limited negotiating position, means that there will be no negotiating in good faith by the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State knows that. He knows the real position, and he could not have made that statement this afternoon in good faith. [Hots. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] He knows Britain's negotiating position, based on Polaris, and on the intended replacement force. He knows that he cannot talk about irreducible minimums and lay down limits. When he makes such statements he cannot do so in good faith.

If Britain is not to appear to be stressing the importance, as the Secretary of State did, of controlling the arms of every nuclear power except itself, it must work out what part to play in the arms control process and then be prepared to offer something positive and meaningful, no matter how limited it may be. However, the Secretary of State offered nothing this afternoon. If the Prime Minister is not to appear indifferent to arms control, as she has done this year, she must be as ready as Chancellor Kohl, the Dutch Prime Minister and the Italian Foreign Minister were in March to express public concern to President Reagan about the then deadlocked Geneva talks. Why was she silent when even republican senators were adding their voices?

That brings me to leadership in the eighties, because the challenge to political leaders in this decade is as great as, if not greater than, ever. We must try to reduce our reliance on nuclear weaponry. We must improve and deploy more technically competent conventional forces. It is no good Conservative Members sneering—

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

So that we may get the flavour of the hon. Gentleman's speech, will he tell the House whether he is backing increased expenditure on conventional forces or a reduction in conventional forces in line with our NATO allies?

Mr. Duffy

I shall develop that argument later in my speech. I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman back in the Chamber, because I have sat through the entire debate and his was the only nasty speech that I heard.

Britain must improve and deploy more technically competent conventional forces. We must re-examine priorities on the basis of defence co-operation and burden-sharing, which is the first step in my answer to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). We must reverse the sombre international scene in which relations between the super-powers are strained, contact scarce and great resources continue to escalate the arms race. We must, so far as it rests with us, ensure that the Geneva negotiations yield positive results if a constructive dialogue between East and West is to result.

The Prime Minister's record does not encourage us to believe that she will rise to those challenges, yet during the election campaign she attacked Labour's plans for nuclear disarmament and accused the Labour party of advocating one-sided disarmament. She ignores the extent to which she is exposed to the charge of confrontational re-armament. She ignores the extent to which no first use of nuclear weapons, and the requirement for battlefield nuclear weapons, have ceased to be fringe issues and increasingly occupy the minds of orthodox defence planners and committed NATO supporters.

By giving this debate a powerful push, the Labour party is pointing out the possibilities of conventional arms, and perhaps furthering the cause of peace, with no help from Conservative Members. The Prime Minister, who is preoccupied with getting more and more nuclear weapons, neglects conventional defence and may be making nuclear war more, not less, likely. The debate within the Labour movement has undoubtedly spilled over into the country at large and is responsible for the discussion on pages 8 and 9 of the defence statement. Hon. Members will find no such discussion in the defence statements of previous years. The Labour party is responsible for the Government addressing themselves to the debate on less nuclear-reliant strategies and alternative approaches. They have had to face up to nuclear disarmament. That has been confirmed in the debate, especially by the hopeful and immensely stimulating speeches on the nuclear threat by my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes).

There are three ways in which peace is kept in Europe —deterrence, detente and reassurance. The last one is the most important — not deterrence or detente, important as they are, but reassurance It is achieved only by creating self-confidence and mutual trust among the NATO countries. The conventional forces in Europe are the linchpin of reassurance. They can acquire greater deterrent value thanks to modern technology. That is another part of my answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath.

The possibilities of non-nuclear weapon systems in the flashpoint battlefield environment illustrates the increasing potential for non-nuclear systems to take over many of the military missions at present covered by nuclear systems. Whatever the Prime Minister or her supporters may say, that shows the credibility of a less nuclear-reliant strategy for the Alliance. It is Conservative Members who are behind the times.

I refer now to the future defence strategy that even Conservative Members will have to support when they catch up with the times, which either the Secretary of State or, more likely, his successor will have to bring to the House after the next defence review. Scarcely any section of the press, much less the Secretary of State in the election campaign—his role in that was scurrilous—acknowledged the extent to which Labour has paved the way for a coherent framework in military, strategic and political terms for our future defence policy. Labour seeks to assess defence needs against the background of overall Alliance strategy and objectives. A greater precision in Alliance priorities is also required if we are to provide for the most efficient use of increasingly scarce resources. We are unlikely to get it while we have a Frime Minister who insists on our country maintaining the appearance of making an all-round contribution to the Alliance. Therefore, the essence of the task that faces the right hon. Gentleman is how far he is prepared to stand up to the Prime Minister in opposing that policy of hers to try to continue to behave like a great power and do everything that great powers are still doing—in other words go on making an all-round contribution to the Alliance.

The biggest problem in Alliance planning, given the explosion in costs of defence technology, is resource allocation. Even the United States, with all its resources, is having to consider more burden-sharing. The right hon. Gentleman knows that his American colleagues are expecting, in America's out-of-area activities, especially its rapid deployment force, more burden-sharing, particularly by the United Kingdom. There must be more burden-sharing within the Alliance. There must be more assigned roles on the basis of the division of tasks. Thus, the United Kingdom should avoid incremental and duplicating systems such as Trident. The same logic in reordering NATO priorities points inescapably to a strengthened conventional defence posture by the United Kingdom, preferably in the maritime role. That argument has been championed almost exclusively in Parliament by Labour Members on both Front and Back Benches.

Mr. Critchley


Mr. Duffy

Yes. The published material is there. The hon. Gentleman knows it. The same Labour Members of Parliament have also done most to create the political will for less nuclear-reliant strategies as well as disarmament. Their manifest concern is reflected in the discussion on pages 8 and 9 of the defence statement—it is not the concern of Conservative Members. Labour Members in assigned parliamentary party rooms have long been monitoring the technological developments in non-nuclear systems that promised to undermine militarily Labour's political status. This new thinking, especially on the possibilities of non-nuclear weapons systems in the flashpoint battlefield environment, as published material confirms, was available to Labour spokesmen long before it found expression, only recently, in other quarters.

Labour will pursue a non-nuclear defence policy on the basis of conventional priorities rather than apocalyptic choice. If the Conservative Government insist on an all-round, instead of balanced, contribution by the Alliance, it is certain that the Secretary of State or his successor must one day bring a further defence review before the House. By the end of their second term, the Conservatives may have reduced the share of national resources alloted to defence as part of an across-the-board assault on public spending. They will probably have put Britain's strategic nuclear capacity—Trident and, perhaps, Polaris—into the arms negotiations pot. They will certainly have committed themselves to a boosting of conventional forces within a broadly based programme to reduce NATO's reliance on nuclear weapons. In short, they will have adopted much of the defence programme that the Secretary of State was concerned to ridicule and dismiss. They will not have faced up to what was objectively and properly argued during the recent election campaign. They will have adopted a defence programme which during the recent election campaign was maliciously distorted and misrepresented on all sides, especially by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence.

9.32 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Ian Stewart)

After that speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) it is not surprising that defence was one of the main issues which lost the Labour party support during the last general election.

Mr. Boyes

That is not true.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman used fine language about defence strategy, but that is no cloak for the nonsense of the Labour party's contradictions in its defence policy. He spoke of leadership in the 1980s. We can be certain that we shall not get any leadership from the Labour party, because its members are going in opposite directions. If ever a debate was designed to throw up the internal contradictions of Labour party policies, it is this one.

This afternoon, after the introduction by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in a farsighted and profound speech—[Interruption.]—I was glad to hear my hon. Friends give a broad welcome to the White Paper and the strategy that we have made out.

Mr. Conlan

The hon. Gentleman must not blush.

Mr. Stewart

I turn from the embarrassing subject of the official Opposition Front Bench to the more pleasant duty of congratulating the maiden speakers who have taken part in the debate today. I am glad to begin the roll of their names with the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). It would say nothing for him if I were to remark that he was a great improvement on his predecessor, so I will say more than that. We were delighted to hear his moving remarks about the stricken territory that he represents. I join in his tribute to our armed forces and the UDR in the important job that they undertake in difficult and dangerous circumstances in that troubled region.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) took us on a historical tour of the 1930s and it is a pity that some hon. Gentlemen who were to speak later did not hear his telling comments. He spoke also of the airfields in his constituency and of the Royal Air Force's important contribution to the second world war.

My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) made a charming speech. She represents an ancient Stewart stronghold. About 100 years ago Greenock was represented by my great grandfather. I was pleased, therefore, to be able to visit the Clyde a few weeks ago and to see her constituency. I am sure that she will represent it very effectively.

Mr. Conlan

The hon. Gentleman should get on with it. He only has 25 minutes.

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) spoke effectively about our conventional capabilities. I am sure that he will serve his constituents equally effectively. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Ottaway) has personal experience from his service in the Navy. We listened attentively to what he said about the importance of airborne early warning and the close-in weapon system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) spoke about the value of our defence and deterrent posture in the preservation of peace.

My hon. Friend the Minster of State for Defence Procurement will speak more generally tomorrow about procurement. I shall not, therefore, try to answer in detail some of the points that were raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) mentioned the royal ordnance factories, and they will figure in the Minister of State's remarks.

The hon. Members for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Johnston) and my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Lloyd) raised the subject of the sale of arms, including some of the wider issues involved.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) spoke about some of the details of our procurement programme. I shall not be able to pursue those matters further tonight, because of the shortage of time.

My responsibilities are largely related to ship procurement, which was mentioned by a number of hon.

Members during the debate, notably my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink). I hope that he will find some of my later remarks relevant to his speech.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned the need for a primary trainer to replace the current Jet Provost. Among the likely contenders could be the Pilatus PC7, which is designed in Switzerland, another trainer aircraft from Brazil, a new design by Fairchild of the United States and the Firecracker, which is produced by Desmond Norman in the Isle of Wight. If a foreign design were chosen, it is likely that the aircraft would be produced under licence in the United Kingdom.

Much of the debate has been, and will continue to be, about the nuclear issue. The hon. Members for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) spoke about it. They were soundly answered by a number of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle and for Bury, North. In that context the remarks about Japan's experience during the second world war were brought into focus by the recollections of my hon. Friends the Members for Havant and for Dumfries.

Mr. Ashdown

Will the Minister concede that half of the case that suggests that the possession of nuclear weapons by the United States caused the capitulation of Japan is not supported by the facts, and that it has now been proved that Japan had agreed to capitulate about three weeks before the nuclear weapon was used?

Mr. Stewart

I do not agree. The hon. Gentleman has already made a lengthy speech and I must leave it to get on with other matters.

A number of hon. Members who spoke today, in particular the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and the hon. Member for Attercliffe, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, referred to the cost of Trident and its effect on our conventional forces. The average cost to the defence budget of Trident over the period of procurement will be 3 per cent., and at its peak 6 per cent. The suggestion that by cancelling it it would be possible to secure a dramatic increase in our conventional forces does not square with the facts. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford questioned the figures given for the cost of Trident and said that he thought they must have escalated a great deal already. I draw his attention to paragraph 213 of the White Paper, which says that we will be using the planned US facilities … for the initial preparation for service of our Trident missiles … We estimate that this decision will produce a net saving for the defence programme of several hundred millions of pounds in capital costs with equal, if not greater, additional savings in running costs over the life of the system.

Mr. Silkin

The hon. Gentleman is concerned with statistics. The savings cannot possibly, in any circumstances, equal — the figure was not challenged — an increase of 15 per cent. in inflation costs and another 15 per cent. in exchange rates, making a 30 per cent. increase in all. That 30 per cent. of £7.5 billion equals over £2 billion.

Mr. Stewart

I was drawing attention to the fact that other factors are working to reduce the figures originally given. As the right hon. Gentleman has intervened again on an arithmetical point, I shall point out that, when he was embarrassed by a former colleague of his quoting his commitment to the 3 per cent. increase in defence expenditure in 1978, he said that that was without a reduction in GNP of 15 per cent. in subsequent years. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman is mixing up the GNP with industrial output, but that is a reflection of the precision that he brings to these questions.

Conventional forces have figured prominently in the debate, as they should. My hon. Friends the Members for Aldershot and Corby raised this in particular in connection with ships and the size of the fleet, and there were important contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), for Gainsborough and Horncastle, for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde, for Portsmouth, South and for Nottingham, North.

I retired from the Royal Naval Reserve nearly 10 years ago because I could not continue the training when I became an hon. Member, so I have not been closely in touch with defence affairs during the intervening period. My chief impression, after that interval, is of the enormous scale of technological change that has taken place. This point was effectively made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North. The developments in electronic equipment and various weapon systems, communications, radar and so on are dramatic.

The hon. Member for Atterc liffe spoke about affordability. That must always be in the forefront of our minds. It is extremely important that we should always try to get value for money in the best possible way. My hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement will tomorrow say something about our approach to procurement in those circumstances.

The main change has been in the development of the underwater threat. The figures in the White Paper show that in the eastern Atlantic the Warsaw pact outnumbers NATO in offensive mines by 26,030 to 850 and in submarines by 81 to 32. In 1982 the Warsaw pact brought into service nine new submarines, against only two in NATO. As a consequence, in our ship procurement programme we have introduced not only the mine countermeasures vessels and the new fleet minesweepers for use by the Royal Navy reserve, but also plans for the single role mine hunter, and in connection with the antisubmarine threat we have plans for the conventional submarine, the type 2400 and the type 23 frigate.

Part of the cost of the procurement and related expenditure in our budget is for research and development. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke about that earlier. I re-emphasise his point that the development part of our research and development budget is much more directly project-related than would perhaps normally be the case under such a heading in industry.

Another point that is worth stressing, and which can be seen on page 17 of volume 2 under the tables on equipment, is that we have tried to put more research effort out to industry. In the past four years we have been able to do that with increasing success. In the coming year extramural research and development is expected to be £1,400 million, as against only about £.500 million within the defence establishments. That development is particularly important and answers some of the criticisms that have been made about the high level of research and development. It is essential, as weapons and weapon systems become more sophisticated, that adequate research and detailed development work upon them should be carried out to see that they are effective when they are brought into service.

I should now mention the departmental organisation and staffs which carry out the ship procurement process. Reporting direct to me for that function is the controller of the Navy, an admiral who is a member of the admiralty board—also sometimes referred to as the third sea lord. His function is to buy ships and equipment to meet the Navy's requirement.

The controller has charge of a large and complex organisation. Just under 10 per cent. of the staff are Royal Navy officers and ratings and the remainder are civilians, predominantly in technical and professional specialisations. Their task is to obtain capable and dependable equipment for the Navy on time and on the best terms that can be secured.

It is no less important that the structure of the organisation adapts to changing circumstances. More than 20 years have passed since the present structure was established with its ship and weapons departments, each under separate dirctor general reporting to the controller. The director-general of ships has, in effect, been responsible for the hull and propulsion of the ship and the director-general of naval weapons for weaponry, weapon systems and their integration. Therefore, I hope that the House will welcome the fact that a major reorganisation of the controllerate will come into effect on 1 August.

Mr. Fisher

Will the Minister reply to the debate? Substantive points have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), myself and other hon. Members.

Mr. Stewart

When I tried to respond to specific points earlier, I received only a babble and much barracking from Labour Members. Perhaps the Opposition are not interested in the important steps that the Government are taking to enhance the effectiveness of the fleet. In future, responsibility will be divided in principle between total warship systems viewed as integrated projects in their own right and the individual equipments, whether weapons or machinery, that form the parts of that system. Thus the entire ship is to be considered as a weapon system, in much the same way as aircraft have been considered for some time, while the principal components can be treated individually.

The two main arms of the restructured organisation will be headed by a deputy controller for warships and a deputy controller for warship equipments respectively. Complementary changes are being made to improve the arrangements on technical cost and financial analysis, estimating and forecasting. A further important innovation is the establishment of a future material projects naval division to provide the focal point for long-term technical programme planning and conceptual work on the future of warships and major equipment projects.

Mr. Dalyell

Do the Government accept that a quarter of the fleet is now bottled up in the south Atlantic? What does the NATO high command have to say about that? That is a serious question. There may be a satisfactory answer to it, but NATO's reaction to the facts that I gave should be included in the reply to any serious defence debate.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised various matters based on pure speculation. I have no intention of commenting further upon them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South spoke of the changing elements in the cost of a modern warship. A recent analysis of the cost of a type 22 frigate shows that about 17 per cent. is incurred on the hull and structure, 20 per cent. on the propulsion system and about 63 per cent. on achieving the required fighting capability. That, too, emphasises how important weapon systems are becoming in our warship procurement programme.

The hon. Member for Yeovil asked about the EH101 helicopter. We have made considerable progress in getting this important military and civil project under way. The programme of studies at Westland has been fully funded to ensure that essential design work is kept going while negotiations with the Italian Government continue. As is well known to the House, political uncertainty in Italy early this year and the recent general election there have delayed confirmation of a firm Italian commitment to the military version of the helicopter. We hope, however, to have the joint project in full development soon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North referred to the design of the type 23 frigate and to counterclaims on behalf of a new design for a shorter, fatter ship known as the S90. Those claims have received a good deal of public comment lately, but the comment has been couched in terms of personalities rather than being based on the operational and technical aspects of the design, which are the points that Ministers will consider fully when reports and assessments are received from the Ministry and from the independent advisers who have been retained for the purpose.

A number of improvements in ship design have recently taken place, some resulting from lessons learnt in the Falklands conflict and others which were already in train. We are reducing the amount of flammable material in warships and trying to improve fire-resistant cabling. We are also replacing foam mattresses with sprung mattresses to reduce the risk of fire. Some redesigning is taking place with the introduction of better watertight doors and hatches, and further steps are being taken on damage control, with special reference to the spreading of fire and smoke.

Comments have been made about the unsuitability of aluminium in a ship's structure because it loses strength in fire. It is used only in type 21 frigates and is not being used in warships today.

Mr. Conlan


Mr. Stewart

I have many points to deal with.

Mr. Conlan


Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the Minister giving way?

Mr. Stewart


Mr. Conlan

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Can he comment on the obvious disagreement between the Minister of State for Defence Procurement and the design team at Bath about the design of future warships?

Mr. Stewart

Questions of that type can be considered only after the process that I have just described. I fail to see why we should have a considered debate on the subject until we have all the facts and information. I gave way to the hon. Gentleman out of courtesy because he failed to catch your eye earlier, Mr. Speaker.

My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde asked about the type 2400. We hope to order the submarine later this year. Follow-on boats will be ordered from the middle of the decade, but no follow-on order is likely before 1985. Whenever possible, the submarines will be orderd by competitive tender and I cannot therefore promise to allocate them to any yard.

I should like to deal with the procurement process for ordering warships because there is sometimes misunderstanding about what is meant by an order for a new ship. Perhaps I can illustrate the point by referring to the type 2400 submarine. It began with an outline staff target six years ago in 1977. The first stage—concept work—took two years and included the general study of major characteristics, cost, complement and so on and development of the naval staff target. Next came the feasibility studies, which lasted about one and a half years. They produced greater detail on costs, weight, space, power and so on. Finally, there was the contract definition stage, which lasted about two and a half years, during which the preferred design was identified and detailed standards and procedures were defined. Enough detail was drawn up to present a contract to order the boat. During contract definition long lead items are ordered as necessary.

We are now reaching the point—about six years later —when we can place an order. It is a long process. Hon. Members asked when orders for the type 2400 can be placed. I can only say that orders will be placed in the relatively near future. I shall not give a specific date. The process of preparing, designing and defining the contract stage is important. It is only then that we can place an order for the first of class.

I do not accept comments that have been made outside the House and repeated several times inside that we are in danger of running down the number of our escorts to 40 ships by the end of the decade. That is not true. In the meantime, until the new ships that we have ordered come on stream we have extended temporarily the operational period of the Rothesay and Leander class frigates and extended the life of three Tribal class frigates.

Modernisation of the Royal Navy is continuing strongly. Last year we spent about £1,700 million on development and production of warships, their weapon systems, armaments and spares. There are now 38 ships on order for the Royal Navy—the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, three type 42 destroyers, eight type 22 frigates, four SSNs and various other smaller ships. The total cost of the ships on order is about £3,000 million. The Conservatives will be able to pay for that. If the Opposition's policies were followed, they would have no hope of paying for them. We shall order new—

Mr. Boyes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to listen to the Minister, but I cannot hear what he is saying because of the talking on the Conservative Benches.

Mr. Stewart

We have now made substantial commitments to strengthen the Royal Navy in the years ahead. That is an important part of our defence commitment, as contained in the White Paper, and I am glad that hon. Members, at least on this side, realise the importance of what we are doing and have supported the White Paper that my right hon. Friend introduced.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.