HC Deb 18 June 1984 vol 62 cc36-115


Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Secretary of State fo move the motion, I should announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I have a long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak during this two-day debate. I hope that it will be possible to accommodate them all, but it will be possible only if speeches are relatively short.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to challenge your ruling, but will you tell the House either now or later whether you are bound only ever to choose one amendment, or whether you may choose two amendments? Does Standing Order No. 35 relate only to the debate on Her Majesty's speech? It would be helpful to hon. Members who seek to place motions on the Order Paper for vote and for debate, if you will tell us whether you have such discretion or whether we must change the Standing Orders of the House?

Mr. Speaker

I am only able to choose one amendment on an ordinary day, but I can choose two amendments for the debate on the Queen's Speech. However, I am bound to choose only one amendment for a debate of this nature, and I have done so.

4.19 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I beg to move, That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1984, contained in Cmnd. 9227. I believe that the White Paper provides the information on which an informed debate can take place.

I was pleased to see that this was the view of the Defence Committee in its own valuable report, to which I shall refer.

Twice this century, the peace of the world has been shattered by world war. Two weeks ago we commemorated D-Day and the sacrifices of the second of those wars. Those who survived had one profound hope to sustain them as they surveyed the wreckage of nearly six years of total war. It was the hope that such cataclysmic events should not occur again. They regarded it as their duty to themselves and to the 50 million across the world who had not survived to ensure that international tensions should in future be resolved by means other than war. In practice, across much of the globe little has changed. The use of force and of violence in the pursuit of political ends is as commonplace today as it has been throughout history. The continuing loss of human life with all the attendant destruction remains a feature of day-to-day life, uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable. In the realities of power politics too much of the evidence points to a determination to keep it that way.

But there has been one profound achievement during the past 40 years. Despite the constant reality of East-West tension, a world conflict has been avoided. The peace of Europe has been maintained, and in western Europe at least political freedom preserved.

We cannot be prepared to rest on the mere absence of war. Peace between East and West has been preserved, first, because of a perception on all sides that the alternative is too appalling to contemplate. Peace has also been preserved because great resources have been devoted to military expenditures. Of course, peace based on fear and suspicion will always be uneasy and uncertain. Of course, the task of the statesman is to move to a position where peace is based on mutual understanding and on trust, but let no one doubt that the existence of peace itself is a prize beyond previous attainment. That we have not also moved to peace in a climate of trust is a challenge, but not a disaster.

The primary purpose of NATO is to preserve the peace and security of its member nations, and this is what it has achieved for 35 years. We have made it clear that we shall maintain our defences at a level sufficient to deter threats to our peace and security. We have also made it clear that we want to talk to the Soviet Union and to achieve a meaningful dialogue on reducing East-West tension and securing arms control.

I will not disguise from the House the fact that progress during the past year has been disappointing. That has not been for want of effort on the NATO side, but one thing is certain about negotiations: it takes two to achieve success. There must be a real and genuine will on both sides to be flexible and to seek a lasting understanding.

The House will judge whether the NATO Alliance has done all it could to pursue the chance of establishing common ground. Across the range of arms control negotiations, NATO has taken initiatives and shown its willingness to hold a meaningful dialogue. At the level of strategic arms, the Americans have made it clear that everything was on the table for discussion, but the Russians are refusing to meet. The intermediate range nuclear forces talks remain suspended.

Since those talks began in 1981, the United States has made it clear that it was prepared to remain at the negotiating table for as long as was necessary to reach an agreement. The only proviso was that the large and growing imbalance between East and West in intermediate range nuclear systems could not be allowed to persist. The zero option was on the table. Failing that, the Alliance made it clear that it was prepared to accept equality at the lowest level the Soviet leadership was prepared to negotiate. The Alliance also showed flexibility on other points of concern to the East, such as medium-range aircraft. As the talks continued, the number of SS20s pointed at Europe grew from 171 in 1981 to 243 in 1983, and at that time NATO had no comparable missiles. Yet as soon as the first NATO missiles arrived in Europe, the Soviet Union broke off the talks.

The House will contrast this Soviet rigidity with the Alliance decision taken in October 1983 to reduce the nuclear stockpile in Europe to the lowest level for 20 years. When implemented, the decision will mean that since 1979 the number of Alliance warheads deployed in Europe will have been cut by one third, by one half in the case of warheads for shorter range systems.

We are also committed to seeking reductions in conventional arms and to pursuing confidence and security-building measures to reduce tension. In Stockholm, the West is negotiating to reduce the risk of an outbreak of hostilities in Europe as a result of accident or misunderstanding. At the MBFR talks in Vienna we are committed to achieving fair and verifiable conventional force reductions in central Europe, and in Geneva we are striving for a total ban on chemical weapons, but the Soviet attitude remains inflexible and unyielding.

Most recently at the London economic summit, Western leaders expressed their wish to see early and positive results in the various arms control negotiations and the speedy resumption of those that had been suspended. The joint declaration on East-West relations at the summit reiterated the United States' offer to restart nuclear arms control talks anywhere, at any time and without preconditions. The words were hardly offered when they were being denounced by the Soviet Union—not only denounced, but with no constructive proposals to put in their place.

Of course, there are fundamental differences between the political systems of East and West. Leaders of the Western nations know that there is an urgent and compelling imperative in democracies towards the pursuit of peace. In free societies, people can express their desire for peace and reductions in tension openly, in the press, on the streets and through the ballot box. The leaders of the Soviet Union face no such pressures. I have no doubt that the vast mass of the Russian people also want peace, but they lack the means to impress their views on the leadership in the Kremlin.

The lesson for us is clear. We must recognise that we are dealing with a cautious but calculating leadership—a leadership obsessed with the security of their state but disregarding the threat which Soviet power poses to others. Their system is premised on the certainty of the eventual ideological triumph of Communism, but it will proceed carefully towards that goal. Opportunities will be grasped, but only if the price is acceptable. It is a bureaucracy which, by its nature, is slow moving, led by men whose whole experience is to play things long. We cannot expect to make rapid progress in negotiations with the Soviet Union, but equally we must persevere, and we must articulate to Western public opinion why meaningful and lasting agreements with the Warsaw pact can be achieved only as a result of hard, slow and patient negotiations conducted from a position of strength. It would be folly to encourage unrealistic hopes of easy and rapid progress which cannot be fulfilled.

For 35 years the policy of the NATO Alliance has been to deal with the Soviet Union from such a position of strength. The Alliance has made a realistic appreciation of the aims of the Soviet Union and its strengths and weaknesses. We recognise the Russian propensity to exploit instability in Asia, Africa and central America. We see the continuing repression of eastern Europe and the continuing attempt to crush Afghanistan. Above all, we know the size and power of Soviet military capability, which continues to grow.

The leaders of the Alliance nations believe that their fundamental duty is to preserve the freedom of their peoples through the maintenance of strong defence forces capable of resisting aggression. The White Paper describes the steps that the Government are taking to this end. The British contribution to NATO defence continues to be second only to that of the United States. We are spending £17 billion on defence this year, and the figure next year will be 18 billion. Our defence contribution outstrips that of our major European allies as a total figure, as a per capita figure and as a percentage of GNP.

We are continuing with the programmes which are in hand to modernise our conventional and nuclear forces. The defence of the United Kingdom homeland remains fundamental to our national survival and to the capability of NATO to reinforce in war. For the next 20 years the backbone of the air defence of the United Kingdom will be provided by the Tornado F2 aircraft, which is a highly sophisticated air defence aircraft with excellent range, loiter and stand-off capabilities. Our early warning capability will be greatly enhanced by the entry into service later this year of the Nimrod AEW aircraft and the continuing modernisation of our air defence radar and communications facilities. Hawk with Sidewinder will provide a useful additional air defence capability at a relatively low cost. We are continuing to modernise our naval forces to counter the Soviet mining threat to our offshore waters.

On the central front of Europe we have in hand enhancements which will strengthen BAOR equipment to an extent not seen in the past three decades. They include the introduction of the MCV80 combat vehicle, the multiple-launch rocket system, the LAW 80 anti-armour weapon, Javelin, the successor to Blowpipe and the new range of small arms. We have already ordered sufficient Challenger tanks to equip four regiments. I am pleased to have been able to announce today that orders will shortly be placed for a further 62 tanks from royal ordnance factory Leeds to equip a fifth regiment. Two squadrons of the Tornado GRI strike aircraft are now in service with RAF Germany. The combination of Tornado, its JP233 airfield attack weapon and the ALARM system will be a potent one in the suppression of Warsaw pact air operations in the 1990s and beyond. Our air power in Germany will be further strengthened when the advanced Harrier GR5 aircraft enters service later in the decade.

In the case of our maritime forces, which play such a vital role in the eastern Atlantic and the Channel, weapons systems in or coming into service over the next few years include the lightweight Stingray and heavyweight Spearfish torpedoes, the Sea Eagle and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. There are now 37 warships on order for the Royal Navy, including one aircraft carrier, seven type 22 frigates, four nuclear fleet submarines and the first of a new class of conventional submarines.

I am also able to tell the House today that we shall shortly be inviting industry to make competitive proposals to design and build the first class of a new type of support ship, the auxiliary oiler replenishments, or AORs. This is a new concept for the support of the Royal Navy, a "one-stop" ship which will carry in one hull all the fuel and stores needed for replenishment at sea. It is also a new concept in ship procurement, since this is the first time we are going out to competition for proposals to design and build a first-of-class ship of such importance and complexity.

In strengthening our conventional forces, we are seeking to give an increasing emphasis to our reserve forces. Not only are these cost-effective, but they provide for wider participation in the work of the armed forces, which in itself is valuable. We have already announced the expansion of the Territorial Army to 86,000 by the end of the decade and the creation of the Home Service Force, and we are looking to strengthen the role of the other reserve forces. The Defence Committee commented helpfully on these developments. We hope to do more, but the pace at which progress can be made depends upon the response within the community.

We also plan to modernise our strategic nuclear deterrent with the Trident system. I accept at once that that remains an object of controversy. The opponents of Trident maintain that it represents an unnecessary escalation of the arms race, that the alternatives are more acceptable, and that the cost of Trident will distort the rest of the defence programme. I do not believe that any of these propositions stands the test of analysis.

In comparing Trident with our existing force, we must take account of the deployment of Soviet anti-ballistic missile defences and the development of Soviet antisubmarine capabilities since Polaris—a system designed in the 1950s—came into service. The Trident force will be the minimum size necessary to provide a credible and effective deterrent. While we need for the 1990s and beyond a missile with a range which allows our strategic submarines increased "sea room", we chose the D5 missile because the longer-term cost advantage lay with maintaining the maximum commonality with the United States programme. But, having done so, we have made it clear that we do not envisage using the full warhead capability of the system.

It is argued that there are cheaper alternatives based on cruise missiles. This was gone into most carefully at the time and, for an equivalent weight of deterrent power, a cruise missile force was found to be more expensive to buy and to run than a ballistic force. Of course, ultimately what is required to deter is a matter of judgment. We can all change the basis of the calculation to suit us at the time.

What the Government must have in mind is that a cheap system which does not deter would be simply a waste of money, and one which was not invulnerable to preemption would invite the very attack it was intended to prevent.

There is also the question of cost. The White Paper gives an estimate of £8.7 billion at average 1983–84 prices and exchange rates, which is the common price base for the figure work in the document as a whole. As time moves on the estimate will, of course, change. The Defence Committee has quoted a higher figure in its report, and because it is a factor which can readily be isolated, it has focused attention on the exchange rate element of the equation. But, as the Committee also points out, there are other factors in the equation which could influence the estimate the other way.

I do not intend to depart today from convention and to introduce new figures on a different base. They would themselves only be overtaken in due course. The essential point is not whether the cost in isolation is £8.7 billion or some other figure, but whether this cost is affordable in the context of the defence budget as a whole. In this latter perspective, the scale of planned resources completely dwarfs marginal charges in a single project—even of the scale of Trident. We are talking of cumulative defence budget over the period of procurement of Trident of some £350 billion at today's prices.

In annual terms, Trident will cost on average, say, £500 million a year or 3 per cent. of the defence budget, but this Government have increased the defence budget by one fifth or some £3,000 million a year since 1979. In other words, the increase alone under this Government is around six times the average cost of Trident.

Trident, when it succeeds Polaris, will be one of the four main pillars of our defence programme. What I cannot understand is how a party that in government, through much of the 1960s and 1970s, maintained Polaris, and modernised it at great expense with Chevaline, now in opposition and without any change in the policies of the Soviet Union, can argue for a defence policy without our own last resort deterrent.

The Government are committed to carrying through the modernisation of our conventional and nuclear forces. We are also committed to getting the maximum value for money from the defence budget. Our aim is to secure the maximum output of front-line capability from the resources of money and manpower which we devote to defence.

Chapter two of the White Paper outlines the comprehensive range of initiatives which are in hand. These apply across the spectrum of manpower, money and equipment. The results, in terms of extra capability for the services, are already apparent.

For the Royal Navy, we have announced that up to eight ships which would have otherwise been placed on standby from 1986 onwards will be kept in the operational fleet. As a result, the number of destroyers and frigates available at short notice for NATO and national commitments will be increased by up to 20 per cent. compared with previous plans.

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

Will the Secretary of State confirm that only one major surface warship and one submarine will be completed this year, the lowest number this century, and that only one additional ship—a frigate—joined the fleet last year, the smallest number since 1949? Where would the right hon. Gentleman now be without the shipbuilding programme bequeathed to him by the last Labour Government?

Mr. Heseltine

In no way do I wish to suggest that the last Labour Government did not make a significant contribution to our conventional forces. That is why at the last election I found it so extraordinary that Labour should threaten to reduce the very commitment that it had considered necessary when in government.

Mr. Duffy

Why have this Government not placed more orders?

Mr. Heseltine

I have already told the House of the number of ships under construction or on order for the Royal Navy. Those orders have been placed by the present Government, but I do not seek to diminish what the previous Labour Government did. I only wish that the Labour party consistently would follow the same policies in opposition as it did when in government.

For the Army, we intend to redeploy 3 per cent. of our manpower from the support areas to the front line. This will enable us to man the comprehensive programme of re-equipment for BAOR which is in hand. It will also allow us to strengthen our home defence forces and to improve the capability and readiness of our out-of-area forces based on 5 Airborne Brigade.

For the RAF, manpower levels will be held steady as the number of front-line aircraft increases by more than 15 per cent. over the decade.

I have announced proposals for the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence which are designed to achieve greater efficiency in the conduct of our business. These are being worked through and I shall be announcing the results before the recess. Finally, we are committed to securing greater competition across the range of our equipment procurement and support services. Our analysis has shown that significant savings—up to 30 per cent. in some recent cases—can be achieved through competition.

It is argued by some that this pursuit of value for money, though laudable in itself, is not significant in terms of defence policy. I know that few people want to concentrate on it—it is detailed and uncomfortable, and it challenges the pressure groups within the defence community as a whole. Instead, there is a preference for focussing on marginal increments in resources — and these are regarded as central to policy. The Government have set about establishing a level of defence expenditure appropriate to the threats which we face and have made provision accordingly, but increasing resources cannot he a process without limit. We must shift the focus from the marginal increase to addressing the output that we are achieving from the whole of a much larger defence budget.

We intend also to pursue greater international collaboration in the development and production of new weapons systems. In particular, we seek greater arms cooperation within Europe and between Europe and the United States. Greater standardisation of defence equipment across NATO boundaries has obvious benefits for the battlefield commander, and the scale and sophistication of major modern weapons systems often rules out a national solution. European collaboration is important because it demonstrates to the United States that the European allies are prepared to play their full pan in NATO defence.

We are already involved with our partners on a wide range of collaborative projects — for example, the multiple-launch rocket system, the self-propelled SP70 gun and the EH101 anti-submarine helicopter. For the future we are discussing with our partners an outline concept for a European agile fighter aircraft to meet the air threat from the Warsaw pact in the 1990s and beyond. We are studying with other nations the feasibility of introducing a standard NATO frigate design for the mid-1990s. Of course the harmonising of national requirements and priorities is not easy. There are political, military and industrial obstacles to be overcome. But I am clear that more needs to be done if we are to take advantage of the potential of improving our defence offered by the new technologies which are now coming forward.

There has been some debate recently on the European contribution to defence. it is natural that there should be such a debate within the NATO Alliance. There are those in the United States who believe that the Europeans are not carrying their share of the defence burden, just as there are those in Europe who believe that the European voice should be projected more loudly in the counsels of the Alliance.

The White Paper sets out the extent of the European contribution to the defence of the Alliance. The European allies provide some 90 per cent. of the in-place ground forces, about 80 per cent. of the tanks, about 90 per cent. of the armoured divisions, about 80 per cent. of the combat aircraft, and 70 per cent. of the fighting ships in European waters and the Atlantic.

There is already co-operation between the European allies. I am currently the chairman of the Eurogroup of Defence Ministers which aims to harmonise European views, and to ensure that the European contribution to the common defence is as effective as possible. There is scope for a more European approach in the field of defence procurement.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

The Secretary of State is making a comprehensive speech but so far he has omitted any reference to the United Kingdom merchant marine or the NATO merchant marine. Is it his intention to look at the position of our merchant marine or the totality of the merchant marine in relation to defence?

Mr. Heseltine

That point was raised, appropriately, in the recent Select Committee report. That report has just been published and if the House will bear with me I want to deal with that important issue when the Government come to respond to the report, which we shall obviously do carefully and thoroughly.

The independent European programme group has a central role to play. Its work has been given greater impetus in recent months. European collaboration has been shown to work. The experience now exists upon which we can build. The forums exist to carry forward that co-operation. What is now needed is the political will to carry forward the harmonisation of military and industrial thinking and practice. We must have discussions about real issues with a fixed agenda and a set timetable. Against that target we have to recognise that every country has its own deeply based self-interest. None of us will negotiate from any other stand.

But if the negotiations are to move us beyond the highly fragmented industrial base and the diverse operational requirements of today, it will require a common sense and practical recognition not only of our narrow national self-interest but of the wider self-interest that cheaper and perhaps better collaborative equipment can produce. The Americans will not wait for us to catch up and we would not do so if the positions were reversed.

Those are most important issues, but they do not go to the heart of the matter—our defence strategy and the role of each of the services within it. I would be the first to accept that our defence policy must evolve in the light of changing circumstances. We as a country and NATO as an alliance must be prepared to be flexible and to adapt to changes in the threat and to the new opportunities presented by developing and emerging technology. We cannot afford to stand still.

The White Paper might have addressed those issues more fully and I intend to do so in future years, but I make no apology for offering no dramatic shifts of strategy at the national or the Alliance level. The White Paper avoids this not out of complacency but because there are no quick and easy alternatives—although I cannot help observing that the answers appear quicker and easier the further people get from the actual responsibilities of taking decisions in government.

In looking at the balance of our effort, I am enjoined by some to adopt a more flexible approach and to recast our policy to a strategy directed more to the open seas and to British interests across the world. The Government have shown their resolve to defend their wider interests in the clearest way possible. We intend to continue to strengthen the mobility and to enhance flexibility of our forces. That approach was significantly speeded up in the light of the Falklands campaign.

But there is no realistic defence policy that diminishes our concern for the threat on the European mainland. Because NATO has successfully stabilised her central front and the Soviet Union poses a threat elsewhere, it is not self-evident that we should now take steps which might lead to the destabilisation of the central front, which is at the heart of Europe's defences, in order to bring to bear, in unspecified ways, military power in more peripheral areas. If a policy of stabilisation in Europe requires a British contribution of 55,000 troops and the forces of the RAF in Germany, that seems to me to be a price that we should unhesitatingly pay.

In judging our contribution to the Alliance, we have to address hard realities, not simply hark back to tradition. The first is the weight of the Soviet threat and of NATO's own forces. The Soviet navy has certainly expanded hugely over the past 20 years, but the preponderance of Soviet power is still on land and in the air in Europe. On the Western side, we have to put into the balance not only the capabilities of the Royal Navy and of other European powers but also the huge American maritime effort.

There is also the dominating reality of my job, that we do not start with a blank sheet of paper. We have to address the implications of change as well as where it might lead. Given concerns in the United States about the level of the European contribution to our defence, a reduction in the British effort in Germany would seem likely to stimulate a wider process of withdrawal from commitment to shared defence on the ground, and to begin the unravelling of the very fabric of the Alliance itself. I cannot believe that the world would be a safer place without our European commitment or with fewer American troops on the ground in Europe. I cannot believe that Britain would be a safer place with a looser NATO Alliance.

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

My right hon. Friend mentioned the considerable contribution made by the United States navy. None the less, does he agree with remarks made by the previous American chief of naval operations that the United States had a one-and-a-half-ocean fleet with a three-ocean commitment?

Mr. Heseltine

I am never unsympathetic to statements of even the most distinguished admirals who always see a task wider than their capability to meet it. That never means that we should dismiss it, but we, as my hon. Friend knows as well as anyone, are faced with the language of priorities. It is never absolutely possible to meet all requirements that are put upon one as a result of the military analysis of the situation.

Mr. Duffy

Do not run down the Navy.

Mr. Heseltine

I am not running down any of the armed services.

I stand, therefore, for the underlying basis of the 1981 Defence Review because this best secures the collective defence upon which our own security must rest.

There is a deeper strand of criticism, also fashionable, which argues that NATO's strategy of flexible response is no longer relevant in the strategic circumstances of the 1980s. We face the charge that NATO is bent on a dangerous and immoral strategy of nuclear war fighting from which the world can be made safe by the removal of the weapons involved. We face the opposite claim—but sometimes from the same people—that in an era of strategic parity NATO's nuclear strategy is incredible and that the weapons which underpin it are just not worth having.

The truth is that from the time that it was established in the mid-1960s, the strategy of flexible response involved difficult choices in terms of the reliance to be placed upon the conventional and nuclear elements of Alliance forces.

The proposition that there might be certain circumstances in which a conflict would be escalated to the nuclear level and in which a protagonist would embark upon a chain of events with possibly awesome consequences for everyone involved was never an easy one.

In the 1960s, as now, the supreme rationalist could argue that no sensible leader would follow such a course. But then, as now, the issue to be addressed was a different one. Would a potential aggressor be confident that if he placed his opponent in desperate circumstances the only way out would be seen to be surrender? While there is uncertainty about the response that would come, there remains deterrence, and this deterrent effect applies to all war, not just nuclear war. Indeed, that is NATO's purpose in a strategy of flexible response. Too many of the Government's critics come to the wrong answers by asking the wrong question. They ask, "How do you fight a war?" We ask, "How do you prevent the war in the first place?"

It has always been recognised that there are choices over when the point is reached where conventional options start to be exhausted. A price can be paid in terms of additional conventional strength to buy additional freedom of action. I should myself be the first to extol the benefits of the doctrine of no early use of nuclear weapons, provided that it was not presented as some dramatic shift in approach which the Russians might see as a lack of confidence and will in the West to defend ourselves. That would make war more, not less, likely.

This Government are working to provide the underpinning for this strategy in the real world by strengthening the deterrent effect of our conventional forces by enhancing both their hitting and their staying power. This is not a cheap option, but it is fully consistent with the process of thinning out shorter-range nuclear weapons to the minimum needed for credible deterrence, on which, as I have said, the Alliance is already embarked.

Where I part company with some Opposition Members is over the merits of so-called nuclear weapon-free zones. Of course we must have the most stringent controls over the release of all nuclear weapons and keep to a minimum the numbers on the battlefield, but to go further by declaratory policy would not of itself remove the threat of nuclear attack in the area concerned, since many of these weapons are mobile and could be moved up in a period of tension, and systems of longer range could be targeted from further back. What such a zone might offer is a weakening of our ability to stop the concentration of Soviet conventional forces and an increased risk of Soviet pressure on some Alliance members to abandon their commitment to contribute to the nuclear element of deterrence.

It will, I know, be argued that emerging technologies offer new opportunities for putting at risk Soviet forces which would formerly have been targeted with nuclear weapons and that therefore the nuclear threshold can be raised. This is indeed an opportunity which we must grasp, but it is an opportunity for the future and not for today. We have to accept the world as we find it, and the world as we find it today is one in which there is a great deal of talk about future and not yet available opportunities and remarkably little recognition of the value of the practical steps which we have actually taken to reduce the nuclear stockpile to the lowest level for 20 years.

Some, of course, want NATO to adopt a strategy of no first use. For the reasons that I gave earlier, this strategy— even if it were believed by the Soviet Union—could well weaken deterrence and not strengthen it. It is not self-evidently better in political or even in the moral terms in which these arguments are so often cloaked to pursue a policy that might make war itself more likely.

But let us put that to one side for a moment. What is, I think, incontrovertible is that the logic of such a policy—if it were put forward seriously on defence grounds—is that the West would deter Soviet conventional power by the threat of a conventional response. Nuclear weapons would then essentially deter only Soviet nuclear attack.

In following through such a policy seriously, we would expect to find a commitment to large increases in conventional forces to the level needed for the job of conventional deterrence, a concern to maintain NATO solidarity and in particular the transatlantic link, and a sharing of the burden of essential nuclear deterrence. That is what the Labour party would have to proclaim.

What do we actually find from those Opposition Members who proclaim this cause with the fanaticism of the new convert? They have the clearest conference commitment to cut back on our conventional forces. They have a policy of removal of our contribution to Alliance nuclear deterrence as though this might magically square the financial circle of more conventional forces and a slashed budget. But, as always, the figures do not add up. They have in reality a policy which would strike at the heart of the NATO concept and leave this country with quite inadequate defences. They have an approach motivated more by the need to try to blend the two extreme wings of the Labour party, political expediency and the anti-Americanism of a faction of the hard Left which they try to dress up as an alternative defence strategy.

I make no apology for the fact that the statement contains no fundamental shift of strategy. Our current strategy is the right one for Britain at this time. It is based on a successful policy which has preserved the peace and security of the nation for the longest period of contemporary history. Our forces are not over-stretched, the balance of investment in the programme is satisfactory, and we have modern and effective fighting services of unequalled quality and calibre.

My task as Secretary of State is to keep our forces efficient to enable them to face the challenge of the future. I have outlined in my White Paper the ways in which this will be done. I commend it to the House.

4.57 pm
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

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 1984, Cmnd. 9227, avoid the real and fundamental issues relating to the defence and security of the United Kingdom; is convinced that the enormous and increasing cost of buying the Trident nuclear system from the United States will mean further cuts in, and a weakening of, our conventional nonnuclear forces; deplores the fact that the White Paper contains no initiatives to stop and reverse the escalating and dangerous nuclear arms race; and calls upon the Government to work within NATO for a change from its existing strategy to a strategy based on the no-first-use of nuclear weapons, to cancel Trident and to remove all nuclear bases, including cruise missiles, from the United Kingdom.". I suppose that it is too much to expect a defence White Paper to be very lively and exciting. The Secretary of State more or less admitted that his intention was not to make it very lively, constructive or exciting. Judged by the turbid standards of the past, the White Paper is rather negative, like the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and unrealistic about the problems facing Britain in terms of its defence policy. It fails to say, as the Secretary of State failed to say, anything constructive about the two most serious issues facing the Government and the country. The first is the frightening nuclear arms race, which, clearly, is getting out of control. The second is the financial crunch that will fall on the defence budget over the next few years, because it is clear that the right hon. Gentleman's figures will not add up.

The right hon. Gentleman touched on the nuclear arms race. Far from showing any initiative to try even to moderate it, the Government are playing a full part in the escalation and proliferation of that arms race. They are still determined, apparently, to go ahead and buy Trident, a weapon which is massively more lethal, more accurate and more powerful even than Polaris and a weapon which even those who still want to see a second generation of British nuclear weapons believe to be inappropriate and totally unnecessary. Even Trident, with its 360 warheads—or is it more? — and its massive overkill, will not be enough to satisfy the Government's nuclear mania. We have to have a further 160 cruise missiles located on British soil.

The figures in the defence budget do not add up, and the right hon. Gentleman will need to have a further defence review. Britain's extensive commitment, stretching from the central front to the south Atlantic, combined with the massive sums needed to fund and finance Trident, a rapidly declining industrial base and with the contribution that oil revenues make to public expenditure and the balance of payments gradually getting less, inevitably mean that there will be further cuts in the defence budget and, when they come, they will fall on our conventional forces, as they have in the past, and so make us even more dependent on nuclear weapons.

Rather than facing these problems in the White Paper—apparently the Secretary of State said that he had no intention of facing them—he has done again what he has done in the past and escaped into a managerial cocoon. He has been playing with his MINIS, sticking pins into his wall charts, shuffling the top brass around and packing the Ministry of Defence with private arms manufacturers. He emerges occasionally from that cocoon to take a ritualistic bash at the peace movement, and then returns to his wall charts. He is not prepared to face the real issues.

After 1985–86, when the NATO commitment of 3 per cent. lapses, as I understand it, the commitment is that defence expenditure should barely keep pace with normal inflation—that is, inflation as worked out and calculated according to the retail price index. However, as the House knows, if inflation exceeds 4 per cent. — nobody believes that it will come down below 4 per cent.—that will mean cuts in defence expenditure even on the grounds of the estimated inflation. In addition, there is also something called, perhaps inaccurately, defence inflation. That means that the costs of defence equipment tend to exceed the general effects of inflation.

Let us call it defence inflation, although this may be inaccurate. It has been found—and there has been no denial of this—that defence inflation tends to exceed the retail price index by between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. That means that if we take normal inflation and defence inflation, while ignoring for the moment the cost of Trident, even before its cost starts to bear heavily on the budget, there are bound to be cuts in the defence budget.

I shall now quote from a favourite newspaper of Defence Ministers, the Daily Telegraph. I thought that I would bring a smile to the face of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement with that. On Wednesday 16 May, under the heading "The Flaw in Defence", the Daily Telegraph said: the document is ultimately disappointing, even disturbing. The truth, which no amount of managerial reform can disguise, is that after next year defence expenditure may, for the first time in nearly a decade, begin to decline in real terms … Whatever economies Mr. Heseltine secures, the future appears to hold only the promise of further defence reviews and an erosion of our conventional fighting capability. That is the Daily Telegraph talking, not the Left wing of the Labour party. It continues: That is a prospect which the Government has shown no sign of confronting. The Secretary of State showed no signs of confronting it either.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

The right hon. Gentleman used the word "flaw", but there is a basic flaw in what he is saying. He is suggesting that there should be an increased level of defence expenditure, when his party is committed to getting down the NATO average. That would mean a one third reduction in conventional forces, which would greatly increase the chances of nuclear warfare. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will talk about that.

Mr. Davies

The word "flaw" comes from the Daily Telegraph. I was merely reciting the situation as I see it, and the Daily Telegraph touched on that. If the Government think differently, perhaps the Secretary of State will deny it. He has not as yet, and he knows that the crunch will come.

Mr. Heseltine

I went to some length to deny it in my speech, but perhaps I should do it specifically. There is no foundation for what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. This Government have increased the defence budget by £3,000 million a year, and that is broadly the enhanced level at which expenditure will continue. There is a vast enhancement in our defence capabilities, and there is no danger such as that to which the right hon. Gentleman is drawing the attention of the House.

Mr. Davies

The figures look different. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should read the public expenditure survey for the year 1985–86, which pencils in an increase of about 3 per cent. and assumes that inflation will be 3.5 per cent. I am merely going on the figures and the Secretary of State has not yet shown that those figures are wrong.

As we all know, the real Trojan horse—with which the Secretary of State went to great lengths to deal—that has been slipped into the system is Trident. The cost of Trident is out of the Government's control. The Government have little idea, at the end of the day, what the final price or cost will be. In July 1980, there was an estimate of £4.5 billion to £5 billion as the cost of Trident. In March 1982, the cost had risen to £7.5 billion—an increase of a mere £2.5 billion. In March of this year, the Secretary of State rather shamefacedly slipped a new horrendous figure into a defence question. Apparently, the cost will now be £8.7 billion. Last week, the Select Committee on Defence, using optimistic figures for British and American inflation, estimated that the cost will be £9.5 billion, and so it will go on and on.

In four years under this Government, and on their best case estimate — I should like to see the worse case estimate, which no doubt is locked up carefully either in the Ministry of Defence or the Treasury—over the past four years there has been a 100 per cent. increase, which is an increase of 25 per cent. a year, in the estimated cost of this missile system. That is all without a penny, or cent, being spent. This has come about under a Prime Minister who keeps lecturing the country and the House about the financial rectitude that was practised so well in that little grocer's shop in Grantham. If financial lack of control such as this had been practised in that little shop, the bailiffs would have been in with their white chalk long ago, marking the furniture.

This point was well made by Mr. Neil Collins in The Standard. I read the financial columns of the newspapers, Conservative Members may like to know. Mr. Collins is a distinguished City editor and on 15 March, just after the Secretary of State's announcement of another almost £2 billion increase, under the heading, "Trident surfaces as a £9 billion horror", he said: It would be some comfort if we could be reasonably confident of Mr. Heseltine's new figures. Naturally, we can't … The case for the Trident missile is not even widely accepted. I do not think that it is on the Conservative Benches. The tactics employed by the Ministry of Defence to get us committed to the project are familiar enough—little public debate beforehand, gross under estimate of the cost followed by a quiet series"— [Interruption.] I know that this is painful for Conservative Members, but as it is clear that most of them do not read the financial columns of newspapers, I shall read the article to the end. It continues: gross under estimate of the cost, followed by a quiet series of 'revisions' of the price to take account of 'relevant inflation'. The Government have no idea what the final figure for the cost of Trident will be, because so much of the cost is outside the control of the Secretary of State, he well knows. Indeed, the Government do not know what kind of weapon they will get at the end of the day. In 1980, it was going to be C4 and Trident 1. Now, apparently, it will be D5. Who knows, if the Americans change their minds, it might be E6.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

No, it is ET!

Mr. Davies

There could be modifications. The Secretary of State will have to pay the cost if he wants the missile.

The Government have got themselves into an absurd position of locking themselves and one of the main pillars of their defence policy into the military technology and defence strategy of another country—at that, a superpower—over which they have no control. That is why the Government do not know what the cost of Trident will be.

I deal next with the exchange rates. The Secretary of State is coy about the exchange rates, and I understand why. We have been told by the Select Committee that the exchange rate means a 1 per cent. fall in the dollar exchange, equalling £25 million. If one goes back to 1980, the picture is an interesting one. In 1980, the estimate was based on $2.36. In 1982, it was based on $1.78. In March 1984, the estimate of the Secretary of State was on the basis of $1.53. The exchange rate of the pound to the dollar today is down to $1.37. That is another reason that the cost of Trident—the 45 per cent. cost in the United States—is outside the control of the Government. Not only do those figures on the exchange rate tell something about Trident, they show the rake's progress of Tory economic policy from 1980 to 1984.

Let us examine what the exchange rate might be in 1988–89. Let us say that it might be $1.20—I think that it will be lower, but let us be charitable and optimistic. That will mean another £500 million on the cost of Trident 3, all sunk apparently on the foreign exchanges. We believe that the Government decision to buy Trident will turn out to be a disaster militarily and financially, and the sooner it is cancelled, the better.

Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)

Is it not humbug for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that Trident is the single most expensive piece of military procurement that the country has undertaken, especially bearing in mind that, when the Labour party was in power, his Government, which he chooses conveniently to forget about, were responsible for the Tornado programme, which cost 25 per cent. more than the latest estimates for Trident?

Mr. Davies

My point is that Trident is expensive, the Government have no control over it, so much money has been spent in the United States that it is not possible to have control over it, and no estimates can be believed.

I deal next with flexible response, which was dealt with in an offhand and depressing manner in the White Paper in paragraph 124. The Secretary of State read us a long civil servant bureaucratic essay about it, but said nothing new. The Secretary of State must know—the fact that he raised it in his speech shows that he must know—that a considerable body of opinion on both sides of the Atlantic believes and argues that the strategy of flexible response is now out of date, unrealistic and dangerous, and that it should be re-examined and, over a period, gradually changed. The strategy simply means being prepared and ready in a war fought by conventional weapons—I think that the Secretary of State would agree with this—to be the first to unleash nuclear weapons in central Europe. In fact, it is a strategy of first use of nuclear weapons. The basis of the strategy was set out in a joint article in the American publication Foreign Affairs in spring, 1982. This joint article was written by Mr. Robert McNamara, Mr. McGeorge Bundy, Mr. George Keenan and Mr. Gerard Smith. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister, shows his ignorance, because obviously he has not heard of these gentleman, or read the article. The article was written by individuals who are experienced in this matter. They are not members of CND or any of the peace groups that the Secretary of State dislikes so much. The authors traced the history of NATO strategy before flexible response, because flexible response to some extent is a jargon phrase, and not very different from what happened previously. On page 754, the article said: A major element in every doctrine has been that the United States has asserted its willingness to be the first—has indeed made plans to be the first if necessary — to use nuclear weapons to defend against aggression in Europe. It is this element that needs re-examination now. Both its cost to the coherence of the Alliance and its threat to the safety of the world are rising while its deterrent credibility declines. This policy was first established when the American nuclear advantage was overwhelming, but that advantage has long since gone and cannot be recaptured. Indeed, the basis of the strategy—this is where it is dangerous—envisages what is ridiculously called fighting a limited nuclear war, apparently a war of controlled nuclear escalation where we start with the landmines and the shells, then go to the bombs, and then to the ultimate, flexible response weaponry—the cruise and Pershing 2 missiles. The danger is that it demands the matching of every missile against every missile, every bomb against every bomb and every rocket against every rocket. That is why we had Chancellor Schmidt's speech in London in 1977, and it is one reason that we have cruise missiles in Greenham common today. Cruise missiles are as much a product of flexible response as the landmines on the Fulda gap on the central front. Nobody is arguing that it is possible to make this change overnight, but we would like to know of some thinking by the Government — no indication of this was given in the White Paper, nor in the speech of the Secretary of State—showing that they realise what the problem is, and are prepared to move towards a policy on no first use of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Soames

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what is his assessment of the Russian plan for European battle and, if he were in the position of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, how he would lay his plans to respond to that threat?

Mr. Davies

I know that the hon. Gentleman has been to Moscow, and I understand that he is fairly full of it. I would be happy to discuss these matters with him, but not at the Dispatch Box. One argument that will be put forward, which was touched on by the Secretary of State, although he was not too certain of it, is, "Yes, all right, let us go to no first use, but it will mean a massive increase in conventional weapons." I do not believe that that would necessarily be the case. It will certainly mean a re-ordering of the way that defence on the central front is to be carried out, a change from a forward defence to something quite different. That I accept. However, I do not believe that it would mean such an increase in conventional weapons.

To return to the article, I stand by what Robert McNamara and others said in the article in Foreign Affairs. I know that the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) is not interested. He is still thinking of his glory in Moscow when talking to the generals, but perhaps he should listen to what the article said. The article continued: Yet it would be wrong to make any hasty judgment that those new levels of effort must be excessively high. The subject is complex, and the more so because both technology and politics are changing … there is no need for crash programs, which always bring extra costs. The direction of the Allied effort will be more important than its velocity. The final establishment of a firm policy of no-first-use, in any case, will obviously require time. What is important today is to begin to move in this direction.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) — irrespective of whether my hon. Friend has just been to Moscow—and say how he would prepare against possible aggression from the Soviets? What is his answer?

Mr. Davies

I thought that I had tried to give an answer. I said that the doctrine of flexible response might once have had some validity but that, once there was parity between the United States and the Soviet Union, it was important to move away from that policy towards one of greater reliance on conventional weapons.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

No — and what the hon. Gentleman writes in the Daily Telegraph is not acceptable to many of his hon. Friends.

The Secretary of State plans to increase competition in the procurement of defence equipment. Apparently there is to be more competitive tendering, more privatisation, more contracting out and more hiving off from the Ministry of Defence with the aim of getting better value for money. Like many people, I do not believe that we shall get better value for money. Speaking in another place, the noble Lord Carver said — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am bringing him in again, but this time not on flexible response. He said of the Secretary of State: If he thinks that his gimmickry will make it possible for him to fund Trident without adversely affecting the conventional equipment programme, he is deceiving himself." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 14 June 1984; Vol. 452, c. 1277.] I agree, and gimmickry is a strong word to use in another place. The irony, however, is that there will probably be less competition because there will be mergers in defence indstries. There have already been tentative moves in that direction. Is GEC to take over British Aerospace? If so, there will be a loss of competition and the Secretary of State knows it. If that merger is allowed, other defensive mergers will take place. Ultimately, the small subcontractors who are such an important part of the defence industrial base will be gobbled up. There will be a repetition of what happened to our civilian manufacturing base in the 1950s and 1960s. With all the mergers, the industry emerged weaker. The result of mergers will be a weaker industrial base and no gain in terms of price.

The Secretary of State is packing the Ministry of Defence with directors and managers of arms industries. The White Paper says that there are to be another 50 such people. That trend is disturbing and distasteful because the Secretary of State started with Mr. Peter Levene, the chairman of United Scientific Holdings. He is given the run of the Department, produces reports on the dockyards and finds out about the royal ordnance factories, which will be extremely convenient for his Alvis subsidiary if it decides to buy the tank factory at Leeds. Moreover, I see from the Daily Telegraph that he gets information and is given a public exhibition in that bazaar in Aldershot which the Secretary of State opened this morning. Only yesterday Mr. Peter Levene, chairman of United Scientific Holdings and personal adviser to the Secretary of State, wheeled Lord Trefgarne, who I understand is some form of Minister, down to the private exhibition in Aldershot and got great publicity for his Ferret 80 armoured scout car.

I shall quote the Daily Telegraph, which is careful about what it writes on these issues. It said: The exception is the specially publicised politically extraordinary personal launching yesterday by Lord Trefgarne … Alvis was well-advertised as being part of United Scientific, of which Mr. Peter Levene—temporarily on loan to Mr. Heseltine …—is managing director. The Financial Times said that Mr. Levene stood close to the Minister, just as we would expect.

Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

The right hon. Gentleman has shown once before in a debate on this subject that he is not a great lover of the private arms industry. He shows that by describing as a bazaar the Army equipment exhibition, which contributes enormously to exports and provides the jobs that he is always on about. With regard to Mr. Peter Levene, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that people in the procurement and the defence industries have said for some time that there is a need for a mixture of the arms industry and serving officers in the Ministry of Defence and in industry? Is not what the right hon. Gentleman is saying flying in the face of that development, which should be welcomed rather than attacked?

Mr. Davies

I have regard and respect for the private arms manufacturers and do not mind poachers being turned into gamekeepers. What I object to is, after six months of being taught the art of gamekeeping, people being turned into poachers again. That is precisely what the Secretary of State is doing, but then perhaps the modern Tory party does not understand that analogy. I do not know, but perhaps the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) understands it.

The Secretary of State should stop running for a while. He should stand still if he can and try to muster the courage to face and tackle some of the fundamental issues that he has not tackled in the White Paper and which will have to be tackled before long. If he cannot do that, or has not the courage to do it, his successor will have to do it.

5.26 pm
Sir Humphrey Atkins (Spelthorne)

I am always pleased when the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) speaks. He has a pleasant voice, to which I enjoy listening, and I always live in the hope that I shall discover what the Labour party really thinks is the proper way in which to defend the country.

The trouble is that we do not find out. We have the Opposition amendment, which is designed to be read by the Opposition's supporters to make them feel comfortable, and we have heard much material from an extraordinary variety of newspapers, but we still do not understand how the Labour party would defend Britain. We know how it used to defend the country when it was in government. Although I and others had some quarrel with it about how it did that, in principle we did not disagree that much. However, I have never yet heard what has caused the Labour party to stand on its head in regard to this issue. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Mr. Silkin) will tell us in his winding-up speech.

We should like to know why the Labour party is standing on its head—other than that it perceives an electoral advantage in doing so. The Labour party should know better than that, as the arguments that it propounds receive no support on this side of the House and little support on the Opposition Back Benches. Last June showed that those arguments do not receive much support in the country either. We are left wondering, but perhaps we shall find out later why the Labour party pursues that course.

The Defence Select Committee published its first report last Thursday. I do not intend, the House will be glad to know, to go through all of it. Right hon. and hon. Members are perfectly capable of reading it themselves. I shall draw attention to a few parts that are of special significance. We thought and said that the White Paper was long on management but perhaps rather short on political and strategic prospects. In paragraph 3 we said that the White Paper confines itself to analysing the present situation and the United Kingdom response to it. We strongly recommend that future White Papers include a review of long-term political and strategic prospects, both within the NATO area and beyond. That was the first point that we put to my right hon. Friend when he gave evidence to the Committee. He replied: I think the first task that one as to do on taking over the Ministry is to recognise that it is going to take quite a long time to become familiar with the workings of the Minstry and the assumptions of the policies of the Ministry and it is unrealsitic to think that a Secretary of State is going to come in from domestic political experience and very rapidly change the policy assumptions of a Ministry as steeped in its own world and its own defence environment … as the Ministry of Defence. We all accept that as undeniably true.

Indeed, my right hon. Friend went further and said that the political and strategic aspects were satisfactory, but that he would return to them another year. I hope that he will, because the Committee has recommended that he should. We said: The interests which the present level of defence spending is designed to serve and protect must be clearly identified, and their prospects discussed, if the annual Statements on the Defence Estimates are to make a proper case for the size and shape of defence spending. I am sure my right hon. Friend accepts that and that the review recommended by the Select Committee will be included in next year's White Paper.

I do not want the House to think that criticism of the White Paper means that we believe that it has no policy statements—indeed, it has plenty. Two of them repeat what we know already—the Government's decision last year not to continue after 1986 planning to increase defence expenditure by 3 per cent. in real terms each year, and my right hon. Friend's proposals — which he announced in March and mentioned this afternoon—for the development of the Organisation for Defence.

We have been promised a White Paper on the latter point before the end of next month and, no doubt, there will be an opportunity to discuss it in the autumn. I hope that the Government's business managers are listening. On the former point, the Select Committee has announced that it has begun a major inquiry into the effects of ending the 3 per cent. annual increase. The inquiry will take place during the autumn and we hope to report to the House at Christmas.

I give a special welcome to two other policy matters — the proposal for a substantial improvement in our front-line forces by tail-to-teeth transfer, and the decision to keep eight frigates in the operational fleet rather than move them into the standby squadron. That must be the right decision, provided that the training of sailors to man them does not suffer. The Select Committee was assured by my right hon. Friend's officials that that would not suffer. Indeed, I also welcome the decision to strengthen the Army's front line by 4,000 men and the RAF's frontline aircraft by 15 per cent.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's decision to establish an arms control unit within the MOD. It is a good decision, which is much overdue. Of course, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes the lead in all negotiations about the control, reduction and elimination of weapons. I have no complaint about that. I have nothing but admiration for the patient, determined and skilful way that it has gone about its task over many years — and, I greatly fear, will have to go about it for many more years.

Those who know most about weapons are to be found in the MOD. They know the capability of nuclear, chemical and other weapons; they know the conditions necessary for the operation of nuclear weapons and the preparation needed for any such operation; they are skilled at interpreting information from photographs taken from far above the earth or gained from other sources; they know the minimum requirements for ensuring that any agreements on the limitation or reduction of weapons are being kept.

Of course, the MOD has been closely involved with disarmament negotiations, but the formation of a special unit, to use my right hon. Friend's words, capable of advising any member of the Cabinet involved in this field, on all matters to do with arms control is a clear step in the right direction, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend.

It comes as no surprise that my right hon. Friend is pushing ahead vigorously with his plan to increase competition in the supply of defence equipment. It is exactly what we would expect of him and, as a believer in the benefits of competition, I have no quarrel with him. His aim is to achieve better value for taxpayers' money. Paragraph 237 of the White Paper shows that savings of up to 30 per cent. can be achieved in certain areas. We have been told that that policy is already having a marked effect. In 1982–83, only 21 per cent. of contracts were awarded on a competitive basis. One of my right hon. Friend's officials told the Select Committee that during the first four months of this year that figure had risen to 49 per cent.—so far, so good.

Others with more knowledge of defence procurement than I will no doubt make their contributions in the debate. I want to mention one doubt about taking the policy too far. A great deal is rightly being done in NATO to collaborate with our allies, especially our European allies, in the development and production of new weapons. My right hon. Friend mentioned one or two in his speech. Paragraph 315 of the White Paper lists six—the multiple launch rocket system; terminally-guided warheads; self-propelled gun; new generation of anti-submarine warfare helicopters; new generation of anti-tank guided weapons and the advanced short-range missile. I have no doubt that there will be others.

If, as we hope, that collaboration bears fruit, I fear that we may find either that competition on an equal basis becomes impossible or, if it is possible, we must recognise that British industry will not always win the orders. It may win part of the orders, but that would mean that only part of our defence industrial base would survive. I know that my right hon. Friend regards a healthy defence industrial base as vital. I can envisage an area of difficulty in marrying two desirable objects—increased competition and collaboration. I mention that as an anxiety in my mind which I hope will not come to fruition.

My penultimate point relates to something not in the White Paper, which should be in it — the Merchant Navy. Paragraphs 49 to 53 of the Select Committee report dealt with that point. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that he would deal with the issue in his reply to the Select Committee. However, I want to go a little further now, because no one who lives in these islands can doubt the absolute necessity of there being sufficient ships in the Merchant Navy, either in peace or in war. Ninety-seven per cent. of everything that we import and everything that we export comes or goes by sea. If supplies could not come to us, our industry would come to a standstill and we would starve, just as we almost starved 40 years ago. I cannot tell, any more than anyone else can tell, whether the NATO countries will ever again be engaged in a major war. If they are, I cannot tell precisely what sort of war it will be.

It is at least arguable that if the nuclear stalemate—and the contemplation of the uselessness of engaging in a nuclear war in which everyone loses—prevents that kind of war, as it has done for over 35 years, a hostile power such as the Soviet Union, bent, as we know it is, on extending its boundaries and creed, might seek to bring us to our knees by the threat of starvation. To be sure, we have allies, but the British Government have a duty to look to our resources, too, and these are pitifully thin and getting thinner.

The Falklands conflict two years ago could not possibly have been described as a major war, yet to mount our operation there—not to supply the Falkland Islanders with food and materials, but to mount the operation—it was necessary to take up from trade no fewer than 45 merchant ships, all of which performed magnificently.

One might say that that was not a great number, because we have plenty of merchant ships. There were enough two years ago, but there are a lot fewer today. In round terms, five years ago there were 1,200 British-owned and registered merchant ships. Last year there were just over 750 and the forecast of the General Council of British Shipping is that in two years' time there will be only 400.

Those figures put a totally different complexion on the matter. If, to mount an operation the size of the Falklands campaign, we needed 45 ships and there were only 400 in all, how on earth could we contemplate engaging in anything more serious? Four years ago, when the Merchant Navy was much bigger than it is today, our predecessors as a Defence Committee said in their report: Given the strategic significance of merchant fleets, details of their strengths should be included in future White Papers. The Government agreed, and that was done in 1981. It has not been done since; it was not done in 1982, 1983 or this year. I do not know why not, but it should be done, and I hope that I will be assured by the Minister at the end of today's debate that it will be done, because it is extremely important.

I should like information—if not today, soon—about another matter. The ships to which I have referred are British-owned and registered and the Government can lay their hands on them if they need to. But many British-owned ships are registered under flags of convenience, and we have all heard of Liberia, Panama and places such as that. Can the Government lay their hands on those ships in times of emergency and crisis? The United States Government can lay their hands on United States-owned ships registered in Liberia, either by agreement or under American law. I do not know whether we can, but we might need to if the Merchant Navy goes on diminishing.

Part of the trouble lies in the nice distinctions of departmental responsibility. Sponsorship of the Merchant Navy is the business of the Department of Transport—all of them excellent fellows, I have no doubt, but not particularly concerned with defence. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not concerned with defence, either. He searches for revenue and for fairness in taxation, and in his Budgets makes alterations to our tax law which he knows will inflict considerable damage on our merchant fleet.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in answer to a question by a member of my Committee, said: At this moment I have not been advised to pursue policies involving myself in the present situation. He should be so advised. If he is not, he should advise his advisers. The Government, to use a colloquialism, must get their act together, for it is an increasingly dangerous situation, and the Secretary of State is the right person to raise it with his Cabinet colleagues. I hope that he will do so

I conclude on a personal note. I was particularly pleased to read paragraphs 126 to 129 of the White Paper in which tribute is paid to the Regular Army, to the Ulster Defence Regiment and, by implication, to the Royal Ulster Constabulary for the work that they do in Northern Ireland.

They all have a hideously difficult time. Regular Army soldiers must act not as soldiers, which they are trained to be, but as policemen. We should be, and are, proud of the way in which they conduct themselves. I was delighted to note that—thanks, no doubt, to the increasing size and efficiency of the RUC—the number of battalions of the Regular Army in Northern Ireland has declined from 13 in 1979, when I first went there, to eight today. Furthermore, the total number of units doing a tour in Northern Ireland in any one year has gone down from 40 in 1979 to less than half that number today. That must be extremely welcome not only to the soldiers and the Ministry of Defence but to our NATO allies.

The UDR is in a different situation. It contains some of the bravest men I know. They work harder than almost anyone. They live where they work, as do their families, and everybody knows where they live. They are never off duty and they are at risk 24 hours of every day, 365 days of the year. We owe them an enormous debt, and I am glad to acknowledge it.

5.46 pm
Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

I cannot remember an occasion since 1966 when I have been more worried about the defence budget projections for this country. In 1966 we had a decision to cut defence spending and a refusal to cut our defence commitments. That situation was not put back into balance until 1968.

This is the first defence debate since 1978 in which we have clear evidence of the Government—for 1986–87—making an actual reduction in defence expenditure. In 1978, against a background of great difficulty in public expenditure, Europe made one of its best decisions of the last 10 years. That was the collective NATO decision to increase defence spending by 3 per cent. per year, inflation-proofed, and it is to the credit of this country that that decision was taken across Governments; it was taken by a Labour Government in difficult circumstances and fulfilled by this Government.

It is fair to say that we have fulfilled that commitment better than any other European country. However, the extent to which we have kept to that commitment is not as even as some hon. Members might think. We have not actually spent 3 per cent. per year. The figure has shown a great deal of variation, and if we look back over the defence budgets we see that, in terms of constant prices, in 1979–80 it increased by 5.4 per cent., in 1980–81 by 2 per cent.; in 1981–82 by 2.7 per cent.; in 1982–83 there was a substantial increase, for reasons of which we are aware, of 7.2 per cent.; in 1983–84 it increased by 3.4 per cent.; and in 1984–85 we are planning an increase of:3.5 per cent.

The assumption this year is that our spending will be on the NATO commitment target, but that is not the case. Already we have seen that 3.5 per cent. reduced by 0.9 per cent. because of the pay rise to the armed services. Effectively, therefore, we shall achieve a year-on increase in 1984–85 of only 2.6 per cent. Thus, we have already slipped this year from that 3 per cent. commitment.

For 1985–86 the Government are planning an increase of only 1.7 per cent., but if pay exceeds the guidelines and is 5.7 per cent.—rather than the 4 per cent. which is assumed for that year—we shall have zero growth. In 1986–87, unless pay is held to an average of 2.5 per cent., rather than the estimated 3 per cent., there will be no real growth.

The inflation assumptions that are fed into the Government's expenditure White Paper are ridiculous and absurd under-estimates. That is manifest for the fiscal year 1984–85. Conservative Members must face the fact that they will tomorrow evening be supporting in the Government's Division Lobby a Government who are making deeper cuts in defence spending than were ever envisaged by Sir John Nott. Whatever one's views about Sir John's proposals, within the constraints of having to accommodate the Trident expenditure, at least there was an intellectual basis for what was done. I fear that there is no intellectual basis for the Government's proposals. The Secretary of State is playing to the gallery.

The right hon. Gentleman has nominally reversed the Nott cuts. The force of three aircraft carriers has been restored. Sir John opted for two carriers. The amphibious assault ships are to be kept, when they were to be scrapped. HMS Endurance remains. The frigate and destroyer fleet will still decline from 59 to 50. The eight ships that Sir John wanted to hold in reserve will now be put on full duty, but without any increase in previously planned manpower. Overall Royal Navy manpower levels in the early 1990s will be 11,000 fewer than in 1981.

All the signs are that we are doing under the stewardship of the present Secretary of State exactly what we were warned against doing by the previous Secretary of State. We are keeping more hulls, but we are not equipping them with modern equipment and staffing them with properly trained crews. We are generally pretending to have an increased defence commitment, but not investing in weaponry was the shortcoming exposed around the Falklands. It is dangerous in modern, highly technological warfare to put ships at risk because of a lack of necessary capital expenditure. It is the capital expenditure programme to which we must address ourselves, and which is severely threatened by the Trident programme.

The Trident programme is not a simple and clear-cut issue, it is true, but I have always opposed it. I did so from 1977, when in government, to 1979. I opposed it on arms control grounds, but above all I opposed it because I considered it to be the cuckoo in the nest. It was clear even than that it would pre-empt valuable resources being spent on areas of defence that we needed desperately to strengthen. If we want the Trident programme, we should have it plus a 3 per cent. growth in defence expenditure.

As the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins), said, it is estimated that the Trident programme will cost an extra £700 million. The effect of the movement in the exchange rate alone is £400 million. These extra costs mean that in 1986–87, the year which is causing most anxiety, there will be not just zero growth, but an absolute cut of 1 per cent. If the expenditure on Trident continues, that will go forward through 1987–88 and 1988–89. The Government have given no sign that they have anything more in mind for the defence budget than to hold the planned levels for 1986–87.

The likely consequences for the defence budget are extremely serious. If we want Trident, there should be a greater increase in the overall defence budget so that we can pay for Trident and improve our conventional defences. I do not believe that it is possible for the Secretary of State, when no doubt he is off to greener pastures, to fulfill the commitments which are before us within the forward defence expenditure—[Interruption.] The pastures that await him may be green in many senses.

The question that we must face is what is likely to happen to various programmes. How is the Secretary of State going to fit in replacements for HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless and the amphibious assault vessels? How will he finance the new replacement for Tornado aircraft, which will be starting to make an impact on the capital budget at exactly the time when the Trident budget is at its peak? How will he be able to accommodate all these items of desirable new capital expenditure?

The majority opinion is that it will not be possible for all these items of expenditure to be accommodated within the budget and that there will have to be sacrifices, which will be felt in two or three years' time. The Secretary of State can proudly boast about what he is spending now, but those who are examining the budget are anxious about what it will look like in three or five years' time. There are not enough resources to maintain the present SSN build rate, to carry on with the Saxon programme or to continue with the agile combat aircraft programme. Something will have to give and the right hon. Gentleman knows it.

The obvious answer is more expenditure in addition to what is planned or the sacrificing of Trident. If we sacrifice the Trident programme — I believe that that should be done—I do not believe that we can earmark the moneys that are saved for the Health Service or the education service, much though I would wish that to happen. The moneys will be needed to improve conventional defence forces, which we must do if we are to raise the nuclear threshold.

In the middle and late 1990s we shall have to have contingency provision for a replacement for Polaris if there has been no movement in arms control and no change in the Soviet-US negotiating positions. It is not unreasonable that the Secretary of State should say that if the Trident programme is stopped we shall have to have something to replace it unless we choose to go into the next century with no nuclear deterrent for the United Kingdom

The Secretary of State must face some of the realities of the action that has been taken in the United States over the Tomahawk cruise missile programme. Tomahawk missiles are being fitted now to nuclear submarines and nuclear-armed Tomahawk missiles will become operational this month. The Americans have implemented this programme because they believe that Tomahawk is an effective weapon system. In my view it would fit ideally into a minimum deterrent system if we decided to replace the Polaris system, which we shall not have to replace until the end of the 1990s. The Secretary of State currently plans that some Polaris boats should remain in service until 1997.

Tomahawk is not the most ideal or sophisticated deterrent system. It is not as good technically or strategically as the Trident system and it would be foolish to try to pretend otherwise. However, bearing in mind what we hear about the capacity to shoot down missiles in space, the ballistic missile system may not prove as advantageous in the next century as many thought. The submarine-launched cruise missile is a cheap deterrent because it can be fired from a conventional torpedo tube in existing SSNs. Only eight missiles are being fitted initially to submarines of the United States navy. There will be an extra 12 with vertical launch, to make 20 in all. Eight will be compatible with our existing SSNs. The cost will be about $1.2 million per missile at 1982 prices. The programme will not be cheap and much will depend on the SSN build rate. The maximum initial deployment would be about 100 missiles, which would be about one tenth of the cost of the Trident programme. There would be no extra refitting charges and it might be possible to increase the SSN build rate.

The Secretary of State says that there is no alternative to the Government's proposals, but he knows that there is and that it is one that I have presented to the House. It is an alternative which was considered seriously in the late 1970s. The Ministry of Defence was against it then because it wanted Trident. However, more and more senior armed service men are realising the consequences of going ahead with the Trident programme and there is a definite change of mood. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to listen to some of the younger serving officers.

Mr. Speed

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Tomahawk strategic nuclear warhead could be fitted in the new SSK 2400 programme?

Dr. Owen

That is true. It could be fitted also to surface ships if we wished to do so. One way out of the political problems surrounding the deployment of cruise is to put cruise missiles to sea. Helmut Schmidt was rather too easily cast aside when he asked for maritime deployment. They need to be in Europe, but it would be much less politically damaging — and there would be fewer midnight flits from Greenham common—if they were deployed at sea. I hope that we shall come back to the question of deployment at sea at a later date.

It is extraordinary that the Secretary of State did not mention that the United States Senate is even now beginning to debate the possible reduction of 100,000 United States service men in Europe, phased over the next five years. That is being put forward by Senator Nunn, who has great authority. If a person of his calibre and distinction can advocate that degree of reduction, it will not be long —even if it is not voted on tomorrow—before the Senate insists on a reduction of United States forces.

For The Times at this stage to produce an editorial asking for reductions in BAOR seems to be extraordinary, but at least The Times is recognising that, under present arithmetic, the Secretary of State's forward projections simply do not add up and that we shall have to look at radical alternatives. I do not believe that it is possible to reduce BAOR, tempting though it might be, as a cut in forward defence expenditure. What I fear is that, as always, capital expenditure will be cut.

Sir Patrick Wall (Beverley)

It would be fair to Senator Nunn to remind the House that he advocated cuts only in order to persuade the European Governments to meet their proper defence expenditure targets. Most of them are not doing so.

Dr. Owen

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. There is a mood of exasperation in the United States, which has increased its final deficit, with very serious medium-term consequences for the world economy. One of the reasons for that increase is their increased defence budget. If we want the United States Government to work on reducing their deficit, it will be more credible for Europe to be prepared to fill the gap by increasing its conventional defence spending. We would then be able to make a serious suggestion to the United States to do something about its deficit and to accept some of the political problems of raising taxes.

The problem is that Europe — including the hon. Gentleman's own Government — is cutting defence expenditure by very large amounts. I urge Conservative Members to look at the question with great concern. I do not worry too much about the Labour Opposition, because they are not capable of understanding that, if they wish to be logical and consistent in their anxiety about nuclear weapons, which I share, the way round the problem is to be prepared to spend more on conventional defence.

I notice that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) has not signed the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. I hope that that is because the right hon. Member for Leeds, East is not going to vote for it [Interruption] I cannot conceive of it as possible — [Interruption.] It is not a silly point; it is a very serious point. How could anyone with the right hon. Gentleman's background vote to remove all nuclear bases from Britain? It is an extraordinary comment on the major shift of opinion that has taken place when one recalls that the right hon. Gentleman used to speak as Secretary of State for Defence in the Cabinets of previous Labour Governments.

I repeat that Conservative Members should look at this budget question with extreme seriousness. My major criticism is that the Secretary of State has produced a White Paper of whitewash. He has not faced the challenge of two or three years ahead, but has chosen to forget it. He has not drawn the attention of the House to the fact that there will, in effect, be a 1 per cent. reduction in the defence budget in 1986–87. He has not shown how he intends to grapple with that fact.

The Secretary of State made no reference to his plans for reorganising the chiefs of staff. It is extraordinary that the other place has had a most detailed debate on how the chiefs of staff are to be organised. The statement of the Secretary of State was produced without any consultation. He has not even deigned to come to the House to explain his reasons.

I beg the Secretary of State not to deprive the single service chiefs of operational staff who can give strategic advice to the Secretary of State. I have long supported most of the other proposed changes—I think they are necessary — but if we emasculate the service chief by taking away his strategic staff, we shall greatly regret: it. I draw attention to a speech by Lord Lewin, who said: if the single service chiefs of staff are to continue to give valuable advice on the whole field of strategic priorities and resource allocation, which I am sure they should, they must have adequate staffs of their own."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 12 June 1984; Vol. 452, c. 1175.] On that aspect of the Secretary of State's proposals there is an absolute need for him to modify his position, and I hope that he will do so.

Given the Secretary of State's problems with the defence budget, he has the right to look at every possible means of saving money, and I do not object to that, but I object to some of the ways in which he is doing it.

With regard to the dockyards, a new area of concern, may I remind the Secretary of State of the effort that was made to improve the efficiency of the royal ordnance factories? This House agreed that there should be a separate vote. The ordnance factories improved their efficiency and they responded to the changes that were made. It is possible in the public sector to achieve major improvements in efficiency. We have seen it with British Airways under Lord King. The ordnance factories, having responded to the specific demand to be more efficient and more commercial, were then ill-served by the decision to privatise them.

The dockyards have defeated everyone who has been concerned with them since Samuel Pepys. What does the Secretary of State do? He appoints his adviser—he is perfectly entitled to appoint people from outside industry —but he seems to be unaware that agency management of the dockyards is not a new proposal. It has been considered on many occasions. It was considered by the Mallabar committee as being the way to get the worst of both the commercial and Government Department worlds. A long and detailed report on the dockyards published in 1980 by a committee chaired by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) expressed the view that one result of agency management would be that the management would have little incentive to make itself more efficient. The Secretary of State's proposal is that the Ministry of Defence should own the dockyard, the capital equipment, and modernise it, but that somebody else should be brought in to run it. He is proposing that people who have spent a lifetime in the industrial Civil Service should no longer be civil servants, but should be employed by the private sector, presumably on five-year contracts, with the Ministry of Defence having the capacity to terminate the private contracts.

I cannot imagine proposals more destined to produce inefficiency and a bad service for the fleet, with badly fitted ships. This is taking doctrine and dogma to absurd lengths. By all means let us have a dockyard vote. I tried to get it myself in 1969–70 and failed. I have long believed it to be necessary. If we can get in the dockyards the efficiency that came to the ordnance factories, there will be support from many people inside the dockyards, but the agency management proposition will simply do further damage to the Royal Navy and to the refitting of the fleet.

Increasingly, the Secretary of State gives the appearance of a man who believes that he will hold his present office for only another year or so. His conduct is of someone who believes that fairly soon, with one bound, he will be free, simply leaving MINIS behind him. MINIS will not be a satisfactory legacy. I accept that the right hon. Gentleman thinks about the various problems. He made a thoughtful contribution about battlefield nuclear weapons, although I did not agree with all of it. I thought that it reflected a slight change in the Government's position, which I welcome. He knows that, with the defence cuts, he is up against it, but he should not have accepted, in his remit from the Prime Minister, that he should do something in regard to which Sir John Nott nearly lost his political reputation. The Secretary of State knows in his heart that it is wrong and that, however much management efficiency can be produced, it will not make up for the massive cuts.

I ask right hon. and hon. Members to think hard before they vote for the Government tomorrow night. This is not a defence White Paper that is deserving of support. Conservative Members should not be asked to vote for a defence White Paper which has implicit within it, because it is within the public expenditure forecast, a reduction from 3 per cent. inflation-proof spending to a minus 1 per cent. defence spend in 1986–87. If that is the new form of Conservatism, no wonder the people of Portsmouth, South voted as they did.

6.9 pm

Mr. Keith Speed (Ashford)

I am in considerable agreement with much that was said by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), particularly about possible alternatives to Trident. I should like to develop that in a few minutes but, first, it would be churlish not to give a general welcome to many aspects of the White Paper, which is a substantial improvement on Cmnd. 8288, which came out in June 1981.

The recognition that we need a more powerful sharp end is absolutely right. I welcome the fact that there will be 50 operational frigates and destroyers, a number that I have always believed to be the absolute minimum requirement to enable this country to discharge obligations to NATO and, indeed, to carry out our national duties and requirements.

I am glad that it has been confirmed, to the Select Committee and elsewhere, that our ships' weapon systems, sensors, communications, and electronic counter-measures will be refitted and modernised as and when necessary to keep abreast of the threat. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, the south Atlantic conflict showed the vital importance of making sure that our capital assets are up to date and credible to the enemy. That means having sufficient industrial dockyard capacity and capability to do just that for our fleet.

However, the Select Committee on Defence, the British Maritime League and other expert commentators have noted that some areas give cause for considerable disquiet —for example, where there is no policy, where the policy is wrong or where the Ministry of Defence is not being frank with the House and with the country.

A frigate and destroyer force of 50 ships means, according to my calculations, an annual rate of ordering frigates or destroyers to maintain reasonably modern ships of three or four ships a year. Yet, apart from the type 22 frigates that have been ordered as replacements for those lost in the south Atlantic, we have had no new orders to replace the older type 12s and Leanders that will inevitably drop off the end as they get older. The type 12 frigates in the fleet are, for the most part, about 24 years old and the Leanders vary from 21 to 11 years old, although most of them are nearer 20 than 11, which means that it will be important to ensure a frigate ordering programme.

I hope that we shall be able to go along with the Dutch system, whereby batches of frigates are ordered. If and when we get export opportunities — I am thinking especially of the type 23 frigates—instead of saying to Nigeria, Indonesia or whatever the country might be, "You have got to wait four years for a new frigate," we should do as the Dutch do, and say, "Yes, that ship is almost complete and may even have been launched. You can have it with six months delivery." The key point is that another new frigate would be ordered immediately for the Royal Navy, so that it is tacked on to the fleet and so that the home fleet does not lose out. The Dutch have done that with their Kortenaers with considerable success, as my right hon. Friend probably knows.

I am also concerned about the ordering rate for submarines. My right hon. Friend will know that the majority of the Oberon and the Porpoise classes of diesel-electric submarines are more than 20 years old. One new type 2400 submarine has been ordered; the first of a very advanced class—probably the most advanced conventional submarine in the world. But we must do much better than that. I believe and hope that countries such as Australia and Canada will be very interested in the new boat.

I calculate that we must have an ordering rate of at least two boats a year; otherwise our Oberons and Porpoises will be very obsolete and very tired if we are to maintain the present numbers of conventional submarines.

There is an important question concerning where these submarines will be built, bearing in mind our Trident programme, the hunter-killer nuclear-powered programme, and the type 2400 submarines. It is clear that they cannot all be built at Vickers' yard. Will Cammell Laird or Scott Lithgow be re-opened, and possibly Yarrows? I know that that question worries right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. We need answers fairly quickly.

I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware of the concern about orders for a further eight or nine Sea Harriers, which are needed in the next year or so to replace attrition losses and inevitable losses through accidents and other factors. The order has been long delayed and needs to be placed soon with British Aerospace. I understand that the Royal Navy is forced to rob Peter to pay Paul to keep the squadrons at sea with HMS Illustrious or HMS Invincible. That is not good, especially as HMS Ark Royal is coming into commission soon.

Several right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned Trident costs, which, as the Select Committee has reported, are steadily rising. The right hon. Member for Devonport raised the important factor of the overall cost to the defence budget. The Secretary of State was good enough to say in the Select Committee's evidence—it was reported in slightly obscure language at question 166 of the verbatim evidence at the end of the report—that, although the Trident programme in its peak years would account for 11 per cent. of the total equipment budget of the Ministry of Defence, it would take about 30 per cent.-plus of the Royal Navy's budget. That would be at a time when the budget was under great strain from the type 23 frigate programme, the type 2400 submarines, the follow-on to the Trafalgars in the hunter-killer submarine programme, commitments to amphibious replacements for HMS Intrepid and HMS Fearless, and the EH101 helicopter.

All those developments will come together and, quite frankly, there will not be the money to carry them through, especially if we intend to retain a 50-strong force of frigates and continue to order three frigates a year—unless we intend to continue to keep in operation the type 12 frigates and the Leanders until they are 30 or 40 years old. I do not believe that that is the intention, nor do I believe that it would be a wise course.

We must face the fact that, as procurement is going at the moment, it will take a very large chunk of the Royal Navy's procurement budget, when that budget is already very tightly stretched. The House, the Select Committee and everybody else agrees with the programme of conventional ships and forces to which I have alluded.

A report that has not been mentioned so far in the debate, but which should be mentioned, was one made last week of the apparently very successful ballistic missile interception over Kwajalein by one minuteman missile to another. These are very early days and I know that these are the first steps in a new technology. That report concerns me from two points of view. First, if the programme were carried through, it would have a newly destabilising effect on the anti-ballistic missile arrangements. We cannot ignore that.

Secondly, we must consider the technology that, for example, I found to be reported quite openly in the United States while I was there last week. The infra-red heat-seeking sensor on top of the minuteman missile is of sufficient sophistication to detect the heat from a human body at a range of 1,000 miles. This is very advanced technology. In another 10 to 15 years, where will that programme leave our existing ballistic missiles if it is carried forward?

A technical question mark hangs over the Trident programme, quite apart from the financial question marks, of which I have always had many. My preference in the past two to three years has been, reluctantly, for a submarine-launched cruise missile, to which the right hon. Member for Devonport has referred. My conversion is not a sudden deathbed repentance, because I wrote about it two or three years ago and I have voted consistently along those lines whenever the House has voted on the matter since then.

Expensive though Trident is, it is dwarfed in on-going annual costs by the sums needed to support—I stress "to support" — BAOR and our forces in Germany. The White Paper table shows that those costs stand at almost £1,000 million, all payable in foreign exchange in deutschmarks. The costs are rising steadily year by year and include the costs of maintaining 24,000 German civil servants, as well as schools, transport systems and roads. The German civil engineering industry is a significant beneficiary from the Ministry of Defence budget.

But none of that expenditure is improving the front-line efficiency of the RAF or, indeed, of our soldiers in Germany. Even if one does not go along totally with the editorial in today's edition of The Times, one is bound to ask whether Anglo-German relations are so fragile and whether the Alliance is in such a precarious state that we cannot at least look at the support costs. If we could halve those costs and save some £500 million, it might go a long way towards meeting the problems that the Secretary of State, or his successor, will discover when it is found at the end of the decade that we cannot fit a quart into a pint pot.

The Government should take a long hard look at that sacred cow, and we should discuss with our NATO allies whether we should be spending all those sums of money, or whether by having more mobile troops—even if the figure of 55,000 is sacrosanct—and more imaginative housing, education and transport schemes, we can make considerable savings on that Ministry of Defence real estate in Germany. At present, it costs us a great deal in deutschmarks and resources, and we cannot really afford it.

I turn to something mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir. H. Atkins), the Chairman of the Select Committee. I refer to the biggest lacuna in the White Paper — the lack of any reference to the Merchant Navy. At any time, that might be regarded as eccentric, but when the British merchant marine is facing its worst crisis since the battle of the Atlantic 40 years ago, it is very remarkable indeed.

In the circumstances, the Select Committee's strictures, which are outlined in paragraphs 49–53, are most restrained. The House will recall the words of the present First Sea Lord, who was, in July 1982, Commander-in-Chief, Fleet. Speaking of Operation Corporate, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse said: I cannot say too often or too clearly how important has been the Merchant Navy's contributions to our efforts. Without the ships taken up from trade, the operation could not have been undertaken and I hope this message is clearly understood by the British Nation. I fear that Sir John's hopes are doomed to failure, because I doubt whether the message is understood by the Government, and much less by the British nation, which shows every sign of lapsing back into the complacent indolence that existed up until April 1982. As the British Maritime League, the General Council of British Shipping and the Select Committee have graphically illustrated, the past few years have seen a dramatic decline in the number of ships in the British merchant fleet, down to about 760 merchant ships of 500 deadweight tonnes or more, as well as a dramatic decline in the number of British officers and ratings. That decline continues inexorably onwards month by month.

Unfortunately, by the end of this decade, the number of ships in the British-manned, owned and registered merchant fleet could be reduced to virtually nil. Can nothing be done to help? Are we just to accept it supinely? I agree with everything that has been said about the lack of corporate approach by the Government. Matters have not been helped by the Budget of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although I supported its general thrust, which was quite first class. Unfortunately, the British shipping companies and British merchant seamen, both officers and men, have been badly hit by the provisions relating to capital allowances and income tax for those who spend a considerable part of their working lives abroad. Perhaps that effect was not realised at the time, but that is what has happened. At a time when they are already on the ropes, it is almost the coup de grace.

I should like to make some positive suggestions. First, of course, we want competition and efficiency, but that competition must be fair. Soviet liners and passenger ships charge below their operating costs, which is not fair. There should be some maritime anti-dumping legislation—if that is the right phrase—and we should at least insist on reciprocity. How many British cruise liners can pick up Russians at Murmansk or Leningrad on subsidised fares? I suspect that the answer is, not very many. We must understand that not only Soviet cargo and other merchant ships, but the trans-Siberian railway as well, are part of Soviet economic policy. The Soviet Union does not regard pricing or profit and loss in the same way as the Western world does. If we have not yet understood that, we have understood very little indeed. Again, action needs to be taken so that competition is at least fair, and reasonable prices are charged.

Secondly, we should have a tax regime that encourages, and does not penalise, shipowners and their crews. Thirdly, as the Select Committee recommends, details should be published each year of the merchant ships that are available for requisition in an emergency, together with a comparison for the previous years.

Incidentally, the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne was very good and should be answered. Merchant ships that are fitted with certain defence equipment—whether involving communications, close-in weapons systems, replenishment at sea, or whatever — could qualify for annual revenue payments to keep that equipment up to date and properly serviceable. In a very modest way, the cash flows of those companies could thus be helped. In addition, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport would know that at a minimal cost a whole series of ships had all the modern and up-to-date equipment needed if there was ever a "Corporate" sort of conflict or a much more serious conflict in the north Atlantic.

Instead of earmarking many skilled Royal Naval personnel, whom we just do not have — and are increasingly unlikely to have—to man merchant ships that are fitted with chaff dispensers or the new close-in weapons systems which I know the Ministry is considering, why not have a major drive on that Cinderella of reserves, the Royal Naval Reserve? In that way, we could ensure that British merchant seamen were enrolled in the appropriate lists of the Reserve and were given the training to man the chaff dispensers, and communications and weapons systems. They would be more than capable of doing that, and with their refresher training, pay and bounties, it would represent a practical way of enabling the British merchant marine to ease the load of the Royal Navy while at the same time giving a much-needed boost to the Royal Naval Reserve. I hope that I have made those suggestions in a positive and constructive way, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will discuss them with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport so that we can meet a very serious problem.

I do not exclude the possibility of joint funding for certain ships. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has mentioned the new type of one-stop ship. There could be joint funding by the Ministery of Defence and the shipping companies, perhaps even on a wet or dry lease basis, so that we have at least a basic minimum in terms of tankers, cargo ships and all the specialist ships that are required to meet our security needs as well as our commercial and economic requirements. Without that basic minimum, I fear that in a few years time Britain and the north Atlantic nations generally could find themselves deprived of their essential requirements in terms of reinforcement and re-supply. That is not just my view, or that of the Select Committee, but the view of several very senior NATO Officers to whom I spoke at the Sea Link symposium in Annapolis last week.

The Merchant Navy is now facing a crisis and time is running out. We cannot wait another year until the next White Paper to see whether anything can be done about it, so I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will consider those matters.

I make no apology for returning to my other worry, that of resources. I think that all will be reasonably well for the next two or three years, but unless more money is available we shall not be able to fit in Trident, the major aircraft programmes and the major programmes for the Army and the Navy, at the end of this decade. We must face up to that fact, and decide what we are to cast away, or change the policy and agree to increase expenditure by 3 to 4 per cent. in real terms. Incidentally, I am not trying to anticipate what the Select Committee will discuss.

However, unless we start to take decisions now, we shall end up with the worst of all worlds. We shall spend a lot of money on developing Trident and other weapons systems so far and then, when the money runs out, we shall have to cancel, with all the cancellation charges involved. Money will have gone down the drain and the morale of the services will plummet. That will do my party no good politically and, much more importantly, it will do this country's security no good either.

6.30 pm
Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)

I regret that the Government base their defence strategy on nuclear weapons. I have never understood the argument for having an independent nuclear deterrent because it means that we must either pay a great deal of money for an expensive toy or assume that the United States has opted out of supporting the Alliance.

The Government's determination to place cruise missiles in Britain has ensured that we shall be a primary target if a war breaks out. I assume that there is no question of us surviving the United States. There is an argument for saying that both the United States and Russia would be prepared to see a limited nuclear war here rather than have one between themselves. If we view defence issues flexibly we cannot disregard that probability.

For a country with our limited resources it is incredible that we should take on board the vast and escalating costs of Trident and at the same time argue that we have the resources to support our conventional forces. In recent years Britain has been more and more involved in limited wars. The issues become clear when one considers the Falklands campaign. Now that the horse has bolted and disappeared the Government are determined to remedy some of the issues. When we fought the Falklands campaign we did not take on a major first-class power but a very small one indeed. If the Argentinians had launched their attack six months or 12 months later we should not have had the resources to send even a fleet, let alone anything else. When we took Port Stanley some of our batteries were down to six rounds per gun.

If we send men into limited wars we have a responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary resources. The Army equipment exhibition is now at Aldershot. I suppose that one can argue about the connection between defence equipment, employment and exports of military equipment. We should not forget that nearly all the men killed in the Falklands campaign were killed by weapons which, if not supplied by us, were supplied by our allies. All hon. Members must ask themselves how many pounds raised equals one British life lost. Politicians must examine arms sales in detail. If arms sold by us are eventually used against our own people we should all be concerned.

A major employer in the Bolton area is British Aerospace at Lostock. Supplies were being sent to Argentina within weeks of hostilities being declared. One of my major nightmares was that some Bolton lad would be killed by a missile produced in that factory. We must consider the implications of our arms sale policy. The Labour Government were also involved in such sales, but two wrongs do not make a right. We must consider our forces when we send them to do a job.

Mr. Robert Atkins

The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young) understands the difficulties. What would he say to British Aerospace workers in Manchester who face the prospect of production winding down because of the Nimrod line closing? It is suggested that we might be able to sell Coastguarders to replace Shackletons for maritime patrols in South Africa. Does he think that the jobs and production lines in Manchester are more important than selling aeroplanes to South Africa, with all the problems that that involves?

Mr. Young

One must balance political judgment. I say that the problem should be considered. I do not dodge the implication. The guys who get the cash are not the guys who face an attack. It is easy to argue in favour of profit if one is not the guy who is facing an Exocet missile. That is the issue. We can be fighting ourselves. We talk about the Russian threat, but the Americans and the Common Market countries are busy feeding the Russians because of the profit motive.

We face a difficult problem. There is no neat solution. We must consider the potential danger of selling weapons that can destroy the men whom we send to fight.

No hon. Member would consider selling weapons to Ireland, but we sell them to regimes which are just as potentially dangerous and with which we could be involved. If I had a quick solution I should give it, but at least I am honest enough to pose the question.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

The weapons industry has experienced some of the largest job losses in the past few years. We cannot blame peace activists for that. Management, company policy and profiteering must be responsible.

Mr. Young

About 200 jobs in Bolton were disposed of because the Government decided to go for an American system—the Harpoon—rather than a British system, the Sea Eagle. The workers point out to me forcibly that we lost not only the jobs but the technology. There is no neat equation.

We are forming a morality to fit our cheque books. I condemn that system. There is no easy solution and no simple party argument can be used. The argument is whether morality or cash comes before the life of the soldier. We cannot regard defence commitments without also considering foreign affairs. One of the lessons of the Falklands campaign was that there was a definitive lack of communication between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence.

British forces are now committed in Cyprus. For 20 years we have made the highest commitment to UN forces there. An explosive and divisive situation on that island has dragged on for months and many of us believe that the Americans are not too sad about it. Where is the initiative of the Foreign Office on that issue? If there is a war on that island, the British contingent to the United Nations force will be involved. I agree that we back the Secretary-General's motives but as a guarantor of the treaty this House should be taking a positive step to create the circumstances that would permit the island to unite once more. We cannot go along with the events there and not speak out against the unilateral declaration of independence and, at the same time, argue that the treaty is being observed. The Government must act on that matter.

I am worried by a statistical abstract for the United States for 1982–83, which shows that the United Kingdom has moved from 10th place in 1978 to sixth place in 1981 as a major purchaser of United States arms and equipment. My great worry about British Aerospace, Lostock, and the purchase of Harpoon rather than Sea Eagle is that we are depending increasingly on American weaponry and the technology that goes with it. Will the Government review that? How can we talk about being independent if our technology and weaponry depend on those of another country, albeit an ally? American intervention in Grenada underlines that point. To be independent is a matter not merely of words but of independent resources, independent forces and complete independence from anyone who may have different interests in the same area.

Finally, I am worried that when the merger between Thorn-EMI and British Aerospace was mooted on 16 May, the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry seemed to suggest that the Government would stand apart. I hope that when companies merge, one company remains a major supplier of weaponry to the British forces. That is seen as important not only for commerce but for the Ministry of Defence. We cannot claim to be independent if our technology is not independent, and the companies producing that technology are not independent companies that may have foreign interests.

6.43 pm
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

In response to your appeal for brevity, Mr. Speaker, I shall confine myself to one subject. I shall speak about the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for staff centralisation in the Ministry of Defence and the consequent weakening of the chiefs of staff organisation. The matter is of vital importance and I hope that the House will bear with me if I go into it in some detail.

As I understand the proposal, the chiefs of staff and the chief scientists are guaranteed access to the Secretary of State. But they are to report to him through the Chief of Defence Staff and the permanent under-secretary. They are to be deprived of the vice-chiefs of the individual services—that is, of the section of staff responsible for strategic as distinct from administrative policy.

I am worried about my right hon. Friend's approach to the matter. Paragraph 211 of the defence White Paper states: the issues which faced the authors of the 1963 White Paper on the Central Organisation for Defence still remain largely unresolved. The Ministry of Defence has survived as a federal structure, based on three largely autonomous Service Departments. The meaning of that statement is clear. The Secretary of State dislikes the present position and wishes to move towards closer integration. But is closer integration necessary or desirable? Why has the Ministry of Defence remained federal, 20 years after Lord Mountbatten's proposals? The basic reason is the tremendous difficulty of separating strategy from administration. A basic principle of British military thinking has been that the one cannot be separated from the other. Perhaps it would be possible if we had a single service, as the Canadians tried to have, but it is not under our present system. I understand from the White Paper that my right hon. Friend adheres firmly to the existence of three separate services, so we face the problem of how strategic policy can be separated from administration.

In 1963, which is a long time ago, our military posture was very different from what it is today. We had important headquarters in the Mediterranean, Aden and Singapore, where the commander-in-chief was responsible for all three services. The action was there. The action in Kuwait involved the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. So it was in Singapore, in the "confrontation" against Sukarno, during which the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) found himself in improbable association with Sir Walter Walker in a successful campaign. Our operations then were national and tri-service. We may have more of them. The Falklands is a more recent example. It is more likely, however, that in foreseeable military operations we shall co-operate with our allies in NATO and even in those outside NATO. If the Gulf were to catch fire, we would be likely to intervene, if we intervened at all, with the United States and France.

If I am right in this, co-operation between our individual services and those of other countries could be at least as important as co-operation between our own different services. Obviously, in NATO, co-operation between the United States navy and the Royal Navy is of major importance. So is co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the United States air force. Our air forces are side by side in East Anglia. When I was in the Air Ministry, co-operation with the United States air force at professional and political levels was of vital importance.

Could it be that, since 1963, inter-allied co-operation has reduced the need for integration and strengthened the importance of co-operation between the individual British services and their foreign counterparts? If so, should we not enhance rather than downgrade the authority of the service chiefs and, in this world of fast-moving technology, of the chief scientists? I remember well the immense authority that Lord Zuckerman wielded in Washington when he was a chief scientist at the Ministry of Defence. There might even be a case—I throw this out for the benefit of ambitious colleagues—for reviving the service Ministers in some form.

The strength of the old system was that middle-rank officers had easy access to their professional chiefs—the chiefs of staff—and to their political chiefs. Today the pyramid at the Ministry of Defence is immensely steep and will become much steeper if the proposals go ahead. The downgrading of the service leaders could be dangerous to morale and could jeopardise civilian control. I do not say that we should return to the pre-1963 formula, but need we go further than we are at present in the direction of integration? Did not the successful Falklands campaign confirm that the formula is about right now?

Any Secretary of State has two main responsibilities. One is to make the most efficient use of the financial and human resources at his disposal and to ensure a minimum of duplication, delay and waste. For that purpose, business techniques can be extremely useful. Mr. McNamara tried to introduce them into the United States defence establishment, with varying success. Cost-effectiveness can never be a substitute for profitability, but I support what my right hon. Friend is doing with the proposed office of management and budget. His experience of business and at the Department of the Environment justifies him in going ahead with the proposals.

However, will the elimination of the vice-chiefs of staff, apart from saving a few jobs, make any contribution to the maximum efficiency of financial and human resources? Yet the loss of their advice could be felt deeply in the Secretary of State's other and greater responsibility, which is for strategy. He should play a major part in determining Britain's overseas policies. Some issues before him will be concerned only with the policies of single services. There might be arguments about whether priority should be given to surface ships or to submarines, or about the evaluation of weapons systems. Some will call for a broader defence view. Is the forward strategy in Germany for the defence of central Europe appropriate? What should our attitude be towards the threat of chemical warfare? At what point, and how, should tactical nuclear weapons be used? What will be the impact of the "star wars" programme on our present thinking and future plans?

There are also many problems at the interface of defence and foreign policies, including proposals for the reform of NATO and whether we should encourage the revival of the Western European Union. How much weight should be put on the defence of our out-of-area interests? How can we monitor the proposals for arms control? In all those areas, efficiency cannot be measured by cost-effectiveness; they are matters of judgment. Preventing or winning a war is not a matter of efficiency; the problem is how to judge the right line to take.

Every Secretary of State, even a Haldane or Churchill, is by definition an amateur, however much he may think he knows about warfare. All he can do, as the Minister in control, is choose among the options put to him or to encourage fresh thinking. There is a good French saying: To govern is to choose. That is all that a Minister can do—to choose between the options or modify them. But if the options are presented by only one Chief of the Defence Staff, backed by only one staff, instead of by four chiefs of staff and the chief scientists, how much choice will the Secretary of State have?

Lord Cameron, either in another place or in a letter to The Times, talked about his fear of a strong Secretary of State and a weak Chief of the Defence Staff. I would be more worried the other way: if we had a strong Chief of the Defence Staff and a run-of-the-mill Secretary of State, how could the latter stand up to the advice given to him? He would avoid becoming a mere public relations officer for his Department, and nothing more than that, only if the options were put before him by the different services and the chief scientists. My right hon. Friend is certainly a good public relations officer, but I hope he will be much more than that. I have much higher ambitions for him, as I hope he has for himself.

When I was at the Air Ministry, I found the arguments among the chiefs of staff extremely constructive. There were arguments about aircraft carriers as against aircraft based on scattered islands; about whether the deterrent should be seaborne or airborne; about how far it was important to have bases east of Suez or whether ships could take their place; and about how strategic tactical nuclear weaponry should be used.

It is perhaps worth recalling that in the second world war, from 1940 until 1945, Sir Winston Churchill did not even have a Chief of the Defence Staff. He had a relatively junior officer, General Ismay, to act as liaison officer with the chiefs and to report on what they were thinking, although he could not give them orders or intervene much in their discussions. Churchill was his own Chief of the Defence Staff when it was necessary, and we did not do too badly.

On the other side of the line, German commentators have often said that one reason why Hitler lost the war in Russia was that he over-centralised. Although the OKW enabled him to impose his will on the army, he was denied the choice of options that he might have had with a less centralised organisation.

I beg my right hon. Friend not to underrate the importance of his job. He is not just a manager who ensures that money is spent effectively. He is at the head of the most powerful war machine that Britain has ever had. No British First Lord of the Admiralty had anything like four Polaris submarines, let alone Trident and other new weaponry, at his disposal. At a time when the danger is great, my right hon. Friend will need the broadest spectrum of professional and scientific advice if he is to bring all this qualities to the fulfilment of his work.

In another place, my noble Friend Lord Trefgarne said that the decisions for reorganising the central staff are not final. I hope that my right hon. Friend's mind is not closed. By all means let him strengthen the Chief of the Defence Staff if he wishes to, but he should not restrict the access of the other chiefs of staff and the chief scientists to the Secretary of State. Let them come as a matter of routine, not as a special provision. If they do not, they will be relegated to a subordinate role in the eyes of the services and their allies. Let them keep their strategic vice-chiefs and staffs, and let my right hon. Friend ensure that the options are debated freely in front of him and that he has a wide spectrum of choice.

6.59 pm
Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

I shall follow the example of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and speak to a single topic, but before doing so I wish to refer to the hypocrisy of the Secretary of State when he referred to lack of talks aimed at achieving peace.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to the Government's voting record on nuclear matters at the United Nations. In December 1983 we voted 27 times. On four occasions we voted positively, on 13 occasions we voted against resolutions, and on 10 occasions we abstained. To demonstrate how isolated we were, I take two examples at random. One of the United Nations resolutions was on the cessation of all nuclear weapons test explosions. Only two countries voted against, one of which was the United Kingdom. There was another resolution on general and complete disarmament — a review and supplement to the comprehensive study of the question of nuclear-weapon-free zones in all its aspects. A total of 146 nations voted for, none against and three abstained, one of which was the United Kingdom. Consequently, the Secretary of State's opening remarks were unconvincing and do not stand up to any serious analysis. In fact, our voting record at the United Nations, particularly on the two resolutions to which I have referred, has been shocking to say the least.

Paragraph 8 of annex A to the defence Estimates states: The development and deployment of long-range cruise missiles is one of the more significant developments in the past year … and deployment of sea-launched cruise missiles … on submarines and surface ships is expected from the middle of this year. In an interesting debate on cruise missiles, in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) made a brilliant speech, we covered in great detail the problem of ground-launched cruise missiles. However, to the problems that that causes for the British people we must now add a new dimension. Ground-launched cruise missiles took us into a new, dark area, but the problems that we shall face once there are a large number of sea-launched cruise missiles will be many and difficult.

It is expected that as many as 9,000 cruise missiles could be built, approximately half of which will be Tomahawk missiles. Many of them will have nuclear warheads. We are not exactly sure how many. but the guesstimate is between 15 and 25 per cent. In other words, 1,000 cruise missiles could be placed on surface ships and submarines.

The United States is already preparing about 76 ships and 80 submarines to be equipped with these deadly and lethal weapons. These long-range weapons can travel approximately 1,500 miles and are very accurate. They can land within 100 yards of a target, and together with Pershing 2, MX and similar weaponry, offer a tremendous first-strike potential for NATO forces.

These weapons have not yet reached their full potential and development. Given massive improvements which will make them virtually undetectable — they are extremely difficult to detect even at their present level of development—they will become more accurate. They will be fitted with a special facility to determine whether the first target has been destroyed and, if so, will be programmed to fly on to a second target. The cliché in radar terms is that this weapon has the signature of a seagull. In other words, the strength of this weapon is its virtual undetectability.

The problems for the United Kingdom will be compounded by the development of sea-launched cruise missiles. We do not know how many, although we have some idea of the number of ground-launched cruise missiles that will be stationed in Britain.

There is also the problem of control. The Government tell us continually that the ground-launched cruise missiles are under joint control, but those of us who have visited the Greenham common base and talked to the people in charge know full well that only the United States is responsible for determining when ground-launched cruise missiles are fired.

If sea-launched cruise missiles are stationed on American ships in British waters, they will be completely under the control of American forces. We know that about 100 ground-launched cruise missiles will operate on British territory, but there could be 1,000 sea-launched cruise missiles on ships and submarines in British territorial waters.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I share many of the hon. Gentleman's concerns about cruise missiles, but I was surprised when he referred to them as a first-strike weapon. It is true that cruise missiles fly very low, but they also travel very slowly and it will take them four hours to get to Moscow. Even if they avoid radar detection, does the hon. Gentleman not believe that about 100 of these weapons flying at 50 ft over the German border will wake somebody up?

Mr. Boyes

Given the work that the hon. Gentleman has done in this area, he belittles himself by asking that question. If a nuclear war were to start, it is obvious that cruise missiles would follow the Pershing 2s and other missiles that were fired first. The cruise missiles would be used in a mopping-up operation.

I shall not get drawn into the first strike-second strike argument, because that allows us to be deflected from the main danger, which is that cruise missiles have made Britain a more dangerous place in which to live. Whether they are first strike, second strike or 121st strike does not reduce that danger.

To discover whether sea-launched cruise missiles pose a danger I referred back to questions about the number of ships visiting British ports. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) asked how many ships and submarines from the United States visited our ports between 1979 and the latest date for which information was available. It appears that American ships visit 14 different ports and that an average of 40 ships and three or four submarines do so each year. That reveals the magnitude of the dangers facing us, because we cannot possibly know how many of those ships are carrying cruise missiles.

Recently I asked the Secretary of the State for Defence whether he will put a limit on the number of sea-based cruise missiles that can be in British territorial water at any time". The Minister of State for the Armed Forces gave the simple, definitive answer: No".—[Official Report, 7 June 1984; Vol. 61, c. 230.] Today I have tabled further questions to ascertain what conditions, if any, American ships must satisfy before being allowed into British waters.

The Minister was vague when he answered my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson). He was deliberately vague about whether the Americans would make use of facilities at Holy Loch, because there had been no request to bring vessels carrying sea-launched cruise missiles to the United Kingdom. Under what conditions will the Minister allow those ships into British ports?

Most hon. Members—even Conservative Members—want arms talks leading to mutual and verifiable reductions. That would make Britain in particular and the world in general a safer place. The danger with the sea-launched cruise missile is that it is impossible to verify how many there are and where they are. It is extremely difficult with ground-launched cruise missiles, because they are mobile and can be trundled around the country. Even though satellites can be used to count them, the worst has to be assumed because the Soviets cannot take into account that what appear to be two missiles in different locations is in fact one missile being trundled around the country. But there is no way that one can find out how many sea-launched cruise missiles there are. It is a small missile which can fit on almost anything from a rowing boat to an aircraft carrier. How will the Soviets or any other enemy know which ships are carrying cruise missiles, whether they are nuclear or conventional weapons and where they are at any one time? If they cannot be verified—an essential part of arms talks—how can we ever take a step along the road to peace?

By allowing sea-launched cruise missiles into our ports the Government are endangering not only Britain but the whole nuclear scene. Let us look at what some Americans have to say about that. Christopher Paine of the Federation of American Scientists called the sea-launched cruise missile a monstrous and wholly gratuitous complication for arms control. The Centre for Defence Information calls it the greatest danger to arms control. In other words, the development and operation of this weapon is leading to the point where arms control talks may be finished for all time.

The American Republican Senator, Charles Mathias of Maryland, said: if you start this particular kind of arms race"— the sea-launched cruise missile— it will be absolutely impossible to get reductions. In five years, as the Russians catch up there is no doubt that they are well behind us at the moment— we will put ourselves in a position in which all the principles of arms control will be destroyed. One of the key spokesmen in the United States, Ambassador Smith, followed that up by saying: it is too often forgotten that the progress we have made in nuclear arms control to date has depended very importantly on the fact that weapons systems involved have been relatively very visible to the kind of surveillance technology that we had developed. This all-important visibility may end with the deployment of sea-launched cruise missiles. The naval cruise missiles, therefore, stand a very good chance of increasing the indeterminacy of the strategic threat in the 1980s and 1990s and of undermining one of the key foundations of arms limitation agreements. The variety of different launching platforms and military technology making surveillance impossible have put us in a nightmare position. We have moved from a difficult position, to a virtually impossible position, to an absolutely impossible position. We should look to the strategic arms reduction talks. In an important article in The Christian Science Monitor, Thomas Hirschfeld, a former senior arms control negotiator and a retired State Department official, put the matter as well as it could be put. He said: once the long-range cruise missiles are deployed, the Soviets will want to take account of them in START. Under existing rules, they will count the entire US sea-based cruise missile force as nuclear, insist on limiting their numbers, or on reducing them or getting compensation for them out of other parts of the US strategic forces. We have got ourselves into an impossible position. The world is becoming more dangerous daily, but talks to reduce the tension and danger are getting nearer and nearer to the point of being absolutely impossible. We must get out of that vicious circle. The Government must take positive, vital and urgent action. They must work to bring some sanity to the arms talks. They must work to increase the safety of our people as a contribution to the struggle for world peace. To do that it is necessary that the Government rid our land of ground-launched cruise missiles and all our territorial waters of sea-launched cruise missiles.

Labour Members will work and struggle to rid our lands and waters of all nuclear weapons. We are the party with the real concern for the defence of our people. We realise that as long as we have cruise missiles of any kind in our land and seas we must be the first prime target for any attack by an aggressor.

7.16 pm
Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

I shall be brief indeed. I have long believed that there is far too much oratory in this place. In another place, Lord Carver said last week that the Secretary of State should focus upon weapons procurement—presumably in Europe—and stop worrying his generals. Has he a point? I rather suspect that Lord Carver has.

Some hon. Members will know that in the Secretary of State's office in the huge Ministry of Defence hangs a superb oil painting by Orpen of David Lloyd George. I gather that the Secretary of State moves with it from one appointment to another. But why hang a portrait of David Lloyd George in the Secretary of State's office at the Ministry of Defence? My right hon. Friend and I studied history together at Oxford and I remember how conscientious a student he used to be. But surely he recalls the conflict between the soldiers and the "frocks" in the great war. Lloyd George was greatly loved, but not by soldiers. Why not put up a portrait of Hore-Belisha instead?

Will the end of the growth in defence spending coincide with the term of office of the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence? By April 1986 he will have been there for more than three years. If so, I do not envy his successor. Indeed, after 1986 there could be a reduction in spending, leading to a process of disarmament through inflation. Is the House aware of that prospect? Is the Conservative party in the Commons aware of that prospect? Has it thought through the implications of no real growth in defence spending after 1986, especially if we were to purchase a more expensive conventional defence, thereby raising the nuclear threshold? I do not think that we have thought this through.

Today, the editor of The Times has remounted his old hobby horse. He is calling for a major reduction in the numbers of the British Army of the Rhine. It is an editorial that he rewrites three times a year. Yet the lead story in The Sunday Times yesterday was about an amendment on the part of Senator Sam Nunn, to be moved in the Senate, which would link the withdrawal of 100,000 American troops from Europe with a far greater defence effort on the part of the European members of NATO. How would the Secretary of State respond to the amendment were it to be passed in both Houses of Congress, and what message has the Secretary of State for Mr. Charlie Douglas-Home?

What, then, are the most useful things that the Secretary of State can do? He can squeeze the profit margins of our defence industries—and about time. He can streamline the apparatus of the Ministry of Defence, but he must recognise that there are limits to such an exercise, and costs. He can be nice to the Western European Union.

We are witnessing the resurrection of the Western European Union—proof, as if it were needed, of life after death. In the past the French have flirted outrageously with that somewhat middle-aged body. Has Monsieur Mauroy at last consummated the affair? I have spent the best years of my life introducing reports in the Assembly of the Western European Union which no one ever bothered to read. At the recently held meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the WEU, Monsieur Mitterrand and Monsieur Mauroy—why are other people's Socialists far more attractive than our own?—put forward proposals that the Western European Union, the heart of European NATO, should organise collectively the production of arms. I hope that Her Majesty's Government support the idea. We do not wish to rely exclusively on the American arms industry for advanced technology. It used to be said in my day in Paris that one could sleep as well in the Avenue Wilson—Woodrow, not Harold—as anywhere in Paris. Perhaps that will no longer be true in the future.

Finally, I understand that a serving soldier will soon become Britain's first astronaut. Has the Secretary of State any plans for putting a woman in space? [Laughter.] If so, will he confide in us and answer some of the questions that I have raised today when he winds up this two-day debate, not this year, I understand, but next year?

7.23 pm
Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I shall not attempt to pursue any of the metaphors or the parable of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). But it cannot be denied that in his opening speech the Secretary of State shot himself in the foot when he discussed deterrence.

When I began to have to take an interest in defence policy in the 1960s we always heard about "the deterrent". I noticed that some Government supporters who still think of war in 19th-century terms used that phrase today. However, in discussions with the Secretary of State and with American and Soviet strategists the term "deterrent" has now become "deterrence"—a process of deterrence.

In this debate and in the White Paper, the Secretary of State is trying to persuade those sections of the British public and the Western European public who increasingly are becoming desensitised by the appalling prospect of the arms build-up, arms sophistication and the war-fighting strategy, and the mass campaigns of the peace movement throughout Western Europe and increasingly concerned about the prospect of the reality of a nuclear exchange that, somehow, deterrence is still a stable concept and an idea which has guaranteed and can guarantee peace. The right hon. Gentleman repeated the statement that we have heard so often from people in his position, that it was the existence of nuclear weapons that had guaranteed the peace of Europe for 40 years.

I ask the Secretary of State one simple question, and I shall not press him to answer anything else that I ask him if he answers this question. How long does he expect the existing idea of deterrence to protect us from nuclear war?

I read the Secretary of State a quotation from Ken Booth, of the international politics department of the University College of Wales. Writing in a recent book on the dangers of deterrence, he says: Will the nuclear threat always protect us from nuclear war? It is doubtful, and the past is a poor guide, for less than forty years is only a moment in human history. The absence of a nuclear war in such a brief period offers little grounds for unlimited confidence about the indefinite future. The nuclear age is still in its infancy, and, in the long term, we should recognise that in the Argentinian scrap-metal workers in South Georgia, and in the wounded Israeli Ambassador in London, there lurked the ghost of Archduke Ferdinand. I ask the Secretary of State to address himself to that question. How long do the British Government consider that deterrence can maintain peace in their terms, and how long does he consider that international security can depend on that concept?

As the Secretary of State said when he was shooting himself in the foot, it is a concept that he cannot use both ways. Either he has a credible deterrent or he has not. Paragraph 124 of the section of the White Paper, which discusses developments in NATO's defence posture, yet again throws up the contradiction at the very base of the idea of deterrence as somehow being a stable concept.

Paragraph 124 reads as follows: In sum, the aim of the Alliance remains to sustain an effective triad of forces—conventional, theatre nuclear and strategic nuclear—to ensure the continued credibility of the Alliance strategy of flexible response. We believe that this strategy remains the basis of a credible deterrent, and that there is no better alternative available. This is not to say that we cannot enhance our deterrent posture". A credible deterrent, therefore, by the right hon. Gentleman's own logic and according to his own White Paper, is not a static concept. It needs to be enhanced. As a sop to the peace movement the paragraph adds: and reduce further the risks of conflict within the existing strategic framework. In other words, the notion of deterrence is itself an unstable notion, and I shall try to argue briefly that the notion of deterrence is a con for a continued, escalating arms race. That is the experience of the past 40 years of the nuclear era, and it seems to be the increasingly likely experience of the next 40 years until we get that devastating nuclear exchange, with all the consequences for the biosphere, the ecosphere and the environment of which we have learnt recently.

I am not concerned about replying to some of the detailed arguments set out in the White Paper about the balance of nuclear forces other than to say that the way in which the White Paper is couched and the graphs are drawn is calculated to establish in the public mind the idea that we are aiming for some kind of balance of forces, that we have got it wrong, and that the Soviets are in the lead.

The arguments are deployed in such a way that the figures used are delivery systems and not warheads. We know that already in 1984 the United States has more than 10,000 strategic warheads and that the Soviet Union has about 8,700. There was a substantial increase in the United States numbers in the 1960s and 1970s, but this has levelled off, and we are moving into a position where, by 1990, the United States will have 17,500 warheads and the Soviet Union some 14,500.

We are therefore in the middle of a major strategic nuclear arms race. This is what the Secretary of State, in his sentimental affection for the concept of a stable deterrent, seems to deny, and therefore he is forgoing any move towards a negotiated reduction in that strategic nuclear arms race. He cannot have it both ways. Either hė has a stable deterrent that works or he has a deterrent that must continually be enhanced in its credibility, which can mean only one thing—a continued indulgence in the strategic nuclear arms race. If that is not the case, I should like to have it explained to me how we can have a continued stable deterrent that is not continually enhanced and therefore does not lead to an arms race. Does the Minister wish to intervene on that point?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)


Mr. Thomas

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will reply when he winds up.

The Government expect us to believe in this mythical notion of deterrence as if it were something that has been scientifically and objectively proven, or as if it has a firm scientific or strategic base. It is no use waiting to see whether it fails and then setting up a committee to find out what went wrong, because by then it will be too late.

The whole idea behind nuclear deterrence is that no one would ever dare use these weapons because they are too awful. This is the root of the problem. If they are too awful to use, the threat to use them is not credible and they are no longer a deterrent. The arms race is the result of the idea of the deterrent and is a frantic attempt to make the incredible credible. As we know, the arsenals of the super-powers are enough to turn the entire planet into a meaningless lump of rock, yet we are told in all seriousness that we do not yet have enough of a deterrent to be credible.

The problem for the military is that, after searching for centuries for yet more firepower, they suddenly find that they have so much that they cannot use it. The solution that they have developed is to threaten to incinerate the planet a second time. It is not sufficient to do the job in a couple of hour; to be credible, one must be able to use nuclear weapons in a tactical way as if they were no more significant than high explosives.

The drive of the arguments employed by strategists shows clearly the ways in which the ideas of an alleged deterrence have developed to make nuclear war thinkable and nuclear weapons usable. There is a filthy technological determination about the way in which the strategists make deterrence credible—in other words, make the weapon potentially usable. Therefore, by talking about it as strategists and defence experts do, they make it acceptable to the public that such developments should take place.

Krass, writing in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute yearbook 1981 on the evolution of military technology and deterrence strategy, made this point. He stressed: the strategies of flexible counter-force and extended deterrence which have now evolved are hardly distinguishable from the coercive strategies and threat and counter-threat which have characterised the politics of the industrialised world for over a century … both the purpose and effect of military technological efforts since 1945 have been to overcome notions that nuclear weapons are unusable and that nuclear war is unthinkable. The 1970s in particular have produced technological solutions to many of the limitations which in past years have inhibited national leaders from using nuclear weapons as instruments of political coercion and military power. The use of the available systems is for making nuclear weapons usable. Richard Burt, who is a senior member of the present United States Administration, said this in NATO Review in 1982 when he was talking about the evolution of the United States START approach. He said: Systems which threaten the other side's forces with quick, pre-emptive destruction are destabilising because they undermine the other side's confidence in its deterrent capability. In a crisis situation, this could result in a temptation to use these systems first out of a fear of losing them. Therefore, now, instead of having the idea of safe, second-strike forces stabilising the crisis, there are increasing perceptions of first-strike possibilities making the situation even more unstable.

As the Secretary of State accepts, or appears to accept, every American strategic innovation as part of British policy and acceptable to Britain, and as he goes along with all this, what is his position on the increasing move towards usuable nuclear weapons and thinkable nuclear war? Where does he stand in terms of, in particular, the air-land battle strategy developed by the Americans? Although he hides behind the argument that this is not NATO strategy and therefore is not something for which he is accountable, America is the leading partner in the Alliance, and is therefore able to dictate its own strategies within its military exercises on the continent of Europe. Presumably the Americans are neutralising the strategy that includes the use of nuclear weapons. The Secretary of State has to disengage himself from this continual acceptance of every new war-fighting strategy that emerges from the other side of the Atlantic.

Increasingly, there has been a desperate search by the military for ways to continue to make its deterrent more credible. The result is that we now have people developing strategies, and weapons are being developed in parallel with those strategies or in anticipation of them with people believing that this can create security and stability. I tell the Conservative Members who take a sentimental interest in defence that in the history books, for every battle of Britain there is a charge of the Light Brigade and for every D-Day there is a Dunkirk, a Somme or a Suez. When will we have the nuclear Suez?

In the middle east, South America, South Africa or Europe—I am talking about countries or areas where nuclear weapons are or will be deployed—when will we get to the situation in which there will be a series of critical developments such as those we have seen throughout the history of warfare? Those of us who have tried to study history should know how wars happen. They do not happen because people believe in stable structures of deterrence but because allegedly stable structures of deterrence break down. The difference is that in our generation when those structures break down the result is the incineration of the planet and the destruction of our environment.

The Secretary of State has completely failed to address himself to the issue of his apparent policy on multilateral alternatives and multilateral disarmament. I quote again from Ken Booth, who argues strongly in the book from which I quoted earlier:: Multilateral disarmament on any significant scale is an illusion. It is contrary to the nature of states. Consequently, multilateral disarmament policies must therefore be regarded as a cheat — a tactic in the business of arms competition. Governments pursue such policies largely for propaganda purposes and, if successful, to enhance their own security in relation to a competitor. At present 'multilateralism' is more often than not a symbol by which the supporters of existing strategies are attempting to undermine the anti-nuclear momentum of the 'peace movement'. Multilateral disarmament negotiations are an exercise in which (a) it will be demonstrated that the adversary is unreasonable and uncooperative, and so the continuation of existing armaments policies will be justified, or (b) an attempt will be made to manouevre the adversary into accepting a disadvantageous agreement. Disarmament talks have little to do with comprehensive disarmament or international security. It is not surprising therefore that so many people are so cynical. It is not only academic experts like Ken Booth who have arrived at the position of creative hard unilateralism, as he calls it, with his cynicism about the alleged mulitilateral position of the British and American Governments; it is the many thousands and millions of people throughout the Western world who see through the failures of the British Government and the American Government and, of course, the Soviet Government, to move towards a position of real negotiation of disarmament. As, long as we have Governments and Secretaries of State who seem to believe that deterrence is stable, all they are doing is creating the intellectual capability for megadeath.

7.40 pm
Sir Patrick Wall (Beverley)

This country is almost unique in that throughout its history it has pursued a combination of continental and maritime strategies. The question that we have to face today is whether we have the balance right. I believe that at present we have, but I have some fears for the future. While my contribution may be more technical than is normally the case, at least it is based in a number of years' experience in the North Atlantic Assembly.

I start with continental strategy. I am not one of those who wish to see BAOR cut down now that it has come down to its treaty limit of 55,000, but I believe that there are some weaknesses which must be remedied. Before discussing those weaknesses we must consider the Soviet technique in ground warfare, and then we can consider how it can be countered. The Soviet technique is to attack on a number of fronts and then exploit any particular breakthrough. NATO has therefore to kill 40 per cent. of Soviet armour in the first three days to bring about a reasonable balance.

Each Soviet attack is led by two divisions in the first echelon and four divisions in the second echelon on a narrow front. It is therefore necessary to attempt to kill second echelon armour when still on Soviet-controlled territory. In addition, the Soviets have what they call operational mobile groups designed for deep penetration on D1 or D2. They are brigades with helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft support. There are 30,000 men in these operational mobile groups at present in East Germany and Czechoslovakia. The Soviets also have special assignment forces, which are used before H-hour to attack key points, or carry out assassination, political or military, disguised as tourists, and dropped from Aeroflot aircraft. With that background, what are the NATO essentials for ground warfare? I suggest that there are five. First, reinforcements must be got to continental Europe before the war starts.

Plans and successful exercises have been carried out in this respect, but, of course, it depends very much on the courage of political leaders who initiate mobilisation in a time of tension. We must remember that the vast majority of all NATO troops are not at their battle stations. It will probably take one or two days to reach them and to evacuate the civilians from western Germany.

The second essential is defence in depth, with adequate anti-tank weapon systems being supplied in much greater numbers. The Times leader today raises the question whether there will be sufficient troops to carry out the defence in depth. That is a question that we must face, but I believe that at present we probably have approximately the right balance.

Thirdly, we need new conventional weapon systems to attack the second echelon armour. The first is the MLRS, an unguided rocket, which will be followed by SMART or laser-guided weapons, such as the copperhead shell, and later by weapons of the assault breaker type, with terminally guided sub-munitions, with the objective of dealing with second echelon armour before it reaches the front line. I suggest that it is essential that we keep up to date in the development of these advanced technological but conventional weapons which will make the use of tactical nuclear weapons much less likely.

Fourthly, I suggest that there is a grave disparity between artillery anti-aircraft defence and chemical warfare potential in comparison with the Warsaw pact. Much more must be done in this field.

Lastly, there is the threat posed by Soviet armoured helicopter regiments which has not been dealt with; nor is there efficient helicopter lift in BAOR or in the 2nd Tactical Air Force.

I deal next briefly with Soviet technique by air. The first Soviet attack will come with, or prior to, the first echelon attack and will be directed against NATO's air defence systems. The aircraft then return to refuel and to rearm. In the second strike, corridors already punched in NATO's defences will be exploited. The third strike will be against nuclear weapons such as Pershing, Lance and other such nuclear weapon systems.

What, therefore are the essential requirements to be maintained by NATO? I suggest that they are to attack the advance enemy airfields between the first and second strikes so as to prevent the rearming from the second strike. At present, this will be done by Tornado aircraft armed with iron bombs. Later we will use the JP233, but even that advance weapon is not a stand-off weapon. I believe that the attrition rate of our aircraft will be enormous. What is needed is a long-range stand-off weapon, which we are promised in the White Paper for the 1990s. I believe that that is much too late. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) will know, practically every armament firm in the United States is developing its own weapon system, be it Patriot or Lance, into a stand-off weapon, which we do not yet have, and are not likely to have until the 1990s.

The alternative method of dealing with these airfields is by conventional ballistic missiles targeted on the airfields themselves, such as the counter air missile, or CAM. I believe that this is an important concept, because it is cheap and accurate, and it should be studied more than has been the case up to now. Unless these forward airfields are attacked and taken out, and the second echelon enemy armour is attacked by air, or/and by advanced technology guided missiles, a Soviet breakthrough is likely.

Our anti-armour defences are improving, but our air defences in BAOR for forward troops and for the rear areas are almost non-existent. We have no air defence system such as the German Mauder, and we have too few track Rapiers.

I deal now with maritime strategy. First, I wish to refer to the short war concept. There are those who say that thė war, if it ever comes, will be over in seven to 10 days so there is little need to spend money on the Navy because it will not be used. That, of course, is a useful argument for any Chancellor, but one that proved wrong in 1914 and 1939. I raised this question at SACLANT's recent symposium in Annapolis, and the NATO Secretary-General's answer was perfectly clear. If there was to be a war, it would not be a short one.

Let me illustrate one possibility. If the Warsaw pact started thinking that NATO lacked the will to fight, it is conceivable that it might pinch off the northern part of Norway to give itself elbow room for its main base on the Kola peninsula. It would then sit back and see whether NATO reacted. Thus, I suggest, a maritime war should be initiated, as indeed it was in 1940.

In any major crisis, such as a future world war 3, the battle of the Atlantic and of the Norwegian sea would be vital. However, this time it will be not against 60 German U-boats, but 190 Soviet nuclear-propelled submarines. The Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom gap must be held, the strike fleet must be protected, patrol groups in the Atlantic will be needed to protect merchant shipping bringing reinforcements and supplies and ports will be mined and bombed. There are just not enough ships to go round. At the Annapolis symposium last week, SACLANT said publicly that he was 50 per cent. short in warships and could no longer carry out all of his tasks. He said that he would have to institute a series of priorities if the enemy permitted it.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he thought that generals and admirals always ask for too much, but when I went on a tour of Atlantic bases with the hon. Member for Attercliffe last year we were told by every NATO commander, senior and junior, that there were not enough warships to go round — yet Britain continues to scrap or sell frigates and destroyers. One wonders whether European Ministers of Defence ever listen to those who have to do the fighting. I know that generals and admirals are apt to exaggerate, but not to that extent. The British admirals have also said that they are 50 per cent. short of shipping. That is serious. It shows that the Europeans are not doing their stuff and I do not wonder at the Americans talking about pulling troops out of Europe in order to persuade the European nations to do more about defence. The 50 old United States destroyers which were taken over in 1940 were extremely important in the anti-submarine warfare against the U-boats, but there will not be any reserves next time. We shall have to fight with what we have in the shop window.

The next five years might prove vital for several reasons. Younger men might be in control in the Kremlin, the internal situation in the Soviet Union is getting more serious, the economy is winding down and there is restlessness in the satellites. In the next five years no ships should be scrapped, but should be mothballed. We must also bear in mind the associated problem with the merchant fleet. As others have said, if the disappearance of British merchant shipping continues, even an operation such as the Falklands will no longer be possible.

The British people have a sense of sea power which has been born into them over the centuries. They watched Sir John Nott's reforms with alarm. The Royal Navy was saved by the Falkland Islands operation, but people are not yet satisfied that the Government will not return to the policy of cutting our anti-submarine warfare forces. That might be one of the reasons why the Conservatives lost the Portsmouth, South by-election. I hope that the Government have learnt that lesson. It is far cheaper to avoid a war than to have to fight one. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor should bear that in mind. Of course there should be economies where that is possible, but defence of the realm is the first priority of any Government and it cannot be had on the cheap.

It is not good enough for the Government to say that more warships are being built now than for several years, because many of them were ordered by the previous Labour Government as an election bribe which did not come off, and others have been ordered as replacements for the Falkland Islands casualties. If the number of those ships are subtracted from the total, it will be revealed that our building programme is lamentably small. Even against that background, however, we are talking about disposing of no fewer than 12 frigates and destroyers this year and next.

The Government are rightly concentrating on Trident, which greatly improves NATO Europe's deterrent, but how many type 23s do the Government intend to order, why is the SSN programme so slow and when do the Government intend to replace Fearless and Intrepid, perhaps with more but smaller and cheaper ships which are essential to the Royal Marines? As I said, the next five years might be vital. The Soviets have expanded all of their armed forces, but their internal problems increase. It is quite possible that when the old guard have been replaced in the Kremlin, a young man spurred on by the generals might initiate a war if he thinks that he can get away with it. It is NATO's job to ensure that that does not happen, but the responsibility lies not with NATO but with the 16 Governments of NATO to provide the wherewithal. Britain's defence expenditure, at 5.4 per cent. of gross national product, sets a good example to other European Governments, whose defence spending averages about 3.5 per cent. — half the American expenditure. It is no wonder that the Americans are getting fed up with Europe. Other European Governments must follow our example. We should spend more, but at least we are setting an excellent example. I hope that, when he meets his colleagues, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will back the Americans up and make it clear that we expect other European countries to do more over common defence.

Preventing war is not cheap, but war itself is much more expensive in terms of money and in terms of blood.

7.55 pm
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

We have heard several interesting speeches and an entertaining one from the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). He referred to the Secretary of State's room in the Ministry of Defence and said that on one wall there is a portrait of Lloyd George and on another—I hope that I am not breaching the rules of secrecy —there is a great organisational chart which is much beloved by the Secretary of State, who considers himself something of a professional consultant on many matters.

One of the most depressing features of discussing defence is examining the relationship between defence and foreign policy. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd and Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) said that we are in the middle of a nuclear arms race. We have been in the middle of a nuclear arms race since 1945. One of the most depressing features of that race is the inability of the great powers to agree even on matters that would appear simple, such as measurement, and whether we should discuss warheads or launchers. Inability to agree on such relatively simple concepts has resulted, albeit inadvertently, in the breakdown of many negotiations, including the intermediate nuclear forces talks at Geneva.

We address the arms race by turning to the Trident system. There is no point in the Ministry of Defence suggesting that it is merely a replacement for Polaris. We have heard the view of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and the considerable view of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who said that, at this juncture, he reluctantly goes against the Trident system. Trident is a costly device. It overloads our programme and, in later years, will take a substantial proportion of the procurement budget. Moreover, it will crowd out some conventional, especially naval, weaponry. We are still not sure of its cost as we have not received a clear answer from the Secretary of State. Nor are we sure how much will be procured in the United Kingdom. There is a hopeful view that we shall keep the American portion of that expenditure below 45 per cent., but that is a mere hope and there is no sign that the proportion of our defence expenditure that goes to the United States will be reduced.

I have already mentioned the Secretary of State's view that he is a management consultant. That is shown by the way in which he strives towards competition in a number of spheres. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) have approached the MOD about a number of issues, but especially about the proposals emanating from one of the Secretary of State's advisers, Mr. Peter Levene. There is nothing in the main body of the report dealing with the privatisation of the dockyards. Paragraph 239 refers to competition, and that could be a precursor to assessing certain aspects of competition within the dockyards.

No one fears reasonable comparison on efficiency and the desire to get value for money. However, the personnel in the dockyards fear privatisation through the back door, where the assets of the dockyards are leased to private concerns. The MOD has had no consultations with those working in the dockyards. I want the Minister to assure the House, and through us those working in the dockyards, that there will be full consultation before implementation of the proposals emanating from Mr. Levene. If the Government want to lease those assets, there must be an opportunity for a full debate in the House. We are considering not only the efficiency of the dockyards, but the efficiency and morale of Britain's naval fleet as a whole.

I know that the Minister may say that the allocation of time is a matter for the Leader of the House, but persuasive influences can be brought to bear. The announcement to lease assets must not be made in a written answer — there must be an opportunity for a full and frank debate.

I know that some unions, especially the Civil Service Union, have already made representations to the Minister about their fears. Those fears are valid in view of the Mallabar report which examined leasing and the Speed report of 1981 which examined and rejected that. We must have certain assurances. What will be the position of the nuclear facilities in Rosyth and elsewhere? Will they be leased to private concerns? Are the Government capable of setting aside those facilities and leasing only conventional facilities? Those serious matters have not been fully ventilated. The Government have not fully examined the issue.

The Secretary of State wants to be as good, or as bad, a privatiser as the former Secretary of State for Energy, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That might be related to political ambition. Ambition resides in all politicians, but ambition that might be used to the detriment of the nation's defence is something of which we should be chary.

I intervened earlier to question the Secretary of State about the Merchant Navy. It is simply not good enough for him to say that he will examine the Select Committee report and comment on its strictures. It is just two years after the Falkland crisis, but there is no mention of the Merchant Navy in the White Paper. I declare my interest in the shipbuilding industry. Those who are concerned with maintaining the fabric of the merchant fleet, both in ships and personnel, recognise that there has been a rapid decline in the British flag fleet; the Select Committee referred to that in paragraph 52. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to recognise the strategic importance of merchant shipping, while disregarding it when presenting the annual White Paper. That does not acknowledge the vital contribution that the merchant fleet has made and can make to defence.

If the right hon. Gentleman says that there will be further consultation with individuals in the service, he must appreciate that we are concerned not only with consultation but with obtaining detailed plans and assessment of the contribution that merchant shipping can make to the defence of Britain. Before Operation Corporate, the MOD had a list of ships. However, that is not sufficient — detailed knowledge is required of drawings and designs. We cannot get that unless the ships are British-manned under the British flag. We shall do ourselves a great disservice if we do not recognise that we allow the British merchant fleet to decline at our peril.

What about the threat that Europe faces from the Soviet Union? If we adopt the confidence-building methods emanating from Helsinki and Stockholm, NATO must not resort to an escalation of conventional war into nuclear war. We should seek access to information about the intentions of the other parties. The basic ingredient is how to remove fear. That is what the people of Europe and the world desire. I am interested in the American proposals for and the Soviet Union interest—albeit low key—in confidence-building methods. I hope that the arms control unit being established by the MOD will be useful in determining how both sides can gain notification of the intentions of the other side about troop movements and exercises.

I appreciate that this may be a Foreign Office matter, but I hope that the Minister can explain the Government's view on how we can give the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact countries information about our troop movements, and how we propose to obtain relevant information from them. In my view, a nuclear war would not occur instantaneously. There would be a build-up. That is why, if we could get information about the movement of troops and navies which allayed the fears of individuals and nations, we might be able to reduce the temperature throughout Europe and the world.

I urge the Minister to take cognisance of the situation in my constituency and similar areas. He has a responsibility to provide us with detailed information about the intentions, for example, of an important employer in Fife. I hope that he will be able to give that information when he replies to the debate.

8.11 pm
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I agree with what the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) said about detection, because that is one of the most vital elements of warfare. I also agree with him about the importance of our merchant navy.

The Secretary of State set out well how dangerous the situation is, at the same time placing importance on the need for disarmament. It is interesting to note that paragraphs 106 to 116 are devoted to disarmament. Nobody, therefore, can say that we are interested only in armament. The reason for our interest in armament is defensive, whereas our enemies have very different ideas. Ten paragraphs devoted to the subject of disarmament represents a considerable concentration on that aspect.

When I first became a Member of this House there was a great deal of agreement between the two sides on the subject of disarmament. Issue was taken over certain minor matters—that was inevitable, just as today there are minor differences between chiefs of staff and Ministers —but in principle the House had a united approach on the subject. It is sad that that has completely disappeared.

Paragraph 102 of the defence Estimates contains a good paraphrase of the build-up of Soviet forces, and paragraph 103 confirms that not only are the Warsaw pact forces vastly superior but that there is an alarming feeling that the Soviet Union is testing a new generation of ICBMs, the SS-X-24 and SS-X-25, and has under developmnt long range cruise missiles which can be launched from air, ground and sea platforms. Not much is said about chemical warfare. I have always regarded that as one of the most dangerous factors in modern warfare, one for which we are the least well provided. Our policy, right or wrong, was to destroy what stocks we had and to abandon any further development. Unlike us, the Soviets are well equipped with chemicals.

At sea there has been an alarming increase among the Warsaw pact countries, not only in the number of nuclear submarines but surface ships. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) rightly said, it is vital that we pay more attention to the merchant fleet. It is easy for iron curtain countries to subsidise their shipping, as they do, whereas for us it is less easy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, provision should be made to enable subsidy to be given for the basic facilities to make the conversion of ships for war more easy. That view has been echoed by the Chairman of the Select Committee, and one should not lightly ignore his views.

There has been a further increase in the build-up of SS20s, with their gradual replacement by SS21s, 22s, and 23s. Looking at the general picture, one can only feel that there is no alternative but for us to continue with the Trident programme. I appreciate that the Secretary of State has placed great emphasis on increasing the Territorial Army. Not only is that our first line of defence; it is the cheapest form of reinforcement and has many social advantages.

If, on the other hand, it is true that the United States is talking about withdrawing 100,000 men from Europe, our efforts will be only a small drop in the ocean. It has been suggested that the possibility — perhaps it is a probability—of the Americans making a reduction of that size arises because NATO is not spending enough. It may be an American method of making the NATO nations spend more on defence, but that is speculation. We can only hope that such a withdrawal does not occur because, with no sign of disarmament on the horizon, it would be extremely dangerous.

An aspect which has not been discussed in the House for a long time is that of the factors which might influence the expediting or retarding of war. In my view, the main factor is the relationship between China and Russia, and little is known about that today. That relationship has always been difficult. For example, during the Long March, the Chinese backed one side and then the other. In 1921 the Russians gave the Mongolians independence. Today, the Russians openly maintain an army of five divisions in Mongolia. The Mongolians are completely and utterly reliant on Russia and have no desire to look to China.

Poised on the frontier between China and Russia are 30 Soviet divisions. Originally, they were pulled out of Europe, but I have reason to believe that those divisions have now been replaced from other sources. If, therefore, China were to change its policy, anything could happen, and as we know from history — for example, the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact—no country wants to fight on two fronts.

At present, we do not know China's intentions, although one can postulate three possibilities. The first is that nothing will happen, that negotiations between Russia and China will come to nothing and that the present relationship will remain the same. The second — this alternative is far more dangerous — is that some agreement will be reached. It would, of course, be a territorial agreement, because since the 17th century there has been dispute about what territory belongs to China and what belongs to Russia. An agreement could release all those divisions for concentration in Europe, and that would make war more likely. The third possibility is much more dangerous. It is that, if they were to form an alliance, as distinct from an agreement, and work together, that would greatly increase the possibility of war.

The United States and ourselves are making various overtures to China. Indeed, China is becoming more open to the world. It is possible, therefore, that Chinese attitudes may change and that we shall be able to deflect them from Soviet influence. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) said, there could be a change in the composition of Russia's leadership. This could also be because the proportion of true Russians is going down while the proportion of non-Russian races — Georgians, Cossacks and others — is increasing. Those are all factors which we cannot take into account. All we know for sure is that so far there has been no agreement between China and Russia.

I would go so far as to say that we are in a more frightening position than we have been for many years in that we do not know what Russia intends to do. The Soviet Union is extremely well equipped, and every day that passes its army and navy becomes more powerful. If only we knew how the relationship between Russia and China would develop, we should be able more accurately to forecast the future. In the meantime, we must continue with our defence programme, possibly spend more on conventional defence and certainly rely on the Trident programme. Let us hope that we shall not be attacked by the Soviet Union.

8.20 pm
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I share the concern of the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) over the level of defence expenditure. However, there are one or two areas within the defence White Paper to which we can give a conditional welcome. The first such area is the withdrawal of the Government's announcement to reduce the number of front-line escort squadrons to 42. The need to keep the number at 50 is now recognised. That is a matter on which I spoke at some length in the previous defence debate. I welcome the Government's decision unreservedly. I hope that it signifies a reversal of the idiotic and dangerous proposal to cut the Royal Navy, which has been so much a feature of previous White Papers.

It must be borne in mind that the Royal Navy still carries about 70 per cent. of the task in the eastern Atlantic, at a cost of about 10 per cent. of the budget, while we carry 10 per cent. of the land-air burden in Europe, at a cost of about 40 per cent. of the budget. It is clear that there is an imbalance. We may recognise and welcome the new direction which the Secretary of State seems to be taking, but we must hope that he recognises that the task is far from finished. In the past four years the directed task of the Royal Navy has increased fourfold, but the number of Royal Navy escort vessels has decreased since 1980 from 65 to 50. The commitment has increased by 400 per cent., but resources have declined by 17 per cent.

I share the concern that has been expressed about the mannng of eight extra ships. Where will the crews come from and how will they be trained? It must be a matter of considerable shame for the Government, as the hon. Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall) has said, that the Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Fleet has had cause to remark that the number of ships is insufficient to meet our NATO tasks. The Secretary of State is travelling much more in the right direction—a direction which we have urged on him for some time—but I hope that he will accept that there is a considerable distance to go.

There is no reference to the Merchant Navy in the White Paper, unlike the White Paper of 1981, but the state of the merchant fleet has been expressed pungently and powerfully on both sides of the Houe. The size of the fleet has been halved in the past seven years. There is a desperate need for the Government to start taking some action along those lines before it is too late.

A welcome must be given to the Government's proposals for air defence and the improvements that have been introduced, which are announced in the White Paper. One might say that they are not before time. Senior members of the Royal Air Force have said that our air defence now is worse that it was in 1939. We rely on no more than 70 aircraft, including 30-year-old Lightnings, 20 year-old Phantom F4s and Shackleton 2s—not 3s—for our airborne early warning. The Shackletons have a radar system which was brought into service in 1961 and which was used in the old Gannets, which were withdrawn from service. We welcome very much the announcement that the Nimrod will come into operation this year. I hope that the rumours that I have heard about delays both to that programme and to the air defence Tornado are untrue. If the Minister can give an assurance that those programmes will come on stream on time, it will be reassuring.

It is against the need to continue to strengthen our conventional forces that we must view the Trident decision. Before dealing with that issue I shall take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) on deterrence. I regret that the Secretary of State would not allow me to intervene in his speech on this issue. I hope that others take the view that deterrence is the capacity to be able to deter our enemy by making it clear that the price which he would incur would be above that which he would wish to pay. In nuclear terms, that would be a price which would ensure his destruction. We have in our hands the capacity to destroy one another 50 times over, not merely once, and it is true that we could diminish our deterrence by 50 per cent. Indeed, I would go further than that. If we were to be incinerated a moment from now in the Chamber, the nature of the delivery system—for example, short range, medium range or long range—would be irrelevant to us. That would be a matter of no consequence.

I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State agree that it is overall deterrence that matters. He said that it is the overall capacity to deter that matters. I was delighted to hear that admission, for many of us have been wondering and worrying whether he was building up a nuclear war fighting capacity. It seems that he has dismissed that concept in the strongest possible terms, and I was reassured by his remarks.

I find it astonishing that there is a section in the White Paper which runs contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman said. He said that it is overall deterrence that matters, yet paragraph 107 the White Paper tells us that NATO must maintain the ability to deter aggression at every possible level". Either we deal in overall terms or we want to match aggression at every possible level". The concept of having a deterrence that matches "at every possible level" is utterly illogical. There seems to be a deep contradiction between what the right hon. Gentleman said, welcome though that was, and what is stated in the White Paper.

The White Paper tells us: The independent British strategic force is, and will continue to be, of the minimum size necessary to provide a credible and effective deterrent. We have no intention of increasing the capability of the force beyond that minimum. That deterrent stands at 126 warheads. If that is all right now, why do we have to increase it to an overall potential capacity of about 960 warheads? The Government say that they do not want to use the full capacity of the system. If that is so, why should they choose to build so vastly in excess of our needs? Perhaps there will be 384 warheads —that is the figure that is being used—but that will still be a capacity that is 300 per cent. above what we now accept as a credible deterrent. I suggest that the proposed capacity contains an element of gobbledygook. The plans for Trident do not live up to the words in the White Paper.

I agree with those who argue that the expenditure on Trident will create a massive imbalance in our total defence expenditure. I shall not go into the details of that argument, because they have already been well covered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), in what was really the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in this debate. My right hon. Friend talked about increased spending on Trident and the point at which capital spending is arriving, which is the point at which we shall have to meet extra expenditure on conventional defence. The White Paper makes it clear that that will happen at a time when Government spending will stop increasing and possibly decrease under this Government, but that is the point when maximum expenditure on Trident will be reached.

I agree with Lord Chalfont, who said that this would emasculate continued improvement in other areas of our contribution to NATO. I agree also with Lord Carver, who said that this is a weapon we cannot afford. I agree with the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who said in a telling speech that he regretfully came to the conclusion that neither the United Kingdom nor the Royal Navy can afford Trident.

Expenditure on Trident will create a vast imbalance in disarmament negotiations. We are saying that we shall not include our 120 warheads in the disarmament negotiations, but that is an unsustainable position in the long term. It must be unsustainable to maintain that position when we can secure a capacity to hit 960 Russian cities instead of 120. To refuse to put our 120 warheads on the negotiating table, especially when the plan to increase our capacity to 960 could be implemented, is to make a mockery of any idea that we are pursuing a policy of disarmament. I asked the Prime Minister whether she would consider including our 120 warheads within the negotiations and, of course, she did not provide an answer.

For what purpose are we to create such a massive imbalance in our defence expenditure in the crucial area of adequate conventional defences and to make a mockery of disarmament negotiations? Is that to be done for some spurious independence? Let us analyse this so-called independence. Shall we have the independence to launch these systems ourselves? I doubt whether we shall. What political independence shall we have? We all know that the Americans have said that any nuclear missile that is launched from Russia and which lands on any piece of NATO territory will be considered to be an attack on the American heartland. Reciprocally, the Soviet Union has said that any missile that is launched from any NATO territory and lands in Russia will be regarded as an attack from the heartland of America.

There will be massive political pressure that will stop us launching Trident in any sense independently. However, let us assume that we can overcome that pressure. The missile comes from America and we are assuming that we have bought enough of them to be able to use our capacity independently. The missiles are maintained in the United States, so let us assume that we have enough in operation to be able to use them independently, even though there will be political pressure on us to prevent us launching them. When do we fire the missiles? Do we wait until we can see the incoming Russian missiles? How will we be able to see those missiles? They will be shown on the ballistic missile early warning system, which is run by the Americans.

Let us then assume that we do not want them and that we wait until Birmingham goes bang before we launch our Trident missiles. We have another problem now: how do we get the Trident missile to its target? I am informed that to be able to give the Trident missile its accuracy, the submarine which launches it has to have its position fixed by the NAVSAT satellite, once again in American control.

The so-called independence that Trident gives us is spurious and it will not exist, but it does several very damaging things. First, it weakens the will of NATO, because it is a major commitment of our defence resources to an area which is not committed to NATO. There is the use of a certain amount of our defence resources which could be used in NATO and which are being used, as it were, outside. If we really believe in NATO, is it not incumbent upon us, as good partners, to use that vital resource in an area where NATO is weakest, and not in an area such as nuclear missiles where it already has a superfluity?

Some say that we need nuclear weapons because of the weakness of our conventional force strength. I would have said that the argument can be put the other way round and that our conventional force strengths are very weak because we are spending so much on nuclear weapons.

With regard to the balance of forces between NATO and the Warsaw pact, we all agree, and the Secretary of State has said, that we would like to see a move towards stronger conventional forces. General Rogers, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has said: What we are trying to do in Allied Command-Europe is to provide for a conventional capacity by 1990 that has a reasonable prospect of frustrating conventional attack by the other side. The Secretary of State has said that we have a very long distance to go. I think he used the expression that in order to reach an appropriate level we would have to spend a great deal of money. The conventional wisdom is that, in order to be successful in attack, one needs to have a preponderance over the defender of about 2.5:1. As the White Paper admits, in very few areas, if in any at all, does the Warsaw pact have that kind of preponderance. In tanks it is 2.3:1, in artillery it is 2.7:1, and in aircraft 2.1:1. A recent United States Defence Department study, using armoured division equivalents, covered the whole of the force spectrum, rationalised it and came to the conclusion that the Soviet Union had a preponderance of only 1.2:1.

John Mearsheimer of Harvard university centre for international relations has written: NATO is in relatively good shape at the conventional level. The conventional wisdom which claims otherwise … is a distortion of reality. I do not accept that we are yet at an appropriate level to be able to operate effectively to raise the nuclear threshold and to be able to deter Warsaw pact agression on the conventional basis in central Europe, but we are not as far from that as many believe. We have a great opportunity, in the cancelling of Trident and in the harmonisation of procurement procedures, to move in that direction.

It is a fact that NATO spends more on defence than the Warsaw pact, but it gets less for its money, and I am delighted to see moves towards improving procurement. Common procurement and the cancellation of Trident could bring us close to the point of achieving the enormous prize of raising the nuclear threshold in central Europe —perhaps even prising the two super powers apart with a battlefield nuclear-free zone, reducing tensions and increasing conventional strengths.

I must emphasise an important point which differentiates us from the Labour party. If the cost of achieving the aims that I have mentioned — raising the nuclear threshold, with perhaps the establishment of a European battlefield nuclear-free zone — is to increase defence expenditure, that is a cost that is worth paying to achieve that prize. It is one which I would be happy to recommend to the electorate. As I said earlier, I do not think that it may be necessary, but if it is, we should do it.

We need to cancel the prestige weapons. We need stronger conventional forces. We need common procurement and the political will to pursue it. We need a new initiative in the disarmament talks. Those are the opportunities which now stand before us, and which the defence White Paper could begin to grasp. Unfortunately, it does not do so. It is a defence White Paper in which the sums do not add up, and in which the opportunity and potential to achieve stronger defence for Europe, but at the same time produce an initiative in the arms race, are not taken. In that sense it is a defence White Paper which will, I am sure, in time to come, be seen to be leading in the wrong direction, and to be very short measure in comparison with the potentials now offered to us.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

The House will wish to know that the winding-up speeches are expected to begin at about 9.15 pm. That means that we have only about 40 minutes left for Back-Bench contributions.

8.35 pm
Mr. Churchill (Davyhulme)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his White Paper, and especially on his determination to get the maximum defence value out of available resources, exemplified by his decision to put 4,000 troops in the front line, to retain eight frigates—which were previously intended to be mothballed—in the active fleet, and to deploy 15 per cent. more aircraft with the Royal Air Force in the years ahead.

I welcome the political will that has been demonstrated by the Government in the past year in securing the successful deployment of cruise missiles in the face of the unremitting propaganda campaign orchestrated by the Soviet Union. I welcome also the Government's commitment to proceed with Trident, which remains unquestionably the most cost-effective potential replacement for Polaris. Although, in terms of modern weapon systems, it is undoubtedly the most powerful deterrent to war available to us, it is by no means the most expensive of the defence programmes of the present generation.

The key factor in determining the resources needed for defence must be an accurate appreciation of the level of threat. At annex A to volume 1 of the White Paper there is a table showing the balance of forces, to which the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has just referred. He fell into the pit of accepting that misleading table as gospel truth. I say that it is misleading because it refers to the balance of forces between NATO and the Warsaw Pact on the central front, but it specifically excludes the three westernmost military districts of the Soviet Union.

It should be borne in mind that reinforcements for NATO, particularly in tanks and troops, would have to come across the Atlantic and could take a considerable time, whereas reinforcement from the western military districts of the Soviet Union could be done on the basis of four armoured divisions being brought forward with transporters simultaneously. I hope that omission will be rectified in future White Papers.

Confronting the NATO alliance west of the Urals is a force of no fewer than 30,000 Soviet tanks, compared with the figure of 18,000 given in the table. Therefore, a fairer balance in tanks would be 4 to 1 against us in Europe.

Mr. Ashdown

We are, of course, dealing with somewhat abstruse matters. May I commend to the hon. Gentleman the recent British Atlantic Committee report dealing with precisely these matters? It comes to the conclusion that a Soviet attack which would be able to mobilise those reserves in any time at all would be easily discernible before it happened and would give an equivalent time in which to build up reserve capacity in Western Europe. Indeed, the ultimate conclusion of the report is very much in line with that of the United States Defence Department, that there is not such a disparity as the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Mr. Churchill

That, of course, runs directly counter to the statements made in recent years by successive Supreme Allied Commanders Europe, that the Soviets have been working to acquire a standing start capability for a conventional attack against Western Europe, which would not require such mobilisation as the hon. Gentleman referred to.

Another key parameter in assessing the level of threat has to be the dynamic in arms production on both sides, yet nowhere in the White Paper is there to be found a table showing the relative rates of build of key military weapons systems of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Each year, the Soviet Union has been producing more than 150 medium or long-range nuclear missiles, more than 1,000 supersonic swing-wing jet aircraft and 3,000 to 4,000 tanks. Those are much in excess of anything produced by the West.

I should like to address two areas of our defences that give grave cause for concern — first, the announced intention to abandon the 3 per cent. increased commitment and, secondly, the size of our reserve force.

The Secretary of State has rightly pointed to the fact that, although there has been conflict across the globe in the past 40 years, there has been no conflict involving Western Europe and, above all, there has been no world war. A major factor in that achievement has been the heavy preponderance of Western, and especially United States, nuclear power. I must ask my right hon. Friend whether this is the moment, just when that preponderance has been lost, for Britain to slacken her efforts in defence.

The challenge from the Soviet Union shows no sign of abating, when measured either by its cynical abandonment of the disarmament talks in Geneva, by its cold-blooded destruction of KAL 007, by the repression in Poland, or by its bloody and even genocidal war against the Afghan people, which is in its fifth year.

The decision to abandon the 3 per cent. commitment from 1986 has not been taken in response to a reduction of that threat, let alone progress in disarmament negotiations. Could it be that that decision was made above all in response to the Treasury, rather than to any perception of threat by another quarter? We are confronted by several disturbing trends that threaten to undermine peace and security in the longer term. The first, to which I have referred, is the threat from the Soviet Union. The second is the intensifying pace of development in high technology in defence, which cannot be ignored.

When President Reagan made his much-publicised "star wars" speech just a few months ago, many smiled with derision. They thought that it was nonsense from Hollywood. I wonder whether they thought the same when they read in their newspapers last week that the United States had successfully knocked down one of its own intercontinental ballistic missiles with another one.

I welcome American research in defence technology and their determination never to allow the West to lag behind the Soviet Union in that key area, as we had been doing in the late 1970s and at the beginning of the 1980s. However, I hope that the deployment of such systems can be forestalled by a firm East-West agreement between the super powers.

A third factor with which we are confronted today is the ever-escalating cost of new generations of military equipment, which is a direct result of its greater sophistication. Such development is not unique to defence. It is seen, for example, in hospitals that have laser equipment, brain scanning devices and other equipment. All that adds enormously to the cost of providing high technology equipment.

The development of military equipment is estimated to be at a minimum of 5 per cent. above the annual rate of inflation. The Government should be congratulated on coming closer than any other European member of NATO to achieving the 3 per cent. target increase, but they must have no illusion that, once a clear real-term increase is abandoned, the defence procurement programme that the Secretary of State has outlined and to which the Government are committed, cannot be fulfilled without painful and damaging defence reviews in the years ahead. They will lead to cutbacks, to abandoned programmes or to further reductions in forces below an acceptable level.

Not only are we providing insufficient financial resources for defence in the years after 1986, but for inadequate resources of manpower. In a crisis this nation can mobilise fewer than 200,000 reserve forces, which would augment our armed forces to barely 550,000. In other words, 98 per cent. of the nation would be without weapons or uniforms, and would have no war role. Can that be prudent or wise?

That situation is born of a conviction within the Ministry of Defence that, if there were another war, it would be brief. There would be no requirement for a large pool of trained reserve manpower. Can we be sure that that supposition is correct? If it is wrong, who will guard our coastline, protect the electricity grid, the water supplies, or the railway network in the face of the Soviet special forces and airborne forces that would undoubtedly seek to penetrate this country and cause massive disruption? There is no provision at present to deal with those tasks.

The Secretary of State has announced his intention to increase the Territorials in the years ahead by 12,000 and the Home Service Force by 5,000. I warmly welcome that, but it is on a scale wholly inadequate to the level of threat. The Secretary of State admitted in his opening remarks that there is no more cost-effective form of home defence than voluntary manpower. My right hon. Friend should have as his aim not a 5,000-strong home defence corps but, as a minimum, a defence force 250,000 strong. We would still have smaller armed forces than Switzerland, Sweden or even tiny Finland.

We have a unique opportunity to arm such a force for free with the impending replacement of self-loading rifles by newer equipment. I trust that the Government will heed the recommendation of the Select Committee on Defence that the self-loading rifles should not be scrapped or sold abroad at knockdown prices, but retained against future reserve force requirements.

The time has come when we in Britain should have, in addition to our existing forces, a citizen army that could be mobilised for home defence as required. Nothing would do more to signal to the Soviet leadership the resolve of the British nation to defend our homeland, come what may. Such a demonstration of resolve can only reinforce deterrence and the sinews of peace.

8.48 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

This debate may turn out to be an historic milestone in the development of a British defence policy that renounces the use or threatened use of nuclear weapons. I say so not because of anything that the Secretary of State said in opening the debate—far from it—but because for the first time, the Labour Opposition have tabled an amendment, to be voted on tomorrow night, which calls for the removal of all nuclear bases from British territory.

In the course of the past year, some important new evidence has come to light about the likely climatic effects of nuclear war, not of an all-out nuclear war but of even a relatively small nuclear war—if such a phrase is not a contradiction in terms. I refer to the work of Soviet, and particularly American, scientists, who have found that even a relatively limited nuclear exchange could lead to a "nuclear winter" and, as a result, the future of human life on this planet could be at risk. It would probably have little chance of survival.

As time is short, I shall simply quote from a very important article which appeared in last winter's edition of the Foreign Affairs journal. Professor Carl Sagan said: In summary, cold, dark, radioactivity, pyrotoxins, and ultraviolet light following a nuclear war — including some scenarios involving only a small fraction of the world strategic arsenals—would imperil every survivor on the planet. There is a real danger of the extinction of humanity. A threshold exists at which the climatic catastrophe could be triggered, very roughly around 500–2,000 strategic warheads. A major first strike may be an act of national suicide, even if no retaliation occurs. It is only two or three years since we had arguments in the House on the report of the British Medical Association on the effect of a nuclear attack on this country. Among other things, it brought out just how pathetic it was to pretend that out medical services could in any way cope with the immediate consequences of such an attack. Research on the effects of nuclear weapons shows that there would be no way in which one could cope with the immediate effects of an attack — that is, during the following days or weeks—and that the survival of the human species would be at risk. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that life would be worth living on these islands if there was anything approaching a significant exchange of nuclear weapons between the United Kingdom or the United States of America, and the Soviet Union, which involved British territory.

Given that, one might have expected some progress on the negotiations that have been taking place between the two nuclear super-powers of the Soviet Union and the United States, but the opposite is true. This debate is being held at a time when the limited talks—which is what they were—on intermediate nuclear forces have broken down. Neither START nor the INF talks are now taking place on the need to control or reduce the nuclear arsenals of East and West. The West must bear the major share of responsibility for the breakdown in the INF talks and for the situation in which we find ourselves.

The difference between those of us who support the Opposition's amendment and those who oppose it is that we believe that the threat of nuclear war is not only very serious, but is increasing. Of course we want to defend this country, and if time allows I shall tell the House how we should do so. But the real division between us is that we believe that we cannot go on holding talks and so on year in year out, when the underlying reality is that there is a dangerous escalation in the nuclear arms race.

As hon. Members on both sides of the House may agree, the threat of nuclear war is increasing for a whole host of reasons. There is a growing threat of proliferation as new countries develop their own nuclear weapons. According to the research to which I have referred, the whole planet could be threatened if there was a nuclear war, even if it did not involve the super-powers. Furthermore, there is a growing threat of a nuclear war taking place by accident. That must be obvious to anyone who has read the literature and seen accounts of some of the false alarms in recent years. Above all, the policy of deterrence or of mutually assured destruction is being undermined by counter-force weapons.

Against that background, many people believe that the nation can no longer continue to tag along, sometimes —although not usually—taking part in talks. We need bolder unilateral initiatives. Just as the process of nuclear escalation takes place not be agreement but by national initiatives, so I believe that the time is now ripe for us to make real progress towards nuclear disarmament, and we must do so by taking real unilateral initiatives.

Mr. Robert Atkins


Mr. Strang

I shall not give way, as there is not enough time.

Of course, we do not believe that the Soviet Union would automatically follow up such an initiative, or that we would in that way somehow opt out of all danger. But by taking that decision we can give a real lead to the campaign to resist proliferation and to get nuclear weapons out of part of Europe, and ours can become a real voice for sanity in the world.

The defence White Paper refers to unilateral disarmament and to one-sided disarmament, as if we still had to conduct the argument at that sort of level. However, the vast majority of countries do not have nuclear weapons, and no one suggests that they do not try to defend themselves or that they do not have defence policies. Of course we want a defence policy. I find myself in some agreement with some of the things that the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) said in this respect. Of course we should be concerned about defending these islands. The Labour party's policy is to make an effective contribution to NATO, but a non-nuclear contribution. As we spell out in our amendment, we want to change the NATO strategy.

Some Conservative Members want us to jump into a commitment to increase the overall level of defence expenditure, but the amount that we spend on defence must relate to our commitments. We still carry on as if we were a world power. Paragraph 132 of the defence Estimates gives the game away in a revealing phrase: Recognising that we can no longer afford to make military activity on a global scale a main priority of our defence effort". We want a radical break with our imperial past. We should be concerned with defending these islands, making a contribution to the Western Alliance and only contributing to UN peacekeeping forces outside the NATO area. That means a radical change in foreign policy.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

What about the Falklands?

Mr. Strang

There must be an end to fortress Falklands. The Falklands illustrates the case for negotiating our way out of all the world commitments that we can no longer justify or afford. Although I am opposed to the Government's policy, the real criticism to be made is not of this Government's policy but of that of previous Governments. In the 1960s, Argentina had a democratic regime. A response should have been made to the UN resolutions, and the best deal possible should have been negotiated for the Falklanders. They should have been told to accept that there was no longer any commitment to defend them, and that they could receive compensation or return to the United Kingdom. The same approach should be adopted to other British commitments around the world. It is nonsense to spend so much money on that aspect of our defence.

Conservative Members say that the Labour party does not want a defence policy, but that is not true. We want a real and effective defence policy but we also want a Government who will take an initiative towards halting the drift towards nuclear annihilation.

8.58 pm
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) will not expect me to agree with what he said about unilateral initiatives. If I had to sum up my views in one sentence I would quote the words of Dean Inge, who said that it was no use for sheep to pass resolutions about vegetarianism when wolves are about who like mutton.

I shall address myself to two interrelated matters in which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East has an interest. I have an interest as an Army reservist and I wish to speak about Ferranti and the European fighter aircraft. Last year Ferranti's orders from the Ministry of Defence involved more than £100 million. In many respects its technology is the most advanced in the world. It has been valuable to Ferranti to find a way forward with the Sea Harrier radar and the Blue Kestrel programmes and I thank the Minister. That has not only ensured continuity of employment, but reflected confidence in the work by the company in earlier years. In the electro-optical sphere Ferranti is demonstrating its own good faith by putting up substantial sums. I hope that early decisions will be made on aircraft refits and updates which may include new equipment in time.

Ferranti is already fitting navigation systems into the Tornado, Jaguar, Sea Harrier and Nimrod. It is pleased to have received the order for the Harrier GR5 map display. We look forward to further moves by the Minister on British avionics in that aircraft. We hope that the Minister will take the Ferranti inertial navigation system for the GR5 since that equipment is compatible with carrier operations in future out-of-area operations because of the special featuring on-deck alignment equipment.

The order is of great importance to increasing the prospect of the Ferranti inertial navigation system being taken for the European fighter aircraft. I thank the Minister for seeing an all-party delegation on that matter. We hope for a successful outcome before long.

The Secretary of State played a key role in advancing Britain in the Ariane project. He recently made a decision to use the United States space shuttle to launch the forthcoming United Kingdom communication satellites rather than the European launcher, Ariane, in which the United Kingdom has a share. Ferranti provides the launch guidance for that.

If the Ministry of Defence had opted for launching satellites through Ariane it would have required further European launchers with Ferranti launch guidance systems and consequently more orders. I hope that, at least, the Government will retain a continued commitment to the Ariane programme in which Ferranti plays such a vital part.

Looking further ahead, I shall deal with a larger subject —that of Ferranti having a worthwhile British share in avionics equipment in the European fighter aircraft. I refer not only to inertial navigation equipment, but to the airborne radar, the cockpit display equipment, and the electro-optic and laser equipment. It is essential for the project to be launched quickly so that the fighter has a large export market before orders are made for other aircraft. British Aerospace wants equality of partnership between the countries concerned — Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain—or at least it wants a genuine partnership which it considers to be of vital importance. It follows that we should finish up with an aircraft with the technology and performance to match any potential threat in central Europe. That aircraft should have a performance and a price that makes it competitive in the export market. The aircraft must be available within the right time scale since about 30,000 jobs in Britain hang in the balance. After all, the Tornado production line, in which Ferranti and many others are involved, will run out at the end of the 1980s.

Mr. Robert Atkins

Does the House realise that the last Tornado for the Royal Air Force and other air forces has already left the drawing board?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

That is right. A few export orders may be forthcoming, which could last until the early 1990s, but by the mid-1990s there will be no further prospects of the Tornado being pursued further. It is therefore hoped that the European fighter aircraft, a single-seater twin-engined fighter will replace the Phantoms in the German air force, the Phantoms and Jaguars in the Royal Air Force, the Starfighters in the Italian air force, the Jaguars in France and that Spain will also build up its air force. About 800 aircraft will be required. That figure has provisionally been agreed by the chiefs of the air staffs of the five countries—Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

I stress a matter of key importance in relation to Britain's export potential and to the thousands of jobs involved. The longer we wait for the European fighter aircraft, the more exports are likely to be conceded to the American and French aviation industries. I refer to United States aircraft—the F15, F16 and F18, and particularly to the French Mirage 2000. Such aircraft will be available for the aircraft market in competition.

We should never forget that Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain have a common interest, but that the fifth country — France — has a conflict of interests. France will not only be involved with the European fighter aircraft, but will wish to sell the Mirage 2000. France does not have the same sense of urgency to send the European fighter aircraft on its way because both aircraft will compete for the same market.

On the other hand, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain have a sense of urgency. I hope that the Minister will impress upon his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the need to agree in his discussions with the French Defence Minister, Mr. Hernu, that the five European countries involved should give priority to the European fighter aircraft.

The matter is of critical importance, not only for my constituents in Ferranti and for the working men in British Aerospace, but for the five European countries involved. It is the last chance for the European aviation industries to get their act together and produce a military combat aircraft which will satisfy European defence needs. The European fighter aircraft will be the only military aircraft to be produced by Britain for the remainder of the century.

9.6 pm

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

It is clear that many hon. Members wish to speak and that there is not sufficient time. I shall pick up some points made by the Secretary of State when he opened the debate. I may not quote him word perfect, but I have the sense of what he said.

He said that NATO has kept the peace for 35 years. It is arrogant to state that NATO alone kept the peace. Some hon. Members said that NATO forces were supreme at times and that in the 1970s or early 1980s the Warsaw pact forces were superior. It could be then that the Warsaw pact played a part in keeping peace in Europe. The truth is that wars were exported, and not fought in Europe. They were fought in Vietnam, Africa and central America. The Secretary of State is wrong to mislead the House and the public by saying that NATO alone is responsible for keeping peace for 35 years. As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) said, sooner or later that peace will break down.

The Secretary of State said categorically that the Russians were refusing to talk, as if that was their fault. Both he and the public know that the Russians are not talking because of the siting of cruise missiles in Europe and, more important, because of the elections in the United States of America. The Russians do not want to help President Reagan to be re-elected. If the Secretary of State were in the Russians' position, he would do the same. Everybody knows that no progress in disarmament talks will be made until after the presidential elections.

The Secretary of State said that NATO warheads in Europe would be cut by a third, but he did not say that many of those warheads were out-of-date and dirty, and would have to be replaced. If he told the truth and said that that was the real reason why the warheads were being reduced and replaced and that the new warheads would be more accurate and effective, we would have more respect for him. When he seeks to massage public opinion by making such grandiose statements, he does not deserve the country's respect.

The Secretary of State referred to the continued oppression by the Soviets of the people of Afghanistan. I am sorry to see it, because it is wrong, but why does he not consider the oppression of the people in E1 Salvador and balance the two cases and his argument? The West and NATO have a good point, but we do our cause an injustice by playing the game in this way.

The Secretary of State said that he wants to talk to the Soviet Union, but that it takes two to have a dialogue. Here again I accuse him of arrogance. Britain is no longer a super-power. Two super-powers play the European stage — America and the Soviet Union—and Britain is not included. Was the Secretary of State saying that Britain was one of the two super-powers that wished to have a dialogue with the Russians, or was he speaking for President Reagan? He did not make it clear. It is time that the Government realised that we are no longer a superpower; we are a European power and we should tailor our defences appropriately.

I am not pro or anti the USSR or the United States of America, but I am prepared to go a little further than the Secretary of State did. He said that he believed that the Russian people wanted peace. I know that they want peace, as do the American people and the British people. It was wrong for the Secretary of State to be churlish and to make the grudging admission that he was persuaded that the Russian people wanted peace. It is an affront to human nature and dignity to say anything else. It is the responsibility of Governments to ensure that they have peace, but, as Opposition Members have said, the Government's policies in that regard are wrong. Eventually we shall have war and for the first time we can reduce our planet to a heap of cinders with no life remaining.

Deterrence is breaking down and will break down. The Opposition will not accept the misleading and slick statements of the Secretary of State, at least not while President Reagan is responsible for the largest and most costly build-up of weapons that the world has seen. He was aided and abetted in that by the Secretary of State, who said that Britain's defence expenditure has increased by 20 per cent. since 1979. We must reverse that build-up and adopt a truly defensive defence policy instead of an offensive one. One way of doing that would be to cancel Trident and to remove cruise missiles. It is becoming clear in the country at large that the Government, certainly under the leadership of this Prime Minister, are not electable for a third term. That gives me hope. If we are still here when the next election comes, we will remove Trident and cruise missiles.

9.12 pm
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) for speeding up his remarks, and I shall try to be as quick as he was.

May I add a few words to what has already been said about the importance of the Merchant Navy to the nation's defences, and comment on the new star wars scenario, which raises some major questions about our independent nuclear deterrent?

I am fortunate to represent a constituency with a strong maritime tradition. Its connection with the sea was highlighted on 1 June, when the memorial to commemorate those Royal Fleet Auxiliary officers who lost their lives in the Falklands conflict of 1982 was dedicated at Marchwood. I remind the House that some of the names of those in the service of the Crown that are recorded on the memorial are Chinese, so let us not forget the debt that we owe to Hong Kong when we decide its future.

Although the statement on the defence Estimates referred briefly to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, it did not mention the importance of the Merchant Navy. In its report on the White Paper the Select Committee on Defence commented, rightly, on that serious deficiency. The previous Select Committee said in 1980 that merchant shipping had a strategic defence significance in peace time as well as in time of war. That was accepted by the then Secretary of State for Defence, who agreed to include details of the strength of our merchant fleet in future statements on the defence Estimates. That promise lasted for only one year, since when, in the Falklands campaign, we have seen the invaluable role of ships taken up from trade.

The Merchant Navy will clearly have a vital role to play in whatever sort of war Britain may be engaged, and in however long or short a period precedes its outbreak. NATO's planners have obviously considered the range of contingencies and prepared measures to respond to them. The size and shape of the merchant fleet, which does not depend directly on the Government but on the decisions of shipping companies and consortia, must be examined continually. I hope that there is no reason to suppose that either the Alliance or our Government have failed to take account of the state of our shipping industry in their strategic planning. Indeed, it is sobering to note that our registered deadweight tonnage has fallen.

It is, however, worth asking whether, in the event of an emergency, power of requisition can be exercised on all UK-registered vessels whether or not they are owned by British companies.

Having the ships is one thing—ensuring that they are able to fulfil their defence function is another. The Falklands war showed the need for merchantmen to be adequately armed. As the number of destroyers and frigates available for escort duties falls, the need for defensive equipment to be made available for merchant vessels rises.

First, there is the threat from anti-ship missiles that must be met either by kits for throwing out chaff to divert them or by containerised anti-missile batteries mounted on merchant ships. Secondly, more vessels should be equipped with gear for replenishment at sea. Thirdly, no one would dispute the need for air cover for convoys in the north Atlantic. This could be done by strengthening the decks of container ships and providing them with lifts to enable Sea Harriers or helicopters to be parked below the main deck. I believe that the capital cost of such measures should be borne by the state in return for restrictions on the right to "flag out" without Government sanction. By flagging out I mean registering abroad.

Fourthly, we have seen great technological change in our ships over the past few years, which has now almost eliminated shipboard cargo-handling equipment. In conventional war, therefore, an enemy could paralyse our domestic container terminals and those in the rest of western Europe without much difficulty, and our shipping would be unable to unload. It is therefore vital that the Government carry out a study of emergency anchorages and ensure that we have a sufficient number of floating cranes and emergency lifting gear to unload container ships in the event of hostilities. We should be prepared to face up to the additional cost of stockpiling such equipment.

These are precautionary steps which should be supplemented by greater co-operation between the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, with more training of civilian crews on the vessels likely to be requisitioned in the event of conflict. Perhaps more exercises such as Teamwork '84 should be undertaken.

It is impossible to prepare for every contingency. It is the unexpected conflict that poses the most awkward challenge. But of one thing we can be absolutely certain —Britain must be ready to respond rapidly and flexibly to any sudden challenge. I believe that the Merchant Navy will have a vital role to play. As our fourth arm of defence, it must receive full coverage in future defence Estimates.

I wish to comment briefly on the star wars issue, which has given a new dimension to the debate on Trident. Some Conservatives have never been 100 per cent. certain that the Trident decision was the right one. The problem is that while we accept the need for an independent nuclear deterrent it is difficult though not impossible to find acceptable alternatives that are credible.

Hitherto, the main argument against Trident has been the cost and the growing share of our defence budget that it will use up, to the detriment of our conventional forces. I am not in that lobby. My main criticism of Trident is that it gives us only one delivery system, so that all our new nuclear eggs are in one basket. That ignores two important principles of war—defence in depth, and flexibility.

The French have certainly understood those principles and rejected Polaris, when it was offered to them, in favour of their Triad system of deliveries.

We now have a situation where, by the mid-1990s—the time when Trident should come into service—the Soviet Union may well be able to zap those weapons with ballistic missile defence systems, or BMDs.

Even before the United States succeeded in shooting down a minuteman missile, I had decided to suggest in this debate that the development of BMD systems by the Russians, urged on by President Reagan's speeches and American developments, could mean that our single basket of Trident eggs would look far from credible by the time they came into service, and would certainly lose credibility before they went out of service in 40 years' time.

Sir John Nott, making the Trident announcement in 1982, said: Ultimately, deterrence in the face of nuclear weapons has to rest on the possession of an indestructible second strike capability". — [Official Report, 29 March 1982; Vol. 21, c, 24.] We may have that now, but will we still have it in the face of a Russian ballistic missile defence system in future? The answer is that we simply do not know.

But there is no doubt that the East-West balance of power which has been based on the appropriately named acronym MAD—or mutually assured destruction—will count for nothing once star wars BMD systems are operative. As The Times pointed out last week, both we and the French have every right to feel uneasy because of this new round of defensive technology, which could destroy the ability of our smaller nuclear forces to get through and thus invalidate their deterrent power.

The star wars issue is serious. Of one thing we are certain, and that is that it will raise another question mark over the decision to go for Trident II and force us to look again at the credibility and costs of alternative systems, which might be a better way of preserving the peace and defending the realm.

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

In the past, security meant the active defence of the home territory, but with modern weapons even defence is no longer enough. The aim has to be the prevention of war. The enemy now is war itself. Public opinion has demonstrated that and become more active and pronounced. Therefore, we must attempt to channel current public interest and anxiety in constructive ways. We need to explain clearly the choices before us in setting forth a defence policy which both reassures the public and deters potential adversaries. Yet there is no mention in the defence Estimates of any money spent on defence publicity.

At the same time, we must demonstrate through the serious and vigorous pursuit of arms control negotiations that the members of the Atlantic Alliance are dedicated to lower levels of armaments. Yet the Government's record of arms control and disarmament is unconvincing, to say the least.

That is why chapter five, entitled "The Services and the Community" could have made a vital contribution. Why was the absurdly brief paragraph 501 not expanded with a statement on how the people are being educated on the role of the armed forces as they affect their lives? To swing from a four-line paragraph into a 23-line paragraph, 502, all about how the Army helped the Northampton Youth Clubs Association build a dock, is frankly fatuous. It is as fatuous to list such activities—with the greatest respect to Northampton — above the protection of offshore resources, search and rescue and bomb disposal. For hydrography to be mentioned even lower than that is unbelievable. Not only is it vital to our naval operations and a first-class money-maker; it is probably an essential contributor to our survival in the long term.

The Soviets do not make that mistake. They are clearly well aware of the potential of the seas. While the picture of Soviet naval new build presented in annex A is awe-inspiring, perhaps the most telling phrase used is: Meanwhile, the centrally-controlled Soviet merchant and fishing fleets are being steadily upgraded". However, there is not one word about the security of our food or the raw materials necessary to our survival as they pass on the seas. Nor is there mention of the decimation of the British merchant and fishing fleets, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) pointed out. We take for granted our ships to be taken up from trade.

I fear that we are already living in a fool's paradise. British shipowners are in business to make a profit, not to subsidise Government plans. It is impossible realistically to discuss our naval capability without discussing STUFT — ships taken up from trade. I beg hon. Members to insist on a detailed account of the status quo and the way ahead.

Nor can hon. Members allow themselves to be fooled by operational surface fleet numbers as they are presented, following the powerful speech by the hon. Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall). They have only to look at current and fairly recent shipbuilding programmes, to ask the Secretary of State what orders he proposes to place and to subtract the numbers being withdrawn from the operational fleet this year and next to become as alarmed as some Government supporters are, as we have heard during the debate.

It is vital to get into the enemy's mind in any threat analysis. Only thus can we provide the best defence. Equally, unless we appreciate his point of view, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), the prospects of arms control and disarmament are lessened.

I do not find these fundamental truths adequately spelt out in the threat section of the statement. The people of a democracy must be convinced on the whys of defence. That could have been done most appropriately in paragraphs 102 to 105, dealing with the challenge facing NATO. As it stands, the section is about a military challenge. The more general threat, including the political challenge, should have been explained.

Taking up paragraph 106 and those following it on arms control, if we accept the view that it is vital to keep ourselves in the enemy's mind, we must ask whether the Soviets will ever allow a balance to be created in Europe. The immediacy of the threat on the central front is to the Soviets — as the immediacy of the threat was to the Americans when the Soviets tried it on in Cuba in 1962. Small wonder that the Soviets have dug in their toes over Pershing deployments.

There is a temptation to think of INF as tactical weaponry. However, figure 1 shows that SS20 deployments in western and eastern Russia cover in range the whole of Europe, the whole of continental Asia and Japan, plus the whole of north Africa. Does that threat exist because we are trying to match the Soviet capability on the European front? Will the Soviets ever allow us to catch up? Is the situation in the European hinterland thus arguably less stable rather than more so and the possibility of disarmament lessened?

If arms control is to be pursued realistically, each side must have a clear idea of its adversary's perception of its will as well as its capability. There is virtually no discussion along these lines in the defence statement.

Paragraph 116 speaks of Soviet chemical war capabilities. Overt Soviet writings, plus press reports. on Afghanistan, suggest that they consider such weapons to be a routine part of their armoury. Does the West have to respond with like for like?

As for paragraphs 213 to 216 on the combined Defence Staff, I need not rehearse the arguments for and against any arrangements which diminish the professionalism of the single service staffs. We heard the critique from the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). Moreover, we have read the discussion in the correspondence columns of The Times by past chiefs of the defence staff and some past heads of single services. Their consensus is that the Chief of the Defence Staff is best served by healthy inter-service competition, with himself as umpire.

Yet, no matter how often we read paragraphs 213 and 214, I do not see how, in the light of the constraints placed on them in paragraph 213, the chiefs of staff could possibly perform the roles required of them in paragraph 214. It is as though a hospital administrator said to a surgeon, "You reckon the operation is necessary. Get on with it, and I will decide how many swabs, instruments and bandages you can have." The right hon. Member for Pavilion thought that that sounded wet, as did the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). So did I. Active service people will think it wet, too, and will lose faith in higher defence management.

If the proposed reorganisation takes place, it is bound to make the Ministry of Defence a more introverted place, thinking small, whereas it should be thinking more broadly. For example, the Navy must co-operate with the Foreign Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, the General Council of British Shipping and the supporting industries. It should get on with it, without having to explain to Colonel X or Group Captain Y why it must get on with it.

If the Ministry of Defence is thinking small on defence, and there are no single service Ministers, how is Parliament to think big? They were some of the questions that were addressed to the Secretary of State, in his absence, by his right hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion.

In paragraph 234 and those that follow, on industrial competition, it seems that the policy of providing the services with the right equipment and support has been subordinated to party dogma. For example, it is difficult to equate the ideals set out in the defence statement with the realities that were shown on the recent "World in Action" television programme on British Shipbuilders.

The objective set out in paragraph 205, of avoiding a budget committed up to the hilt with expensive and inflexible programmes for several years ahead", is hardly a philosophy to lend itself to private enterprise. It will not want a track record littered with cancelled contracts as plans change.

With regard to the plans for private yard refitting of naval vessels, the statement makes little mention of the accumulation of expertise available to the royal dockyards, or of the fact that refits are notoriously hard to keep to time. Breakdown, accident or war will change the pattern. The royal yards can cope with this requirement for flexibility, but can the private business man afford to wait around?

If private enterprise be the key phrase, why should the royal dockyards not provide a money-making service to users other than the Crown? It would be those secondary users who would have to accept any possible delay, not the fleet.

Paragraphs 301 to 321 deal with defence equipment procurement, but the tail must not be allowed to wag the dog. For example, I am not sure of the value of what paragraph 304 calls "promoting a dialogue" with industry without setting a staff target. When any of us goes shopping, it is to purchase what we want to buy, not what the shop wants to sell us.

One of the effects of the public debate over the role of nuclear weapons in the Alliance strategy has been the emergence of broad-based support for the conventionalisation of NATO strategy. As doubts about the moral legitimacy and military utility of the threat of first use of nuclear weapons have grown, so has the interest in reducing NATO's reliance on nuclear weapons through improving non-nuclear forces and, where possible, harnessing an emerging technology.

The search for financially feasible and politically sustainable options for enhancing conventional deterrence constitutes a critical—for some people the most critical —Alliance challenge for the 1980s. Despite that, how much and in what way NATO's conventional forces could and should be strengthened as a non-nuclear option is completely neglected in this year's defence Estimates. The Secretary of State's reference to first use this afternoon, fascinating though it was, has been heard before. It related to yesterday's argument. We have all heard that before, but we have moved on. That was reflected in the debate, and it is on the record.

Several new issues could and should have been addressed in this statement, as my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) said. How much is enough in conventional capability to maintain deterrence without invoking the threat of early first use of nuclear weapons? It is questions such as these that should have been posed. To what extent would improved conventional capability increase the prospect for a protracted or regionally limited conventional conflict in central Europe? What means of improving conventional defence would be most cost-effective? Is the Alliance prepared to devote additional resources to conventional forces? If additional resources are not available, what trade-offs or reprioritisation within current force plans make most sense? What role may arms control play in achieving stability in Europe at lower levels of conventional armaments?

These questions are being discussed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, who are facing up to the challenge of the late 1980s and how to preserve the peace and present a reasonable and convincing deterrent without having to resort to the nuclear option. There are others, such as how to explore emerging technology on behalf of conventional deterrence. What possibilities is new technology opening up for non-nuclear defence? How far away can we push that nuclear threshold? They are the questions to which the Secretary of State should have addressed himself. The Government's defence White Paper, I am bound to conclude, does not resolve those anxieties that have been raised repeatedly in the debate about the formulation and implementation of defence policy.

I cannot resist quoting from today's Times. The explanation offered for this unsatisfactory defence statement is the poverty of ministerial thinking on strategic issues … We can do better for the security of Europe, and at a lower running cost, if only Mr. Heseltine could look up from his management toys and focus on the big picture of the future. It is true that the defence statement makes a gesture in the direction of conventional forces, promising more men and more equipment in the front line, but we have heard all that before, and both political parties when in government have been doing precisely that for the last 14 to 15 years. Even the Secretary of State cannot avoid doing too little, and at the expense of a reduction in support services. The equation "more up front, fewer at the back" will not convince, and will only sound like skimping, whereas, as The Times says, what we are all looking for now is radical and innovative change. There is an absence of any serious attempt by the Secretary of State to look beyond the managerial minutiae, not only at the scale of Britain's strategic priorities, but at the possibilities that exist, especially given his present chairmanship of Euro group, for reinvigorating strategic and tactical thinking within the Alliance. In the words, again, of The Times: The prize of innovation and radical thinking would be considerable. However, at the time when there is a need for the most clear-sighted debate about future defence policy, the Government are moving to neutralise the individual service chiefs, and to halt all inter-service argument. What a time! This cannot be good, and the right hon. Gentleman has not convinced his hon. Friends. Such argument as is called for cannot be sterile. Administrative efficiency is to be prized, but, in the Ministry of Defence, not at the cost of creative thinking.

The truth is that, after next year, defence spending may, for the first time in nearly a decade, begin to decline in real terms. Above all, after that, Trident will begin to bite deeply into the cash available for new equipment programmes. The assumption is that further management savings will fill the gap, but that is mere wishful thinking. The real danger is that, by concentrating spending on Trident, Britain's conventional forces will be weakened just when opinion is moving in favour of deterring any possible aggression in future by improving the conventional balance not merely in Europe, but even further afield, and encouraging other people to look towards conventional forces, thereby minimising the risk of a nuclear war. This anxiety has been expressed by every Opposition Member who has spoken. Whatever economies the Secretary of State secures now, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) warned earlier, the future appears to hold only the promise of further defence reviews, and an erosion of our conventional fighting capability.

My right hon. Friend quoted the Daily Telegraph. What the Secretary of State must know, because he has his press cuttings, is that he got a bad press. He cannot mention one newspaper, never mind one serious newspaper, that gave an unqualified welcome to the defence statement. Most newspapers came out hard against it, and the Daily Telegraph is not alone. When the Daily Telegraph uses the kind of language that it did on 16 May, the Secretary of State must ponder and ask himself whether he can easily dismiss the criticism in today's Times.

Britain is at a crossroads in defence policy and many people, including the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), who made a telling and authoritative speech, believe that we cannot go two ways at once—but the Government are trying to do just that. Even among those who accept the desirability of an independent nuclear deterrent, there is a growing number who see the successor to Trident — the minimum which is credible and effective, so the Government tell us—as a millstone. It is a fact that defence policy is constrained by what the nation can afford. If we face the choice between a minimal nuclear deterrent and efficient conventional forces, a growing number of British people will feel more secure with the latter.

9.40 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)

We have reached the end of the first day of a two-day debate on the defence Estimates. In the remaining few minutes I shall endeavour to deal with some of the detailed points that have been raised. The debate has been marked by the genuineness of the speeches. They have ranged from the anti-cruise unilateralist speeches of the hon. Members for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley (Sir P. Wall), who asked for a significant increase on defence expenditure. We have covered the range of defence attitudes.

With the possible exception of the Merchant Navy, Trident has taken up most of our time. It was mentioned by the right hon. Members for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), and for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) in a questioning and probing sense. We also heard speeches in strong support of Trident from my hon. Friends the Members for Beverley and for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill).

The fundamental question which the Government faced when considering the replacement of the Polaris force was whether the possession of an independent and invulnerable strategic deterrent would make an attack, conventional or nuclear, by the Soviet Union on us and our allies more or less likely. The Government's view, which five successive Governments have shared, is that possession of an independent nuclear force enhances deterrence and prevents war by showing that the risks involved in starting a way are seen by a potential aggressor to outweigh any possible gain that it might hope to achieve. Against that background, there is no alternative to planning for a successor to the present force, which has served the country well by maintaining a continuous deterrent patrol since 1969. To our knowledge, the Soviet Union has never found one of our Polaris submarines on patrol.

The remotoring of the missiles and the Chevaline programme has ensured that the force remains effective until the mid-1990s, but it is wishful thinking to imagine that the life of the Polaris force can be extended indefinitely. The right hon. Member for Devonport conceded that. The choice of a submarine-launched ballistic missile such as Trident was not automatic. Other options were rigorously examined, as the open government document which was published in July 1980 made clear. However, the combination of a submarine-launched system, which can effectively be made invulnerable to attack, and ballistic missiles, which, unlike aircraft or cruise missiles, are not vulnerable to enemy air defences, represented the most cost-effective solution for a minimum credible deterrent force.

The right hon. Member for Devonport and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford queried whether a national nuclear deterrent force based on ballistic missiles would remain effective into the next century, in the light of likely anti-ballistic missiles defences. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear, such likely developments were among the issues which were considered when the decision was taken to purchase the Trident system. It is precisely because we believe that the Trident system offers the best possible means of ensuring the continued effectiveness of our national nuclear deterrent and overcoming possible developments in defensive systems, that it was chosen. It was also suggested that a force of sea-launched cruise missiles would be be less expensive. Studies have shown that such a force, of camparable effectiveness, would be more rather than less expensive than Trident.

The unit cost of a cruise missile is less than that of a ballistic missile. However, as a cruise missile carries only a single warhead, much larger numbers are required to provide a deterrent equivalent to a ballistic missile force. A cruise missile force would require many more submarines — the most expensive component of our strategic deterrent.

I hope that what I have said will put the cost of Trident into perspective. Its cost represents a considerably smaller proportion of the defence budget than any of the other major roles. The current Polaris force represents, on average, less than 2 per cent. of the defence budget. Over the period of procurement Trident will, on average, cost only 3 per cent. of the defence budget and 6 per cent. of the equipment budget.

Mr. Ashdown

The Minister spoke about a credible deterrent, and compared like with like. How many missiles comprise a credible deterrent?

Mr. Lee

I am not prepared to be drawn on that point. However, four Trident submarines, each with 16 missiles tubes, mean that a considerable number of warheads—as yet to be decided — can be deployed. It is an extremely effective and substantial system.

The latest estimate of the cost of Trident is £8.7 billion. The increase over the previous estimate is wholly attributable to inflation and exchange rate variations. I freely concede that, with 45 per cent. of expenditure in dollars, the cost is bound to vary with exchange rate movement and fluctuation—either up or down. It was suggested that Tomahawk missiles could be fitted to SSNs or even to surface ships. Again, those options have been considered, but to have a strategic missile parcelled out among the conventional fleet would produce an unacceptable conflict between the fleet's conventional and nuclear roles. Indeed, it could weaken our conventional deterrent.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why the Government have chosen Trident is exactly the reason that caused the now Opposition to update Polaris by the creation of Chevaline? However, we are doing it openly and having a proper debate, whereas the Opposition did it in a wholly different way.

Mr. Lee

My hon. and learned Friend is right. I did not want to repeat the point, which he has made consistently and which embarrasses the Opposition.

A number of hon. Members asked about the size of the fleet, and specifically about the ordering of the type 23. The first-of-class order for the type 23 will be placed later this year. As is usual, there will be a gap of about a year to enable the shipbuilder to gain experience of the new design before further orders are placed. Subsequent ships will be ordered at a rate of about three a year. That was the objective set by Sir John Nott in July 1982. The detailed pattern of ordering has yet to be decided; it may vary a little from year to year to take advantage of batch ordering. As yet, we have not decided on the precise number of type 23s.

Currently, we have 55 escorts. It remains the Government's objective to maintain a front line of 50 destroyers and frigates in the longer term, all of which will be in the front line, and none in the standby squadron. A number of hon. Members praised the decision to run on eight ships.

In the 1990s, destroyers and frigates will, on average, be newer than they are today. They will also be more capable. Most will carry point defence missile systems and all will carry surface-to-surface guided missiles—either Exocet or Harpoon. An increasing number will be fitted with towed array sonars and all will be capable of carrying a helicopter, either Lynx or the new EH101.

Apart from those escorts, current plans are that the submarine fleet will remain at its present size, but there will be an increased proportion of the more capable nuclear submarines. The three carriers will continue in service into the next century. The existing specialist amphibious ships will reach the end of their lives in the 1990s and we are examining their replacement. Mine warfare forces will continue to be modernised with a third new class, the single role mine hunter being added to the two already under construction.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) intervened early in the speech of my right hon. Friend and raised the question of the number of ships currently on order. He endeavoured to make the point that the majority had been ordered by the Labour Government. Of the 37 ships currently on order, seven were ordered by the Labour Government and are still building. The remaining 30 were ordered by the Conservative Government. In addition to those 30, six ships ordered by the Conservative Government have already been completed and accepted.

The Select Committee report was referred to by many hon. Members and was gone through in detail by its Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins), who welcomed the change in the tail-to-teeth ratio, in the arms control unit and in the whole concept of more competition and collaboration. He asked a number of questions about the possibility of substantially increasing competition.

A problem that we have at present, when we are utilising 90 to 95 per cent. of the procurement spend within the United Kingdom, is that we have a substantial number of monopolies or near-monopolies, companies such as Rolls-Royce, Westlands, Marconi Torpedoes and, to a great extent, British Aerospace. As we spend substantial sums with them each year, in prime terms it is not always possible to obtain competition, so there is a substantial drive within the Ministry of Defence to establish the maximum level of competition among subcontractors. That is one of our substantial aims. Nevertheless, competition policy is having a number of successes, and the figure of 30 per cent. has been mentioned as being the savings in certain instances.

Most hon. Members have commented on the whole question of the size of the Merchant Navy and its decline in recent years. We are extremely conscious of the situation, but I can only say at this stage that we are examining closely and in great detail with the Department of Transport the defence implications of the present and future size of the merchant fleet. I assure the House that the matter is under serious and active consideration. We are not unaware of the implications.

Sir Humphrey Atkins

I asked for an assurance that in the next White Paper, unlike this one, we should once again have what the Ministry of Defence used to provide, namely, a report on the size of the merchant fleet available to the Ministry of Defence in times of emergency. May I have that assurance?

Mr. Lee

I cannot personally give that assurance, but I assure my hon. Friend that the subject will be looked at most carefully.

On the subject of the merchant fleet and the sustainability of our naval force at sea, I draw the attention of the House to the announcement by the Secretary of State earlier that we intend to invite proposals shortly for a new class of support ship for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. I do not run down the importance of the merchant fleet, but the first line of support must be the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries.

The auxiliary oiler replenishment is a new concept for the Royal Navy. It is a one-stop ship, which means that a frigate or destroyer can replenish at sea its fuel, ammunition and stores from a single ship, whereas at present three separate operations might be required. The savings in valuable operating time must be obvious. Perhaps less obvious, but most important, is the fact that at the time of the Falklands, as the loss of the Atlantic Conveyor showed, it is vital not to concentrate high-value support items in too few ships. With the AORs, it will be possible to spread the risk — of the ammunition holdings, for instance—over more hulls.

The ships will also provide vital support to the major weapon system of the type 23 frigate — its antisubmarine helicopters. They will also be fitted with the means of self-defence, including the vertical-launched Sea Wolf system. These ships will enter service towards the end of the decade and a presentation will shortly be made to industry by the controller of the Navy. The intention is that the first batch of these AORs should number six.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

In that context, will the Minister give an assurance that there will not be a repeat of the appalling disaster at Bluff cove?

Mr. Lee

I sympathise fully with the emotion and sentiment behind the hon. Gentleman's question, but I cannot give a complete assurance that such a disaster will never happen again. It would be improper for me to give a flippant answer from the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Speed

When I questioned my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence at a sitting of the Select Committee on Defence on 22 May, he said that the Government were watching the position of the Merchant Navy and at that stage had not gone beyond that. Is my hon. Friend saying now that the Government have moved beyond that stage, or are they still watching the position?

Mr. Lee

When we respond to the Select Committee's report, we shall deal with that issue. It is safe to say that the issue is being considered by Ministers with considerable urgency.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and other hon. Members talked about reorganisation. My right hon. Friend apologised to me for not being able to remain to listen to the Front Bench replies. It would not be appropriate at this stage in the debate to reply to questions on reorganisation. I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the remarks that have been made. I understand that it is my right hon. Friend's intention to present a White Paper to the House on reorganisation in July, when he can be fully questioned upon it.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) raised a genuine constituency interest when he talked about the royal naval dockyards. I know that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) would have done likewise if he had been able to catch the eye of the Chair. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West asked about the Levene report. When we reach a definite decision that changes will offer advantage, we shall fully consult the trade unions. I am sure that a statement will be made to the House. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have seen union delegations from Rosyth. I asked the members of those delegations to submit their proposals, counter-proposals and suggestions to me for consideration. That offer remains open.

Mr. Douglas

I take it that a statement will be made in the House and that it will not be presented in a written answer.

Mr. Lee

That has to be a matter for the business managers of the House and not for me personally. There is no intention not to have full debate on the issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) made a number of interesting comments. He drew our attention specifically to the possible implications of a change in the Sino-Russian relationship and how that could affect us militarily.

The hon. Members for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) made anti-cruise and unilateralist speeches. I cannot deal with their arguments in any detail in the limited time that is available to me. We have had ample opportunity in separate debates to discuss cruise and unilateralism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme praised our attempts and successes in increasing the size of the reserve forces, but wanted us to go even further. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford referred to naval reserves and asked whether we could do more to bring their training more up to date. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) raised a number of extremely important matters concerning Ferranti, a company in his constituency, for which he tries always to fight. He seeks to press home every advantage of the company whenever the opportunity arises.

In a democracy, it is right that there is a healthy debate on the extent of defence expenditure, on the balance between the services and on the balance between conventional and nuclear forces. The Opposition argue that, in a nuclear era, without mutual disarmament it makes sense to eradicate all nuclear weapons and bases from United Kingdom soil. We find that concept entirely unacceptable. One has only to look at the relentless buildup of Soviet chemical weapons to see that one-sided disarmament achieves nothing.

I freely acknowledge that certain Labour speakers tonight genuinely believe in substantial conventional arms expenditure, but they are increasingly in a minority as the harder Left within the Labour party takes hold. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) may laugh. Let us await the resolutions put and passed at this year's Labour party conference. We shall watch with interest.

We believe that the defence Estimates that we have submitted to the House are sensible and realistic, given the threat as we perceive it, given the resources that are available, and given the fact that, regrettably, we have not so far achieved the balanced disarmament that we all seek. I commend the Estimates to the House.

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

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.