§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Archie Hamilton.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Minister of State, may I say that, because of the rather late start on this debate —they were important statements—I hope that the hon. Members who told me that they wished to take part in the debate will speak briefly. More than 22 hon. Members wish to participate and it would be good if all of them had time to speak today.
§ 5.7 pm
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Stanley)
Our last Army debate was nearly a year ago. Without doubt, this past year has been one of great progress for the British Army. The new Challenger tank has started operational service in BAOR, and we have announced that the total number of Challenger regiments will be increased to five. Tracked Rapier and the first Saxon wheeled armoured personnel carriers have also started operational service. The first MCV80 tracked APCs have started trials with the infantry, and the first field trials of Ptarmigan, the secure trunk communication system, have also begun. The equipping of all front-line Lynx helicopters with the TOW anti-tank missile has now been completed.
The reorganisation of 1st British Corps was completed earlier this year, giving the corps stronger reserves, and it will also have two additional armoured regiments by the end of this year. The trials of 6 Brigade of 1st British Corps in an air mobile role have begun, and the first results in Exercise Lionheart were distinctly encouraging.
Back in the United Kingdom we have announced the detailed plans for the second phase expansion of the Territorial Army to 86,000; the building up of the Home Service Force to an initial 5,000; and major improvements to the out-of-area brigade, now renamed 5 Airborne Brigade. I am glad to tell the House that all the major combat additions to 5 Airborne Brigade have now been made.
This is all significant progress, and it was encouraging that The Times recent supplement on "Today's Army" began with a comment which I would certainly endorse:The British Army is in better heart than for many years past.Those improvements in the British Army's capabilities are, however, necessary if conventional deterrence is to be maintained. I wish I could report to the House that the Soviet Union was reducing the huge proportion of its economy devoted to military expenditure and that real progress was being made at last in the MBFR talks in Vienna. Unhappily, I cannot. In April NATO tabled important new proposals to try to break the log-jam in the MBFR negotiations, but the Warsaw pact's response has so far been disappointingly negative.
In the meantime, the relentless strengthening of Soviet and Warsaw pact ground forces in eastern Europe and in the western military districts of the Soviet Union continues. Soviet main battle tank production continues at around 3,000 tanks a year, and the latest Soviet tank, the T80, is now coming into service in East Germany. The last 12 months have seen continued expansion of the already massive Warsaw pact holdings of conventional and nuclear artillery in eastern Europe and increased numbers of armoured personnel carriers and Hind attack helicopters.
465 No less significant is the dramatic improvement that has been taking place in the sustainability of the Soviet ground forces facing NATO—namely, in their ability to sustain intensive operations on the central front using supplies and equipment pre-stocked in eastern Europe, and in East Germany in particular, thus reducing dependence on long-supply lines back to the Soviet Union itself.
We now assess that the Warsaw pact's stockpiles of ammunition, fuel and tactical pipeline-laying equipment in eastern Europe could permit it to sustain operations against NATO for some 60 to 90 days, which is a period almost twice as long as was the case only five years ago.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
The Minister will be aware that for some years there has been considerable disquiet on both sides of the House about stocks. In view of what he has just said, can he assure the House that there has been a corresponding improvement?
§ Mr. Stanley
The hon. Gentleman's question relates particularly to BAOR's sustainability, with which I shall deal shortly.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)
Will my right hon. Friend also comment on the stocks of chemical weapons held by the Warsaw pact forces—particularly chemical shells—which they could use to very good effect against NATO forces, as we do not have an offensive capability?
§ Mr. Stanley
With telepathic intent, my hon. Friend anticipates my next sentence. I was about to say that, in addition, the Soviets continue to have a near monopoly of chemical weapons in Europe. The operational implications are, of course, extremely serious for the NATO forces.
Lastly, as has been well reported, Soviet ground forces in eastern Europe have recently received new tactical ballistic nuclear missiles of improved accuracy — the SS21 and SS22, both of which represent a significant threat to the rear areas of our own ground forces. In the case of the SS22, that threat extends back to the Channel ports.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government still stand behind the Secretary of State's statement that we have no intention of introducing chemical weapons into United Kingdom forces and that it is also our intention to maintain pressure for the chemical ban treaty that we are trying to introduce?
§ Mr. Stanley
I can confirm that there is no change in Government policy. It is the Government's absolute wish and determination to try to work towards a total removal of chemical weapons. This year we have been negotiating to that end with the Soviet Union. Any such ban on chemical weapons would be verifiable. Indeed, the British Government have tabled some important proposals to assist that process of verification. It is against that backcloth that I deal now with the further improvements in our own Army's capabilities planned for the years ahead.
The Warsaw pact is assessed to have 18,000 tanks on the central front. Countering a massive armoured thrust will continue to be the foremost priority of 1st British Corps, and both of our main battle tanks will continue to be further improved. The new thermal imaging sight for both Chieftain and Challenger is now in production. As well as becoming an integral component of our new tanks as they are manufactured, this new sight will from next 466 year be retrofitted to existing Challenger and Chieftain tanks. Over the next few years improvements will be made to Challenger's and Chieftain's fire control systems. In the longer term both tanks will be further improved with a new 120mm high pressure gun and new ammunition.
We shall also be improving our anti-armour missile capabilities over the next few years. This is a critical procurement area for an Army whose posture is, of course, defensive.
The need for an effective, man-portable high-penetration weapon was well demonstrated in the Falklands campaign. Over the next few years the infantry in Germany will be progressively equipped with the light anti-armour weapon, LAW 80, which will represent a quantum jump in capability over the present Carl Gustav.
Milan is now in service throughout 1st British Corps and its issue to all reinforcing infantry battalions, including of course TA battalions, is now almost complete.
Swingfire, our long-range anti-tank missile mounted on tracked vehicles, has been provided with a thermal imaging sight and an improved warhead. A similar sight, together with an improved warhead, is currently being provided for Milan, and an improved warhead for TOW, our helicopter-borne anti-tank missile, is also now in service.
Research and development work has also started on our next generation of anti-tank missiles to replace Milan, Swingfire and TOW in the 1990s, work on which I am glad to say we are in partnership with France and Germany.
Our infantry are as critical to a defensive armoured battle on the central front as the armoured regiments themselves, quite apart from their many vital roles outside the NATO area.
It was gratifying to read the widely reported comment of a senior American during Exercise Lionheart thatMan for man the British infantry today is probably the best.I have no difficulty in agreeing with that judgment.
With the massive weight of Warsaw pact artillery facing them and the much faster Challenger tank alongside them, our infantry now need more protected mobility and faster vehicles. This will be provided by Saxon now coming into service and MC V 80 now being trialled.
Vitally important to our infantry are their personal weapons. Here again a major improvement starts taking place next year with the replacement of the existing SLR with the SA80 rifle and machine gun both using the new NATO 5.56mm ammunition.
For the infantry, the SA80 rifle will be provided with a telescopic sight, together with a complementary night sight. It will also have an automatic fire capability, which the present SLR does not have. It is also lighter, enabling more ammunition to be carried. It will certainly represent a major combat advance for the infantry even though it does look like giving a certain amount of heartburn to the regimental sergeant majors in the Brigade of Guards, who are having to work out how the SA80 should be handled in ceremonial duties. I understand that, with characteristic ingenuity, the RSMs have come up with a guardsman-like solution to this problem, and we look forward to seeing it at work.
I referred to the massive weight of Warsaw pact artillery in eastern Europe. The word "massive" is no hyperbole. We assess there to be more than 8,000 Warsaw 467 pact artillery pieces on the central front, many of which are capable of firing nuclear and chemical shells as well as conventional ammunition.
Though we have substantially improved 1st British Corps' artillery ammunition holdings over the last three years, the corps' requirement for more capable artillery with better crew protection is now a very high priority. The two new artillery improvements for 1st British Corps are the multi-launched rocket system, which will replace the present 175mm M107 gun, and the SP 70, which will replace the 105mm Abbot. Both should be in service around the end of the 1980s. Alongside these we plan to improve our target acquisition capability through the use of remotely piloted vehicles, and our battlefield surveillance through the use of airborne radars in manned aircraft. By the end of this decade 1st British Corps should have very greatly improved artillery support in terms of firepower, range, accuracy and survivability.
1st British Corps would have to contend with a major threat from the air as well as from the ground. That threat will come from increasingly sophisticated Soviet fixed-wing aircraft with a ground attack role, and perhaps most potently of all from Soviet ground attack helicopters such as the Hip and the Hind, the deployment of which on the central front has doubled in the last four years.
Air defence is now a much greater preoccupation in BAOR than in the 1970s. Fortunately, this is an area where British manufacturers are as good as any in the world, but we cannot afford to mark time. Tracked Rapier is already coming into service in BAOR, thereby greatly improving the mobility and survivability of our air defence. The Rapier system is itself being improved, and, by the end of this year, all towed Rapier units will have increased immunity to electronic counter-measures and improved radar.
Next year Javelin, the development of Blowpipe, will be in service and will improve the lethality of that air-defence missile system substantially. The well-tried concept of getting a lot of lead into the air proved both its deterrent and its destructive worth in the Falklands war, and we have decided to complement our air defence missile systems with machine guns adapted for an air defence role. In the longer term, we plan to acquire a new air defence missile system to equip a newly formed air defence regiment in BAOR planned for the turn of the decade.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend has said about the air defence for 1st British Corps in particular, and that the Territorial Army makes up almost 50 per cent. of the 1st British Corps' mobilised strength, is the Ministry likely to look more sympathetically on the supply of armoured personnel carriers to those from the United Kingdom mainland who are reinforcing troops, in particular the Saxon, which was successfully tried during Exercise Lionheart? The Saxon is manufactured in Shropshire and this is therefore a matter of some concern to us.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am aware of the force of my hon. Friend's point. Like all things in defence, this is an issue of priorities. Clearly, the greatest armoured protection and protective mobility has to be provided for those confronted with the greatest risk, which is not those in the reinforcement role. With the increasing range of Warsaw 468 pact artillery, and with the threat from the air, both from fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, we need to provide armoured protection and mobility for all our armed forces, including reinforcement forces in 1st British Corps, and that matter does concern us. As resources become available, we should like to work towards providing such protection.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)
My point follows directly from that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway). Is it not a fact that until the last quarter of last year funds were allocated for about 950 Saxon vehicles, but now funds are available for only 500? If that is so, when will the funds for the further 450 vehicles be reintroduced? This concerns only the Regular Army. I am not asking about vehicles going to the Territorial Army.
§ Mr. Stanley
I am aware of my hon. Friend's point. He is referring to the initial production order of Saxon. As to follow-on orders, I understand that we have not reached any final conclusions. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement can add to this information in his winding-up speech, he will do so.
The progress that we are making in re-equipping the British Army is very important, but the right equipment is of no military value unless it can be brought to bear at the right place and at the right time. Military history is filled with illustrations of numerically superior forces being outfought by smaller numbers that were better positioned and better informed. There is no reason to think that a future conflict would be any different. The large-scale investment that we are making for the Army in the C 3 area —command, control and communications—is therefore central to the Army's fighting effectiveness.
Ptarmigan, the new secure communications system, will start coming into operational service with 1st British Corps next year. Encouragingly, Ptarmigan also looks like having a substantial export potential. Wavell, a sophisticated data processing system for brigade commanders and above, is now in production, and will also start coming into service next year. Bates, the computer based artillery targeting system, is planned to come into service towards the end of the decade. Ptarmigan, Wavell and Bates will each substantially improve 1st British Corps' C 3 capability.
I referred earlier to the dramatic expansion that has taken place in recent years in Warsaw pact pre-positioned war stocks—not least in East Germany. NATO has to improve its own sustainability if conventional deterrence is to be maintained. Since 1979 we have increased our NATO area stocks of air defence missiles by 35 per cent., our artillery ammunition stocks by 35 per cent. and our ground-based anti-tank missile stocks by 55 per cent. We have also increased our fuel stocks substantially. Over the next few years we will be increasing the number of Rapier fire units for BAOR, and we will be making further increases in our stocks of Milan and Javelin missiles, artillery ammunition and fuel.
The construction programme of new forward ammunition sites is now well under way and with the introduction of Challenger we plan to create for the first time a worthwhile reserve of Chieftain tanks pre-positioned in Germany. I am glad to tell the House that we have levels of sustainability that are at least as good as those of any of the European members of NATO on the central front.
469 The improvements to the Army's equipment that I have described are important and encouraging, but the process of improvement must be continuous, as it certainly is for the forces that face our own. That is why the quest for getting better defence value out of the available defence expenditure remains one of our most important priorities.
Through Exercise Lean Look we are aiming to transfer 4,000 soldiers from the Army's tail to its teeth. It was as a result of this exercise that we were able to reduce manpower in the support area sufficiently to announce the creation of a 12th armoured regiment in BAOR. Concurrently with Lean Look, we are carrying out a major rationalisation of the Army's training organisation following the comprehensive and penetrating review carried out by General Groom. There is undoubtedly scope for obtaining better value for money here.
There is also substantial scope for improving value for money in procurement and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement will be referring to this when he comes to reply.
We consider that quite excellent value for money is provided by our reserve forces. The Territorial Army represents over one quarter of the British Army's mobilised strength, and it costs, including its equipment, less than 5 per cent. of the Army's annual budget.
Phase I of our expansion of the TA is now well under way, and its strength now stands at around 71,000 compared to around 60,000 in 1979. Phase II of the expansion is planned to bring TA strength to 86,000 by 1990 and, as we announced in March, will involve the raising of six new TA infantry battalions, additional TA air defence units, a new yeomanry squadron of armoured cars, additional TA logistic units, and, for the first time, a TA Army air corps squadron equipped with Scout helicopters. The TA's equipment will also continue to improve and over the next few years the TA will get Javelin, LAW 80, SA80 and increased numbers of 105mm light guns and mortars.
The TA units involved made a key contribution to the success of Exercise Lionheart last month and I am sure that those on both sides of the House who visited Lionheart were as impressed as I was with the enthusiasm and the professionalism of the TA soldiers whom we saw.
For the Army's volunteer reserves, we are now, of course, developing a second string to our bow in the shape of the Home Service Force. The HSF, like the TA, will, I am quite sure, give striking value for money by capitalising on the potential availability of considerable numbers of former regular and former TA soldiers who do not have sufficient time to make the full TA training commitment but who nevertheless want to maintain an association with the Army. Because of the success of the Home Service Force pilot scheme, I was able to announce in July our plans to expand the strength of the HSF to 5,000, and perhaps to more in the longer term. A total of 47 HSF companies will be raised throughout Great Britain, each of which will be linked to a TA or a Regular unit. Recruiting for most of the new companies will start next year.
Even at a strength of 5,000, the HSF will cost only about £2 million a year including its equipment, and by releasing Regular and other TA soldiers from certain static defence tasks for the more demanding roles of which they are capable the HSF represents a very good operational, as well as a very good financial, deal for the Army. Our reserves undoubtedly make a very capable and quite 470 indispensable contribution to the effectiveness of the British Army, and we are extremely grateful to them—and also, I might say, to their employers—for their time, their commitment and their marvellous enthusiasm.
Our Army is not just a highly trained peacetime array: it is also an army still engaged in active operations, one of which has come to a conclusion since our last Army debate.
Later this week I greatly look forward to being at Cardiff castle for the presentation of the Wilkinson Sword of Peace to the Queen's Dragoon Guards for the regiment's service in the Lebanon. Throughout the time that they were in Beirut under constant threat from shells, bullets and suicidal truck bombers the Queen's Dragoon Guards, and their successors the 16th/5th Lancers, conducted themselves quite outstandingly. They won the confidence of all the Lebanese factions, they contributed materially to achieving the September 1983 ceasefire and the opportunity for a negotiated settlement which it created; and mercifully they sustained not a single serious casualty. Both regiments deserve our very warm congratulations.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Is it not about time that justice was done to that distinguished officer, Colonel David Roberts?
§ Mr. Stanley
That is a personal case, on which I do not propose to comment in the House.
The other operational theatre is Northern Ireland, where the British Army, including of course the Ulster Defence Regiment, continues to play a vital role in supporting the RUC in the fight against terrorism. That fight has seen many conspicuous successes for the security forces in the past year—but at a price.
Since the Army debate last year, 20 soldiers have been killed and 21 wounded in terrorist attacks. Eleven of those killed—just over half—and three of those wounded were in the UDR, and, of those UDR casualties, 80 per cent. were killed or wounded off duty. The men and women of the UDR deserve our very highest admiration.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
I am very grateful to the Minister. His tribute to those in the Regular Army who serve in Northern Ireland and their colleagues in the UDR will be much appreciated. Whatever the merits of the recent amalgamations of UDR battalions, and whatever benefits may have been derived therefrom, does the hon. Gentleman feel that the process, for geographical and physical reasons, has now probably been carried as far as it safely can be?
§ Mr. Stanley
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The changes to which he referred have been carried out successfully. That was certainly the impression that I received during my latest visit to the Province in July. Obviously we must keep an open mind as to what is sensible in any given set of circumstances but we have no plans at present for any further changes.
It speaks volumes for the courage and skill of our armed forces in Northern Ireland that in the last year alone they have received 42 Empire awards, one George Cross and 21 Queen's Gallantry Medals. In addition, a further 98 service men were mentioned in dispatches. The general public would be better able to appreciate the remarkable work done by our forces in Northern Ireland if they could read all the citations for those awards. Necessarily, however, many of those citations have to remain classified 471 for security reasons, but I can tell the House that they bear quite remarkable testimony to the conspicuous, and frequently unpublicised, bravery of those concerned.
I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to all our security forces in Northern Ireland, and the Government for their part remain unshakably committed to upholding the rule of law and to bringing to justice those who commit crimes of terrorism.
Finally, I want to deal with a problem to which I believe no Government have so far produced a satisfactory solution—the question of helping war widows to visit their husbands' war graves overseas.
Successive Governments have taken the view that because it is regrettably quite impractical to assist all war widows to visit their husbands' graves, which are of course in dozens of countries all over the world and often in very remote locations, no assistance could be provided to any widows at all. We have come to the conclusion that this really is a case of the best being the enemy of the good, and that it would be far better to provide assistance at least to a considerable number of widows rather than to go on giving no assistance at all.
I am, therefore, extremely glad to announce that commencing next year the Government will be making an annual sum available to the Royal British Legion in the form of a grant-in-aid to assist the financing of visits by war widows to their husbands' graves overseas. The grant-in-aid sum for 1985–86 will be £150,000. The Royal British Legion has agreed to assume responsibility for making all the necessary arrangements for these visits, including the handling of applications and the selection of countries and cemeteries to be visited.
I am very grateful indeed to the Royal British Legion for agreeing to provide invaluable assistance in this way. The legion will be making a further announcement in due course about how applications for visits in 1985–86 should be made, following which the legion will be making available its detailed plans for the first visits next year.
I am sure that this new war graves visits scheme will be widely welcomed and will, rightly, be seen as a very proper, albeit small, recompense to those who lost their husbands in our country's service.
The House has every reason to be proud of the British Army. The quality of its contribution to NATO is second to none. In Northern Ireland it conducts the most skilful counter-terrorist operation of its kind in the world. It makes a first-class contribution to the international peacekeeping forces in Cyprus and in the Sinai. It contributes directly and expertly to the security of Belize, Brunei, the Falklands, Gibraltar and Hong Kong. Last, but by no means least, the Army's loan service personnel—some 500 in all, serving in 22 countries — play an invaluable role in the training of the armed forces of friendly countries in many continents.
Ours may not be the largest army to be seen, nor the most powerful, but there is none that is better trained, none that is more more effective for its size, none that is more professional, and none that inspires greater confidence and greater trust all round the world.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
On behalf of the Opposition I welcome the statement by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces at the end of his speech on 472 Government assistance to enable at least some war widows, with the assistance of the Royal British Legion, to go overseas to visit the graves of their deceased husbands. We understand that that is a problem. All Governments have been faced with it and we welcome the Government's contribution to that difficult problem.
The Minister has paid tribute to our armed forces and, on behalf of the Opposition, I echo those tributes to their professionalism and skill. This is a debate on the Army but what we are saying here today applies with equal force to the other armed forces as well. Those hon. Members who have had and who have the opportunity from time to time to talk both to officers and men of the armed forces cannot but be impressed—I speak for myself and I think for others—not only by their professional skills, dedication and courtesy, but by their moderation and common sense when it comes to discussing the awesome questions of peace and war. That may not be surprising, but it needs to be said. Often it is possible to find among members of the armed forces far greater awareness of the futility and horror of war and the need to do everything possible to keep the peace than among some people in civilian life. That may sound surprising but it is something that I have noticed when I talk to members of our armed forces.
The Minister has mentioned Operation Lionheart and I also want to pay tribute to all who took part in what was clearly an impressive operation. In particular, as the Minister said, we should not forget the thousands of members of the TA and the reservists who played a major part in those exercises. Let us hope that their effort, and the skill and dedication that they put into them, will help to ensure that their services are never required other than in times of peace.
It may occasionally come as some surprise to discover that years after the end of the empire the British Army is still strung out in one form or another around many parts of the globe. We have 50,000 troops along the Rhine, about 9,000 in Hong Kong, perhaps about 2,500 in the Falklands, about 3,000 in Cyprus, some in the Sinai, perhaps 2,500 in Gibraltar and a few more in Belize. In such a debate, it is tempting, especially for an Opposition, to embark on some sort of rhetorical tour of all those places and to consider whether those commitments are really all necessary and desirable towards the end of the 20th century. Perhaps I may ask rhetorically what will happen to the troops in Hong Kong now that a satisfactory agreement seems to have been concluded with mainland China. Moreover, I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House will accept that there is a clear need to reach a political settlement with Argentina so that we may reduce our military presence in the south Atlantic.
The Government concluded a very extraordinary agreement with the independent sovereign state of Belize whereby British troops are apparently in Belize to defend that sovereign state against any invasion or incursion by its neighbour, Guatemala. That is extraordinary, and I should think that the Government would be worried about it, especially as there seems to be considerable volatility in that part of the world at present.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, quite apart from the political and other considerations, Belize is a very good training area for our troops?
§ Mr. Davies
There are many areas in the world that are good for training, but I was talking about the political 473 decision. One decides to deploy troops not because of training, but because of a political decision by a Government. It is extraordinary that there are still British troops in central America who are apparently there to defend a sovereign state against an incursion from a neighbour that still has claims on its territory.
But, like the Minister, I shall concentrate — for reasons that I need not explain—on the issue raised by the presence of 55,000 British troops in West Germany, and shall deal with the NATO strategy under which, God forbid, they would have to fight a war in central Europe. Obviously, if they had to fight, it would be in accordance with whatever strategy is laid down for them by NATO.
However, first I remind hon. Members that the Minister gave us a long list of weapons, and used acronyms and long words. I should like to present my own acronym— MLRS. I read about it in The Economist on Friday, and apparently other newspapers are beginning to take an interest as well. I believe that the letters stand for "Multiple Launch Rocket System" and that it is supposed to replace the 175 mm gun—[Interruption]. The Under-Secretary of State seems to think that the subject is amusing, although it would appear to be quite serious to me. Perhaps he can tell us what on earth is happening about the MLRS.
I understand that as a result, partly, of the Secretary of State's zeal for competition, he has offended almost everybody who could be offended with regard to that weapon. I am told that the Americans are very upset because we are to buy from Europe something that we said we would buy from America, that the Germans are upset because we put out the British bit to tender in Europe and the Germans tendered the lowest price, that British defence manufacturers are upset because they thought that they were not going to get a bit of that bit and will now apparently get some of it — I see that the Under-Secretary agrees that they are not too happy—that the Treasury is upset because it will cost a lot more money, and that the Army in Germany is upset because it will take five years for it to get what it thought it would get sooner. Although the subject is complicated and difficult, perhaps the Under-Secretary will try to tell us what is happening about the replacement for the 175 mm gun.
According to this year's statement on the defence Estimates, as the Government well know, the direct public expenditure cost of the Rhine army will be about £2.6 billion. That amounts to about 15 per cent. of this year's defence expenditure. As we all know, it is a sum that far exceeds the cost of keeping the home army in the United Kingdom. However, in many ways the burden on the balance of payments is probably far greater than the burden on public expenditure. Whether or not troops are in Germany, it may still be necessary to fund and provide equipment. But as all Governments have found, the burden on the balance of payments is considerable in terms of foreign exchange.
I calculate that this year the foreign exchange cost of keeping 55,000 soldiers, with equipment and back-up services, in Germany must be close to £1 billion. That is a very substantial amount to go across the exchanges and to be paid for, presumably, in the equivalent number of deutschmarks. Of course, the situation will become worse and that fact must be faced. The relative burden on the balance of payments will become worse as the balance of payments becomes worse. As the flow of oil begins to lessen—as it will do during the next two or three years 474 —and as the contribution of oil exports to the balance of payments is reduced, the balance of payments will become worse. In addition, as our manufacturing industrial base becomes worse and our imports become higher, the burden on the British economy will become even greater. I am not arguing that we should necessarily reduce that burden, but other countries in NATO should realise the sort of burden that is placed on the British economy as a result of that commitment.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
During the recess the Labour party produced a document on defence that suggested that the defence of Britain should depend largely on the collective efforts of the United Nations. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain exactly how he sees the United Nations controlling a super-power such as the Soviet Union? Was it not rather naive and irresponsible of his party to suggest that there is some easy way out of our defence dilemmas?
§ Mr. Davies
I am sorry that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman. Clearly he has read only one page of that document. What I am about to say will reassure him—if he needs reassurance — about our commitment to the Rhine army and NATO.
This Government, like all post-war Governments—and every Government has been through it—will again no doubt go through the exercise of examining that commitment. Despite what the Minister said, the Government will again be considering the commitment and its cost because of the pressure of public expenditure. But, of course, in addition to the pressure on public expenditure which all Governments face, this Government have the additional problem of having to pay for Trident. In the summer, when we last debated the "Statement on the Defence Estimates", the pound probably stood at about $1.50 or $1.51. One tends to lose track these days, but I hazard a fairly good guess that between last June and now the cost of Trident has probably gone up by about £1 billion as a result of the fall in the pound. I am told that the pound now stands at about $1.19.
It is no good the Minister saying that the cost can be spread over the years. It is an extra burden on the defence budget. The money has to come from somewhere. I believe that by the end of the year, or by the middle of next year, the pound will be worth only about $1, so the cost of Trident will increase even more.
The Government will be subject to pressure and they will have to re-examine the question of whether to have Trident. On the day that the Secretary of State made his speech to the Conservative party conference the Daily Telegraph got it right, as it so often does on defence matters. On 10 October a leading article stated:Even if additional funds are squeezed out of the Treasury, something will have to go. The so-called 'salami slice' approach to defence reviews, in which you shave a little off each service every time, has probably been taken as far or further than is practical. That means that in one to two years Mr. Heseltine is going to have to decide whether he wants to cancel Trident, implement naval cuts which go a great deal further than Sir John Nott would have dared envisage in 1981, or find a way of reducing the Rhine Army by 50 per cent.That is the dilemma that the Government will have to face. With the cost of Trident increasing all the time the commitments cannot all be paid for, especially with the lack of growth in the British economy — whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may say about that.
475 We believe that, although there may be room for some minor adjustments in the number of troops in Germany, any attempts by the Government—by any Government —to pay for Trident by withdrawing a proportion of the British army of the Rhine would be extremely damaging to the political stability of central Europe and would be likely to increase tension in that area.
Whatever the military arguments, I believe that the political case against withdrawal is, at the moment at least, and in terms of tension, overwhelming. I accept that the position may change in 10 years or so. If we were to withdraw wholly or substantially, the Western Alliance would be seen as an American-German alliance. With an aggressive American presidency and the resurgence of German nationalism of which there are signs, it would create more tension in central Europe and make Russia, which is paranoid at the best of times, even more suspicious and distrustful.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
What effect would there be on the Western Alliance if the right hon. Gentleman's party had its way and caused all American nuclear bases in this country to be withdrawn?
§ Mr. Davies
I shall deal with NATO's conventional defence later. My point is that a withdrawal of British troops from that vital sector would, apart from military considerations, increase tension between the West and the East and cause more problems than it would solve.
It is fashionable and probably right to worry about war outside Europe. Experts tell us that we should be worrying about the middle east and central America and that we do not have to worry about central Europe. That might be so, but we should not run away with the idea that central Europe is stable and that problems will not arise. In the next 10 years there might be an increase in tension in central Europe—although I hope not—partly as a result of the Yalta-Potsdam post-war agreement breaking down or becoming more loosely applied. That and other factors may lead to a growth in instability in the next few years.
§ Mr. Best
I endorse the right hon. Gentleman's argument. He seems to be saying that any withdrawal of troops from BAOR would be inadvisable because politically it would upset the status quo and be a message to the Soviet Union. Does not that argument apply to everything to do with military expenditure and mean that any reduction would have a similar political effect?
§ Mr. Davies
It is dangerous to argue that everything that applies to the particular applies to the general. That might be logical, but life is not like that. However, I am glad that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) agrees with me about BAOR.
Instability in central Europe could arise as a result of nationalist movements and other trends. That is why we must address the question of NATO's nuclear strategy and consider the possibility of the 55,000 British troops in Germany being called to fight a battlefield nuclear war. I hope that that never happens, but in the next few years we must consider that possibility carefully.
It is depressing that there has been almost no change in NATO's strategy in the last 20 years. Ministers may argue that that is a good thing. The semantics of NATO's strategy for a war in Europe may have changed but the 476 basic strategy — that of flexible response — has not changed. That is despite the change in strategic nuclear balance since the term "flexible response" was thought of by Mr. McNamara.
Today there is a parity even in battlefield nuclear weapons between the Warsaw pact and NATO. There has been no change, certainly in terms of public pronouncements, and I find that depressing. It is time to consider whether the strategy is valid and whether there should be some adjustment in the last quarter of this century.
We believe that the strategy is now far too reliant upon nuclear weapons and that there should be a gradual movement away from the present overdependence upon nuclear weapons to a more conventional form of defence. I stress the word "gradual" because such matters cannot be changed overnight.
When I talk to NATO officials I have the impression that there is some underlying change in their thinking, but unfortunately when it comes to public pronouncements, not just by military bureaucrats but by politicians, there appears to be no thinking and no change.
The Government's defence White Paper rules out change in paragraph 124 which refers to flexible response and states:We believe … that there is no better alternative available.Dr. Manfred Wörner, the German Defence Minister, said almost the same on 16 May this year when he said:There is no workable alternative.We have heard a similar phrase used when dealing with other matters. It is suggested that there is no "workable alternative" to current NATO strategy.
General Rogers has stressed the need to strengthen conventional defence, and that is to be applauded. However, any moves to strengthen conventional defence must be accompanied by a gradual and definite movement away from the nuclear strategy. It is no good saying, "We have given up a few obsolescent battlefield nuclear weapons. They were dangerous and we did not need them." If NATO wishes its policy to become more acceptable it will be necessary for there to be a visible movement away from the nuclear strategy. There would then be an acceptance of some strengthening of conventional defence. NATO will find it difficult to secure acceptance of its policies so long as it talks only of strengthening conventional defence and says nothing about nuclear weapons.
We would like to see a gradual movement away from the first-use strategy to a strategy of no first use of nuclear weapons. The present first-use policy means fighting a nuclear war, and 55,000 British troops could be embroiled in that war if NATO faced conventional defeat. It is a strategy of deterrence on the one hand, but if deterrence fails the strategy involves fighting a nuclear war once a conventional war has been lost. That is one of our main concerns about NATO's present strategy.
Deterrence cannot provide 100 per cent. certainty. Even the strongest advocates of nuclear deterrence cannot argue that the policy will be 100 per cent. successful. If deterrence fails, NATO's strategy is one of fighting a battlefield nuclear war in central Europe. The deterrence concept presupposes a blitzkrieg attack. The deterrence strategy in central Europe goes back to the early post-war years and the idea of the Red Army charging across Europe. The view was taken, and perhaps is still taken, that we should be unable to stop it by conventional means 477 and that it would be necessary to use nuclear weapons. The hypothesis of the deterrence strategy is that there will be a blitzkrieg attack.
As we all know, wars can start for many reasons. A war can start by accident or it can be started by a blitzkrieg attack. In between there can be error, tension, mistake and many other causes. Even if we were to accept that the deterrence policy would be 100 per cent. foolproof as a response to a blitzkrieg attack, it must be accepted that it is related only to that form of attack. If war were to break out in central Europe because of the loosening of the Yalta agreement, for example, it could drift into a nuclear conflict without anyone wanting that to happen. That is the danger of battlefield nuclear weapons and the present strategy, which is over-dependent and over-reliant on nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
During our trip to visit NATO forces during the recess it was made clear by senior officers that there was no chemical deterrent and that there was more likelihood of a chemical strike than a nuclear strike. I have asked my right hon. Friend the Minister for his views and I now ask the right hon. Gentleman for his. We unilaterally renounced the use of chemical weapons in the late 1950s and that had no consequent effect on the Warsaw pact countries.
§ Mr. Davies
The use of chemical weapons is an important subject and I half suspected that the hon. Gentleman would refer to it during the debate. I shall take up that issue towards the end of what will be an overlong speech.
When I talk to NATO officials it seems that fewer people believe in the old blitzkrieg theory that the Russians will get on their horses and charge through central Europe. That is the impression that I have but maybe they would not wish to give that impression in public. We are still told that the Soviet Union has overwhelming superiority in conventional weapons. The Minister talked about the Soviet Union's massive preponderance of such weapons in rather ritualistic terms. I am not sure whether that is still believed within NATO. That was the propaganda of three or four years ago and it did much harm by exaggerating the gap, if there was one, between the two sides' strength in conventional weapons. I do not believe that there is a massive superiority on the Warsaw Pact side. It seems that there is general agreement now with the conclusions which were drawn some time ago by the Institute of Strategic Studies, which wrote:There would still appear to be insufficient overall strength on either side to guarantee victory.Other institutions such as the Brookings Institute have come more or less to the same conclusion.
I have no doubt that there is Soviet superiority in some areas, but in others there is NATO superiority. I do not deny that there are many areas in which we need to strengthen NATO's conventional defence. If NATO moves away from its nuclear strategy, I do not believe that it is necessary for it to go on a mad rearmament binge in strengthening its conventional weapons or to embrace some of the more offensive high-technology weapons and the more aggressive strategies that are associated with them.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)
I happen to agree with the right hon. Gentleman about NATO strategy and the fact that little rethinking has been done over the years. 478 It is lamentable that the issue has not been debated on more occasions in the House. However, with the greatest respect, I must assure the right hon. Gentleman that he is wrong about conventional forces. The Russians have immensely superior conventional forces across the board. That is why we must retain battlefield nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Davies
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman disagreed with me towards the end of his intervention. He began by saying that he agreed with me, as did the hon. Member for Ynys M ôn. To have the agreement of Conservative Members would do me no good in the shadow Cabinet elections. I am pleased that we can differ in part.
We agree that there could be better use of reserve forces. That is set out in the document that has been produced by the Opposition which Conservative Members have obviously read. There is a case for barriers and obstacles that could be constructed along the border of the two Germanies. I understand that West Germany does not recognise the border constitutionally, but there is a case for strengthening defence by the use of barriers and obstacles. There is a case also for using certain defensive high technology weapons such as precision guided missiles, especially for anti-tank purposes. That is probably being done.
There are many taboo defence subjects and one of them is forward defence. That form of defence is mainly for the sake of the West German Government who, understandably, do not wish to fight a conventional war on German soil if they can help it, and no one can blame them for that. The choice facing West Germany is whether to fight a conventional war or a nuclear war on German soil and riot whether to fight a conventional war or no war.
I have never understood why it is necessary for Britain to be so wedded—it has 55,000 troops in NATO—to the idea of complete commitment to forward defence. I understand the political sensitivity of this issue, but I should like the British Government to raise these matters in NATO to achieve a change in the policy of forward planning. That step would make our conventional defence system more viable and would enable us to move from our dependence on battlefield nuclear weapons.
NATO must not somehow dress up the need to strengthen conventional defence and, in the guise of doing that, keep its nuclear strategy. I am worried—this idea may not be based on fact — about the United States aggressively pushing certain strategies. Whether called air-land battle or whatever—the name can be easily changed—the strategy stays the same. It is extremely worrying that the United States may push NATO to adopt some type of air-land battle strategy whose purpose will not just be to strengthen conventional defence. There are arguments even against an air-land battle strategy in terms of conventional defence. Those arguments have been set out fairly clearly in the latest 'NATO Review" in an artic le by David Greenwood of Aberdeen university. He is well respected in this matter. Referring to the present air-land battle strategy, or whatever it is called—it has many names—David Greenwood said:The case for a shift of doctrinal emphasis to promote deep interdiction of follow-on forces is not proven, however; and, indeed, to make such a shift now might be playing into the adversary's hands.Turning to the question of investment in ETs and suchlike, there are a couple of initial points to make. The first is that the purpose of some of the innovations being urged on NATO is to make FOFA"—479 I believe that FOFA stands for follow-on forces—and Strike Deep workable. It follows that, if a doctrinal raison d'être is suspect, so too is the wisdom of putting money into them.There is much argument about the wisdom—even in conventional terms—of going down the road of deep strike, air-land battle, or whatever it is called.
I am worried about what the Americans say about these matters. We in Britain say little about nuclear strategy, and we hear little about it in the House. If one has access to the reports of American congressional hearings—often one does not have that access—one notes all sorts of hair-raising statements from American officials and generals. In March 1984 when speaking to the House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services about deep strike interdiction, air-land battle or whatever it is called, General Don Starry, who apparently is commander-in-chief of United States Readiness Command—whatever that is—said:I should point out that if we are to use tactical nuclear weapons, this"—"this" presumably means behind enemy lines—is probably the best place to use them. I say that because in almost every case where we postulate a penetration of our own territory, we must use nuclear weapons. It turns out that the delays that are attendant upon asking for and receiving nuclear weapons release always creates a situation in which if you wait until they get into your territory, to ask for the use of nuclear weapons, it is always too late. Several thousand simulations in actual exercises suggest to us that if you wait that long, it is too late.The general was trying to say "Yes, by all means, let us have air-land battle — nuclear and conventional—because we can then use nuclear weapons even more frequently than is envisaged under present NATO strategy." One can say that that is just an American general's belief, but it seems to be the thinking of others.
The House needs to know much more. I understand that in December a NATO meeting will be held at which some of those proposals will be put forward. I hope that hon. Members will be told how the Government will react to the proposals. I hope that after the meeting we are told what went on—obviously, considering the realms of security—and and the British Government's attitude. Will the British Government accept what I see as a new American strategy and an attempt to devise a new NATO strategy? What will the British Government say if those proposals are put forward to NATO? If we were given the answers, we could openly discuss the proposals in the House. That would be better for NATO and democracy. It would be much better to air these matters in public.
We all understand that from time to time soldiers say that they must have the same type of weapon as the other side. There is nothing new about that. It is happening at the moment with chemical weapons. It is understandable—one does not have to agree with the idea—that there will be a military demand for a certain weapon to close what is seen by the military as a gap between the two, sides.
At the end of the day political considerations must determine whether this country goes down the road of chemical weapons rearmament. I hope that the Government will make it clear that they have no intention of travelling down that road. If the Government go down that road, tension between East and West will increase and NATO's position will be much more difficult.
480 In the wake of the cruise and Pershing deployment, many young people, especially in Europe, view NATO with considerable suspicion. That deployment has created many problems, especially for the younger generation. Much damage to NATO will be caused if it turns back to chemical weapon rearmament. At the end of the day NATO can exist only through political and public acceptability. That rearmament could do considerable damage to the present talks in Geneva in which the British Government have played a constructive part. Apart from any military considerations, that move would be a mistake for political reasons.
We all know that there are problems in verifying the possession of chemical weapons. The problems are far greater than those associated with nuclear weapons. I think that we all understand that chemical weapons can be made more simply than nuclear weapons and that massive installations are not required to make them. There is a great danger during all arms control and chemical weapons control talks in looking for a foolproof system of verification—it is impossible to find one—and then not coming to an agreement. A balance must be struck, and I think that the Government understand that.
In a lecture reproduced in November-December last year by Sussex university, the Government's disarmament adviser in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr. David Summerhayes, said:Having stressed the problem of complexity, I want to suggest in the final analysis a CW"—chemical weapons—Convention will only be achieved by taking account also of the opposing principle of simplicity. If there is too great an insistence on perfection and strictness, this will make progress impossible. Those who insist on absolute verification or the widest possible scope may in effect be blocking the way to agreement. The difficulty for the negotiators is in finding a satisfactory middle path, where such exists".That is a sensible way of putting the point. Obviously there must be some verification, but we might as well accept that it is impossible to achieve 100 per cent. verification.
As we all know, the British Army will do its duty with skill and valour wherever and whenever it is asked by the Government, but the Government have a corresponding duty to do all that they can to help to reduce tension between East and West and to work towards creating a political climate at home and abroad that will make the task of our soldiers less onerous and to try to ensure that they and all of us are not driven into a senseless and horrendous war.
§ Mr. Speaker
I repeat what I said at the beginning of this important debate. There is great pressure to take part it it, so I appeal for short contributions.
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
In view of what you have said, Mr. Speaker, I shall keep my remarks within a relatively short compass, and I shall not be able to deal with much of what was said by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). I shall leave that to my hon. Friend the Minister when he replies to the debate.
However, I welcome very much the right hon. Gentleman's affirmation of his commitment to BAOR. It was refreshing to hear that from him. He said that if there were to be any withdrawal from our commitment to BAOR that would have a destabilising effect. It would be even 481 more destabilising if, as an essential part of NATO, we were to go for a totally non-nuclear strategy. That destabilisation would be much more profound than any reduction in our commitment to BAOR. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will ponder well on that.
I welcome the nature of the debate and the fact that we are having it, because there was considerable misgiving among many hon. Members about the restructuring of the whole of the Ministry of Defence in 1981. The abolition of the single service Ministers caused considerable anxiety in all parts of the House. Those who follow defence matters closely were very concerned about it, and there were similar worries in academic circles. One of the assurances given to us is now being fulfilled. It was that, although there would not be single service Ministers, there would continue to be single service debates in the House. That pledge is being honoured by this debate.
In view of the doubts that were expressed in 1981, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, in his reply, will tell the House how well the present structure in the Ministry of Defence is operating. The Select Committee on Defence expressed doubts about the change. It was cautious, however, because these are early days. In Ministry of Defence terms we should like a situation report — a "Sit-Rep", as it is called — on how the reorganisation is working out.
Many of us had fears about what would happen if there was not a single service Minister, a natural political leader to whom a service could look—not to put the service case, right or wrong, but to give, so to speak, a 5 per cent. loading in favour of the service in any inter-service dispute. Inevitably, such disputes happen from time to time. There was a fear that senior personnel would be looking for what might be described as parliamentary moles to fight their case for them outside the new framework. There was also a fear that they would use the media to fight their battles, rather than doing so within the proper guidelines. I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will give us an interim report and say whether the Government are satisfied that the new structure is right.
Although there may be some doubts as to the new structure, there are no doubts as to the quality of our armed forces, and I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the items of new army equipment which are coming forward. His speech will provide a useful framework within which to study the position.
I think that we are all particularly concerned about our defence burden as compared with that of our allies. The right hon. Member for Llanelli mentioned that concern, and I hope that the Minister will deal with it in his reply. A very revealing table, at the end of a defence White Paper, shows the relative proportions of GNP devoted to defence. The right hon. Member was right to point out that it shows 5.4 per cent. of our GNP as compared with 3.4 per cent. for West Germany, a much wealthier country, devoted to defence. There is some substance in the right hon. Gentleman's question as to whether the West Germans should be bearing a greater proportion of defence costs. They have done it in past years under the offset agreements, and it might be appropriate to raise that matter with our allies.
While there may be some doubts about the burden that we are carrying and about our present defence structure, there is no doubt about the quality of our armed forces and their expertise. Over the years I have had the opportunity of observing that quality, not just because I have the 482 privilege of representing a garrison constituency, but because of the visits that I have been able to pay to many parts of the world to observe at first hand the efforts of our armed forces.
I suppose that the most dramatic visit was to the Falkland Islands. I took part in the first parliamentary delegation after the confrontation with the Argentines. We were able to see the terrain over which our soldiers, sailors and airmen worked. We saw the vast distances and the tremendous logistic achievement when we were pounding across the ocean from Ascension Island to the Falklands. The expertise of our Army was proved in the Falklands, just as it has been proved every day in Northern Ireland.
Perhaps the most significant feature of the Falklands campaign was that it gave credibility to the whole of the Western defence posture. Suppose that one were in the position of one of the tough men in the Politburo, asking whether the so-and-so democracies would ever bestir themselves. The answer was clearly given, because we did bestir ourselves. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen acquitted themselves magnificently, giving credibility to the whole of the Western defence posture, and in particular to our own defence posture.
I should like to comment briefly on the Army Exercise Lionheart, which has just taken place. Some of us had the opportunity of seeing part of it. It was a magnificent achievement on the part of a large number of our armed forces, many of them Territorials. We welcome what has been said about the expansion of the Territorials and the better equipment being provided for them. To get that large number of our forces in a position to reinforce BAOR with such rapidity and smoothness was a remarkable achievement, again showing the credibility of the whole of our Western defence posture.
I had some complaints from constituents about traffic delays. Usually I am sympathetic to constituents' problems, but I showed very little sympathy when they complained about being held up at a particular junction in Colchester. The Army was meticulous in preparing the ground for the exercise. There were local press conferences, and the motoring organisations were given full information about it.
In debating the affairs of the Army today we are in the fortunate position of having had some superb examples of what our troops can do in a hot war such as that in the Falklands. We have also, as I said earlier, the continuing example of what the Army can do in bearing the great strains of its presence in Northern Ireland. Over the years the strain has been tremendous, and I do not think that any armed forces but ours could have sustained such a burden or have done it with the success and self-restraint that ours have shown. That cannot be said too frequently. They have operated in a hot war and in the quasi-war circumstances in Northern Ireland. I repeat that it was a great privilege to see Exercise Lionheart carried out with such consummate skill. In addition to giving credibility to our Western defence posture, those activities and efforts make war much less probable than it otherwise would be. They improve the chances of eventually getting the arms reductions talks under way. We all pay tribute to the great expertise of our Army.
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)
I am pleased that the Minister has announced the help that is being given to widows. When widows were permitted to visit their 483 husbands' graves in the Falklands, many of us referred to other widows who had not had the opportunity to see the graves of their departed husbands in other parts of the world. The Minister having made that concession, he should give as many widows as possible who lost their husbands in the last war the first opportunity to visit their graves. Many of them will not be able to travel, but it is right that first preference be given to those who can, and who now have few years left in which to see the graves of their dear ones.
The crucial question of this and other defence debates is not what supplies the Army has but that the Government should define clearly the Army's role. As a relatively small country with limited resources, I do not believe that we can for much longer pursue a policy under which we have a worldwide role, a United Nations' role, a Commonwealth role and a NATO role, because we are overstretching our commitments. The more we overstretch our commitments, the less we can supply with equipment the soldiers whom we put into action.
Some of us forget, with the winning of the Falklands campaign, how near-run an exercise that was. We tend to forget, in the words of Admiral Woodward, who debriefed us as the first delegation to the Falklands when we returned to this country, that had that campaign taken place months later, when the Government's policy for the Navy would have removed the essential carriers, it would not have been possible. We tend to glory in that campaign and equate what was in essence the defeat of a fourth-rate military power with the ability to take on a first-rate nuclear power, which is envisaged in the nuclear strategy that the Government are following. Let us remember that when the Falklands campaign finished we were down to six shells per battery. The logistics were very good, but it was a very near-run thing.
Let us remember that the commitments that we now have to the Falklands and Northern Ireland must limit our commitments to NATO. When I visited the Falklands, I met Lightning pilots who said, "We are out here because it is our job, but we should remember that our commitment is also to NATO. We cannot do two jobs and wear two hats at the distance of 8,000 miles." How can the Government continue that universal commitment and still claim that they could contribute the reserves required in a NATO phase? I fear that the Government, like many others in NATO, are now relying on theatre nuclear weapons to make up the deficit. Not only will that continued policy lead to an early escalation of nuclear weapons, but it will deprive this nation of any chance of survival.
Let us make no mistake: once the first theatre nuclear weapon or nuclear shell is launched the whole of Europe, be it east or west, will cease to exist. Many of us do not forget that it might be in the interest not only of the USSR but of America for a battle to be fought in Europe rather than on the territory of the super-powers. We should remember that in 1945 Nagasaki and Hiroshima were utilised as an example of the potency of atomic weapons at that time. Can we set aside the fact that in the strategies of the super-powers that concept does not exist? Were the roles reversed, our Government would certainly consider that possibility. I am not saying that the USSR and the United States are planning to destroy us. I am saying that 484 they would be much happier, were there to be a nuclear conflict, for it to happen in Europe rather than on American or Russian soil.
When the Government follow the expensive Trident policy, they are depriving our conventional forces of the resources that they require. In Cyprus last year, along with some of my colleagues in the Conservative party, I saw armoured units rejigging equipment that came into service after 1950. That is the sort of equipment that the British Army is using at the moment. It is all right for the Minister to say what is in the pipeline, but the essential thing is how well equipped the British Army is today, with the best that can be produced.
Let us remember that weeks before the conflict in the Falklands British factories were churning out more effective weapons than our troops had and were sending them to Argentina. If our ships had been equipped with the most up-to-date weapons that we could produce, few of them would have fallen foul of the Exocet missiles. Those are the challenges that we face as a nation. If we send British soldiers into battle, they must be sent with the best equipment that can be produced.
It has been said that if we followed a non-nuclear policy that would be a severe blow to NATO. Norway and other Scandinavian countries which are members of NATO follow such a policy, and I am not aware that their contribution is regarded as any less than that of others.
When we procure weapons for the British forces and the contract goes to the United States, the information that comes from the research and development of those weapons should be shared with factories in the United Kingdom. One large employer that is not situated in my constituency but in an adjoining one is a missile manufacturer. It constantly reminds me that one of the worries about contracts going to places such as the United States is that that country is not prepared to share the results of the research and development that go into the production of a weapon. So, in many cases, factories are losing not just one contract but a whole generation of weapons which would result from that contract. That is the argument. Ministers may shake their heads, but will they clarify for me whether, when a contract goes abroad, the research and development involved in that contract will be equally shared with the factories in this country which may be competing on the successor contract?
We have talked a great deal about the Army, but it is essential in any Army debate to consider what happens to the civilians. The Germans may argue that they have issued instructions so that if there were a war their civilians would stay put, but some of us are old enough to remember that in the 1940s one of the major problems was that the roads of France and Belgium were choked with civilians trying to get away. There has been very little response on this problem of civilian movement. If anyone supposes that in a conflict German, Dutch, French or even British civilians will quietly sit tight when they know that there is not one iota of provision for their safety in the event of an early nuclear escalation, he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. We can have all the plans we like, but unless we convince the civilians of this country that they themselves will in some measure survive a conflict, there will not be the morale for any fight in which this country may be involved in future.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I shall be brief. I apologise to the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young) for not following his remarks, but I will say how glad I am that he mentioned the question of the visits by widows to their husbands' and other relatives' graves and that he agrees that the British Army should have the best equipment.
As all wars are eventually won on the ground, the role of the army is increasingly important, and it is essential that we should think not only about conflicts abroad but about the defence of our homeland. In that context, we must turn our attention to the reserve forces.
I also wish to say a few words about Exercise Lionheart, which I was privileged to attend, and about the importance of bringing more women into the services so that we can release men for combatant duties.
We all know that no conventional forces of ours can possibly match those of the Soviet Union. It has been suggested that there may be equality of conventional forces, but of course that is not so. The Soviets can have a massive and quick build-up of materials from very close to the frontier, and that makes their task of reinforcement very much easier. Our Operation Lionheart was very efficienctly done, but it took time. The Russians have the tremendous advantage of a quick build-up. They have the SS21s, as the Minister said, and the SS22s. We cannot, therefore, separate ourselves from the nuclear deterrent.
The Minister touched on the necessity to protect our home base. I envisage a new type of attack in which small, highly sophisticated Soviet units would land in this country by air. We have to combat a new and serious threat against our country. Such forces could easily cut our power supplies and our transport systems and communications, and could almost paralyse our country.
We must build up our reserves. I was glad to hear what the Minister said about the Home Service Force, but the increase should be very much greater. The increases in the numbers of Territorials that have been announced are equally important. We must ask ourselves whether a world war would be fought in Europe, but we must also protect our home base. We must look to our home base.
Lionheart was a brilliant operation involving the movement of 131,000 troops. Many hon. Members were present, including my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). The operation not only taught us many lessons but showed the world that, four years after the last exercise—Crusader —we were able to mount a massive exercise with surprisingly little trouble. Of course there were hiccups. Some of the men called up had not been fully analysed. They had been trained, but when they were sent to the front line not enough was known about them. It was known that they could fire certain guns, but not how accurate they would be. Many days were wasted before sending them to the front line. In general, in assessing their degree of skill, however, the operation was a great success.
What would be the civilian reaction in war time? None of us knows. At a later date, when there has been a report on Lionheart, the Minister may be able to discover what the reaction in peace time was, but reactions in peace time and in war time are entirely different things. We must also think about the possibility of East Germany fighting West Germany. That is an important consideration.
486 One cannot pay a high enough tribute to the men on Lionheart. Some of them worked for 70 hours on end. They were cheerful and enthusiastic. They realised that they were doing something different—that they were contributing to the success of the biggest operation since the second world war. That was a challenge to them.
I pay tribute to the Minister for sending out warning letters to the men and for taking the precaution of sending letters to their employers. That was a wise move. It is difficult for employers to release men for service, but they were made to feel that they themselves were part of he exercise.
I felt that it would, perhaps, have been better for the men and the vehicles to travel together. In some cases they had to travel separately, and there was a slight delay in marrying the men and the vehicles. However, Lionheart was undoubtedly one of the most incredible exercises that there has ever been.
The young women officer cadets from the universities were unbelievably efficient, as were the men. However, I should like to turn my attention to the WRAC. We know about the Queen Alexandra nurses, and some WRACs are attached independently to the hospitals, but there are many more jobs such as engineering and storekeeping that could be done by women. If we could interest more women in such work, we could release the men for other duties. Perhaps functions such as engineering and storekeeping could be organised in terms of units rather than individuals. In principle, people like to be attached with their friends. There is scope for increasing the number of women in the forces, just as it is necessary to increase our reserve in home service forces. It is important that we should be able to defend our country against a new type of attack.
I end on a domestic note. I hope that the Victoria barracks at Windsor will be rebuilt as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
I should like to endorse the tributes that have been paid to the performance of British service men. It is not possible to represent a traditional Army town such as Woolwich, as I have done for the past 10 years, without being aware of the contribution of our soldiers and how much we owe to their dedication and professionalism.
Woolwich has a long history of providing civilian support units which provide the Army with essential services. They have been run down recently as a mixture of privatisation, amalgamation and rationalisation have taken their toll on defence jobs. I should like to mention just one domestic concern the Army Cataloguing Authority, which has been threatened for the past 18 months with dispersal to Glasgow. That proposition produced a powerful reaction from the staff because of the obvious problems of personal hardship that would be involved and because there is overwhelming evidence that, the efficiency of the unit would be considerably impaired if it were so far away from its main areas of responsibility. Ministers have helpfully promised to re-examine the problem. I am sure that they understand that uncertainty is creating anxiety among the work force and their families. I know that an early statement would be much appreciated by those workers.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) that there is a growing feeling among experts and non-experts that NATO should reduce its dependence on 487 nuclear weapons, especially battlefield nuclear weapons, which many of us have long regarded as the most dangerous in the nuclear arsenal. We are told that they are subject to effective political control but many of us doubt whether, in the event of conventional attack, the 16 member nations of NATO will ceremonially debate the possibility of using battlefield systems. The risk is that, under pressure in a conventional attack, such systems might be used. We should then have crossed the nuclear threshold and have entered unknown territory. We do not know what continuing nuclear exchange would result.
I was disappointed that Lord Carrington, in one of his first statements as Secretary General of NATO, last week poured scorn on the idea that we should move towards a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. I agree that we cannot embrace no first use unless and until our conventional forces are sufficient to deter any aggression. However, I do not agree with Lord Carrington when he implies that we must retain indefinitely the threat of first use of nuclear weapons. I much prefer the attitude of a soldier such as General Rogers, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, who has suggested for some time that we must improve our conventional capability. He made his point robustly about one year ago when he 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. If we get to that position, and are perceived as being in that position, I think we'll deter the Soviets from attacking because if they attack and we are successful in frustrating it, they have two options: one is to withdraw and the other is to be the first to escalate to the use of theatre nuclear weapons.That is a more sensible and credible defence posture for NATO.
As to how we improve our conventional defence, many people present us with the beguiling argument that we must embrace all of the exciting emerging technologies. We should be cautious about pursuing such a course too far. It is clear that they will be extremely expensive options. We know from recent and extensive military experience that sophisticated weapons systems are seldom brought in on time or on budget. We are faced with some newly developed weapons systems, trying to find a role to justify their purchase. I share doubts about whether NATO's strategy should depend on the idea of attacking massed Soviet second echelon forces. There is a distinct possibility that the Soviets will not mass their second echelon forces, conveniently presenting an appealing target. We should consider less dramatic but no less effective methods of improving our conventional defence. Like the right hon. Member for Llanelli, I examined the International Institute for Strategic Studies' conventional force balance assessment. Unlike the right hon. Member for Llanelli, I took the 1984 assessment rather than the outdated one that he used. The 1984 assessment is clear. It says:the Warsaw Pact enjoys numerical advantage in virtually all categories of weapons shown".That is a pretty chilling assessment. The institute made another more important suggestion about Warsaw pact advantages. It draws attention to the advantage of the Warsaw pact in having a common approach in the weapons systems that are deployed and the doctrines governing the use of those systems. In NATO, the doctrines governing the use of weapons systems are certainly not identical and 488 we have a wide variety of weapons systems, equipment and support vehicles. As a result, we have duplication of supply systems and the problems of interoperability with which the House is familiar. The institute says that NATO's logistic system is based almost entirely on national supply lines and is made much worse by a lack of standardisation between nations and of central coordination.
The problems of ammunition and supply shortages have been mentioned. We are glad that some remedial action is being taken. The Warsaw pact faces similar shortages but, as it operates on standard equipment, restocking is much more simple than it is for NATO. These issues are not new to the defence debate. I have been a delegate to the North Atlantic Assembly since 1976. We have discussed these problems since then and no doubt they were discussed before. It would be interesting to hear the Government's view on commonality and to learn what progress we are likely to be able to make.
It is worth quoting the International Institute for Strategic Studies' conclusion. It says:The numerical balance — particularly in equipment —continues to move gradually in favour of the East. At the same time, the West has largely lost the technological edge in conventional equipment which allowed NATO to believe that quality could substitute for numbers … one cannot necessarily conclude that NATO would suffer defeat in war, nor that the Warsaw Pact would see its advantage as being sufficient to risk an attack, but one can conclude that there is still sufficient danger in the trend to require remedies in the Western Alliance, particularly as manpower shortage becomes a problem by the end of the 1980s.We are all aware of the problem of demographic trends and the reduction in the size of the 16 to 19-year-old age group through the 1980s and into the 1990s. The 1981 defence White Paper drew attention to that and said that, according to the plans then envisaged, the services would need about 46,000 extra recruits each year. Obtaining them meant recruiting between 9 per cent. and 10 per cent. of men entering that age group at the start of the decade and rather more towards the end. Figures in the 1981 defence White Paper took us to 1991. The figures are more worrying if they are taken further on. Whereas in 1983 there were 1.929 million 16 to 19-year-olds, there will be only 1.351 million in 1995. That demonstrates the problem of providing necessary manpower. Some of our European NATO allies are reacting to that problem by extending conscription. That option is not open to us. I understand the contribution that is being made by the Territorial Army and by other means but wonder whether that is enough. I should be interested to hear the Minister's response to our manpower problems.
Finally, I endorse what the right hon. Member for Llanelli said about our inability to look at the problems of Army equipment without considering the way in which the Trident missile purchase dominates the scene. The defence White Paper gave the purchase price of Trident as £8,729 million. That was based on an exchange rate of ․1.53 to the pound. An exchange rate of ․1.19 to the pound adds about £850 million to the Trident purchase price. If we build in the inherent inflation present in any such weapon system, I calculate that the Government's next estimate will put the cost of Trident at more than £10 billion.
However confident Conservative Members are, I do not believe that we can continue with that purchase, based as it is on steadily rising costs, and meet all the other necessary costs involved in the improvements of our conventional forces, including all those on the shopping 489 list that the Minister read out at the start of the debate. The two demands cannot be met out of one defence budget which will come under increasing pressure towards the end of this decade. That is why there is a powerful case for cancelling the Trident purchase, retaining Polaris for the moment and, if necessary, replacing it with a cheaper, less sophisticated but just as effective strategic nuclear deterrent. The savings should then be switched, not to schools, hospitals, pensions and other desirable spheres, but to the improvement of our conventional defence. That offers the most effective and credible defence policy for both Britain and NATO.
§ 7.2 pm
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I am grateful for this opportunity to take part in the debate, which is of significance to my constituents in Shrewsbury, which has long-established and substantial connections with the Army. I thank my right hon. Friend the Minister, and the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces in another place for keeping me informed of the developments affecting the Sir John Moore barracks, the Light Infantry training depot in Shrewsbury. I am glad that since we last discussed the subject the Property Services Agency, Headquarters western district, and the new company of the 5th Battalion, Light Infantry Volunteers are to be based at that depot.
It would not be appropriate for me to comment on which portion of the barracks should go to which vested interest, but, as a member of the Light Infantry Regiment, I hope that it will have a significant role to play in the future of the Sir John Moore barracks. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, I know that the barracks have played a strong role in the civic functions which have taken place there. The mayor, the council and the people of Shrewsbury are anxious that there will continue to be a strong Light Infantry presence after the depot has moved to Winchester. I am, therefore, particularly glad that in the expansion plans for the Territorial Army the new rifle company to be raised for the Light Infantry will be based in Shrewsbury.
Many hon. Members have been encouraging about Exercise Lionheart. I took part, not as a visiting Member of Parliament, but as operations officer for 5LI. It was a good exercise and our battalion was involved in a considerable amount of activity. I found that the training which new hon. Members had received in the late nights before the recess came in handy, when at one point I had gone for 42 hours without sleep. I wondered whether volunteering for such an activity rather than visiting with my parliamentary colleagues had been the right decision.
Compared with the length of time that the movement took for Exercise Crusader, it is clear that substantial changes have been made. The use of the chain of command that exists in the Army rather than using air movement staff exclusively played a considerable part in ensuring that mobilisation took place smoothly. I was particularly impressed with the patience and friendliness of the German population, which we experienced as we undertook battalion attacks. They were extraordinarily helpful and showed great fortitude under considerable strain. That expensive exercise proved that the reinforcing capability of the Territorial Army and volunteer reservists exists and is effective. Therefore, I suggest that it is well worth the quite minimal expenditure allocated to them within the Army budget.
490 On 26 March the Secretary of State informed the House that the Territorial Army was to be increased to 86,000 by 1990. As the Ministry has progressed towards the establishment of the new battalions, I have watched to see whether there is likely to be any change between the recruiting areas as they exist for Regular battalions and as they are to be earmarked for the new Territorial battalions. If, as I suspect, we shall see an even greater expansion of the Territorial Army, at the behest of the Treasury if of no one else, it is important that the recruiting boundaries between the Regular and Territorial Armies remain coterminous so that the recruiting spin-off to the TA continues.
I wish to raise a doubting note about the future of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve associations. There is no doubt that they have fulfilled a useful task, especially in lobbying employers to release personnel to take part in Territorial Army training. I believe that their role for the future is limited and that they have become anachronistic. If we are to develop the concept of one Army, it has no place within the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve associations, which retain their budgetary and real estate control. The time is ripe for the Ministry of Defence to consider whether they have a future role.
I appreciate, as many of my colleagues in the Territorial Army would say, that the associations have a valuable lobbying role in ensuring that the volunteer voice is heard against the weight of Regular Army officers. However, the honorary colonel system provides adequate compensation for that, and it would no doubt continue.
All hon. Members have paid tribute to the one-Army concept. To develop that theme and the fact that 25 per cent. of the mobilised strength costs 4.5 per cent. of the Army's budget, and bearing in mind that we have 21 type B United Kingdom-based, NATO-committed Territorial Army battalions, the mobilisation of the Territorial Army to its deployment areas in BAOR will become increasingly difficult unless armoured personnel carriers are provided. That point does not need to be laboured, but it will not disappear. It is not good enough to pay lip-service to the one-Army concept and have a substantial number of reserve troops arriving in BAOR in unprotected soft-skin vehicles.
In previous debates hon. Members have raised the problem of Department of Health and Social Security payments, and Ministers have said that progress is hopeful. I believe that no substantial progress has been made. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us whether his colleagues in the DHSS are getting nearer to having a consistent policy so that unemployed members of the Territorial Army, the Royal Naval Reserve and so on receive consistent treatment. It is a disgrace that in some parts of the country treatment is not that which should be expected by those who support the Territorial Army.
The Shapland report suggested, albeit in 1978—these are the latest available figures — that the Territorial Army suffered from a 30 per cent. annual turnover and referred to the effect that that naturally had on training. In future, it may be worth it for the Ministry of Defence to consider the introduction of a Territorial Army pension, similar to that operated by the National Guard in the United States of America. It ensures the continuity which is desirable when training men to use expensive equipment, it is of substantial help in the retention and discipline factors, and it helps to ensure that men attend for minimal training.
491 Finally, I float the thought of national service, not, as is often discussed in this House and in the media, of the type that exists among our NATO Allies. For example, the West German Government are considering whether to extend their national service from 15 to 18 months. That will be considered by the Bundestag soon. I have always been against the thought of the 24-month conscription that used to exist in Britain, which is an abhorrent concept, but, as we enter changing times, would it be worth considering a form of Territorial Army national service?
On page 34 of the 1984 defence Estimates it was said in the article entitled "Twice a Citizen" that the Territorial Army fosters "self-reliance, loyalty and responsibility" in its individuals. I suggest to the House that that is a worthy motive that could apply to many thousands of our young people. There are 3,270,000 men and 3,170,000 women aged between 18 and 24. I do not suggest that they all be mobilised the weekend after next, but the idea of a Territorial Army national service could be considered to bring our young people into the thought of serving their country and living up to the title that Winston Churchill gave to the Territorial Army of "twice a citizen".
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I shall address my remarks to the defence Estimates for 1984 and especially to the section that relates to BAOR, because the Estimates afford us tantalising glimpses of current developments that will have a profound effect upon the capabilities of BAOR. Therefore, the House will have welcomed the Minister's further reference to those developments, just as it will have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway). Among current developments is the fact that greater attention is now being paid to the role of our reserves. Many of us watched with great interest how the reserves performed in Exercise Lionheart; that was the main lesson that Exercise Lionheart held for most of us. It has been of great assistance to hon. Members to hear another hon. Member describe his experiences. It is one thing to go, as many of us do, as observers to exercises, but we rarely have the opportunity of listening to one of our colleagues describing his experiences as a practitioner on the inside.
However, the Minister might have given us more information, because the Estimates have been published for many months and there must have been more developments than his treatment of them today warranted. Paragraph 418 states:Our programme to keep the Army's armour and anti-armour capabilities abreast"—please note the word "abreast"—of the improvements to Warsaw Pact Armoured Forces is reaching a significant phase.Does the Minister expect the House to take seriously the use of the word "abreast", given what he said about the increased threat and especially about the augmentation of Soviet armoured forces and artillery? He gave us staggering figures. When we have the chance to read in Hansard tomorrow what he said we shall see how wide is the gap and how vague the correlation.
Given what the Minister said about the further build-up of Soviet armour and the introduction into service of the Soviet T80, why did he not mention MLRS? Why did he 492 have to wait for my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) to mention it? Not only has MLRS been in the press recently, but we know that it is important to us. Moreover, it is the centrepiece of European collaboration. If MLRS does not prove that collaboration can work effectively, quite apart from the contribution that it must make to the Army's effectiveness, it will be a great disappointment to all of us.
Paragraph 420 states:A new wheeled armoured personnel carrier—Saxon—will be introduced later this year to enhance the mobility of infantry earmarked to reinforce BAOR.Of course, that is welcome, but has there been progress on the concurrent programme for the mechanised combat vehicle—the MCV80— given what the Minister said about Soviet artillery? Has production started, as envisaged in paragraph 420, of theinfantry's new family of small arms … due to enter service next year"?In paragraph 421 we are told that work is in hand ondefining new systems to be developed for in-depth surveillance and target acquisition, based on remotely piloted vehicles and airborne battlefield surveillance radars.There is no hon. Member who does not appreciate the importance of that; perhaps no current development is more important. The Minister reaffirmed that, but could he not have told the House a little more today? To what effect does that work proceed?
Paragraph 422 states:Major improvement programmes under way in air defence will maintain the operational effectiveness of Rapier and Blowpipe in the sophisticated electronic warfare environment to be expected in any conflict in Europe.The Minister simply underscored or re-emphasised—that is important—what is already in the Estimates, but the House would have welcomed an update and a little more information.
The Minister assured us that the target set in paragraph 422 would be achieved by the end of this year, whenall towed Rapier units will have increased immunity to electronic countermeasures and enhanced surveillance radars.Again, he told us more about the threat but left us wondering about the reconciliation of our capability and its potential with that threat.
The Minister also talked about an increasingly menacing and hostile air environment. Given what is said in paragraph 422 and what the Minister could not go further and say today, is that enough? Why did he not mention the Patriot system or a similar system?
Over and above such modernisation programmes are problems that continue to give rise to anxiety; the Minister mentioned them. Notable among them are reinforcement and reserves, which is why we were so impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. However, the Minister did not mention the role in the exercise of 6 Air Mobile Brigade. Can reinforcements be properly accommodated and deployed when they get there? I should have like to have heard a little more about this from the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. How did he find infrastructure and stocks, or what had he heard of them? I would have wished to have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments on sustainability, about which the Minister had much to say. What about the modernisation of C3I? Is that proceeding satisfactorily?
What of new techniques, such as thermal imaging, which promises to enhance night-fighting capability? The Minister mentioned all those developments, but I stress that we need more information. However, he neglected 493 current thinking on a more flexible interpretation of forward defence and air-land battle, although my right hon. Friend mentioned them. Most importantly, the Minister neglected to mention, as did the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli, the growing revulsion at the use of nuclear weapons.
Those are the most important issues before us. We may not talk about them in the House; we would not if it were left to Conservative Members and to Ministers. It is all right for them, and especially the Secretary of State when he is addressing the Tory conference, to dismiss Opposition thinking. It may not be to the satisfaction of everyone in the House, or indeed of everyone on the Opposition side of the House, but at least it is new thinking that is breaking new ground. I might not be easily reconciled with all of it, but I served on the Labour defence working party that produced the document entitled "Defence and Security for Britain", and I am pleased that I did, because it contains new thinking that will survive the present pessimism in the Conservative party, as shown by articles such as the one by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) that appeared in the Daily Telegraph today.
Those issues are being discussed outside the House in Britain and everywhere in the Alliance, as the hon. Member for Woolwich knows, because he told us of his long service in the North Atlantic Assembly. He also told us how this discussion is calling into question the use of nuclear systems in the battlefield environment. There is already great scepticism, and I would have wished to have heard the comments of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham on whether battlefield nuclear systems will ever be used. He must know that there is a growing resistance to their use in Europe. It would not be right to talk about our Army, but that is certainly the case among our allies and certainly all the defence literature tells us that.
That raises questions about the concept of first use, never mind early first use. One would not know it from the Minister's speech this afternoon, but the stage is already set for a public discussion on the use of nuclear weapons in all circumstances. As someone who has been actively involved in defence matters for many years, both in Government and in Opposition, and who campaigned on behalf of my party's policy in the general election just over a year ago, I know that the British public will today accept nothing less from all political parties than a realistic and convincing defence policy. As someone who has pursued less nuclear-reliant strategies on behalf of my party in NATO circles since 1979—as the hon. Member for Woolwich will confirm — and has served on the working group which produced Labour's new defence policy statement, I know that that statement takes us some way towards the fulfilment of such a policy.
The statement does not conceal the seriousness of the threat, notwithstanding the Minister's dismissive comments when he intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli. It was clear that the Minister had not read the statement. I doubt whether many Conservative Members have read our policy. The document states:The case for a non-nuclear defensive deterrence policy does not depend on taking a sanguine view of Soviet policy".That is stated at the outset. We do not discount the threat. The document adds: 494We recognise that the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies have a large military capability, which could pose a potential military threat to Western Europe".On the other hand, it stresses the need for a continuing strong commitment to NATO, with future British Governments working within it for change to less nuclear-reliant strategies and, moreover, with like-minded colleagues in every other member nation of the Alliance. The document continues:We should take participation seriously, not opt out".The document recognises that theprocess of disarmament will riot occur overnight".It insists thatwe are realists".Most important, it seeks to use Britain'smajor and unique contribution to NATO to work positively for European nuclear disarmament".Our aim is to sustain—if change—NATO, not unravel it. Therefore, we are well aware that we cannot renounce the use of nuclear arms without putting something else, such as conventional arms, in their place. We would thus avoid the charge of the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) that we would introduce destabilisation. We shall not make the mistake of this Conservative Government, who believe that they can have Trident without affecting conventional forces. We do riot deceive ourselves into imagining that we can undertake unilateralism without a compensating change in conventional force levels.
The question of a conventional defence of Europe has recently gained prominence within the Alliance, due largely to the public debate promoted by the Labour party in this country and by Socialist parties elsewhere in the Alliance over the role of nuclear weapons in Alliance strategy. Should the Alliance seek to reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons, it will be necessary to put a credible and affordable conventional capability in its place. Therefore, a less nuclear-reliant NATO strategy makes sense militarily as well as politically.
New conventional weapons technology such as terminally guided submunitions and advanced data processing has made qualitative modernisation of non-nuclear defence possible, as the Minister knows. Specifically, the ability to interdict Warsaw pact second echelon reinforcements before they reach the forward edge of the battle area has been made feasible by new technologies. Successful disruption of Warsaw pact follow-on forces would make conventional engagement of isolated first echelon forces more manageable and would thereby raise the nuclear threshold in the central region.
I am well aware of the risk to which the hon. Member for Woolwich drew attention—that increasing reliance on such sophisticated technology will perhaps land us with extremely capable but unaffordable weapons systems. Budgetary pressures and escalating procurement costs for modern systems make it necessary to scrutinise carefully the extent to which expensive technologies can contribute to the overall effectiveness of conventional forces. Nil Opposition Members would like the Government to start doing that, notably with Trident.
How much and in what way NATO conventional forces could and should be strengthened as a non-nuclear option is a question which the Labour party is already facing up to. But what of the Conservative Government? Can they yet tell us how much is enough in conventional capability to maintain deterrence without risking the threat of early first use of nuclear weapons? What possibilities is new 495 technology opening up for non-nuclear defence? What means of improving conventional defence would be most cost-effective? Are the Government prepared to devote additional resources to conventional forces? If additional resources are not available, what trade-offs or new priorities within current force plans make most sense? Increasingly, these questions are exercising the minds of people who are interested in defence. Some of them are exercising the minds of lay people, and one or two, especially the important questions about nuclear use, are exercising the minds of most, if not all, people.
The Labour party is raising all those questions. When will the Government start facing up to just some of them? Britain, and not merely the Government, is at a crossroads in defence policy. The Government are trying to go two ways at once, and as a result face a future of further defence reviews and an erosion of our conventional capability.
If the Labour party continues to face up to the challange of the late 1980s and convincingly presents a reasonable and realistic deterrent without having to resort to the nuclear option, I firmly believe that the British people will come to feel more secure with us.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
It is nice to find a reader in this place, even if he were not persuaded—but then few of my readers ever are. I did not know that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) was a member of the working party which conceived this curious document. I am extremely pleased that he was, because I feel that the result would have been far worse had he not sat on that body. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all was the absence of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who knows more about defence and foreign policy than anyone in the House of Commons. That he should have been excluded from that working party tells a story and a half.
I wish briefly to follow some of the points made by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) in his admirably argued speech. I wish to ask whether no first use is a sensible proposition and a good idea. The Soviets have made such a no first use declaration. Therefore, should we follow suit?
As we have heard, Labour's new policy is against the first use of other people's nuclear weapons, because clearly the Labour party wishes to rid us of our own nuclear capability. If so, a number of questions spring to mind. Would the Russians believe us if we made a no first use announcement, and what would be the effect of such an announcement on the Germans, Social Democrats and Christian Democrats alike?
Being Marxists, good, bad and indifferent, the Soviets might well believe that politics is a rational activity and that faced with defeat in a conventionally fought war the West would acquiesce in that defeat. But, as we have discovered to our cost over many years and under many Governments, I am afraid that politics is not a rational activity. At the back of the Soviet planners' minds there would remain the fear that we might behave out of character.
The Germans clearly wish to raise the nuclear threshold—so do we—but they are reluctant to issue a licence to fight a conventional war in Europe because they 496 still believe that the deterrent power of United States nuclear weapons has preserved the peace. Incidentally, so do the French Socialist Government.
We hear a lot about ET—emerging technology. We should now ask whether its adoption would be enough to eliminate NATO's dependence on nuclear first use. We all wish to raise the nuclear threshold, but in view of the Soviet nuclear arsenal and the superiority of the Warsaw pact's intermediate range nuclear forces, armour and aircraft, there is no Allied Administration or Government who advocate the removal from Europe of American nuclear power.
By advocating reliance on non-nuclear defence the Labour party is ploughing a lonely furrow and is out on its own. The weakness of the new Labour party document is that it is a compromise between two irreconcilables. One strand is represented by the hon. Member for Attercliffe and holds that Britain should remain as a member of NATO, which is, whether we like it or not, a nuclear alliance. The second strand holds that we should unilaterally disarm ourselves of our nuclear weapons and at the same time expel American nuclear bases from this country. The policy set out in the document is a compromise between the right and centre of the Labour party, which believes in collective security and NATO, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which, at every one of its annual conferences, has voted that Britain should remove itself from NATO. That is the weakness that lies beneath this document.
The question which the Labour party cannot face is this: how can the West defend itself against an enemy that may use, or, as is much more likely, threaten to use, nuclear weapons against it if it has none? Is the Labour party simply relying upon the United States to use nuclear weapons on our behalf and that of our Allies? I cannot escape the conclusion that the latter theory is true.
The Government should adopt a cautious attitude towards emerging technology. It will not solve all our problems overnight. It can raise the nuclear threshold, and I hope that it can substitute "No early first use" for "No first use." Whatever the wonders of science, the cost of emerging technology can only be met out of existing defence budgets.
Will the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who will wind up for the Opposition, answer two questions? First, how large a proportion of the money saved by the cancellation of Trident would a Labour Government make over to conventional forces? Secondly, would our Allies do as much?
Much play is made of the Norwegian and Danish examples. Those countries are members of NATO, but they will not permit nuclear weapons to be stationed on their soil in peacetime. Would a Labour Government, undertaking the Labour party's present policies of excluding Americans and abandoning our nuclear weapons, permit American nuclear weapons on our soil were war to break out?
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
I question whether the use of House of Commons envelopes to make notes for the speech of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) is the best use of that paper. I commend to the hon. Gentleman a document which he obviously has not read—"Defence and Security for Britain"—which the 497 Labour party has produced. It will cost him only 95p to buy, but if he does not think that he can afford it we can arrange to have it photocopied for him instantly.
In that document the Labour party makes its policies clear and provides a background to its thinking. We do not suggest that our defence policies, any more than our policies in any other sector, will necessarily remain unchanged between now and the next general election. The document makes clear the basis on which the next Labour Government will approach their responsibilities.
As our long-term objective we have laid down the establishment of a new security system in Europe and a mutual and concurrent phasing out of NATO and the Warsaw pact. Let there be no misunderstanding. This will not happen easily or quickly. However, the Labour party is committed to this long-term objective. In the meantime, we believe in a realistic non-nuclear defence policy for Britain within NATO. This will mean retaining adequate conventional forces, ships and aircraft for our defence. It also means taking independent steps to increase the security of the world.
In this debate some hon. Members have argued that NATO can move towards a "no first use" policy, or adopt a "no early first use" policy by increased spending on offensive conventional forces—the so-called deep strike weapons. Such proposals are extremely dangerous. They promise little or no reduction in reliance on nuclear weapons, they increase the chances of a conventional arms race, and they will be looked upon by the Soviet Union as a move towards obtaining a capability for military advance into eastern Europe.
NATO defences could be improved; for example, by the better use of reserve forces, by the construction of barriers and obstacles on the intra-German borders and by the increased use of new technology anti-tank weapons. All these measures are proposed in the Labour party document. Improvements in conventional defence must be, and must be seen to be, clearly defensive if they are not to do more harm than good. Plans for deep strike and airland battles must be opposed.
I wonder why the Government are being so coy on this issue. When I was a Member of the European Parliament, my colleagues and I complained when it took three months for the Executive to answer letters from us. We were told that things were better in the House of Commons and that we would get quick answers to our letters if we were Members of the Westminster Parliament. However, there must be a particular problem in the Ministry of Defence. When I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence on 26 September, I expected that by 22 October I would have a reply to the questions that I asked, but I have had no such reply.
I am not surprised by this delay, because it would embarrass the Government to answer those questions. I asked the Secretary of State for Defence about the United States doctrine of airland battle, which encourages earlier first use of battlefield nuclear weapons in the event of a Soviet penetration into NATO territory. On 24 September it was made clear in the BBC2 programme "Newsnight" by the former NATO commander of the Atlantic sector that he did not expect NATO forces to withstand a Warsaw pact attack. Therefore, it follows that NATO's current defence relies solely on the use of nuclear battlefield weapons, in the absence of conventional effective defence.
498 I shall remind the House of what the United States airland battle doctrine advocates. It recommends earlier first use of nuclear weapons, it emphasises winning a war through the mixed use of nuclear, conventional and chemical weapons, and it envisages capturing East German and Czechoslovak territory within the first week of war. Ministers have repeatedly denied these points, in both written and oral questions, although they can all be substantiated, and are easily substantiated, by either United States army documents or extracts from Congressional records.
Either the United States Government have implemented a new doctrine without prior NATO agreement, or there is an agreement which is being concealed by this Government. It seems as though the United States is leading NATO into a new and dangerous nuclear war fighting strategy, despite claims to the contrary. Any attempt to reconcile the involvement of British troops in purely conventional warfare with the presence of United States troops and weapon systems in Europe operating according to strategies such as airland battle is obviously doomed to fail.
By refusing to answer these questions, I suggest that the Government are trying to mislead the House. I repeat that Government Ministers have denied constantly that airland battle has been used on NATO exercises, although the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has let slip in the past that at army corps level and below NATO does not have its own doctrine but relies on national doctrines.
There has been no debate in the House or discussion in the Select Committee on Defence on this issue.
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend. On 15 June the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State said that all national formations at corps level and below which came under NATO command in Europe would fight according to national doctrine, yet Lieutenant-Colonel Jerry N. Armstrong, writing in the United States magazine Army, maintained quite clearly that airland battle doctrine was synonymous with army doctrine and applied to all levels of force, its primary focus being normally at corps level. He went on to say that subordinate commanders must be given the latitude to alter actions when opportunities presented themselves, without gaining prior approval. That suggests that my hon. Friend is correct in what she is saying.
§ Mrs. Clwyd
It is clear that there appears to be a deliberate disinformation campaign from the highest levels, implying that NATO is going conventional. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) said earlier today, NATO policy will be to win a nuclear blitzkrieg once a war starts. If hon. Members doubt that, it is confirmed by what appears on the front cf. the United States army house journal Military Review for August 1984. That refers to
Blitzkrieg and the AirLand Battle.Earlier first use of nuclear weapons and ground counteroffensive into eastern Europe are the reality behind the buzz words which the Government are fond of using, such as "integrated and extended battle field" and "early offensive action".
United States units stationed in Britain and on the continent have taken part in training based on airland battle without discussion or debate in Parliament. Casper Weinberger told Congress that it was used on NATO's 499 Reforger 1982 exercise. United States army and air force agreements to implement airland battle in training and procurement were signed in December 1982, April and November 1983 and May 1984, according to testimony given in Congress from army and air force chiefs of staff.
The man who has been much quoted in this debate, General Bernard Rogers, has repeatedly told Congress that he wants new nuclear artillery shells which are neutron adaptable to be built and deployed in Europe, along with new chemical weapons. When giving evidence to the Appropriations Committee he said:What I would like to have, if we could start all over again, is a 155mm modern round which can be put into action very quickly as the modern ones can, that would be developed and produced in such a manner that it could become enhanced radiation capable by the insertion of a module, so that it could be deployed to us in Western Europe where we need a modern artillery round. Keep the modules here and when the time comes that it's decided we'll make enhanced radiation, and the allies have no gas pains over that, then we can send the modules over.Throughout his testimony he makes it clear that he intends to have those in Europe by 1985.
According to the newspapers, already the neutron bomb could enter Europe by the back door. General Rogers has already had his way, because the Pentagon has been authorised to start a nuclear modernisation programme which will bring the neutron weapons into Europe. The approval has come very quickly. It went through Congress last week. The replacement now going into production is known officially as the XM785 155mm artillery fired automatic projector. It is said to be far more sophisticated than its predecessor and can be easily converted in the field from a standard into an enhanced radiation nuclear weapon.
Do the Government continue to believe that in a nuclear age the old military saying about the best form of defence being attack is still true? The Labour party says that although time is short there is still time to have a sensible defence policy for the country.
§ Mr. Alexander Pollock (Moray)
I trust that the House will understand if I do not follow precisely the train of thought of the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clywd) but, instead, confine my remarks to some matters that are of special concern to me.
I want first to add my own warm tribute to the Ministry of Defence and all those involved in making the arrangements for the parliamentary observers, including myself, to see at first hand Exercise Lionheart in Germany last month. I was especially grateful for the opportunity to visit my local TA unit, the 2nd/51st Highland Volunteers. Under the command of Lieut.-Col. Grenville Johnston, himself a Territorial, 500 officers and men from all over the north of Scotland played their full part in that demanding operation which tested to the full their training, discipline and morale. It is very much to their credit that they acquitted themselves so well.
Given that the credibility of our presence in Europe is so heavily dependent on the role of some 35,000 part-time soldiers, no doubt there will be continuing pleas for more and better equipment for them.
Perhaps I might be allowed to touch on just one aspect which merits fuller consideration, the provision of computer software. I understand that my local unit is 500 unique in the United Kingdom in having a pilot scheme with a non-Pampas computer system. From what I saw in Germany, it is already producing remarkable results in saving costly man-days otherwise devoted to the recording of personnel details, pay and vehicle administration. The time devoted to such laborious work has been cut by about 75 per cent. since its installation. I hope therefore that the Ministry will ensure that the fullest possible consideration is given to the outcome of those trials and, if necessary, take a hard look at the level of support funds required from unit allocations for such equipment.
Turning to the Regular Army, I want to express my concern at the proposal to close the junior training unit based at the Bridge of Don barracks in Aberdeen. This is not the time and place to enter into a detailed debate about the merits of that proposal. Suffice it to say that there is great unease throughout the north-east of Scotland about the wisdom of such a move. It is commonly felt that the Ministry may not be fully aware of the historic, social and psychological repercussions on the area and the likely impact on recruitment and morale. I understand that the Grampian regional council has asked that a small deputation be allowed to come and express those anxieties in fuller detail at the Ministry. I merely ask that that request be considered sympathetically so that all points of view may be fully considered before any irrevocable step is taken.
Finally, I want to say something about the much wider question that has already been touched on by several hon. Members — chemical warfare. During Operation Lionheart it was striking to watch our units carrying out their operational tasks in full NBC protective gear for several days on end. The reason was clear enough. Under the rules of engagement all air attacks were assumed to be chemical until proven otherwise. As I understand it, the position at present put simply is that NATO forces are equipped with individual protection for defensive purposes while the Soviets have a policy of collective protection for offensive purposes.
I fully understand the West's abhorrence of chemical warfare but I remain somewhat puzzled by the logic behind our policy. There seems no logical distinction between what our policy should be on nuclear weapons and what our policy should be on chemical weapons. If we believe that we should seek progress on multilateral nuclear disarmament from a position of nuclear strength, why have we adopted an apprarently different posture on chemical weaponry?
Earlier this year the Ministry of Defence published a set of leaflets on defence and disarmament issues, No. 10 of which is called "Chemical Weapons". Reference is made in that leaflet to the possession by the Germans in the second world war of nerve agents. The pamphlet observes:The extent to which the Germans were deterred from using chemical weapons by other countries' possession of them cannot be established beyond doubt, but the deterrence factor is likely to have influenced their thinking.The pamphlet goes on immediately to state:In the late 1950s, Britain unilaterally abandoned chemical weapons.So we seem to have a policy of multilateralism on nuclear weapons while retaining a posture of unilateralism on chemical weapons.
In practical terms, if potential aggressors know that we have no offensive capability, will that not give them a continuing and uncheckable operational advantage? I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State 501 replies he will take us a little further into the Government's thinking on this apparently puzzling stance which is causing increasing concern both inside and outside the House.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
As several hon. Members want to speak, and as I am a believer in 10-minute speeches, I shall sit down at 8.2 pm. I add to the important speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) that I hope that before December there will be a statement from the Government on their plans both for "deep strike" and for "airland battle".
For the past 18 months I have felt increasingly uncomfortable about a number of letters that I have been receiving from relatives of those who either lost service men in the Falklands or are relatives of wounded and maimed Falklands veterans. Naturally, I passed them on to parliamentary colleagues involved, some of whom, such as the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) in the case of Jason Burt, have been to enormous trouble.
In the past fortnight a formidable and important book has been published by a Sunday Mirror journalist called Jean Carr, entitled "Another Story. Women and the Falklands War". A number of cases in which I have been peripherally involved have come into public print. May I use my time to ask certain questions of the Under-Secretary of State in the hope that he will study the book and either deny what Jean Can has written, or, better still, do something about it?
Page 14 reveals how women have little more than a social role in the rigid structure of service life, how widows lose not only their husbands but a way of life wholly different from civvy street, and how service charities which conduct their business like Victorian alms givers fail to respond to the immediate needs of the war wounded.
Before I start to criticise let me say first that in certain regiments — the SAS would be one of them, partly because it is Hereford-based, I suspect, and belongs in the same town — there has been enormous kindness, enormous cohesion and a great deal of co-operation. It is entirely to the credit of the SAS community that, as brought out on page 51 of Jean Carr's book, Lynda Gallagher was helped by her husband's friends. It says:Both men"—two sergeant majors of the SAS—spent hours patiently explaining the financial position, how best to plan moneywise for the future, and both helped with the inevitable volume of paperwork and form-filling. Lynda will always be grateful for their advice at a time when her grief was compounded by worries about bringing up single-handed two little girls".That is to the credit of the forces.
Credit must also be given to individuals. I mention just one, Captain Sam Salt of the Sheffield, who is mentioned on page 49. He visited the relatives of all his shipmates who lost their lives. That is to the good. But there are many other problems.
On page 13 it says:For those who are still coping with the aftermath of that war—the widows, the wives with husbands injured physically and mentally, the parents grieving for their sons and, in some cases, nursing their shattered bodies—the public memory is cruelly short.After the long description of Jason Burt on pages 68 and 69, I simply ask how it was that 17-year-olds, who were 502 unable to go to Northern Ireland, should have had to go through this in the Falklands. There may be explanations, but the question is worth asking. The Minister should read carefully pages 68, 69 and 70 of Jean Can's book which tells the story of Jason Burt, a constituent of the right hon. Member for Chingford, who has been so helpful.
I simply read this from page 70:The Butts eventually pieced together their son's last hours from the accounts of Jason's fellow soldiers, who visited them on their return, but the fact that they were never officially told still angers his mother. The answer she really seeks and will never be given is why soldiers under 18, who are not eligible to die on the streets of Northern Ireland, should have been allowed to die in the Falklands. Perhaps it would have been better for Teresa never to have known the circumstances of her son's death, but her knowledge of his last days strengthens her resolve to pursue her claim for Jason's Army insurance which, after five inquiries, the Ministry of Defence still insist Jason never signed for.That is one case.
I particularly want to use my time to go into the case of Jane Keoghane that Jean Can outlines. It says on page 25:Jane Keoghane's professional awareness was to make her personal experience of how the Army handled the consequences of the Falklands War that much more difficult to come to terms with. Apart from her understanding of nursing, there were the expectations of how a traditional, family-based regiment like the Welsh Guards would behave towards the victims of a war. Guardsmen's wives, such as Jane Keoghane, believed that if anything happened to their men the regiment would look after them. The military encouraged the concept of the family because it fostered the feeling of brotherhood among serving soldiers and reinforced group cohesion and regimental loyalty. But in practice the behaviour expected of a caring family is not part of its ethos. Although the military prides itself on being a self-sufficient society with its own social, welfare, medical and housing schemes, the Falklands War exposed its weakness in handling the inevitable consequences of all wars — death and injury. Its stubborn inability to acknowledge that it could not cope with a post-conscript generation of Servicemen and their families only made things worse. When people complained, they were made to feel that they were 'stepping out of line', that any criticism was 'letting down the regiment', and it was not the 'done thing' publicly to question 'Why?'I also refer the Minister to page 53 where Jane Keoghane is quoted as saying:'I was not the only widow expecting a baby. The Welsh Guards were supposed to arrange for someone to come from Maindy Barracks in Cardiff and explain all this to me, but nobody ever came.The question is whether all this is a fair reflection of what has happened. Jean Carr gives many other examples.
On page 41, it states:No one seemed to care about her whereabouts. 'What was so awful was the complete absence of someone from the Welsh Guards who knew how to cope with the situation.'Throughout the book there are criticisms of the South Atlantic Fund and the way that it was handled. Page 54 states that a newly widowed womansix months pregnant with her first childwas awarded 91 days' full paywhen, had the tragedy been twelve weeks later, she would have qualified with a new-born baby for 182 days' pay".There are all sorts of anomalies. I refer the Minister to the case of Sue Enefer on page 15 of the book, and to the social isolation of families and those not living in military barracks that is outlined on page 17. I also refer him to page 23, and to what Marica McKay, the wife of Sergeant McKay VC, said; to page 26 and to the allegation that theArmed Forces' domestic procedures were totally inadequate for responding to the aftermath of a military conflict";and to page 43 and the statement that 503'Wives and families are excess baggage and the only interest the Services have in you is what your husband does.'If that is true, it is pathetic.
Again, I refer the Minister to page 67 and to the statement that
The majority of the parents of the 121 single men … who were killed in the Falklands were isolated in their grief, not only from each other but from the Armed Forces in which their sons had given their lives.I also refer him to the contrast with Hyde Park that is made on page 72 and, in particular, to page 77 and the incident involving the ITN news and Mrs. Hatfield.
Furthermore, I refer the Minister to pages 80 and 81, and to the whole case of Tina Brookes. It is appalling that a system that could so rapidly mobilise a 28,000-strong task force was so incapable of dealing with the consequences of such a brief, bitter war. I refer him to page 82, and to page 87, involving the case of Chris, of which I know something. On page 89, it states:The aftermath of the Falklands War desperately required an instant and flexible response to the families of the injured".There is a great deal to be said on this subject, but I promised that I would sit down at 8.2 pm. I do so asking this specific question: is the Minister happy about section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act? That part of the Act lays down that the Ministry of Defence is not culpable of anything where culpability may be proved. I hope that we can obtain some undertaking—although not necessarily tonight—that this whole question is being considered. Because of my involvement in other aspects of the Falklands, I have had a flood of letters, most of which were written in private but some of which have asked for publicity. However, the issue has now been brilliantly and powerfully put into print and I hope that there will be a measured response to Jean Can's book, which is as important as the dispatches of some of the correspondents of The Times were during the Crimean war. The Army really must look at this book.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
I am not uninterested in the Falklands, but it would clearly be appropriate for my hon. Friend the Minister to give a reply to the various detailed allegations that have been made. However, I twice served with an infantry battalion on active service and was only too well aware of the enormous effort made by officers, NCOs and the regimental association to look after the injured and bereaved when the conflict was over. I should be very surprised indeed if those deeply imbued traditions had vanished overnight from the British Army.
I last took up the time of the House in a debate on the Army-In June 1975. The change in the state of the British Army in the intervening years has been truly remarkable. From the report of my speech in 1975 I see that I talked about the critical shortage of electronic and vehicle spare parts, the lack of training due to cuts, and the general low morale in BAOR. Today, the Government having increased defence expenditure by 20 per cent. in real terms and armed forces' pay having been restored to and maintained at a proper level, the situation is wholly different.
My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the new Challenger tank protected by Chobham armour entering 504 service in Germany, the Milan, Swingfire, TOW anti-tank weapons—all of which are being improved—and the new and much needed Saxon APC.
We forget all too easily the legacy of the Labour party. It cut defence spending on five separate occasions. In February 1982, John Nott, as Secretary of State for Defence, stated, at Harrogate:The Army was overstretched, undermanned, underpaid and badly equipped, and confidence in the future was undoubtedly at a low ebb".I am glad that the Labour party's defence document has at last entered the arena. I was amazed that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies), was prepared to speak almost without mentioning it. Of course, it is a milestone in the Labour party's defence policy. It represents a total and disastrous change on to a new plane.
In the past the Labour party has said that it would cut defence expenditure to that of our European NATO partners. I have looked carefully at the confused and confusing words in that document. At the end of this debate, may we have a categorical statement about exactly what levels of conventional expenditure the Labour party has in mind? I have little doubt that the reality is that a Labour Government would be committed to heavy cuts in conventional forces, just as happened five times when the Labour party was last in power. I believe that the Labour party's defence policy would lead to a US withdrawal as surely as night follows day. Washington would not countenance a policy involving American soldiers without nuclear weapons fighting Russian soldiers with nuclear weapons.
In a brief intervention I mentioned the extraordinary phrase in that document about collective security through the United Nations. No doubt Labour Members do not wish attention to be drawn to it but the Opposition have actually set that out as a pillar of their defence policy. If they are not trying to con the British people, perhaps they will tell us exactly what they mean. I can assure Labour Members that there is nothing in the charter or activities of the UN that can control a super-power such as the Soviet Union or the Warsaw pact. It is naive and foolish to suggest that there is. Of course this year there was no real row over that defence document for the simple reason that the goodies gave up.
In the pubs in my constituency I find that the average Labour voter asks whether the Russians have a certain weapons system and then say, "I jolly well hope we have, too." That is the robust attitude displayed in most parts of the country. Clearly, we must keep one step ahead of the Soviets in research and development. By doing so, we shall make the best use of our very strictly limited manpower. In particular, we must concentrate on improving our surveillance systems and our precision guided missiles. On the modern battlefield what can be found can be destroyed. Luckily for the West, new weapons are well ahead of new tank designs.
The European contribution is often overlooked and underestimated. Of course, there are hidden costs such as training facilities and real estate. I think that the figures are well known to my right hon. and hon. Friends. Indeed, 90 per cent. of NATO's ground troops and 80 per cent. of NATO's combat aircraft and tanks are supplied by the Europeans.
I draw attention to some wise words by Herr Genscher on 12 September. He stated: 505The Government of the Federal Republic of Germany does not take the view that the Americans are too strong, but rather that the Europeans are too weak in their ability to pool their resources, define their interests and represent them in the Alliance.I think that that is an apt comment.
This is not a debate on Trident, but it has been mentioned several times. I believe that the Government's decision was 100 per cent. right and I have not the slightest doubt that it will be carried through as Government defence policy. I believe that that will not only be in the interests of our country but in the interests of NATO. One western European NATO country should have an independent nuclear deterrent.
We have been told that if all the money allocated to Trident were spent on our conventional forces everything would be changed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) has said, that expenditure would buy about 300 new tanks when the imbalance already is about 30,000.
Could the Secretary of State go to the Dispatch Box and claim that, as a result of putting the total cost of Trident into new armoured forces, we could hold up the Soviet shock armies on their way to the channel ports by one day or one hour? I do not believe that he could.
I shall next deal with the problem of manpower for the defence of the United Kingdom itself. I listened with interest to the Minister's comments. We are of course concerned about the Soviet spetsnaz or terrorist troops. General Sir Anthony Farrar-Hockley and his team have put forward a reasoned case, which should be supported. There is a need for a militia, unpaid and committed to a few hours' training each year. The proportion of British manpower devoted to defence is tiny compared with that of many other countries.
Another issue, which is not particularly glamorous and might not seem particularly significant to some of my colleagues, is military assistance. I believe that such help is one of the best contributions that we can make to friendly nations. It helps them to help themselves. Our expertise is admired, particularly following the Falklands war, as are our long traditions. About 3,200 students from 65 countries outside the NATO area attend courses in the United Kingdom. No fewer than 700 British service men are on loan in 29 countries carrying out small technical tasks and maintaining substantial training teams, in Brunei and Oman, for example. Britain is good at that and I congratulate the Government on their programme.
I was delighted to hear about the change of policy for visiting war graves. The Government are right to introduce some flexibility post-Falklands.
General Sir John Hackett provides me with a quote on which to end. It summarises what I want to say about non-nuclear defence. It comes from "The Untold Story" and is date-marked London, 5 November 1987. The quote is this:We had to avoid the extinction of our open society and the subjugation of its members to the grim totalitarian system whose extension world wide was the openly avowed intention of its creators. We had at the same time to avoid nuclear warfare if we possibly could. We could do so best by being fully prepared for a conventional one. We were not willing in the seventies and early eighties to meet the full cost of building up an adequate level of non-nuclear defence and cut it fine. In the event we just got by.As a strong supporter of NATO's nuclear stategy, I share the Government's determination to improve our conventional forces and to strengthen our Regular and reserve ground forces. I draw attention to the savings that 506 have been made in the Ministry of Defence and in the defence budget. I am convinced that we need both nuclear and conventional strengh and that we should not shrink from telling our countrymen that the financial cost will be high.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
Like hon. Members on both sides of the House, I join the Minister in paying tribute to our service men and military personnel. We may disagree on the function which they are asked to perform, but we all have a great respect for their commitment and efficiency. It is right to pay tribute to what they do on our behalf.
The House has a respect for our service men, past and present, and I make no apology for confining my remarks to one area of particular concern to service men and their families in Britain and elsewhere. I refer to the effects of the British and other atomic nuclear tests on British service men in the south Pacific and Australia in the 1950s.
The House will be aware of the mounting international anxiety about the effects of the various nuclear tests. There was justified opposition to the French Government's decision to continue with nuclear testing in the south Pacific. We know of the recent court decision in the United States in relation to the people of Bikini, who are continuing to fight for justice after the devastation of their homeland by United States nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.
Mr. Ken McGinley, the chairman of the British Nuclear Tests Veterans Association, has sent a document to several hon. Members. It is labelled "Secret", but it may no longer be secret. It contains a report to the United States joint chiefs of staff about the effects of the Bikini atoll atomic bomb tests. The report is dated 1947. I am sure that we were sent the report because Mr. McGinley believes that it contains further evidence that service men were used, to some extent as guinea pigs, in the search to discover more about the effects of nuclear weapons on personnel.
The major issue facing the Government and the House is the widespread belief that our service men and others involved in the British nuclear weapons tests in the south Pacific in the 1950s were damaged and that their health is still affected.
In the debate on 12 March this year a number of hon. Members argued that the Government's decision to entrust the National Radiological Protection Board to do a survey into the effects of the tests on the health of service men was not an adequate response. We do not criticise the board, but we believe, with the BNTVA, that it is not the appropriate body to carry out the survey.
What further discussions have taken place with the BNTVA? I understand that a meeting took place at the beginning of the year. Has any progress been made in reassuring those concerned about the implications of the study?
The major development which must lead the Government to revise their approach to the issue is the Australian Government's decision to appoint a royal commission to inquire into the effects of the British nuclear weapons tests. Some of the information coming out of that inquiry is horrific.
I shall quote the reports that appeared in The Times by Mr. Tony Duboudin. For example, Mr. John Hutton, an Army lance corporal, 507told the inquiry that 200 British and Australian service men were threatened with court-martial and the possibility of a firing squad if they recounted an incident in which an Aboriginal family wandered into the Marcoo nuclear bomb testing site at Maralinga in the outback of South Australia.Mr. Hutton said thaton one morning in May, 1956, while he was putting on protective clothing in a caravan before going out into a 'dirty' area around the Marcoo site to help scientists, he saw an Aboriginal man aged about 20, through the window of the caravan standing in the contaminated area. That was about seven months after a nuclear bomb had been tested there.Another former soldier, Mr. Terry Toom, said that he found the bodies of two adults and three children while on a mail run with five other soldiers. He described the bodies as being all skin and bone and said they were lying under a tree. "After his commanding officer was told of the discovery, he believed that bulldozers were moved into the area.
Another report from Mr. Tony Duboudin appeared in The Times. Mr. Mark Earner, who served in the Royal Air Force, said that he burned and buried atomic bombs after the Australian nuclear tests. He said thatthe bombs were on a vehicle similar to a front-end loader and he and a number of other service men drove into the desert about 10 miles from Woomera where they burnt then buried the devices in trenches.If these reports are true, the events that took place were scandalous. It is incredible that such incidents took place and that we have had to wait all these years to be told about them. I do not think that it is unreasonable to ask the Government to make a statement about their attitude to the revelations. If there was a case for entrusting an investigation to the National Radiological Protection Board, it has been blown sky high by the evidence that has been given to the Australian inquiry. I hope that the Government will tell us precisely what co-operation is taking place between the British Government and the United States authorities. It is surely high time that the Government gave consideration to setting up an independent British inquiry into what happened following the tests that took place in the south Pacific.
§ Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
Before dealing with two important constituency matters I wish, as a member of the Central Advisory Committee on War Pensions, to say that I was glad to hear about the extended provision for visits to war graves. It is an issue that has been worrying many for a long time. If a widow has died and there is a close relative, is it possible to allow a substitution so that a brother or sister is able to visit the grave?
The book to which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred raises matters which concern me. An investigation should take place, but I am surprised that the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association has not been involved. It is a very efficient and human organisation. It works behind the scenes and does a tremendous amount of good.
I shall direct myself principally to the good relations between the Ministry of Defence and my constituents in the Stanford battle area. It is a major training area for service men who are going to Northern Ireland and it provides many training facilities. A small part of the battle area was in my constituency until the boundary changes were implemented, and now the vast majority is in it.
508 I offer our forces my complete support. I am a fan of the Army. Anyone who has been in the Territorial Army for 12 years will know that most TA people are greatly helped by the Regular forces. It is that help that makes one a real fan of the Army. I have always defended the concept of the Stamford battle area, which is one of the premier training facilities in the United Kingdom. As most of my constituents have made clear, relations between those running the battle area — the commandant and all concerned — and the surrounding civilian population have been exceptionally good. Generally, the commandants have been outstanding men. They have been excellent diplomats and have always been ready to explain the requirements and functions of the battle area. They have visited individuals and villages and invited the inhabitants to visit the battle area. They have been extremely helpful. I am told that the new commandant, who arrived only a few weeks ago, is highly thought of already.
However, the MOD and the Minister must take responsibility for the considerable breakdown in public relations over the proposed Army village that is to be built close to the village of Wretham. Army personnel will not live at the village except for the periods when it will be under attack, when they will have to defend themselves. It will be a mock village and it is proposed that it should be built close to the edge of the battle area, which extends to about 20,000 acres. I am worried that it has not been possible to find a site for the village within those 20,000 acres. Instead, it is planned that the village should be built close to well-known farms and to many who are living in the area.
I have been rather worried about the deterioration over the past six to 12 months of the way in which Army authorities—perhaps responsibility lies with the MOD and perhaps something has gone wrong—have acted. A few months ago, for example, a farmer had a tank trap put across a field of potatoes. This happened without the farmer receiving notice. The House will be aware that potatoes are probably the most expensive crop that can be grown. The trap was put across the rows rather than along them and a tank trap occupies a considerable area. I am glad to say that the Minister concerned agreed, after seeing photographs, that compensation should be paid. Who gave the order without giving the farmer any notice?
I am told that there will be at least 20 houses in the new village. There will be a church, a barn and workshops. There will be sewers, roads, electricity and water supplies and the provision of telephones. What will be the cost of building a village with roads, telephones, sewers and 20 houses as well as a church? I do not know whether the church will be one in which worship will take place, but I doubt it. I think that it will probably be used as an OP. I have no idea what the cost will be, but it must run into millions of pounds. It is the siting of the village that is causing the trouble. It is on the edge of the battle area and not within the 20,000 acres comprising the battle area.
I first heard of the project in July. I immediately asked my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces why two other older villages, which were taken over when the battle area was first formed and which were without any inhabitants, could not be used for this purpose. In the past they had been used for street fighting. I was told that those villages were isolated and in such poor condition that they were unsatisfactory places in which to conduct that type of training. If those villages are 509 dilapidated and in an unsatisfactory condition, surely they are sites on which the new village could be built. I was not given a good answer. The Minister must explain, either now or later, the reason why this site has been chosen.
I have been told in writing that the exercise will involve operations that are necessary to simulate fighting in urban areas. I have been told:They will involve Infantry, Engineers and Signals supported by light tracked cars/vehicles"—I should like to know whether "cars/vehicles" includes tankswith air support.The letter to me went on to say that the area would be used day and night, and that, although live firing would not take place, pyrotechnics and blank ammunition would be used. The aircraft would include helicopters, but an Army spokesman recently said that they would be quiet helicopters. I did not know that there were many quiet helicopters, and I have never found blank ammunition to be quiet either. Day and night helicopters—I suspect not very quiet ones—will fly over and battles will occur close to a considerable number of people living within 500 to 1,000 yards of the new village.
I not only support the whole concept of the Stanford battle area—I have defended it from political attacks—but fully recognise the need for training. I suffered five years of fairly hard labour because we were not properly trained when I was in the Army. I am greatly worried about the way in which this matter has been handled. The Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces told me on the telephone that no pressure was put on council planners to give permission to undertake this measure, but it has been publicly stated in two local newspapers by a planning officer that that is not the case and that considerable pressure was put on the planners to pass the measure at the first meeting of the planning council.
I wrote to the planning department, saying that I hoped that the council would refuse permission until full explanations were given about what was happening. I am glad that, for the moment, the planning department has refused planning permission. I know that the Army has the right to go in without planning permission, but it usually asks for and receives that permission. Insufficient notice was given to the planning authority. Even the parish council was given only a few days—far less than the usual time—in which to consider the matter.
When the district council or the county authorities inspected the site and the whole district with Army personnel, no parish councillor was asked to go around with the committee. That was foolish. I believe that if a note appeared on the bottom of a planning council's membership agenda saying that the Army authorities especially wished a measure to be passed that night, the back of the average councillor in most parts of England would go up, especially in Norfolk. They would probably refuse to take the steps asked of them.
Because of the public confidence in and sympathy for the Army which has been built up over many years, especially in east Anglia, where many aerodromes are sited and many troops exercise—we accept those facts and are pleased to see those troops—I am worried that by this one action the excellent public relations in the area have been greatly harmed. As with everything else, it will take considerable time—years—to get over that. This is a serious matter, and I believe that the Minister should make himself fully au fait with the facts. He should come 510 down to the district and meet all involved. He should consider whether another site could be made available in this large acreage.
If this site is chosen, what compensation will be payable to those who undoubtedly will be badly affected by noise, traffic, sleep disturbance, and so on? What compensation will be paid for the deterioration in property value? Those questions must be answered at some time—I do not expect the answers tonight—before the scheme goes ahead. I am, above all, worried about the Army's good name. Without doubt, that good name has been damaged. What will the Minister do to start the long process to heal the relationships with those who live in and work near this area?
§ Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)
I shall concentrate my remarks on projects such as the airland battle. I shall address six specific questions to the Minister of State in the hope that the House will obtain answers to them all. After hearing the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and noting the time it is taking the Minister to answer questions, I believe that we shall have to wait some time for the answers to my questions. My hon. Friend has defined in some detail the Opposition's understanding of an airland battle strategy. Put succinctly, it is a strategy whereby land and air forces are integrated in a defined theatre of war. For those of us campaigning continuously against nuclear weapons, that is a worrying development. It is likely, within the terms of an airland battle—a combination of integrated conventional chemical and nuclear weapons and electronic protection devices—that there will be early use of nuclear weapons. My questions relate to those essential points.
During Question Time, I detected reluctance to give categorical answers about an airland battle strategy. What discussions have taken place between Ministers, NATO ambassadors and officials in the Ministry of Defence in Brussels about airland battle? We are not obtaining much information in the House about that matter, although newspapers in the United States and Britain are making it clear that they expect that at its December meeting the NATO military committee, which I believe is the highest committee in the Alliance, will adopt the airland battle strategy for NATO forces. I have before me extracts from the Christian Science Monitor of 10 October 1984, where it is stated categorically that
the NATO military committee has backed such a concept, and member state ambassadors and experts are preparing the final word in putting co-operation into allied planning.In a recent article in The Observer, the defence correspondent, Ian Mather, said thatThe final step is for the scheme to be approved by defence Ministers at their annual meeting in Brussels in December. This is considered to be a virtual certainty.I do not want the Minister of State to tell me that the forces are not adopting the airland battle strategy and then to mislead us by using some other terminology. For example, in the article by Ian Mather, it was suggested that follow-on forces attack may be the strategy to be used. Hiding behind a series of jargon names, a Minister could come before the House and say, "We have not adopted the airland battle strategy", but the strategy of follow-on forces attack, as described by Ian Mather, would allow our 511 weapons to be used even more deeply in the war theatre, perhaps to a depth of 150 miles, as compared with the American airland battle concept of 30 miles.
My first question specifically relates to discussion, but as a rider to it I should like to know whether this House will have an opportunity at some time to debate the subject. Throughout the 1980s, airland battle has been part of the American forces' strategy, yet to my knowledge —I have not been a Member for long—there has not been any debate in this House or any discussion in any Select Committee on this concept or strategy. December will soon be here, and the Minister should bring before the House the proposals that will be put at the December meeting of the NATO military council in Brussels.
My next question is directed specifically to the Minister of State, because he has answered a series of recent written questions on whether British troops have taken part in any exercises in which United States troops have employed airland battle tactics. In general, we are told that it has not happened, but when Mr. Weinberger appeared before a committee in the United States he made it absolutely clear that airland battle was employed during NATO's Reforger 1982 exercises. He was speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 1983. I hope that the Minister will give me a categorical answer and tell me how many British troops took part in the airland battle exercise in 1982 mentioned by Caspar Weinberger.
My next question relates to an answer that the Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). I mentioned it earlier in my intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley. In his written question, my hon. Friendasked the Secretary of State for Defence whether it is North Atlantic Treaty Organisation doctrine that on the central front in Europe, army corps of individual nations would fight according to their own national doctrine in operations at corps level and below.The Minister's reply was:All national formations at corps level and below, which come under NATO command in Europe, would fight according to national doctrine, which is developed within, and is consistent with, agreed NATO doctrine." — [Official Report, 15 June 1984; Vol. 61, c. 578.]As I said in my intervention to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley, it is being said in the United States that at corps level people are expecting to be able to make independent decisions. It would appear that there is a need for further explanation from the Minister as to the meaning of his written answer if the Americans expect corps commanders to make independent decisions within the battlefield. The Minister's answer appears to mean that airland battle could be operational within the European nuclear theatre.
Is the Minister aware that the United States forces are likely to give their commanders pre-clearance for the use of battlefield nuclear weapons? Have discussions on this matter taken place with the Army in Britain? There is evidence from America that the American forces are making it clear to their Government that they want pre-clearance for the use of nuclear battlefield weapons. General Don Starry, in speaking before the House Armed Services Committee in March 1983, made it clear that if the army did not get pre-clearance, by the time permission was given to use nuclear weapons it might be too late.
512 Blair Case, writing in the army magazine in November 1983 — that is one of the magazines used for the purposes of a dialogue with Government—said thatthe joint forward air defence task force, a joint service group, is working to resolve airspace management problems that threaten to rob units of their technological advantage by the imposition of restrictive rules of engagement.Lt.-Col. James M. Lyle, in the July 1983 issue of the same magazine, continuing the dialogue with the Government, said:The task force must not be inhibited by rigid controls or restrictions. Instead, it must be allowed the full latitude for independent action and initiative.In other words, commanders in the United States army are making it absolutely clear that they want permission and pre-clearance to use nuclear weapons in a war.
What discussions have the Minister or Secretary of State had with our military commanders about possible pre-clearance, so that they can use battlefield nuclear weapons when and if they think it appropriate? We are going down a very dangerous road. We are being told continually, especially in relation to cruise missiles, that there will be joint use and that the Americans cannot use them without our permission. I should like the Minister to comment specifically on that aspect, because documents now available show clearly that Pershing II and cruise missiles are an essential part of airland battle—in other words, the airland battle strategy has no real meaning without the use of cruise missiles. That is absolutely clear and explicit, and the nonsense that the British Government will be consulted and have to give their permission before cruise missiles can be used has been hit firmly on the head. Labour Members have said continually that the United States will use cruise missiles if it thinks it appropriate to do so, with or without the permission of the British Government.
Recently I asked the Secretary of State at Question Time whether he would give us an assurance that Britain would not use nuclear weapons first. He gave one of those typical Secretary of State replies that was not a specific answer to that question. Many of us in the Opposition want to know whether first use is still part of the Government's doctrine. Are the Government prepared to fire nuclear weapons at an enemy before the enemy has used nuclear weapons against us? In other words, in a conventional battle, would we be prepared, under circumstances defined by the Secretary of State and the present Government, to use nuclear weapons?
Many people would like specific answers to the questions that I have asked. A survey reported this weekend in The Sunday Times shows that even young children think that the possibilities of survival in the present climate are decreasing. We are living in a most dangerous period, when nuclear weapons are likely to be used and probably will be used with the consequent destruction of this planet. Airland battle could make a major contribution towards that absolute destruction of this planet. I hope that the Minister will categorically deny all that I have said about our forces being sucked into an airland battle strategy. I shall look for specific answers to the specific questions that I have asked.
§ Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)
I shall not follow the argument of the hon. Member for Houghton and 513 Washington (Mr. Boyes) because I am afraid that I, for one, did not understand one word of what he said, and I strongly suspect that he did not either.
Once upon a time service debates were about the services that were the subject of the debate. Today the debate should have been about the Army. During the debate on the White Paper strategy, nuclear matters and so on were normally debated. I am sorry that that convention has slipped away. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who used to talk about married quarters, housing and such important matters, was led astray today, although his definitive rebuttal of the Labour party's policy was well worth listening to.
I, too, was grateful to the Ministry of Defence for organising the visit to Lionheart, although I should tell my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) that in an endeavour to add realism to our visit we were allowed to follow the route of the Territorial Army, spent all night in our bus and had the ferry journey and all that went with that. Although I am certain that some of the rough corners were knocked off, an attempt at realism was made.
One of the most important things about that exercise was the control of the movement of the Territorial Army, which causes huge traffic problems. I am sorry to say that it was my impression that the problems associated with that had not been solved. There are stories of regiments arriving without their guns, and what is more useless than a lot of gunners without their guns? There were other problems such as no feeding arrangements and long delays which, by now, should have been mastered. While I am certain that the Department and the military will assess the results of the exercise with the greatest care, I would not want my remarks to be treated as a criticism of the whole operation, which clearly was a huge success.
Two things particularly struck me. One was the use of Regular reservists—those who have recently or, in some cases, not so recently retired from the Regular Army. They were updated on modern equipment and got into the swing of things remarkably quickly. Some 12 or more years ago I was responsible for preparing a paper on the reserve forces with the help of expertise from outside. Our conclusion was that the best reserves that the British Army could have was those who had most recently retired from it. It is good to see that being finally put into practice and operating so well. It was remarkable how quickly those men took to their old roles.
The Territorial Army, as always, was on parade, enthusiastic and doing its thing. However, I am afraid that I must cast a doubt over the numbers, which have dropped modestly. The progress that was being made to 86,000 appears to have faltered. I put it no more strongly than that. The reason is straightforward— it is the lack of officers. The Territorial Army always has problems in getting officers. The time has come for the Army Department seriously to look at the officer recruitment problems of the Territorial Army. They are exacerbated today because so many people work in London, are under pressure and find it difficult to get time off. It is the very sort of thrusting, energetic and go-ahead executive who finds it most difficult to leave his work whom the Territorial Army most badly wants as an officer. Once one has good officers, recruits and good men will follow.
On the Regular Army side, a comment has been made about the problems associated with wearing NBC gear.
514 One must be complimentary about the way in which everyone we met was playing the game properly. There was no cheating. Hovever, to be frank, wearing a gas mask makes speaking, eating and communicating difficult and heavy rubber gloves are not the best for operating delicate equipment, preparing vehicles and so on.
I am afraid that I do not share the Government's view about the stockpiling of chemical weapons. The classic case of true deterrence that worked for us throughout the last world war shows that if one is determined about such matters, one can succeed. What has happened is that we have unilaterally thrown away our stocks while the other side has continued to build them up to ever-increasing levels. I do not want my remarks to be interpreted as a suggestion that I want to use chemical warfare—I do not. The whole purpose of our defence posture is to have peace. The contribution to peace that would be made by building up chemical weapon stocks is unarguable, and the case has already been gripped by the Americans. It is time that we came off the fence, were sensible about it and used logic.
I was extremely intrigued to hear that at last somebody is re-equipping anti-aircraft defences with conventional guns. I hope that they are radar-controlled. They proved to be a severe deterrent to American pilots operating in north Vietnam. The sight of a shower of tracer bullets coming at him deters even the fastest jet pilot. Despite the fact that tracked Rapier is being introduced in greater numbers and towed Rapier is now, in a more sophisticated mode, being deployed around BAOR, I am still convinced that the air defences of BAOR are very deficient. It is extremely important that we spend more money on that in the immediate future.
I have one other modest quarrel with the Army's strategic philosophy. It concerns the mobility of infantry on the battlefield. When I was in the Department I was often told that it was no business of a civilian politician to comment on the technicalities of modern warfare. On the other hand, during the past century we have entered every war on the advice of the military men and with inadequate equipment. On this occasion they propose to keep the infantry on the front line with the tanks by putting 11 men, or whatever the figure may be, inside a metal box which can travel at a considerable speed—at least as fast as the armour—rolling them around for up to two days, and then expecting them to get out and fight. At the end of the last war, the Russians refused to put their soldiers into armoured vehicles because they would not get out. I am certain that the modern, disciplined soldier will get out, but I think that if my right hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary and a handful of generals would allow me to drive them around Salisbury plain for two days in an MCV 80 they would find that the experience left them absolutely useless. I question the philosophy of moving the infantry in armoured personnel carriers. One must have some, but I hope that the ambitious project for putting all front-line infantry in APCs has now been dropped.
The solution, of course, is the helicopter. I do not say that because there is a helicopter factory in my constituency. It does not manufacture helicopters, only spare parts. When the Atlantic Conveyor was sunk, the loss of the the three Chinooks was an extraordinarily serious depletion of the resources of our forces in the Falklands. Delays to our advance were caused by a shortage of helicopters.
515 The helicopter is a flexible instrument which enables us to keep our soldiers well behind whatever stink is going on at the front line and then move them to the right position when the situation changes. The philosophy should be properly examined, the American experience should be studied, and we should reconsider the huge resources that the Army is prepared to spend on metal boxes.
On a modern battlefield we should consider whether the tank is not an easy target. The Minister of State rightly boasts that we shall shortly equip every section of the British Army with LAW 80, an extremely effective weapon which could knock out all but the very latest Russian tanks with great ease. To put our infantry into similar vehicles without careful debate would be the height of folly.
I agree with all that has been said about the quality of the British Army. I doubt whether better officers or better men have ever been recruited. The British Army will continue to be the best army in the world.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his act of compassion in providing for war widows to visit their husbands' graves overseas. Not only is that right and proper as an act of kindness to widows, but it is a mark of respect to those who have made the supreme sacrifice. The British Legion, with which I have some contact, will be glad to co-operate, as my right hon. Friend said.
Many of the graves abroad are looked after by the Imperial War Graves Commission. Within the past four years I have seen five such cemeteries in France—one at Roye and four in Normandy. I congratulate the commission on the fine and dignified way in which the cemeteries are maintained. The visitors' books show that as well as widows—some of whom have been able to visit the graves even without the assistance now proposed — many of the children and grandchildren of those buried there visit the graves. That shows that such visits remain important to the families of those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom.
There is another matter on which, however, I cannot congratulate my right hon. Friend or his colleagues. I deplore the decision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to set up a joint military school of music in one place, Deal, in order to train bands for the Army, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force, and the consequential decision to remove in 1988 the Royal Military School of Music from Kneller hall in Twickenham, which is one of the glories of my constituency and indeed of the country. Some money will be saved, but I do not believe that the modest savings could justify putting at risk the first class standards of an internationally famous institution. I believe that the change will lead to some decline in standards of the bands of the British Army and the Royal Marines.
The immensely high standards of British Army bands are inextricably linked with the famous name of Kneller hall. The high standards of the Army bands trained there lift the spirits of the nation. Who does not feel uplifted by the sight and sound of a British Army band on a royal or state ceremonial occasion? The bands are not only one of our finest traditions. They help attract visitors to our 516 shores, thus benefiting our economy, enhance the morale of the Army and promote recruiting, and the bandsmen serve as medical orderlies in wartime.
Within Twickenham, Kneller hall is a highly prized local asset. That is all now at risk.
A year ago I initiated an Adjournment debate which was replied to by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, although he had been in office for only two or three days. I have raised numerous questions. I have made four visits to Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, my noble Friend the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), who was a Minister until 18 months ago, and, on 2 August, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
My right hon. Friend is aware that I am not satisfied that the site chosen would cost least. The Government have been reluctant to reveal any comparison of savings that will arise from using the sites that have been considered. I have asked for figures in an Adjournment debate, by letter and by a written question on 1 August when I asked fora list of all locations which … have been under consideration for an inter-service music school; and if he will provide in respect of each such location all the principal relevant financial figures taken into account before choosing a location".The reply listed six, and said:it is not our practice to disclose such details which may be commercially or militarily sensitive and are prepared for internal use only." — [Official Report, 1 August 1984; Vol. 65, c. 281.]I am sorry to say that I was not convinced by that reply. I cannot see that security is involved. As to the matter being commercially sensitive, people sell properties constantly. One has only to buy a copy of Country Life to see an exact asking price or a price range. It is nonsense to suggest that a price range cannot be given on grounds of commercial sensitivity. It is also nonsense that we are told about the cost of weapons but cannot be told the cost of property that belongs to the Ministry of Defence.
On 31 August, the Secretary of State wrote to me. He gave some figures but not the comparative costs of the sites, for which I had asked.
It is not right that my constituents should be expected to sacrifice a greatly cherished institution, ostensibly to save money, and that Ministers should refuse to provide details of how much it would cost to move to one place as opposed to another. That is to stop Parliament doing its job of examining Government expenditure properly. It is neither acceptable nor right and I cannot accept it.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the way they have run their Department in unusual and difficult circumstances in the past two years. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) who did a superb job in the Department for five years until June 1984.
It was my privilege to serve as a Territorial officer on Exercise Bold Gannet in Denmark this summer as part of 1st Infantry Brigade. It is a Regular brigade with an integrated Territorial battalion and staff. It is based at Tidworth, near Winchester, and has about 15,000 men, whom we sent to Denmark together with about 4,000 vehicles. It is very ably commanded by Brigadier Thetton William Rous.
517 Having served as a Regular 17 years ago, it was interesting for me to compare the modern Army with that in which I served as a Regular soldier. I was impressed on two counts—military and political.
On the military side, I was deeply impressed by the increased physical fitness of soldiers and by the enormous increase in professionalism, especially at the level of junior officers, non-commissioned officers and men. I was also impressed by the much more realistic accent on preparedness for chemical threat. I was utterly convinced that the British public now get excellent value for money from their Regular forces. The relatively low cost of the Territorial Army makes it a bargain.
In political terms, the exercise was most important in that it convinced the Danes that we have a committed, highly motivated and well equipped force available for the defence of Denmark and that we were able to deliver some 15,000 men and 4,000 vehicles within the planned time. That was a credit in terms of tactics, administration and logistics. It is critical to hold Denmark firm in the defence of the northern flank of the NATO armoured divisions in central Europe and the entrance to the Baltic, which is of key importance to the Russian fleet.
I shall devote my final minutes to the subject of Trident. I believe that Trident is an essential part of our integrated national defence system for the 1990s. The SDP talk about having only Polaris. However, even with its Chevaline improvement, that would mean nothing short of gradual unilateral nuclear disarmament. As for hon. Members who advocate the conventional alternative to Trident, will they tell me how many tens of armoured divisions would be needed to equal one Trident missile, let alone a Trident force? That is immeasurable. I do not believe Labour Members who say that they would boost conventional forces to make up for such a nuclear deficiency. That is simply not credible. The cost of 50 armoured divisions would be astronomical. It would be about three or four times our current total defence expenditure and would even then equal only one missile.
The Socialist alternative of boosting conventional forces to make up the shortfall caused by the lack of a nuclear deterrent has no credibility whatsoever. Its alternative cost is never considered nor mentioned on television or during debates. The Government must emphasise that point to illustrate the shallowness of putting such an alternative to the British people.
I also find the argument for disarming unilaterally on moral grounds amazing. To disarm unilaterally and yet accept a defence system under an American nuclear umbrella is hypocritical. I believe that the Social Democratic party's alternative of relying merely on Polaris does not have credibility. It is gradual, unilateral nuclear disarmament. Nor do the figures add up for the Socialist's conventional alternative. I am convinced that the defence of our nation is safe in only one pair of hands, those of a Conservative Government. That point should be made loud and clear.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) was justified in raising the question of armoured personnel carriers. I have sat in them for hours and they do have a numbing effect. One is enclosed with many other people. That is always a problem. It is difficult to live in an enclosed space for a long time with other people, especially when one is shaken about and it is noisy. There is also the problem of never seeing outside the vehicle, which causes complete disorientation. When 518 the doors open at the rear of the vehicle one does not know where one is or whether it is night or day. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider improving those carriers by installing small, shell-proof porthole windows.
I have seen vividly the success of helicopter operations with American forces and our own, and even during the last exercise in which I participated. However, those exercises were undertaken in peace time and not in time of war. Even in the Falklands the helicopter was used in an infantry-style battle and riot in a major artillery or tank battle. The armoured personnel carrier, even with its many disadvantages, is vitally important to the protection of the soldier, even when he is not engaged in close action. It provides mobility, which is an essential part of his protection, as is the filtration of the air. If helicopter-borne infantry are to be protected on the ground they must dig trenches. It takes time to dig trenches and one cannot therefore be so mobile. It takes between 48 and 72 hours to dig a trench but then one has only average protection compared with that of an armoured personnel carrier.
I urge my hon. Friend to reconsider these points in the light of at least one Member's experience of the modern Army.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
We have had an interesting debate that has gone from the broader concepts of future war—we all hope that it will never happen — to the nuts and bolts of what will happen to Kneller hall and the problems that many of us faced and saw during Exercise Lionheart.
I have been Opposition spokesman on the armed forces for about two and a half years and I never cease to be amazed by the spirit, resilience and intelligence of our modern forces. It should be appreciated that the Opposition share with the rest of the nation concern for our forces and the desire that they should be properly equipped and properly paid and that they should be under proper political control. Although some people are always ready to argue the point, nowhere have I found less than a readiness to accept that, in the end, political control will decide the fortunes and the overall strategies of our armed forces.
With other hon. Members, I welcome the Government's decision on the war widows grave service. It is a tremendous development which will go a long way to alleviate much of the disappointment of many widows of service men who died in conflicts before the Falklands who believed that the Falklands war widows were given special treatment by being flown there. Perhaps in his discussions with the British Legion the Minister might make this clear: it is essential that clear criteria are laid down for the use of the money and especially in the choice of people to visit the graves.
The system must be seen to be fair and above board. The choice should not depend upon the amount of service which some widows may have given to service regiments or to old comrades' associations. The choice should be made according equal value to all widows and the supreme sacrifice that their husbands have made. Consideration must also be weighted in favour of more elderly widows, especially those whose husbands died during the first world war, who may not have had the opportunity to visit their husbands' graves, although they may lie just across the Channel. They should be given the opportunity, because many of them will not have long to live.
519 My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and I have discussed the article in The Observer yesterday, which dealt with the award of the contract for troop transport to the Falklands. Could the Minister ask his agile young Parliamentary Private Secretary to obtain an answer from the civil servants in the Box on this matter? He will recall that the article in the newspaper stated that a contract worth £60 million a year had been given to British Airways for transporting troops to the Falklands, and it is alleged that the contract was awarded without tendering and from the defence budget.
Two matters arise from that. First, it seems to be in direct contradiction to the Secretary of State's declared policy of putting contracts out to tender. Secondly, and more importantly, are we to understand that Ministry of Defence funds are being used to improve the attractiveness of nationalised industries when they are about to be privatised, and that the money is being used to compensate British Airways for the routes that it lost to British Caledonian? If the contract did not go out to tender, would British Caledonian have been happy to surrender its South American routes in exchange for the Saudi Arabian routes if it had known that as compensation British Airways would receive £60 million for the Falklands route? Much needs to be explained, especially by the Ministry of Defence. My hon. Friend will deal with the Department of Transport in his own gentle way, but this matter must be considered and we must have a reply.
We are about to come to an agreement with the Republic of China. We have had quite a long debate, yet never once has the future of the Brigade of Gurkhas been mentioned. It is important to know the Government's intention with regard to that brigade, not only because that would do justice to the members of that brigade, who have served this country loyally, but because it would tell us something about Britain's defence implications. There are roughly 8,200 Gurkhas, with one battalion in Brunei and the rest stationed in Hong Kong. What will their future be? What thought has been given to this by the Ministry of Defence? What negotiations have taken place with the Government of the Kingdom of Nepal about the future of this historic and important brigade? It is important to know, and I am surprised that in this debate no voice was raised on the Conservative Benches to question what would happen to the Brigade of Gurkhas.
Generally, it seems that Lionheart was a success. For the most part, senior Army commanders were pleased with the enthusiasm and professionalism with which the 35,000 part-time soldiers responded to their task. They were tested to the limit. Once again the British reservist has convinced the taxpayer, our allies in NATO and our potential enemy of both his soldiering ability and capability.
In the areas that I visited the presence of the reservists was welcomed by the local German population. That was shown in concrete form, because the poor fellows in their Noddy suits were offered showers and a supply of local German confectioneries. While I am sure that that was good for the troops, I doubt whether it helped mobility. However, our soldiers were welcomed, and it was interesting to note that the nearer we got to the inner German border, the greater was the support that they 520 received. As the Minister has already said, the Washington Post commented that man for man the British Tommy is probably the best in the world.
Several matters arise from Lionheart, and we should not be too complacent about it. First and foremost, most of those in the group that I was with were worried about the enormous lines of communication and the possibility of bottlenecks. In particular, in the transit centre at Leut and in the main equipment centre we seemed to concentrate on two main areas which in time of tension could quickly be put out of action by sabotage even before a formal declaration of war. Had other armies been moving on parallel roads, and had there been a possibility of refugees, the situation would have been extremely grim. Those are two important bottlenecks which we shall no doubt discuss.
We were also concerned that on many occasions regiments were pushed forward to the front, sometimes without their trucks and sometimes without their guns. That added to congestion in the front area where mobility was needed.
I understand that all reservists were circularised about whether they would be prepared to take part in Operation Lionheart. I understand that 13,500 said that they would and that 4,500 were thought to be needed. Because of that, 5,500 were asked to turn up, but in the event only 3,000 did so. That must have been disappointing, especially as some of the reservists who did not turn up would have occupied key positions. What inquiry is the Ministry conducting to determine why, after sufficient notice was given and all other proper arrangements made, such wastage took place?
The Opposition are disappointed that NATO's official strategy still provides for the early use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons when, as clearly shown by Lionheart, it is within the capacity of our forces to provide an effective and credible conventional alternative. Preparing to fight a defensive nuclear battle in Germany has always been regarded by us as absurd. This suicidal strategy has encouraged the Soviet Union to develop its own tactical nuclear weapons, and the installation of cruise and Pershing 2 has caused more divisions in NATO than any other issue. It was interesting to note that Exercise Lionheart, unlike many other large-scale exercises in recent years, did not end with the theoretical firing of tactical nuclear weapons. It was also interesting to see that the Orange forces were defeated — something that always pleases me.
That non-firing of tactical nuclear weapons might be a reflection of the climate of change in opinion that has taken place in military circles. More senior NATO officers are beginning to lose faith in a defence posture that relies on nuclear weapons and threatens nuclear suicide, which brings me to the meeting, to be held in Brussels in December, of the Ministers of Defence in NATO. It is vital that before he goes to Brussels the Secretary of State for Defence gives a statement on his attitude to future NATO strategies.
The Labour party cannot accept that either airland battle or even FOFA—what a terrible phrase that is—should be used as the basis of any defensive posture adopted by NATO. We believe that it is possible for NATO, with the available range of weapons and our experience, to move towards a non-nuclear defence policy for western Europe. We expect the Secretary of State to put that view forward. If General Rogers can talk in such terms such a policy 521 should be considered, and we wish to know clearly, directly and precisely what the Secretary of State's ideas, and those of the Ministry of Defence, are on this matter before he goes to Brussels.
This point becomes more important when, as a result of the various shopping lists that went through the American Congress before it was dissolved, the United States army has permission to update its nuclear artillery with 925 modernised nuclear-tipped artillery shells. These artillery-fired atomic projectiles, known affectionately as AFAP, have a dual capability, and because of that not only do they increase nuclear fire power, which is a most detrimental thing to happen, but they increase the possibility of neutron weapons coming into Europe by stealth. Again, neither the Secretary of State nor NATO should be prepared to accept that.
We expect the Secretary of State to give us undertakings on this matter. We are not prepared to accept the situation to which I have referred, and we do not believe that we should have to, not only because of the nature of the neutron bomb itself and the philosophy underlying it, but because any such weapons are bound to be stockpiled close to the German border, forcing military decisions to be taken on the use or lose principle early in the conflict. NATO should not have to face such decisions in the event of an early incursion from the Russians and the Warsaw pact across the intra-German border.
The problem with debates such as this, particularly if one is winding up—I am sure that the Under-Secretary faces the same problem—is that one has to jump around like a magpie from point to point, trying to pick up matters that hon. Members have raised. The Minister spoke of Army equipment and tactics. In the past, under different Secretaries of State, the Army has suffered for the benefit of the RAF and the Royal Navy. Now, its position is being improved, and the Challenger tank is a welcome arrival, as it is perhaps one of the best tanks that we have had. What is the delivery span for these tanks? How long will it be before the Army has them all? How long shall we wait for the indefinite patching-up and up-gunning of the Chieftain? Equally, we saw during Exercise Lionheart that the Saxon armoured cars acquitted themselves well. But again, there were only a limited number. A great many more have still to come forward. The Minister mentioned this, but we would like to see supplies pushed forward much quicker.
The Minister referred to one of the important lessons of the Falklands, which is the need for ground forces' air defence. The re-equipment of the Army with Javelin and the tracked Rapier system shows that we have learnt those lessons from the south Atlantic. The Chinook helicopter has done a great deal to improve the mobility of our ground forces. The lack of them and the loss of them on the Atlantic Conveyor has been referred to by other hon. Members. That was a very serious gap for us and one that we have to ensure does not occur again in our line of battle.
Helicopters are now beginning to rival the tank as the key to the modern battlefield. Here I echo some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). Will the helicopter adopt the role of the main force against a tank attack, whether it be the Lynx helicopters being developed into airborne anti-tank weapons or whether it be the 6 Brigade with its anti-tank weapons, being dropped from helicopters?
Do we see in the Challenger the last of the great battle tanks? Will the battle tank as we know it disappear from 522 our battlefields, bearing in mind especially the increasing sophistication of some of the ET weaponry which exists on the drawing boards and in some cases in practice and which appears to be a really potent threat to the battle tank?
The artillery is being improved, and we are glad about that, but I want especially to underline the argument of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Dawes) about the problems associated with the MLRS. There is a great deal of confusion about it because of the different principles underlying the approach of the Secretary of State to all these military problems. We should like a firm understanding of the present position. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, we see confusion worse confounded. We do not know who will be insulted more by whatever decision is taken by the Secretary of State, but a decision has to be taken. The confusion cannot continue indefinitely, and we want the matter resolved very soon.
We welcome the introduction of Wavell and Ptarmigan. They represent a tremendous improvement in our command, control and communications network. We 'want to see them maintained, improved and extended. Those of us who watched Lionheart were interested to see those units, which had some of the sophisticated command and control instruments at work, able to explain and control the battlefield to an extent which even as recently as five years ago many would have thought quite impossible.
One factor which must be underlined again and again is that if the Government persist in going ahead with the Trident programme the Army and the Navy will be under tremendous pressure to cut, to postpone and to cancel their major programme systems. Given the way that the pound is behaving against the dollar and the cost of Trident, if the Government persist in their Trident policy we shall see a weakening of our conventional forces. That will apply especially to the Army. The Navy knows already what is in store for it.
I come to a more controversial matter, and I know that my remarks will not endear themselves to all right hon. and hon. Members. However, they must be made. Traditionally, and rightly, we pay tribute to our Army and to the role that our troops played in the Lebanon and the continuing part that they are playing in Northern Ireland. We have heard today some comments about the role of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I have to confess that I cannot join completely in right hon. and hon. Members' tributes. My own experience and that of some of my hon. Friends on Albert bridge in the early hours of Tuesday of last week tends to confirm the attitude of many people in the Nationalist minority towards the Ulster Defence Regiment and the way that its members sometimes behave.
It is undoubtedly true that there are nearly 8,000 people in that regiment-7,200 men and 700 women—playing an important and significant role, so the Government consider, in the maintenance of security in Northern Ireland, yet we read in the Sunday Times yesterday that theUDR should be disbanded say Ulster police".There is reference toA Government committee which is planning Northern Ireland's security policy until the end of the century is seriously split over the future of the controversial Ulster Defence Regiment.One thing is certain. Members of the UDR, or many of them, feel that they are carrying out a proper role in the defence of their community and society against terrorism. Equally, the support and applause that one gives to them 523 in that context are marred by two features. First, elements within the UDR have been involved in some vicious sectarian matters which are coming before the courts. Secondly, for all the good intentions of the UDR it does not have the support nor even the tacit acquiescence of the minority in Northern Ireland that it is anything other than a sectarian force.
Perhaps that arises from the origins of the UDR, which was recruited specifically from the B Specials—now the B Specials in khaki rather than in dark blue. That factor will continue to bedevil security in Northern Ireland. It is important, because it is perhaps the largest single regiment in the British Army and it is directly under the control of the Ministry of Defence, yet the number of officers and NCOs seconded to it is barely over 100. One has a completely sectarian force seeking, or alleged, to be impartial in Northern Ireland, yet the minority feel that they cannot identify with it. They cannot see it as anything other than a replacement of the B Specials. That cannot be good for us nor for the Army and that is what we are concerned about in particular.
§ Mr. McNamara
Precisely. I do not wish to go further on that point, other than to say that when the meeting takes place between the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland and the internal security within the Six counties and the relationship between the Republic and the British Government on matters within the Six counties are discussed, it is certain that the role of the UDR will be high on the agenda, and it is right that it should be.
§ Mr. Jessel
For the past few minutes the hon. Gentleman has been speaking about Northern Ireland. Was it not he who, 15 or 16 years ago, together with Mr. Paul Rose, articulated the resentment and did a great deal to stir the whole thing up?
§ Mr. McNamara
To blame someone who said that something was going to blow up in one's face in order to try to avert it when it does happen is to stand logic on its head. Successive British Governments have refused to do anything about the matter. The hon. Gentleman should be aware of that.
The UDR has failed to obtain any sort of acquiescence from the Nationalist minority in the way that the RUC is beginning, little by little, to do.
The Opposition are not convinced of the wisdom of the role adopted for the 5 Brigade and the Out of Area Force. In a period of high tension it could take away troops that are badly needed for home defence or for transfer to Europe. It could use valuable resources which could weaken our defence posture at home.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House owe a great debt to all our armed forces and, in particular, to the Army. Those who have been privileged to see Lionheart and to have visited the armed forces all round the world know how much the support of the House for the Army in its sometimes difficult and controversial roles is welcomed by it. We owe those people, in particular, a great and continuing debt for the security of our nation.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. John Lee)
I should like to thank right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in the debate for making this such an interesting return to the House. I am as pleased as my hon. and learned Friend for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) is that we have once again held a single service debate. Indeed, such debates will be a regular feature of our parliamenatary life. It has certainly not been the "bland and predictable" debate that was forecast in yesterday's edition of the Sunday Times.
Before answering the many detailed points raised, I should like to make some overall observations to set the scene. At 1 April 1984 there were 144,500 people in the Army: 139,000 men and 5,500 women. Just under one third, or 31.4 per cent., of 1984–85 defence expenditure is devoted to the Army. The total land systems expenditure of £1,621 million—which is 41 per cent. greater in real terms than it was in 1979, when the Conservative party came to power—means that we are spending £11,250 per head of Army strength. To give some indication of present day costs, perhaps I should point out that a Challenger tank costs £1.5 million, a 105 mm high explosive artillery round costs £255, a pair of combat boots costs £20 and a 7.65 mm bullet costs 20p.
There is a continuous drive in the Ministry of Defence not only for a constant improvement in the tail-to-teeth ratio — as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in his opening speech — but for maximum efficiency in our spend. Indeed, CCPR in MoD language is not a Soviet acronym but stands for Competition, Contractorisation, Privatisation and Rationalisation, to which must be added international collaboration—all of which I hope to deal with later.
Many hon. Members who have spoken will, during the past 12 months, have visited Army units at home and overseas and witnessed a variety of exercises, including Lionheart. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North, and my hon. Friends the Members for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) and for Moray (Mr. Pollock) commented on Lionheart, as did some Opposition Members. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) participated in it and my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) participated in Bold Gannet. Many Ministers, including myself and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State visited Lionheart, as did the Secretary of State. I am sure that all who went will bear witness to the high morale, professionalism and constantly improving equipment of our forces. Of course, there is room for improvement. In no way are we complacent. Indeed, many genuine points of concern have been raised in this debate.
I shall deal first with some of the major points put forward by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). He raised the whole question of battlefield nuclear weapons. NATO's strategy of flexible response—a strategy accepted by successive Governments of both parties—caused the Alliance to possess a wide range of capabilities in order that aggression could be resisted at a level appropriate to the circumstances, and thereby deterred. This means effective conventional forces, and we are making our full contribution there. It also means possessing a range of nuclear forces, both theatre and strategic, and that includes battlefield nuclear weapons. Nuclear capable artillery and short-range 525 missiles have long been deployed both with our own forces in Germany and with the forces of our other allies on NATO's central front. As with NATO's other nuclear weapons systems, their purpose is to deter aggression. They make an enemy's task harder in planning aggression and increase the risk inherent in such action.
On the question of conventional expenditure, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) quite rightly drew attention to the fact that when the Labour party was in power it cut defence expenditure on five occasions. We all noted that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who concluded for the Opposition, refrained from answering the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) as to what percentage of Trident savings the Opposition would spend on conventional forces.
§ Mr. McNamara
The answer is, all of it. If the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) had been in the House at the start of my speech I would have answered his question because I had a note dealing with it.
§ Mr. Lee
Although the majority of Opposition Members who have spoken today genuinely believe in expenditure on conventional weapons, a sizeable and increasing minority in the Labour party is against all forms of arms expenditure. Many Labour-controlled local authorities are anti-military and anti-Army.
An example concerns the Manchester show, an annual event organised by the city council. It is primarily a family or garden show and for the past 15 years the Army has participated in it. In June this year, the city council informed the Army that it did not want it to participate in the show. This rejection led to enormous coverage in the local newspapers, but despite many calls for the Army to attend the show the council did not change its mind. It is unlikely that the Army will be invited to participate in 1985.
Another example is the GLC Territorial Army parade. Traditionally, each June the TA has paraded a banner, presented to it by the GLC, outside County hall.
§ Mr. Lee
It is silly. In 1983, the 75th anniversary of the TA, the organisers were advised that such a parade would be "inappropriate" in a year which the council had dedicated to peace. Other arrangements were made.
Another case involves the Dumbarton district council. The Girl Guides celebrate their 75th anniversary in 1985. The TA was invited to set up an adventure playground at Balloch county park. The Dumbarton district council banned participation by the TA because it wasregarded as a display of militarism and might perhaps encourage recruitmentaccording to a report in the Glasgow Herald. A substantial minority in the Labour party are completely against defence expenditure.
I shall not spend too much time on the question of the airland battle. That is an American concept and today's debate is about the British Army. A lot of nonsense has been spoken today about the airland battle and apparent discrepancies between United States national tactical doctrine and NATO strategy.
526 NATO strategy is to deter war. That has always been so and will remain so. We have a no-first-use-of-force policy. That is incontrovertible. If deterrence were to fail, NATO's policy would be one of forward defence and flexible response. The implementation of that strategy would be the responsibility of the armed forces of all NATO's nations under NATO command. There would be no question of any NATO country conducting a battle in a way that was inconsistent with NATO strategy. This applies to US forces as to any others. When under allied command they will conform to NATO political and military principles.
The multiple-launch rocket system has been mentioned by many hon. Members today. It is planned that MLRS will make a major contribution to the effectiveness of our anti-armour and artillery capability in future. It will be a capability common to several of our NATO allies who will share the procurement and operation of this major system. To fulfil the British Army's requirement for the system we have been discussing with our NATO partners a collaborative European procurement of this US system which we envisage will produce major benefits for British industry as well as ensuring best value of money for the defence budget. It will also have the undoubted advantage which accrues from operating a common system within the Alliance; advantages which earlier were claimed to be a strong point in the Warsaw pact.
When deciding the final production arrangements for any collaborative procurement, we of course seek, as much as possible through competitive processes, to ensure that the United Kingdom industry receives a fair and proper share of the work available. We shall of course ensure that that is achieved when buying MLRS for the British Army at a competitive price. We hope that it will be a price comparable to that available in the United States.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester, North asked about the progress of defence reorganisation. It is too early to say much. The aim of reorganisation is to achieve stronger central control over defence policy, operations and resource allocation while decentralising day-to-day management and to improve efficiency by eliminating overlaps between staffs, the Ministry of Defence and in commands. At the heart of the changes is the recognition that future policy for each service must be shaped increasingly within a common defence framework. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that under the reorganisation the Chief of the General Staff will have two two-star military officers directly responsible to him. The role of one of the two-star officers will primarily be the management of Territorial Army affairs, although his overall responsibility will be rather wider as part of the Government's policy of greater integration of the Regular and Territorial Armies. This will be a smaller general staff than at present, reflecting the transfer of policy and operational requirements functions to the central defence staff. We believe that it will be an appropriate size to support the Chief of the General Staff in fulfilling his continuing responsibilities for the morale and efficiency of the Army. I was interested in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston super Mare (Mr. Wiggin) about officers in the future TA.
A number of hon. Members have spoken about chemical weapons. The Government's position has not changed and it was set out by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces in his opening 527 speech. We have all heard what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said about the chemical threat that is posed by the Warsaw pact forces. It was mentioned especially by my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), Moray and Weston-super-Mare.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead talked about the expansion of the Home Service Force and drew attention to the threat that the Soviet special forces pose to installations in Britain. I welcome his endorsement of the expansion of the Home Service Force and its contribution to the strengthening of our home defences. He said that we should go further. The enhancement of the TA that was announced by my right hon. Friend in March included a number of improvements aimed at home defence, including three new infantry battalions for home defence and an Army-Air Force scout squadron.
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), who spoke for the Social Democratic party — to my knowledge no Liberal Member was present at any one moment in the debate — talked about jobs and specifically Army cataloguing. We recognise that there could be some difficulty in maintaining the required level of professional staff in the Army Cataloguing Authority after it is moved to Glasgow. We are therefore considering actively ways of overcoming the problem so as to ensure that the ACA's indispensable service is not jeopardised. However, we remain committed to dispersing 1,400 jobs to Glasgow.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham spoke about DHSS benefits for TA soldiers. I am sure that he will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services recently announced plans for improvements in the earnings disregard for reservists in receipt of supplementary benefit. The disregard has been doubled from £4 to £8 a week. It is hoped that these changes in the regulations will go some way towards alleviating the difficulties faced by those in the volunteer reserves in receipt of supplementary benefit who have their benefits reduced to take account of the pay that they receive for military training.
I can confirm that it is planned that the current occupants of the Sir John Moore barracks should hand over to the Light Infantry Company in 1986 and that the headquarters western district should move to the barracks in 1987. I am sure that the future users of the barracks intend to continue the various forms of support that the Light Infantry Division depot has given to the local community in Shrewsbury.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham talked also about a TA pension. It would be hard to justify such a scheme as it would involve generally only fairly small payments to members of the TA while creating disproportionate administrative difficulties. We are actively investigating other ways of encouraging retention of TA soldiers.
The Saxon has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. It was referred to early in the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) and later by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. The initial order is for 500 Saxons. No final decision has been taken on follow-on orders. Obviously we would like 528 in an ideal world with unlimited resources to have the Saxon APC for TA reinforcing troops, but that must depend on a judgment of priorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) asked about our proposals to build a small village complex on the edge of the Stanford principal training area and about the opposition that has been encountered. I stress that the Ministry of Defence has at all times followed the consultation procedure laid down by the Department of the Environment. We have already responded to requests by the Breckland district council for further information and a briefing. We are more than prepared to talk to the local people who fear that they will be affected by this development. Their fears are largely groundless. The village will be a small complex. There will be no live firing. The project will not involve any significant increase in helicopter activity. Even though the village is on the edge of the training area, we consider that it is sufficiently far from the nearest dwellings to avoid any more disturbance than the occupants might experience from our existing training in the area. I shall pass on the invitation that has been offered to the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces to go to the area to hear local representations.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North raised a number of points. Because of the pressure on time, I shall not be able to deal with them all. I shall specifically look into the article about the trooping contract. The Government have no plans to run down or disband the Brigade of Gurkhas in Hong Kong. We are talking about a transfer in Hong Kong that will not occur for about 13 years.
A number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen congratulated the Government on the newly announced widows grant aid scheme. We very much appreciate the remarks, specifically those by the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young). He asked that priority should be given to first world war widows. That point was mentioned also by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, who wanted greater direction from MOD. The intention is that the grant will be administered by the British Legion. Representation about that priority should be directed to that body. I appreciated the comments and thanks for the scheme's introduction made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bexleyheath and for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel).
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised questions about the Ministry's and the defence forces' involvement in and responsibilities towards next of kin following an accident or death within the armed forces. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath for his comments on that matter. Generally speaking, we like to think that we have a good record in that regard. Nevertheless, some of the examples cited in Jean Carr's book "Another Story. Women and the Falklands War" are disturbing. I undertake to look at that book, including some of the pages to which the hon. Member for Linlithgow referred me. The hon. Member for Linlithgow referred also to section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947. That section, which prevents service men from suing the Crown, is being examined.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath praised our military assistance programme. I have been enormously impressed by what I saw on my overseas visits and specifically by the excellent facilities and training 529 provided by our training forces at Jarji in Nigeria. They are doing an excellent job, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Moray raised a number of matters. I have given him credit for raising his point about chemical warfare. He specifically asked about a constituency matter—the proposed closure of the Bridge of Don junior training school. That aspect is the responsibility of the armed forces side of MOD, and I shall draw the attention of my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces to the invitation that my hon. Friend the Member for Moray extended. I shall ascertain whether my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will agree to receive a deputation from the Bridge of Don.
I now move, with only one minute left, to the question of competition. I shall not be able to say too much on that, except that today we have authorised the placing of an order with the Royal Small Arms factory at Enfield for 175,000 of the new SA80 infantry weapon and——
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.