HC Deb 31 October 1984 vol 65 cc1375-88

Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

9.21 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

I have the same problem as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley)—I do not have my spectacles either, but I hope that that will not impair the quality of the debate. I have been offered various pairs by my hon. Friends, but I shall, however, do my best without them. Last week, the Leader of the House—I am sorry that he is no longer in the Chamber—told me that the European Parliament has no influence. It appears that on matters of defence policy the House has even less influence. I hope during this debate to be proved wrong.

For more than two years the United States army and air force in Europe has been practising a strategy which their generals describe as "blitzkrieg". That is well documented in the "Military Review" of August 1984. The magazine has a graphic cover headed "Blitzkrieg and the Airland Battle" by Major-General John W. Woodmansee of the United States army. The article states: The Airland Battle doctrine is producing significant changes in the way the Army operates on the battlefield. Combat units will possess expanded capabilities that will enable them to employ blitzkrieg-type techniques against larger enemy forces. That is officially in United States parlance called "airland battle". Dozens of articles have appeared in the United States army professional journals describing the implementation of their strategy in every aspect, from logistic support to personnel files. The United States Congress has held numerous hearings on the subject. In almost all those hearings, Germany is the centrepiece of the discussions. The United States forces have signed joint army and air force "concepts" to implement the airland battle in training and operations. The most important was agreed in April 1983. Caspar Weinberger has told Congress that airland battle was used on NATO's Reforger 1982 exercise. It is now reported in the press that NATO is set to approve a similar policy in Europe under the title "FOFA"—follow-on forces attack. The "Christian Science Monitor" of 10 October 1984 states: NATO sources expect defence ministers to approve this first major shift in alliance doctrine in nearly 20 years when they meet here in December. The sources say the NATO military committee has hacked such a concept and member-state ambassadors and experts are preparing the final wording for incorporation into allied planning. In The Observer of 20 October 1984 Ian Mather, the defence correspondent, said: Defence Ministers are to be asked to give formal approval to a new military strategy designed for fighting far inside enemy territory. Known as FOFA which stands for Follow-On Force Attack, the concept represents the first major shift in Alliance thinking for 20 years. The article continues: It has the backing of the Chiefs of Staff of all member countries, who sit together on NATO's Military Committee, the highest military body in the Alliance, and it has been accepted by the Defence Planning Committee, which consists of all"— I stress "all"— ambassadors to NATO. The final step is for the scheme to be approved by defence ministers at their annual meeting in Brussels in December. Despite the mountain of evidence in the press stressing the reality and the danger of the policy of nuclear blitzkrieg, the Government have repeatedly denied that any major changes were in hand. In the Army debate a week ago, I complained that a letter of mine dated 26 September to the Secretary of State for Defence had not been answered. Despite repeated questioning by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, the Government have declined to make any statement on strategy on the Defence Estimates.

The Defence Select Committee has not and apparently does not plan to examine the issue. When I raised the subject in the Army debate, Conservative Members preferred to talk about girl guides and Army bands rather than matters of great significance and urgency.

I suggest that if the Government know what has been going on, they are guilty of seriously misleading the House. If they are ignorant, or have been bamboozled by the Pentagon, they do not deserve to remain in office. They can only lamely repeat the statement that they must know to be untrue.

On Monday 22 October, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement said: 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."—[Official Report, 22 October 1984:, Vol. 65, c. 526.] Those strategic changes have been discussed in great detail in virtually every current affairs programme and defence journal, but apparently they are too confidential to bring to the House.

It is a disgrace that the level of discussion in the House is not permitted to rise above the level of Certificate of Secondary Education level while the media debate is at Ph.D. level. The issues are serious. We cannot afford to risk the peace with a blitzkrieg airland battle. Documents and testimony on United States policy show clearly that earlier first use is recommended and an immediate counter-attack into East Germany and Czechoslovakia is suggested. It clearly believes that nuclear weapons can be used to win a military victory and, lastly, that Pershing II is regarded as "fire support".

United States Army document "US Army concept for airland battle" states: Theatre forces should not be considered solely as a bridge to strategic nuclear war. They are weapons which must be considered in the context of a war-fighting capability. From the outset, it is acknowledged that in this scenario it would be advantageous to use tactical nuclear and chemical weapons at the early stage and in enemy territory. The US Army Field Manual 100–5, 7–15, continues: Nuclear weapons are particularly effective in engaging follow-on formations or forces in depth because of their inherent power and because of reduced concerns about troop safety and collateral damage. I refer to a document of the Senate Armed Services Committee of 1983, under the title "Fire Support", and quote from an exchange between General Wagner and Senator Goldwater. General Wagner, in reply to Senator Goldwater, said: Our fire support, and here I am basically talking about indirect fire support, runs from the borders which are up front, field artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, to the rear units JTACMS and Pershing II. In reply to a written question from the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) the Minister of State for the Armed Forces quoted a NATO document which said: The Allies need no convincing that in such a war there would be no winners."—[Official Report, 11 June 1984; Vol. 61, c. 359.] Yet the Government still say that there is no such concept as the one I have suggested this evening.

What is so dangerous is not simply the insanity of planning a nuclear blitzkrieg but that such a policy overturns the basis of NATO's claim to be a defensive alliance. Recently Lord Carrington said that our forces and exercises were purely defensive. That is obviously untrue. The concepts of airland battle and follow-on force attack—whatever they are called—are inherently offensive, as any sane person can see. That is why the Labour party's policy on defence is one that I commend to the Government and to the public at large.

We make clear in our defence statement that the overriding priority of humanity must be the prevention of nuclear war and global holocaust. We are committed to a non-provocative, non-nuclear defence policy which will contribute to progress towards world-wide nuclear, chemical and conventional disarmament. We are realists. The process of disarmament will not occur overnight: it will be brought about by a process of independent steps by individual countries and by international agreements following patient negotiations. We will work to build trust and detente and make strenuous efforts to improve the international climate and, step by step, contribute to greater security for Britain and the world. I suggest that as a first step the Government should vote at the United Nations for a verifiable multilateral freeze on the production, testing and deployment of nuclear weapons and delivery of carrier systems designed primarily for nuclear weapons. A freeze would stop the deployment of nuclear war fighting first strike weapons. It would buy time for future reduction and disarmament agreement. The Government should in any case announce an immediate halt to the testing, production and deployment of Britain's own nuclear weapons as a first step on the road to nuclear disarmament. They should vigorously press the United States to return to the comprehensive nuclear test ban negotiations.

At present Britain plays only a minor role in international disarmament and arms control negotiations. Like the Government, our party is committed to the fullest British participation in all relevant international arms negotiations. We deplore the build-up of nuclear arms by both the United States of America and the Soviet Union. We oppose all nuclear weapons. We believe that there can be no justification for adding to the existing overkill capacity by deploying cruise and Pershing II missiles or Soviet countermeasures.

If what I have said so far has not made the point, I should like to draw the attention of the House to an exclusive interview given by General Rogers to Reuters, printed in the International Herald Tribune on 26 October. The General attempts to dismiss airland and battle and present follow-on force attack as a purely conventional option. I think that I have demonstrated that airland battle cannot be dismissed and that follow-on force attack is not a conventional option. Regardless of hon. Members' views on those policies, both sides of the House should condemn the way in which the Government have misled hon. Members. Just three days before I received written answers refusing to say whether follow-on force attack had been agreed to by NATO's military committee, and would be debated by Ministers in December, General Rogers told journalists that both my allegations were true. I think that it is worth reading out the questions that I asked the Minister and the answers that I received. I asked the Secretary of State for Defence what view of the follow on force attack concept has been taken by the NATO Military Committee. The Minister of State replied: Military Committee business is by its nature confidential. I then asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether the follow on force attack concept will be on the agenda of the December meeting of NATO Defence Ministers? The Minister replied: The business of the Ministerial Committee is confidential. A communique setting out the major conclusions of Ministers' discussions will be issued at the end of the meeting."—[Official Report, 29 October 1984; Vol. 65 c. 856.] Yet General Rogers held a briefing for journalists and gave a press conference, but the House must still be kept in ignorance. He told the International Herald Tribune on 26 October that he hoped that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation defence ministers would endorse the plan, known as 'follow-on force attack' … when they meet December 4–5 in Brussels. In an interview at his headquarters here, General Rogers said the plan already had been approved by the 14 allied chiefs of staff in NATO's military committee … General Rogers stressed that he did not advocate that NATO adopt the more far-reaching official US doctrine of air-land battle, which involves pre-emptive strikes and ground counteroffensives. 'That's hogwash,' said the former US Army chief of staff. 'What I'm talking about is the use of weapon systems and not masses of forces attacking to Prague or Warsaw'. There we have it. In their replies Ministers have shown contempt for the House. We should have a full debate on the matter as soon as possible. Having seen the answers that one gets to questions in the House, I believe that there is much truth in the comments made by the New Statesman in an editorial on 6 July 1984. It says: The problem is not the House of Lords, but the House of Commons. All the pomp, circumstance and tradition that surrounds the Commons conceals the fact that it is the most inefficient and feeble legislative body in the democratic world. As the saga of the paving Bill has once again demonstrated, the House of Commons is totally dominated by the executive. With its present working hours and practices vital Bills can and do pass through all their stages in the Commons half digested, often with the most perfunctory consideration of the issues and principles involved. It continues: Equally, this session's Police Bill and the Data Protection Bill, for example, will have a massive effect on the United Kingdom for decades. By the inadequate standards of the House of Commons, quite a lot of time was devoted to both these measures. By the standards of any other Western legislature Parliament played almost no part in leading an informed public debate on the issues involved. Unless we have satisfactory answers from the Minister today, we should call for an immediate emergency debate on this subject because it is clear that, so far, in their answers and their failure to provide answers to hon. Members' questions Ministers have shown a certain contempt for the House. They have also shown contempt for the intelligence of the British public who can read every day in their newspapers about matters which I have raised today but which cannot be or have not yet been discussed on the Floor of the House of Commons.

9.41 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) has spent some time commenting on what she regards as the inadequacies of this Parliament, but she has just made use of one of the vehicles at the disposal of Back Benchers to bring questions before the House. I believe that she may well find that this is a much better House than the one that she left and that Back Benchers can and often do bring about changes through the pressure that they put on the legislative body.

If fine words and fine speeches were all that is required to bring about trust between nations, there would be no problems. Hansard is full of fine words and fine speeches as, no doubt, is every Foreign Ministry in the world. Sadly, however, all those fine words have not brought about trust. We live in a world where trust is absent and we have to live in it as it is, not as we should like it to be. We should all like it to be quite different. In that world, in which we must, if we can, protect the peace for our children and our children's children, it would be most unwise to discard and throw away that which has given us peace in Europe for so many decades. If any alteration were to be made, the British people would have to be convinced that it was a sensible proposal.

The hon. Lady should reflect on the result of the last general election. The Labour party, not the Government, made an issue of defence in that election. The hon. Lady has only to look at the Labour Benches to realise the impact of that on the British electorate.

Mr. Gordon Brown (Dunfermline, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walker

In view of the time, I shall not give way.

If the hon. Member for Cynon Valley is a student of these matters, which she must be as she has brought the subject forward for debate, she will know that each generation of weapons brings new challenges and that both sides have to face the impact that the new weapons may have. She must also recognise, however, that NATO is a defensive alliance. All NATO's planning is designed to deal with attacks against NATO. The very description, "follow-on force attack" indicates that it would follow a force that had already attacked. Otherwise, there would be no need for a follow on. What would it be following if the other side had not already attacked with their early weaponry? It is important to recognise that the new generation of stand-off weapons, which are available to both sides of the iron curtain, have brought about new challenges because of the way in which they are deployed.

So far, both sides have maintained the peace because both sides believe that they have deterred the other. It is not what one thinks about one's own deterrent capability that is important—it is what the other side thinks. Equally, one cannot always advise the other side of the details of what one would do in a given set of circumstances. It would be a foolish general who told the other side what he proposed to do.

The hon. Lady, who has made a study of this, will realise that it is when the other side knows what one is likely to do that it can anticipate it and judge whether it would be viable for it to overcome what one is offering. In other words, things are going on all the time on both sides, some of which are explained in detail and some of which are not.

Usually, what is not explained in detail is important in defence, and information on the latest modern technology is not given out either in legislative assemblies or in the media. That is why NATO's tactical plans cannot be and should not be debated in public. We place a duty on our military personnel to study all the options that are open to them—should they ever be attacked—with the equipment that we have given them.

The hon. Lady mentioned the use of chemical weapons. She must know that the British Army of the Rhine has no chemical weapons, and it would be difficult for it to launch a chemical attack, as she was suggesting. We set the world an example by disposing of our chemical weapons, but sadly that example was not followed. One of the lessons that I hope that we have all learnt is that good phrases, words and examples do not produce the responses that we want. In a world that lacks trust, but in which we are determined to maintain peace, we have a duty to our children and to our children's children not to put that peace at risk unnecessarily. The hon. Lady should think through carefully some of the comments that she made, and which she will read tomorrow in Hansard.

It is all very well for the hon. Lady to read out something written by someone else somewhere else. I am sure that there are Labour Members who have made a long study over many years of the tactical and other weapons that are available to our forces. After the last election, a Labour Member asked me why it was that he got such a poor response on Labour's defence policy from his constituents. I asked him whether, in the city that he was canvassing, many of the people in the age group 65-plus were hostile to what he was saying on defence. He said that they were, so I said that that should not surprise him because many of them were probably members of the 51st Highland Division, which went to France in 1939 to fight Hitler's tanks with pop guns, or the equivalent of pop guns. Those who did not die ended up in prison camp. Such people cannot be persuaded that one can disarm without there being any impact.

The hon. Lady does us a service by providing us with the opportunity to give that message again, while there are still enough people around who cannot be conned because they remember such events. In Europe, we require effective tactical plans and those plans should not be debated fully in public because we would be putting our troops at risk.

9.48 pm
Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

Over the years, we have discussed defence and national security many times. Often, the two sides of the House have found themselves locked into their own philosophies and party manifestos, and falling short of what the country requires of them. When my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clywd) referred to the New Statesman, she may well have touched the kernel of a problem. I do not believe, with the New Statesman, that we are one of the weakest of democratically elected bodies, but there is none the less a kernel of truth in the article. What is the point of considering defence and security if we do not have the information on which to base judgments?

Over the years, I have taken an interest in questions of security. During the second world war, I was involved as a young officer in the invasion of Dieppe. I was made very much aware at that time of the consequences of bad security. Many British lives have been lost because of bad security.

The House has a high degree of competence. There are men of great excellence on both sides of the House. They are capable of making judgments if they have the information. We are on the threshold of establishing a new committee system. We are beginning to monitor and scrutinise the Departments. As a democratically elected body we have a duty to be informed. The military commanders do not have a monopoly of wisdom in this field. They are highly competent, professionally, but, in terms of policy, we must have a say.

It is easy to be drawn into emotive discussions of our nuclear armouries. Many years ago, I had some involvement with the military college of science. Even in those days I was humbled by the rapidity of technological change. Today, however, the pace and momentum of change is frightening. The country must pause to think carefully about the resource input into new technology and nuclear weaponry. We may well find even in the short term that we have squandered resources on such weaponries. For instance, many people agree that Trident is not a good buy.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Good-bye to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Leadbitter

I do not object to interventions, but an accident involving such weapons would be no laughing matter.

We are suffering from deprivation in many areas of social health such as the social services, education and housebuilding. Those are matters which affect the quality of life for ourselves and our children. The question of what proportions of our resources we devote to weaponry and to the quality of life is one on which hon. Members are far more competent to make a judgment than are the military.

I am not too excited about unilateral disarmament. Nobody has a monopoly of detestation of nuclear power. The House should never argue about who thinks best about the horror of the holocaust that might come about accidentally or deliberately. None of us wants to destroy civilisation but I am not persuaded that we can suddenly decide to disarm unilaterally and arm conventionally. It is not practically possible. We should have considerable difficulties that our friends in the free world would not understand if we did that. Moreover, a few years ago I heard no arguments about our belonging to NATO. Thank God there was no division of opinion on that years ago. NATO is important. If we consider unilateral disarmament in Britain, do we take the argument to its logical conclusion and insist that NATO should have no nuclear weapons? Our friends would not have that. We must be partners in the defence of the free world. The British people do not elect us to air the niceties of our political philosophies but to look after their interests. Whether we like it or not, there is a gut feeling in Britain that Parliament should stand firm in the defence of the realm.

How, then, do we reduce our nuclear arsenal? I see my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) standing outside the Bar of the House shaking his head. If he disagrees with me he should get in here and participate in the debate. Nobody was amused by the SALT talks, the START talks or by the so-called agreement at Helsinki. They were the farce of the theatre. Statesmen had little walks in the woods thinking that people would be excited by the confidentially of it all. We must go for nuclear disarmament in a way that sustains the confidence of the Alliance and our relationships in NATO. The best way to achieve mutal agreement is not to make hurried decisions such as "We shall have no nuclear weapons and go straight over to conventional ones." Britain's industrial infrastructure would not let that happen. People in the industry would not do it. We must negotiate.

Some people might ask me where I stand on party policy. As far as I am aware, party policy has not been determined. The defence debate has been drawn out and involves many people. We must keep certain options open. Many of us were unhappy with President Reagan's statements when the presidential election was a long way off. His tune has changed as the election has come closer. Many of us have been disturbed by statements by the military who are responsible for our affairs in Europe. By all means be critical of them, but I should like to hear someone talk about the attitudes of our potential enemies. I want to know why we are so heavily critical of our friends and not so hasty to criticise our enemies. Some countries are not well disposed to Great Britain. I know people who have visited Russia, as I have. They come back with some sort of understanding of the position there.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

Mr. Leadbitter

We must tell the Russians that they must get round the table and discuss these matters. Although those who visit Russia leave with a special understanding of it, they also have an added duty—to understand our position.

Before the last war I heard all this talk. We were within a hair's breadth of being defeated. The Falklands conflict was the last time when we were involved in a conventional war which involved the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. I strongly believe that it could have been avoided. Nobody would dare to say that we were within a hair's breadth of being defeated in that conflict, but ammunition supplies were worryingly low.

We should not talk about changing the balance of power on instant reaction judgments. We must agree to want a reduction in nuclear armaments and to get rid of the mountains of nuclear warheads that could destroy the entire civilised world. Great Britain must get other nations to do that by mutual agreement. If we cannot reach mutual agreement, we must tell our allies and NATO what we want, but we must maintain a line to NATO. Does anyone believe that we shall feel easy in our beds at night if NATO is weakened, if we withdraw from NATO tomorrow or if America went back to the Monroe doctrine?

The great struggle in the world is for energy. An examination of the world shows that about 68 per cent. of manganese and 72 per cent. of copper is in South Africa. Copper is needed for telecommunications and is essential for military purposes. We need £1,300 worth of chromium for one modern aeroplane. When one considers the amount of attention that Russia is giving to Africa, one realises that today's struggle is for energy. Energy is needed to keep nations alive, and people are prepared to fight for it.

I am convinced from my experience of war and of peacetime before the second world war that we had better be strong. We should not sell this country the right sort of bargain if we hastily begin actions that satisfy our party conferences but not the people at large. There is nothing wrong with telling the people that we shall be strong enough so that we shall never surrender, but we shall be wise enough to negotiate and to have as many fail-safe systems as we can to minimise the effects of accidents. If we must criticise our friends, let us also criticise our potential enemies. Nothing will serve Britain worse than if we try to resolve short-term problems quickly. It would be wiser to seek long-term benefits through patient negotiation.

I feel very strongly about one point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley. I will not hear it said that the House of Commons is inefficient. Many hon. Members work extremely hard in Committees in the House, and I wish to know where there is another assembly in the world where all the stages of a Bill are properly thrashed out hour after hour, morning, afternoon and night, not only in this place but in the other place. Let us not diminish the House of Commons. There are plenty of people outside who wish to do that. We should defend it.

10.6 pm

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne)

I am pleased to be able to make a short contribution to this important debate. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for preserving the tradition whereby people with slightly different views are called to speak one after the other. Although I have tremendous respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), I do not wholly share his views on this matter. I am committed to the defence policy of the Labour party. I am committed to membership of NATO, as is the Labour party——

Mr. Bill Walker


Mr. Brown

I shall say what the Labour party stands for, not Conservative Members. They should content themselves with saying what the Conservative party stands for. The Labour party is committed to NATO, but it is also committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said that the Labour party may have lost the general election because of its defence policy, but I fundamentally disagree with that. We lost the election because we failed to explain our defence policy. The media and spokesmen for the Conservative party tried to make it clear that the Labour party wished somehow to disarm the entire nation, but that is completely untrue. The Labour party is committed to a conventional defence policy—to the sort of defence policy of almost every other nation. Only a few countries have defence policies based on nuclear weapons.

To suggest that Britain is still in the same league as the United States or the Soviet Union is to take history back about 100 years. It is wrong to suggest that Britain is still an imperial power with a duty to bestride the entire world. That is a backward-looking approach to foreign policy. The Labour party lost the election because it did not explain its policies properly and because it allowed the Conservative party, through its friends in the press and the media, completely to distort our policies.

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

The hon. Gentleman said that the Labour party did not explain its defence policy at the last election. He ought to come to the working areas of my constituency, where he will find that people who supported the Labour party for many years turned out wearing their medals to vote Conservative because they disagreed with Labour's defence policy.

Mr. Brown

I am happy to take up that offer. If the hon. Gentleman arranges a joint meeting in his constituency to discuss defence policy, I shall happily stand alongside him so that we can each explain the policies of our parties. I urge him to accept.

It is wrong to say that our defence policy will be based on a nuclear deterrent that we possess independently. I challenge any Conservative Member to describe the circumstances in which our nation, regardless of the Americans, would independently use its nuclear deterrent against the Soviet Union. I challenge them to describe the result for the people among whom I live on Tyneside. We would all be dead. That is not a defence policy but a suicide policy, and it is quite unacceptable to my constituents and me.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

The deterrent has worked triumphantly for so long because an enemy can never be sure that one day it would not be used. That is the whole point of the independent nuclear deterrent.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman will not play nuclear poker with my life or the lives of my constituents. I do not accept what he has said. Whatever the arguments for the Americans' nuclear deterrent or the Soviet Union's nuclear deterrent, the idea that the Government should pursue a policy that confines nuclear warfare to Europe and gets us killed is fundamentally wrong and stupid. It is the Government's duty to move the world away from nuclear proliferation rather than towards it. This nation should be saying that nuclear war in Europe looks back into the pages of history rather than forward.

If the United Kingdom says that it must have nuclear weapons, countries of similar size and with similar economies can also demand them as well, and there are now a substantial number of countries whose economies are stronger than ours. They may say that they will waste that strength on the development of nuclear armaments, but the more nation states that possess such weapons, the more likelihood that such weapons will be used. The Government should behave responsibly and try to move the civilised world away from the possession of nuclear arsenals rather than insisting on having them. If we insist on having such an arsenal, every other country with the resources to have one has the moral right to use the same argument.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North spoke of not giving our plans away. That was a sensible point, sensibly made. But if we endorse the use of nuclear weapons confined to Europe we are giving our plans away. If, having lost a conventional military battle, we can conceive of using nuclear weapons, we are more or less telling our nuclear armed opponents, "You hit us before we hit you". By doing so we bring the nuclear holocaust closer rather than pushing it further away. In particular, we bring it down on our own heads. I can think of no nation less fitted to survive a nuclear attack or to take part in a nuclear war than this one. I therefore urge moves that lead away from that rather than towards it.

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

The House will be grateful to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) for raising the subject of follow-on forces attack, which has exercised Labour Members considerably over the past few months. I hope to be able to dispel some of the misconceptions under which she is labouring.

The issue has initiated a wider debate on the Adjournment than we would usually have at the close of business in the House. We were glad to have a sound and common-sense contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). We were also interested to hear the voice of—I hope the hon. Gentleman will not mind me saying—the old Labour party in the speech of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter), and the new Labour party in the shape of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne (Mr. Brown). The hon. Member for Hartlepool made the best speech on behalf of the Opposition that we have heard from either the Back or the Front Benches in the present Session. The only regret is that I fear that the hon. Gentleman is in a decreasing minority within his party.

It is also fitting that the 1983–84 Session of Parliament, which has seen such a great deal of parliamentary interest in many aspects of defence and strategy should conclude with this Adjournment debate.

Undoubtedly much of this parliamentary interest has focused on NATO's strategy, on the role of nuclear and conventional weapons in that strategy, and on the evolution in our tactics and our weapons systems that is needed to ensure that NATO continues to provide a credible deterrent to the growing Soviet and Warsaw pact threat—a threat that we updated in our Statement on the Defence Estimates earlier this year.

Much the most serious misconception that has been repeated again and again from the Opposition Benches during this last Session, is that NATO is seeking to embrace offensive strategies and offensive military doctrine. That, of course, is the incorrect allegation endlessly repeated by the Soviet propaganda machine. It is certainly disappointing to find it repeated by Opposition Members—and again, I am afraid, by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley in her speech—when it has no foundation in reality whatever.

I can only reiterate that NATO is a purely defensive Alliance. As was made clear in the declaration of Brussels in December last year: Our alliance threatens no one. None of our weapons will ever be used except in response to attack.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)


Mr. Stanley

No, I shall not give way because I have only a brief time in which to speak.

What is true of NATO is equally true of its most powerful member, the United States. As President Reagan said in his speech on East-West relations in Washington on 6 January: Our challenge is peaceful … We do not threaten the Soviet Union". It cannot be emphasised too often that NATO's posture is a solely defensive one. NATO has no aggresive designs on anyone; NATO threatens no one, and NATO has no military strategies based on initiating conflict.

What then is NATO's defensive strategy and what is the relationship of follow-on forces attack to it? NATO's strategy is one of deterrence based on forward defence and flexibility in response to aggression. That strategy was adopted by the Alliance in 1967 following the attainment of strategic parity by the Soviet Union. The Alliance believes that the strategy remains credible and viable in the political and military situation that faces us in Europe today. We see no justification for changing it and we do not believe that any credible alternative exists to forward defence and flexible response.

Let me explain the key principles on which NATO's deterrent strategy of forward defence and flexible response rests. First, it rests on a manifest determination on the part of all members of the Alliance to act jointly and to defend NATO's treaty area against all forms of aggression.

Secondly, it rests on a clear Alliance capability to respond effectively at all levels of aggression so as to convince the aggressor that he has miscalculated and should discontinue his attack. Thirdly, it rests on a flexibility in options for response that would prevent the Soviet Union from predicting with confidence NATO's response to a specific act of aggression, and lead it to conclude that an unacceptable degree of risk would be involved in any act of aggression, regardless of its nature, place or timing.

In short, for deterrence to be maintained by NATO's purely defensive alliance, a potential aggressor must be sure that NATO has the political will to respond to aggression, sure that NATO has the military capability to respond to aggression, and unsure precisely as to what form that military response will take.

It is against that background that I want to turn to the threat posed by Soviet and other Warsaw pact follow-on forces and the follow-on-forces attack concept that is currently under consideration in NATO to meet that threat.

As is well known, the Warsaw pact's capability to consolidate any significant territorial gains in the conventional phase of hostilities would be critically, if not wholly, dependent on its ability to mobilise sufficient second echelon forces and move them forward before the arrival of large-scale NATO, and in particular American, reinforcements.

For the Soviets, the first 10 to 15 days would be critical. In that period, the Warsaw pact would be able to mobilise up to 35 divisions in the western military districts of the USSR for operations against central Europe, plus 10 lower category divisions in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Those would form the follow-on forces to the 57 divisions that are at high states of readiness and ready to move in the first echelons, including Soviet and other Warsaw pact forces stationed in East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Large numbers of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters from the western military districts might also be committed in that first 10 to 15 days.

First United States reinforcements will arrive quickly by air. Unlike the Warsaw pact, which can bring up reinforcements across its own territory, a significant part of allied reinforcements would need to cross the Atlantic. Our ability to destroy and disrupt Warsaw pact follow-on forces is, therefore, of great importance in maintaining the credibility and effectiveness of our conventional deterrence—an aspect of our defence posture I understood Opposition Members to favour.

There is no doubt that in recent years the Warsaw pact has been strengthening its second echelon forces substantially. For example, many divisions have re-equipped with the T72 and T80 tanks, the most modern in the Soviet inventory. Self-propelled artillery is steadily replacing towed artillery and the total number of guns in formations has been significantly increased. New tactical battlefield missiles with greater accuracy have replaced older types. The adding of infantry units to tank formations has greatly increased the latter's flexibility and combat effectiveness. Such increases in capability are in line with the general upgrading of all Warsaw pact forces and are designed to ensure that Warsaw pact follow-on forces are no less capable than the leading echelons when they are committed to battle.

It is not surprising, therefore—and it is wholly consistent with NATO's defensive posture and its existing strategy of forward defence and flexible response—that NATO should be paying attention to Warsaw pact follow-on forces and should be developing its response to that particular aspect of the threat. The Government intend to play a full and constructive part in that process.

The hon. Lady seems to be under the misapprehension that there is some radical new departure in NATO devising means of combating the threat from Warsaw pact second echelon forces. That is most certainly not the case. NATO has long possessed the conventional capability to strike deep into enemy territory if attacked. Its tactical planning has long provided for the interdiction of enemy airfields and the disruption of his second echelon forces and other high value targets.

If the Alliance is not developing a new strategy what is it doing by way of the follow-on force attack concept? What the Alliance is doing, and has indeed been striving to do for many years, is to improve its conventional capability and to achieve a more effective implementation of its existing strategy of flexible response.

What is new is that the exploitation of emerging technology now in prospect over the next decade might enable the Alliance to increase its conventional capability and to do so at an affordable cost. Emerging technology can be applied in all theatres of war—at sea, on land, and in the air. The United Kingdom already has much high technology in its forward equipment programmes for all three services. Some of it was mentioned during the Army debate last week.

Much has been made of the possibility of using this technology to enhance NATO's deep-strike capability and to enable NATO forces to undertake interdiction missions at greater range and with more chance of success. However, we should not be unduly diverted or mesmerised by the deep-strike options that technology might or might not provide. Interdiction of second echelon or follow-on forces is only one facet—albeit the most frequently quoted—of new technologies and of the tactics to accompany them. As I have explained to the House, it is not a new idea; but it is a very difficult mission.

I shall outline some of the problems and the issues with which NATO is grappling. Deep strike by means of conventional weapons is likely to be an expensive business. For example, an ability to strike mobile second echelon targets would involve very advanced and costly surveillance and target acquisition systems which could be of limited effectiveness.

Moreover, while there is advantage in striking deep, NATO's top priority must continue to be adequate defence against first echelon attack. This must have first call on available resources. There is little merit in destroying Warsaw pact follow-on forces if NATO forces can not hold the first echelon.

Emerging technology is not a panacea for all NATO's problems. Indeed, it could be positively damaging were it to lead to the diversion of funds from other critical areas and the loss of other vital elements of deterrence. We need to consider carefully therefore the rate of introduction of new technology and the balance between the quality and the quantity of the new equipment we can afford.

We must also keep a continuous watch on the implications for arms control negotiations of the introduction of new types of conventional, as well as nuclear weapons, in Europe.

These are some of the problems that we and NATO collectively face in determining priorities for sensible and affordable exploitation of emerging technology. New technologies provide an opportunity for evolving tactics. We must establish clear tactical concepts which we can translate into equipment priorities to ensure that we strengthen rather than weaken overall deterrence.

NATO is now actively engaged on that process. The NATO military experts are developing a conceptual framework against which we can determine our priorities for the exploitation of emerging technology. They are also preparing a series of long-term planning guidelines to facilitate that process.

NATO's machinery provides for full consultation and discussion between the allies on the development of defence planning, including specific and agreed procedures for dealing with FOFA and other long-term planning guidelines. FOFA is still under consideration as part of that established consultative process.

What the House can be assured, however, is that we would be failing in our responsibility to maintain the effectiveness of conventional deterrence if we simply ignored the growing threat posed by Warsaw pact second echelon forces. We have not ignored that threat in the past and we should not do so now. There is therefore nothing novel in the consideration that NATO is currently giving to this matter. It represents no change whatever in NATO's wholly defensive posture.

By developing a counter to the signficant offensive capability of Warsaw pact second echelon forces we are simply strengthening deterrence and helping to safeguard the peace with freedom that. Western Europe has enjoyed for nearly 40 years.

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners:

The House went:—and, having returned:

Forward to