HC Deb 15 December 1986 vol 107 cc894-912 11.31 pm
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise the subject of defence and the future of NATO. I can think of no more important subject to take up the next hour and a half in the House. I am pleased that we have with us the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), because I shall raise the differences in outlook between the political parties on the important topic of our approach to NATO and defence policy.

I should like to look backwards before I look to the future. I can remember back in 1958, as a national service man, taking part in the 10th anniversary parade of NATO at Mainz in West Germany. As a light infantryman, I can remember having to hold back before we marched off because the French regiment in front of us went at a much slower pace than we did. But the important point about that parade was the fact that a commitment was being shown by Western Governments to the concept of NATO, an Alliance which now consists of 16 sovereign Western countries, and which was formed in 1949 to counter the aggressive behaviour of the Soviet Union. During the second world war, it had annexed parts of Finland and the Baltic states and later, by the end of 1947, the rest of Rumania, Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary. Shortly afterwards, in 1948, following a coup d'état, Czechoslovakia also became part of that regime, or sphere of influence. Finally, the siege of west Berlin in May 1949 led to the necessary formation of the NATO Alliance.

As everyone in the House, and, I am sure, in the country, knows, the Alliance is a defensive alliance. An armed attack on one or more of the countries in either Europe or America is considered by the Alliance to be an attack against all. Therefore, NATO would be able to exercise the collective defence that would be recognised under article 51 of the United Nations charter.

It is well known that NATO has preserved peace in Europe for almost 40 years. When one considers the death and destruction that occurred during the two world wars—as an East Anglian Member, I remind the House of the many people in East Anglia and Norwich who gave their lives during those wars—it is important to remember that the NATO Alliance has preserved peace in Europe during that period.

For the future and for peace, security and freedom, it is vital that NATO preserves sufficient forces to maintain the equilibrium in Europe and the world to preserve a credible deterrent. It is vital that nothing should happen to weaken the NATO Alliance. The Alliance has experienced crises since 1949 and recently there have been more serious and pronounced strains. Recent events and political debate have increased the risk—however remote it may be—that the United States may slide into a period of isolationism. We have known of this before in the world's history. There is a danger also that some in Europe may seek accommodation with the other superpower. Those dangers may seem remote at the moment, but they are real.

When looking to the Alliance's future, we must ensure that we do not weaken in any way. In particular, there is a danger that the twin aims of the Alliance—deterrence and negotiation—may be lost in the kind of emotive debate that often surrounds the subject of defence. I cannot do better than quote a short extract from an article in The Times in November 1984 by Roger Scruton, who said:

Anyone who studies the history of arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union is likely to be struck by a sense of unreality. From the first days it has been Soviet policy to make agreements unverifiable, and to break them with impunity; to vilify the West for the deployment of every new weapon, while serenely deploying the same weapon itself; to sign international conventions which tie our hands, while proceeding to ignore those conventions when interest requires, and to encourage vociferous and independent 'peace movements' in the West, while ruthlessly liqidating them at home. These vociferous peace movements, of course, must include the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. As has been demonstrated, it has an influence on thinking in the Labour party, particularly recent thinking. Indeed, within the last 24 hours, the recent leader of the CND, Joan Ruddock, has been adopted as the prospective Labour parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Deptford. Doubtless that is part of the trend to which I am referring. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has an influence not only on Labour party thinking but on Liberal party thinking.

What is more, CND has sought, particularly in East Anglia, to foster the kind of anti-Americanism which weakens the NATO Alliance. I am pleased to be able to inform the House that it has had remarkably little effect, because the relationship between the people of East Anglia and the United States forces at Lakenheath and elsewhere in the region have been good and have remained good, despite the peace movements' efforts to push us in another direction.

As one who is interested in education, I point out that the CND has sought to influence our young people to whom, perhaps, because of their age, NATO's objectives seem irrelevant. In an article in the current edition of the "NATO Review", Jan Reinfenberg, the Brussels-based correspondent of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, states: To a large extent, these objectives"— the objectives of NATO—

have become somewhat irrelevant to a young European generation which has grown up under the protection of NATO and whose prospects for self-fulfilment would be inconceivable without the success of the Western Alliance. Moreover, that generation is often exposed to the influence of educators who, in a grotesque distortion of the facts, nowadays perceive an assertive American policy as posing a greater threat to peace than the behaviour of the Soviet Union, who equate Soviet aggression in Afghanistan with Washington's approach in Central America, and who credit Moscow with far more readiness for arms reductions than the United States. It is worth stating in passing that we need to be aware of the continuing threat posed by so-called peace studies in schools up and down the country. The problem has been amply described by Baroness Cox and Roger Scruton in an excellent pamphlet. I do not have time to develop the theme today, but I have had complaints from parents in my constituency of this kind of miseducation in schools. The kind of syllabus involved shows a lack of academic rigour and such studies are unworthy of inclusion in our education system. I hope that that theme will be taken up again later as it is a serious matter.

The type of campaign promoted by CND should not be part of the education of young people in our schools. The same problem has occurred in the universities, leading to the declaration in 1983 by the Academic Council for Peace and Freedom, a large group of distinguished academics who were extremely concerned about the effect on young people of the propaganda put out by movements such as CND. We must not lose sight of the need for vigilance in countering those influences on our young people.

A distinction should be drawn between the activities of organisations such as CND and the longer tradition of pacifism. Although I am not a pacifist and do not hold pacifist views, it is important to note that CND is basically a political campaign, continually shifting its ground, first talking about a nuclear freeze, then about unilateral disarmament, then about the star wars strategic defence initiative, whereas the pacifist tradition is quite different. It is important to distinguish between the two.

The dangers to the Alliance have been heightened by the loss of consensus between the major parties in this country. I should like to quote an interesting extract from The Daily Telegraph some time ago. It reads: But no one in the Atlantic Alliance now doubts that the effective superiority of the Warsaw Powers in conventional military strength in Europe rules out a purely conventional defence of Western Europe against an all-out conventional attack by the Warsaw powers … Because NATO strategy has always been founded on the nuclear deterrent against a major Soviet attack, Western Europe has known total peace". That quotation may ring a bell with those who have been studying recent changes in Labour party policy, but the House may be astonished to discover that the quotation was taken from a speech by the then Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), speaking in the House on 4 March 1970. He went on to say that any strategy more reliant on conventional weapons could not be carried out unless Britain reintroduced conscription."—[Official Report, 4 March 1970; Vol. 797, c. 423.] In the light of recent reports, it may surprise hon. Members to know that in 1970 one of the present chief Opposition spokesmen on these matters was speaking in those terms. It is good to see that he referred also to conscription as many Conservatives have some sympathy with the idea of reintroducing voluntary national service. I have spoken in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) in a debate on that subject. I also support my hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer), who I am glad to see here supporting the debate, and for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who have proposed a volunteer force to strengthen our defence effort.

Since the right hon. Member for Leeds, East made the speech to which I have referred, there has been a drift to the Left in the Labour party. Perhaps it is the result of public pressure, but it might be the result of pressure from CND or the influence of Soviet propaganda. It has succumbed completely to the unilateralist line. It says that it will cancel Trident and spend the money on conventional weapons. If all the money that would be saved by cancelling Trident were spent on tanks, we would make up only 1 per cent. of the Soviet superiority over NATO in tanks. That demonstrates the nonsense of such statements. Other Labour spokesmen say that they will spend the money on health and education. They will have to make up their mind what will happen to the money if they are able to cancel Trident.

I had the interesting experience on Wednesday 3 December of attending a debate which was opened by the leader of the Liberal party. It was a most mystifying experience. Although many of us tried to intervene, he gave way only to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, so we were unable to challenge him as we would have liked. It was astonishing to see the form that the debate took.

Liberals who carry on the Quaker or pacifist stance in that party must have found it difficult to support the Liberal motion, which they must have regarded as a sell out to the Social Democratic party. Their views are on the record. I should like to quote just two examples. In a joint article called "Across the Divide", which was apparently signed by hon. Members for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) in September, they said: We must ask whether there is any military need for Britain to update the existing weapons or even to keep an independent nuclear capability at all". If that is not enough evidence, note the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) writing in Sanity, the CND magazine, who, in 1985, said: I agree with the Liberal Party—which is the only British Party that has always opposed a British Nuclear Deterrent". I felt for those hon. Members on 3 December.

The Liberal motion reaffirmed support for NATO, rejected unilateral gestures and the expulsion of United States bases and affirmed the need for conventional and nuclear arms. It was a splendid sounding motion, but it was not remotely in line with the policy, even the recently cobbled together policy, that the Liberal party seems to be proposing at the moment. If ever there was a case for investigative journalism, this must be it.

In the debate on 3 December, the leader of the Liberal party set out six options for a minimum deterrent, ranging from extending the life of Polaris to the purchase of a Euro-cruise missile. Both are nonsense because it is well known—it has been stated recently by Lord Lewin—that the life of Polaris cannot in any circumstances be extended beyond 1995. The purchase of a Euro-cruise missile would also seem very unsatisfactory when it is well known that it would be vulnerable to Soviet defences. The leader of the Liberal party admitted that defence was causing serious problems and debate in the Liberal and Social Democratic parties. I do not have time to set out the present policy of the SDP.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

Does my hon. Friend recall that in that debate the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) spelt out his six options and said that while in opposition his party could not choose between them? Does he further recall that, when pressed, the right hon. Gentleman admitted that his party in opposition could have a policy to cancel Trident? Does he also recall that over the weekend the same right hon. Gentleman found it possible while in opposition to opt heavily for Nimrod against the AWAC system without having the technical information? Does my hon. Friend agree that that amounts to complete nonsense?

Mr. Thompson

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is typical of alliance leaders always to choose popular options and not to consider the depth of the problem involved.

I remind the House of the alliance concept of minimum deterrence, which means freezing our independent deterrent at the present level of Polaris and not moving beyond that. The alliance has put forward the ideas of exploring Anglo-French co-operation; of a battlefield nuclear free zone in Europe; and of a ban on nuclear weapons testing which is nonsense if one is considering replacing Polaris, because one cannot replace it if one cannot test a successor.

There is a dangerous assumption implied in those policies. Basically the alliance is talking about de facto unilateralism. Since it will not commit itself to what will follow Polaris, it is sweeping the problem to one side. It is unilateralism in disguise.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The hon. Gentleman will understand that, as I wish to speak on a constituency matter later, I may not speak in this debate. I cannot fathom his logic when he says that our policies amount to unilateralism. He prayed in aid Lord Lewin. Will he also accept that Lord Lewin said that it was responsible for Opposition parties not to commit themselves to any particular system while in opposition and without access to advice? The fact that we have stated a willingness to replace Polaris if we cannot negotiate its disposal is an important signal and in no way should be construed as unilateralism in the sense that that word may be properly applied to Labour party policies.

Mr. Thompson

I remind the hon. Gentleman that many of his party's supporters are unilateralists, and there is no way that that can be disguised. The leader of the Liberal party made it clear that he would not state which option he chose, and the hon. Gentleman has confirmed that. When will those parties decide which option to choose and what option will they then choose? The position has not been clarified by that intervention.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) has staked his entire career on keeping the nuclear deterrent. The so-called gang of four left the Labour party for that reason. I shall illustrate the fact that there is a genuine problem and that this has not merely been cobbled together for the debate. Alan Lee Williams, chairman of the SDP defence and disarmament group, is also the chairman of the non-partisan pro-NATO organisation called "Peace through NATO which does good work, debating against the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and putting the pro-NATO view. In September he said: The Liberal Assembly's rejection … of the British deterrent as well as a possible European deterrent system highlights a number of current contradictions within the Alliance which have never been realistically faced. I, for example, felt obliged to resign as prospective SDP candidate for Hornchurch and Havering largely because of the unilaterists sympathies of the local Liberals who presumably disapproved of my support both for a British replacement of Polaris and for a viable European deterrent system. I could quote further from that letter, but I shall not do so because the point is clear.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

Many hon. Members know Alan Lee Williams. He put it—as he would—that he resigned. However, he got out just before the Liberal party could shop him. The Liberal party said that it could in no way support anyone who supported Trident or a "Peace through NATO" campaign.

Mr. Thompson

I could not have described the position better. There is a real problem in the division between the Liberal and Social Democratic parties. Their defence policy was not clarified in the debate on 3 December to which I have already referred.

The challenge to the future of NATO is an intellectual challenge. I agree with those who say that it is a challenge to the consciousness and the will of the people in the West. The numbers of those attacking the Alliance, including Opposition Members—whether they are doing that deliberately or unconsciously—are considerable. We must therefore resist the slogans from those quarters such as the "Nuclear Free Zone" or "No First Use" or the "Free" slogan because they are all part and parcel of the same attack on the strength of the Alliance. To give up freedom is to jeopardise peace.

At the next election, defence will undoubtedly be an issue. The principle that the NATO Alliance must be held firm and strong will be debated during the election campaign. Although the right hon. Member for Leeds, East may have turned his coat since 1970, it is clear that the people of Britain will reject Labour's new defenceless policy that presents weakness as strength. They will, for the reasons that will be outlined by many of my hon. Friends during this debate, back the firm alternative—support of NATO and the policy of this Conservative Government.

11.57 pm
Mr. Gerrad Neale (Cornwall, North)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) on winning a place in the ballot and choosing this subject for debate. Bearing in mind the onerous duties of colleagues on both sides of the House, I am bound to say that on such an issue as this it is astonishing that only one Front-Bench spokesman from the Official Opposition is present. I accept the explanation about the predicament of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and his wanting to speak in a later debate, but on a subject as formidable as his, and particularly as it is one over which the alliance has tried to raise the political temperature, not to have someone from the Liberal or the Social Democratic parties present to take part in the debate is shameful. To protest, as the Liberals and Social Democrats protest inside and outside the House, that the rift in the alliance has healed is manifest nonsense.

I appreciate that my constituency is a long way from that of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, but it may pay him to visit my part of the world. Were he to come, he would realise that only 3 per cent. of the electorate in my constituency and not much more than that in adjoining constituencies have not seen the light about the Labour party and 97 per cent. have long since seen the light.

My constituents are in total confusion over the position of the Liberal party in these matters. Those who had the opportunity to read the speech made by the leader of the Liberal party must, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North said, have been bamboozled beyond belief. It was a vague speech and it lacked conviction. If ever a speech complied with the definition of the phrase "mudge and fudge" used by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) the speech of the leader of the Liberal party did. There were perhaps only two points in it that were highly perceptive. The first was: One of the first obligations of Government is to provide effectively for the defence of the country. There is no question about that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North mentioned, he then said that it was not for Opposition parties to decide on various options, clouded as they are with conflicting advice".—[Official Report, 3 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 987–90.] I realise that that is a problem that the Liberal party has always had.

One tries to be charitable to the Liberal party in these circumstances because very few are. However, it is unbelievable that a responsible party can protest, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North pointed out, that it has the ability to make up its mind about Trident but does not have the ability to make up its mind about the six options. The leader of the Liberal party listed the six options, but he gave no indication as to how far each one had been considered. He did not seem to suggest that they were anything new. He even admitted that such matters had been considered at length. He talked of the M4 French missiles, for example, and said they were "discussed on many occasions."

The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to suggest at any stage that the Government had not considered them in great detail. I do not know whether he imagines that these matters have just seen the light of day. Of course, they have all been considered.

It has not been made clear how the leader of the Liberal party or the party reached their conclusion about Trident. There was no information given. It was amazing.

Six options were advanced. Previously, the leader of the Social Democratic party had advanced three options. He said that one option was a ballistic system, not Trident. If we look carefully at the Liberal's six options, we can see that that falls in. He said that cruise missiles were another option, and that can be found in the Liberal's options, so one can say that we are still left with a net six. Then he said that a very much reduced Trident was an option. Does that mean that we have seven options or six as that did not appear to feature in the loosely flung together list of options produced by the leader of the Liberal party? The Liberal party is apparently pitted against Trident but the leader of the SDP is saying that a version of it will be acceptable. All I can say is that I do not know how the Liberal party ever expects to convince anyone that it has a realistic alternative in mind.

The critical feature is that Trident is on order. On the admission of the Liberal party, the Government had all the information and they had the responsibility to make the decision and they made it in 1980. I appreciate the constraint of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, but one of the critical features the Liberal party has been advancing is that there is no need to make a decision yet. More than that, it implies that there is no need to make the decision at all yet whether it was in government or opposition.

I should like to know, and I am sure that the House would like to know, when it has been advised that the decision could be made to replace Polaris. All the information that has reached Conservative Members and the Government is that a decision has had to be made long since in order to be certain that we have a suitable weapon in place as a minimum effective deterrent to replace Polaris.

The fact is that the Liberal party has no realistic policy. There is no joint policy between the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party. Certainly there is no decisive policy. It is a faint-hearted attempt to say to the multilateralists, "We have a commitment", yet at the same time to say to them, "Don't worry, we shall never make clear what our commitment is." Nobody is fooled.

In recent years there has been a consistent Liberal party commitment to unilateralism. The Liberal party has tried to present to the people of this country the impression that it is committed to a minimum nuclear defence policy, although manifestly it cannot put one together. As the polls have shown, it has sadly underestimated a basic instinct of the British people—their need for a strong defence system. That is why increasingly they are turning to the party that is in power, the Conservatives, and why they want the Conservative Government to be re-elected at the next general election.

12.5 am

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

Last week I spent two days in Washington, where I had discussions with Republicans, Democrats and those who are well informed about views in the United States. We cannot take United States commitment to NATO for granted. Even before the provocation of the Labour party's new defence proposals, the Mansfield and Nunn amendments failed very narrowly indeed. They would have led to the withdrawal of American forces from Europe, 80,000 troops being withdrawn each year for the next five years. That should frighten us all. We should tread very carefully.

I am sorry for the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). He must have mistaken the time of the debate; he came into the Chamber far too early. Therefore, he is being subjected to a barrage of criticism from Conservative Members. Nevertheless, I am sure that he will take it in good part. I intend to follow what has been said by my hon. Friends and to take a hard look at where exactly the Liberal party stands today in defence terms. If the Labour party's proposals spell disaster for this country—and many of them know it, including the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)—the Liberal party's policy of dither would be equally disastrous, if certain events were to take place after the next general election. We know where we stand over Labour party policy. It has chosen the path of disaster. The Liberal party is just wondering which way to turn and which policy will attract the most votes.

A defence policy must be based upon a long-term commitment, and I wonder what constitutes a long-term commitment in defence terms. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces replies to the debate I hope that he will give us his view on this. However, I should have thought that a minimum period of 10 years would be a fair estimate. Unless there is stability in defence policy we shall never be able to plan ahead and do what is right.

Let me therefore take a 10-year commitment, based on 1984, to illustrate the Liberal party's defence policy. In that year the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) led his party by the nose away from the multilateralist approach and into the unilateralist cause that he has espoused ever since he came into politics, and probably before.

Mr. Wallace

Does the hon. Gentleman also accept that in 1984, in the same resolution to which he has already referred, the Liberal party changed the policy of more than 20 years on its attitude to the minimum deterrent, and that what had previously been a policy to scrap it on coming into office was changed to maintaining it to put it into arms negotiations talks? Does he accept that that was a very important change in policy, to which Conservative Members seldom refer?

Mr. Spicer

That is a load of old waffle. The hon. Gentleman is just trying to disguise the fact that the platforms were defeated by the hon. Member for Yeovil and his friends. They voted against cruise, and that was of crucial importance in 1984. At that time, the Liberal party was virtually led by the hon. Member for Yeovil who was, and is, a committed unilateralist, having taken part in CND rallies with the Leader of the Opposition, Ron Todd and others in 1983. In 1984—whatever may be said by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland—the unilateralists prevailed within the Liberal party. The year 1985 was a good year for the Liberal party—because it switched around and the multilateralists views prevailed. I do not know what happened that year. There had obviously been some strict talking to one or two people but the Liberal party changed its policy and became multilateralists. However, the hon. Member for Yeovil said at that conference, or just after it:

However, I remain totally opposed to the stationing of Cruise missiles in Britain. I wish to see them removed as quickly as possible. In 1986—which I recall was a non-Yeovil year—we found new champions for the unilateralist cause. There can be no dispute that what happened at the Liberal party conference in 1986 was a major blow for the leader of the Liberal party; he said so at the time. But in late 1986 that conference decision was totally ignored and a new policy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) said in opening the debate is now being cobbled together.

The Liberals and the SDP are in the business of papering over cracks at present. Perhaps the House may remember that, two to three months ago, we were given, after a day's visit to Paris by the two leaders of the Liberal-SDP Alliance the result—it was a remarkable breakthrough, we were told—was lunch with President Mitterrand, dinner with Mr. Chirac and back to announce to the world that there was a new European dimension which we could all follow.

I could not find out from my French friends what that new European dimension was. But eventually a letter appeared in The Times from Count Jean de Lipkowski who is a member of the Chamber of Deputies. It said: It may be that in the few weeks following the visit to Paris of Dr. Owen and Mr. Steel some misunderstandings have arisen in the United Kingdom over present French nuclear policy and our plans for the future. I would like to set out, very briefly the position as we in France see it. France has never wavered in her resolve to build and maintain an independent nuclear deterrent. Currently our deterrent force is being updated with the M4 Missile System (just as you in the United Kingdom plan to replace Polaris with Trident), and we expect by 1990 to see a new generation of these more powerful nuclear weapons installed in all our submarines. All parties in France, both government and opposition, are committed to this replacement. I would emphasise again that we are resolved to make the necessary provision for the completion of this expensive programme which we consider vital not only for the future security of France but for the Western Alliance as well. Naturally we would welcome British support in such an essential matter but with or without it, our national commitment to a continuing nuclear policy is absolute and clear cut. I do not know what was on offer. The count said it was a very expensive programme. Perhaps the two leaders went out there and said, "If you want money, we are the chaps to provide it and we will help you to update from the equivalent of Polaris to Trident for your French nuclear forces."

If the NATO Alliance is to survive, it needs a clear-cut policy from every party in the House. We know exactly where the Labour party stands and so do the British people, but none of us really knows where the Liberal party stands. We do know where the Social Democratic party stands and all I can say is that my great hope is that its leader may be able to put some steel into the Liberal party and ensure that it holds the line and comes up with a policy that will make some sense to the British people and the NATO Alliance as a whole.

12.15 am
Mr. Stefan Terlezki (Cardiff, West)

I regret that of 209 Labour Members only two are present at a debate at midnight on NATO's function and role, which is so important that it affects hundreds of millions of people in Europe. It makes me wonder how they are will be able to take care of the defence of the citizens of Europe. It is a tragedy. I sympathise with the two Labour Members who evidently do not have the support of their colleagues who are not interested in the defence of Europe.

The Social Democratic and Liberal parties are two of a kind. Some people call them the semi-desperate people. I shall call them nothing except to say that the time will come when they have to be responsible to the electorate and state loud and clear their policy for the defence of Britain.

The object of NATO must be to preserve peace, freedom and political stability in Europe for as long, and longer, in the future as it has done in the past. I speak from experience. Freedom is like fresh air. If one does not have it, one misses it, and I know that. I can also echo the voices of hundreds of millions of people who are less fortunate than we are in Britain, and, in particular, in this free and democratic House.

The Opposition have talked about a modern Britain in a modern world. Yes, indeed—I want to see a modern Britain in a modern world and that must be what NATO requires of modern Britain in a modern world. That means that we must ensure that we preserve freedom, peace and stability, not only for ourselves but for generations to come. We must put our resources at the disposal of NATO to pursue the objectives that were set 40 years ago.

I do not believe that a single country will give its unequivocal support to the Labour party's kamikaze defence policy. Today we are in the almost unbelievable position where only one party, the Conservative party, is openly and unequivocally committed to ensuring that we maintain our full guard through NATO.

One does not have to be a student of history to know what happens when a country drops it shield. The Labour party has made it clear that it will campaign on a non-nuclear "Yankee go home" defence policy. It would be a joke if it were not such a sad and serious matter. Labour would achieve at a stroke what the Russians have been trying to do since the war—unhook America from the defence of Europe and destroy NATO. The Russian attitude to that, if they could do it, is, the sooner the better.

If Britain were to give up its nuclear deterrent, the Soviet Union would be left with a virtual monopoly of nuclear arms and that tyrannical regime, which cares not a fig for human rights, would be uniquely able to blackmail the Alliance and the whole of mankind. Unilateralists should consider the lesson of half a century ago. What would have happened if Hitler had been in possession of the nuclear weapons that the Russians have today?

Labour has made a most dangerous proclamation in its policy on unilateral nuclear disarmament. It is a surrender to the Russians and a betrayal of the NATO Alliance and the Council of Europe. We all want peace, and that is what we in Europe have known for the past 40 years. Our children were born and grew up in peace and freedom, and their children were born in peace and freedom. That is wonderful. We want peace, but not at any price. We want peace with honour, self-respect and freedom, and that is what we must have and nothing else. We can only have that by being true to our allies in NATO. A strong NATO defence is a reminder of what we owe to a strong defence for 40 years of peace in Europe. Millions of people have been killed elsewhere in the world in conventional wars, but the nuclear balance has kept peace in our continent, thanks to NATO.

Mr. Churchill once declared that an indestructible nuclear deterrent was imperative for our survival, and Lord Mountbatten later declared that the nuclear deterrent would be capable of inflicting damage on the Russian homeland which the most hard-headed gambler could not regard as anything but unacceptable. The Labour party has established itself as unilateralist and is now gripped by neutralism and a venomous hatred of our friends the Americans who are the guarantors of Western freedom and democracy and the pillars of NATO.

The world is a dangerous place, according to the Labour Party, not because of the Russians but because of the Americans and the Alliance of free, democratic nations. Labour's apologists and fellow travellers are not interested in the fact that the world is in danger and do not what to hear that NATO has kept the peace in Europe for 40 years. It has said that a Labour Government would kick out the US nuclear bases. Labour's shadow defence spokesman has said that Labour's non-nuclear defence policy is the most radical ever presented to the electorate. He can say that again.

Under Mr. Attlee, Mr. Gaitskell, Lord Wilson and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), the Labour party knew our allies and our enemies. It knew that in the face of the nuclear armed Soviet bully Britain had to preserve an independent nuclear deterrent or have to face nuclear blackmail.

It is no good the leader of the Labour Party and some of its members going to Norway and Luxembourg and to other NATO countries which have no nuclear weapons. We are not Norway or Luxembourg. Our nuclear forces have a political importance in the Alliance far outweighing their role as an independent deterrent. Anyone who believes that we can abandon nuclear weapons, throw out the Americans and still remain an effective and honourable member of the military Alliance which depends for its survival on American power, I am sure is not speaking with reality or common sense.

By the turn of the century, the Russians will have a strategic defence system capable of rendering ineffective any but the most advanced, accurate and flexible nuclear striking force. The Conservative party has been identified by its opponents as the only party with an honest, coherent and practical defence policy and also totally supportive of NATO.

12.26 am
Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)

I am pleased to support my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) and to speak on a matter that is of grave importance both for this country and for the free world. A number of my hon. Friends have expressed a great deal of sympathy for the Labour party, the Social Democratic party and the Liberal party in their dilemma. I differ from my hon. Friends in that respect because I have no sympathy at all for any political party that adopts a stance that would put at grave risk the security and the defence of this country that I hold so dear.

There is an old-fashioned word that one could use, and that is patriotism. I believe in patriotism and in the defence of my country. I was proud to do my national service. I am proud of my son who is a regular in the Royal Air Force. I am proud to say that I am a patriot. I do not believe that it is patriotic of any of the other parties to adopt the stance that they have adopted which puts the security and defence of this nation at grave risk.

There should not be differences between the defence policies of the political parties in this country. From my memory of politics, many years ago there was no difference between the defence policies of the political parties. They all had a common aim, a common goal, a more or less common defence policy that was followed by political parties after the experience of the second world war. They realised what had happened. They had learnt the lessons from the late 1930s, in particular, and they agreed on a more or less common defence policy.

I am very sad that those defence policies have fallen apart, but I am glad to say that the political party that I belong to, and have always belonged to, has remained steadfast in the policies that it learned through experience during the second world war and successive years. Those policies were right then and they are absolutely right today. They make plain common sense. They ensure that we are properly defended and are able to resist any aggressor who might be intent on incursions into it.

There can be no doubt that Russia and its satellites have aggressive intentions. Indeed, the aim of the Communists, as I understand it, is to secure world domination by whatever means, however long it may take them. After we won the second world war, Russia took over any number of countries and has kept those countries under the yoke of Communism and Russian domination. Using the old domino threat, it is trying to increase its influence in the world. There can be no doubt that some countries have aggressive intentions. That being so, we must retain a strong defensive Alliance.

I have no sympathy for the fact that the Opposition parties have been hijacked by the unilateralists, by the so-called peacemongers and by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I do not know why they have been taken over. I suspect that they simply did not have the guts to tell those people that their philosophy was entirely wrong and that they wanted no part of it. I suspect that the Opposition parties thought, "We have had peace for a while; there may be some votes in it for us." The policies being followed by the alliance and by the Labour party would lead inevitably to the removal of American bases from East Anglia—

Mr. Wallace


Mr. Powley

That would be the inevitable result.

Mr. Wallace

When have the Liberal party or the SDP produced a policy that would lead to the removal of American bases in Britain? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in almost every document, we have affirmed that we would maintain American bases, including nuclear bases, in Britain as part of our NATO commitment?

Mr. Powley

The policies agreed at the Liberal party's conference this year would inevitably lead to the removal of American bases. There is no question about that. The Opposition parties are trying to confuse us. There is an SDP policy, a Liberal party policy and a joint SDP-Liberal policy, which has not been approved by either party conference. The inevitable result of Liberal party policies agreed at its assembly this year would be the removal of nuclear and non-nuclear American bases from East Anglia. Apart from the defence aspect of the removal of those bases, East Anglia would suffer economically as it has not suffered for as long as I can remember. A tremendous number of jobs and a large amount of money depend upon the American bases in East Anglia, and their removal would have a disastrous economic effect.

I hope—perhaps it is a forlorn hope—that the Opposition will see the error of their ways. I do not wish to fight a general election on defence policies, because I hope that we could have a common defence policy. Britain's security depends on and deserves that. But if we must have differences between the political parties, I shall be happy to fight the general election on those differences, and I am confident of the outcome and of the support of the British people.

12.35 am
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I do not often call in aid the support of the alliance parties, but I am certain that they share my deep concern over the Government's policies. Conservative Members have felt it necessary to spend an hour bashing the opposition parties without once finding one word to say in favour of their own party. I can understand that, because attack is always the best form of defence. If a party has a weak case, it will attack the enemy, shout loud and hope that nobody realises the problems that exist with its policy and system.

I understand that feeling, and there was an example of it today when the Opposition were attempting to alter the business to allow us to have a special debate on Nimrod, which Mr. Speaker decided should not take place. Nimrod is an example of the type of weakness that we see within NATO. For seven years the Government have been responsible for the policy of trying to ensure that we have proper control, and they have failed. They have created a sour atmosphere, which must weaken our position in NATO and our ability to defend ourselves. They have failed to answer any of the questions which have been raised and they have refused even to have an independent inquiry following the Secretary of State's statement that both systems work, both Nimrod and AWACS. It seems that the Government will favour the American system, and they are pouring out a great deal of disinformation about the British product.

Mr. Jim Spicer

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. McNamara

No. I allowed everyone to have his say by not seeking to interrupt, and I shall now have my say.

I am concerned about NATO and its strength, and if Europe loses more and more of its high technology base to the Americans, we shall cease to have a firm European pillar within NATO and will become a satellite to the United States. I do not believe that that is what the United States wants, and it would not be good for Europe, but that is what is likely to happen. I say to the Government, even at this late hour, that they should support the steps already taken by GEC to appoint independent assessors and get away from the sour atmosphere surrounding the early warning replacement system—

Mr. Jim Spicer

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. McNamara

The Government should realise that the strength of NATO depends as much on the industrial strength of the European nations as upon the strength of the United States.

When we listen to Conservative Members talking about NATO, it is clear that they have a schizophrenic attitude to it and the American alliance. The right hon. Lady the Prime Minister is often referred to as President Reagan's poodle, but that is unfair to poodles, which often show independence. Basically, at the bottom of the Conservative party's general defence policy and its slavish adherence to the idea of Trident, there is a suspicion of the United States. Its attitude is that we must keep Trident. The Prime Minister wrote to President Gorbachev to say: "It does not matter what you agree with President Reagan, we shall keep Trident." She tries to persuade the European allies not full-heartedly to back the Americans in their desire to get rid of ballistic missiles.

Mr. Keith Best (Ynys MÔn)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, the answer is no.

The Government say that there is a limit below which a British Conservative Government would not go in maintaining Trident as part of our system. That means that they do not trust the United States in the long run. It seems that in the long run they do not believe that Washington is to be swapped for London in a nuclear exchange. If that is the Government's attitude, we are entitled to say to them what they do not believe in NATO. That is their great problem. They do not know where they stand on these matters. They are schizophrenes over their loyalty. When we start talking about unilateral disarmament, it is the Conservative Government who have disarmed unilaterally. The Government were prepared to accept Sir John Nott's White Paper, which proposed to cut our surface fleet. The Government sold off to the Saudis Tornadoes that were meant for the RAF. The Government have cancelled mines. The Government have postponed towed array radar for our frigates.

Mr. Best


Mr. McNamara

It is not humbug. The hon. Gentleman should read what his own Secretary of State said in the Defence Estimates. These were unilateral actions taken by the Government without any reference to our NATO allies.

The Government have cut defence spending by 6 per cent. That was a straight, unilateral decision. That is within their powers—nobody is quarrelling with that—but to say that only the Labour party believes in unilateralism is to fly in the face of the history of the Government. Therefore, one is entitled to say to the Government that to parade a row of Back Benchers to try to have a go at the Opposition parties' defence policies is a load of hypocrisy. What does the Labour party say that we should do? We should take a leaf from the attitude of the American Government.

Mr. Best

Subjection to the Americans.

Mr. McNamara

Now it comes out—subjection to the Americans. Anti-Americanism is now coming out. Conservative Members say that we will be subject to the Americans. They are the ones who gave them our Westland technology, who are prepared to give them Land Rover and who will give them our early warning system. They are the people who say that we are completely subject to the Americans.

Mr. Best

Will the hon. Gentleman have the courtesy to give way?

Mr. Patrick Thompson


Mr. McNamara

The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. I have to conclude my remarks, or the Minister will not have an opportunity to reply. The hon. Gentleman is pointing at me. I can only return the compliment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. It is quite obvious that the hon. Gentleman will not give way.

Mr. McNamara

The real problem is that Conservative Members, full of their own self-importance, start to parade their patriotism. When we get a little of our own back, they suddenly start to writhe in their seats and get upset about it. They must learn to take it because they will get it continuously. This is the policy that will win the next election, and we are doing it. After all, the Labour party founded NATO. The Labour party strengthened NATO and will continue to strengthen and fulfil its conventional part in NATO. We take the line from President Reagan, who said:

For too long, we and our allies have permitted nuclear weapons to be a crutch, a way of not having to face up to our real defence needs. We must free ourselves from that crutch. Our goal must be to deter and if necessary to repel any aggression without resort to nuclear arms. We in the Labour party say that that is a good starting point for NATO. We depend too much upon a multitude of nuclear weapons, to such a degree that it is quite possible that war could accidentally happen. We say to our allies, "Let us step back and examine the proper ways in which we can defend our continent, so that, if we were to be attacked by the Warsaw pact, they would feel the strength of our response, and that response would not be based upon the first use of nuclear weapons and turn our continent into a cinder box. That is our policy. The hon. Member for Norwich, North has said many rude things about people, including Mrs. Joan Ruddock, who will be a proud Member on the Government benches after the next election.

The hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) also objected to our children studying peace. What does he want them to study—war? Does he not think that we should spend our time trying to decide how to avert war? That is how we should spend our time. The hon. Gentleman wants to pooh-pooh it as, historically, Tories always have done. we must remember that they were the men of Munich, preferring war to peace. [Interruption.] Conservative Members should not say, "Ah." They do not like it, but they will have it anyway. We are saying to our allies: we shall fulfil our NATO commitment. We shall fill the gaps in our conventional forces. We shall ensure that the money that we save from nuclear weapons is put into our Army, our Navy and our Air Force to assert our ability to maintain and build up our conventional forces.

We shall not, as the hon. Member for Norwich, North said spend the money that we transfer from Trident on social programmes, much as we should like to, because we realise the desperate state in which the Government have left our conventional forces. Our first duty as a Government is to make sure that our country is safe, and not to put it on a perilous tightrope such as the Government are likely to do, when the only response that we shall have to any sort of threat will be an immediate nuclear response. We know, the dangers of that because, after all, a nuclear response will not frighten anyone a great deal, as Lord Carrington himself knew when he was Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. So we shall say to our allies: let us build up our conventional forces.

Mr. Best


Mr. McNamara

Let us ensure that our men are properly equipped—

Mr. Best

How? With what?

Mr. McNamara

—and that we have the best of modern conventional weaponry to deter an enemy.

Labour's defence policy in Europe, and therefore NATO, is based on two principles—first, a continued and positive role within the NATO Alliance, and secondly, United Kingdom unilateral nuclear disarmament and the removal of nuclear bases from the United Kingdom and its waters. Basically, Labour says that we are committed to the maintenance of the British Army of the Rhine at its current strength, in keeping with our treaty obligations. We seek to maintain a surface fleet of approximately 50 frigates to maintain our NATO obligation for 70 per cent. of the naval forces of the Eastern Atlantic—

Mr. Best

It is the same with the Government.

Mr. McNamara

The problem is that it is not the same with the Government. They are not ordering the ships to do so.

We seek to maintain our tactical air force commitments in Germany, to replace Fearless and Intrepid for the proper sustenance and reinforcement of the northern flank during any build-up towards hostilities, and to collaborate with our European colleagues in the production of the European fighter aircraft. On the industrial front, we are keen to maintain our policies of European collaboration to ensure that, within the European pillar of NATO, there is a strong, viable arms industry because we believe that it is important that we have a strong industrial base in Europe and that we are allies of the United States, not her clients.

The difference is that, within the budget that the Government have proposed and the task that they give our forces, they cannot fulfil all their commitments. We believe that by cancelling Trident we can maintain a strong, united NATO and the role of our conventional forces within it.

12.48 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Roger Freeman)

This has been a wide-ranging debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) on his good fortune in securing it. He talked about the miseducation of youth by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and, indeed, the policies of the Labour party. I shall pursue his line of argument, and not that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) with his devastating demolition of the policies of the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party, largely because it is difficult to know precisely what one is criticising.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) asked me to respond briefly about the time scale needed for the introduction of new strategic nuclear weapons. I can confirm that the decision to introduce Trident, which was taken in the early 1980s, is designed to bring it into effect in the mid 1990s. That is a time scale of more than 10 years. The conclusion is that, if the Liberal party is interested in power in 10 or 15 years, it had better start making decisions now.

I should like to take up the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I treated his speech seriously, just as I treat the Labour party's policy. I should like to raise six aspects of the Labour party's policy and illustrate as briefly as I can the fallacies in its arguments. First, the Labour party argues that the United Kingdom contributes only an insignificant—that is the Labour party's word—percentage of the West's missiles. The argument is that the United Kingdom makes little real contribution to the defence that is enshrined in NATO policy. That is not true. It is true that the United Kingdom's weapons are only a small proportion of those of the forces of the United States and of the Soviet Union, but, as the House knows, one Polaris or one Trident boat can pack a very powerful punch. Furthermore, the Government's possession of the independent nuclear deterrent adds a complication to the plans of any aggressor which it would be foolish to disregard.

Secondly, the Labour party argues that the United States will not mind having its nuclear forces withdrawn from the United Kingdom. The Labour party has said that the United States can maintain its intelligence-gathering installations in the United Kingdom and that even its submarines may call at British ports. That argument is untrue as well. The United States has some 300,000 service men in western Europe. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, among others, hopes that western Europe will follow the example of a Labour Government—if we ever reach that unfortunate position—and disarm, so my remarks are addressed in the European context.

I do not think, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West said, that we can take the Americans for granted. I urge the House to take a cautious attitude to what the American Congress and American people would think and do if their nuclear weapons were removed not only from these shores but from western Europe. They would ask, what is to deter an attack on their conventional forces? The withdrawal of their nuclear weapons would undermine NATO's central doctrine of flexible response. Conventional forces cannot be substituted for nuclear forces. If the Americans are forced to withdraw nuclear weapons from western Europe, the core strategy of NATO fails.

The Labour party's third argument is that the United Kingdom will still support NATO and will contribute conventional, but not nuclear, forces and that damage will not be done to NATO. I argue that that is not true. The United Kingdom has traditionally been an important part of NATO. Unilateral nuclear disarmament would shake NATO to the core. It would damage the flexible response strategy and the unity of the Alliance, because it would close out one of the key options that NATO must have in its doctrine of flexible response. To deter any act of aggression, NATO must have the full panopoly of weapons—from conventional forces, through theatre nuclear forces, through strategic forces. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Terlezki) said in a typically trenchant contribution, not one Government of a major country in western Europe supports the Labour party's policy.

The fourth argument advanced by the Labour party is that substituting conventional forces for nuclear weapons would be just as effective a contribution to NATO. I remind the House that Trident, which a Labour Government would cancel, accounts for about 6 per cent. of our equipment budget on average during the procurement period. I think that that was in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Best) when he sought to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North. I contend that the Labour party's argument is not correct. On our calculations, cancellation of Polaris and Trident would add between one and two armoured divisions. Facing 50,000 Warsaw pact tanks west of the Urals would be not 17,000 NATO tanks as at present, but 17,300. I invite the Labour spokesman to challenge that figure. In other words, the extra conventional forces that the Labour party would add would make no difference to the conventional balance.

Mr. Best

It is significant that no Labour Front-Bench spokesman has told the House what additional conventional weapons are envisaged. We have heard only broad generalities. Does it not follow, as day follows night, that if a Labour Government undertook the unilateral nuclear disarmament of this country our service men in Europe would suffer the full brunt of any Warsaw pact attack because ours would be the only country standing against established NATO policy?

Mr. Freeman

I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend has said. It is interesting to note that in the recent Labour party political broadcast on television there was no specific reference to the additional conventional forces that would be introduced following the cancellation of Trident.

The fifth argument is that Labour policy would make this country safer from nuclear attack and fallout. [Interruption.] The leader of the Labour party clearly said that at the Labour party conference, but I do not believe that it is true. In a nuclear exchange there will be no safe place in Europe and damaging NATO and the concept of flexible response would lay us open to blackmail by any aggressor. Even in the case of limited use of nuclear weapons by an aggressor, geography and strategic importance would make the United Kingdom an obvious target. Indeed, Labour party policy could make this country a more dangerous place in that it would be more tempting for an aggressor to use nuclear weapons against us because we could not respond.

Mr. Wallace

The Minister has said and all Government publications on the matter state that spending on Trident would be 6 per cent. of the procurement budget on average over the procurement period. Can the Minister tell us what proportion of the procurement budget it will be in 1989–90?

Mr. Freeman

The only correct measure is over the entire procurement period, for the simple reason that I gave earlier in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West—that one must look over a period of 10 to 15 years in replacing strategic weapons systems.

The Labour party's final argument is that unilateral disarmament by this country would help the cause of world peace. In my view, that is also untrue. There is no evidence that past gestures have been reciprocated. I cite as an example the United States decision for the past 17 years not to produce chemical weapons in the face of aggressive Soviet stockpiling of such weapons. I believe that the reverse is true and that the effect would be to destabilise world security. I believe that disarmament can be more effective through multinational pressures than through unilateral gestures.

The Labour party has an understandable revulsion for nuclear warfare. I understand its deeply held feelings, but they have clouded its clear and rational judgment about nuclear deterrence. During the past few months, the Labour party has concentrated entirely on nuclear warfare, and failed to realise that nuclear deterrence is the best safeguard against nuclear warfare.