HL Deb 10 March 1960 vol 221 cc993-1015

2.38 p.m.

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Amendment moved yesterday by Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough to the Motion moved by Viscount Hailsham, to resolve, That this House approves the Report on Defence, 1960 (Cmnd. 952)—namely, to leave out all the words after "House" and insert "while recognising the need for an adequate defence policy, has no confidence that the policy set out in Report on Defence 1960 (Cmnd. 952), in spite of increased expenditure, provides an efficient defence for the country".


My Lords, in the long and interesting debate which we had yesterday there was a certain amount of criticism of the White Paper. I thought the criticism was, for the most part, fairly mild in substance, although not infrequently vigorous in tone. But I must, in fairness, exclude from that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rea. He disliked everybody and everything, including the Leader of the Opposition, although he was going to vote for his Amendment, I suppose on the principle: … always keep tight hold of nurse For fear of finding something worse. At any rate, he left us in no doubt where he personally stood. He said that we in this country must have no defence of our own against the most dangerous form of attack to which we could possibly be subjected.


No nuclear defence.


But is not the nuclear form of attack the most dangerous form of attack to which we could possibly be subjected? Is not that the only thing of which we are really afraid? It is not a few little pop guns in some distant corner of the world. I would ask the noble Lord whether, in saying, as he now admits, that we must have no defence of our own against nuclear attack, he was speaking for himself in a personal capacity or whether he was speaking on behalf of his Party. I do not know whether he would like to answer.


My Lords, as the noble Earl asks me the question, may I say that if he reads my speech he will see that I said that I sincerely thought I represented the majority view in this country.


The noble Lord said that he thinks he represented a majority in the country. Apparently the electors did not think so at the last Election.


May I remind the noble Earl that we are not at the last Election.


I do not think that on the line the noble Lord is at present following he is likely to induce many more people to vote for him after the next four or five years when another Election comes round. I must say that I am interested now—and I think it is useful for my noble friends and also for noble Lords on that side of the House who take a much more responsible line in these matters than the noble Lord, Lord Rea—to know that he speaks for his Party. I had not realised—I must apologise to him—that "follow my leader" was such a popular game in either of the Opposition Parties.

The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, took a very different line. As one would expect, from his record and the great service which he rendered to the country in Defence Departments, he took a line that was much more realistic and much more responsible.


My Lords, may I say to the noble Earl that I know my noble Leader would have wished to be present during the noble Earl's speech. My noble friend will be here shortly, but I know he would wish to express apologies for not being here now.


I shall not agree with everything that the noble Viscount said, but at any rate when he arrives his noble friend can tell him that I began with a friendly introduction. Then also there were from all quarters of the House—this I think the Government probably expected—a number of questions asking for a little more light and perhaps, in some respects, even for a little more leading. The Government could hardly have been surprised at that, because although the White Paper is well written and contains a number of statements, nobody could say that it was prodigal in information, or at any rate in new information. I am not criticising. I have had to prepare Defence White Papers and to introduce them in this House, and I know the difficulties. Of course, noble Lords have had to speak to their Amendment—that is all right, and I suppose they are going to vote on it, but it did not at all reflect the sort of temper of their speeches, for this debate, for the most part, has been much more the type of debate to which we are accustomed in this House in regard to defence matters: a genuine pooling of ideas and a seeking to clear our own and each other's minds. I hope, therefore, that when my noble friend comes to reply he will be able to give us some more information on some of the matters on which he was questioned.

Supposing one had to sum up this White Paper, one might say that the policy is unchanged and the mixture is as before. That is all right so long as the symptoms also are unchanged, and provided, as I think is the case, the original prescription was generally right. Here, as was said by more than one speaker yesterday, the ordinary man is at a considerable disadvantage. He can see what is going on in the world and he can form a reasonable judgment on foreign affairs and on economics, but the situation is much more difficult when one comes to matters like nuclear weapons, which are highly technical and often secret. On its main policy theme the White Paper says that our main aim is the support of N.A.T.O. On that I am sure that we should all agree. For my part, I think it is a wise decision, particularly at a difficult time in N.A.T.O.—there have been difficult times—to keep the seven Brigade groups on the Continent. It is an expensive operation. It is easier, perhaps, for me to say this than for the Government, but I think that that decision is not very generously matched by the decision of the German Government, after this year, to make no contribution at all to the cost of the seven Brigade groups which are maintained in Germany at the request of N.A.T.O., so largely for the benefit of Germany herself. I would add only this: that if facilities are going to be accorded to the German Government and to German forces in this country, I assume—I hope I can be assured of this—that the Germans will make full payment for such facilities.

We all agree about N.A.T.O. I think it is a matter, too, in regard to which we can all help—and we ought to—by making our people, and not the least the younger generation, appreciate how vital to our security the whole N.A.T.O. conception and reality is. I have something to do with N.A.T.O. propaganda in this country, and I sense a feeling of apathy in the country about it. It is not that people are opposed to N.A.T.O.—they are not; they quite accept it. But they accept N.A.T.O. passively and not actively. They accept it rather in the way that a casual Christian might accept the Established Church, as an institution which it is convenient to be married in and to be buried out of; but there is not much enthusiasm about it. I think it is up to us all to try to make the feeling among our people for N.A.T.O. active and not passive. I think we are all agreed that we must all—I am sure this would be the wish of whatever Government are in office—seek with all our might for disarmament and for co-existence, but the price of freedom remains eternal vigilance.

There is another risk or danger to N.A.T.O. which I think it would be wrong to slur over. Foreign policy, economic policy and defence are all interdependent. We cannot isolate one from another we cannot put any one of those elements into a watertight compartment. We cannot draw closer together in integrated defence, which is vitally important, in integrated defence in strategy and in integrated defence in the common use of weapons, which is hardly less important, if the N.A.T.O. countries are to drift apart in economic policy. I do not think it is too much to say that if the N.A.T.O. countries were to split into two conflicting economic camps the N.A.T.O. Alliance could not long survive as an effective defence organisation. So it is surely the duty of the Common Market countries and the Group Seven countries to do all they can to get together, and to hammer out a working settlement which would enable us to coexist and to get as far as we can towards a common Free Trade Area. That is a duty which every one of these countries in each group owes to their own people and to the whole of the free world. In saying that, I am making no criticism of the Government or of the Opposition, because both Her Majesty's Government and the Opposition—in this the Government have been consistently supported by the Opposition—have spared no effort to try to reach such an arrangement.

The Defence White Paper goes on to deal with weapons. It says a good deal about weapons without perhaps saying much in detail. In paragraph 21 of the White Paper it is said—and this is an obvious truth—that as the numbers of the Armed Forces are reduced, so their mobility and the quality of the weapons with which they are armed becomes still more important. I think there is a fairly good record on the weapons side to which the Government can lay claim. The fact that the United States and Sweden are buying our anti-tank gun is obviously evidence of its success. Then the Australian Malkara (I am not sure how to pronounce the name, but perhaps the noble Lord who lately did such distinguished service in Australia, before he came back to us, will give us the correct pronunciation), an anti-tank guided missile, is a great tribute to Australian ability and to Commonwealth co-operation, as indeed are all the Woomera experiments.

I want to make a concrete suggestion. I hope that it will not scandalise the House or those Members of it who have been Treasury Ministers. The White Paper says that when we have the right weapon it is vitally important to equip our formations with it as quickly as we can. That is obviously true. When we know we have the right weapon and know the formations which we have to equip with it, would it not be wise to do that as soon as possible? When I say "as soon as possible" I mean as soon as it is physically possible to get the weapon, and not as soon as it is financially possible in the sense in which Estimates can be got through the Treasury. I am not in the least advocating any extravagance in the matter, or the spending of any more money than would be spent spread over the Estimates. But would it not be very good business, and pay twice over?—because we shall get the quicker mobility to our troops.

These weapons become obsolescent in an incredibly short space of time and therefore once we have the right weapon in production, the sooner the formations are equipped with it, the better. Would not it be wise to buy the total number of those weapons in the year in which we can get delivery of them and spread the payment by borrowing over two or three years? That would not add anything to the Estimates of the three years—except perhaps a little interest—and I believe that it would pay over and over again. I believe that there is a kind of precedent for this in Army buildings, which of course, are slightly different. I am not quite sure, but I believe that payment has been made for the building of married quarters, barracks and so on, over a period of years.

The question of weapons naturally leads on to the question of what is the right weapon; and here again the layman obviously is in a difficulty. He cannot know the secret scientific data but he can use his practical common sense. Your Lordships will have noticed that in paragraph 36 of the White Paper the right honourable gentleman the Minister says that we must devise a means of delivery that is invulnerable to the opposing defences. In a nuclear age, what are the defences to nuclear attack? We have gone back. We have gone away from the days of the Battle of Britain when the fighter was vitally important. The fighter won the Battle of Britain but it will not win the next Battle of Britain, should it ever come. We have gone back to what I, in my days as Air Minister, regarded as a rather out-moded view, the view that the right kind of defence was counterattack. Nobody proved more than the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, how right I was in that respect. But to-day the situation has changed again and the enemy is now going to defend himself against nuclear attack by his own attack—whether by air-carried bombs or by rockets. It means a nuclear attack upon the bases of the other country. I do not think that that can be argued against.

We are told that the development of Blue Streak is continuing but that it may be decided not to rely exclusively on fixed-site missiles; that the possibility of mobile launchers, aircraft or submarines for long-range delivery is being investigated. My Lords, it is time. That really is the fundamental and most important problem. All the old arguments that we used to have about the relative merits of an aircraft carrier or airfields from which to send aeroplanes apply here in a new setting. In those old days the argument, certainly agreed to by everybody in the long run—even some of the Admirals—was that it was wiser to use our aircraft off the ground because if one aerodrome was bombed there were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others to which our long-range aircraft could come back and land in safety, whereas the aircraft carrier, useful as it was, was still a very vulnerable target; and once it had been sunk or even seriously damaged, aircraft could not land upon it. But the aircraft carrier had at any rate one asset: it was comparatively mobile, whereas the fixed-site base from which the missile has to be delivered is not at all mobile. Indeed, it is a colossal installation.

I am told that that installation is to be put a long way below ground, but presumably it will point up a bit when it comes to the surface. Moreover, however far below ground we have it, as one noble Lord said yesterday, the site of the base will be pinpointed. There will be no secrecy about where these bases are. Everybody will know where they are, and with nuclear missiles, of course, such a base would be hopelessly open to attack; and with the great and vast devastation that these missiles can cause, I believe it to be idle to suppose that a fixed-missile base in this country could remain available in action for any length of time.

The situation may be different in the United States, for that country is thousands of miles further away. In order to direct a missile against the United States, a tremendously long-range missile would have to be used, assuming that the missile is not being fired from a submarine off the coast but from a fixed base somewhere in Eastern Europe. But we in this country are very close, and missiles of great range are not required to attack our bases—although to-day even long-range missiles, on both sides, are seen to be getting deadly accurate. From the few hundred miles distant which a potential enemy base would be from us, short-rang missiles, just like the V.2 of the last war, could be sent against us. I should have thought that that meant they would be absolutely devastating in their effect.

If it is true, as I have seen stated, that there is in existence, or on its way, a low-trajectory missile of the shorter-range type—with a range of some hundreds of miles—of which we should have no warning, because it is like a hedgehopping aircraft and, I understand, would hardly be reflected on a radar screen. That is exactly the kind of missile which could be directed against us. That is shown, I think, by the fact that the Air Force have (I think they have published it; certainly I have read it in newspapers, but I think it has been in Ministerial statements, too) as their whole policy and practice in Bomber Command that it shall be able to get the aircraft so quickly off the ground that they will be in the air before a missile can be delivered.

There are all these arguments; and, after all, they are not arguments which one has to be a great expert to advance; they are the arguments which all of us who have ever had anything to do with this matter have known from the past and which any ordinary layman, applying what I should have thought was a common-sense view, would find very convincing. Therefore, my Lords, I am very glad this investigation is taking place, but I sincerely hope that it will be carried to a conclusion and a decision taken as soon as possible.

I do not know what will be said later in the debate. Very distinguished Service speakers are following and I do not know what will be said from their view on the relevant merits of the mobile base as against the static base. In what I have said I do not wish to imply that I take exception to the proposal that the United States should have this warning apparatus here. Whether it is convenient to situate it on one of our most agreeable moors in Yorkshire I do not know. Anyhow, we may have to accept that. Although I do not think—particularly if this low-flying missile is going to be the next thing we are faced with—this apparatus looks like being of much value to us, it will certainly be of great value to the United States as part of their early warning system; and we ought to accept that as part of co-operation.

That leads me to another point. This co-operation with the United States surely should be as wide as possible: it lies at the heart of all our defence problems. I should like to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty how much co-operation and pooling of information there is with the United States on guided missiles and on missile-carrying submarines. The better we play our part—and we are playing it to the full now—the more ready the United States Government and Congress will be to share with us; and if they do we shall both, the United States as well as ourselves, certainly be more efficient and save money. And the saving of money is not unimportant. These weapons are terribly costly. I know how difficult it is to estimate for something which is barely designed and of which one has no sort of prototype. But the report from the Comptroller and Auditor-General on the actual cost of some of these weapons compared to the estimates is very formidable and shows how vitally important it is to take a decision as to which weapons we are to go for, and how important it is to have this full co-operation with the United States.

My Lords, I want to ask only two more things. One is about the inter-Service co-operation which we heard of in the White Paper of last year, and which I think we all felt was just on the right lines of trying to get the three Services under unified command. It is not in the White Paper, but there does figure in the Naval Paper and the Air Paper with the Estimates the decision which has been taken about Coastal Command: the decision that it will remain a Royal Air Force Command but that the senior naval officer in each area will decide on the operational tasks of the Command when it is engaged in maritime operations and exercises. I welcome that decision. I do not call it a compromise at all. It seems to me to be the quintessence of strategic and tactical good sense, and exactly the kind of co-operation that ought to be between the Services. There is another kind of co-operation that I should like the First Lord to say a word about, too, if he would; and that is co-operation between civil and military-service aviation. The cost of the modern aeroplane is, of course, absolutely vast, and the closer co-operation there can be between civil and military aircraft production the better. Indeed, I should hope that practically the same aircraft, or as nearly as possible the same aircraft, might be used for civil and for military transport tasks.

My Lords, I have one final question to put, again on nuclear weapons, not on their construction but on their control. I am quite sure that the Labour Government, under the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, were profoundly right to make the atom bomb. I am equally certain that our Government were right to make what, for convenience, I will call the hydrogen bomb. I am sure the decision that we should manufacture these nuclear weapons ourselves is absolutely right; and I rejoice that there is such an identity of view and policy, so that continuity is assured whatever may happen between us; that we must have this weapon; that we must make this weapon; that we must play our part, and that we must have our own strategic—not, of course, attack but defence nuclear forces. That, I am sure, is right. But I should like to be assured (though I am sure that the answer to this question is "Yes") that, having that force, we are ourselves in firm control of our own nuclear weapons. That, I believe, is of vital importance, and the fact that the reply to a nuclear attack must be immediate to counter the nuclear attack makes it all the more important that that power, that control should be in our own hands.

My Lords, I think that the Amendment was moved as a sort of duty. I feel that there was a great deal more unity of purpose between us, on both sides, in this matter of defence. That is how it should be, because these things belong not to attack, as the noble Lord said; these are the things that belong unto our peace, and it is right that the two great Parties of the State should, so far as they possibly can, think and act together upon them.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, the most striking aspect of this debate is the unanimity of criticism of the Government that has come from Members in both Houses; criticism which has been delivered, I think, on the whole, in a reasonably friendly way—at any rate, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, took no exception to it. The fact that in some sense it has become a Party issue is something which surely should not surprise the noble Earl who has just sat down. After all, it is possible for a Labour Opposition Party to oppose a Conservative Government on matters other than private enterprise versus nationalisation. Defence (whether or not the noble Lord, Lord Rea, would call it attack) is a matter of such tremendous importance and controversy to us all that it is right that we should back up the criticism that we may have to make with a willingness to put down an actual Amendment to the Government's Motion. But the fault for this lies not so much in the heart of the Government—or even, at the moment, in their head—but in the incredible coyness of their statements.

Several of your Lordships have criticised the absence of much new information in the White Papers and in the accompanying Memoranda to the Estimates. We know that it is not possible to put in all the information, but is it really necessary to use such cautious phrases as appear in the second paragraph of the Report on Defence, where the Government say: During the third year of the Five-year Plan for Defence, the Government's broad defence policy has undergone no major change". What the Government mean, surely, is that important changes are in process of taking place; and our complaint is that they have not yet told us that they have made up their minds, and that, in fact, an element of confusion has inevitably been brought about. And this is not a Party point. In the Air Ministry we have been lucky: we have had the same Minister for seven years. In the Ministry of Defence we have had so many that my noble Leader, Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough, could not remember whether it was seven, eight or nine. I believe nine is the correct figure. This has inevitably produced a confused situation and a confused state of the public mind; and it is quite striking the amount of criticism there is at the moment, not only among the Members of both Houses of Parliament and all Parties, but in the Press and among military commentators.

I hope that the Government will begin to show us a little more the way in which their mind is moving. Indeed, the noble Viscount, again using one of these coy phrases, said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 221, col. 916]: I think it is insufficiently appreciated how far our defence policy has moved since the publication of the 1957 White Paper. Unfortunately, they have not told us in what way; but I think it is apparent that, while the concept of the shield and the sword is still a fundamental one, on which I think there is general agreement, the emphasis to-day has moved a great deal more towards the idea of the shield. Unfortunately, even the word "deterrent" has changed. I rather prefer the word of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the "equaliser", when referring to the atom bomb. Originally, the deterrent was the atom bomb: now, apparently, it is all military forces. This is part of the confusion. The Government are moving, I think, to the concept of a greater degree of conventional forces. Here, again, I am not sure what a conventional force is, but I suppose it is anything in which a nuclear explosion does not take place. At any rate that is the trend, and I hope the Government will "come a little bit cleaner" on it.

My Lords, I should like to look first at the nuclear deterrent, the equaliser—and here I must disagree with the noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Benches when he said that we had not got an efficient nuclear deterrent. I believe that we have got one. I believe that in fact Bomber Command to-day is able to do the task that it has been prepared to do: and we are all agreed that we need not qualify these phrases by saying that we hope that it will not happen, because we all know that we hope it never will happen. I believe that the present Bomber Command is capable of doing that. I also believe that, assuming that there is some warning of growing tension, it will be possible, with adequate dispersal and with the degree of training that is going on, to get a very sizeable proportion of our bomber airforce into the air the moment a warning is given—even within the four minutes that have been stated. I accept the Government's view on that matter. I believe that, despite difficulties, and despite some of the changes of policy—some of which, I accept, are inevitable—the R.A.F. is at a very high state of efficiency.

The difficulty we are in is when we come to this question of missiles, and here we move into a world which is so strange and in which the words are so unfamiliar that it is difficult to follow the precise weapons we are talking about. The inventors of that ancient game which many of your Lordships must have played, L'Attaque, would have great difficulty to-day in matching a Sea Slug with a Polaris or a Blue Streak, and I do not know what the comparable weapons are. War was simpler in those days. The fact that to-day it is more complicated is perhaps an encouraging sign, for it may be that it is so complicated and so dangerous that it will never take place.

This expenditure on missiles is one of the main grounds for criticism of the Government. The other day an American boasted that his country had wasted 750 million dollars on a missile called the Thor. They have now given it to us, although I believe the Americans still retain the keys to this weapon. However, we have done better than this: we are in process of wasting £600 million on the Blue Streak—or so we are informed by practically every commentator outside the Government; and here we really should like to know what is going on. The Minister of Defence, in another place, again with these cautious phrases, said, when talking about missiles [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 618, col. 862]: … paragraph 36 of the White Paper very clearly sets out the position". Paragraph 36, which the noble Earl quoted, says: The development of the British ballistic missile Blue Streak is continuing. However, it may be decided not to rely exclusively on fixed-site missiles as the successor to the medium bomber armed with the stand-off powered bomb". What the Government mean is that they now reckon that they are not going to rely exclusively on them, and obviously they are not going to. The one thing they are looking for now is an alternative to the fixed-site missile, and the time has surely come when the Government should take a decision. I agree that we have to give the new Minister of Defence a few weeks during his short tenure of office to get familiar with it, but I should have thought that if there was one thing that was pretty certain it is that some time during the course of this year the Minister of Defence will announce that the Blue Streak Missile programme will be cancelled.

The arguments for and against are, in fact, a good deal more finely balanced than some noble Lords and some critics will admit. I do not accept that it is only useful as a first-strike weapon. It would be extremely difficult to knock out a large number of sites if they were scattered very widely and were properly dispersed. But it is obvious that the limitations of this weapon are such that the Government are thinking again, and I hope they will shortly announce their policy. They must not be perturbed, therefore, if the criticisms which, for the last two years, have been levelled against this weapon grow stronger while they dither and wait to make up their minds on what is to be the successor to the present nuclear deterrent. I believe—and this may be some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Rea—that after the Blue Streak, the days of an independent British nuclear deterrent will be drawn to their close. I believe that this is an inevitable tendency and one which I do not think we should regret.

I should like to ask the Government to be more forthcoming in their expressions of opinion in regard to interdependence. I get the feeling that as the concepts of 1957 under Mr. Sandys, the really radical re-thinking on defence he attempted at that time, begin to draw into the past, the Government are not so enthusiastic with regard to N.A.T.O. as they ought to be. I am sure that noble Lords opposite will deny this, but I think that their statements ought to be a great deal more forthcoming and that they ought to be careful not to offend the sensibilities of our Allies by actions such as the withdrawal of some of our troops from Europe, which they explained in the 1957 White Paper, and the unfortunate phrase in this year's White Paper about leaving three Brigade groups in Germany "for the time being". What they mean by "for the time being" I do not know, nor how it reads when translated into other languages, but I believe that the Government ought to take a much more positive line than they have done.

We also seem to be turning further away from the concept, about which the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, spoke, of unification of the forces. We have had one or two encouraging developments. There is the conception of the commando carrier, which surely must move towards a development of an amphibious force of all arms. In reading the three Memoranda of the three Services, I get the impression that they are three distinct Services, operating with funds that they have scraped out of the Government one way or another and that have been allocated almost on a predetermined basis. This is simply not going to achieve the efficient defence we want.

I should like to move into dangerous waters and question the Government on the rôle of the Royal Navy. I wish to make it clear that I do not want in any way to attack the Navy or the wonderful men who serve in it. In 1957 the Government said that the rôle of naval forces in total war is somewhat uncertain. I believe that that uncertainty still remains. Last year, when I questioned the Government on this subject, I was taken to task by one or two noble Lords, who asked whether I was aware of the importance of the Navy in anti-submarine war-ware. It so happened that during a great part of the last war I was involved in the anti-submarine war. I would go so far as to say that under 10 per cent. of the present Navy is designed for antisubmarine warfare, and I would ask the First Lord, when he comes to reply, to say how the carriers that we have to-day are intended to be used in an anti-submarine rôle and what aircraft they have which will be employed in it. We know that they have a number of fast aircraft, which are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, but they are not suitable for anti-submarine work because they lack rough weather capability, which is essential for anti-submarine operations in the North Atlantic. Perhaps the new helicopter will have that capability and I should like to have an assurance on that if I can.

I do not believe that part of our striking or deterrent activities can come from any tactical force, and I should have thought that the real rôle of the Navy is its traditional one of being a fire brigade, available to go and put out fires wherever they may occur, and in the event of an all-out war breaking out, to do the work of salvage. If that all-out war should ever come, there is no doubt that we should need all the resources we have and all the protection that the Navy could bring.

Something has been said about mobility in the White Paper. I doubt whether we are taking this question seriously enough, and this again springs from lack of a unified approach. We know that the Royal Air Force are getting Britannias, but they ought to have had them a good deal earlier. It should be possible to get commandos and troops to any part of the world within a few hours of trouble breaking out. There was the instance not long ago when four aircraft of Coastal Command arrived in a certain district where trouble was threatening and immediately the trouble disappeared. It is essential that a high degree of mobility and readiness is achieved. I understand that if we had to move troops from Aldershot, it would take about 48 hours to get them going. As your Lordships know, the world is too difficult a place for us to accept that degree of delay.

I would ask the Government about the state of readiness of our troops in Germany. I think that here some criticism can be levelled at the Government. It has been alleged on a number of occasions that our forces are not up to strength and lack ancillary troops—"tail troops"—and are not fully equipped to perform their rôle. This view is held not just by a few people who have been over in Germany on a short visit. In a recent paper published by the Institute of Strategic Studies, a very distinguished group said: It is particularly unfortunate that British formations in Europe are under strength and under-equipped. It is vital that the reorganisation now envisaged should put these difficulties right as speedily as possible. In another place they said: If our forces were fully up to strength… a great deal of recent sniping at Britain would very possibly not have taken place. Now that they have got over their tremendous first obsession with the equaliser, the nuclear deterrent, I hope that the Government will concentrate on bringing our present forces up to a high standard of efficiency. In conclusion, I would say that I was impressed, as I am sure were all noble Lords, by the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and his references to disarmament. I can assure him—and all noble Lords will agree with this—that, however much we may criticise and disagree on details, we are satisfied that the Government are determined to press on with disarmament; and I hope that the words that were used from the Government Front Bench will be widely read and widely known.

3.29 p.m.


My Lords, as one with no previous knowledge of defence technique, I have recently been doing my utmost to learn. I have listened to every speech I could in this House, and those I could not hear I have read carefully through. I hope that noble Lords will not feel it any disrespect to them if I say that I have not been content to learn from them only. I have done my utmost to read as many as I could bear of the speeches made last week in another place on this same Report. I hope it is no discourtesy to Members of the other place to say that I did not find all the 250 columns of eloquence devoted to this subject easy to read. But at least I have read twice over all the quite essential speeches made in the other place; that is to say, the two speeches made by the Minister of Defence, Mr. Watkinson, at the beginning of the debate and in reply, the speech made by the Leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Gaitskell, and the speech made by the Liberal Leader, Mr. Grimond.

From that study I take as my starting point something said by the Minister of Defence in his reply, when he expressed his surprise that there had been practically no mention of disarmament, he having hoped that disarmament would be one of the central features of the debate. To-day I am happily able to add to that the notable utterance made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in speaking yesterday [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 221 (No. 50), col. 912]: I regard either a world authority or total disarmament, in the long run, as the only rational objectives… Encouraged by these two vital utterances, I propose to take as my subject to-day the theme that has practically not been touched on at all in this debate—namely, the relation between defence by deterrence, as envisaged in this Report and by Her Majesty's Government, and total disarmament as our aim.

To one who like myself believes that total disarmament of all nations is indispensable if civilisation is to survive, frankly, neither the Report on Defence nor the two speeches of the Minister of Defence in the other place are altogether cheerful reading. The Report, having made a rather hasty bow to peace as its ultimate object, gets down to business by defining as its way to peace deterrence; having more and more destructive weapons under our British control for killing other people—and paragraph 7 of the Report emphasises particularly the growing efficiency and killing power of the weapons now available to this country. I am not going to attempt—I am not qualified—to enter into a technical discussion of alternative weapons; and though sometimes I think I know something about money, I am not going to say anything about money. To me, the question of more or fewer millions spent on saving us from total destruction is relatively a minor question. I am going to raise two questions only, each of which I think is of some importance, on the relation between the present policy of peace by deterrence and the ultimate aim of peace by total disarmament under a world authority.

My first question is this. If the ultimate aim is peace by total disarmament of all nations, how should we organise defence meanwhile so as to reduce to a minimum the risk of war before disarmament has come? I would remind the House that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said yesterday in so many words that, so long as the weapons exist, there is always the risk of war breaking out suddenly. My answer to that question is, first, that we should put our trust in the United States of America, on whom the Western deterrent in substance depends, and work with them as closely as possible. It seems to me hardly short of a tragedy to express, as some people have, doubts as to the intention of the United States to carry out their solemn undertakings to support any N.A.T.O. country in difficulty. Secondly—and here I know that I am going to be fallen foul of by the first speaker on behalf of the Government to-day—I would say that, while making our full and fair contribution to Western defence, we should not insist on establishing nuclear weapons under our independent control. We can contribute to them—and I think we should—but we should put them ultimately under the control of N.A.T.O. and get to work to secure proper political control in N.A.T.O.


My Lords, I am much interested in this theory. I wonder whether the noble Lord would elaborate on what he is saying. Does he mean, when he says "under the command of N.A.T.O.", that every one of the thirteen or so political heads must be consulted before the weapons are used, or does he mean that the actual question of whether to use them or not is to be delegated to a soldier, the Commander-in-Chief of N.A.T.O.?—because I think he must mean one of those things, and I do not know for which he is trying to argue.


I am sssuming that N.A.T.O., to which we all attach great importance, has got self-governing machinery. It is not my responsibility to pose what that should be. It is no good saying, Use N.A.T.O. and work with N.A.T.O.", and saying that it cannot manage its own affairs and you have no idea how it ought to be managed. I am afraid I must, with all courtesy, decline to answer that very ticklish question put by the noble Viscount. But I do want to say that the reason for putting this power, if possible, in the hands of N.A.T.O. is not a question of efficiency, and least of all is it a question of votes in an Election here. I do not think that the voters have any judgment that is worth considering on that topic. The real argument is that the demand for our own nuclear weapons under our control encourages similar demands elsewhere and, therefore, increases the number of nations—we may get ten, twelve or more—having nuclear weapons, any one of whom may suddenly launch a war on the world. That is the real danger. I think it is a danger that should be taken with desperate seriousness, and I press it on the Government with great seriousness to-day.

Let me say that on all the points I have made I am happy to find myself in full accord with what the Liberal Leader in the other place said. He accepted completely the explicit undertakings of the United States of America; and he emphasised the importance of N.A.T.O. and the danger of multiplying nuclear weapons. On all these points I would say that we Liberals are in the somewhat perhaps unusual position of agreeing completely together; and we, at the same time, differ on this question of who should control nuclear weapons—whether we should, or not—from those who sit upon our left, or, at any rate, from those who sit upon our left and follow their Leader, because Mr. Gaitskell firmly took the view of our having our own control.

Let me come to what is to me a much more important question. How long is the process of making more and more killing weapons to continue while we wait for disarmament? "Waiting for disarmament" was the phrase used by the Minister of Defence. Or how long, in the words of the noble Viscount facing me, is the long run to be before we become rational, as he says we should become rational? Both the noble Viscount and the Minister have given answers to that question. The noble Viscount has said, among other things, that it might well be fifty years instead of ten before we get disarmament.


My Lords, what I think the noble Lord is referring to is when I said that if the process went on without disarmament, the time when an explosion would take place might be fifty years rather than ten. But I did not for a moment give a term of years to the process before disarmament could take place, because had I done so I should have been saying something which I certainly would never have said, namely, casting doubt on the validity of the current talks, which we all hope will yield a result.


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount most genuinely for correcting me, and I accept his correction completely. Let me go on, though, to the answer which I say was given to us by the Minister of Defence. He gave his answer in a different way as to how long we might wait. He said that the British Government looked forward to making and owning such killing weapons until the late 'sixties and early 'seventies. That was not a casual remark. It occurred twice, in his first speech and in his reply. It is obviously deliberately looking forward to going on making these weapons for the next fifteen years—and he went on to describe them in detail. The prospect seemed rather dear to him, because he repeated it.

For contrast, I should like to look back to an earlier Report on Defence which was published just two years ago, in February, 1958, under the title Britain's Contribution to Peace and Security. That said, in so many words that nothing less than comprehensive disarmament by all nations, coupled with comprehensive inspection and control by a world authority makes sense. It went on to declare that there can be no mutual confidence between nations or real peace so long as the arms race continues. This Government said that two years ago in that Report. Does it not mean simply that peace by deterrence is not a real peace at all? I want to appeal to the Government to work without any delay for real peace; to turn their words about total disarmament into deeds.

I hope the House w ill forgive me if, on this question of turning words into deeds. I am for a moment personal, speaking of my own experience of turning words into deeds. I have lived nearly all my working life by producing quantities of words. But all my working life I have been also a practical creature: when I had come to believe that there was some definite thing which my fellow Britons needed for a happy life, I could not rest until that need was met. And several of those needs have been met, and can be met, in this country. First of all, there were the labour exchanges, whose Jubilee this year the present Minister of Labour so kindly and generously allowed me to join in celebrating. There followed social insurance for abolishing want and needless disease, leading to a Report in 1942. The Coalition Government, which had asked for that Report, did not like it when they saw it. But the Government of my noble friends on this side of the House put it into force in 1946. Finally, there was the plan of full employment in a free society. I am delighted to think how all Governments that we have had since the war, one after another, have maintained full employment in a free society and have changed the lives of all our citizens.

I come now to the greatest need of all for us, and for every other people in the world—the abolition of war by total disarmament of all nations; substitution of justice for mass murder between nations when they differ; justice declared by an impartial court, and enforced by a world authority and a world police. In this House a month ago, my noble friend Lord Rea introduced a debate with a Motion for disarmament. I found myself being rebuked by the noble Earl the leader of the House for not having recognised that our Prime Minister, and other leading Ministers, had been the first among the great world statesmen to emphasise in so many words this need for disarmament and a world authority for assured peace with justice between nations. Let me say that I had recognised that fact most completely. I had begun with the Prime Minister's statement of March. 1955. I quoted a number of such words, but I went on to ask the Government whether they would kindly turn those words into deeds. The answer I received on that occasion in this House was given to me by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who told me, in so many words, that a world authority for justice in place of war was not to be expected in the foreseeable future.

Just a month ago the noble Earl the Leader of the House rebuked me—I think slightly unjustly—for not recognising the excellent words written by the Ministers of this Government. I had read them, and said, "Please act instead of talking." When the noble Earl went on to give his own definition of total disarmament, I acclaimed his words with enthusiasm; and I acclaim them still. But I make an appeal still to the Government, as those in charge of all our fates, to turn their words into deeds without a moment of unnecessary delay. Do not condemn us to another fifteen or fifty years of organising mass killing for deterrence. Natural science has made it necessary to abolish war, by total disarmament controlled by world authority. No sensible person could question that at all. What possible reason can there be why we should conceal from other nations the terms on which we, as a quite important nation, as a leading nation in the Past and as the leading nation we can be again, would be prepared completely ourselves to disarm? Why should we not work it out in detail? There are masses of complicated questions that need thinking out, but is there any reason for keeping secret our view as to how these questions can be solved?

I know that the Government are genuine in their desire for world government, but somehow they do not move from words to deeds with a pace that I personally, and I think the world also would like to see. Remembering what the noble Viscount told us, that so long as these weapons exist there is a risk of sudden unexpected war; I say: let us stop that risk; let us put an end to it. Instead of keeping anything secret from the world, instead of failing to use all our wide knowledge of responsibilities throughout the world, all our practical sense in government, why should we not set out in black and white for friendly discussion with other nations our conditions for disarming ourselves completely? I make that appeal to Her Majesty's Government.