HL Deb 13 March 1963 vol 247 cc765-92

2.37 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House approves the Statement on Defence (Cmnd. 1936). I have a suspicion that before these two days are out we shall hear a great deal from the Opposition about what they will term "the inadequacy of this year's Defence White Paper"—


Hear, hear!


I thought I might be right. So before I go any further I will try to explain once again why it is that my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence has altered the form of the Explanatory Statements this year.

Last year, 1962, the Statement on Defence set out to be a statement on the evolution of defence over the next five years. It stated clearly the basic objectives of our external policy and described the economic factors which affected the share of the national resources which could be devoted to defence. None of this changes very rapidly. A lot of it remains valid year by year, and I should have thought that even a cursory glance at Defence White Papers over the last decade or so would reveal a certain sameness which perhaps I might venture to suggest is also reflected in the annual Defence debate in your Lordships' House and in another place. The facts, the assessments, the aims, the conditions of defence are relatively stable even in a changing world. But, of course, there are from time to time new subjects, new aspects of defence or changes of emphasis which it is perfectly proper that we should discuss. I myself believe that when these changes take place it is far better for Parliament to be informed at once. as in the case of the Nassau Agreement, rather than to save them up for an annual Defence White Paper.

I would also question whether there is not just as much information in this year's Statement on Defence as ever there was in the three separate Explanatory Memoranda and the Defence White Paper. At any rate, 22 of your Lordships have found enough in this document to make participation in the debate worth while.

Nevertheless, my Lords, since there has been some criticism of this White Paper, I think I should take this opportunity of restating as shortly as I can what is the defence policy of Her Majesty's Government. Our basic objectives are: to maintain the security of this country; to carry out our obligations, both national and international; and to make our contribution to the defence of the Free World. To do this we intend to maintain a British contribution to the nuclear deterrent of the West and build up mobile, hard-hitting all-Regular forces. But I think it could be said that our defence commitments divide themselves, broadly speaking, into three separate parts, and I will deal with each of these as best I can.

The first part is the nuclear deterrent. I am very well aware that there are serious differences of opinion as to whether or not we in Britain should continue with our contribution to the deterrent, and in some cases I think these differences of opinion go beyond Party loyalties. Certainly there are some in my own Party who would favour its abandonment, just as I feel that there may be some noble Lords opposite who are in favour of its continuance. Her Majesty's Government have decided after the most careful consideration that it is in the best interests of this country that we should continue, and the Nassau Agreement is the result of that decision. I think your Lordships will remember the speech which the Prime Minister made on his return from Nassau, in which he listed the four reasons why he felt we should go on.

I do not intend to repeat them here this afternoon, except to say that the fourth argument—that it is right that the British Government should be in a position to make their own decisions in their own national interests without fear of nuclear blackmail—seems to me to be an unanswerable one. I do not believe that we can remain truly independent or conduct our own foreign policy unless we have the freedom of action which the possession of our deterrent brings us. The Nassau Agreement gives us an arrangement whereby we shall secure on very favourable terms what I believe to be the best second-strike weapon devised, or likely to be devised, for a number of years.

At the same time, it represents agreement between the United States and Britain on substantial steps which will enable our other NATO Allies to share more fully in the provision and management of nuclear forces within the Alliance: not that the basic policy has changed, but a substantial step forward has been made in the means of implementing what has long been the Government's policy.

The NATO nuclear force as envisaged at Nassau will consist in the first instance of British and American Forces to be assigned to NATO, the immediate British contribution being the V-bomber force. In time the NATO force will consist of the British contingent, which will then be our Polaris force; a similar American contingent at least equal in size; and, it is suggested, a mixed-manned element to which NATO countries will contribute—the mixed-manned force in addition to the national contributions to which I have referred.

The main responsibility for the delivery of the deterrent will, towards the latter end of this decade, change from the Royal Air Force to the Royal Navy; and it is the responsibility of the Admiralty to build and equip four, and possibly five, Polaris submarines. The submarines themselves will be British designed and British built. The missiles, their launching systems, but not the warheads and possibly not the re-entry bodies, will be bought from the United States America. This means we shall be fitting an American weapon system into a British submarine. This will not be easy. In fact it will tax our design and technical skill to the limit, especially as we have asked the designers and builders to work to a very tight time-scale—the design and the building of the first submarine must be complete in less than five years from now.

To ensure that this extremely tough programme keeps up to date, the Admiralty have set up a special Polaris team under Rear-Admiral Mackenzie, the Chief Polaris Executive. This team will have the job of co-ordinating and planning all aspects of the programme, controlling its progress, maintaining contact with the United States Naval authorities and providing the necessary drive to eliminate difficulties and delays which may arise.

In building Polaris submarines we are setting ourselves new standards of reliability; for these submarines will have to stay at sea for long periods away from their base and be 100 per cent. reliable and 100 per cent. ready for instant action while on patrol. This is something we have never done before. Although we always aim to have our equipment as reliable as we possibly can, we have never before had to face the problem in such plain terms. For this reason, and because submarine building has special skills and techniques of its own, we intend to restrict the building of Polaris submarines to two of our three experienced submarine-building firms, subject, of course, to satisfactory financial arrangements being made.

The capital outlay to equip a shipyard for building nuclear submarines is such that the expense of spreading this work over all three firms is not justified. Fortunately, the Admiralty, Vickers and Rolls Royce and Associates have experience of building nuclear submarines; Vickers have contact with the Electric Boat Company in America, who build S.S.B.N.s. and Vickers have equipped their yard at Barrow for building nuclear submarines. We therefore expect Vickers to build two submarines and to provide lead yard services, advice and training facilities for the second firm, who would also build two boats. The Admiralty have also, since 1958, maintained close contact with the United States Navy on the Polaris project. We are confident that the United States Navy will continue to give us help and advice as generously as in the past.

It is sometimes argued that advances in methods of detection will make Polaris submarines very vulnerable. All our experience in anti-submarine warfare—and the Royal Navy have vast experience in anti-submarine warfare—suggests the opposite. The submarine always has been, and still is, extremely hard to find, and this is particularly so when all its efforts are devoted to remaining hidden. And so far as I know there is no justification for assuming that some scientific breakthrough will suddenly change this. Some of the arguments which I have read by those who are opposed to Polaris submarines seem to suggest that the Mediterranean, the whole of the Atlantic, the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea are in total very little bigger than the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens and that finding a Polaris submarine would seem to be an agreeable way of spending a Sunday afternoon. Of course this is nonsense. There are many millions of square miles in which a submarine can hide and I am quite convinced that the submarine is far and away the nearest thing to indestructible retaliation that we are likely to achieve for many years to come.

The second leg of our defence policy in support of NATO. I do not intend to say very much about this aspect this afternoon, as we have very recently had a debate in your Lordships' House on it, and I told your Lordships on that occasion of the importance we attached to NATO and the steps we proposed to take to bring our forces up to strength. NATO is, of course, the linch-pin of our defence.

Its existence over the past fourteen years has been one of the major factors in the prevention of a third world war; and it is, of course, the aim and intention of Her Majesty's Government to continue our whole-hearted support. The third leg of our defence responsibility lies in the rest of the world, and particularly East of Suez. Here, my Lords, we have wide responsibilities, sometimes international in character, such as our SEATO and CENTO obligations, but sometimes purely British, such as our interests in the Persian Gulf or in South-East Asia.

There are some who say (I think this is the official view of the Labour Party: and certainly I have heard Mr. George Brown say) that the world-wide rôle is rapidly diminishing. I take it, therefore, that it would be the intention of noble Lords opposite to reduce our forces East of Suez and no doubt to rely on the Americans. President Kennedy has repeatedly made it clear that the United States neither can nor will carry the entire defence burden for the West and that the Allies must take their share of the strain. Proposals of this kind would, I should have thought, gravely undermine the whole fabric of the Western Alliance.

Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government believe, for example, that the participation by as many NATO nations as possible in the long-range strategic nuclear force makes its deterrent effect politically stronger than leaving it all to the United States. The same goes for the shield forces in Europe; and exactly the same goes for the British presence East of Suez and our maritime forces.

In some areas Britain has particular responsibilities and the United States have made it clear to us many times that they look to Britain to continue her historic tasks there. For example, it would be difficult for the United States Navy to supplant the Royal Navy in the Arabian Seas and in the Indian Ocean. As I think I have said to your Lordships on more than one occasion in debates of this kind, the only thing that is absolutely certain in the world to-day is that there is going to be trouble somewhere. Nobody quite knows where it is going to be. Who would have thought a year or so ago it would have been Kuwait? Who would have contemplated before last December the operation at Brunei? The lessons to be learnt are that in the interests of the Western Alliance, as in our own national interests, we must be ready to intervene at short notice with well-equipped, mobile troops.

How, my Lords, do the three Services intend to carry out the tasks which the Government have set them?


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the point of the attitude of the Opposition, may I ask which particular quotation has he in mind which suggests that the Opposition wish to diminish our responsibilities in that particular area, and when was it said?


My Lords, I shall be very happy to listen to the noble Lord when he comes to make his speech, but I was relying on a speech made by Mr. Brown in another place in the Defence debate. I will let the noble Lord have the quotation. If this is untrue I think this will be a very great relief to all of us. But certainly this was the impression left on me by the speech of Mr. George Brown. If it is untrue, I shall be very happy indeed for the noble Lord to deny it.

So far as the Navy is concerned, 1963–64 looks like being a vintage year—and there was much to take pride in this year. We are now for the first time deploying two fixed-wing aircraft carriers east of Suez on a permanent basis. The commando ships are being developed to embark larger military forces which, with the introduction of the Wessex V helicopters early in 1964, can be launched in any trouble spot more quickly than ever before. This year, three more County class guided missile destroyers will join H.M.S. "Devonshire" in the Fleet, and nine more of the Leander and Tribal class general purpose frigates will join the two already serving in the Fleet. They will bring the total of new frigates which have joined the Operational Fleet during the past six years up to 28.

The first nuclear hunter-killer submarine, H.M.S. "Dreadnought", has come through her contractors' sea trials splendidly and will commission next month. The second, H.M.S. "Valiant," will be launched in the autumn, and the third has been ordered. There will inevitably be a gap with these while we get down to the problem and the business of building the Polaris submarines, but we shall aim to resume building the hunter-killers as soon as possible, and this is one of the many incentives to get through the Polaris programme with the greatest possible speed. In the meantime we can take comfort from the thought that in the Oberon class, ten of which will have joined the Fleet by the end of the year, we have the finest conventional submarine in the world to-day. The recent Australian decision to go in for Oberons bears witness to this claim, and we are of course delighted that this will be a further bond between the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Navy. The entry into service of the Buccaneer, the new strike aircraft, gives the Fleet Air Arm first-class modern aircraft which can penetrate the enemy's defences in the most effective way of all in the tactical rôle—by flying at low level under the radar screen. It will carry a variety of weapons, including nuclear bombs and the guided air-to-ground missile Bullpup.

Your Lordships will not expect me to conclude my reference to the state of the Navy without saying something about the aircraft carrier replacement. I do not think that I can do better here than remind your Lordships of what my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence said in another place last week. He then made it clear that the future of the aircraft carrier is only one facet of a careful examination which will be carried out during the next few months into the rôle of the Navy during the 1970s and the ships and weapons which the Navy will need to carry out that rôle. Obviously I cannot anticipate the outcome of that review, but to those of your Lordships (and there are many, I know) who are concerned about the future of the Royal Navy. I can repeat the assurance which my right honourable friend gave, that the decisions eventually made will be made on their merits and not reflect the fact that during the next few years the cost of the nuclear deterrent will fall increasingly on Navy Votes.

In all recent Defence debates, in both Houses of Parliament, we have had much discussion of the size and equipment of the British Army of the Rhine. The Government are annually accused of starving B.A.O.R. of men and modern equipment. Your Lordships are well acquainted with these annual accusations and arguments. Let me just repeat to-day that we are restoring B.A.O.R. to the strength of 55,000 men—a figure that we expect to reach next year—and that there have been recent decisions of great importance about the Army's equipment.

It has been suggested that we do not spend enough on equipment for B.A.O.R. But a very large part of the Army's equipment programme is devoted to this end. Most of the major equipments which have been announced recently are intended mainly or exclusively for B.A.O.R. Last year, for example, the first production order was placed for over 1,000 Trojan armoured personnel carriers, and the major items in the coming year's programme are also for B.A.O.R. There is the Chieftain tank, for which a production order will be placed if, as we expect, it satisfactorily completes acceptance trials in a few weeks time. B.A.O.R.'s artillery will be improved in respect of both fire-power and mobility by the addition of two new weapons, Abbot and an American 175 mm. gun. Abbot is a self-propelled 105 mm. gun which will replace the 25-pounder in the close-support rôle, with increased range and weight of fire, good crew protection and the ability to keep pace with Chieftain and Trojan across country. At longer ranges, we intend to buy the American M 107 gun, which is the most suitable mobile heavy gun available, which is now in production and which will be a useful addition to B.A.O.R.'s artillery.


When do you expect delivery?


Perhaps the noble Earl will wait a moment until I have finished what I have to say.

In the signals field, too, we have spent, and are still spending, considerable sums of money for equipment for B.A.O.R., and we are now starting work on a new comprehensive communications system that will eventually replace the equipment which has recently come into service. All these new items of equipment will come in on a continuing basis.

During 1963–64, we intend to continue building up the strength of the Army. We hope to reach a total of 180,000 adult males by the end of the financial year. This will enable us to overcome the shortages of manpower which have made it necessary to keep some units below their full strength. This figure does not include the Gurkhas, who have continued to give excellent service, the latest example being in Brunei. My right honourable friend tie Secretary of State for War hopes to make a statement very soon on the future of the Gurkhas.

The Royal Air Force will continue to have a multiplicity of important rôles. Until the Polaris submarine becomes operational, the bombers of the R.A.F. will continue to provide the strategic nuclear deterrent. The V-bomber force is only now reaching its peak strength. With Victor 2 and Vulcan 2 aircraft armed with Blue Steel, and later with a new strategic version of a nuclear weapon originally intended for the Buccaneer and the TSR.2, the V-bombers provide us with an independent deterrent. Even when we have Polaris, Bomber Command will have the TSR.2 which will be capable of forming part of the strategic nuclear deterrent, as well as carrying out the tactical rôles for which it was originally designed. These rôles include long-range strike with high explosive or nuclear weapons and a variety of reconnaissance activities, all with a wide radius of action, the capacity to fly very fast and under the enemy radar cover. We also need a new shorter-range tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft for battle area close support with the ability to defend itself. The Hawker P.1154 is to provide the basis for a new aircraft to replace the Hunter in this rôle and also possibly the Sea Vixen. With supersonic performance, and the capacity for short and vertical take-off, the new aircraft will provide the extremely flexible characteristics needed.

Last but not least I must say a word or two about the R.A.F.'s transport forces, so important to-day and in the future for the operation of the Army. For long-range work, five Comet 4s have now been introduced into service and six more VC.l0s are being ordered making a total of eleven. The ten Belfasts on order, together with the Comets and VC.10s, will meet our current needs for a strategic transport force. For medium-range work it will be necessary before long to replace the existing Hastings and Beverleys. This is something which we have been considering carefully for some time: it is a matter of great complexity in which the military requirement and financial and industrial considerations have to be most carefully weighed. We considered the possibility of purchasing an aircraft from abroad in order to save development costs but came to the conclusion that in order fully to meet our requirements we should develop a new aircraft in this country, and as my right honourable friend, the Minister of Aviation, announced in another place last week, we have decided that the Hastings Beverley replacement should be based on the Hawker-Siddeley design known as AW.681.

As a first step a project study contract is now being negotiated with Hawker-Siddeley. This aircraft will be designed to carry a wide range of the new Army equipment now going into service or under development and will have a short take-off and landing capability so that it can operate from small landing strips and will not be dependent on the long prepared runways needed by strategic aircraft. It will not only make a valuable contribution to the mobility of the forces but will also provide welcome work for the British aircraft industry, including Short's of Belfast, to whom a substantial share of the production work will be sub-contracted by the Hawker-Siddeley group.

I turn now to the problem of defence reorganisation. My right honourable friend, the Minister of Defence, explained in another place that the Government have taken certain decisions in principle about the reorganisation of the central machinery for defence, after studying the advice of people experienced in this field, including my noble friend Lord Ismay, and General Sir Ian Jacob, to both of whom the Government are greatly indebted. The need for a unified direction of defence policy and administration has been recognised ever since the days of the Esher Committee even before my noble and gallant friend Lord Montgomary of Alamein advocated it. There have been successive changes, the last as recently as 1958. 13ut the present machinery has proved, in the light of experience, to be inadequate for our needs as we foresee them.

There have been three main criticisms of the existing central organisation: first, that control of defence, expenditure is not fully effective; secondly, that the formulation of an integrated defence policy has been hampered by the very natural tendency of the three Services to consider problems of national defence from separate and individual points of view; and thirdly, that no satisfactory solution has so far been found to the problem of managing the defence research and development programme. To put these things right it is not necessary to amalgamate the three Services themselves. Indeed, I am sure all noble Lords will support the Government in believing that it would be very wrong to do so. We want to preserve the traditions of loyalty to a man's unit or ship on which the morale and fighting spirit of our forces so greatly depend.

What is needed is not complete integration, but a unification of central control. It is therefore proposed that in future there should be a single unified Ministry of Defence, including within it sub-departments for the three Services, each under the control of a Minister, who will himself be responsible to the Minister of Defence. The main policy staffs of the present Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry will be housed together in a single building. The new organisation will involve no essential change in the position of the Chiefs of Staff. They remain individually as professional heads of their Services, and they will continue to be collectively responsible, with the Chief of the Defence Staff in the Chiefs of Staff Committee, as the professional military advisers of the Government. Individually or collectively they will continue to have right of access to the Minister of Defence and to the Prime Minister. They will, as now, attend meetings of the Defence Committee and, as now, they will also attend the Cabinet as necessary.

These are the broad outlines of the reforms which we are undertaking. It is not possible at this stage, and I do not think that it would be right, to try to produce a detailed blue print or chart showing exactly what will constitute the central core; how it will be fitted together; precisely what the relationships of one part to the other will be and exactly what will be done with the remaining functions and organisation of the Service Departments. The task of working all this out and planning the necessary changes and moves will go on over the next few months, and when we are ready with our proposals we will issue a White Paper. One of our objects in proceeding in this way is to give time for informed public discussion of this extremely important problem. The Government hope and expect to obtain great benefit from this discussion and I have every reason to think that we shall benefit particularly from the wisdom and wide experience of Members of your Lordships' House.

Perhaps I may say here something about the view, which I know has been expressed, that these matters might better be referred to a Commission of weight and authority. There would be certain advantages in this. For one thing, we should remove the problems, so to speak, from the arena, and avoid the possible pressures of special interests. But I am sure that the disadvantages outweigh this. What we are concerned with now is the working out of a large number of detailed matters within the limits of the general principles that I have outlined. And this, I am sure, can be done more effectively in constant consultation with Departments engaged in working the existing machine. In this intricate game, I think it is true to say that the onlooker probably sees less than the participant.

So far I have dealt with the decisions which have been taken about the central organisation for formulating defence policy, for financial control, and for operational planning. The problems of controlling research and development are even more complex. The part which research and development should play in the new organisation and the relationship—


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether the three Service Ministers, apart from the Minister of Defence, will continue to carry their existing titles—namely, First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War and Secretary of State for Air?


My Lords. I think that the status of these Ministers is one of the things which has to be decided in the planning that we are going to do between now and the summer. I had moved on from that to talk about the difficulties of the Ministry of Aviation, which is responsible not only for the defence part of the British aircraft industry but also for a substantial part of the electronic and engineering industries. This is a matter on which the Government have not yet made up their minds. This problem is therefore to be the subject of further study. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has announced in another place, he has invited Sir Frank Lee to assist in advising the Government on possible solutions.

These, then, are the Government's proposals for our defence policy. Tomorrow, my Lords, you will have to decide whether or not you support this policy or whether you choose that offered by the Opposition or by the Liberal Party. What is the choice which noble Lords are offered? What do noble Lords opposite offer? It has in the past been very difficult to state with any exactness what the defence policy of the Labour Party is, and even to-day I am not at all sure that I have it right. In fact, it appears from the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that I may have got it wrong.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord, in view of the fact he now refers to my noble friend and his interruption? The noble Lord challenged and accused Mr. Brown of suggesting in another place that the Labour Party advocated the withdrawal of British Forces from overseas east of Suez, and reliance upon the United States. Will the noble Lord permit me to read the words of Mr. Brown, because I think they are very relevant in view of his accusation? Mr. Brown said: There are fewer and fewer places left in the world—shortly, no places—where this will be our role as an individual nation. We may provide a contingent in an international force or an Alliance force, but it is the actual national role for us that is diminishing. In view of the accusation made by the noble Lord, will he now withdraw it?


I do not know why the Opposition should be so touchy about this. I was not aware I was making any accusation. What I was trying to find out was what the Defence policy of the Labour Party is. It is very difficult for us on these Benches to know what their policy is. I understand that Mr. George Brown—and, with respect, I think that the noble Lord was quite out of order to quote a speech of that kind in this place—stated that British responsibilities all round the world were diminishing. It seems to follow that, if they are diminishing, you do not need the forces to keep them up that you had before, and therefore you withdraw your forces round the world. Well, I am delighted that this is not so. I am very glad indeed to have an assurance from noble Lords opposite that they intend, if they ever get into office, to maintain British power round the world. Certainly noble Lords on this side of the House will remember this assurance and will see that they keep to it if ever they get into office.


Who is talking now? It is all very well going on, shouting like that. Perhaps you would compare the forces you control now, which have cost some £1,838 million, with what we had in 1950 and 1951.


With great respect to the noble Earl, he does sometimes live in the past. This is one of the occasions when he has repeatedly compared the forces which were available to this country after the war with the forces we have in 1963. This is really not a very logical or sensible comparison, with great respect to him. If I understand the Labour Party policy aright then, it is that they should abandon straight away the nuclear deterrent and the Polaris project.




That is not right, either? It is very difficult to know what Labour Party policy is. Perhaps we shall learn from the noble Earl when he comes to make his speech. Certainly it would be interesting to know whether or not they have the policy which noble Lords on this side think they have.

I am on much firmer ground with the Liberal Party because they have a pamphlet about defence which I understand states their policy. They would abandon the nuclear deterrent, but, unlike the Labour Party, would greatly increase our conventional forces.


My Lords, the noble Lord has missed out one word: "national".


I am sorry; I do not wish to misquote the Liberal Party. They would abandon the national contribution to the nuclear deterrent, but would greatly increase conventional forces. Although the Royal Air Force would decrease, the Navy would increase by some 22,000 men and the Army by some 33,000 men. There is no indication whatever of how this increase is to be paid for, how the men are to be recruited, or, indeed, what they are for, since the document Defence in the Sixties, suggests that we reduce drastically our forces all round the world. My Lords, men are money. It is no good having men if you cannot equip them. And the increase in the number of men proposed by the Liberal Party would involve capital expenditure on equipment so vast that it would make the building of the Polaris submarine project seem a comparatively minor thing.


How much?


I do not think that to-morrow there will be many who will not conclude that the Defence policy pursued by Her Majesty's Government is the right one, that it is the one most suited to the best interests of this country and the furtherance of our national interests and the preservation of peace in the world.

Moved to resolve, That this House approves the Statement on Defence (Cmnd. 1936).—(Lord Carrington.)

3.18 p.m.

EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH rose to move, as an Amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after "House" and insert: "regrets the failure of Her Majesty's Government to adopt a policy that will provide forces adequate for the defence of this country and for the discharge of its international and Commonwealth obligations." The noble Earl said: My Lords, I take it from the Leader of the House that in such an important debate as this he will not wish to break into my speech with a statement. If I rise to speak now, I want to be able to go on uninterrupted. I understand that there is to be a statement at some time after 3.30 p.m. I was feeling comparatively calm about the task I have to-day until these quite unnecessary attacks on my Party had been made by the First Lord of the Admiralty; and, although I shall still try to remain reasonably calm, I do not think he can expect the Government to get away with the sort of line he has been following to-day.

First of all, the backbone of any country's national security policy must depend on the maintenance of a sound economy. That is very important indeed. When we look at the record of the last eleven and a half years, when we see the ups and downs of the national economy, or compare the total costs in 1951 and 1963 which the Government have had to raise from the taxpayer, we are entitled to say first of all that we must consider very carefully to what extent the national economy can maintain the kind of policy, mismanagement and misjudgment which has occurred in Defence circles during the lifetime of the Conservative Government. I think it is very important that we should do this. As a matter of fact, if we compare the national Budgets which have been introduced in Parliament since 1951, we find that the total Annual Budget in April, 1951, was £4,190-odd million; the first April Budget of the Conservative Government, in 1952, was about £4,230 million; and in 1962 it was £6,300-odd million. And there is every indication at the present time that the size of the next budget is going to be larger still.

In the last part of his speech the First Lord referred to the proposed changes in the defence forces organisation, and said that there would be a White Paper on it in July—or did I read that in the newspapers? I understood that a White Paper would be issued in the summer, when they have finished their consultations. It reminds me of a large part of the policies we have seen being pursued in the last few years. Often we are told that something is likely to happen; but it does not happen. We had no White Paper on the happenings of the last twelve months to give us the real position which we could study, to consider what the conditions are now, and what we should like them to be. We have had no White Paper with regard to the proposed changes announced in that last part of the First Lord's speech. Nor, apparently, are the Government ready to announce anything definite.

When I look at the record of the Government on defence, I can only think that the refusal to publish a White Paper on defence as a whole on this occasion—the first time since 1947—and the refusal of a White Paper upon what comprised more than half of the speech of the Minister of Defence, in introducing the Defence debate in the other place, was simply to raise a smokescreen over the rest of the debate. In that way, the Minister avoided having to say more than he wished about the real happenings of the last twelve months, or about the real state of the defences of our country in the face of world conditions, as well as European conditions, to-day. I do not think that Parliament has ever been treated in my time with so much contempt—as I have said before in this House—as it is in the manner in which this vastly important question of defence and national security is being discussed to-day.

When we look at the strength of the forces we maintain to-day we see one of the results of the attempts made by Her Majesty's Government to secure economy by reducing conventional forces and by relying upon the nuclear weapon as a deterrent. What has happened about that? Since 1951 we have had nine Conservative Ministers of Defence in eleven years. One of them, the Right Honourable Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis, was, I think, a Minister of Defence whom we could at least always understand. He was Minister for some time, and we could understand what he meant. But since then we have had people hopping in and out. Mr. Macmillan himself was there for rather less than six months.

As to continuity of policy and the real development of national security, we have seen little result from it. What are the facts? The facts are that in 1951 the Government took over very considerable conventional forces—very considerable in the Navy, in the Army and in the Air Force—backed by a system of National Service. There had already been accumulated by then a substantial National Service reserve, which had among its other rôles the training and development of mobile columns for use in case of nuclear attack upon these islands. Today we see the whole question of Civil Defence covered in less than a real page in this volume referring to the whole of the three Services. That is the kind of force and strength that these Conservative Governments took over.

What has happened since? I say to the Government to-day: Now, as right through the process, you have continuously been guilty of misjudgment and mismanagement. There was no greater form of misjudgment than the judgment of the Suez crisis. If there is one thing you cannot afford in regard to a national defence policy, it is to be guilty of waste, real waste, in its relation to the economy. If one looks back —not upon all the details that we complained about at the time of the Suez crisis—one thing is quite certain: that it was a wicked waste. If you look at the policy since 1957, you see the same thing. In 1957 (I am not quite sure whether or not the idea started before the present Minister of Defence, Mr. Thorneycroft, became Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it seemed, more or less to coincide with that time) there was a White Paper which has left its hallmark upon our restricted—or, as the Church used to say about itself, the arrested—progress of defence.

His proposal was that the conventional forces should be reduced to a little more than one-third of their size, which they have now reached, and that the main reliance should be placed upon the use of the nuclear deterrent. It was always said, of course, that the nuclear deterrent would be largely in the hands of the United States of America, but we wanted an independent one. It has been said ever since, of course, that we are in favour; and in regard to what the First Lord (I hope he is listening) said on this point I would just say that the policy of my Party is not against the use of the nuclear deterrent: it is against what we call the independent deterrent, which cannot be justified in current defence circumstances. There is a vast difference. I think that was probably one of the points that the noble Lord the Leader of the Liberal Party had in mind just now.

The Defence Budget which was submitted to us in the White Paper of 1957 said that this would be a very great help in achieving economy. Mr. Sandys, the then Minister, was already able to promise that at first the saving would be £100 million a year, and that thereafter there would be growing economies as the actual forces to be engaged in place of the conscript Army, which was to be gradually got rid of, would all help in that direction. What is the situation now? Ever since then we have had nothing but a story of misjudgment, mismanagement and waste; and what the Government are chiefly trying to do is to cover it up. They do not like us to keep on taking out the different things which have happened, in which the Government have been wrong on every single occasion, to the great detriment of the national economy. That is a fact. They want to link up the general deterrent policy of a collective nuclear alliance, with the policy of an independent deterrent. They are still doing that, but that is a different thing altogether.

What has happened? Let us look at the history of their first great effort to produce their independent weapon. Was it not called Blue Streak? Were they not warned by other Parties in Parliament that this would be a grave mistake; that in the current and growing dangers of nuclear policy in the whole world this would be an encouragement, if anything, to the spread of production of the nuclear weapon in different nations? Did we not point out the difficulties of the production of such a weapon? At a time when Blue Streak had already cost £100 million for its developmental work (this was very forcibly placed before Parliament in both Houses) the Government constantly went on seeking to justify it, without foundation, as being the policy to pursue. Then, suddenly, came the decision of the Government that it had to be abandoned. What had it cost by then? I think it may be said that, taken from the beginning to the end, it cost over £300 million—for nothing! Waste, waste!

Then, of course, the Government wanted to go on with something else which they thought was essential. That was the continuous building of a great bomber force, to be able to carry the independent as well, perhaps, as some of the collective security weapons. So we had built the original Valiants, the Vulcans, the Victors—and there they are. What do they cost? Why not issue a White Paper and show us all in detail, as to how you justify the present position of the Government? They cost over £800 million. And what happened? Why did the Government continue, after the absolute waste of Blue Streak, to follow a new line with regard to Skybolt? Was it because they had to try to re-establish some of the backbone and the faith in their future of the Royal Air Force: that, having built the bombers and gone on to produce the Blue Streak, something must be done about that? Were they not constantly warned, all the way through, that relying on Skybolt, from that moment, at any rate, was like chasing something in the air itself, not to be captured? There never was any foundation for Ministers of Defence, one after the other, saying that they had a real, definite promise from the United States of America that that particular weapon would be pursued, in its research and production, with such a certainty that it would be delivered to the British Government—never. I have all sorts of quotations, if necessary, that I can send on to the First Lord to prove what I say about that. And so on it went.

Then we are told we came to a sudden shock, a surprise. Mr. Macmillan arrives at Nassau with Mr. Thorneycroft, and finds that the Skybolt is not there and will not be there. Waste! How much? In this case not only is it a waste of the money which had been spent on certain work over here, but also the waste of time, if the real solution of the Government's problem was the production of an independent nuclear weapon. And what now? Is the idea given up? No! The First Lord of the Admiralty feels that we have now obtained something of an independent nuclear weapon—and I beg of the Foreign Secretary to take particular note of what will be said across the Floor about this in a few moments, and perhaps later on, by other members of my Party. The first thing is to try again to restore the faith and morale of the Royal Air Force. They have been told quite frankly by the First Lord again this afternoon that the principal responsibility for despatching the independent (in this case) nuclear deterrent has passed altogether from the Royal Air Force to the Royal Navy—I will come to that in a minute—and so, what next? "Ah, then we must do something about restoring their morale." So they again hike out another weapon, the Blue Steel, already abandoned after millions of pounds had been spent on it. Yes—Blue Steel was practically out of the picture altogether.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? He really is wrong about that. Blue Steel was never abandoned: Blue Steel was always envisaged to come in just before Skybolt.


Just before Skybolt? If you had Skybolt, then, you would not have carried it at all. Surely it was already arranged to be scrapped. The people who were really thinking about the matter, and about how limited a radius there was for Blue Steel in relation to the growing dangers of the attacking and defending fighters you were working against, would put it really out of question altogether. What are you labouring on now? You are labouring on trying to extend its radius by 100 or 200 miles, as a maximum, so that its effectiveness, if it is carried by the V-bombers, will always come with the greatest possible risk to the men who man the V-bombers. Let us face the facts, and do not try to get out of them. That is the position.

Now let us come to the Polaris. Nobody doubts that the Polaris missile is a very valuable weapon. I think that the experiences of the United States Navy in the matter show that it is a large, very powerful and long-range weapon. But if we are expected to believe from the White Paper which was published after the Conference in the Bahamas that this is according to Britain an independent nuclear deterrent, then I think we have to read over and over again, before we finally decide, the few words slipped in by the Prime Minister, which he was eager to repeat as soon as he got back here, that of course there would always be cases (I am paraphrasing; I am not quoting the actual words) where Her Majesty's Government would consider there were national reasons for its use in other circumstances. In that case it could be called, if it was so, an independent deterrent. I wonder whether Members of the House remember that after this we had the article in The Times of December 24 quoting American opinion upon the view which had been expressed by the Prime Minister when he returned. It was entirely contrary.

On the basis of that, I ask the Government to-day, and especially the noble Earl, Lord Home, who I understand is going over there, and who will no doubt be dealing with some of the effects of the Nassau Agreement in NATO circles: is it conceivable that, using those few words put in by Mr. Macmillan in the Nassau White Paper, any circumstances will arise in which we should be in such a dire national situation that we should wish to use an independent nuclear deterrent unless there was going to be no chance of either NATO or of the United States of America being brought into the conflict which would arise in the world from the use by us of that deterrent? The Government have never given an answer to that. I wonder whether we shall get one to-day or tomorrow. I do not believe that there can be any justification at all for saying we must have the Polaris for use as an independent nuclear deterrent, when we know full well in our hearts that directly we launched a deterrent in those circumstances a nuclear war in general would have begun and we should have been responsible, not for using what is called the second strike but for launching the world into universal conflict.

I turn, then, to the task of the Navy in dealing with the Polaris. The First Lord was quite right to lay down these safeguards for future discussions which will take place as to how long it will take the Navy to do these things, having regard to the size of the task, what they will want in the way of equipment, trained personnel and the like, and the special slips or docks required on which to build these vessels. It will be all very difficult. But I want the House, if it will, to look at the problem in general for the Navy. I do not believe for one moment, whatever the First Lord may say, that the whole of the senior officers in the Royal Navy are behind the Government in this project. I am quite sure they will loyally obey all the orders they get—they always do—but I am also sure, from the view of the war correspondent of The Times and the one or two people who have spoken for the Institute of Strategy that there are people in the Navy who do not agree that this is the best thing to be done in regard to the despatch of the nuclear deterrent, and certainly not to have it as an individual one for ourselves.

What will be the cost? I have heard different figures mentioned. The last figure I have seen, from a Government circle, I think, was on the original number of these submarines, which I believe was then five, when they talked about £400 million. But I am quite certain that The Times naval correspondent is much nearer the mark when he says that the four will cost £500 million. The First Lord shakes his head, but I have had a fairly long experience of the Admiralty myself, and I know pretty well how the estimates begin to mount as the different items begin to appear, which can be improved from stage to stage all the way along; and I am pretty certain that the London Times correspondent is nearer the mark than the original figure given us. Five hundred million pounds spread over how long? It is clear from the First Lord's speech that he wants the first one in five years. That was all the information we got. The capital expenditure will have to be spread over. He indicated, at least to my understanding, that all would be borne on the Navy Vote. Is that so?


The Defence Vote. This is part of Government defence policy and under the new set-up it will all be on the Defence Vote.


Am I to gather that we shall not have separate Navy, Army and Air Force Estimates in the future?


My Lords, I do not know about that. I do not want to commit myself.


Where are we? It is no wonder to me that this shuffling and sliding Government come along with a new set-up for defence now. They are not ready. It is simply put up as a smokescreen to cover some point in this Defence debate. You do not know where you are. I will put this point to the First Lord—he is in charge of the Navy for the time being. Your Estimates this year amount to £440 million. There is nothing in the Estimates of the three Services given in this book to-day, except a token Estimate with regard to Polaris. I do not know what is to happen in the next year. If the Government progress with the kind of programme now discussed with Vickers and possibly two other firms, the amount may be much more than that. Perhaps that is the reason why there is an increase of £21 million forecast in the overall Estimate; I cannot tell. What is going to happen? Are you going to take the cost of the Navy stated in the joint Defence Estimate or the single Defence Estimate as being exclusive of the cost to the Navy of Polaris? What is it going to be? We have no idea, with regard to new defence organisation proposals, what is to be the accounting basis. Who is to be the accounting officer? We have no idea. It has never been put up. I am just extraordinarily concerned about the weakness and the fumbling of this Government in these matters.

All I suggest is this. If the function of the delivery of Polaris, or any other missile, is taken from the R.A.F. and transferred to the Navy, it will only be justice if you transfer from the R.A.F. the cost of the delivery and provision for the delivery to the Navy. Will that be done? The First Lord is the Minister in charge of the Navy. He speaks to-day for the Minister of Defence. Will it be done?


My Lords, I did not want to keep interrupting the noble Earl. He has misrepresented the position. I had already repeated in my speech what my right honourable friend the Minister of Defence had said. He said that decisions about the future of the Navy will be made entirely on their merits and they will not reflect the fact that during the next few years the cost of the new deterrent will fall increasingly on Navy Votes.


How much can noble Lords get out of that? Only that the matter is postponed for decision. Nothing else. These big policies are brought forward, not properly considered, not properly organised. to show the steady road in front of them. It is an absolutely wicked waste in research, production and operational phases. That is the history of the Government in national defence. Have we adequate and efficient forces to-day? Are they there? The First Lord gave a hasty survey of the position of all three Services. I was not very happy about the survey of the position in B.A.O.R. There is the artillery equipment of the Army to be considered. It has not been very satisfactory. They have been a long time thinking of what could now outload the 25-pounder. They are now going to consider buying two high-powered guns from the United States. We cannot get any idea about delivery. Are the artillery properly armed? We have heard a good deal about the shortage of signals in the forces of B.A.O.R. The Gurkha Signal Regiment were to be the answer for that. Have they been taken away?

We are really under contract with our NATO Allies to have certain forces in Germany. Have we got them there? I know we have seven headquarter brigade groups, perhaps approaching some three divisions; but all are short in manpower. is that not so? You were told in 1957 by the Chiefs of Staff that what you needed for a Regular Army was 200,000 men. Then it was whittled away in debate to 180,000, and then Mr. Sandys said he must think of a present target of 165,000 and then consider the question again. You still have not got 180,000.

Other commitments arise, such as those mentioned by the First Lord of the Admiralty. You have constantly to think how to supply the need in the other areas. And you have not got the men. What about the extraordinary example from his own Department? The "Blake" was a cruiser introduced in my own programme in war time. Now in 1963 she has just had her first refit after a very short time in commission. Her total cost was £15½ million. In the Defence Paper confronting us to-day it is mentioned as one of the three cruisers in commission. But just before the matter is to come before Parliament we are told that the Admiralty have not sufficient trained personnel to man her. So she is put into mothballs in reserve. Is that not extraordinary? I suppose it is sensible from your point of view, but it is jolly expensive to the community for £15½ million to be put in reserve because you say you cannot get manpower. This is from the one Service that claims it has no difficulty in getting recruits! They said they took only one out of each three people who applied to get into the Navy. Now there are not enough men to man a cruiser which cost them £15½ million, plus the new and heavy cost of its first main refit after commission at sea. This is the sort of thing that we get as to the state of our forces.

I felt very sorry for the young men in the R.A.F. who are continually anxious as to what their future is going to be, when I listened to the account of the First Lord of the Admiralty regarding what could be done with the various planes and his statement about the TSR.2. Why, it is only a few months ago that the TSR.2 was not a strategic weapon at all. It was a tactical weapon. Now it is suddenly to be a strategic weapon. How has that been done? It is something just to cover up for the moment. It is just a cover up for the difficult situation the Government find themselves in. They are tottering and stumbling and sliding along, as they have done on almost everything else they have touched. I do not see that at the moment we have around us either the conventional forces, or the real certainty about the operation of the collective deterrent forces, that can bring us security for our country.

I would suggest to the Foreign Secretary, as he is going to this meeting to deal with the results of Nassau, amongst other things, that he should consider the suggestion which has been made that a force of 25 vessels of merchant-ship type with special launching platforms should be taken over in three main sections, some by the United States of America, some by this country and some by other countries such as Germany and France. I want the Foreign Secretary to hear what I say. Perhaps this suggestion will be an additional way of preventing the spread of the production of nuclear weapons among the countries concerned and in other places. But one cannot imagine anything more vulnerable than a merchant-ship type vessel with a launching-off platform carrying nuclear deterrents. It is sometimes said that plans were made for aircraft carriers to go within reasonable launching distance with long-flight missiles, but these are still vulnerable. Perhaps the Foreign Secretary will tell us what is behind this suggestion, and what is going to be the effect upon other countries which we want to stop from going into the production of nuclear weapons. Are we going to give up our idea of an independent deterrent and join wholeheartedly in a collective campaign so far as the nuclear deterrents are likely to be necessary?

My last word to the Government on this matter is that I am not required this afternoon to say what is the policy of the Opposition. I am required to demand a statement from the Government, to show how competent they are to maintain the security of the country, to show what they have done with the taxpayers' money. They have spent £18,000 million on defence since 1952. What have they got to show for it? How much more secure are we? That is what I have to do to-day: that is the task of the Opposition.

I want only to add that I should like to see restored to the minds of our people, and of all the people in the world, the thought that all lovers of peace came to agree upon before the last world war, which was that there should be armaments if required for collective security, and that these should be based upon a management which would guarantee that that principle would not be abused. Because of the way the Government and the United States of America are going together, though at the moment I do not think that they are very much in step, I very much fear for the prospect of the disarmament campaigns, which we all want to see successful and which have broken down in Geneva again and again. The only final solution, in the light of the new idea of World Government, is reasonable and step-by-step disarmament. We would never agree to a wholesale disarmament which can be described in any sense as unilateral. We have the duty to defend our own country, as well as to defend the rights, the freedom and the liberty of other populations, but we can get to the stage we want in the end only if we are accompanied towards that end by reasonable agreement for collective disarmament.

Amendment moved— Leave out all words after ("House") and insert ("regrets the failure of Her Majesty's Government to adopt a policy that will provide forces adequate for the defence of this country and for the discharge of its international and Commonwealth obligations.".—(Earl Alexander of Hillsborough.)