HL Deb 08 April 1965 vol 265 cc196-208

4.9 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I think it would be inept if I were to begin my remarks in this Defence debate without referring first—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord rather early in his speech? I understood that we were to have a Statement on Berlin. Is that not coming?


Unfortunately, my Lords, we have not yet had notification to the effect that it has been reached in the other place, so we shall have to go ahead with the debate.


My Lords, as I was saying, I think it would be inept if I began talking in this debate without referring to the encouraging developments that have taken place in the Vietnam crisis since your Lordships' House adjourned yesterday. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has already welcomed President Johnson's move to secure negotiations in South-East Asia, and his imaginative offer of financial aid to the area. I should like to take this opportunity of echoing in your Lordships' House my right honourable friend's sentiments; and these developments will, indeed, give added point to some of the remarks I shall be making later about disarmament and keeping the peace.

May I say what a very great pleasure it gives me personally—and I am sure also other noble Lords—to see the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, in your Lordships' House again. His contribution to the debate was characteristically forthright and soldierly. It is possible to suggest that there may be some dangers in applying to modern strategic problems too many of the lessons of the battles of the Nile and Trafalgar, but it would be churlish and ungracious to complain, after the noble and gallant Viscount's helpful and constructive remarks.

May I refer, briefly, to some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, enunciating what I believe we are to understand is the official Defence policy of the Liberal Party? I cannot, of course, anticipate what will be the result of the current review of Defence commitments that is being undertaken by Her Majesty's Government; but I can say that, clearly, none of these commitments will be given up suddenly or overnight. There are agreements and alliances; there is a contribution to be made not only to the security of the Free World but to the stability of the world as a whole. I can assure the noble Lord that there is no question of continuing out-of-date strategic ideas; but neither is there any question of letting down our friends and allies or of leaving whole areas of the world to chaos.

Before I come to my own contribution to this interesting debate, I should like to add my congratulations to those that have already been offered to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, on the occasion of his quite remarkable maiden speech yesterday. I nearly said "my noble friend Lord Bourne", because he is indeed my noble friend, although perhaps more in the personal than in the strictly Parliamentary sense. The good sense and clarity of what he had to say on the subject of military policy came as no surprise to me; and, like other noble Lords, I look forward to hearing him again whenever your Lordships' House may be debating these questions of Defence and foreign policy.

May I say briefly why it seems to me appropriate that a Minister in the Foreign Office with a special responsibility for arms control and disarmament should intervene in a debate on Defence in your Lordships' House? In fact, the Statement on the Defence Estimates, which we are debating, gives the answer in one sentence, when it raises in Paragraph 6 the central problem—and I quote: … how to provide for the present needs of military defence through alliances without impeding our fundamental objectives of arms control and disarmament through the United Nations. There is nothing new in the recognition of a vital relationship between defence and disarmament, but, equally, there is no doubt that this recognition has become more acute in the past decade or two. It is now more essential than ever that the vital relationship between these two elements of policy-making should be a real and effective one at every level. There is now nearly universal understanding of the horror and intolerable suffering that nuclear war would bring. This understanding, particularly among the major Powers, provides now in international affairs a measure of restraint that the world has never known before. The United States and the Soviet Union are increasingly realising that the ultimate security of both depends on the good sense and tolerance of each.

There is an increasing awareness of the paramount need for at least tacit agreement between these two great Powers to refrain from developing and deploying weapons and pursuing Defence and foreign policies that might radically upset the balance between them. This has induced at least a dawning predisposition towards intelligent measures of arms control and disarmament. These may be the germ for building up a feeling of mutual confidence and for creating conditions in which there can be a positive reduction of weapons and armed forces, and so of the heavy economic and other burdens which we carry as a result of them. But there is not likely to be anything smooth about such a development in the immediate future.

The growth of confidence between nations has recently been, and I fear will continue to be, subject to continuous setbacks. The development of nuclear weapons by China and the crisis in Vietnam are cases in point. But they are also, as most other such examples will be found to be, additional incentives for pursuing an active and energetic policy of disarmament. The development of the Chinese nuclear programme increases, for instance, in our view the urgency of concluding international agreements to prevent the further spread of nuclear weapons.

In this connection I should like to make a brief reference to some of the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Brockway in his most interesting speech yesterday. We must, of course, at every stage in the process of seeking disarmament ensure our own safety and security. But I think that the noble Lord was quite justified in devoting such a large proportion of his speech in a Defence debate to matters of disarmament. He made a particular point of the various proposals that have been made for nuclear-free zones, and referred especially to the various ideas on arms control in Central Europe which were mentioned in the Labour Party's pre-Election Manifesto. There are—and I know my noble friend Lord Brockway will appreciate this—great difficulties in the way of securing agreement to the application of regional arms control measures, and the whole complexity of ideas embracing disengagement and nuclear-free zones, especially in Central Europe. I do not propose to go into them in detail now but it may be of interest to mention just two.

The first is that it is unrealistic to talk of disengagement or nuclear-free zones, or of any sort of arms control in Central Europe, in isolation from the settlement of the political problems of the area. And I must tell your Lordships that there is no sign at the moment that the Soviet Union and the other Communist countries of Eastern Europe have any interest in reaching such a political settlement on terms that we should find acceptable. That is a political factor. There is, too, an important military implication in such arms control proposals for Central Europe. It is that while both the Soviet Union and the United States have on their soil long-range missiles in great numbers and of great accuracy, and capable of striking at targets in Central Europe, there does not seem much military significance in simply withdrawing or freezing the level of nuclear weapons in certain narrowly defined geographical areas of the Continent. If I may put this in a cruder but more vivid form, we should gain little in the arms control sense by withdrawing nuclear weapons from East and West Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia so long as many hundreds of ballistic missiles remain in Western Russia capable of striking targets in Western Germany.

These two objections which I have put forward to the idea of arms control measures in Central Europe in isolation from political settlements are not to imply that the ideas put forward in the Rapacki Plan or the Gomulka proposals, or other ideas for nuclear-free zones in Europe or elsewhere, will not be given the closest attention by Her Majesty's Government; and I can assure my noble friend Lord Brockway, and your Lordships' House in general, that if any of these measures appear to have a chance of success or appear likely to bring about a reduction in political tension we shall follow them up closely and energetically.

I began by saying that the relationship between Defence and disarmament is vital. I think that the first level of this relationship is departmental. There must obviously be close and continuous contacts between those concerned with making disarmament policy and those concerned with making Defence policy. Constant consultation is necessary to make sure that the other side is aware of our views. Where disarmament negotiations are taking place, the Ministry of Defence must obviously be represented, and I am glad to say that the organisation we have at the moment is an admirable example of how this co-operation should work. Joint decisions are reached quickly and harmoniously and our delegations at disarmament conferences are fully integrated and speak with one voice.

There is, however, another relationship between defence and disarmament—this is, on the level of long-term planning, of forward planning. This is a more complex and sophisticated problem. The policy of Her Majesty's Government, as set out in the Statement on the Defence Estimates, has been to ensure that the disarmament factor is always taken into account in long-term planning. Our Defence and foreign policy is intended to contribute to world stability and therefore, so far as possible, it must and will avoid making a constructive disarmament policy more difficult. Indeed, it is designed, in its present form, to make disarmament easier and more practical, should it become internationally possible.

This means that our Defence policy has been examined to make sure not only that it is consistent with the proposals in our disarmament plans, but also that it takes full account of the possible reactions of other countries. For instance, are there elements in our Defence policy likely to be misunderstood and regarded as provocative? Does everyone, allies and adversaries alike, realise that our role throughout the world is entirely a defensive one? Are we constructing a military posture anywhere in the world that might hinder the introduction of some partial measure of disarmament or of arms control?

This may appear to some to be a radical and unusual approach to military thinking, but I believe that it is entirely a matter of common sense, and we intend to follow the logic of this argument with determination. The studies we are now conducting within the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence are giving us more insight into these problems, and we shall then see that the results are taken into account. I believe that there will be no room for departmental conflict here. Certainly national security is a pressing immediate and concrete problem, while disarmament—or, at any rate, general and complete disarmament as it is generally understood—is a long-term aim. I believe that, in the past, people have tended to turn to disarmament only when international tension heightened through crisis, and to forget about it when relations were better. I believe this to be complacency of a most dangerous kind. In the age of deterrence by nuclear weapons, no one is ever really safe. I think that, in the past, it often required a world crisis before the needs of disarmament were properly taken into account. We mean to ensure that our aims in disarmament go constantly hand in hand with our Defence thinking.

We believe that we in the United Kingdom are especially well fitted to ensure that this link is well and truly forged. We may perhaps (and this may not be a welcome remark to some people) no longer be in the first division of the military league in terms of pure size, but we have knowledge and experience and a standing in the world, which has nothing to do with weapons, and I believe that we have a special opportunity to contribute to the development of policies and organisations that are designed to promote and maintain the peace of the world. For the present we have to cope with a wide range of military commitments. They all involve either the use of military force or the manifest willingness to do so. We cannot expect to preserve peace, in present circumstances, simply by talking about it; we have to do something about it.

I should like, if I may, to refer briefly to the Army. Of the three Services. it is probably on the Army that the burden of these commitments falls most conspicuously at the moment. My noble friend Lord Shackleton said yesterday that I should have something to say about the Army, and I am happy that there should be a clear and obvious link between its functions and my particular responsibilities. But, from the start, I must disclaim any special knowledge or expertise in this field, as was suggested yesterday. Change and development these days are far too rapid for me to make any such claims with impunity, and indeed I should be rash to do so after the characteristically military remarks of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. A large part of the Army's duties overseas to-day are what has come to be known as peace-keeping. This is clearly a phrase that causes hackles to rise in some quarters, but this is in fact what the role of the British Army abroad is to-day. These peace-keeping operations are of particular interest to me as Minister for Disarmament because they have to be looked at in two ways. First of all, they are peace-keeping in pursuit of the Defence and foreign policy in the short-term and, secondly, they can serve as models, of a more or less rudimentary kind, for preserving security in a disarmed or disarming world.

At present, the aspect I mention first is naturally uppermost because armed force, for better or for worse—in my opinion, for worse—still rests almost exclusively in national hands, and peacekeeping operations are consequently very largely carried out throughout the world, not only by us but by everyone else, at national level, though, so far as we are concerned, rarely, if ever, in pursuit of purely national ends. But if our ultimate aim is, as I believe it should be, to establish effective international machinery for the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, we can learn a great deal from the peace-keeping operations that are going on now. But, of course, this theoretical interest in the model that may now be constructed of peace-keeping operations for the future is of small comfort to the Army. As my noble friend Lord Shackleton mentioned yesterday, the Army, to put is very shortly, is under severe pressure in its peace-keeping rôle.

There are a number of reasons why the Army's modern rôle of peacekeeping should make this peculiarly so. The first is the mere range of operations with which the Army is at any one time concerned. My noble friend the Minister of Defence for the R.A.F. has already reviewed the extent of these, from Borneo through the Middle East and the Mediterranean to the territory of British Guiana, and I do not need to repeat the list in detail. However, I would point to some of the difficulties in which the Army is placed in having to plan for manning these rôles at short notice in very distant areas, where there are differing terrains and climates and where widely different techniques of operation may be required, involving different types of equipment, different types of organisation and different sorts of training. I have had some recent experience of this sort of planning and I know how difficult it can be.

The second reason for this problem is perhaps a more important one. It is that, despite the fact that plans exist to cover all predictable and expected operational contingencies, especially those connected with our various Treaty obligations, inevitably many of the operational commitments met by the Army in recent years have in fact been unforeseen. This is one of the risks of the game. For example, the disturbances in Cyprus, the mutinies in East Africa, the internal security problems in British Guiana and operations in Radfan and Borneo all confronted the Army with very little notice or time for preparation and making this global adjustment. It is only reasonable to expect that this will be the pattern of the future.

The brunt of all this has fallen, and I presume will continue to fall, on troops who are, normally speaking, in the home station, since reinforcement from overseas theatres by the central reserve is fundamental to our military strategy. Soldiers, both married and single, enjoy active service, but they naturally do not relish being parted from their families for long periods during peace time, especially at a few days' notice. The modern Army contains a high proportion of married men, and unless they are allowed a reasonable amount of time with their families and a reasonably settled existence, at least when they are in the United Kingdom, then I think it is inevitable that recruiting and re-engagement figures may be expected to drop. The Army has made the most generous arrangements possible to alleviate this, but I will not go into them all in detail.

A further problem created by the current operational pattern is that of mobility. Success in these operations is often a function of the speed at which we can move adequate forces, with appropriate equipment, to the area of operations and, when they are there, maintain and sustain them during the operations.

North-West Europe has been mentioned a good deal in this debate. It raises many problems of its own, and the sector of the Army which least well conforms to the pattern that I have been discussing is, of course, the British Army of the Rhine. It is also the Army's greatest single commitment and represents our main contribution on the ground to the prevention of global war. I do not propose to discuss here the financial problems and arguments that surround it, nor, indeed, the strategic concepts that govern it. They are at present under review within NATO and with the Federal German Government.

I wish, however, to draw attention to the severe restriction which is placed on the peace-keeping role in other parts of the world that the maintaining of the Rhine Army creates—and this point was mentioned quite forcibly by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. In saying this, I have no intention of suggesting that Her Majesty's Government would consider for a moment defaulting on their treaty commitments, or taking any unilateral action to shake the balance of Europe. But I should like to echo the sentiment of my noble friend Lord Shackleton, that the strategic concepts of the defence of Western Europe could do with a very quick and radical re-examination.

If I may return now briefly to my original theme, this burden that we have in the Rhine Army illustrates once again the close link between Defence and disarmament, and the necessity for a coordinated foreign and Defence policy. This is not desirable just as a political aim or as a long-term measure of disarmament. I am sure that no one in your Lordships' House would dissent from the view that some overall political détente in Europe is desirable in the absolute sense, but it can be achieved only by a combination of efforts in all the fields I have mentioned. This is our firm aim.

Perhaps I may now say something, quite briefly, of the immediate prospect for success in the field of arms control and disarmament. Your Lordships will know that there have been, much to my own regret and that of the Government, no international negotiations on disarmament in the past six months. This is due primarily to the failure of the United Nations General Assembly to reach a solution to the problem of finance—the Article 19 dispute. We had hoped that, in spite of this, the 18-Nation Disarmament Conference might have been resumed in Geneva during the spring. We and our Allies represented this strongly to the Soviet Government and others. After some delay, the Russians replied a week ago that in their view the next step should be a general discussion of disarmament problems in the Disarmament Commission of the United Nations; and this is a body of the whole membership of 114.

Your Lordships will be aware that Her Majesty's Government have said that they are prepared to accept this proposal, and, indeed, having done so, we are anxious now to get on with the discussions as quickly as possible and with the least possible delay. But we should not pretend for one moment that a body of over 100 strong is the ideal place to arrive at agreement on the complex, technical problems of arms control and disarmament. It is reasonable that all members of the United Nations should have the opportunity of discussing these matters, and with the General Assembly having been lost, this Commission should be convened instead. We therefore intend to play our full part in the Commission's discussions. We hope, however, that they will lead to a fresh mandate for the 18-Nation Disarmament Conference.

My Lords, I have already occupied a great deal too much of your time, but may I close by entering the mildest possible protest against the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that the Defence policy of the present Government is no different from that of the late Government. I am rather disappointed to find the noble Lord, of all people, resurrecting this rather tired cliché. Of course, there is bound to be, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said, a great deal in common between the foreign and Defence policies of the two major Parties. There are pressures that make this inevitable. Certainly in the early stages of this Government's life, as I have already said, there can be no question of withdrawing from commitments honourably made, or of defaulting on our responsibility to our allies. But I must point out to the noble Lord that there are a number of differences between our Defence policies which have already become quite clear.

The first and most important is that the Defence policy of the late Government had as its central feature the repeated claim of British national nuclear independence. In this context, the Conservative Government were evidently prepared to support the American proposal for a Multilateral Nuclear Force, the M.L.F. So far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, the central feature of our nuclear defence policy is summed up in the proposals for the Atlantic Nuclear Force which we are now discussing with our allies. This, indeed, is set out quite clearly in paragraph 14 of the Defence White Paper, to which the noble and gallant Viscount referred. And I may say, in comment on something the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said, that, so far as the Government are concerned, there is no evidence that the Germans are resisting or are against these proposals.


My Lords, I did not say that. I said that it was quite possible that the Government would not be able to get them through.


I take the noble Lord's point. But I assure him that, so far as we are concerned, there is evidence that the Federal German Government are prepared to consider these proposals most sympathetically and most closely. There are, I may say, many other differences of emphasis and of method in the Defence policies of the two Governments, but I shall not weary the House by going into them in detail.


My Lords, I was not complaining that the Government's policy was like that of the Opposition—far from it! I was congratulating them on it, and I was taking as evidence of this change almost every speech made by a Labour Back-Bencher in another place in the two-day debate, when they complained that this was precisely what had happened.


My Lords, I can only say that, if noble Lords opposite find themselves so enchanted with Her Majesty's Government's Defence policy that they not only claim it for their own, but express whole-hearted agreement with it, we on this side welcome this development. But I hope that we shall hear a little less of the wistful murmuring about a Labour Party with a Conservative Defence policy.


My Lords, if the noble Lord is about to leave this point, may I suggest that there is a rather more important matter here? If he is claiming that there is a wide difference in policy, all I would say is that I understood his noble friend yesterday to say, in opening the debate (and I thought the noble Lord confirmed it when he intervened during my speech), that there was no intention on the part of Her Majesty's present advisers to withdraw from our obligations East of Suez, particularly those as regards our Commonwealth friends in Malaysia and so on. I rather judge from the noble Lord's speech to-day that he is rather carefully putting a position that would enable this withdrawal to be made later as regards following a change of policy.


All I am doing—and the noble Viscount will be the first to appreciate this—is keeping the options open. I am not proposing, nor do I intend at this stage, to anticipate or prejudice the results of the Defence review which is currently under way in Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Shackleton made clear yesterday that the whole question of these commitments, as I remember his speech, is undergoing a complete review, and no-one can yet say what that review will bring forth. The Statement upon the Defence Estimates that we are debating to-day hints, indeed, at the general lines of direction that this review will take, and I am convinced that, when the Defence review is complete, the Labour Government will be able to point to a Defence and overseas policy that will command the support, not only of the whole of your Lordships' House and of the whole of Parliament, but of the whole of the country as well.