§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, I need hardly say that, in principle, the Liberal Party welcome the White Paper which we are discussing this afternoon. Our consistent policy, as is known, has been that we should gradually evacuate our various bases in the Indian Ocean area—what is generally known as "East of Suez"—although we have always hoped that it might be possible, in agreement with the Americans and the Australians, to think out some scheme for a reasonable British contribution to the general defence of Australia and South-East Asia, preferably, as we always suggested, with communications going the other way round; that is to say, "West-about". If this involved some small continuing British presence, by agreement with the locals, in Singapore, we should certainly have no objection to that; and no doubt this may be possible, even though the Government have now taken in principle the decision to clear out of this base altogether in the mid-'seventies.
I do not think what I have said is inconsistent with what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said just now. But what we were never able to see was the purpose of hanging on, not only to Aden, which is now to be evacuated in January, but also, indefinitely, to our other bases in Arabia, and, above all, to the various island staging posts on atolls in the Indian Ocean itself. It now looks, however, as if our general point of view was in process of being accepted by the Government; and, if so, we sincerely congratulate them on their conversion. Barely two years ago they were declaring that such a policy was a recipe for chaos.
It must be evident that, if this policy is really accepted, we shall need only some relatively small air force in the area, 728 presumably based on Australia and also, perhaps, on Singapore. Therefore, we have always rather doubted the need (and perhaps the Government may correct me when they come to reply) for such heavy dollar investment in, for instance, the F.111s with their long range and, we always assumed, their nuclear capabilities. If we do not want such machines in number they should, it seems to us, be related chiefly to our European commitments. To mention another point in connection with the Air Force, I imagine that it was perhaps some basic failure between ourselves and the French to agree on the actual role of the Anglo-French swing-wing aircraft which resulted in the failure of the talks with France. On the face of it, it was entirely financial, but there may on the French side have been some failure to agree on what the actual role should be.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am told—and I have been into this matter very carefully—that there was complete agreement on the specifications and that the French were anxious to go on with it. I ask the noble Lord to accept that assurance and to realise that it was the financial argument.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, in that case I accept it, and my suspicions are unjustified. But, more generally, it has always appeared to us that when we gradually phase out our military role East of Suez in regard to bases, and concentrate chiefly on the defence of Europe and the Atlantic, we ought to be able to reduce our Defence Budget even below the famous figure of £2,000 million at 1964 prices, with a consequent benefit not only in the balance of payments but in the maintenance of a high standard of social services in this country.
As regards the Gulf, which is not specifically mentioned in the White Paper, nobody wants to embarrass the Government at a difficult and dangerous moment, when the oil supplies of this country are clearly threatened. Even if oil were flowing freely from the Middle East, the fact that it has now, and probably will have for some time I fear to go round by the Cape will undoubtedly add a great burden to our over-charged balance of payments. Short of reaching some agreement with Egypt, there seems very little that we can do about this at present; and this, 729 at any rate, is not a problem which arises strictly out of the White Paper. But so far as our presence in Bahrein and at other points on the Persian Guilt is concerned, perhaps we might from these Benches say this. In the very first sentence of the White Paper it is laid down that the aim of our policy outside Europe isto foster developments which will enable the local peoples to live at peace without the presence of external forces, and thus to allow our forces to withdraw from their stations in the Middle East and Far East".I think that was a quotation from an earlier White Paper, and reproduced in this one.
In the Far East, apart from Hong Kong, we are, so it seems, to withdraw definitely in the middle 'seventies. In the Middle East there is no time limit set, but apparently it is still our object to withdraw from that area as soon as there is a prospect of the "local peoples"—as the phrase goes—"living at peace"—as the phrase also goes—when we do go. One thing is certain, as I understand it. We are not, in the opinion of the Foreign Secretary, in the Persian Gulf simply to protect our oil interests. It seems rather to be our sole object to maintain stability in the area and to create a situation in which the various small States concerned can stand on their own feet. This, of course, is a good objective as such. We have no quarrel with it.
These small States, so the argument runs, need our help and we therefore propose to keep small forces there, at any rate for the time being to to fulfil our obligations. If we were to clear out at once—and I think the phrase "at once" is significant—we can only expect that claims of a territorial nature will come to the surface and will thus give rise to disputes which would prejudice the stability of the whole Gulf area. That is the argument, as I understand it.
It is also claimed that we have certain unbreakable commitments in the shape of treaty obligations to one or more of the States concerned. I have myself previously analysed these obligations in your Lordships' House and I need hardly do so again, except to say that in my own opinion, at any rate, they are not in themselves commitments which are very binding, still less of an absolutely mandatory character, if one day we came to 730 the conclusion that conditions were such that as a general interest we could safely withdraw from the Persian Gulf.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, whether he has changed his mind, because in 1965 he wished to withdraw entirely from that area in 1966?
§ LORD GLADWYN
No, my Lords. I did not say that. I said that we should contemplate spending less money in the area. It is quite true that at that moment I put forward a figure which was unrealistic, but that was largely due to the fact that at that time there were no figures available as to what we were actually spending. But the general point I was trying to make was that we should do well to make at once a token reduction of expenditure in the area, so as to give the impression that it was our intention to clear out in accordance with a long-term plan.
The Conservative attitude, as laid down by Sir Alec Douglas-Home in another place, seems to be that for an indefinite period our continuing military presence in the Gulf is desirable for the purpose of slowly building up some kind of balance to the Arab revolutionary forces, headed by President Nasser, and that we ought consciously to favour our friends as against our adversaries. That is his theory. This is criticised by the Government as dividing the whole area into what they call "goodies" and "baddies" and even, as I think has been suggested by the Foreign Secretary, as being simpleminded. So it does not look as if the Government accepted the idea that our remaining forces should be used in any way for the purposes recommended by the Tory Party. That, I think, is a statement of fact.
But if not, and if we are still to maintain these forces, we may legitimately wonder whether it is likely that we shall eventually succeed in our apparent purpose of getting the small States in the Persian Gulf area to stand in their own feet. Many of them, I believe, are far too small to qualify for membership of the United Nations, and therefore the only hope, in the long run, would seem to be to encourage them by one means or another to join together, or to join one of their larger neighbours. In the present heavily charged atmosphere, which has, 731 after all, resulted in some kind of Arab unity, if only for the purpose of denying oil to the presumptive friends of Israel, it is perhaps rather unlikely that we shall make much progress towards our declared end. But by all means let us try, and I have no doubt that the Government are now trying. And it must be becoming increasingly obvious to the small States concerned that it is only in unity that they can ever find salvation. At any rate, let us sincerely hope that they are coming to that conclusion by themselves.
More generally, I very much doubt whether our long-term military presence in the Gulf can be anything but counterproductive. It has not prevented a stoppage of oil from the area, which we may hope is only temporary, and it can be used, I am afraid, by the revolutionaries (I rather think this was a point made earlier in the debate) as an argument to prove that we are in the area merely for imperialistic purposes. Moreover, are we really going to stay there until there is absolute certainty that there will be no struggle for power after our departure? We are leaving Aden, although we know—or we strongly suspect—that such a struggle for power will take place in South Arabia when we go.
It is not at all certain, however, whether a struggle for power in the Gulf area would in itself necessarily stop the flow of oil. The main point is that the Arabs who have not got oil want somehow or other to share in the benefits which oil confers, and all Arabs want to change the present terms of trade in their favour if they possibly can. These are factors which are not affected by our military presence. Still, as I say, we entirely understand the Government's hesitation at the moment about making any definite announcement about the future of the Persian Gulf area, and we would certainly not press them to do so until the situation is a little clearer than it is at the present time.
On the details of the White Paper, we should like simply to ask a very few questions, to which I am sure the Government will reply as satisfactorily as possible. It is not altogether clear from the White Paper what exactly is going to be the role of the new type of guided missile destroyer, T.82. I think the noble 732 Lord made some remarks about it, but I was not quite certain what they were, and we should rather like to know exactly what this T.82, which is to be built at the rather large cost of £20 million, is likely to do in the event of hostilities in the North Atlantic area or elsewhere. Presumably, it is going to be employed in the Atlantic area to protect communications, but we should welcome rather more information about this if we can get it.
As regards surface manpower, the cuts seem to us to be in about the right proportion, and we must hope—certainly, we on these Benches hope—that they herald future phased reductions. We think it possible, however, that the Ministry of Defence have not recognised the importance of the type of recruit needed for the small Army, Navy and Air Force and its relation to re-enlistment. It looks as if we are facing a situation rather similar to that which existed just after the Korean war, although admittedly on a much smaller scale. But the Korean war was fought largely by National Servicemen. Any men who are declared redundant in the future will be long-term professional soldiers, and of course it will be harder to fit them into civilian society. Nevertheless, there seems, on the face of it, to be little point in keeping up large forces in Britain if they are destined to be used elsewhere, and a drop of, shall we say, 30,000 to 40,000 in total armed strength phased over several years would therefore seem to be necessary.
I think the last point is of importance. An army's manpower is not dictated by the level of recruiting. One must presumably take into account levels of re-engagement, and it will be necessary to change the attractions of service from that which is now said in our propaganda, of "daring overseas service and employment", and to put emphasis on technical training and a secure career more likely to attract people.
This would mean even more emphasis, of course, on long-term service. So far, the present nine-year engagement term, which, I think, was introduced in 1957, has kept up well, and I believe that 50 per cent. of these well-trained and experienced men have signed on again. The worst moment in the future will, however, be in 1970 and 1971, when 26,000 and 28,000 men end their terms. This is because 1961 and 1962 were good years for 733 nine-year recruiting, and 1964 and 1965 were good years for six-year engagements. This year, only 14,000 are due to leave, but over 7,000 of these have re-signed. Next year, the total will be up to 21,000. This is particularly important, surely, because there will be a tendency for these experienced men to shun re-engagement if they feel that their paths for promotion are blocked or that they will be in some insecure position in years to come. Initial recruiting should not be affected over-much, but surely the right type of recruit must be attracted.
The officer corps will also, I think, have to be looked into a little more fully. Earlier this year there were reports of up to 400 officers being allowed on paid leave as a result of redundancy. That, I believe, comes from The Times of April 12. The Minister admitted on July 5 that there were 80 officers on leave. What he did not say was that there were middle-rank officers who are still performing what on the face of it seem to be rather needless jobs. Every effort must be made to weed out redundant men and to afford new promotion prospects for junior officers. Can there not therefore be—I throw out this suggestion—two tiers of officer service: in the first place, junior serving officers staying up to the age of 35 to 40 and then re-entering civilian life after adequate retraining; and, secondly, as it were, the cream of the first tier going on to higher promotion with security prospects over the age of 40? At the moment, there is the tendency for men over the age of 45 to be reluctant to leave for fear of being too late to get any worthwhile job. At 35 or 40 it is not too late.
Finally, my Lords, I might point out that no details seem to be given of arrangements for the housing of returning troops. Could not we have a special White Paper on this rather important subject? And might it not perhaps also be coupled with a statement on training grounds? I merely throw out these suggestions in case they may help. I think I have said enough to show that, on the whole, as I said at the beginning, we are definitely in favour of this White Paper which now, as we think, at last seems to have brought the Government out of our World Power past into our European and Atlantic present. If, therefore, a Division is called, it is evident that our 734 intention will be to vote with the Government.
§ 4.55 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—and I know he did not mean it seriously—said that I was one of the Defence Ministers who had flitted briefly (I think that was his phrase) over the scene. I think I served nearly as long as the present Minister has served, who I believe beats me by a short head at the moment. I just want to say something which I have said to your Lordships before, but I feel it very sincerely. I shall never want to work with a more dedicated, more able and more brilliant set of men than the Government's then advisers; and I say quite frankly that I am a little nettled sometimes when I feel that there is an element of criticism of these men in the things we sometimes say in this House and elsewhere. I am very glad that the noble Lord and I are clearly in agreement that there is no element of criticism here. Why I raise this point is because I have now to say some pretty hard things about Government policy myself, and I wanted to start by making it quite plain that in what I say there is no element of criticism of the Government's military advisers.
My Lords, if we are to take a proper look at defence policy we have to go back at least five years, and probably seven years, for that is the cycle—probably the minimum cycle—of defence planning. I have to start, therefore, by looking back some five years, when I had the duty of presenting to Parliament a Defence White Paper which looked forward to the second half of the 1960s. That rested—and it is right that I should say so—on a vast amount of study and re-thinking by the Foreign Office, the Chiefs of Staff and the Ministry of Defence, because it was a look into the future. As it said at the time, it was a five-year look, and then a forward look into the early 1970s. The concept of a new mobile strategy represented a wide consensus of defence thinking at the time, and it followed consultations with the Australian Minister of Defence and those in New Zealand, America and many European countries. So I think it is fair to say that it was at least then based on a consensus of defence view.
735 In a note which I sent to Mr. Macmillan at the time I said:In this new mobile strategy lies, I am certain, the hope for the future of containing defence expenditure within reasonable bounds and yet maintaining our world-wide responsibilities".In the Defence White Paper of 1962 the Government approved—and it was entirely their decision and their responsibility—what was designed to be a viable strategy for the second half of the 1960s; in other words, the period which we are now in. That was a strategy that was also supported, after my time as Minister, by the Defence White Papers of 1963 and 1964; and it was a strategy which had, after all, been tested in actual practice—the practice of real operations through the Kuwait operation—and found to be well suited to its purpose.
The view of the Conservative Government was that defence policy was one of the most important tasks facing any Government, and our aim was, I think, well set out in the 1964 White Paper—the last Paper for which the Conservative Government was responsible—which said on page 6 that our responsibility wasto make our contribution to the defence of the Free World and the prevention of war in accordance with the arrangements we have with individual countries and under collective security treaties".I have to say it, my Lords: it is with a feeling of near tragedy, so far as I am concerned, that one witnesses the destruction of this broad and widely supported concept in the current Statement of Defence Policy. It is true, I believe, as my noble friend Lord Jellicoe said, that there is little or no attempt in this White Paper to justify by reasoned argument the steps proposed; and I think that any White Paper, issued on anybody's authority, which says that forces will be capable of meeting all the demands that may be made upon them is giving a most disastrous hostage to fortune. I think it is a quite unjustifiable statement, and one to which the Government should not have lent their authority, particularly at this time.
Looking back, I may also say that it is somewhat ironic that the one element of Conservative defence policy firmly continued by the present Government, at extremely high cost, is the maintenance 736 of the British nuclear deterrent—the main element of defence policy which the Labour Party in Opposition was firmly and unanimously committed to cancel.
Well, there it is. Yet this is important to our discussions because the framework of the defence policy laid down in the White Papers of 1962, 1963 and 1964 was designed, and purposely designed, to be flexible enough to meet the needs of Britain's world role, in cost and in strategy, in the latter half of the 1960s. It could well have done so provided only that those needs were interpreted as requiring priority for a defence policy that would pay the proper insurance premium for peace. Clearly, past policy has had to be destroyed because this priority is now rejected by the Government. Yet the present policy, they must agree, eventually involves the rejection of many overseas obligations. The White Paper is singularly unclear on all of this; but, taken to its logical conclusion—and we have the right to look at the logical conclusion—it must mean the rejection of many of our overseas obligations as they now stand.
The Government, in their defence, say that this is forced upon them by the necessity to reduce expenditure. But I must say that it was foreseen in 1962 that these obligations would be costly to fulfil, and it is therefore worth stating how, with the best advice, we then planned a defence policy in the latter years of the Conservative Government to maintain our world responsibilities and to carry them through the 1960s and early 1970s at a cost which is, on the basis that I have outlined, an acceptable proportion of the gross national product.
First, to look at Britain's continuing responsibilities East of Suez. It was clear in 1962 that strategy had to become more mobile and more flexible in order to fulfil our commitments; and a great deal of thought was therefore given to giving priority to air mobility, a strategy finally rejected because of the difficulty—then foreseen and now more abundantly apparent—of getting over-flying rights, something about which the present White Paper and the noble Lord have said nothing. Yet air mobility is of little use unless one is sure of over-flying rights at a critical moment. There was also the difficulty of operating aircraft from 737 land bases in the face of political opposition from the local inhabitants. Yet it seems to me that if the Government have now any real plans for operations East of Suez they appear to have returned to the policy of air mobility—a policy carefully examined and rejected, for the reasons I have outlined.
It was after much debate, and after much discussion of the reason for the limitations of air mobility, that, under a system of unified command with unified three-Service commanders in the Far East, the Middle East and in Britain, the task force system was brought into being. The main components of this force were the Fleet carrier, which it was then planned to develop in the role of a floating airfield rather than that of a capital ship—incidentally, at a much reduced cost—the commando carrier, of which we have heard nothing to-day; the assault ship, which really has only recently been added to the Fleet; and the accompanying Fleet Train.
In talking about this concept I am not talking about something which was not tried in actual operation—if not, thank goodness!, in war, at least of near-war. For, as I have said, the success of the Kuwait operation proved the complete viability of this concept. If one wants to turn to a later aspect, that of confrontation, again this concept of mobile and highly trained sea-backed forces showed their viability success in this operation also. So I think it was correctly foreseen that on this maritime basis, political or economic changes in the fortress bases East of Suez could be accepted without weakening our position in favour of smaller commitments on shore which could be more mobile, less politically embarrassing and also less costly.
One has to ask oneself why this strategy has been abandoned. Largely, I think, because it was planned to back it with weapons and resources (incidentally, provided mainly by British industry) which no longer exist. Ill-considered and politically biased cuts in the equipment of British forces has made any task force concept now or in the future almost unworkable. There was the cancellation of the TSR.2 and the endless vacillation over its replacement. I do not want to embarrass the noble Lord in any negotiations 738 with the French. I had hoped they would have succeeded, as I have said before, as a second best; but, none the less, we have the right to say that there is no sign of any kind of replacement. Really, after accusing us for so many years of vacillation over plans for replacement, this seems to be a classic example of the then Opposition outdoing the then Government when they themselves, in turn, became Government. There was the cancellation of the 1154, the most advanced aircraft project in the world, which is not satisfactorily replaced by the 1127; there was the refusal to consider any kind of carrier replacement programme. Certainly in my day none of us thought that to build another generation of capital ships in terms of carriers would be justified. But I find it difficult to see why the Government have rejected what we then called the floating airfield concept.
I must say, in these terms, that if the Government really think that a squadron, or squadrons, of helicopters, with whatever stand-off weapons they may be armed, are a proper substitute for frontline aircraft, are not hopelessly vulnerable and unlikely to frighten anybody, other than those who have to man them, then they ask us to believe a great deal. So the strategy has gone, because to-day the weapons which supported it have gone; or are on their way out.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Lord. It is not meant to be an unfriendly interruption. I hope he will not criticise the helicopter concept too much. Perhaps I mentioned it too briefly. The main reliance on strike is on R.A.F. aircraft; but the helicopter gives the Navy—and I think it is important—a short-range defence and attack capability: so I hope that we shall not start "knocking" that particular weapon. I accept the noble Lord's point.
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, I am trying to stick to the facts. I can understand if the noble Lord cannot be specific at this stage. In Vietnam we have all seen the use of the helicopter brought to a high art. But I maintain my view that the helicopter is not a substitute for the joint R.A.F./Fleet Air Arm aircraft which was described in the White Papers I am talking about and which could have provided modern, up-to-date cover for 739 stand-off operations of a nature that, frankly, I do not think that helicopters, however armed, can possibly do.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt again. Which joint R.A.F./Naval aircraft has the noble Viscount in mind? He knows that his own Government cancelled the 1154 for Naval purposes.
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, I am talking about a concept which is now probably satisfactorily filled by the Phantom (if it had anything to fly off), of immediate close support given by carrier-based aircraft to any kind of stand-off or any kind of assault force. I must say (I do not want to delay the House; but the noble Lord raised this point) that I hope the Government are not believing that it is possible to fly out highly sophisticated, modern aircraft to an unprepared base and expect them to be operational except in terms of weeks, or possibly of months. I am sure the noble Lord knows, and I am sure his advisers have told him, that the modern, sophisticated aircraft needs a most complicated ground rig and a most complicated electronic environment on the ground before it can be made operational. All I am saying is that the concept of mobility required a floating airfield; and if you supplant it with a fixed airfield—and particularly one by grace and favour of the local population—then you are pursuing a policy which, in the event, will not work.
But there it is. I am not trying to say that there are not two views about this subject. All I am saying is that I think the present Government's view is both wrong and disastrous, though of course they have the right to hold it if they think it is right. But I am saying that the cancellations they have made are now bearing heavily on current defence policy and limiting our freedom of action. The Government have destroyed the long-term possibility of a viable East-of-Suez policy at a not unreasonable cost as it was planned by the Government and its military advisers in 1962–64. I think it is only fair for me to say this because the noble Lord himself criticised us for not bringing any constructive alternative into this argument. I am seeking to say that we had thought of a constructive alternative; 740 and had we remained in Government, we intended to carry it out.
I turn now, my Lords, to broader considerations of global defence policy. A great deal of thought (and here I touch on a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn) was given to the correct future balance of British forces East and West of Suez. We were in no doubt that Britain must remain a strong supporter of the NATO Alliance. We recognised, however, and I think rightly, that the stronger the Alliance, the more likely it is to be subverted on its flanks; and clearly, the most dangerous flank was that enormous sector of ocean and land mass stretching from Suez eastward to Australia. In those days we laboured under the not unreasonable belief that defence policy was about war, and so we planned to be strong where we thought that war was most likely. I do not think we were proved wrong in our assumption that in the second half of the 1960s this likelihood was stronger East of Suez rather than West of Suez.
Also, my Lords, I must say another thing—and in this I have great sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, because we all have to do these jobs. I thought the noble Lord skated very nimbly, if I may venture to say so, on a lot of thin ice when he dealt with the view of our allies on what the Government are now proposing. Therefore I think it is quite fair for me to say what were the views of our allies when I was responsible. It is now long enough ago, I think, not to embarrass anybody. We were in no doubt in those days about the views of the American Chiefs of Staff and of our Australian and New Zealand Allies. They felt that the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, Malaysia and Indonesia were Britain's inescapable responsibilities and her most important contribution to the defence of peace. I think, my Lords, that it was their view in those days that if some agonising choice had to be made, it might be better to give a higher priority to Britain's presence East of Suez than to maintaining maximum level strategic forces in Europe.
I wonder whether their view has changed to-day and I wonder how popular the present White Paper is in the Pentagon or in Canberra, because—and we must say this again—the Government 741 have committed themselves to a complete reversal of policy. After all, withdrawal from Singapore and Malaysia has been announced. And this is another matter which makes me feel very sad. I think that the Government have learned nothing from their experience in Aden, of which I know the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has very recent experience. I believe the early announcement of an eventual withdrawal from there at almost any cost has destroyed any hope of an orderly transition. And to announce the withdrawal from Singapore ten years before the Government say that it is going to take place seems again another hostage that the Government may regret as time goes on.
If the savings to be made are thought to be all-important, and are thought to be worth almost anything, I think it is right for us to ask at what price do the present Government assess continuing close relationships with Australia and New Zealand? At what price do they assess keeping our bargains with the United States. At what price do they assess keeping Indonesia free from Communist domination? Surely, in the long term, these things are more important than a quick and temporary political advantage in expenditure here at home. There is also the cost of the damage done to the future of the British aircraft industry which is still one of this country's best exporting industries. There is the unknown question of how much our trade will suffer in the Persian Gulf, in Indonesia and Malaysia, and indeed in Australia and New Zealand, if they see Britain—in their eyes, at least—giving up one obligation after another and opting out of her responsibilities. It is difficult to put a price on breaking faith over long-term obligations and responsibilities and set that against temporary short-term gains.
Nor, I believe, have the Government opted for the right balance of policy between East and West, because it is along the long frontier that runs between the Communist and non-Communist world that the real danger lies to-day; not in the NATO sector where, on the whole, the West is strong and well-defended. It is in this vastly vulnerable sector—Arabia, the North of India, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean—the very area where we have now announced to the world that we are no longer prepared to fulfil long-term defence 742 commitments. As we have said, it is ten years away—so why have the White Paper?
I feel that what we are really witnessing is another chapter in the sad decline of Britain from "Great" to "Little". Those who are pleased with this kind of decision, my Lords—and I know that there are many—are, I believe, those who mistakenly believe that Britain can be prosperous and free as a kind of offshore island of the Continent of Europe. Before the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, "has a go" at me, may I say that I strongly support the entry of Britain into Europe (the noble Lord knows that I always have done), not as a supplicant but rather as a strong ally which will go in seeking to increase Europe's ties with the rest of the world. I do not think this country has ever yet been presented with entry into Europe as implying the ending of our responsibilities East of Suez and our close ties with two of the most senior members of the Commonwealth, Australia and New Zealand. Yet I think it only fair to say at this stage—and I hope that the Government will deny it if they can—that this is where the current Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy 1967 is seeking to lead us. I do not believe that we strengthen NATO by withdrawing from East of Suez responsibilities which only Britain can fulfil.
If one is thought to be very old-fashioned and "square" in talking to-day about fulfilling one's overseas commitments, let me end by considering a more cynical approach to this problem. My Lords, let us ask ourselves what are the chances of supporting 55 million people in these overcrowded islands, with the highest standard of living in the world, on the basis of a "Little Britain", shorn of most of her world responsibilities, petitioning to be a junior partner in the European Club. This attitude does not get our nation anywhere. Half the trouble in Aden has arisen because we said we would go at any cost. I wonder whether the French withdrawal from the variable-geometry project is because they felt that Britain certainly would not "go it alone" and might not, in the end, even "go it" with France.
If we act like a second-class ally, we must not complain if we are treated as being of little significance in Europe of in the world. I think it right to associate 743 that with this discussion on defence, because defence takes such a large share of our Budget. It is because it has such wide implications on British industry, on our export trade and on our whole position in the world, that this new policy must be examined in relation to where we are going as a nation. On this count I believe that the Government's present proposals are leading us to disaster, and I therefore hope that the House will reject Cmnd. 3357 as being unlikely to secure Britain's future in a dangerous and divided world.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ LORD ROWLEY
My Lords, I find it a great pleasure, on personal grounds, to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, because he and I were educated at the same school; although I am sorry to say that I was very much senior to him in years and he therefore has the advantage of being much younger than I am. I am afraid that I cannot follow the noble Viscount in what I thought was a very gloomy and pessimistic analysis of the White Paper. I felt he was accusing the Government of embarking on a policy of unilateral disarmament, and surely that is a gross exaggeration. It is true that we are effecting a number of reductions—75,000 men over the next eight years—and limiting our expenditure to a sum not exceeding £2,000 million a year. But I do not think we can examine these proposals without looking at the background of events.
The noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, referred to Lord Rosebery, and quoted him as saying that this country could not be a "knight errant" careering round the world indefinitely. I think we would agree with that. Many of us thought that the need for a knight errant, whether in the form of a nation or a group of nations, had passed when we founded, first the League of Nations and later the United Nations; but I am bound to say that when I read accounts of the use of toxic gas on women and children in Northern Yemen I feel that there is a need for some kind of international knight errant. I should like to see the United Nations, if it be practical, appoint an international ombudsman, because to-day no voice is being raised at Government level in protest against these atrocities. 744 Although it was before my time, my reading of history brings back to my mind the thunderings of Mr. Gladstone when the Armenian atrocities took place eighty or ninety years ago. I should like someone at the United Nations to embark upon similar thunderings, which would reach all parts of the world, against the terrible atrocities that are taking place in the Yemen.
Then we have the fact that for nearly four weeks two of our nationals, two pilots who served in the R.A.F., have been detained in Algeria. Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I have had something to do with the defence of this country, and it touches me on the raw when I have to accept the detention of two ex-officers, with no explanations given. It reminds me of the saying of Palmerston—"Civis Britannicus sum: I am a British citizen". He would have followed it up by sending a cruiser or a gunboat to the place in question. But, as Mr. Harold Macmillan once said, the world has been swept by the winds of change, and these things are no longer possible. The only bright spot in relation to the two ex-R.A.F. pilots is the fact that the International Red Cross has been able to send succour to both these captives, and I am bound to say that they have had the fullest co-operation from the Algerian Red Cross.
To-day the debate is taking place on a White Paper, the essence of which is that between now and the mid-1970s our military forces will be reduced by 75,000 men, and our annual expenditure on the Services will not exceed £2,000 million. I do not know whether the Motion on the Order Paper is a criticism or a censure, or a bit of both. I do not know whether the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition is going to take his supporters into the Lobby to vote. If he does, that is tantamount to a vote of censure on the Government. The Motion is that this White Paper constitutes a grave weakening of the capacity of our Armed Forces to carry out any demands that may be made or them hereafter.
I must say that the Opposition are most inconsistent. Only a few days ago, on July 9, the Leader of the Conservative Party, Mr. Edward Heath, made a speech widely reported in the newspapers in which he called for cuts in direct taxes and in public expenditure. I would not 745 oppose a cut in income tax, but if we are going to have cuts in taxation and public expenditure, how are we going to relate that to maintaining an expenditure on armaments of £2,100 million? If we cannot have cuts in income tax, maybe the Opposition would be content with cuts in the social services.
§ LORD ROWLEY
I am suspicious of these suggestions about cuts in the Civil Service. I remember the Election at which the Leader of the Conservative Party promised a reduction of £700 million in Government expenditure, but if the record is looked up we find that, far from cutting down public expenditure, perhaps through necessity the Conservative Government had to increase public expenditure during their term. It seems to me most inconsistent to criticise the White Paper on the ground that it is putting in jeopardy the effectiveness of the Armed Forces, and at the same time to demand cuts in taxation and public expenditure.
I think we have to look at the background which is the basis of our defence Services. I am old enough to remember, like other noble Lords, when the British Fleet was the most powerful in the world. That was in 1914. Then we had an Army which, though relatively small in size, was regarded as one of the finest fighting forces in the world. We had an Indian Army, largely officered by British officers, which was regarded as highly efficient. In the Second World War we had 3½ million in the British Army, apart from the Air Force and the Navy; we had 1¼ million in the Indian Army, and 450,000 men recruited in Africa, who made a formidable contribution to the eventual defeat of Hitler. But those reservoirs of manpower have gone. We have given freedom and independence to more than 600 million people since 1945 and those reservoirs have dried up. It is not a bit of good us trying to compete with the super-Powers or to regard ourselves as a super-Power like Russia or the United States, because we do not possess the manpower which would enable us to do so.
To take the economic side, in 1914 we had £4,500 million in overseas investments. In order to finance the war effort 746 we had to hypothecate the whole of those investments. The other day, Senator Mansfield, the leader of the majority Democratic party in the United States Senate, accused this country of shirking its responsibilities. That was not worthy of him, and I hope that on reflection he will withdraw that remark.
There have been two world wars in the lifetime of all of us here and, apart from Commonwealth countries like Canada, New Zealand and so on, this country is the only country in the world which went through these two wars, totalling ten years from the first day to the last, and made such sacrifices that to-day we still have to face up to their effect upon our economic strength. My criticism of noble Lords opposite is that they are not prepared to face up to the facts of life. If they did, they would realise that it would be difficult for any Government, Labour or Conservative, to try to compete with the other great Powers.
I do not disagree with my noble friend—I think I may call him my noble friend, as we went to the same school—who preceded me in his reference to aircraft carriers. I am not happy about the policy of the Government with regard to aircraft carriers. But then I am brought right up against the economic side of it, and the enormous cost. I only wish that we could ignore the cost, because I believe that events in Aden in the next year or two may well show the value of aircraft carriers. But I would say this to the noble Lord. He talked as though we were going to be engaged in wars on our own. That is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government; and it was not the policy of the Government to which he belonged. We believe in a system of collective security, and the White Paper of 1966 said that it was inconceivable that our country could ever enter into a major war except with allies: and we know that the most powerful of those allies would be the United States of America.
Referring to the White Paper, and what my noble friend who spoke first from the Government side said—and I do not think any noble Lord would disagree—our first responsibility to our people is to preserve peace in Europe. Therefore, we maintain our strong support of NATO, and whether we shall be criticised for reducing 747 by this or that number of brigades is entirely another matter. But I would go further than to rely upon NATO. I look forward to the day when we shall have a system of security for the whole of Europe, when there will be no NATO and no Warsaw Pact. But I am not so idealistic as to believe that this is likely to happen in the next year or two, because we have seen what has happened in the Middle East. The Soviet Union have taken a line completely opposite to the one that we and our American and other Western Allies take. We believe in keeping out of it; but the Soviet Union at this moment, as we know, have a powerful squadron of warships anchored in Egyptian waters. None the less, so far as Europe is concerned, while I strongly welcome the reference in the White Paper to the fact that we believe that our first concern is to maintain the peace of Europe, I think that a stable peace in the future will come only when we can secure a system of security extending over the whole of Europe.
The noble Viscount who spoke before me was most critical of our policy East of Suez. I think he was a little unfair when he referred to the result of the policy of the Government, because (I may be wrong, and if so I hope he will correct me) I thought he said that it was almost misleading the people to suggest that we should be able to play a full part in helping our friends in the Far East if the occasion ever arose.
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but what I said (perhaps I did not make it clear, and I am glad of the opportunity to do so) was that our present position, which now appears to be to rely on air mobility until final withdrawal—which, after all, has been announced—was one which I certainly did not share, and one that the Government of the day when I was responsible did not share either. But that is what you might call the interim position until we finally withdraw. When we withdraw, we have gone.
§ LORD ROWLEY
Surely the noble Viscount is not doing justice to what the White Paper says. If I may quote from the White Paper, it says on page 5:Meanwhile, our plans must be firm enough to ensure that we have the forces we need to 748 match our remaining commitments in the Far East and elsewhere, and flexible enough to enable us to respond to changes in local circumstances. However we may think that events will turn out, we cannot assume that, once we have left Singapore and Malaysia, we shall never again have to use our forces in the Far East, since we shall have dependencies and other obligations there for the foreseeable future. We are therefore planning to maintain a military capability for use, if required, in the area, even when we no longer have forces permanently based there.Later the White Paper says:We are continuing to examine the possibility of using facilities in Australia and of making a new staging airfield in the British Indian Ocean Territory.I agree that if you pin your faith on aircraft carriers there is perhaps no need to consider having an airfield in the Indian Ocean. But accepting the decision of the Government that we are to dispense with aircraft carriers by the mid-'seventies, I should have thought that there was sound sense in this reference to the position East of Suez from the mid-'seventies. We all know that aircraft to-day have longer ranges than they had twenty years ago, and we know of the possibilities of refuelling in the air. Therefore, I believe that these are not merely meaningless words, and that, as the noble Lord who spoke first for the Government made quite clear, in no circumstances would this country fail to go to the assistance of Australia, New Zealand or any other Commonwealth country, so long as the Commonwealth exists, in the event of their being the victims of aggression.
Finally, may I say that I am glad that the Government are not working on a blueprint. They admit that the situation may change. We may have a world authority with power to enforce the peace; on the other hand, we may not have a world authority with such power. We may have a deterioration in the Far East. We may have Australia, New Zealand or Malaysia threatened by forces from outside. As I understand it, the Government are retaining freedom of action so that they can build up forces to go to the assistance of those countries in such circumstances. Therefore, I, for one, in the general position in which our country finds itself, both from the point of view of manpower and of economic stability, warmly welcome the White Paper.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, because he is so interesting to listen to. But I hope he will forgive me if I profoundly disagree with him. This latest White Paper is very short: it contains very little reasoning but, in my view, some irrevocable decisions. I will therefore give your Lordships my reasons for supporting the Motion moved by the noble Earl, under three heads: first of all, foreign policy and defence policy; secondly, the consequential events of those policies; and, lastly, the method of cutting and reduction. In parenthesis, may I say that I shall not to-day touch on the question of British prestige, which I mentioned in my last speech on defence, and whether or not we should debate our position in the world before we come to defence. I will leave that alone to-day; and I will leave alone, also, the question of Hong Kong, which will no doubt be dealt with by later speakers.
To come to the foreign and defence policies, it was, I think, a great relief to most of us to read in the Defence Review last year that defence must be the servant of foreign policy, and not the other way round. That White Paper went on to say:Above all, the Government can and must decide in broad terms what sort of role Britain should play in the world in ten years' time, and what part its military forces should play in supporting that role.That was all very good. But when we come to the present White Paper we find that things are rather different. It is not long ago—two years ago, in February, 1965—that our defence roles were put down as two: first, to guarantee the nation's security; and, secondly, to contribute towards peace and stability in the world as a whole. That was very good, and we supported that Paper. In this latest White Paper, however, there is very little mention of foreign policy, and the two defence conclusions are exactly the opposite of what I have just quoted. The first is that our contribution to the defence of Europewill become even more important".Secondly, after referring to the statement in the Defence Review about local peoples in overseas territories living at peace without the presence of external forces—with which we all agree—the White Paper continues: 750'and thus to allow our forces to withdraw from their stations in the Middle East and Far East".The first of those two defence conclusions, which are in the present White Paper, is, to say the least, very questionable; because there are other European countries which cannot contribute to stability outside Europe, which I will come to a little later. As to the second, it is quite all right to say, as the Paper does say, that our aim is for local people to live at peace without external forces. But it is, in my opinion, absolutely fatal to begin to set dates. The moment you do that you get into trouble. It did not need a crystal ball for most of us to see the conclusions of our fatal declaration of February 22 last year, about withdrawing, and setting a date for withdrawal, from Aden. The very next day, as has been said many times in your Lordships' House, Nasser withdrew his promise to remove 50,000 men. Furthermore, on top of that, he was given, in my opinion, a free run to begin organising the Arabs for pressure against Israel. It was an absolutely free run, because he knew that there would be nobody present, no dominant Power in the area, which there has always been in the Middle East. He knew that local conflicts could be fought with comparative impunity, because the two super-nuclear Powers could not afford the risk of joining in. In my view, the situation will continue in the same way, for exactly the same reason, for some time to come.
In Asia, although the confrontation has ended—and the latest Defence Paper makes great play of that—the Vietnam War has not. It is a much bigger war. Who can say confidently that British support will not be again required in that area within the next ten years? The result of this priority, of these two defence conclusions in the present Paper, is a black and white solution; that is, Europe is given complete priority, and the British withdraw almost all their forces East of Suez. That is the result of giving complete priority to Europe. It is very seldom, in my opinion, that exclusive judgments of that kind are in fact right. Certainly they have not been right for the last hundred years.
I now come to the consequences of this confusion of policy. Before I deal with 751 events, I should like to remind your Lordships, if I may, about the United Nations. Great play was made about the United Nations in all our White Papers. It is not so long ago, in February, 1965, that we read this statement:The Government accepted the United Nations' inability to exercise responsibility for maintaining world peace",and the document then went on with various plans. In the latest Defence Review we read this comment:Recent history underlines the importance to Britain of strengthening the United Nations as the instrument of keeping the peace".Those two remarks are exactly contradictory. The truth, of course, is quite different. The truth is that the United Nations cannot keep world peace. It can only, I suggest, arrange and supervise a cease-fire. It cannot keep the peace, and it cannot settle peace terms; it cannot prevent war. All it can do is to arrange a cease-fire. That is better than nothing, but it is not maintaining peace.
Again, mention of allies has been made by previous speakers and in the White Paper. Relying on allies is nothing new for us British, as we know. In fact, we have seldom done otherwise. I think we have fought only one war in the last hundred years or so without allies—the war in South Africa. So last year's Defence Review was quite right when it said that we should conduct no major operations overseas without allies. That was absolutely right. But to go on then to say that we will honour our obligations, honour our treaties, with various countries, like Malaysia and the Persian Gulf (I should call it the Arabian Gulf), and Libya, and then to withdraw most of the forces which are in fact going to defend those countries, is highly inconsistent. In fact, only one thing is certain: that we cannot forecast events, and certainly not for ten years ahead. It is quite impossible.
The Defence Review was wrong within a year when it said that the greatest danger to peace was in the Far East. We all got very frightened about six weeks ago about what was happening in the Middle East. The defeat of Indonesian confrontation and the coming independence of South Arabia are the two main planks for economy in this Paper. But to my mind they are not 752 proof of future peace. They have been seized on by this Government as planks for economy, for saving and for cuts. And again they may be proved wrong within a year.
Now a word on the question of timing. I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, speak about newly independent countries in Asia standing on their own feet. Of course, we realise that they must stand on their own feet. By "standing on their own feet", I think we mean that they should be capable of defending themselves. That is quite a long way ahead, as we know very well. What would the Asia power situation be like, for example, if the United States were not there, with a great big fleet and a great big army? Britain, in the last ten or fifteen years, has twice rectified the situation in the Far East, as has already been mentioned: in the Indonesian confrontation, and in the Malayan emergency. Everything is quiet now, except perhaps for riots in Hong Kong.
In the Middle East, I suggest, we have actually contributed to instability. Here is the latest Defence Paper saying that we ought to contribute to stability, when in fact we have been doing exactly the opposite; and the reasons given are financial—in order to save money. Incidentally, we ought to remember, I suggest, that the South Arabian Federation Army has already mutinied, and in my opinion will be quite incapable, if attacked, of defending the frontier, even with the air support we shall provide.
That brings me to the last part of this Paper, which is the method of cutting. I agree heartily with the Defence Estimates Paper of 1965, which said:We must maintain a capacity for providing military assistance in many parts of the world".My point is that we have now decided to do exactly the opposite—because I do not believe in this idea about sending out troops from Salisbury Plain. Are we going to be capable of providing military assistance in many parts of the world? The Chiefs of Staff and the Minister of Defence have very difficult problems in front of them, not least the fact that weapons have to be planned and estimated for ten years ahead; and that is, I believe, the underlying reason for trying to forecast the world situation ten 753 years ahead—something which it is not easy to do. Allowing for all their difficulties, and especially that one—it is not for us in this House, perhaps, to try to do their professional job for them—I think they could well have three points in mind arising from experience of the last few years overseas.
To my mind, there are three big points. First, as was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, the top requirement is infantry. We need a balanced Army, with a few tanks and artillery and engineers, all supporting the infantry—the man in the jungle or the man in the street. And it is more or less the same with the Navy and the Royal Air Force. They are in fact supporting the company commander on the job. I am not saying that this is the case every time; in lighting a sophisticated enemy the situation is a little different, but we do not do that very often; and, in any case, we are now going to do it with allies. Usually we tight an unsophisticated enemy to rectify a local situation; and in such a situation infantry are the top requirement.
My next thought is that our bases—Aden and Singapore, which have been the subject of much discussion—have grown much too big. The setting up by the noble Viscount of Supreme Commanders with task forces was absolutely right in principle, but in practice it has proved extremely expensive. I know this because I had the honour to command one. I counted up one day, and there were 2,000 men—and that is quite a lot of chaps—hammering typewriters. I am not saying that you should transfer them to the infantry—you cannot do that—but in fact it is an expensive operation. I maintain that we could have much smaller bases overseas if we concentrated on infantry and did not have enormous reserves of artillery, ammunition, tanks, air support, and all the rest of it.
Lastly, and much the most important, is the visible presence of small forces. The White Paper says that this is an effective deterrent, and then it goes on to say that for reasons of economy our British strategic reserve will be put back in this country, and we have heard how much more quickly they can get to the scene of action than they could previously. That is perfectly true. But quite apart from whether they are acclimatised or not, which is a technical question, 754 and the matter of casualties which one can bear, the fact remains that a company of infantry on the spot at the beginning of the trouble is worth a brigade a week later, and a lot more a month later. The idea of having the strategic reserve back at home in this country is extremely dangerous, in my opinion, because the sending of it abroad becomes subject to debate in Whitehall, if not in Westminster, and if you are not careful you find yourself debating it in the United Nations. This happened many times in the Aden period when it was a question of bombing this or that fort. The result is that nothing ever happens, and in my opinion it is far better to have small bases overseas.
The exact opposite to this is the painful argument that we went through about, for example, the TSR.2—until the Royal Air Force priced themselves out of the market—and, later on, the aircraft carriers at £70 million a time, which suffered the same fate. If you put your faith in light arms and equipment and make cuts in the heavy arms, then the whole of the Defence White Paper takes on a different light.
Lastly, may I come to the point that nowadays defence is global and not continental. In my view it is quite wrong to look at the defence of Europe as a separate section of the world. The defence of Europe, as we have heard from many speakers, depends on stability outside Europe, and stability outside Europe depends on two Powers which are capable of deploying forces in those areas at the present time. One is the United States of America and the other is ourselves—Britain. Indeed I ought to have said "three Powers" because the Anzacs are there as well, and if the Australians and New Zealanders could begin to take our place in the Far East in a big way, as they have done in a small way over the past 10 to 15 years, it would be a great help. Europe happens to be our traditional role, where we have great experience and many friends still, whom we ought to protect.
One thing is quite certain about this last supplementary Defence White Paper. I think it says on page 9 that this is the last of the cuts. That is a most encouraging remark. But, one thing is quite certain; namely, that the over-stretch 755 of the forces will be worse than it has ever been because the commitments are most unlikely to listen to our debates here, or to the plans of the people in Whitehall. Those commitments will go on, whether we like it or not, and our forces will be smaller and less able to deal with them. I therefore deplore these dated cuts. Career prospects are mentioned in the White Paper. The Government may be right in saying that the Forces will still offer a good career, but I cannot help wondering whether that is in fact right. In my view it is extremely dangerous to reduce the Forces as planned. If we go on like this, we may have very little left to defend.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe in a speech which, if I may say so, was so comprehensive and so complete that there is little left for me to say. I never thought, all those many years ago when I had the honour to serve under the noble Earl's father, then in command of the Grand Fleet, that it would fall to my lot—in fact, my duty—to support his son in resisting Government plans which can only result in a mini-Fleet with a mini-Army and a mini-Air Force. These are plans which, in my view, if they are persisted in can end only by reducing this great country of ours to the level of a mini-State, despised and distrusted by our friends and our allies and our partners in the Commonwealth, and an object of contempt by our foes, who are all too numerous in these dangerous times—and we can be sure that they have already noted the contents of this disastrous White Paper.
Whatever views one may hold about the prevailing fashion of the mini-skirt, I am confident that no one in his senses can regard it as a suitable fashion for Britannia. Her figure is hardly suitable—like, I might say, that of so many ladies who follow the fashion to-day. However that may be, we are going to have a mini-Navy, a mini-Army and a mini-Air Force. Perhaps we are going to have a mini-Britannia. But the one thing we are sure to keep is a maxi-Civil Service. This Government have not the political courage to face their responsibilities in 756 this matter of defence, to tell the people what is really needed, to explain clearly and unequivocally the inherent dangers in all parts of the world to-day. But the Government must realise that they cannot fool all the people all the time. The day of reckoning will come, and I have sufficient faith in our people to believe that it will come sooner rather than later. I pray that my faith is justified, because if not, we shall be faced with dire catastrophe. A member of the Government Party, speaking in public, has described the Government's policy, or lack of policy, asthe most dangerous and irresponsible piece of Government folly perpetrated since Ramsay MacDonald's days".I do not know about Ramsay Macdonald's days, but I agree with what the honourable gentleman said. But the date, I think, should be June, 1666, 300 years ago, when the Dutch were in the Medway.
I find nothing in the White Paper or its predecessors produced by this Government to give one any confidence that, either individually or collectively, the Government have any real understanding of, or, what is more important, the will to understand, the dangerous state of the world to-day and for many years to come and what is really needed for our defence. Noble Lords have already spoken in support of Lord Jellicoe's Motion, particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and others are to follow, and they have dealt and will deal so adequately with the White Paper that it is unnecessary for me to detain your Lordships very long with the few remaining remarks I wish to make.
First, I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for giving us a little more information about in particular naval plans. He said, with truth, that he thought I should be very interested, and indeed I am, and I am grateful to him. In days gone by when our positions were reversed I used to try to support the noble Lord's pleas for a little more for Coastal Command. It was not unsuccessful. At any rate, the Commander-in-Chief, Coastal Command, thought so and invited me to dinner. Nevertheless, there are one or two points on naval matters to which I must refer.
757 The first one is on page 7, where we are told:From the middle 1970s, the main striking power of the Navy, apart from the Polaris submarines, will be provided by the growing force of Fleet submarines.I think this statement requires further explanation, because I can find little or nothing in the White Paper to substantiate it. These magnificent submersibles, sometimes referred to as hunter-killers, are armed and equipped to play a leading, in fact dominant, part in the antisubmarine role, and they will certainly give much needed support and protection to our worldwide shipping. They will certainly find plenty of targets, especially if our potential enemies field all the submarines they are reported to have. I think that these Fleet submarines are admirably suited for this important though specialist role, with their highly developed sonar gear—I wish we could go back to the English word "Asdic" instead of "Sonar"—and acoustic torpedoes.
The Polaris submarines have been developed for a totally different purpose. These four vessels—there ought to be five—are designed and equipped to act as a deterrent. If they have to fire even one of their weapons they have surely failed in their objective. Therefore I think that to apply the term "the Navy's main striking force" to the Fleet submarines and the Polaris submarines is really to delude oneself and delude the country.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I think he must have misread the White Paper. It says:The main striking force of the Navy, apart from the Polaris submarines …".
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I know perfectly well that is what the White Paper says, but when it says, "apart from the Polaris submarines" surely that includes the Polaris submarines in the strike force. My understanding of English may be different from the noble Lord's, but that is how I read it. My view about its being wrong to include these submarines in the Navy's main striking force is unaltered by the fact that I read in the newspapers over the weekend (not under Mr. Chapman Pincher's signature this time, but that of somebody 758 else) of a new weapon that has been or is being developed, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, made some reference to this. From my reading, this is a guided missile which the Fleet submarines will be able to fire through their torpedo tubes and which will be guided on to its target by a helicopter. It was suggested in the newspaper account which I read that this new development will make the Fleet submarines the "battle cruisers of the 1970s". I do not think this is a conception I feel prepared to agree to. I, in my time, have been aboard submarines with 12-inch guns, and another one carrying a seaplane, and my own submarine, the last one I served in, had two 4-inch guns. I am therefore all in favour of giving the Fleet submarines as many suitable offensive weapons as they can carry or are likely to use, but I do not think this particular development, if the newspaper account is true, sounds very promising.
In paragraph 3 of Chapter IV we come to almost the only unequivocal statement in this otherwise deplorable White Paper. Here is stated:Air power will be as indispensable to the Fleet of tomorrow as it is today.With this we can all wholeheartedly agree. But what I find absolutely impossible to accept is the immediately following sentence, which says:After the last carriers go, the Royal Navy, like the Army, will rely on Royal Air Force land-based aircraft to support it.That statement might be believed in Cloud-cuckoo-land, despite the fact that all experience in many parts of the world, in many different types of operation, shows that this simply does not work and cannot work. All rational thinking and study, both in this country and in the United States of America, shows that it is not a feasible proposition. As I am on this subject, I should like to ask what has happened to the Templar Johns Committee, which was going to give us a Report on the proper use or best use of air power.
At any rate, having made this bland statement, the White Paper entirely ignores all the practical implications of this mistaken policy, some of which have already been mentioned by noble Lords who have already spoken—I will not go into detail: lack of aerodromes, lack of 759 maintenance facilities, difficulties of over-flying rights et cetera. Last but not least, it is by no means clear from the White Paper what aircraft are going to be used to supply this close support role to the Army and the Navy. I realised a long time ago that this Government had no understanding of the realities of maritime air power. How could they?
I received an account of the Secretary of State's visit to an aircraft carrier in the Far East. This ship had just returned to Singapore after 70 days continuously at sea in the Mozambique channel, in aid of that deplorable operation the Beira blockade. During the time the ship was on station, in fact from the moment of her arrival until her departure, her aircraft were airborne day and night, ranging miles around, reconnoitring the ocean to see whether there were any oilers or other shipping about. However, the Secretary of State visited the wardroom of this ship when she returned to Singapore—he happened to be on a visit there—and endeavoured to explain to the assembled officers the reasons that lay behind the then recently announced decision to fade out the aircraft carriers. In support of his arguments he pointed out that the R.A.F. Lightnings had arrived in Zambia and were operating from N'dola air field before the "Eagle" and her aircraft were on station. This of course was simply not true, and within the limits of courtesy and hospitality the assembled officers let him know that. If the Secretary of State for Defence is so ignorant about current operations, how can the country expect a rational defence policy from the Government?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, is he aware that we have never had Lightnings in Zambia?
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, that does not alter my argument that there were four or five R.A.F. aircraft in N'dola. What type they were does not alter the argument. At any rate, a young friend of mine, a schoolboy, who visited the airfield about that time told me that they succeeded in burning up the tarmac pretty well with their jet engines.
I do not propose to comment in detail on the proposals for new construction in 760 the White Paper which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, explained to us, of cruisers, frigates and destroyers. There is really insufficient information in the White Paper about them, and until we know more, either by courtesy of Her Majesty's Government or of Mr. Chapman Pincher, we must refrain from detailed comment. But I should like to say two things about this new construction. One is that I think that particularly the small ships should be of rugged, simple construction, and not over sophisticated in equipment. I think this is most important, because they need ample endurance and must be easily maintained. The larger ships, or some of them, should have nuclear power.
Here I must ask Her Majesty's Government whether the £30 million cut in research and development means that development work on nuclear power for surface ships will cease or be curtailed. To my mind, this development, which I mentioned last time I spoke on defence, is literally of major importance. While I welcome the statement that all or most of these new ships will be provided with helicopters, nevertheless, even if everything that floats carries a helicopter, it will still not give the Navy the air support that it really needs.
My noble friends, far more qualified than I, will deal with Army matters, and I will confine myself to reminding your Lordships that in the end it is the Army which has to go in for what one might briefly describe as "the final kill". While we have men like Colonel Mitchell and his gallant Jocks of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, we can rely on them to do the job; but they must have proper training, equipment and acclimatisation if they are to be given a fair chance in what must always be exceedingly difficult conditions.
The White Paper concludes, in Chapter VI, paragraph 3, by stating that the three Servicesthough reduced in size, will be capable of meeting all the demands that may be made on them".I think that this is a wild statement, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, that our forces will be stretched as they never have been stretched for years and years past. I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever, to quote the Government's 761 White Paper, that we can rely on our men to show the enterprise, courage and endurance which their duties call for. They have always shown these qualities. But we have no right to ask them for these great efforts unless we supply them with the proper ships and proper aircraft, weapons and training. It is in these matters that I think Her Majesty's Government have signally failed to convince me, or anyone I know, that they are doing this. For these reasons, when the time comes I shall support my noble friend's Motion in the Division Lobby.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
My Lords, the last time I spoke in a Defence debate your Lordships were kind to me. I cannot expect that tonight; nor shall I be as polite as I was last time. I find it increasingly difficult to get to your Lordships' House, working full-time. When I do come, your Lordships are either making homosexuality less punishable in this world, making abortion cheaper; in the next month making divorce easier, and in the month after that, I suppose, authorising hashish to be issued to primary schools.
As so recent a soldier, I can only tell your Lordships that I am beginning to feel as they do, fed up with the system of Parliament. This worries me, because it is wrong that people should think this way. This ought to be one of the most important debates of the year, second only to unemployment and the economic situation, which I realise must be of first priority. But is it really important? Whatever we say here, what effect does it have on a decree to be issued or, perhaps I should say, on a Government decision? Will it have any effect? I fear not, in neither House of Parliament. And I am afraid that I am beginning to feel the resentment which I know many people outside both Houses feel. I hasten to say straight away that I was a cavalryman. I therefore never accepted an order other than as a basis for a discussion, and I hope that your Lordships will not accept this Defence White Paper other than on the same basis.
Let me hasten to add that I understand that in a period of crisis such as we are in—and it is a crisis that we ought to be talking about; the world crisis, the British economic crisis—the forces must 762 play their part; they must be squeezed and they must take a cut. I think it was right to make the cuts up to 1971, and to announce them quite clearly in a reasonable way. But I should have liked to see a little more courtesy shown to the regiments which have been cut, and I hope that my noble friend, in the true sense of the word, Lord Chalfont, will put that right when he speaks. So many famous regiments have just gone without a word of praise. The same thing happened when it was announced that the Royal Malta Artillery were to go. Not a word of thanks was given to them in the White Paper. Let us hope that it is put right in a speech.
At the same time, I back fully Mr. Sambule, the High Commissioner for Zambia, and I am surprised that he was criticised by the Government. We are now a toothless bulldog by deliberate intent; and although these cuts are right, let us not hide the effect that they have had. We had Questions before this debate on why had not protests been made here, and why had not protests been made there? Do we worry about deaths on the Berlin Wall, or gas in the Yemen? I am afraid that the majority of us do not worry. If we did, the protests would be of no use. It is no good having forces unless the will in the country exists to use them. This is one good reason why the forces have been cut because, I believe, the will is no longer there to use them.
So many people think that because we have a higher standard of living in the world therefore people will behave better and that fighting will not take place. I fear that until we can change man, fighting will go on, and the best we can hope for is that nuclear war will not take place. But that fighting will go on, I am sure. When our standard of living and education went up, when everybody's height in this country had gone up two inches from the increase in social services and good government many people thought that crime would go down. It has gone up. This, I fear, is the same in the use of force, and it is no good hiding the fact. I am not just an old general saying that we should go to war tomorrow. We must face the fact that force is a projection of foreign policy, and only in its use, and the determination and the will to use it, can it be of 763 any use at all. We may as well get rid of the whole lot until that will and determination is there.
I fear also that the timing on Aden was bad and that some deaths will have occurred because of the timing—it is no good trying to hide that fact. I can assure your Lordships that I am deliberately standing plumb in the middle; I do not want to make any Party points. I am speaking only as an individual and saying what I honestly believe to be true. There is going to be slaughter when we leave there, and the idea that ships and aircraft by themselves will stop an invasion of that territory after we have gone does not, I fear, bear the slightest examination. There is going to be no invasion by sea or by air from other countries who want to go into Aden. Any invasion there will be by night by individuals coming over the border from the Yemen. They cannot be stopped by ships or aircraft, and we ought to accept that fact now.
The idea also that having pulled out of Aden (I think probably rightly, as our soldiers are getting fed up) we should then put the mark of death on the Sheikh of Bahrein and sheiks of other places in the Persian Gulf where we are going to keep soldiers, seems to me very unfair to them. They have the mark of death once we have pulled out of Aden. I think it would be worth while reconsidering whether we should not perhaps keep a mobile amphibious force in that island next to Gozo. What I am worrying about are the long-term effects beyond 1971—this signal warning to every enemy and to every friend of ours around the world that this is going to happen or may happen. The fact that it has been said so clearly, even down to the possible number of people who are to leave the forces at the second phase, is what really worries me.
Then may I mention Singapore? We have had a lot of loose talk about bases, but Singapore is the last true base left. It should be kept, if we are to keep an interest there. I do not know what "an interest" taken in a friendly country means unless it means being prepared to support them in fighting. I am interested in pretty girls, but being happily married I do not do anything about, and certainly my interest does not help those girls. And I cannot see that being "interested" 764 in Australia, Malaya or Singapore helps them. The idea that land-based aircraft can come in with a force and that the Prime Minister of the country who has asked us in is standing on the airfield with the British High Commissioner next door, is too childish to contemplate.
We should be asked to come in, but our forces will be here. Even one brigade would stop these things, if we left it in Singapore. There would be a Cabinet meeting to decide whether the trouble was going to escalate into a world situation. During the Cabinet meeting the Prime Minister of that country would probably be murdered by a Communist uprising in the place itself, and then we should fly in to find all the airfields sealed off, with lorries driven across them. We must keep some amphibious capability to support operations of that kind. But although we may be asked for that aid, the particular group in that country which asked for it may no longer be in power when it is sent. I would go further and say this. According to this Paper, it has taken three years of gestation to produce, not a toothless lion, for teeth can be replaced (and by the grace of the Duke of Norfolk we have at least a false set of reserve forces to replace those teeth); but a eunuch, and there is not much you can do about putting that straight afterwards. That is what worries me.
I have taken up a good deal of your Lordships' time. I have said bluntly what I honestly think. Let us debate this subject seriously. I beg the Government to take note of what has been said. I have no hesitation in criticising the Chiefs of Staff, having so recently been under their command and having liked them very much. They are desperately overworked, desperately tired. The whole of the staff of the Ministry of Defence are desperately overtired. This gestation has not been easy. Lastly, I must say a word about the officers and soldiers who are now serving. One of the reasons given in the White Paper for keeping everybody in suspense for another ten years is the stability of those serving. What stability is left? Who can be certain of the position in ten years' time? The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, rather questioned a remark that this would not be the last of the cuts. It is not. There is another lot to come, and there is a 765 question-mark after that. That is what worries me. As an Independent, I must, and I will, support the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe.
§ 6.25 p.m.
My Lords, a number of noble Lords to-day have pointed out that it is difficult to visualise a worse time for military reductions or announcements such as these. British representatives, as well as her citizens, are being kicked around; in some quarters we are reviled and falsely accused; diplomacy seems ineffective, and the United Nations on which the Government endlessly tell us they pin their entire confidence, trust and hopes, continues to become a sounding board for lies, slander, ignorance and prejudice. Because of this we believe that further decline in British influence and in her share of responsibility for keeping the peace of the world will, in the end, cost us much more than the Government are planning to save to-day, though we do not dispute that some savings are possible.
On May 11, as has been mentioned, U Thant said that the Third World War had begun. However, the war is now a war for men's minds. Britain, which during the last world war was listened to by lovers of freedom all over the world, whether under the heel of the oppressor or struggling against him, is now totally incapable of putting the truth across in the face of the ranting lies of our opponents. If we were still capable of even getting a fair hearing we might be able to reduce our forces and remove our physical presence without the risk of serious results. But this, for some reason, certainly not a technical one, we do not seem any longer able to do.
The Government have assured us that we will never fight again without allies. Why are they so confident that we shall have any allies, if our vital interests are threatened, not necessarily in a major war? Have the Government shown the United States how warmly we support her in keeping the peace in the Far East? Have they indicated to Australia and New Zealand how concerned we are about threats to their security and livelihood? Have they convinced the countries of the Middle and Far East that we are determined and capable of honouring our promises? Have they improved 766 the confidence on the Continent of our acceptance of our obligations to NATO by withdrawing one-fifth of our contribution?
The Government seem so confident that there will never be another war that last year they abolished the Reserve Army. From now on we can obtain only a small number of individual reinforcements from Regular reservists and volunteers—unlike the French, who put 200,000 trained soldiers into the reserves every year and, incidentally, describe all money spent on defence in France as being "returned to the economy". There is a good deal of truth in that. Much of the money does come back into the economy, though I admit that the money which is spent abroad does not. The White Paper admits thatthe security of Britain depends above all on the prevention of war in Europe,and elsewhere the visible presence of even small forces may be a good deterrent. Elsewhere it is the British Armed Forces, and in the forefront the Army; and, as my noble friend Lord Bourne has said, the famous infantry regiments which have by their example—by their quick and effective measures, their fair dealings and the remarkable way in which they adapt themselves to prevailing conditions—brought and maintained peace and security in so many areas of the world.
It is on some of the effects on the Army of this White Paper that I wish to dwell to-day, in the knowledge that alone among our allies we have no reserve units; that our allies are suspicious of our good faith; that many nations wish us ill; and that the United Nations do not in the least look like fulfilling the hopes which the Free World has of them. Let us at least consider the paragraph in the Observer leader two days ago, which mentioned an increasingly present reality, which is that the main threat to world peace, and so to our security, now lies outside Europe and not inside it. Our commitments will change and it is impossible to judge what forces will be required from time to time. Nor, if these and further cuts are made, will there ever be time to increase their size, if needed, and to give them the necessary training for the immediate job. In the present state of the world, surely our Army must 767 have the military capability which a nation of our size and character should possess, including the ability to expand quickly if needed. We must play our part in the world. If we want to be a member of a club pledged to give mutual support, we must pay our subscription and not try to get away with the reduced subscription of a country member.
Let us look at some of the detailed proposals. An Army of 44 infantry battalions, not counting the Guards and the three parachute battalions, as is proposed—and the Government do not tell us how they arrive at that figure—gives us about one battalion per million people in this country. With such a small reserve, is this really enough for a nation with our responsibilities? As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said, it is the infantry who in the end are required in a major conflict, and are often, in peace time, the only arm required. I am sure we need cadres that can meet expansion, and I believe that the units due to be disbanded or amalgamated, now or in the future, should be retained in cadre form. So far as the Army is concerned, this White Paper does not make military sense. If it had been produced as the answer to an examination paper for the Staff College, the candidate would fail.
I should not be against the return of the Brigade from Europe, if I did not know very well that it takes five months to convert to the requirements of a fully mechanised formation facing the nuclear threat in B.A.O.R. That is the time the battalion going to B.A.O.R., after several years in England or abroad, takes to be thoroughly trained, technically and tactically, to operate with armoured personnel carriers and tanks. Our NATO allies know this, so they will not be very impressed with the statement that the Brigade to be withdrawn from NATO will be earmarked for the Rhine Army—unless, of course, it is trained on the Continent regularly; and I do not think that is envisaged. But, of course, if that Brigade could be rotated, with the same people—the long-service personnel—going back year after year, there would at least be a hard core of officers, N.C.O.s and drivers, and I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that that idea might be considered.
768 Do not let us have any illusions that we can do formation training with the modern armoured mechanised brigades in this country. It is not possible. There are no more training areas available, and the existing areas are not big enough. The Highlands of Scotland are no good—we have tried them already. The good people of Dartmoor make enough fuss when a few Territorials on their feet execute a few simple 1914-type exercises. No, my Lords. Even if the Government think it is possible to train a mechanised brigade, ready to shoot it across the Channel into action, our NATO allies know that it is not; and they will not believe it for a moment.
The same principles apply to other parts of the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has said, if we undertake to return to the areas which we propose to vacate, we must station troops somewhere, trained and acclimatised for the purpose. I am glad that this matter is under consideration, but looking at the map I wonder where they can go. Perhaps we should make our undertakings for assistance conditional upon the provision of training facilities. I do not believe that we need the very large headquarters and base at Singapore, but I do believe that both there and in the Middle East we need small bases to provide landing facilities by air and sea, and perhaps to look after some heavy equipment. I entirely agree with what my noble friend Lord Monckton of Brenchley said about that. I need say no more.
But I cannot see our commitments safeguarded by Marine Commandos sailing round and round in circles in oceans, any more than by flying out units, perhaps from Scotland in the middle of winter, to take part in operations in fierce tropical temperatures. That is one reason why we are so emphatically opposed to the end of the garrison in Malta, where we were warmly welcomed and where some kind of acclimatisation was possible.
The Army must provide a worthwhile career. Small as it is, I am certain that it is the best in the world in quality. But this is due to the high standard which it demands and its appeal to the best type of young men, men who prefer a fuller life in frequent and differing foreign stations than that offered by the office or factory—adventure, possibly 769 dangers, rather than the, to them, dreary security of the Welfare State. Who will want to join an Army which serves only in England or Germany? If their life as Servicemen is dreary, they will not come. Standards will be relaxed, and qualities of initiative and leadership will decline. I should like to know what the Government intend to do about this aspect. There is nothing constructive in the White Paper about it.
The White Paper refers to examining facilities in Australia, and this point has been mentioned by several noble Lords. Will the Minister inform the House what discussions have been held with the Australian Government? Whatever arrangements are made for training facilities outside Europe—and they are desirable, and have been highly successful—it is essential that we retain substantial garrisons in Europe where we can train alongside our allies, demonstrate to them the quality of our equipment and get to know each other better, as well as derive great benefit from their much better training facilities.
Who will want a regiment which might disappear? Perhaps I may quote my noble friend Lord Harding of Petherton, who was to speak to-day but has withdrawn his name. He said, "If I had a group of factories, and I offered a man a well-paid job but told him that the factory might close in a short time, I should not expect to get him". That is rather what is happening when we try to recruit to-day for regiments which may disappear. I greatly regret that once again we see the passing of great regiments, and a threat to others which have fought for us in every war and campaign. The Cameronians, the old Covenanters, are unique, and perhaps for that reason no amalgamation is possible. But we shall not forget them, for they produced more Generals and Brigadiers in the last war than any other regiment in the British Army—not least among them Sir Richard O'Connor.
I should like to mention the Durham Light Infantry, having spent 18 years of my boyhood in that county, and having had the privilege of several Territorial battalions serving under my command a few years ago; but my noble friend Lord Inglewood, who is a member of that regiment, is here and he will do it 770 far better than I can. There are peculiar anomalies in the wording of Annex II, and I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify these. Why is one battalion singled out as a subject for reduction when it is to be amalgamated? Surely two battalions are affected. I shall not say more on this now, because my noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery is going to raise this matter in detail; but it looks to me like a deceptive trick to make it look as if only one battalion is affected, and not two—and, of course, an infantry regiment to-day consists of only one regular battalion. Had the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, been here he would certainly have referred to the disappearance of the Welch Regiment. The Welch and the Irish Brigades are reduced to two regiments each, which is not a viable formation for cross-posting and organisational matters. Of course, we know about the new divisional organisation, but it is going to take a very long time for the Welsh soldier to accept his acquaintances over the marches as brothers; and the same applies to the Irish and the Lancastrians. This sort of reorganisation does not make for a happy and contented Army.
I regret the decision to reduce the Brigade of Gurkhas to 10,000, and I regret even more the threat of other cuts to come. Any further reduction in the number of the Gurkhas, and it would not be worth while maintaining them at all administratively. The only people who seem to escape unscathed in this White Paper are those in the vast bureaucratic machine of the Ministry of Defence, with its army of civil servants many times larger than was required before the war, when our forces were spread in very much larger numbers all around the Empire.
Just a word on equipment, my Lords. The present equipment in service in the Army is first-class. As it takes at least seven years to produce a piece of equipment, as I well know, from the acceptance of the idea until it is in the hands of the troops, the present Government have had no part in this, except that they have not cancelled anything. Of course, the Conservative Government bore all the cost of research and development of the equipment which is now being issued, and it will be several years before we see anything which has been approved by the present Government. But we now 771 read that the vital research programme is to be cut by £30 million—a frightening decision which will put us out of any position to sell our inventions to our friends for foreign currency, as well as reduce our own defensive capability in the years to come. We shall be out of the race for ever, dependent on buying, probably for dollars, what we need when we should hope to sell. Surely this is a very short-sighted policy.
My Lords, we are sure that the Government are shirking their responsibilities. They are ignoring the essential requirements of their Armed Forces, and closing their eyes to the dangers of the future by so emasculating them that it would take years—years which would never be available—to bring them up to the standards required in this country if they were needed. Mr. Ernest Bevin said in 1942:So long as I have any power at all I will never be a party to treating the Army in the future as it has been treated in the past. They broke up in peace time the very foundation of the Army's structure, and expected to build it up during war time with the enemy at the gates".Apparently the Government's only hope is to put their trust in others to defend us. Like the foolish virgins, they think they can attend the marriage feast without oil in their lamps, depending on the wise virgins to provide it—and perhaps the 40,000 civil servants will have used up all the oil.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he expand a little upon the monstrous size of the staffs in relation to the Armed Forces of the Crown?
My Lords, this is really for the Government to do. I must say that there is a great deal in what the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, says; and I said in my speech that I considered that the staffs of the bases (and, in case I did not, I should have said headquarters, too) are too big. But the trouble is that in these days there is an awful lot of paper. It all starts at the top, in Whitehall, and it goes down and gets magnified. Everybody puts in returns to everybody else; and so twice as many people are needed to do it. I see from the White Paper that the appointment of Brigade Major is to be upgraded to Lieutenant Colonel, in order to provide for another Lieutenant 772 Colonel and to improve the prospects of promotion. I hope this will not mean that there will then be two more majors and four more captains—except from the point of view of career structure, perhaps, when it would be a good thing. But I suggest that the noble Lord asks the Minister to explain to him the size of the staffs.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, I shall be as brief as I possibly can, consistent with answering some of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in a thoughtful and well-reasoned speech, asked one specific question which I should like to answer before going on to the main part of what I have to say. He asked about the functions and use of the Type 82 destroyer which is to be introduced into the Navy. If I refer him to the original Defence White Paper of February of this year, page 35, he will see there set out in full the general functions of the new guided-missile destroyer, although I think it would be wrong for me to go too deeply into operational concepts.
There have been one or two constructive and realistic speeches in your Lordships' House this afternoon, but I think that in some cases it is possible to say that the almost irresistible impulse to make political noises and to search for the rapier thrust and the wounding wise-crack has led some noble Lords—and not all of them opposite—into some notable exaggerations. As so often happens in this kind of stage duel, I am afraid that some noble Lords have managed to get their swords between their legs, with the not surprising result that they have stumbled into some notably undignified, and sometimes vulnerable positions. For example, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, accused this Government of preserving commitments but weakening our ability to discharge them. He spoke also of "an Army shorn of its teeth"—a metaphor of somewhat dubious ancestry, but the meaning is all to clear. The noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, spoke of "a Government which plans to back strategy with equipment which no longer exists". He spoke also of vacillation over equipment and procurement programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, spoke of a vast bureaucratic Ministry of Defence.
773 Listening to all this, one might be forgiven for thinking that we had quite suddenly fallen into an era of martial decay; that throughout the 1950s, the crucial years after the war, and the early 1960s, the Services were providently supplied with the men and equipment to do the many jobs they were asked to do. We might be forgiven for thinking that through those years commitments and resources were carefully calculated; that never were the Armed Forces under any sort of strain; and that the staffs of bases and headquarters and the Ministry of Defence were slim, athletic and sinewy. Criticisms of this Government, if we follow them to their logical end, seem to me to conjure up the picture of a Conservative Government for those 13 years confidently in control of all its military fortunes—masterful, efficient and sure-footed.
What were the facts, my Lords? The facts were these. Equipment, in many cases, as I know too well, was broken down and out-of-date. Infantry battalions were often ludicrously under strength. Units were shuttled from crisis to crisis like a stage army, under the precarious manipulation of a bewildering succession of Defence Ministers. Strategic concepts and tactical doctrines were in a state of hopeless confusion. Perhaps the most extraordinary suggestion which has been made this afternoon is that this Government have (to use the current jargon) lowered the nuclear threshold and made this country dependent upon a nuclear strategy. The breath-taking irrelevance of this appears in its full majesty only when we recall that it was the Party opposite which, in the middle of the 1950s, produced that unforgettable—unfortunately unforgettable—Defence White Paper which radically reduced the strength of the Armed Forces and rested British strategy proudly on the possession of that well-known myth, the independent nuclear deterrent; and, furthermore, it was to be a nuclear deterrent based on yet another well-known myth, Blue Streak—and we all know what happened to that.
I could go on with this catalogue for some time. I could recall what happened in Kuwait when, because of a total lack of political foresight, the desert was full of broken-down tanks and peopled by 774 unacclimatised troops thrown into action unexpectedly in the middle of a desert summer. I could recall experiences in Borneo of jungle patrolling with weapons almost too heavy to carry and with radio sets which looked like something out of Savoy Hill or 2 L.O. I could talk of the Reserve Army of 1960 clothed in the battledress of 1940, with coloured flags representing machine guns and broken-down trucks representing tanks. As for the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, that this Government have vacillated over equipment policy—
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, the noble Lord had better get the facts right. He has not got many right so far, if I may say so. But this is important. I was referring specifically to the replacement for the TSR2 requirement and to nothing else. If he will give an answer to that I should be much obliged.
§ LORD CHALFONT
I will rest on what appears in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The noble Viscount spoke of vacillation over defence equipment. He used those words. I should like to point out that the noble Viscount also recalled, in reply to a light-hearted gibe from this side, that he had been in office for some considerable time. He was indeed; he was in office from 1959 to 1962 and perhaps he remembers as vividly as I—and perhaps even the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, remembers—the Spectre Rocket engine cancelled in October, 1960, the Blue Steel Mark II, cancelled in December, 1959, the Bloodhound Mark III, the Blue Streak, the P.T.428, and Blue Water. I am sorry to have to inflict this esoteric list of names on your Lordships, but they are merely some of the seven or eight major equipment projects initiated by the Conservative Government and then, between the years 1959 and 1962, cancelled at a total cost to this country of over £120 million. It is no good noble Lords holding up their hands in horror. I did not want to produce this catalogue; but I believe that those who live or have lived in the somewhat fragile structure of a Conservative defence policy should think twice before they aim their missiles—
§ VISCOUNT WATKINSON
My Lords, before the noble Lord goes on, will he have the courtesy to read the OFFICIAL REPORT before he quotes it? He will find that what I said is correct. And 775 will he then answer my question? Can he answer my question on the replacement of TSR2 and the variable geometry aircraft?
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, it would be quite wrong for me at this stage to make public the sort of plans for which the noble Viscount asks. The Government have their own defence, equipment and procurement projects. These are in train. There will be a replacement for all these aircraft consonant with the commitments that the Armed Forces will be required to carry out. I think this is an important factor which the noble Viscount should bear in mind.
But let us stop—I did not start it—throwing things at each other. We have a fairly good supply of ammunition on this side if noble Lords want to go on. I think it is time that we took a look at some of the facts. I should like to look at some of the facts about the Army. Your Lordships will have seen from the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy which we are now debating that the Government intend to reduce the active strength of the forces by about 37,000 by April, 1971, and that we foresee a total drop of about 75.000 by the time we have finally withdrawn from Malaysia and Singapore in the mid-1970s. The reductions in the later years will, as the White Paper says, be broadly the same for each Service as for the years between now and 1971.
So far as the Army is concerned—and I should like to concentrate now on the first phase of these reductions—this means that the Army will lose about 15,000 by April, 1971. Obviously, a reduction of this magnitude cannot possibly be out into effect without changing the structure of the Army. It will, in fact, as your Lordships already know, involve a reduction of about 17 major units; that is to say, units of infantry battalion or equivalent strength. I know that many noble Lords have, like me, been associated with a regiment that will be affected by the cuts. No one here, I imagine, will need to be reminded that we are about to see the end, in a physical sense, of regiments with a long history of distinguished service to this country.
776 Of course, the decision as to which regiments should go was a painful decision to take; but I think we ought to be clear that none of these decisions was taken in any light or ill-considered way. Nor were they taken, as some people have implied, simply by politicians or civil servants. It is, quite rightly, not the custom in Parliament to go into detail about the advice which Ministers are given before the Government take a major decision, but I think it permissible to underline the fact that advice was taken from soldiers, sailors and airmen about the way in which these reductions were to be put into effect, although the Government take full responsibility for the decisions that were eventually taken. For example, in deciding how to reduce the strength of the infantry by eight battalions the Colonels of regiments were consulted and, in some cases, were able to recommend amalgamations so that regimental identities were not completely lost.
The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, made the point that in some cases there seemed to be, at least in his mind, some confusion between disbandment and amalgamation. I think if he looks at the list of infantry brigades and at the list of battalions that are to go, he will find that in each case the battalion named to go is the battalion of the junior regiment of the brigade still surviving from the last amalgamation. In some cases, in order to prevent the regiment from disappearing entirely from the Army List, the Colonels were able to agree that there should be instead of disbandment, amalgamation. To take one example. The junior regiment of the Welsh Brigade is the Welch Regiment. One solution would have been to disband it entirely. Instead, the same effect is produced by amalgamating it with the South Wales Borderers. I think this is quite simple. There is no sleight of hand behind it, I can assure the noble Lord.
My Lords, may I interrupt for a moment? I may be dense about this; but it reads:The Brigade will reduce by one battalion which is to be the 1st Battalion The Welch Regiment.Should it not read:The Brigade will be reduced by one battalion. On the recommendation of the Council of Colonels The Welch Regiment will amalgamate with The South Wales Borderers to form a new Regiment."?
§ LORD CHALFONT
I think it is really unprofitable to follow this too far. Perhaps I might try to make it a little clearer. The regiment chosen to be disbanded in the brigade I mentioned was the Welch Regiment because it is the junior of the three remaining regiments. But it was agreed between the Colonels of the Welch Regiment and the South Wales Borderers—and this applies also to other Brigades—that instead of disbanding the Welch Regiment it should be amalgamated with the South Wales Borderers to provide the same effect. If there is some error of punctuation in the White Paper I am afraid I have missed it. But it seems to me to be clear in principle.
But the South Wales Borderers are affected just as much as the Welch Regiment. They are both amalgamating; therefore they are both to disappear and you get a new regiment. Why say The Welch Regiment is to be disbanded and then that it is an amalgamation of the two?
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, perhaps there is a little too much condensation and elision in the White Paper. What I was trying to describe was the sequence of events. A regiment was chosen to disband but, in order to save its identity to some extent, it was agreed that it should amalgamate instead of disappearing altogether. I think I ought to make the point, indeed it is made quite clearly in the White Paper, that in some cases where this sort of agreement could not be arrived at, complete disbandment, unfortunately, will be necessary, and regiments will disappear altogether.
My Lords, I had hoped to say something about the question of redundancy among officers and men which would result from these cuts in the Army, but I am anxious not to detain your Lordships for too long, and I will content myself by saying that, generally speaking, I think it very important to stress that we are now at the beginning of a process of manpower reorganisation which will extend well into the 1970s; and obviously the full working-out of the policy announced in the recent White Paper will take time. But the main aim must be to organise the run-down and the consequent redundancies in the Services so as at least to maintain, and in some cases even to 778 improve, the career prospects for those who stay in the Armed Forces.
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, I think it is clear in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy 1967, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has read, that the run-down in defence staffs has to come after the run-down in the other parts of the Services, because it is the staff of the Ministry of Defence who organise the run-down. It is not possible, therefore, immediately to cut them. Of course, there will be cuts in staffs at headquarters and bases consistent with the efficient running of those headquarters, but I ask the noble Lord to believe that this is not some kind of empire-building; it is simply that in order to carry out this sort of organisation quite large staffs are necessary and they will have to remain until the process is fairly well advanced.
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, as I was saying, even when we take into account the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, we shall have to try to keep what is sometimes called in the Services the "career pyramid"; that is to say, Services that are properly balanced by rank, seniority and age, and by specialisation. We intend to do this by working out very carefully the shape and size of the forces at which we are aiming in the long-run, and then we shall invite applications for redundancy terms from officers and men in those categories whose size will be reduced in the new structure. This is a complicated affair, and it will take some time to work out. But I ask your Lordships to believe—and I am certainly convinced of this—that the aim is to make sure that the new Armed Forces that arise from this reorganisation will have a career structure and career prospects at least as good as they have had in the past and, we hope, in many cases better.
My Lords, it has been suggested, as it so often is suggested when any reorganisation or redeployment of the Armed Forces is contemplated, that these reductions will damage morale inside the Services, and will furthermore discourage men 779 and women from joining the Armed Forces. It has been asked, rather plaintively, in your Lordships' House this afternoon, why should young men join a Service in which it is said that they may be redundant in a few years' time? Let us take this question of recruiting, the requirement for recruits in the reduced Army, and get it into some sort of perspective. If we take soldiers in the Army as an example, the reduction of about 10,000 in the strength of the Army means a reduction of only about 1,000 in the annual recruiting requirement. This is because a balance has to be maintained by rank and age, as I said earlier. The Army of to-day requires about 21,000 recruits a year. When it is reduced by 15000, as it will be by April, 1971, it will still require 19,000 recruits a year so this argument, one part of the argument, that substantially reduced forces hardly need any recruits at all in order to keep them going, is totally false.
So far as careers are concerned, I have said that we intend to provide prospects for promotion, both for officers and soldiers, at least as good as they have enjoyed before in peace time. As for the other question of morale inside the Forces, I must confess I find that morale in the Armed Forces is often affected much more by the sort of ill-considered comment which is made outside than by anything that happens inside. Of course it would be foolish to suppose—and I am not suggesting it for one moment—that the morale, the spirit, of an officer or man whose career is likely to be affected by continuing reviews of defence will not be impaired to some extent. It is for this reason that we have tried to plan as far ahead as possible; and we have also made special efforts to ensure that everybody in the Armed Forces knows about the Governments' policy and how it is likely to affect him personally. As we said in the earlier Statement on Defence Estimates, in February of this year:The Government is concerned to settle the size and shape of the Forces for the next decade in a way that will provide the maximum possible stability for men and women who are making their career in the Services.My Lords, it is in my view unhelpful, and even perhaps irresponsible, to talk as though this reorganisation of the Armed Forces has resulted in some terrible and irrevocable damage to the spirit 780 and the morale of our soldiers, sailors and airmen. Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. Anyone who takes the trouble to read about or, even better, has had the chance to visit, our troops in Aden or Hong Kong, or the British Army of the Rhine—or indeed any station in which they are called on to carry out their difficult and dangerous work—will know that morale in the Armed Forces has in fact never been higher.
Of course, so far as the Army is concerned, anyway, the deployment pattern will alter with the reduction of our forces outside Europe. Of course there will be problems of accommodation for the forces that come home. Of course there will be people who will feel that life has dealt with them hardly and unfairly. But, my Lords, in my own limited experience I have found that one of the chief factors that places the greatest strain on the morale of officers and men in the Armed Forces is not the problem of reorganisation, or even reduction in the size of the Army. It is the business of being asked, day after day, week after week, month after month, to carry out difficult, and sometimes very dangerous, and sometimes very boring, tasks with too few men and too little equipment. It is the battalion commander who has to hold a battalion position with 400 men instead of 600; it is the company commander who has to send out patrols night after night when his platoon is at half strength; it is the section commander laying a jungle ambush with four or five men instead of eight or ten; it is the soldier himself doing guard, sentry and patrol duty night after night and day after day without rest. These, my Lords, are the people whose morale is damaged and who become tired and dispirited and exhausted. This is what has been wrong with the Army for too long. Is has been asked for much too long to do too much with too little.
The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, in his interesting intervention, was worried that there was no mention of foreign policy in the new White Paper. I might point out, of course, that, as the Paper says, it is a Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy and not a new analysis of the situation; and so there was no need to go over old ground. But I can assure the noble Lord that we certainly still regard defence policy as the handmaiden of foreign policy, even though we have not said it again in those terms. The 781 noble Lord, Lord Bourne, spoke at one stage in his speech, if I understood him correctly, of having forces on the spot which could act, as he said, without debate in the United Nations. I believe those were his words. I think that there are the elements of a very dangerous concept in this.
The main element of any intelligent strategic doctrine in the nuclear age must be constant and refined political control over military operations. I think that there is an element in what the noble Lord has said of departure from that conception. He also said that the forces would be withdrawn, but the commitments would not go away. This is just what assessments of foreign policy are about. We must ensure that in the long term, by the very direction of our foreign policy, we do not accept commitments that we cannot afford to meet in terms of economic and political strength. The noble Lord cannot have it both ways. If defence policy is to be the handmaiden of foreign policy, then it is possible to ensure that the commitments go away. That is what foreign policy is about, and that is why we tailor our defence forces to meet the requirements of foreign policy.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, I did not make this theory up myself; I took it from the White Paper. The White Paper says that our policy should reach a stage where local people can live without the presence of external forces. I absolutely agree with that, and I thought I said so in my speech. What I disagree with is the next phrase,… and thus to allow our forces to withdraw …I think that that is a non sequitur and and therefore a contradiction. We could discuss this for a long time, but I am standing on my feet to make the point that I got this out of the White Paper and did not invent it. To withdraw forces, and thus make it impossible to meet commitments, is not the right way. The right way is to forecast a foreign policy, if we can, and we cannot do that twenty years ahead.
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, no Government would dream of withdrawing forces so that they cannot meet commitments. I feel that the noble Lord has misread the White Paper. There is 782 no possible element in the Government's policy of withdrawing forces from a territory in order to reduce commitments. We believe that foreign policy must be directed in such a way that we must be able to fulfil all our commitments.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but I really must read from page 4 of the White Paper, which says, quoting the statement on Defence Estimates:'to foster developments which will enable the local peoples to live at peace without the presence of external forces',and goes on to say in the very same sentence:and thus to allow our forces to withdraw from their stations in the Middle East and Far East.That is the point I am taking up.
§ LORD CHALFONT
Yes, my Lords, I see the point of the noble Lord, but I feel that even though he may have read this passage correctly, he has understood it incorrectly.
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, the logic of the statement is this. A foreign policy is directed in this instance to ensuring that the people of a certain area can look after themselves and defend themselves. If that foreign policy is successful, it will enable us to withdraw troops from the area. This seems to be quite logical, and I am sorry if the noble Lord finds it difficult to follow.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, I do not find it difficult, but I find that there is a very big gap indeed, and I maintain that that gap is still there.
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, I hope that we shall not follow this too far, but the gap is not there. Many people have missed this point. This Defence Review is aimed at a certain shape and size of defence forces ten years from now, and we are also directing our foreign policy towards the same goal. We hope that, if we are intelligent and God is with us, they will meet. It may be that one day in the future, as my noble friend Lord Rowley has said in his typically compassionate and understanding speech, the world will come to its senses and there 783 will be no more work for soldiers to do at all.
We have said very little to-day about disarmament, which is the other side of the coin of military policy. The noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, who I am sorry to see is no longer in his seat, made the statement—I hope that I have it right this time, but I will confirm it with the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow—that defence policy is about war. Perhaps that is what has been wrong for so long. In our view defence policy, as an element of foreign policy, is about peace. Perhaps if we all realise that, the problems of what we have to do in the next 10 or 15 years may become a little simpler.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, I must say that if the policy of Her Majesty's Government is that the world is going to come to its senses, that really is insane. The world is getting madder and madder every day.
§ LORD CHALFONT
My Lords, that is becoming increasingly obvious. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. We do not base our policy on the assumption that the world will come to its senses. We hope that it will, and in the meantime we must make the best of a bad job. Until we can achieve disarmament and the world comes to its senses, we, like others in the world, must be able to defend ourselves and our interests. In this the Armed Forces have always had an important and honourable part to play. One of the aims of this Defence Review is to produce a relatively small, but highly trained and magnificently equipped army, and to confront it only with tasks which its strength and equipment are adequate to meet.
There is bound to be regret that in the process of doing this many individual officers and men will have to go. There will be also a deep and real sadness that many famous regimental names will disappear from the Army List. No one can regard this with equanimity. I, for one—and I am sure that I reflect the sentiment of many noble Lords—would like to salute them as they go, but I am confident that when all these changes are completed, in 15, 20, 50 years' time the British Army will still be the same magnificent fighting force that it is today.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, I think that I should start my remarks with an apology for the fact that I came rather late into this debate. As a result, I was unable to hear the opening speech of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and heard only the last part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—the last 40 minutes. I hope that the noble Lord will not take too much offence at that mild bit of rudery from an unimportant Cross-Bencher.
I do not often speak about Defence because, rightly or wrongly, I hold the view that ancient and retired Generals—I do not speak of Admirals or of Air Marshals, or even of Field Marshals—should be chary about criticising things that have received the endorsement, or at least the acquiescence, of the much younger men who are holding the top military appointments to-day. But there are two things—and only two—that I want to say about this Defence Paper. Both are political in context rather than military: not Party political, because I am not personally interested in that, but political nevertheless.
The first of them concerns the general scope of the reductions that are proposed. These reductions are drastic, and particularly drastic in the case of the Army. In one sense there is nothing very astounding about that. For as long as I can remember, and much further back than that—certainly as far back as the Battle of Waterloo—our political leaders have always been tempted, immediately the threat of war has lifted, to cut down the Armed Forces and thereby find money for more popular purposes. They have always been tempted to do it, and they have generally yielded to the temptation. I do not suppose that if we had a Conservative Government in power at the moment, instead of a Labour Government, the scope of the reductions would necessarily be very different. But I should hope that the reasons given, and the frankness with which the case was displayed to us, would be rather better than it is in this Defence White Paper.
On reads in the Defence White Paper, paragraph 3 of chapter VI:The Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, though reduced in size, will be capable of meeting all the demands that may be made on them.785 I am not surprised that those words are taken up in the Resolution which has been proposed by the Opposition, because I can find nothing in the White Paper to justify such an optimistic forecast. What I do find in the White Paper, in the preceding chapter, chapter V, is a re-statement of the commitment which the Government made for themselves, that they would reduce expenditure on defence to £2,000 million, at 1964 price levels, by 1969–70. That commitment they are certainly carrying out; indeed, they are going beyond it. But how are they doing it? They are doing it by pruning the troops to suit the expenditure, and by pruning and watering down the commitments and risks to suit the troops.
I fully accept that in the present state of our economy and finance any defence policy must be a compromise. I can agree with a great deal of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, when he warned us that our expenses must be cut and expenditure on our defence forces reduced. Certainly there has to be a compromise between what we should have and what we want, and what we can afford. But it seems to me that in this Defence White Paper economy has gone a great deal too far; and it may prove to be bad economy. Yesterday in another place the Chancellor of the Exchequer said (these are not his exact words, but I think they are fairly close) something to the effect that this White Paper shows for the first time that British economic policy, British foreign policy and British defence policy are brought into harmony. That may be so. But I maintain that the sum has been worked out the wrong way. You should not start with the money, and then the troops, and end up with the responsibilities; you should, in my view, take it the other way round.
I know very well (and the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, has said this already) that nothing which is said by us, and especially by the Cross-Benchers, in this House will persuade the Government to reduce the cuts which they are proposing to make in the Armed Forces. But I should like to put in two pleas to the Government. I hope they will pay some attention to what has been said by several noble Lords during this debate—by the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, the noble Viscount, Lord 786 Monckton of Brenchley, and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne: that it is not wise to tie commitments round your head for years ahead, and to forecast with apparent accuracy the amount of money you are going to spend on defence after 1971; and it is certainly unwise to forecast the date that you are going to evacuate certain parts of the world which you hold at present. I hope that they will think about this again.
The other matter about which I should like to put in a plea is that the Government should get out of their minds—no; that is not the right expression, because it is not in their minds; but they are trying to put it in our minds—that troops held in the United Kingdom are just as good as troops held on the spot. Of course they know they are not; and noble Lords here know full well that they are not. This is particularly so, I suggest, with regard to the troops in Germany. The troops under NATO in Germany represent a very thin covering force, and they will be required if trouble comes, not in the first few months, not in the first few weeks, not in the first few days, but in the first few hours; and the fact that they are in the United Kingdom renders them, in my opinion, almost useless.
Lastly, on this my first point, the subject that we are debating to-day will, I think, be debated in another place the day after to-morrow. Maybe then—and if not then, a few weeks later on the Yorkshire coast—the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister will be told that their White Paper does not go far enough; that the cuts should go far deeper, and that it is necessary to save more money. Well, in a few days time we shall be celebrating the centenary of the birth of Stanley Baldwin, and I should like respectfully to remind the Government that friends of Stanley Baldwin said to him some thirty-odd years ago exactly the same things: "You will lose support in the House. You will lose the next General Election." But when the catastrophic results of their advice came home to roost, not one of those men lifted a little finger to defend Stanley Baldwin. That is a lesson for all our Prime Ministers.
I now come to my second point. It concerns (it is a pity the noble Lord, 787 Lord Boothby, has gone) the colossal size of the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. The only reference to this is in paragraph 13 of chapter IV of the White Paper, part of which has already been read to us by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. It says:We hope that reductions will also result from the further evolution of defence organisation.I can assure the Government that they will not—not, at least, unless the Secretary of State for Defence takes a firm grip on a problem which so far he has studiously avoided. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, said that they are very busy in the Ministry of Defence. I can accept that; I believe that they are very busy. But what they are busy about is not organising the run-down; it is not the planning and the executive operations that are mentioned in the White Paper. What they are busy with is writing letters to each other, consulting each other, and attending interminable committees to reach compromises between themselves.
At the risk of damaging some friendships that I value very much, I feel bound to say quite frankly what is my view on this matter. It is that the time has come to say that we need one Chief of Staff. The Chiefs of Staff Committee, as such, should go. The individual Services need their own heads, just as in the old War Office the various arms of the Service had their heads, directors and administrative branches. That is all quite simple to arrange. But the great principle is that the Chiefs of Staff Committee should go. I have an ugly suspicion that Ministers, of both Parties, do not like this idea. They prefer to have four men to advise them, rather than one. They prefer to have four men whom they can set off one against the other; and they rather dislike the idea of there being one man, who will present one defence point of view, and who will, if his advice is consistently rejected, put in his resignation, which can be very tiresome.
I have no justification for entertaining that suspicion about Mr. Healey, and I am certainly not making this remark in a personal spirit. But I hope that he will get hold of this matter, because it is only he who can do it; it will not happen of itself. The Chiefs of the in 788 dividual Services are good men. They are not trying to hang on to their jobs. But they have been put in jobs to represent their Service; and they do represent it, and they defend it, and they are likely to go on doing so. I do not propose to give my views any further as to how this job should be done. The Canadians have set an example. I believe it is very fashionable to criticise the Canadian organisation. All I can say about it is that it is a great deal better than our own. And it is the Secretary of State for Defence who must grasp this problem.
I do not altogether approve of noble Lords in this Chamber reading out to us long quotations from the newspapers, but I propose to end my speech with a short quotation from an article that appeared recently, by the military correspondent of The Times newspaper. The reason I quote this is that I hope it will show your Lordships that what I have said just now is not merely the opinion of one old fuddy-duddy, but also an opinion held by a highly intelligent young man who has made it his business, and indeed his livelihood, to study precisely these questions. This is what he says:Really meaningful economies in the central Establishment may not be practicable, however, unless and until a much higher organisation of Service integration exists than operates to-day. Mr. Healey has consistently postponed or neglected efforts to induce this great integration.
§ 7.33 p.m.
My Lords, it is not so long ago that there was a debate in this House on the Government's plans for the Reserve Forces. The Government met with no support in any part of the House, and, after reflection, they came back with some modifications. Today I hope again that, since they have not yet met with any great measure of support in this House, they will follow the same course, and think again at least in part about the plans they have put before us.
I am going to be brief and confine my remarks to one subject: the organisation of the infantry and the value of the regimental system and county connection to the Army as a whole. At the start, I should like to say clearly that I believe, and I am sure all noble Lords believe, that the interests of the Army are much bigger than those of any regiment or 789 group of regiments. The majority of our regiments have long been recruited on a county basis, and very deep feelings of understanding, loyalty and affection have grown up, and through the country this has done much to engender among our people a feeling of responsibility for our Army.
A regiment's bond with its county is something much stronger than any feeling it can ever have for a formation or for the Ministry of Defence. It is something too which has contributed indirectly to the strength of all arms in our Army; further, in the reverse sense, because the counties have played a very big part in return in helping with recruiting, not just for their own infantry regiments but for all arms, it has helped with our recruiting effort.
If I may quote briefly from the White Paper, the latest of the three, the one with the brightest of red covers, the Government say:Our plans … will bring greater economy and efficiency and, at the same time, preserve the best features of the Infantry regimental system.Yet it would seem that their first step is to break this county bond in a very large number of cases, and not just in the case of the few regiments listed to disband. I should like to hear more before the evening is out of what we may expect in few years' time, because I think it is fair to deduce from this White Paper that in the not too distant future further regiments will be asked to disband.
I should like to illustrate what I mean from the example of the Light Infantry Brigade. One regiment mentioned by name is to disband; but, in a sense, all will go in the changes, if the new battalions are to be called, as I think is likely to happen, Numbers 1, 2 and 3. I should like to ask here whether this is what the Government mean by preserving the best features of the regimental; system. It seems to me that it is more, accurately described in one of our newspapers as "hacking away at a proud tradition".
We must accept that some areas are naturally much better recruiting areas than others. If you remove from any such area the focus provided by a Regular infantry battalion—something which modern, emasculated Territorial battalions, if they still exist, cannot alone 790 provide—recruiting for the whole Army is likely to suffer. To refer again to the Light Infantry Brigade, the regiment selected to disband is the junior one in the Army List, and there can be no bitterness on this score. But, looked at from the Army point of view, it seems a form of madness to remove the focus from one of the best recruiting areas in the country.
I know that it is not fashionable to-day to talk about large numbers of men in uniform ever being wanted again for war. But, surely, it must be unwise in this world to be too certain of anything, least of all in the field of defence; and whether to-day's thinking is of larger or smaller numbers, we surely still want to draw to the maximum from the areas which have demonstrated that the men in those areas make good and willing soldiers.
Since the Durham Light Infantry—my own Regiment—is to disband, I hope it is not inappropriate for me to pay a very brief tribute here in Parliament. In the First World War there were 43 active battalions recruited in the County of Durham—something similar to the number of infantry battalions in the Army that we are discussing to-day. We were beaten only by Northumberland, our sister county—the future of whose county regiment is also uncertain—who raised 52 battalions. So from these two counties in the North-East of England we raised an infantry force roughly double the size of the total infantry force we are considering here to-day. Again in the Second World War, by May, 1940, there were 8 Durham Light Infantry battalions overseas. If the Government's plan goes forward, there can never again be a Regular Durham Light Infantry Battalion overseas, because there will not be one to go. The name will not appear in the Army List among Regular infantry battalions.
The last thing that anyone in my position—or in the position of other noble Lords whose regiments may be on this list—would want to suggest is that his own regiment should remain and another take its place in the list of those whose fate it is to disappear. But I think the Government have good reason to look again at their whole plan, and particularly where it affects regiments raised from recruiting areas of outstanding 791 value. And I suggest that they should let us know—I repeat this again—more of the scope and scale of the next round of reorganisation and disappearing acts which there is reason to believe will soon be presented to us. In this review they should not overlook the fact that there are still regiments retaining a second battalion.
My Lords, those of your Lordships who have been infantry soldiers will forgive me, and understand my feelings, when I quote two sentences from the Foreword to the history of my Regiment in the late war, written by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, who I am sorry is not here to-day. What he says applies equally to many other regiments, but I want to quote it, not only from the regimental point of view, but because it is relevant to the Government's proposals in their White Paper. He refers to:the fighting men of this county who excel in the hard-fought battle and always 'stick it out to the end'; they have gained their objectives and held their positions even when all their officers have been killed and conditions were almost unendurable.Now, when we find ourselves in an awkward place and we look to see what troops are on cur right and left flanks, which is a natural thing to do, it is more comforting to feel that we have an infantry regiment of high reputation on one, or other, or both flanks, than that we should know (to quote from the White Paper) that thesupporting services are being made more efficient by advanced management techniques and the wider use of computers.SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear!
My Lords, my last sentence is again a quotation from the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. At the end of his Foreword he says:I hope this story will be read by thousands in the North of England, and they must not fail to tell the story to their children".My Lords, they will tell the story to their children; and if, when they do so, they feel tears rising to their eyes, as I feel tears rising to mine now, they will have no reason to be ashamed.
§ 7.42 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, as we have just heard from my noble friend 792 Lord Inglewood, this is a painful debate for most noble Lords on both sides of the House. I think we must except the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who seems to be impervious. But it is pain inflicted—and self-inflicted—by the Government supported by noble Lords opposite. Because this country as a whole is to be the sufferer we cannot spare them, whatever sympathy we may feel for individuals, and however sorry some of them may feel, I suspect, for themselves.
One of the ironies of the White Paper is quoted in its true context in the Resolution that we support on these Benches. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, caller it an "odd Resolution". One definition in the Oxford Dictionary of the word "odd" is "singular in merit". I assume that the noble Lord was taking that meaning. Unhappily there are other ironies to choose from, other passages of the Government's own authorship which can be taken down and used in evidence against them.
In the opening words of the Conclusion, on page 12, we are told that the Governmenthave been working continuously for almost three years on a major review of defence, revising Britain's overseas policy, formulating the role of military power to support it, and planning the forces required to carry out this role.What in fact they are doing, at the end of these famous three years, is reducing the hope of a British overseas policy, draining away the military power which would be needed to implement such a policy, and dismissing many thousands of the officers and men who would otherwise be required. The Government, which earlier promised to sophisticate the Armed Forces have now promised to emasculate them. "This Statement", so they say, "marks the end of that process". What a process! Since the major Defence Review was first announced, Defence Ministers have suspended a kind of Sponge of Damocles over the Armed Forces, and over the country which those forces were pledged and prepared to defend. On Tuesday last, a week ago, the Government let fall that sponge. What is bound to embitter us is that this surrender in the ring is being made on behalf of a doughty, experienced and resilient champion by a bunch 793 of jumpy seconds. What has made them so jumpy during the past 17 months?
In the Government's first Defence White Paper, published in February, 1965, it was stressed that substantial forces must be maintained because the United Kingdom had a major interest in the stability of the world outside Europe, in its economic prosperity and its peaceful development—purposes shared with our allies. We supported them in that view. We should be supporting them to-day if they had possessed the courage to stick to that. The British contribution in this sphere—so said the White Paper—was paramount in many areas East of Suez, including obligations to Commonwealth and other allies and facilities at Aden and Singapore. It would be politically irresponsible and uneconomically wasteful if our bases were abandoned while they were still needed to promote peace in the areas concerned. My Lords, most of that is direct quoting from the White Paper, and I do not think that where I have paraphrased I have departed from the sense or the intention of the words used. But what has become of that sense and intention?
Over the course of the next few years (in some cases the next few months) we are to deplete our manpower by one-fifth, and we are to give up our powerful bases upon which we have depended, and still depend, for implementing policy. What is to take their place, unless the Prime Minister has abandoned his once advertised world role? From where, in particular, will our Air Force operate, over the distances which may be involved? I have spoken, during this week, to men of experience and knowledge in this field. They are bewildered and unable to find the smallest encouragement from these pages, and we look for some encouragement from the noble Earl at the end of this debate.
There are signs, but no more than signs, in these 16 pages, of a philosophy of island bases. I had hopes that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, might tell us something more about them. Mr. Healey referred to them as bases in a television interview last Tuesday night. But how are these bases to be developed to fit this philosophy? We have a right to ask. Up to the present, Parliament has only heard of their being required as staging posts. Is there, in fact, an intention 794 to develop them into bases as successors to Aden and Singapore, or was the Secretary of State playing semantics, a game of which I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, speak disapprovingly on many occasions?
I would have listened respectfully had the noble Lord told us that bases less elaborate than Aden and Singapore could serve a purpose in times of crisis, if a lame stock of bombs, ammunition and spares were kept there. I find it hard to see how sophisticated aircraft, requiring sophisticated maintenance, could operate from up-graded "staging posts", but if he had said so I should have been appropriately impressed; and should the noble Earl say so later, I shall be appropriately impressed. With a skeleton staff they would undoubtedly be vulnerable to pre-emptive attack, in a way that our present bases are not. But it would at least help to know that the Government have some such development in mind, and to know what islands they have in mind.
In particular the island of Socotra lends itself, I understand, to new strategic positioning, but there is no clear sign that the Government think of turning it to account. We are due to remain in Masirah for less than 12 months. Looking at the map, seeing the great distances over which our aircraft may have to operate, the mind is baffled to see how they can be expected to do so without our present bases. We are to have 50 F.111s. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has frequently expressed his satisfaction and confidence in this aircraft: a satisfaction and confidence not always matched in the country of its manufacture. But bombed-up, how adequate is the range even of this aircraft, taking into account that it will almost certainly have to fly all the way to its target and all the way back? We shall he very fortunate indeed if "shuttle" facilities are available between our scarcer and scarcer footholds—or wheel-holds, as I suppose they might be called.
I believe it is reckoned that out of any particular force of aircraft, 60 per cent. will be serviceable, 20 per cent. will be in process of major overhaul, and another 20 per cent. will be grounded for routine maintenance. All this means that without any warning we shall have only 30 of our F.111s ready for action, and 795 even with some warning we shall have only 40. Does the noble Lord still consider the numbers are adequate without reducing our commitments to our allies, of which reduction there is in fact no mention in the White Paper? The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to reduced commitments in his speech, and I was most interested, but many of us have read through and studied the White Paper to find what those reductions in commitments may be. We have looked to find and we have searched in vain. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, touched tantalisingly on this matter two or three times. He said the forces would have weapons consonant with the commitments they would have to undertake. He still did not tell us what those commitments might be. In a rather endearing phrase he said they would "go away".
LORD ST. OSWALD
I took down his words. He said the commitments would "go away". I listened very carefully because I wanted to hear someone on the Government Front Bench define the difference in our commitments which these new reduced forces would have to undertake, and if the noble Earl reads in Hansard the speech of this noble friend he will find, unless my ears betrayed me, that he said the commitments would "go away".
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I am afraid I must have missed that particular expression. My noble friend is such a master of English it sounds too colloquial for his style altogether. Perhaps I may call the noble Lord's attention—not now, while he is in such agreeable full flood—to paragraph 7, which might have escaped somebody less well informed than he is, where distinction is drawn between commitments and obligations. "Commitments" in the modern phraseology, refers to the method of carrying out obligations.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, perhaps this is the only way in which the Government have succeeded in sophisticating defence, because I have not met anyone who understood the meaning of that or thought it defined the commitments which our reduced forces would 796 have to undertake. But I hope sincerely the Government have some means of undertaking these new commitments, despite the reductions and despite the departure from the bases, and I hope they have some idea themselves of what those commitments may be.
I should like to return for one moment to the island bases, because it seems to me it may be that Defence Ministers intend island bases to be fully manned only in times of crisis. We shall then depend on getting aircraft to these island bases. Unfortunately in times of crisis overflying rights may tend to be harder to obtain. We know that during past years possible routes to the Middle East and Far East have become fewer and narrower. We are now immensely dependent on Turkey, and let us hope that Turkey remains the staunch friend she is to-day. But if the readiness of Turkey to help us should diminish, we should find ourselves without fully manned bases beyond the Suez Canal, without carriers in position and perhaps without means of sending our forces to take up station on whatever foothold is to take the place of those we are now discarding. What is the noble Earl's answer? The Government put it in this White Paper here and there a piece of fairly glib reassurance, but what, I ask, are these reassurances backed with?
In paragraph 9 on page 8 dealing with the Royal Air Force we find:More aircraft will be concentrated in Britain; the increased mobility, range and performance of the new aircraft make this possible.Such as which aircraft? It seems to me that this particular reassurance is to be borne entirely and for an indefinite period by 50 F111s. Up to a week or two ago we had hopes that they would be succeeded by the AFVG. Now that hope has melted. What disturbs me is that the F.111s were never intended to be our only mainstay in a long-range strike capacity. The prospect was that they would already be there when the V-Bombers were being phased out; they would still be there when the AFVG was being phased in. Can the noble Earl now say how long he thinks they will, in the event, have this task to themselves? The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, implied that part of this task would be taken over by submarines and helicopters—a 797 very small part of the task in very special and very favourable circumstances. The noble Lord added himself that helicopters have a purely short-range capacity, when he was slightly "smoked out" by my noble friend Lord Watkinson.
In paragraph 10 we are told:Major decisions about future equipment for the Royal Air Force have already been announced, and the first new aircraft of the large-scale re-equipment programme are already coming into service.Such aircraft as are coming into service are owed to the Conservative programme, and, upon my honour!, it requires a strong ingredient of gall to print such a statement a bare few weeks after the project upon which Mr. Healey had set his heart and based his whole philosophy had been dealt a possibly mortal blow. We are told that:As a result of the French Government's decision to withdraw from the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft project, we are authorising British firms to carry out a project study of a variable geometry combat aircraft to a modified specification.Modified in what way? Do not let us forget that the AFVG was not only to be a replacement for the V-Bombers, as suggested in paragraph 10, but also for Lightnings, Phantoms and Buccaneers. Which of the capabilities are being dropped in the modified version if it is ever built?
On a more hopeful note, I should like to wish the Government good fortune in their efforts to bring other European nations into a new project. Germany has been mentioned. It could be that some of the Benelux countries would like to take a technological hand. But the Government must expect to meet some doubt as to their real intentions in this respect, when we see a 22 per cent. cut in Air Force personnel by 1975. Who is to man and maintain this new aircraft, if it is ever built?
Cuts in men and weapons appear to signify military abdication of our world role. This has been said frankly, and I repeat it frankly. The cut of £30 million in research and development in one year corroborates this but carries it beyond the military field. It is recognised that something like 70 per cent. of the fruits of such research and development eventually finds its way into civil industry as a whole—the electronics industry is a valuable example—and, of course, a great 798 deal of this habitually goes into export. Developments in what is called "miniaturisation", the reduction in size and weight of important components, have been widely and valuably employed in civil industry. The Government actually pat themselves on the back for this cut, saying that itwill free scientists and technicians, and other resources for civil work".But to whom will it free them? With whom will they find employment? Do the Government really feel sure that they will stay in this country after their efforts have been derogated by their country's leaders? Ministers would not be wise to bet on this.
All the brash and unwarranted complacencies contained in these pages are epitomised and pinned upon the Order Paper in our Resolution. How can the Government say at the end of such a document that the mutilated forces, deprived of the weapons and bases on which they depend, will be capable of meeting all the demands that may be made upon them? Clearly, the Government have not calculated either those possible demands or the forces which may be required to meet them. What in fact they have done is to place an intolerable strain on the men and the equipment with which they are to be left. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe said they would be stretched to breaking point, and that is another more descriptive phrase. Nobody who knows Mr. Denis Healey or those noble Lords opposite would suppose that such would ever be their intention. But I must say that we should feel more sympathy with Mr. Healey over these mishaps and setbacks and crippling disappointments if he did not on each and every occasion appear to be so stupendously pleased with himself. It is one thing never to be discountenanced by failure; but to shrug off, as he does, every blunder and rebuff with a self-satisfied snigger is apt to exasperate every well-wisher he has.
The genuine reasons for this mutilation of the forces are clear to everyone—indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was almost frank at one point as to one of them. There are two distinct and separate pressures, both demoralising, to which Defence Ministers have surrendered. On the one hand, we see a Government stultified by their own incompetence in handling the economy. On the other, is the 799 spectacle of a Government and a political Party flinching from their own limp, pink backlash. The effort to justify this depleting of power in any other way is a preposterous waste of time of worthy and frustrated men. This touchingly ostentatious, proudly trumpeted major Defence Review ended last Tuesday, not with a snort but with a snigger.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, this White Paper has been criticised (to use no stronger word) for the most part upon two grounds: the ground of what it says, and the ground of what it does not say. I myself, on the whole favour a third ground: that it says what it does not mean and means what it does not say. As a simple example of this, I invite your Lordships' attention to a remark which occurs at page 5, familiar enough by now, describing how we plan to withdraw altogether from our bases in Singapore and Malaysia in the middle 1970s. It says.The precise timing of our eventual withdrawal will depend on progress made in achieving a new basis for stability in South-East Asia and in resolving other problems in the Far East.Perhaps noble Lords on the other side will tell us how they are getting on with the Chinese.
My intention, in which I invite your Lordships to join me, is to concentrate chiefly on the reorganisation of the infantry, dealt with at page 15, beginning with the reductions to be made in the infantry regiments of the Regular Army. This matter has been referred to by noble Lords before, but it is necessary to remember that these reductions and reorganisations are based on a Statement made by the Minister of Defence, Mr. Healey, in another place on 11 May, just two and half months ago. I would add, if I may, a detail or two that I think has not yet been mentioned, as follows—and I quote from Mr. Healey's speech:I am glad to confirm that battalions will retain their existing names.I should like to make it clear that this new organisation does not affect the separate identity of the individual regiments.Regimental and battalion identities are not affected by this regrouping.My noble and gallant friend Lord Thurlow has remarked on this particular 800 matter in connection, I think, with the Welsh Brigade. For convenience, I will consider the Lancastrian Brigade which is mentioned on page 1. Here we find that the Loyal Regiment (North Lancashire) Brigade is to be reduced by that one battalion. In the next sentence we find that it is to amalgamate with the Lancashire Regiment to form a new regiment. My noble friend asked the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, what this meant. He received some kind of explanation. But it appeared to me to be no explanation at all, because the noble Lord said that the two battalions which were to amalgamate—that is, the Loyal and the Lancashire—were each to retain their separate identities. If they are to retain their separate identities they will remain two battalions, even if they add up to one regiment. Therefore, the brigade itself will still consist of three battalions. But it says at the beginning that the brigade is to reduce by one battalion. So that is clearly nonsense; it makes no sense whatever.
It could make sense if we were to suppose that the Loyal Regiment and the Lancashire Regiment were to amalgamate, and were to some extent to lose their identities, either the one or the other, or both. But we have in the Statement of the Minister of Defence a promise that that is not to take place. Therefore, I put it to your Lordships that under this paragraph—and the case of the Welsh and Mercian Brigades is similar—there is no reduction at all; otherwise, the thing is not making any kind of sense whatever. In other words, either this does not say what it means, or it does not mean what it says.
Immediately above this we have the Lowland Brigade from which is to disappear the 1st Cameronians, of whom my noble and gallant friend Lord Thurlow has spoken with extreme kindness. To a certain extent I take this as a personal matter—not because this is my own regiment, but because I served with it, on attachment, throughout its Chindit service in General Wingate's Special Force in Burma, and so I feel this more than some people. The Cameronians are to go. So also are the Lancashire Fusiliers, the Durham Light Infantry, the York and Lancaster Regiment and the Royal Irish Fusiliers. At the risk of repeating what has been said before, I will say that the 1st 801 Battalions of these regiments are the regiments themselves; and the regiments are now going. I think it was the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, who drew attention to the fact that thanks are seldom offered to the regiments when they disappear, and no apology is made for their disappearance. This is happening here, and I feel strongly about it. If these cuts are to be made, whether necessary and wise or not, and a regiment is to be struck out of the Army List, it is reasonable to expect that that should be stated with clarity and honesty. The fighting regiments of the British Army are at least entitled to consideration and respect.
Turning over to the last brigade on the list, the North Irish Brigade, I must here declare an interest, because my own regiment, the Royal Ulster Rifles, forms a part of the Brigade, and the other two regiments I know well enough to think of as friends. This particular Brigade has the distinction of having been throughout most of the post-war years—although I am not sure what the position is now—the best recruiting brigade in the Army. In fact, the record of this Brigade is such that it has been able to provide recruits for other brigades. I know from my own observation, through my own branch of the British Legion, which is in the City of Cork, that even down there, at the far end of the Irish Republic, there is still an interest in the regiments of the North, and there is a steady trickle of recruits into these regiments.
What has happened to the Brigade now? It is to be joined with two divisions to form the King's Division. There are five of these divisions, all with new names. Their names are all worth noticing, perhaps. The Queen's Division—excellent. The Prince of Wales' Division—splendid. The Scottish Division—accurate and descriptive. The Light Division—good. But the King's Division! When regiments such as the King's Own, the King's Royal Regiment or the King's Royal Rifle Corps were given the Royal prefix, this was a mark of honour. There was a King upon the Throne, and the regiments knew exactly whom they were being named after. But who is the King now that this prefix has been put at the head of this orphan of a regiment, when we have a Queen upon the Throne? I call it an orphan of a division, but in 802 fact it is a bastard of a division, if I may say so. Consider the other two brigades which are to make up its composition. They are the Lancastrian and the Yorkshire, two fine brigades. I dare say this was a good arrangement. The Wars of the Roses were over some time ago, and there is even a regiment called the York and Lancaster Regiment, which wears both the red rose and the white. Conceivably, the counties from which the men are drawn being contiguous, this is a reasonable arrangement.
Then, as the third brigade in this division, comes the North Irish Brigade. It is hard to say that this is a contiguous brigade. It is separated from the other two brigades by race, nationality, country—they even live in a different country—language and sea. It is very difficult to see that this is a convenient grouping, and one wonders what sort of a division one is to get when this is done. There is no argument that the North Irish Brigade is an extremely good one. It is small compared with the brigades, and smaller still compared with the new divisions which are to be formed; but it is a special thing of its own, on the other side of the sea, in another country: it is a viable formation, and has been for years. On grounds of economy only, it is to be transplanted, or else it is to stay where it is, in which case the sea wilt run through the middle of the division, which is unusual.
Presumably its brigade headquarters and its training depots are to be uprooted and planted in England. What roots, then, does the brigade have in its own country and among its own people? Or are the headquarters to be allowed to remain in Ireland? And in that case what is the point of the amalgamation with the other two divisions? I may be told that it is too small to remain on its own, and that it is only a brigade. I say that this is not so. This is where the trap comes in. It is too small because the Royal Irish Fusiliers have been disbanded, and with their disbanding there disappears from the ranks of the infantry of the line the word "Irish", an honoured name—but I will not go into that.
In conclusion—I think I have said enough—I would refer to one more point in regard to this tongue-in-cheek document, or perhaps I would now call it this 803 "double-talk". On page 4 it refers to the so-called grand strategy:… as our friends and allies outside Europe build up their own forces, the most valuable contribution we can make is the sophisticated elements which they might find it difficult to provide for themselves.Once it was, "Send us the tools and we will get on with the job". Now it is, "You get on with the job and we will send you the tools". So dawns in England, pallidly, the day of the Pragmatic Man. I beg your Lordships not to be deceived by that double-talk with which the document is sprinkled: and I do not think your Lordships will be deceived. This is not a strategic document at all; it is an economic document.It is not our defence needs which are directing our defence policy. In the main it is cost—it is money and economics. It has been emphasised everywhere that if one is directing a foreign policy according to one's purse it is almost certain that the policy will be wrong".So said our present Foreign Secretary in another place on March 6, 1962. Dressed up in its brave red jacket and labelled Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy 1967 this document is in fact essentially nothing of the sort. It is not even a statement on non-defence policy. It is a report on the repeated and continuing failures of the Labour Government to safeguard our interests, responsibilities and obligations. These failures rest in their turn on the ineptitude which has squandered, I will not go so far as to say our honour, but at least our cash.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I apologise for being slow on to my feet. I also apologise for having been late in arriving in this Chamber, and for not hearing some of the earlier speeches. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I speak as briefly as I can, because I think that the situation which this Supplementary Statement reveals is now becoming so serious that something must be done about it. There is one heartening thing about the Statement, and that is that it does at least acknowledge that we have a commitment and an obligation. I did not quite gather what the noble Earl the Leader of the House meant by the differences as they are stated in the document—"Outside Europe", as is said in one of the sections. I would question very 804 seriously whether we have made any attempt to provide ourselves in the post mid-'70s period with anything that can undertake either a commitment or an obligation.
It is perhaps first worth observing what we have to do. Surely our great task is to preserve stability in the world. If we do not do that, or at any rate contribute our share to securing stability, all the social services which we may think up will be non-applicable. We shall have no chance of using for any other purpose the money that might be saved by cutting down the forces, because there will not be any money there. We are already beginning to see what happens when we start to withdraw. Our oil is seriously threatened, and for what we all know to be quite specious reasons. The reason why this sort of situation has come about is not that we lack the forces, but that we lack the resolution to use the forces which are at our disposal. This is a very solemn situation, and it will get worse. If they do not feel there is anything to prevent them doing so people may create trouble around the world, where our trade must go on to enable us to live. This is fundamental.
How are we to prevent this? Looking at the White Paper one sees that we are to have some naval forces which will operate outside Europe. This is heartening, because it is perhaps the first time that a clear definite policy has been stated as to how the country wants its Navy to be used. However, as we see it is going to be very difficult for them to realise this. The White Paper goes on to say that we are moving out of our main base in Singapore at a stated period, and it also says that we hope to have other bases out there, but without being specific about them. Surely it is most unwise to declare where you are going from before you have confirmed where you are going to. Surely also it is difficult to see how we can have bases which cover the world in the way they have done heretofore from which to operate.
It is neither popular nor desirable for us to have more than a few bases among the islands of the Indian Ocean, which restricts greatly the area in which they can operate. Nor, I imagine, is it popular or generally acceptable for us to have other bases other than in the Continent of Australia, which also puts us very far from 805 where we might have to operate. But if these facilities become available to us they will enable us to do a certain amount of operating of aircraft and, possibly, a certain amount of placing troops.
One gets the impression from the Supplementary Statement that we are relying, as it says, and as was said in earlier Statements, on our friends giving us provision in time of whatever facilities we need on the spot. Just examine this, my Lords. When we have moved out of all the bases which we still possess and, perhaps, have the odd island in the Indian Ocean and a base in Australia, are we going to be sure that our friends, even when they require us, are going to commit themselves to taking the ponderous weight of our land-based forces, both air forces and land forces, into their facilities? I suggest to your Lordships that it will probably turn out that they will hesitate before they do that. After all, countries do not like having large bodies of people who are not of their own race, and they will put off asking for our assistance until it is too late.
Surely the best way of helping these friends of ours, and of ensuring the stability which is so vital to us, is to have forces which we can base at sea. The Government may well say that the Statement provides for just this, and it does, with one very important exception; that is, that it does not provide sea-based air power. It says:After the last carriers go, the Royal Navy, like the Army, will rely on Royal Air Force land-based aircraft to support it.The first point I would make is about the Royal Navy being like the Army. I am sure your Lordships would all agree that the Royal Navy is not like the Army, if only because Army officers tend to wear moustaches and very few soldiers are allowed to grow beards.
To be more serious, the conduct of warfare at sea (and this is why this sentence is so very suspect, because it implies that it is written by somebody who has no knowledge of the conduct of warfare at sea) is totally unlike the sort of battles which the Army has to fight on land. The nearest approach to it was the Desert war in World War II. If any of your Lordships have read that most interesting book by the late lamented Lord Tedder, Without Prejudice, which 806 I found to be wholly accurate in every way, you will have seen that in order to make the Army self-sufficient with air support he was continually establishing airfields as fast as the Army could move; and the Navy needs to have its airfields moving with it in the same way.
The document goes on to say—and this shows that some of the people, if not the Government, who contributed to the writing of it understand some of the problems—… every ship from frigate upwards will have the most effective capacity for reconnaissance and for surface ship and submarine attack that helicopters can offer".This shows that the need for reconnaissance, the need for strike—though the Statement omits defence—by seaborne aircraft is appreciated, but it is the best that can be done by a helicopter. This is nonsense. You must have something better than a helicopter can provide.
I am not arguing now specifically for a particular type of aircraft carrier, specifically for a particular type of aeroplane, but that you must have sea-based air power to make your Naval forces comprehensive in order to do the job which the White Paper asks them to do. I would remind your Lordships of what I said earlier, that the amount of air support from shore bases is almost certainly going to be a great deal less than the Government hope for in their wildest dreams. It is just not practicable to assume that everything will fall into place, just because it suits you to have a policy that way.
Several noble Lords have talked about the Army and have said how miserable it was if you were a soldier when you did not get enough support, when you did not get the right sort of weapons, and when you were permanently demoralised—if I took correctly the sense of what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, had to say—by this lack of proper support. What will the Navy feel like, when it is invited to represent the Government's policy in the late 1970s without one of the major features of its armament? That, surely, will be demoralising. There is just time to get this right, and I implore the Government, regardless of all the arguments which have gone on, to think again. For heaven's sake, think!
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I was not going to inflict myself on your Lordships' House to-day, but last Saturday I attended a certain occasion in the City of Plymouth at which it was very apposite that the subject of defence should be brought up. I should like first to say that Plymouth is very worried about its future position from the Navy point of view, from the Marines points of view, and from the point of view of the whole defence set-up. I met there a man whom I had last seen in Australia, many years ago, when he was serving on the liaison mission and I was in intelligence at Army Headquarters in Melbourne. I mention this because he spoke to me—and it is a feeling which I myself have had for some time—of the utter shame he feels, as do a lot of other people I know, about the behaviour of this country in withdrawing from various places, and particularly from Singapore.
When we consider the casualties, percentage-wise, of Australians and New Zealanders in the last three wars fought on behalf of this country, to the West of and aroud Suez, if the Government then turn round and say to them, "Right, we will remove ourselves from the only position which will give you an adequate defence", which is Singapore—and Singaporians do not want us to go—to my mind it is most ungrateful. It seems also that the Government have not learned the lesson of Malta. I was interested to hear a reference to the negotiations about a possible base in Australia. I should like the noble Earl who is to reply for the Government to let us know how far negotiations have gone. I do not pretend to be absolutely up to date with all my old Australian friends, but I know that many of them were taking the line, "Why, if you are going to treat us like this, should you now take for granted that we will give you a base in our country?". I thoroughly understand that point of view. That may be because I was born there.
Just over a year ago I was flying in a; small aircraft down from Bahrein to Muscat, and I sat alongside an educated Iraqi businessman who went into great detail as to what would happen to the Gulf area if we withdrew our presence. He prophesied that at least five countries would try to fill the vacuum. I mention 808 these things in passing, because it seems to me that it is not just "old Blimps" who are advocating that we maintain our responsibilities to the world. To me, it is dubious morality to withdraw from, say, Singapore until Australia and New Zealand are fit to take over themselves. I heard a remark on this subject from, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, to the effect that anyone who has studied any intelligent feasibility projects of this sort will realise that, with such a coastline as Australia has, and with their population, it is very difficult, to say the least, to do it; whereas it would be a different matter for such a country as our own. We have our defence on the Rhine, and, naturally, they would like a similar defence line in that part of the world.
I also think it is dubious morality to dodge our responsibilities and commitments so as to keep up our own standard of bread and circuses. I do not know about the rest of your Lordships, but in my particular business my insurance runs out at about 8 per cent. of my gross income. I am under-insured; but I would say that surely a country which has any self-respect should be prepared to pay the equivalent of 8 per cent. of its gross national income in keeping up its commitments. I cannot understand the logic of those who were the most vociferous in wanting to support Israel east of Suez, or bomb railway lines in Southern Rhodesia, but who then are the most strenuous advocates of fleeing from, say. Singapore. Perhaps it is supposed to facilitate entry into the Common Market.
My Lords, I just wanted to make that particular point, I suppose because I was horn in Australia. I know that many Australians have been over here putting their views to the Government, and I know what many of those views are. I should like the Government to say what arrangements they have made. They talk rather airily about them in the Paper. I should like to end by quoting, if I may, what a famous admiral once said. This was the admiral who, in 1910, said to Sir Maurice Hankey:The war will come in 1914, and Jellicoe will command the Grand Fleet".When he was visiting Smyrna a gentleman was complaining about the actions of the British administrators, and so on, 809 in turning a friendly country against them. This admiral could not refute many of these things, so he turned to the gentleman and said:Sir, you must remember, we are a nation of lions governed by asses".
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, we have had a rather long debate on Defence, and no doubt you Lordships will not welcome any irrelevance, but I do not think that I should let pass the fact that it has just been announced on the tape that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is to leave his position as Government Chief Whip in this House and is to go as Minister of State to the Commonwealth Office. I think the first thing that all of us would like to do is to congratulate the noble Lord on his appointment, and to wish him well. If I may say so, I think he has done a wholly admirable job in his last position. I think it was the office day, when we were having rather a dispute, that the noble Lord was paid the best compliment that he could have been paid by my noble friend, Lord Conesford, who said that he was an asset that the Government did not deserve. My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, as I understand, takes over from him, and we welcome him very warmly. I assure him that we will give him the same collaboration and co-operation as we have given to his predecessor.
My Lords, we have listened to a large number of speeches this afternoon, and almost all of them have been critical of the Government. It has been noticeable that other than the professionals, there have been only two in support—the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, and those apostles of scuttle, the Liberal Party, led by the arch-apostle, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord: is that meant to be a compliment? We have, after all, pioneered this whole policy, which the noble Lord will discover is the right one.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
It is not quite so late as that!
My Lords, I think we shall have learnt from these speeches that we have been discussing not so much defence and strategy, and what are or what are not British interests, as a determination on the 810 part of the Government to save money on defence, and to save it without relation to strategy or to current circumstances. For the White Paper takes two decisions. It announces, first, the intention of reducing our total Armed Forces by a quarter by 1975; and, secondly, the decision to abandon our bases in Singapore and in Malaysia by the same date. I want, if I may, to concentrate on those two factors, and in particular the factor of the abandondment of the bases in South-East Asia.
It is, as I understand it, the Government's firm intention to be out of Singapore and Malaysia by 1975. I have a very shrewd suspicion that when the White Paper was originally written there were no saving clauses, and that there is no doubt that it was at the instance of both the Americans and the Australians—particularly the Australians, I think, for I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has said—that the words about carrying out the reduction more slowly or more quickly, and so on, have been inserted. But the fact remains that no Government spokesman has or would or will dare to get up and say that it is not the firm intention of the Government to be out of Singapore by 1975. There would be such an outcry from his own supporters if he did so that he could not face the music.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord to say that I am one who will stand up and say that it is not the Government's firm intention? It is to be in the mid-1970s, within the conditions as set out in the White Paper.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I am just coming to all that. The noble Lord must not jump up too quickly, because I do not think he will find what he has just said to be very convincing in the light of what I am about to say. One must ask oneself why the Government have chosen this particular moment to announce these two decisions. It surely cannot be that they are convinced that the situation in the Far East or in the Middle East is potentially less dangerous than it was a year or two years ago. The impartial observer would surely have thought the reverse was the case. Although the Indonesian confrontation is over, the Vietnam war still continues; and all the evidence 811 that can be deduced from China's activities tends to show that she is becoming more, and not less, aggressive. She has detonated her first megaton weapon; and riots of a serious nature have taken place in Hong Kong. The whole of the Middle East has been in a state either of war or of uneasy peace for the last many months. Yet the Government have chosen this moment to announce that they intend drastically to reduce East of Suez.
One really must ask oneself, Why?—and, of course, the answer lies in the internal politics of the Party opposite; or, at least a part of the answer lies in the internal politics of the Party opposite. There is a large body of opinion in the Labour Party which is totally opposed to expenditure on defence. Many Labour M.P.s have tasted the fruits of some of the economic measures that the Government introduced last July; they see unemployment rising; they disapprove totally of the wage freeze; they are keen at any cost to increase the material benefits under the Welfare State, and they are not prepared to see defence expenditure running at the level it now is. And the Government have felt obliged to take note of this feeling. One of the main reasons for the introduction of this White Paper is that the Government need to take account of the opinion of their Back Benchers in the House of Commons—because we are given no strategic reason for these decisions, and the White Paper does not even pretend that the defence circumstances, the military circumstances, have altered.
My Lords, in Paragraph 6 of Chapter III of the White Paper, we are told of the reduction in force level to take place in Singapore and Malalysia in 1970 and 1971. Then, in paragraph 7 we find:In parallel with these reductions, we intend to change our Far East commitments.So we read on, anxious to find how these commitments are to be changed, only to find that no change whatever is proposed in the commitments. They remain exactly as they are now:We shall continue to honour our obligations under SEATO … We shall honour our obligations under the Anglo/Malaysian Defence Agreement … We shall also continue to make a substantial contribution to the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve …These are exactly the same commitments that we have at the present moment. What 812 is happening is not that the commitments are changing, but that our ability to meet the commitments is changing and is being drastically reduced.
To put paragraphs 6 and 7 of Chapter III in plain English, they mean this: "We have decided to reduce our forces. We still have the same commitments, but we shall have to reduce our contributions to honour those commitments because our forces will be smaller." That is not a defence policy; that is not a policy dictated for strategic reasons. Time and again those on these Benches have emphasised that the only real way to save money on defence is to cut your commitments. To cut the forces and pretend still to honour them is just a trick—and not a very convincing one.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, it would be unfair to the noble Lord to allow him to proceed along these lines without pointing out to him, as I did to the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, that in that paragraph 7 of the White Paper a distinction has to be drawn between "commitments" and "obligations".
§ LORD CARRINGTON
Really, my Lords, I think we deserve a little better than that from the Leader of the House. I find that one of the most unconvincing interjections that I have heard in the many years I have sat in this House.
I am tempted to ask why it was necessary to be so specific about the dates of withdrawal from Singapore. What is the virtue of announcing that we intend to leave by the mid-1970s? I should have thought—and many noble Lords have said this—that the experience of making precisely the same mistake over Aden would have taught the Government that announcing, so far in advance, intentions of this kind can have nothing but the most unsettling effect. If we were put in the position of Singapore or Malaysia, or indeed Australia or New Zealand, we should start as from now doubting the capability or the willingness of Britain to honour her obligations.
When we say that we are going to get out of somewhere then, at that very moment, our influence is greatly diminished. We are no longer a permanent factor to be taken account of; 813 other arrangements will have to be made; somebody, something, will take our place. And, as from that moment, influence as well as power vanishes. Why mention dates unless you mean them? What is the point of saying that you are going in the middle 1970s if you then go on to say—and this is the point that I was arguing earlier with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—that the precise timing of our eventual withdrawal will depend on progress made in achieving a new basis for stability in South-East Asia and in resolving other problems in the Far East? Either withdrawal will depend on these factors, or it will not. Why say that it is difficult to predict what the situation will be, and whether this will allow withdrawal, and then predict that it will be in 1975 that this will take place? What possible evidence have the Government that things will be any different in 1975 from what they are in 1972, or 1969 or 1979? Why give these hostages to fortune?
If things went well, if we were able to create a stable South-East Asia capable of defending itself, why should we want to stay till as long as 1975? The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in the last few sentences of the last part of his speech—what I think I might call the Transport House part of his speech—produced out of his sleeve what he seemed to think was a high court card, which was a speech of mine in which I said precisely what I have just said. It is true; but it is equally true that if things go badly we might wish to stay longer. This is not a case of staying when we are not wanted. Both Lee Quan Yu and Tunku Abdul Rahman have made it clear that they do not wish us to leave—and this not only, in Singapore's case, for economic reasons; although no doubt this must play some part in their thinking. But both of them feel that the area will be that much less secure as a result of our withdrawal.
I must say that I find this section of the White Paper wholly unconvincing. For what the Government are seeking to do is to appease their Left Wing by a firm announcement of withdrawal and at the same time to comfort our friends and allies by seeking to reassure them that withdrawal will take place only if circumstances permit. I am sure they will succeed in doing neither of these things. The Left Wing is clearly still not 814 satisfied, and the Australians and the Americans, in spite of the polite and gentlemanly words with which they have clothed their reactions, are deeply disillusioned at what they see as an abdication of British responsibility. No wonder my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, at the beginning of his speech, quoted some sentences of Mr. Healey! I want to repeat them. Mr. Healey, on February 3, 1966, speaking in Canberra, said:We have no intention of ratting on any of our commitments. We intend to remain, and shall remain, fully capable of carrying out all the commitments we have at the present time, including those in the Far East, the Middle East and in Africa. We do intend to remain in a military sense, a world Power … It would not make any military sense at all for us to leave Singapore unless we had to … From every point of view I think it is in our interests to stay in that part of the world as long as we can do so with the consent of the local people".If I were an Australian, I should not think much of Mr. Healey or place much reliance in anything he says in the future.
My Lords, at the end of this section we are told that even when we have left Singapore and Malaysia we cannot assume that we shall never again have to use our forces in the Far East. But the White Paper says:We do not need to settle the precise character, size and deployment of this capability now".There is a defence policy for you! The only thing the Government have firmly decided to do is to get out. But there is no need, they say, even though British interests may be virtually at stake, to decide how to protect them when they have got out. Really! The Government must take us for simpletons if they expect us to swallow that. The answer is that it will be almost impossible to honour our commitments East of Suez unless we are prepared to plan on the build-up of a maritime capability. For how else can we operate in that area?
Even if airfields with the required sophisticated equipment were available, anyone who has knowledge of the complication of modern weapons knows—and this point has been made already, in a very powerful speech, by my noble friend Lord Watkinson—what time must inevitably elapse before aircraft can be operational from a base which does not have the supplies and backing necessary for the maintenance of 815 that particular aircraft. We no longer live in a time when it is possible just to fly an aircraft to an airfield and operate it at once from that airfield, without backing and without planning. To a lesser degree this is true of the Army and the very diverse and varied equipment which even the smallest of military formations requires to fight a modern war. My Lords, I do not believe that this can be done wholly from the air. I do not think we have the physical capacity necessary to supply even a comparatively small force for a short time, and I should not have thought that was in our capability.
Any continuation of British power or presence in the Far East must depend very largely upon the Royal Navy and the proposals put forward in the White Paper for the Royal Navy are, from that point of view, totally inadequate. We read that after the last carriers go—this was the point made by my noble friend Lord Mottistone:the Royal Navy, like the Army, will rely on Royal Air Force land-based aircraft to support it.I must say to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who I understand is to reply, "Go and tell that to the Marines—but take your tin hat when you do". How is the Royal Navy going to be supported in the Far East by land-based aircraft when there are no land bases? And how can the Royal Air Force be expected to carry out this additional task when we are told that the front line is to be reduced but that all the other roles are to stay?
My Lords, I say again (I have said it so often that your Lordships will not be in the least surprised to hear it) that any British presence East of Suez is dependent on the Royal Navy, and for that presence it is essential that the Royal Navy should have air power of its own. The term "aircraft carrier" is emotive. It immediately conjures up in the minds of its opponents hundreds of millions of pounds spent on comparatively few ships. It may well be that this is not the sort of ship that we can any longer afford, but there are other ways in which air power can be deployed from the sea. And instead of writing nonsense like paragraph 3 in chapter IV of the White Paper, the Government should be exploring those different ways of finding air power.
816 I do not want to talk for too long but the other day I had luncheon with an overseas friend of mine who had not visited this country for seven years. I asked him what his impressions were. He said this. "I find a very odd atmosphere, and I am very puzzled. You have lost an Empire, through no fault of your own—indeed, it is greatly to your credit that you have converted it into a Commonwealth of independent nations. You have had since the war grave balance-of-payments difficulties, largely not of your own making, and due in great part to the loss of your Empire, and neither of these two things is at all discreditable. Yet you seem to spend the whole of you, time running yourselves down; saying how bad you are at everything; what bad things you produce; how wrong everything is with your country; how lazy you are and how incompetent, and how you do not matter any more." He said, "I am puzzled by it, because none of these things is true. But you are making them true by your insistence and your constant reiteration of them, and you are beginning to believe that they are true."
I think that there is a lot of truth in what my friend said. If we wish to be a great nation; if we have confidence in ourselves; if we feel that British interests are at stake; if we feel that we have some service to perform in the interests of the peoples of the Free World, whether it be in Asia or Africa or Europe, then, provided we really do want to do that, we can do it. Perhaps it may be necessary to make some sacrifice; to postpone an increase in the material benefits and to reduce the expenditure on the Welfare State to a rate less than would have been possible if our total income had been spent entirely and directed entirely at ourselves and on ourselves—though I am doubtful whether any country that is totally inward-looking and concerned only with its material welfare will, in the end, remain prosperous: it is more likely to degenerate and decay. I continually read in the newspapers and ill the writings of members of the Party opposite, and I hear in their speeches, what a good thing it is that we have at last abandoned our pretence to be a world Power; how little we count now; how much better it would be if we minded our own business in our own little Island, and left the 817 affairs of the world to those who really matter. The implication is, of course, that, provided the Americans protect us, what does it matter what we do? Let us take advantage of their strength and their generosity and grow fat, if we can, regardless of our solemn promises and the commitments into which we entered freely.
My Lords, I reject that attitude, and I reject it absolutely. I do not want to see Britain and British power deployed in the Far East just for the sake of prestige or nostalgia for the past—far from it. If there is no need for it; if we are not wanted; if there is a stable Asia or a stable Middle East, let us by all means remove ourselves. Nobody wants to spend money on having a big Navy or a big Air Force or a big Army just for the sake of show. But that is not the truth of the matter. There is no suggestion, even in this White Paper, that British troops are not necessary. There is no defence of the proposed cuts on military or strategic grounds. No one in the whole of this debate has suggested that the Forces are too big for what they may have to do. What we are being told is that Britain can no longer afford to spend 6.5 per cent. of her gross national product on defence. Why? If it is necessary, we should afford it; and if our economy had been expanding, instead of stagnating, there would have been a possibility of a reduction in that percentage. After all, many other countries do as much, and some do more. And an examination or comparison of Britain and NATO countries' defence forces, expressed as a percentage of the male population, does not show that our efforts are greater than others—rather the reverse.
Why is 5 per cent. of the national gross product the figure which the Government have chosen? Well, my Lords, we know the answer to that. As soon as the Government took office they decided to limit our defence spending to £2,000 million (the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, brought this out), at 1964 prices, unrelated to military needs or commitments. They are continuing down that road. I believe that that is the way to lose all influence and to lose all power. That is the way to offend and dishearten your friends and your allies. 818 That is the way to make this country negligible and of no account.
My Lords, I believe that this is a White Paper written by men of limited horizons, of no vision—"Little Englanders"—and I hope that when the Amendment is taken your Lordships will demonstrate to the Government, and to anybody who may read an account of this debate, that there are those of us in this country—I hope the majority—who do not accept such a policy; who believe that Britain has a role to play in the world; who believe that British interests in the Far East are vitally at stake; who reject this flabby document and are prepared to stand up and be counted.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ LORD BYERS
My Lords, before the Leader of the House replies to the attack which has just been launched on the Government by the Leader of the Conservative Party here, I should like very sincerely to add my congratulations to those of my noble friends to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, on his new appointment, for which, if I may say so, his international experience and Commonwealth background eminently qualify him. On the other hand, we shall be losing a very good Chief Whip; and, speaking as a former Chief Whip, I would say that it is a breed which ought to be preserved and not lightly dispensed with. We wish him well in his new post. I personally should like to thank him very much for the many kindnesses he has shown to me as a new Member of your Lordships' House. We shall look forward to working with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, the new link through the usual channels, and we will give him the usual co-operation.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I know that everyone for whom I speak will wish me to thank the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, for the characteristically generous and, I know, completely sincere things they have said about my noble friend Lord Shepherd, and for their congratulations to my noble friend Lord Beswick. I believe that Sir Winston Churchill used to refer to Professor Lindemann, later our friend here Lord Cherwell, as the half of his brain. My noble friend has been half of my brain—many people would say the 819 better half. It will be a colossal loss to us all, and perhaps most of all to me. I would submit one proposition about my noble friend which will be acceptable everywhere: that he has conceived his duty to be directed to the House as a whole. Of course he has had to look after his own Party in a special way, but he has acted always in the way he conceived as to be in the interests of the House. There can be few Members who have been in your Lordships' House regularly for some time who do not owe him some little kindness or consideration, of which the facts would not be known.
I should like to join with the noble Lords in their good wishes to my noble friend Lord Beswick, an old colleague of mine in the Ministry of Civil Aviation and in these later days a Minister who has earned the respect of the House by his firm and studious contribution to debate. I feel sure that he has the makings of a Chief Whip in the Lord Shepherd manner. Though they are different men—I do not know if the House is aware of that—I think that in the performance of their duties, they will turn out to be very similar, and I cannot pay my noble friend Lord Beswick a higher compliment than that.
I listened with close attention, as always, to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I am reminded of what Sir Winston Churchill said about Mr. Shinwell during the war. He said that Mr. Shinwell possessed only one handicap as Opposition Leader: he was so happy that he could not conceal his happiness when things went well for Britain and his unhappiness when things went badly. In other words, he was so dedicated a patriot that he was not always the ideal critic of the Government. I am sure that that is generally true of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. But to-day he made a much more partisan speech than usual. I hope it will not go to his head. He got such tremendous applause he might be encouraged to make a few more speeches like it. I am afraid he would lose the reputation, to which I am sure he attaches some value, for objective statesmanship, on our Benches and other Benches outside his own rather closely serried ranks. Though we like this sort of thing from him occasionally, we hope it will not be his invariable practice. May 820 I take one point that showed he was not quite at his usual level? In twenty-odd years I have heard many cheap gibes about the Liberals, but I never heard a cheaper one than that delivered to-night to loud laughter and applause.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, I plead guilty to being a "scuttler" in much the same sense in regard to land bases in foreign countries as the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, and I believe also the Shadow Tory Minister of Defence.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I have the noble Lord's support in the defence of the Liberal Party that I was seeking to offer.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, may I proceed? Noble Lords opposite had a good say earlier. As I was saying, when the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, permitted himself to break out, I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, took tremendous credit from the fact that all the Conservatives here had supported him. He found the Labour people against, and the Liberals. But that does not bother him. He felt sure that anybody who knew anything about it—in other words, the Conservatives—were on his side.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
We had some Cross-Benchers who were critical, but some of them were gentlemen of Conservative temper. Not all; I do not say that of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, but I do say it of others. The noble Lord must understand a little more about the Labour Party, about which he became a little bit obsessed to-night. There is not some sinister group called the Left Wing which dictate to us here.
A NOBLE LORD: The Right Wing.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
We have the Right Wing represented here; that is certainly true. I really must ask the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, to believe me when I say that this is the right policy. The noble Lord shoots me a quizzical look as though I should have what is 821 called my head examined. I can only say to him that as chairman of a great bank, if he, in his capacity as a banker, found a customer trying to live at this rate beyond his means, he would not lend him much more money. So I would ask him to take off his Party hat and put on his banker's costume and then he would pay much more attention to the economics of this problem than he showed in the course of his speech.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, why is it beyond our means? We were spending over 7 per cent. of our gross national product until quite recently, and now it is 6.5 per cent. Why is it beyond our means?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I was going to develop that at some length, but since the noble Lord challenges me, I would give him a simple answer. The expenditure on defence in which our Conservative friends landed us was one of the main factors in the record deficit in 1964. I shall come to that, but perhaps I shall be allowed to proceed. I can assure the noble Lord that I will come back to the Tory Party, if I do not go on too long, but I shall not have a very great deal to say, because there is not a lot to be said for it.
I must be allowed to say a few words about the economic position and background. I apologise to noble Lords whose speeches were not covered by either of my admirable colleagues and who have waited to hear me reply in detail, but I shall have to answer some of them by letter. Some interesting points were raised during the latter stages of the debate, including the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, that we should have only one Chief of Staff in future, which seems to me to be not a secondary point but one of importance. All these points will be carefully studied.
We have been told that this White Paper (or Red Paper) would get a poor mark at the Staff College. I do not know much about the Staff College, unlike my noble friend Lord Chalfont, who graduated from the Staff College with distinction, as I am sure did the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Without distinction. Then my noble friend did a little better. All I know about the Staff College, since the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, has been quoted, is that when I was Under-Secretary of State for War he took me there—I suppose technically I took him, but anybody who knows the noble Viscount will realise that he took me—and on that occasion he finished his address to the Staff College, pointing at me, as follows:Never forget the politicians. They are our masters, and it is up to us to lead them up the garden path.That is what the noble Viscount thought of politicians in those days. So we must be careful about our great technical Service chiefs, bearing in mind that the rest of us here—and I suppose they, too, in their later years—are politicians, acting on behalf of the country and trying to take a broad view of things.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and others will, I am sure, forgive me if I concentrate on the economic side, bearing in mind that my noble friends Lord Shackleton and Lord Chalfont have dealt with most of the professional issues raised. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in our last debate, said something with which I agree. I was hoping in this last speech to find something with which I agreed, but if there was anything, it escaped me. But on May 2 he said something which can surely be accepted by everybody. I now quote the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, just to give us a starting point for a consensus. He said:After all, defence is but a means of implementing foreign policy, and there can be no successful foreign policy which is not based on the economic strength of the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 2/5/67; col. 827.]That is surely the starting point of the whole subject. The objective stated by my noble friend Lord Shackleton, of building up an unshakable economic base, is again, and must be, common to us all.
I should like to emphasise a point on which my noble friend Lord Shackle-ton touched; namely, that this is not a selfish aspiration. The truth is that if we are going to be of any use to anybody in this world we must pay our way. Solvency is a condition not only of our own security, but of our playing any part 823 in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made an old-fashioned, jingoistic, imperialist sort of speech about our role and about our being a great nation. The question is whether you can be a great nation and bankrupt at the same time. I must commend that to the noble Lord, as a distinguished banker; and I intend to labour this point, as it has a great deal to do with this debate.
Let us look at one or two facts. Some noble Lords, and even my old friend Lord Robertson of Oakridge, to whom I always defer whenever possible—and it usually is—seem to me to have come very near to the heresy of saying that you have to decide what your tasks are and then decide whether you can pay for them. The noble Lord shakes his head; I have misrepresented him, and I apologise. But a number of noble Lords gave that impression. To use the expression of my old friend and master, the late Lord Beveridge, when asked if we could afford the Beveridge Report, he always used to say: "We cannot not afford it". That would be true about the basic minimum safety of this island.
But if one looks at the duties that we can perform in aid of other countries, we have to ask ourselves which we can afford. I would point out—and this did not seem to be much in the mind of the House—that defence expenditure has varied greatly in recent years. Naturally, it fell after the war until about 1950. Under the impact of the Korean War it increased in real terms by about 50 per cent. between 1950 and 1953. From then on it fell steadily until 1959. Then you find it rising again, until when we came into office it was still a lot higher than it was in 1950. The proportion of the national income devoted to defence at the time we came into office was of the order of 6½ per cent., compared with just under 5 per cent. pre-war. I should like to stress that to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. Before the War, in those Conservative days, we spent just under 5 per cent. of our national income on defence. If the noble Lords says: "Why 5 per cent.?", we are working back, if you like, to the standard which was found adequate then.
An aspect that I should like to bring out for the benefit of the noble Lord, 824 Lord Carrington, has been the increasing proportion of this expenditure which has been incurred overseas—and as he is an overseas banker of distinction, he knows all about this kind of thing. One has to be a little careful with statistics, but I would point out that in 1953 the Government's military expenditure overseas net was only £140 million, but in 1964 it was of the order of £250 million; it was well on the way to being double. The item of £250 million is an absolutely crucial item, and I need hardly point out that it was about a third of the record deficit which our Tory friends left us in 1964. There was a tendency to have a little good-humoured jeering when I said that it had something to do with the deficit. It had a great deal to do with the deficit of 1964—here it was, £250 million.
Just for the sake of "old-timers", if there are any present, I may point out that before the war the overseas Government expenditure—they could not separate, apparently, the purely military expenditure; this was a larger figure than the military expenditure would have been—was £16 million. You can multiply that by three, if you like, or a bit more, and say that it is £50 million to-day. That is taking other items—diplomatic items, and so on—besides military items. I am only trying to bring out the fact that this figure of £250 million, which is where we, so to speak, started from when we came in, for overseas military expenditure, was not only nearly twice as much as the figure had been eleven or twelve years earlier, but several times as much as the pre-war figure. So people really must not assume that, because we found ourselves with an expenditure of £250 million, therefore, if we were going to be patriotic at all, or look after defence, or honour our ancient traditions, we had to go on spending this £250 million overseas every year. So we have had to take action.
But it is fair to say at this stage: "Well, you have been trying to cope with these problems, with the White Papers and Defence debates, and all these steps and so on. Why is it there has got to be this further development?". And that I should like to answer quite clearly and definitively. The explanation is quite simple. From 1963 onwards—you might 825 say, from the Budget introduced by Mr. Maudling in 1963—the experts advising our Government, and the Governments themselves, formed the opinion that we could manage a growth rate of 4 per cent. a year. When it was announced by Mr. Maudling elsewhere it was widely applauded on all sides—I am not deriding him in any way for that—and it was applauded by myself here, I well remember, in quite a long economic speech, among more notable speeches. Of course, the Conservatives tried very hard to live up to it, but they left this record deficit. I am sorry to keep mentioning it, but it comes into all these calculations. At any rate, it was a big factor—the attempt, no doubt, to get to 4 per cent.
We took up the tale, and we tried to get the 4 per cent.—it came in our National Plan—and we have decided that in fact it is at the moment impossible to achieve this 4 per cent.; and I think there is general recognition that 3 per cent. is the most that either we or anybody else would get at the present time. So if anybody wants an explanation why we had to scale down Defence in this new White Paper—Red Paper—the candid answer is that calculations have now been made, which I should think are generally accepted, to the effect that we shall not get the 4 per cent.; we must rule out that possibility, and must be content with 3 per cent. And, surely, nobody in this House, even a fanatic, will say that if we reach this conclusion that 3 per cent. is all we can get, that would not have any effect on the Defence budget. I will not stop to ask, but I do not imagine that anybody would seriously say, "Well, the 4 per cent. or 3 per cent. is no concern of ours; we are going to insist on this expenditure, whether we go bankrupt or not". Hence the economic proposals, which have been explained already elsewhere and to-day—when I say "the economic proposals", I mean the proposals for curtailing expenditure.
I would just point out that if you leave out West Germany, where our aim is to achieve the full offset of our costs, we plan to reduce the expenditure on our Forces overseas from the estimate of £192 million for 1966–67 to about £120 million a year in 1970–71, and subsequently to £60 million. Leaving out Germany, where we intend to cover costs, the figure would come down from £192 826 million to £60 million. I say that that was an essential duty which we are seeking to perform, and anybody who just laughs it off is not taking the fortunes of the country seriously.
It has been already explained that, to take the full budget, we are aiming to bring down the Defence budget for 1970–71 from £2,100 million to £1,900 million, and by the mid-'seventies to £1,800 million. I would repeat that, by 1970–71, the expenditure on Defence will still be just below 6 per cent. of the gross national product, which is still a good deal higher than the pre-war figure. I want to keep repeating that to noble Lords, some of whom, I think, will be hearing it for the first time.
My Lords, I do not want to take up a great deal more time. I must say a few words about the Conservatives. I am afraid one can only say that they are showing themselves completely evasive in regard to the main Defence issue. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was rather more candid, if I may say so, than those who speak for the Party elsewhere, but it appears that if you take the House of Commons spokesmen for the Conservative Party, they are totally split. The Sunday Times last week-end described them as "fundamentally divided on defence". Mr. Powell is referred to as wishing to withdraw into purely European defence; Mr. Sandys as wishing to retain Britain's traditional defence posture. Certainly Mr. Powell, who I know is a man of courage and scholarship, is something of a phenomenon in this role as defence spokesman. So far as I understand it, he does not agree at all with the propositions which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has unfolded. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, shakes his head. Unless he contradicts me and says that Mr. Powell would agree with his speech, I should find that impossible to believe.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I do contradict the noble Lord, and I think Mr. Powell would agree with every word I have said.
SEVERAL NOBLE LORDS: Oh!
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord can hear from the derisive hoots that very few people in the House believe that sentiment. I am 827 sure the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, believes it himself, but it is clear that in the eyes of the Sunday Times and many commentators there is understood to be a deep division at the top of the Conservative Party in regard to East of Suez policy.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, the noble Earl said that my remarks received derisive hoots. Has it occurred to him that noble Lords might have been hooting at him?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, to be absolutely candid, it had not. I will bet the noble Lord any sum he likes to a bad sixpence that they were in fact aimed at him. So that clears up that little issue. I wish that the graver topics could be disposed of quite so happily.
The Conservative Party dare not go forward with any defence policy because of this fundamental split. Everybody knows about the split—it is not discreditable—and everybody knows that Mr. Powell is an eccentric—some people say an eccentric of genius, but you cannot retain a man as defence spokesman if he is an eccentric of genius and then put forward a coherent defence policy. Nobody to-night, except in a shadowy way, has told us what the Conservatives would spend on defence. Mr. Powell himself was asked this. People kept getting up and asking "Would you spend a larger proportion?", but all he suggested was that they should look at some earlier speech or at his record in the First World War, or something like that. It was a long way back. He was not going to answer that one; so it does not lie in the mouths of noble Lords opposite to come forward and pour scorn on our defence policy, because they have not got a defence policy of their own.
That explains to the Conservatives why their Motion does not commend itself to us. Their policy is a vacuum. There is not very much you can do with a vacuum. You cannot argue with it—that is quite true. But you can despise it, and I hope that everyone who shares the views I have been expressing will throw out the Motion with contempt, 828 by voting for this Amendment. I do not want to end on quite that note, in view of the fact that this is the last speech in the last general debate in what I think we can all agree has been a very fruitful year for the House of Lords. There is a genuine difference here. I think that anybody who reads the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Chalfont (they need not take my own, as I have been in so much of a hurry) will see that here is a difference which cannot easily be glossed over.
Nevertheless, I believe that we in this country are more unified in regard to some of the fundamental questions of policy than ever in the past. In the old days, there was a cleavage between the imperialists and the "Little Englanders", and, in one form or another, between those who loved the Army and those who disliked the Services. These cleavages are now finished. There is general attachment to the Services throughout this House, and, with very few exceptions, throughout the country. We are all as one, of course, in our fundamental patriotism, and I hope and believe that we are all at one in seeking to promote a different sort of international society from any we have yet seen—a subject on which the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, spoke with such authority and, I thought, so movingly earlier to-day.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday—and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, has quoted it to-day:I claim for the Government that the new defence policy published last week will for the first time during the coming years bring into harmony British economic policy. British foreign policy and British defence policy.That is what he stated, and I hope that I may add:and bring into harmony all these aspects of policy with the fundamental moral aspirations of our people".My Lords, I hope that the House will vote for this Amendment.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?829
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 61; Not-Contents, 85.
|Addison, V.||Gifford, L.||Phillips, Bs.|
|Airedale, L.||Gladwyn, L.||Plummer, Bs.|
|Amherst, E.||Granville-West, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Annan, L.||Henderson, L.||Rhodes, L.|
|Beswick, L. [Teller.]||Henley, L.||Rowley, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Heycock, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Bowles, L.||Hilton of Upton, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Brockway, L.||Hughes, L.||Samuel, V.|
|Brown, L.||Iddesleigh, E.||Segal, L.|
|Burden, L.||Kennet, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, Bs.||Leatherland, L.||Shepherd, L. [Teller.]|
|Byers, L.||Lilford, L.||Sorensen, L.|
|Chalfont, L.||Lindgren, L.||Stocks, Bs.|
|Champion, L.||Listowel, E.||Stonham, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Collison, L.||Longford, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Summerskill, Bs.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Crook, L.||Maelor, L.||Wade, L.|
|Darwen, L.||Mitchison, L.||Walston, L.|
|Gaitskell, Bs.||Moyle, L.||Winterbottom, L.|
|Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.)|
|Aberdare, L.||Derwent, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Digby, L.||Monckton of Brenchley, V.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Drumalbyn, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Effingham, E.||Mountevans, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Elliot of Harwood, Bs.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Moyne, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Erroll of Hale, L.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Balerno, L.||Ferrier, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Barnby, L.||Fleck, L.||Oakshott, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Fortescue, E.||Redmayne, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Fraser of North Cape, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Boston, L.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Bourne, L.||Grenfell, L.||St. Helens, L.|
|Brecon, L.||Gridley, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Brooke of Cumnor, L.||Hacking, L.||Salisbury, M.|
|Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs.||Hawke, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Buckton, L.||Horsbrugh, Bs.||Sandys, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Howard of Glossop, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Hylton-Foster, Bs.||Somers, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Inchyra, L.||Stonehaven, V.|
|Conesford, L.||Inglewood, L.||Strange, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Jellicoe, E.||Strange of Knokin, Bs.|
|Craigavon, V.||Killearn, L.||Thurlow, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Lambert, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Mar, E.||Wakefield of Kendal, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Watkinson, V.|
|Daventry, V.||Merrivale, L,||Wolverton, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to express my grateful thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and my noble friend Lord Longford for the kind words that they have said. I have been Chief Whip now 830 for some time, both on the other side of the House, which I enjoyed particularly—nothing is better really than making the life of the Government miserable—and as Chief Whip for the Government. But there is one thing that has never altered; that is, the generosity and the good humour that has prevailed on all sides of the House.
There are some who wonder how the House of Lords can possibly work without a Speaker. There are some who 831 would like a Speaker. I would not want a Speaker, because it is the wonderful friendship and the give-and-take which exists on all sides of the House which makes the House work. It is the one factor which makes the life of a Government Chief Whip possible. I am grateful to noble Lords on all sides of the House for a wonderful tour of duty, and I hope that they will extend the same spirit to my noble friend Lord Beswick who will be taking over from me. I thank you all very much indeed.