HL Deb 02 May 1967 vol 282 cc813-43

2.17 p.m.

LORD SHACKLETON rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1967 (Cmnd. 3203). The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move that this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1967 I should first like to apologise to your Lordships if I am not able to be present during the whole of the debate. I did indeed doubt whether it would be proper for me to take part, since I have strong views on the attendance of Members of this House who speak in a debate: I think that they should be present. But I hope that today, in the circumstances—as your Lordships know, I am engaged in other activities—I may be excused if I am not present all the time.

This year's Defence White Paper underlined again the triple aims of the Defence Review which formed the basis of our debate on Defence a year ago. It is clear that we have to-day a very distinguished list of speakers; indeed, I doubt whether any Parliamentary Assembly in the world could muster such an expert and distinguished group for debate of this kind. I am sure that it would be the desire of your Lordships to wish the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, a successful trip to Egypt in connection with the 25th anniversary of his great victory at Alamein, and also to wish him a safe return. I am very glad that we are to hear from the noble and gallant Viscount, and I am sure that noble Lords on both sides of the House await with interest his views on Defence.

My Lords, it was the aim of the Government, in setting the Defence Review in motion, to bring under control the frightening rate of increase in Defence spending which characterised the Defence Budgets and, even more, the long-term plans of the previous Government, so that in terms of real resources the burden on the Exchequer and the taxpayer would be stabilised, and if possible reduced. If the! noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is worried I can assure him that I propose to make as unprovocative a speech as I can.

The first part of the exercise was necessarily negative, and your Lordships will recollect that discussions on Defence a year ago were dominated by the decisions relating to equipment regarding projects which, in the opinion of the Government, were disproportionately costly for the extra military effectiveness they would have yielded. We have now moved into a more positive stage of implementing the decisions stemming from the Review, and this year, as well as presenting in the White Paper an impressive account of savings, both budgetary and in foreign exchange, we can also show real progress in the relief of over-stretch of our forces world-wide, and this was one of the most serious Defence problems that we inherited. Your Lordships will also have seen from the White Paper that on the equipment side, too, despite fears which were expressed last year, particularly in relation to the aircraft industry, firm programmes, stretching in some cases into the mid-1970s, are now in hand.

The Defence Review set out the broad financial aim of achieving by 1969–70 a Defence budget of £2,000 million at 1964 prices. This year's White Paper demonstrates that substantial savings will be achieved even before the target year. The Estimates for 1967–68 are already £73 million under the 1969–70 target. This picture is even more impressive when seen in relation to the plans of the previous Government. Their Estimate for this year would at current prices have been £2,571 million, or £366 million higher than that in the White Paper. Comparing the three years of the present Government's life with the previous Government's Defence plans for the same three years, we can see a saving of £750 million. It has been claimed, of course, that these are artificial savings; but this claim does not stand up to examination. The long-term costing of the previous Government, with which we are making our comparison, was based on the most accurate estimate that could be made. We have kept below that figure by cutting some projects and by applying rigorous standards of cost effectiveness throughout the Defence programme.

Your Lordships will rightly ask whether too great a preoccupation with cuts and savings will not result in the end in a lopsided or inadequate Defence policy. I hope in the course of my speech to dispel any fears that the Government have fallen into this error. We have sought throughout the Defence Review, and will continue to seek—for we see the Review as a continuous exercise—the most meticulous matching of military provision to the needs of our national security and our world-wide commitments that has ever been attempted in this country. This rigorous weighing of costs against results is making possible the achievement of savings which axe impressive in themselves and essential in the present economic climate.

At the same time, we have, I think rightly, eschewed any temptation to create a situation in which our forces are either being asked to do too much or being denied the tools they need to carry out their roles properly. If I may say so, one of the most encouraging and impressive features of the Defence Review has been that in both these respects (your Lordships will remember the problem of overstretch, in particular) the position has improved during the life of this Government, despite the substantial savings which are being made.

My Lords, I turn now to an examination of the overseas deployment of our forces, conscious as I do so that the test of the validity of the claims I have made in relation to the Defence Review must be that the disposition of our military forces is responsive to changing political circumstances. It is the view of the Government that those critics who insist on immediate withdrawal from our overseas commitments and those who deplore any suggestion of alteration in our pattern of deployment are equally weak in their stance, because neither is showing that sensitivity to a changing world which we regard as essential to effective Defence planning.

Let me deal first with our contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. I am conscious that we have discussed this subject on a number of occasions in recent months, but it is so important that I think even now it is right to put it first, because I believe that the security of these Islands still depends primarily on preventing war in Europe. For this reason I believe that while the Warsaw Pact forces maintain their formidable military capability, the continuation of the North Atlantic Alliance is essential to our safety. We are members of that Alliance, and I believe that we should continue to play our part by making a substantial contribution to the Armed Forces of NATO. I doubt whether any of your Lordships would dissent from that proposition. What is more controversial is the form which our contribution should take, and it is that which I should now like to discuss for a few minutes.

Circumstances in Europe have greatly changed since the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington on April 4, 1949. At that time Europe was threatened by Soviet expansion, and it was necessary for Western Powers, which had demobilised rapidly at the end of the war, to build up their forces and to establish a co-ordinated military organisation to counter that threat. This the Western Powers successfully did, and I think we should recognise, as I am sure we all do, that this was a very notable achievement.

I wish I could say, my Lords, that this threat had now vanished for ever. But alas! I cannot do so. The Soviet Union and its allies maintain a vast military potential in the form of both conventional and nuclear forces, and while these remain in existence we cannot confidently say that there is not a threat. What I would maintain, however, is that in recent years the threat has receded somewhat. We now have a degree of détente in Europe which is clearly recognised on both sides. I believe that much of the credit for this must go to the continuing military strength and political solidarity, despite difficulties, of NATO. The Soviet Union is aware that any deliberate aggression would lay it open to a nuclear response so devastating that no prize could be worth the appalling risks involved. There are, of course, other factors involved, including Soviet preoccupation with China.

The points I want to make are, first, that in the foreseeable future Soviet aggression is unlikely; and secondly, that NATO in its strategic thinking must take account of this fact. In short, military planning must take account of Soviet intentions as well as Soviet capabilities. I do not believe that these intentions are at present aggressive, and although circumstances may conceivably change in the future I do not believe that this is likely to happen overnight.

If this assessment is correct—and the Government believe that it is—it has important implications for the military planning of the Alliance in general, and, in particular, the deployment of NATO'S forces, including those contributed by the United Kingdom. In particular, it raises the possibility of redeploying elsewhere some part of the forces now stationed in Germany, provided that they could be returned if an emergency threatened. This is one of the possibilities which has recently been under discussion in the tripartite talks between the United Kingdom, the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany, talks which have covered a wide range of subjects, including NATO strategy, the forces required to implement it and the most equitable means of sharing the foreign exchange burdens imposed by the stationing of British and American forces in Germany.

These talks were concluded at a further meeting in London at the end of last week, and a Statement about their outcome is being made this afternoon in another place. A similar Statement will be made to noble Lords later. I should like to apologise personally to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that he should be in the position of having to make his speech before he has this information. The only thing I would say on this point is that I do not think I shall be giving away any secrets if I say that the extent of the redeployment of our forces from Germany to the United Kingdom will be very much less than some of the alarmist reports over the last few months have suggested.

In the Middle East our plans for the withdrawal of our forces from Aden when South Arabia becomes independent are going ahead. Service families will all be out of Aden by the end of July. The removal of heavy equipment and other stores has begun. Political consultations with the Federal Government on the date of independence have been taking place, and discussions on a number of propositions are continuing. Your Lordships will not expect me to say very much about the situation in Aden, but there are certain things which I should like to mention. The reason I do not want to go into detail is that my mission is by no means completed. The terrorist campaign in Aden continues to provide a sombre backcloth, and we have had the recent awful example of the school bus that was blown up. Our troops, in co-operation with local security forces have had to deal with a better organised and less primitive opposition than in the past. The range of weapons that are now available to the terrorists is great. They include energas, mortar bombs, grenades and machine guns.

In coping with their difficult and hazardous task among local populations, whose fears of terrorist reprisals make them unwilling to co-operate, our troops are displaying the greatest courage and efficiency. I had an opportunity of seeing something of them and their work. I visited groups at the check points and talked to some of the men as they came off duty, and I was able also to visit some of the wounded. The Army have conducted their security operations in a splendid way, with enormous restraint. Those who saw the television film in which a certain amount of roughness was displayed may not appreciate that some of the shots were taken after the troops had been continually grenaded and fired upon for a long period. I do not believe—and I hope this is not too much a piece of chauvinism—that any army in the world could have better carried out these operations with less loss of life. It is a thankless job the Army are doing, but I was immensely impressed by their approach to it. They were doing a job, and they were doing it with efficiency and determination.

I should also like to pay tribute to the civilians, some of whom have been badly wounded and others of whom have lost those near and dear to them. Yet they have returned to their posts. This quality shines through the tragedy that is being enacted there like a gleaming light. And let me say that all of them have been supported by the staunchness of the High Commissioner. May I also pay, for me, an unexpected tribute to the Press. The Press has been moderate, well-informed and co-operative, and has shown a full regard to the dangers and the opportunities that still remain there. I shall say no more about my mission except that it is my present intention to return to Aden shortly. I have certainly not given up hope that peace and stability may be brought to South Arabia. Despite the setbacks to the United Nations Mission, we still consider that the United Nations can play a valuable role in bringing South Arabia to independence, and we shall continue to give the Organisation every assistance in its efforts. Our plans for the small build-up of our forces in the Persian Gulf are going forward. This increase will be limited to what is necessary to fulfil our remaining obligations in the area after withdrawal from Aden.

I should like to turn to the Mediterranean. The talks with the Malta Government in London early in March had a satisfactory outcome, and the run-down of our forces in Malta will now be phased so that the effects on Maltese employment will be spread as evenly as possible over the next five years. We have further undertaken to limit the loss of jobs in the first 18 months of the run-down to give the Maltese economy a breathing space. The detailed figures have been announced. As your Lordships know, the noble Lord, Lord Robens, has been appointed as Chairman of the Joint Mission which will go out and will make recommendations to both Governments about re-training and the creation of new job opportunities in Malta.

Let me now turn to the Far East. I am glad to see that the noble Viscount, Lord Head, is here and will be taking part in this debate. The ending of the confrontation with Indonesia in August last year gave us the opportunity to reduce our force levels in the Far East. I must again say that I believe that the action of the British Armed Forces in this area has been one of the most striking exercises of the use of armed power in the defence of peace. It is interesting to recall that during all that time the Air Force never fired a single shot in anger, yet the whole of our presence contributed ultimately to a peaceful settlement.

We said in the 1966 Defence Review that we would reduce our force levels as soon as conditions permitted. The plans we put in hand when confrontation ended covered the withdrawal of about 10,000 men to this country. These, of course, were largely drawn from the combat forces that had been sent out specifically for confrontation, and most of them are already back home. In addition, we have been able to put in hand earlier plans to reduce the Brigade of Gurkhas to a total strength of 10,000 men by the end of 1969. Now, following the recent visit of the Secretary of State for Defence to the Far East, we believe that it will be possible by next April to bring the total number of men and women working in or for the Services down to 20,000 below the total at the end of confrontation. The Secretary of State for Defence also had preliminary discussions on the scope for further reductions during the following two or three years. We believe that it will be possible for the various changes we have in mind to be made in an orderly way without unacceptable consequences, provided we keep in close contact with the Governments concerned.

Naturally we shall continue to study the possibility of reducing our overseas defence spending throughout the world, and in doing so we shall always bear in mind our national interests and those of our friends and allies. But wherever it is justified by the facts of the situation, we shall be unremitting in the search for further savings. I claimed at the beginning of my speech that against a background of substantial defence savings, the Defence Review was also an exercise in reducing overstretch and in ensuring that our forces were better equipped than ever before for the roles which they are most likely to be called upon to fulfil. I hope that what I have said about deployment has been sufficient to justify the first of those claims.

I should now like to turn to the field of equipment for all three Services, and in what I shall say I believe that I shall demonstrate that the second claim also stands firm. For the Royal Navy, last year's Statement was a very significant one, because it recorded the decision to phase out the aircraft carriers during the 1970s. In the ensuing year, there has been a radical examination of the longterm size and shape of the Fleet after the carriers have gone. As the Defence White Paper explained, final decisions for the Navy, as well as for the other Services, have had to await the outcome of the NATO discussions, to which I referred earlier, but this does not mean that the Navy has been standing still in the last twelve months. Far from it. The new construction programme has been going ahead very satisfactorily. Of the two new assault ships, H.M.S. "Fearless" has joined the Fleet and H.M.S. "Intrepid" will shortly complete trials. H.M.S. "Fife" and H.M.S. "Glamorgan", the latest county class guided-missile destroyers, both equipped with the Sea Slug Mark 2 system, have been commissioned.

Three new "Leander" class general purpose frigates joined the Fleet during 1966–67, and another three will join this year. Orders are being placed for further ships of this class. Among submarines —and it should be recognised that these are the capital ships of the future—two nuclear-propelled fleet submarines, H.M.S. "Dreadnought" and H.M.S. "Valiant", are already at sea, and a third, H.M.S. "Warspite", has just been commissioned. A further three are on order, and a seventh, with a greatly improved capability, will be ordered this year. Studies are also being made to improve the offensive weapons of this class which will enhance their already formidable anti-ship and anti-submarine capability. Of the four Polaris submarines, two, H.M.S. "Resolution" and H.M.S. "Renown", have been launched and the first of these will be operational by mid-1968. So much for the existing classes of ship.

Last year's Statement referred to a new class of guided missile destroyer, the type 82, which is the forerunner of the ships which in the 1970s will deploy the Navy's future weapon systems, in particular Sea-dart, a new medium-range surface-to-air guided missile which will succeeed Sea Slug. Additionally, the type 82 will have a new action data automation system, probably the most advanced system in service in any fleet in the world. New aircraft will also be coming forward for service with the Royal Navy. The first deliveries of Phantoms begin next year, and H.M.S. "Ark Royal" has entered Devonport Dockyard for a long refit designed in part to fit her to operate this aircraft. During the present year the Wessex Mark 3 helicopter will be introduced for service. Its anti-submarine equipment is the most advanced of its kind in any navy. In the longer term, this equipment will be incorporated in the Sea King helicopter, to which we made reference previously, with its great capacity, longer endurance and twinengined safety. H.M.S. "Blake" and H.M.S. "Tiger" will be converted to carry both the Wessex III and later the Sea King.

Let me now turn to the Army. I submit that it is to-day one of the best equipped in the world; and I think it would be right for me to say at this point that much of the work that has led to its successful re-equipment was done by the previous Administration. Re-equipment of armoured regiments with Chieftain tanks to replace the Centurions is well under way, and there are now about 120 of the new tanks in service. Swingfire, a long-range anti-tank weapon, will be coming into service with units next year. Vigilant and Carl Gustav anti-tank weapons are already in service. Extensive re-equipment of B.A.O.R.'s field artillery is now virtually completed with the 105 mm. Abbot, the 155 mm. M109 and the 175 mm. M107 guns. All this adds up to a very high degree of weapon sophistication which, when combined with the increased mobility afforded by helicopters and the new armoured personnel carrier, makes, I am sure noble Lords will agree, for an extremely effective Army.

The Royal Air Force's re-equipment programme loomed very large during the Defence Review. Noble Lords will recollect that this Government inherited an aircraft re-equipment programme defective in terms both of cost-effectiveness and of timings. The aircraft planned were either too expensive or would not have arrived in time to meet the operational requirement. Major decisions—and we have debated these at length—were made to cancel the HS.681, P.1154 and TSR.2 aircraft and to adopt the Hercules, the Phantom, the P.1127 and the F.111. The decision was also taken to replace the Shackleton with the HS.801. These decisions were of very great significance for the Royal Air Force of the 1970s. What we are now able to report in this year's Statement is how far the decisions already taken are materialising into hardware.

To take the Hercules first, 66 have been ordered and the conversion training of crews has already been begun. Over 150 Phantoms have been ordered for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and delivery commences next year. Although in concept and design these are, of course, American aircraft, the types we are purchasing will, as your Lordships know, incorporate a high proportion—this is particularly true of the Phantom—nearly one-half, of British equipment, including the very successful Rolls-Royce Spey engine. The F.111, for which the full order of 50 has now been placed, will come into service in about two years' time.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment, as he said he may not be here later? As he has left the Phantoms, may I ask whether the final order for Phantoms has now been placed, or arc there further orders to come over and above the 150 which he mentioned?


My Lords, there are over 150. I am sorry I have not been able to refresh my mind on the precise state of the game with regard to this matter. As the noble Earl knows, there are a large number of stages. But I am sure that my noble friend Lord Chalfont will try to give further information on that point.

Production of two major British aircraft, each in its own fashion unique, is now under way. The P.1127, or Harrier, as it is now called, will be the first V.T.O.L. aircraft in the world to enter squadron service, and the HS.801 will be the first all turbo-jet maritime reconnaissance aircraft in the world. Both these aircraft should enter service during 196970. Progress has also been made in our collaborative arrangements with France. These cover the Jaguar and variable geometry aircraft, helicopters and the Martel air-to-surface missile.

I should like to clarify the position on the research and development costs of the A.F.V.G. Her Majesty's Government have not given a formal statement on the United Kingdom share of the development, but have indicated that in the discussions with the French we were working on the basis of a bracket—I am speaking of R. and D. now—of between £100 million and £125 million. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked me to make clear that there has been no development to change this bracket. When he was answering an interjection in another place in the context of the 15-year programme cost, he gave a figure of £150 million as a forward projection of a basic development plan for the aircraft on the assumption that over the years there could well be further adaptation and improvement of the aircraft. This longer-term figure, therefore, in no way invalidates the estimate for the particular project on which we are working with the French.

To a very great extent we have a settled programme of re-equipment for the Royal Air Force. But this does not denote that all we have to do is sit back and await delivery. A very critical eye has to be kept constantly on all our programmes to ensure that a balance is being maintained between strategic and tactical needs, on the one hand, and cost, on the other. Your Lordships, particularly those who have occupied Defence positions, will know the enormous amount of planning and organisation that is necessary to introduce aircraft of this kind.

My Lords, I hope I have shown that the Government have been energetic in examining and revising the disposition of our military forces and in providing them with the best equipment for their particular tasks. The organisation of all the effort that goes into day-to-day management and long-term planning has to be as effective as can be devised if the considerable resources employed in the Defence effort are to be used efficiently. I should therefore like to conclude by referring briefly to certain organisational changes which were made at the beginning of the year. Perhaps I may remind the House of what was done at that time.

First, the functions of Ministers were revised so that three senior Ministers now devote their attention to the problem of Defence as a whole. The Secretary of State is now free to concentrate on the wider aspects of Defence policy and planning, while retaining direct responsibility for operations and maintaining effective political supervision over the remainder of the Defence field, and he has been assisted by the additional resources of a team, enabling him to evaluate the various propositions. A Minister of Defence for Administration is responsible for personnel and logistics matters affecting all three Services, and a Minister of Defence for Equipment is responsible for matters concerning all three Services in research, development and production. and in procurement and sales. A Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is in charge of each of the three Service Departments, and these arrangements have, we believe, improved the balance of the higher direction of our Defence effort.

Secondly, there has been the appointment of the Chief Adviser. Personnel and Logistics. who assists the Minister of Defence for Administration, and is permanent Chairman of the Principal Personnel Officers' Committee and the Principal Administrative Officers' Committee, and we believe this has facilitated inter-Service co-ordination and the furthering of such important projects as the establishment of the Royal Defence Academy.

Improvements of this kind call for a major administrative effort for which the new organisation is proving to be well adapted. It recognises not only the growing interdependence of the Services, but the growing complexity of service management, as the complications of technical equipment increase, while automatic data processing and other modern management techniques progressively widen the scope of management and control. In such a situation the search for common solutions and the pooling of resources to deal with common problems in the personnel and logistics field becomes inescapable.

Another change in our organisation during the past few months has been the reorganisation of the duties of the Chief Scientific Adviser, and their reallocation to two Chief Advisers for Projects and Studies. The creation of these appointments recognises the growing burdens imposed on the one hand by the assessment of weapons development projects and, on the other, by the balancing of the weapons development programme against current defence policy, available resources, and operational requirements. It also recognises the need to develop the specialised effort required for carrying out the studies which are basic to the assessment of the capabilities of our forces and the planning of our defence policy.

My Lords, during the course of my speech I have referred to some of the more important aspects of Defence—the financial constraint, force deployment patterns, development and production of equipment and, lastly, administration. This by no means exhausts the subject matter of Defence. Indeed, it really only begins it. It is far too complex for that, touching as it does on so many areas of national life and international relations. All these interacting factors make Defence an extremely difficult field in which to produce spectacular achievements. What this Government have done, and will continue to do, is to make solid progress in the direction of realigning our Defence posture and our political commitments with our economic circumstances. I would commend to your Lordships the Statement on the Defence Estimates as a record of this further progress, and ask for your Lordships' support in the task on which we are engaged. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1967 (Cmnd. 3203).—(Lord Shackleton.)

2.56 p.m.


My Lords, may I first say how glad I am—and I am sure the whole House will be, too—that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has found it possible to introduce this debate this afternoon, during what must be a very busy period in London before he once again returns to Aden. Whatever we may think of the Government's policy hitherto in the South Arabian Federation, all of us, knowing the noble Lord as we do, will wish him the very best of good fortune in his difficult task for which, if I may say so, he is extremely well fitted, both by experience and by temperament. We understand that, naturally enough, he may not be able to be here for the whole debate. The only other thing I will say about his remarks in regard to Aden is that I think we were all more than glad to hear what he said, and the way he said it, about the conduct of British troops in that area.

I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is to reply to the debate, and though, as will appear in what I have to say, I am not a great admirer of the Government's Defence policy, he can hardly be blamed for that, as ever since he joined the Government his primary job has been as Minister of Disarmament. Whatever critics may say—and the noble Lord has had his critics—we who know him know how conscientiously he has worked at his job, and the skill and knowledge he has brought to it. It is not the noble Lord's fault that success has not yet crowned his efforts. But it is rather ironic that the Secretary of State for Defence should have been rather more successful, though I am sure inadvertently so, as a Minister of Disarmament than the noble Lord opposite. In two and a half years the Secretary of State for Defence seems to have got himself into a rare old muddle, and there can be no doubt that the capabilities of our Defence forces will be less than they were when he took over their direction.

That is not to say that Defence is an easy problem. On the contrary, it is of enormous complexity, bound up inextricably as it is with foreign affairs and economic policy. 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. Certainly anybody who has been concerned in Defence matters over the past decade will never underestimate the problems which a Secretary of State has to face. It is always difficult to know all the facts when one is in Opposition, particularly when one is without the skilled and expert advice of the Service Chiefs and their staffs, and the permanent and experienced staffs of the Ministry of Defence. Therefore, much of what I have to say, though not all of it, will be in an interrogatory form, since I think it is up to the Government to explain to us their policy. For it is they, and they alone, who are responsible for the safety of the nation.

There can be no doubt that when the present Government took office in 1964 the problems of Defence were greatly underestimated by Mr. Healey and his colleagues. With a fanfare of trumpets a Defence Review was announced. It was complacently stated that no such comprehensive review had even taken place before, and that from this review would flow not only a reorientation of our Defence policy, but substantial streamlining of our forces and larger cuts in Defence expenditure. The implication, clearly, was that all Mr. Healey's predecessors had been, if not fools, then incredibly incompetent.



If I may say so, my Lords, that just goes to show the lack of knowledge and the arrogance of noble Lords opposite that they should say that.

None of us can see that this once-and-for-all marathon, this much-heralded Defence Review, has in fact achieved any of the objects for which it was set up. There has been no reorientation of our Defence policy. There has been very little streamlining of our forces, and there has been no substantial saving in expenditure so far. And I must say that, having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I remain utterly unconvinced on any of those three.

It was not, I may say, that many people ever thought this Defence Review would do any of these things, but on several matters the Government seemed to me—and I say this with diffidence—to have learned a certain amount of wisdom. For example—and I will not stress this too much, because I know that it is a little embarrassing—they have continued their predecessors' nuclear policy. They have built, and are building, Polaris nuclear submarines. The Atlantic Nuclear Force, having served its purpose of confusing the issue and, perhaps more importantly, confusing the Government's supporters—a recognizable Wilsonian trick—has joined the other discarded gimmicks in the junkyard. I even doubt whether some noble Lords opposite could tell me what the Atlantic Nuclear Force was all about. We remain as we were three years ago, an independent nuclear Power with a nuclear capability around the world. Who, three years ago, would have thought it possible that a senior Minister in a Socialist Government and his wife would have launched one of these Polaris submarines and attended the commissioning ceremony, running the gauntlet of the C.N.D.—pillars of the nuclear establishment? This is, if I may say so, a sensible and reasonable change of heart, and we on this side of the House certainly welcome it.

I remember—and here I must be very careful not to say "I told you so"—that in a Defence debate not long after the Labour Party were elected I ventured to say to noble Lords opposite that however much streamlining and cutting back was done, the only way of saving any substantial amount of money was to cut your commitments. Of course, you can cut your capabilities and pretend you can still honour your obligations. But there was, and is, no other way of doing it except by cutting your commitments, and it is a pretence for the Government to suggest either that they have cut their commitments, except in one respect I shall come to in a moment, or that they have saved a substantial amount of money. I would, therefore, it I may, at no great length, since there are many noble Lords who wish to speak, discuss the three broad areas of the world in which our commitments fall.

To me there can be no doubt—and here I venture respectfully to differ from my noble and gallant friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein—that from the British point of view the most important area is Europe. There are, it seems to me two questions which one can ask oneself. The first is, where is trouble most likely to happen in the world? I should have thought the answer to that question at the present time is without doubt the Far East. But there is, I think. an even more important question, and that is which is the area most vital to Britain? And here the answer must, as I say, undoubtedly be Europe. I equally have no doubt that the second question is more important than the first.

Of course, it is true to say that at the present time it does not look very likely that a serious conflict will arise in Europe. Not only, since the Cuba crisis, has there been the realisation by the Russians of the enormous preponderance of American nuclear power, but it is increasingly apparent that Russia is concerning herself more and more with her Chinese neighbour, understandably enough. But very strange things can happen in international politics. I do not think that any Government would be right to gamble on the assumption that this state of affairs will for ever be perpetuated, and so permanently adjust her strategic deployment. It could be that some accommodation, for example, might be reached between China and Russia. The German problem is by no means settled. And there are many other circumstances, by no means impossible, which might once more increase tension between East and West on the European Continent.

It surely would not be within the bounds of prudence and good sense for Britain to abandon her share in Western European defence and so remove a part of that deterrent which has brought about the détente between East and West. Nor at this particular moment, when we are about to apply, as no doubt we shall be told in half-an-hour, to join the E.E.C. would it be much evidence of a new European attitude on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I do not, of course, say—and here I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said—that it is not possible to reduce our contribution in B.A.O.R., and no doubt an agreement can be reached—and surely agreement is a prerequisite of any withdrawal; agreement with W.E.U. and our NATO allies. If so, it may well be sensible to withdraw 6,000 troops, or whatever the figure may be, which again we shall undoubtedly hear about in half-an-hour—much to the surprise of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who seemed to think it would be delayed until after Whitsun. But the fact remains that Europe is our most important commitment, and we should be careful not to weaken it in such a way as to invite trouble or to make nuclear retaliation absolutely inevitable at the outset.

I must say that I find myself a little apprehensive about what Mr. Healey has said in the last month or two on this subject. It is certainly a complete reversal of what he was saying four or five years ago. I could quote some of the things he said, but I do not want to detain the House. In those days. the whole direction of Labour Party thought was the reinforcement of Europe rather than a withdrawal from it. Certainly I can visualise situations in which just such a choice of using nuclear weapons or allowing a relatively small situation to get out of hand may cause great difficulty. I very much hope we shall soon have a definite statement from the Government on the new NATO thinking.

I said earlier that, save in one instance, there had been no reduction of our commitment. The reduction of commitment is, of course, the announcement of our intention to be out of Aden next year. Your Lordships will know that those of us on this side of the House have been exceedingly critical of this announcement, and—I dislike very much saying this—that decision was, in my view, responsible to a very large degree, not only for the increase in terrorism in Aden but also for the political difficulties with which the Government are faced. There can be no doubt that at the beginning of last year the Egyptians were on the point of collapse in the Yemen. Their morale was exceedingly low. The Royalists had won several significant victories, and informed observers were taking the view that President Nasser was about to withdraw. The effect of the announcement about Aden was the equivalent of a major victory for the Egyptians. They could see opening up for themselves the opportunity of gaining control of the South Arabian Federation. A little patience, hanging on just a little longer until the British had gone, could well bring them the prize which fighting in the Yemen had not been able to bring them.

I believe that when historians write of this period of our decolonisation, and of this particular area of the world, they will say that this was a catastrophic blunder. FLOSY, politically inspired and directed from Egypt and operating from a rear base in Egyptian-held Yemen, has been given an opportunity to terrorise and murder in a way which I do not think would otherwise have been possible. We are therefore left with the appalling problem of what to do now. I absolutely understand that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has not found it possible to say anything definite at this stage about the Government's future plans, but there are many of us in this House who feel that after the promises to the South Arabian Federal Government on Defence. which were undoubtedly made, it will be disgraceful, to put it at its lowest, if Her Majesty's Government abandon them after independence for what in many ways would appear to be purely financial reasons unconnected with British interests and obligations. I do not say they will do it. I only hope that what is said in this debate and in another place may have some effect on them before it is too late.

But of course there are other problems in the Middle East and in the Gulf. We have a number of important commitments to the Sheikdoms in the Persian Gulf, Kuwait and Bahrein being the two most important. I should have thought that here, too, the decision to quit Aden altogether must necessarily call into question in the minds of those rulers whether or not Britain is capable of fulfilling her part of the bargain. I know that there is a school of thought, and it may very well be right, that the oil which conies from the Gulf and which is our life blood in this country would still flow regardless of British presence or absence in that area. Noble Lords below the gangway feel that, too, I know. They say it has got to be sold somewhere. This is, if I may say so, even if it is right, a fairly large and untried assumption on which to base so immensely important a decision. Can any responsible British Government bank on it when so much is at stake?

If the British presence were removed from the Gulf would it not create a vacuum? When you create a vacuum something is bound to fill it. Most of these States are fairly backward. Their rulers are trying to advance them as quickly as it is possible to do. Can one doubt that once again if a British deterrent disappears President Nasser will again be out for trouble-making? I should like to hear from the noble Lord who is to reply how the Government propose to reassure the rulers of these States about Britain's capability to fulfil her commitments.

There is, I understand, to be a small increase in facilities in Bahrein. How far will that compensate for the abandonment of Aden? What plans are there for naval support facilities? How can the Government convince the rulers that to abandon Aden with no replacement makes their position as secure as it was before? It may be that in the long term it will be Saudi Arabia which will become the important factor in this part of the world; and there is surely something to be said for building up a State which is basically friendly as a buffer to the ambitions of the U.A.R. But this is in the long term. Oil is vital to us, and I do not think that the Treasury would be very happy at the loss of the Kuwait sterling balance. Let us this afternoon have a forthright statement from the Government of their determination to honour this obligation.

Lastly, there is the Far East. Here, I find myself in great difficulty. We are told by Mr. Healey that there is no plan for the abandonment of Singapore or of our position in the Far East; and yet there is a good deal of evidence that something in that line has recently been floated. It would be altogether too much of a coincidence if both the Australians and the Americans had, if the Press can be believed, reacted so sharply to a nonevent—something neither discussed nor proposed, nor hinted at. Writing from Washington in the Sunday Times of ten days ago, Mr. Henry Brandon said that Mr. Brown left American policy-makers with the uncomfortable feeling that Britain wants to opt out of the Far East altogether by the mid-1970s, and that they are contemplating the abandonment of Singapore, the sheet anchor of Britain's military presence. From Australia there have been reports of sudden Cabinet meetings: reports of Mr. Holt sending urgent telegrams to Mr. Wilson, and a sharp attack by Mr. Hasluck during the SEATO Conference on Britain's noninvolvement in the Far East.

What, then, are we to believe? Are we to believe with Mr. Healey that nothing is happening that has not already been announced; that no feelers have been put out about a withdrawal in the 1970s? What did Mr. Brown say in Washington? Did his reassuring statement in public contradict his private conversation? Not for the first time, nor, I fear, for the last time, are we left wondering what on earth Mr. Brown has been up to. I do not know whether it would be too suspicious of me, too unworthy of me, to suggest that these rumours may have something to do with the rumbling Left Wing of discontent at most important aspects of the Government's policy. If I may say so, it is a most natural discontent if one compares promise with performance. If the Government tell me at the end of the debate, as I hope they will, that there is no word of truth in any of these rumours, then all I can say is that their public relations must he utterly deplorable. Surely it is the essence of bungling to leave two of our major allies in a state of confusion and, I think, in some degree of resentment.

I think it quite reasonable that we should support the Government in the reductions which they have announced in the Far East. The end of confrontation has brought about a changed situation. The Army was largely built up to cope with confrontation, and the large reductions which have been announced are only those which, but for the Indonesian situation, would have taken place in any event. As I say, I think that that is nothing more nor less than we should expect. But timing is everything—timing in decisions and timing in announcements. The Americans, together with the Australians and the New Zealanders, are engaged in a considerable conventional war in Vietnam. One has only to visit America and Australia to realise how intensely preoccupied they are with that war. It is astonishing to see the number of Service men on the streets in the States, and the amount of news in the papers in both countries about Vietnam, which dominates all other topics.

Surely we should have some regard to the feelings of our allies in this matter. To float ideas of a complete withdrawal from South East Asia, if indeed Mr. Brown did do this—or if he did not, to allow the rumour to get about that he did—must surely seriously harm Anglo-American and Anglo-Australian relations. Unless we are most careful we shall build up for ourselves in those two countries a resentment at our attitude which may well do us incalculable harm in the future.

My criticism of the Government's policy in the Far East, and indeed of the Defence White Paper this year, is that there is behind it no real clear strategic thinking. Mr. Healey, in a speech he made in the Defence debate last February, said that the main policy problems on which we must decide in the immediate future are the size and shape of the Services in the 1970s. He said that these decisions depend on greater precision in three main areas of our policy: the nature of British contribution to a revised NATO strategy, the type of military backing required, and Commonwealth policy outside Europe. I agree with that, and it is my complaint that no such precision has emerged from Government thinking.

I agree entirely with what Sir Alec Douglas-Home has said about what British policy should be in the Far East. We should aim at the creation of a belt of unaligned States—Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam—whose neutrality would be internationally supervised. Of course that will have to await the outcome of the Vietnam war. Indeed, it should be the result of it. Outside that neutral belt there should be an Asian SEATO composed of Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and possibly, in the future, India and Pakistan; and that organisation, wholly Asian in composition, should work with the ANZUS Treaty forces which would be expanded to include Britain.

It seems to me that on this basis it might well be possible to recast the whole of Britain's defence commitments in the Far East. We should still contribute our share to the protection and guarantee of our allies in that area, and a new era of self-reliance for the Asian nations would develop. We should still retain a military capability in the Far East: the ability to reinforce with air power and an amphibious force capable of showing a British presence in that part of the world, and useful not only for the support of the Asian SEATO but for international disorders and keeping the peace, and showing the flag in those areas of the Pacific for which we still have responsibility.

I intended to say something about weapons, but I will leave that to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, since I have spoken for rather longer than I intended. There are questions to be asked about the size of the Army and about Naval weapons. There is uncertainty about the size of the forces, uncertainty about their shape, uncertainty about their role. I cannot pretend that the performance of the Government in the last two and a half years gives me confidence that they are capable of redefining our Defence policy and strategy. It must surely be wrong to approach Defence policy and to lay down a financial ceiling regardless of national safety, national interest or national commitment. Maybe that ceiling is all the money we need to spend. but internal politics must clearly not be the criterion of that.

So far, the Government have resisted the clamour of their Left Wing for abandonment of solemn treaties and obligations. All honour to them for that? Long may it last! But, equally, they have given so sign of a determination to give Britain a clear and unequivocal statement of what British interests are, what are the strategic implications of those interests; to give an estimate of their cost and an unambiguous declaration that it is both in our interests and our duty to bear that cost. We shall continue to question, to press, to debate with them until they make these statements, or until they make way for someone who will.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, in the few minutes available to me before the epoch-making statement which is to be read to us shortly after half-past three, I should like first of all on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches to give an equally warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on his return. I am quite sure that if anybody can do some thing about getting out of the mess into which we got ourselves in Aden it will be the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I should like also on behalf of my noble friends to associate myself with what he said about the British soldier in Aden. I think that the events during the terrorist campaign have shown the British soldier at his calm and determined best.

Seeing that I have very little time, I will not attempt to make any remarks on the broad question of NATO, on the defence of Europe, and indeed on the whole nuclear policy which is now, after all, settled, and about which we can do nothing for the time being, pending some disarmament or some new arrangements arising out of a new treaty for nuclear non-proliferation. I would only say that, so far as I understood what was being said, I agreed with the noble Lord's "assessment", as regards Europe and NATO, and I also very much agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said in both those respects. So I will concentrate on East of Suez.

It is now over two years since I had the honour to explain the Liberal Party's policy on Defence in this area, and I well remember the shocked amazement with which it was greeted by the Government and by the Conservative Opposition, both of whom were at that time, as your Lordships will recall, pursuing what was in our view an identical policy of ex-imperial "grandeur" East of Suez and congratulating themselves warmly on their wisdom in following these disastrous plans. It is seldom a good plan to quote oneself, but I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I just say that I then deplored this common view and notably what I called: the calm acceptance in the White Paper of the theory of Britain's peace-keeping mission East of Suez, as if this was not only a desirable, but also a positively inevitable thing. Once again I ask, why should we any longer have such a mission? Having (wisely, as we on these Benches think) divested ourselves of our Imperial responsibilities, are we still destined by the Government to be, as it were, our brown brothers' keeper? Would it not be equally logical if Asians should now say that they would now like to have a peacekeeping mission in Europe? Goodness knows! we Europeans are quarrelsome enough. But, quite seriously, the thought that we might with advantage no longer be the Asians' keeper now seems to have struck the Government, if not the Tory Opposition, and since April, 1965, as we gladly recognise, the Government have accepted Liberal advice to the extent of deciding to evacuate Aden and to bring hack a substantial proportion of our troops in Borneo and Singapore. Unfortunately, as we think, they still show signs of wanting to hang on to our bases in the Persian Gulf; indeed, as the noble Lord said, they have actually increased our forces there—in Sharjah, I believe, rather than in Bahrein. The noble Lord said that they had done so, but did not really explain why it was necessary to do so.

We are anyway assured that all this has nothing to do with protecting our oil interests. Nothing so sordid as that. In spite of recent fulminations in the Press by Lord Lambton, and in spite of what Lord Carrington said today, the Government. as I understand it—but I should like them to pronounce on this point—take the sensible view that we should get the oil somehow even if we did eventually evacuate the Gulf, and that there is little danger that any successor Government would wish to be paid for it in currencies other than sterling. Look at Kuwait. It was frequently said that if Kuwait became independent, or if it was not under our wing, the Iraqis or someone else might take over the oil, and we should have to pay for it in some currency other than sterling. Well, it has not happened. We sent forces to Kuwait, but we no longer can, or should, send them there now: because Kuwait is a member of the United Nations, and if she were invaded, by Iraq or anybody else, it would be a major international incident in which we and others should no doubt play our part. But there is no reason to suppose that that is going to happen.

There is no reason to suppose that we shall lose our oil if eventually, after two years perhaps, we succeed in evacuating our position in Bahrein; and I think that is the Government's view. What the Government are apparently afraid of is chaos—that is what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. said to me when I raised the point two years ago. They are afraid of chaos if we go, and are afraid that some struggle for power among the various Arab States in the vicinity; and after what has happened in Aden, we can all understand these apprehensions, even though we may suspect that the present situation in Aden is to some extent the result of too hasty a decision to evacuate, and a decision to evacuate Aden irrespective of any decision to adopt a similar policy in other parts of the area.

But supposing that there were a struggle for power, as it is called, when and if we leave the Gulf, would that really be the end of the world? If we played our cards properly, I should have thought that, with luck, we could remain in the good graces of one party to the struggle for power or the other. After all, there is no reason why we should not continue to have a policy in all this area, even if we evacuated it militarily. Nor should we be inhibited in any way from continuing aid, military or other, for any country which we thought was pacific or democratic or otherwise worthy of support. This, after all, is the way of the modern world.

Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States, so far as I know, have bases in the Middle East, and they are not at this stage likely to have them. And yet both have very considerable influence. The disadvantage of bases is that if there is a row you are inevitably involved. You have your little finger in the wheel, and before you know about it you may even get involved in a "Vietnam" conflict. That is the danger of a base.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for one moment? If I understood him aright, he is saying that he does not mind what happens when we have left. Does he feel no responsibility at all for British commitments, which have existed over the past twenty years, for the safety of the people and their welfare?


My Lords, I am coming to what we should actually do and how we should actually clear out.


But that is what the noble Lord said.


I did not actually say that. I described what might happen if we cleared out. I think that we should clear out; and we Liberals say that we should—not precipitately, but as part of a phased evacuation.

Part of the reason for the present mess in Aden was perhaps because it was an individual and perhaps also an unduly rushed operation. But if we now announced our intention to relinquish all our posts on the whole Arabian littoral in the reasonably near future without actually giving a date we might be able—and I think we should—to precipitate the issue without causing chaos, in the sense of giving time for any successor States—and, as the noble Lord said, they are mostly tiny sheikhdoms—to organise themselves and, if necessary, come together in some larger community or confederation. They will never do that without a shock. They would only sit back enjoying their enormous incomes. They would never do anything towards getting together, unless we had given them the signal for coming together by saying that it is eventually our intention to clear out. This is the point. Incidentally, this is more or less one of the conclusions of the all-Party Parliamentary delegation which recently went around the Middle East, of which I had the honour to be a member. That was the gist of the communiqué which we issued on our return after seeing many of the prominent people involved, including President Nasser, the King of Saudi Arabia, King Hussein and others.

We do not say that such a withdrawal from the Gulf would effect enormous economies immediately, or even in the long run, though with our present balance of payment difficulties one would have thought that £20 million or so a year was of some importance. We could, of course. save much more by insisting on a further run-down of our forces in Singapore, even if we had to compensate the inhabitants for a few years as a result; and, in any event, there is a case for a continuance—shall we say until the early 'seventies—of limited base facilities at Singapore if the locals want us to be there. But if we do agree to go along with this, it should surely be as a result of some arrangement whereby the Australians share the expense, and indeed produce troops to man the base. After all, the Australians spend now about 4 per cent. of their gross national product on armaments as opposed to our 6.5 per cent. If any such joint scheme is thought to be feasible, then our communications, as we on these Benches suggested a long time ago, ought to be organised "West about" over Canada and the Pacific. Unfortunately, paragraph 27 of the White Paper makes it clear that the Government, in spite of the ever present danger of complete blockage of our over-flying rights, are still wedded to the "East about" solution for communications.

As for the islands and coral atolls in the Indian Ocean, which we seem to be tempted to purchase and develop, could irresponsibility really go further than that? What on earth is going to be the use of these expensive white elephants? What exactly are the F.111s which might be expected to use them going to do there? Are we going to buy and develop and fortify these islands simply to enable F.111s to fly "East about" to some base which by then will probably have ceased to exist? Is that the idea? If so, why go by a route which at any time could be cut? If that is not the case, how can any bombers intervene if some war breaks out East of Suez?

Are these 50 of so bombers, of which only about 25 will be fully operational, going to go out and bomb one side or the other at thousands of miles range? Even the United States, with half a million men in Vietnam and with convenient bases everywhere in the vicinity, and with aircraft carriers, to say nothing of super-bombers based on Guam, do not seem to be winning the war by bombing the adversary. If the Americans cannot with their vast machine, then what would be the role of some dozen F.111s? The whole conception seems to us on these Benches to be dangerous nonsense and a great waste of public money. We really should—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—get our commitments straight before we plan to spend billions of pounds in the years that lie ahead.

The short point—and here I am coming to the end—is that if we abandoned completely our famous peacekeeping mission East of Suez, and limited our contribution to the defence of Australia by conventional means to be negotiated and to be supplied "West about", not only should we save, as I understand it, about £100 million a year, most of it across the exchanges, but we should, in addition, reduce our Defence budget by a great deal more than that, owing to the possibility of scrapping many vessels, aircraft and armaments generally; and, above all, most of the famous F.111s. Such armaments which we then possessed would surely be deployed principally for the defence of Europe within the framework of the Alliance. Whether we should continue our programme of four nuclear submarines would be something which in the first place would be decided in conjunction with our European friends once we were in the European Economic Community, and in connection with any disarmament negotiations which might then be possible together with any developments arising out of the successful conclusion of Lord Chalfont's Treaty on non-proliferation.

I know that it may be said, and will be said, that such a policy as I have been recommending represents one of "scuttle" and of letting down our American friends and allies. So I should like to say two words in defence of my friends on these Benches against such rather elementary reproaches. The Americans are now engaged in a gigantic military effort to defend half the world against what they call Communism, and in Asia to establish an ascendancy which will ensure that they are not put at the mercy of any future great Asian power, and presumably therefore China. For this purpose they have formed what is in effect, though not in name, a military alliance with Japan, South Korea, Formosa, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and Siam, and they are also in military command of, and indeed in occupation of, South Vietnam and I believe also of part of Laos. All these countries are held together, therefore, by United States military power. In the bad old days it would have been called an Empire. In addition, American nuclear and conventional power prevents Western Europe from coming under the domination of the Soviet Union. In the Mediterranean the Sixth Fleet helps towards this end and throws the United States protective shadow across most of the Middle East.

There remains the area which the Liberal Party suggest that the British should now gradually—and I repeat gradually—evacuate; namely, the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. It seems to me that we should be doing the Americans a service if we proceeded with the gradual "scuttle" which we recom- mend; for otherwise our Allies, already more than fully extended in Asia and indeed in Europe, might well be drawn into hostilities in this area and into conflicts which might much more suitably, as we think, be left for their solution to what the Tory Shadow Minister of Defence very properly referred to not so long ago as an "Asian balance of power". Surely it would be better for us, more especially if we save money by evacuating our bases East of Suez, actually to increase in some way our contribution to European defence, thus relieving the hard-pressed Americans of some of their responsibilities in that area. But I recognise that very shortly we shall have an opportunity of saying a word or two on what the Government propose in that connection.

I think I have made it clear that we on these Benches stand for certain things, which are as follows. We stand for a European Britain, a loyal partner in the Alliance for as long as that machinery is necessary for the defence of Europe. but chiefly concerned to contribute to the defence of that Community of which many of us hope that we shall soon be an integral and, indeed, I think a most influential part. As I have said, we believe that we could and should, in addition, play some moderate role in the defence of Australia and New Zealand, and that this should naturally form part of a scheme agreed with the Americans for the general defence of South-East Asia. We should also, of course, as was mentioned by previous speakers, maintain our small garrison in Hong Kong—not to defend the place against the Chinese, which would be impossible, but rather to keep it open as the principal centre of Chinese trade with the whole world.

But otherwise we are convinced that we must now, at long last, break with the past and come to terms with the present century. If we did, it would not be a question of trying, rather ineffectively, to keep our Defence budget stable at £2,000 million a year at 1964 prices: we should be out to save something like another £300 million a year on that, as indeed was suggested last year by the former Minister of State for the Navy, Mr. Christopher Mayhew. To do this, we should need a strong, self-confident Government who are determined to stand on their own legs and not to be politically subordinate to the United States, but rather, with our European Allies, a valid and respected partner of America. Perhaps when we get into the E.E.C., my Lords, we shall be able to produce such a Government.