HL Deb 02 May 1967 vol 282 cc851-61

4.0 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord who has just spoken from the Liberal Benches will forgive me if I do not follow him in his arguments, except to say that I have a measure of agreement with what he had to say about our commitments East of Suez. My only difference is that I consider it completely impracticable to suggest that we should sever our military connections, our defence connections, with countries to which we are committed East of Suez. I remember Sir Walter Nash, the late Prime Minister of New Zealand, telling me that within an hour of the United Kingdom Government entering the war in September, 1939, the New Zealand Cabinet met and ranged themselves alongside those of us who live in this country. I consider that it would be disastrous if our cousins in New Zealand and Australia, to say nothing of those to whom we have commitments in Malaysia, ever had reason to consider that we were no longer interested in their fate in view of what might happen in the international sphere.


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, would not want to misrepresent what I said. I thought I said quite clearly that we had obligations to contribute to the defence of New Zealand and Australia, but that it should be organised the other way round—not going eastwards but going westwards. That was my thesis.


My Lords, I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, did not mention Malaysia. The Malaysians may have brown skins, but they are members of the Commonwealth of Nations and those of us who have faith in the Commonwealth of Nations must think very carefully before we give any indication that we are no longer con- cerned with the security of all the countries which compose the Commonwealth of Nations.

I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition has left the Chamber, because I want to say that I thought his reference to the speech of my noble friend Lord Shackleton was rather derogatory. The claim of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, of a saving of £750 million during the last three years did not seem to make much of an impression upon the mind of the Leader of the Opposition. But, of course, it is not very far removed from the amount of imbalance in the balance of payments that we found when we came into office four years ago; and we are entitled to remember the many hundreds of millions of pounds that were wasted during the 13 years of rule by the Party opposite.

To-day, my Lords, we are considering the future of our country and its security. Before I take up the point raised and dealt with by the Leader of the Opposition, I should like to suggest to my noble friend Lord Chalfont, who is to wind up the debate, that he might give some particulars to support the statement about the saving of £750 million. In Chapter III of the Defence White Paper there is a reference to rationalisation. One of the objects of amalgamating the three Defence Services under a unified Ministry of Defence was to enable these savings to be made. No doubt under the headings of motor transport, accommodation stores, food and other items, the saving may appear small, but it is small items which make the global figure. Perhaps my noble friend can give us some idea of the annual saving under those headings which appear under the title of Rationalisation.

Another part of the Defence Statement which I think of considerable importance is the question of the Government's consideration of the future size and shape of our Defence Services. It states: 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 the men and women who are making their career in the Services. I understand that there is a great deal of anxiety among people in the middle and junior groups, officers and noncommissioned officers and, for that matter, soldiers with long-term engagements, as to what will be their fate if there are drastic reductions in the size and shape of the Services. I have no information about whether this is likely to be the case, but I very much hope that Her Majesty's Government will take great care not just to throw these men on the scrap-heap. I hope that if it is found necessary to reduce any branch of the Services everything possible will be done by way of compensation and training schemes to help those people concerned to utilise their abilities and energies in other directions and to cushion them against the effects of any possible reduction.

My Lords, in another part of this very interesting Statement on the Defence Estimates there is a reference to research and development. I think that something like £260 million is shown as being expended on this vital part of the Services. I was shocked to read in The Times a few days ago a report emanating from Geneva. I quote: Mr. Gunnar Myrdal, of Sweden, said here that widespread preparation for biological and chemical warfare is taking place in all countries. … He added: 'These types of non-conventional weaponry are cheap and do not require much large-scale research'. The section dealing with research and development states that money has been spent in this country on what is called biological and chemical defence. I wish to ask my noble friend to make clear when he replies to the debate what that means. Are we manufacturing biological and chemical weapons for what is called defence? And what do they mean when they say it is for defence—if in fact these weapons are being manufactured? I should like to suggest to Her Majesty's Government that they should initiate an international convention with the object of prohibiting the manufacture and use of any kind of germ weapon.

The second major aim of the Defence Review was to reduce the overstretch of our forces. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition when he dealt with this problem, in a sense, on a geographical basis. He dealt first with the position in Germany, and I should like to make clear my position, which I think is the same as that of the Party to which I belong. I was a member of the Government in 1948 and I sat in the Defence Committee alongside the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, who was then Chief of the Imperial General Staff, when NATO was conceived and put into operation in its early stages. If there had then existed the position which exists to-day, I do not believe that we should have to consider the necessity of stationing 60,000 British troops and R.A.F. forces in Germany. We had to do it because we were occupying that part of Western Germany. What is the position to-day? I am told that there are 11 or 12 well-trained and well-equipped German divisions. The White Paper tells us that there are several thousand nuclear weapons at the disposal of the Alliance in case of emergency, and it expresses the view of the Government that these have been a powerful deterrent against any possible aggression.

It might be argued that we need to have British and American troops in Germany to keep our eyes on what the eleven or twelve German divisions may get up to. But that is not my view. I believe that we can maintain the Alliance, as we must maintain it—and here I share the view of the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein—without the necessity for ground troops deployed in Germany and in the other countries bordering on Germany. We have air transportation for troops and equipment which enables us to with draw even more than the one brigade which, according to the newspapers, is to be withdrawn by agreement following the tripartite discussions. I agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, said the other day, that there will be housing and other difficulties. But what about Malta? There is ample accommodation there. It is a sterling area, and no question of foreign currency arises. It would be as feasible to transport a brigade or, if may be, two brigades from Malta in the event of an emergency as it would be to transport them from Scotland or from Northern Ireland.

The White Paper makes this clear, and I think we must take the view of the Government, whatever its Party complexion. The Paper says, on page 4: We are discussing with our allies the possible strategic implications of this political assessment. Since political indications arc likely to give some warning of potential aggression, it may be possible to consider holding some of the forces which NATO would require if war were threatened, outside the area where they would then be deployed. Improvements, both in the capability of transport aircraft and in the air-portability of much military equipment, can be expected to reduce the time required to redeploy such forces to the threatened area in a crisis. That seems to me to support the view held by many of us, that it is not essential for us to keep a large number of ground troops in Europe in future. I do not mean that we should take them all out at once, but I hope that those engaged in the discussions that are taking place will face up to the possibility of a phased withdrawal.

I would apply the same view to the position in the Middle East and in the Far East. We are told that 20,000 troops are being brought back from the Far East. That is good. What I do not accept is any suggestion of severing the links which bind us to all those countries that form the Commonwealth of nations and to those other areas, like the Sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf, with whom we have treaty commitments. End the treaties, by all means, but do not let us default on our treaty commitments.

At the same time, we have to face up to the fact that we are no longer a World Power. The World Powers to-day are the United States and Russia. But the fact that we are not a World Power does not mean that we are a Power without world interests. That is a far different matter. And we have interests in almost every part of the world. I am sure that both sides of the House agree that we must recognise that these interests exist. I do not think that we ought to accept confrontation between Eastern Europe and Western Europe as a lasting situation. We have had it now for twenty years. As the Defence Statement indicates, there are political aspects which we must take into consideration. What I should like to see—and I have advocated this before—is a treaty of non-aggression between the NATO Alliance and the Warsaw Pact countries. I believe that if we could get that it would pave the way to an eventual system of European security, which is, to my mind, the only stable basis for enduring peace in Europe.

There is nothing novel in this. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will remember that in 1955 the then Tory Prime Minister made a proposal, which I accepted—and I still think it is a good one —that the two sides should withdraw; that there should be a demilitarised zone and that a start should be made with a measure of disarmament. It was not carried out. There was the Eden Plan and there was the Gaitskell Plan. The noble Lord rather brushed to one side any suggestion that we should alter the military status quo in Europe. I think that we cannot go on indefinitely with this sort of confrontation in Europe itself.

The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition was entitled, I think, to contrast the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, as Minister for Disarmament, is to-day going to reply to an armaments debate. I find myself in the same quandary. I think that my record, as regards serving our country in time of emergency, is like that of the noble Lord. Yet I believe that we have to pursue our efforts to secure a start with disarmament. We have been trying for 15 years, and we have not made much progress.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will succeed in obtaining a nonproliferation treaty. I understand that the main obstacle now is that Euratom want to inspect their own atomic stations, as against inspection by the International Atomic Authority. I hope that the Government will stand by the International Atomic Authority. The Russians have caused difficulties because they have not been prepared to have outside inspection for the purpose of verification. Here we see Euratom taking exactly the same position. I hope that the Government will stand firm on the need for verification by the International Atomic Agency. I believe that if we can secure this agreement it will pave the way to an improvement in the world situation.

The United Nations is extremely unpopular in some quarters at the moment, and there are some people in the United Nations who are doing a great disservice to that body. The British people and Government are being continually chided with the word "colonialism", yet we have a record that no other country in the world has. Six hundred million people have been given their freedom and independence since 1945, and by the end of 1970 there will be fewer than 5 million people who are not completely independent. So we have to ignore that kind of denigration. My Lords, I should like to see teeth put into the United Nations. I should like to see progress made with a permanent peace force. I should like to see progress made in the sphere of world disarmament. It is because I believe that this is the most endurable basis of world peace that I wish God-speed to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in the task he is endeavouring to carry out as Minister for Disarmament.

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, may I first ask the indulgence of your Lordships' House? It is my first occasion on my feet, and I find it rather awe-inspiring and somewhat frightening. It is rather like waiting for the point-to-point. I only hope that when I get going it will be the same feeling. Until last March, in fact, all my life since leaving Cambridge, I have been a soldier. I joined the Army through the Cambridge University Officers' Training Corps. I say this because I know that some years ago there was an attack on university O.T.C.s, and I hope that this will not come up again—indeed, I am sure that it could not.

I then had the great good fortune to serve in two of the best regiments in the British Army; namely, the 5th Innis-killing Dragoon Guards and the 12th Royal Lancers. I see that I have the honour of being followed by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. I suppose that if it were not for him I should not be here to-day, because I was a troop leader in the Innis-killings in the retreat to Dunkirk, and. by the Grace of God, was in the noble and gallant Viscount's Division.

I now have the great honour of having just become Colonel of the 9th/12th Royal Lancers. I have taken over from a late Member of your Lordships' House, the noble and gallant Duke of Westminster. So, looking around your Lordships, perhaps I might ask those of you who have sons and grandsons of suitable age who you think might make the grade to get in touch with me, and I will see, if they want to come as officers or troopers, whether they match up to the standards of the 9th/12th.

I have been brought up as a soldier, as I have said, and I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Rowley, mention the words "service" and "duty", neither of which had I heard previously in this debate. It was service for which I joined, as well as enjoyment; and I believe it is for that that most soldiers join, though they probably do not say much about it outside their own minds. I believe, also, that the joy of being in a regiment, which gives the cohesion in adversity and the strength in fighting, is great. There can be no criticism of my tie. This is not confined to one's school, because the newly joined trooper and the retired General, like me, wear this with pride; and I believe it is a great strength in this country and in the Services to keep this regimental tradition going. We had a Bishop of the Established Church out in Germany a few months ago who had never seen the Army before. I asked him, on his tour afterwards, what he felt was different, and he said: "You are all on the same side, and that is not so back in England."

My Lords, more recently I served with public relations and got to know a lot of the Press, nationally and locally, in this country. I enjoyed that work enormously. But I did not enjoy last week, reading in The Times of April 25, what I thought was a very cheap and sneering article on the Queen's visit to that excellent brigade of the Army, the 16th Parachute Brigade. If that is a sign of the "new look" of The Times, I, for one, shall regret the change of ownership. Against that, I read last Sunday week the following passage: Usually soldiers are only spoken about in times of war. But since peace and freedom in the world still depend to a great extent on those who stand firm at their military posts, the public should now and then he reminded of them also in times of peace. That was said by that great singer, great comic and great man, Harry Secombe, at an Army Benevolent Fund gathering last week.

That, I suppose, leads on to the man who does stand firm overseas, where I have just been standing not so firm before I voluntarily retired—I refer to the men in the Rhine Army and the Royal Air Force, Germany. These are both equally important. Most people, I think, consider Germany as being the home only of Rhine Army, but it is also the home of the Royal Air Force, Germany. Both are part of international forces commanded by British men. Really, it is a little bit of Europe, and I only hope that the Statement we are to hear later about the reductions, or the changeover from Germany to England, will not be too great, because I find it rather difficult to contemplate how you can knock at the front door and slip out at the back.

Although there is no great tension at the moment, I believe that the tension would increase if we were to reduce greatly. If we reduce greatly, then others also will do so. To my mind, the success of the National Democratic Party in Germany is caused by the French defection, and by the doubt in the German minds of the British and American intentions. I think that that needs to be said. Also, it has been made public in Germany that there are at this moment 20,000 Communist agents loose in West Germany. Every year we, the Allied Forces in Germany, pick up 1,000; but another 1,000 are bred there much more easily. They are not there for nothing: they are highly paid men, of all countries—Germans, Poles, Czechs, and Russians—living and working to subborn the Allies and the peace and unity of Western Europe.

I come now to Malta, which I was delighted to hear mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rowley. To me, it is the beloved Island of Malta, where I have been very happy. Like most of your Lordships. I suppose, I was most disturbed during the course of the recent negotiations. At one time I was a good deal prouder of my wife's Strickland Maltese blood, and that of my children, than I was of my own British blood. But, thank God, that is forgotten, and we must congratulate both Governments on reaching an agreement, without forgetting that it was, I think, reluctantly accepted by the Prime Minister of Malta. Once more I take Lord Rowley's point and that of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton. Surely to heaven we should keep troops in Malta, where we are wanted; where there arc houses; where there is happiness and comfort for soldiers, airmen and sailors and their families, rather than have them posted back to the United Kingdom (I think a statement to this effect was made on television) because of a strict Defence requirement that two battalions should be moved from Malta to England. This I find hard to understand. England will soon be a non-family station for soldiers and airmen.

I hope the fact that Malta is in the sterling area, and also that it can be con- verted, will not weigh too much. The Treasury have always said this, I know. But surely this cannot be so in Malta, where the banking, insurance and nearly everything sold in the shops is entirely British. One would like to be able to see clear figures on this to know what is the return from the very large amount that Britain spends in Malta, to the help of the people there. But, of course, the Maltese do not primarily want financial aid so much as work for their men. This is what the retention of British forces in Malta gave them. They, also, I think, felt strongly during the crisis. I was there at the time. I thought it almost shaming that at the height of the crisis in Malta it was the American Fleet that was inside the Grand Harbour and the Russian Fleet outside the Grand Harbour. The Royal Navy's all too small Fleet was there, but it was pretty shaming to be an Englishman there at that time.

Once more, rightly or wrongly—and I hope rightly—may I give your Lordships an invitation? There is one thing, surely, that we can all do. To replace the two battalions which are eventually to be withdrawn, if that decision is persisted in, it will mean that an additional 35,000 visitors a year will be needed in Malta to help the Island's economy to that same extent. Let us at least make sure that we take our holidays there.

The noble Lord, Lord Rowley, was correct in saying that there is uncertainty and anxiety among soldiers and officers, particularly those in the Middle East, about their future. Cuts, of course, there must be; and the Army, above all, accepts some. We do not want war: we know what it is like. But we want to do our duty where we have commitments to do a duty, and we want to do service where we are required to serve our Queen and country. This sounds old-fashioned, but it is honestly true in the minds of ordinary soldiers and ordinary officers.

At this moment I believe there is a Committee sitting to see how many more civil servants they can put in, instead of officers, in various fields. This seems strange to me, much as I have admiration for the work of civil servants in the Ministry of Defence, who have done first-class work. But they have increased rather more quickly than the soldiers and officers, and surely it is time to cry halt to that situation. I am probably breaking every Rule of your Lordships' House in being controversial, but there is no point in standing up here unless I say what I think.

My Lords, we in the Services do not want to live in the past, but want to look to a future that is worth while—not fighting wonderful battles, for we know what that is like, but by being on the spot and preventing battles. It is the soldier and the airman on the ground in Germany who stop the war. If a war is started, it is lost. We win it by not allowing it to start; by being there on the ground. To have those young men, as I had, under command, was a wonderful experience. The young Britons serving in the Forces to-day are wonderful men. Let us make sure that we give them a chance to go on being properly used.