HL Deb 22 February 1972 vol 328 cc398-418

2.52 p.m.

THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE (LORD CARRINGTON) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1972. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Those noble Lords who remember our debate on Defence last year will recollect that I thought it right to ask your Lordships' permission to speak again at the end of the debate. This seemed sensible, since a number of questions were then likely to be asked (and will again be likely to be asked) which it would be difficult for any other Minister to answer except at second hand. Accordingly I propose, if the House will agree, not to make a second speech at the end of the debate but to confine myself to answering the questions which have been asked me and perhaps adding one or two comments of my own, and consequentially to make a fairly short speech now.

I suppose there may be some in this House who may complain that the White Paper this year is rather dull and that no great issues of policy are announced and no great changes are made. The Goverment and I, as Secretary of State for Defence, congratulate ourselves most warmly on that. It is a great mistake to suppose that because our Parliamentary practice is to produce a White Paper annually in February that it should necessarily contain anything that is new or anything that is not known; or, indeed, to make changes for the sake of making changes. Indeed, one of the criticisms that one might justifiably level against the noble Lords opposite when they were in power is not only the frequency of their White Papers—which averaged a good deal more than one a year—but the fact that the policy kept changing. This led to uncertainty, instability and other side effects with which I shall deal later.

I made it clear in June, 1970, that our purpose was to achieve stability for the Armed Forces after this period of considerable uncertainty. This White Paper is a progress report on how we are doing, how we are doing on manpower, and how we are doing on the maintentance of a sound financial basis for our policy. Last year I commented on the sombre international scene and said that over the last decade it seemed to me that the military balance had swung against the West. I do not think with any honesty I could say that the situation has changed.

Soviet military power continues to grow and Chapter I of the White Paper gives the essential facts and figures. The most significant perhaps is the cost of the Soviet defence effort to its economy. Not even the United States a present plans to sustain, as the Russians are doing, a defence budget equal to 8 per cent. of the gross national product. During the past few years the Russians have provided 25 extra divisions so that even given their difficulties with China there need be no reduction of their forces facing NATO. In the nuclear field Russia has now nuclear parity with the West in terms of delivery systems, even though we still have more warheads.

The Soviet Navy continues to increase in size and efficiency. Ten years ago there were virtually no Soviet warships deployed outside Russian waters. By 1968 the maximum level at any one time had amounted to 70 warships; and four years later, in 1972, the peak has doubled to 140. The build-up of the Soviet Navy is relatively recent, so that its ships are modern and its armaments sophisticated. The emergence of this modern, powerfully-armed force, capable of offensive operations on a world scale, is one of the most significant changes in the balance of military power in the decade.

But, having said that, there are of course some hopeful signs which we must welcome. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the Russians and the Americans have made some useful progress. The Federal German Republic has concluded treaties with the Soviet Union and Poland, though they have yet to be ratified. We have reached a Four Power Agreement on Berlin supported by an Inner German Agreement on its implementation. Certainly we must hope that all these factors will pave the way for a European Security Conference in the not too distant future. There has however been no progress on the problem of mutual and balanced force reductions. It has been disappointing that the Russians have not responded to the proposal that Signor Brosio should go to Moscow. It may well be that the Russians have discovered, as I have told your Lordships on a number of occasions, that it is more difficult to find a formula that guarantees security and is at the same time negotiable than they had previously supposed.

What then is the strategic and political significance of this vast Soviet armaments programme, coupled with some rather spasmodic indications of détente? Perhaps it is the understandable attempt by the Soviet Union to gain parity with the West, and in particular with the Americans. The significance then may be primarily political; but the concentration of military forces on this scale cannot just be written off in this way. The fact is that in Europe the Warsaw Pact has a marked superiority over the West and the effect of this; together with the way in which the natural emphasis on détente is being emphasised, means that we shall have to be increasingly careful of the unity and resolution and stability of the NATO Alliance.

All this leads me to believe that there is ample justification for the size of our forces. Indeed in common I suppose with most Defence Secretaries, I wish they were rather larger, though all of us, wherever we sit in the House, have to recognise that the size of the Defence budget must be limited by the very proper calls on our resources by other Departments. Perhaps the most encouraging feature in the NATO scene over these last twelve months has been the increased role which the Eurogroup has played. Not only have we mounted between us the European Defence Improvement Programme worth by itself a billion dollars over five years, but we have presented to our American allies facts and figures which indicate that next year the defence budgets of the European countries of NATO will show a net increase of half a billion dollars in real terms on the year before, and have set out in detail the way in which as a result of re-equipment the capability of those forces has improved.

I believe that the Eurogroup has played a significant role in reassuring not only the American administration but also, and more particularly, Congress and the better informed members of the public in the United States, of the awareness of Europe that it should take more share in the burden of European defence.

In all this we have played our national part, by the acceleration of our naval construction programme; by the revival of the four battalions which had been reduced to company strength; by the ordering of Bucaneers and Nimrods to form more squadrons in the Royal Air Force. As I say, my Lords, I have been greatly encouraged by the collaboration and co-operation which I, as Chairman of the Eurogroup, received from my other defence colleagues, and I have no doubt that Herr Schmidt, the German Minister of Defence, who has now taken over, will find the same co-operation as I did.

Outside Europe the Five-Power defence arrangements in Malaysia and Singapore have been finalised and the Commander of the ANZUC forces, Admiral Wells, an Australian Admiral, has assumed command of the British, Australian and New Zealand components. I have no doubt that this agreement will make a significant contribution to the stability of the area. In the Gulf the Union of Arab Emirates has been formed after a difficult period in which it was not certain what the outcome of our efforts was going to be. We have entered into new treaties of friendship, and we shall continue, by visits of ships, aircraft and soldiers, together with loan personnel and a British Military Advisory Team at Sharjah, to display an active interest in the area.

My Lords, this year's Defence Estimates total over £2,850 million, which represents about 5½ per cent. of the gross national product, a higher proportion than that devoted to defence by any of our major European allies. The total is in real terms about £100 million higher than was forecast for 1972–73 a year ago. There are two reasons. First, there is a technical matter of accounting convention which, unless your Lordships insist, I shall not even try to explain. The other represents the cost of the additional ships, infantry and aircraft to which I have just referred. Manpower accounts for 50 per cent. of the Budget compared with 44 per cent. ten years ago. This high level of expenditure of manpower inevitably limits the amount available for re-equipment, and this raises great problems both for the Forces and also for industry and is something which we in the Ministry of Defence are studying with great care at the present time. For manpower and equipment are obviously the two big spenders.

First, manpower. Your Lordships wilt remember that we inherited a very grave manpower situation, and I believe, as I said earlier, that one of the factors which caused this was the uncertainty created by the changes of policy of the previous Government. This last year there has been a very encouraging recovery in manpower figures. During 1971–72 we shall have recruited over 46,000 male other ranks into the three Services, and it would have been more had not the Royal Air Force been able to reduce their intake through more economic use of manpower. As it is, this year's total will be nearly 20 per cent. greater than last year's and it is worth recalling, 65 per cent. more than in 1968–69 when recruiting was at its worst. This is a satisfactory achievement, though there are still some areas of shortage. For example, the young officer entry into Sandhurst has been very disappointing. Nevertheless the position is much more satisfactory than it was, and I know that the whole House will share my pleasure in that.

As to the cause of it, I think that there are a number of causes. There is the employment situation; better rates of pay; the promise of a stable career; and even Northern Ireland, where the Army has acquitted itself so well and with such public support; and perhaps a belief by the public at large that the Forces, whether in Northern Ireland or anywhere else, are doing a job that is worth doing, and are doing it well.

It has been the Government's constant purpose to demonstrate, by action as well as words, their belief that defence is important and that the Services should have their proper place in the life of the nation. But I think I must sound one note of warning. It is not going to be easy to maintain and sustain recruitment at its present level. The number of young men of recruiting age is declining. More of them are staying on at school, and this trend will be reinforced when the school leaving age is raised later this year. This means that we cannot afford to be complacent and must continue our efforts to improve conditions of service and keep them competitive with those of civilian employment. This we have tried to do. Pay, pensions, local overseas allowances, have been, or are about to be, improved. The terms of engagement for boy Servicemen as the result of the Report of the Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—to whom all of us ought to be very grateful—have been improved. In this White Paper we have introduced the Notice Engagement which will enable men, subject to 18 months' notice and a basic minimum return of service, to leave at a time of their own choosing. I believe that this will be widely welcomed in the Services and will pay dividends in terms of new recruits and prolongation of service. Indeed, it follows on the lines of Lord Donaldson's thinking in his Report.

As for equipment, we are faced even more than with manpower with the problem of rising costs. Each succeeding generation of equipment is much more complex, much more sophisticated and much more difficult to maintain than its predecessor, and costs much more. Indeed, my Lords, I sometimes have the feeling that the only thing one knows about research, development and production of a sophisticated weapons system is that the eventual cost will be more than one ever envisaged even in one's darkest dreams. We never have enough money to go round, and we are faced with the difficult choice between quality and quantity.

My Lords, having said that, I must put on record the fact that I believe that the new equipment which is coming into service now is as good, if not better, than anything anyone else has got. There are two factors which I believe are going to improve the situation. First, the setting up of the new Defence Procurement Executive under Mr. Ian Gilmour, with its Chief Executive, Mr. Derek Rayner. It has been going for only a very short time but I am convinced that it will show a notable improvement on the previous organisation. If I may say so, my Lords, we must not except too much of it too soon. But already aspects of the research and development organisation have been brought together under unified control and a plan has been prepared for the rationalisation of research and development establishments. This may take a bit of time since there are 30 establishments with a total staff of 30,000 and assets valued in the region of £100 million.

I believe, too, that the incorporation of the Procurement Executive in the Ministry of Defence will mean that the definition of operational requirements and collaboration with industry will be greatly improved. I do not wish, nor would any future Secretary of State wish, to be faced again with a situation in which—though British industry can develop by itself, or in collaboration with other, equipment such as, for example, EXOCET—unwise changes of policy or lack of foresight make it necessary to buy foreign equipment. But this is not the same thing as saying that there should be no collaboration with our friends in Europe: far from it. One of the most hopeful ways of overcoming the increasing cost and sophistication of equipments is to collaborate with others. Our entry into the E.E.C. will inevitably give a stimulus to this, and I believe that the Eurogroup can help this develop more quickly than otherwise it would. The military desirability of working more closely with our Allies points inescapably in this direction.

There are difficulties of course. It would be foolish not to recognise them.

The timing of the introduction of equipment or the need for it as between one country and another; the differences in operational requirements and the safeguarding of each country's industrial interests are only some of the problems that one obviously has to take into account. But if we want to do it, Europe can do it, and we must overcome these difficulties. As the White Paper shows, we are doing so in a number of fields. We are co-operating with France on the Martel system, three different types of helicopter and the Jaguar. We have joined forces with Germany and Italy in the development and production of the M.R.C.A. and in three artillery projects. The Belgians are co-operating with us in the development and production of a new family of air portable armoured reconnaissance vehicles. This is the beginning, and we must see to it that we do more and more collaboration with our friends.

Lastly, I think the House would expect me just to say a very few words about Malta and Northern Ireland. As to Malta, there is little I can add to the Statement that I made in this House last week. I then outlined the terms which had been offered to Mr. Mintoff by our NATO Allies and ourselves. They are, it seems to me, fair and reasonable. We are still in communication with Mr. Mintoff and it would not be right for me this afternoon to go any further, but I must say that at the present time the prospects for a satisfactory agreement do not seem to me to be very encouraging. In these circumstances the withdrawal of British Forces, which was requested by the Maltese Government at the end of last year, is continuing and will be completed by the end of March.

As to Northern Ireland, we had a full debate only three weeks ago and this does not seem to me to be the occasion to debate the whole question, both political and military. Let me just say that the Army will continue to fulfil their role of helping to restore and maintain law and order. They will continue to do so with total impartiality, concerned not with a man's religion or his politics but only with those who break the law. They will continue to do so with the patience and with the restraint, the determination and the courage that we expect from them until peace and justice are finally assured.

My Lords, Northern Ireland is a gloomy note to end on—58 British soldiers have now been killed there. This is a tragic situation. Nevertheless, it provides me with an opportunity to say, before I sit down, that the quality most to be seen in Northern Ireland, and indeed in all the Forces which I have had the privilege of visiting over this past year, has been their professionalism. This is the key note of the modern British Forces. They are volunteers and they are professional at their job: and because they are there and doing their job—sometimes in circumstances of great unpleasantness and difficulty—you and I, my Lords, will sleep easier in our beds to-night.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1972—(Lord Carrington).

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, before beginning my speech, may I ask the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Defence whether, when he comes to speak again, as he will by leave of the House, or at some other suitable time this afternoon, he can tell the House of any news there may be of the terrible tragedy that apparently has taken place in the mess of the Parachute Brigade at Aldershot and of which reports are just beginning to come through?

I should like to begin my remarks this afternoon by congratulating the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Defence on the rare, one might almost say unique, achievement of producing a Statement on Defence Estimates which is written in plain English. It is true, as The Times has pointed out, that it has some of the blandness of style of a chairman's annual report, and I did find myself wondering from time to time as I read it whether the noble Lord was going to set some kind of precedent by declaring a dividend on the Defence Estimates. But for all that, the White Paper is clearly written and easily read and it has, unusually, some useful and intelligible tables and diagrams.

It is of course, as the noble Lord has said, to a large extent no more than a progress report. It reflects no great decisions of policy and no sweeping changes in strategy. In my view it reveals at least one aspect of the military situation which should give cause for serious concern. I refer to the military defence of Western Europe, which—and here I go further than the noble Lord—is to my mind in a state of dangerous confusion and disarray. It is with that problem, which I regard as much more urgent and serious than is generally realised, that I propose to concern myself principally in this debate, because I believe—and here I am choosing my words with great care—that the present strategy for European defence is one which would lead, in the event of an attack on Western Europe, to one of two immediate consequences: either the complete military collapse of Western Europe or the appalling catastrophe of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union: and further, that in the present state of the world balance of power the collapse of Western Europe is by far the more likely result. If this sounds in some way a similar (though perhaps more positive) approach to the problem as that of the noble Lord in his opening remarks this afternoon, I must say that my conclusions from it, as will become obvious, are not quite the same.

Before I argue what is a very depressing proposition, there are one or two other points in the Statement on the Defence Estimates on which I should like to make a brief comment. First, there is the question of Northern Ireland. I must say that I am sorry to see the White Paper perpetuating what I believe to be a somewhat dubious distinction between physical brutality and what is called "a measure of ill-treatment". I think it must be clear to anyone who has read any of the literature of political indoctrination—say Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, or any of Aleksandr Solzhenitsin's remarkable novels, especially perhaps A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich—that there are forms of psychological and mental pressure that are infinitely more brutal and damaging than physical violence; and their effects go deeper and last longer. I am not suggesting by any means that known terrorists under interrogation should be given V.I.P. treatment. But this country and its security forces have a record of compassion and civilised behaviour in these matters which lies at the heart of all we stand for and believe in, and we should be setting out on a very dangerous path indeed if we began to fight our enemies, either within or without, with the weapons of barbarism and inhumanity which they themselves employ. I will go no further than that as a committee of distinguished Privy Counsellors is at present examining the whole question of interrogation procedures. But I would ask the noble Lord the Defence Secretary, who is himself a man of humanity and compassion, to assure the House that, so long as he is in his present position, he will forbid categorically deliberate ill-treatment of anyone, in Ireland or elsewhere, in the course of interrogation by the Armed Forces.

With regard to some of the criticisms that have been made about the behaviour of British troops in Northern Ireland, again I make no judgment while the Lord Chief Justice is conducting his Inquiry into the tragedy at Londonderry. All I would say is that my personal experience of British troops in action covers a world war, four guerrilla campaigns and riot duties in five cities, and I have only once ever seen a British soldier behave with calculated brutality and unnecessary violence, and he was court-martialled and severely punished. So until the contrary is proved I, for one, am prepared not only to accept but to endorse the statement in the Defence White Paper that the Armed Services are discharging their responsibilities with impartiality and with exemplary fortitude and restraint.

But here again I think a mild caveat might be in order. The Armed Forces are not impervious to outside pressures; they are a mirror of the society which they exist to serve. This is, as a glance at any morning paper will confirm—and perhaps to-day's events may be an even greater indication of this—an increasingly violent and undisciplined society. But the man who carries a gun in defence of the established order has a special responsibility to use it with an almost superhuman restraint and care. Minimum force has always been a basic principle of military operations in aid of the civil power, and I ask the Government to assure the House that it will continue to bear the full responsibility for seeing that this principle is adhered to. It would, in my view, be a dangerous and tragic development if any part of this responsibility were left to hard-pressed soldiers on the ground. Of course the tactics of military operations must be for the military commander on the spot, and in the case of Northern Ireland there could be no more judicious and responsible a commander than Sir Harry Tuzo. But the basic principles are for the Government to lay down and for the Government to enforce.

I move now from Northern Ireland to a few brief points of detail in the White Paper. First of all, I congratulate the Government most sincerely on the success of their recruiting campaign and I am glad to know that they do not discount the difficulties that are likely to arise in the future. The new form of engagement for the three Services, which in effect allows a man to give 18 months' notice of his intention to sever his engagement, is an enlightened policy which seems to me to create a practical balance between stable and efficient forces (as was recognised in the excellent Report produced by the Committee which was chaired by my noble friend Lord Donaldson) and the importance of bringing the soldiers' commitment into line with the practice in other professions.

My Lords, there is another aspect of Government policy which seems to me rather less enlightened: it is that concerned with the sale of arms. I know that the establishment of a defence sales organisation was originally a decision of the Labour Government, but with the greatest circumspection I suggest to the noble Lord that he need not worry too much if his policy differs from ours in one or two respects—although he has been wise enough to do most of his building on the sure foundations bequeathed to him by the Labour Government. I would simply say on this point that the United Kingdom is, with the United States, the Soviet Union and France, one of the world's four primary producers and exporters of arms and military equipment. We supply arms not only to our allies in the major military alliances (which is a different proposition altogether) but to Ceylon, Brunei, India, Nepal, Thailand, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. If I have left any out, I am sure that the noble Lord will correct me when he comes to speak. I have not included in this list South Africa: that is another question and one which I shall not pursue in this debate. But in plain words, we are one of the most prolific suppliers of arms to areas of maximum political instability and to countries which are spending on arms money and resources which might be more usefully employed in lifting people out of poverty and despair. I hope that no one will disgrace your Lordships' House by putting forward the drug pusher's argument that if we do not supply them somebody else will. I cannot believe that £345 million a year—large a sum as it is—is so crucial to the prosperity of this country that we need to take the lead in this kind of international competition.

There are many other points in the White Paper which, in a longer speech than I intend to make, would merit detailed consideration. I commend the establishment of a single command structure in the Royal Air Force, which seems to me to be a step very much in the right direction. On the other hand, I await with some interest the reaction of some of my saltier naval friends to the emergence of a plastic warship and also to the emergence of a new animal called a Principal Warfare Officer. So far as I can see, this is an appointment which has been familiar to the Army for some time as the Chief of Staff; but I cannot help feeling that the father of the noble Earl, the Leader of the House, might have had a few monosyllabic comments to make about the emergence of the Principal Warfare Officer.

I come finally to what I believe to be very real and very grave doubts about our defence policy. In the last analysis the aim of British Defence policy is presumably to protect this country against military attack. Few people, I think, would deny that this means maintaining effective defences in the European Atlantic area. I ought to make clear at the outset that I personally do not believe that there is at this very moment an actual military threat to the security of Western Europe and the United Kingdom, but, as I have said before in your Lordships' House, military planning must take account not only of the potential enemy's intentions, so far as we can define them, but of his capabilities as well—and this I believe we have failed to do. The relevant section in the White Paper comes under the heading of "Western Security" on pages 1, 2 and 3. The noble Lord, the Defence Secretary, has made some reference to this, but the brief paragraph on the military strength of the Warsaw Pact and the even briefer references to NATO Force improvements both in the White Paper and in the noble Lord's speech do not, in my view, really tell the whole story. There is a passing reference in the White Paper to the imbalances in the forces confronting each other in Europe, which favour the Warsaw Pact". The noble Lord repeated this in his speech, and I believe it conceals a very alarming situation and one which in certain circumstances might become even more serious.

It is, of course, never wise to rely wholly on figures, which can be used to prove anything; but it is a fact that in Northern and Central Europe, the crucial defence area of Western Europe and the Atlantic area, there are 66 divisions of the Warsaw Pact confronting 24 NATO divisions, or 26 if the two French divisions are included. That is a superiority in the Communist armed forces in Northern and Central Europe of approximately three to one. This enormous disparity does not take account of the fact that the Warsaw Pact divisions are smaller than NATO divisions and it does not take account of the fact, either, that many of Russia's allies might not, in the event, prove 100 per cent. reliable; but even in simple numbers of troops on the ground it is still possible to demonstrate that the Warsaw Pact has to-day a superiority of nearly two to one. They have nearly a million men in the Northern and Central Front in Europe, and NATO has between 500,000 and 600,000.

This, I am afraid, is not the only important calculation, and I should like briefly to outline to your Lordships what I think are the other important factors. First, the NATO forces in Europe, largely due to a hangover from the end of the War, are inefficiently deployed. The powerful American forces are in the Southern sector, which is easily defended and which is in any case the least likely to be attacked. The Northern sector, the most likely axis of any Soviet attack, if it came, is manned by the less efficient European divisions. Second, the superiority of the Warsaw Pact in tanks is enormous, and armoured forces are still the key to land warfare. Against NATO's 5,500 battle tanks in Central and Northern Europe the Communist countries have 16,000, of which 10,000 are Russian: that is a three to one superiority in armour. I know that it could be said that NATO Forces have stronger anti-tank defences; but any expert in armoured warfare will tell you that the best answer to a tank is another tank, and a three to one inferiority in armour on the crucial fronts in Western Europe does not seem to me to be good enough. Third, the large resources mentioned by the noble Lord which the Soviet Union spends on military research and development ensures that the Warsaw Pact countries always have the most modern and effective weapon systems. This is not always the case in NATO, many of whose countries are in competition with each other over equipment production. There does not seem to be any way in which we can persuade the countries of NATO to standardise their equipment and to go in for co-ordinated programmes of production.

Fourth, the Soviet Union controls the Warsaw Pact as a single monolithic force. NATO cannot do this for obvious reasons, apart from the fact that one of its most important countries, France, has withdrawn from the integrated structure of NATO. It is not possible, nor would it be desirable, to try to control Parliamentary democracies in the way that the Soviet Union can control its political satellites. The fifth point I should like to make is that the Soviet Union has interior lines of communication. This would mean that in a war Russian reinforcements could reach Central and Northern Europe quicker than American troops could be brought across the Atlantic to reinforce NATO. Sixth, the Soviet's reserve organisation is much more efficient than that of the West. Finally, the Warsaw Pact has great superiority in tactical aircraft—nearly two to one in the Central and Northern Front—and, as the noble Lord has said, the Soviet Fleet is globally deployed and growing more and more modern and efficient every day.

Here it may be worthwhile making the point that we should not be deceived into thinking, as I believe some commentators and analysts are, that sea power in this context is no longer important. I do not subscribe to the theory that we are never likely again to engage in set naval battles of the traditional kind. The Soviet Union has now grasped a fact that has been obvious to us for some time: naval power can be important and flexible as a political instrument. Perhaps I might commend the attention of your Lordships to a particularly interesting article on this subject in the Economist on January 8, the closing words of which are: There is something not quite serious about a Europe that talks of unity, but does not take the main responsibility for the sea and air around itself. In this context I might, before passing on from this matter, ask the noble Lord whether when he comes to speak later he will elucidate for the House this question of the withdrawal from Malta. He has referred to it in his opening remarks. There is one point about which I am not quite clear; namely, does there come a point in this withdrawal which may be called a point of no return—in other words, when the withdrawal is not complete but so comprehensive that it would be unproductive, if not counter-productive, to put it into reverse and go back again? If there is such a point is he able to identify it for us in the context of the present programme of withdrawal?


My Lords, before the noble Lord passes on from that subject—he has given some most disturbing facts; enough to make our flesh creep—what is his remedy? What does his Party propose to do?


My Lords, I have now completed two-thirds of my speech; the last third is devoted to that very subject. As I was saying, I realise that a simple comparison of military strengths is not in itself definitive. There are factors of training, doctrine and logistical support to be taken into account—not to mention important political considerations. I have underlined this basic military imbalance to demonstrate the proposition that if the Soviet Union decided—I do not believe that it will—for whatever reason to do so, they could launch an overwhelming attack on the West with every prospect of success. What is the answer of the West to the Communists' obvious military superiority? At present, it is encapsulated in one simple, rather chilling phrase in the White Paper: The maintenance of tactical and strategic nuclear forces in order to ensure that the deterrent remains effective at all levels. It is true that the White Paper also refers to the need for a continued and systematic improvement of conventional forces. But nothing can alter the fact that at this moment the defensive strategy of Europe depends on the early use of nuclear weapons in the event of an attack.

At the risk of tiring your Lordships. I must spell out very clearly what the implications of this are. First of all, we should be clear about the persistent attempt perpetuated in the White Paper of trying to distinguish between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. In the first place, most battlefield or so-called "tactical" nuclear weapons are at least as powerful as the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a battle fought with these weapons would, within 48 hours, reduce the whole of Central Europe to a radioactive wasteland with no amenities, no communications and with millions of dead and dying. Who is to say that the battle will be confined to Central Europe? Can we be sure that our enemy will play this lunatic game according to our rules? If a so-called "tactical" nuclear missile were fired at a Warsaw Pact military headquarters in Magdeburg or Leipzig, the reply, if current Soviet strategic doctrine is any guide at all, might well be a megaton nuclear weapon on Paris, or London or New York.

As has been said many, many times before, a nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon, and the terms "tactical "and" strategic "used in this context have no meaning at all. Much of this apocalyptic thinking is academic anyway because there is in real terms only one man who can give the authority for the battlefield nuclear weapons to be fired—that is the President of the United States of America. I ask every noble Lord in this House to perform the perhaps not altogether easy mental exercise of putting himself for a moment in the place of the President of the United States of America and, having done so, to ask himself one simple question: if Russian troops were to invade Germany, or Norway or Italy without using nuclear weapons, shall I, the President of the United States, give the order to fire the battlefield nuclear weapons of NATO in the almost certain knowledge that this will eventually mean the destruction of American cities and the death of millions of American citizens? That is the question that you have to ask yourselves, and I suggest very seriously that the American President, especially in the climate of present Soviet/American relations, is unlikely to give any such order. I believe any defensive strategy for Europe based on the assumption that he will has absolutely no validity at all.

I am afraid that that is not quite all. We are faced sooner or later with the real possibility that there will be a substantial withdrawal of American troops from Europe. It may not be declared American policy to do that at the moment, but those who study affairs inside the American Administration, and inside the American political establishment, will know that the pressures for withdrawal are growing, and if those pressures succeed and American troops are withdrawn from Europe this will at the same time gravely reduce the already inadequate conventional defences of Europe and further diminish the already erroded credibility of the American nuclear guarantee. It is time that we faced the realities of this situation. If what we want is military defence, then we cannot have it on the cheap. The White Paper, as the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Defence said, says that the Soviet Union spends 8 per cent. of its gross national product on defence. I regard this as a very conservative estimate, perhaps understandably so. A great deal of Soviet military research is concealed in their space programme. A more realistic figure of Soviet expenditure is between 10 and 12 per cent. Compare this with the expenditure in Western Europe, which the noble Lord has already done. Our own expenditure, as set out in the White Paper, is approximately 5½ per cent. of the gross national product. Yet, as he has said, of the European countries of NATO, only one spends more than that and that is Portugal, which in any case keeps half of its army in Africa. The average proportion of the gross national product spent by the European countries of NATO is 4.2 per cent. compared with a figure of 10 to 12 per cent. in the Soviet Union and somewhere between 8 and 9 per cent. in the United States of America. This is not a very good reflection on the European effort in its own defence, if, as I say, military defence is what we want.

Before any noble Lord leaps in with what may seem the obvious question, am I suggesting that we should spend more on defence, let me say that the answer to this depends on another question. Is military defence the only, or even the best, way of ensuring the security of Western Europe? I do not believe that it is, and it is in this context that I must deplore the almost total lack of attention in the Defence White Paper to any possibilities of arms control, disarmament, détente or accommodation with the countries of Eastern Europe. There is only one lasting security for Europe, and only one obvious road to it, and it lies through a policy of closer relations with the Soviet Union and the Communist countries of Eastern Europe: the policy of détente, embarked on so courageously by Willy Brandt, the Chancellor of West Germany. It is only by a relaxation of political tensions that we shall ever arrive at a situation in which this enormous and ruinously expensive military apparatus in Europe can be dismantled. And we must remember that every time the military superiority of the Warsaw Pact increases, it becomes more difficult to agree on a fair and reasonable system of balanced force reduction.

The Warsaw Pact countries have proposed a European Security Conference to discuss these matters, and it is with a sense of deep regret that I have to say that it is the British Government, of all the countries of Western Europe, which have shown themselves to be most suspicious, most tentative and most discouraging about this proposal. I suggest that we must not, whatever our feelings may be about the oppressive régimes of the Soviet Union and its allies (and for my part I loathe police States, whether they are police States of the Left or of the Right), fall into the trap of believing automatically that any proposal which comes from the Soviet Union is by definition devious, Machiavellian and insincere. It is at least arguable that the Soviet Union to-day is as interested as we are in establishing a stable and peaceful Europe and throwing off some of the crippling economic burden of an enormous military establishment. The way to find out whether or not the Soviet Union is sincere is to go to the conference table; to stop creating artificial obstacles to a European Security Conference. Whatever the risks of taking part in such a conference, they are tiny in comparison with the risks we take if we do not, and tiny in comparison with the immense rewards we should enjoy if a European Security Conference turned out to be successful.

However, let us be clear. Unless we do that, unless we bring about an agreement on the reduction of forces in Europe, we are, as I have demonstrated—and this was my reason for demonstrating it—faced with a situation in which the military balance is against us, and likely to become more so day by day. And if the Government of this country, of whatever Party, together with the Governments of the rest of Western Europe, cannot achieve European security by peaceful means, they can meet that threat in only one of two ways: as they are doing now, relying on the nuclear heresy, which is in effect the policy of suicide or surrender; or by increasing their conventional military defence, and accepting the economic and social consequences of doing so. Also, of course, they must coordinate these efforts on a European basis at a European level. There is no other way. This is true, quite irrespective of any arguments about the Common Market, which for obvious reasons I shall not follow in this debate. Nor do I ignore other extraneous factors such as the growing power of China, the growing power of Japan, or the apparently new relationship which is growing up between the People's Republic of China and the United States of America. I do not ignore any of those factors; I simply say that for the moment our eyes should be concentrated on the security of Western Europe and the possibility of finding a peaceful way of ensuring it, and the implications if we do not.

My Lords, I apologise for speaking at such length and for concentrating so much on one particular aspect of defence policy. But I believe this to be a matter of the utmost gravity for this country and for the rest of Europe. I would sum it up simply like this. First, the military balance in Europe is alarmingly against us and is growing more so every day. Second, the only long-term remedy for this is to attack the political problems of Europe and begin to dismantle the opposing military forces by agreement. Third, failing this, presumably the countries of Western Europe must continue to provide themselves with an effective military defence. Fourth, this cannot be provided by nuclear weapons; only conventional defence will do. And fifth, if Europe wants effective conventional forces as an alternative to peaceful settlement of the problem, then its Governments must be prepared to pay the cost, economic, social and political, of raising, equipping and maintaining these forces. It is with no intention of trying to make any Party political capital that I say that I see no evidence in the current White Paper either of a readiness to pursue active policies of détente, with a view to reducing military forces in Europe, or of a readiness to provide the adequate contribution which is required to provide an effective conventional defence for Western Europe. For my part, my Lords, I do not regard this as a reasonable return for £2,800 million a year.