§ 2.51 p.m.
§ Lord SHEPHERD rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Review made by the Secretary of State for Defence on 3rd December. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion that stands in my name on the Order Paper. I much regret that I have to commence by making an apology. Your Lordships attach great importance to the procedure that those who take part in debates should remain here, but unfortunately I have been called to a meeting at four o'clock. It is a meeting of such a character that I must attend, and it is one that I have not been able to postpone.
§ My Lords, a fortnight ago, my noble friend Lord Winterbottom repeated a Statement which was being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the Defence Review. Given the importance of the subject, and the stage which the Review has reached, it is right that your Lordships should have an opportunity for a full debate. Defence is an important subject, not only because of the feelings it can arouse, but also because it is one of the pillars upon which our country rests. The health and existence of the United Kingdom as a civilised, humane and democratic society depend on the strength of its economy and on an effective foreign policy backed by alert and efficient defence forces. It is sad, but true, that not all men are yet of the good will which leads to the peace of the Christmas message. But we must not forget that defence, even on the most grandiose scale, has no point if society and the economy destroy themselves from within.
§ Our present economic difficulties need no further emphasis in this House, but I should like to underline that these are not all short-term problems which will right themselves in a few years. Some are long-standing, deep-rooted difficulties which will require a sustained effort to correct. Ever since the war the economic growth rate of this country has lagged behind that of our more successful European neighbours. In the 1950s and 1960s, France and Germany have averaged growth rates of over 5 per cent. 1043 a year. We have done only half at well, averaging about 2¾ per cent. a year.
§ The cumulative effect of this disparity is considerable. While our national income rose by half over the same period, that of France and Germany doubled. Our gross national product is now two-thirds that of France, and only half that of Germany, and the gap is still growing. In terms of national income per head we are only three-fifths as wealthy as our counterparts in both France and Germany. At the same time, we have experienced persistent balance-of-payments difficulties since the war, achieving a surplus on visible trade account in only three of the last 23 years. This long-term situation has certainly been worsened out of all proportion by the recent rise of oil prices.
§ The combined effects will take many years to correct. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recently said in another place, public expenditure as a whole will have to be held below the average increase in national output in the years ahead if we are to succeed. It is not just defence expenditure that is being singled out for stringent treatment, as some noble Lords may claim. Government expenditure as a whole must be restrained to free resources for more productive economic use, particularly for exports and import saving and for productive investment.
§ My Lords, the scale and scope of our defence forces has altered. Successive Administrations for much of the postwar period have had to address and re-address some basic questions: what are the essentials of our defence policy, what resources should be devoted to achieving these consistently with our economic performance, and what is the size and shape of our Armed Forces which is best suited to our needs? Hence, the proportion of our national wealth devoted to defence has varied as the objectives of defence policy have changed; and the equipment and tasks of the Forces themselves have been adjusted as foreign and domestic policy have responded to this changing world.
§ In 1968, the Labour Government of the day took some basic and necessary decisions on the scope of our defence commitments concentrating our defence effort more on NATO and less on non-NATO 1044 commitments. An important watershed was, I believe, the cross-over point in 1969–70 when, as was shown in the last Public Expenditure White Paper, less was spent on defence than on either social security or education. Although a number of these decisions were reversed or J modified in 1970 by the then Secretary of State for Defence, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, a succession of short-term I cuts in the defence budget were made by the Conservative Administration in their last year in Office. Such cuts are always wasteful because they involve artificial restriction of the planned momentum of production programmes, and too often they also involve sacrificing the fruits of earlier expensive development effort.
§ In March of this year, my Lords, we were therefore faced, despite these short-term cuts, with a weak economy, worldwide defence commitments, and military capabilities which would have been dangerously over-stretched if they had been called upon to meet them. It was clear that a comprehensive Review of the whole of our defence policy over a long forward period was necessary. That Review has resulted in the Statement which your Lordships have heard, and I believe that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence is to be congratulated on the logic, realism and good sense which were embodied in it. The object of the Review is to ensure the maintenance of a modern and effective defence system while reducing its cost as a proportion of our national resources. These two aims have to be balanced, and I think it can be claimed that the Government's proposals put the balance right.
§ On the resource side, the aim has been to bring the burden nearer to that carried by our main European allies. The Government inherited a defence budget for 1974–75 representing about 5½ per cent. of gross national product. To maintain and progressively re-equip forces to meet the then existing range of commitments would, it is estimated, pre-empt about 6 per cent. of gross national product by 1978–79, and a sum which would still be over 5½ per cent. of gross national product by 1983–84. By comparison, in 1973 France was spending 4.2 per cent. of her GNP, and West Germany 3.9 per cent.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Byers, pointed out when we heard the Statement that 1045 we spend less than these two countries per head. But I suggest that one must be realistic. The per capita measurement takes no account of the resources available. It is quite unrealistic to expect that a country with limited resources can afford to spend the same in absolute terms as one with greater wealth; for if, as a result, the prospects for future growth of GNP were diminished, this in turn might limit the resources available for defence.
§ Our proposals are based on the principle that we should concentrate as a first priority upon those areas in which we believe that we can most effectively contribute to the security of the NATO Alliance and of the United Kingdom itself. We have thus not sought to make easy economies through arbitrary raids on the Equipment Votes, or through across-the-board adjustments in procurement schedules to produce short-term savings making very little military sense.
§ In accordance with our basic principles, priority has been given to NATO, and within NATO to our contributions to the Alliance forces in the Central Region; to the maritime forces in the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel Commands; to the security of the United Kingdom; and to our part of the Alliance's strategic nuclear deterrent. We shall maintain and, where necessary, improve the effectiveness of those elements of our forces which are committed to the direct defence of these islands and the seas surrounding them. The protection of our offshore resources, in which the Services have a part to play, is recognised as a most important area and is the subject of close study between the Government Departments concerned.
§ The Defence Review does not affect our tasks or our efforts in Northern Ireland, nor will it mean that the Army will have to face more frequent tours there. We shall be reducing commitments elsewhere, and, as noble Lords will be aware, we plan to make the reductions in Army manpower so far as possible by pruning overheads and other structural adjustments. As my noble friend Lord Winterbottom explained on 3rd December, this policy posed some difficult problems in relation to our commitments outside the NATO area. We have looked at these case by case and decided that 1046 though we must retain our obligations to our dependencies, we must, however reluctantly, make substantial cuts in our overseas presence, notably in the Far East.
§ We are under no illusions about the threat posed by the Warsaw Pact. The United Kingdom Government are, of course, ready, with their NATO allies, to continue their efforts to make progress in negotiations and exchanges with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries aimed at a steady improvement in East-West relations. But we must recognise that the Soviet Union are steadily building up their forces in all theatres. Their great strength in numbers is being enhanced by marked improvements in quality in their land, sea and air forces; and, as they are devoting an increasing share of their resources to military research and development, this improvement in quality and effectiveness will, without any doubt, continue in the future.
§ In Central Europe, in particular, the Warsaw Pact enjoys a marked superiority over NATO in manpower and conventional weapons, and even more sophisticated and high quality equipment is contributing to the relentlessly improving capability of the Warsaw Pact forces. We are fully alive to these trends and they have strongly influenced our thinking throughout the Defence Review.
§ Thus we do not propose, in advance of a satisfactory agreement on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, to reduce the forces which we maintain in Germany in accordance with our Brussels Treaty obligations. Likewise, our ability to reinforce BAOR in an emergency will be retained. Similarly, we are not proposing to make any reductions in the fighting capability of RAF Germany. Noble Lords who yesterday expressed interest will wish to be aware that no reduction in the size of the TAVR is proposed. Indeed, with a smaller Regular Army, the TAVR will be an even more important and effective partner for the Regular Army than hitherto. We hope to improve its present strength and plan a major recruiting effort in the New Year.
§ One of the most intractable problems in the Review has been to contain mounting equipment costs within limited resources. We are, however, satisfied that the marginal increase in the proportion of 1047 the defence budget allocated to equipment, which is provided for in our proposals, will permit us to provide the modern weaponry to match our Forces' military tasks and counter the growing sophistication of the Soviet Armed Forces.
§ At sea, our efforts will be concentrated where they can be most effective in dealing with the threat from the increasingly powerful Soviet submarine force; namely, the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel. These are NATO's forward areas at sea, corresponding with the Central Front on land, in which the Royal Navy must provide the bulk of NATO's ready maritime forces confronting those of the Warsaw Pact and in which the European NATO navies must demonstrate a capability to hold open the vital reinforcement routes to Europe if NATO strategy as a whole is to remain credible.
§ The most important elements in the naval programme are the nuclear-powered submarine and the anti-submarine cruiser. Both have essential parts to play in matching the growing quality, as well as size, of the Soviet Navy if the Royal Navy is to continue to contribute to the deterrence of Soviet seapower; and accordingly both programmes are to be continued. As has already been announced, the Army's re-equipment programme which, much more than those of other Services, consists of a large number of relatively small projects, will be substantially modified. Some cuts will have to be made but many projects will be unaffected. We shall, for example, continue to collaborate with Germany and Italy on the FH70 towed gun and the SP70 self-propelled gun. We shall proceed with the purchase of the LANCE tactical nuclear missile system from the United States as a replacement for Honest John.
§ The combat strength of the Royal Air Force, the front line forces of RAF Germany, and those engaged in the defence of the United Kingdom and the Eastern Atlantic will be maintained and improved. The planned re-equipment programme will continue and for the longer term we are going ahead with the development of the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. The changes affecting the RAF—in the transport and the helicopter forces, for example—follow directly from the contraction in 1048 our overseas deployments and also the reduction in specialised reinforcement capability.
§ We have stood firm by the contribution we make to the Alliance's strategic nuclear deterrent. The effectiveness of our Polaris force, which constitutes a valuable European element in the Alliance's deterrent system, will be maintained. The Review presents our provisional conclusions. The purpose of this debate, and that conducted yesterday in another place, is to take account of the opinion of Parliament.
§ Adjustments to force levels and deployments are possible within the overal shares of the resources which we can, afford to devote to defence in the future, and account will be taken of the points made in working out the more detailed aspects of our proposals. Final decisions will not be taken, either, until the process of full consultation with our Allies and partners in the Commonwealth has taken place. We have already begun the detailed consultation with our NATO Allies on the changes we propose to our NATO commitments. There is an established procedure for this, involving an appreciation by the NATO military authorities, followed by political consideration of their military assessment by the Defence Planning Committee. At the outset of the process of consultation, a presentation was made to the NATO Military Committee and to the NATO Defence Planning Committee on 3rd December.
§ My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has since participated in Ministerial discussions in Brussels. Consultations with our allies should be sufficiently far advanced for firm decisions to be published for Parliamentary consideration in a White Paper early next year.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when we took the Statement asked how the Government intend to save the sum of £300 million next year. The point is that we have cut back defence expenditure on the proposals and plans which we inherited. Under these plans, defence expenditure was to rise to £4,000 million in 1975–76. We have cut that back to £3,700 million, thus making a saving. But there will in fact be a small increase in the real expenditure on defence next year. It is on the proposals which we 1049 inherited that we are making the savings, adjusted, as the then Government made clear might be necessary, for expenditure on peace-keeping operations in Northern Ireland and other contingent claims. This is the beginning of the process of adapting the defence programme to the new levels of expenditure which in subsequent years will yield an even greater saving on plans as they stood in March 1974 of about £500 million by 1978–79 and some £750 million by 1983–84 which the Statement on 3rd December has already described.
§ The changes which we have announced will inevitably involve reductions in the numbers of Service personnel. Our proposals would involve reducing manpower by about 35,000 Servicemen compared with the strength at 1st April this year. Broadly, the breakdown between the three Services is 5,000 for the Royal Navy, 12,000 for the Army and 18,000 for the Royal Air Force. I wish to stress that these figures are rough approximations at this stage. The reductions will be achieved as far as possible by normal wastage. Some redundancies will, of course, be unavoidable in order to maintain a reasonable balance between ranks, ages and skills and to retain a satisfactory career structure. But these will be determined after very careful planning and proper attention to phasing. Fair terms will be offered to those made redundant and we shall be looking into the help that the Government can give with the re-settlement of Servicemen into civilian life.
§ As Minister in day-to-day charge of the Civil Service Department, I should like to say a few words about the effect of the Defence Review on civilian manpower. As the Statement explained, the proposals would involve reducing manpower by about 30,000 directly employed civilians, about half of whom would be civilians locally entered abroad. This amounts to about 9 per cent. of the present civilian staff of the Ministry of Defence. The grades likely to be affected will not be known until firm decisions have been taken on reductions in our overseas forces and defence facilities, and on which establishments in the United Kingdom are to be closed or run down, and over what period. Where reductions are necessary, these will be achieved by normal wastage as far as possible. The 1050 Staff and Trade Union Sides of the Ministry of Defence have been assured that consultation with them will be as full and as early as is practicable.
§ My Lords, I am of course aware that some noble Lords, not confined to noble Lords opposite, view with concern any reduction in our overall defence capabilities. But any significant increase in capability would require an increased burden of cost which is neither possible nor desirable in our present economic circumstances. There are some who would wish to see greater reductions; but such a course would create difficulties for our allies in Europe.
§ We have sought to strike a balance by concentrating our effort in support of NATO. We had to face the fact that the defence posture which we inherited belied our true political and economic strength. The aim of this Defence Review has been to bring these factors into line, not precipitately by sudden damaging cuts, but over a period which allows for an orderly transition without jeopardising our essential security interests. We are now in consultation with our allies and we shall take note of the views expressed in this debate before issuing our Defence White Paper.
§ My Lords, our immediate battle is on the economic front. There lies our greatest risk. As in defence we need the co-operation of our friends, so the main responsibility at home is ours, to ensure a more sound economic base on which our political and social fabric depends, as also does our ability to contribute to the alliance on which our own security depends. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Review made by the Secretary of State for Defence on 3rd December.—(Lord Shepherd.)
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Lord CARR1NGTON
My Lords, let me say at the outset that we are grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the way in which he has introduced this Motion to call attention to the Government's policy on defence. I can say that with some small part of his speech I was in agreement, but it is as well when discussing defence to have clear in our minds what are the problems of British defence and defence policy, what are the difficulties which are 1051 facing us and in what context we are discussing the Government's Statement.
Long ago, in 1949, we decided that it was not possible for us to defend ourselves on our own; indeed for only a comparatively short time in our history has it ever been possible for us to do so. We realised after the last War that the two super-Powers with their vast industrial bases and their enormous populations, coupled with the weakness of Europe and Britain, made it imperative, first, that we should combine with our neighbours in collective defence, and, secondly, that we should continue to involve the United States of America in that defence, because without the United States and its nuclear armoury no defence of Western Europe was possible. In addition, at that time we had great responsibilities round the world; responsibilities which entailed keeping our defence forces at a very high level and spending a very great deal of money. As the years have passed those responsibilities have gradually disappeared, and with them the need to keep such large forces; and the realisation has grown stronger that Europe is, as indeed it always has been, the most important area so far as our defence is concerned.
Those conclusions of post-war years are as true today as they ever have been; but the memories of the Second World War recede, and as they recede so the difficulties of maintaining a defence posture increase. One of the ironies of defence policy is that the more successful it is the more difficult it is to continue it. We have only to read some of the speeches made in another place yesterday to find an example: there has been no war for 30 years, why do we spend all that money on defence? We only have to look around at what is being said today in this country about defence; at the lack of interest in the subject; at what is happening in Denmark and in Holland, to see the problems which face us. The truth is that people are interested in defence only when they are frightened; and when they are frightened it is too late to do anything about it because we should have made our preparations years before. Those of your Lordships who follow these matters will know how long it takes from the inception of a new aircraft on a piece of paper to the moment 1052 when it enters into service in the Royal Air Force. As weapons get more and more complicated so the time for their development and introduction gets longer and longer.
Of course it is impossible to divorce expenditure on defence from the general economic wellbeing of the country, but it is necessary when discussing defence, alone among other candidates for economies, to remember that on the security of a country depends the certainty with which it can enjoy all those good things which all of us want to have. If by imprudent saving or political ignorance cuts in defence put at risk the alliances on which we depend and our capacity to defend ourselves, then we have done far more harm than good. Defence must always have the very highest priority.
I believe that at the moment we are facing a crisis in NATO. The Second World War is remote. The potential enemy at present does not seem merely quiescent, but fairly friendly. The money badly needed for other things. The Americans are becoming increasingly alarmed about what they think is the disproportionate effort they make for what they believe to be primarily the defence of Europe. Anything we do to make that worse makes the alliance that much less credible. One has only to read what the Secretary-General of NATO, Dr. Luns, said yesterday in London, when he deplored the cuts proposed to be made by Her Majesty's Government, and warned that that sort of thing was contagious.
Incidentally, I noticed with some wry amusement that The Times of last Thursday morning reported that the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Mason, had welcomed and congratulated the Turkish Government on their increase in defence expenditure, and had congratulated the Italian Government on their plans to modernise the Italian Navy. The report did not tell us whether the Turkish Defence Minister had congratulated Mr. Mason on his reduction in expenditure on defence, nor whether the Italian Minister had warmly welcomed the decision of Mr. Mason to reduce the Royal Navy by about one-seventh. It is a telling commentary on the Government that the only economy they seem prepared to make in any field of expenditure is on defence.
1053 I understand perfectly that the noble Lord has to leave to go to a meeting. It is my earnest hope that this meeting is perhaps concerned with expenditure by the Government in other fields. This is really where I quarrel with the Government. They seem to have singled out defence as the one area in which it is essential, immediately and regardless, to make drastic cuts. But it might be as well if we cleared up a few misconceptions about the Defence Review. The Labour Party was elected in February and in October—
§ Lord CARRINGTON
Not by much; with 60 per cent. of the vote against—on a Manifesto which declared it would cut defence by a substantial amount. This was as a result of a Motion accepted at the Labour Party Conference of the year before, the relevant part of which read:That the Conference demands the closing down of all nuclear bases, British or American, on British soil or in British waters, and demands that this pledge be included in the General Election Manifesto. Conference demands that Britain should cut its military expenditure initially by at least £1,000 million a year. This would release resources to expand social spending at home, and allow more generous aid to poor nations"—
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, whose views are already known before he opens his mouth, will have a chance to give his views all over again later on. At that time no thought had been given (or, indeed, could conceivably have been given because no access was possible to professional advice) as to whether or not such a cut was possible, whether its magnitude would endanger the safety of the country, what the consequences might be to industry, to employment, to our allies or to the NATO alliance. It was a straight and unequivocal demand by the Labour Party to reduce defence expenditure and, although the £1,000 million was left out, it was agreed that defence expenditure be cut and this was recorded in the Labour Party Manifesto.
My Lords, when the Labour Party was returned it was necessary not only to 1054 examine what was possible, but to clothe with respectability a decision taken in advance to cut defence without first having inquired as to whether it was possible or safe to do so. And so the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Mason, set up a Review Committee. I suspect that the terms of reference they were given were broadly these: "We have got to cut defence because we have said we would. How much can we cut without causing too much trouble?" Of course, it has not been presented like this. It has been presented over and over again as the most extensive and thorough review of our system of defence ever undertaken by a British Government in peace-time. Of course, this is not true. As I said on a previous occasion, I have been twice in Defence Departments when reviews just as thorough and important have been undertaken. Certainly the review undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, referred to fairly constantly by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, can hardly have been said to have been one of no importance. Nor does it need a review lasting some months to tell us that NATO is the linchpin of British security. That phrase, if I may say so, has been the linchpin of every Defence White Paper for the last 25 years. Nor was it necessary to have a review which says that we should concentrate first upon those areas in which we can contribute to the security of the United Kingdom itself.
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for allowing me to interrupt him. The noble Lord is making a point that this was not the most important and the most thorough review which has ever taken place. I entirely agree. He goes on to complain because the Labour Party undertook a review in order to save money. This is not the first occasion. The right honourable gentleman, Mr. Macmillan, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, dreamed up a pipedream of saving £700 million from defence willy-nilly. When he was Prime Minister, Mr. Macmillan set out to do it, and the result is the mess we are in today, and increased costs in fact.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, all Governments want to save money on defence. The difference is that some 1055 Governments do it regardless of whether they are hurting this country or not. As I was saying before the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, interrupted, the interesting thing about the speech of the noble Lord Lord Shepherd, was that he stressed, and stressed with some force, the gravity of the growing threat of the military power of the Warsaw Pact. But Government policy seems to be to tailor our contribution not to the threat, but to the amount of money our other allies are prepared to spend. What has happened is that the Ministry of Defence has been charged by the present Government with doing an exercise in how to reduce defence expenditure with the minimum amount of damage. The Ministry of Defence, I think, is the most efficient Department in Whitehall, so it is probable, if their advice has been taken, that they will have come up with the least damaging answer. But I do not suppose any of them can welcome it, although they may agree that if you are to do it at all, this is the least bad way of doing it.
My Lords, what exactly are we asked to take note of? I think we can discount the proposition that in ten years from now we shall be saving £750 million annually. No such calculation is either sensible or possible. Anyone who supposes that in five years' time, let alone ten years' time, the situation will be as it is now, that the Government will be the same, that our situation as a country will be the same, that the world scene will be the same, is living in some kind of fantasy world. After a great many years spent in defence Departments, the one thing I do know with absolute certainty is the uncertainty which always revolves round defence policy. The unexpected always happens. If one makes no provision for the unexpected, as the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Healey, did in the size of the British Army, one gets into the sort of trouble we have got into over the commitment of the British Army in Northern Ireland.
No one can say what will happen, or what will be happening, in ten years' time. But if the Government wish to placate their Left Wing by suggesting that in 1984 we shall be saving £750 million a year, then I for one shall not quarrel with them. The figure which is important is the £300 million which it is pro- 1056 posed to save next year. It is very difficult to discover from the Statement, and indeed from the speech which the noble Lord the Leader of the House has just made, how this is to be achieved. It may be—and if this is so I do not quarrel with it—that it is impossible to make more specific proposals until such time as the consultation with our allies is over. But I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, if that be so, whether any objections by our allies to a particular proposal will mean a reduction in the total saving, or whether it will be necessary to find compensating savings elsewhere?
Some of the proposals made do not seem to me to save very much money. For example, the withdrawal of the limited Forces we have in Singapore will have a very marginal effect on the defence budget. I might add that I am sad that the Government have decided in effect to wind up the Five-Power defence arrangements. But I think that we must acknowledge that, after what Mr. Healey did in 1968 and several changes of policy and the decision to withdraw from East of Suez, neither the Government of Singapore nor Malaysia could, in the nature of our Party system, have much confidence in the guaranteed continuation of a British presence. Nevertheless it is a pity that a contribution which was welcomed by both those two Governments, and which I believe added stability to the area has been scrapped for a comparatively trifling sum.
As for the withdrawal of the battalion from Brunei, I am at a loss to understand why this happened and we shall be very interested to hear what saving is to be achieved as a result. Nor, my Lords, am I quite sure what the Government intend to do about Malta. The financial contribution to the Maltese Government is overwhelmingly made by our NATO allies, and we made clear again and again, both to our allies and to the Maltese Government, that this was not so much a British commitment as an Alliance commitment. If there is a premature withdrawal of British troops from Malta and a unilateral decision to withdraw at the termination of the agreement, then our allies have a very substantial grievance with which I would find myself entirely in sympathy.
1057 On a number of occasions recently in this House we have discussed the Simons-town Agreement. I do not know whether the South African Government will feel it possible to allow us to continue to use the facilities on a commercial basis. I must say that if I were a South African I would find rather hypocritical the attitude that it was all right to pay for what you got, but not if you did it in a spirit of friendship. One thing seems certain, and that is that the collaboration between the Royal Navy and the South African Navy will stop. That is a pity. It led to a more efficient South African Navy; and I am sure that not even the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, could say that the South African Navy was an internal security force. It led to a relationship and understanding with the only Navy capable of helping to defend a very vulnerable, extensive and vital route of supply to Britain and Western Europe—and it did not cost any money either.
My Lords, it is more difficult to judge how much damage will be done to the three Services. There seems so much uncertainty. For example, what exactly do the Government mean when they say that the Royal Navy's planned number of frigates, destroyers, mine counter-measure vessels will be reduced by one-seventh? If the reduction is to be all mine countermeasure vessels, it is damaging but not critical; if the reduction is all in frigates, then certainly it is very critical. But if any substantial saving is to be effected then there must obviously be a number of larger ships involved.
I quite understand the political necessity to keep open the Royal Dockyards. No doubt the Labour Members of Devon-port, Chatham and Portsmouth were greatly relieved that it should have been possible to release this information during the Election campaign, while, of course, saying that nothing else was settled and certainly not the redundancies which have been announced in the last fortnight. But if the Dockyards are to be retained how will enough work be found for them? If work is to be moved in from elsewhere, will that not affect other ship-repairers and builders who, it seems, are all to be nationalised—and for whom the Government will then have as much responsibility as for the Dockyards?
1058 The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, in answer to a question of mine, said that the Services, as a result of the Statement, would not be less well equipped. It would be interesting to know how he can conceivably have come to this conclusion. In the Statement itself we are told that the Army's re-equipment plans would be substantially modified; that the RAF is to be reduced and I understand that the buying of the MRCA and the Jaguar is to be extended over a longer period no doubt at a greater cost in the longer term. Of course it cannot be true that the Services will be as well equipped as they would have been had these cuts not taken place, and it is absurd to pretend otherwise. We should also like to hear a good deal more about which defence industries are likely to be hit. Obviously one of them is Westons. What are the others? If we have been told that 10,000 people are to be redundant, there must be some fairly precise calculations as to which defence industries are to be run down. Could the noble Lord tell us which they are?
There is one area of saving which has not been mentioned by the Government in their Statement, and that is the field of rationalisation and collaboration in the development and production of weapons. When I was at the Ministry of Defence this was something that I tried very hard to get going, as, indeed, did Mr. Healey before me. We both had some success. But it is an extraordinary situation that 25 years after the inception of NATO we still find the European Armed Services with different conceptions of tactics and strategy—leading to different weapons—and armies still not capable of talking to each other because the equipment is not compatible; a whole range of weapons needlessly expensive because they are not produced in large numbers; our research and development teams in each country duplicating work.
I believe that it is true—though I have not up-to-date figures, the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—that the NATO Powers in Europe spend as much in total on research and development as the United States, and yet how comparatively little we get out of it. Is it really sensible that the Germans, because of a different tactical concept from ourselves—or we, because of a different tactical concept from the Germans—should have two totally different tanks whose purpose 1059 is designed to fight the same enemy, in the same place, at the same time?
It is no good pretending that there are not enormous difficulties in the way of achieving sensible rationalisation. There are the problems of national industry. No country wants to do its own industries down or, indeed, to create redundancies or to go out of business in a technical field which may have a spin-off for civilian purposes. There are difficulties of timing. Very often the equipment of one country does not become obsolete at the same time as that of another and some re-equipment has to take place in the meantime. There are 101 difficulties, and let us not suppose (if any of us do suppose) that collaborative efforts are necessarily—at any rate in the beginning—all that much cheaper, though I believe they will be. None of this will happen (and it must happen) unless there is the political direction to make sure that it does. To put it crudely, Admirals, Air Marshals, Generals and senior civil servants will not agree to make the compromises which are necessary unless they are told to do so by strong political direction. I hope that we shall hear more of this from the Government, for I think that it is in that direction that a real saving in capacity and overheads, man-power, and research and development can be achieved.
Lastly, my Lords, I come to the question of recruiting and manpower. I must confess to your Lordships that I have changed my mind in one particular respect.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
Not in that particular respect, my Lords, but in another particular respect. I used to think that there was evidence—and there was evidence to support me—that the fluctuations of the employment figures did not have very much effect upon recruiting. I do not think that that is any longer true, partly because Servicemen are tolerably well-paid. But we should not, my Lords, rely on unemployment—for, alas!, unemployment there is going to be—to provide our professional Services. And we shall not get both contented and efficient Services until those who serve in them believe 1060 that they have a job to do, believe that it is a job worth doing, and that the Government of the day believe it, too.
I remember very well the state of morale in the Services in 1970 after the upheavals of the days of the last Labour Government—the withdrawals from around the world and the continual changes being planned. This is a lesson which the Government should have learned, and I hope that they will stand up and say firmly and convincingly that they believe in defence and that those who take part in it are essential for our national survival and wellbeing.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, was good enough to say, in reply to a question I asked him a fortnight ago, that he did not think that I had quite grasped the significance of this Statement. I also asked the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, what encouraging factors he saw in the international situation which made him think it sensible or prudent to cut our defence at this time. He very honestly replied that there were not any. I must tell him that I understand the significance of this Statement only too well. The Labour Government have been told by the Labour Party Conference to cut defence, and they have faithfully obeyed. Whether they have done serious damage to our security and our alliances it is too early to say. But let noble Lords opposite be in no doubt that the country will hold them responsible, and that we on this side will continue with all the means in our power to ensure the proper defence and security of this country.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, the review of our military commitments and expenditure by the present Government is, I suggest, the most important development in British defence policy since the previous Labour Government's far-reaching review of 1968. As we know, my Lords, Mr. Healey then decided to abandon what I might call, without disrespect, the Walter Mitty world of Mr. Harold Wilson, who had proclaimed soon after becoming Prime Minister in 1964,that our frontier begins on the Himalayas.The present Review almost completes the withdrawal from East of Suez which was begun after three years or so of a consideration by the then Labour Government of the ex-imperial facts of life. It 1061 took them a long time, but they eventually got there.
We Liberals naturally welcome an always rather belated realism. I have a special reason for doing so, since in March 1965 I proposed from these Benches that British Forces should (with the possible exception of Singapore and Hong Kong) be withdrawn from East of Suez. My proposal was then rejected with contumely by both the Labour Government and the Conservative Opposition, and I have no doubt that it will now be said that I was right at the wrong time. Being right at the right time is, of course, the privilege of politicians in office.
In general, we Liberals understand the need to streamline defence expenditure in the nation's present dire economic straits. We understand this, but we are against too crude assessments of effort based on percentages of the gross national product. It may be true that we have been spending a higher proportion of our GNP on defence than almost all our partners in Europe. But we spend much less per capita than, for example, neutral Sweden where a Socialist Government has been in office since 1932! The Labour Party might indeed, with advantage, consider the high cost of neutrality, more especially when it is accompanied by conscription.
While, therefore, we accept that the Government have little choice left but to try to reduce our present defence bill to some extent, we nevertheless regret that at times electoral, rather than strategic, considerations seem to have been responsible for some of the proposed economies. Here I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said just now. For instance, there is to be a large reduction in the naval building programme, but there are to be no reductions in the number of Her Majesty's dockyards. One cannot help noticing that the Minister for the Navy represents Portsmouth in another place, while both Chatham and Devonport are marginal seats. These electorally motivated extravagances apart, however, the Government, we admit, have probably got the balance in the Royal Navy about right. The Senior Service should, we think, continue to fulfil its historic role in what is known as a "blue water" Navy. But two questions in this respect need to be answered.
1062 First, the Government seem slow to realise the need to protect the oil rigs in the North Sea from sabotage, if not from worse happenings. Fast patrol boats in considerable numbers are needed for that purpose, and we must hope that the Government will not wait for a successful terrorist attack on an oil rig, or rigs, before providing them. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, when he replies, to answer this specific question.
Secondly, the rundown of our amphibious forces will naturally reduce the assistance we shall be able to offer our NATO allies, Denmark, and more particularly Norway, if they are subjected to any pressure. Yet we all know—the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said this—that the Soviet Union is spending vast sums in increasing its power on NATO's Northern flank, and we are all aware that neutralist sentiment is already powerful in Scandinavia generally. Therefore, we should like assurances that the Government are thinking carefully how they can strengthen the capacity of the alliance in this vital part of our joint defence. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, to deal with this also when he comes to reply.
So far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, some of the proposed economies are obviously right. To halve the air transport force merely reflects the decision with which we agreed, to withdraw from East of Suez, and to close bases in these islands of the United Kingdom also makes sense. Let us hope that the airports concerned will be quickly converted to civilian use, where that is needed, or, in most cases, cleared away and restored to farming.
It is when we examine the decision to go ahead with the BAC Hawk aircraft that uneasiness creeps in. Have the Government really compared the cost and effectiveness of going ahead with the BAC Hawk aircraft with that of the Franco-German Alpha Jet? That is another question that I address to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, and I hope that he will deal with it when he comes to reply. If they have not, how much value can we place on the assurance given by the Secretary of State for Defence in another place, that Her Majesty's Government will… continue vigorously to support the efforts being made within the Alliance to increase 1063 standardisation in equipment and eliminate duplication in research and development.Yet it is precisely through such standardisation and rationalisation that enormous savings could be made at no cost to, even with an increase in, efficiency. It really is of the greatest importance, both for our own defence and for our diplomacy, that our weapons programme should be co-ordinated more closely with that of our allies. Such a policy will do much to assure American opinion that the allies of the United States are in earnest in their own defence and are not merely hankering after armaments contracts and the vain illusions of independent military might.
Besides, my Lords, the failure to standardise and the small scale of the domestic arms market, promotes the sale of armaments to many parts of the world where peace is, to put it mildly, precarious. Much of the enormous sums now in the hands of the oil producing countries can and are being used to buy weapons for purposes possibly of external aggression and certainly of internal repression. France has recently concluded a huge arms deal with Saudi Arabia. I hope that Great Britain will not soon be selling more weapons to the oppressors of the Kurds in Iraq or to any country with designs on the very existence of a member State of the United Nations. I hope, but given the past record, given the state of the economy, given the failure to standardise within the alliance, I am far from confident. The Leader of the Liberal Party has repeatedly called attention to this problem of what might be called "pouring flames on troubled oil". It would be reassuring to have some indication that the Government are taking this aspect of the matter, at least, seriously.
My Lords, we all understand the difficulty of making the right technical decisions about weapons development in an age of ever more rapid technical change. Nowadays it is not merely the developed weapon but even the initial blueprint that falls victim to obsolescence. But, that said, we cannot help wondering whether it is wise—again it is a question I put to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom—to cut out the RS 80 project for long-range rocket artillery. This, after all, is an attempt at allied collaboration. It gives 1064 every sign of being an efficient weapon. Perhaps—I only say perhaps—the Army is too wedded to traditional concepts of artillery.
However that may be, there is no doubt that the Army has lost some of its traditional appeal as the result of this Defence Review; there can be no dispute about that. That may be inescapable, and perhaps it is, but it does, as I am sure Ministers will recognise, pose serious questions of morale. The old recruiting slogan used to be, "Join the Army and see the world". "Join the Army and be shot at in Ulster" is not a very attractive substitute. A young man, or even nowadays a young woman, contemplating a military career, will hardly relish spending an undue time in the less appealing parts of the United Kingdom.
I repeat, my Lords, the Liberals do not blame the Government for adopting a policy of retrenchment. We think it is probably inevitable in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, although we could wish that it was more closely accompanied by new active measures to preserve peace and promote technical reform. But the Government, and public opinion as a whole, must make an effort to understand the effect on the morale of the victims, prospective or actual, of this retrenchment. As I have said, the effect on recruiting, which is already gravely insufficient, is likely to be severe. What plans have Ministers got to deal with this problem? Or are they merely gloomily anticipating—I think this is what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said—that with the inevitable and certainly considerable rise in unemployment to be expected in the New Year, the problem will, as it were, solve itself? Is that what they are really thinking of, or have they any other plans?
What is certain is that the country should be under no illusions about our relative military weakness following these economies. The British Army, so far as we can understand—I am open to contradiction—will be about half the size of the German and French armies, which are, of course, drawn from, in the one case, a rather larger, and, in the other case, a rather smaller, population. Of course, it will be said that our Army is entirely voluntary whereas France and Germany both still have national service. 1065 It was a Conservative Government, my Lords, which ended national service in this country, and there is no political Party, and probably no sizeable part of public opinion, in favour of restoring it. But an Army of 170,000 soldiers really does leave any British Government with very little scope for manoeuvre. There can be all too little flexibility in such straitened circumstances. Yet one of the few certainties in military matters is uncertainty and hence the need for flexibility.
My Lords, I referred at the beginning of my remarks to the Defence Review of early 1968. When that was carried out the troubles in Northern Ireland were confined to paper protests and occasional peaceful demonstrations. The first death in the present campaign of violence and terror—incidentally caused by Protestant extremists—came towards the end of that year. By mid-August 1969 large numbers of British troops had to be deployed in Belfast and Londonderry. If such an emergency were to occur again while the Ulster fever still rages—and who can say with confidence that it will not—where would men be found to deal with it? One does not have to enter into the lurid imaginings of retired officers to recognise that, in these days of the urban guerrilla and of terrorism, of what, if I may distort Clausewitz, might be called "the carrying on of warfare by other means", such emergencies could occur. Nor is stability great in many parts of the world covered by the Atlantic Alliance. There are crises and potential crises in many places between the Arctic Circle and the Eastern Mediterranean. We are living in very dangerous times when nuclear proliferation is a fact far more visible and established than the reality of détente.
In such circumstances there are two imperatives. One is to strengthen collective security. The other is to make the best possible use of existing manpower and resources. Let me just add that, in the Liberal view, to say, as the Secretary of State for Defence did in another place, thatwe shall maintain the size and roles of the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserveis, in our opinion, inadequate. There should be an expansion of these reserves. There are many tasks, especially in the grim work of dealing with terrorism—as the Ulster Defence Regiment has proved—which part-time soldiers can per- 1066 form. Let us hope they will never be called upon to do so in Great Britain. But it would be a wise precaution, surely, to provide ourselves with the means of so protecting the civilian life of this island. The cost of doing so would be comparatively small. The cost of not doing so could be very great. In conclusion I would venture to make a necessarily very general critique of the Government's apparent thinking as regards Western European defence. If the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, when he winds up can explain why he regards it as heretical—if he does—I should be most grateful.
There are those who say—and they are not uninstructed or uninformed persons, I assure your Lordships—that the present tendency is, once again, for defensive weapons to take priority over offensive weapons; in other words, that what the Romans called the Retiarius, you may remember, has now to some extent the edge over the Gladiator. The course of events last year in Sinai and in the Golan Heights is said to have lent support to this suggestion which must surely, at the least, be taken into serious consideration. I advance it in the barest outline.
If modern techniques can produce weapons which can very seriously inhibit the operation, to say the least, of such arms as tanks and aeroplanes—hitherto, as it were, the King and Queen of the battlefield—or of a large proportion of these, why not concentrate on producing such weapons in large and standardised quantities and in gradually adapting our whole strategy so as to take account of this new development? And by "concentrating" I mean discussion and decision in an armaments procurement agency that could include not only members of the Eurogroup but also of course France, in close co-operation, I need hardly say, with our American allies.
Supposing, for example, that, in a few years' time, a significant proportion of our aeroplanes, whether high or low flying, and whatever electronic devices they may employ, is likely to be shot down by well deployed and numerous SAMs—that is to say, surface to air missiles—and if we ourselves are similarly in a position to shoot down enemy aircraft by adopting equivalent systems, why should we concentrate so much on the manufacture of combat aircraft? Even if we 1067 doubt the efficacy of the adversary's SAMs—and there is no particular reason to do so—why not, in any case, develop air to ground missiles with laser-guided warheads for the purpose of attacking objectives behind the enemy lines, thus reducing the numbers of very expensive fighter bombers put at risk? The MRCA is doubtless an admirable machine, but if in a few years' time missiles are likely to take over many of the roles that aircraft now perform, may it not well be obsolete by the time it is generally deployed? It is true that, unless we have sufficient SAMs deployed in this country, it might still be useful for the air defence of these islands; I admit that, but its utility as a fighter bomber is really much less easy to see.
So we come to tanks and, consequently, to armoured divisions generally. If Sinai was any guide, it looks as if a moderately gallant Egyptian fellah is often capable, after some small instruction, of putting a gun to his shoulder, aiming at an Israeli tank, even one of the latest type, and blowing it up. It would seem, therefore, that, in principle, the production in common by the European Powers concerned of similar and indeed superior (why not superior?) antitank weapons—not, as at present, some half a dozen varieties, but only, say, two basic models, one light, man portable, and one heavy vehicle mounted—and their deployment on the Western Front, in agreement with the Americans, by small and mobile units, might in itself greatly increase the general defensive effort of the West. These small units might be supplied very largely by helicopters. It is for this reason again that we deplore the cutting down of our helicopter programme in our Defence Review.
If, in addition to such a system, SAMs were standardised, and again reduced from three or four types to one type for each purpose required, and well distributed behind the potential front, the striking power of the numerically superior Soviet Air Force might, to say the least, be seriously handicapped. It would go without saying, too, that ground to ground missiles would gradually replace many of the bombers and, by their very existence, exercise a deterrent effect, as would, naturally, a similar deployment of so-called "tactical" nuclear weapons that, 1068 except in the last extremity, would be there to deter a Soviet use and only be employed on a second strike.
There seems to be no reason, as we Liberals see it at any rate, why these up to date ideas should not be adopted and advanced by Her Majesty's Government, not only in NATO but also in the Eurogroup. Since there is considerable reason to suppose that United States' forces will be withdrawn in some numbers in the not far distant future, it is evident that the European members of the Alliance—and this naturally of course includes the French—will have to get closer together and, if possible, agree, whether in the Eurogroup or by some other means, on a more streamlined and economical defence system, at any rate in the North German plain, using the latest technological developments. This is, at any rate, a conception that is now being pondered over, I assure noble Lords, by the European Parliament, and it may be that before very long we shall find that it is approved by an impressive majority of European Parliamentarians, to whose advice, if the Summit Communiqué means what it says, Her Majesty's Government are now committed to giving increasing attention.
Perhaps, therefore, when the Government have overcome their little local difficulty—as Mr. Macmillan once said—over the Common Market they will get around to considering such a plan. Better late than never! Indeed, as the Liberal Party thinks, they will have to; that is to say, if, in view of the ever-increasing disparity between the forces of NATO and the forces of the East, it is their intention to organise any "credible" defence at all. To abandon any such intention is, of course, exactly what a large number of the Government's supporters would like them to do. A more certain way of upsetting the grand strategic balance and thus of precipitating World War III could not possibly be devised. We Liberals think that perhaps the best way of avoiding such a calamity would be for the Government to come forward with ideas that would make our defence at once unprovocative, more efficient and, in the long run, if only because of the pooling of research and development, cheaper. In this way the pressure of their "militants" could be lightened, the prospects of general war diminished, and the country rescued from 1069 a lurch towards an impotent neutrality that would encourage any adversaries and dismay our friends.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord CHALFONT
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, repeated in your Lordships' House a Statement on the Defence Review, he said that this would be the beginning of a great debate on defence, and I hope that this debate in your Lordships' House today is indeed the beginning of an important debate because this is a very important subject. I should like to begin by saying that on the assumption that substantial cuts in defence expenditure have to be made at this time, and within the limitations of what has been done, I would add my congratulations to the Secretary of State for Defence and to his Service advisers on what seems to me to be a fundamental, honest, and businesslike operation. Within the limitations of the review, as I have said, cuts have been avoided, it seems to me, where cuts would have been most obviously and immediately dangerous. Our concentration on the European Atlantic area is consistent with the tendencies of foreign policy which this country has for many years been following in successive Governments. I need hardly say that I for one am delighted that the Secretary of State and his colleagues have resisted the more extreme demands of the unilateral disarmers among their followers.
Having said that, I think there is one other thing to be said, and here I find myself much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. This is not an extensive and fundamental review of defence policy, whatever else may be said about it. There is, I believe, if we are making the assumption that we must cut our defence budget, a need for such an extensive and fundamental review. But if that review were to take place it would have to include a complete reassessment of the whole doctrine and philosophy upon which our defence policy is based, and that has not been done. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has said, quite rightly, that as yet there seems to have been very little attention paid to the lessons of the recent wars in the Middle East, to the effect which they are going to have in time on the thinking in military 1070 circles in the areas of weapon systems, tactics and indeed of strategy.
It seems to me that there must be a review of a fundamental kind which starts off absolutely from the bottom. There must be no sacred cows, whether they are sacred cows of nuclear submarines, of bases, of garrisons, of naval dockyards, or of weapons systems; we must start at the beginning and, if we intend to cut our defence budget, we must cut it not by trimming away on the basis of current assumptions but by reassessing the very assumptions upon which the whole of our defence policy is based. I believe that this can and should be done, but I suggest that it will not be done in the traditional way that has been adopted by successive Governments in the past, of telling the Secretary of State for Defence how much he can or cannot spend on defence and then expecting him and his Service advisers to agree on the necessary compromises to bring about that reduction. No intelligent review or reassessment of defence policy, in my view, will ever be made in that way.
Before I pass to the real crux of what I have to say, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, whether in his reply to the debate he will answer one specific question. It is the only specific question I shall ask. In the Statement on the Defence Review, there was mention of the intention to order Lance to take the place of the Honest John in the British Army of the Rhine. That intention was repeated again today by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I should like to ask him what is the time scale of this intention and whether, in answering that question, he will give special attention to what now seems to be a very firm proposal in the context of the discussions on mutual and balanced force reductions, to trade-off tactical nuclear weapons in Europe on the NATO side against tanks on the Warsaw Pact side. In looking at the time scale for ordering Lance will the Government bear in mind that, if this proposal goes ahead, they might be ordering Lance at a time when it is being phased out as part of the mutual and balanced force reductions?
§ Lord WIGG
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? In looking at the possibility of an effective review, has he 1071 contemplated the possibility of the re-establishment of something like the Esher Committee, on an all-Party basis that would meet behind closed doors, in which the strategic fundamentals of the defence policy on a world basis could be examined?
§ Lord CHALFONT
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and I am sorry to learn that he is not taking part in this debate today—or at least not taking part later today. This is the kind of matter which I believe most of us have in mind when we advance the proposition that fundamental Defence Reviews cannot be carried out almost by definition by the Secretary of State for Defence and his Service advisers. This is a much wider matter and I am entirely in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, when he advances that proposition.
May I come now to the main burden of what I have to say? It is, of course—and this will come as no surprise to your Lordships—to question the very assumption upon which this Defence Review is made; namely, the assumption that we can afford, at this juncture in history and at this time of strategic confrontation in the world, to make cuts in our defence budget at all. I recognise that we are in economic difficulties. I recognise that there have to be cuts in Government spending on Defence. It may even be that there has to be a certain rationalisation in defence spending. But I think we should look first at the context in which we are proposing to make those cuts.
Most people who support the idea of drastic reductions in defence expenditure argue that we are in a condition of détente, of improved or even amiable relations with the Soviet Union and their Communist allies. Yet I would ask noble Lords to look with very great care at this proposition. The areas of negotiations in which détente is alleged to take place are three; the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the Conference on European Security and Co-operation and the discussions on mutual and balanced force reductions. None of those shows any sign at all of coming to any kind of successful conclusion.
The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks—the first phase of them, known as SALT I—ended in an agreement between the 1072 Soviet Union and the United States which, in fact, allowed them to build more and more nuclear missiles and to build nuclear missile defence systems which were not in existence when the agreement was signed. In the Conference on European Security and Co-operation, the Soviet Union seems eminently ready to take advantage of freer trade arrangements with the West, with all the advantages that that brings to Communist economies, but seems strangely reluctant to allow any freedom in the interchange of ideas and, indeed, of human beings. In the mutual and balanced force reductions discussion it has proved so far—and I venture a guess that it will continue to prove—impossible to find any solution on mutual and balanced force reductions which is acceptable to the Soviet Union, and which does not place Western Europe at an immediate and obvious military disadvantage.
I would therefore ask noble Lords to consider this proposition of detente with very great care, and to bear in mind, too, that although at this moment the Soviet Union may be in a state of amiable friendliness towards the West, it may not always be so. The one unarguable fact about Soviet foreign policy is its immense flexibility. It will do what it wishes to do, and it will do it in ways which suit its purpose at any given time. If it considers that economic means are to be used, it will use them; if it favours political means, it will use them; and if it should decide at any time that it can advance its cause by using military means, then, my Lords, it will use those, too. I think that if we bear that in mind we should take some alarm from the present capabilities of the Soviet Union in the military field, because this is what the threat is. The threat is not what the Soviet Union thinks it is doing today or tomorrow in its foreign policy; the threat is what the Soviet Union, and its allies, could do if its policies changed.
I do not want to go through all the facts and figures in your Lordships' House, but I Think it worthwhile pointing out that at this moment the Soviet Union has, by most standards, equality with the United States in strategic nuclear missiles and, by some criteria, even superiority. Its Navy has increased in the course of the last decade from being a small and unambitious coastal force into one of the 1073 great ocean-going navies of the world. In Northern and Central Europe, the heartland of NATO's defences, what do we see? We see 70 Communist divisions facing 25 NATO divisions; or, if you want it put another way, 1 million Communist troops facing 600,000 of ours; 20,000 Warsaw Pact main battle tanks facing 7,000 of our own; and 4,000 tactical aircraft facing 2,000 of ours. That, my Lords, is the measure of the great and growing military superiority of the Soviet Union in the military confrontation.
I do not put these facts and figures forward to suggest that we are in danger of imminent attack from the Soviet Union. I do not subscribe to the theory of the Red hordes sweeping down to the Channel ports. I do, however, point out that if there should come a time when the Soviet Union wished to change its foreign policy, it has the means and instruments to do so. We do not have the means and the instruments to defend ourselves if that change should take place.
My Lords, the Defence Review is alleged to be phased over a period of 10 years, and a very great deal can happen in 10 years. A great deal can happen to the Communist-Capitalist confrontation; a great deal can happen in China, in Yugoslavia, in Latin America, in the Arab oil-producing countries. I fear that by 1984—that most significant of all dates—we might have reached a disastrous coincidence, a disastrous conjunction of affairs when, just as we were aproaching the summit of our savings on defence and were in the depths of our readiness to defend ourselves, the whole scene might be transformed and the world be an even more perilous place than it is today.
But I deal not only with the formal external threat, the possibility of an organised attack by the Warsaw Pact on the West; I think also of the rapid development of the threat of international terrorism. Scarcely a day now passes without one of the installations or services of one of the countries of the Free World being attacked by international terrorists in the pursuit of political aims. There is increasing evidence every day that those terrorist operations are becoming more and more coordinated. There are more and more links between the terrorists in Palestine, 1074 the terrorists in the Argentine and in Uruguay, the terrorists in Northern Ireland, the terrorists in Japan and the terrorists in Germany. There is clear evidence that their operations are becoming more and more co-ordinated, and those operations are directed—let us have no doubt about this—very largely against the societies and communities of the Free World. Perhaps they are wise to confine their efforts in that direction, because if they directed any of their efforts against the Communist world the reaction would be immediate, Draconian and exemplary.
Finally, my Lords, there is the threat from within. I know that as soon as this is mentioned the cries go up, "Reds under the bed", "He is witch-hunting again". My Lords, these are reactions which I bear with a certain amount of fortitude, because I believe that we must not pretend that things do not exist in the hope that they will go away. There are those in this country—I have said this before and I take this opportunity to say it yet again—who are openly dedicated to the destruction of our free society.
We are now passing into a phase of our history in which we are almost certainly going to have either galloping inflation or acute recession and vast unemployment; or perhaps even a combination of all three. If under those pressures—unheard of pressures, so far as our own society is concerned—there is a disintegration in our social system and our political system, as there will almost certainly be, let us have no doubt that there are many people in this country who stand ready to exploit our illnesses and to attempt to undermine the freedoms of our political system—and, my Lords, they will do it with violence if they believe that violence will succeed. This, in my view, is as much a threat to our security as any threat from outside, and perhaps an even greater and more immediate one.
So to sum up, my Lords, I believe that we are proposing drastic cuts in our defence expenditure—and that means, let us face it, drastic cuts in our ability to defend ourselves; otherwise, it means nothing at all—at a time when the external threat is as great as it has ever been and is growing, when we are faced with an expanding threat from ever-increasing and ever more co-ordinated 1075 international terrorist movements, and when we see the growth of individuals and organisations in our society who are simply waiting for the moment when they can strike in their openly-declared aim of overturning the society in which we live. It seems to me at least arguable that this is hardly the time to be contemplating drastic cuts in our ability to defend ourselves and to ensure the safety of our community. I hope, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government will keep all this under review in the course of the debate and that they may still have time for second thoughts, although I do not have any great confidence about that.
I should like to make one more point, and I know that I carry most of your Lordships' House with me in doing so. I believe we should also consider—I know the Secretary of State for Defence well, and I know that he has certainly considered this aspect in his present calculations—the Serviceman and the Service-woman. Whether our soldiers, sailors and airmen are fighting the bitter enemy in Ulster, training in the British Army of the Rhine or shivering in the Falkland Islands or garrisoning in Malta, Gibraltar or Singapore, they have, over the years, operated in a way which has put this country very greatly and very permanently in their debt. And it seems to me that we should consider, as at least one factor in our approach to defence expenditure, their future, their stability, their morale and their wellbeing. I wonder, my Lords, what would happen in any other industry in this country—and the defence industry is a very great one—if it were suddenly announced in another place that 65,000 men and women were to be wasted away or made redundant. I expect that the reaction would be very strong indeed.
But, my Lords, the welfare of the Serviceman and the Servicewoman, although important, is of course not basically the important matter. It is the safety of Britain and of her allies—and, of course, without the security of our allies there is no security for Britain. It is no good, my Lords—this, I know, is a cliché, but it is a cliché which is worth repeating—having a Welfare State if it can be brought down in ruins from within or attacked successfully from without. It is no good having a prosperous Europe, 1076 even if we can overcome the problems of inflation, if it is vulnerable to attack from outside, from those—and let us have no doubt about this—who are implacably hostile to our whole political system and to our whole way of life.
This is not unthinking or doctrinaire criticism. I believe that Her Majesty's Government have the welfare and the security of this country at heart. I have never had the slightest doubt about that, although I believe that there are some who call themselves supporters of Her Majesty's Government who have our security rather less at heart. But throughout history, the first sign of the decay of a nation has been the appearance of an unwillingness to pay the price of defending itself; and this is a contagious disease, as Dr. Luns has said, and as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has repeated in your Lordships' House this afternoon.
My Lords, I apologise for the length of my speech today. I feel that this is a matter of such importance that I have wearied your Lordships' House rather longer than I had intended. But I should like to end by asking Her Majesty's Government to bear constantly in mind this sombre fact, that throughout history no society has survived that has not been prepared to pay the price of defending itself from attack by its enemies, both from within and from without. Our defences are becoming dangerously weak. I do not believe that the answer to our economic problems, whatever that answer may be, is to be found always in the Pavlovian reaction, the automatic reaction, of making our defence forces and our defence establishment the first target of economies and savings. That way, as anyone who has studied military history or any history will tell us, lies disaster, not only for this country but for the whole of the Free World.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Viscount WATKINSON
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, on two points. In my days as Minister of Defence I think it was customary for the Minister, as he then was, to send a message of good will to the Forces at Christmas. I should like to say—although I am sure that there are many of us in this House who would like to be associated with such a message, if it 1077 is sent—what a first-class job these men and women are doing around the world for Britain in difficult conditions. I should also like to follow the noble Lord in one other point. I think he is quite right in saying that now from without and within the policy of defence is being dangerously under-estimated in the necessity of what we have to do. Yet I cannot resist, as an ex-Minister of Defence, having a certain sympathy with Mr. Mason or any holder of that Office in his fascinating and yet somewhat exacting task. I do not imagine that, in military or political terms, it is much fun being sniped at from behind. But whatever sympathy one may have, it is our duty, as I see it, to keep a watchful eye on the most dangerous error that this country, or any Government of this country, could fall into: that is, to believe that in the construction of our defence and deterrent policy, the politics are more important than the military punch.
I should like to say a few words examining the present defence proposals from this point of view in the hope that they will be improved and modified after they have gone through a somewhat searching examination, I suspect, from our allies; because I support my noble friend who opened on our side in his contention that at the moment an excellent case can be made—and he made it—that these proposals are somewhat ill-judged and somewhat inadequate to the demand. On the other hand, it is fair to say that, as I see it, the Secretary of State has tried to do what he can to maintain at least the "teeth arms". I hope that he will not be deterred from that. In other ways he slipped into rather more error. I shall always have a sympathetic feeling for Simonstown, as I signed the Agreement; and it is worth reminding your Lordships that the Agreement was signed with the President of the Republic. I suppose the Government are now committed to talking about the Simonstown Agreement, but I hope they will listen when some of us say that there might be more benefit in encouraging South Africa at this stage when they appear to be turning to more liberal policies than snubbing her to our cost and at no cost to her at all.
Another important point in my view—and I am not sure, perhaps, that I go along with many of my predecessors in 1078 this Office—is that I think that the NATO alliance has always worried far too much about the central showpiece of standing armies in the central sector of the front. I am quite sure that if the Warsaw Powers ever decide to attack NATO, the first thrust will not come here. If it does, then the calculation must have been major nuclear war at once. If that calculation is to be made, whatever the arguments, as the noble Lord has just deployed them, that there may be for who has most nuclear arms, as there is a total overkill capacity anyway, I doubt whether the first thrust would come there. It will come on the vulnerable flanks of the Alliance, in the Northern seas, the Eastern Mediterranean and not in the Central European plains. I think that the British policy—particularly under the present Government, for purely political reasons of trying to stand well with our allies at minimum cost—is doing too much to support the centre and to neglect the flanks.
It was probably right to cut back our transport component; but it is not right to diminish the capacity of the Royal Navy for mounting mobile task force operations in difficult parts of the world. We are better at it than any other nation, far better at it than the Americans, who have not had the experience. They may have the might; but they do not have the know-how. I hope therefore that when policy goes through the discussions with our allies, we shall be prepared to respond to the criticism, which I believe will be made, that Britain has this peculiar responsibility for sea mobile forces, for Commando carriers, assault ships and Marines to protect the flanks of the Alliance where, if its strength was to be tested, the first pressure would come. I hope that this will be borne in mind because this is real defence and not a political front.
Finally, again on this point of the "teeth arms", and here I follow a number of other noble Lords, I think it is worth saying again—and whether or not the present Government are really prepared to realise this, I do not know—that our European friends are now moving into a deep recession; and so are we. Whether it becomes a depression is not yet certain, but a recession it will be. Whether it will be of long or short duration is not known; but a recession plus record inflation places 1079 an enormous strain on the development of defence weapons and their hardware—with everything costing more for less. We must now really take joint development and production more seriously, not as a tactic or as a strategy, but just to get some kind of worthwhile defence within the kind of money we and our allies can pay. I must say at least, as my personal view, regarding failures in the past—and I know how hard my noble friend has tried in this area and I know how hard Mr. Healey has tried—that it has been primarily the Americans' fault that we have not gone further with joint weapon development; for they have always demanded an overwhelming share of the orders. It is time that this was said—in no criticism of my American friends; but one cannot have it both ways. If one wants proper joint defence and proper joint weapon systems then the orders must be reasonably shared out; for they cannot all go to American companies.
I am aware that we and other members of the Alliance bear some measure of blame as well, but if we do not do this now—and I could not agree more with my noble friend in this—then it will not be done by admirals or generals or quite properly by civil servants: it needs direction from the Secretary of State for Defence backed by a Prime Minister's minute and carried through to the ultimate if we are to get this kind of progress. It also means that the Americans must be prepared to give a reasonable share of the business to Europe instead of trying to take it all for themselves.
There are some tests which will show quite soon whether this will work. There is the area equipment of some members of the Alliance: Holland, Norway, Denmark and Belgium. I hope that this will not be a competition in arms salesmanship, but a way of trying to show that the allies can begin to get a common policy not only in re-equipment in the air but everywhere else as well. Also, it might be interesting to know from the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, what is happening to the "Euro group" of Defence Ministers. If we cannot get along with the Americans in this sphere—I understand that it may not be possible—then why do we not do more for our-selves within Europe? What is therefor 1080 the "Euro group" but to promote general sharing of weapon systems and research? I understand that this was one of the proposals on which they were founded. It would be interesting to know what progress they are making with it. Again there will not be progress unless the Ministers themselves are determined to get on with it and to take charge of the situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said a great deal about inflation. I should like to follow him because I think that if we are looking at a ten-year Review—although I agree with my noble friend that I do not know any Minister of Defence or Secretary of State who did not have a Review in his time, and this was no more deeply or severely conducted than any other—what worries me most is that if we go on inflating at anything like the rate today our defence system will collapse, because even if we are willing to spend reasonably large sums of money upon it we shall not get anything like value in terms of weapons or anything else. If you imagine at the same time that the Warsaw Powers perhaps have better control over their economies than we have, who will be laughing?—the Russians, not us.
It seems to me that this is the factor in any Defence Review which should receive the maximum priority not only with ourselves but with our allies: how to cope with the ever-increasing cost of weapons and systems. I believe it can be done only by much more sharing in production, research and development. All right: if we cannot afford more, why do we not go in for more volunteer forces? Why do we not try to harness the good will of so many young people who might love to have something sensible and practical to do? Of course we cannot and should not send them to areas where they would have to do the job professional soldiers are asked to do—for instance, in the streets of Belfast and in many other places. But there are many jobs they could do here in Britain which would be good for them, good for the Services, a good base for future recruitment and, above all, a way of bringing the people of this country to go on believing that defence is worth while—because too many of them today do not believe it has any significance at all. They think that "war" means nuclear war—and most statesmen 1081 would draw back from that brink—and more and more they think that other wars are not for us but for the Americans, the Israelis, the Arabs or somebody else.
Let us harness the youth of this country in some kind of volunteer effort, in some kind of association with the Forces, who are very good in helping with youth work. In my day they did a great deal, and I believe they are still doing it, though greatly hampered now by a shortage of equipment. For example, it is no longer possible to find old ships that can be used to train cadets and volunteers. A little expenditure in this area would perhaps be one of the best investments that the defence Forces could make. Again, this will not happen unless the Secretary of State lays down that it should happen. The Chiefs of Staff cannot be asked to do this as an initiative of their own, because it is not within their remit. But I believe that they might be very willing to do it, as would most local commanders, if they had more encouragement. So as part of our defence fight against inflation I hope that we shall use more volunteers and try to encourage the young of this country to look upon adventure training with the Forces as one of the smart and clever things that any young man or girl should do. This, I think, would not cost a great sum of money. It merely needs a lead from the top and for instructions to be issued that this work needs to be done.
Finally, I should like to come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I think it must be very worrying for any of us at my age to see how much we have lost in the years that have slipped by. In my day as Minister of Defence, one certainly had one's difficulties, but on the whole one knew that despite our little local arguments in the House of Commons—and although the Labour Party in those days of course opposed nuclear weapons until they opened the books of Government, when they espoused them very rapidly—behind it all was a general solid support for the principle that this country had a part to play in the world and they could play it only by paying for it, not only in money but in interest, in manpower, in backing, time, discussion, and all the rest.
How much of that has slipped away, and how much is this a sign that our nation, in rejecting its place in the world, 1082 is not only making the world a more dangerous place but is slowly driving us down to the level, not of a second-class Power (we may be that already) but to becoming a totally dependent island off the coast of Europe whom somebody else, presumably, is going to defend—and I do not know who that would be. Therefore in the struggle which now lies ahead for our country—and if I may say so, I am only following the noble Lord the Leader of the House in referring to the difficulties—I think we are gravely underestimating the difficulties and dangers that lie ahead for our nation next year. These include rising unemployment, the cutbacks in capital investment, the belief that there is no solution to the industrial problems that face us; and all these will have a major effect on defence and on this country's determination to defend itself and do something for itself in the world.
How could we change the present attitude? I believe it can be done by trying to take more common ground. The only thing I have ever agreed about with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg—and I am sorry he is not in his place—was that it might be a good idea to have more common ground in defence and that the right place to have it might be in some all-Party defence committee which might meet under terms of reasonable secrecy and could be a forum, not only for Ministers, but also for Chiefs of Staff, scientific experts and so on. This perhaps might be a sign to our country that we meant to carry through defence, however bad the times might be. Perhaps it might not in fact be a bad thing if that principle were adopted in other areas as well. I do not hold out much hope that this will happen unless or until the present Government change their minds or unless or until there is a change of Government. Let us at least try to adopt it in defence, where a sensible proposal at this time would be to have a broad discussion on non-Party lines—because, in the end, if we cannot back defence by the will of the people we shall have no worthwhile defence; and that is something that I personally would not willingly contemplate.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, this debate assumed the normal course of a defence dialogue, and was suddenly 1083 transformed by a statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who rightly directed attention to the external threat to our security and stated, if I quote him correctly, that "the immediate threat was of an internal character". I repeat: "The immediate threat was of an internal character". Though I agreed with at least 85 per cent. and perhaps as much as 90 per cent. of what the noble Lord said about defence, I am bound to make the observation that his language was much too extravagant. However, if he has evidence of a specific character, and well documented, about the existence of persons in the United Kingdom who, apart from seeking to transform society because of their ideological objectives, are doing so in association with some external enemy or potential enemy, I think that might be a proper subject for debate in your Lordships' House—but only if a statement such as that made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is specified and well documented, as I said: otherwise it should not have been made at all—
§ Lord CHALFONT
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I am happy to assure him that I can produce evidence which is well documented and very largely supported by the statements of the people concerned in their own newspapers, both open and underground. I have evidence which I will produce for him and for your Lordships' House, not only of their aims and activities but of their links with foreign organisations; and, if it should be that the usual channels would care to arrange a debate on that subject, I should be happy to provide such evidence.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, I do not wish the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to provide me with the information. I think he has the facts in his possession and they ought to be exposed to the whole country and to Her Majesty's Government. These are facts—if indeed, they are facts—which ought not to be concealed. I recognise that there are disruptive elements in society, either because of ideological motives, or for some other purpose—even a sinister purpose. But in the absence of facts that are beyond dispute, I wish statements of that kind were not made in your Lordships' House or elsewhere.
1084 This debate in one particular respect is unique. If I may describe it in my own fashion, I regard it as a debate based on an amorphous Statement concerned with defence, by which I mean it is shapeless, without design and consists of a declaration of intentions but nothing is finalised. I agreed with practically the whole of Lord Carrington's speech—I hope that will not embarrass him! Nothing has been settled. There will be consultations, negotiations, inquiries and investigations before any decision is reached. That was the Statement which was made the other day in your Lordships' House, and this was again repeated this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. Nothing is finalised. The situation is unique in this sense: if I may indulge in a personal note, I have taken part in defence debates in the past 40 years or so. I missed, for technical reasons, the debate we had on the gracious Speech because I had already spoken—not of my own volition; I was under instructions—and therefore I could not participate in the defence discussion. Generally speaking, defence debates have been based on a White Paper and defence estimates. The case for them, whichever Government were in Office, was stated in detail so that we could get our teeth into it. But this is like fighting a feather pillow; as I have already remarked, it is amorphous, without shape or design, and nothing is finalised.
Therefore, what is the use of having a dialogue and what might be described as the "nuts and bolts" of the situation?—whether we should have this type of weapon for that, or the strategy of weapons, as indicated in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. His was a most interesting but highly speculative speech. I should like to hear the views of the chiefs of staff of the United Kingdom, NATO or the Pentagon about that. Nevertheless, these ideas are worth discussing. What ought we to be discussing? With great respect, not so much the question of the nuts and bolts, or this weapon or that, or naval dockyards, much of which is based on political objectives, or the political situation. We ought to be discussing the strategy of defence. For what purpose do we require defence? There are acute disputations, not so much on this side of the House but in the Labour Party. They are 1085 attributable to a variety of reasons. One is based on the need for greater economy because of the possibility—as the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, indicated, and of which we are all aware—of a possible recession; of the economic crisis in which we are now involved; and also some ideological reasons. For example, some Members of your Lordships' House have for years declared that all that is required is to hold conferences of an international or even regional character and to seek to promote general disarmament. We have been at it much longer than even in my experience before I entered political life. We were arguing about the need for disarmament. With what success have we achieved this, any more than we have achieved, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, rightly said, success with these strategic talks on mutual and balanced reduction of forces?
The statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was however by no means original. It has been stated in this House ever since I have taken part in defence debates—I have ventured to make the remark myself. I am highly sceptical, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, indicated in his remarks, of anything beneficial or fruitful flowing as the result of those conversations. I do not trust the Soviet Union; or Mr. Brezhnev or Mr. Kosygin. In the recent dialogue which took place between those gentlemen and the President of France, I am also inclined to be sceptical about the latter gentleman. After all, he and his Gaullists have contracted out of NATO ever since it began.
We are talking about the build up of European defence. Is there any Member of your Lordships' House, even notable military experts like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, or the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who has dealt with these matters physically as the Secretary of Defence, who believes that you can build up an effective, adequate, viable military defence in the European area with France on the perimeter? Of course not. Reference has been made to the manpower available to the NATO organisation in contrast to the vast manpower available to the Warsaw Pact countries. On the one hand, the Warsaw Pact countries have about 3 million people available, and in the case of NATO there are between 700,000 and 800,000. We forget that much of that consists of the strength 1086 of French forces not available to NATO; and most of it is of conscript character. I stand open to correction, but in the case of Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium, conscripts are available for training for only about a year. I understand that sometimes they are occupied in training for only a matter of eight or nine months.
When we talk about manpower, what are we talking about? Is it strength, or an establishment or some potential? We simply do not have it. Therefore my view about reductions or cuts in defence is this: we are talking a lot of damned nonsense. Could I put it any more bluntly than that, my Lords? I understand the reason for it; I dislike intensely criticising anybody of my own Party, but I am under no illusion about it. When a Labour Party Conference passed a Resolution asking for a reduction in defence of £1,000 million I ventured to write a letter to The Times, which was counter-productive. It did not elicit a satisfactory reply from those who wanted to reduce expenditure by £1,000 million. But my answer to those who want to reduce expenditure by £1,000 million, or it may be by £700 million in the course of a few years—£300 million this coming year, £500 million afterwards, and £700 million later on—is: We either have defence or we do not, and if we are to have defence it should be adequate and consistent with our commitments and obligations, Treaty or otherwise. If we reduce expenditure by £1,000 million, or even £700 million, is our defence worth while? Of course not.
I could understand those who say, "Let us reduce defence expenditure," if they also said, "Let us get rid of the whole thing". Then I could understand it. Indeed, in the course of the debate in another place yesterday, so far as I could gather from newspapers—I happen to read two of the reputable newspapers whose veracity cannot be questioned; Hansard was not in my possession this morning—some of those who took part criticised the Secretary for Defence because of the cuts and declared them to be inadequate; indeed, one honourable Member remarked that they were phoney. Some of them said we did not need defence at all; that all we want is to adopt a high moral attitude. They want to say to the world: "We are a peaceful people. There is nothing sinister about 1087 our motives. We are anxious that the whole world should be contented and happy. That is all." This is what they expect. What nonsense! I repeat, you either have defence or you do not, and if you have defence it must be adequate, and consistent with our obligations. I leave it there.
My Lords, what is to be done? Let us look at the world at large, the Soviet Union to begin with. Over and over again in your Lordships' House statements have been made, quite accurate, based upon the information that is in our possession, about the vast military organisation of the Soviet Union, manpower, equipment and all the rest, missiles and so on. We are aware that the United States, if not as strong as the Soviet Union, is comparable. What is there in NATO? Some reference has been made to the need for standardisation. Again, these observations in the course of our dialogue this afternoon are not original. Time and again demands have been made by Members of your Lordships' House, and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in previous speeches referred to it as did the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and some noble Lords on this side of the House have made a demand for more standardisation instead of—excuse the language, but my language is a little impoverished this afternoon—this dog's breakfast.
I had something to do with the initiation of NATO in 1947 and 1948. It arose out of the Brussels Treaty Organisation. I remember when the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, was made Chairman of the Brussels Treaty Organisation. There were high hopes of building up a kind of European defence structure. Out of that grew the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Even those associated with it—I do not want to be too harsh and indulge in unnecessary severity about the personnel associated with NATO, but even the Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals and what-have-you are very often at loggerheads—cannot agree. There cannot be a situation of that kind in the central organisation if you expect to build up an efficient and viable defence structure.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, the reason why it did not work was that there was no political authority. There was nobody to give directives to these people.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, does the noble Lord mean that we could ensure the political authority in spite of his ambitions and aspirations? That is a side issue. The fact is that there was no political organisation. It was tried out. The present Lord Avon was associated with the subjects. We tried to build up a European Economic Defence Organisation, but it simply did not work. The word "standardisation" is a misnomer. It is quite irrelevant to the situation in NATO. With great respect to Members of your Lordships' House I ask whether I have not been saying this for years? I said it when I was Minister of Defence. I said it in another place over and over again until it became nauseating to those honourable Members who did not like the idea that anything was wrong with NATO. NATO is weak—unfortunately so; I wish it was strong—in manpower, equipment and in particular in organisation, and the objective. What is the objective?
In the case of Germany, when Willy Brandt was operating his purpose was to build up Ostpolitik, to come to some arrangement with the Soviet Union. He got into some trouble about it. I can understand the desire to have not confrontation but a consensus. I understand it. It is the motive that inspires so many of my friends who, instead of facing the facts, quite genuinely believe that the world can be disarmed. I agree with those Members of your Lordships' House who doubt this suggestion that the Soviet Union want to make war. They do not need to make war. The threat is sufficient. They get everything they want without war, and we are quite complacent about it. We think the best way we can hasten this peace that everybody desires is simply to do precisely what the Russians want us to do. I would not trust them as far as I could throw them. I know I ought not to be saying these undiplomatic things, but I am saying them nevertheless because I believe them—and I am consistent with the facts of life; I only wish other people in our country were the same.
1089 I leave the Soviet Union, and NATO, and look at the situation in the world at large. We have a little trouble still in Vietnam. We have a little trouble in the Middle East. I should not be at all surprised if there is trouble in the spring of next year. It may involve other nations. It may involve us. Do not forget we have something to do with the Middle East still—the Mediterranean, Malta, Gibraltar, Cyprus. We are concerned about it. So we have to be mighty careful because of what is happening at the present time.
I do not want to detain your Lordships for too long although I have much to say about this subject. I happen to be thinking about it most of the time. Take a look at what is happening in the Pacific. We are scuttling out—and I hope my noble friend Lord Winterbottom will not worry too much about my language, but I think the term "scuttle" is correct. We are getting out of Malaysia. For what reason? Not because Malaysia wants us out. We are getting out of Singapore. Not because they want us out, but because they think that in our economic situation we are better out and, besides, for political reasons they think we are better out. Yet at the same time the Russians are doing everything within their power to get into that area and to hold on to it. What are we going to be left with? Not even Gan. Diego Garcia—this morning I looked at the latest map and topographical information available to me in order to find out where Diego Garcia was. I could not find it. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will tell me at the end of the debate where is this place that we are going to try to use as an alternative to Simonstown. That is the joke about the whole thing. It simply will not work.
If we go on scuttling in this fashion we shall become much worse than a small Power. Of course I discard the old-fashioned Victorian or Edwardian idea, or the George III idea, of a great Imperialist Power. It does not exist any longer and it will never return again. However, I believe in a Britain which is strong and reliant and has a military organisation at its disposal which can face the world in the event of any trouble breaking out. I am quite satisfied that if you have no defence which is worth talking about you have no prestige. People value not only their own strength but the strength of 1090 their neighbours and friends. What friends shall we have in the world unless we have some kind of military organisation that can stand alongside our allies in the event of trouble breaking out?
What, therefore, is to be done about it? I am bound to say that I cannot understand all the fuss and bother about the Simonstown affair. Simonstown may never be of any use, even if trouble should break out in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It may however be a haven of refuge, in the absence of any other alternative. To brush it aside because we dislike apartheid in South Africa seems foolish. When I learn that Her Majesty's Government, in spite of their dislike of the Soviet Union, are anxious to trade with them and receive them diplomatically it is hard for me to reconcile one attitude with the other. Why bother about apartheid, however bad it is in principle and in its implementation, when we must consider our security and our trade routes?
I should also like to hear from my noble friend Lord Winterbottom at the end of the debate whether these consultations which have taken place and which are likely to take place have involved the Commonwealth countries. Were Australia and New Zealand consulted about Singapore and Malaysia? Were Australia and New Zealand consulted about Simonstown? Were the United States of America consulted about these matters, or is she to be disregarded also, in spite of the fact that if trouble broke out and we were faced with international convulsions we should have to rely upon the United States of America, whether we like it or not? Are these consultations taking place or will they take place; and as a result of these consultations will there be some modification of the defence reductions? My Lords, I think we are entitled to that information.
I reject the idea that the country will benefit economically, socially or otherwise by reducing defence expenditure. I do not want excessive defence expenditure and, indeed, before I sit down I shall tell your Lordships how to get rid of defence expenditure. It is quite easy; it is as easy as falling off a log. All that need happen is that the Soviet Union should decide to be a little more friendly everywhere and not produce any more missiles, or nuclear 1091 weapons, or anything of that kind which is likely to cause devastation and destruction. All that need happen is that the United Nations should make it clear to all the countries concerned that they will have no truck with any country that is seeking trouble. War has to stop; then there will be no more trouble. All that we have to do is to get the countries together and say, "We have had enough of this". There would be no talk about strategic reductions, or about mutual and balanced force reductions or other farcical ideas of that kind which will never be implemented, anyway. If we finished with the whole bag of tricks, we should not need to bother about defence. In short, if we could only establish peace we should not need defence expenditure. However, if we cannot establish peace we must have defence expenditure, whether we like it or not.
I ventured to remark during the course of a few observations upon the gracious Speech, that of course defence is costly but the absence of defence would be much more costly. Therefore, sorry as I am to say it, I reject the proposals of my colleague and right honourable friend Mr. Mason, Secretary of State for Defence, and I hope that as a result of consultations he will mind his own business.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Viscount MONCKTON of BRENCHLEY
My Lords, I always find it rather strange to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. When I was still a serving officer, he asked me to his 80th birthday party. When the noble Lord had his 90th birthday party he did not invite me to it; I am not sure why! However, he did something which I could never do. He knocked out my father-in-law in another place!
My Lords, as is the case with most military people, I intended to start with the threat, but that has been dealt with brilliantly by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and there is nothing more to be said on it. However, it is worth looking at yesterday's Times' leader, because it mentioned some points which are of importance to this Defence Review. It said that political behaviour is affected by military factors; that if you can take military action with impunity, or if the enemy thinks that he can do so, the 1092 greater the pressure which will be brought to bear upon you and your allies and upon Europe in general. Already we have seen how détente has worked so far. West Germany went straight into it, thinking that she could really achieve détente. Berlin is in a more dangerous state now than 10 years ago. More often are the main roads from West Germany to East Germany being closed for no reason—and this after the agreement between West Germany and East Germany was reached. So far, therefore, the view of the Soviet hierarchy has not percolated into East Germany; namely, the fact that détente is meant to work. It is not working at present.
We still have duties and responsibilities to fulfil outside Europe; namely in the Far East and in the Indian Ocean. We are pulling out of some of the Far Eastern areas. It is a pity, though, to pull out when one's forces arc paid for by the countries in which one is situated. The Gurkhas are some of the best forces that we have had, and some of us have always looked upon them not only as a great strength to the British Army but also as a form of subsidy which we gave to a very small country, Nepal, which could not keep the Gurkha forces in being without a direct subsidy. Therefore, it is a pity that that battalion has gone, paid for as it was by the country in which it was situated. Nearly all of our oil and most of our trade comes through the Indian Ocean. We must retain the ability to go there. Which is cheaper—to use the base of a friendly power like Simonstown, or to have support ships going all the way around to refuel and carry out repairs at sea? For what reason is this being done?
We still have a duty—I fear we shall have it for some time yet—in Northern Ireland and, above all, we have a duty to defend and maintain the United Kingdom herself. When the economy is weak our defences should be strong; otherwise, we shall be thrown back to the dangers of the 1930s; we shall be thrown back to Munich once more. When one is weak militarily, one's intelligence must be even stronger than it was before. Therefore, I hope that due attention has been given to increasing our intelligence capabilities. One can do with a little less in the way of forces if one can increase intelligence; and British intelligence has been, and is, 1093 outstandingly successful. In other words, we must create a balance between economic duty and military duty. Both are duties and it is a balance that we must get right. The Government have made an attempt to find this balance. Some noble Lords on this side of the House think that it is dangerous. Some noble Lords opposite, and certainly some of those on the Government side who sit in another place, think that insufficient cuts have been made. Therefore, that balance still has to be found.
The cuts in the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy are all too clear. In the Army they are not clear, and I hope we shall hear later on what "teeth" units, if any, are to be cut, or may be cut, in the Army. As regards the cuts in the Royal Air Force stations, I wonder whether we shall be told what happens to satellite stations in emergencies. Where do aircraft go from their main stations in the event of emergency? I should have thought those airfields could be kept in repair and maintenance, so that aircraft could go there in an emergency and all our eggs would not be in one basket on one airfield. It would not cost much to keep them in care and maintenance.
I know this has been said before, but if we are really trying to show economies as well as achieve to economies, can it not be once more considered whether the costs of education and medical care of families, particularly in the British Army of the Rhine, could be put on to the rerespective Ministries, and not in the Defence Budget? Those children and wives have to be educated and doctored wherever they may be, whether in Germany now or back in Britain later on.
One thing I fear we shall lack if these proposals are all put into effect is reconnaissance in all the Forces, and particularly in the Army, with the new wheeled reconnaissance vehicle not going ahead, a cut in reconnaissance vehicles unspecified and, most important, a cut in helicopters and light aircraft. Indeed, what is to happen in Ireland where, if the papers are to be believed, the helicopter shortage is already rather acute? I hope that this point will be looked at.
Once more I must say something on Simonstown, because some of us feel strongly on this matter. We felt it was 1094 insulting and disgraceful that sailors should be criticised for being photographed kissing a South African girl. Which is more moral or more natural—that a sailor should kiss a South African girl, or that a Minister of the Crown should shake hands with a Soviet or an Eastern Communist diplomat? In yesterday's Press you will see the racial anti-Jewish pictures appearing in the Soviet papers. Which is worse? It is not for defence reasons that we are pulling out of Simonstown. It cannot be for economic reasons because, as I said, the support ships will be needed. There must be some ideological reason for this proposal. I must declare an interest here, I suppose, in that I am a director of a company which this year has exported more to South Africa than to any other country in the world. If you really wanted to help the coloured and the black people of South Africa, you would encourage more trade with them. Those of us who have been to South Africa have seen that by sheer economic forces more coloured people and more blacks are being employed; they have to be, because there are not enough whites. This problem will solve itself if we can increase the trade.
As I said on the last occasion when the noble Lord repeated the Statement, there is no morality in defence; defence is a duty. Surely our duty is clear; it is first to this country and then to our allies. But at this time we accept that some cuts must be made. I hope that some priority will be given to those affected, both in the search for employment and also in the search for housing. These two aspects will affect them very severely as they come out of the Forces in the next few years, especially if they come out in large numbers in any one year. If the figures in the Statement—35,000 Servicemen and 30,000 civilians-were taken to their illogical conclusion, there would be only civilans left and no Servicemen at all.
It is a shock to people who have seen the propaganda and who have joined, partly for adventure and partly to do their duty and to serve, to be thrown out. They need some help. I noted that awful letter to the Daily Mail a few days ago from the mother of a soldier in Lancashire, who said that her son had been turned out of a public house because he was wearing 1095 uniform. I hope we can send out a message that we do not do that kind of thing in this country. Servicemen have a right to go wherever they want, when they are off duty in this country.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord CLIFFORD of CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, a defence debate such as this has overall strategic considerations and of necessity various problems of each individual arm and service. I propose to touch on just a few. It seems to me that it has been the parrot cry of some politicians for some time now that we are no longer an Imperial Power and it is not our role to police the world. Who are they trying to convince? We have not been an Imperial Power for thirty years and we have not had those kinds of forces since we abolished National Service. Surely that was the biggest mistake we ever made, for from that day started the "mods" and "rockers", the youthful gang wars and the violence that is now endemic since any form of discipline has become a dirty word.
The extreme Left would, I suppose for obvious reasons, have left us naked, not only in the conference chamber but against the most thrusting imperialistic Power the world has ever known. Would that we had the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, still as our Minister of Defence.
§ Lord CLIFFORD of CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, we are not an Imperial Power but we are an island, and I suggest that our leaders should remember that. I suggest also, bearing that in mind, that they should note who has the largest submarine fleet in the world, which is still increasing, while we have decreased and seem to be going on decreasing. And what have enemy submarines nearly done to us twice in this century?
I was in Muscat and Oman when the last Labour Government announced our withdrawal from Aden and the Gulf. I will not repeat the chaos that that announcement caused there, but I am glad to note that we are at least going to continue our support for the Sultan against the Russian-backed rebels in Dhofar. No matter how much India objects, surely we must have some say in the Indian Ocean, at least until we are self-sufficient 1096 in oil. I do not think Simonstown as such is of all that value, but I think we should do all we can to retain at least what reconnaissance facilities are possible. The last time I was there I brought back photographs of the Russian ships 150 miles South of the Cape, full to the gunwales with military equipment, and so on. At the time I gave those photographs to the Foreign Office, feeling certain that the Ministry of Defence would have them because no matter how the Tribune group might squawk, the South African Navy's senior officers all did their earlier training with the Royal Navy and some very great personal friendships still continue.
So to satisfy your extremists, sacrifice (if you like) Simonstown on the altar of expediency, but for Heaven's sake hang on to what goes with it, including joint training with the South African Navy. And why should not the matelots date the Sheilas? I certainly accepted their bountiful hospitality when I was on my way to the Middle East in the last war. It would take more than a verbose layabout like Mr. Hain to make me forgo my gratitude. I am glad that the Government still seem to have a little remembrance of our island existence, bearing in mind that 90 per cent. of our trade comes by sea. We get our rubber from the Far East, and noble Lords can take it from me that, before long, practically all our iron ore will come from North-Western Australia.
What about the Navy? The Government say that the through-deck cruiser will be retained. I should like firm assurance on that. What about the Sea Harrier? To have one without the other would be stupid. Are we once again to throw away our leading position in the world? We lead the world with our nuclear submarine, though not in all its armaments. I was glad to hear that that small force is not to be cut. I agree entirely with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, in his intervention on that count. But I am disappointed with the cut-back in conventional submarines. Noble Lords should remember that a nuclear submarine must have deep water, it cannot operate in the Channel, for example, where there is not enough depth of water for it to dive under a big tanker. This goes for the rest of the Continental Shelf, and especially for the protection 1097 of our off-shore oil rigs, where the best defence doubtless would be a conventional submarine. In view of the colossal size of the Russian submarine fleet, it is essential that our frigates and destroyers should have continual training in antisubmarine warfare. We all know where that takes place, and we all know that conventional submarines are needed for that. I beg for an assurance that the number of these submarines will not fall below an acceptable minimum.
My Lords, one nuclear submarine commander that I know went so far as to say that from the national point of view he would prefer to see a nuclear sub marine cut-back rather than any sacrifice in conventional submarines, but he was afraid that that was not acceptable politically. What worries me most—
§ Lord GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, will allow me to say so, I do not understand that. The noble Lord told us that a friend of his had said that he would rather there were a cut-back of nuclear submarines than a cut-back in conventional submarines. I simply do not understand that. Earlier, the noble Lord said he thought we would be all right as we were going—
§ The EARL OF CORK and ORRERY
My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, in order in speaking as a Bishop?
§ Lord CLIFFORD of CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I think I will continue with my next point. The Navy is very worried about manning. Manpower cannot be cut. Speak to anyone who knows anything about the Navy as it is at present, and you will be told that that is one thing we cannot afford, yet there is talk of cutting the manpower of the Navy and the Marines by so many thousands.
My Lords, so far as the Army is concerned, so much damage was done by Denis the Menace that I feel the present Minister is to be congratulated in not being further browbeaten by that dubious character. But I am most afraid that the Army will be cut to an extent where it is unable to cope with the combination of Northern Ireland and NATO, let alone all the other places. If the Army is so cut in its establishment and equipment, the "quality" will cease to volunteer, 1098 quite apart from the "quantity". In a Defence debate, when speaking of the Army, one cannot ignore Northern Ireland. Quite apart from whether or not one agrees with the use of the soldiery in that part of the world by successive Governments, I would rather that savings made in the economy—and it is monstrous and short-sighted that the Government should save only on defence—should be made by saving £500 million a year by letting the inhabitants of that part of the world deal with each other in a quick spill rather than a slow drip, drip of the blood of British soldiers and the quick, quick rush of taxpayers' money.
What amazes me most about the young British soldier in Northern Ireland is that he battles on in the belief that without his presence there would be a bloodbath of the Roman Catholic population, the Fenian Tribe, the tribe which does most of the stoning, and is the sea in which most of the IRA swims. I should also like an assurance that any cutback in training establishments will not, of necessity, be compensated by withdrawals from the teeth units. Another extremely alarming sign is the way a section of the British Press has been picking on the unfortunate soldier. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, referred to this. For these high-falutin', self-opinionated, intellectual snobs to attack the British soldier at this juncture is unforgivable. A journalist with the doubtful name of Ian Houle, following a-letter referring to him as a fool, made a most unfair attack in the Surrey Advertiser. If I were still a serving soldier, I would tar and feather him. Publicans who close their bars to them should be put behind some other type of bars and made to read 5,000 lines of Kipling's Tommy, as compulsory indoctrination.
My Lords, as the honorary colonel of a TAVR regiment, my biggest worry over the years has been our lack of reserves, inadequate reserves for all our Services. This goes for the equipment for reserves as well. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referred to this. Gone are the days when soldiers will stay in the Army to carry around flags representing weapons or equipment. An essential element of home defence is an adequate civil defence organisation. As an ex-graduate of the Civil Defence Staff 1099 College, I vehemently opposed its disbandment by the last Labour Government. When the ordinary "bloke" sees what day-to-day tragedies are likely to occur from natural and man-made disasters, can one wonder that he looks for some way to help his country? If the Government do not officially organise something like an adequate Territorial Army and Civil Defence, then they should not be surprised that the so-called private armies spring up. This point was underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson.
My Lords, so far as concerns the RAF, I am not very popular with old RAF members because I have suggested that missiles should have taken over strategic bombing, and the RAF should become an Army Air Corps and Fleet Air Arm. We could then cut down overheads, and not reduce the teeth aircraft at all. Two further points worry me about the Defence Services in general and the Army in particular: first, the availability of training natures, ammunition, which has been cut back over the last few years to an extent which I consider is dangerous. Some battalions have as little as 100 rounds of blank for training a month. POL has also been cut back so much that military users have had recourse to civilian transport.
The second point which worries me, and which I consider to be dangerous—this will fit in with something said by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont—is the increasing dependence on civilianisation. There have always been naval stories about dockyard labour force, but recent tendencies are disquieting. Before going into Devonport for a refit, ships' companies are having to be warned not to say or do anything that could annoy the unions. The 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. limits are most interesting. A recent overtime ban had the effect of a crane stopping work with the gangway to a ship being left in mid-air, and VIPs who were visiting at the time had to make a very unceremonious and inelegant return to shore.
In the early days of civilianisation they were mainly ex-Service personnel and the system worked. But with the continued cut-back over the years this supply is drying up. The civilian gets in at 9 a.m. 1100 and leaves at 5 p.m.; the Serviceman, because of the nature of his calling, has to be on tap 24 hours a day and no overtime. If a civilian goes sick or absent, then a Serviceman has to replace him. The Serviceman has a thing called discipline. A civilian in a Service establishment has to be "asked"—sometimes begged—to do something, and if he refuses nothing can be done about it. If harsh words are used, then the establishment can be closed down. Service storemen and clerks are tending to disappear and more and more dependence is placed on outside contract. The Army used to bake its own bread—it did in my day—but now it is as vulnerable as anyone else to a bakers' strike. Civilian contractors take the Army to and from Northern Ireland. What about the laundries and the security problems involved? Remember the mass theft of soldiers' combat kit from the city laundry in Londonderry, and the bombs planted in returning washing? In case of civil emergencies, in the future the Services would be unable to help the civilian population because of lack of control of its supply lines.
One training establishment is over 20 per cent. civilianised and its transport over 60 per cent. civilianised. Ordnance depots now close at weekends for the benefit of civilian workers, and yet practically all reserve training and a lot of regular training is done at weekends. The enemy will soon be able to control the Services by manipulation of labour. If I were a Russian I would be laughing all the way to the Kremlin. By their manipulation of the grain market a couple of years ago they boosted our inflation. They were doing it again last week with the sugar. By their manipulation of certain labour forces they have ensured its continuation and near bankruptcy of much of the West. The latter are cutting their defences to the bone to deal with the economic crisis brought on by inflation.
Meanwhile the Russians and the Warsaw pact countries continue to increase their military might. Spy ships around our oil rigs and submarine bases have increased, and their recent reconnaisance in strength in the Channel has surely not gone unnoticed. With Suez open again they can quickly reinforce their Indian Ocean fleet and Greece has now closed her ports. Why make our 1101 economies only on defence? Why not our bloated local government or the over-expensive part in the Welfare State? Can we afford any longer the crippling strikes, now known worldwide as the English disease, or must we sacrifice defence so that we can afford that luxury? My Lords, I suggest that the Government have their priorities wrong.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, I should like to add my voice to those of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont Viscount Watkinson, and the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, with whom I do not always agree but on this issue I do, in thinking that we have come to the stage in our Parliamentary life where there is everything to be gained by having an all-Party Select Committee on defence. I think we should gain, too, if we had a Joint Select Committee from the Commons and the Lords. I believe that this House has much to contribute. Equally, I believe that it would be a good idea that we should draw this House rather closer to the elected House because each would then later appreciate the merits of the other.
My Lords, in the last decade there has been a tremendous change in the threat. In the last decade in this country for seven out of the 10 years there has been a Labour Government. We are told that this Defence Review is in some ways the first and the greatest, the most comprehensive and the deepest. I cannot believe that. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said when he opened the debate from this side. For the seven years that I was Under-Secretary at the Air Ministry and later at the Admiralty I know that defence reviews were going on almost all the time. The forward review and the three-year look have always been going on, and so they should be, because the threat is constantly and remorselessly changing.
We have now to allow for the whole spectrum of threat, starting at one end with nuclear threat, where we are very dependent on our USA allies and to which we make a useful contribution, to the hot war centred of course on NATO, and to the subversion at the other limit. I hope that the usual channels of this House will perhaps listen with sympathy to the point made by the noble Lord, 1102 Lord Chalfont, when he said that if we initiated a debate he would be happy to quote chapter and verse and describe where subversion is coming from and who is paying for it. I think that is an admirable idea, and I hope that the two Front Benches will consider it as soon as we reassemble.
My Lords, I find this particular Defence Review slightly bogus. It seems to me that it has been thought up to try to appease the Left Wing of the present Government. I have no doubt that the Treasury are trying remorselessly to save money, and Mr. Denis Healey is probably their ally in so doing. It seems to me quite an astonishing formula that you do not consider the threat or the growth of the threat, but you set out with a criterion that we are spending so much of our gross national product and should lower it irrespective of the firmness of our alliance, the effectiveness of our alliance, or the threat to the security of our nation and that of our allies. For the Government to lay down that they are going to obey a resolution passed by a single Party Conference to reduce the contribution to defence from 5½ per cent. of the GNP to 4½ per cent. over the next ten years seems, particularly in the face of galloping inflation, to be unreal. I cannot think why the present Government should feel tied to this. At any political Party conferences no doubt there are resolutions passed which do not make much sense, but in the past the Labour Government have not felt bound to take away the United States' nuclear base facilities in this country although that matter was passed as a Party conference. Unilateral disarmament was passed at a Party conference but the Party did not feel bound to honour this when they saw the realities of the situation. I hope most sincerely that they will re-examine the sense of this particular idea which I believe is motivated entirely by the Left Wing.
My Lords, there are three points which I should like to put forward. First, the need to retain the maximum amount of flexibility of our defence forces. When I was at the Admiralty I asked the staff to prepare a list of all those incidents ranging from the Korean war to peacekeeping operations in some colonial territory. I was given a list of some 43 incidents. In those 43 there seemed to 1103 be only one common factor, that no one on the staff had foreseen where, or when, or how they would occur. If that is true from 1945 to 1963, it is just as true today. Therefore I would urge that we retain the maximum flexibility. That is why I feel sad that our two amphibious ships, the "Fearless" and the "Intrepid" should be destined to become non-operational. These are modern ships. The "Fearless" was first operational in November 1965; the "Intrepid" became operational in March 1967. They are flexible, modern ships, and it seems to me crazy at this stage to stand them down. I hope we shall put them into maintained reserve in case there has been an error of judgment and we have to meet a threat which might well arise.
Secondly, I should like to advocate and support the idea that we should save money on research and development. My noble friend Lord Carrington made this point forcefully. I believe that we, as an alliance in NATO have to rely on what I call "horse dealing". We would say to France, "You produce this weapon and we will buy it", and they would say to us. "You produce that weapon and we in our turn will buy it". One half of that bargain was carried out. We purchased Exocet for more than £100 million. We have not heard what progress has been made. But I have not seen the other side of that bargain. This seems to me to make sense; either that, or multilateral research and development, which tends to slow up the progress of weapons; they tend to be produced more slowly and they then become far too expensive.
Thirdly, I would advocate that increasingly, as the cost of our weapons and the length of development time goes up, we shall simply have to specialise. I would suggest that there is one sphere where this country, through some very painful experiences in two world wars, has a quite unique capability and an outstanding interest, and that is in anti-submarine warfare. The threat here is really alarming. The USSR is building and launching one nuclear submarine every month. At the moment she has a strength of 110 nuclear submarines out of a total operational force of 350. These, of course, are divided up into ballistic missile submarines, of which she has 50; cruise missile sub- 1104 marines, of which she has 40, and attack submarines of which she has 30. This is a real threat to our nation and to Western Europe, which is utterly dependent for its oil supplies and its raw material supplies on shipping. Moreover, should a period of strain and stress develop in NATO, we will rely on ships to get reinforcements safely to their destination. It seems to me crazy to stand down some of our anti-submarine frigates. The facts are—I have been looking them up—that we are cutting our operational fleet very considerably. In 1963, which was the last year I served with Lord Carrington at the Admiralty, our operational Fleet strength was 405. In 1973, only 10 years later, it was 185 and we are told that it is to be cut by one-seventh. We are told that the frigates, the destroyers and the anti-submarines frigates are to be cut still further. Current strength is given at 58, and a further 10 are to be cut. Is this wise or sensible in the face of a threat developing in every part of the world against the free trade of our allies, our Commonwealth and ourselves?
I would ask also, in the face of this tremendous rundown of our operational fleet: does it make sense to maintain three dockyards in the South of England? One cannot say that these are maintained because of unemployment. Companies are advertising jobs; advertisements are appearing in almost every newspaper. As a director of a number of companies, I know how difficult it is in the South and South-East area of England to attract people to engineering jobs. Yet here there are many tens of thousands of people employed in the dockyards. Are they really being as productive as they could be? In 1973, when we had 405 operational ships, there were 47,000 people employed in our four dockyards. Now we have 185 ships, which is less than half, and there has been a cut of only 30 per cent. in the strength of our dockyards; there are now 33,500 people employed there. If we are looking for economy, if we are looking to comb the tail and strengthen the teeth, is not this the kind of area which should be examined? I think we have to say from these Benches that this is a political operation. It is not by accident that there are many Labour-held marginal seats in Devonport and in Portsmouth and in 1105 Chatham. I urge the Government of the day to be resolute and to examine the situation in our dockyards to see where cuts can be made.
I also think it is unfortunate that the Royal Air Force should be submitted to such savage cuts in manpower. In 1963 the strength was 135,000; in 1978 it is to be run down to 81,000. If it reaches that figure, it will be less than the strength of the RAF in 1938; it will be the lowest for forty years. Above all, why is it necessary to reduce the strength of our maritime squadrons. In the Nimrod we have by far the most sophisticated antisubmarine aircraft in the entire world—and I do not except the United States. It is the envy of our NATO allies. In the sophistication of its electronic equipment it is far ahead of any other aircraft. It was to be refitted with even more modern equipment. All this is now being delayed and the number of operational aircraft is to be reduced below a limit which is already, in my submission, too low.
My Lords, one has to ask oneself why these cuts are being made if it is not at the behest of the Left Wing. There are to be 35,000 uniformed Servicemen demobilised, 15,000 United Kingdom civilians, making a total of 50,000. As we know, there is a really serious threat of unemployment, so it cannot be because the manpower situation in our country is overstretched. Is it in an effort to reduce overall public expenditure? If so, why is this the one area which is taking a reduction? Is it sense to take powers to pay out £700 million a year in food subsidies and yet cut £300 million out of our defence, when the threat is becoming greater every day. If this is an effort to appease the Left Wing, surely last night in another place revealed that they will never be appeased. There were 58 against the Government who went into the Lobbies and there were two Tellers, making 60 in all. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, seems to nod approval of this. He is a lone voice in this House. There is one other, but he is not present. The noble Lord will be in a very small minority if he supports that line. I assure noble Lords opposite that if they do what is in the interests of our nation then they will have the wholehearted support of every Party, every Social Democrat, wherever he may sit, and everyone who 1106 wishes to maintain our democracy. I cannot help feeling that these cuts and this Defence Review is, first, essentially political; secondly, it is dangerous, and I believe it is crass and illogical folly.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, in these debates I try to maintain the spirit of some discussion, particularly with the noble Lords who have preceded me. I was a little nervous tonight in case I might not be able to do that with the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, but I was reassured as he spoke, because while I cannot deal with all the technical problems that he raised I think he will find that most of my remarks are devoted to the opening and the conclusion of his speech. I shall be speaking as a minority voice, but I have learned enough from this House to know that if views are expressed sincerely they are heard with tolerance. Even if I am speaking as a minority representative here, I know that in most of what I say I will have the support of the majority within the Labour movement in this country. I shall go beyond that point, but I shall be speaking for the majority of the Labour Party in most of what I say, perhaps more so than what is said from the Front Bench.
In his speech from the Opposition Front Bench the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made the criticism that the Labour Government, in public expenditure, had made their cuts only in defence. I welcome the fact that they have made cuts. The reason why they should concentrate on cuts in defence is that defence, after all, is destructive in our life, and the Government wish to refrain from cutting what is constructive—housing, health, social services, investment for industry, and all those areas which are so important. We are discussing tonight an expenditure by the Government of £3,500 million a year—an amount which means, in the average family of four, £5 a week in direct and indirect taxation. Surely, when there is that vast expenditure on armaments, we have the right to consider whether it is necessary.
During this debate, as happens often, the term inflation has been used. When there is a discussion about inflation I am always surprised that the cost of armaments is never mentioned. Some 1107 £3,500 million a year is spent on weapons which do not provide us with food, do not provide us with clothing, do not provide us with houses, and which are destructive to our economy. That expenditure is probably the greatest cause of the inflation from which this country is suffering.
Secondly, I should like to emphasise that this vast expenditure on arms means that this country is not now able to build the houses which our homeless need, to build the hospitals which patients require, or to build the schools which children need for their education. The proposal of the Labour Party Conference for a £1,000 million cut in expenditure, if carried out, would build 140,000 houses for the people who are now homeless in this country. There is a third point to which I want to refer, because more than once in this debate it has been urged that a cut in arms expenditure would mean a great increase in unemployment. If one cuts arms expenditure and devotes that expenditure to constructive tasks, those who become unemployed would quickly be re-employed. The justification of that is what happened after the last world war when the whole of our economy was concentrated on arms production, and yet within a few years the Labour Government of 1945 had transformed the whole of our economy and enabled those who previously had been employed in arms production to serve in other directions.
I want to welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, indicated in his speech that in this debate we should really be considering the whole philosophy of defence, and should not be concentrating upon the details of the cuts which have been proposed. That view was also reflected in the speech of my noble friend Lord Shinwell. I do not believe that this country has yet adjusted to the change in its position that has taken place in the last 10 years. At the end of the War we were a great Empire: Britannia ruled the waves. That Empire has become a commonwealth of independent nations. I admit that I am a little hurt personally when I read in the Press that, in connection with the European Community, we are now classed with Italy and Ireland as those in greatest need of economic assistance. Although 1108 these great changes have taken place in the relationship of our nation to the world, we are still clinging to the idea that the prestige of our nation depends upon our military strength.
When the announcement of the Government's proposals was first made, I criticised the maintenance of the British nuclear submarines, the Polaris. I said that they were ineffective in defence, insignificant in attack, and that they invited the destruction of our entire population in the event of war. I do not think that there is any doubt about those three remarks. The Polaris and the American bases in this country cannot possibly be justified on the ground of defence only. They become utterly insignificant in attack when one thinks of the tremendous power in the Soviet Union and in the United States of America. But because we have them, if a world war developed between the United States of America and the Soviet Union all the force of the atomic weapons of the Soviet Union would descend upon this country, and comparatively few of them would mean the destruction of our entire population.
In relation to our nuclear submarines and to the American bases in this country, I think that the position is clear. I believe that it is also true regarding the greater part of our expenditure on our military forces. Our multi-role combat aircraft costing thousands of millions of pounds a year would be utterly irrelevant in deciding the issue of a war where the nuclear armaments of the United States of America and the Soviet Union were in opposition to one another.
I believe that we are now in a very critical situation, where the pressure for détente, the pressure for some agreement between East and West, is balanced by this enormous armament production on both sides and the suspicions which have been reflected in this debate. The conflict between the USA and the USSR is concentrated in Europe between NATO and the Warsaw Pact Alliance. I believe that there is now some opportunity of a détente which may begin to change that confrontation. I believe that opportunity is in the proposal for the European Conference for Security and Co-operation.
My noble friend Lord Shinwell has expressed his cynicism regarding conferences. He has every reason to do so 1109 Millions of words about this confrontation have been expressed at the disarmament conferences since the last war. But in this case there is not simply the proposal of just another conference of the Heads of State. There is the proposal that the conference should be followed by permanent commissions progressively to consider how a greater co-operation between East and West can be achieved. That seems to me where the great hope lies of the détente becoming something more than words and something that is expressed in deeds.
If my analysis has been accepted at all, I think it must lead to this conclusion: that the greatest contribution which the United Kingdom could make to peace in the world would be that it should cease to be a part of one of the great military alliances into which the world is divided. We are a part of the American alliance and of NATO. Yet in a conflict between the USA and the USSR our arms are utterly insignificant and irrelevant. I believe that we as a country can contribute far more to peace if we were leading the unaligned nations of the world instead of being a part of one of these two great alliances.
§ Lord SOMERS
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, to give way for one moment? He seems to, be implying that the United States is the only country against which the Soviet Union may have any aggressive feelings. Is that statement really born out in fact? Does the noble Lord, when he goes to bed at night, lock his door? If so, is that not rather illogical because the burglar is sure to have tools by which he can open it? We are talking about defence, not aggression.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, appreciate that point. I would not for one moment say that the United States of America is the only nation to which the Soviet Union is ideologically opposed, although I think Russia is now quite sincerely seeking a détente. Of course there are other nations. But in the present world situation almost every other country, in relation to its arms, is irrelevant compared with the enormous power of the United States of America and the Soviet Union, with the nuclear weapons at their disposal which could destroy the 1110 whole life on our planet. Those are the two dominant facts. I believe that this country could contribute most to peace in the world if it did not remain part of one of those great alliances.
In conclusion, my Lords, I hope that no one will think that, because of these views, I am a little Englander. I believe tremendously in our country. I believe that its greatness can be reflected not by military arms, not by military prestige, not by power in the old sense, but by building a country here without unemployment, without poverty, without homelessness, without unnecessary disease, with the opportunity for our people to reach the heights of human fulfilment; and by being not only that kind of country here but—through leadership in the world—encouraging those nations which are seeking to end hunger and to establish peace between all nations. If our country could devote itself to that aim then it would be a greater country than it has ever been in its history.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ The EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, I will not attempt to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, for whose sincerity, I think, all your Lordships have the greatest respect, but with whose views some of us on this side of the House find it a little difficult to agree. Much has been said today about the woollisness, perhaps, of the Statement on Defence which we have had. I am not entirely in agreement with this view. It is fortunate that for the first time that I can remember we have had an opportunity in this House to debate defence before the publication of the White Paper. I hope that serious attention will be given to what is said here and in another place before we pass the point of no return.
I have considerable sympathy with the Government in the predicament in which they are placed—particularly over defence—and with their natural desire to restrict Government expenditure. But, like my noble friend Lord Carrington, I wish that the same extensive and thorough review could be undertaken in other fields of Government expenditure, before we set about weakening the security of our country and thereby reducing our influence in the councils of the world.
1111 My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has already suggested in a very remarkable speech, it could be argued that there was never a time in our history when it was more important to keep our defence and security forces at their highest level. In support of this assertion I should like to make three points. First, we are faced in the world today, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has quite correctly said, with two super-Powers, each possessing a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons of hitherto unheard-of destructive power. I do not think it matters that the Russians have more or bigger bombs, or that the Americans have more sophisticated methods of delivery. The point is that either or both of these two Powers could destroy the civilised world in an afternoon.
It must therefore be an important part of the defence policy of all nations—and here the smaller nations (and with them I count ourselves) can play their part—to ensure that no situation can arise in any part of the world which will build up into a confrontation between the two super-Powers from which neither can draw back. The situation in the Middle East today is a little too near the knuckle—and here, perhaps, our positions in Malta and Cyprus are relevant. A possible way of at least trying to avoid this situation arising is to have a Free World military presence on the spot, and readily available in all sensitive areas of the world where such a conflict could arise, able and capable of stifling it at source. In this presence this country must be prepared to play her part with other countries in NATO, in our Commonwealth and with other allies.
My second point is rather similar but underlines the first, and it has already been referred to by a number of noble Lords today. Much play is made these days of détente and the softening of Russia's attitude towards the West over the last year or so. Lenin described this policy as a deliberate tactic to lull the enemy into a false sense of security before making the next move; or, perhaps, as the French would put it, reculer pour mieux sauter. The fact is that three high-level conferences are being held in Europe at this moment—and they, again, have been referred to. All these three have as their general objective 1112 the reduction of Armed Forces and of armaments between the East and West on an equitable basis.
At no moment during these negotiations have the Russians ceased to build up their Armed Forces, and they are doing so at a frightening speed. They have greatly strengthened their Army and Air Force in the West; they continue building up a modern Navy at remarkable pace; and they are increasing the number of their warships in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian Oceans. Is this really the moment for us to lower our guard, giving others the excuse to do the same? The only hope of détente is that the Free World should maintain a military balance of conventional forces to deter a potential aggressor, and to check military ambitions before they can get off the ground.
My third point was referred to in some detail by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. In the last few years, the Free World has been subjected to a new form of warfare of the urban guerilla type—the bomber, the gunman, the hijacker, student riots, the infiltration of Communists into our free institutions, the breakdown of law and order on the picket lines. This is an insidious type of warfare to combat. Just as it took a very large part of the Royal Navy to find, hold and ultimately sink the "Bismarck", so it takes a very large number of our security forces to find, hold and finally bring to justice one bomber. The police do a magnificent job, but if a situation were to get out of hand, as in Northern Ireland, it would be on the Armed Forces that we would ultimately have to rely to prevent anarchy or civil war. Is this really the moment to reduce their numbers by 35,000 men?
It is often said that we spend more money proportionately on defence than any other European country. I know there are many different ways of doing this sum, and many would not agree. I am assuming that this is so; and it is one of the excuses always given by the Government for making reductions. Surely this is the worst of all possible reasons. Europe's contribution to its own defence does not stand up well against that of America, and this is becoming a very sore point with our great ally across the Atlantic. I should like to think that it was we who set the example and thereby encouraged other European countries to increase their contributions. The day 1113 America starts withdrawing her forces from this side of the Atlantic will be a very dark day for Europe.
Since the end of the last war, this country has done two things which are entirely contrary to its past traditions. First, it has stationed an army on the Continent of Europe in peacetime. The reasons for this are too obvious for me to wish to enlarge upon them. They are right and commendable, and I am glad to note the high priority which the Government place on our contribution of land and air forces to the central region of Europe, and of sea and air forces to the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel. The second thing we have done is to close down bases overseas and gradually to withdraw our maritime forces from the trade routes of the world. This I believe to be a very retrograde step, though I will concede that the passing of many of our bases was perhaps inevitable.
I want to deal briefly with some of the proposed reductions mentioned in the Statement which worry me most. Your Lordships' House is full of very distinguished soldiers; my concern is mainly for the sea. The reduction in numbers of our surface ships and maritime aircraft means that we will have few forces available to survey the trade routes, particularly in the South Atlantic and East of Suez. My views on the Simonstown Agreement are well known, and I will not expound on that matter again. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand the logic of reducing our afloat support by one-third if we are giving up Simons-town, Gan, Mauritius and probably Singapore. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, when he comes to reply, could explain the logic of this.
Lastly, we are proposing to run down our amphibious capability, ending with the disbanding of the Royal Marine commando. This amphibious force is a very highly-trained and efficient force, and in addition to its usefulness outside the NATO area has an important part to play within the NATO area itself, on the northern and southern flanks. I discerned in the Statement a laudable attempt to try to apply cuts fairly evenly as between the three Services. This is a good thing in itself, but it does not always produce the best strategic answer. I sincerely hope that the amphibious 1114 forces were not the victims of some compromise or quid pro quo forced on the Minister as a result of inter-Service infighting. I implore the Government to look again at this one, to see whether it is possible to replace the ships and save the Royal Marine commando. Perhaps the noble Lord, when he sums up, will comment upon the amphibious force.
My Lords, in any survey of our defence commitments there still remain some which are peculiarly our own. But basically we are now part of a grand defence alliance to which it is our duty to contribute the maximum that we can afford, and particularly in areas where our special skills or our influence can be most effective in the common cause. I am not sure that this point has been fully grasped in the statement of intent Nevertheless, I am glad that consultations are already taking place with NATO and our other allies in the Commonwealth before final decisions are taken. It is true, as has been frequently said, that except in certain small areas where we have a special responsibility we can no longer stand alone. We must make the maximum contribution we can to the grand alliance, for in any future major conflict there will be few neutrals. In the words of John Donne, written 300 years ago:. . never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Lord HANKEY
My Lords, we always listen with very great interest to what the distinguished noble Lord—I might say "sailor"—who has just sat down, has to tell us. It is extremely valuable to have his advice on this occasion. I should like to look at the defence Statement against a rather broad background, particularly as the Government say that it has been prepared on such a basis. I warmly agree with the overriding importance attributed to NATO, but I want to say that NATO and the consolidation of Europe have, as my noble friend Lord Chalfont has said so aptly, both external and internal aspects; and, at the risk of being not too indiscreet, I propose to draw on my personal experience to say what I mean.
At the end of May 1947, the then Secretary of State, Mr. Ernest Bevin, sent for all senior members of the Foreign Office who dealt with the Communists and the Soviet Union. I was at that time head of 1115 the Northern Department dealing with Russia, a number of Communist countries and Scandinavia. He said to us: "Well, gentlemen, you will have noticed that in the last three weeks all the Communist Parties of Europe have withdrawn from the Governments they participate in. I want to know what conclusions you draw from those events." We hummed and hawed a bit and replied, "Secretary of State, we have noticed it; but we have not thought of drawing any conclusions." He said, "I will tell you what my conclusion is. I think that the Communist Parties of Europe are going over to a policy of revolution." He went on to say, "The distress and the hardships of the peoples of Europe are at present very great, but I do not know whether this idea is right. I want you to go away and to come back at 2.30. Look through every bit of information you can find and tell me whether or not I am right." We did not have much lunch, for at 2.30 p.m. we were back in his room and we said to Mr. Bevin, "Well, sir, we cannot confirm whether or not you are right, but we think you are almost certainly on the right track." Mr. Bevin answered, "Thank you, gentlemen. I know that I am on the right track." Later that afternoon he picked up the phone and rang General Marshall and, to cut the story short, General Marshall made his famous speech on June 5, a few days later, and the result was the Marshall Plan.
The Marshall Plan certainly saved Europe from revolution and it led directly to the consolidation of Europe. It was only a few months later that we realised what the Communist plan was. They were certainly planning a revolution in Northern Italy; they were planning a revolution in France and, perhaps, in other places. They had persuaded us to withdraw our ambassador from Spain and to put all the pressure we could on Franco so it was reasonable to think that they were also considering a revolution there too. When one looks at the map, one finds that all the railways giving access from the Communist world to Western Europe came through Trieste, because Britain and the other allies had forces in Austria and Germany. It was very interesting that Trieste was the one place on which it had been possible to reach agreement with the Russians for mutual evacuation 1116 —and Mr. Bevin was enormously criticised by the Left Wing (including, if I remember aright, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, whom I am sorry to see is not in his place) because he did not carry out this agreement.
The end result was that the revolution in North Italy did not occur; in any case, it could not be supported from outside. The Marshall Plan settled the rest. I recall that after the Communists' plan in Northern Italy failed, they began to apply major pressure in Germany, the only other sphere where we were open to direct pressure, so that we got the Berlin blockade and the airlift; and that situation ultimately led to NATO. I recall now, because it is really historically very important, that what had really happened was that a power vacuum had been created in Czechoslovakia in May 1945 when the American armies were withdrawn from there. The Russians flowed easily into the vacuum and into Austria and they were able to put pressure on Western Europe. The consolidation of Western Europe filled the power vacuum which existed there.
It is very interesting that the Soviet Government have been strongly opposed to NATO, and for that matter to the Common Market, and that the Communist Parties for the most part have consistently opposed our own membership of the Common Market or any further integration there. It is significant, I think, that our Marxists and militants still desperately try to get us out; but with another real recession impending and our economy tottering I submit that we should be committing an act of insensate folly and political and economic lunacy to isolate ourselves now. It could have dire consequences for defence and for our survival. We ought to be working actively to draw Europe closer together. So I support the Government attitude to NATO and, like the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I believe that we should do much more to promote the standardisation of weapons and equipment and communications and procedures. I have heard that we could reduce our costs by as much as 30 per cent. by so doing. It is almost incredible that we do not make further progress with that.
My Lords, I was proud to be a member of our Parliamentary delegation to 1117 Russia in May 1968. We were most kindly and generously received. I will not say more about that visit on this occasion except to recall that we were given a very interesting memorandum on Soviet foreign policy which contained a quite remarkable sentence. The sentence was:A war of liberation is never a war of aggression.After seeing the Soviet and Polish panther-leap into Czechoslovakia which took place only a few weeks later, let us not allow Western Europe to disintegrate again and, least of all, at the behest of our Marxists. We must at all costs preserve or restore social fairness and legality and the prosperity of our democratic society as well as the credibility of our defence system. That is what I mean by saying that our defence problem is both internal and external.
My Lords, I do not know whether I ought to say anything about naval affairs after the speech of the noble Earl, but I am going to be so rash as to say something. For many years I have wondered at the astonishing development of the Soviet fishing fleets operating all over the place, on both sides of the Atlantic and even in the Indian Ocean. I could understand that the Soviet Union were short of fish; I could even imagine that they wanted more food. But it was a very remarkable development, and how extraordinary it was, that the fishing fleets came to be able to stay at sea—and to sail the oceans. They had supply vessels, refrigeration vessels, factory units and repair units. They were truly oceangoing. Now we see the outcome. This was a familiarisation exercise and it was intended to develop ocean-going techniques. The Soviet Navy is now just as much at home on the oceans as the American Navy, although I would not dare to make comparisons. They have supply and repair techniques; they can be fuelled at sea and have, I believe, very good communications. It is a navy of great efficiency. They have a terrifying submarine array. Their nuclear submarines can sail all over the world without refuelling, and I think this is really a situation which we should never forget, after our experience in two great wars during this century. They have shown just as much interest in the bottom of the ocean as in the top of it. But why 1118 does a great land Power do this? One's mind goes back to 1908, to 1911 and to the controversies at the beginning of this century. India has a Soviet Naval Mission. I understand that the captain of the port of Aden is a Russian. They are well established in Egypt.
Does it strike your Lordships as odd that whereas the Soviet Government have been willing to help settle the war between Israel and Egypt, they have done nothing to settle the war between Israel and Syria? It is very extraordinary, is it not? They have, on the contrary, been arming the Syrians and also the Iraqis very strongly lately. Why this contrast? The answer, I believe, is fairly obvious. They want the Suez Canal opened. They want to exercise more power in the Indian Ocean and down the East coast of Africa—where, by the way, the Chinese have been getting in. On the other hand, the dispute between Syria and Israel pushes Syria and Iraq into the Soviet fold and might well lead to another Arab oil boycott of the West. It is a useful dispute for them to exploit.
Coming back to the Soviet Navy, I noticed that the Russians seemed to be prepared to exploit internal trouble in North Italy but they could not do so because of land communications not being available, and because our defence forces were sitting in Trieste. But this does not now apply, with an ocean-going navy. They will go down into the Indian Ocean and may well be interested in internal tensions and disputes in various places in those parts.
Let us look at the Defence Statement in the light of this situation. Surely this is not the moment to weaken our position in the Indian Ocean or to create another power vacuum there for them to flow into, just as happened in the Middle East and in Central Europe. The withdrawal of forces from Gan and Mauritius seems to me to be an open invitation for trouble. I cannot understand how the Government can think that this is a sensible thing to do. It cannot save very much money and is really laying us open to trouble.
Now I come to Simonstown. The Navy, my Lords, must need Simonstown. Everybody knows that a modern navy needs specialised stores, specialised machines and industrial facilities, staffed by its own skilled specialists. It cannot otherwise remain efficiently operational 1119 least of all in distant places like the Indian Ocean, the South Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean. The Defence Statement mentions possible commercial facilities as an alternative. As it happens, I have some personal experience in this matter, because the late Lord Robertson and I had to prepare and begin the negotiations for a Suez Canal base with General Neguib and Colonel Nasser. At that time one of the options it was thought we might have to fall back on—of course in the end it actually got much worse—was the provision of purely commercial facilities in the Suez Canal Zone Base.
Believe, me the reduction in efficiency by resorting to commercial facilities is absolutely colossal. Our armed Forces estimated at that time that the facilities would not be worth more than 20 per cent. if they had to be commercialised, because then there could be no secret equipment or processes or stores and one could not rely on the total efficiency of the people who would operate those facilities. Such a base might not be open at the right moment, for instance, or it might be paralysed by strikes. My Lords, in Simons-town this just is not on! I would submit it would be entirely wrong to subject our sailors to treatment of this sort and it would greatly undermine the interest of this country all over the South Atlantic, in the India Ocean and as far as Singapore and Australia.
Surely the last war, if it showed anything, showed the inestimable advantage of our overseas bases. How could we have got on without them? Why give them up now just when so much greater pressure is upon us? What justification can there possibly be for such a step? It is perfectly obvious: we all know the Government are leaning over backwards to oblige their extreme Left Wing. I think that is a very wrong thing to do, and just because their Left Wing are supported on anything concerning South Africa by a number of otherwise very sensible people who are blinded by apartheid and cannot see any other aspect of the African question. But this does not make it any less calamitous that we should act in this way.
I really implore the Government to look at this again. It is quite clear that South African internal policies are undergoing a sea-change. Do not let us delay 1120 that change by trying to put more and more pressure on them. Let events take their course. Let us put this question of Simonstown by for at least a year while we see how things develop. As I say, I really implore the Government to think again about this and to do nothing in a hurry.
The same considerations seem to me to apply to South-East Asia. Australian and New Zealand forces have largely withdrawn, I believe, from Singapore. Proposals about maintaining the consultative provisions of the Five-Power Agreement do not impress me, and surely cannot impress others whom we want to impress. I recall what Bismarck said of the great Lord Salisbury and Mr. Disraeli—both stout Conservatives—at the Berlin Conference in 1878:The grey old gentleman is built of lath and plaster, but the Jew means business.My Lords, let us mean business, too. Surely we did not fight all over the world during the last war and later prevent a Communist take-over in Malaysia in the 'fifties in order to let matters slide now. We owe it to our friends to stay as long as they want.
It is also important to continue to develop trade with all these overseas countries. Many of them are not really very independent. They tend to go along with the strongest Power in the area. But trade is very important for us, and it is even more important for them. If they were to go the way of Burma, which has now about six competing Communist Parties and is in a state of almost total poverty and chaos, I think that we in Europe would suffer grievous loss regarding sources of raw materials and markets, and also friends. There would be more recession and more unemployment. We owe it to our workpeople, and indeed to all our people, to resist any such tendency. We should continue to support our friends, show them we mean business, continue to offer them trade and aid on the best possible scale. And I submit that our defence policy is an essential part of this.
The struggle for world trade and prosperity, and for an end to recession and unemployment here and in Europe, requires the maintenance of our influence and friendships with these and other overseas nations. It is as important now as 1121 it was in the 'thirties, 'forties and 'fifties. Hitler used to say Germany was Ein Volk ohne Raum—a people without space. Europe is Viele Völker ohne Raum—a lot of people without space. The old Commonwealth and French Empire ties need to be transmogrified into a much more realistic modern connection with the new Europe. This is already taking place, but the new Europe needs our overseas friendships and connections as much as we do. All this can be achieved provided we maintain our friendships and do not create another power vacuum to be exploited by the Communist Powers. That means radically rethinking all that part of the defence proposals. I urge the Government to think very seriously about these arguments.
Coming nearer home and to the air proposals, it seems to me inconceivable it could be right to reduce our maritime air patrols or our air support or our air transport capability, or the airfields and bases available to the RAF. Surely North Sea oil installations at sea and ashore will demand more of these facilities and not less. Surely our decision to abandon aircraft carriers some years ago was made on the understanding that we would have more and better air patrols and also develop the maritime Harrier. Now all is being weakened and delayed. Even less research and development is going to be carried out on defence.
After what we know of the enormous Soviet progress, after seeing the remarkable television programme about the Soviet Navy last month, and after recalling what they did with their missiles in the Middle East—incidentally, do your Lordships remember that some years ago the Egyptians (presumably not the Russians) using Soviet missiles hit a Soviet destroyer at 13 miles distance with three shots out of four? What a standard of gunnery!—in view of all those considerations I do urge that many of these proposals are most unwise.
I am not in favour of profligate expenditure on defence, but there is a point at which it is not valid to say that we cannot afford what is essential for our security and survival. We should not throw our hand in. I favour recognising that we are falling into a state of impoverishment. I have been saying 1122 so for ten years after seeing the statistics developing in OECD. Inflation has obscured these results by multiplying the pound element; but look back and it is indisputable. But impoverishment will not be cured by cuts in defence on this or any other scale. It will only be cured by re-establishing productive industry on a profitable basis; and by ceasing to tax companies so that their expansion and even their continuance is rendered impossible; by fixing wages much more fairly and peacefully than is now done; and by curing a state of industrial relations which makes it impossible to run any modern integrated industry efficiently. I draw your Lordships' attention to the very remarkable and penetrating speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, on 26th November in Hansard, col. 1302.
Nor am I convinced that we cannot afford the minimum defence for our security when hundreds of millions of pounds are being spent, or are about to be spent, on subsidies, on suppressing the private sector in medicine and on various sorts of nationalisation. One thing is certain, none of the industries nationalised will ever make a profit in our social democracy—they have to behind the Iron Curtain; otherwise the directors of the industries are heavily penalised. All this talk of transferring resources is sheer humbug. But where do we get any means to pay for schools, defence or anything else, except from profitable industry?
So I find that our defence troubles have origins which lie deep down in our present industrial and fiscal system and which call urgently for quite fundamental reforms. The Government's policies are totally irrelevant to this problem. But, my Lords, please bear in mind that a democracy that is too long in the tooth to defend itself or to keep order and legality in its own house, cannot long survive. The writing is on the wall, and we must not let our defence capability decline any further, as is now proposed.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Earl CATHCART
My Lords, I am very glad to have this opportunity of taking part in a defence debate, if only because it has been far too long since your Lordships' House held a debate on this important subject. I must start by saying that I realise only too well that in these difficult financial times economies 1123 must be made and defence must play its full share in those economies. But I hope that there will be fair shares with other parts of the nation's finance.
It is with great relief after this extensive Review that the cuts have fallen mostly—and I emphasise "mostly"—on what I call the third priority of defence, and by that I mean our commitments outside the NATO area. If we must take risks, that puts the ultimate survival of the United Kingdom at less risk than if we cut the first two priorities. Our commitments outside the NATO area stem partly from our inherited responsibilities, and partly from our desire to secure our trade routes. It is often said that Germany and Japan have great overseas trade without overseas military bases. That is perfectly true; but both countries depend to a considerable extent on the safe sea routes and the stability which exists in certain areas thanks to the presence of the United States and ourselves.
It is very noticeable that at the NATO Defence Planning Committee in Brussels, the German Defence Minister, when commenting on our recent Defence Statement, expressed concern at the reduction of the British position outside NATO. Russia, with the fastest expanding Merchant Navy in the world, considers it necessary for her security, and in order to guard her trade routes, to establish bases all around the coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific. These cuts, although I appreciate that they are the only cuts we can make, are made at considerable risk to our trade routes, to our overseas capital investment and in war—particularly at the outset of a war—to the flow of our essential supplies. We must realise that these cuts are made at a risk. Your Lordships will note that I have referred to three priorities of defence, because I feel strongly that our first priority must be the defence and security of the United Kingdom. That does not go without saying and, in my opinion, it needs saying clearly. It is the one aspect of defence that we, as an island, cannot rely on NATO to do for us.
The Minister of Defence said in his Statement,NATO is the linchpin of British security and will remain the first charge on the resources available for defence.1124 He went on to say:We therefore propose to concentrate as a first priority upon those areas in which we believe that we can most effectively contribute to the security of the allianceAnd he added:and of the United Kingdom ".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 3/12/74; col. 1352.]I believe this is putting the cart before the horse. If we do not have a secure base and a secure seat of Government we shall be a liability to our friends, our neighbours and our allies. I should like to see home defence spelt out more precisely as our first priority in the Defence White Paper to be issued in March.
During a period of mounting tension leading up to war, we can expect a considerable degree of sabotage and subversion. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, spoke clearly about the co-ordinated action of terrorists. There is no doubt that the urban guerillas throughout the world have achieved a high degree of a pact and of mutual sharing of techniques, and even of supporting each other physically in countries with which one would think they have no geographical connection. I do not propose to take on the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, by producing facts and figures. Nevertheless, I am certain that if we were attacked by an enemy, or if NATO were attacked, we should be subjected during a period of rising tension to a very considerable degree of sabotage and subversion by terrorists. There would be terrorist attacks against individuals, against installations, against important and key buildings, airports and of course oil installations, both afloat and ashore. This would all be part of the probing process which we should have to undergo to see how determined we were and what our guts were like. And we should have to take proper measures against it. Sadly, in this country terrorism and urban guerilla action—bombers and so forth—are not unknown to us and do not need any explaining.
Under these conditions of mounting tension, it is likely to be a problem to define when this terrorism has become an act of war and when our very State is threatened. There will come a moment, which will be difficult to define, when our police can no longer continue to protect us alone and these vital installations will need permanent guards against sabotage. Who will do this? The Territorial 1125 Army and Volunteer Reserve has, I understand, twenty-seven battalions allocated to home defence and about double that number allocated to NATO. Do we think that twenty-seven battalions are sufficient to defend and secure this island? One hears that the Territorial Army units are currently recruited to only 70 or 80 per cent., but that a great recruiting drive is to be undertaken. Presumably, those units going overseas will immediately on mobilisation be made up to strength by the home defence units, because the units going overseas have a higher priority. They would also, presumably, have a higher priority of equipment, and at the moment this would leave the home defence units down to a strength of perhaps 50 per cent. I quote this as an example of why it is important to lay down priorities—the first priority the defence of the United Kingdom; the second priority previously planned support for NATO.
If these home defence battalions arc down to half strength, we shall have only twenty-seven half battalions, and there is no doubt that throughout the whole country that would be quite insufficient for home defence. Another question is: Would these twenty-seven territorial battalions be mobilised in time? It is a fact we all know that, during a time of rising tension, to call for mobilisation is an escalation which any Government will naturally postpone as long as possible. So if we are to be subjected to this tension, sabotage and so forth before mobilisation has occurred, who will then do the job? Will there be sufficient regular units in this country to cover our essential security over this most difficult period of rising tension and mobilisation?
I have had the privilege to command two Territorial Army formations in the last ten years, one in Scotland and one in Yorkshire, and I know full well the very high standard these volunteers can achieve. Their keenness and loyalty will enable them to carry out in the most outstanding manner whatever tasks they are given. But they must have encouragement and they must have support, not only of the Government but of the nation as a whole. I hope that the recruiting drive which the Government will undertake next year will have great success. In addition to encouragement, 1126 they must be given proper equipment. One of the most disheartening things for the Territorial Army is to have second-rate or even third-rate cast-off equipment because no proper equipment is forthcoming. We shall not attract the proper people in the right numbers unless we give them support of that kind.
My Lords, if the noble Earl would allow me to intervene, will he also agree that of the greatest encouragement to recruiting would be a revival of some of the regimental county badges which mean so much to those units, much more than the new larger regiments?
§ Earl CATHCART
My Lords. I most certainly agree with the noble Lord on that point. Earlier on, I mentioned the protection of oilfields. I was pleased to read in the newspapers last Sunday that NATO is planning a force of naval patrol boats and helicopters in the North Sea to protect the oil installations. I only hope that our contribution to that NATO force will equal our expectations in oil from the North Sea, and that the cuts recently announced by the Government will not affect our contribution adversely.
The second priority for our defence is the collective security which we share with our neighbours and friends from our common membership of NATO. The fact that NATO has held together, and continues to hold together, as an effective alliance has given peace and freedom to Western Europe which Eastern Europe has never experienced since the end of the war. It is true that the Warsaw Pact has more men, more tanks and more aircraft than NATO and this can be levelled out only by the graduated use of tactical nuclear weapons. It is well known that the greater the disparity in conventional weapons, the sooner the tactical nuclear weapons have to be used.
The Minister of Defence said, when answering a Question in another place on 3rd December, that it is unfair to compare the relative strength of NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. But I think that this comparison is vital and must be kept constantly under review. I was glad, however, to read that at the NATO Defence Policy Committee meeting in 1127 Brussels on 11th December, Mr. Mason said:To push tactical nuclear weapons into the background would upset the balance between NATO and Warsaw Pact.But it is good to learn that our contribution to Central Europe will remain untouched. Since 1945 I have served twice in Germany, in the First British Corps, and once in the Operations Division of the Supreme Allied Commander (Europe) Headquarters at SHAPE. Especially while I was at SHAPE, I came to learn in what very high regard the calibre and professional skill of the British units in that Corps are held by our allies; and our contribution there to NATO is certainly a very real one.
I have two remaining anxieties about our defence posture with regard to our support in NATO. The first concerns the very considerable reduction in our ability to support our allies on the Northern flank of NATO. It is a most significant area of NATO and directly affects the security of the United Kingdom, not only because of its nearness to this island, but also because the lessons of the last century alone have taught us that the flanks are strategically as vital as the main front. The noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson, made that very point when he said that he thought the initial attack, if ever there was one against NATO, would come on the flanks and not in the centre.
It is sad to see that our amphibious forces are being so drastically reduced. Amphibious ships, which are essential to the capability to support the Northern flank, are to be deleted. I am not clear about the future of the through-deck cruiser. I believe that it is to be limited to one, although it has the great capability of being a command ship in an amphibious operation. Our ground troops are to be reduced to one air-portable brigade and one commando brigade, plus our contribution to the ACE mobile force. My Lords, I hope that this aspect of our Defence Review Statement will receive the fullest discussion with NATO and that it may be possible for there to be second thoughts in this respect.
My second anxiety relates to our strategic reserve which is connected with the remarks that I made about home defence. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, spoke about the unexpected and about how it always turns up. That, 1128 of course, is relevant to the problem of a reserve. It is the easiest thing in the world to take a chance on a cut and then to find that you have been caught out. In 1965 the British infantry were reduced by five battalions, yet within months the infantry were overstretched in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, reading the statement it has been difficult to assess where the 12,000 saving in Army manpower will be made. I have done some sums, crossed them out and done them again but have never reached any good conclusion. I cannot make the saving in the personnel of overseas bases more than about 3,500; and if there are to be no cuts in BAOR, 8,500 must come from within the United Kingdom—presumably from our Strategic Reserve, the Third Division, and presumably, also, from our contribution to the Northern flank. I simply do not believe that one will reach that kind of number by what I think was called re-structuring. It seems to me to be an ambitious figure to aim for.
My final point has been touched upon already by the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton. It is that if our Defence Budget is to be so drastically cut—by nearly £5,000 million over ten years—and taking into account also the effect of inflation, we must ensure that no unfair charges are set against our Defence budget. It becomes even more important than ever to protect them against carrying these costs which could properly be charged elsewhere. I shall not go into the details, but I will give your Lordships three quick examples; there must be many more. In peacetime, is it right that all the costs of the Army in Northern Ireland where it is doing a job on behalf of the civil police, who either are not available or are inadequate, should be borne by the Army? Is it fair that medical, dental and hospital services for the wives, children and dependents of the Army and the Royal Air Force in Germany should be charged to defence and not to the Department of Health and Social Security? Is it fair that the education of perhaps as many as 50,000 British children in Germany, the children of personnel in the Army and the Royal Air Force, should not be charged to the Department of Education and Science? They are British children and they are entitled to the same education as other British 1129 children. Why should the Army pay for it?
My Lords, I am afraid that my remarks in this debate have been more relevant to the Army than to the other two Services. However, since this is the first occasion upon which I have had the opportunity of addressing your Lordships' House on defence since I retired last year after 35 years' service in the Army, I must ask for your Lordships' permission to end on a personal note. I should like to say what a very great privilege it has been for me to have served for that period in what I know is still the finest Army in the world.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord BOURNE
My Lords, it is very pleasant to follow the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, largely because the noble Earl has himself served in the Forces and also because I happen to agree with every word he has said. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, suggested that we should have a Select Committee on defence, consisting of Members of both Houses, I was rather amused and, in fact, encouraged to hear this, because for four years I was a lone voice in recommending such a course and I got nowhere. This is not the first time that we have had a thorough-going review and it is not the first time that we have had cuts in the Services. I remember that on the first occasion the Army was cut by 17 major units and that on a further occasion it was cut by nine. One cannot go on doing that. Although I realise that the Secretary of State was in a very difficult position, the fact remains that he was given a financial target and told to fit it in. That is entirely the wrong way of going about the matter. Personally I should like to deal with it very quickly because so many speakers before me have already said what I wished to say. However, I should like very much to follow the noble Earl's suggestion regarding priorities, although I shall put them slightly differently.
My Lords, may I write down the defence priorities as follows. The first priority is the defence of our sea communications. I think that home defence was included here. Our second priority is our contribution to NATO—the linchpin, as we have all agreed. The third priority is the defence of British territory, 1130 our friends and our interests overseas from which they naturally flow—and they happen to be mainly East of Suez.
If I may deal first with the defence of our sea communications, I will not burden your Lordships with a great deal of detail except for some figures. We face starvation. We nearly lost two world wars because of the threat of starvation and we are the only country in Western Europe—certainly in NATO—to face starvation if we do not protect our sea communications. Incidentally, we imported an average of 65 million tons a year between 1939 and 1945. The convoys coming to this island were escorted. Therefore, I was horrified to see that there are suggested cuts in escorts. In 1939 we had 158 destroyers and frigates; Hitler had 71 "U" boats when he started the war. Exact figures are hard to come by, but now we have 52 destroyer escorts which are shortly to be reduced by one-seventh to 45, and they are facing 257 Soviet submarines in the Western Fleet alone. One noble Lord mentioned 350 submarines, although I think that some of those are in the Far East.
My Lords, in my opinion we ought to increase the escorts and not decrease them, because if NATO lost the land and air battle we should still have to continue importing our food, raw materials and various other things, including oil—at least at the moment. Therefore I think that the Secretary of State for Defence must have had great difficulty in discussing this matter with his military advisers—in this case his naval advisers. I am slightly sorry for him, but evidently he has put his foot down.
My Lords, I will deal with NATO because it has been mentioned very frequently before. However, I will deal only with one aspect. We are reducing our contribution to the flanks of NATO, leaving our contribution to the Central Europe front untouched. It is not very long ago—in 1972—that we increased it, so that the Russians must be wondering at this aspect of the British defence effort. In this connection we seem to be giving up our British amphibious assault capability, which was mentioned earlier, and which is so sad. I should like to be told by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, that I am wrong about this. I hope that 1131 we are not reducing our amphibious force, because it is completely unique.
There is one other point about Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, mentioned three conferences that are going on at the present time. One of them was mentioned in the Secretary of State's Statement on 3rd December. He said that the Government attach much importance to mutual and balanced force reductions. The Russians must be laughing. All they have to do is wait. We have already weakened the flank. Next time Central Europe will be weakened and the disease will spread. The Dutch and the Belgians will think that this can be done with apparent impunity and NATO will collapse. All the Russians have to do is say, "No" and wait.
I now come to the Far East—East of Suez. In this vast area we have not only British possessions, as in Hong Kong, but long friendships with the Malaysians and the Singaporians. We are reducing the garrison in Hong Kong; we are also reducing the Gurkha Brigade and we intend to pull out from the Five-Power defence arrangement in South-East Asia, based on Singapore. The whole of this will probably save £10–£20 million at the outside. Of course it will save a few men—3.500 according to the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart.
The Labour Government wrote in their 1966 Review:In recent years the threat to peace has been far greater outside Europe than within it.They also wrote on page 8 of that Review:We believe it is right that Britain should continue to maintain a military presence in this area.They were supported by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, the last time he spoke in this House. He said:In pursuing this maritime strategy, let us not forget that a friendly South Africa is vital.Also, in an earlier speech he said this:It is essential that we have absolute naval superiority in the Afro-Indian Ocean. In that respect the Simonstown Agreement is vital and must never be abrogated.Well, my Lords, he got a lot of support. I wish he were here, because he would probably hold the same views now.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him, I do not know whether he has noticed that Dr. Joseph Luns, Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, endorsed that view only yesterday. He said:Changes in the balance of forces outside the NATO area might hold even greater dangers for the peace of the world.
§ Lord BOURNE
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention, because it was very much to the point. I will not burden your Lordships with what we have done, but we have given up all the bases around the Indian Ocean, except Simonstown—not yet—and Singapore which is quite a long way off. But Aden, Bahrein, Bombay and so on we have given up. Although we have made a good case on each occasion, the fact remains that we have given up our power to control the Indian Ocean, and although the Cape route from the East and from Australia is not so important as the North Atlantic short route, it is very important, especially with the oil coming from the Persian Gulf at the present time. Why have we given up those bases, particularly when we save so little money by doing so? That is the question to which I should be interested to hear an answer.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, if I may intervene, is it not the case that all the Asian nations bordering the Indian Ocean have proposed neutralisation, and would that not be the best policy for us to support?
§ Lord BOURNE
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, but neutralisation has never yet come about. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, how very curious it is that the Russians are not doing anything to upset the Egyptians at the moment, because they want the Suez Canal to be opened as quickly as possible. Then they will go to Aden, and probably to Zanzibar and various other places, and they will be masters of the Indian Ocean unless we look alive.
Finally, I should have been very happy—and I mentioned this in a previous speech on the humble Address—if it were not for the fact that defence is always picked on by itself. I would not have asked this question at all if the noble 1133 Lord the Lord Privy Seal had mentioned it in his opening speech, but he did not. I will quote a few figures. Economising has been done on a previous occasion. On 17th December 1973, Mr. Barber announced in another place cuts of £1,200 million, of which £851 million were capital cuts and £329 million were procurement cuts. Of this, defence was to bear £178 million, with an annual procurement of £162 million. But the cuts included roads, education and health. I will not burden your Lordships with the figures, except to say that they took their fair share and a lot of hospitals and schools were cut. I would not worry about this particularly if defence was the most expensive of the Ministries, but it is not. In 1973, we spent £3,500 million on education, £3,191 million on health, £3,106 million on defence and £926 million on roads.
I should like to know why we cannot share that. If we did share, then instead of saving £4,700 million over the next ten years on defence we would save £1,600 million, which would be bearable, acceptable and understandable. It would also mean that the Government were not only spreading the necessary economies, but that the Services would feel they were not alone and their morale would not suffer, as I am afraid it may. As the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, has returned to the Chamber, I would assure him that the Regular Forces Employment Association, of which I happen to be the president, is placing ex-Regular Navy, Army and Air Force men in jobs. The Association places about 9,000 or 10,000 of these people a year, and they are ready to place more.
My Lords, we have heard an explanation today from the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, with regard to the political thinking of the Government, but I should like to know the Government's answer on the political thinking behind the question of not sharing. In my view, the Secretary of State for Defence is not risking war in NATO, because there is no threat at the present time. He is, however, taking serious risks in reducing the number of escorts in the Royal Navy. He is also assuming that we will probably not fight East of Suez. I would like to be told that I am wrong.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ The EARL OF CORK and ORRERY
My Lords, there have been some remarkable speeches in the course of this not unimportant debate, and not least striking was the speech we have just heard. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, always speaks very much to the point and to great effect when he is making a speech on defence. We have listened with the keenest interest. He comes at the end of a short but concentrated line of flag officers and ambassadors who have spoken with such authority that I would not have the temerity to comment on the strategic or technical aspects of the Statement. However, I will not depart entirely from a particular theme that has run throughout the debate.
My Lords, may I begin by mentioning some words spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. These may not be precisely his words, but he deplored the fact that our prestige as a country should depend on our military strength. I agree with the noble Lord; it is deplorable that any country's prestige should depend on military strength, but there are many other things in this world that are deplorable. It is a fact of life that prestige depends on military strength, but that is not the point we are discussing. It is not our prestige which depends on our military strength, if the word "strength" is not too strong a word; it is our survival.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in one of the most memorable speeches we have heard from him in a long time—and certainly in this debate—said that no society has survived which has not been prepared to pay the price of defending itself against enemies within and abroad. Paying the price is the whole point. We are asked to accept this Statement, and to take it seriously as a statement of what the Government propose to do. But the Government are not prepared to pay the price of defending themselves. I would invite your Lordships to cast your minds back to the first four minutes of the debate. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal opened the debate, and the first four minutes of his speech were devoted entirely to an arithmetical comparison between our economic situation and that of other countries. In other words, the first four minutes of a debate 1135 on a defence Statement dealt with economics. This sets the key for the whole of an operation which I believe is an affront—and I repeat the word "affront", because I do not think it is too strong. Many noble Lords have said—and it will be said again, both in another place and in the newspapers—that we have a Government cutting defence not for no reason at all, but rather for one and a half reasons, or for one very strong reason and for one which is less strong. The less strong reason, I suspect, is that the Labour Party is less interested in defence than it is in Socialism. Defence is no part of Socialism any more than it is a part of Conservatism, Liberalism, or anything else. Defence is defence. The Labour Party is under intolerable pressure from its Left Wing. If that is not so, the Government have made a great error in tactics in issuing the Paper immediately after, and not before, the Labour Party Conference.
My Lords, I am not making accusations which no one has made before. I do not suppose anyone will refute them. Perhaps many people will think they are not accusations, but statements of ordinary and respectable fact. But I do not think they are really very respectable facts. When questions are asked of Ministers, those Ministers purport to give answers to straightforward inquiries. When the Statement was made, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, asked the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, who had repeated the Statement in this House, why the calculation was made on the basis of the gross national product? The Ministerial reply was:The answer is that I suppose it is the only tool we have to work with."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 3/12/74; col. 91.]That is a Ministerial reply made on behalf of the Government. One might wonder what tool was used to work out expenditure on any other part of Government policy, although that would not be a very profitable question, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, pointed out, since no cuts have been made anywhere else. Why, then, is it the only tool with which we have to work out how defence shall be cut? How was it worked out that defence should have to be cut at all? It really is not quite the thing for Ministers to make replies of that kind. I dare say the noble 1136 Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for whom the whole House has the greatest admiration and respect, will have a better answer when he comes to wind up.
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, a question which links with certain questions which were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, about reductions East of Suez. This may seem to be a trivial question, and in the general context of the matter it probably is, but it has some significance. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, touched on this matter, but did not enlarge on it. Why is the Gurkha battalion being withdrawn from Brunei? Brunei is a very small independent Sultanate on the North Coast of Borneo. The Sultan is keen to have the battalion there; so keen that he pays for it. Taking it away will actually cost more than keeping it there, because it will have to be kept somewhere else. This battalion is based at Hong Kong, and the Gurkha brigade, which is based in Hong Kong, is to be maintained. What will happen to this battalion coming from Brunei if it is not actually going to increase costs? I suspect that it will be disbanded. My second question is this: is the Gurkha brigade to be disbanded as a battalion, or not, and if not, why is it being withdrawn from Brunei? The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and propped up slightly from the wing who did not take quite the same line, referred to the manner in which the Defence Reviews ought to be carried out.
That brings me to something which I have said before, which I venture to say again. In contrast to the view of the Labour Party, the Conservative Party has always taken the view that defence comes first; and this is a view with which I agree for totally non-political reasons. Quite simply, it docs come first. If there is no defence, there is nothing else. To whittle away the amount of money spent on it purely in order to please part of the Party and to pursue some admirable ideological end is, in my opinion, a great betrayal of the nation and its security.
Defence, my Lords, is something that stands entirely on its own as a responsibility of Government. That is not to say that it ought to come first in the list of priorities or in some table of allocations. It ought not to be in any list 1137 or table at all. I repeat myself now. Defence, as the responsibility of Government, is paramount and is not to be shared with or whittled away by any consideration whatsoever. Ultimately, of course, the expenditure will have to be conditioned by what the country thinks it can afford, which is not necessarily the same thing as what any Government think they would like to pay. How much it will spend will be a matter for decision by the Government of the day, and at that point no doubt Party politics must intrude. But they ought not to intrude if it can be avoided and, in my submission, they ought not to intrude at any stage before the point is reached of deciding how much money should be spent.
A Defence Review comes before that point, and I believe that the collaboration of all Parties is required—not merely a committee of all Parties in both Houses, but some kind of committee functioning at supra-Party level with full access to secret information and therefore composed on the civilian side or Parliamentary side of Privy Counsellors. Its function, working with its advisers at this defence task, would be to assess the potential and actual threat, and to form an opinion of the level of defence required. All this would be done in secret by a very powerful body which could not give orders to the Government, but which would be known to produce an authoritative assessment of what was required for defence, and the Government would then have to make a decision.
This might be of some assistance to a Labour Government which would then be able to point over its shoulders to this high-powered committee breathing down on it. It might strengthen the Government's hand against its own Left Wing. I would hope that such a thing might come to pass. Other Parties would certainly approve it. If something of this sort does not happen, and they go on as they are now, the Left Wing of the Labour Party, through the Labour Party as a whole, will ruin this country, or at least bring it into the greatest danger of defeat.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord STRATHCONA and MOUNT ROYAL
My Lords, this debate has been distinguished by two rather unusual features. First, there has not been one supporting speaker from any of the 1138 Benches opposite. Secondly, there have been two really outstanding speeches, with great range and authority, by the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Chalfont. It is not for lesser luminaries like myself to attempt to pronounce on the broader issues, especially when one finds the miraculous situation where the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, agrees with the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Carrington, which must indeed be an unusual situation. They all seem to agree that this so-called once-for-all review of reviews is no more than a routine re-examination within the traditional philosophy. A number of noble Lords who have served in distinguished posts in the Services, like the noble Earls, Lord Cathcart and Lord Glasgow, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, appear to have understood this point extremely well.
One of the unifying threads running through the debate has been the universal declaration of continuing loyalty to NATO. It is a great pity that the role of NATO is not more widely understood in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to the curious contradiction that success breeds complacency which breeds indifference. But, at least, let us therefore applaud the Secretary of State for basing his policy on maintaining this sphere of our defence effort. It is perhaps a pity that the emphasis on NATO has been used as an excuse to neglect some of the other aspects of our defence problem.
Those of us who over the years have attended meetings of Parliamentarians from NATO countries in the North Atlantic Assembly know how much value our allies place on this alliance which, incidentally, tackles a number of other problems besides pure defence issues—problems such as drug addiction, pollution and energy conservation on a European basis. It is therefore all the more sad that the Government have provoked the long-suffering Dr. Luns to protest that the cuts—and this has been mentioned by a number of speakers, such as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing—must weaken the alliance. Furthermore, these cuts are notoriously contagious. I have seen the atmosphere, particularly in Denmark and Norway, and I am sure that this feeling applies to a number of the other countries. It must surely also weaken the posture of the West in negotiations, such 1139 as those on the mutual and balanced force reductions, as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said just now.
The real complaint has been that NATO does not do enough. Clearly, there is this intractable problem of combined purchasing and development. If we cannot manage to achieve the enormous economies which are available to us, NATO is in grave danger of dying. It has been said that a sentence of death is wonderful for concentrating the mind. Let us hope that that is true, because I believe that that is the point we are rapidly approaching. May I also emphasise that it is not only an economic matter. There is the operational aspect of having non-standard ammunition and radios which are not compatible, so that you do not have communication between the various Forces.
There is much lip service paid to the consultations going on with our allies. I wonder how real in scale these consultations are. To use an analogy, if you have to tell your wife that she can no longer have a car, it is not very much consolation to her to go into a long discussion about whether she would like a bicycle with standard-size wheels or a mini-Moulton—and I have a suspicion that this is about the level on which some of these so-called consultations are taking place.
If I may refer to some of the individual Services, again let us start on the credit side and welcome the decision to keep the multi-role combat aircraft. I am bound to say in passing that I sympathise with the noble Lord who is to reply; as an ex-RAF Minister, one of several in this House, this cannot be a happy occasion for him when the RAF is receiving some pretty swingeing cuts. However, his honourable friend has managed to keep the MRCA, which must be the backbone of the future equipment for the RAF, and incidentally is a modest example of a limited degree of cooperation with at least three of our NATO allies. We must welcome that.
I wonder whether the noble Lord could enlighten us on a further matter. The Sunday Times mentioned a new Franco-US aircraft. We have the avion de combat futur. Can he tell us what stage these developments have reached, and 1140 what chances there are of joint re-equipment in the future? In spite of comments made, I think, by the noble Lords, Lord Gladwyn and Lord Clifford, it seems to me perfectly clear that we shall need aircraft like the MRCA, particularly for the deep penetration missions which involve variable targets or adverse weather. I do not think this is the occasion to enter into a technical discussion on why this is so, but I believe it would be quite wrong to rely solely on missiles as an excuse for giving up aircraft development.
May I now turn to a curious phrase in the Statement:We intend to preserve and in some cases improve the combat air forces committed to NATO.The word "preserve" bothers me. I am an enthusiastic preservationist, particularly of things mechanical, and I am a great admirer of the RAF museum. But I would not contend that the RAF museum makes a serious contribution to our defence except possibly in the sense of providing us with inspiration as to what this country is capable of achieving, and a certain amount of publicity for the RAF. But God forbid that we should send our airmen up to fly the SE5 preserved in the RAF museum. Surely preservation is a dangerous term in a high technology field like air warfare. You are on a treadmill; you have got to run very hard to stay in the game.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned our condition in 1939. The Gloster Gladiator was an elegant aeroplane but no match for the Me109. Let us hope the Lightnings will not be in the same situation. We have had enough of the British muddling through. However well trained and splendid our individual pilots may be, in a technical age these qualties will not make up for inferior equipment. One matter that was demonstrated by the Middle East war, and indeed by the Vietnamese war, was that technical excellence can truly make the difference between total dominance and complete ineffectiveness. So what is meant by the second half of that curious phrase, "and in some cases improve"? I hope the noble Lord will be able to give us an unqualified assurance that we intend constantly to improve all our combat air forces; other- 1141 wise we shall be forced to suspect that that phrase was a meaningless Ministerial bromide.
On the question of the RAF support functions, a number of noble Lords have expressed dismay at the cutting of the maritime reconnaissance Nimrods. This appears to take its full impact just at the time when our bases are disappearing. We have Cyprus, we have Malta, we have Gan. Have we taken steps to ensure that as we move out some of those who wish us ill are not going to be ready to move in? Similar considerations apply to the cutting of Transport Command. Again a number of noble Lords, among them Lord Watkinson, Lord Cathcart and Lord Bourne, referred to the loss of mobility and the danger that we would be unable to give succour to the flanks of our NATO allies.
We must deplore the loss of the traditional mobility of our amphibious forces. The Russians have a large force of what they call naval infantry. When we are giving up bases, how are we to reinforce distant areas like Hong Kong? How are we to honour such obligations as remain to SEATO and CENTO and the Five Power Defence Agreement? We presumably have forces allocated to these areas, but how are we going to get them there and how are we going to maintain them in an emergency?
My noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Orr-Ewing, among others, referred, in connection with the Navy, to the decision to retain the dockyards. This surely calls into question the teeth to tail ratio, which I think was the expression used by Lord Orr-Ewing. I noticed from a Question in the other place that the admiral to ship ratio has now dropped from one-to-three in 1954 to one-to-one and a half. This is getting perilously close to one admiral per ship. Could we be told, please, whether the cost of repairing these ships in the Naval Dockyards will be more or less than in the shipyards? And can the noble Lord assure us that proper overheads are allocated to the costings in the dockyards; and how will they monitor the comparative costs of doing these two jobs in different ways? Again I must refer to a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. It may be that the Government want to bring the whole shipbuilding industry into nationalisation, in which case I dare say the 1142 efficiency of shipyards will be comparable to that in the Naval Dockyards. I do not want to be unkind about the Naval Dockyards, but I hope they have changed a great deal since the time when I knew them.
Before we leave the Navy, one or two noble Lords have mentioned the problems of security of installations in the North Sea. We have a great mass of spaghetti on the seabed and we are to have 50 Eiffel towers rising out of the water. These are tempting and vulnerable targets. When questioned about this in the other place recently, the Minister gave a most astonishing reply. He said that actually it was far more difficult to defend the soft targets on the shore. Even if that is true—and I do not think it is—is not that a quite remarkably dank answer? I cannot call it a wet answer because it is a dry answer, but it seems to me a totally hopeless answer in any case. To try to be slightly more constructive in this area, does not this suggest that we should look again at the possibility of building small iron ships. This used to be a speciality of ours. Since the time when I had the honour to serve in motorboats they have become a good deal more seaworthy, a great deal more reliable and capable of carrying a far bigger punch. I would suggest that we have a need for these ourselves, and furthermore there is possibly a valuable overseas market which we could get into if we followed this line of development.
Several noble Lords referred to the threat from within. Again the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was most eloquent, as were the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. We can certainly welcome the Government's unequivocal undertakings about the Territorial Army which have been repeated in detail, and were referred to by a noble Lord earlier when he mentioned the small individual units and the pride that they can take in their badges.
May I make one further suggestion. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, who referred to the problem about which I understand the Army are concerned, that of being called in prematurely in defence of the civil power to combat the worldwide increase in terrorism and the upsurge in violent demonstrations. The patrols 1143 at London Airport are an example of the kind of thing that happens. The worry is that the premature calling in of the Army leaves one with no final card to play; one has to bring in one's last resort too early. In the current jargon, would we not gain flexibility of response, reduce demands upon the Army, and possibly enhance the effectiveness of the police, if we introduced some kind of police riot squad? This may well be a question that one should not properly be addressing to the Ministry of Defence, but perhaps they would consult with the Home Office to see whether there is any thing in it.
There are widespread fears of a renewal of conflict in the Middle East. One cannot escape the feeling here that this Government have done a great deal to dissipate the good will which had been so carefully built up by the last Government with the oil producing countries. This means that we shall suffer catastrophic collapse due to cuts in supplies if this conflict is renewed. When we had the fuel crisis last year, the Services demonstrated that they were capable of making massive and impressive economies in fuel consumption—sometimes amounting to as much as 40 per cent.-—though there is no doubt that this damaged their operational efficiency. I should like to ask the noble Lord what steps have been taken to ensure that we have adequate supplies of fuel for the Services. Have they, for instance, enough fuel to carry on for 90 days, rather than the 50 to 60 days which T believe is the normal policy for the country as a whole?
Last night in another place we saw the strong pressures which the Labour Government are under from their Left Wing. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, is not in his place, but I should like to congratulate him for taking a much more robust line this evening than the seven Liberals who bothered to stay for the debate last night, and who were led through the Lobbies by their Leader in support of the Government. Having said that, I think we should congratulate Mr. Mason on not having sacrificed some of the long-term projects which are so hard to restart once they have been stopped. We must give him credit for the courage and foresight he has shown in standing up to 1144 the wilder gentlemen on his left. May we hope that when the White Paper comes out, it will continue to fulfil this promise. The precedents are not too encouraging. Last time the Labour Party spent from January 1965 to February 1966 preparing a White Paper. Then they took out £100 million in 1966, another £100 million in 1967, and another £110 million in 1969. A number of noble Lords this evening have referred to the upside-down approach with which the Government have tackled this Review. Is not this a little like a manufacturing company which tries to run a business without identifying the market, or considering the product they intend to sell in it?
I cannot finish without reverting to melancholy thoughts about the attitude of the USSR. We have to recognise that we are dealing here with a nation which has a pathological fear of being bullied. It may be that the underlying reason for this is that their attitude is, "Do as you would be done by" or, perhaps I should say, "Expect to be done by as you do". Maybe they expect the West to adopt their own expansionist policy, and apply the bullying and hectoring of the Communist creed which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, called "flexibility" in using military force where they think it will extend foreign policy by other means, to use a well-known dictum.
I would suggest that however many SALTS and MBFRs you have going on, we are right to be apprehensive about a vast nation which claims to work hard to improve the living standards of its huge population, yet at the same time chooses to arm itself (as has been said many times this evening) among many other weapons with a force of 150 submarines—surely one of the least defensive weapons one can possibly imagine—and a force more than three times the size of the U-Boat force with which the German Navy so nearly brought this country to its knees at the beginning of the 1939 war.
The seriousness of this threat is underlined again by Dr. Schlesinger, who said about the balance between the Soviets and ourselves:The problem is that the Soviet advantages tend to be more permanent than ours. Ours are transitory, reflecting at the present time a degree of United States technological accomplishment that gives qualitative offsets to their quantitative advantages".1145 That is not very reassuring. It is all very well for somebody to say, as was recently said to me, "Do you really feel threatened?" I suggest that the right answer to that is, '" Well, I do not feel threatened with an accident by my fellow-motorist every time I go out in my car, but I keep my insurance premiums up to date and I fasten my seat belt."
§ 8.8 p.m.
Lord WINTER BOTTOM
My Lords, we have had a long, informed, and interesting debate. I shall do my best to reply to it as a whole. I know that noble Lords will forgive me if I miss certain points in winding up. I shall write to the noble Lords, as has been the custom of both Front Benches over the years, to cover any points that I do not mention in my formal reply.
I suppose when we discuss defence there are some questions that we ask. First, is our society threatened, and what is that threat; secondly, are we diverting sufficient resources to meet the threat, or are we committing too few resources for that purpose; thirdly, assuming that we are directing the right amount of our resources to meet the threat, are we diverting those resources in the correct way and the correct direction? May I first say that the threat was defined accurately for us and the framework of our debate was set by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and the noble Lord, Lord Hankey. Both stated very clearly the main defence threats facing us from the Warsaw Pact alliance and of course the spin-off that comes from those threats through subversion in various forms. Thereafter, the discussion really moves around the allocation of resources to meet those threats. There are two views. Some say that we are about to divert too much of our limited resources towards meeting the threats. Some say that we are diverting too little of those resources.
My noble friend Lord Shepherd, who opened the debate, argued with great cogency the reasons why we felt that the limited resources of this country were being diverted towards defence in too great a degree. It was not as if we were spending a level 5½ per cent. of our gross national product, however imperfect that is as a standard of measurement, but that 1146 this proportion was likely to rise to 6 per cent. at a time when our economy was under great pressure. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Brockway—I will not say he backed, but he echoed the views of some 60 of my colleagues in another place—argued that we were spending, even after the proposed £300 million cuts, far too much money and suggested that the cuts should be increased to over £1,000 million in the present year.
My noble friend Lord Shepherd has answered the first question, and has argued that we must conserve our resources and reduce our expenditure on defence in a controlled manner and over a long period. But I feel that the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and of individuals in another place who believe that the cuts should be much more severe, should be answered, and I propose to do it at this stage but not, I trust, at too great a length. The great danger is that immediate cuts below the proposed levels could not be absorbed by the equipment programme alone. Large scale redundancies among Service personnel and civilians would be required to meet such a target, but it makes no sort of sense to discharge people on this scale over short periods of time, particularly with the present state of the labour market. These are people who have made a career in giving service to the Crown. They are all volunteers and the Service personnel face considerable dislocation and discomfort—and, in certain cases, personal danger—in their calling. I am sure that neither House would agree that a Government could treat their defence personnel in this way.
The military arguments are equally strong. Sudden and arbitrary cuts in the budget would cause greater disruption than any financial figures could imply. We would be unable to sustain our present NATO commitments under the Brussels Treaty. BAOR and the RAF in Germany would have to be reduced substantially if the cuts were as substantial as is proposed. We would no longer be able to help sustain NATO's maritime strength in the East Atlantic and the Channel, the security of the United Kingdom would be reduced and our present commitments in Northern Ireland would be jeopardised. The effect on the Forces would be to undermine voluntary recruitment and might require a return to conscription. But that is not 1147 all. As Members of NATO we also have to consider the effect on the alliance.
There can be little doubt that an abdication of our responsibilities would deal a shattering blow to NATO, at a time when it needs all the help which we can give it to sustain its cohesion and when the opposing forces of the Warsaw Pact are increasing. As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, this has already caused Dr. Luns concern. In all probability current NATO strategy would collapse through lack of credibility and the political cohesion of the alliance would dissolve, thus bringing to an end a 25 year period of collective Western security and peace. Of course such a collapse of the NATO alliance is what the Marxist would wish to see. But there are idealists whose interest in peace and pacificism is honest, and they must realise that in all probability a cut of this size would force us as a country to rely solely on anti-subversion forces and a second-strike capability, which is probably the last thing that they would want. I think that the really damaging effect of such savage cuts would be upon the morale of the Forces and on recruiting.
It is my responsibility at the end of this debate to move the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts, (Continuation) Order which is used normally in your Lordships' House as an occasion to say a word or two about recruitment. I should like to touch on the subject of recruiting at this moment as it stands because, all things considered, it is not unsatisfactory. As noble Lords will have noticed, there was the general improvement in recruiting during the quarter. The improvement in Royal Navy recruitment was due to substantial increases in junior intakes. A similar large increase shown for the Royal Marines is attributable to the higher junior intakes. The higher level of Army adult and young soldier recruitment noted in the first quarter of this financial year has continued, and the intake of juniors has recovered to near pre-school leaving age levels, a most encouraging result. Recruiting to the Royal Air Force continues satisfactorily. There is an overall tri-Service increase between 1973 and 1974 for the July-September quarter of 75 per cent. and nearly 300 per cent. on junior soldiers in the Army. This is, I think, 1148 the most satisfactory news which I have heard for some time, since when the school leaving age was raised many of us were concerned that severe damage would be done to the recruiting of junior soldiers.
Arising from the question of morale and a proposed reduction in the size of the Armed Forces, I think it has been generally agreed in today's debate—and this was one theme running through the whole of it—that the importance of the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserves, and Reserve Forces as a whole, was increased markedly and that this fact should be given particular attention for future planning. This point was stressed by the noble Lords, Lord Gladwyn, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, Lord Chalfont, Lord Watkinson, and the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, among others. I think your Lordships will be glad to know—and some have already welcomed the fact—that a major attempt to increase the T & AVR recruiting is planned for the coming spring. Two rather interesting new developments are taking place within the organisation, one that some 130 new posts within NATO are being allocated to T & AVR personnel and that women are to be asked to play an increasing role in this country.
I believe that the most important point of all in this discussion on the role of the T & AVR was made by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, who rightly pointed out that because of the concern felt in this country about the possibility of subversion at some time or other private armies are starting to be brought into being. That is a view I share. I believe that if people feel that they wish to give national service in case of times of emergency, the natural place for them to go would be either into the police reserves or the T & AVR.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, mentioned numbers. He will of course be aware that the T & AVR is below strength by about 27 per cent. The strength at the moment is, 54,000 people. With, an establishment of 74,000 there is plenty of room for it to grow without any additional legislation or without any alterations in its budgets.
Now, my Lords, I will try to answer various other points made in the debate, starting with those made in the speech of 1149 the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. When the noble Lord gave his first response to the defence Statement that I made last week—and in this he was supported by my noble friend Lord Shinwell—he said that the whole thing was shapeless and muzzy, and lacked precision. The reason for that was grasped by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, to whom I am grateful for coming to my support, because he had spotted the fact that this document is not the final word on the subject. The final word on the subject will be published when the White Paper is issued in the spring of next year, following upon discussions with our allies, with various other nations and organisations concerned and, of course, with both Houses of Parliament. I hope that in the spring of next year I shall be able to present the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, with (what shall I say?) a policy with sharper edges, which I hope he will find to his satisfaction, although I doubt it.
I should like to make one other point, my Lords, before answering specific points. Of course, any policy is in its very nature a compromise. If you are bringing into being a defence policy you are under various pressures—political pressures, economic pressures, the pressures of your allies—and the mere fact that compromises have to be made to meet these pressures does not invalidate the policy as such. If, at the end of the day, the various conflicting elements are balanced in a sensible way, that, I think, is the best we can do in an imperfect world. I think we have in fact produced a reasonable balance at a very difficult time of our economic history.
There were two main themes, other than the T& AVR, which were raised by many noble Lords and which I think were stated most clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in his speech. The first problem that we are all facing is the problem of standardisation, of a common logistic base for the armed forces of NATO. In my opinion, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, put his finger firmly on the most important element in the problem that we are facing when he said—and I think I am quoting him correctly: "Proper standardisation and rationalisation will only be possible if we have strong political direction from the centre". My Lords, I have always felt that this is one of the main argu- 1150 ments for some form of European Community, because unless we have a European Defence Community with a European strategic policy and a European procurement agency, I do not see that we are going to get a really significant measure of standardisation throughout the armies of the allies. Part of the trouble, as the noble Lord—
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I do not want to enter into a dialogue about the Common Market—I can understand his King Charles' head intruding itself every now and again—but would my noble friend be kind enough to reply to the question I put to him? He agrees now that this is not the final statement. That is precisely what I said. Therefore, I said that this was an amorphous kind of presentation—shapeless, with nothing designed about it; it has all got to be settled later. The question I put is: were the United States consulted about East of Suez? Was NATO consulted about the various changes that are to be brought about? Were all the countries concerned—our allies and the Commonwealth countries: New Zealand, Canada and Australia—consulted? If they were, may we learn what their views were?
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, before the noble Lord answers, may I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that he has committed one of the gravest crimes known to your Lordships' House? He has made a speech from the Bishops' Benches, which is not allowed in your Lordships' House. I understand that the alternative penalties are £500 or two years in purgatory.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, in danger myself of being condemned to purgatory in answering my noble friend, perhaps I may say that the consultations started on the 3rd November, the day on which the preliminary Statement was made. They started immediately with our NATO Allies, and consideration is going on and will continue until about the middle of February. By the end of that month, we assume, we will have the considered view of our Allies and of 1151 all other organisations and countries affected by our proposals. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I hope I shall be able to present to my noble friend a clearer-cut policy in the spring.
Could I, however, turn back to the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Watkinson. The point made by the noble Viscount was that part of the trouble arises from the fact that the Americans are not too keen as a nation that we should standardise on a European set of equipment. We have the situation where the four air forces of Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway have to re-equip themselves with a replacement for the Lockheed Star Fighter, and the Americans are fighting hard to get one of their lightweight fighters accepted. I do not think that this would be so bad if the Americans themselves were to use these fighters—you would get an element of commonality then—but are they? That is a question that one should like to ask. Nevertheless, I think that the point was well taken and was well discussed. One point made by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, was that at the end of the day the only real basis of commonality would be if the nations of the Alliance had sufficient confidence in each other to specialise in their own particular areas of skill and expertise. That is a long way off, but it is perhaps the goal towards which we should be working; and we should not throw away skills that we have in the meanwhile, in particular the expertise of naval anti-submarine warfare, which the noble Lord mentioned.
The other theme that concerned a number of noble Lords was the future of the amphibious forces, the specialised ships and the Royal Marines. The position is that the four specialised ships will continue their normal life and will be phased out when they themselves become obsolete. As the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, pointed out, both "Intrepid" and "Fearless" are comparatively modern ships, and they have a useful life ahead of them. As to the four commandos, they will continue in being until, at the earliest, 1979, when, of course, our agreement with Malta runs out—and as of now we do not know whether that agreement will be continued. But that 1152 is one of the dates which determined the slight contraction of the amphibious forces.
One important factor which should not be forgotten is that the three Commandos which remain will continue to be functional. One Commando group will be allocated to the Northern flank of NATO and will continue to have specialist training in Arctic warfare. Study is now going on to find other ways of moving commandos and similar troops about in ships other than those purpose-designed for that end—merchant ships, normal warships and so on.
My Lords, I have tried to answer what I considered were the main points in the debate. There were two specific points which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made in the course of his opening speech which I should like to answer now. I will write to him later on the other points. There is the question of the £300 million savings and how they are to be achieved. The noble Lord asked whether, if during the course of consultation—and we are talking about consultation—objections to the exclusion of particular items in the planned savings are put forward, this will mean that the figure of £300 million in 1975–76 will be reduced by the amount in question, or whether compensatory savings will have to be made. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place on 3rd December that the Government have decided to reduce expenditure as a proportion of the gross national product from the present level of 5½ per cent. to 4½ per cent. over the next 10 years. He also explained that the Government's conclusions about the force level involved were provisional and that consultations with our NATO allies will be thorough and genuine. It follows, therefore, that to provide a programme consistent with the new levels of expenditure, the reductions which have been announced will be made; although the precise composition of the savings will depend on the outcome of consultations.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, that means that the savings have to be made quite regardless of what they are.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, that is what I have said. The other question concerned the forecast of a cut of 10,000 in workers in specific firms, and whether precise figures for the effect on 1153 individual firms were available. The calculation of 10,000 was made as follows. When the industrial implications of the forward equipment programme were made, the first need was to make a broad assessment of the extent to which reduction in the level of expenditure would affect jobs. It was not possible to do this by analysis of employment on each project or in each firm, for two reasons. First, the programme changes were not worked out in detail at that stage; and, secondly, the way in which jobs are affected in individual firms depends on what other work the firms have on hand and whether they can get other work. We cannot assess this without consulting the firms themselves so we must be content for the moment with a broad calculation. Without trying to forecast the employment on each project, we took a total estimate of expenditure on equipment and divided it by the average value of output per man in the defence industry. This gave us a broad estimate of the number of men employed in industry on defence research development and production, and I can say that within this broad estimate some of the main projects likely to be affected have already been mentioned. Among these are Westlands at Yeovil. The main effect of the cut in the requirements of helicopters will be felt towards the end of the decade. Rolls-Royce engine production at Leavesden will also be affected. On the aircraft side, a reduction in the planned rate of delivery of the MRCA for the RAF will affect production at BAC in Lancashire and Rolls-Royce at Bristol where they are responsible for the RB.199 engine. In the vehicle industry and conventional armaments the tracked reconnaissance vehicle mentioned in the Statement is the responsibility of Alvis at Coventry and the RS.80 at Huntings at Bedford. Consultations have already been started with these firms. That is the present position.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, knows from past experience, I have frequently had trouble in speaking too long on defence debates. I now propose to wind up; and as I have said I will write to noble Lords whose questions I have not been able to answer. It is quite clear that a review such as this cannot please everyone, as events in another place yesterday showed. But at least on one point we can agree; the present times 1154 are harsh and this must force us to relate our objectives to our resources. Perhaps we can also agree on something else, which is that situations like this have happened before. They have been overcome and the national economy and our standard of life and our way of life have returned to normal. I console myself by reading history and I recommend to noble Lords on both sides of the House to read what Samuel Pepys wrote about the state of the British economy and Armed Forces in the winter of 1666. I think that he was even worse off than we are today.
What we have done in this Review is to bend a little with the wind and while making short-term savings, we are making our major savings by modifying our defence policy over a ten year period. Well within this period our economic situation must improve. When that har pens, and should a change of policy direction be considered necessary, it will be found that nothing essential has been destroyed. The development of modern weapons systems continues. Cadres of all the main forces are intact. We continue to play an essential role in the main areas of danger to our homeland. A change for the worse in the world situation will not find us off balance. Before closing. I know that your Lordships would wish me to pay tribute again to the quality and service that the troops are giving to this country both in Northern Ireland over five years and recently in the almost spectacular rescue operations carried out by our forces in Cyprus. Our congratulations should be sent to them. For these reasons I commend to your Lordships the Motion moved by my noble friend.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, may I ask whether the noble Lord will comment on my suggestion to concentrate less on the production of fighters and tanks and more on anti-tank guns and SAM 3?
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, this is a highly technical problem and I know that there are already two views on this. Perhaps we should leave that to the experts.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, there was during the course of the debate an interesting suggestion put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that we might 1155 have a day's debate on subversion when he was prepared to go into chapter and verse on its background. This suggestion is supported from many parts of the House. Would the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal say whether, after the Christmas Recess, he will look kindly at this suggestion?
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, as noble Lords know, the conduct of this House very much depends on those within it. If it is the wish of the House that this should be a subject for debate, I have no doubt that, through the usual channels, we should seek to provide time.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.