HL Deb 12 May 1977 vol 383 cc370-450

3.16 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1977. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I should like to open today's debate on the Government's Defence White Paper by reiterating its opening paragraph: The defence of the United Kingdom remains firmly based on the North Atlantic Alliance, since it is only through collective effort that the West can ensure its own defence and, by deterring aggression, contribute to world peace".

As usual, we can expect very thoughtful and well-informed contributions from noble Lords on all sides of the House today; and I do not anticipate one voice dissenting from the general view expressed in my opening quotation. We may be an island, or a group of islands, but we cannot stand alone; nor do we stand alone. Membership of NATO has served us well, and we expect continued membership to do so for many more years.

We cannot, however, be complacent. The threat from the Warsaw Pact countries has not been reduced and the White Paper explains in some detail improvements in Soviet capability. While there is, in strategic nuclear terms, a state of broad parity, there are indications that the balance of conventional forces is moving in favour of the Warsaw Pact. To deter an enemy, as noble Lords well know, it is not necessary to match every man and weapon; so NATO does not need precisely to match the conventional strength of the Warsaw Pact. NATO maintains deterrence through its strategy of flexible response. This involves a triad of forces—conventional, theatre nuclear and strategic nuclear. The existence of this triad of forces makes it clear to any potential aggressor that the risks involved in bringing military pressure to bear are not worth while. They show quite clearly to any aggressor that any gains he might make would be greatly offset by the incalculable risks he would run.

I do not believe that Soviet leaders are contemplating military aggression. Nevertheless, the Allies must be alert to the continuing building of the Warsaw Pact's military strength. First, our collective defence efforts must—within economic capabilities—be maintained. Secondly, we must ensure that the Soviet leaders recognise the risks to stability of continuing to build up their conventional forces. Thirdly, it is important that progress should be made in the talks on mutual and balanced force reductions. I hope noble Lords will join me at this point in welcoming the efforts of the new United States Administration not only in this important aspect of détente, but also in trying to achieve a new Stategic Arms Limitation Talks agreement and a comprehensive test ban treaty.

As stated in the White Paper, the Government's policy is to concentrate their defence effort on the Alliance. And we will deploy the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom in the areas in which they can make the most significant contribution to the security of the Alliance. During 1976 defence resources have continued to be devoted to NATO in line with this policy.

It has, however, been necessary to reduce planned defence expenditure. Defence could not be excluded from making a contribution towards the Government's efforts to reduce public expenditure. Unlike the reductions in defence expenditure which followed the 1974 Defence Review, and which reflected the thorough reappraisal and reduction in our commitments, the reductions announced last year are aimed at reducing planned expenditure in the next two years, 1977–78 and 1978–79. It is too early to say with complete precision how the reduction of £230 million in 1978–79 will be made, but the Government's aim is to keep to a minimum the effect on our front line contribution to NATO. We are still studying how to achieve these cuts, and there will be full consultation with NATO.

The £200 million to be saved in 1977–78 will, as the White Paper says, come from a wide range of expenditure. First, £75 million will be saved from the equipment programme. This will be achieved mainly through deferments of projects, though there will be two cancellations. The work on the improved version of the Ikara anti-submarine weapon system which was under development with the Australians will be cancelled. The improved version would have carried the new lightweight torpedoes which we are developing and would have given some additional range. But the existing version will remain in service, and will continue to provide a quick reaction anti-submarine warfare capability. The only other cancellation is the proposed Mark 29 cupola for the Chieftain tank. In my opinion we can do without this. Technological developments have enabled us to rely on an improved version of the existing cupola. Other savings in equipment have resulted from postponing financial provision for the procurement of medium-lift helicopters.

The second area from which savings will be drawn is works and accommodation stores, which will provide £64 million towards the saving for 1977–78. In making these savings the Services are sharing in the general reduction in capital works expenditure applying to the whole of the public sector. But projects affecting operational capability and those associated with the restructuring of the Services will be given priority for the reduced funds available. The remainder of the £200 million savings will be made up from a number of measures from a variety of areas.

Despite these cuts in planned expenditure, our military contribution to the Alliance is very substantial and compares very favourably with that of our Allies. Indeed, in 1976 our defence expenditure represented 5.1 per cent. of gross domestic product. This is a higher proportion than any of our Allies except the United States of America and Greece. Also, the United Kingdom is the only European member of the Alliance to contribute to all areas of the triad of forces which I mentioned earlier.

Moreover, we aim to spend £2,350 million on equipment. This means we will increase the proportion of the defence budget devoted to equipment to 37 per cent. This is as high as we have achieved for many years. And noble Lords should remember that recent NATO study has shown the proportion of British defence expenditure devoted to the purchase of major equipment on NATO definition is the highest of the 11 members of the Alliance that were surveyed.

I should like now to turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, in his Amendment to the Motion. I have already referred to the strength of the Warsaw Pact forces and the Soviet build-up, especially of their conventional forces. Furthermore, I have just emphasised the substantial contribution which our forces make to the North Atlantic Alliance. I should like to make quite clear that, despite the cuts to which the noble Lord's Amendment refers, defence budget estimates were higher in real terms in 1975–76 than in 1974–75 and higher still in 1976–77. It is true that 1977–78 shows a lower figure than last, and planned defence expenditure next year will be marginally lower still; but it will nevertheless be significantly greater than in the 1974 financial year.

I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, fully appreciates the distinction between cuts compared with the previous year and cuts in the planned future level. I have taken 1974–75 as my point of comparison, because that was the first financial year of the present Government's term of office. We took office a few weeks before it began. Expenditure was depressed in that year by the three cuts announced in the single year of 1973 by the Government of the noble Lords opposite. In real terms it fell, year on year, from 1971–72 to 1974–75 inclusive. Let me make this quite clear. The last Conservative Government cut defence expenditure, in real terms, from 1971–72 to 1974–75. This Government have increased defence expenditure in real terms.

So what exactly are noble Lords opposite saying if they support the noble Lord's Amendment today? They are saying that despite all this—despite the fact that this Labour Government's record in maintaining our defence capability is better than that of the last Conservative Government, despite the fact that the Opposition have called time and time again for real reductions in public spending and despite the fact that real defence spending is higher today than it ever was under their Administration—they are not prepared to see any reductions at all in the planned future growth of defence spending.

I shall not pretend that the reductions in our planned defence spending that economic circumstances have regrettably made necessary after the Defence Review have been painless, but the Government have kept and will continue to keep to the absolute minimum their effect on our front line contribution to NATO. So far as possible, the savings have been concentrated in the support area and, as I have said, expenditure on new equipment is being kept high. In this way the fighting capability of our forces is, in absolute terms, continually being improved. The noble Lord's Amendment is, I fear, based on totally misguided premises.

I know that Members of this House always show a keen interest in equipment collaboration. May I mention that this collaboration leads to economies through shared rather than parallel research and development and to longer production runs. Collaborative projects also encourage the standardisation of defence equipment in NATO forces. Moreover, where standardisation is not feasible for one reason or another, it may nevertheless be possible to secure some of the operational advantages of standardisation if different national equipments are, or can be made to be, compatible.

The independent European Programme Group, set up at the beginning of 1976, was, of course, founded to improve equipment collaboration among European Allies and includes standardisation and compatibility among its objectives. The search for standardisation and compatibility is never easy. Different nations have differing views of the priority to be allocated to a particular project at a time when other projects are vying for scarce resources. Of course, there are differences in the time scale by which nations need to replace a piece of their equipment.

Examples of the difficulties that can arise are to be found in NATO's need for an airborne early warning aircraft —AEW— and our studies with Germany of our ideas for a future main battle tank. As noble Lords will know from the statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place, and repeated in this House on 31st March by my noble friend Lord Winterbottom, the Government decided to go ahead with the development of the Nimrod Airborne Early Warning aircraft. This was because of the urgent need to have ready in the early 1980s a replacement for the ageing Shackleton AEW aircraft, and because of the continued uncertainty about the procurement of the Airborne Warning and Control system by NATO. The decision to go ahead with Nimrod was not easy. The Government have consistently maintained the position that a single force of NATO AEW aircraft would be the best answer to the requirement, provided, of course, that it was of the right size and capability and could be achieved in a timely way.

The Government also accepted NATO's choice of the Boeing E3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft as the best for the overall NATO requirement following a comparison of all the AEW systems, including Nimrod, available or in prospect at that time. But we have always maintained that while a single force of Airborne Warning Control systems was the best solution, it was not the only one. The capability could be met with aircraft of different types provided that the product of their sensors could be fed into the NATO air defence system.

While our Allies may well have hoped that it could have proved possible for Her Majesty's Government to accept yet another delay in the decision, I think they understand the reasons why this was not, in the event, possible. It is still open to our Allies to proceed with the collective purchase of the reduced number of Airborne Warning and Control systems that will now be required for the balance of the NATO task. We should certainly support such an initiative and will work to achieve the maximum compatibility with whatever AEW aircraft the Alliance eventually procures. Present plans for Nimrod and the Boeing E3A already show a large measure of compatibility, particularly in the key area of communications. In the meantime, the Nimrod system will be fully capable of meeting the airborne early warning requirement in the United Kingdom Air Defence Region and the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas, and as such will give the Alliance an urgently needed and modern capability.

The purpose of our studies with the Germans on the future main battle tank was to establish whether or not our views were sufficiently alike to justify a joint collaborative project. We found that our views on the characteristics of a future tank were very similar, but the replacement timetables of the two countries have gradually diverged to such an extent that both Governments agreed that collaboration on a project is no longer practicable. We need to start replacing Chieftain in the late 1980s. We propose to maintain the excellent contacts we have made with Germany and to make use of our long-established liaison with the United States. In this way we will explore, in the interests of NATO standardisation, the possibilities of harmonising components in the tank forces of the three countries. So constructive possibilities remain in these two particular cases, and there has been a number of successes elsewhere in this difficult area of equipment co-operation. The Tornado and Jaguar aircraft, the Puma, Gazelle and Lynx helicopters and the FH.70 and SP.70 medium howitzers are all good examples. These collaborative projects will provide a measure of standardisation which will in turn, we hope, encourage further standardisation.

My Lords, before moving on to other topics, I shall say a few more words about some of the other equipment which we plan to introduce in the coming years. This equipment will maintain and, where possible, enhance the already formidable fighting capacity of the Services, and thereby help to improve the deterrent posture which is so vital to the Alliance. It is planned to place an order this year for the first of the improved Swiftsure class of nuclear powered Fleet submarine. The Royal Navy also has five new classes of surface warship under construction, including the anti-submarine cruiser. The first of these—HMS "Invincible"—was launched by Her Majesty The Queen last week. The Type 42 destroyer and the Type 21 and Type 22 frigates are also under construction. The Navy is acquiring the Sea Harrier vertical and short take-off and landing aircraft and guided weapons systems such as Sea Wolf and Sea Dart. Later this year will see the arrival of the Striker tracked reconnaissance vehicle carrying the Swingfire anti-tank guided missile.

Last October we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the French and German Governments for the purchase of the Milan anti-tank guided weapon. Initial deliveries of this will be made later this year. These initial deliveries will be from the Franco-German consortium Euromissile, but the remainder of our considerable order will be manufactured in the United Kingdom, thus safeguarding several thousand jobs in the guided weapon industry.

The Royal Air Force is building up its squadrons of strike/attack Jaguar aircraft and its air defence squadrons are being re-equipped with the Phantom. Twenty-four extra Harriers have just been ordered. The Tornado is now in full production and will re-equip the front line in the 1980s in the strike/attack, reconnaissance and air defence roles. The Hawk has just entered service to replace the Gnat as the RAF advanced trainer. And our Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft are about to undergo a major refit which will substantially improve their anti-submarine capabilities. The provision of good modern equipment improves the deterrent value of our forces. The new equipment improves morale and further enhances the value of our forces. And in this way we can enrich our contribution to the Alliance.

I do not hesitate to assert to your Lordships that, despite the reductions in defence expenditure and the problems of service in Northern Ireland, morale in the forces is high. It is some time since I visited Northern Ireland, as other noble Lords have done, but I have always found that in that difficult area the morale of our forces is really wonderful.

Noble Lords will agree that it is, of course, important to pay our Servicemen realistic and attractive wages. Under the recent pay award to the Services, officers up to and including Brigadier and all adult Servicemen received, from 1st April 1977, a pay supplement of 5 per cent. of their gross taxable earnings within lower and upper limits of £2.50 and £4 a week; juniors and apprentices received proportionate supplements. This was in accordance with the anti-inflation policy. I believe that it is extremely important to get the economy of this country into a healthier state. The first and second phases of the pay policy have, I believe, helped to prevent what would have been a higher rate of inflation than that which we have at the moment. The public generally has understood and accepted the need for restraint. I know our forces will also understand.

All three Services are involved in the unenviable task of supporting the civil power in Northern Ireland in maintaining law and order. The Services, as always, are going about their job, which is difficult and often dangerous, in a thoroughly professional, dedicated and courageous manner. I think it would be appropriate, at this point, to pay a tribute to all our forces, both active and reserve, wherever they may be. But special praise must go to those who are serving now, or have served, in Northern Ireland. Indeed, some units have served as many as seven tours in the Province.

I am sure the House will wish to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy for the relatives, colleagues and friends of all members of the forces who have given their lives in the interests of peace in that troubled area. There has been some criticism of the conditions of service both in and relating to Northern Ireland, and my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army has called for an urgent report on the subject, and work on this is proceeding.

As announced during the latter half of last year, the full-time element of the locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment, which has been employed on training, administrative and static guard duties, is being increased and given new tasks. In future it will participate in a range of operational duties similar to those undertaken by the Regular Army in Northern Ireland. This full-time element will provide a very important contribution to the Army's efforts in Northern Ireland. In conclusion, I must say quite firmly that this Labour Government have no need to apologise for their defence policy.

As I have pointed out, the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, is misconceived. The fighting capability of our forces has been improved by this Government. The problem is not, therefore, how to restore this capability but how to improve it still further. And in considering this problem the Government have, of course, to take into account the economic position of the nation. But, in more general terms, this Government can be proud of its record in defending the United Kingdom. And I use the word "defending" in its widest sense. And by defence I refer not only to equipment, but also to the maintenance and improvement of social services, the health service, the education system and in general terms the defence of our social structure. At the same time, this Government have sought to defend our economic stability, through the industrial strategy and the Social Contract.

This Government take a wider view of defence than the provision of Armed Forces—vitally important though they may be. And the wider view demands that a judgment be made of conflicting priorities. The Estimates before you today represent part—an important part— of this Government's judgment. And, in my view, these Estimates, and the Government's judgment of public expenditure priorities, will prove to be a fair and reasonable provision for the defence—in both its wider and narrower senses—of the United Kingdom. My Lords, believe what I have said demonstrates a positive achievement. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1977 (Cmnd. 6735).—(Lord Peart.)

3.42 p.m.

Lord ORR-EWING rose to move, as an Amendment to the above Motion, at end to insert "but regrets that, in the face of the massive build-up of the USSR forces, there have been five cuts in the last two years in the United Kingdom defence expenditure and, consequently, in the contribution that our Armed Forces make to our alliances; and therefore urges that no further cuts be made and that the fighting capability of our forces be restored as a matter of the highest priority." The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name on the Order Paper. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal, with his usual robust attitude, I think did his best to put a good face upon the Government's defence programme. I think he took that very famous and useful maxim, when your point is very weak, shout, because we did notice that a number of the points were very weak indeed, as I shall go on to show.

Several noble Lords



This is the first time we have had the Labour Party take an interest in defence. Noble Lords opposite may cheer and boo as much as they like. I wish more of them were going to speak in this debate; so far on the list there is not a single one, apart from the two who are to speak from the Government Front Bench.

Of course it is true to say that the percentage of our GNP we are spending on defence may be marginally less or marginally more than that of our main Allies, but the difference is that our Allies have had their economic prosperity and their gross national product expanding year after year for a decade or more. Here, after nine years of Labour rule out of the last thirteen, our industrial growth is deplorably low, and even sometimes negative. In fact we are producing less now than we were in the three-day week at the beginning of 1974. I see that the forecast of our growth for the coming year is only 1 per cent. against the 5 or 6 per cent. of our main Allies. So in real terms, in money per head of our population, we are spending less than any of our main Allies in the NATO Alliance. What is sad is that we have 1.4 million unemployed who cannot help create the added wealth which we so badly need in order to increase our defence expenditure.

I have to take the noble Lord up on one point. He should perhaps check more carefully. When speaking about the new equipment to be produced he selected, unfortunately, the passage which appears at page 34 of the White Paper, under Production and Development: A further Fleet submarine order, the first of an improved Swiftsure Class, is planned for 1977. That sounds great until you happen to look at page 50 of last year's White Paper, where it says: The first of an improved class of nuclear submarine is planned to be ordered in the current year". This is double counting. I think he should select his examples rather better. Surely it is exactly the same boat in both White Papers.

My Lords, I fully realise that it is not usual to move an Amendment on a defence Motion. It used to be done when defence Motions were put down to "approve the Defence Estimates", but for many years now—I think probably very wisely on the part of this Government—we debate a Motion to "take note", and it is unusual to have an Amendment. But in recent years some very unusual things have been happening. It is not usual for a Government when faced with a massively increased threat to our security and to our NATO Alliance to go on making cuts, and to make five successive such cuts in two years. It is not usual for the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Michael Carver to go on television, as he did in July 1975, to say that our defences are down to "absolute bedrock". After a statement of that seriousness it is not usual for a Government to make three further defence cuts below bedrock. These were made in February 1976, in July 1976, and in September 1976, and in total that year they cut £407 million. I do not recall since the war the Chiefs of Staff feeling so anxious about our defence and these cuts that they felt compelled to go to 10 Downing Street to see the Prime Minister, as they did just before Christmas, and even then defence cuts went on.

The Official Opposition tabled a Motion of Censure on 12th January, and there was a strong vote in the House of Commons and a further two-day defence debate in March. I was so glad to see that on both those occasions the Liberal leaders supported the Conservatives and one or two Labour Members of Parliament voted with us as well. If the Government believed that these shaming cuts would satisfy their Marxist wing, they still do not know them as well as we and the country do. In fact, 76 of them voted in the March debate for further cuts on top of everything else. At the Labour Party Conference last October, I see that the National Executive supported further substantial cuts of £1,200 million.

In the face of these cuts and the risks being taken, this Amendment was tabled, and if the Government cannot accept it —and I rather gathered from the tone of the opening speech that they will not be able to—I hope it will have the support of Liberals, Cross-Benchers and social democrats on the Labour Benches, all of whom must feel considerable anxiety. I think the timing of this debate is especially appropriate, as President Carter during his recent visit said: We shall join with you to strengthen the Alliance politically, economically and militarily". He went on so say that, the United States was prepared to make a major effort in the expectation that its allies would do the same". The United States are already carrying a considerable burden of the NATO Alliance, and how gallant it is that they are going to spend more in the expectation that we are going to do the same. I suggest that my Amendment would help the Government, if they accepted it, to carry out that expectation and maintain the good will that was created by that meeting.

It is interesting to study the changes in priority of Government expenditure since the Labour Government took power in 1964. The two biggest spending Departments then were Social Security, with a budget just over £2,000 million, and close behind, Defence, costing just under £2,000 million. Education was third and health was fourth. In the Estimates we have just seen for 1977–78, Social Security will not cost £5,500 million; it will cost £11,000 million. Education is the second biggest expenditure, £7,500 million. Many people feel that we are not getting very good value for that. Health is the third biggest, £6,500 million, and Defence is down at £5,500 million. So we are spending today, whatever the merits of it, and in the face of tremendous acceleration of Russian rearmament, £6,000 million more on Social Security than on defence.

This is a strange sense of priorities. Let the Labour Government remind themselves that they have been responsible during nine out of the last thirteen years for this deplorable lack of interest in defence. Of course, it would be desperately unwise for any Opposition to try to lay down details of the defence priorities which they would set in motion when elected. We must consider the economic position at the time; we must obviously consider the diplomatic position worldwide, the strength of our alliances, the menace from our enemies and, of course, the advice of our defence advisers.

I should imagine that there are three areas which deserve urgent attention: first, the need for more infantry battalions; secondly, the creation of bigger reserves of manpower, equipment and spares; and thirdly, the defence of NATO's sea lanes. As time is short, I should like to concentrate on the last of these.

Nowhere has the USSR expanded its forces faster than in the oceans of the world. We know how nearly Britain was starved and defeated in two world wars by submarine warfare. At any threat of conflict in Europe the NATO Alliance would be utterly dependent on shipborne reinforcement of men and supplies. In fact, 95 per cent. of the urgent reinforcements would have to be carried in ships mostly across the Atlantic. Even in peace time Western Europe is greatly dependent on food, raw materials and especially oil travelling along the world's sea lanes. We are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Each day there are 200 ships of NATO countries in the Indian ocean: the larger ships reach Europe round the Cape and the smaller ones through the Mediterranean.

Surely these facts explain quite simply why Russia now has Cuban mercenaries serving the Communist cause in six African countries, and why Russia is stirring rebellion throughout that continent. Until the recent impetus given by the new Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Dr. David Owen—himself a previous Navy Minister —I thought that our diplomatic effort in that part of the world was ineffectual and flabby and did not match in any way the effort being put in by our enemies.

Hitler started World War II with 39 operational submarines; Russia has 300. She has 130 nuclear submarines of which roughly half are Hunter Killers; the other half have a missile capability as well. Russia is building and launching 14 new nuclear submarines a year; the United States of America is building and launching four; we are building and launching one every 18 months. The gap is growing wider and wider. Surely high priority should now be given to strengthen the Royal Navy's anti-submarine capability, particularly its maritime air power. It is now conceivable—and this is only a conjecture—that, as in 1939–40, we could have blackmail; perhaps we could have a war only at sea—a war which did not spread to the land or the air.

In the face of all these possible threats this Government have cut our maritime airforce—our Nimrod force—by 25 per cent. and now plan to take the nine Nimrods based at Malta, which were looking after the surveillance of the Mediterranean, and convert them to airborne early warning aircraft. Why cannot we now start building some more Nimrods to make good these dangerous cuts in our maritime anti-submarine capability? This is the finest maritime aircraft in the world and when it has its new electronic re-fit it will be better still. I suggest that the Government would not only help the unemployment situation in the area but be building an aircraft of tremendous value to our defence, and it could probably be exported to our allies as well.

During the nine years that Labour have ruled since 1964 they have sacrificed defence in order to satisfy Left-Wing demands for profligate public expenditure in other areas, notably and especially nationalisation. In 1969 when Mr. Healey was Secretary of State for Defence he said: Once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled, we have no houses, we have no hospitals, we have no schools, we have a heap of cinders". Since then the building rate of Russian arms on land, sea and air has greatly accelerated. It is now recognised that NATO intelligence greatly underestimated that rate and the threat. A year ago when Mr. Mason was Secretary of State for Defence he said that over the past decade Russia's defence expenditure, at 11–12 per cent. of her GNP, had been underestimated by 60 per cent.

My Lords, surely in the face of these facts ought we not to take action to reverse these successive cuts and to honour our obligation to NATO? I hope that Peers of all Parties and of none will feel able to stay and support this Amendment so that this House can use its influence on the defence policy of the Government.

Moved, as an Amendment to the above Motion at end to insert "but regrets that, in the face of the massive build-up of the U.S.S.R. forces, there have been five cuts in the last two years in the United Kingdom defence expenditure and, consequently, in the contribution that our Armed Forces make to our alliances; and therefore urges that no further cuts be made and that the fighting capability of our forces be restored as a matter of the highest priority."—(Lord Orr-Ewing.)

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, no impartial person can read the chapter of the Defence Estimates entitled, "The Military Capability of the Warsaw Pact" and its accompanying tables without very considerable alarm, for it is now undisputed that since 1972, when the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction Talks started in Vienna, the Soviet Union has not decreased—in agreement with the West—but greatly increased its forces in Central Europe to an extent, as everyone would admit, out of all relation to any conceivable aggressive potential on the part of the democracies. Though this is not specifically stated in the Estimates, Russian superiority in armour alone is now of the order of three to one. The Russians have great numbers of a new, mechanised infantry combat vehicle and I am credibly informed that their air force is now on an offensive rather than a defensive basis (as it was until recent years) and is perhaps twice as strong as the NATO equivalent. That can be verified in paragraph 122 of the Estimates.

Moreover, as is stated in paragraph 123, their IRBMs (their medium range ballistic missiles) have been "mirved", as they say—that is they are independently targeted re-entry vehicles—and they also have at their disposal a new range of formidable tactical nuclear weapons. All that is not in dispute. But it is not all. Owing to great improvements in its communications and in its air transport the Soviet Union now has the capability—I do not say, of course, that it has the present intention—of starting hostilities with scarcely any warning at all. As the entire NATO strategy, if I understood it rightly, rests on the assumption that at the very least some days will be available in which, if necessary, to bring up reserves and generally get ready for war, this is clearly in itself an immense advantage. It is scarcely necessary to add, as I emphasised in my speech on the Address last December, that an additional great advantage is the standardisation of all weapons and logistics to the East of the Iron Curtain and of the appalling proliferation of different and competing types in the West. We must also reckon with the considerable and efficient forces of all the satellite States involved.

In the face of all that the policy of the Alliance, as outlined in the Estimates, is still that of "flexible response"—namely, the intention: …to respond in an appropriate manner to aggression of any kind, NATO being prepared"— if necessary, presumably— to 'escalate' and to use all elements of its forces in its own self-defence". As part and parcel of this no doubt acceptable strategy, so far as it goes, NATO must sustain what is called in the Defence Estimates: a stalwart conventional defence against conventional attack". But the weakness of this strategic conception is becoming clearer and clearer as time goes on. For if the opponent did by any chance in the future actually launch a virtually unheralded blitzkrieg on a narrow front, with an immense local superiority in all kinds of weapons—which is becoming increasingly possible—then the chances are that he would advance a very long way into Western Germany before the fatal decision was taken to "escalate", if, indeed, it were taken at all.

Nor is it really conceivable that once in possession of such a hostage he could then be pushed back by any conventional counter-offensive beginning, shall we say? on the Rhine or West of the Rhine, while the use of nuclear weapons to achieve this end and to ensure the success of the counter-offensives would presumably be at the expense of the unfortunate civilian population of the occupied area, and would in any case invite fearful retaliation. And all this time a blockade of Western Europe by sea and air would presumably be in operation which it would certainly need all the combined naval forces of NATO to lift, if indeed they could. Here I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said, and I think that I would even agree with the practical suggestion that he made.

Flexible response, in other words, will scarcely be "credible" much longer—a few years perhaps. Unless we are to be at the mercy of the Warsaw Treaty forces its place will have to be taken by a really "stalwart" (to use the Government's adjective) forward conventional, or what might broadly be described as a "hedgehog", defence quite close to the Iron Curtain, capable of holding up any assault by the conventional forces of the East, at least for long enough to enable a decision to be taken on whether or not to employ tactical nuclear weapons against enemy lines of communication in enemy territory, and not against lines of communication in our own allied territory. This would, admittedly, involve a redeployment of NATO forces and a complete abandonment of the conception of a "second battle", or counter-offensive, which even now could not seriously be contemplated with any prospect of success.

But for its successful operation such a forward strategy would also (as has been for so long demonstrated by so many experts inside the NATO machine and outside) have to depend on a great assembling on the German front of standardised defensive weapons of the latest type, notably anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, and electronic devices of every kind. Such a deployment could only be achieved if there were agreement between all concerned, and notably, of course, between the Western European members of NATO, to pool their research and development and to embark on a common production programme. All this calls inevitably for some political impetus, and my own major criticism of the Government has always been that they have apparently failed to grasp and to advance such a conception which, if applied, could result, at no greater expense, in a "credible" defensive system of which the Soviet Union would be forced to take account.

Failing the adoption of such a policy we shall, as it seems to me, gradually lower the so-called "nuclear threshold"—that is to say, arrive all the sooner at the point at which we shall be forced to have resort to employ nuclear weapons and thus "escalate" the war to an unknown extent, or to surrender. In any case it is quite useless to count on détente to alter the conventional balance—that is to say, progress in Vienna on mutual and and balanced force reductions. President Carter may perhaps, as we hope he will, profit by détente in order to achieve a nuclear balance—yes, a strategic nuclear balance, which of course is desirable in itself; but the power to resist a conventional assault by conventional means is what really counts. Real détente will be achieved only when it is apparent that a balance does exist and that any unprovoked assault by the East would be evidently self-destructive.

With this background I approach the recent cuts, condemned in the Amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing. If there is a vote on this Amendment my noble friends on these Benches—with, I think, one or two exceptions—propose to abstain for the following reasons. Generally speaking, we are not in favour of resolutions condemning the attitude of the Government when it is clearly beyond the competence of this House to alter that attitude in any way. Criticism of the Government's policy on any question can, and should, and always is, if necessary, voiced; legislation, other than financial, can equally be contested and, as we all know, can even be delayed up to a certain point if this House insists; but a condemnatory resolution regarding a policy approved, as I understand it, in another place—and incidentally involving a substantial amount of finance—is surely another matter. We doubt whether it is wise to protest in this way when obviously our protest can have no effect, and is perhaps even doubtful constitutionally.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? There must come a time when your Lordships' House has to sustain the Constitution and the defence of our nation. My argument would be that surely that time has come now. It may be the first time, but there is always a first time to do such things. I hope the noble Lord will not think it is unconstitutional to criticise and vote on defence matters.


My Lords, whether it is constitutional or not—and I should suspect that it was rather unconstitutional —it is perfectly useless; it will not affect the issue in the slightest one way or the other. Whether or not the noble Lord's Amendment is accepted, in my view the policy of the Government will not be affected in the slightest degree.

Apart from the issue of the Amendment itself, the Amendment is, in our opinion, too wide in its reach. Liberals would not necessarily object to some of the cuts made as a result of what the Government would maintain is economic necessity, in so far as they may be said, or may be held, to reduce, as it were, the "fat" of defence expenditure, and would not seriously affect the fighting capacity of our forces. It is another matter—I would emphasise this, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, would agree with this—so far as the proposed cuts for 1978–79 are concerned. There we do have grave apprehensions and, in so far as we Liberals anyhow have any influence, we shall seek to have these abandoned, or at the least reduced, more especially if our economic situation should by then have taken a turn for the better.

To this extent we would not necessarily dissent as such from the final words of Lord Orr-Ewing's Amendment: and therefore urges that no further cuts be made and that the fighting capability of our forces be restored as a matter of the highest priority". We would agree with that, as such. Indeed, as I have said, we ourselves are prepared to go even further than that, preferring to see the last proposed cut for 1978–79 abandoned altogether, or at least modified as soon as the economic situation permits. Anyhow, for the reasons which I have ventured to advance, I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, perhaps advised by his own Front Bench—I do not know whether they will do so or not—will not press this Amendment to a vote.

I have tried to show why, cuts or no cuts, we are now in grave danger of falling under Soviet domination unless we can agree generally on some new defensive posture. This can, admittedly, only be achieved with the willing co-operation of our Allies, and notably our principal Allies in Europe. It may not be easy to convert them to this conception, more especially no doubt the French, though some progress seems to be being made and paragraph 5 of the NATO Summit declaration, which appears in the newspapers today, seems to be a pointer in the right direction. But our complaint is that the Government have not as yet seen the light in this respect. We earnestly hope that they may yet do so and, by their enthusiasm, carry all our Allies with them.

Surely what we need to do is not so much to prop up the present rickety structure, still less to undermine it by reliance on détente to rectify the balance, but to work for a perfectly possible solution which will at one and the same time restore the balance, assure our common defence with less burden on national exchequers and greatly benefit our industrial production. There is some evidence that the Soviet Government assume that our failure to do just this is proof positive of capitalist decline and of the inevitable triumph of totalitarian philosophy. In my gloomier moments, I cannot help thinking that they may well be right.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin by expressing thanks for small mercies in the opening speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the House; at least he expressed the Government's good intentions by emphasising their support for NATO as the linchpin of our collective security. But, of course, I have to remind him—this has been said before in these debates—that the way to hell is paved with good intentions, and I fear that that is the direction in which his Government are leading us.

So many Defence White Papers in recent years have fallen into the rather depressing pattern of claiming that a radical review has taken place—I am sure the words "Defence Review" must now strike terror into the hearts of officials at the Ministry of Defence—and that, surprise surprise!, it has shown once again that it is possible to cut defence spending without seriously impairing national security. In passing, it is worth mentioning that it does not reflect very much on previous managements in the Department if this continues to be possible, and I suggest that this particular argument is now beginning to wear a bit thin.

Perhaps, therefore, I might start by quoting the all-Party Expenditure Committee in another place which, in its report in March, quoted itself from two years earlier and said that its conclusions were no less relevant now. It went on: Short-term defence cuts may cause disruption out of proportion to their amount. On the other hand, planned reductions as in the Defence Review do not result in instant financial savings, nor do they easily create early benefits elsewhere in the economy". It added: The United Kingdom's contribution to collective defence cannot be significantly reduced without risking a serious loss of confidence among Members of the NATO Alliance, on which our national security depends. We consider that the House should be aware of the consequences for our defence capability and for our contribution to the NATO Alliance if further major cuts were to be imposed". That was an all-Party committee repeating itself twice over, and I hope noble Lords will try not to repeat themselves too often in this debate, which I know is often difficult. We have the feeling, certainly on this side, that many of our defence debates are a dialogue of the deaf between those believers who are concerned and those who simply do not want to know.

I shall strive to resist the temptation to ask a whole series of detailed questions—I probably would not get the answers anyway—and I do not intend to swap selected statistical arguments with the noble Lord. I want, rather, to concentrate on our overall philosophy. Let me start by making it plain that I am not about to waste the time of the House by indulging in the luxury of nostalgic pipe-dreams, harking back to the halcyon days of our Imperialist past, because we must accept, in any defence analysis, that we can no longer afford to take up the gauntlet on our own if challenged by a major Power, nor are we ever likely to be in a position to do so.

Dr. Luns, talking to us last Monday, suggested that even the United States is no longer independent in this respect, and the Americans I have talked to certainly emphasise that their defence thinking is based on the participation of their allies. So in the end we must rely on the American umbrella, but, of course, the trouble with sheltering under somebody else's umbrella is that one can get quite wet before they decide it is raining.

We must also face the fact that the Americans are already spending 6 per cent. of their gross national product on defence against the average of 4 per cent. in Europe, and they are increasing their defence budget. They feel that where Europe falls short of what is required they, anyway temporarily, have to make up the balance, but I do not believe we can expect them to continue to be willing to do this indefinitely when, as the White Paper shows, their per capita expenditure is already twice that of ours, 460 dollars as against 209 dollars. Their chiefs of staff consider that the present force balance is enough to deter and perhaps enough to retaliate if attacked, but they go on—this is the important point—to emphasise the gradual erosion of the West's technical lead over the Warsaw Pact while the numerical disparity continues to accelerate against us; and I am sure there will be detailed evidence of this trend produced before the debate is over today.

To plan a massive cumulative defence cut in the face of this sort of evidence has already been described as an ostrich-like policy; to me it more closely resembles the actions of the lemmings or the Gadarene swine. We must therefore look once again at the threat we face. Throughout history Russia has been an Imperialist power. On to this has been grafted their ruthlessly exported creed of Russian Communism. This is the régime which has chosen to devote some 12 per cent. of their gross national product to expenditure on their forces; I cannot bring myself to use the word, "defence" in talking about their forces.

Their level of expenditure percentage-wise is three times that of Europe and twice that of the United States. Furthermore, as has been so often said, the very shape of their forces is simply not appropriate to defence, and nor are the exercises which they are known to carry out. We must ask ourselves why, for example, do they choose to build up a large amphibious force? Why are they test-firing missiles at £1 million a time at the rate of about 90 over the last five years while the United States has tested 20? Most of all, as has already been said, we must not overlook the creation by a land-based Power of the second biggest navy in the world.

In this connection, I should like to mention another dimension of the naval expansion: it is the parallel build-up of the merchant navy fleet. I am glad to see my noble friend Lady Ward in her place because this is something that she has mentioned before. The Russian merchant navy fleet has gone from 15th to 10th place over the last 10 years and I am told that the rates which it charges are between 25 and 40 per cent. lower than comparable rates in the West. That, by any standards, has to be considered noncommercial and non-economic. Does that not, therefore, add fuel to the suspicion that the merchant fleet is not designed entirely for what it pretends to be but rather is in support of the Russian flag and potentially in support of the Russian navy?

The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has already referred to the submarine force. One may be able to explain away the 40 missile submarines on the grounds of a counter-deterrent to the capacity of the West but, as the noble Lord has already said, what about the other 350 submarines, a large number of which are attack submarines? If we consider the havoc wrought by the 40 German boats operational at the beginning of the 1939 war and remember that Admiral Doenitz said in his book that what they needed was increased depth, increased speed and increased range, we should bear in mind that the modern Russian boats have all these three characteristics. These ships are being constructed by the Warsaw Pact countries at over twice the rate that they are being built in the West.

Dr. Luns also said on Monday that, when he challenged the Russians as to why they felt vulnerable at sea, the reply he received was, "We depend on our sea communications for our supply of chocolate and bananas"! We are aware of the traditional, rather paranoic Russian feeling of encirclement but, if one looks at a map, one feels that the Duke of Wellington might have said, "Well, its a damn big circle!"

I suggest, therefore, that we are not only entitled but are compelled to draw the conclusion that the Russians are engaged in military preparation for worldwide political domination, no less. I am not trying to engage in flesh-creeping scare-mongering, nor have I any wish to undermine sincere efforts towards détente. I am trying to be frank, factual and realistic. Nor am I suggesting that we fear imminent attack, but I should like to remind the House of something else that Dr. Luns said in relation to Clausewitz's famous dictum that, War is the extension of foreign policy". This, Dr. Luns suggested, is no longer true unless the defender is defenceless. He summed it up by saying that the combination of military weakness and political instability offers a temptation to an expansionist Power; and that unbalanced forces will yield unbalanced solutions.

So, once again, we must reiterate—and here I feel that I am agreeing strongly with something said by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—that adequate defensive capability should not be seen as a provocation but rather as a discouragement of war. This is particularly true of the nuclear threshold. The best hope of avoiding a nuclear conflict is clearly an adequately strong balance of conventional forces. That is made all the more pressing by the advent of the tactical nuclear weapons—the "mini nukes". It is worth bearing in mind that the likelihood, in any scenario that the West can see, is that the Russian armies would be operating over unfriendly territory and might therefore be less shy about resorting to the use of these small nuclear weapons, which are now no larger in yield than the biggest bombs that we had at the end of the late war because they would not be dropping those weapons on a friendly country.

So we come to SALT. Helsinki and the Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction discussions. Is it not plain, however, that unilateral demands armament will be seen by the other side as a display of weakness and disunity which will encourage them to intransigence and to increase their demands? After all, it was Stalin who asked, How many divisions has the Pope?". Let us also remember the kind of example that we shall set to our Allies—and I believe that that is referred to in the Amendment—if we are seen to be starting the game of unilateral disarmament. We still claim a position of leadership in this country. Only the other day, the Prime Minister went on the radio when President Carter came here to claim that he was acting as host to a meeting of the seven most powerful and richest nations in the world. The Ministers in his Government are constantly telling us that, under the guidance of that Government, we are on the road to recovery. Yet, they intend to show their confidence by taking over a thousand million pounds out of defence in 1978–1979 and 1979–1980, which is something like 15 or 20 per cent. of the total budget. I should like to suggest that this kind of dismemberment makes the present cuts look like fleabites. It is a very funny way indeed to demonstrate our leadership claim and our confidence in the future.

I am sure that our problems are understood by our Allies and that they sympathise with them, but must we give them notice that we are leaving the club because we can no longer afford the membership fee? Should we not rather be saying, "I am a little sick and tired at the moment; hold my rifle because I shall soon be recovering"? Again, as the noble Lord. Lord Orr-Ewing, has said, Mr. Carter stated that the United States was prepared to make an effort to that end—that is, support of the Alliance—in the expectation that its Allies would do the same. But I wonder when the President will come again and when we shall have another NATO Council meeting here. If he does come, I very much fear that he may quote one of his compatriots who said, "If you can't stand the heat of the fire you had best stay out of the kitchen!"

I should like for one moment to look a little further afield. Sooner or later, NATO will have to recognise the threat that comes from beyond the Tropic of Cancer, which is currently its cut-off point. We have already mentioned the jugular vein of Western trade across the Indian Ocean, with 200 ships at sea only 25 miles apart. Are we to withdraw from participation in the attempt to protect that lifeline? As this country approaches energy independence, are we going to become Little Englanders? Are we going to forget our obligations to our European partners and to the International Energy Agency, and is Sailor Jim going to use an old naval vernacular expression and say, "Pull up the ladder, Jack, I'm all right"? Is this what we are going to say to our Allies? So far as I can see, that is what the policy the Government are putting forward appears inevitably to be leading to.

Before I finish. I should like also to underscore a point made in the Defence Committee's report that slashing defence even has an adverse effect on our international trade. It is an old truism that trade follows the flag and, whatever one believes about Russian intentions, it is a fact that not a week passes but Russian ships visit a new port in the emerging countries that they have not visited before. What sort of security mantle can we offer to our potential friends in those countries? How much trust and confidence can they be expected to have in us, whatever we say? Again, Dr. Luns forecast that in five years Angola would be the norm. Would one not, therefore, imagine that the leaders of the Third World countries will look at Angola and at the Russian ship in the bay rather than listen to the hollow words of the British Prime Minister?

Recently in this House we were discussing the Falkland Islands, and it was asked: In what capacity would we have to go to their assistance? What can we do about the 200-mile EEZ? Here I should like to slip in one specific question to the noble Lord who is to reply. I was astonished to find no mention of the Bird class boats and the Kingfishers. In the whole of this Defence Review, where they take credit for all the new hardware, are they so ashamed of these vessels, or are they still arguing, two years after they have come into service, as to what they are going to pay for them?

My Lords, someone asked me the other day: "Do you really feel threatened?" I said then that I do not feel threatened when I get into my car, but I do fasten my seatbelt, I do check the brakes, and I do make sure that my insurance policy is in order. Many years ago one of my ancestors fought at Culloden, and I believe it is a fact that one of the reasons why there was so much slaughter at Culloden was that the Highlanders had a practice of taking off their kilts, fighting naked, wrapping their kilts around their arms as a shield. The fact is that Scotland never recovered from the defeat inflicted on them at Culloden by the English and by the Hanoverians. I should like to suggest that this Government are asking us to undress in the face of precisely this kind of attack at this present time.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, I will begin by agreeing that defence must contribute its share to the overall reduction in public spending, but five separate cuts announced by this Government in the past two years not only exceeds that fair share; it also considerably weakens the effectiveness of our Armed Forces, and perhaps, even worst of all, deprives our defence strategy of any degree of flexibility. Our defence commitments have now been pruned to two main areas. On the one hand, there is the security of the United Kingdom base and the deployment of our maritime forces in the Atlantic and the Channel adjacent to our shores. Here let me briefly say how very pleased I am that in this Statement, I consider that for the first time security of the United Kingdom base has been given a proper emphasis. On the other hand, there is support for NATO in the central region with a minor, relatively modest contribution to the Northern flank.

At the same time during this period of two years, this short stewardship of two years, our forces manpower has been reduced. We have had frequent economies made in the research and development programme, slippage has taken place in the provision of new equipment and our defence programmes, and cuts have been made to the supply elements. It is difficult to say which of these is the least undesirable, but in my opinion the damage done to the battle efficiency of our Armed Forces by the deliberate policy of slippage in defence expenditure cannot be over-emphasised. The next time that I get a second reminder from the tax collector I shall regret that it is due to slippage.

We hear in this latest bi-annual round of defence cuts that it will not weaken our front line forces, so we must assume that it will have to be applied to our second line and support elements. I want to deal with the scenario at an earlier stage than did the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn; that is, at the very outset of hostilities, and I hope that I may do it with some conviction. The British Army of the Rhine will need to be reinforced at a very early stage by reservists and TAVR units, if they are to be fully operational from the outset. These reservists and TAVR men have a vital task to perform, and my concern is to know whether our reserves are adequate, and whether in fact they will ever get to their battle stations in time and with their full complement of equipment, ammunition and vehicles. If these cuts have affected our reinforcement programme and have inhibited our peace-time preparations, we shall have crippled our defence plans, since our forces on the central front would be operating under strength and under-equipped and at a serious disadvantage from the outset.

We have had two world wars, and I hope that we do not have a third, but in both 1919 and 1939 mobilisation was, luckily for us, conducted in a fairly leisurely manner. Except for Winston Churchill's grand initiative with the Royal Navy in 1914, mobilisation was begun too late to cope with the all-out onslaught on the scale we should expect next time. The Warsaw Pact, with its great superiority in almost everything, are better deployed in peace time and are nearer to a state of battle readiness than NATO. My noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal has dealt with that matter in some detail. For the Warsaw Pact mobilisation is a bonus, but for the West it is an essential key part of our plans. A Soviet attack, if it ever came, would not first of all test our reactions with an attack on Berlin or on the North of Norway, thus giving us time to mobilize; it would be swift and sudden, and on all fronts, on land, sea and air. There has recently been some evidence that our warning time may not be as long as we should like. Undoubtedly, there will be early warning signs of this aggression, and we shall need to make full use of every moment we get from these warning signs if our whole defence effort is not to start at a disadvantage. Most NATO forces are ill-deployed in peace time, and, especially in our own case, rely on reinforcements of TAVR men and reservists who must be recalled from civilian life, mobilised, formed up, and transported across the Channel and the North Sea.

To bring the British Army of the Rhine to battle readiness, units currently at duty in Northern Ireland must be disengaged and redeployed back to Germany. Additional units, and especially support units, must be despatched to Germany to complete the war establishment of that field force. All units in the British Army of the Rhine must be brought up to war establishment with reservists, and at the same time it is quite likely that our components of the ACE mobile force will be deployed overseas, too. All this involves the movement of maybe 60,000 to 80,000 men, which will double the peace strength of the British Army of the Rhine, but in effect it amounts to a substantial expeditionary force.

If this deployment is to be done effectively, it must be done in good time, and yet unfortunately this may be the very moment of rising tension when those whose decision it is may postpone that decision for fear of making a worsening situation even worse. By planning—and of course I quite appreciate why we adopt this plan for a field force which requires large scale reserves and reinforcements from the start—we have in effect adopted a policy of dual basing, and of course we have also made the initial stage of a war very much more difficult for ourselves. This reinforcement of units, men and material needs full and complete plans. I am perfectly certain that these plans exist in great detail and are 100 per cent. effective, but they will remain effective and be successful only if they are not inhibited by constant cuts and reductions in our defence expenditure.

Adequate reserves of equipment, ammunition and petrol must be maintained in peace time on the mainland of Europe by us so that the problem of reinforcement is not aggravated by having to transport a vast tonnage of supplies, as well as men, overseas at this early stage which I am talking about. To economise on these stockpiles is a false economy, even if it means foreign exchange expenditure. Perhaps if Her Majesty's Government are worried about this foreign currency expenditure, as I know they are, and wish to rationalise with other countries our expenditure on NATO defence preparations, they should consider organising a khaki pound to work in harmony with its green counterpart.

The whole process of mobilising our national effort from a peace-time to a war-time basis will inevitably be difficult, and the next time the period of rising tension and mobilisation will also be marked, I am afraid, by considerable unrest and disturbance, and perhaps even violence and sabotage. For this reason, I am particularly sorry to learn from the defence debate in another place on 19th April that, as part of these cuts, the Government do not intend to begin phase one of the modernisation of the military port at Marchwood until the period 1980–85. The full and effective operation of this port is vital if the Armed Forces are to carry out the redeployment and the reinforcement programme on mobilisation unimpeded by any of these disorders and disruptions to which I have referred.

This debate is not an occasion to elucidate our mobilisation plans, but I should be grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply to it will assure us that these defence cuts will not affect the size or equipment of our reserves, nor inhibit our plans for reinforcement at the outset of hostilities. Will he also assure us that cuts have not been made to our stockpiles of essentials, and that these will be maintained at an adequate level and will not be badly located, thus causing the massive movement problem to which I have referred. Finally, I would be grateful if Her Majesty's Government could undertake to consider the speeding up of their modernisation plans at Marchwood.

My Lords, whether or not the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, is able to reassure me on these reinforcement plans, and that they will remain unimpaired, I shall support the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, because I think that Government cuts in defence expenditure have already been too big and too frequent.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I was stupid enough to mention to a Member of your Lordships' House that this was the 26th defence and kindred debate in which I would have taken part. In view of his facetious reply, I shall take the hint and not bother this time to dot any i's or cross any t's. As I see it, my Lords, the average person in this country, of any Party or no Party, who has a sense of responsibility so far as the defence of this country is concerned, would like to know three things. First of all, that we (and when I say "we". everybody refers to us now in terms of NATO) have a naval capability to cope with the 400, or approaching 400, Russian submarines. I think that most people who are wise enough to remember will not forget what German submarines of the smallest number nearly inflicted on us in the last two wars.

Secondly, those who study or read—and, after all, Ministers of the present Government have very rightly given us the details—will, I think, say that we (again speaking NATO-wise) must have the air capability to cope with the 200 per cent. increase in the Soviet fighter-bomber strength that there has been in the last 24 months. Thirdly and lastly, the average person will ask what assurance can be given that we can cope with the 58 divisions of the Warsaw Pact that are poised on the centre front. He is not saying, "We have got to have 58 divisions". What he is asking is that he can be assured by the Government of this country that there is the capability at home. What I feel around the country today is that people are unhappy on those three points.

My Lords, perhaps I may return to my old hobby-horse, which is reserves. This last Sunday I went to Sennibridge Camp, which is just past Brecon in the middle of Wales, in my capacity as honorary colonel of a yeomanry regiment to do the usual things that one does at weekends, such as attending a church service, a march past and so on. I could not help remembering when I was last there, which was in 1962. Instead of just one TAVR3 unit, at that time we housed the divisional headquarters, a brigade and a complete brigade group. That was in 1962. Of course, those of your Lordships who are in a like position to myself, such as the noble Viscount. Lord Monckton of Brenchley. know the complaints of that limited number who are still doing their best to serve their country in this voluntary capacity.

We know the limits on the use of petrol; we know the limits on the use of ammunition and so on; but I think there is another point about our reserves that it is worth looking at in view of what has happened recently. Not all that long ago we had specialist reserve battalions of the Royal Engineers. We had railway companies, and we had others which could cope with emergencies. Your Lordships all know what has been going on or what has been said about what is happening in Northern Ireland at the moment, when it had to be publicly stated that we could not produce any specialists to run the power stations. When I look back to the days of the old Territorial Army, the one I served in, I realise how many of those specialist units have disappeared.

My next point has been ably dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. He obviously read, as I think many of your Lordships did, in The Times on Tuesday, a report of the Senate Defence Committee on our NATO capability. They made the point, as the noble Earl said, that what reserves and reinforcements we can get to Germany in the event of a sudden attack would not get there in time. When the Healey massacre of our reserves took place, we were told that the TAVR 2 was going to be devoted entirely to reinforcing our troops in Germany, and I shall therefore be very interested to hear the answers that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, gives to the questions raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, in that respect. It took a year, as I gather, to plan the NATO exercises in Norway last year, and yet, even so, to get our troops up there we had to hire civilian transport. Is it not ironic that the very day, some months ago now, on which it hit the headlines that the vociferous Left were demanding that we should send troops to Rhodesia was the same day as the sale of the last RAF transport planes took place? Our dangers, as I see it, are self-inflicted.

When the Healey cuts took place, we were promised that they were the last. They were terrific cuts. Everything was reorganised; and we were not going to be cut again. That is what we were promised. What many people in this country and the Government are not realising is that the Services had had their great cuts before we started into this economic depression. They had already had their cuts and, therefore, there was no reason to put their cuts in when you had to cut everyone else. That point should have been made clear.

The danger we find ourselves in now is that our technical superiority (which is what we relied on only two or three years ago to counterbalance the big advantage the Soviets had in manpower) has now been dissipated. They have caught up. The NATO Southern flank is in disarray; we are outflanked in Southern Africa. We let Angola—and I am talking collectively—and Mozambique go by default. We have allowed in this country the dislike of apartheid to cloud our sensible vision. Churchill once said that he would make a pact with the Devil to defeat Hitler. I wish somebody could have carried that out on this occasion and prevented this stranglehold on that most important part of the world from our defence point of view.

My Lords, a member of the far Left in another place told me that he would abolish all the Services and the police, which he would replace with a workers' militia and that the money saved would go into the factories and give jobs for everybody. I tried to point out that the factories then would not be able to make refrigerators for eskimoes as over 70 per cent. of the raw materials required to make them comes from and around the Cape. I think that the general opinion among all Parties (other than, as I have said, the "lunatic Left") is that we have not got enough in our defence. I think that the noble Lord the Leader of the House, is quite right in saying that we have high morale in our Services. But I am bound to warn him that that morale in the Army, at least at the moment, is beginning to wane and I have had it on good authority that this affects the lowest paid soldier. May I give the example of a private soldier, married, in Germany. When he leaves that country, he gives up his local overseas allowance, and goes to Northern Ireland on his four months' tour. He gets his 50p a day in Northern Ireland. He works a 90-hour week. His family have to stay back in Germany. Compare his pay then with that of a constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary who gets more per week on that basis than a regimental sergeant major!

I think it would be well worth the Government looking into this creeping, cutting-down of the private soldier. The private soldiers, I am told—and I have it from an officer who is worried about his men—say how badly they compare with their compatriots in "civy street" or in places like the Navy where they are always in the same barracks. When the new pay structure came in, the soldier got his increase in pay. But every time he has an increase, up go his rents and ration deductions. Those private soldiers who have to make this movement from Germany to Northern Ireland look on any increases they get—like the recent 5 per cent.—as being eaten up by increases in rents and ration deductions. I think it is a point which ought to be looked into.

My Lords, to my mind, defence ought not to be a Party matter. I acknowledge the courage of the present Minister and the previous one in making plain to the public and to the other place the prolific build-up of the Soviet forces. He is to be congratulated. My criticism is only of the Left to which, I am afraid it seems to most of us, the Government are paying too much attention; those to the Left who would abolish all our defences, those who, as far as I can see, would want us to be an East European satellite.

We have been warned by Ministers; we were warned before the First World War and we were warned before the Second World War, and we just got by at those times. We have been and are still being warned but the difference now is greater than ever before. I wonder whether that should not be taken into account in the level of our defence expenditure. George Santayana said: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said that he was not going to vote for the Amendment tonight because there was no point in what he did or said or what anyone else did or said in this House. He then went on to speak effectively for 15 minutes; and I am sure he did have an effect both on your Lordships and, when read, in the Press and another place.


My Lords, it is not that what is said individually does not have effect; no doubt it does; but that what we do collectively might even be counter-productive.


My Lords, I accept that; but I still believe that I shall vote for the Amendment tonight and, if I may quote in another context the words of my "streaking" noble friend Lord Strathcona, not as provocation but as discouragement against further cuts, I believe that probably, surprisingly enough, we in this House represent more what the British people really think on defence than often is realised, certainly in another place. We are not responsible to our local Party conferences or anything else. We speak honestly what we think, and we vote honestly what we feel; and it is our sole, lone responsibility so to do.

The Economist believes that two-thirds of the Members of the Commons are genuinely against defence cuts but dare not vote or say so. The Yorkshire Post today believes that the majority of British people are against further defence cuts. Since Korea, we have had it pretty good in this country regarding war and peace, and we have had it good because we kept our defences up. We are getting near the danger mark now—and some have thought almost past the real danger mark.

We heard from my noble friend on Germany. It is worse than that. The numbers there are not right at any time. Some are being re-trained to go to Northern Ireland and some are being retrained coming back from Northern Ireland. There is an acute shortage of medical doctors. I hope to hear from the noble Lord of anything which is being done to help the medical situation in BAOR. We are short of fuel for training, we are short of ammunition for training, we are short of air support and short of helicopters. We are suffering from a slippage in production, and I hope to hear a little more on the one thing that we want out there; the anti-tank missile, the Milan missile.

Enough of Germany, my Lords. A quick switch now to Brunei. Is it sensible to cut the Gurkha Battalion there when it is paid for not by us but by the Sultan? Another quick switch, to Ireland, my Lords. Here I declare an interest, as having been colonel of a regiment concerned cut there before my noble friend Lord Grimthorpe. The families of that regiment and others, who are doing their full stint out there, are paying a greater rent than those not at risk at other places in Britain and Germany. I know that there is a committee which is meant to be reporting soon. Cannot something be done now to stop men who are risking their lives having to pay more for their houses than those at home who are not?

Meanwhile, my Lords, we have to make the best of what we have. We have to take more note of our reserve forces—as my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh said—and increase them. They are the cheapest form of defence that we have at the present time. Is it conceivable that the Parachute Regiment could be changed to more SAS-type duties? The SAS have proved themselves the one force which is always going to be required in every situation in peace and war. It may be that a new look should be given in this direction; it may also be that it has already been done and I do not know it. I hope that the bands—that essential part of regimental life—are being trained more efficiently and quickly in their medical duties. I believe that they need to be.

My Lords, I referred to a speech of about 15 minutes and I see from the indicator that I have been speaking for four minutes. May I end by saying that this yearly ritual and the thanks of all Parties to our forces for doing no more than their duty, whether in Germany or Ireland, is not all that well received by the soldiers, sailors or airmen on the ground. What they want is stability; what they want is to stay a little longer in their jobs. It appears to me that what the Government propose to do is to send people to certain unemployment or certain death or to prison as mercenaries. This is honestly the alternative for people who are about to have to leave the Army; and from what I know a lot are about to do so. On the officer side, too many good young officers have already applied to leave. This is bad. This is a sign that they are having doubts as to the future. I believe that it is the duty of the Government to ensure that those two points are looked at, both for stability and to keep men out of unemployment.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to support the Amendment. While the Lord Privy Seal very frankly recognised the marked growth in Soviet military power, if he will allow me to say so, he altogether failed to justify the proposed cuts in defence expenditure this year. During the past decade, as has been pointed out, the Soviet Union has not only achieved strategic nuclear parity with the United States, but has established overwhelming conventional superiority.

What is equally serious—and I do not think that this can be emphasised too strongly—is the fact that the forces of the Warsaw Pact are maintained in a much higher state of readiness. They could, from what is called a standing start, be launched across the West German frontier with scarcely any warning. On the other hand, the NATO forces are to a large extent stationed in rearward positions; and, what is more, as the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, pointed out, they are dependent upon the arrival of reinforcements from the United States and the United Kingdom, which would of course take some time.

Having regard to their relative weakness and lesser preparedness, our forces would inevitably—and it is no good pretending otherwise—be pushed back and a highly mobile battle would quickly develop. In such a situation, the troops of the different allied nationalities would need to be able to draw upon each other's supplies of ammunition, spare parts and fuel, and to establish rapid radio communication with one another. Owing to the deplorable lack of standardisation, or at least interoperability—a principle to which we have paid lip service for so long but with so little result—this will be possible only to a limited extent. We would therefore do well to recognise that the forces of the Warsaw Pact are at this moment in a position to mount a conventional attack on Western Germany with the certainty of initial success, and that they would in all probability be able to reach the Rhine before the Governments of the NATO Alliance could come to a decision whether or not to authorise the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

Nor, I submit, would it be safe to exclude the possibility that the Soviet Union might adopt blitzkrieg methods, using tactical nuclear weapons from the very start. In that case, they could no doubt overrun the whole of Western Germany in a matter of hours. In the background there remains of course the strategic nuclear deterrent; but too much reliance should not be placed on the Russian fear that an American President would readily be prepared to take the suicidal decision to press the button, except in the case of a direct threat to the territory of the United States.

I fully agree that there is no reason to suppose that the Soviet Union is planning any immediate attack on the West. But nor are they probably planning any attack on Finland—for the simple reason that they can get what they want without doing so. If Western Europe continues to neglect its defences, we could very easily, over a period of time, drift into a position of increasing impotence, in which we would be afraid to assert our fishing rights in the North Sea, afraid to resist Soviet encroachments in Africa, afraid to speak our minds freely in the United Nations, and be obliged to give up all thought of exercising any effective influence in world affairs.

I have spoken bluntly because I believe that the facts, however unpalatable, must be squarely faced. The Amendment rightly raises the question of priorities. Of course there must be cuts in public expenditure—and large cuts—but the last thing to cut is national security. Listening to this debate today, I could not help thinking of the debates that we had in another place in the years before the war, when the Government refused, until it was too late, to recognise the gravity of the situation. Let us by all means pursue detente with complete sincerity; but it is no substitute for defence. The reality of détente will never be achieved except on the basis of a reasonable balance of military power.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with every word that my noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys has said, and I rise to support the Amendment. Belonging as I do to the "bow and arrow" period, perhaps I ought not to have taken up the time of the House in speaking. I would not have done so if I had not realised how few people there are in this House who have had first-hand experience of the things that we are talking about. After all, since the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, came to your Lordships' House, which is about 12 years ago, while we have had a steady stream of distinguished people from the public service, industry, the arts and other places who have lent distinction to these debates, the number of people who have come from the top ranks of the Services can be counted twice over on one hand: and so it is very largely left to some of us who served professionally in the forces and, by accident of birth, have arrived in this House to do their best.

To start at the beginning of the defence White Paper, I notice that the first paragraph is "101". Perhaps if there is any hidden meaning in that, when he comes to reply, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will tell us what it is. That paragraph, or course, deals with our declaration of adherence to NATO. How much that has been affected by what has happened earlier this week, I do not know; nor do I know how that squares with paragraphs 103 and 104. But at least the sinners who wrote those two paragraphs are sitting in good company, because one can go back to the year 1924 when the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day, Mr. Winston Churchill, carried out a similar raid on defence expenditure in the Navy and was frustrated from achieving his full objective only by the efforts of my father, supported by Lord Beatty. But Mr. Churchill squared his conscience at the time by inventing a formula that for 10 years from any given date there was to be no declaration of war by the potential enemy. With the help of the Treasury, that date was pushed forward until some time in the 1930s when, fortunately, it was abandoned only just in the nick of time. So this Government cannot rely on that comfortable theory, and they could not possibly take it anyhow after having written paragraph 119 and the other paragraphs which deal with the threat to members of the Warsaw Pact.

That brings me to the argument deployed by my noble friend Lord Strathcona—I thought very successfully—and to the question of the economy measures described by my noble friend Lord Cathcart as slippage. Wherever they are, these things are always the same. They very seldom cancel a project: they put it off. If in local government you put off building a school or a road, no great damage is done; but if you put off some project or some weapon in the defence programme, then you are risking at some future date your readiness for war —the time when you are out-gunned, out-flown, out-shot or whatever it may be.

There is another form of slippage which is even more insidious, and that concerns Army pay. I know some of the figures which the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, produced. They are dangerous figures, because I think we are on the point of letting Service pay slip away from the increases which are given in comparable jobs. Since a few years ago we did the same thing in respect of the police, the Government of the day ought to have learned the lesson.

But, to go back to NATO, I am beginning to think that our adherence to NATO is becoming a catchword, like other catchwords we have used at different times: the Social Contract, industrial democracy, and so on. They sound so good that we think they must be right. The other day, reading the chairman's speech given by a captain of industry—he was talking about industrial democracy—I noticed he talked about catchwords giving a spurious air of respectability. And so we may be getting the wrong impression as we chant incantations about our adherence to NATO. Is adherence to NATO an end in itself, or is it the means? The end is in the last words of paragraph 101, referring to the need to ensure our own defence and to deter aggression.

Then the White Paper goes on to say that we can do so only by collective effort. That, I think, is a slightly dangerous remark, because it may lead one to think that no other efforts are necessary except our collective efforts to NATO. And, of course, it is always easy, particularly if you are away from the battlefield, to slip into the error of thinking that the enemy will always behave in the way that you want him to do—in this case, possibly to attack head on on the Western front, no doubt combined with nuclear attacks on this country at the same time. But are we not beginning to realise that the danger may not lie only there but it may lie round the corners? There is the Northern flank, as someone has already said in this debate. There is also the wider flank, and since the Cubans became associated with the Warsaw Pact, how can we believe there is no danger coming to us from round the corner? I am quite certain there is: and if we say we have no resources to deal with these things elsewhere, that may be true but it does not remove the danger.

Therefore, I want to come very shortly—because I mean to take very little time of the House—to speak about the home front. I have spoken about it several times before over the years in this House and I make no apology for speaking about it again. Ever since the Civil Defence Act 1948, defence and home security have been very largely based on defence against nuclear attack. That has been a very convenient arrangement, because as the threat receded the Estimates could be cut when no one was looking. But my own view is—and it is one I have held for a long time—that we are taking a completely unjustifiable risk if we make no proper preparations against subversion, sabotage and all the steps that can be, and have been, taken in so many parts of the world to undermine the will of a nation to resist. I believe from what I have heard that the penny is beginning to drop. I hope to goodness it is, because if it does not drop very soon we shall be in real danger.

I come now to my last point but one: the failure of successive Governments administratively to look at defence as one problem. You have this line, this demarcation of responsibility, between the Defence Ministry, on the one hand, and the Home Office, with responsibility for civil defence, on the other. You have a third Department with a watching brief, the Department of the Environment, which is watching to ensure that none of the cost of Defence falls on its Estimates. You have had the horrid lesson of the TAVR 3, which was killed not so much by Government decisions as by bargaining between the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence as to which Estimate it should go on. It ended up by going on none. All this is going on, and, of course, you can see the point: the Home Office want their money for luxury prisons, deprived children and things of that kind. The Ministry of Defence has no money whatever to spare for regular forces, and so we come to the size of the problem and the need to deal with it. The problem is there and it will not go away.

Equally, there is the problem of reserves, as my noble friend Lord Cathcart mentioned. There are five tables in the annex to the White Paper, but they tell us nothing at all except the number of officers and men who serve the Queen. They do not tell us whether those numbers are sufficient. They do not tell us what is the readiness for war. No one has come round to the point that the 1957 White Paper, in abolishing National Service, set a time limit to the time when those reserves would disappear and would not be available. They disappeared, I think, last year. How has the situation altered so that they are not wanted? Have they been replaced? Are there enough men to make the forces we have, leave alone the forces we ought to have, ready for war? That is the length of time that I thought I would take to speak to your Lordships, and I will leave it at that.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, before I start my speech. I must inform your Lordships that I am speaking on my own behalf, and therefore not necessarily in complete harmony with my noble friends. This evening, if I were to admit that I had two regrets, the first would be that my name was not coupled with that of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, in his Amendment; and the second would be that I should have preferred the Amendment to be even stronger. I heard a noble Lord say the other day that the defence cuts were only cutting into the fat. My Lords, we have no fat left. We are already down to the bone. I wonder how many times it has been said in your Lordships' Chamber that the prime duty of any Government is to protect and defend its people. Today, this duty is still exactly the same, although it has to move with the times, and by that I mean that it has to move with NATO, the Commonwealth and Europe.

I re-read the reports of two speeches that I made about defence in 1975 and 1976, and, unfortunately, in the majority of ways, what I said then still applies. The only difference that appeared to me was that the situation has continued to deteriorate. We have become weaker, the Warsaw Pact has become stronger and the gap has become wider. I agree that in our economic crisis we must have public expenditure cuts, but these must not put us in the position of possibly jeopardising our liberty and freedom, and that of our Allies.

But we could have cuts if we adopted certain measures of standardisation, so what can we do? In April 1976, other noble Lords and I suggested that perhaps we could have greater co-operation inside Europe, and I am happy to say that, so far as I can see, there is a positive move in this direction, like the European armaments symposium which was held in Paris on 3rd and 4th March this year by the Western European Union. So how can we, in the general climate of Budget restrictions, improve the efficiency of our defence expenditure? How can we maintain a credibility, a deterrent and a détente in the face of the ever-increasing arms of the Warsaw Pact countries?

First, I think we must co-operate more with other European Governments. Secondly, we must reduce the diversity of weapons, which would give us longer production runs and thereby lower unit costs. This would mean that, politically, we could lay the industrial and military foundations for the unified defence of Europe. France and Germany have already had some success in this field of co-operation in designing, developing and perfecting two aeroplanes, one ground to air missile, two anti-tank missiles, two naval missiles and a radar system. The United Kingdom and France have cooperated over one aircraft, three types of helicopter and one ground to air missile. France, Belgium and Holland have a project for a highly sophisticated, new minesweeper; and the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy have the MRCA—a real winner, in spite of Granada TV. Therefore, from the military aspect, there is no time to lose in agreeing common tactical concepts, so that we can arrive at common specifications and harmonisation in what will be not only our mutual defence, but also much more economical defence. We could reach this goal with determination and common sense, if only general staffs and Governments would act, and they must be prodded and nagged on every possible occasion until this goal is achieved.

Russia's leaders are happy with détente now, but who knows what their new leaders' attitude will be? I am not as worried about a nuclear war as other noble Lords, but I am about a conventional war. It has already been said this afternoon that we can have détente only if both sides have parity, and whether that parity is weakness or strength makes no difference, so long as it is parity. For 100 years, the Treasury has always fought the Service Departments, and invariably the Treasury has been proved wrong. Noble Lords who attend our defence study group are only too well aware of the dangers that we face if we allow ourselves to become even weaker.

In America, the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee only the other day recommended that most of the funding cuts requested by President Carter in the 1977 US Defence Budget should be restored. Yesterday in Washington, it seemed that the President heeded this advice, as he ordered full speed ahead with the production of a completely new arsenal of highly sophisticated weapons. I finish by leaving your Lordships to ponder on an old German proverb: Defence is not everything, but everything without defence is nothing".

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, we are having another debate on defence which seems to be much more of a debate on cuts, and the views of your Lordships, including myself, have been well and truly heard by many. It is just not possible to separate the teeth from the tail, as is so often done, as one is so very much dependent on the other. The repeated deferments and cancellations will in the long term only hurt the combat troops, in one way or another. It is to be regretted that, in the short term, cuts are being made in maintenance, which probably means unpainted buildings, broken windows and less reliable machinery. This will lower the morale of our forces, which is one of our benefits which cannot be measured. It is regretted that recruits and boy trainees are being taken on rather more slowly than they were in the past, and it is very sad that the forces have been forced to the conclusion that they are set for two years of difficult times.

As a result of recent visits to German and British forces in Germany, perhaps I may make a few very brief points. One of the major factors already visible is the lack of money to improve barracks. Cuts have reduced the troops by 16,000 men, 1,000 of them Gurkhas, and this has necessitated the joining up of certain units, which are now cramming into barracks formerly filled by fewer troops. There is a cutback in expenditure on alterations to the facilities necessary to take account of the influx of these troops. I think that this is very hard on the men, when in any event there are other areas of cuts which affect them very personally.

My second point is that there is one area which seems to be vital, but which is lacking; that is, the top level practice of politicians in situations simulated to provide conditions when military decisions are handed over to politicians for their ultimate answers. It could be anything from a decision to send reinforcements, right up to a decision to use nuclear weapons. Politicians, we are told, are always very busy, but surely they are not too busy to practice this important aspect. Exercise Wintex, which is a NATO exercise, has often been cited as a good opportunity to exercise politicians, and I believe that some Germans were recently exercised in this way. Since politicians are ultimately responsible for ordering equipment and influencing standardisation —something to which they often pay lip-service, as has been mentioned already —but often make unilateral decisions, surely it is even more vital to have practice in the larger decisions such as I have outlined. Have the Government thought about this, what views do they have, and are they prepared to do something positive about it?

The next main point of anxiety that I found in Germany was a rumour—and I stress that it was a rumour—that the Government are considering the possibility of reducing the local overseas allowance, based on the fact that German inflation is less than our own. Soldiers receive pay and allowances together. A member of the forces is often ignorant of the fine differences between the two. He knows what cash goes into his pocket, and any cut in local overseas allowance is, to him, a cut in his pay. If this happens, he will be the only type of person to receive less money in cash terms. I hope that this will not happen, because morale will be severely tested if it does. So I trust that the Government can give an assurance that this will not happen, which they were unable to give in the other place.

My final point is a very personal one. The cuts are very much regretted by the forces. They are totally unable to make representations to anyone in authority. There are many other areas where the forces have an opinion and they cannot be listened to properly. With the greater professionalism and the more difficult tasks that they are asked to perform in a very difficult and changing world, I feel that there is a growing need for the forces to have a voice to which the Government listen.

I should like to propose and make a suggestion: that we could look into the possibility of having an Armed Forces association or federation which would have a proper place in the relationship between Government and the Forces. It would be recognised by the Government and might be based on a system already in existence in Europe, especially in Germany. The terms of reference are very important indeed so as not to infringe purely military matters, such as discipline. The charter and rules must have a very detailed examination, but the benefits could be legion, with information and views flowing both ways instead of, at present, just being a one-way stream. I must stress that I am not advocating a trade union for the Armed Forces but an organisation with somewhat different ground rules and different aims, although there are bound to be some similarities. Having given the Government notice of it, perhaps I could ask them for their view on this rather personal question. I hope that they may examine the possibilities for the ultimate benefit of our Armed Forces.

I have been fairly brief, as I hope we shall all be, and have confined my remarks to specific areas which think are important. But let us not forget that our fundamental criticism of the Government is that they have cut too much. They have confused everyone in the Forces by the loose phraseology in their White Paper, which is totally at odds with the facts clearly laid out in the Second Report from the Expenditure Committee in the other place. It is regretted by all with any feeling of balanced judgment for the defence of this country against an aggressor, that to ask our Forces to keep out the rain with a deteriorating umbrella —a fact which my friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal referred to—an umbrella that is already patched and mended is not really good enough. Without a serious reappraisal, it may well blow inside out quite soon, despite the quality of the basic material.

5.22 p.m.

The Earl of ONSLOW

My Lords, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, on the increase of Russian armaments and on their aggressive intent were very telling and very accurate. Thus the thump of him landing on the fence was consequently slightly surprising; but then that is Liberalism for you! What has also surprised me during the debate has been the overwhelming silence of the Government supporters.

In a very interesting, complicated and erudite article in the Royal United Services' Journal called "Western European Collateral Damage from Tactical Nuclear Weapons". the conclusion is drawn that the equipment of NATO Forces with small, low yield, enhanced radiation or neutron tactical nuclear weapons could have considerable and beneficial military effects and help our own defences and, if allied to a moderate programme for the civil defence of Western Germany, could reduce civilian casualties enormously, compared with those envisaged by the 1955 exercise Carte Blanche, which tested what they thought might happen in a tactical nuclear situation.

This exercise foresaw enormous physical damage both to buildings and to landscape: 1.7 million dead and 3.5 million wounded in a three-day battle. This has to be compared with 305,000 dead and 780,000 wounded in wartime Germany by aerial bombardment during World War 2. However, since then the mini-nuclear neutron bomb of about 0.5 kilotonnes—and smaller—has been developed. That is one-quarter the size of the bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima. The crews of tanks would be destroyed within a radius of 350 metres of ground zero, and unprotected civilians within a radius of 800 metres of ground zero. And if the weapon is exploded sufficiently high above ground zero, there will be very limited blast damage. Should civilians have access—this is where I come to my point about minimum civil defence expenditure —to sandbagged shelters of a fairly simple construction, the killing zone for civilians (I know this sounds harsh but I think that the language of nuclear war or of war itself is harsh and horrible) is reduced by 75 per cent. in size and 50 per cent. by radius.

If this tactic were to be adopted, and known to be adopted, and if it were known that we were prepared to use these weapons in the event of a massive Russian conventional assault across the Elbe and the Rhine, this could have the effect of increasing the space between Russian armoured vehicles, which at the moment is 100 metres. Consequently, this would dilute the concentration on our own forces. Every schoolboy strategist knows that the essence of strategy is to concentrate the mostest on the littlest.

The adoption of weapons as advocated by Messrs. Cohen and Van Cleave—Mr. Van Cleave is one of the United States SALT delegation members, so he possibly knows a great deal about what he says—could have the effect of minimising the increasing Soviet conventional strength. Incidentally, one is reminded of Marshall Foy's remark of the early 1800s: The British infantry are the finest in the world. Thank God there are so few of them". Fortunately, the first part is still true, but unfortunately the latter part is as well. Another advantage of the low yield mini-nuclear weapon is that it would reduce the chance of defending an irradiated pile of rubble, because the blast effect is reduced. However, it is reduced only with the small neutron weapon, not with the bigger ones above one kilotonne.

That is the distillation of a very complicated article. I am quite prepared to concede that I did not understand every equation and every word used. Will Her Majesty's Government please comment on this article. Is exercise Carte Blanche still the basis upon which we base our use of tactical nuclear weapons? I have reason to believe that the Government have read and taken note of the article, so I am sure that they will be in possession of the facts.

Let us also remember that in contrast to the picture painted of this country by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, the Russians have a civil defence programme that is designed to keep civilian casualties in all-out war to 6 per cent.. or considerably less than the total civilian casualties they suffered during World War II. This could be nervous defensive thinking, but Russia has a long and constant history of tyrannising her own population and a desire, both by Communist and Czarist regimes, to tyrannise others, be they Poles, Ruthenes, Magyars, Czechs, Rumanians or Bulgars. Her Majesty's Government have recognised this, but have cut our ability to help ourselves and help our friends. To fail to recognise this aggressive factor is incompetent. To recognise it and then to cut our ability to help ourselves and our friends is not incompetent but the irresponsibility of the spoiled playboy of the Western World.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Newall, said, this is a debate about cuts. I cannot do better than start with a quotation from Mr. Gilmour, as he then was, on 12th January 1977: As the Russians get stronger, the Government say, we should get weaker. We believe that that is an abdication of duty by the Government"——[Official Report, Commons, 12/1/77; col. 1437.] I cannot put it better than that. However, I suggest, as nobody else has done so, that we had better return to the four fundamental requirements for Western European defence. They are as follows, in my opinion: first, the rapprochement between France and Germany; second, the continuing armed presence of the USA in Europe; third, the nuclear deterrent, both strategic and theatre; fourth—and this is special to the United Kingdom which, unlike Europe, can starve and in fact it very nearly did so in the last two world wars—adequate anti-submarine forces and escorts for our convoys. As Admiral Sir Terence Lewin said to us in the Defence Study Group last week, these anti-submarine forces are a great deal more complex than they were. We must accept that.

In my opinion, only if the above four fundamentals are permanently achieved can the latest British cuts be made safely. Are they so achieved? It is for political judgment to say; but I doubt it. We must remember that, if one of the four fails, then NATO breaks down and who would say, coming back to your Lordships' House in 20 years' time—at the end of the century—-that the four fundamentals would be satisfied? The most serious effect of the British cuts has already been automatically to bring the theatre nuclear threshold closer. The Government do not seem to have realized that. It is a terrible thought that we British have brought nuclear war (the chance of escalation to a strategic nuclear war considerable) nearer not only for us but also for the Dutch, the Belgians, the Danes, the Norwegians and others. Not only our grandchildren but the children of the Allies will be obliterated.

Another effect is the cumulative one described in the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Newall. Incidentally it was an all-Party Committee. I will quote from that report: We are bound to report to the House that we have come to the conclusion that the cumulative effect of the cuts has been and is likely to be increasingly felt not only by the Services' support structure, itself important, but also by the frontline forces. I did not write that, my Lords; it was written by the all-Party Expenditure Committee. They emphasised especially the equipment programme, and in the Defence Study Group of your Lordships' House we have heard Sir Terence Lewin comment on the naval building programme with the words, "Not enough". It has been said before this afternoon and I am quite sure that he spoke for all three Services.

Another illustration in BAOR is given in paragraph 9 of the same report … the fighting capability of forward troops will be seriously affected by the … "— incidentally, struck out by the Ministry of Defence— year deferment of the …, versions of which are already in service with other NATO as well as Warsaw Pact countries. In consequence, the Army will have to persevere with the existing aging vehicle …". I do not know what they were referring to, but it is very bad if BAOR has to have weapons which are not as good as those of our Allies.

There is only one bright side to this—and here I somewhat take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: in my opinion the cuts have not yet affected morale, which seems to be very high in all three Services. We heard from Admiral Lewin that it was high in the Royal Navy on the basis of the existing programme as planned—they did not know about the cuts—and I heard from a very senior officer in the Army that morale was certainly high in the Army. I have no reason to suppose that it is not equally high in the RAF, in spite of cuts in Transport Command and the cancellation of the MRCA and the postponement of the Tornado aircraft. It seems that we are going through a period of very high professionalism, but the Services have maintained morale so far.

With regard to the NATO attitude to the British cuts—and I will tell your Lordships that I have employed a red pencil very effectively, so it is quite short—last year the chairman of the Military Committee, who happened to be British, told us when an all-Party delegation went from this House to Brussels, that the United Kingdom had been a bad ally in announcing the cuts in February 1975 and also that NATO was on the edge of a precipice. Since then we have cut three times, so I reckon we are over the edge of the precipice, but the Government do not seem to mind. In one of his many speeches, General Haig, the Supreme Commander, only three weeks ago when he was addressing the French HQ of the Atlantic Council, reminded his audience that the North and South flanks of NATO were the most threatened. In addition, he also said that the NATO Allies ought to increase their forces by 5 per cent. a year simply in order to stay level with the Soviet conventional forces. I am not very good at arithmetic, but I worked it out that 5 per cent. cumulative for 10 years is 62 per cent., so we have a lot of catching up to do. Incidentally, the British are doing the opposite.

To turn to the Soviet Union, I feel that they are doing quite well without firing a shot. In Saigon—Indo-China—they have won a very convincing victory, and, incidentally, without an air force. In my opinion, World War III has already started. For example, Thailand—or Burma—is next on their Asian list, in my opinion. They have a separate list for Africa. They will simply act as political openings offer. In Africa they are doing quite well. It has already been referred to and it is quite true that they arm the natives and they import Cuban troops. They are now working on Mozambique, to which the other day this Government lent £7 million. They will soon be in a position to cut off Southern Africa, because they have naval ports to which they can go on the West and the East. The Soviet Union are also gaining ground in the Horn of Africa. The secret of their success is that they are not in a hurry. They simply wait for a favourable political situation and then they fight a war with other people's casualty lists. So far they have not tried it in Europe, but the North coast of Africa looks quite promising.

The Defence White Paper which we are debating gives the Government away in paragraph 107, when it says: … but political intentions can change rapidly whereas military capability can only be altered over a long period". The White Paper goes on, if you get that far, to give the reductions in some detail. We debate it always a year too late. It is simply a question of taking a risk, and, in my opinion, the risk is not only to our own country but to NATO itself. For these reasons, I estimate we are contributing less to NATO just when we ought to be contributing more. If General Haig is right, we ought to have been contributing 5 per cent. over the last 10 years, let alone the next 10 years. That is why I am going to quote from The Times of yesterday—President Carter speaking: As we strengthen our forces, we should also improve co-operation in development, production and procurement of alliance defence equipment". Well, there we are, a pious hope, in my opinion. The question I have given notice to ask is this. We are now weakening our contribution of forces to NATO. What is our official attitude to President Carter's suggestion? My Lords, these are the reasons why I will support the Amendment.

5.52 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to speak after an interval of many months. Industrial responsibilities have kept down my attendances at this House. I am sorry to say so, but this debate, frankly, is so important and so timely that I feel compelled to try to contribute. As Lord Kimberley has reminded us, the prime duty of the British Government is to defend this nation and to defend it effectively, and in modern conditions that means—and no one speaking in this debate so far has dissented—a full and adequate contribution to NATO to help to ensure its effectiveness, too.

As my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing has asserted, five rounds of defence cuts in two years, presumably to try to appease the Left-Wing of the Labour Party, the appetite of which seems to me to be quite insatiable, is as foolish as it is wicked and dangerous to this country and its Allies. I have come to the conclusion that Britain's posture must create dismay to our Allies and delight to our enemies. How can we be taken seriously when we cut, cut and cut again our own defences while helping finance Russian expansion and extending aid to Marxist Mozambique!

My Lords, little did I ever think that one day I would be quoting the Chinese Communist advice to a British Socialist Government. From my own visit to Peking in January as a member of the Conservative delegation to China, just as, more recently, from the reports of the visit of Her Majesty's Leader of her loyal Opposition, we can say that Chou en Lai's warnings of 1975 of the Soviet Union's aggressive world intentions are just as clear to the new leadership of Hua Kwo Fung as they were to Mao Tse Tung himself. Western Europe should unite and re-arm to prevent Soviet world hegemony, we were told by Vice-Premier Li; he gave us that advice in Peking— "Unite and re-arm before it is too late in Western Europe". My Lords, if even the Chinese Communists, the British Conservatives, some Cross-Benchers and the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, of the Liberal Party, are all trying to impress upon Her Majesty's Government that this matter is of desperate importance and urgency, I beg them to reconsider their attitude towards future—and I mean projected—defence cuts.

What has been Britain's response to all these warnings? I find it ironic in the extreme, following what the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, was saying has happened in the Far East—and I am not taken in by what is told me in any part of the world, I assure your Lordships. The warning that we have had there is a warning that there is a genuine fear on the part of the Chinese that they are going to be over-run by the Soviet Communists, just as we ought to have the same fear of what is happening in Africa today with the closing of the Cape route or the onrush over the NATO forces that could so easily happen as a result of what we know to be facts in terms of the Warsaw Pact. How foolish can we be, to ignore all these warnings. From our own history alone we know that weakness encourages aggression. We know that. Surely we should remember it and act upon it.

My Lords, time allows me merely to deal with one aspect of defence in a little detail, and I shall speak about our amphibious forces. I speak as a Royal Marine of wartime years, but one who has kept in close touch with the Corps ever since. Now the Corps is one of the most highly trained and clearly the most versatile arm of all our forces. The Royal Marines have a desperately important role to fulfil. Like the Army, they are certainly fully stretched with their constant commitment to Northern Ireland duty and in so many other parts of the world.

The Corps, having its North Norway increased commitment to NATO and increased reserve commitment to NATO, one asks whether they are properly equipped with amphibious vessels and first line shipping. Little use in having, as Churchill said to Stalin of the Royal Marines, "The finest Corps in the world", if you cannot get them promptly to where they are needed. Looking at paragraph 141 of the White Paper, surely the whole commando force should be able to be taken promptly and effectively to wherever they are needed. We simply cannot wait until merchant shipping is free or can be commandeered. Modern warfare just is not like that any more. Merchant shipping for back-up, yes, but not for prime lift. In North Norway the Royal Marines have two commandos and a brigade headquarters, and how pleased and proud we are to have General Sir Peter Whitely, a former Commandant General of the Royal Marines, as North NATO commander in Norway. But have we the manpower to match the full commitment to NATO? I regret to say that I fear we have not. The policy of constantly disbanding Royal Marine commandos is a matter to be strongly criticised and most deeply regretted. With our own investment as a country in North Sea oil, I hope that Her Majesty's Government have not only effective plans but the necessary resources to prevent the destruction, or serious damage to the installations. I am not talking nuclear warfare: I am talking conventional warfare.

My Lords, the loss of the Cape route to Communist domination would make the North Sea oil installations all the more vital. What have we heard of their defence?—but nothing. One deplores the uncertainty of constantly nibbling defence cuts. The effect upon morale must be damaging. The 1974 Defence Review was meant to be the review to end all reviews. Although the esprit de corps is characteristic—and I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, has said about the morale of the Armed Services—I most certainly say that I can imagine that enormous damage is going to be caused, if it has not already started, by so much uncertainty in the Armed Services over their future commitments and their future strength. How can we create a proper career structure in the Services at all levels if it appears that it is going to be nibbled and chopped and worked away to the point that a person in the prime of experience and knowledge in the Services is axed as in pre-war days?

Credibility with our own allies is paramount. Against us the Warsaw Pact navies, in amphibious terms, have a whole amphibious fleet in the Baltic capable of carrying 700 T.72 tanks to their point of possible aggression. On the conventional side alone, the Soviet Union as one country, has about 100 amphibious ships with five naval infantry regiments, which would be equivalent to our marines, each of which has three infantry and one tank battalion. I have already told ow story. One of these amphibious marine infantry regiments is stationed on the Kola Peninsula on NATO's Northern flank, in direct confrontation with the forces of Britain, to which I have just referred.

Of course, in numbers Britain cannot match the Soviet Union. I ask that in fairness to our NATO Allies and our own fighting men we should equip our forces properly, give them the necessary logistical support and give an absolute assurance that cuts are not only at an end but that we shall reverse the trend and match more adequately NATO's needs to our own resolve to defend democracy. That is our prime duty, and nothing less.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, other noble Lords have spoken eloquently and I can only regret that more have not spoken from the Government side, as was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. Briefly, my position is as follows. Unfortunately, reliable sources seem to confirm that the Soviet Union is continuing to arm in a way that is quite unnecessary from a purely defensive point of view. At the same time, we cannot console ourselves that its regard for human rights is not far below what we in this country believe to be essential. There are two basic options open to us. First, we can adopt a pacifist role in the belief that only by adopting such an attitude can a war that would be truly devastating be averted. I can respect the view of those who sincerely hold this opinion, but I cannot agree with it.

My father served loyally in the Royal Navy during the First World War. He then, thinking that he had seen enough of the folly of this war to end wars, left the Service, became an architect and in due course a pacifist. But when he began to understand the full horrors of the Nazi and Fascist regimes, he was forced to realise that, as he said, justice is more important than peace. He campaigned for a realistic attitude after the Munich Agreement and in due course returned to the Navy where he served again with distinction.

A war today would be an appalling tragedy which every reasonable person must strive passionately to avoid. But unfortunately, I believe that the Soviet Union would laugh at our weakness were we to hand domination of Europe over to them on a plate. So I, personally, reject total disarmament absolutely.

The second option is that, with great regret but with determination, we should accept that we must play a responsible part in the military strategy of the West. It can be argued that we can do so little anyway that we should rely almost completely or even entirely on the United States. It is true that the United States of America is vastly the strongest member of the Western Alliance, but what a spineless attitude to take: to do as little as possible to help ourselves. As President Carter commits the United States to the support of Europe, he rightly makes it clear that this is not what he expects or accepts. It can be argued that if we are active in our own defence plans, our standard of living must suffer. In the short term that might be true, but in the longer term I can see no course that would shatter our so-called standard of living more completely than to accept Communist domination. What is far more important is that it would shatter our whole way of life. I think that in this country we take so much for granted for which we should, in fact, be extremely grateful.

I believe that we should do everything possible to preserve our ability to influence world thought, and I do not believe that we can do this from a position of abject weakness. We must remain strong so that we can work towards a genuine and mutually acceptable détente. We must fight and win the battle of words to convince the Warsaw Pact countries that the present arms race is an evil and dangerous nonsense. But we must retain the liberty to express our views.

I end with two quotations which summarise my feelings. First, your Lordships may recall that in 1790 John Philip Curran said: The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance". Secondly, in 1775—and admittedly I take it out of context—Patrick Henry said in a speech in the Virginia Convention: I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death". That may sound over-dramatic, but I remain an optimist. Provided that we remain constant, I do not see why the future should not be far brighter than present prospects may suggest. I think that the Government should be made fully and repeatedly aware of our concern. However, I am not convinced that to pass this Amendment is the best method of procedure and I shall therefore abstain.

6.7 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, there is a well known saying: Give us the tools and we shall finish the job". Now I believe that everybody is saying: Give us the tools so that we can do our job". There is an absolute difference from the original saying. I should like to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, that, despite all the changes there is very high morale among all three Services—at present I think it is outstanding. Most of the personnel serving in the forces are very proud of their country and they realise that their forefathers fought so that they can live in a democratic and free society. However, it has been conceded by the Government that men cannot be required to serve unless they are properly equipped and trained. It is also conceded in the White Paper that nations which have all-volunteer forces, such as Britain, must offer competitive rates of pay and conditions of service in order to retain the men who are needed. That is just not happening. Rates of pay are not competitive and the men are leaving.

At present in the Royal Air Force there is a shortage of engineering officers, flight controllers, education officers and medical cadets. In the Royal Navy the situation is even more serious because there is a shortage of welders, caulkers, platers and coppersmiths, and many are leaving for better paid jobs at sites which are building the oil rigs and other equipment for North Sea oil research. They have also gone to Germany and Canada. So outside areas offer much better conditions of service.

Many of the members of the Army now have no practice with live ammunition in this country. They sit in a room with simulators—which I found very interesting to learn about—which are not much use to the Army in the way of offering practical exercises. In fact, the British Army cannot fire nuclear weapons or lay nuclear mines in the battlefield without the prior consent of the United States.

Twenty-five years ago the RAF had 4,500 front-line combat aircraft; now there are only 850 and there is a shortage of spares. Perhaps when the Minister replies he can say how many ships of the Royal Navy are actually operational. He has mentioned the new ships that are coming into service, but when will HMS "Invincible", "Illustrious", "Cardiff" and "Newcastle" be ready? I know that at least one is four years behind schedule. I should like to be given this information because the Royal Navy has to take on a considerable number of jobs outside NATO. They have the task of fishery protection and have to deal with illegal immigrants; they have the protection of our oil and gas fields, and the control of shipping in the confined waters around our shores. That does not come under NATO, so they are on their own there, and it is important to realise that.

We are told that there is a shortage of skilled labour for building ships both in the Royal Naval and in civilian dockyards. But why are not more people given training? Surely this is the right period with all these large numbers of people unemployed. At the moment there are only 7,000 being trained as apprentices. I have been interested in the question of pay. Recently, I read in the local paper, the Western Morning News, about the visit of some Members of Parliament to St. Mawgan. I thought I would look into the question of pay, in particular in the RAF. I found that it was similar in the Army and the Navy. The new codes are not at all favourable to the increase that is necessary for these men to retain their standard of living. In fact, one man reckoned that he was 42p down, and another said he thought he was in the end 2p up. It is only the unmarried ones who are benefiting, but a married man with two children is having a difficult time. If, for instance, he is in the RAF and on the ground he gets £1.17p extra, and in the air £1.58p. I mention this because this is one of the reasons why they are leaving for outside enterprises. It takes about £300,000 to train a pilot, and now they are leaving to go, for example, to Cathay Pacific, flying VC10s, where they can earn £24,000 a year.

The point I should like to put to the noble Lord is the question of accommodation. They have to pay rent, which is quite correct. But one of the difficulties is that they now have to pay for the furniture, and this has gone up. I have for many years been saying this: why should not men be allowed to furnish their own homes if they wish to? But they are furnished now from an egg spoon to a lawn mower. There is literally nothing left out. They have to pay for it. I think that this could be looked into to see whether there could not be less payment or they could not be allowed to have their own furniture. In some cases, they are even paying for the storage of their furniture because they cannot take it to their houses. I should like that looked into. One of the other points is that women married to sailors have to live by themselves at home far more than they had to in previous years because there are not the stations overseas to which they can go. Therefore, there is the double expense for these men.

If we continue as at present, there is no need for aggression against the North Atlantic Allies. The Soviets can get all they want by controlling the seas. When Britain had control of the seas it was called the Pax Britannica; now with the Soviet forces it is a stepping stone for the gradual forming of a Soviet controlled world. In view of the fact that I am the only woman speaking in the debate, I should like to end by saying that women are not uninterested in what is going on in the world of defence. If you look at the agenda for the Women's Conference to be held in 10 days' time, you will see a great many resolutions dealing with this. They are fearful for their loved ones and families. I hope that some action will be taken on one or two of the points I have mentioned tonight.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, in defence debates so often the soldiers, sailors and airmen are forgotten. The talk is on a far bigger scale. But do please remember, without the personnel of our armed forces no gun can be fired, no ship navigated and no aeroplane flown. The young joining, and the junior ranks in the forces, need very careful examination by the Government, or a manpower crisis may well occur. When a young man or woman considers joining the Armed Forces, their primary thought is of pay and prospects. The pay is not good, and every welcome pay rise produces a deduction in allowances, thereby obliterating all the good done by the rise. The prospects are not good either, because they are not encouraged to see out their active life in the forces owing to pension schemes which do not provide adequately in later life. Promotion is also stinted owing to the size of the Armed Forces, which makes a very narrow pinnacle at the top.

The only hope of recruitment is for unemployment in the country to become worse, thereby forcing young fit men into the Armed Forces. But that is not what is needed. Owing to the run-down of the forces, the demand for enlistment will far exceed the vacancies. Therefore, instead of cutting down, the Armed Forces should be enlarged. The next step is training and morale. The Government again fail on both counts. By the severe rationing of petrol and ammunition the instructors' task is made very difficult because these two ingredients are essential. On my visits to BAOR, Warminster, Bovington and Lulworth, this factor has always been stressed to me by the instructors. If only we had no rationing, the task of instructors would be made possible, as the soldiers are very keen to learn.

Also, these training establishments are the shop window for our military equipment. Surely it would be worth while to boost these demonstrations by no restrictions, so that foreign Powers would be so impressed that they would buy our guns, tanks and vehicles. A soldier who has not had enough training and who has not become entirely conversant with his weapons, whether it be, tank, gun, or rifle, will not have the high morale needed to carry out his arduous duties efficiently.

The weapons our Armed Forces are provided with are the next cause for dismay. A great deal of equipment is out of date and spare parts are not available. This is outrageous, that our troops should be committed to any situation or battle without the very best we can provide. I am convinced that, however small our Armed Forces are, they must have top class equipment with spares available at a moment's notice. I know that certain up-to-date equipment is sold abroad rather than being issued to our own troops.

Welfare is, as it always has been, of vast importance and certain matters should be well looked into at the present time. The situation in Northern Ireland not only provides problems for our troops but also for their wives and families. I am led to believe that soldiers' wives who are allowed to remain with their husbands in Ulster are finding their financial situation very strained owing to the price of commodities and the stringent cuts in their family allowances. Also, the wives and families left behind in BAOR, when their husbands do the four months' tour in Northern Ireland, are experiencing difficulties. The tours happen probably every four months in 18.

To sum up, the Government must increase the pay of the junior ranks of the Armed Forces, for the very good reason that, without them, our Armed Forces will collapse. Northern Ireland will become a free-for-all. Our commitment in BAOR could not possibly be kept up to strength, thereby threatening the whole of the NATO Alliance. Her Majesty's Government must spend more money on defence and, by so doing, guarantee the safety of the United Kingdom not only from outward aggression but inner strife. It is also quite clear that we cannot negotiate with the Warsaw Pact countries from a position of weakness.

6.18 p.m.

The Earl of CORK and ORRERY

My Lords, with many speeches still to come. I must be brief. I suppose there are many speeches still to come because the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal began by promising us many well-informed speeches from all sides of the House, So far we have had only one from the opposite side, so I suppose we can look forward to several from the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom. It may be a relief, as a matter of fact, to the Government to find that they have no support from their own side when they remember the defections that have come from the noble Lords, Lord Shinwell and Lord Wigg. Perhaps they can do without them.

There are only two points I want to speak about in the White Paper, and they occur in the first section. The first of these comes in the sentence which says: In the search for savings the Government's overriding objective …". That would have delighted my late and noble friend Lord Conesford. I suspect that he might have classed it almost with his favourite piece of "Whitehallese","The worldwide bottleneck". It says: … the Government's overriding objective will be to keep to the minimum the effect of the reductions on our front-line contribution to the Alliance; … I suspect that I detect in this an echo of the old doctrine of the teeth and the tail; believing that if the teeth are all right it does not matter what happens to the tail. You might as well say to a man that you have provided him with the best possible teeth that dentistry can buy, so he is all right even though you have failed to provide him with good meat to bite with them. My Lords, there is no such thing as" teeth and tail". If you cut anywhere, you cut the whole.

The second sentence to which I refer is this: The reductions which the Government has felt compelled to make in planned defence expenditure in 1977–78 and 1978–79 reflect solely the national economic outlook for the period and the fact that recovery from recession has been slower than expected". I do not accept the truth of that—that these cuts are due solely to the economic outlook and the slow recovery. As other noble Lords have said, I believe they are due chiefly to the grip on the Government of their own Left Wing. Nor do I accept that it is necessary to place expenditure cuts on the Armed Services on a par with all the other Departments which must make their contribution to the general national austerity. As noble Lords have said time and again—I have said it myself —defence must come first, whatever the economic situation. Every other Department—be it education, transport, even health—can suffer without lasting damage being caused to the nation, but the Department of Defence alone stands between the nation and the dark.

I support the Amendment and I hope the House will divide on it. With respect, I demur from the curious doctrine put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who, if I understand him aright, takes the opinion that it is not worthwhile putting forward a corporate view against the Government if one knows in advance that the Government will not take any notice. I am sure the Government will not take any notice, but there are 50 million people outside the Government and some of them will take notice, and the sooner they do, the better.

6.21 p.m.

Viscount MONCK

My Lords, a fortnight or so ago I had the advantage of talking to somebody who had returned home on leave from BAOR and he told me a number of interesting things, two of which I shall relate to your Lordships because they show how efficiency is being sacrificed to economy. The first concerned vehicles, especially ammunition-carrying vehicles. From time to time these vehicles need to be repaired, as all the best-regulated vehicles do; and it appears that it is frequently six months before vehicles sent for repair are returned to the units to which they belong. It does not need me to tell your Lordships that no weapon is any good without the ammunition to fire from it. The second matter is about the mileage allowance for training. This is very severely restricted to BAOR, much more so than to our NATO Allies, and this makes combined operations very difficult indeed. Apart from that, it draws forth criticism and even sarcasm from our Allies.

I do not think I am alone in believing that Her Majesty's Government regard defence with far too much complacency. I cannot but be reminded of the first defence debate I ever heard in your Lordships' House. It was in the early 'thirties; it could not have been earlier than 1930 because I took my seat in that year. The debate was introduced by the late Lord Carson who, with his very attractive Irish brogue, moved the whole House with an impassioned oration on the terrible state of our defences. However, up rose the late Lord Reading, perhaps better known to some noble Lords as Rufus Isaacs, and with that wonderful voice and marvellous delivery he proceeded to tear Lord Carson's arguments to pieces. In what era, he asked, were we living? It was 1930, a year of international peace. We were not back in 1914 or 1918. It was a year of peace, there was no thought of war, no idea of war and no threat of war, he said. I would only remind your Lordships, as I have often thought to myself, that it was not so long between then and 1939.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, I wish at the outset to apologise to the House and in particular to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for not having been in my place when he opened the debate; as I explained, I had an engagement which I found it impossible to abandon. I equally apologise to your Lordships for addressing you yet again on the subject of defence and I fear that what I have to say will be very familiar. The Government however never seem to pay any attention, so it is necessary time and again to reiterate some elementary facts, but I promise that I shall not be long. Perhaps I might say in passing that the debate has shown how your Lordships, when you put your mind to it, in a very short space of time get over a whole lot of facts in a way which to me is a great deal better than some of the long speeches we have in ordinary debates.

Nobody who has listened to this debate can have any doubt where good sense and prudence lie. Over the last three years and over five separate cuts in defence expenditure noble Lords opposite and those Ministers in another place who are responsible for defence have maintained that reductions in defence expenditure have not reduced our capacity nor harmed our defence stance. They are roundly and specifically contradicted and condemned by the Second Report of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee. That report, which has been quoted in this debate, included this passage: We are bound to report that we have come to the conclusion that the cumulative effect of the cuts has been, and is likely to be increasingly, felt not only by the Services' support structure but also by the front-line forces. In our view, the point has now been reached where our Forces are being seriously deprived of modern equipment necessary to maintain, with the other Members of the Alliance, sufficient capability to deter the Warsaw Pact from acts of aggression, to sustain an effective fighting force in the event of actual hostilities and thereby to avoid early recourse to nuclear weapons. What do we mean when we talk about defence? It is not the purpose of British policy or of our Armed Forces to prepare for war, though should a war break out they must be sufficiently well equipped and well trained to do just that. Our purpose is to prevent a war, and to achieve that—this is perhaps the most important and positive act of policy that any Government have—requires that our Armed Forces shall be credible; they must appear to a potential adversary to be formidable; they must be big enough to make a proper contribution to the Alliance; they must be trained and equipped to the highest standard; they must feel that they have the full backing of the Government of the day, and the Government must in no circumstances let it be thought that defence is low on their list of priorities, for if they do then they, the Government, will undermine their own position and their own credibility and they will damage to an appalling extent the morale of our own Armed Forces.

In my view the present Government are guilty in almost all those respects, and as regards the latter, the full support of the Government of the day, as many noble Lords have said, not one Back-Bencher on the Government side has thought fit to come and speak in this debate. Of course one cannot get defence on the cheap, and more particularly one cannot get defence on the cheap in an age of sophisticated weapons each taking a decade to bring into production and service. But that does not mean that one can or should do the second best and allow the Services to be equipped with second-rate weapons to fight alongside Allies and against opponents who have the most modern equipment.

There are no doubt those who say that there are no more reasons for maintaining the Armed Services or NATO and that there are no threats. Well, I hope that they are right, but I try to keep my eyes open and to observe what is happening in other parts of the world. I hope— and I agree with my noble friend Lord Duncan-Sandys that it may very well be so—that the Soviet Union has no intention whatever of using the immense military capacity built up over the past years, a capacity that, to some of us, seems much greater than can be strictly accounted for in terms of any threat to the Soviet Union itself. So I ask myself a number of questions. Why is it that, at a time when the Soviet Union has been seeking détente, their defence expenditure should still be increasing? Why has there been this enormous surge in their maritime capacity? Why are there Soviet bases springing up in the Indian Ocean? What is the purpose of these things and of other examples of increased Russian military expenditure?

There are, of course, a number of explanations and they may all be true. They may, as my noble friend Lord Onslow said, be frightened of encirclement. Perhaps they are frightened of the United States, though I doubt whether, in current circumstances after the Vietnam war, that explanation is so readily understandable, particularly when one has regard to the nuclear parity of the two countries. Perhaps they are frightened of the Germans, but would the Germans be likely to act in isolation from the Americans? Perhaps they are frightened of the Chinese. Perhaps the country suffers from a bureaucracy that perpetuates the design, manufacture and production of military weapons. Perhaps the military have a disproportionate amount of muscle with the Politburo.

I do not know. All I say is that, until such time as we can see a readily discernible reduction in the military capacity of the Soviet Union, it would be unwise unilaterally to disarm or to reduce the capacity of our forces. I say so more particularly if the Government are reducing our capacity in order to carry out other programmes that are either electorally more popular or accord with the dogma of a minority of even those in the House of Commons. I have said over and over again in this House that we on these Benches and, I believe, everybody in the House are in favour of genuine détente, accompanied, I hope, by a mutual and balanced reduction of arms and men in Europe. I see no evidence of this happening. Perhaps it is distrust on the part of the Soviet Union. Perhaps it is mutual distrust, but that must be removed before further steps can be taken and, until such time as that distrust goes, détente, in the sense of disarmament, is a dangerous sham.

We have also to look, as many of your Lordships have said, at the facts of the Warsaw Pact. There is a great preponderance of conventional weapons in favour of the Eastern bloc and no amount of juggling with figures can disguise it. Yes, no doubt we have better trained troops and, in some cases, better equipment, though I believe that that superiority is rapidly disappearing. Yes, we can get some warning, but none of these advantages—if advantages they be—can make up for the overwhelming superiority of the Warsaw Pact. How sad and how mistaken that the United States and we abandoned the link between the Helsinki Pact and the conference on force reductions in Vienna. Since that happened, no progress whatever has been made and no progress will be made in the current circumstances.

So far as I know, the Government do not dispute any of the things that I have said. Indeed, Mr. Mason, when he was Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Mulley and spokesmen in this House have all stressed the very facts that I have put before your Lordships. What has their answer been? To give way to political pressures, to Party political pressures, to the pressure of their colleagues to cut defence spending five times in three years. Each time we have been told that it does not make any difference. We are told, "We are not cutting the front line. Good heavens, no! We are not cutting the front line! That would be the last thing that we would do! All the millions of pounds that we are saving do not really matter in terms of the capacity of our forces!" In your Lordships' Rouse, I can use no stronger expression than, Fiddlesticks! Of course it is untrue and we all know that it is untrue. No amount of complacent talk from the other side will persuade any of us otherwise.

We have only to look at the Select Committee, from which I quoted. Here are a few facts. In the Navy, cancellations include, as my noble friend Lord Hewlett said, replacement of the amphibious force commando ships and the Ikara anti-submarine missile improvement programme, reductions of destroyers, frigates, conventional submarines, mine countermeasure vessels and naval fuel. Deferments include the Sea Skua and general spares items. In the RAF, cancellations include the QC 434 short range air-to-air missile project and various radar and communications items. Reductions include the Jaguar strike/attack aircraft, the air transport force, communications aircraft and engineering spares. Deferments include the medium-lift helicopters for the support of the Army (cancelled in the 1974 Review, reinstated in the 1977 programme but subsequently deferred), reduction of the delivery rate of the Tornado by one-third and a variety of communications equipment. It speaks for itself.

The arguments always advanced by the Government are that we spend a greater proportion of our gross national product on defence than do our Allies. That argument is of course much less true than it was and, anyway, in terms of money, both the Germans and the French spend far more than we do. In those terms, the comparative paucity of our contribution is the measure of our economic failure.

It seems to me that there are two reasons why we should not go down this road. The first is that the example that Britain sets in defence matters is important. During the period when I was Secretary of State for Defence, there is no doubt in my mind that the British determination to maintain and, indeed, increase our military capacity was important in its influence on the ability of our European colleagues to withstand demands from their own Governments for reductions. There is no doubt, too, that the United States looks with a keen concern at the willingness of its European Allies to make sacrifices in their own defence. Though, for the moment, the outcry of two or three years ago is muted, there is still a strong feeling in the United States that Europe should do more in its own defence.

We have just had a successful meeting in London of the NATO Heads of Government. I believe that much the most important thing that emerged from that meeting was the wholehearted commitment of President Carter and his new Administration to the NATO Alliance. President Carter said that the United States would continue and, indeed, increase its support in the expectation that its Allies would do the same. But will Britain? Is it the intention of Mr. Callaghan to do any more? There will be a sigh of relief on these Benches if he decides not to do less. Without American involvement, NATO is nothing. Without their wholehearted commitment to Europe, NATO as we know it would cease to exist. It is perhaps not too much to suggest that continued American involvement is worth some sacrifice on our part, too.

Lastly, and perhaps more importantly, none of the things that we stand for as politicians and are striving to achieve—a higher standard of living, better welfare services, better hospitals, education and roads—are worth anything if we are not prepared to make sacrifices in conjunction with our Allies to retain our independence. What good would any of these things be if by our selfishness and our lack of foresight we wake up one morning to find not that Europe has been overrun by the Communist bloc, but that due to the rundown of NATO forces we are incapable of resisting and our defences have crumbled away?

I fear that to ask the Government to mend their ways is to ask too much. They are there, after all, by courtesy of the Liberal Party, and the Liberal Party exists in the House of Commons because they have prevented an Election. I listened to the splendid speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, in which he agreed with every single world of the speech and the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, and I listened to the extraordinary conclusion in which the noble Lord said that he is not going to support the Amendment. I can only conclude that this must be a result of the Lib-Lab pact.


My Lords, I did not say that I agreed with every word of the Amendment. I said that it was too wide-reaching in its scope, and I said that the Liberal Party did not dissent from some of the cuts, and therefore for that reason alone we did not propose to support the Amendment. I also thought it inadvisable to do so for what I call constitutional reasons. Perhaps the noble Lord will agree.


Words fail me, my Lords! In regard to the last part of what the noble Lord has just said, I simply have no answer which would not he so rude that I could not make it. As regards the first part of what the noble Lord has said, if I have a proposition to make and the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, will support me in the terms that he supported the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, I should be happy to take that for support.

As I was saying, the Government are there by courtesy of the Liberal Party, frightened to face an Election—

Several noble Lords: Oh!


I must say that I am rather surprised that anyone should quarrel with that. They are frightened to face an Election, determined to offend as few people as possible, impotent and discredited. But there, be that as it may, we on this side of the House would not like to have allowed their policy on defence to go unchallenged, nor let anybody think that we agree with it, and I for one will join my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing in the Lobby tonight.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, before I start to reply to the debate, which I think has been one of the most interesting in which I have ever taken part in your Lordships' House, I should like to say how much I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has found it necessary to put down the Amendment which appears in his name. I know how deeply he feels about the defence of the country, but no more, I believe, than many other noble Lords on all sides of the House. Our debates are known for the expertise of those Members who contribute to them, and such an Amendment will not draw any greater attention to our view from the world outside this Chamber. Indeed, it only introduces an element of partisanship which is not usually heard in our discussions of this important subject—

Several noble Lords: Oh, oh!


No, we are pretty good. The noble Lord must be aware that this is an Amendment which neither the Government, nor I believe many other noble Lords, can accept, particularly since it does not represent an accurate statement of the situation. So I very much hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw it, but from "noises off" I gather that this will not be the case. If, however, he wishes to press his Amendment in the Division Lobbies, with the help of his Party majority, it will add nothing to the debate. It will instead be a Parliamentary non-event, and will depart from the commendable practice of your Lordships' House, which has grown up in recent years, of not to divide on "taking note of" the Defence Estimates. On this point I somewhat naturally agree with the views that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has expressed. He has stated quite exactly my feelings on the subject.

Before I start my duty of replying to the debate, which I have been told must be kept short, I should like to make one important point in answer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and the final speech from the other side of the House, by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. A truism is that politics is the art of the possible. This is also true of defence expenditure; defence expenditure is tile art of the possible. We in this country have gone through a very troubled period which is not altogether of the making of the Labour Party. There was an Arab-Israeli war. There was a confrontation between the Conservative Government and the trade unions. There was a three-day working week; and that is something for which we are not in any way responsible. Interestingly enough, many of the criticisms about shortages of spares of minor elements of military equipment date not from defence cuts, but from the three-day week—

A noble Lord: Come off it!


No, I will not come off it! Take it or leave it.

Having said that, I want to make two points with which I think the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his colleagues might just conceivably agree. First of all, the economic situation of this country is improving, and in about a year from now we shall have a freedom of movement which we do not at the moment possess. The other point is that it is just conceivable that responsibility for defence might be transferred from this side of the House to the other. What I deeply regret in the speech that has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is that he has taken the easy way out of lambasting the Labour Party in a revamped speech which he gives us annually while we are on this side of the Table, and has not made a single positive proposal as to what he would do if he were in power to alter the defence policy and stature of this country at the moment—

A noble Lord: He knows that he will not be in power.


Unfortunately, blessings do not always occur. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, did in fact attempt to do this; he was sufficiently honest to say: "If I were in a position of authority I would do certain things. I would increase the number of infantry battalions, I would increase the reserves, and I would place social emphasis on anti-submarine warfare." That is correct. He also indicated that these have to be paid for and that they would have to be paid for by a reduction of expenditure on social services—

Several noble Lords: Oh!


Well, the Conservative Party in power is going to maintain the social services and add to defence expenditure. Is that correct?

However, my Lords, that is my political fling for this evening, and I shall now get round to answering the debate. First of all, as I said earlier, I think that this has been a most interesting and valuable debate. The first respect in which I believe it differed from many other debates that we have had has been in its sense of urgency. I think that this is true, and I believe that this comes from a better understanding—not only in your Lordships' House or in another place, but among the British public as a whole—of the situation which we are facing. I believe that public opinion is changing, it is becoming better informed and more concerned, and this builds up to the debates in your Lordships' Chamber. This concern among the public as a whole comes, first of all, I think, from the very frank and open White Papers that we have published when in Office. The actual problems have been placed squarely before the British people, and they are starting to grasp them.

I believe that the statements made in the White Papers are in fact not contradicted, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Newall, suggested, by the report of the House of Commons Expenditure Committee on Defence, which I think was a most important publication. The timescale was different, but it was obviously a publication of great importance, all-Party, timely, and widely observed. I think that the work of the Commons in this field, and the specialist committees, has had its effect. But, again, I do not think that this would have happened if the media also was not taking a more intelligent interest in the whole problem of the imbalance of power that is building up in the world. Perhaps one might even say that our small Defence Study Group in this House is in fact contributing to a better informed debate in your Lordships' House.

The new element that is being injected into our discussions at this point, which I find most interesting, is that for the first time I have heard that the flexible response doctrine is being challenged. It is being challenged by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn; and it was questioned by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, who gave a warning in what I thought was a very timely speech.

I have the feeling that all of us who took part in this debate were concerned, first, by the increased rapidity of reaction which the Warsaw Pact countries could now achieve due to their better equipment; and, on the other hand, by the fact that. because we were not building up conventional forces to the degree that many people believe we should, we were lowering the nuclear threshold. This in fact implies that we have got to rethink many of our basic doctrines as to the defence of the country. Right or wrong, we have to start thinking again in certain areas. Perhaps the key to it all is this question of the amount of time we have in order to activate our reserve forces and to move them into the positions in which they are intended to be—in fact, to clear the decks for a threatened conflict.

This, of course, is a matter of enormous importance, and I should like to discuss it at length. It is of course the key to all policy: how much time we have to react, so that within that reaction time we can take all the necessary steps which, as the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, pointed out, include calling up our reserves and transferring them to the place where they are required, so that they may join their formations, pick up their equipment and so on. This also requires proper preparation in the area of the logistic base through which these reserve forces are going to move to the formations which they are to reinforce.

My Lords, I had hoped to give a rather full answer to the noble Earl this evening, but as the time is short—and I am told it is short—would it be worth while having a debate on this single subject by means of an Unstarred Question? I think it is fundamental to all our defence thinking, and it might be worth its own discussion. Incidentally, within the framework of reaction times, do not let us forget the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newall, that in this reaction process—he said the politician, but I would say the Minister, is in fact concerned. As has been made very clear to me, at a certain point military planning has to stop and political decisions have to take over. What impressed me enormously in my recent study visit to Germany with the noble Lord, Lord Newall, was the fact that the German armed forces had persuaded their political masters—and they regard them as their masters—to take part in the various stages of operations which arise from a declaration of a state of readiness. I must say that this is something which we may or may not do in (what shall I say?) our paper scenarios, but I think it is something which we must consider very seriously as the time pressure upon us becomes more acute. Perhaps this might not be an inappropriate moment for me to say, on behalf of both the noble Lord, Lord Newall, and myself, how much we thank the German Government for the trouble they took for us. My Lords, that is the first point.

The second point that I think is interesting is that, for the first time in my recollection of debates in this House, we started with a discussion about the implications of attacks by nuclear weapons. The noble Lord, Lord Duncan-Sandys, in fact suggested that perhaps part of a Russian coup de main might include an almost immediate use of tactical nuclear weapons in order that the forward movement should be so fast that it would pre-empt the decision-making process of the Allies. This, I think, has a fundamental truth in it; I think it is not an impossible situation. I think we should all be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, for doing his homework with such thoroughness, for in his speech he started talking in realistic terms of changes in tactical nuclear doctrine. I think that we must start thinking about the unthinkable, and this is part of the job of thinking about the unthinkable. I could not in fact tell the noble Earl, even if I knew it, what the present attitude towards carte blanche is, but obviously this is part of the basic military thinking which must lie behind our total strategic concept.


My Lords, has the noble Lord time to answer me one question?—because I really want to be clear about this. Is he really indicating to us, on behalf of the Government, that the Government are now seriously thinking that our defence forces, conventional so-called, have now reached such a low level that it is time we began to think of reducing the point at which we would escalate the war from a nuclear point of view? Is he really saying that?


My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, had been present, he would have noted that I did not say that that is what we were doing. I was saying that this is the warning that we as a Government have received. That is not quite the same thing. In my view, this debate is of sufficient importance to be given careful consideration by those in the Government who are responsible for our defence. What I was saying was that this is the warning that has been given to the House this evening by at least three speakers in very carefully prepared and considered speeches.

I now move on to the importance of reserves, which I in fact touched on earlier. This, again, is obviously something which is concerning your Lordships deeply. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, stressed this point, and he made the very important point at this time of financial stringency that this is really one of the cheapest forms of defence that we have; that we are in fact cashing in, if I may say so, on the patriotism and dedication of many tens of thousands of our citizens who are willing to give of their spare time freely for the defence of their country. All I can say is that their role is of great importance, and may well increase. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, stressed their importance in relation to internal security. We all know their importance in relation to the reinforcement of the British Army of the Rhine. There was the point made, with regret, that the specialist battalions of the reserve forces are no longer available to us; but, nevertheless, I believe that we as a House can say—and it is also the view of the Government—that the importance of the reserve forces should not be underestimated. Indeed, as we all know, there has been a special recruiting campaign earlier this year which is so far producing very satisfactory results.

My Lords, I could answer innumerable points, but is that what your Lordships want? I should like to answer a small "dig" from the noble Lord, Lord Strathcona, on the subject of the Bird class—and I hope that we will in due course send that rather troublesome little animal away from this House. There were four of the Bird class ordered. Two were delivered—quite clearly it was a most unsatisfactory contract—and those two members of the Bird class are being handed over to the Royal Naval Reserve, where I hope they will be very happy. I can say no more than this. I do not know the whole history, but it is obviously long and complex and it started in Scotland. For this reason, I cannot fully answer it.

Perhaps I may make one final point in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and then, perhaps, I can run through the debate and write to various noble Lords answering the points of detail that they put to me. However, I would repeat that I think that the question of the raising of the level of our reserves and of their movement to their place of duty, together with the communications necessary to make this possible, is something that we might debate separately.

May I say just a few words about the submarine threat and the protection of the sea lanes? The maritime forces of the United Kingdom, as noble Lords know, are concentrated in the East Atlantic and the Channel. In view of the threat posed by the Soviet submarine fleet they are oriented primarily against anti-submarine warfare while maintaining a significant general purpose and particularly air defence capabilities. The United Kingdom provide the bulk of NATO's immediately available maritime forces in those areas and therefore make a major contribution to the seaborne and reinforcement routes from North America to Europe and the United Kingdom. So far as the defence of trade routes is concerned, the Royal Navy will retain the ability to deploy worldwide in defence of our national interests and in co-operation with our Allies. We are not stopped by the Tropic of Cancer. The allocation of forces to specific tasks in wartime would depend on all the operational and political considerations at the time.

I should like to make a further point on the question of anti-submarine warfare. The figures quoted today seem frightening but, just as the offensive element grows, so, too, the counter-measures grow which can check it. It is important to note that the anti-submarine capacity of a single Sea King helicopter equipped in the most modern manner is equivalent to one frigate, so although the numbers are a subject of deep concern, nevertheless, with the highly sophisticated defensive equipment of today, the operation is not without hope, particularly because of the skill and devotion of the men concerned.

A noble Lord: My Lords, has the noble Lord no word of comfort for the families in Irish rented houses?


My Lords, I know that my noble friend touched on this. There are two separate elements. There is not only the problem of Northern Ireland but that of disturbance in Germany. These are matters of study and, as the noble Lord has said, study does not mean doing nothing; it means understanding the problem and doing something quickly. This we intend to do.


My Lords, I want to ask the noble Lord whether I am right in thinking that the number of our helicopters available for anti-submarine purposes corresponds with the number of Soviet submarines.


My Lords, that is an x and y equation which I cannot deal with this evening. There is no doubt that, when we get the Invincible class in operation, plus all the additional facilities provided and the new weapons, the life of a Soviet submarine is not necessarily going to be a happy one. It may be nasty, brutish and short. Having said that, may I thank your Lordships for this really well-informed and concerned debate. What has been said will certainly be subjected to study by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord the Minister for replying and for helping us. I think I must put one point right. I did not suggest, as Hansard will show, any cuts in the social services. I referred particularly to nationalisation. I had in mind the Community Land Act which will cost £400 million a year, the petroleum pipelines Act which will cost £900 million and public borrowing and the £1,000 million a year that the NEB has at its disposal. These are the places where we could effect economies; and as we get the economy growing we should be able to afford it out of the increased industrial production, from which we shall benefit.

Uniquely, we have had 22 speeches in 220 minutes. Therefore, it shows that when trained minds give their attention to the matter they can succinctly put their views forward very effectively indeed. I was sorry that we did not have more speeches than the two from the Labour Front Bench. I had hoped for support in the Lobby from the Labour BackBenchers. I am sorry, too, for the minor disagreement I had with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I take the view that we have the duty occasionally, on matters of supreme importance, to make our collective voice in this House felt by voting. I think, moreover, that we draw attention to these views and get a better attendance than normally on a defence debate as a result of the Amendment. I respectfully suggest that it is better to vote sometimes than to allow our speeches to trickle quietly and gently into the pages of Hansard or into a few column inches in one or two newspapers.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, I think that we do our constitutional duty by making our collective views, which come from some Liberals, from many Tories and from several Cross-Benchers and, I hope, from some Labour Peers who are deeply anxious at this time about the defence position of our country and the result it has on our alliances. I thank all those who have attended and contributed to such good effect and I beg now to move the Amendment standing in my name.

7.5 p.m.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: (Lord Alport)

My Lords, the original Question was, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates of 1977 (Cmnd. 6735); since when an Amendment has been moved: at the end to insert the words printed on the Order Paper. The Question I now therefore have to put is: That this Amendment be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"; to the contrary, "Not-Content." I think the Contents have it. Clear the Bar!

Tellers for the Not-Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 50. A Division therefore cannot take place and, in accordance with Standing Order No. 53, I declare that the Contents have it.

The Question is, That the original Motion, as amended, he agreed to.

On Question, Motion, as amended, agreed to.