HL Deb 16 December 1981 vol 426 cc189-208

Debate resumed.

4.23 p.m.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, we return to the short debate on the Motion of my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker. May I say that I regard the speech that he delivered in initiating this debate as historic. I believe it will be so regarded by future generations. It not only dealt with our immediate problems but gave a picture of the world to come if there is to be any hope for mankind. Our speeches which follow will seem minor in the light of the grandeur of his utterance. I say that with respect to the two noble Lords who have already spoken and the noble Lords who will follow. May I just say this to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas? I listened with the greatest interest to his alternative constructive proposals and I hope they will be seriously considered.

My Lords, I propose today to voice quite elementary first principles. They may possibly be regarded as simplistic and even naive, but I believe they are fundamentally true. I think we make a mistake sometimes in being overcome by temporary circumstances and losing sight of fundamental issues, that we are too sophisticated in our approach to problems. I think it will be accepted that inflation is expanded by public expenditure which brings no monetary return. That has been the argument in favour of the cuts in education, health, social services, the real cut in unemployment and other benefits. But at least those contributions to our society do benefit human standards.

In the case of arms expenditure, with one exception which I shall mention later, that neither gives any monetary return nor does it lift human standards. Arms production either becomes obsolete and wasted, or, worse, is used to destroy human lives. Arms do not benefit human standards. If they are used they obliterate human beings. One exception when the sale of arms does being monetary returns is when it yields profits in the arms trade. In answer to a Question which I put this week, the Government stated that Britain sells arms now to over 60 countries, many of them third world countries. From the point of view of fundamental human principle the arms trade is an immoral trade. It is more immoral than the trade in drugs, because it is a trade for killing human beings.

My Lords, I suggest that this is particularly objectionable when the supply of arms is to third world countries, some of which have unfortunately contracted the poison that prestige depends upon military strength. Sometimes the arms trade to the third world countries has been with the object of influencing them on one side or the other in the confrontation between the two power blocs. The British Government actually organises exhibitions of arms for sale and invites the third world countries to be inveigled into purchasing them. At the last exhibition 140 British arms companies were present to seek sale for their arms of destruction.

My Lords, on the other side it is argued that strength in armaments is a deterrent to conflict, and that there is this human benefit. Undoubtedly, the fear of mass destruction has held back the super powers for 36 years, but at the end of it all only to mount arms expenditure throughout the world and to create the danger of a more devastating war. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 57 per cent. of our people believe that a nuclear war will take place in their lifetime.

I want to urge very strongly that there is no need for the recession and the poverty in the world. It is clear now that we have a technology of production which, if fully used, could meet the needs of all people. It is ironical that that technology is only fully used to create weapons of death and that major research is devoted to that purpose. The technological potentialities of production are not fully used for civilian production, thus causing recession, first, because of the concentration on the waste of arms production, and more fundamentally because the peoples of the world are too poor to buy and make demands on the industrial structure which technically is able to meet their needs. Machinery is idle as well as workers. Willy Brandt in his introduction to the report of his commission said that a mere fraction of 1 per cent. of military expenditure could end hunger in the world within a decade.

The noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, is right: the expenditure on arms is the greatest cause of inflation. If it were devoted to constructive ends it could—in an economic system devoted to meeting the needs of mankind—not only end recession now but end poverty in the world.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I am puzzled as to the reason for the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, introducing a Motion in these terms, not because of any doubt that he wishes to contribute to his lifelong pursuit of disarmament, but because it seems to me that he is not furthering his cause by asking us to deal with highly abstract notions, some of them platitudinous and others of them misleading. If he is merely asking us to say that money which is spent on arms could, in a better world, better be spent in a variety of other ways, then it is difficult to imagine that there would be anyone in this House, or indeed anyone anywhere in the world, who would dissent from that opinion. The precise impact, of course, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, has pointed out, will depend on the economic situation and the industrial situation in particular countries at particular times, whether their resources are fully employed or whether, as in the 1930s, they are in a state of depression. It will vary from country to country, and to pick out, as the noble Lord did, a series of random examples, does not fortify his case.

Let me take two examples. The noble Lord gave the example of Japan. It is true that Japan spends relatively little on defence and has had hitherto a quite formidable record of economic growth. But, of course, it is also true that Japan is only able to pursue this policy because it can rely upon the protection of the United States. Therefore, some of the defence expenditure allotted against Japanese growth should he the defence expenditure paid for by the United States of America. However, as my noble friend Lord Thomas, said, we have Poland much on our minds, but the noble Lord did not quote the example of Poland which, like most of the Soviet satellite countries, has a relatively low level of expenditure of arms and yet their inflation has reached a pitch at which the domestic currency has no value at all.

We can all produce figures to prove this or that. The noble Lord also referred—and this was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway—to world poverty and the extent to which that could be remedied by a use of resources at the moment tied up in the production of arms. But I would suggest that what we are looking at is a failure of the world economic and administrative systems, because there are a great many resources which are not tied up in the production of arms—the resources which we have in this country in 3 million people out of work, and yet we have not found a way of channelling their possibilities to the creation of wealth to relieve world poverty.

What strikes me is that the argument here is intended to be an argument about armaments, and the noble Lord is using arguments which do not help us along the road of finding a method of coping with the problem. I think that the reason can be found in a phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, and echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway—the use of the words " arms race ". I think that it is one of those metaphors which has become a cliche and which has distorted thought. There is no such thing as an arms race. The analogy with two small boys collecting rival piles of fireworks, for example, which is what it calls to mind, is wholly inappropriate. No one has arms—except perhaps for a few isolated and often petty tyrants—for the sake of prestige, for the sake of show, or for the sake of making an impression. If countries or states spend their substance, or their people's substance, on arms, they do so either because they believe that it is a way of imposing their will on others or because they believe that it is the only way of preventing others from imposing their will on them.

The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, began with a condemnation of the Israeli raid on the Iraqi reactor. I am not, and nor is the noble Lord, privy to the intelligence sources available to the Government of Israel when that decision was taken and I do not know, without access to those sources, whether that decision was justified or not. But clearly the belief that lay behind it was that this reactor was capable of producing nuclear weapons; that the state of Iraq, in which it stands, is a state which has maintained a state of war with the state of Israel for over 30 years although it has no territorial contiguity, and no kind of political claims to advance. Therefore, I do not think that it is altogether surprising that in a world in which there are states at war with another state—whether actively or merely on paper—the prospect of their attaining powerful weapons of mass destruction should be one which is liable to cause unpleasant and perhaps in this case—and, as I say, we do not know—a mistaken reaction.

But surely this points to the core of the problem. All over the world there are rivalries; there are positions of conflict. Most of the time we tend to think about the basic conflict between East and West, of which the Polish tragedy is another and the latest example. But can anyone look at Poland today or consider the arguments that have been advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, and still deny the importance of the military factor in international relations and the reality of deterrence? Why is it that the western countries and the western world are—and, I am sure that we would all agree, rightly—rightly concerned to do nothing which might suggest a positive contribution to Poland's defence of elementary human, social and political rights?—because they are deterred by the powerful military presence of the Soviet Union. Deterrence certainly works that way round. Why should we assume that it does not work the other way?

Again, does anyone seriously believe that the Polish military, who undoubtedly share the general patriotic sentiments of the nation to which they belong—would have courted the wrath, the indignation and, perhaps for a long period, the hostility of their own fellow countrymen unless—as has been more than hinted at by the Polish Prime Minister—they had the feeling that the alternative was a Soviet military occupation, and that if one is to live under military rule, it is not unnatural to prefer the military rule of one's countrymen to the military rule of a foreigner. For those, like the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and myself, whose background is that of professional historians, the phrase "order reigns in Warsaw" has a very unpleasant and long-lasting resonance.

However, it is not only that conflict. If it were, it might be easier to solve. All over the world there are conflicts—some justified, where people are being denied justice; some the result of aims of an aggressive kind; but some, I would suggest, the result of the transformation of the world into a very large number of sovereign states, many of which, in fact, do not have the force at their command which enables them to escape from the domination of their neighbours—we have seen this in South-East Asia—some of which are unable to do what is normal for sovereign governments: to protect their citizens and other citizens going about their lawful business.

Let me take for a moment, if I may, a seasonal comparison. When I was a small boy, 60 years ago, at this time of the year I was taken to the theatre, and the two plays which were thought suitable for someone of my age were Peter Pan and Treasure Island. I knew that small boys could not actually fly; I also thought that pirates were things of the remote past. Yet today over some of the most important waters in the world—the avenues between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean—piracy is a way of life. It has not merely resulted in grave financial and commercial losses; it has resulted in further miseries for the people escaping from the tyranny of Vietnam. Can one really say that that part of the world has too much in the way of force at its disposal, or that the decline in the power of the navies of the commercial states of the world has not brought with it severe human penalties?

Therefore, I think that we must keep ourselves free precisely from those simplicities to which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, wishes us to direct our attention. The world is a complicated, difficult and dangerous place. There are problems which we must solve in bringing about better relations between states; in trying to negotiate for the reduction of arms between great states which have very different views of the world. That is our business, and to be distracted from it by these shining generalities does no service for the cause of peace. For that reason it seems to me to be very important always to be clear what it is that we are aiming at when we introduce, in this House or elsewhere, a resolution or when we speak to it.

In my view there is one element of optimism in the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker. I believe that he is right. I believe that the burden of armaments on the economies of many countries has become so serious that even those least disposed to question the use of military force are now likely to begin questioning it. It is because of the pressures on the Soviet economy to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, referred that I think—and it is the only reason why I think this—that we may have some success from the current talks on the limitation of armaments.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Kaldor

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker for giving us yet another opportunity to discuss issues of defence and defence strategy. I am afraid that I cannot follow him in the particular arguments that he put forward today. As an economist, I cannot agree with many of the things he said about the connection between inflation, unemployment and military expenditure. To my surprise, I was forced to agree with many of the things that the previous speaker said on this subject. However, this detracts not at all from my admiration for the general view and philosophy of the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker. I have known him since the days when I was his pupil at the London School of Economics, before he became a Member of Parliament and then a Minister, since when he has consistently maintained his stand for peace and disarmament, both between the wars and since the Second World War, and has fought for it ceaselessly. On these fundamental issues there is no difference at all between us.

If I may, I should like to return the discussion to the central issues of defence strategy, on which some of us heard a very good debate last week, in which, however, certain matters which I regard as very important were left unsaid. I think I could sum up the majority view of the House on the central issue in a sentence by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, who said that, with the existence of nuclear weapons a policy of deterrence is inevitable".—(Official Report, 9/12/81; col. 1345.) Not enough emphasis was laid on the fact that it is a peculiar sort of deterrence. It is the sort of deterrence the justification for which is that it is never going to be used, because if it were used it would completely defeat its purpose.

This country in particular is in such a vulnerable position that any attempt by us to use our nuclear deterrent, Polaris or Trident, would merely result in our own annihilation. Therefore, I do not believe that any British Government under any circumstances, whatever they may say now, would sanction the use of our nuclear deterrent, except perhaps in the sense that they might leave instructions behind that, if they were all dead, the surviving commanders of submarines should let off all our Polarises and Tridents. But that would not be deterrence. It would be an act of divine retribution, which is something different.

The great danger that I see is that, persuaded by NATO, by American thinking, we put too many of our eggs in the nuclear basket. We think of the next war as a nuclear war, which is an all-out war, which can last only a few hours. Whereas I think that the likelihood, on the whole, is that it will be a non-nuclear war, like the two world wars, or the Vietnam war—a war which could last for years rather than for hours. For this type of war, Britain has not been so ill prepared since I do not know when—I suppose since King Harold in 1066.

We are in a much worse position than our Continental allies who, despite what is being said now, might hold the line on the land frontiers; might prevent any Russian breakthrough. But we should be exposed to the blackmail of submarines, and to not having the naval power to secure our lifelines. This has been said by many people before. We have nothing like the resources that we had in 1914 or in 1939 to ensure the security of the communications of these islands and to prevent an invasion from the sea.

It has been suggested by many noble Lords that, whereas our position makes it impossible in fact that we should make a first use of the nuclear deterrent de facto, the enemy cannot be sure of this, and it is the uncertainty which is the real value of our nuclear deterrent. The enemy will not know what we will do. I should like to suggest that this is a double-edged argument. It is an argument the misuse of which has already cost us two world wars. In 1914 Sir Edward Grey was anxious to keep the Germans in the dark on the vital question of whether this country would be neutral in a coming European war or not. The German Ambassador persuaded the Kaiser that England would not fight if it came to a European war. If the Kaiser had not been convinced of that, he would not have given the order for general mobilisation, and the war might not have taken place.

In 1939 Neville Chamberlain told Hitler that we should fight for Poland. But he did so in a rather hesitant voice, and, after the many U-turns and tergiversations and the failure to fight for Czechoslovakia the year before, I believe Hitler was justified in thinking that it was not meant very seriously; and that, once Poland was conquered, or when France was conquered, we should abandon the war. In that he was mistaken. I mention these two examples only to show that a state of uncertainty does not always produce the results that are intended, but may produce the very opposite.

I belong to those who do not believe that it is possible ever to have complete multilateral nuclear disarmament. The best we can hope for is that the nuclear super-powers achieve a stable balance of terror—stable enough not to wish to disturb it by either one trying to get ahead of the other sufficiently to make likely the possibility of one destroying the other completely at a first strike. But once this stable balance is achieved then it is most improbable that a super-power would engage in an all-out war, and a war whose objective was the complete surrender, or defeat, of its opponent.

But that does not mean that nations will refrain from limited nuclear wars. We had Mr. Reagan saying the other day—Lord Chalfont is not here, otherwise I should have asked him whether that made him one of the KGB's agents for the promotion of the nuclear disarmament movements!—that he does not see why there should not be a nuclear war confined to Europe in the European theatre. I dare say that this would be welcome to the Americans. It may not be unwelcome to the Russians, although Mr. Brezhnev may not be quite so frank on the subject as the President of the United States.

From the point of view of Europe, however, this is the most dangerous possibility, and it is our duty to try to fight it in every way possible. That is why some of us believe that the current doctrine of using nuclear weapons as a way of avoiding defeat in a conventional war is something which should he excluded from our current strategy. Those of us who read Lord Carver's article in the Guardian this week will, I am sure, be convinced of that. There are no counter-arguments.

In other words, we ought to declare that we shall never use nuclear weapons first—never use them except as a response to a nuclear attack. That is an absolute necessity if we want to save Europe from extinction. The danger is that a nuclear war will not bring the world to an end; it will not mean the end of humanity, but it may mean the end of Europe, and we are Europeans. Therefore, we are particularly interested in the future of Europe. Yet the strategy of NATO which is triumphant at present regards the saving of money as the most important factor. They maintain that we save a lot of money on conventional armaments by having nuclear theatre weapons—the US now has 7,000 warheads in the European theatre.

While you can make a thermonuclear bomb as large as you like, as powerful as you like, what you cannot do is to make a nuclear bomb as small as you like. The smallest nuclear weapons have a power not much less than that dropped on Hiroshima. Seven thousand of them would have the effect of seven thousand Hiroshimas in Europe, which would leave Europe a nuclear wasteland.

I must bring my remarks to an end because this is a short debate. The essential requirement is to leave the balance of terror to the Russians and Americans and to reach a situation where Europe becomes a nuclear-free zone, thereby forcing the Americans to abandon any idea of fighting out a limited nuclear war which leaves them untouched at our expense. When Governments arrive at that idea I feel that progress is possible. However, it will make military expenditure for countries like Britain larger, rather than smaller, and that is why I do not like too much emphasis being placed on the fact that military expenditure causes us to be in the present very poor economic situation. In the case of Britain that is certainly not true.

5.1 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, the view of the Social Democratic Party was adequately explained by my noble friend Lord Aylestone. Incidentally, he appeared to be the only speaker to accept the disciplines of a short debate, and in the short time at my disposal I shall discard many of the things I had planned to say. It is important to pay personal tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker. I thought it was just a little unfair of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, to suggest that Lord Noel-Baker was a purveyor of platitudes and a provider of generalities. If ever a man has witnessed, not only for his pacifist belief, and has sought to apply that faith, in international conferences and gatherings, to secure some practical reduction in armaments, it has been Lord Noel-Baker. He is, in a sense, a conscience to us all, and I admire his constancy of faith, despite the many frustrations he must have suffered in the course of a life devoted to securing the peace of the world.

I am glad that there is unanimity, including the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in the view that armament expenditure is a substantial contributor to inflation. I accept some of the strictures he mentioned with regard to comparisons with Japan, Germany, Israel and so on, because there are many other factors contributing to inflation outside purely military expenditure. But if we look at the situation, I think we accept that inflation is probably the greatest menace to the continuation of our western society. In the United Kingdom, those of us who negotiate with Government departments on public expenditure are continually faced with the argument,—" It will offend or exceed the PSBR ".

That has been applied in the case of some very desirable projects, for example the gas pipeline which would bring gas from the North Sea and increase our energy resources; without that we are flaring off £1 million of gas every day. Then there is railway electrification. A whole number of major projects which are desirable in our community are not being provided because of the effect of the PSBR. However, apparently, in calculating the PSBR, military expenditure is contributory to inflation.

Every year we should re-read the Brandt Report because it tells us a great deal about this subject and establishes the connection between military expenditure and inflation. The figure quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, of 600 billion dollars being spent on arms, against 20 billion being spent now on development, is an imbalance in a sensible world. Those who look at the stock market these days will see that two major companies are in great trouble, Massey Ferguson and International Harvester, both of which are going through a massive financial reconstruction. Even British Leyland at Bathgate is having problems.

Those companies are engaged in providing capital equipment for food production. Meanwhile, countries in Africa and elsewhere are unable to buy that equipment. For example, poor old Uganda, recovering from the ravages of Amin, will spend this year 23 per cent. of her GNP on defence equipment and 7 per cent. on agriculture. Questions were asked in your Lordships' House the other day about the transportation of food in Africa. They have had an excellent harvest in Zimbabwe this year, but they cannot get it to the coast and get it distributed because of a lack of transportation equipment, this at a time when British Leyland at Bathgate is closing down and when British Rail workshops are reducing their manpower in Derby and elsewhere. It is that lack of balance of priorities that worries us all.

Last week in this House the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich told us a little about the discussions of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam recently at which they were committed to the idea that we belong to one world, in which issues of peace, justice and security are all part of the one world, so that we cannot escape or isolate ourselves from other parts of the world. We are all concerned about frustrating the ambitions of communists but we should recognise that this objective can be attained not simply by multiplying the number of arms at our disposal. The greatest contribution to the defeat of communism in Europe immediately after the war was the Marshall Plan, in which 4 per cent. of the United States GNP was devoted to aid in Europe. That was a successful and important factor in preventing the spread of communism in Europe. In this country alone at the end of the war, impoverished as we were, 1 per cent. of our GNP was devoted to United Nations relief to less fortunate countries than our own. Today, we have reached about half of the 0.7 per cent. of the target which the United Nations has established as the appropriate figure for overseas aid.

I believe, therefore, that if we have the kind of world in which all the time we are increasing expenditure on armaments to the neglect of aid for development, we shall create the kind of social and political tensions on which communism grows and strengthens. I therefore make an appeal that we should think a little about how much we are spending on armaments and how little we are spending on aid and try to get our priorities in balance.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, made some interesting suggestions about building up the economic power of the Western nations in order to bring some pressure on the Soviet Union. I regard the present time as the moment for making approaches for d.tente, despite all the problems of Poland just now. The Soviet Union are currently spending 13 to 14 per cent. of their total GNP on armaments. In this country the figure is about 5 per cent. and in the United States it is about 6 per cent. The Soviet Union are having to sustain that burden of armaments with an army in the Far East, an army in Afghanistan, an army on the borders of Iran, and an army in Europe. They are having to support that kind of military expenditure on an economy that is inefficient and weak, and I am sure that the leaders in the Soviet Union realise that that is so. They are in a very critical position. They have had a very bad harvest this year. They are short of foreign currency and they are required to import wheat and equipment. It is at this time, when obviously they are in a state of weakness, that, despite all the disappointments that we have had in the past, we should be making every effort towards some initiatives in this field. If we continue to increase the burden of armaments, it will simply contribute to the destruction of Western society and all the standards that we hold to be important.

5.10 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I should like to join in the tributes paid to my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker for introducing this short debate, and to say that I follow very largely what he had to say. Indeed, if I may venture to do so, I should like to strengthen his argument in one small respect. He said that Japan's military and defence expenditure is about 3 per cent. of her gross national product. In point of fact the expenditure is 0.9 per cent., and that makes my noble friend's case even stronger than he had already made it. I would not go so far as to say that there is a direct relationship, but there can be no reasonable doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has just suggested, that military expenditure does in fact notably contribute to inflation.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, suggested that there is no such thing as an arms race. I think that this is a semantic objection. I rather suspect that if an elephant walked into your Lordships' Chamber, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, would say, " Well no, that's not a elephant, that's a pachyderm ". However, to most of us it would still be an elephant and for most of us there is still an arms race. I believe that this is a point that is accepted all over the world, accepted on both sides of the Chamber.

In the last two years we have seen a serious deterioration in the international situation. We have seen a growth of conflict and of tension. We have seen increasing military expenditure and an escalation of whatever we might call it. Whether we call it an arms race, an increase of arms, or whatever, it has gone on, and the process of détente which culminated in the Helsinki Agreement of 1975 has gone into reverse, and even the whole idea of detente is beginning to come under attack. There has been a very serious deterioration in the international atmosphere. The United States Senate has failed to ratify the limited SALT 2 strategic arms limitation treaty which was signed by the USA and the USSR in June 1979, and prospects for SALT 2, let alone a SALT 3 treaty, begin to look extremely bleak.

In the time available to me this afternoon I shall not say a great deal about nuclear disarmament. For one thing, my noble friend Lord Kaldor has said a great deal of what I might otherwise have said, and for another thing, I have said it before and I shall probably say it again. So I shall not take up your Lordships' time, nor inflict further tedium upon you, by saying it again this afternoon. I want to devote the time available to me to making one or two other points.

The Soviet Union is deploying a new and highly accurate missile, the SS20, against targets in Western Europe as well as targets in Asia. The NATO decision of December 1979 to station ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing II missiles in Western Europe dangerously escalates the nuclear arms race.

In the Library there is a document entitled The Soviet Military Power, issued by the Department of Defense of the United States of America. It is a glossy, well-produced, and very frightening document. Its object is not only to provide us with information, but also to shackle upon us the manacles of fear. It is intended to deprive us of that freedom from fear which President Roosevelt wanted us to enjoy, and to say, " Look, you have very grave reason to be alarmed ", and of course we have. But the object of this exercise is not merely to inform us; it is also to prepare public opinion in the United States of America to bear the burden of a very large arms expenditure, so that they can say, " We are matching, we are over-matching, we are in fact still the most powerful nation in the world ", as indeed they are.

So far as we are concerned the object of the exercise and the point behind the distribution of the document is equally to soften up our taxpayers, so that we are equally prepared to spend money on arms expenditure and to carry a burden of an unreasonably high character in order to match once again the threat which is posed in the document.

It is, of course, true that the Soviet Union is a formidable power. But in any military appraisal of strength on either side or of any given situation one does not only measure the physical and military capacity of the potential enemy—and I am sorry that we are slipping into that kind of terminology—but one considers what that power has to cope with, and what is the morale and standing of the power. On that balance the position of the Soviet Union at the present time is extremely weak, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, pointed out on a previous occasion.

Therefore, the attempt to create a position in which all of us say, " Yes, yes, we must build up, build up ", is self-defeating because we are moving into a position in which we are armed beyond our capacity to manage. That is already the case so far as the Soviet Union is concerned. On a quite slender economic basis there is built an enormous military machine, and it has now risen to the point when it is beginning to weaken the entire organisation of the Soviet Union, instead of strengthening it. If we are ourselves moving into the same situation by building up our military power, we are undermining our economic basis; and that is the main point that the noble Lord. Lord Noel-Baker, was making in his very well-informed introductory speech.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan severely heightened international tension. This escalating arms race—I use the term without apology—combined with the growing instability and the power relationships between nations poses a major threat to world peace. It also threatens the stability of the world economy—not only national economies—by concentrating scarce resources on armaments and thus condemning millions of people in the third world to continuing poverty and starvation.

The arms race gives an illusion of security, but in reality it increases the risk of war. We are already in an overkill situation, all around us. By piling armaments upon armaments, by seeing danger here and danger there, and saying, " Yes, we must have more, we must match this weapon, we must match the SS20 with a similar weapon "—regardless of the fact, so far as the West is concerned, that we still have a very substantial overall superiority in strategic missiles—by saying that we must match at all points, we are in danger of creating a position in which the explosion begins to become inevitable and in which the culmination of the arms race must eventually terminate in war. That is a risk which we cannot afford to take in the nuclear age.

My Lords, I am approaching the time at which I must sit down. The single point that I have made is the one I wanted to make. I agree very much indeed with what the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, was saying. It would be a false move if, in an attempt to pretend that we are still a world power, on a super power basis, we maintained that we, too, must have our own independent nuclear weapons; that we must still pretend that we are, as we were, the largest and most important military power in the world. My Lords, we are still from many points of view a very great nation indeed. Artistically we can stand comparison with any nation in the world. Why do we not concentrate on the things we can do so well and not attempt to do something which, if we succeed in it, will only finish by destroying us?

5.21 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate, with differing views clearly expressed in all parts of the House. I should like to follow noble Lords who have expressed gratitude to my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker for tabling his Motion, and for the thoughtful speech with which he opened this debate. My noble friend, as several noble Lords have said, has a remarkable record of working for peaceful solutions of the grim problems which face the world, but he has done so throughout a long and active life without a faltering of resolve or a loss of idealism. I remember attending a public meeting in Anglesey as a schoolboy when my noble friend spoke about the League of Nations, and the lasting impression he made upon me and others 50 years or so ago.

Today he has drawn attention to the effect of the progressive accumulation of armaments upon the world economy and other problems, like inflation, which afflict us. It is not possible in this short debate to deal in detail with all the matters raised by my noble friend, but he pointed to the great dilemma, to the great paradox, probably the great crime; namely, that nations large and small are devoting a huge percentage of their resources to armaments of war and destruction while at the same time a high proportion of the world's population, about 800 million people, are starving or living just on the subsistence level. On the one hand, we have the Brandt Report, with its catalogue of human misery and its constructive recommendations. On the other, we have the ascending pile of armaments. One noble Lord objected to the term " armaments race ". What is the piling of armaments upon armaments but a race—and an obscene race at that? It is something which ordinary people, whose only wish is to live in peace, cannot understand—and who can blame them?

On the one hand, again, we have the so-called super powers facing each other with increasingly sophisticated nuclear equipment. It is just as well that we remind ourselves, and remind them, that they are called super powers only because they have big populations and large resources, and not because of any superior moral quality. What they do have, of course, is correspondingly very heavy responsibilities. There are also other countries which, like our own, spend more than they can afford on arms; and there are relatively poor countries, some with megalomaniac military leaderships, which squander what money they can get hold of while their people starve and rot with disease. Uganda under Amin was an example; El Salvador is another. It is a diabolical state of affairs.

This is the dilemma which concerns my noble friend and others, and in his Motion he relates the arms race to a number of other current problems such as inflation, unemployment and trade recession. Is my noble friend justified in setting the one against the other in this way? He produced some very persuasive arguments, and this is where the complexities begin to rear their heads.

In the broad global context my noble friend must be right in the sense that if the resources of all nations, large and small, or indeed a relatively small percentage of those resources—I think the figure of 1 per cent., mentioned in the Brandt Report, was referred to—were diverted to investment in productive industry, in research and education, in preventive health measures and in constructive aid to developing countries, then the world would very quickly become a happier place in which to live.

Mr. Brezhnev and his colleagues could devote more resources to making Soviet agriculture more effective, and to bringing their so-called virgin lands under cultivation. They do have, as noble Lords have mentioned, an acute economic problem, after all. President Reagan and his colleagues could begin to think about improving social services in the United States, and about diverting more to helping the third world, especially those countries in Latin America, many of which are in a morass of economic difficulty. Our own economic difficulties and problems at home would look a little less intractable if our defence bill was substantially reduced, as this Government have now begun to realise.

My noble friend is therefore right in his general proposition. But the tragedy is that these eminently desirable and sensible policies seem to have no early prospect of fulfilment. The world is full of danger spots, like the Middle East, Afghanistan and Southern Africa, and there is a struggle for spheres of influence in other places. It is easy to be pessimistic as we approach this Christmas of 1981. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, said, Poland is very much in our minds at this time, and the House must hope that sanity will prevail in that country because the Polish people are a great nation and a courageous people, and they deserve to be allowed to develop in their own way in independence.

But it would be a mistake not to recognise at the same time that there are small signs of hope. I thought that my noble friend Lord Kaldor, who always makes a constructive contribution in this House, was rather over-pessimistic today. I think that there are small signs of hope, as I am sure my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker would agree. For example, I do not totally dismiss as frivolous and superficial some of the statements recently made by President Reagan and Mr. Brezhnev. The former has modified his attitude, and the latter knows perfectly well, and has said so, that a nuclear war would be a universal disaster. They, of course, and their colleagues, are perfectly aware of the consequences of a nuclear holocaust. To think that you could confine a nuclear war to Europe is to be foolish. A nuclear war in Europe would spread and become a global nuclear war, and Russia and the United States would be largely destroyed in that terrible process.

In addition, there are the conferences and the talks in Mexico, in Madrid, and now in Geneva. There are people who dismiss these talks as useless and a waste of time. But they are greatly mistaken to say this, for as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, stressed in his speech, it is when the talking stops that we should begin to tremble for the world. These talks can be disappointing, as we know only too well—as they were, indeed, I think, in Cancun, in Mexico—but we must persist with them, for the enemy of peace is fear and suspicion and these can be dispelled only if there is a meeting place and a will to make progress.

We have had debates on defence and foreign affairs, and on the Brandt Report and the third world, and will not tire the House with a repetitive speech. The Geneva conference is crucial, but if the will is there then the central problem of medium-range missiles in Europe can be solved. We rely on the Government to bring all their influence, all their skill and all their determination to bear to help towards a solution. It is sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees. The propaganda is deafening, and blinding. The Soviet Union talks constantly about peace. But peace depends on faith, and it depends on good works as well. The propaganda directed at Western Europe must be matched by real progress in Geneva, and it would help the Soviet Union's image and increase our confidence in them if they started a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In his speech last week my noble friend referred to his recent visit to the Soviet Union, and I heard and read later with interest what he said about the discussions he had there on defence and on disarmament. He referred to his clear belief that the Soviet Government have a better understanding than we have of the horror of nuclear war, and that the Soviet Govern- ment and people are obsessed by the fear and hatred of war.

The second proposition, I have no doubt, is true. I had the honour to lead a parliamentary delegation to the Soviet Union three years ago and the impression gathered by the representatives of both Houses was the same as his. Soviet losses were so huge in the last war—2 million died in Leningrad alone—that they abhor and dread the very thought of another war, let alone a nuclear one; but I am not sure that they have a better understanding of the horror of nuclear war than we have in the West.

What is clear is that the Russian people believe that the threat of war is all on one side, that it is the West, and especially the USA, which is aggressive and that the Soviet Union is innocent and pacific. The truth is that, leaving Afghanistan out for a moment, the very act of increasing nuclear capacity, the concentration of land-based intermediate range missiles, the so-called " theatre missiles (a phrase I do not like) in Europe is a threat. We, in the West of Europe, are as apprehensive of the Soviet SS20s, which are already there, as they are of cruise missiles and Pershing 2s which are not yet installed. The danger lies as much in the conditioning of minds as it does in the deployment of missiles. The young people of the West are demonstrating mainly against nuclear weapons in the West; the young people of Eastern Europe are also demonstrating against nuclear weapons in the West. Whatever they may say, I hope that the young people in the East are in their hearts demonstrating as much against the SS20s as against other nuclear weapons. If they are, that is the beginning of wisdom. The zero option means zero everywhere throughout the world.

I was much encouraged by what the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said when he wound up our defence debate on 9th December. He said (Hansard, col. 1425): I would say that our disarmament hopes are high … That does not mean that we expect miracles, or expect miracles quickly, but for the reasons I gave in my opening statement we are optimistic ". All of us here, of all shades of opinion, would agree on one thing: that the policy of the final document of the first special session of the United Nations in 1978 should be implemented as rapidly as possible. That is at the heart of my noble friend's plea to the House, and he made it plain in his opening speech today.

If we look at our own country, then the other related matters raised by my noble friend are very much in our minds. We can assume that the Government are currently considering defence expenditure as part of their Budget preparations. We need effective defence in this country within our capacity and within the framework of our alliances. This is not the moment to examine our economic policies but it is as well to remember that our position and influence in the world would be stronger if we were speaking from a more stable economic base. At the root of my noble friend's Motion is the need for disarmament. The objective must be to support all constructive initiatives for disarmament in Geneva now, and, when the START talks begin in a few weeks, there as well.

Can the Minister give the House some indication of how the Geneva talks are proceeding? Are Her Majesty's Government satisfied that some worthwhile progress is being made? I know that he cannot give details, but a broad assessment would be helpful to the House and the country at present. Can he say what part this country will play in the START talks? I know that we shall not be main participants, but I assume that there will be full consultations. It will be interesting to know whether these will be between the USA and NATO or on a Government-to-Government basis? Finally, there is no doubt that people everywhere are yearning for a substantial practical act of disarmament. It would be wicked and cynical for the Soviet Union or for the USA or any other country to deny the people of the world what they should rightly have. I hope that this country will play its part fully in the efforts to achieve success.

5.35 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Viscount Trenchard)

My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, who introduced the debate, for an extremely interesting debate. It is with reluctance that it is my duty to resist some part of his passionate idealism with which so many of us agree. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for defence has said, defence may be expensive but war is enormously more expensive. In the world in which we live, as opposed to the desirable world which the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, would like us to live in, we must maintain the peace. This currently means maintaining deterrence against potential aggressors. Nevertheless, we support fully the sentiments that have been expressed in the debate towards arms control and disarmament on a multilateral basis and supported by practical verification.

We are currently optimistic following President Reagan's initiative that talks both on intermediate-range nuclear weapons and on the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons will achieve a practical reduction in armaments and in spending upon them. We believe that the firmness of the United States and NATO not to allow the balance of arms to be tilted even further against NATO is responsible for the new talks which have now started.

We are not ashamed of our past record in relation to other kinds of expenditure. We spend on aid to the third world substantially more than the USSR in relation to our national income and we spend a large proportion of it on the poorer countries; whereas the USSR spends virtually the whole of it on Cuba and Vietnam. The total figures are 0.34 per cent of national income for the United Kingdom compared with 0.1 per cent. for the Soviet Union. Neither should it be forgotten that the USA spends more on aid for the undeveloped world than any other nation. In other desirable areas of expenditure, we spend almost twice on health and education together compared with what we spend on defence. In the USSR, the situation is the opposite way round.

This Motion and the speech of the noble Lord have assumed that there is an arms race, yet Professor Lawrence Martin, the Reith Lecturer, pointed out that the percentage of GDP spent by the United States and this country has reduced substantially since the early 1960s. As noble Lords well know, the Soviet Union is spending between 12 per cent. and 14 per cent. Of its national income on defence—which is double the percentage spent by members of NATO. It is estimated that the share of national income spent on defence for the world as a whole fell from about 7 per cent. in the mid 1960s to about 5½ per cent, in the late 1970s and the USSR, as I have made clear, made a heavy negative contribution to this reduction.

Too many noble Lords on both sides of the House have assumed, because they have heard the phrase " arms race " so often, that there is an arms race. In economic terms that is not true, but in the power of modern weapons, it is true. But the world as a whole has seen a reduction in expenditure since the mid-1960s and that has been wholly on the side of the West while Russia has moved in the opposite direction. In the defence debate I made clear that we believe that the policy of deterrence with possession of arms for defence of the free nations of the world is a necessity and that the major crime, which too often is not mentioned, is aggression, which continues. I have not the time (much as I should have liked to do so) to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, into the defence area which we covered fairly fully in a debate last week; but I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that I am delighted that he mentioned the SS20s today, but he then went on to mention the plan to place the cruise and Pershing missiles and suggested that this was a setback to the movement towards world disarmament.

I would point out the timing of these things. The USSR started to place the SS20s in 1977. NATO announced that we would modernise and place land-based nuclear missiles in Europe which could reach Russia, of which at the moment we have none; and we took that decision in 1979 as part of a two-way decision which depended upon whether or not we managed to get into arms control talks—which we have now managed to do.

In our defence debate, as was mentioned, the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, said that the Russian people wanted peace. What worries us is the rulers in dictatorships. He was recorded, in replying to an intervention by my noble friend Lord Renton, as saying that of course we are all agreed that it is regrettable that the Soviet Union do not take the same view of human rights as we take. I suggest that this is not a detail. The two and a half million refugees who have left Afghanistan are proof to that. I believe that the difference of approach that stems from this attitude, which the noble Lord himself agreed, must colour all the steps that we take to move towards the ideal world that the noble Lord has in mind. I say " colour" but not stop us. With totalitarian states with aggressive records we must tread with care. But we believe the time is right for practical steps forward.

Against the background of the prime necessity of the security of the nation and of the maintenance of peace against a potential aggressor, the terms of this Motion and, indeed, the suggestions of the noble Lord and others that everything harmful in the economic world is correlated with defence expenditure and that everything good is correlated with low defence expenditure, is a slightly academic study. However, correlations need examining closely. There is a close correlation between the growth of television sets and the growth of heart attacks hut there is no causal significance in that correlation. Unemployment, inflation and recession can be correlated with many other things. Economists have covered volumes in the pursuit of the causes of inflation. It is, of course, possible that too much public expenditure can contribute to inflation but so can cost push inflation, fuelled by strong wage demands; or scarcity of goods in the face of strong demands; so can lack of monetary control. Perhaps a broad way to look at the limited meaning of these correlations would be to look at history—for instance, at the Roman Empire at the height of its military expenditure and enormous economic growth; and at the huge economic recovery achieved by Hitler's Germany at the time, regrettably, of massive rearmament.

No, my Lords, the 5¼ per cent. of GDP that this country spends on defence at the moment is not the cause of our economic ills. Our lack of competitiveness leading to our loss in the share of world markets from 20 per cent. in 1960 to 8½ per cent. in 1975 has many other reasons which have been debated over and over again in this House. If we look at the figures, we find that inflation in the 1940s was much lower than it was in the 1970s. For the decade from 1939 to 1949 up to half our national income went on defence yet at the end of that decade prices had only doubled. By comparison, the 1980 pound was worth about a quarter of its 1970 value, yet defence spending during that decade was 5 per cent. of GDP.

The same story emerges internationally. Although noble Lords have mentioned Israel and Japan, I would quote the Swiss, with annual inflation of around 5 per cent., with strong growth around 5½ per cent. per annum and with a relatively strong and effective defence; whereas Iceland, which spends practically nothing on defence, averaged 30 per cent. inflation in the 1970s. Unemployment has increased throughout the 1970s yet, as I have stated, total military expenditure as a share of national income fell.

Let me take South Korea, with 6 per cent. of GDP for that developing country spent on defence, and an 8 per cent. to 9 per cent. a year growth rate. Let me take the USSR with a 12 per cent. to 14 per cent. expenditure on defence and inflation—not that the Soviet consumer is in a very happy state—at only 1 per cent. to 2 per cent. When I look at France, I find good growth and high defence expenditure. The case is not proved by the two examples that the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, gave.

In the 1981 Year Book of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute the following statement appears: It does not appear valid to attribute this worsening economic performance to any change in the trend of military expenditure—for the very good reason that there has been no significant change in that trend. The reasons for the deteriorating economic performance lie elsewhere ". The trend referred is, of course, the downward trend in defence expenditure which has occurred during this period to which I have referred and to which Professor Lawrence Martin also referred, and which contradicts the thesis of the arms race. In addition to the many other factors that I mentioned earlier, economic performance varies because of factors like sharp increases in oil prices and rapidly developing competition from newly industrialised countries. These have much relevance.

As I have said, the vital necessity for the economy, as for everything else, is to maintain peace. At a more detailed level, 237,000 jobs in the United Kingdom are directly involved in the defence industries and approximately the same number of people again are involved indirectly. This does not include members of the armed forces or civil servants in the Ministry of Defence. Efforts that I have seen to correlate the capital intensity, which the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, mentioned today, of the defence industry with low employment in my opinion do not stand up. Pressed for time, I would merely quote Karl Marx, who I believe said that capital was the fruits of past labour and all that capital has indeed to be produced. This is a complicated subject but I do not believe that these correlations are made out.

Furthermore, the advance of high technology in the defence industries has produced a major beneficial fall-out in the civil area, notably in aircraft, communications and in satellites for communications, which are to the benefit of the world as a whole. Also—dare I say it?—though many of us may regret the splitting of the atom, it may prove to be the basis on which the maintenance of our whole standard of life may rest when other energy supplies run out.

In fact, the economic justification for this Motion in our view is not substantiated. This does not mean that we should not take every step that we can to save money for other purposes, and for that reason we supported the recent United Nations study and will support further studies. However, the Government accept the absolute duty for any realistic measures of arms control that can be achieved without threat to our national security and the defence by NATO of peace, freedom and democracy.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, that we shall leave no practical stone unturned in the world in which we actually live to move in that direction. At this very important moment in international discussions we hope that the Soviet Union will respond to the real and practical initiatives agreed by NATO and put forward by President Reagan on behalf of the United States.

I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, in detail on his two questions. But I am satisfied that the Geneva talks are off to a constructive start. I believe that these negotiations should be conducted by the smallest number of the main countries involved and should be conducted in secret if they are to make progress. I am, however, completely satisfied with the consultation procedures lying behind those which make absolutely sure that the United States will move forward with the full agreement of the rest of the NATO alliance.

5.49 p.m.

Lord Noel-Baker

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. To some of them I will express my personal gratitude in writing. At this hour I do not want to add further observations, except to say that I agree with noble Lords who have said that the policy of world disarmament is idealistic—and in my view the better for that; but I add my deep conviction that world disarmament of the kind defined in the final document of the Special Session of 1978 is the only realistic policy of national defence. The armaments do not defend. They are machinery for destroying an enemy, but they do not protect the people who maintain them. Look at Vietnam!

I beg leave to withdraw my Motion, and I do not ask for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.