HL Deb 27 July 1982 vol 434 cc127-40

2.55 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Viscount Trenchard) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1982 (Cmnd. 8529).

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has said that the lessons of the Falklands are being analysed, that he has published Cmnd. 8529 unaltered in the meanwhile and that we see no basic need to change the main balance of resources which he outlined in June 1981 in Cmnd. 8288. He will, however, produce a further White Paper when the lessons of the Falklands have been properly digested towards the end of this year.

I think there is a danger in the interim; it is a danger of over-reaction in the wake of the Falklands to a particular threat which we have encountered and which must be just about unique. The House will, I am sure, be concerned about the possibility of other emergencies arising outside the main NATO area. However, it is hard to think of one where a suitable air base for powerful modern aircraft could not be found at least closer than was the case in the Falklands operation, and so I believe that we must avoid overreaction and ensure that we keep our eye on the primary threat to NATO.

It must also be evident that although that is where our eye has been, the forces and equipment that we had were able to respond effectively to perhaps about the hardest out-of-area challenge that could arise. Our forces did it, the men of our forces did it; the equipment in the main did it; and the huge back-up operation, right through to the dockyard workmen and British industry, did it. Tributes have been paid by countless, far more important, voices than mine, and I will not detain the House long by repeating the combination of pride, gratitude and sorrow that we all feel. It would be impertinent for me to do so. However, in my own little way, I went to St. Paul's yesterday to thank God and the forces for victory in a war of liberation, in a war to uphold the rule of international law, in a war to uphold the principle of self-determination.

While fully appreciating the desirable idealism of those who advocate peace and peace movements, I believe that, in the world as it is, there are no higher moral standards than those held by the men of our forces, and civilians, who were prepared reluctantly to stand up to aggression in the only affective way ultimately left open to us, and who were even prepared to make the final sacrifice to defend the cause of right. No adequate tribute can be paid to those killed and injured in this cause. Not only did we do it, but, in my opinion, we could do it again in 1985 or 1990 if, God forbid, we had to.

Although Cmnd. 8288 foresaw a reduction in some areas and particularly in the number of surface ships, it, and the current White Paper, foresee a continuing increase in the power and weaponry of those ships and a continuing build-up of our power beneath the sea and in the air above it. We are spending more in real terms on the conventional Navy outside the nuclear element than was spent in the year before we came to power, and we shall still be doing so in all the future years that one can at all accurately foresee.

The normal trend, particularly for air forces and for navies, has been one of a reduction in numbers but an enormous increase in power. It is a fact that after the tragic loss of four ships in the South Atlantic, our plans and intentions will now have the effect that we shall have the same number of major ships, including submarines, in 1990 as we now have. They will be much more powerful ships, with both offensive weaponry and—as the Falklands operation has shown us the need—I hope very much more effective defensive weaponry.

Therefore while the number of units, whether of aircraft, tanks or ships, is an important matter, the experience of the Falklands does not suggest that using unsophisticated ships without expensive modern defensive weaponry is a sensible route to follow. The ships that we do have must be equipped not only with the best offensive weaponry, but with the best defensive weaponry, too, and, for instance, further improvements to the Sea Wolf missile systems will be on many of our ships by the end of the decade. To dwell on numbers and compare them with the past is to run the risk of planning to fight the next war on the basis of the last.

We are now proceeding with a large number of major new equipment programmes which will substantially enhance our conventional capability. By the end of the decade the Navy's Sea Harriers will have Sea Eagle missiles under their wings, with three times the range, and probably three times the cleverness, of the much vaunted Exocet, the record of success of which will, by the time the full analysis has been performed, be seen to have been over-stated. We shall have a new generation of much longer range and intensely clever homing torpedoes. We shall have more modern helicopters, and we are developing forms of indigenous airborne early warning for these. Our helicopters and Nimrods are now being equipped with attack weapons; our fleet of nuclear submarines will have better equipment and weaponry. Furthermore, within the decade, we may well have equipped ourselves with better prefabricated force multiplying emergency equipment to prepare container and other merchant ships for modern helicopters and possibly also for V-STOL aircraft.

Similarly, the other services will have much new equipment and weaponry. The Army will shortly introduce the Challenger main battle tank and a programme of improvements to the existing Chieftain tanks, including new guns, new night fighting sights, and new armour-piercing ammunition. We have ordered a tracked version of the highly successful Rapier system, which will enter service in the mid-1980s, and the Bates and Wavell systems will improve the Army's command and control capability: and in their way they, too, are force multipliers.

The Air Force will have taken delivery of its IDS and ADV Tornado aircraft, and our ability to take out Warsaw Pact airfields will be transformed with the introduction of the new JP 233 airfield denial weapon. The Air Force will be equipped with the Harrier GR 5 now being developed in partnership with the United States under the AV8B/GR 5 programme. This aircraft will have up to double the payload potential, and it has a greatly extended range capability compared with the present Harrier, so these new aircraft will greatly enhance our strike/attack capability on the central front.

I shall come later to the points that we need to take into account to get the best compromise that we can between numbers and power and sophistication. I am sure that, in winding-up the debate, I shall have to deal with questions of dockyards and refits. But my right honourable friend's plans in this respect will allow a greater degree of availability through a ship's life, and our designers are working to ensure that improvements to equipment and weaponry can be fitted much more quickly to our ships.

Despite the success of our forces in the Falklands, one still reads a fair degree of criticism. To an extent, that might be healthy, but at times I wonder whether as a nation we can ever stop tearing ourselves to bits. Furthermore, so deeply ingrained in our system is the belief that we are never prepared for war, that on this occasion, when our forces were militarily prepared, some critics have, in my view, simply not taken in that we won, that the forces did it, and that in the main the equipment performed well.

That takes me naturally to the real problem, as I see it, for modern defence, the problem that causes so much of the dispute about the allocation of resources—a dispute that would take place no matter how large were those resources. In this technological age, as equipment gets more powerful every year, it also gets very much more expensive. Chapter 4 of the White Paper reveals that most main equipments have been increasing in cost by an average of 6 to 10 per cent. per annum over and above the rate of inflation. Of course, the increase takes place in jumps as one moves from one generation to the next, but that is the average when spread over the years. In my view it is the failure of some critics to absorb the truth of what I have just said that leads them to continue to equate the cuts in numbers of some units with the cost of maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent.

I do not know how to play our gramophone record, supported as it is by two Government open documents, in a different way in the hope that its truth will be absorbed by those who criticise us on grounds of the expense of Trident. I do not know whether to say it louder, or to whisper, but it is true that Trident expenditure is still at a very low level and will average only 3 per cent. of the defence budget, which itself we are currently increasing by 3 per cent. per annum. In our opinion, the 3 per cent. of the budget spread over the next 15 to 18 years will buy a bigger dose of deterrent against the threat and the possible blackmail of would-be aggressors than we could buy in any other way.

But that has little to do with our ability to give the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force as much of everything as they would like in the conventional area. The main reason for the resource problems—and I must say it again—is the fact that a ship and its equipment, or an aircraft and its equipment, have been increasing in cost for many years—for up to 25 years—by 6 to 10 per cent. per annum over and above the rate of inflation. Many other countries, such as the Federal Republic of Germany, have no nuclear deterrent, but they have similar—some would say worse—resource problems to those we have ourselves.

I do not in any way want to suggest that those who have strong views about our nuclear deterrent in its own right should not voice them—and I am sure that they will do so. But to equate that with our resource problem and to equate Trident with the changes necessary in an age of change in the allocation of resources is, in my view, a non sequitur, and is not based on logic. I consider that such criticism comes particularly badly from those who would have a defence budget lower than ours. On the resources which the party opposite says it would allocate to defence, it would not only have to cancel Trident, but would have also to take 10 times as much out of our conventional programme over the period during which we are planning to procure Trident again.

As a result of the incredible and praiseworthy speed of action of the forces in the Falklands crisis, there have also been suggestions that our experience shows that if we were to avoid our allegedly cumbersome purchasing systems, we should get rid of delays and avoid cost escalations and make large direct economies which could help us with our resource problem. We shall continue to try to streamline our purchasing process. But, while it is a good debating point, the limits of its bearing on our resources problem should not be overestimated. The cost of the machine that does the procurement is a little over 2 per cent. of the value of our purchases, and the major part of that cost consists of the controllerates which are each headed by senior service officers. Their organisations not only buy in normal times but, of course, bought whatever was available off-the-shelf which they felt could help in the recent emergency. Buying what you need off-the-shelf is, of course, a quite different task from planning how to meet the changing threat in an age of change.

In peacetime we have to decide from research and development onwards the areas to which funds should be allocated, so that equipment may be available to meet what is currently an unknown threat but which may develop 15 or 20 years on. Analysis has shown that the central committees at the Ministry, which have been criticised as being too cumbersome, have taken only about four months per project to do their job. In this context, I would draw attention to the evidence given by the Ministry in reply to the views of industry to the House of Commons Defence Committee, the Select Committee, on 12th May 1982. By agreement with the committee this evidence was kept secret during the Falklands operation to avoid the risk of long-term evidence being wrongly used in relation to the Falklands emergency. It has now been published, as has the final report of the HCDC on the organisation and purchasing process.

Chapter 4 of the White Paper sets out the measures aimed at increasing the cost-effectiveness of our equipment purchases, and those measures are being implemented. We are involving British industry much earlier in our forward planning than hitherto. We are aware of the need for selecting only the most important improvements at the operational requirement stage, and of the need to concentrate our research and development funds as far as possible into areas of high technology, where we have world-leading indigenous capabilities; otherwise, we will simply not fund the most important areas adequately. This is much easier said than done, but it is for us and other countries the essential prerequisite to selling more abroad and achieving greater commonality of equipment among our allies. Only that way will we gain a sufficiently high volume of production in key areas to cover the very high research and development costs.

International collaboration must be made to work better, and, in our view, the more this can be done industrially the more easy it will be made for Governments to agree on practical collaboration. Again, it is easier said than done, not least because everyone wants to be in the same advanced high technology areas; and British industrialists also seem to have a habit of choosing a foreign partner even in areas where we already have a strong indigenous capacity, and where market prospects are unlikely to support more than one British supplier. We shall persevere in the certain knowledge that these policies will, at times, lead to criticism from some sections of industry and Parliament.

The major problems in choosing which of many roads to follow in the allocation of resources are not those that I have outlined so far but are, in summary, those relating to change of threat in an age of change; the change of technology, which alters the threat and its response; and the change of people, both those responsible for developing the threat and those of the free democracies, including our own experts and service chiefs, for responding to it. Nothing is easier for contemporary Ministers than to go with the tide and criticise their predecessors, particularly if they happen to belong to the party opposite, for choosing some things wrongly in the past. I am tempted particularly when I am asked, for instance, why it was that the Sea Wolf system, suggested 17 years ago, was not present and bristling on every side of every warship in the Falklands. I have previously pointed out in that context that it was in fact impossible to fit it to certain warships without removing other, essential protective weaponry.

But when I am asked why it was not developed faster by my predecessors I think of the number of alternative routes that are put before Ministers today for every major role—different methods of tank busting, different methods of finding and killing enemy submarines, different methods (and these are future methods) of air strike and air defence—all of them a matter, to a degree, of conjecture and argument as to what their development costs might prove to be and a matter of argument as to the degree of their effectiveness depending on the unknown developments of potential enemies. The only thing I can assure your Lordships which is not a matter of argument about these possible future alternatives is that we do not have the resources to follow all the alternative routes, and if we were to go at the fastest possible pace on any of them we would have the money to do it only in very few instances, and we would be able to follow only very few of the routes which may turn out to be the areas of future threat. This problem probably would not be solved even if we had double the resources; and so, for those reasons, we do not criticise our predecessors of either party.

Since I started this analysis by mentioning the Sea Wolf system I should like to end by pointing out, as a credit to predecessors over the last 15 years, that our Navy is the only Navy with an effective antimissile missile system which can defeat incoming sea-skimming missiles—the only Navy. The new improved Sea Wolf will be even more effective.

When we have digested the lessons of the Falklands, and even when we have done that in a very discriminating way, I suspect we shall find that we have good cases for spending more in a large number of areas in terms of the equipment of all three services; and there are also pressures, which will probably be mentioned in this debate, for us to move ahead in areas of great importance to our permanent NATO roles. Thus, I am sure, there will be pressure for more money to help the new at present private venture, and hopefully joint international industrial venture of the future, concerning the future combat aircraft.

I believe that the House will agree that my right honourable friend is correct to ask for time to digest the lessons of the Falklands before publishing a further White Paper. I believe that the House may well endorse, as I believe the other place in the main has endorsed, the plans of defences to meet our major perceivable threat which he has outlined in the White Paper, Cmnd. 8529. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1982 (Cmnd. 8529).—(Viscount Trenchard.)

3.18 p.m.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount the Minister for his opening speech. It seemed to me to be a skilful negotiation of a difficult terrain, and I noted that he avoided a number of potential minefields with great dexterity. I personally admire the Minister because he has been very diligent, and if we have wished for more information from his own department he has always been willing to provide it. I thank him for that over the period we are covering today. I join with him in paying tribute to all three armed services, which performed so well in the South Atlantic. I should also like to pay a special tribute to the Merchant Marine, and the many military and civilian personnel who provided support for the task force. I have always had the greatest confidence in the men and women of our armed forces, and that confidence has been amply repaid. I hope we shall always honour the memory of those who have fallen and those who have suffered permanent injury.

I am a little surprised, however, at the determination of the Government, particularly the Minister of Defence, to publish this White Paper with only the briefest reference to events in the Falkland Islands—events which surely, whether we like it or not, will alter our defence commitments. It will no doubt be some time before all the facts can be established and the right conclusions drawn, but I think there are some fundamental lessons which can already be learned. Is it not true that it was purely chance that we had three aircraft carriers available for service in the Falklands, and that if the Argentine junta had been a little tardier in pressing their claim to the Falkland Islands we would have had only two? It is difficult to agree with the foreword to the White Paper that "the framework of that programme", the programme in Cmnd. 8288, "remains appropriate" when the Government are proposing to run down the Navy, thus undermining our ability to respond to acts of aggression such as that committed by Argentina.

It is true that our ultimate security lies with the preservation of peace in central Europe, but it does not follow that the main threat to that security will be in central Europe. The possibilities of minor aggression are infinitely more varied and numerous at sea than on the frontier in West Germany. Unless the Government are prepared to renounce our commitment overseas—and, far from doing that, they seem bent on increasing them—they cannot seriously present such a programme as appropriate. I agree that one should not necessarily seek to re-cast British defence policy in response to one campaign, but I think that the Government have a duty to examine their policies in the light of that campaign and in the light of the role that they are seeking to play in the world.

They cannot pretend that the Falklands campaign did not happen. The future defence of the islands must be taken into account. We cannot undertake a long-term defence of the Falklands without making cuts elsewhere. I welcome the news that HMS "Endurance" and "Invincible" have been reprieved along with the Portsmouth naval dockyard. I only wish that this sudden change of heart might have extended to the Chatham dockyard, also.

To those on the outside, it appears that the battle over the replacement costs of the Falkland war is only just beginning. The right honourable gentleman the Minister of Defence has secured the agreement of his fellow Ministers that the cost of the war will be met out of the contingency fund rather than the defence budget; and that this will include replacement costs for the ships and aircraft lost in the fighting.

My Lords, this is all very well, but the danger surely exists that those replacements will suffer from budgetary constraints. It is reasonable in my opinion for the Navy to demand new Type 22 frigates to replace the Type 21s which were lost in the Falklands. Given the concern about the reliability of the Type 21 as a result of the fighting, it is to be hoped that the Ministry of Defence will not dress up the smaller Type 23 frigate, which will not be available until 1988 at the earliest, as replacement ships.

I appreciate the financial dilemma in which the Secretary of State finds himself. He is committed to the expensive Trident programme and has persuaded himself that the Army in Germany must be maintained at its present strength, and he is obliged to live within a 3 per cent. a year after-inflation defence spending increase. There is simply not enough cash available to do it at all; and there, my Lords, I believe is the rub. The Government are committed to a programme which is at variance with our best interests, not to mention our bank balance.

NATO should not be allowed to become a sacred cow. It is not self-evident that the Alliance is working well. There is too much replication of effort, too many members having an Army, Navy and Air Force and too many members seeking to maintain a comprehensive armaments industry. The lack of progress on the standardisation of equipment is a prime example of the Alliance failing to work as it could.

I want to ask why there has been no discussion with our allies of a more equitable sharing of the defence burden. The amount of GDP spent by Britain in NATO is a greater percentage than that of any other NATO power, not excluding the United States. The maintenance of our forces in Germany absorbs 40 per cent. of the defence budget. Yet these forces represent only 10 per cent. of all NATO forces allocated to the defence of the central front. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, provides 70 per cent. of the NATO maritime force assigned to the East Atlantic and the Channel and yet commands only 23 per cent. of the defence budget. Surely, it is time that we at least discussed these disparities with our allies.

The White Paper stressed that the escalating real cost of defence equipment is one of the greatest problems that the Government face in managing the defence budget. Why, in that case, are they tying their own hands by committing so large a proportion of the defence procurement programme to one weapon, Trident? The Government say that Trident will cost £7.5 billion, but it is widely accepted that the real cost is more likely to be £10 billion. During the peak years of the Trident programme, it will cost 20 per cent. of new orders—that is, the equivalent of 30 per cent. of the Royal Navy's budget.

Moreover, we shall not be committing scarce resources to a tried and true system—far from it! Trident II, which the Government intend to buy, is still in the experimental stage. It is an untried system. The Government have been concentrating themselves on the success of our forces in the Falkland Islands, a success which was partly due to the flexibility which has long been the hallmark of our defences. Trident, I believe, will undermine the flexibility by diverting resources from other vital areas of defence.

There is another important point which, I believe, it is right to stress, because even the Prime Minister in New York, when she was addressing the United Nations special session on disarmament, spoke in favour of limitation of armaments. Public concern about nuclear weapons still continues. Whether we like it or not, the size of recent demonstrations in New York and Bonn, to name but two examples, underlines the failure of NATO and the Reagan Administration to counter the growing appeal of the peace movement. I personally welcome the opening of the strategic arms reduction talks and have always stressed that from this Box; and especially the endorsement by the Soviet Union of the general principle of substantial reductions in strategic weapons.

At last, there seems to be a tacit acknowledgment by both sides that their nuclear arsenals are far larger than they need to be for deterrent purposes. How can we expect the United States or the USSR to move towards nuclear disarmament if we continue to develop and expand our own nuclear capability? I would like noble Lords to try to obtain a very fine document on this matter which was produced by the Independent Commission on Disarmament and Security Issues under the chairmanship of an ex-Premier of Sweden who, I think, played a distinguished part in the discussions. If noble Lords have not already done so, I would urge them to read this report. It contains some sobering facts about, particularly, the effect of militarisation of the third world.

If the pursuit of security is having repercussions in the developed world, how much worse is the situation among the developing countries? Developing countries now account for approximately one-quarter of the world's military expenditure. One has only to use such figures as how much one soldier costs. In Pakistan, in 1978, for example, it was estimated that the cost per soldier was about 2,308 US dollars a year against a per capita expenditure of five dollars on education and one dollar on health itself.

My Lords, I believe that the White Paper which stresses the escalating real costs of defence must be studied carefully. The Government say that Trident will cost £7.5 billion. As I have said, it is widely accepted that the real cost is likely to be £10 billion. During the peak years of the Trident programme it will cost 20 per cent. of new orders. There is another argument against Trident. We are all ostensibly committed to disarmament. As I have said in New York when she was addressing the United Nations special session on disarmament, even the Prime Minister spoke in favour of limitation of armaments. There is concern about it.

I welcome the opening of the strategic arms reduction talks and especially that we will not have the silly criticisms that we have had before when this has been mentioned. This was a central point made by the independent commission that I have mentioned. I would say that we still have a lot to examine carefully, and I hope the noble Viscount will come with a critical edge on his thinking and not just be over-active about Trident itself.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he will tell us whether the plans of his party to bring the spending on defence down to the average level of our NATO European partners are still in existence, and whether he would contradict the statement that I made that that amounts to 10 times the cost of Trident over the years?

Lord Peart

My Lords, all we want is that we should have a share in it which is equivalent to that of our partners in NATO. That is all that I was asking.

3.31 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, there have been many recent debates and Government Statements on defence in your Lordships' House and in another place, and these have revealed clearly the basic weakness of the Government's defence policy. It emerged clearly again from the speech this afternoon of the noble Viscount. It is that Ministers are committing the traditional crime of peace-time British Governments in taking on too many defence commitments for the resources they are capable of mustering.

The Government have imposed five major tasks on the Armed Forces. First, home defence. Secondly, defence of the NATO area together with our NATO allies. Thirdly, operations outside the NATO area together with some of our NATO allies. Fourthly, operations outside the NATO area by ourselves alone independently of allies. Fifthly, Trident. That is all on a budget of £14.1 billion, less an uncertain proportion of the cost of the Falklands. The noble Viscount himself stressed the resource difficulty that he faces. He quoted from Chapter 4 of the White Paper, and its striking testimony that the cost of new major weapons systems is escalating at between 6 per cent. and 10 per cent. more than the rate of inflation. My Lords, the acceptance of all these commitments cannot be done—or at least it cannot be done adequately—without exposing our armed forces to undue risks. This is the burden of what I should like to submit to your Lordships this afternoon.

No one, of course, is questioning the overriding importance of the first two tasks which the Government lay on the services: home defence and defence of the NATO area. Admittedly, there is a lively argument going on now as to exactly what Britain's contribution should be to the defence of the NATO area. The Navy lobby and the Army lobby are busy shooting it out in the correspondence columns of The Times. The Navy lobby is arguing that some or all of our land and air forces should be withdrawn from the Continent. I submit that it would be most unwise to do this. As a deterrent to aggression a battalion in place is worth much more than several battalions stationed at home.

Moreover, though we are told that if we withdraw these land air forces our allies will quickly close the gap; I see no evidence whatever for this. Might it not be just as likely that they would be tempted to follow our example and themselves withdraw troops, including the most important ally of all, the United States? We are assured by the Government, moreover, that we save no money by withdrawing these troops from the central front, and we have no reason to doubt that. Possibly the worst effect of all would be to lower the nuclear threshold in Europe at a time when we ought to be straining every nerve to raise it.

If the Navy lobby is mistaken, their opponents are equally misguided. As the Falklands conflict showed, we have easily the best Navy in the world, the best trained and the most professionnal sailors with the finest possible history and traditions. It is in the maritime role, in the mastery of the east Atlantic, that Britain can make a unique and irreplaceable contribution to NATO. My own conclusion is that our job is to strengthen rather than to weaken our contribution to NATO on land, in the air and at sea.

I come now to the third task that the Government imposes on the forces. I think that we can cautiously approve it; namely, we should be willing to consider contributing to operations outside the NATO area in conjunction with the United States and possibly other NATO allies.

Such operations will never be strictly NATO operations because not all NATO Governments are ever likely to agree to support them, and we ourselves should never give a blanket commitment to taking part in them. We should judge each one of them on its merits. But there may be occasions, such as a Soviet or Soviet-inspired attack on the shipping of a NATO member, or armed interference with our oil supplies, when it would be right, after exhausting all the peaceful methods of settling the dispute, to resort to armed action with the United States and other NATO allies.

My Lords, the question is, of course, how to find the resources to fulfil these three basic tasks adequately. I believe that the answer is to eliminate entirely the fourth and fifth tasks which the Government lay on the armed services.

I come to the fourth task, therefore, which was well defined by the Secretary of State in The Times this morning. He wrote: as the Falklands operations showed, we need strong naval forces to maintain the ability to project British power in purely national interests". In other words, we have purely British interests in parts of the world other than the Falklands and must maintain capacity to send task forces to protect them or liberate them, independently of our allies, as we did in the Falklands. It is true that we have purely British commitments all over the world, left over from our imperial past. There is Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Brunei, Belize, and a further eight places listed by the United Nations as United Kingdom non-self-governing territories.

The Government propose that we should maintain the military capacity to defend or liberate these by ourselves without the participation of allies. I think that we are entitled to a great deal more explanation of this than we have had so far. Because the Falklands was a brilliantly successful military operation, it does not follow that it is an example for the future—not at all. There is no logic in that. There is no common sense in it at all. In the first place, the Falklands cost many lives and a great loss of material. In the second place, good luck played a big part in it—and it came closer to failure than was comfortable. Above all—as the inquiry will certainly show—the Falklands operation should never have been necessary in the first place. For all these reasons, it is plainly wrong for the Secretary of State to say: "Look to the Falklands. Here is a pattern for the future", or for the noble Viscount to say as he said this afternoon: "We did it, and we could do it again in 1985, and in 1990". But we do not want to do it again in 1985.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I think that when the noble Lord reads the Hansard report he will see that what I was trying to demonstrate was that our NATO equipment was able to be diverted and we did not need special out-of-area equipment, and I believe that will be true of the future as it has been today.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, with respect, I would dispute this point with the noble Viscount and I shall be coming to it very shortly. I think the conclusions must be—

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, may I ask a question of the noble Lord? Is he saying on behalf of the Liberal Party that the accomplishment in the Falklands was just "good luck" and nothing else?—because those were his words.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I am sure that when the noble Lord reads the account in Hansard he will see that he is not doing me justice; but I believe one of the factors that played a part was good luck. I think that nobody who studies the failure of Argentine bombs to explode and other factors of that kind will say otherwise. I do not believe the noble Viscount himself would deny that in certain respects we were fortunate in the outcome of the Falklands, and that is not to detract for a moment from the brilliance of the operation or the courage of those who took part.

However, the conclusion I draw is not that we should be ready to repeat the Falklands operation in other parts of the world, as the Secretary of State suggests and as the noble Viscount has also suggested, but that we should direct all our diplomacy to ensuring that we are never placed in a Falklands-type situation again. That is the major lesson to be drawn from the Falklands. We should apply ourselves to the task of transferring or sharing our commitments so that we never again find ourselves obliged to fight a major military operation thousands of miles away without the help of allies. Turning now to the point the noble Viscount was making, what is the cost of this capacity which he is demanding?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, there have been estimates already made public and I will return to that matter in my summing-up later rather than intervene during the noble Lord's speech unnecessarily. The point I make is that the main cost of the forces is their existence and their equipment. You have them. What the Falklands has shown is that they are not so unsuitable for out-of-area; they can be made suitable with a little amendment, with great courage and a great measure of flexibility, as has been shown.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, I think the implication of what the noble Viscount is saying is that we do not need a special capacity or a special budget for this capacity. We can muddle through on what we have for NATO—

Several noble Lords


Lord Mayhew

My Lords, yes, that is his implication—we must muddle through with what we have already assigned to NATO. But what happens if our next independent military operation coincides with an increase in East/West tension? It may well happen. How can we go on taking away from our troops and our resources assigned to NATO, dispensing with extra expenditure on the role the noble Viscount is looking for in the future? He said that we had what we needed; we had the right mix of forces, by chance, in the Falklands. That is not strictly correct. There was a grave lack in the Falklands; there was a lack of airborne early warning and a lack of large carriers. If we are going to maintain our capacity to conduct large-scale military operations independently of our allies all over the world, we ought never to have scrapped the big carrier fleet in the old days. I would ask the noble Viscount, when he winds up, to tell us a little about this role. Has he studied the political implications? Have the Government worked out the cost and the logistics? I think that Parliament is entitled to know.

Finally, about the fifth task which the Government have imposed on the forces—Trident—at least the Secretary of State is not claiming that the Falklands showed how right he was about Trident. The Government scenario, according to which it might be right for Britain to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons independently of its allies, is absurdly far-fetched—far too far-fetched to be worth £7½ billion, let alone £10 billion. The same is true not only of our nuclear missiles but of our nuclear bombs and nuclear depth charges. Quite understandably—and I agree with the the Government here—they decline to say whether our bombs and depth charges were taken to the South Atlantic. I should be suprised and dismayed if they were taken; but it is perfectly plain that they were, of course, totally irrelevant to the Falklands operation.

In conclusion, I would submit that our proper course is to concentrate all our resources on the three overridingly important defence commitments: home defence; defence of the NATO area with our NATO allies; and a contribution to operations out of the NATO area with the United States and maybe one or two other allies. I submit that the Government should abandon their ambitions to be a major nuclear power and to conduct major military operations worldwide without the participation of allies. Until these changes are made we shall be placing an unfair burden on the services and imposing tasks upon them without allowing them the resources they need for carrying them out.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

A disgraceful speech, my Lords.