§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, provided the deputy Leader of the House is quite sure that he does not stand in need of the proffered support, let us turn once again to the defence debate.
Many speakers have already said, and more probably will, that these are odd circumstances in which to be discussing a defence White Paper. I do not know how often it has happened, or whether it has ever happened before, that a White Paper has been prepared by a Government, that there has then been a not unimportant war, and that after its successful conclusion the same White Paper has been laid before Parliament without any amendment. Thinking this over I came to the conclusion, which surprised me, that on the whole it probably mattered less than one might have expected it to do. That led me to the next conclusion; that the Falklands war mostly confirmed what we already knew.
It confirmed that our forces were ingenious, obedient and brave. I would like to join with all that has been said in congratulating them on the way in which they carried out their tasks. It confirmed also that our equipment was, as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has put it, good in the main. It confirmed that our diplomacy was capable of great effectiveness when it is under firm and united control. And it confirmed something that needed little confirmation: that our Government were extremely resolute. What was new was that, on this occasion, it was resolute in pursuit of a cause which had the overwhelming support of the people.
Lessons will be learnt and surprises will come, and I hope that we will look out for one or two points. 150 It is obvious that our submarines kept the Argentinian Navy away after the initial phase of the engagement. We should not forget to ask what it was that kept the Argentinian submaries away in the later stages of the engagement, because the answer may be that we should not veer towards either submarine forces or surface forces on this occasion, but keep the ratio.
There is one thing which it seems to me might drop between two stools. We have on the one hand the inquiry into the run-up to the events, and on the other hand the examination of the military findings of this war. Let us not forget the need for someone to look at the financial and commercial lessons. Was the Government's financial and commercial policy towards Argentina handled in what, in retrospect, now looks to be the best way? Somebody should look at this, and I wonder who it should be. That I do not know, but I commend it to the Government.
I imagine also that the inquiry on the military side will reveal all the dangers of the international arms trade under its present degree of control, both international and national—particularly national control. How much of the top rank Argentinian equipment was of British or French origin? How much harm did it do us? In retrospect, what actions would we like to have taken or not to have taken before the war to avoid the harm that it did us? I hope that the inquiry will also note the very great help given to us by France—far outstripping, I believe, any de facto help given to the Argentinians by the sale of this weapon or that. In the help given to us operationally, in helping us to understand the weapons system which they had inadvertently sold to our enemy, and in helping us to defeat the enemy in action, France far more than cancelled out any possible ill-effect of their energetic arms export policy before the conflict began. We shall probably find that there is no reason to stop and tear up everything as regards defence planning, as a result of this war; not because it was a small or unimportant war but because, on the military side, we had not got much wrong in advance. God knows, I am not talking about the diplomatic and political side.
To move away from the Falklands now, it is good once a year to look at the balance of strength between the different things which we and NATO have to do. Sometimes I fear that we are losing sight of why the central front is important to us. It is important because we have always taken for granted that that is where the Russians are most likely to attack. That is only because the Russians are there in very large numbers. The Russians are there in very large numbers—and so are we—because that is where we stopped at the end of the Second World War. It was inconvenient, and it would have been a great conceptual revolution if we had moved the bulk of our defences and deterrent capability away from the central European plain. We have not done it and I am not proposing that we should do it, but we do sometimes get close to a Maginot Line mentality.
We should not lose sight of the fact that one is not likely to be subjected to an attack in the place where one is expecting it. The best way to deter an attack in any given place is to expect it there, of course; but I sometimes wonder whether we have not gone too far towards expecting an attack in central Europe, and 151 whether we ought not to look in a more concentrated and light-heeled manner at some of the places where we are not expecting anything at the moment.
Good deterrence involves not simply the ability to respond very strongly at once but, if we are to keep out of a nuclear war, it involves also the ability to re-supply and fight a conventional war of some length, and a conventional war at as low a level as we find possible. The ability to do that already teaches us something about the distribution of effort between the Army and the Navy, and between the Air Force and the Navy, which cannot permit one to regard with any equanimity any sizeable cut in our naval expenditure and deployments.
How often do we discuss the American end of the sea bridge that would be needed if we were fighting a war in order to avoid going nuclear? How often do we discuss the dangers and difficulties of getting all those thousands of ship movements out of the Caribbean, past Cuba, and into European ports which themselves have not been entered or mined by the greatly superior Soviet Navy—greatly superior to any individual European NATO navy? How often do we think about or discuss the colossal superiority in mines and mine-laying ability of the Soviet Union, and the colossally greater vulnerability of this country than the Soviet Union to mine warfare?
If we may go now to the flanks, and particularly to the northern flank, I would remind the House that these contain the only disputed frontier between the Soviet Union and the West. The only disputed frontier between the Soviet Union and the West is the so-called "Grey Zone" in the Barents Sea north of Norway. Not, mark you, the Norwegian Sea—let alone the Atlantic and the North Sea, which we always think about—but the Barents Sea, which is part of the Arctic Ocean round the corner. This is 1,000 miles or more from the Greenland/Iceland/United Kingdom gap which bulks so large in the thoughts of NATO's marine planners.
The White Paper itself, volume 1 of the Estimates, in its account of annual exercises does not mention the exercise sent round the corner into the Barents Sea, the one in which HMS "Glasgow" got into a bit of trouble. I think it fell within the year under review, and I wonder why that is not mentioned along with all the other exercises which are. There is a discrepancy here, I think, between our intense degree of preparedness and our great strength on the central front, and the much lesser strength on the Atlantic bridge and on the northern flank, which may possibly be sending wrong signals to the other side. Let us not forget it.
This is beginning to sound like a Navy lobby speech. It is not meant to. What I am saying are thought out points and no kind of block acceptance of any position, least of all an inter-service position. There sometimes seems to be a kind of slack intellectual band-wagon which tends to think that because the aeroplane has been invented the ship is a thing of the past. Let me put it this way. The Government do not leave the Navy to market forces, and I am sometimes filled with trepidation at the extent to which it leaves the Merchant Marine to the operation of market forces, with all the effects of that on shipbuilding, on ship-fitting, on the training and background of mariners. The inter- 152 dependence of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Marine has been very well understood since the days of King Alfred, and I think we would run a danger if we forgot it now, simply because of the arrival of the aeroplane.
The chapter on procurement in the defence White Paper—and I take pleasure in saying this, because I think it is probably the special baby of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard—is on all counts the fullest and perhaps the most interesting of all those that are there. It shows to what extent we are paying attention to, and possibly even becoming dependent on, the perceived needs of countries to which we might export arms. I do not need to go over again what we ourselves have suffered from the injudicious export of arms. There are two dangers in this. First, there is the direct effect that we may begin to pay less attention to our own needs if we start to regard all systems as having to be useful to countries with other needs, which we may do, though we are a long way from doing that yet.
The other is the danger of what one might call the cutting of corners on the declassified version, which is something I believe we shall hear more of later, particularly after the Falklands War. If we have a very good system the operational details of which and the management techniques of which are secret, we can sell it safely to another country without enabling that country to know how we work our system simply by changing a few details on it. But it costs quite a good deal to change the details, and so the Government and the arms manufacturers may be under the temptation to cut corners, so that it is not sufficiently altered and does still provide militarily useful intelligence to the other country. We were selling not with blind abandon, but we were selling in a pretty extrovert frame of mind to Argentina. Let us watch that in the future. I would nevertheless commend the new degree of thoroughness which appears in Chapter 4 of the report. Let us hope that in future years all the corresponding chapters of White Papers will be as thorough as that.
In conclusion, I come once again to the old centrepiece of Trident. I have something new to say about that as a matter of fact. I have been very interested to see the extent to which the Government themselves have been saying something new about that each time they return to the charge in successive publications. The costs appear to be escalating. We have seen the latest broadside from Dr. Greenwood. This is only to be expected; costs have always escalated. I would not single out the Trident programme for the generalised attack that I hope at some time to be able to make on all Governments in the past for always getting it wrong with regard to the cost of all sophisticated programmes. They ought to be doing better after 30 years of underestimating by the odd 50 or 80 per cent. Here I do not claim to speak for my party, because we are running after events, like all the Opposition parties. The Government are always ahead. We only see things as they see them after they have been seeing them that way for a year or two, and this leaves us, naturally, somewhat gasping. I make no complaint about it.
I do readily agree that we cannot get the same bang for the buck in the next generation of nuclear forces for this country by any other system than Trident. Consequently, I do not blame the Trident system for being 153 an especially expensive one. What I do say is that we do not need that much bang, and we could get less bang for a lower price. Getting less bang would have two advantages; first of all, the lower price, which stands to reason, and, secondly, another one which I would like to go into at somewhat greater length.
Not buying Trident might avoid hooking us forever more on the hurtling speed of the American development juggernaut. We did not really want it. We wanted Trident C4, and we now find we have to have Trident D5, because that is what the Americans are building, and it would be fantastically expensive to buy something from them which they are not building. So we are getting hooked. Generation by generation we remain hooked in the systems field on what the Americans are doing. I look forward to the day when we may become decoupled from that, in what way I am not going to specify at the moment.
There is another thing gravely wrong with Trident. Before I get there, I want to make a short excursion to Moscow and to quote a remark made by Marshal Ustinov, the Soviet Minister of Defence, only a week or two ago. Speaking of the British and French independent nuclear forces, he said:These means are part of NATO's military potential. They are targeted on objects in the territory of the Soviet Union and other Socialist countries, and, as the Americans themselves say, are called upon to complement the forward based nuclear means of the USA. We will insist that they he taken into account within the framework of these talks and we have every reason to do so."These talks" are the strategic arms reduction talks and/or the intermediate range nuclear force reduction talks.
Let us imagine the day—and it is imaginable—when we do find that we want to talk about the reduction of our independent nuclear forces in an international forum. We have bought Trident, it is there, it is operational. It consists of 514 nuclear warheads; that is, even if the Government stick to their self-denying ordinance of not putting more D5 warheads in it than they could have put C4 warheads in it, which I am sure they will. That is not, as the White Paper says—and here I take direct issue with the White paper—"a small proportion of" Western nuclear forces. It is over 10 per cent. of the number to which President Reagan wishes to reduce American strategic warhead numbers, which is 5,000. Taken together with the French force, it is 25 per cent. of the number to which President Reagan intends and hopes to be able to reduce American forces. One quarter is not a small proportion; it is a very sizeable one. Okay, so let us reduce it in negotiations. But we cannot, we cannot reduce the Trident force in negotiations. That is because to have one boat on station you need four boats. If you have four boats you have 514 total capacity. If you have less than four boats you go for certain periods without one boat on station, and you then have an ineffective deterrent; and the reduction of a deterrent force to ineffective status is not a thing one can do, even for the sake of international goodwill, even for the sake of increased stability, because it would itself decrease stability.
Therefore, I conclude that we should not obtain the Trident force at all, but should obtain some other force which would be less destructive, less accurate if need be, but which could be put in more boats with a greater ability to maintain at least one boat on station, 154 and possibly more, after an overall reduction. I think that the point is clear. The Trident force is an undisarmable quantum of deterrent. We must have a disarmable, a reducible, deterrent force.
I conclude by introducing very briefly one more subject, and one only. Will the Government next year please say something in the Defence Statement, or elsewhere, about the renewed arms race in space? That is something upon which we are not ourselves engaged, but it cannot but have a profound effect on our deterrent and, indeed, defensive capabilities The space treaty, as is well known, has more loopholes in it that it has wall; it is more loopholes than wall. There are vast new development possibilities which are being kept secret by both of the super-powers. They refer to them in guarded and rather awestruck terms. I dare say the Government will not be ready to tell us what they are—although I am sure that they know—but will they please make some statement which will help to start a public debate on the possible effects of all this on this country in the future?
I congratulate the Government on having conducted an extremely successful military campaign in a just cause, and I look forward to the day when we are able to conduct our nuclear deterrent affairs in accordance with the dictates of international negotiation and goodwill.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lord Zuckerman
My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, I should like to add my tribute, as a one-time civilian member of the planning staff of Combined Operations and also as one who was heavily concerned in the preparations for the Normandy invasion, to the brilliant way in which the Services mounted and executed the operation which came to such a happy end. When I look back over the years, I can hardly conceive that it would have been possible, so speedily, to do what was done. When I think of the days and days that were spent in mounting even a small operation, this was truly a remarkable operation.
I should like also at the outset to apologise to your Lordships if I fail—although I hope to stay to the end of the debate—to hear all that is said. The reason why I put my name down to speak is that I am on record in your Lordships' House as having declared that, if we have the resources to make the change from Polaris to Trident, so be it. I personally do not believe that, regarded purely in terms of deterrent power, the change would make very much difference to the strategic balance. What we have now is adequate and it has been adequate for many, many years. I adhere to that view and I do not want to go into the argument and the reasons why I perhaps depart from the noble Viscount in believing that we are not buying very much more than we have already by going for Trident.
But I want to add a rider. The rider I wish to add is a matter which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in his speech. If Lord Kennet will allow me to elaborate his point, we find that paragraph 127 of the Statement says:We welcome the United States' intention to resume negotiations with the Soviet Union on the reduction of strategic arms"—155 the START negotiations—and hope that talks will get under way in the near future"—which they have done. It continues:The United Kingdom's strategic deterrent force cannot feature in these negotiations, which are bilateral between the two superpowers and concern their strategic forces alone".The right honourable David Owen in another place challenged that observation, and challenged it in somewhat blunter language than is normally used in your Lordships' House. He referred to the matter as nonsense. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, did not go so far as that. However, what he said is correct. The Russians will not agree with us. I did not know about the quotation to which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred—a quotation apparently picked up only last week from something said by the Russian Minister of Defence. But I did have the opportunity of attending an informal meeting not so long ago in the company of Mr. Robert McNamara—who has returned to this fray—at which there was present an extremely distinguished Russian diplomat on the central executive. He made the point very plain. The USSR is definitely going to take the British strategic deterrent and the French forces into account when it comes to negotiations about numbers of weapons.
Let me go back a bit. Let me go way back to the test ban negotiations, in which I had the privilege to assist the Government of the day. At that time we could not "deliver" the French and that proved a stumbling block to the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Harold MacMillan. It proved a stumbling block to the President of the United States. Can the Americans deliver us now? That is what I want to know. I hope that, when the noble Viscount comes to wind up the debate, he will tell us whether or not we are truly independent here. Do the Americans agree the statement that our deterrent forces are not to be taken into account in their negotiations? This is an extremely important matter.
Let us say that some of the figures which have been suggested by President Reagan are meaningful, and deep cuts have to be made in the US or USSR strategic forces. Will the Americans not look at our forces? I would very much like to know what the noble Viscount can tell us about that.
In fact, we must ask ourselves whether or not Trident, when assigned to NATO, is a strategic system or a theatre system. When is it one and when is it the other? These anomalies unfortunately apply to so many of the nuclear weapons systems which now exist that I do not believe that any except academic philossophers could really disentangle one category from another.
There is another consideration. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, pointed out, we are not going for the C4 but for the Trident 2D5. Does it exist? Do we really know whether is exists? Only this last week Pershing II had its first trial. It was a disastrous trial. I had heard before that maybe this weapon is something which is exquisite on a blue print but which in fact will not operate necessarily in the way in which it is supposed to operate.
Here I mean "operate" in terms of accuracy, which has been referred to several times in debates in your Lordships' House. I personally do not believe that 156 it matters at all whether we, the United Kingdom, have an accurate system or an inaccurate system. The notion that the United Kingdom should have a counter-force or a counter-value or a counter-city/system, makes no sense at all strategically. What we have is a deterrent force. We must stick to that deterrent force while nuclear weapons exist.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, as the noble Lord may not be able to stay until the end of the debate, I should like to ask him for some clarification so that I may answer his questions later. Is he, in fact, recommending that we maintain the Polaris system through the 1990s and into the next century?
§ Lord Zuckerman
The answer to that question is, yes, my Lords. I will not go into the technicalities here, but I am prepared to debate them in private with whomsoever the noble Viscount puts up.
In an earlier debate which took place on 9th December 1981—and this point is important so far as what we mean by "deterrent force" is concerned—the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, made the remark that in controlling escalation we have to ensure that the mechanism of communication exists at the awful moment, meaning that the weapons would be in use. The answer is that it would not. In the same debate the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, referred to the nuclear weapon as a weapon which could not be used. He said that "it deters and it cannot fail to deter". I think that that is the important point, not whether we have an accurate system or an inaccurate system. It is a system which cannot be used and I could not agree more than I do with that statement of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery.
Recently there was a most unfortunate leak of a document in the United States. It was a very lengthy document which contained guidelines for a protracted nuclear war. It was leaked by someone in the Pentagon to the New York Times. It was not denied by Mr. Caspar Weinberger, who had to declare that he had endorsed it, although subsequently he withdrew many of the conclusions which people could read into the report. It was, indeed, a report which said that the purpose of the guidance paper was to assure the capacity of the United States to destroy the USSR. Here the noble Viscount, in reading the document, might read some of the words which his very distinguished father said when he started the Royal Air Force:to break the will of the enemy to resist, to destroy the enemy's political and military machine",and so on. The language was practically the language of Foster Dulles, but it ended up, where I first came into the nuclear debate—shortly before I became associated with the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft—in "broken back nuclear warfare"—the ridiculous concept of a continuing nuclear war.
This guidance paper was leaked deliberately—I think mischievously—at the moment when the Special Session was about to begin. But it was immediately denounced by General Jones as he stepped down from the position of Chief of the Joint Chiefs in the United States, who joined the company of the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Hill-Norton and Lord Carver, in saying that nuclear weapons cannot be used in field war— 157 a view which I have held and expounded over the years on many an occasion.
I refer to this now because I think that we ought to do more than appears to be being done at the moment in following up paragraph 127 of these Estimates. We ought to do far more than welcome the United States intention to bring about a reduction in the levels of armaments. We are in the position now—if we believe that some of the systems about which we are talking will ever materialise—of forcing the Russians into a strategy of launch on warning. If Pershing II, which has so far not shown itself to be a perfect weapon, were ever deployed and then used, there would be eight minutes or so of travel time before some target on USSR soil was struck. There would be no time for enquiries about intent over "hot lines" Presumably the Russians would be forced into a strategy of "launch on warning".
There have been many equipment failures, false alarms and human errors in recent years. The curious thing is that we have been living under such a threat for years. The Russians have never warned us that we are also in danger of a situation in which we might have to launch on warning, because it does not take much time for an SS20, an SS4, or any other missiles which the Russians have, to travel before striking a NATO target in Europe. But the fact that we are now imposing upon the Russians—at any rate on paper—the same sort of threat means that we are multiplying that threat enormously. Our reliance on nuclear weapons so far as the actual defence of Europe is concerned is something which must be examined. It is something which affects the balance of our forces, but I shall not go into that matter because there are others who are far more competent than I am to do so.
What worries me is that some of these weapons systems are impelling us into a situation where we are exchanging human judgment for machine judgment, when what is at stake is the survival of humanity. I prefer human judgment in these matters. Therefore, I believe that there is an absolute need for the INF talks and START to succeed. I should like us to play a bigger part than we have so far. It is fortunate that in her speech to the Special Session the Prime Minister referred to an offer made by Mr. Gromyko with reference to chemical and biological weapons; namely, that the Russians were prepared to allow on-site inspection. If that is true in that field, then we must follow it up. We must not throw away the chance. We threw away the chance once before—we were forced to. The Government of the day would have accepted what Harold Macmillan had succeeded in extracting from Khrushchev, but he could not get away with it because of our allies on the other side of the Atlantic. We now have an opportunity to pick up this torch and so help to reduce the danger of finding ourselves the victims of a launch on warning.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Thorneycroft
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman. He is right that we served together in the Ministry of Defence, and over the years I have been the recipient of much wisdom and much kindness from him. I am delighted to follow him in the debate. We debate defence, my 158 Lords. Defence is really the handmaiden or the servant of foreign policy. I am bound to say that I think that very soon we ought to debate foreign policy, because the foreign policy of the Western Alliance would seem to me to be in considerable disarray, both as regards its relations within itself and as regards a precise understanding of its relations with Russia. If your Lordships have anything so vulgar as "the usual channels", I hope that they will be used to ensure that at least when we return from the Recess some debate upon the basis of this foreign policy can take place. It would be a good foundation for an understanding of defence.
In turning to defence, in the Falkland Islands the Argentines secured surprise. It is about the norm of military enterprises, from Pearl Harbour backwards and forwards. An inquiry will no doubt take place as to whether or not we ought to have been surprised. But whatever happened, the recovery was brilliant and everyone who has spoken has paid tribute to those who participated in it. I should like to pay a tribute to some people who have not perhaps been mentioned; that is, the joint planning staff of the Ministry of Defence. To assemble and transport 8,000 fighting men with their food, their clothing, their medical supplies, water, ammunition, helicopters and weapons is a vast and complicated logistic exercise, and it was brilliantly conceived and brought into effect over a very short space of time.
I was privileged to serve in the Ministry—as was the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman—with Lord Mountbatten, and I think he would have been delighted to have seen the effective way in which that closely integrated machine turned into action and launched an assault of that character.
The second point I want to make is a point made by General Moore as the Argentine soldiers broke and retreated on Port Stanley. It is that success in war is an attitude of mind. I remember in the wartime planning when I served on General Staff, Plans, watching the planning of Operation Torch. I remember when the presentation was made to General Patton about the landings in West Africa. The staff were explaining how if we landed there we would immediately be thrown out by much heavier forces; the troops would die of disease; water was practically non-existent; the heat was intolerable; the seas were rough; the breakers were so far apart that the landing craft would probably be wrecked and land the poor soldiers and sailors in a sea full of the most horrible forms of shark. Towards the evening, when this had been going on for quite a long time, General Patton was asked if he had any comments to make. He said, "I'm going in. I'm going in with all I've got". Now, war has a lot of that in it.
Winston had it. You remember, on the landings on the Normandy Beaches, "Let the difficulties argue for themselves". I mention these things because though naturally I have not seen it I could pretty well write what the military appreciation would have been before we launched this assault upon the Falkland Islands. The level of theoretical risk at any rate was incredibly high. The distance was great, the numbers insufficient, the enemy courageous, determined, and brilliantly armed. The equipment on our side almost blind as far as long-range airborne radar was concerned. 159 The risks were very high. It could have been a disaster. I mention these things—and I think it is right to mention them—because I say that the element of victory in war requires a high degree of courage. Operations of this kind are a high risk performance. Above all they require immensely courageous leadership at the top. We should not exclude from our congratulations those who made it possible in those high places.
The third point I would make is that victory in the Falklands had a far wider effect than the recapture of those islands. For the first time for many years defence in the eyes of the world suddenly became something more than words and more than United Nations resolutions. Defence actually consists of foot soldiers with bayonets and rifles in their hands, and the putting of them there is a difficult and dangerous operation. But this is the moment of truth in defence. Galtieri was surprised. But I think the whole world was surprised. South America was surprised. South America is full of countries on the point of assaulting one another. Moscow was, I have no doubt surprised. But for the first time people saw a degree of determination in defence which they perhaps had not believed could be seen in this country. The word went out as far as we were concerned that this animal was dangerous, and if attacked it was quite possible it might defend itself.
What lessons, then, do we learn? In some ways I do not think that things will be much the same after the Falklands. The lesson that I tended to learn—and I realise that this is perhaps easier for me to say than it is from the Front Bench—was that when the chips are down in this world you are a remarkably lonely person. I do not attack anybody else, or blame them. When the Europeans first came to our aid—I am a rather keen European, anyway—I went round saying, "Look how wonderful it is to see them there. We always said that Europe had a lot of foreign policy in it". I saw all that. They left us after three weeks. I am not saying that they were not very valuable weeks. I am not saying that at all. Three weeks at that time was a long while, and it was a valuable moment to have their support, but is was three weeks only
Then there were the Americans. This was, after all, an open and shut case. Whatever other view one took, the Falkland Islands was naked, unprovoked and open aggression. The United States were an honest broker. Well, it is good to have an honest broker, and it is right for the Government to say how helpful the United States were. I absolutely accept that. But I still say, when it comes to the point, there are not many people round you. I learnt that lesson. I think it is right to say that it happened, and it is right to recognise that there are some lessons to be learned.
How do we apply this scene to the four main areas which the Government face in defence? The first is the deterrent. I remember when I first went to the Department of Defence. I asked for a paper to be written saying whether we needed an independent deterrent. I told the chiefs of staff—and indeed the chief scientific adviser—that I required nothing just because I was a Conservative. I asked them to forget anything that my Government or my party had ever said and face it absolutely cold, because the thing 160 was damned expensive and the moral issues were extremely grave.
I asked for that paper. That paper came to me in due course firmly and clearly laying down the case for an independent deterrent. The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, was a signatory of that paper. The case was absolutely clear. The Labour Party, at that time under Mr. Harold Wilson, were arguing for de-negotiating the Polaris submarines. But they did not do it. They had the same advice as I did. Eight Governments of all political persuasions had been absolutely clear that an independent nuclear deterrent was necessary for this country. That is far more important a decision than the details of what you have.
So far as the details are concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that they all escalate. I would tell him that the Polaris submarine did not escalate in cost. I think this was mainly because it was under the firm control of the Royal Navy. What I would say about the choice of deterrent is that I do not presume to know enough to judge it. I can argue, because it is a great moral issue and a great defensive issue, that we must have an independent nuclear deterrent, but when it comes to the point of choice I think that there are some things that the chiefs of staff and the chief scientific adviser of the day are entitled to advise about. If they advise me that the Trident is the right weapon, I have a strong suspicion that they are more likely to be right than I am or even, with great respect, Lord Kennet, or even perhaps my old friend Lord Zuckerman. Therefore, I tend to go along with them.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I think few people here would deny that it is desirable to have some kind of—not necessarily independent—nuclear deterrent in order to deter the use of nuclear weapons against this country. The real question is, however, do you believe that this deterrent, so-called, could ever be used on a first strike?
§ Lord Thorneycroft
My Lords, one of the horrors of the nuclear deterrent is the immense and, to my mind, dangerous confusion into which people drift by trying to analyse exactly when nuclear deterrents will be used. The moment you start in that direction you get into the most desperate trouble, and I shall not, therefore, be tempted along such delicious paths by the noble Lord. One of the great things about a deterrent is that nobody quite knows when it might be used, and as a result people are much more careful than they would be otherwise. I prefer to have deterrents as deterrents, not spelling out to potential enemies and aggressors just what mischief they can get up to without the danger of anything going off. A deterrent should be a deterrent.
I return, therefore, to Europe. There is a group of people, with some Conservatives among them, who say that we should withdraw the Army from Europe. We withdrew the "Endurance" from the South Atlantic, and we shall probably be criticised by the inquiry for doing so. It may have been imprudent to do so, but it would not be as mad as withdrawing the British Army from Europe. That would be criminal negligence and I very much hope nobody will 161 pursue that line. The Secretary of State was right in his article in The Times today when he said the front line of British defence is in Germany. I believe we should support that. What would be the view of our allies—our very brave allies, I should say, although I have criticised some of their policies; the Americans have many more troops in Europe than we have—if we were to withdraw our troops? It might tend to start a withdrawal on a somewhat larger scale. So we stay in Europe.
Thirdly, the defence of this island. In the final analysis, the defence of a nation depends on the courage and determination of the people who live in it. I believe that is more than nuclear deterrents, more than the Royal Navy, the Air Force or anything else. I welcome the existence of, for example, the Territorial Army and the new Home Service units, but personally I should be happy to see every man in this country taught to bear arms. The Treasury hate the cost of it and the Army think it is an awful bore, and, I am not saying we must have conscription on the scale of when we were sending troops to Korea. We do not need to do that. But I say that serious attention should be given to actual training to carry arms on a national scale. We live in a much more dangerous world than some people are disposed to imagine.
Finally, outside NATO. We have demonstrated that we can do the job. I am not frightfully impressed by the story, emanating I think from Naval sources, that if only Galtieri had waited a year or two we should have dismembered the Royal Navy and he could have got in. I do not find that impressive. On the plans as they are set out, it is perfectly clear, first, that we are spending far more money in real terms—far more than I or the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, ever spent in our time—and, secondly, that we shall have in four or five years' time a Navy of immense strength, that we intend to have one, and that we shall be able then to carry out an exercise there, if we have to—pray God we shall not—just as effectively as we can today. Those are the various roles. I do not think we have anything to apologise about. We were challenged and we stood and fought and won. We have demonstrated our courage, our strength, our planning ability and our guts, and we are respected by the world.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Brockway
My Lords, I suppose it was inevitable that we should have had from the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, in opening the debate the speech he made, and that many subsequent speeches have dealt mostly with the consequences on defence of the recent Falklands crisis. I wish to follow, without his authority, the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, made, which dealt with rather more fundamental problems.
It should be realised that the Labour Party is totally opposed to the policy on defence of the present Government. It has made that clear not only in the decisions of its annual conferences—the decisions of the executive of the party—but in statements of the leadership of the party. We are opposed to Trident, to the retention of Polaris, to cruise missiles, to nuclear weapons in this country and to the maintenance here of foreign, United States, bases. That is the policy of the Labour 162 Party so far as this country is concerned. Internationally, we stand for the recommendations which were made by the First United Nations Special Session on Disarmament, and to those I shall refer later.
In criticism of Labour policy which I have described, it is often dismissed as unilateralist. In the world today, it is no longer unilaterist. Canada, with certain reservations, has decided to have no nuclear weapons, and the same applies to Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Greece, India and Japan. All have decided to have no nuclear weapons. One of the most significant facts today in the development of the idea of regions which shall be non-nuclear weapons zones. Consider, for example, the proposal for the Nordic area. At the moment it is temporarily postponed because of the defeat of the Labour Government in Norway, but it will come again. We have the assurance of the leader of the Labour Party that, if that proposal for a non-nuclear zone in Northern Europe proceeds, a Labour Government would join it.
We have the situation in the Balkans, where the Greek Government are now approaching neighbouring Governments for an area nuclear-free zone, and two Communist countries, Bulgaria and Romania, have agreed to join it. We have the Olof Palme Report proposing a great area in central Europe which shall be free from nuclear weapons, a report signed even by a Soviet General. In this situation we are not living in reality if we do not understand the changes which are taking place in thought and action all over the world.
I wish tonight to urge an alternative to the defence policy of Her Majesty's Government. It is 75 years since I delivered my first speech on disarmament and peace in Finsbury Town Hall. Those of us who then urged disarmament were dismissed as idealists, Utopians, impossibilists, and the history of subsequent years—the two World Wars—suggested that there was truth in that charge against us. But, my Lords, disarmament has now become realistic politics. It became that four years ago at the First United Nations Special Session on Disarmament. There the leaders of 149 Governments—including those of America, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, China, and France—unanimously adopted a Final Act which made four major recommendations.
The first recommendation was the ending of all nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. The second was the phased abolition over years of conventional weapons, leading to the third recommendation: general and complete disarmament, except weapons necessary for internal security and as contributions to United Nations peace-keeping forces. The fourth recommendation was the transference of the billions of pounds that are now spent on military equipment, to be directed instead to ending poverty in the world. Those recommendations were endorsed by all the Governments of the world.
They appointed a committee to meet in Geneva to discuss the recommendations in detail and to make further recommendations to the second session, which has recently been held. The Geneva committee proposed that the recommendations should be carried out in three stages. Two of the stages, each over a period of five years, were to be devoted to ending nuclear 163 weapons and weapons of mass destruction, and then to the phased ending of conventional weapons. The third stage, indefinite in duration, would be concerned with carrying out what had been left over from the two first stages, and then moving on to general and complete disarmament. That proposal, supported by a large majority on the committee at Geneva, went before the second session a few weeks ago.
The result of the second session is politically disappointing. I assert that it is disappointing largely because of the attitude of the super powers—for instance, the attitude of the Soviet Union, largely making it a propaganda occasion. But even more responsible for the disappointment were the Governments of the United States of America and of this country. They rejected the plan for disarmament in the three stages. The Government of this country in particular urged that present negotiations should go on and they insisted on the effectiveness of the nuclear deterrent. So far as the present negotiations between bilateral nations, and sometimes a few multilateral nations, are concerned, they have gone on for eight years. Now there is at least a hope that the Vienna negotiations may bring about some results, but even so they are limited to particular issues. There is no plan for general disarmament.
As for the argument that the nuclear deterrent is a safeguard against war, with no war for 46 years, I would point out that during that period arms have increased enormously in the world. They have become infinitely more destructive, and at the end of it détente is today in danger of being destroyed and the international situation is worse than ever. The possibilities of nuclear war have greatly increased because of the idea of a limited nuclear war.
I want to conclude by saying that, despite the disappointment of the second session, it produced the greatly encouraging fact that, except for the small group of the super-powers, which prevented it from coming to a conclusion, the great majority of delegates were in favour of action for peace. In the world today there is a movement for peace such as there has never been before. It is very strong in this country, even stronger in Western Europe. It is now sweeping America, and is extending to Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. It is strong even in the Communist countries, where agreement has been reached upon a common peace programme between East and West. There is, too, the attitude of the unaligned nations, giving leadership both in the Geneva committee and in the second session in New York.
The movement for peace in the world and for disarmament is now becoming a greater force internationally than the present temporary attitudes of Governments. I have been engaged in politics for 75 years. I have never known a movement such as this all over the world. I believe that within 10 years the movement to end nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, to bring, about the beginning of world disarmament and to transfer the resources to ending poverty in the world, will succeed. I am confident that it will.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I am afraid that I must 164 ask the House to return to the real, cold world. The dreamlike qualities of some of the propositions that we have just heard, can, I think, be summed up in the reference to nuclear-free zones. When we speak of nuclear-free zones—Nordic nuclear-free zones, Balkan nuclear-free zones, Central European nuclear-free zones—it is not a question of whether the Greeks, or the Norwegians, or Mr. Olof Palme observe them; it is a question of whether the Soviet Union will observe them, and I think that recent history has given us no confidence that that would be so. It seems to me that the nuclear-free zone of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has outlined is about as realistic as a nuclear-free zone in Warrington, or Chertsey, or South Glamorgan. I do not believe that it is in the realm of real politics at all.
To come back to the question of the Defence White Paper, I must say that I find myself in total agreement with its proposition that the Falkland Islands episode must not obscure the real nature of the threat to our security—and I now quote from the addendum to the White Paper. I find myself in total agreement with that proposition. The Falkland Islands episode was a brave, brilliant and bold adventure, and if, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, has suggested, its success owed a little to luck, that luck would have been as nothing without the remarkable performance of our fighting men and those who planned and led their operations. But as I have said, and as many other noble Lords have said, there has been no change in the threat because of what happened in the Falkland Islands, and if the Defence White Paper was right before the operations in the South Atlantic then it is right today. Conversely, of course, it has to be said that if it was wrong before the Falkland Islands operation then it is still wrong today.
In my own judgment, for what that is worth, I believe this Defence Statement, as indeed was the previous one, is on the whole intelligently conceived and convincingly presented; and certainly the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, put it forward in a convincing and lucid way to your Lordships' House this afternoon. I have only one reservation about the White Paper, but it is a crucially important one. It is that the White Paper (and, indeed, it has been so of White Papers for several years now) has been based on strategic and military thinking which is rapidly becoming unrealistic and indefensible, and even possibly dangerous. I think the principal weakness in the patterns of thought behind the White Paper lies in the emphasis on nuclear weapons. I know, of course, that this emphasis is reflected in many of the so-called peace movements of which we heard so much a few moments ago. They, too, are obsessed with nuclear weapons, and seem, in their obsession, to ignore the equal dangers of conventional warfare, and even to be prepared to ignore the possibility of enslavement by totalitarian régimes.
I think this obsession was also reflected in last night's rather strange BBC exercise in sensational journalism, which dramatised all the familiar terrors and effects of nuclear warfare without very much in the way of informed discussion about how best to prevent that nuclear warfare taking place. But I think it is not entirely surprising that, faced with the growth of massive stock-piles of nuclear weapons in the world, 165 a very real fear has grown up among many millions of people about the implications of nuclear war. It is, of course, true to say that that fear is being ruthlessly exploited not only inside this country but outside it as well. Nevertheless, the fear exists; and the paradox and tragedy of this seems to me to be—and this is my main proposition this evening—that the policies which provide the target for these armies of protest and the pretext for these exaggerated fears are really no longer essential to the real security of the West, and I should like for just a few minutes to look a little further into the future than the White Paper is able to do.
Western strategy (and British defence policy, which naturally springs from it) is based upon two pillars: strategic nuclear deterrence, on the one hand, and, on the other, in the event that that deterrence should fail, a defensive policy or doctrine known as flexible response, which includes the possible first use of nuclear weapons against a Soviet attack. To take the first of these, strategic deterrence, it seems to me that there is a very grave danger that this is getting out of control. We now hear far too much talk, even among people who one would take to be responsible, of war-winning nuclear stategies, of pre-emptive and disarming attacks, of limited nuclear war and of surgical nuclear strikes. All this, I think, springs from the nature of modern nuclear weapons; and I do not believe it is necessary to be a member of CND to say that there is absolutely no certainty that nuclear war can ever be limited or controlled.
I believe that most people would agree that nuclear warfare is totally unthinkable as a sane military operation with any rational political objective. I believe, therefore, that we need now to get away from this dangerous trend towards the war-winning doctrine, the idea that you can fight and win a nuclear war, and to return, as has already been said in this House today, to the principle of minimum deterrence—a situation which used to exist but which is in danger of being eroded, in which both sides are deterred from using their own nuclear weapons by the threat of instant retaliation.
For this, as the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has pointed out, we do not need increasingly sophisticated systems or massive increases in the number of our warheads or missiles, or increased penetration or increased accuracy. We need none of that to maintain a posture of stable minimum deterrence. What we need, in my view very urgenty now, is agreement between the major nuclear powers—an agreement which, of course, must be adequately verified and proof against any deception or cheating. The strategic arms reduction talks now taking place between the United States and the Soviet Union may lead to this, but it will only happen if both sides are prepared to lay aside the larger lunacy of believing that a nuclear war can actually be fought and won in any real sense of the word.
Let me say at this juncture, in order to make my position clear, that I do not believe that in the current state of confrontation in the world nuclear weapons can be or should be totally abandoned. To do that would simply be to place the world, and the West especially, including this country, at the mercy of that country with the most powerful conventional forces—and we know quite well who that is. But I believe that our nuclear strategies have to be based on a very 166 cold and sombre appreciation of the limitations of nuclear weapons, and the realisation that they are not weapons of war. Furthermore—and this is perhaps one way in which last night's BBC film had an impact—we must be aware of the appalling implications of failing in our posture of deterrence. I believe that here my thinking will converge with that of other noble Lords in believing that if we take that posture seriously, and if we take seriously the possibility of a freeze and a reduction in the vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world, the Government may want to have second, third or even fourth thoughts about the decision to acquire the Trident missile.
The second pillar of flexible response, if deterrence should fail, is based upon the theory that an overwhelming Russian conventional attack, if it happened, could be contained by the first use of so-called battlefield or so-called theatre nuclear weapons. I have never believed this to be a valid concept. I know of no way of controlling the escalation of nuclear weapons. I know of no way of fighting a nuclear war by predetermined and pre-agreed Queensbury Rules. I believe that the doctrine of flexible response has always been based upon an intellectual and logical fallacy. But that fallacy is now underlined and reinforced by the appalling and significant increase in the destructive power, and the sheer size of the stockpiles, of nuclear weapons in the world.
Again, I must make a position clear. I do not believe in what is called a declaration of no first use. I do not believe that we should say to the Soviet Union, "We will never be the first to use nuclear weapons". It is all very well for the Soviet Union to do that; they know they are not about to be attacked by the West, and they know that they have an overwhelming superiority of conventional forces if they are. But I believe that if we were to make that declaration it would remove from the mind of our great potential enemy an uncertainty which in my view should not be removed.
However, it is possible—and this is the much more logical step to take—to evolve a defensive strategy which removes the need for us to be the first to use nuclear weapons, irrespective of whatever declaration is made beforehand. To do this, we are going to have to pay far more attention to the revolution that is taking place in modern technology; and let no one believe (if they ever thought it so) that the quite astonishing revolution in electronics and other modern technology has by-passed the armed forces and the nuclear engineers. It has not. We now have a family, a generation, of precision weapons, many of them with terminally-guided warheads of immense accuracy and immense destructive power, not nuclear but conventional. We have laser communications, we have electronic censors, surveillance drones and surveillance satellites; we have electronic communications of immense sophistication and we have intelligence-gathering techniques of a kind that would have been beyond the imagination of those of us who used such techniques in the Second World War.
The whole point of this extraordinary revolution in military technology is that it gives us three things that we have probably not had before in confrontations with the Russians in Central Europe. First, it gives us the opportunity and ability to ensure an early warn- 167 ing of almost any attack that the Soviet Union could mount. This is a quite recent development. Until quite recently it was possible, as Alexander Haig said, for the Soviet Union to mount an attack on Western Europe with the forces in place. With the modern technology available to our forces in Europe, that is, in my view, no longer possible or, at least, to put it perhaps more conservatively, it is extremely unlikely that that could happen.
The second thing which modern technology gives us is the ability to defeat a Russian attack, in spite of its overwhelming numerical superiority, without the imperative need to resort to the early use of nuclear weapons. Finally, what it does—and this is extremely important in the political sense, as many noble Lords who have engaged in political negotiations with the Warsaw Pact countries and with our own allies would agree—is that it conveys to us the ability to attack the Soviet Union in what are called its second and third echelons; that is to say, not necessarily to attack the Soviet forces on the territory of our allies, but to attack them far back, to use battlefields of our own choosing and not of theirs.
I believe that if we are prepared to create what I would call a non-nuclear deterrent, a conventional deterrent, which would enable us to rely far less upon nuclear weapons, we would also have to do a number of other things. It may be necessary—indeed, it would be so—entirely to abandon the doctrine of flexible response. We would have to be placed in a position in which, if we were attacked and we held up the attack without resort to nuclear weapons and those weapons were then used by the Soviet Union, our reaction may have to be a direct attack upon the mainland of the Soviet Union and not upon the battlefield or within the operational theatre itself.
It may be necessary also—and here I come to something which was referred to by the right honourable gentlemen the Defence Secreatry in The Times newspaper yesterday—to reconsider the whole doctrine of the forward defence of Europe. None of these things is engraved in marble. They must all be subject to constant reappraisal.
My Lords, I believe, in sum, that what we should be looking forward to now in the White Papers that are to come is the abandonment of any pretension, any belief, that nuclear warfare can be fought and won. We must return to the concept of minimum, stable deterrence based upon what used to be called mutual assured destruction; and this may have a very considerable effect upon our thinking, not only in the West but in this country, about the kind of procurement policies that we adopt in the next 15 or 20 years.
Secondly, I believe that we should abandon now for all time what has been (in my view always) the fallacy of flexible response, the belief that you can have some kind of cosy nuclear exchange in Western Europe without bringing in the strategic nuclear striking forces of the super-powers. We shall have a new Defence Statement in less than a year from now and we shall have another a year after that. I believe that between now and then there has to be some new and original thinking about nuclear weapons and defence policies. Otherwise, it seems to me that, inexorably and inevitably, we shall be left with the choice between two 168 dangerous fallacies. One that says that a nuclear war is thinkable, that it can be fought and that it can be won, and, on the other hand, the equally dangerous fallacy that the only way to prevent a nuclear war is by unilateral disarmament, neutralism, nuclear free zones and constant surrender to international blackmail.
My Lords, I believe that it is the duty of all intelligent, thoughtful and responsible people—and this applies perhaps more especially and more immediately today to those in Government—to ensure that we are not left at the mercy of these two dangerous heresies.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, we have listened with an interest unusual, I think, in our rather frequent defence debates to the last speech, which has done what is rare in these debates—set our minds moving along new paths of thought, in this case contrasting with those who, after 75 years of rehearsing it, can only make the same speech again. I have to begin, I am afraid, by apologising to the noble Viscount who is to wind up the debate for the fact that I shall be unable to stay to the end, having thought that this debate was to be held on another occasion. My regret is less because I suspect that, when I come to read the noble Viscount's speech in Hansard, he will have very few surprises for me.
What I do regret is that I shall not be here to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, because it seems to me that he has been put in something of a difficulty by the speech of his noble friend Lord Brockway, who was speaking not, as he assured us, in his own name, but in the name of the party represented by the Front Bench opposite. I think that we are entitled to know whether this is an accurate picture or what the country should expect, supposing the fortunes of politics were reversed and the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, were to find himself the Government spokesman on defence in this House in a year or two's time.
It seemed to me that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, went far beyond the question of Trident versus Polaris or even of a British independent deterrent. By suggesting the removal of American forces from this country, it amounted to destroying the basis of the NATO Alliance upon which one believed there was at least a large common measure of agreement. It is unthinkable. One might have new forms of political combination but that the NATO we have known and lived with and seen as the core of our defence could continue to exist if we, as one member, unilaterally took the view that we wished the armed forces of its most important member to play no direct part in our defence or in deterring our enemies, seems to me to be an even wilder fantasy than a nuclear-free zone in the north which does not include the Kola peninsula, which has one of the largest concentrations of nuclear weapons in the world.
I was much taken with—and I should like if I may to endorse this strongly—the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft that it is important (and what I have said perhaps accentuates that it is important) that we should have a general debate upon foreign policy on some future occasion. It seems to me that he is perfectly right in saying that in all 169 our debates upon defence we have to make assumptions about what it is we are defending and for what it is that we keep defence forces. It is more complicated than that. Remembering my schoolboy mechanics, defence policy is the product of what was I think called a quadrilateral of forces. That is to say, it is composed, first, of the foreign policy; secondly, of the technical development of weapons of war at any particular time and one's forecast of what that development is likely to lead to, which is even more important. Thirdly, there is the element of cost, what the country is prepared to contribute, either in money or, equally important, in the time of its citizens, in manpower. The fourth element, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is the element of public opinion.
All these four elements go together. None of them is wholly independent of the other and it is this which gives these debates their exceptional complexity. Let me give some illustration: there is, I think, general agreement—I am not sure in his absence whether the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, would agree even with this—that the defence of the home islands is something which we 'should all like to see effected. No one in this House would wish to see us being subjected to an occupying power may be even less pleasant than the Argentines proved in the Falklands. Most of us believe that we have obligations to our allies, as we believe that our allies have obligations to us and that our forces should take into account these reciprocal obligations.
It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that one need not go beyond this—because his idea of alliance forces out of the NATO area was a kind of extension of NATO—to, as it were, further episodes of the Falklands kind and that we ought to eliminate from our thinking the possibility of British forces being used on their own in any but the extreme emergency of the defence of the home islands. That is a plausible but dangerous argument. It is plausible because if it now were the case that Britain had no overseas responsibilities, it would be a nicer position to be in than the position we find ourselves in.
Not only do we have varying degrees of responsibility outside the NATO area, but as has been demonstrated—and this is one of the lessons that has been drawn from the Falklands campaign—the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, could not rely on public opinion supporting the abandonment of these obligations. It might have been possible to negotiate the transfer of the Falklands Islands to someone else's sovereignty a year ago, three years ago or five years ago. Perhaps the inquiry will tell us how near we got to it. But it is surely very difficult now to say that public opinion would accept this, and, if public opinion would not accept it, then it has implications for our defence forces which have already been made plain.
No one could possibly disagree with the statement which the noble Viscount who spoke for the Government made, not for the first time in this House, that we face the appalling costs of the actual advance in the cost of each new generation of weapons. Many of them by now have come to a level of sophistication and therefore of cost which the laymen among us can scarcely appreciate. It is just over 40 years since I was taught to read Morse code off a lamp. That is 170 a technique which I think was probably first developed in the Crimean War. I appreciate that signalling has gone some distance since that time. I suspect that what is true of signalling is true in every other area. This has very important consequences not only—alas!—for the total amount of defence expenditure, but for the detailed decisions as to where that expenditure should fall.
There is in all countries—and notably in this country with the priority which we have always given to the Treasury in our governmental arrangements—a tendency for these who fix the overall sums available also to expect a say in how that money should be divided up. In the past this has not always produced the most desirable result. The Treasury might be described—perhaps has been described—as the greatest collection of very intelligent ignoramuses ever collected under a single roof.
It is very important that we should be assured—and I hope that, when the antecedents of the Falklands campaign and the campaign itself are investigated, we shall be assured—that anything which has happened which has put the lives of our servicemen in mortal danger was due to a genuine technical miscalculation and not to an enforced economy at their expense. If that has not been the rule in the past, then I hope that the noble Lord the Minister can assure us that it will be from now on: that we shall never send sailors to sea in ships which have anything less than the very best of defensive equipment that it is within the power of man to design. That is a rather important area which we shall have to look at.
It also affects the choice of when you do things. I agree with my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft that there would be serious political—perhaps fatal—dangers in a major reduction in our land forces on the Continent. On the other hand, perfectly serious arguments have been advanced for a more economic method of maintaining them by bringing some of them home, by having home-based families, and so on. The arguments are familiar.
In his article in The Times, the Secretary of State pointed out that one disadvantage of doing this was that, although in the long run money would be saved and, if saved, could presumably be spent on other methods of defence, in the short run it would be more expensive because it would require extra buildings and other facilities in this country. However, that seems to me to be a Treasury argument rather than a defence argument. The practical man with no Treasury experience might say, Surely it would be more sensible to spend a little more now in order to reduce costs in the future when, on the showing of the Defence White Paper itself, the costs of Trident, for instance, will be more considerable than they will be in the next few years." Also, those with any vestiges of Keynesian economics still hanging around them might think that the time when the construction industry is particularly depressed might be a better time to make some additions to our military constructions than at a future time when we hope the economy will be going full blast.
Finally—I have referred to this in connection with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—there is the question of public opinion running through all our debates: what the country would wish the Government to do and what the country would accept when the 171 Government did it. On this occasion I should merely like to say—because the propaganda to which the public is subjected is a matter that has occupied the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and myself on other occasions, and no doubt we shall return to it again—that the extreme difficulty of using public opinion as a guide in these matters was illustrated by the successive public opinion polls taken during the Falklands crisis.
In the first, which was taken before there was actual fighting, people said that though they would like the islands to be liberated they would not wish it to be done at the cost of a single serviceman's life. As fighting progressed, the willingness of the public to accept sacrifices—and indeed sacrifices were already being made—altered curiously. So, if you like, public opinion hardened as the conflict advanced and conclusions which might have been drawn from the first poll—that we really must find a way out of the situation and if necessary we must give up the islands because the public would not stand for fighting for them—would have been completely erroneous, as it turned out.
In a democracy, clearly, what people will spend on arms in the last resort and whether they are prepared to see themselves or members of their families in uniform is a decisive factor, but it is malleable—malleable both by those who would not wish us to be defended and by those who can give us the leadership which, in the last few months, thankfully, we have had.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on their courage and wisdom in sticking their necks out and publishing the Defence White Paper without altering it, immediately after the Falkland Islands operation. I fully endorse what his right honourable friend wrote in the foreword he enclosed with it—that our force structure is adaptable enough to permit an effective and timely response to developments both within and outside the NATO area; that recent events must not obscure the fact that the main threat to our security comes from the nuclear and conventional forces of the Soviet Union and her allies; and that only when the Falkland islands operation has been fully studied will we be in a position to take reasoned and considered decisions on what adjustments may need to be made to the defence programme. I strongly endorse all that.
There are many admirable parts of that Defence White Paper to which I have not time to refer. I must concentrate on the major issues, and one of them in particular concerns the excellent insert on the use of national resources, which the Falkland Islands fully confirmed. I fully support the noble Viscount and his right honourable friend in their determination not to be swept off the course set by their White Paper, Cmnd. 8288, by the waves of post-imperial and naval nostalgia, which appear to have affected significant sections of all political parties and the media. I was delighted to see in the Defence Secretary's own article in The Times that he at least was not being swept away, and he made a very good case why he should not have been. The case that these nostalgia-driven people have made is that had the changes of emphasis for the future naval programme been implemented, we could not have 172 carried out the operations that we did; that not only should the reductions in surface vessels proposed have been cancelled and the previous programme restored, but that we should plan to have an even larger surface fleet so that we could "project power" beyond Europe and the Eastern Atlantic even, perhaps, to the extent of reversing the decisions of 15 years ago and getting back into the aircraft carrier business.
The money and the manpower to make this possible, they suggest, is to be found by drastic reductions in our land and air force contributions to NATO, stationed on the Continent, and certainly by making service there unaccompanied. Those who suggest that making service there unaccompanied will by itself make great savings, which could be diverted to the Fleet, overlook the fact that units and individuals would then have to serve for much shorter periods there and at longer intervals. This would entail having larger forces overall, most of them in this country, with all the additional expenditure that would involve, even assuming that we could recruit the numbers required without resort to conscription, which is unlikely. Again, the Secretary of State's article made some very important points in this respect.
However, in the editorial columns of The Times the defence spokesman for the Labour Party in the other place, with whom it appears from his speech that the Leader of his party in this House agrees, as well as all those whose sympathies, whether from the colour of their uniforms or their politics, are dark blue—when these strangely assorted bedfellows are joined by members of the Liberal and Social Democratic parties and I must say I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, show today that he did not agree with them—when all these people put them forward, one must take it seriously.
First, one must ask just what sort of force these people propose: what it is expected to do, where it will operate and what it is going to do when it gets there. The recapture of the Falklands was a special case, and I was glad that the noble Viscount himself said it was almost unique. To say so is in no way to belittle the skill, courage and determination of all those who took part in the operation, tribute to which has rightly been paid from all parts of the House. But a force of that nature might be useful for capturing other islands well away from land-based air forces, and we should ask: Where are they, and what are we trying to capture them for? The Falkland Islands are a long way away, and islands or other objectives in the Indian or Pacific Oceans are even further away.
Several weeks passed between the decision to despatch quite a small force to the Falkland Islands and its arrival. It would have taken much longer if it had been a bit later in the year and paragraph 235 of the Defence White Paper had been implemented. Let me read it to your Lordships:This year, in addition to the Royal Navy's patrol of two warships in the Indian Ocean, we plan to deploy a naval task group of five warships and afloat support, headed by HMS 'Invincible', to the Indian Ocean and East Asia for six months.It was good luck (there has been some talk about "good luck") that the Easter holidays were pending and it had not yet been implemented. As I myself wrote in a letter to The Times, commenting on its curious leader of 21st June, I can think of no other 173 defence commitment for which the task force would have been suitable, not even the defence of Belize. To suggest that, in order to provide such forces, we should consider reducing the strength and capability of our land and air force contributions to NATO, stationed on the Continent—or even, as The Times and others have suggested, propose it to our allies—would be a gross distortion of our defence priorities.
There can be no doubt that the overriding priority of our defence is that there should not be another war in Europe and, above all, not a nuclear one. Security against that is provided by the cohesion of the NATO Alliance, the lynchpin of which is the presence of American land and air forces on the Continent. That point, again, was well made by the Secretary of State in his article. An adequate contribution by us, considered adequate not just by ourselves but by both our American and European allies, is an essential element in persuading the United States to maintain its contribution. It has been made all the more essential since France's withdrawal from the formal military structure. To propose, as some do, that Germany should assume an even greater share of responsibility than she now does, would have serious implications for the cohesion of the Alliance and provoke a reaction by the Russians which would defeat the aim of the proposal.
Those who support what the Times called "Strategy in a Silver Sea" suggest that we are conferring some special favour on our European allies by making such a contribution, and that our recent operations in the South Atlantic have earned us the right to be excused it; but it is ourselves, and our own most vital interest, that we are defending and securing by doing all we can to deter war in Europe; and I deprecate the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, which I thought was encouraged by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, that home defence and our contribution to NATO are two separate things. In these days of modern weapons they are one and the same thing. Far from thus reducing NATO's conventional capability on the Continent we should be doing all we can to increase it; so that NATO can confidently abandon its current suicidal dependence on nuclear weapons and on the threat to start a nuclear war in order to try to stave off a conventional defeat brought about by the weakness of NATO's conventional forces; I endorse everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, about that.
Of what use will it be to escort convoys of ships across the Atlantic when there are no forces left to supply or reinforce, and our cities are in ruins because failure to provide sufficient forces in being on the Continent has failed to prevent a war and, once it had started, to bring it under control? It is a valid criticism of the programme that was outlined in Cmnd. 8288 that, although it gave greater emphasis to the part played in maritime warfare by long range maritime patrol aircraft and nuclear powered hunter killer submarines, it did not propose to do much to increase their numbers. That, I suggest, should be done by diverting to them some of the resources it is proposed to devote to the Trident programme. That would be the right application of priorities to the naval programme.
The Defence White Paper does not repeat the 174 Government's well-worn arguments for maintaining an independent strategic nuclear deterrent, and I will not weary your Lordships by repeating my well-worn ones why they should not. They will be set out in a short book to be published next month which will help to relieve the tedium of the grouse moor and the beach for your Lordships in the Recess. The paper restricts itself to asking whether the possession of it by Britain:makes it more or less likely that the Soviet Union would mount a conventional or nuclear attack on us or our NATO allies",and states:There can be no doubt about the answer.Then, suddenly remembering the existence of American nuclear forces with the phrase:This is not to say that the United Kingdom deterrent is a substitute for the American nuclear guarantee,it evades the answer that it is neither "more" nor "less" but that it makes no difference. Assuming that it is our independent deterrent which is decisive in deterring a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, the paper contrasts its deterrent value with that of two armoured divisions.
I assume that the Defence Secretary has done his sums and has calculated that the abandonment of Trident could make it possible for us to raise two armoured divisions and station them in Germany. Many people would consider the addition of two British armoured divisions to NATO's central front as a very significant increment to the conventional deterrent, while they would regard our Trident force as being superfluous to the American deterrent. Once more the paper trots out the argument that Trident will cost less than the Tornado programme; but the latter represents almost the complete re-equipment of the Royal Air Force's strike, reconnaissance and air defence squadrons with aircraft which can be used in a wide variety of roles with great flexibility, while Trident cannot in any sensible sense be used at all. My advice to the noble Viscount is to hold his defence ship steady on course, and not to be blown off it by gusts of dark blue nostalgia which would only land him on the rocks, and to lighten his overloaded vessel by throwing Trident overboard.
§ Lord Boothby
My Lords, would the noble and gallant Lord agree that it was lack of adequate sea power that brought us nearly to defeat in two world wars?
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, that lack of sea power brought us nearly to the edge of defeat in two world wars, but I would also point out that if we had not been able to defend this country against invasion in 1940 that would have been irrelevant. But I do not believe that in looking to the future we should consider that we are in the period of 1914–18 or 1939–45.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lord Newall
My Lords, it is a rare honour to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. Far be it from me, a retired captain, to risk a charge of insubordination by crossing swords with a field marshal, so I will not follow him exactly in the realms of higher strategy. My noble friend the Minister has in his 175 amiable and avuncular way mentioned a lot of things about new equipment, including prefabricated equipment and perhaps helicopters for the Merchant Navy. He has mentioned the Tracked Rapier, Sea Eagle, Tornado and a great many others, many of which are mentioned in the White Paper. I endorse this wholeheartedly. They are admirable advances but I just hope that some of the time-scales will tighten up too, and that we shall not see a great deal of slippage as in the past, so delaying a great many of these new pieces of equipment. The recession has undoubtedly made factories more able to cope with demands and therefore any slippage that occurs may occur at the behest of the Ministry. I hope that that does not happen.
This brings me on to the subject of procurement which the Chief of the Air Staff recently said will certainly need looking at very carefully. Undoubtedly, some companies virtually worked miracles, possibly due to their intense patriotism, and I hope that the way that this was done will be followed through so that some of the enormous delays that we have had in the past will not continue to happen. We must not dwell on the Falkland Islands battles because I am hoping that we will have a debate on this subject later when the report comes out. But inevitably it is difficult not to mention it at all. We must not forget, however, the Eastern forces who are ranged against us in Europe, nor must we forget that 40 per cent. of their budget is devoted to their air power.
This brings me to a subject which I want briefly to mention. I want to talk about two particular things related to the Royal Air Force. Before I mention either of them I feel that it is only right to pay tribute to the largely unsung heroes behind the scenes in the Royal Air Force. Apart from the pilots, the navigators and many other members of crews of aircraft, there were hundreds of men doing extraordinary little jobs, loading stores, maintaining aircraft in appalling conditions and doing dozens of other important jobs, keeping the front-line men in action. All of them deserve our very highest praise.
Regarding the Royal Air Force, the first point is the urgent need of an agile combat fighter. The obvious choice, which has been mentioned already today, is the P.110, and I believe it is probably needed well before the mid-1990s. We have the Tornado in its two main roles, but neither of these roles is completely suitable for air-to-air combat; and we certainly seem to have a lack of depth in our fighters. I am not going to ask my noble friend the Minister to start building hundreds of them tomorrow. Naturally this has proved to be impossible, but I would suggest that there is a chance that he could provide some immediate financial support, giving a chance to build one or two prototypes at a very early stage. We possibly need to use some ingenuity for this. Maybe this is not exactly the right time, but it should be thought about.
As my noble friend will probably remember, when my father was Chief of the Air Staff in 1937, he had a great uphill struggle to get any planes at all built—certainly before the war in 1939. But, although we never had enough, we had some planes built in spite of great Cabinet opposition. Planes on the drawing board do not fly and they cannot be built very quickly, 176 but to have at least a prototype, and something that can be seen and improved upon, can ensure that others will be built much more quickly. So I would ask my noble friend seriously to look at the possibility of working out a way of producing some financial support for a prototype of the P.110.
My second question is related to a fairly old problem, which we have been going along with quite reasonably, but, in my opinion, not fast enough. It is a problem that has been highlighted by the Falklands battle. It is air-to-air refuelling. I suggest that some very good value for money could be combined with the availability of planes now, and that we should consider seriously buying some DC.10s, such as Freddie Laker and other airlines, who unfortunately have gone under have had, and which are up for sale at the moment.
I believe that we need some wide-bodied jets to be converted to tankers and I think that the planes are available now. This may have been considered, but I suggest that the cost-effectiveness is far better than any other method. Probably wide-bodied tankers have a range and capacity far greater than the VC.10s or, of course, the ageing Victors, and if we had had some for the Falklands the task of refuelling for those long distances would have been very much easier.
Apart from the Falklands, there are various other military scenarios which spring to mind. I shall not mention them now, but there are many. As I said, although the old Victors and the VC.10s are of great help, they are not sufficient because we need some long-range and large strategic tankers. These planes are on the market and I hope that it is possible for them to be looked at very carefully.
I never speak for very long and I do not intend to do so today. I think that the Falklands have shown the professionalism of our forces and the need for flexibility and adaptability. I hope that we shall use the lessons of battle experience to be more imaginative in our thinking and in our actions, and to be even better prepared for future unforeseen conflicts.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Earl Cathcart
My Lords, the 1982 Statement on the Defence Estimates is a direct and continuing process from last year's statement, and both stem from the statement on defence policy entitled, The Way Forward, which was issued in June 1981 and which so clearly reaffirmed the four main roles of our defence programme. The relevance and importance of these four main roles have in no way been reduced by the operations in the South Atlantic, and I cannot agree with the opinion expressed by the Opposition Front Bench spokesman on defence in the other place in their defence debate on 1st July, when he said that this defence statement which we are debating today is out of date and irrelevant. That there are lessons to be learned and modifications to be made to our ships, our aircraft and our equipment there can be no doubt, but discussion on modifications of this equipment had best wait until all the lessons have been fully analysed and the Minister of Defence has thought fit to report to Parliament.
However, having said that, one must admit that it is not easy to debate defence today, without constantly referring to those recent operations. Before I make any further mention of these operations, I should like 177 to add my admiration for the men who planned the operation, for the servicemen and the civilians who mounted the operations from scratch and with such speed, and for the commanders and men who put the operation into successful effect with such courage, skill and devotion.
The defence policy statement The Way Forward, to which I have already referred, contained one simple sentence which was almost overwhelmed by the definition of our main defence roles which came immediately before it in that paragraph. That sentence simply said:We must exploit the flexibility of our forces beyond the NATO area so far as our resources permit.The operations in the South Atlantic well and truly demonstrated the flexibility of our forces. But that sentence also contained the phrase "beyond the NATO area", and I wonder whether the best interests of NATO as a whole, and, indeed, the outer boundaries of the NATO area at sea, can be restricted to the Atlantic north of the Tropic of Cancer.
A theatre of operations on land can be restricted by a major natural obstacle, such as a mountain range like the Alps or the Urals. But at sea no such obstacles exist. The role of NATO's sea power is to maintain the commercial sea lanes for the free world, but who is to say that that task does not extend into the South Atlantic? There is no doubt that Russia, with its global fleet, would in the event of war quickly extend operations beyond what is now regarded as the NATO area. This, therefore, clearly defines the strategic importance of the Falkland Islands for NATO and for the free world, and it is important that we persuade our NATO allies, and the Americans in particular, that this is a fact.
To return to Britain's four main defence roles as defined in The Way Forward, which, as I said, was published in June 1981, they were, first, an independent element of strategic and theatre nuclear forces committed to NATO; secondly, the direct defence of the United Kingdom homeland; thirdly, a major land and air contribution on the European mainland and, fourthly, a major maritime effort in the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel. Those four roles stand unchanged and, if we are going to provide enough men, equipment and money to satisfy each of them to the full, all well and good. But, if we cannot afford to do that and there is a need to prune and economise, then we must reaffirm and redefine the roles in priority of importance, so that we can, if we must, economise on the role which is least vital or which can be performed by some other part of NATO.
It is not an easy thing to do and no two people—certainly, no two of your Lordships—would agree on any such priority list. Personally—and, perhaps, sticking my neck out—I would put the defence of our homeland and our maritime effort as first and second priorities. But, naturally, I also want to maintain what the Minister of Defence described as a credible strategic nuclear capability to deter nuclear blackmail. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, called "mutual destruction". Because I think it most undesirable that we should rely solely for this protection on the United States or the French nuclear capability, I strongly support us having our own.
Similarly, I understand that we cannot reduce our front-line commitment to the central front, because 178 NATO's strength there has a direct bearing on the security of these islands, and because, if we reduce our strength there, there is nobody else who can fill the gap. There is, however, one aspect of our expenditure where savings might be made—if they have to be—in our defence costs, but which will not necessarily mean any economies in our total national budget. This proposal is to cut what I might call the domestic tail of the British Army of the Rhine, while not reducing the front-line force levels. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, has referred to this, but he has not given it his blessing. Nevertheless, I am going to be greatly daring and to try to argue for it.
The figures given in The Times article on 1st July which has already been referred to by a number of noble Lords show that the Ministry of Defence owns and maintains 45,000 married quarters in Germany; it educates 28,000 children there and it provides medical cover for perhaps 80,000 wives and children. In addition to that, the British Army of the Rhine employs 25,000 German and local civilians, who are paid in German currency to look after these establishments to a peacetime standard. If The Times is right, the total cost is some £650 million per year. It is these figures in our priorities which need to be looked at very carefully.
I have spent some considerable time looking at Part 2 of our defence estimates and calculating how alternatively the very large sum of £650 million per year might be better spent. I am not going to take up your Lordships' time by giving my views, but recommend it is a useful way of whiling away the time. It is a very fascinating thing to do. I believe that in the British Army of the Rhine there should be an 18-month unaccompanied tour for field units. For continuity, all headquarters and certain key selected units, such as nuclear artillery units, should be permanent and accompanied, with individuals changing over within these headquarters and units for a normal three-year accompanied tour of duty. But all other field units and service supporting units would go unaccompanied for 18 months, the 18-month tour to cover two summers and one winter. Each unit would get block leave at home immediately before embarking and on disembarkation, and one period of leave during the winter. Unit tours would be staggered so that some would be in their first summer while others were in their second.
The Minister of Defence, in his speech on defence on 1st July, said that, in the short-and medium-term it would cost more to house the families in England than to leave them in Germany. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, mentioned this. I am not proposing any reduction in our operational strength but only in the domestic back-up to those operational troops. It may be that their withdrawal would, in the medium and short term, cost more, but in the long term it would be money well spent. In the event, the money would be spent upon providing houses, barracks and services in this country. It would be money spent in this country. Those employed to carry out this work would be British and not local overseas civilians, paid in foreign currency. I should very much like to know whether the Minister has gone in any detail into the short, unaccompanied tour and whether it is a practical proposition, because I have not seen it mentioned in any White Paper.
179 I realise that what I am proposing would not result in an overall saving in national expenditure but simply in a switch from defence costs spent overseas, to national costs spent in this country, against our national home and social services budget, but I believe, reviewed in that light and provided that a balanced plan of force deployment can be achieved, that a considerable and worthwhile saving in defence expenditure would be made, without reducing our front-line effectiveness in the central region.
I turn briefly to this very full and well presented defence statement. It is good to learn that full manning has been achieved both in the Royal Navy and in Army units, in particular in tank crews in the British Army of the Rhine. Similarly, the provision of new equipment in all three services seems to be progressing, albeit in some cases not fast enough. No doubt the recent testing in action of much of this equipment will provide valuable experience, and it is to be hoped that this experience and the necessary modifications will be made full use of.
There is one vital aspect of warfare which was not fully tested in the South Atlantic. That is our antisubmarine capability. At the same time, the power and effectiveness of our modern, nuclear-powered submarines, the SSNs, to impose their will on an enemy fleet was clearly demonstrated. The diagram at Figure 10 in the statement shows that in the Eastern Atlantic alone the Russians have a supremacy of two to one in ocean-going submarines, so it is with some relief that one turns to Figure 1 which shows that we are spending 20 per cent. of our equipment budget on anti-submarine warfare.
Therefore I believe that the statement on defence which we are debating today provides a valuable opportunity to review our strategy, unaltered by the Falkland action, but we must not lose sight of the well-known lessons of defence strategy. We did so in the South Atlantic operation. This was clearly demonstrated, because we relearned that tidy peacetime scenarios, carefully planned and prepared, do not always occur as planned and that, as history has so often taught us, in war the unexpected frequently occurs. We owe our success on this occasion to the flexibility and skill of those who took part.
But the second axiom of defence is the need for deterrence. All too easily we regard deterrence as meaning only nuclear deterrence. For this reason, too many people try to give this essential axiom of defence a bad name. The art of deterrence in defence is no more than the housewife's commonsense code of "a stitch in time saves nine". If, among other recommendations, the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, had been implemented by lengthening and improving the airstrip at Port Stanley, our ability to deter would have been greatly enhanced and the security of the Falkland Islands the more easily achieved.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, the noble Earl will perhaps forgive me if I do not follow him entirely, except to say that I agree with him very much that there is such a thing as a non-nuclear deterrent. The difference between us is that I hope to see the day when 180 the only deterrent we have is a non-nuclear deterrent. Maybe the noble Earl will follow me a little way after in that, if not immediately.
I should like to begin by referring quite briefly to an incident in this Chamber earlier this month when I asked the Government to oppose the American government's decisions to produce an enhanced radiation nuclear warhead and to start a new chemical weapons production programme.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
In a moment. I then asked the Government to emulate the Labour Party by telling President Reagan that such weapons would never be allowed to be stationed in Britain. A Government supporter intervened to say that even to ask such questions was bordering on the subversive. I shall not give his name because he is not present this afternoon and I do not think it would be fair to do so. I was denied on that occasion the opportunity to rebut the charge there and then, but I take this opportunity to refute it now.
The best way I can do that is to demonstrate that such questions, far from being subversive, are desirable and, indeed, essential if patriotism is to mean a care for the true interests of the people of this country and is not to be a flag-waving "Land of Hope and Glory" thing, which is what Dr. Johnson meant when he described patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel. There is a good deal of that cheap patriotism about the place just now. There are some who do not seem to know the difference between a phoney sentimentality and a desire that one's country and its people shall reach up to match the challenge of the most dangerous time in the history of mankind. Why did the Labour Party write to President Reagan in these terms?In the field of nuclear arms, both the United States and the Soviet Union long ago passed the level of destructive power which might be thought necessary to deter an aggression by the other. Each new weapon or weapon system has served only to increase insecurity and instability and to create wasteful and exorbitant expenditure which has burdened the economies of the United States and the Soviet Union and the world.We oppose also the decision of your Administrati n to produce the enhanced radiation nuclear warhead and to start a new chemical weapons production programme. A Labour Government will not permit the stationing of these weapons or of cruise missiles in Britain".It is very desirable that an official Opposition should state where it stands on these matters and should openly say, "This is our position. This is what we shall seek to do when we come to office". A statement of that position is something that ought to be welcomed by the Government, even if they strongly disagree with it; they should welcome a statement on where the Opposition party stands.
Was that statement which the Labour Party made to President Reagan to subvert relationships between this country and the United States? Of course not. It was to let the growing number of American people who share European anxiety at the march towards a nuclear holocaust know that there are people, and that there is a party here in this country, who are not prepared to be herded meekly towards the destruction of civilisation. Subversion? On the contrary; the true subversion is that of those who would suppress the voice of protest 181 and allow humanity to stumble silent and gagged over the brink and into what Lord Mountbatten called the nuclear abyss. Does the noble Lord now wish to intevene?
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. I wonder if he did not really mean to say "enhanced radiation weapon" and not "enhanced radiation nuclear weapon"?
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I do not think that I would quarrel with the noble Lord on that point. It seems to me that it is a part of the totality of nuclear weapons but I will not quarrel with the verbiage.
There has been in this country and elsewhere a determination to conceal the truth about nuclear war from the mass of the people. An example of that determination was the BBC's refusal to show Peter Watkins' film, "The War Game" which the BBC itself commissioned 16 years ago but which it has never transmitted. More recently, however, there seems to have been a change of attitude. As has already been mentioned in this debate, last night the BBC transmitted its alarming and horrifying programme, "A Guide to Armageddon", on BBC 1. This is to be followed by a fuller exposure of the impossibility of civil defence against nuclear war in any major urban area, on BBC 2 next Friday. "The War Game", which deals with the nuclear disaster in personal and human terms, remains untransmitted.
The Government themselves, in this Statement on the Defence Estimates, speak of the "fearsome potential of nuclear weapons". They then go on to justify what they euphemistically call, and I quote, "modernising the nuclear deterrent". What does this mean? It means spending vast sums of money on Trident II. For what purpose? The purpose is to deter. And what is the nature of that deterrent? It is the possession of the possibility to be able to penetrate any defences which may exist covering Moscow and other cities and, as a result of that penetration, to be able to kill Russian men, women and children by the thousands—or perhaps even by the millions.
I give your noble Lords an assurance that when either of the noble Lords who are now in conversation are speaking to your Lordships in this Chamber, I shall not be in conversation with someone.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
More recently, my Lords, there has been a change of view in these matters. It seems to me that the "modernisation", as it is called, of nuclear weapons is something which we ought to view very carefully, and we should ask ourselves whether this is the sort of expenditure that is worthwhile in itself—quite apart from the moral consequences of what we are doing. We can already kill every Russian several times over. So what is the necessity of being able to do so even more? In other words—as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont—the effect of this so-called "improvement" in our security is simply to make our own destruction rather more certain. On both sides, the temptation 182 to perfect and ultimately to use a first strike weapon is increased by every so-called "improvement" in the accuracy and power of the other side's delivery systems and warheads.
The history of attempts to control, limit or abolish nuclear weapons is a history of defeat. I have been engaged in such attempts from the beginning, so I should know. I make no apology for again drawing attention to the fact that even the manufacture and deployment of a strategic nuclear weapon constitutes a breach of international law. Those laws were a casualty of the last war. Their loss may well end in the destruction of mankind. I have reminded your Lordships before, and will remind you again now, that in 1940 British bomb aimers who could not pinpoint an exact military target were instructed to bring their bombs home or to drop them in the sea. Yet by the end of that war we ourselves—with the example set to us of Rotterdam and Coventry—were creating fire storms in Hamburg, and ours was the atrocity of Dresden—in which we killed men, women and children wholesale and in a way entirely forbidden by the international laws we professed to be upholding.
I believe I have shown your Lordships before this little booklet issued to commissioned officers in the Royal Air Force, and perhaps in the other Services as well, in 1940. It was an Oxford pamphlet on world affairs written by Professor A. L. Goodhart, entitled, What Acts of War are Justified? Who even asks this question in the nuclear age? We have forgotten about the existence of international laws of war, have we not? Now it is assumed that the Soviet Union will as mercilessly maim, burn and kill our people as we shall theirs. But the only nation which has actually killed people with a nuclear weapon are the Americans. We may brush this fact aside but the Russians cannot and will not.
In this little book, Professor Goodhart argues that the immunity of civilians from attack is the basis of civilisation. He says that if this rule is abrogated, civilisation must collapse. He wrote this before the invention of the nuclear weapon but its existence must underline the point. Professor Goodhart quotes The Hague air warfare rules, which provide that civilians not only must not be killed by aerial bombardment but must not even be terrorised. Somebody ought to be told something about that just now. Today, that rule seems to come from an older, saner and more compassionate world. Professor Goodhart concluded his little booklet by writingThe separation of armies and peaceful inhabitants into two distinct classes is perhaps the greatest triumph of international law. Its effect in mitigating the evils of war has been incalculable".His last words are:It is to re-establish the laws of war in a world threatened with barbarism that this war is being fought".It seems to me that if that were the whole of the story, that war was fought in vain.
As I said just now, the history of attempts to control, limit or abolish nuclear weapons is a history of defeat. I was on a troopship on 6th August 1945 and joined in the general rejoicing which greeted the thought that we might not have to get killed in Burma after all. After a day or two, however, someone said to me, "They may have saved our lives at the expense of our children's". This thought has remained with me 183 throughout the years and its truth has increased with every year.
I now fear that the process may be irreversible and that Western civilisation, perhaps humanity itself, may be doomed. I do not, of course, allow this thought to obsess me. Like everyone else, I act as though the world had a future, talking last week about the Theatre Museum and tomorrow about the Employment Bill. But as today I celebrate my 74th birthday, I know that the probability is that the nuclear holocaust may break out during the next decade. It may not affect me; I may pre-decease my fellow creatures. But the thought that our civilisation seems to be heading inexorably towards extinction is a terrible and a sad one.
I cannot see how, with the increasing instability of the nuclear balance, with the growth in proliferation, with the spread of battlefield weapons, with the apparent ineffectualness of international discussions and international negotiations, with the proneness of humanity to accidents, the outbreak of nuclear war can be deferred for another 10 years. I sincerely hope I am wrong. But the final decade of our millennium seems all too likely to be a final one in every sense of the word, a time of unimaginable horror. It seems all too likely that the year 2000 will find our globe spinning, ruined, lifeless and empty, with no one even to remember or to record the poetry and the music and the real greatness to which we once aspired. Our idiocy may have triumphed over our wisdom, our cruelty over our compassion, and our death over our life.
This Statement on the Defence Estimates is a small contribution to that tragic end of all our hopes. But, my Lords, there is an alternative scenario. There is a third path, which perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, indicated, and one which may lead to survival in freedom. On another occasion, if your Lordships will allow me, I will try to map out that path to peace.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I, with respect, ask him a question? He poured scorn on patriotism. Does he not believe in patriotism, and if he does not, how can he say, as he has said in your Lordships' House, that he speaks for the party opposite?
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I do think that there is a great deal to be said for what I described in my speech as true patriotism, and if the noble Lord will do me the honour of reading tomorrow what I said, I think he will realise that my conception of a true patriotism is the people of our country operating at their highest; and at their best the people of this country function at a level unrivalled throughout the world.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lord Murton of Lindisfarne
My Lords, I think it would be courteous to wish the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, many happy returns of the day. I would like to cheer him up, if I may, because I think that was really rather a distressing diatribe for one's birthday. I think the noble Lord does perhaps take the matter rather more seriously and paints a rather more gloomy 184 picture than he really believes, for one thing I really cannot doubt is that he would not question the patriotism of this country, and I am sure that, in his own mind, he, who was once on active service, would not wish to denigrate the views and the feelings of our country at this particular time.
My Lords, I should like to paraphrase some of the opening remarks made by the Secretary of State for Defence in another place on 1st July. He referred to one of the three main defence commitments of any British Government being to maintain within the NATO framework a force structure which has the balance and flexibility to enable a firm response to be made to any challenge to British interests worldwide. We are, I know, in the Defence White Paper fairly familiar with those words, and I am sure there are no doubt many who will view the recent armed aggression by the Argentines as an isolated incident, albeit costly in lives and materiel, which is highly unlikely to be repeated, and that the strategic concept of the reduced surface fleet should not be modified in any respect as a result of what has taken place in the South Atlantic. To my view, such thinking could be costly. The unforeseen has often happened before, whether it has been in the form of a major campaign "out of area", such as the war in Korea just over 30 years ago, or the Beira patrol, if I dare mention that, the much more recent patrol in the Gulf, and even the need for a guard ship off Belize. These latter examples may appear trifling compared to the maritime effort which was required for Korea and again more recently for the Falklands, but nevertheless each has individually required the presence of two or more major units, either on station or on standby as relief, and we all know how overstretched the surface fleet has been in recent years even with only those minor roles to contend with.
Surely the Falklands campaign will have reminded the world as well as ourselves of the value of sea power and of the British genius for maritime operations. I am sorry that the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Carver, is not in his place at the moment, because I did think he was rather disparaging in the comments he made, even though he made them semi-humorously, about dark blue nostalgia and those who stand up for the Royal Navy. I myself, although I was a soldier and although I know that there is a distinguished and gallant Admiral of the Fleet who will speak later, would just like to make a few humble remarks in defence of what I believe to be our main role.
I do not think that there is any other nation in the world which could with such rapidity have assembled a task force, fuelled, armed and victualled it, embarked its fighting men, and set out in such a short space of time on a journey of 8,000 miles, all with the prospect of an opposed landing over a beach-head when it arrived. Tributes have been paid by the whole nation to the bravery and steadfast courage of all who took part in the Falklands operations, whether combatant on non-combatant, and we who are here today echo those sentiments.
For myself, I should also like to pay tribute to the superb staff work which was manifest from the very beginning, whether in operations, intelligence, planning or logistics. My noble friend Lord Thorneycroft, very much more eloquently than I, made that point.
185 I should also like to pay tribute to those in command and to those subordinate to those commanders at all levels. They were magnificent in their professionalism, both the officers and the men. I think we should not forget that there were also embarked 56 brave women, and that takes a bit of courage too. We truly have reason to be proud of them all.
Before I leave the subject of fighting men and move on to some brief remarks about ships, may I put in a suggestion—and I would prefer to call it a plea—for the widening of the career structure of the Royal Marines? I refer to the eligibility of Royal Marine officers for promotion outside their own small corps to the higher levels of command and staff. In recent years there has been one high appointment in NATO, I think it was AFNORTH, but I know of no other. I do not want to embarrass Major-General Moore, who I know is a modest man, but here is a successful and experienced commander. I am sure that there have been, are, and will be others like him who could be usefully employed in higher command and staff appointments outside their own particular corps.
Now to ships. It was a great relief to read that "Invincible" is, after all, to remain and to be one of three modern, light anti-submarine warfare carriers in the Fleet. This is a triumph of common sense over Treasury influence. Those better versed than I am in naval matters, know that an important major tactical unit for anti-submarine warfare, as these carriers are, should number a minimum of three. My noble friend Lord Glasgow has made that point many times. He talks of threes and fives. We cannot have five but at least we know that we have now got three, and that is a great improvement.
I have also protested more than once in this Chamber about the declared intention to scrap "Endurance". Now, I am glad to note that she has been reprieved. That little ship, in my view, had an importance in the South Atlantic totally disproportionate to her size or to her maintenance costs. I am sure it will be found when history is written about that campaign, that the knowledge that the "Endurance" was leaving, led to the final conviction of the Argentines that Britain's role was to leave the Falklands and not actively to oppose any takeover of them. When I say "leave the Falklands" I mean leave them in the state in which they were.
As it has turned out that little ship and her gallant crew have had what one could almost describe as a private war of their own; firstly, in defence of South Georgia and then in the recapture of some of the dependencies. I believe, incidentally, that her ship's company has now been many months at sea—longer, in fact, than any other. I hope that they will shortly have some home leave which they have so nobly earned.
Another subject about which I have spoken before was the then doubtful future of "Fearless" and "Intrepid". These assault ships have proved their great value in recent operations and it is pleasing to know that they will now be retained in service. In my view it would have been folly to have scrapped them—as was the original intention—or at least to have placed them in standby, because I have a feeling that they are not only of great importance to the northern flank of NATO but also that one could almost say that the future of the Royal Marines as a corps and as an 186 amphibious force is virtually dependent upon specialised ships such as these.
Our anxiety now must surely be how long it will take to evaluate the lessons of the Falklands' campaign before replacement orders for lost ships are made. Time in these matters is not on our side. I am told that "Invincible" took 5½ million man hours in design. I do not know who had the ability (or the leisure) to work out that particular statistic, but Jane's Fighting Ships says that she had a long and complex history beginning in 1962. I can well believe it. In fact, she took seven years from the laying down of her keel to commissioning. One of the biggest problems which the Ministry has is the cost of Treasury delay. It is many years now since I was involved in those internal battles and, indeed, in those days of war, as it then was, the Treasury teeth were partially drawn. Notwithstanding that fact, I shall never forget the pitched battles which were fought and in which I was largely engaged at that time, over the planning of the post-war Army. Appropriately enough—and this is an aside and not terribly relevant—my two counterparts in the Treasury were called Mr. Cash and Mr. Care. We were all good friends and both of them reached considerable eminence in the Treasury afterwards, not entirely, I suggest, because of the significance of their names.
Naturally, we all accept the need for Treasury control, but I think that it is unfair to treat "the Treasury " as some sort of third force which is quite separate from Government policy and ministerial decision. After all, the Treasury is only carrying out Cabinet directions. Here, I am sure, there must be issued instructions in unambiguous terms for those who are in charge of this matter of replacing our ships, to get on with it and to replace our losses as quickly as possible.
There were four ships sunk and 12 damaged. Here again is an opportunity for British Shipbuilders to show their paces. I wish to be parochial and to take the Tyne as an example. Here are Smith's Dock Company as ship repairers, and Swan Hunter also have vacant berths. I see that I am getting support from a friend of mine on the other side of the House. Both have vacant berths and both have fine traditions of good workmanship in repair and in construction respectively. The North-East of England badly needs that work and here is a very good opportunity to give it to them. As an aside, I am sure that something will come out of the battle about the replacement of the "Atlantic Conveyor". It really must be built in a British yard. It becomes a question of national pride. I would suggest that if the Government, as reported, have made provision for over £100 million in grants if and when a Japanese car firm decides to start production in the United Kingdom, then surely a suitable compensatory sum can be made available to the British shipping company whose vessel was requisitioned for active service and sunk as the result of that service. On the other hand, I hope that the company concerned who own that vessel will not be too ambitious in the demands which they make for compensation, because to my mind this is a matter, as I have said before, of national pride, and that ship should not be built in Japan, Korea or elsewhere.
Finally, I should like to return to a subject which I have raised before, and that is the question of hull 187 design. I understand the reasons for the long hull and narrow beam, one of which is that speed is a function of length. On the other hand, length leads to an increase both in size and in cost. I also understand that the question of stability is much more critical nowadays when the centre of gravity has risen as a result of a reduction in the weight of propulsion units, types of ammunition, computers and so on, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, as a result of the fact that deck and above-deck weapon systems and surface sensors of various types and varying heights have increased.
In spite of these difficulties, I am sure—and I have been told this by a number of people—that there is a case for the shorter and broader-beamed hull as a platform for modern weapons, and I hope that full and adequate study is being made of this subject when it comes to new design. It is worthy of note, as my honourable friend the Member for Ashford has said in another place, that modern ship construction and propulsion units, first-class discipline and efficient damage control saved many lives in the South Atlantic, even though their ships were lost. Mr. Speed has also reminded us of what used to be the disastrous result of a boiler explosion in a destroyer in the last war. Let us, in view of those lessons, build into our new hulls as much safety as we can.
In conclusion, I should like to give a little anecdote from history. Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood on his infrequent spells of leave at home used to tramp the lanes of his native Northumberland planting acorns in the hedgerows. As he said to those who asked him:The Navy will always need oak".Those were prophetic words. Some of those oaks were felled some 130 years later to provide the knees for wooden minesweepers in the last war. He had no doubts about the supreme importance of a powerful Royal Navy always remaining in being. That is a lesson in foresight which two world wars has justified. The need for a strong Royal Navy has once again been proved by the Falklands campaign. It is a lesson with a moral which we shall disregard at our peril.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Lord Hill-Norton
My Lords, your Lordships would hardly expect me to agree with most of the views expressed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I understand, of course, why he holds those views and why they are shared by all those generals who have been gallumping about in the correspondence columns of the newspapers. Well, as the lady said in the High Court, "They would, would'nt they?". They should instead seek to win by argument instead of by ex parte statements. I will try to put a different case, not through dark blue nostalgia, but out of a genuine desire to see the best defence of our realm within the NATO alliance.
Like other noble Lords, I shall not dwell at any length today on the Falklands operation, for I do not believe it is wise to attempt to draw any but the most obvious lessons until all the facts are available. What I do hope is that those who are learning these lessons and will later promulgate them, will not fail to consider at the same time what lessons the Soviets will have learned from this campaign.
188 Many noble Lords have paid tribute, which I should like to echo, to what was by any standards a brilliant feat of arms by all three services, by the Merchant Marine and by the logistic back-up in this country and on the spot. I know of no national parallel for a couple of hundred years at any rate. What can be said at once is that it would certainly not have been possible, much less have resulted in the resounding victory that it did, had we not been able to deploy today's Navy rather than the rump to which the proposals of last year's defence review would undoubtedly have reduced it in three or four years' time.
There does not seem to me to be much merit in debating this year's Statement on the Defence Estimates written four months ago, as though the Falklands operation had never taken place. Nor can we ignore the excellent two-day debate in another place a fortnight ago. Both these raise real procedural and intellectual difficulties in speaking to the Motion.
In short, we are in a new set of circumstances in which, I put it to the House, the present Statement is largely irrelevant. I wonder why we are not, instead, debating a short new Statement, which could quite easily have been produced in the time and could have consisted essentially of the speeches made by Ministers in the other place in the debate to which I have just referred.
The most that I can say about the Statement before us is that, contrary to its foreword, the framework of last year is no more appropriate today than it was a year ago as a sensible basis for this country's defence policy. But before turning to the heart of what I consider to be sound defence policy, perhaps I may be permitted some observations on detail.
First, the passages on Trident seem to me to be well argued and presented. Given the decision, which several noble Lords have questioned today, to acquire a successor system to Polaris, which I have always supported, there seems to be no reasonable doubt that from every point of view it must be right to go for the same missile system as the Americans, if you are going to go for the system at all. I part company with the Government, of course, over making nearly the whole bill for the Trident system a charge on the Navy. This seems to me to be entirely illogical for the supreme national deterrent system. It should be funded separately from any of the services—certainly for its acquisition costs—and it is a travesty of the facts to assert, as Ministers have done in another place, that it is financed by the Defence Vote and has, therefore, had no effect on the naval programme. The effect that it will have in practice can be seen in the Statement before us today. It will reduce the percentage of the Defence Vote spent on the conventional forces of the Royal Navy from about 29 today to 23 by the end of the decade, or by nearly a quarter, as the Trident costs rise to a peak, whatever the noble Viscount may say.
There are important words about cost escalation—equipment costs—in chapter IV, which many noble Lords have picked up. They should be found indisputable even in the Treasury, as several other noble Lords have remarked. It has been clear enough for many years that, so long as the equipment costs rise by between 6 per cent. and 10 per cent. a year more than inflation, an annual increase in the defence budget of only 3 per cent. cannot fail to result in a diminution 189 of our capability or, what the Americans call, disarmament by inflation. Nor should that escalation be attributed to some over-elaboration of weapons systems on our part. As the Statement says at paragraph 411:… in the last analysis"—which I believe is American for "in the end"—it is the potential enemy's equipment which determines the characteristics and level of sophistication of our own weapons; and the Warsaw Pact's military capability is very advanced indeed.So be it. We have recently seen what happens when obsolescent defence systems are attacked by the latest missiles, and what a blunder it was to cancel the modernisation of, for example, Sea Dart, as the Government decided last year.
I should now like to turn back to policy and to priorities, upon both of which the Statement is either lacking or mistaken. Last year the Statement correctly observed that:in purely historical terms our stationing of major land and air forces on the Continent is the least obviously natural of our roles";but it then proceeded to enhance our Continental deployment at the expense of the maritime role that, in all respects, we are the best fitted of our allies to discharge. There is, in fact, no sensible choice today between a maritime strategy and a Continental strategy, for the elements in which modern war must be fought are so inter-dependent that one cannot choose one and reject the other. Surely if proof were needed, we have just had it in the South Atlantic.
But that is by no means to say that the priorities which each nation in an alliance accords to the various elements cannot be different, nor varied as their circumstances change, and that is the heart of my case against present Government policy. I recognise that navies cannot win wars, but they can certainly lose them, and so I warmly agree with Field Marshal Montgomery who said:From the days when humans first began to use the seas, the great lesson of history is that the enemy who is confined to a land strategy is in the end defeated.There can be no doubt that the Soviet leadership shares that view, even if ours does not, as the hard evidence is there for all to see.
What has become unarguably clear from both the debate in another place and the more public debate in the press is that our foreign and defence policies are out of line—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, that the best way to start a defence debate is to decide what we are trying to defend—because our commitments and the resources which the Government are prepared to make available to meet them do not match. It is equally clear that this can only be put right either by making more money available for defence or by reallocating what is to hand. I recognise, without agreeing with it, that the former course is deemed to be politically unacceptable, and so we are driven to a selection of priorities.
It remains my view that those selected and chosen by the Government are mistaken. They were reached by an unsound method. They were, indeed, chosen in a hurry last year by prejudgment based on faulty scientific and diplomatic advice, driven by short-term economic expediency, with no regard for the NATO 190 assessment of the total threat. Forces structured and deployed for a single scerario are always found wanting by the unexpected.
Surely the only sound basis for such an exercise must be carefully to analyse the military task and then, in conjunction with our allies, to decide how best to share the burden of deterrence. This has demonstrably not even been attempted. For example, what credit have our European allies been asked to give us for deployment of our strategic nuclear deterrent, which, unlike that of France, is the only European contribution to that vital role? What mileage have we made in such discussions of our provision of 70 per cent. of NATO's maritime forces, which no other ally can provide if we do not? Is it really to be supposed that the Alliance is so brittle that it would fall apart at the idea of revising national roles within it, so that each provides the forces which history and aptitude fit it to do best? If so, it must augur badly for the ability of NATO to withstand the shock of war.
So, in the business of priorities, I am bound to repeat that the Government have got them wrong. It surely cannot be denied that when our commitment of land and air forces to be stationed in Germany was made, all the surrounding circumstances were different, and there are respectable authorities who assert that the purpose of stationing them there was different also. May I remind your Lordships that in the mid-1950s Rhine Army was but one-seventh of the whole British Army, while today it is no less than a third. The same relation for the Royal Air Force means that in the 1950s what was stationed there was no more than half what the front line is today. So apart from the total change in the perceived threat which has followed the explosive expansion of the Soviet Navy, these figures alone would call into serious question the wisdom of seeking to improve our order of battle in Germany at the expense of allied defence of the Atlantic and Norwegian seas. Does it really make sense for the Germans to build up their Navy to take on a greater role in the Atlantic so that we in this country can reduce our Navy, and with the savings build up forces in the German homeland? We are not, nor are we deemed to be, a significant land/air power in the European context, but we most certainly are, and we most certainly should continue to be, the significant maritime power.
I should like to conclude with a searching look at one sentence in the foreword to the Statement we are debating today. It reads:It is right that the Government should consider whether any adjustments or changes of emphais are now required in the light of analysis of the Falklands operation".Long before that analysis is complete it is entirely possible to describe now certain changes which ought to be made to the programme, for they were as well known to our allies as to informed opinion here before any of the events in the South Atlantic unrolled. I have no doubt at all that the analysis, if it is done by professionals with no axe to grind, will support that assertion.
It is a welcome sign of a better understanding of these issues that, even before the Falklands operations, the Government had already accepted the professional advice to keep the two assault ships and four of the destroyers previously designated for disposal. It is 191 even better news that HMS "Invincible" will not now be sold, because the Government have belatedly recognised that three carriers are essential, as the noble Lord, Lord Murton of Lindisfarne, has just said.
A further sign of some progress up the learning curve is the decision to retain HMS "Endurance" in the South Atlantic. Her intended withdrawal was not only mistaken but may well be shown later to have been a trigger to the Argentine aggression. I hope this progress up the learning curve will continue with a recognition that the number of operational escorts required is nearer 55 than the 42 proposed. There has been a good deal of equivocation about this by Ministers recently in another place, but no doubt must now be left about how many ships there are to be in the stand-by squadron, nor about crews to man them if they are called forward.
Can it be questioned after the Falklands operation that it would be folly to scrap four of the Royal Fleet auxiliaries, without which the operation could not have been mounted, or to remain obstinately committed to giving up the mid-life modernisation of destroyers and frigates which provides a virtually new ship, with up-to-date weapons, for half the price? These lessons, some happily already learned, however reluctantly, and others of the same nature need wait upon no analysis.
I ask your Lordships particularly, especially in view of the strictures of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, to note that today in all this I press for no increase in the Royal Navy, as well I might. I urge instead that the announced intention to slash the surface fleet by what was one-third, and, after better thoughts, is still one quarter, be rejected and reversed. If such matters are indeed regarded (to return to that sentence I quoted) by the Government as "changes of emphasis, or as adjustments", well and good; though it is hardly what the words normally mean in English. If they are not so regarded, then the words, like the defence policy in the two Statements, mean nothing.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, those who so admirably arrange our affairs in this House flatter us. They expect us to be very laconic. What has occupied another place for five days—that is to say, two days of debate on defence, and one on each of the three services—we are covering in one day. It seems to me, given the range of speeches which have been made and the variety of subjects, we are doing very well. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of meat in these two volumes of the White Paper. The mere fact that we are told in paragraph 415 that the Ministry of Defence accounts for some 80 per cent. of all central Government purchases of supplies and services is only one indication of this fact. I think that perhaps we cannot really be expected to cover in so short a time the vast number of issues raised here. This is particularly the case if, as my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft pointed out followed by my noble friend Lord Beloff, we have not recently had a full debate on what you might call the larger purposes of foreign policy, which govern foreign affairs as they do defence.
I should like to begin by saluting, like other noble Lords who have spoken, the great achievements of the 192 armed forces, civilian support, the Government, the War Cabinet, and above all the Prime Minister for carrying the nation through during the Falklands crisis to the first military victory which a European nation has had since 1945. This is a striking historical achievement. I was particularly pleased, as one who studied the Suez crisis many years ago, that in this crisis there did not seem to be any confusion between the strategic decisions in London and the tactical ones in the South Atlantic.
I remember during the time when I was attempting to study the Suez crisis, that an admiral told me that Nelson would never have won any victories in the age of the Telex. That remark has been disproved by the achievements of the Government on the one hand and the achievements of the task force on the other. Naturally, as the noble and gallant Lord who has just spoken has said, this is not really the time to go at any length even into the apparent lessons arising from the Falklands crisis, but there are two main matters to which I should like to allude, because they are likely to be relevant if there were a similar crisis very shortly, or however long another such crisis in delayed. The first one is the whole question of how in a time of conflict like this we handle information.
We have not got completely right the way in which to deal with the great amount of information coming in, not only from our own correspondents and from correspondents and other informants in other countries, but also those in the territory of the enemy. Often in these affairs what seems to be happening is almost more important than what has actually happened. Some study of how to integrate all this needs to be done in case there should be another such conflict as we had. Obviously this would be so at the beginning of any major conflict, or perhaps all the way through it; since, after all, we should find the same barrage of information coming instantaneously as a result of modern means of communication, by satellite and so on.
It may be that a good answer to the questions I am raising would make the dealing with the other matter to which I wish to refer more easy. For example, there was all the way through, it seems to me, a certain ambiguity as to whether or no we were at war. I raised this point in the first intervention I made in the Falklands debate but I did not pursue it because I thought it would be embarrassing. Now, however, it is obvious, from listening to what my noble friend Lord Trenchard said, that he assumed we were at war; the regius professor of modern history at Oxford said we were at war; and there was a general assumption that we were. Nevertheless, there was no declaration of war. I should be interested to know from which time exactly we were at war. A shrinking from the idea that a conflict has become a war may make things more difficult for us to handle. That includes dealing with information, for example, and dealing with the nationals of other countries who may wish to be helpful to us but who, if there is no actual declaration of war, may not quite know how to behave.
I also congratulate the Government on the White Paper because it seems to me—and I distance myself on this from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton—that they have emphasised, by publishing it in this way, the fact that the main problem which faces the nation in defence and foreign affairs is exactly the 193 same as it was in March, with some differences no doubt because of the perception which the Soviet Union may have about our willpower and capacity to organise ourselves. But the main problem is obviously very much the same as it was before the Falklands crisis.
I particularly congratulate the Government on their tables of statistics, and it is worthwhile referring to figure 13, which shows the amount of money we spend on defence in comparison with our allies. It is not quite correct to suggest, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Peart, did, that we spend a higher percentage of GDP than any of our allies, the United States included. That does not seem to be borne out. However, we certainly spend more than any of our allies in absolute terms, except for the United States. We even spend more in absolute terms than France, £25,000 million compared with their £23,000 million, which is a remarkable contribution that we are making to the Alliance, bearing in mind that France, for the moment at least, is a richer country than ourselves.
The chief comment I would make on the White Paper is that I miss in this year's production quite the same recognition of the nature of the Soviet threat as I saw in previous White Papers. This is admittedly dealt with in paragraph 1, and it is mentioned within Section 3, the balance. But there is no recognition that we are facing a bigger threat in the Soviet Union than we have ever faced before, with a Government organised almost on a permanent state of a war footing since 1917, whose armies, either directly or by surrogate forces, are trampling the freedoms of peoples in practically every continent of the world, whose nuclear forces are casting a shadow over Western Europe and whose navies are being seen in every ocean in the world. That is not emphasised as strongly as it should be.
Of course the Government know it perfectly well. Nevertheless, it is sometimes desirable to state what may seem to be the obvious, because often in politics it is necessary to state the obvious. The reason why there is this threat—why there is a possibility that the gloomy picture which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, just might be proved correct—is due to the fact that the Government in Moscow have adopted such attitudes over many years. It is obvious, however, although that is the explanation, that Lord Jenkins has not quite understood the real reason for his pessimism.
I regret that the White Paper does not mention that since the publication of the 1981 White Paper we have acquired a new member of the Alliance, Spain. I congratulate the Foreign Office on their skill and diplomacy in arranging for this new ally, and, if it is not impertinent to do so, I congratulate the Prime Minister of Spain for having forced this difficult decision through in that country against a good deal of opposition.
I have a couple of points to make about the White Paper which noble Lords may consider to be flippant. First, I notice that the figure in Item 13 to which I have referred is quoted in dollars, and the size of the defence estate is mentioned in hectares. I should have thought that the Ministry of Defence statisticians ought to have the services of an accounting machine which enables them to turn that table into pounds. I 194 also feel that Britain's broad acres do not need to be hectared. And if noble Lords feel that that is likely to be the preface to a conclusion of an anti-European nature, they are wrong. I listened with great care to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Trenchard and the suggestions, very well made, of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, about the possibility of reaching some degree of collaboration with our allies about defence primarily because of the spiralling costs, which are described well in the White Paper.
It seems to me that we are bound to have to collaborate, perhaps on the lines Lord Hill-Norton suggested—rather far-sightedly, I thought, although there may be some other way—with our European allies in the course of the 1980s, because of the costs. I suggest, therefore, that we look again at all the plans for a European army, a European defence community, which were Government policy in the early 1950s, at a time when, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was still in the Army and when my noble kinsman, Lord Gladwyn, was in Paris. While I do not suggest that those plans were absolutely right, they should be examined again because they may have something to contribute now.
Whenever one suggests the idea of a revived European defence community one is always told that it risks decoupling with the United States. That is of course a serious danger, and we should devote all the services of our diplomacy to preventing such a risk from becoming serious. However, I remember how, in the 1950s, the United States was in favour of a European defence community, and in 1960 President Kennedy spoke firmly in favour of refurbishing the European pillar of the Alliance. Of course there are difficulties, but, providing we assume that any new European defence arrangements that may be made are naturally within the umbrella of NATO, I do not believe they should be overpoweringly difficult problems to overcome. The decouplement which might be caused would surely be no greater than the risk of decouplement which we have already run during the formulation in the last year or so of European foreign policy. I have always thought it odd that the European adventure has been able to insist upon such matters as the colour of peas, or the strength of beer, and has shrunk from such important matters as questions of defence.
I have two points that I should like to make on the question of disarmament, which seems to me extremely well covered in the White Paper. First, if we can obtain some degree of verifiable militarily significant and balanced disarmament, we must devote all our attention to it, if only because of the cost. We have to approach this matter from the point of view of realpolitik and not, if I may put it so bluntly, from the point of view of idealism. After all, the people with whom we are dealing are not people who are members of legislatures. The people with whom we are dealing are people such as Castro, Brezhnev, Teng Hsiao-Ping, and Gaddafi, who spent their entire lives in a climate of violence, who know that they have no legitimacy of rule in their own states, who indeed have respected force as they have respected nothing else throughout their lives.
To suggest that we can make a moral appeal to such people is quite false. Therefore I think that the Prime Minister was quite right to make the comment 195 that she did to the General Assembly on Disarmament in the United Nations—that the only kind of disarmament that is worth while is one which gives an increase of security to all regardless of how much it may dissatisfy some. She was also right to point out that arms races have not always caused war, and many wars have not been caused by arms races. Although there was, for example, an arms race before 1914, I do not think that historians would now say on the whole that it was the main reason for the outbreak of war in 1914.
Similarly, Professor Michael Howard was quite right when, in his recent Creighton lecture, he pointed out that there was a serious danger of our forgetting that the abolition of nuclear weapons may very well lead to an increase in the number of conventional wars, which could be far more damaging than many of the supporters of nuclear disarmament suppose. After all, those killed in conventional wars since 1945—in, say, the last 35 years—have been numberless.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Lord Buxton of Alsa
My Lords, I wish to be very brief about the question on the future defence of the Falkland Islands. Perhaps I may briefly add my tribute to the task force and its brilliant organisation, which many noble Lords have mentioned today, none more eloquently than the noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft. But since I was down there in February and March, in South Georgia, the Falklands and the Antarctic, perhaps I may especially pay tribute to the amazing rugged capability of the individual British serviceman, in all three services, his extraordinary fitness and stamina, and above all his amazing adaptability. In the last war we saw how people from all over the country, whether they were bank clerks, farm workers, or factory workers, proved their ascendency in the Burmese jungle, in deserts, mountains, and elsewhere. Now, for I believe the first time this century, they have proved that they are best in sub-Antarctic conditions at the worst time of the year. I think that it is a remarkable thing on the part of the individual, and that is what makes me very proud about the achievement.
I should like to couple those remarks with a reference to HMS "Endurance", which I know well, and to which noble Lords have already referred, and its captain and crew, and the marines. I am glad to say that, in a Written Answer today, the Secretary of State stated in the other place:'HMS Endurance' has been retained in the South Atlantic for operational reasons which include her unique capability to operate in ice conditions and her extensive experience of the area ".My Lords, I could not have put it better myself—because that is exactly how I did put it on numerous occasions in this House last year. "Endurance" has now been nearly 10 months at sea, away from home, compared with an average for all the other ships in the task force of three months, 19 days, according to figures from the Ministry. I think that hers has been a remarkable achievement, down there alone for a very long time.
Though one recalls the somewhat disdainful references from Whitehall to her limited military capability, 196 on so many occasions last year, I believe that "Endurance" and her complement delivered the coup de grace to the "Santa Fe", an Argentine submarine. I understand that her marines badly damaged an Argentinian corvette, and I think that her helicopters destroyed two large Argentine helicopters. I am sure that when the long tour is over—and I have not been able to discover when that will be—HMS "Endurance" and her brilliant crew will receive the kind of welcome that has been enjoyed and deserved by all other ships.
I have been concerned and worried that there is so much uninformed comment, perhaps understandably, in the media, especially by journalists and other writers in the press, in the aftermath of the Falklands affair. Certain "trendies" are now beginning to question our right to sovereignty; others have been asking, why have we been doing all of this for 1,800 citizens? I am glad to say that the Prime Minister has made many references recently to the importance of the Falklands as a strategic base, with South Georgia, in order to protect the security of the South Atlantic and the sea lanes around the Horn.
But what mainly disturbs me is the growing amount of opinion to the effect that we cannot afford to defend the Falklands. As one who knows the area well, and who has some experience of, and many friends in, Argentina, I want to say that that is not a valid statement. First, the Argentines do not invade countries when they think that they will be resisted. The Falklands were invaded because the Argentines had a clear signal that they would not be resisted—and I am not in any way pre-empting the Franks Report. I am not referring to what has happened in the last few months. The Argentines had the clear impression from successive British Administrations since 1965, and all are in this up to the neck. So far as the signal was concerned, the Argentines had a clear belief that there would be no resistance, apart from diplomatic protests and a great deal of "waffle" in the United Nations and so forth. They were convinced that they would get away with it. Now they know that they did not get away with it, and they are unlikely to do it again. Therefore I must assure your Lordships that in my view they will not go to sea and invade again if they think that they will be resisted.
What is required is three things. First, we need early warning and detection, which did not exist. I am not an expert in these matters, and therefore I do not really know about them as many of your Lordships do, and as admirals and field-marshals can explain. But early warning and detection is obviously available. The mainland is only 300 or 400 miles away, so that must be the first thing that is available. When it is available, all that is necessary is deterrence on a limited scale.
There are approximately 200 islands in the Falkland Islands. There is a vast, broken coastline with bays and landing places, and, if one kept there three divisions, one could not possibly stop people landing everywhere. Therefore there is no point in having them. What is needed is deterrence, early warning, and then access. Therefore, what is required is a long runway, adequate aircraft landing areas, aprons, and all the rest. Provided they are available, including access via Ascension Island, then one has all the components that in my 197 view are necessary to discourage a further Argentine invasion.
I wanted to add this very short and limited statement to your Lordships to counter the mounting journalistic approach that we cannot possibly afford it—and such a view might not come only from journalistic sources. Perhaps there is what one might almost call a mounting campaign claiming that we cannot afford it. We can afford it, because it is limited. The other reason that we can afford it is that, given confidence, and given proper early warning, access, and deterrence, there is no question about it—the Falklands can be turned into a thriving asset, quite apart from their very important strategic value to the free world and to ourselves in access to the Antarctic, safe passage round Cape Horn and so forth.
We must never allow ourselves to believe that we are under continuous threat, provided we remain aware and keep our wits about us. That did not happen recently. We have slept for nearly 20 years. We have allowed the situation to drift. Since as far back as 1965 every Government have been as unprepared as this one; there can be no argument about that. But with, first, only limited surveillance and detection, secondly, deterrence, and, thirdly, access, there is no reason why we should ever get into that situation again.
§ 7.51 p.m
§ Lord Shinwell
My Lords, there will be general agreement in your Lordships' House that we have been favoured in the course of the day with a succession of remarkable speeches, all of high quality, albeit, perhaps, with excessive debating material. We can hardly claim to be unanimous. There has been much confusion about our defence strategy and our intentions, and all the possibilities that derive from our commitments in various parts of the globe.
At this late hour I would be the last to indulge in even a speech except of, to me, comparative brevity, but this I must say. Having listened with meticulous concentration to the speeches we have heard, I award (if your Lordships do not mind my saying so) the accolade to my noble and gallant friend Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton. I do so not only because it is deserved but because I wholeheartedly agree with him. I can speak with experience of the maritime contribution made in previous wars. I can recall what happened in the First World War, when I was picked, among others, by the Government of the day to man auxiliary cruisers; that is to say, liners from the various shipping companies which, in the absence of other useful vessels, particularly in the Navy, were utilised to make their contribution to success.
It was no easy task; but from what I gathered in my experience both then and in the Second World War, where I was closely in touch with Lloyd's Register and several shipping companies, I would venture to say—and it is a word of advice to those concerned—that we have no hope of winning any war in the future without adequate maritime power. We certainly never won any war in the past, even with our allies, except with that kind of military power. I call it military, for such it came to be.
Therefore, I would advise those associated with the Ministry of Defence, if they would permit me to do so, 198 to think again about the whole strategy of our defence. I go further and would advise them to take the two Defence White Papers, place them in a basket and forget all about them; in other words, to think again about defence, all the more so because of the Falklands operation. I yield to none in my admiration for the courage and loyalty of the men of our various forces who recently made their contribution in that operation. I wish language of that kind had been used at a function which occurred yesterday, when there was too much talk of peace, although that could hardly be regarded as objectionable, and the recent crisis in the Falklands was forgotten.
I repeat: we have to think again. What have we heard today? We have heard the pacifists; we have heard the half-baked pacifists; and we have heard those who declare that we cannot afford to have a war in Europe. I think it was the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, who expressed that opinion. There are doubts, in spite of all the argument that we have heard for the past few years, about the desirability of constructing the Trident. I was by no means surprised to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, making that declaration. He was against it. So were others; not only on the grounds of cost, but because they doubted it could ever be used. I join with them in their opinion. It could only be regarded as a deterrent—and let us not forget that a deterrent is desirable more often than not. We have had a deterrent for the last 30 years in the form of NATO, which has prevented a conflict between ourselves and the Soviet Union. Therefore, a Trident constructed, even if never used, might be regarded quite appropriately as a deterrent against the possibility of conflict. To that extent it should be supported, as should other deterrents be if we can discover them. But I would not take it further than that.
My second opinion is this. I do not pretend, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Hill-Norton suggested—I can understand why he did—that we can rely completely on the Navy. It has to be supplemented by a vast number of other vessels, not necessarily of excessive tonnage but capable in a variety of ways of dealing with a possible enemy. Indeed, I will go so far as to suggest that every merchant vessel ought to be to some extent armed. That might be objected to by those who say that it would be an incentive to engage in a conflict. I recall, at the beginning of the last war, taking a delegation of marine officers and seamen to the First Lord of the Admiralty, who happened to be Mr. Winston Churchill, and on behalf of that delegation making the proposition that so far as it was possible merchant vessels should be armed with weapons, with possibly accommodation for helicopters and the like. Nothing was done about it because, in the opinion of Mr. Churchill, we would have sufficient guns to deal with aircraft. He was not prepared to transfer aircraft guns to the Mercantile Marine; and we had to accept it. As an alternative, we had the convoy system, which was not a complete failure but almost a failure at the mercy of the U-boats—particularly because our own merchant fleet was not speedy enough, could not compare with the U-boat speed. That was to our disadvantage.
Therefore, I would offer that advice to the Minister of Defence, that he should seek as soon as possible 199 to man our merchant vessels with some weapons which would, at any rate, afford protection or an assurance of protection. These are the two contributions I venture to make and I will not take it any further. First, to dispose of the Defence White Paper in view of the various errors that occurred during the Falklands operation; but I do not make a song and dance about that, I can understand them. Also, in view of the lessons that we have learned in the last few years, in view of the diplomatic confusion that exists throughout the globe—and we are well aware of that—and also in view of the possibility of a conflict with the Soviet Union, which I hope will never occur but which we should make every effort to avoid.
In view of these factors, it is essential that we should think again to provide the necessary adjustments to the strategy of our defence. In the decisions about weapons, the layman ought not to go too deeply into the question of what is the right type of weapon to use in the event of a conflict. In my opinion these are matters of the utmost importance. If we are going to rely on the contents of the existing White Papers on defence, it will be fatal. I do not deny that there are some elements in the White Paper that can be utilised with advantage, but the strategy has got to be reorientated. That is essential. My second point, the one to which I venture to refer briefly, is the boosting up of the Mercantile Marine and providing them with the essential security to ensure that they are capable of dealing with a possible enemy.
§ 8.3 p.m.
My Lords, it is rather frightening to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, with his great experience. I do not agree with one of his points. I thought the idea of defence was that we should hear all people's different ideas and have quite a difference of opinion expressed so that we could form an opinion which would be helpful in the end. I have never known him not to want to be controversial in any debate. It is rather disappointing if he is going to take that attitude. I should also like to say to him that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, has formed what is known as the British Maritime League, of which I hope the noble Lord will perhaps become a distinguished member in due course.
I shall confine myself to two points: the question of the Royal Marines and that of the Royal Dockyards. I am dealing with the dockyards because I do not want to disappoint my noble friend who suggested at the beginning that somebody will be talking about them. We have very special training for the Royal Marines, which was undertaken by Major-General Sir Peter Whiteley, now Governor of Jersey, and it was mostly carried out on Dartmoor. I mention this because there was a great deal of protest over that and people tried to stop them. But if it had not been for the training on Dartmoor and the training in Norway, they would not have been able to accomplish the amazing marches and actions that they carried out on the Falklands. I should like to mention that the Falklands were also very useful in the last world war when certain of our ships, including HMS "Exeter", took shelter there after the River Plate action.
200 The Royal Marines also have a part to play in NATO. What they are finding now, after their experience in the Falklands, is that they want better mobility. In other words, they want the use of LPHs, the "Bulwark" and "Hermes", and the LPIs the "Fearless" and the "Intrepid"; because landing is not easy with the roll-on/roll-off type of ferries which had been used to date, particularly in Norway. In the various areas to which they are likely to go—especially the smaller islands in Europe which they perhaps will be expected to protect—there is very great difficulty in having these type of ferry. It was shown quite well in the Falklands that they had to use other types; and there were certain unfortunate incidents when they were bombed—particularly concerning the paratroops. They need vessels from which helicopters can help them to land.
I should like to mention also the question of reserves. I gather that at the moment they have about 1,058 and the total authorised for them is 11,070. There have been some constraints; they have been constrained by not having sufficient money; but in view of the excellent work they have done and the very good training they give, it would help unemployment and would give a better feeling of life in future to a great many people who would like to join them.
I should like to draw attention to something also rather unusual. As one knows, there were 14 women on the "Canberra". One of them was an assistant surgeon, Dr. West. She did the most remarkable job, particularly when, thinking she was going on a luxury tour to see the world in beautiful conditions, she found herself having to deal with really appalling wounds. She took 1,350 pints of blood off the various servicemen who volunteered their blood in order to give it both to British and Argentinians. In the middle of war, that was a fantastic thing for the men to do.
Then, without the work in the dockyards there would have been no task force, because it was the largest proportion of ships which were transferred into useful vessels by the dockyards. For example, in Portsmouth there were 19 ships, eight major and 11 minor. At Devonport—and I do not know the exact figure—there were at least nine and probably nearer a dozen which were changed into useful vessels. They have coined a new word for it now, which is "STUFT" —ships taken up from trade. The smallest conversions took two days and on the largest 22 days. I think it is quite amazing that the work was done completely voluntarily, with people staying overtime and not asking for extra money to get these ships ready. I am going to put down a Question for Written Answer, if I may, to elicit the names of all these ships. I know them myself but I do not want to read them out. I should like to have them on the record for the future.
My Lords, I hope that one realises how our share of shipbuilding has fallen. It has fallen dramatically and I have a graph which shows that it is now almost at rock bottom. I am worried that if we do not start building ships again shortly, we shall have no ships' workers in this country. Supposing we have no trained shipbuilders in this country, then countries like Korea and Japan will obviously collar the market and put up their prices. We shall then have to pay extra money—money which we are trying to save now because we think our workmanship is too expensive 201 at the moment. We shall then be having to place our orders more or less under blackmail in these yards at very much higher prices.
In the yards, when the cuts come into force, the industrial labour force will only be 31,000, including 1,500 in Gibraltar. The cuts in Chatham, Portsmouth and Gibraltar equate to 50 per cent. of the workforce. Therefore that is a cut in the potential ability to provide heavy repair, refitting and updating of the fleet. The cuts will be irreversible, as special skills and experience are required by naval yards. If such drastic cuts are made, it could take several decades—and I am not exaggerating, for I have checked this—say, 20 years, to get experienced foreman in the yards again. There is immense value in the yards, with their masses of specialised building which are of great importance and their docks. I should like to remind the noble Viscount that the nuclear complex at Chatham and the destroyer refitting complex at Portsmouth are too costly to recreate in peacetime and that it is not sufficient to reactive them under care and maintenance.
The size and efficiency of the Navy is constrained by the magnitude of the dockyard heavy repair and maintenance capability. So, if there is a reduction in the manpower and facilities, in the long term there will have to be a reduction in naval personnel because there will be no ships for them. The dockyards' first priority is always short-dated work—the updating of weapons systems, for example. So the Navy will lose its capacity to undertake modernisation of its ships and keep the equipment up to date. As I have understood the situation, the short lifting for a major refit after 12 years of service is more expensive than refitting and modernisation at half this period. The short refitting takes from four to six months and is undertaken every four or five years. Major refits at half-life take two to three years. The hull and machinery take a longer time after 12 years' service. This particularly applies to weapons systems, which are 15 per cent. to 25 per cent. of the refit.
When it says in Command Paper No. 8288 that the Royal Navy cuts required will be between about 8,000 to 10,000 by 1986, partly through the service fleet contraction and partly through cutting out posts and establishments ashore and undertaking more training afloat, I suggest that there may not be the ships to undertake this training afloat. Perhaps the noble Viscount can look into that matter. Can he state whether there will be a reduction in the fleet escort force from 65 to 50?
The capacity of the two remaining yards is not sufficient. It seems unfortunate that, in order to try to achieve apparent savings in Defence Vote terms of only about £200 million a year, regrettably nearly half the country's warship repairing capacity would be destroyed. So the Ministry of Defence appears to me to be trying to make cuts in order to take its share in the programme of Ministry cutting but to be taking no account of the requirement to sustain an essential level of ships for the long-term future.
The industrial base supporting the country's maritime base is already weak. Though I am pleased to note that Devonport will have plenty of work, is it being fair to them to have three streams of nuclear submarines plus the nuclear submarines' mid-commission dockings 202 and also HMS "Invincible" for refit? I think that there are too many high priorities in this programme.
There is the necessity to "cover" ships which at the moment is impossible and therefore some extra work will have to be done before the ships can be taken into reconstruction. Will the reconstruction of Devonport, or perhaps part of Portsmouth, be done before Chatham closes?—otherwise the situation is going to be very difficult. Regarding Devonport, is there enough room for expansion and are there enough craftsmen for the job?
The Defence Review does nothing to alleviate the problem of the shortage of dockyard capacity. As I have mentioned in previous debates, remote control by Whitehall secretariat takes away local initiative. I know from personal experience that the local management wish to make decisions on matters such as applications for overtime, purchase of materials and the placing of sub-contracts for specialised work, but they have had that totally banned by headquarters in London. This is very bad for the morale of the yards.
The problem which I have mentioned in the dockyards and to which I have referred in previous debates has been the heavy overload of ship work. This has regrettably been aggravated by the unhelpful activities of the Civil Service Department, whose chief intent in this matter appears to me to be that they want to achieve uniformity across the country and they do not mind in the least about the actual work carried out in the yards. Regrettably, they have little or no interest in the problem of repair work. In pay and industrial matters, the Civil Service Department have power without responsibility, which is not at all helpful to local management.
The noble Viscount very kindly replied to my letter of February 1981, but I regret that it has not helped me on the points I raised. Perhaps I shall be luckier in his reply this time, because I think it is essential that we know how we stand in these various dockyards.
In view of the excellent reports that we received from Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and of the recent speech by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore, I should like to suggest that we should have a conference of the chiefs of the navies of these countries and of any other countries in the Commonwealth which might like to join them so that we can help in the various seas in the world: for instance, Australia and New Zealand in the East, and Canada in the West Indies. I notice that in the debates in the Canadian Parliament they have been very keen to do all they can to help. There is also a conference being held by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in the Bahamas. I gather there will now be an opportunity to have a debate on this subject.
I am pleading that the different countries of the Commonwealth should get together. We had at one time Pax Britannica, and, now with 48 independent territories, I am sure some would like to join in having a Pax Commonwealth. We wish to maintain peace, and if we have people alert in the various parts of the world and in communication with us we would have more chance of keeping the peace, rather than waiting until unfortunate things happen, as in the case of the Falklands.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I am going to change the bowling and speak about the media. I have been asked to speak extremely shortly. Very few people realise the vast power of the media, especially with the advent of television today. One can probably say that the media and the trade unions are the two most powerful bodies in this country. In the last war the record of the media was extremely good. The BBC deservedly had a very good name for their reporting. But in the Falklands war—and I think that most noble Lords will agree—they have rather tarnished their image.
There is evidently some legal explanation, but I cannot understand why we never declared war. The point is that we did go to war over the Falklands, and a most brilliant campaign was fought by all who were concerned in it. But ipso facto it was war, and I cannot understand why there was not some censorship, as in all previous wars. After all, morally we were 100 per cent. in the right, we were upholding international law and were fighting an appalling aggressor. Perhaps the Government did not realise then that certain sections of the media might not be as patriotic as we hoped. I would remind your Lordships that America lost in Vietnam because of the media on the home front. If she had been supported by the home front, that campaign would have ended very differently and would have saved the most brutal aggressions in Vietnam, and in the countries bordering it.
There has been criticism of the Ministry of Defence for withholding photographs until the end of the Falklands campaign. Of course, they were perfectly correct to do so, but I only wish that the Government had been firmer in their control of certain programmes put out by the BBC. I think that, on the whole, the BBC were the chief offender. I am extremely sad about that, because I have always had a great admiration for the BBC. I saw it reported in the press, and I presume there was some foundation for it, that that very gallant officer Lieutenant-Colonel Jones, who, unfortunately, lost his life at Goose Green, said that when the Falklands war was over and he got back home he had every intention of suing the BBC for manslaughter. Presumably, he knew far more than we do how the reports of the media affected the troops under his command. It may be that, when they reported troop and ship movements, the enemy knew about them anyway. But I am quite sure that the reporting was a help to the enemy, and it was disgraceful.
Under their charter, the BBC are supposed to be impartial, and perhaps they were trying to be impartial in their reporting of the Falklands war. But no body in the state, especially a body as powerful as the BBC, can be completely impartial in a war. If you are going to be impartial in a war, you will presumably lose that war—
§ Lord Granville of Eye
My Lords, would it not have been better if the Government, or the Ministry of Defence, had appointed a Minister of Information as in the last war?
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite correct. That would have been 204 excellent and I cannot think why the Government did not do that. But the BBC have the sole rights to collect broadcasting fees from the public, which makes it far worse than if it were a completely independent newspaper or broadcasting organisation. When we are risking our servicemen's lives on active service, in conditions of extreme discomfort, it is appalling that the media on the home front do not support them. I am quite sure that some of the television programmes that we saw on the Falklands would have brought great anguish to some of the relatives. On the whole, the press were good. But what was shown on television left a lot to be desired. If, god forbid!, we ever have a similar occasion arising, I hope that the Government will appoint a Minister of Information. Before I sit down—I do not know whether there are any former naval officers in the House—
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
There are one or two points I should like to make. Perhaps I ought not to make them, but I should like to do so. I am obviously not a naval architect, but I think that naval architects ought to put on their thinking caps. What I am worried about is that, in this micro-electronic age, our ships appear to have a small control room which controls every facet of their operations. If that control room is hit, everything is out out of action—all the fire-fighting and everything else. Surely, in the designs of our new ships we ought to try to spread that control more evenly throughout the ship, as in former days when all the controls were not centred in one small compartment.
I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Trenchard say that we are improving our night gun sights. I understand that in the Falklands war the Argentines had better night gun sights than we had, so I am glad that that defect has been rectified. I was a very junior officer, but thank goodness the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, is not here now because I think he was on the wrong tack when he said that a further two armoured divisions would be equal to our independent nuclear deterrent. The two things cannot be compared. If we had not had nuclear weapons at the time of the Berlin air lift we would probably have had a third world war. Since the last world war we have had in the world 151 other wars and they have all been conventional wars. But I am sure that, if the Americans and we ourselves had not had nuclear deterrents, we might well have ended up with a nuclear war. Having said that, I will sit down.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I will not follow my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard into the ship construction business, for many reasons but also so as not to keep your Lordships too long. With regard to what he had to say about the press, I began to feel towards the end of the Falklands operation that they were beginning to get a feel for it. They were totally inexperienced in how to report a war, not only those who actually went out and did it, but those who controlled it back here, putting on television programmes and editing newspapers. They really had not had any experience of anything like that 205 for years. Towards the end I felt they were beginning to get the feel.
Then, of course, the operation was so efficiently conducted. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, said, it was probably the most efficient and first-class operation we have conducted from these shores in about 200 years. It was so efficiently done that unfortunately the press will now forget how to behave when they are reporting a war, and we will have to start all over again if we ever have another one. There are many reasons for supposing that we never will, but that is another matter altogether. I want really to start by joining with all those, and particularly my noble friend Lord Murton of Lindisfarne, in congratulating all concerned, from the Merchant Navy people, to the civilians who were involved and the gallant officers, soldiers, sailors and airmen, and indeed the task force commander and the land force commander.
Rather as my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft singled out the joint planners, I should like to single out the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John Fieldhouse. I do not know why, but he never seemed to me to come over as the person in charge—which he was. I have always thought it surprising, but perhaps he was wise and kept clear of the press; and it is just as well to do that, if one is in the "Silent Service" anyhow. It was his operation. He conducted it and deserves all the congratulations that we have given to anybody else.
Next point I wish thoroughly to endorse what my noble friends Lord Thorneycroft and Lord Beloff said: that we really must have foreign policy decided before we decide on defence policy. Foreign policy has to give the guidance. I believe it was my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft who said we should have a foreign policy debate before we have a defence debate.
Going right back some years ago in time, to when I served in the Admiralty, we were always trying to get from the Foreign Office what they wanted us to do. It is no good the Foreign Office saying, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, tried to say earlier, "We do not want to have commitments overseas, so therefore we will look after them by diplomacy, and you should not bother to have forces to deal with those commitments". It is a lesson that has just been shown and one which really must go right home to all concerned, that if we have overseas commitments we must have the power to deter people from interfering with those commitments. Hopefully, we will not go to war if our deterrent capability is good enough; but that requires a subtle use of maritime power which, sadly, seems to be lacking in so many people in authority today. That is a fundamental point. Commitments must be identified and we must develop our defence policy therefrom.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would not agree that some commitments can be transferred or shared as a result of diplomacy? We do not have to take them as given for ever, do we?
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, it rather depends. Many of them have been disposed of, but there is still a hard core of commitments about which we have to be doubly certain, much more certain than we were this time over the Falklands, that there are other people to 206 help, before we relax our own guard and allow people to be attacked in the way that has just occurred. Turning to the Statement, it is a surprising honour for those of us who take the view that I do, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence actually entered the lists in person in an article in The Times today, as though The Times in a way pre-empts people like myself and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton; because it seemed to me that his headline, " … let's not go overboard in Navy spending," perhaps had a vestige of truth in it, because I do not believe that any of us feel that we should go overboard in Navy spending. What I think ought to go overboard is the Secretary of State for Defence. If that could possibly be arranged many of our problems would be solved.
I am serious on this point. I really do believe that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is unsubtle in his whole approach to this defence business. One might say he is insensitive in that he does not understand the main point of it. For example, it seems to me quite extraordinary that we were told that he wanted to issue this Defence Statement whilst the Falklands war was actually being fought, and was prevented from doing so. That is so insensitive that it betrays a lack of understanding of the reaction of that kind of thing on other people. Though it will be for others to make sure of this, I am quite certain that he made his own contribution to the Falklands war actually breaking out, because of his policy on HMS "Endurance" and what he had to say about the surface fleet about a year ago. That may not have been a major contribution, but I am sure it contributed, that it was totally insensitive to make that kind of remark and, in effect, encouraged the Argentinians to feel that we really had lost interest in that part of the world.
It is quite extraordinary that we have not waited till the lessons, both strategic and operational, of the first major action for over a quarter of a century have been absorbed before issuing any Defence Statement at all. It displays to me yet again a complete lack of understanding by the Secretary of State of the importance of real action to conditioned defence planning. It is quite extraordinary. With that in mind one then looks at the Defence Statement. I spent quite a long time comparing it with last year's Defence Statement. I started with Part 2 and, apart from very small changes, all this is doing is updating the statistics by one year. One could almost guess any figure one wanted to get at from last year's Statement. There was really no hurry to issue that, or it could have been issued by itself as a statistical survey.
As for Part 1, there are certain features which are new. One noble Lord said that there were bits missing from it in relation to last year, but the main burden of what is in Part 1 for this year is substantially the same as it was for last year, and there was really no point in issuing it. Perhaps it gave us something upon which to hang this debate and the equivalent debate in another place but I wonder whether that was necessary or whether we might not have had a brief Statement.
Finally, we turn to the foreword, this extra slip of paper, in which we see the rather ominous words "adjustments … to the Defence programme". If that is all it is going to be, then that really does show not merely insensitivity but ignorance. I hope that 207 any changes will be fundamental and rooted—the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said as much when he spoke—that the lessons will be truly learned, that we shall make all the adjustments and that, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, said, the White Paper which we have assembled here today to discuss is as quickly as possible put in the wastepaper basket.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, what are the lessons of the Falklands? I suppose that technically they relate to such things as the possible vulnerability of our surface vessels, the efficacy, or otherwise, of anti-aircraft and anti-missile defences, the desirability, if not the necessity, of some kind of Nimrods for the detection of hostile aircraft and so on. These, I have no doubt at all, will be pored over by experts with, we can only hope, satisfactory results.
What are the strategic conclusions which we can derive from what was a highly successful, if highly risky operation? Here I should like to make just a few remarks enlarging upon what was said in the excellent speech of my noble friend Lord Mayhew. What the Falklands certainly showed was that, when we are up against it, this country is very efficient in the deployment of its armed forces and that its professional services are courageous, determined and, above all, highly skilled. We can indeed be proud of that. It also shows what the British can do when they are really up against it. It was once said that the British can never read the writing on the wall unless they have their backs right up against it, which is profoundly true. But it also showed, I think—as I think several noble Lords have indicated during the course of the debate—that the projection of British power many thousands of miles away to look after British interests against attack by a third-rate power was only effected with considerable losses, which undoubtedly weakened the general defence of the West against the real adversary.
It was consequently not something which should have been undertaken except under the spur of dire necessity—in this case action forced on us by the extreme stupidity of the Argentine Government. We were, I repeat, and as has been said by several noble Lords, lucky in not losing more ships and thus in not being put in the humiliating position of actually having to call the whole thing off. We can therefore only hope that the continued projection of British power into the South Atlantic will not be necessary in the years to come and that it will, on the contrary, be possible to create some sort of small international base on the islands which will both protect the passage round the Horn and ensure that the islanders are never governed by the Argentine—an Argentine which, under some new régime, might well, however, be profitably associated with them, and with us, in the economic exploitation of the entire area. That is what we must surely hope, so let us hope that things do turn out that way.
If they do, and even if they do not, one thing—here I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Mayhew—stand out a mile. There is no other conceivable position in the world which calls for independent defence by some British task force of the general nature of that sent in April to the South Atlantic. I make 208 that flat statement and I propose to justify it. Gibraltar could only be defended in the context of an absurd war with Spain. Hong Kong is totally indefensible against China which, happily, shows no sign of wanting to attack it. Belize ought to join the Organisation of American States. That should be its future. The Atlantic islands could only be defended against the Soviet fleet, which is the only possible aggressor, with the active help of America. The remaining small islets hardly count. As for the Indian Ocean, all right. If the Americans insist, we could, no doubt, provide a frigate or two and perhaps contribute some paratroopers to Oman. No, Mr. Nott is—or, at any rate, was—completely right. It is in Europe and in the Eastern Atlantic that our forces should now be almost entirely, or principally, deployed. Outside the NATO area we shall have to depend upon the United States, with such secondary support as we and the French can give them in the event—which is, after all, not impossible.
So it seems to me—and I could not agree more than I do with the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver—that a purely, or even a preponderantly, "maritime" policy would be nothing short of a disaster. Any serious weakening of BAOR and, a fortiori its withdrawal, would undermine NATO by discouraging the Germans and giving the impression that we did not really care much about a land battle or, indeed, about the European Economic Community and were only really thinking about the defence of these islands. There is no contradiction in so asserting. There is no reason why we should not, with the Americans, have adequate means to protect out-communications across the Atlantic in time of war. At the same time, as I have been asserting for at least 10 years, we should construct, with the Germans, a new form of forward defence in the North German Plain, employing the latest technical devices in the sphere of "conventional" armaments which would cost us, I think (although I may be wrong) not very much more than the present upkeep of BAOR. I need hardly say that here I agree entirely with what, I thought, was the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.
Some reductions, perhaps, in the "tail" of our divisions—perhaps hinted at by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart—might be a good thing in itself. And in any case—this is my main point—there is no need to achieve "parity" with the Russians: tank for tank, aircraft for aircraft, still less, of course, man for man. I repeat: what is wanted is a whole new conception of defence which in the long run could be deemed to convince the Russians that success in any "conventional" assault would be by no means a foregone conclusion. And that is all you want to impress them with.
That brings me, as noble Lords may no doubt have expected, to my King Charles's head: the NATO doctrine of "flexible response" to which considerable reference has been made in the course of this debate. There is now, I think, barely any dissent among informed observers that "flexible response" would result in the first use by the West of nuclear weapons and, consequently, in nuclear retaliation and thus in an escalation which it would be virtually impossible to avoid, resulting in unparalleled destruction and probably in the disappearance of the participants as recognisable national entities. This of course would be 209 far worse than defeat—it is not defeatist to say that—and far, far worse than any conventional war, however horrible that might be. What, however, appears on the face of it to be lunacy is justified by the argument that the Russians would be dissuaded from embarking on a war by a belief that Western rulers would be entirely capable of acting like lunatics and would in any case be prepared to call off the war if, by any chance, they did act like lunatics.
This seems to me to be an extraordinary argument. I believe that no intelligent person can read Lord Zuckerman's excellent work, entitled Nuclear Illusion and Reality, without acknowledging that first use of the nuclear weapon in the event of war is, as he again pointed out in his excellent speech, an impossible conception and that the threat to do so is consequently totally incredible. It is improbable that the Soviet Union wants war. If they are motivated by reason at all, then they cannot want it. But war may nevertheless come about—shall we say in the Middle East, with the Russians and Americans finding themselves killing each other without perhaps really intending to do so? If so, it would inevitably spread to Europe and we should be confronted with the fatal nuclear decision. As I see it, there would then he only one "credible" response on the part of the West: we should be forced to defend ourselves by what are known as conventional means.
This brings me to the only point on which I believe I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. If it is obviously impossible for us to make first use of nuclear weapons, why do we feel that we cannot contemplate a no-first-use declaration? I only say "contemplate", because it may not happen now but we should at least think about it, in accordance with the proposals of that admirable man, Mr. Robert McNamara. It is no good saying that be refusing to make the declaration we maintain an element of doubt in the minds of the Russians, for the simple reason that the Russians—like ourselves—would not believe it to be possible anyway. And if we did make it in agreement with the Russians, we would at least take a good deal of wind out of the sails of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
While making every effort to reach agreement on the limitation or abolition of nuclear weapons generally—and what on earth is the point of spending billions trying to gain nuclear superiority when the West generally already has the capacity to blot out an adversary many times over on a second strike as it is?—all our energies should now be directed to improving our conventional defences. I myself have for long believed that we should create some sort of Home Guard to protect our cities against conventional attack, and that we should scrap the Trident project in favour of more hunter killer submarines, and in order to liberate funds for the modernisation of the BAOR. What, if anything, should replace Polaris at the end of the century—prolonged by Chevaline—I will not go into now. That, broadly speaking can be decided later.
Unfortunately, most experts are agreed that all our economies are being wrecked by the vast deficit in the American budget caused chiefly by totally unnecessary piling up of nuclear weapons which involves appalling high interests rates, and is thus one of the main causes of unemployment in the West generally 210 and notably in Europe. Perhaps in these unfortunate circumstances we cannot do everything we should do in the way of stepping up our armaments. I agree on that. But at least we can try to lay the base for real European co-operation in defence. Even if some members of the Community oppose this, why bother? There is nothing to prevent those who wish to co-operate in the Community from doing so, outside the Treaty of Rome. Here I am happy to say that I agree entirely with the excellent remarks of my noble kinsman Lord Thomas of Swynnerton. He said that I myself was occupied with thinking about European Defence when I was in Paris. That is an exaggeration. I believe I began to think seriously about it when I joined the Western European Union in about 1966—which, after all, is some 17 years ago, and that is a long time. There are many figures in the US Congress who do not favour the defence policy of the Republican Administration; and a strong concerted line taken by the European members of the Alliance would strengthen the position of the Opposition in Washington, more especially as we are now in an election year.
Much has been said lately about the Falkland factor in politics in this country, and it is true that our success in that operation has given us the feeling that we still count for something in international affairs. That is indisputable. But the important thing will be for the Government to channel this excellent feeling into widespread support for sensible defence policies which—even if they involve some sacrifices—will be demonstrably capable not merely of favouring purely national goals but rather of achieving that conventional balance of power in the maintenance of which, tempered by agreed arms limitation, our entire future, and the chances of world peace, obviously depend.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Lord Brooks of Tremorfa
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shinwell has asked me to apologise to your Lordships for having to leave this debate. As we all know, he invariably stays until the bitter end of such debates, but he tells me that he has transport problems, and I am sure that your Lordships will understand.
My noble friend Lord Shinwell was not the only noble Lord to say that the White Paper should be consigned to the dustbin. Whether or not it should be disposed of in that way I do not know, but it has certainly inspired some excellent speeches today. There was a tendancy to brevity—a welcome development on a long day. I shall attempt to follow that trend and not to burden your Lordships' House too long.
I join those noble Lords who have paid tribute to the courage and skill of our armed forces—both the merchant service and civilians—who were engaged in the Falklands episode. We all grieve for the families of the fallen and for those who suffered terrible injuries. The area I represent on my local authority suffered disproportionately in the conflict. I visited the families of two young Welsh guardsmen who were killed on the "Sir Galahad". They were young men 211 who were 18 years old and our community is still grieving over them.
I share the surprise of my noble friend Lord Peart that the Government make only the briefest reference to the Falklands conflict in the White Paper. I do not believe that events in the South Atlantic enable us to redraw the map of military learning, but they do give us an opportunity for learning again some fundamentals. The projection of naval power needs several components of air cover; airborne early warning, satellite intelligence, aerial missile defence, point missile defence and interceptor aircraft. The Sea Harrier was our sole aircraft in this role. It follows surely that a fresh look must be taken at the balance which must be struck between the design and budgetary outlays on hulls on the one hand, and on weapons systems on the other. This balance has shifted too far in the direction of platforms in recent years. Without the reintroduction of mid-life modernisation for our naval ships, the balance is unlikely to be restored because weapons systems inevitably become obsolete long before hulls.
The same applies to aircraft. Nimrod is an old aircraft, and so is the Phantom. But their electronics and weapons systems must be up to date. We have learned also that naval power's greatest strength is its inherent flexibility. It is highly mobile and so is able to make varied contributions to defence and deterrent requirements. It allows for flexibility in planning and flexibility of response. The role of sea power in defence is crucial. I have not seen this point made better than in the speech of Mr. Patrick Duffy in another place on 19th July, when he said:The Falklands conflict confirms rather than undermines the invaluable role of sea power in projecting military force in unpredictable places across vast distances. That is what the Navy did in the Falklands and that is what it can do elsewhere. In the Navy's more likely and assigned NATO role, the service is indispensable.As my noble friend Lord Peart has said, the Royal Navy provides 70 per cent. of the NATO maritime forces assigned to the East Atlantic and yet commands only 23 per cent. of the defence budget.
There is in today's issue of The Times an article by Mr. John Nott to which several noble Lords have referred already. This article will inevitably attract a great deal of correspondence. The article is headed "After the Falklands, let's not go overboard on Navy spending". I will not quote at any length from the article which I have no doubt will spark off a great deal of comment. But one comment made by Mr. Nott is certainly the least controversial of anything he has ever said:In the last resort, our defences will reflect the size of the success of our economy.Such a reminder at a time when the Government's economic policies are driving us into ever deepening depression is hardly likely to inspire confidence in priorities for defence.
Can we have confidence that Britain is able to meet her foreign policy obligations and to defend her world-wide trading interests, given the depressed state of the economy? Is it not time to give greater legitimacy to our defence efforts by making the link between our national interests and our defence efforts sounder and more easily understood? Is there not too high a 212 priority accorded to strategic nuclear systems both on the grounds of budgetary impact and in the terms of its contribution to our overall security? Is it not time for us to consider arms control, strategic, tactical and convention, as a part of our overall security policy instead of as an alternative to it?
Should the Government not listen with greater attention to the critics of the Trident programme? Is the choice of Trident not forcing us to cast off defence and foreign policy obligations which lie nearer to the heart of our national interests than the strategic deterrent? The Trident programme places unacceptable pressure on our other defence roles. Air defence of the British mainland is desperately thin. BAOR has well known weaknesses. Here the point made by my noble friend Lord Peart should be emphasised. He asked that the disparities in our contribution to the maintenance of our forces in Germany should be discussed with our allies. Like the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, we are not suggesting a rundown in our manpower commitments, but a lessening of the financial burden.
My Lords, we have vital foreign policy obligations and a wide range of trading and commercial interests which will endure far into the future. They must be defended within the limits of our resources. Concentration on one defence role at the expense of others builds a degree of rigidity into our defence posture which is undesirable, and Trident certainly falls into this category. If we concentrate our attention on one major defence commitment we tacitly invite pressure from potential enemies at weaker points.
The General Council of British Shipping has produced an excellent document on its concern about the need for adequate defence of British merchant ships in time of crisis or war. I am sure that many noble Lords have read it with great interest. Among other things, it calls for partnership between the Government and the shipping industry in building merchant ships of the type needed in time of crisis. Could the Government not begin this partnership by agreeing to replace the "Atlantic Conveyor" by providing the shortfall needed to allow the contract to be placed in a British shipyard? The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, put the point well when he said that we should not leave the building of our merchant fleet to the mercy of market forces.
I understand that Mr. John Nott has made a statement today in another place, when he said—and I quote from a newspaper report:If it were possible we would be prepared to make some funds available from the defence budget to change the design of the replacement for the 'Atlantic Conveyor' so that it could be used as a useful reserve asset for military purposes.This is precisely the approach which the General Council of British Shipping is seeking. In the document to which I have referred the General Council say:There is an urgent need to develop a partnership between the Government and the shipping industry whereby types of merchant ships particularly wanted in time of war with defence features built into them could be built mainly with industry money, but with some help from the Government recognising the defence implications. The shipping industry awaits.The noble Viscount has told us that the Government will seek closer co-operation with industry in these matters, and it is our hope that this process will begin as soon as possible, before the shipping industry is run 213 down to the point where co-operation with Government will become academic.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, catapulted me to the Front Bench opposite and wondered about possible embarrassment on my part in the light of comments made by some of my noble friends. I follow closely the speeches of party leaders and particularly our defence spokesman, and in the debate on the Royal Navy in another place on 19th July Mr. Denzil Davies, an official Opposition Front Bench spokesman, said:… 96 major warships and submarines other than Polaris were in existence when the Conservative Government took office. By April this year, before the Falklands crisis—there have been some changes since then—the figure was down to 86. Despite the recent announcement, we shall see a further decline by the end of the decade. Of the 27 major warships that have entered service since 1979 or that will enter service over the next five years, only four have been ordered by the present Government."—[Official Report, Commons, 19/7/82, col. 53.]That observation hardly reflects the attitude of a party neglectful of our defence responsibilities. I am sure no responsible Member of your Lordships' House would maintain for one moment that a Government should be free from critical appraisal of what has historically been a very controversial area of policy.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, I do not feel any happier with a repeat performance, trying to answer 24 noble Lords in the whole wide area of defence, whereas noble Lords have mentioned that the other place has allotted five days. A knowledge of the subject, which I am getting a little of these days, is not a help to proceeding very quickly if one is to go over the problems in more detail.
My Lords, although there has been criticism, I think there has been more support for many areas, if not the whole, of my right honourable friend's balanced policy in relation to the main threats which this country faces than perhaps the criticisms have suggested. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, suggested that we were broadly right, bar one. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, found us right bar the same one, but he had slightly different points to make on that one, to which I shall come in a moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Peart, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, has just repeated it, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone, all asked why my right honourable friend had published the White Paper at this time unaltered. I thought that he had covered this fairly adequately and that I had done so in my introductory speech. But, on the one hand, the lessons are not yet clear as regards the Falklands; and on the other hand, the Falklands are—and a great many noble Lords have supported this thesis—a fairly unique, "one off" threat. There were many pressures, for many reasons which I do not have the time to go into, why the main part of the White Paper for the unaltered threat which faces us, should not go ahead. There were equally clear reasons as to why we should not rush at revision until we had analysed the lessons.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, suggested that the lessons were already clear to him. But quite different lessons were clear to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I can tell the noble 214 and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, who suggested that if the analysis were done by professionals there would be no problem, that, indeed, there are professionals interpreting the, as yet, unchecked analysis in different ways in the Ministry, just as he and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, are drawing quite different conclusions from the present state of information.
There is not time to cover disarmament. Let me merely say that this Government will do all they can to ensure that the talks, both on intermediate weapons and on strategic weapons which are now taking place and were not last year, will go forward, and we shall certainly encourage progress to be made.
The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, drew my attention to the fact that the Russians have apparently recognised the need for inspection of chemical weapons. The noble Lord knows as well as I do the difficulty of a practical inspection for chemical weapons in particular, which can be stored in small quantities and made in a lot of different factories. We are pleased to have noted the Russians' remarks in that context and they will be followed up. But the noble Lord, I am sure, will exercise caution against the background of the huge stocks of these weapons that we know the Russians possess at present.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, I must answer 24 speakers and I want to get through inside half an hour.
I now turn to Trident which, in spite of any plea I might have made, has taken a certain amount of our debate. Perhaps I can bracket it under the general heading of "The Independent Deterrent". Let me start by saying that I totally endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft when he drew our attention to the fact that eight Governments of all persuasions have confirmed the need for a British independent strategic deterrent, and for a modern one and for it to kept up to date. If I could wave a magic wand—which I do not think I can do—and if I could bring back the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, to a post which he held a very long while ago, when he was one of those who advised that we should have it, I believe that he would agree with the current professional advice that we have, that the situation is unaltered and, therefore, in the ninth Government the advice that my right honourable friend is receiving is overwhelming.
The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, in reply to a question which I asked for clarification, said that it was his view that the independent deterrent could continue in the shape of Polaris. I can only tell him that all the professional advice we have is against that and we find it utterly convincing. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Brooks, that it is not a question of our unwillingness to listen. With the resource problems that I outlined in my introductory speech, we have looked, and looked again—and we shall continue to listen to and look again—at any practical alternatives.
My right honourable friend has recently announced for instance, the need for the re-motoring, of the Polaris. The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, will note 215 how long the existing motors have lasted and will be able to calculate that before we get to the next century we shall be doing it again, even in motors. It has been extremely difficult to do in motors. We have just managed to reach agreements to keep together parts of the United States industry that made the motors in the first place in order to make replica motors. There is no chance whatever of our being able to do the same thing in the mid-1990s.
We are not talking only of motors. The age expectancy of all parts of that missile system are known to us, and there is not one chance of our being able to retain Polaris in effective form into the next century, except at literally huge cost, even if we could do it. In addition, there are the arguments, which the noble Lord knows well, about the kind of vulnerability that our launch bases might have to face in the 1990s and in the next century, through indeed to the year 2020.
There is also a changed position as regards the penetration ability of that deterrent and the kind of defences that it will probably meet. It is the Government's view that there is no point in keeping an outdated deterrent which has no credibility. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, suggested that we had too big a bang, and I think that he and others suggested that we did not need the accuracy. My right honourable friend has made it quite clear that we are getting more than we need at this stage in Trident D5. We do not plan to deploy more than we need. We believe, as I think the noble Lord suggested, that it is a relatively good buy.
As regards the question by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, concerning how independent it will be, I can only draw his attention to the fact that we shall be dealing with submarines at sea for seven years, and missiles in tubes for seven years. It is very much dependent on the degree of spares that we choose to carry. But in any short-term sense, in terms of any threat that is likely to come upon us, the deterrent is totally independent, and will remain so.
If, almost inconceivably, we reached a stage, not where there could be a doubt as to whether or not our allies would really stand up and be counted with us, as my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft mentioned, but where we were drifting so far apart from the United States of America that the Alliance was in danger—and I do not contemplate it—we could take steps against this length of period and, as a first move of stocks, to start to make it totally independent if we so needed. I do not envisage such a thing happening.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, suggested that Trident was not disarmable—I think that that was his gist. He suggested that the French and the British independent deterrents would reach 25 per cent. of a reduced set of strategic weapons after the START talks had been successful. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State mentioned in the other place that in the future we would have approximately 3 per cent. of the Russian missile numbers. Whatever the percentage is in terms of comparability—and I do not want to go into more detail—I must say that at the present moment the percentage of strategic deterrent which Britain accounts for is a very small percentage of the American and of the Russian. The day could be reached—and let us hope that it is—when disarmament 216 is so successful that 10 per cent. becomes a reality; that is, that the British deterrent looks as though it could reach 10 per cent. If that day is reached, I do not think that any British Government will be slow in playing their full part. But that day, in the Government's opinion, is not now.
The noble Lord, Lord Peart, and others have cast doubt once more on the £7½ billion estimate over a 15 or 18-year period, and have suggested £10 billion—as indeed have some outside writers. I do not believe that there are grounds for doubting the estimate in this area. Of course, the future is always uncertain, and one can never be completely certain, but the track record of British submarine builders, both for Polaris and for the hunter/killer submarines, has been extremely good. They have delivered on estimate. The track record of the American missile manufacturers in the case of Polaris has also been extraordinarily good. They have delivered on estimate in the past. The agreement fixes the research and development expenditure in dollars. In addition to that we have allowed a very considerable contingency.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, said that it should not come out of the Navy budget. I would say to him—and I do not know the exact situation when he was Chief of Defence Staff—that the Secretary of State and the central staff of the Ministry, including the CDS and his central staff, decide what resources we need over the whole field of defence and what is the best use of a budget which is inevitably limited. We shall continue to do it that way. Therefore, it is not a fair suggestion to make, that because Trident expenditure will rise the rest of the Navy budget will be required to accommodate it. We shall use our resources in the best possible overall way.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, produced an interesting and attractive sounding—and to me, new—phrase of a stable minimum deterrence. He won the support of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, for it. He mentioned that he was worried about the trend, and I think he suggested that Governments were planning to fight nuclear wars, limited or otherwise, and talking of winning nuclear wars. This Government certainly are not and I am not aware of our principal allies doing any such thing. It is not the Government's belief. The Government's belief is deterrence and avoiding the need to fight any kind of war through adequate deterrence at every necessary level.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, joined the theme of the argument at the stage of the risk of escalation. The Government accept that there is a risk of escalation. the Government do not accept that there would be automatic escalation. That in no way takes further the question of first use which we have argued in this House before and where I so totally agree with my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft that a deterrent inevitably has a situation of some doubt. But the position of the aggressor and the defender and the perceptions of the aggressor and the defender are quite separate. If we believe that we are dealing with six of one and half a dozen of the other, then I have no argument. But if we believe that the free democracies have no aspirations to attack—and I believe that—then we are dealing with a situation where we have to deter the aggressor from ever believing that an attack 217 of any kind could achieve his aim, get his prize, at a cost acceptable to him—and the Russian pain level is high. Therefore, I agree totally that one cannot spell out the exact conditions in which a particular part of a deterrent might be used. I agree there is a risk of escalation, but we do not agree there would be automatic escalation.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, offered a vista of a very attractive kind; of a non-nuclear deterrent capable of striking Russian territory and reserves and causing great damage, defeating their attacks and dealing with their second and third echelons. That is something to which I am very attracted and have, since I went to the Ministry of Defence, been, I think I can say, pushing to see how far new technology could deal with the massive superiority of Russian conventional forces on the European front.
The first thing I have to tell the noble Lord is that the cost of doing it—almost anything is technologically possible today—would be simply enormous. The second thing is that the Russian advance of technology has surprised our technologists. By concentrating all their resources in this field, they have indeed in some areas closed the gap of the lead of technology which the West previously held. One must, therefore, really not assume that if we were to develop it—and there are masses of different systems for smashing second and third echelon tanks at enormous cost, and everybody disagrees about the right one to pursue—Russian technology would not have an answer to it, because that is a too optimistic assumption to make.
I will not go over the arguments again, which I have been over so often with the noble Lord, Lord Carver, of the risk of a fast aggression with nuclear blackmail—possibly with more—with conventional attack, bringing about a decoupling of the Alliance by the sheer speed of its action and by the appalling consequences, which he describes so often, of any use of nuclear weapons. We believe in the fact that our holding of an independent deterrent in Europe on behalf of NATO is an insurance that in the Russian perception they will never believe that they could achieve the kind of decoupling I have suggested, or the kind of very quick blackmail of a nuclear kind, backed by conventional attack.
The noble Lord said he would value very much two extra armoured divisions on the Western Front. So would we all. But we must put that in the perspective of the 26 divisions that are there and we must contemplate the degree of superiority of the Warsaw Pact in each of the conventional intermediate range and strategic areas.
My noble friend Lord Thorneycroft said that there were perhaps some lessons from the Falklands which suggested that it might be a good thing, if possible, to have a sufficient power yourself because, when the chips are down, while friends are friends, that is not the same thing. The Government believe that, and believe it without, I hope, casting any aspersion on our alliances or our determination to keep those alliances alive.
I turn quickly to the conventional area. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, mentioned that we fortunately had three carriers. For the bulk of the Falklands operation we had two, as was planned at that time—the "Illustrious" has gone to sea only this month—so we 218 achieved the Falklands campaign with two carriers. Because of the possible risk of one being in dock or otherwise engaged, my right honourable friend has already conceded that for the future we will go for three.
I find it hard to take from noble Lords opposite the criticism that we should strengthen our conventional forces. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, said that he wanted us to try to persuade—and we have from time to time tried to persuade—European nations to spend more on their defence.
The GDPs are all different, and the percentage of GDPs is perhaps not the only consideration. But we have tried to persuade the European nations. I find it hard to take from the noble Lord's party criticism of our conventional defences because this year in documents of the Labour Party National Executive Committee it has been made clear—and previous statements have been repeated—that the Labour Party wishes to reduce defence expenditure. It did not support the 3 per cent. increase which we have been making for a number of years, and it wants to reduce the expenditure to the average level as a percentage of GDP of our European allies. If the Labour Party did that, not only would it have to cancel Trident, but it would have to do so 10 times over in the course of the years when Trident would be built.
I received considerable support from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, in relation to my right honourable friend's policy regarding the changes necessary in the Navy. I have to say to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, that I do not believe that there was ever any question of a rump of a Navy being left, and I consider that he places too much emphasis on ship numbers. I pointed out that, under my right honourable friend's policy with submarines, ship numbers would not by the end of the decade change from where they are today. But I would say to the noble and gallant Lord—I am sure that he knows the figures—that the reduction in numbers of platforms and ever more powerful weaponry is happening not only in the Navy. We had 1,500 combat aircraft in 1951, and we were down to under 500 at the beginning of this year. And I therefore believe that the 50 destroyer and frigate level will be maintained; on the increase in submarine numbers, I would say to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, that there will be an increased number. Admittedly it was a programme we inherited from out predecessors, but we are trying to increase it at the margins. How our predecessors would have paid for it is another question.
The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, suggested that we could save considerable money by having unaccompanied a good percentage of our forces on the Continent. With time pressing I must say that I shall write to both of them. We have often looked at this question. A recent article in The Times we do not regard as at all accurate. Basically one has to split the household, the household of every man. One cannot have everybody having two summers and one winter. One has to have an equal number of people having two winters and one summer. That I believe is mathematically certain. So one really cannot do what is suggested in that regard.
There has been very considerable support—and the Government are very firm on it—for the view that our 219 front line is the front line in Germany, where there are 350,000 German soldiers, 200,000 American soldiers, nearly 50,000 French soldiers, and big contributions from the smaller nations.
The noble Lord, Lord Newall, raised the matter of the future of our combat aircraft, and I have already answered an Unstarred Question on the subject. I shall give the noble Lord the reference relating to it, and at this stage I have nothing further to say to him about it. On air-to-air refuelling, I have noted his suggestion about the DC.10s. We are converting some Vulcans and Herculeses as a temporary expedient to extend the quantity of tankers, which, without question, have proved their value.
I could not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Murton, about the cost of Treasury delay. That does not mean that we always agree with the Treasury, but the main reasons for our resources problem were as I stated in my introductory remarks. I noticed the views on the "Atlantic Conveyor". One has to consider, when resources are short, the degree to which one should subsidise inevitably more expensive ships than a free company can buy elsewhere. Every million pounds of subsidy we spend in this direction is, from my point of view, a million pounds less that I will have available for essential weaponry, and so many of your Lordships have stressed the vital importance of essential weaponry.
I am always promising letters to my noble friend Lady Vickers, and I shall have to promise her a further one; but she overlapped with the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton. Our belief is that the two dockyards, when properly modernised and equipped, will support the number of modern and highly-powerful ships which we shall have, and will do it adequately. The shorter life policy is accompanied by a policy of fitting out in such a way that modern weapons particularly can be fitted in the shortest possible time. I will write to her further.
I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, in relation to Portsmouth, that while Portsmouth will remain a base and have certain other facilities, we have not granted an indefinite extension of the main dockyard facilities at Portsmouth; we have merely deferred. There is a difference between using in an emergency the facilities you have at that point of time and the question of whether, when you have fully equipped two modern dockyards, you will have sufficient facilities in the future.
My Lords, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, as to space, that we really have our eye on that matter. He will remember—I think. I have said it in the House when he has been here before—that perhaps we should not get too alarmed about the development of space. Space stations, even space satellites, are extremely vulnerable in a time of hostilities, and I should like him to ponder on that. But that does not mean that we are not watching the developments extremely carefully.
220 I should tell my noble friend Lord Beloff that we could always make sure that we have the perfect equipment, but, regrettably, with the resource problem as I have outlined it, and with the unknown way that threats will arise, I believe there will always be found to be deficiencies when the day comes. But the deficiencies on the recent occasion were minor; and I have already said to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I would say it to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, as well, that our equipment for the main threat has been shown to be sufficiently flexible to deal with perhaps one of the hardest and most unique threats out of area.
I would echo the tributes that I failed to pay to the performance and the crew of HMS "Endurance", and the 14 ladies on the "Canberra". I should like to end as I began, by saying that I hope that, in looking through the record of this very interesting debate, noble Lords will realise that between them they have demanded more resources than can possibly be found, and that there is a need for a Secretary of State to strike a balance—and this, in my opinion, my right honourable friend has done extremely well. Any degree of change produces criticism, and I well remember my old father's remark to me when he said, "When you have ceased to be criticised in this world you have ceased to be achieving anything at all".
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.