§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, the Falklands campaign was, of course, a brilliant victory, and a due share of credit should go to the two senior Defence Ministers at the time, Sir John Knott and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. After all, if things had gone wrong, they would certainly have had their share of the blame. We on these Benches regret the departure from office of those two able and patriotic Ministers. We were glad to hear the arrangements which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, outlined to us for handling defence questions in this House. We are naturally disappointed that neither of the two new Defence Ministers sits in this House and so they are deprived of the advantages of participating in our well-informed defence debates, but we very much hope that the new arrangements will be as good as the old.
I think that when discussing the lessons of the Falklands one is entitled to concentrate on the things that went wrong, in order to try to prevent them from going wrong again, but I hope that this will not lead to any impression that I do not have the highest possible regard for the way in which the campaign was planned and carried out. There are, however, a number of obvious lessons, some of them surprisingly not mentioned by the noble Baroness in her speech. Perhaps the most obvious military lesson to be drawn is that our surface ships need much stronger air cover to provide aircraft early warning and a protection against air-launched anti-ship missiles. I have no need to elaborate this point, because it is familiar.
This has been the major weakness of the Navy for 10 years and more past, ever since the notorious 1966 Defence Review, after which the Government decided to maintain all our commitments East of Suez and at the same time to deprive the Navy of its carriers—of all its seaborne air support. The excuse given was that the Navy would never again be required to operate outside the range of land-based air power. That assurance was solemnly given to the Navy at the time. The Board of Admiralty knew and said at the time that that was nonsense, and the Falklands campaign has shown that they were right. To concentrate a large fleet in support of an opposed landing without local air superiority breaches the most fundamental doctrine of naval strategy. If anyone argued during the planning stages of the campaign that this would present an unacceptable risk, he has my personal respect and, had it not been for unexploded Argentine bombs, that opinion would have proved tragically correct.
I think we should note for the future that although the task force suffered losses from air-launched anti-ship missiles, mercifully it was not menaced by submarine-launched anti-ship missiles. A single Soviet submarine of the Oscar class, firing 24 anti-ship missiles at ranges up to 450 kilometers, would have been a greater menace to the task force than all the Argentinian aircraft combined, and we should note for the future that the Soviet Union has 70 submarines firing anti-ship missiles. These missiles, can, of course, be targeted and directed by some of the vast Soviet 1206 fleet of maritime patrol aircraft, which can also call on 390 naval aircraft carrying stand-off anti-ship missiles with ranges between 90 and 300 kilometers. These facts cannot be wished away and I think that they must be borne in mind when we are considering the proper size of the surface fleet in the years ahead.
However, I believe that the biggest lesson of the Falkland Islands—and the noble Baroness touched on this—is that from now on we must make it much clearer to the world and to ourselves when we intend to fight and when we do not. Leaving our intentions doubtful is an old and disastrous British failing. If only we had made clear to the Germans in 1914 that we would fight if they invaded Belgium; if only we had made clear to them in 1939 that we would fight if they invaded Poland; and if only we had made it quite clear to the Argentinians last year that we would fight if they invaded the Falklands!
So what precisely are our military commitments at this time? Of course the world knows that we would resist aggression in the NATO area. There is no uncertainty whatever about that. But Ministers are talking increasingly and in dangerously loose terms about military action outside the NATO area. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said this afternoon that we were preparing to further Western interests, to resist threats to them outside the NATO area; to take active steps to support our friends and come to their assistance. No talk here of "within the Charter of the United Nations". No reference to Article 51 of the Charter. No hint as to where these military actions are to be taken, in what circumstances, and in what places. No rules for the use of firearms, to be topical.
This is an extraordinary situation which needs careful looking at. What exactly do Ministers mean? We are entitled to know a great deal more. The noble Baroness said that we have the resources, but what budget do we have for the out-of-area NATO military operations about which she speaks? What is this capability? What does it consist of? We get no answers to these questions. We are told that we can do all the four defence roles which the Government have in mind, but they are not costed, and very expensive they must be if they are really to carry out the kind of role which the noble Baroness was discussing. Are these military actions to be carried out without allies? Here is something else we need to be told about.
No one supposes that we would ever offer more than token resistance in the defence of Hong Kong. No one imagines that we would engage in major military operations in defence of Gibraltar. But what degree of commitment do Ministers accept in relation to Belize, to give one example? If Belize is invaded, do we repel the invaders? Is that what the noble Baroness had in mind? If so, do we have the necessary capacity? Do we know what reactions there would be among the other Latin American countries? If we are not committed to the defence of Belize, do the people of Belize realise this, so that they can adjust their policies and attitudes? Do we have an understanding with the United States about Belize? Did they consult us before they started arming Guatemala the other day? Did we get consultation about that? It is all very vague. How deeply are we committed to the defence of Oman and Brunei? If we are not committed, do the people there realise this? If we are committed, do we have the 1207 necessary capability? Have potential adversaries been suitably warned?
My suspicion is that Ministers do not know the answers to any of these questions. My suspicion is that they have not cleared their own minds as to whether or not the responsibilities they have accepted in these and other places amount to military commitment or not. It is possible to sympathise with them because these are delicate matters and it is awkward to give a precise commitment and it is awkward to draw back. But, as the Falkland Islands showed, the most dangerous course can be a continuing grey area of uncertainty as to Britain's intentions in these places. The local people then resist compromise in the belief that the British will stand by them. At the same time their adversaries are tempted to try their luck in the belief that the British will back down. Scores of lessons are to be learned from the Falklands campaign, but in my personal view this is the most important. We owe it to those who took part in the task force and won this great victory to ensure that this lesson is properly learned.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord Hill-Norton
My Lords, may I first apologise to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord who is to wind up and to your Lordships that I am unable to remain until the end of the debate because I have a long-standing speaking engagement contracted before the debate was fixed? I should like to congratulate the authors of the paper on a well-written and interesting document. I intend to confine myself rather strictly to it, to what it actually says, and—which I regard as of equal importance—to what it does not say.
I cannot refrain from observing at the outset that the most striking omission is a clear expression of pride in the fact that the campaign was a brilliant success, in exceptionally difficult circumstances at the end of a line of communication 8,000 miles long; that all the modern kit, tried for the first time in action, stood up to the test of war in a very hostile climate—in short, my Lords, that we won. We won quickly, cleanly, and convincingly, with casualties which—deeply regretted as they are—were by the standards of all previous conflicts astonishingly light. I wish the introduction to the White Paper had said that, as the noble Baroness did when she opened this debate.
I should like to continue by referring to some other surprising omissions. There are no words about the manifest failure of deterrence, which in every respect, and on the wider world canvas, must lie at the heart of any sensible defence policy for our country. Surely this failure is the principal strategic lesson of the campaign, and Sir John Nott seems to have recognised this in last month's debate in another place. However, I feel bound to observe that his 1981 Defence White Paper contributed in large measure to this failure of deterrence by a number of the decisions which it contained, some of which now, happily, have been reversed. I refer of course to the intention to sell HMS "Invincible", and I am sure you have all noted paragraph 112 of the White Paper, where it correctly asserts that her role in the campaign was crucial; the intention to dispose of HMS "Endurance", to which the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, has referred, and 1208 which I said in your Lordships' House may well have been the actual trigger to the Argentine aggression; and the intention to dispose of the two assault ships, without which the campaign could not have been mounted at all. At a more meretricious level, my Lords, and leaving aside the tragic loss of 255 lives and nearly 800 wounded on our side, while it might have cost possibly £10 million to deter that aggression, it has cost £2 or £3 billion to defeat it.
I mention only one other omission from the White Paper, though it is not of the same order of importance. That is the unsuccessful handling of the media; surely a most important lesson of failure, to which the noble Baroness referred at some length. The report of the House of Commons Defence Committee last month, which she quoted on this subject, contained widespread and devastating criticism of many features of it. Whether one likes it or not, instant reporting and television coverage cannot fail to be a feature of future conflicts. We really must learn to deal with it much better. I hope that the two new studies will point the way to this.
I turn now to the content of the White Paper, and in particular to Part 3, The Future. It would be churlish, and would give a misleading impression of my personal views, not to welcome much that the White Paper contains in the way of improvements to our forces as a whole; the defence of the United Kingdom base; our capability to intervene outside the NATO area, either alone or as a complement to, for example, an American rapid deployment force. Nevertheless, there is much that is far from comforting in what is before us.
I am struck at once by the continued failure of the former Defence Secretary to comprehend the actual nature of the Soviet threat, or perhaps—I admit, less charitably—his determination to defend the policies he first put forward in The Way Forward two years ago. Certainly, as he said in the other place on 21st December.strategy must come first, and the programmes of the Royal Navy. Army and Royal Air Force must be tailored to fit that strategy, not vice versa".But he has always been mistaken—I quote from the same speech—in supposing that,it is only here, in Europe, that we can be brought to our knees by military means".That is simply not true. The Soviet threat, both to us and our allies, is now unequivocally global. Apart from 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, there is a Soviet military presence today in no less than 14 countries outside the NATO area. These, and the enormously powerful Soviet fleet deployed worldwide, straddle the very lifelines on which our prosperity and way of life depend in peace and on which our whole alliance strategy rests in a time of rising tension—or, if deterrence, unhappily, fails—in actual war. In short, I warmly agree with the conclusion in paragraph 313 of the White Paper:The Soviet Union—its policies and military capabilities—continues to pose the main threat to the United Kingdom.However, I could never agree that that threat is manifest only in the land-air central region of NATO Europe.
From what I have described as this basic misunderstanding of the threat flow some grave 1209 dangers to our future defence policy, to which I trust the newly appointed Defence Secretary will at once direct his formidable talents The fact is that the White Paper makes no real change in the policy outlined two years ago, and restated last year, although considerable efforts have been expended to pretend otherwise. Perhaps the most obvious lesson of the Falklands campaign is that the only certain thing about war is the unexpected, the consequent need to emphasise flexibility, and, above all, to avoid like the plague the Maginot mentality which is, regretably, developing in the European stalemate.
The White Paper concludes, as other noble Lords have said, that all four pillars of policy must be maintained, but one may well question whether, if the resulting slicing of the salami is to be on the scale of Cmd. 8288, it will not seriously erode all four. And what is described, rather naively, as "the right strategy at the right time"—which, let us face it, is based only on short-term political-economic expediency and not at all on the military facts of life—sits most uneasily with the need for an equipment programme which must be planned on a 30-year basis, with the present acknowledged strains in the alliance and with all the possibilities of almost inevitable changes in the total threat, and thus in the deployments which are necessary to deter it.
In short, while some welcome improvements around the margin are announced in the White Paper, there has been no fundamental re-ordering of strategic priorities. Nor, contrary to what some correspondents have reported in the press, are any important additional resources to be devoted to improving our general defence posture. I hope your Lordships will not be misled into supposing that they will be, unless, as I hope, there is a change of heart and mind.
Certainly the war must be paid for, battle casualties must be replaced and the Falklands garrison must be maintained and supplied, but the remainder of the defence programme has still to be contained within the baseline financial projections made two years ago. I must declare that it is a con-trick, intentional or otherwise, to pretend anything else. Nor is it the only one in the White Paper, as I shall make clear in a moment.
I turn briefly from the general and crucially important area of broad policy to the particular, and I must draw attention to the equivocal, not to say shifty, words which have been used in the fairly recent past—in the White Paper and repeated in the debate in another place last month—about the strength of the surface fleet. Before coming to the crucial issue of numbers, I note at once the stated determination, despite the part played by our destroyers and frigates in the Falklands campaign, which alone made success possible,to continue the gradual shift away from the surface fleet into maritime air and submarines.I have said in your Lordships' House before that I know of no professional who believes that to be sensible, whatever half-baked scientists and inexperienced Ministers may think, and I repeat it today. Do they really suppose that submarines could have shot down three-quarters of the determined Argentine air force, or fired 8,000 rounds of 4.5 inch 1210 naval gunfire support ashore in support of our land forces? It would, incidentally, be hard for anyone to agree with those same ungifted amateurs when they assert that what they are pleased to call "less vulnerable" surface ships will be less expensive.
Parliament has been told something about the numbers which it is intended shall make up our flotillas under present plans. The impression has been given that there will be 55 destroyers and frigates in the front line—including, of course, the four or more deployed in the South Atlantic—for the next two or three years, and that thereafter the numbers will decline to about 50 from the mid-1980s, though when, and at what total, the figure will stabilise we have not been told. I am sure your Lordships wish to know the facts, and so do I.
Based on what has been announced about new construction and on a realistic estimate of hull life, those totals may be only 47 in 1987 and 43 in 1989, perhaps rising to 50 by the middle of the next decade. I put it to your Lordships that Parliament has been misled in this matter, and a vital one it is. However that may be, a force of 50—which cannot all be fully manned and operational at the same time—would be quite insufficient to meet our NATO commitments, with nothing whatever over for what may arise in defence of our remaining national interests, even if those were no more than low-level deterrent operations. I hope that when the Minister replies he will state the true position unequivocally.
I do not have time to mention equipment, although I should like to, nor to do more than question the appropriate level of dockyard support for a fleet which, fortunately, will now contain three large ships more than were planned when the dockyard closure programme was announced. Nor has naval manpower received the attention it must have for the same reason. Above all, quite inadequate attention seems to have been given to the outstanding role played by our merchant ships and the overriding importance of ensuring that this vital support will be available in the future.
Fifty-four merchantmen were taken up from trade from 33 different companies. All were fitted to refuel under way at sea. Nineteen of them had helicopter platforms fitted, and several of them were fitted with Harrier decks, all in practically no time at all. It was a staggering achievement by the dockyards and our gallant merchantmen and their crews. But we search the White Paper in vain to see any reassurance that steps will be taken to make it possible to do this in the future. On any projection, unless vigorous action is taken at once by the Government, there will not be even 50 merchantmen of the right size, shape and fittings to take up from trade in the whole British fleet in two or three year's time. Very many more than that, of course, would be required in any larger war, whether within or beyond the NATO area.
I conclude with the view that by no means all the right lessons have been learned from this campaign; and I have referred to what I must regard as some grave weaknesses which thus remain at the heart of our defence policy. Above all, perhaps, we are in danger of making available resources which are plainly inadequate to our commitments and we have been 1211 doing so, to my certain personal knowledge, for 20 years. If resources are to be arbitrarily limited for political reasons then commitments must be cut to match. This means, as it always has meant, that any Defence Secretary is in the business, above all, of priorities. Your Lordships will be aware by now that I have no doubt at all that this White Paper, like its two predecessors, has got those priorities wrong.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, it is indeed a privilege to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, and, as I expect your Lordships will be aware, with practically everything he said I have great sympathy. If there are points at which I repeat the same point of view, then perhaps your Lordships will attach that extra bit of importance to it, as perhaps you might if I repeat some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, with whose speech I am much agreed on many points. It is doubtful whether I am happy to see that my noble friend Lord Trenchard is to follow me, because I would very much prefer to see him putting his sound common sense to the assistance of the Government. But, on the other hand, it may be that he might be able to speak more freely than when shackled by the cares of office, and perhaps we might have something from him which shows a recognition of the kind of points that the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, has just been making so cogently and clearly. I, too, think that this was an excellent report so far as it went. If I have a criticism of it in itself, it is perhaps that it is written in some respects in too landlubberly a way. As I shall say later, it is so important that the people who write these reports have the understanding of sea-power as the basis of their thinking. I do not like the fact that we are being dragged into the position of talking about warships as weapon platforms and I would hope that that euphemism is dropped as soon as practicable. But there are other points with which I will not bore your Lordships. In relation to the report, I should like, in particular, to add my heartfelt endorsement to paragraph 314 in the conclusions, giving credit to the quality and commitment of the men in the services, and to the dedication of all the civilians supporting the operation, both at home and at sea with the task force. They really did splendidly.
I should have thought that perhaps it might have shown a spirit of inter-departmental co-ordination and co-operation if the report had said that, in the run-up to the operation, whatever may have happened earlier, the people of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and of Her Majesty's Embassies overseas did an absolutely splendid job in trying to make clear exactly what this country was about and where its priorities lay. I think that the lessons learned might well have included that. I hope also that there are other lessons which have been learned. Of course, one cannot know about them because they are the sort that would be sensibly withheld from public scrutiny. However, there are some which occur to one; and I would not like to talk more about them. One is slightly uneasy about whether such lessons are being appreciated and dealt with because, as the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton has said, there are so many lessons to be learned which have been omitted from this White 1212 Paper. I find it sad to see that the obvious ones are those which are not mentioned at all.
The principal one—to which reference has already been made—is the need always to maintain flexible forces sufficient to provide a credible deterrent to any attack on any overseas commitments so long as we retain them. We cannot escape that. It is what various people have been saying for nearly 20 years and it is a shame that governments cannot see that every so often they are likely to get caught out if they do not obey it. That is probably the biggest lesson of this whole operation—adequate deterrents and, supporting the deterrents, a determination and understanding of how to present the picture to the world. This might have avoided the conflict altogether.
I have much sympathy with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the questions which he asked; but I have a difference in emphasis from his. It is that I say—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, said—that we need to have the capability until we have disposed of the commitment. As most of these commitments are outside the range of shore-based support, the credibility of deterrence in the main must be at sea.
Next in importance is to relearn more thoroughly the lessons of the flexibility and importance of sea power. The mention in paragraph 303(b) of the report of the deployment of naval task groups to demonstrate a presence only as an example shows a lack of understanding of the fact that such naval deployment is the only effective method of demonstrating a presence. It is not just an example; it is the way. A greater understanding of this flexible function is essential to future deterrence.
Turning now very briefly to the report itself, reference is made in paragraph 218 to the lack of all-weather fighters; on pages 20 and 21, to lack of airborne early warning and, in paragraph 236, to lack of bombing and reconnaissance capability. Surely, the lesson learned here is that we lacked a fleet carrier—and it was Mr. Healey's defence policy in 1966 (to which reference has been made) which caused us to lack that capability. I am sure that there are others who would be sympathetic to this—apart from the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, who resigned on this particular issue, and myself.
Although I had much sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, had to say, I would suggest to him that he needs to remember that, despite his welcome support and recognition of this Government's need to recognise the necessity for sea-power, it was a Government of his party which committed the particular error which landed us in the position where we very nearly could not conduct the operation at all. The fact of the matter is that not only can maritime operations not be effectively conducted with shore support alone outside a range of far less than 8,000 miles: the limit is less than 800 miles. Apart from the capability being limited for the naval support requirement, there are never enough shore-based aircraft to do the job properly and continuously. This relates not only to out-of-NATO area operations, it relates also to in-NATO area operations. It is quite wrong to assume that it is not so if you are within the whole NATO picture.
1213 Thank God, however!—and I mean it—that we had the through deck cruisers, thanks mainly to Admirals Griffin and Adams when serving in the Admiralty some years ago; and we had the Sea Harriers, thanks to my noble friend, Lord Carrington, who told us some 10 years ago that he had at last approved them. If it is possible to provide adequate airborne early warning cover from Sea King helicopters, as the report indicates, I am puzzled to know why we did not have them, too. I rather suspect that it was because they would have been a second best. We want to be reassured on that point, because had the helicopters been good enough I feel that we should probably have had them.
The forebear for airborne early warning purposes within a fleet was the Gannet aircraft. If I may briefly reminisce, I learned of its inestimable value when I was commanding a destroyer detailed to make a night penetration of a screen of a carrier force. I borrowed a Gannet from the carrier Admiral, Admiral Charles Evans, whom some noble Lords will know. This was over 20 years ago. I have to admit that Admiral Evans was surprised and delighted that I wanted his Gannet, but not so delighted when I managed to penetrate his screen—just! The point of the story is that that was 20 years ago, and airborne early warning equipment was an extremely important piece of naval equipment which we did not have in this late conflict. It is one of the most fundamental aspects which need particular examination.
However, in conclusion, with all the limitations, this superb operation was carried out successfully. If we cannot have all we need, I implore the Government and successive governments—because as the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, has said, this is a long-term programme—at least to bring our capability at sea up to the minimum level necessary for a comprehensively credible deterrent until such time as our moral and economic commitments overseas have all been honourably discharged. I hope that my noble friend who is to reply can make some positive comment on the point that I have just made.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
My Lords, a paper such as the one we are discussing invites us to consider the cost in life, resources and weapons of the operation that was carried out in the Falklands. In view of that, I think it right to restate a view that I have expressed before here; it is something which I think is generally shared. Whatever the cost, there is no doubt at all that it was right for Great Britain to engage in that operation. If we are attempting to weigh up the balance sheet at any time we ought to ask ourselves what would be the situation now if we had not done so. The situation would be a much more dangerous world with nobody quite certain where aggression was going to break out next; a situation in this country where there would be a profound loss of morale, spirit and direction, and a situation for the unhappy Falkland islanders of bondage under a bitterly hostile military tyranny. We would do well to remember that, if at any time we are appalled at the cost that was inevitably incurred in sending the task force and winning the victory.
1214 Of the military and naval details in the report—and I am a layman in these matters—I propose to mention only two. One, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned, is referred to in paragraph 243:"rates of usage, particularly of ammunition, missiles, and anti-submarine weapons were higher than anticipated.I mention that because that seems to go on happening, not only over the years but over the centuries, whenever we are engaged in a major conflict of any kind. When the English fleet were pursuing the Armada up the Channel, justices of the peace in the counties bordering on the Channel were being badgered by the Privy Council to find all the cannon balls that they could lay their hands on and get them out to the fleet as soon as possible. That was a really desperate expedient, and I do not think that it produced much result. There were similar problems which occurred over and over again in the First World War. The actual waging of war, particularly if it is a kind that has not been waged recently or at all before, is always likely to be much more expensive of ammunition than anybody supposes. It is time that we became aware of that.
The other matter that I should like to comment on briefly, because it was referred to by my noble friend Lord Mayhew, was the absence or shortage of airborne early warning capability. That seems to be extremely serious and created a situation where at one stage the result of the whole campaign might have been in doubt: the vulnerability of our task force to the attacks of enemy aircraft. We understand from what is said in a later paragraph of the report that this is to be dealt with. I hope that the Government will have a little more to say about that at the end of the debate.
I want to move on to this point: now that the victory is won, what happens in the Falklands? We were told this afternoon—as we have been told before—that there is to be a much larger garrison there than previously. There is to be an airfield of appropriate size. These matters will impose demands on the resources of the island community as a whole. We are obliged, therefore, to consider what is going to be done to increase the viability and productivity of the island community. In some ways this is a rather curious debate. We have had not a proper debate but a look at the Shackleton Report on the future viability of the islands. We are shortly to have a look—and I presume a discussion—about the Franks Report as to whose fault it all was. The present debate—with its rather limited terms of reference—is sandwiched in between them. But we cannot consider the future defence of the Falklands without considering its future viability and the productivity of the community there.
We had a Statement from the Government repeated in this House about the Shackleton Report. The Government were extensively questioned about that. They did not leave us entirely satisfied, in particular on the question of land ownership. It appears to be the view of people who know the islands well that unless the Government are prepared to act more determinedly in the direction of land ownership pointed out by the Shackleton Report, and more quickly than they show signs of doing at present, there will not be the improvement in the economy, spirit and life of the islands that is going to be necessary. We must also add that something else is going to be needed 1215 which takes us almost beyond the bounds of this debate, and that is diplomatic activity in Latin America.
One understands perfectly well our reluctance and the islanders' repulsion at the idea of any kind of discussions with the Argentines at present, but we all know that we cannot maintain that attitude for ever. Somehow or other a modus vivendi between Latin America and the Falkland Islands has to be found. I think that we have demonstrated that it is not going to be found on the basis of surrendering the sovereignty of the islands. The Argentines ought to have understood that earlier. But that does not absolve us from the attempt to find at some stage a modus vivendi between Latin America and the Falkland Islands.
The last point I want to make is this: I think it is clear that we are in for a substantial increase in the amount of money this country spends on defence. The only thing that could prevent that would be some outstanding success in the field of agreed international disarmament, and I wish I could say with confidence I expected that to happen. I am not, by any means, one of those pessimists who rule that out, but clearly it would be foolishly optimistic to talk as though it were round the corner.
In consequence, we are in for increased expenditure on defence by this country because we are going to continue to do for NATO what we have said we would do and we have to engage in increased expenditure on the Falklands. It may be also, when we have had a look round our commitments generally, that we shall find that we have to make other increases as well. Where, to use a question beloved of the Conservative Party, is the money to come from? It has been a great mistake of this Government from the outset, I believe, to suppose that their function as a Conservative Government was to make handsome tax concessions to people who were well off and then, if they found they had to spend more on defence, to do that at the expense of the social services.
I do not believe you can go on doing it in that manner, because the increased needs on defence are a function of the nation as a whole. We cannot ask them to be paid for mainly at the expense of the poorer people in the nation. The Government then have to look at their approach to the cost of defence and taxation afresh and to recognise that, for reasons which were not anticipated, we now have to spend more in connection with defence. This involves making a demand on all the people in the country and particularly on those who are most comfortably off and most readily able to help us. The Government have not shown any sign of being aware of this so far. I believe that if they continue to neglect that they may wreck the whole prospect of reconciling our economy and the necessary defence of this country.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, I believe it is a privilege of Back-Benchers to be able to speak a little more widely on the subject under debate than one has been able to do from the Front Bench. It is certainly a privilege not to have to answer 25 eminent speakers, and my commiserations go to my noble friend Lord Belstead in taking on that task. It would be 1216 inappropriate for me at this stage to argue the detail of this White Paper, to which I have been a party. I am of course supportive of it. I believe the balance is indeed about right and I am afraid I am unable to agree with all the remarks made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, or by my noble friend Lord Mottistone.
My reason for taking part in today's debate is a deep concern that too many people in this free country of ours may not be keeping their eye on the main ball, or on the main threat to our peace and security. My anxiety, of course, is based on my two years at the Ministry of Defence and also on memories of my father's desperate but, as it proved, fruitless efforts to persuade Goering and others before the last war that Britain would resist aggression. I am hoping that your Lordships will not feel that I am going too wide of the point, although the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, has encouraged me by discussing taxation. Before reminding your Lordships of what I believe is the severity and the meaning of the main threat to NATO, I should like just to record that I regard my last two years as a privilege. I have enjoyed working in what I believe is the best peace movement in the world: namely the British Ministry of Defence. I hope your Lordships will excuse me if I, too, am not here at the end of the debate. It is not due to a long-standing engagement, as your Lordships know, but to the need for an engagement arising out of my changed circumstances.
My noble friend Lord Home drew attention in the debate on the gracious Speech to the dangers over history and today of not remaining strong enough at home and up-to-date in Europe. I believe that the main threat from the Warsaw Pact still lies in Europe. I am going to concentrate today on reminding the House, if I may impertinently do so, about the balance of power between the Warsaw pact and NATO. It seems to me that the strategy and motives of the USSR which can be read from the balance are a cause for great anxiety. It is againt this background that I believe it would be folly to divert more resources than those mentioned in the White Paper to out-of-area NATO-dedicated forces or equipment. We must remember, as has already been mentioned, that we won in the Falklands. Nor, in my humble opinion, was the operation as a whole a close-run thing. The enormous and growing problems of our magnificent task force towards the end were exceeded by the more rapidly deteriorating position of the Argentines.
Therefore let me, if I may, first remind the House, using published data to do it, of the approximate balance of forces between the Warsaw Pact and NATO at the present time, and in doing so let me say, "My Lords, and ladies of Greenham Common, lend me your ears". The Warsaw Pact has an advantage over NATO as follows: in tanks, globally just under three to one, in Europe over three to one; in artillery globally, two to one and in Europe three to one. In fixed-wing aircraft globally, the Warsaw Pact has an advantage and in European tactical aircraft an advantage of over two to one. The Warsaw Pact has an advantage in submarines globally and in Europe. Within the so-called main conventional areas of weapons, it is only in surface ships that NATO still has a small superiority of numbers over the Warsaw Pact 1217 in ships of frigate size and above. The Soviets have the internal communication lines which for land and air forces is a tremendous advantage. They can deploy a bigger proportion of their global strength in any particular direction more quickly than NATO. The Soviet preponderance has been increasing over the last decade in almost every sector and they thus have a bigger proportion of more modern weapons than we have. Chemical weapon capabilities are overwhelmingly on the side of the Warsaw Pact.
I must turn to nuclear. There is, of course, the well-known position in the intermediate area of 1200 to nil warheads arising from the SS-20s, SS-4s and SS-5s in land-based intermediate range missiles. Should we take into account what the Soviets continually allege as superiority in other areas? Should we, as we keep being asked to do, take into account NATO's submarines and aircraft? And seldom is it mentioned that the Soviets in those areas have a very considerable force.
If we look at land and submarine based missiles combined, in those two categories of what are usually designated strategic nuclear weapons it is true that NATO, including Britain and France, probably have a greater number of warheads. But this depends on how far the Soviets have developed independently targeted warheads for some of their massive rockets. What is, however, indisputable is that in explosive power, in throw weight, or in what is sometimes referred to as "estimated equivalent megatonnage", the USSR has an advantage of approximately two to one over the US, Britain and France in those two parts of the strategic nuclear weapons combined. When strategic aircraft systems are included, the capacity of the American B52s, which is much greater than the Russian air delivered systems, reduces the theoretical explosive power advantage to what still remains a substantial Soviet advantage.
In the shorter range and battlefield nuclear weapons, NATO is in an inferior position. Admittedly, in neither the strategic nor the battlefield nuclear categories is the Soviet position so overwhelming as in the land-based longer intermediate range weapons. The vital importance of this intermediate category is that these weapons can reach all the European countries of NATO, even when stationed east of the Urals, but they cannot reach the USA. I shall return in a moment to Soviet strategy and motives, which I believe are revealed by this massive build-up of European targeted missiles. But before leaving an admittedly hurried and potted force comparison, I would say that those who want to examine the balance in more detail should study the NATO force comparisons which were published in May, 1982, as well as the excellent International Institute of Strategic Studies publications. The NATO force comparisons publication was, of course, agreed upon by all NATO Governments, all of them open, as they are, to challenge by their publics.
There are those who suggest that we could save resources for future out-of-area Falklands style capabilities by abandoning our independent deterrent, and that has been hinted at again today. The CND and now the Labour Party go further and wish to throw out the American bases and frustrate the cruise and Pershing deployments. They say that our independent deterrent is insignificant and—to my way of thinking, 1218 contradictorily—that there are enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over. I do not feel that they can have it both ways. Our independent deterrent is very significant and very important in terms of strategy. Let me, therefore, return at this point to Soviet strategy and motives.
There are experts—and I am not an expert—who say that the war-weary Soviets have accepted the present status quo, that Afghanistan was an aberration and that all else before that is history. Let us hope that bellicosity everywhere is on the wane, though hard evidence seems hard to come by. As a non-expert standing back from it, I must ask: what is the explanation for building up a massive selectively European targeted capability at enormous expense? What is the object of three tanks to one? In neither case can they be to attack the USA. In neither case, surely, can the Soviets be in fear of the attack capabilities of the European members of NATO on their own. Looking at the balance of the Soviet build-up, are we not seeing an emphasis on capabilities to blackmail or attack the European members of NATO? Is this not an attempted way round the hitherto effective, unified NATO deterrence?
If the Soviets fear the USA, why do they build up weapons which can only threaten Europe? It must be ever present in the European mind that aggression or nuclear blackmail in Europe could put the USA in an agonising dilemma; namely, of being asked to make threats to use their strategic capacity against a Russian threat to Europe from weapons which cannot, in fact, threaten the USA. And why is Russian propaganda in Europe directed against both the British independent deterrent and the creation—albeit with USA weapons—of a NATO indigenous, five European country-based, counter to the SS.20 threat; namely, the cruise and Pershing missiles?
The zero option remains on the table and economic pressure, and the clear realisation by the Soviets that NATO remains determined and united, can, in my opinion, lead to an agreement at or near the zero position. But do we look determined and unified? This is the problem and the handicap for democracies. The very freedom that they seek to defend; the free and modern media, the nature of free men to want to take a different or an individual line from each other, and to be noted, one has to say, in public and, sometimes, in the academic world, for saying so—all these things make it difficult to be, and to look, unified. This seems to be so, even in vital areas of national security which are under threat from proven aggressors where these freedoms do not exist. Our market of peace-loving minds is open to as much propaganda as an increasing allocation of Soviet funds provides. I think that European intellectual arrogance and a tendency in human nature to criticise the big man, or the rich man—in this case, the USA—added to, one has to say, some perplexing moves by our strongest ally, do not improve the bargaining position of the free world.
I believe that the position within this country today is serious, in that we now have the political parties more split on defence policy than perhaps they have ever been. The status quo and peace in Europe can be preserved if we, and NATO, keep up our expenditure, and in our case that means not diverting more than this White Paper has outlined to out-of-area capabili- 1219 ties. The possession of the awesome nuclear weapons under strict control by the free democracies—albeit in smaller quantity than a potential aggressor—means that, unless he doubts our will, aggression can never be contemplated. It could not pay him. It would be disaster. So we must not encourage him to doubt our will.
It is weakness and not weapons that is the more likely cause of war. In my view, modern defence today is about preserving the balance, about the possession of weapons and deterrents, about the aggressor's position and his perception, about the countering of nuclear blackmail and about negotiating to reach a balance at a lower level, and I believe that in time we shall do that. We can do all of this if we remain unified as NATO, if we keep our eye on the main ball and if we realise that, even before the improvements to our defence equipment which this White Paper now outlines, we were able to cope, with our superb NATO oriented forces and equipment, with one of the most difficult tasks ever taken on. I beg the House not to go over the top, to keep a balance and to keep our eye on the main threat and the main ball.
§ Lord Hankey
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, may I ask him to clarify his fascinating speech? Is there not a Soviet threat to the United States from nuclear missile submarines?
§ Viscount Trenchard
Indeed there is, my Lords. They have a very considerable number of nuclear submarines and they are building more of them all the time. It is certainly part of the threat, but it is of nothing like the same magnitude as the land-based intercontinental missiles.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, although I find myself in disagreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, over much of what he has said in reaching his conclusion, I do not find myself quite so far apart from his final words as he might suppose. There may be an opportunity on another occasion to examine the wider questions which he has raised. Perhaps, however, it would be better if at the beginning of what I have to say I addressed myself to the subject of the White Paper—the Falklands campaign—rather than to those wider issues.
It seems to me that among the minor casualties of this unnecessary war there has been a heavy loss of Ministers. This loss preceded the outbreak of hostilities in the Falklands. It began as long ago as 1966, when the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who was a Minister in the Labour Government of the time, returned to the House of Lords from a visit to the Argentine with what he described as a modus vivendi—that very same modus vivendi to which my noble friend Lord Stewart of Fulham has referred and which is still being searched for. This modus vivendi was not new, even in 1966. It had been searched for 20 years before 1966. The Argentines stated their claim to what they have always called the Malvinas even during World War II, and they have pressed it on every international occasion since then. The possibility, not of course of surrendering sovereignty but of reaching an accommodation with the Argentine, as my noble 1220 friend has suggested, had been on the agenda for so long that people who were not very sympathetic towards Argentina felt that it was not altogether beyond understanding that some Argentine people—indeed, the Argentine people as a whole, one might say—were beginning to lose patience with the idea of reaching an agreed solution.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, suggested in this House that the views of the United Nations, which has always favoured the Argentine position for obvious reasons of geopolitical and strategic background, should be taken into account, together with those of the islanders. He was asked here by, I think, Lord Conesford what right, if any, the United Nations had to interfere with our sovereignty in the Falkland Islands. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who I am sorry to see is not in his place, replied that the very fact of our membership of the United Nations implied that countries belonging to it derogate a certain amount of sovereignty to it. I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, would go quite so far as that today, but it is a fact that the Government's line of policy over this matter seems to have been to try to use the United Nations on those occasions when it seemed to agree with the Government and to be sympathetic towards our point of view but to disregard the United Nations utterly on any occasion when it failed to agree with the propositions which were being stated to it by us.
Lord Chalfont was the first of the casualties at the Foreign Office. Shortly after coming back from Argentina with the suggestion of a compromise he not only disappeared from the Front Bench but left the Labour Party altogether and moved into another position, which he has decorated with great distinction ever since. In 1980 another Minister of State at the Foreign Office—the (I think) right honourable Mr. Ridley—also attempted to find this elusive modus vivendi with Argentina; something which would not involve a derogation of sovereignty but which would nevertheless succeed in creating either a Hong Kong situation or something which both sides could reasonably accept. Mr. Ridley came back to the House of Commons and was greatly savaged by his own side. He received precious little support from his own Front Bench. Mr. Ridley was also attacked from the Labour Front Bench by my right honourable friend Mr. Peter Shore in a speech that was not up to his usual standard. Mr. Shore was tempted to take the opportunity to attack a Minister who was under attack from his own side rather than to ask himself whether or not it was right to repudiate the idea of obtaining a settlement to this longstanding dispute by agreement. If we do not succeed in obtaining an agreement where does the end lie? That question was not asked as it should have been asked at the time. The problem has continued up to date, not only over these great issues but also over minor matters, too—over questions of the Government's conduct of the campaign in detail.
I put down a Question on the problem of maps of the Falklands. On Tuesday of next week a Question has been put down to ask the Government whether they are aware that Answers given by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who has also disappeared—the casualty rate among Ministers has been extraordinarily high over this matter—were inaccurate, in 1221 that maps of the Falkland Islands were on sale in London before and during the Argentine invasion, that these maps were marked, "Published by the Government of the United Kingdom", were printed by the Ordnance Survey and were based on surveys by Royal Navy helicopters and HMS "Endurance", and that they were not tourist maps, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, suggested. I have the maps here. They have been seen by people who should know, and I am assured that they are not remotely like tourist maps.
From the evidence on them it appears that they are indeed maps obtained by official sources. They were available throughout the war, and the maps are here to-day. If the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate chooses to take this opportunity to reply on this issue I shall, of course, withdraw the Question which I have put down for Tuesday of next week. If not, the Question will remain on the Order Paper. The noble Lord may feel that a reply should be given on that occasion rather than on this. However, as this is a debate on the Falklands and as the Question is down for tomorrow week, I thought it right that I should mention it this evening.
This is not the only question that arises from this complex, difficult and (as I have always seen it) unnecessary matter. Is it the case, as was suggested in the other place, that not only was the "Belgrano" outside the total exclusion area but was also steaming for her home port at the time she was torpedoed? My second question is: is it the case that the Goose Green operation was undertaken by decisions by the committee in London and against the advice of local commanders? With that determination to probe to the base of issues that characterises the other House perhaps rather more so than this one, my honourable friend Mr. Tarn Dalyell has suggested that the decision in both these cases were political rather than military. Is there substance in these charges, which, to my knowledge, have not yet been answered?
I should like to draw attention to the extraordinary conclusion of the White Paper to which the noble Baroness. Lady Young, herself referred in her opening statement. This brings me nearer to the point made in conclusion by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, whose presence we were led not to expect throughout the debate but whose departure we were not aware would be so soon as it has proved to be. The point of agreement is this—and it is where I believe both the noble Viscount and I differ from the noble Baroness and differ from the White Paper itself. The final words of the White Paper are:We and our NATO Allies can draw confidence from this: the deterrent posture of the NATO Alliance as a whole has been strengthened.Then the noble Baroness, Lady Young, made an extraordinary statement. She said that there will bea reduced level of availability for operations in the NATO area.This is precisely what the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, was pointing to. He was saying very carefully that commitments of this kind, undertaken all over the world as the hangover from an imperial past, must of necessity divert the effort of this country to directions opposite from those which he regards as being the central danger. I therefore find quite extraordinary the suggestion that not only this country but 1222 also our NATO allies must draw confidence from the Falklands adventure. Where can one find any evidence that any one of our NATO allies has said anything to suggest that NATO itself is strengthened by the consequences of the Falklands campaign? That belief must be confined to the Government themselves, and it does not seem to be held even by a very recent ex-Minister.
My position in this matter differs from that of most noble Lords in that I have always believed that it should have been possible to avoid this disastrous adventure and to have secured an honourable settlement without it. It is often the case that the consequences of winning a war are more disadvantageous than the consequences of losing it. History often seems to support that proposition. We now find ourselves inextricably "lumbered" with the possession of a group of islands which, quite rightly, we have been trying to get rid of, under successive Governments, for practically 40 years. Negotiations have been going on over a period of time to see if we could not possibly reconcile the rightful and proper claims of the islanders with the territorial claims of Argentina under successive Governments.
Our failure to do that, and the Government's failure to proceed along those lines, has landed us in the present situation. I believe that the more time that elapses, and the longer the perspectives in which this situation is seen, the more it will be shown that the advantages which we gained from it were illusory and that the disadvantages which we shall suffer as the consequence of our victory will be very great indeed.
As my noble friend on the Front Bench has already pointed out, the cost to this country has been something like £7 million per islander already, Because of the consequences of the war and the digging in of our position, national pride has been raised to a point from which the Government cannot retreat even if they wanted to do so. They have cut off their own retreat: we have had to change our whole stance, draw away from our other commitments in the world and direct ourselves towards an area in which we have no conceivable comparable interest. The general effect of this White Paper, if one reads between the lines and reads it with a sense of history, is to confirm that the whole campaign was a political disaster.
§ 5.36 p.m.
My Lords, it is very difficult for me to agree with the noble Lord who has just sat down because I feel quite the other way. One of the assets of having these islands is that if the Panama Canal is ever closed—and Panama is a dependent country—we shall certainly need a staging post out there. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, to consider that point, and, especially as he is so full of maps, he can check out what I have said.
I should like first to thank my noble friend Lord Trenchard for the help he has given me during the time I have been in this House and for the questions he has answered. He has shown a great deal of patience, and I wish him well in his future work. I live on Salisbury Plain at the moment, and for more than 20 years I was in Devonport. I have therefore had plenty of opportunities to observe the training of our services. I 1223 should like to pay a special tribute to them for the magnificent initiative that they showed. It must have been an extremely difficult manoeuvre for them, with all these islands. The knew nothing about them or the places they had to go to, or about the climate there. Their initiative and leadership showed that we still have some very gallant people in this country. I should just like to mention a man in Plymouth who I know and who was in the paratroops himself. He had four sons in the paratroops out there, and every one of them came home without a scratch—and they were in the thick of it. We ought to remember what these people went through.
As I said in the previous debate, I should like to see far more work done among the navies of the Commonwealth. As we know, the navies were very generous to us in offering us their ships and help. I feel that we ought to have a Commonwealth agreement so that we can look after various areas throughout the Commonwealth. I gather that Australia is contemplating getting more ammunition and some more ships from us, and if she could undertake policing in the Far East, and if Canada and perhaps Trinidad and Tobago could help on the other side of the globe, it would be an enormous asset for the future. In Victorian time we had "Pax Britannica". We cannot have that any longer, but surely we could have "Pax Commonwealth" and get the Commonwealth countries together.
We received very good support from the United Nations in the beginning, and it was very unfortunate that they rather changed their minds, because the United Nations did indicate that they backed democracy at the beginning of the struggle. Many people who have not experienced war—and there has not been a major war for many years—are naturally very agitated, but those of us who have lived through two world wars can understand, too, the fears of those who were born before 1939. The fact that worries me, and probably leads me to the point of view that I am not in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, concerns various sections of people—the Church and CND—and the growing influence of the Marxists and Trotskyists. It is very bad of these people, and unfortunate to play on the fears of others.
There is a room in the GLC offices (it is No. 95, I understand) where the peaceworkers have a committee. I do not think they realise that, though the GLC says its area is a nuclear-free zone, what it has said would not produce any protection if there were a war. It is stated that a peace which does not include a balance of justice in daily life will not be acceptable to women; but in war, if we have the bombing like we had in the last war, bombs do not choose on whom they fall. Women and men are equally liable to be killed. Since the seventh century BC ships have been able to sink other ships. There is a ram which they used to fix to the front of ships which can be seen in the maritime studies building in Haifa: so there is nothing new in this type of warfare.
I am a little worried about the statement from the Churches. As I mentioned, I live on Salisbury Plain; and we have a Bishop of Salisbury. I am sorry he is not here now—I do not know whether he is yet eligible to come—but I always admired him very much when I 1224 was in the other place. He has now produced this document. It would be unfortunate, especially living in Salisbury, if there was too much propaganda in relation to his book. Perhaps I can be a little relieved because the Bishop of Peterborough is reported in the Daily Telegraph as stating that the first and second chapters of the Bishop of Salisbury's book were "a certainty for a cure of insomnia".
The Pope has also come out very favourably on the question and says that he does not want unilateral action. I agree that most people in Britain do not want nuclear weapons, but they do remember the last war. They remember the millions of people who were attacked and died in the first world war—and that without nuclear weapons. Now we have had the second world war, which was brought to an end by nuclear weapons.
I fought the election campaign in Poplar in 1945, and I went straight out to India and the Far East to prepare hospitals for those who were in prison camps. The Potsdam Agreement in 1945 confirmed that atomic bombs would be dropped, and notice was given to the Japanese. President Truman asked for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese under the Potsdam Agreement. When he did not get it, bombs were dropped on 6th and 9th August, and on 10th August the Japanese surrendered. There were over 88,130 members of the British services, including Australians. Indians and Dutch, who were taken prisoner. In fact, counting those who in those days were known as the "coolies", there were 270,000 of them; and 58,000 prisoners died. I remember seeing some of these people when they came out of the camps. They were absolute skeletons. One could not believe they could walk. But dropping those bombs saved them and thousands of others. They have lived good and useful lives since, as I know because I am a trustee of the Far East Prisoner of War Internees' Trust. Those who escaped and came out after the bombs dropped have lived a happy and useful life.
When we went into Indonesia there were 10,000 women and children in one camp alone. Altogether, about 200,000 were rescued. I do not think the women protesting at Greenham and the members of the CND really want thousands of their countrymen and women | to be deprived of their right to live after they have suffered. They would like them to see their families again.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, talked about his party and its views. I should remind him that France has a Socialist Government and spends a higher proportion of its defence budget on nuclear weapons than Britain. The Socialist prime Minister of France has said that he will not reduce his strength by one single rocket.
We need, as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, to keep up our standards. I think he showed us how we can, do that. But it must be realised that, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, said, we have to spend a great deal more money. Even for manoeuvres one has to have petrol and ammunition; and in the past that has been cut right down so that unfortunately some have not received proper training. I have been to many of these exhibitions, and I know that we have only one a year now because we do not have enough practice ammunition.
1225 To end, I should like to praise the dockyards. I have been to Devonport and Portsmouth since the Falklands incident. They did a magnificent job. Forgetting all their different departments, all grades worked together, and we must praise them for doing that.
I should like to say one word about the funds, which are not mentioned in the document. There is the South Atlantic Fund and the Falklands Fund. It is unfortunate that these two funds have become rather mixed up. I understood when it was announced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that there would be adequate funds for the Falklanders; but, unfortunately, everyone has misunderstood and has sent to the South Atlantic Fund, which was for the services only. That fund now has £15 million, and the poor old Falklanders have very little at all. I have always understood that it was the Government's job to look after the services—to see that proper pensions were paid, and so on—and not for that to come out of voluntary funds. So I hope that this kind of incident will not happen in the future.
I wish my noble friend every success in his future career, and I shall try not to ask him too many difficult questions, as Lord Trenchard was always telling me I did. I shall also keep him informed of the progress of the Falklands Fund in case he can do anything to help in the future, because there is very little money for the islanders, and they have a great need of it.
§ 5.48 p.m.
The Earl of SelkirkLord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I assure him that he did not in fact annoy me. I shook my head in sorrow rather than in anger.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Earl on two points, especially since the Leader of the House is now back in her place and, I believe, missed the first point. I do not know if the noble Earl is right to say that it is 40 years since we did not have either the Secretary of State for Defence or a subordiant Minister in the Defence Ministry in this House. I expect he is right, and it is an occasion which should not pass unremarked. We all wish Lord Belstead the best personal good fortune and success in holding the two posts, because I understand he is to be number one spokesman for both the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. My main worry is whether that is fair to the Foreign Office. The advantage of having a qualified Foreign Office Minister in this House of some seniority as a Minister of State is that he can buzz around the world a bit more than can his opposite number in the House of Commons. But if he is now to take on the number one responsibility for the Ministry of Defence as well, that will restrict him. That is probably a pity. Still, we shall see how it works out, and perhaps it will turn out to be temporary.
The other point on which I should like to follow the noble Earl concerns the press. We have had one report on relations between the Ministry of Defence and the press—the House of Commons Committee Report—which we have all read. I believe the Leader of the House today announced three more. One is to be from the University College of Cardiff, one from Professor Freedman of King's College and one by another group, the composition of which has yet to be announced, on censorship. Perhaps all this is necessary but I cannot disguise a feeling that we are making something of a meal of it. The purpose of war is to win; and to win with the least possible expenditure of life on both sides. If an admiral or a general has a clever plan for quick victory which will spare lives on both sides—not unknown in the history of war—it is self-evident that the Government of a belligerent country has the right to keep silent and, if need be, to lie in order to bring victory closer, with less bloodshed. However, if inquiries there must be, let there be inquiries.
The White Paper is entitled, The Lessons. It contains a good many lessons for the Ministry of Defence, but does not contain general lessons for the 1229 Government. I wonder whether we are falling between two stools. The Franks Report is to discuss only the run-up to the war and not the lessons of the war itself. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, spoke about all the diplomatic and foreign policy lessons which are to be drawn. I am encouraged in this by the fact that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House went a little wider than Ministry of Defence matters in her introductory speech and that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, speaking for the first time since his resignation, went very much wider. That was good and I hope we can all be unrestricted in our approach.
There are one or two strictly defence points that I want to raise and to ask for news about. The first concerns conversions—that is, taking up ships from trade, which is the nice archaic phrase that is used. Forty-five ships were taken up from trade. One of them was the "Atlantic Conveyor", which was lost. There is a good deal of description in the White Paper about the convertibility which is to be built in to the replacement for "Atlantic Conveyor". That is interesting and is good. But what about all the other ships which were taken up from trade and will have to be taken up from trade if such a war happens again on a small, or even a large, scale? The White Paper states that a study group is to be formed on that. May we know the terms of reference of the study group? I faintly suspect from the White Paper that too much emphasis is being placed on the "Atlantic Conveyor" replacement. Naturally enough it was surrounded by a lot of publicity, but perhaps not enough publicity was given about ships in general and their conversion when "taken up from trade".
No lesson has been drawn in the White Paper about the 45 ships, although it is titled "The Lessons". But what is the lesson? What lesson should be drawn from the fact that 45 ships were needed and were found? How difficult was it to find them? Were they the best 45 ships that we needed or were they the 45 easiest ships to obtain? What significance should be given to that figure against the background of the fact that British flag registered ships have fallen in the last 30 years to only a little over half of what they were before, and the fact that deadweight tonnage, which of course is what helps to carry troops and armaments around the world, is falling quite rapidly under the British flag? In those calculations on take-up from the merchant navy do the Government count those ships which are registered in Bermuda and Hong Kong, which are sizeable merchant fleets? There is nothing about that in the White Paper. There should have been. We should now be told something about that. There is a related question. What about the famous pool of seamen and qualified seafarers who are taken up with the ships and, indeed, may be taken up without a ship and put into a ship that is taken up? A lot of that went on, and is bound to when it comes to the real thing.
In 1975 there were 41,000 British merchant navy officers. There are now 28,000. In 1975 there were 38,000 merchant marine ratings. In 1982 there were 26,000. It is a story of decrease on all fronts. All right, so we obtained 45 ships this time. Would we get them next time? Above all, what are the implications for "the bridge"? "The bridge" is NATO shorthand for the enormous mercantile marine deployment which would be needed if there was a real war involving 1230 NATO. It is required for getting things out from the Caribbean, let us not forget, right past and under the nose of Cuba into Europe, on the colossal scale envisaged by NATO war planning. In going into detail I do not want it to be thought that I am veering towards those who believe that we shall have to fight that sort of war, but bad planning now is bad deterrence. We must not forget that at any level.
There is one great glaring gap in the White Paper. This concerns one of the most obvious lessons of all—the arms trade. I refer to the trade in arms from the developed world to the developing world. Has no lesson been learned about that? I cannot believe that. If it has been learned it should be imparted to the House and to the public. This is a straight Ministry of Defence matter. Throughout history British soldiers and sailors have been killed by British guns. Until recently this had been because the British guns were captured by the enemy in earlier battles. But the British weapons which killed British sailors in the Falklands were not captured from us in battle. They had been sold by us to Argentina with every pressure of modern salesmanship. The Exocets were sold by France, our close ally, to Argentina with every pressure of modern salesmanship. They were bought by Argentina, which has an economy that is just about bankrupt and which is being saved by IMF loans. This country is a member of the IMF. In two unprecedented moves over the last few months the British Treasury has guaranteed the British Government contribution to IMF loans, not to Argentina, but to Brazil and to Mexico, which are other large Latin American economies toppling on the brink of bankruptcy. Is it mere chance that we have not yet been asked to guarantee the IMF loan to Argentina? Shall we be asked to do so? Shall we now agree? If we had been asked to do so a year ago, before the invasion, should we have agreed? What stopped us? I think it was probably simply that we were not then asked. There should be some discussion of this.
So far as the layman can see, the western part of the northern, developed world is clubbing together to finance arms purchases by the developing countries, whose people are often on the brink not only of bankruptcy but also of starvation, with the practical result that they normally fight each other with them. That goes on all the time. On this occasion—and perhaps it is the first time that it has happened—one of those developing countries has fought us with arms obtained in that way.
It is time for a review and I should like to make a concrete proposal about how that review should be carried out. The IMF Policy Sub-Group is meeting in February and there is to be a general meeting of the IMF in May devoted to the consideration of policy. It is a type of special meeting, a policy meeting. In my view Her Majesty's Government will have to get round—and the sooner the better—to raising this question in those groups. It is a question of increasing importance. If it is not done now, it must be done soon. The IMF certainly has a long tradition of holding fast to the hitherto honourable goal of being completely non-political. But when it comes to the situation that I have just been outlining, that tradition may no longer be entirely honourable. The member states have much in common in this matter and should discuss it there.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Lord Boothby
My Lords, I shall be very brief, partly because I have only one point to make and partly because I am not well. Indeed, I am speaking against doctor's orders. I shall stay for as long as I possibly can, but if I have to leave before the end of the debate I am sure that your Lordships will forgive me.
I only speak because I have a very long experience—within one year of 60 years of continuous membership of this House and of another place. During that time I have seen a great deal. I spent the first 20 years of my life within a few miles of Rosyth, the base of the battle-cruiser fleet for the first two years of the First World War, and thereafter of the entire Grand Fleet; and I had an opportunity of talking to many of the senior officers, who used to come and play tennis at my home when I was a formative boy of 15, 16 and 17 years. I watched the arrival of the U-boats and I watched how very, very nearly that tremendous armada, that we built at colossal expense, with its attendant flotillas of destroyers, which was expected to save us, failed to save us. I personally believe that, but for the genius of Mr. Lloyd George, we should have been defeated in 1917; and we should have been defeated by the U-boat—but it would still have been sea power, the right kind of which we lacked, which did it.
Well, my Lords, it all happened again. There came the inter-war years. Ironically enough, the man who disarmed this country in the 1920s was Churchill, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was his Parliamentary Private Secretary. We had many an argument on this subject. I well remember the day when Lord Beatty, who was then First Sea Lord, came up to me in a passage in the Treasury, seized me by the arm and said. "I think Winston has taken leave of his senses. If we go on with this '10-year rule'"—it was a 10-year rule that we had established for no further increase in output—"we shall be defenceless within a few years. When the next international crisis comes, as come it will, we shall not be able to rebuild our strength in time". He proved to be absolutely right.
There followed the 1930s—fatal years when, to quote Shakespeare:England, being empty of defence hath shook and trembled at the ill neighbourhood".Then we were really disarmed. The result was another world war, in which again we came near to defeat. What was it that brought us nearest defeat? It was not our air power, it was not the Battle of Britain: it was the Battle of the Atlantic; it was the U-boat again. We had no adequate protection against it for a long time, but eventually, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said, we had the marvellous capacity of rising to the occasion at the last second and building up from scratch a force necessary to do the job as we did a short time ago in the Falklands, which was, whatever the noble Earl may say, in my judgment a far nearer thing than we realise. I think that Admiral Woodward would confirm that view, and also General Moore.
My conclusion, and the point that I wish to make to your Lordships, is simply the following. This island depends, and has always depended, on sea power. Sea power was founded by Henry VIII—there can be no doubt about that—on the British fishing industry, and 1232 it is has lasted ever since. Now both the navy and the fishermen are in some peril. The fishermen look like being rescued very quickly, through resolute action by an admirable Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who have grasped a difficult, thorny problem with both hands and in my view soundly, and saved the British fishing industry. No mean achievement.
However, I am less happy about the navy. I was dismayed to the point of alarm by the speech of the late First Sea Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, who I think has dominated this debate so far, when he said that our navy was at present inadequate for the purpose of maintaining British sea power in the world. I do not want, any more than I think anyone wants, to send frigates and gunboats to every little island that we ever once owned as a colony. But I want British sea power to be recognised in the world as a force to be reckoned with. The British presence has been withdrawn altogether from the Persian Gulf, with disastrous results. It was non-existent in the South Atlantic, and caused the Falklands war. It has now been withdrawn altogether from the Far East, and if that situation continues it will make it far more difficult to reach a reasonable settlement with China, which otherwise I believe we can do, over Hong Kong. The withdrawal of British sea power all over the world has been the worst thing that has happened to this country and to the world during this century. Of that I am absolutely certain.
On nuclear bombs, I have nothing to add to what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said: I agree with every word he said. If only we can stick together—and surely we can do that—it is settled. As he rightly said, the Russians are very good at playing chess and they also enjoy it, and undoubtedly a lot of chess is going to be played. But as long as we, the United States and the other NATO countries, including France—although France may not like to say so—stick together in NATO, we shall more than balance the Warsaw Pact. If there is one item on the agenda of world politics today which I do not think is on anybody's programme, it is mass suicide. That is what a nuclear war would mean. I do not think that the Russians want it any more than we want it. If we go on as we are, it will be laborious, there will be arguments and difficulties, but we shall be safe. It is British sea power about which I am worried.
I hope that the words that have been spoken in this debate will be seriously considered by the Government. I believe that our frigate programme is grossly inadequate for our needs at the present time. We want at least 70, and not 50, armed with modern missiles. I view with dismay the dismantling and giving up of the naval dockyard at Gibraltar. I would remind your Lordships that, without Gibraltar, we should not have won the Falklands war as quickly as we did. Of course, we should have won it—as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, said, we were always bound to do that—but it would have taken much longer, and been much more difficult without Gibraltar. If we now abandon Gibraltar, we abandon every trace of a British presence in the Mediterranean, which is very' close, as well as doing infinite damage to the people of Gibraltar. I think that the Admiralty are making a tremendous mistake at the present time. I come to my final sentence. I have 1233 always believed, but I believe more than ever now, that without sea power Britain is done; with adequate sea power it is impregnable.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, I am sure that we should all like to express our appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, for coming to this debate and giving us the benefit of his wide and long experience in spite of the fact that he is not feeling well. We all wish him a speedy recovery. I should like to make three points in relation to this useful White Paper. The first two are not raised explicitly in the paper and the third, on public relations, is.
The first point has been raised by one or two other noble Lords and relates to ships. I strongly support the comments made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton. The report indicates very clearly the major contribution which merchant ships made to the campaign and, therefore, the contribution of the British shipbuilding industry and the shipping industry—shipbuilding in constructing and adapting the many ships required and the shipping industry in providing some 45 ships essential in their support roles.
But there are clear indications that both shipbuilding and ship operating are in serious decline in Britain. Between 1972 and 1978 the average gross tonnage of merchant ships built each year in United Kingdom yards averaged well over one million tonnes—nearly l¼ million tonnes per annum. Between 1980 and 1982 the average building was less than one-third of that amount, at about 340,000 tonnes per annum.
In shipping the situation is equally serious. Between 1975 and 1982 British-owned ships declined from 9 per cent. of world tonnage—about 1,614 ships in 1975—to 4 per cent. of world tonnage—913 ships in 1982. These are serious figures, for we are still an island nation and we always shall be, and ships are still very important to us.
In principle I am in no sense in favour of propping up or supporting dying industries with no growth in front of them, but ship-building and ship-operating are strategic basic industries to Britain. I should like to ask the Government what is their policy in connection with those industries; what is their policy in supporting them—through grants, through tax incentives, through help from ECGD and the like. I suggest that they are totally inadequate at present and that there is some evidence that we continue to play the Queensberry Rules while other countries play something much closer to the law of the jungle.
My second point is on weapons. The Harrier and the Rapier missiles were two of the most successful weapons in the campaign. Between them they shot down, for instance, about 40 per cent. of the total number of Argentine aircraft destroyed. Some 20 years ago both those weapons were very nearly cancelled. They were, in fact, initiated and kept going in their early stages by private enterprise. Hawker Siddeley was able to support the Harrier because it was part of a great engineering group. BAC spent some £750,000, which was a lot of money in 1962, on the initial development work on the Rapier missile—it 1234 was on a private venture basis. BAC was owned by three large engineering groups. Now we have only British Aerospace; and I should declare an interest as I am a small shareholder in it. That company is much influenced by Government procurement policy and it also has all the usual pressures associated with a quoted company on the Stock Exchange.
One important aspect is the attitude of the Government to allowing defence contractors, including British Aerospace, to include in their overhead costs a reasonable allowance for private venture expenditure on initial development work. It is the accepted practice in the USA. but there was always pressure in the defence contract departments to reduce that type of expenditure to a minimum. If the defence contractors are to give good service to the armed forces and to anticipate their needs—as happened with the Harrier and the Rapier weapons—it is very important that allowances of that sort should be accepted in their contracts. I wonder what the Government's policy is on that, in view of the very important part that these two weapons played in the Falkland Islands campaign.
Secondly, on another point concerning weapons, I think your Lordships will agree that paragraphs 227 and 229 of the White Paper which we are considering make ven' serious reading. At paragraph 227 we read:Although designed primarily as a self-defence weapon against missiles … no opportunity arose to use Sea Wolf against missiles".In paragraph 229:For the future the improved Sea Wolf system already ordered will have an all-weather capability against low-level missiles".That seems to indicate that there was something wrong with the Sea Wolf missile. I would encourage the Government to look carefully at the history of the development of that missile. I do not think I ought to say any more, but I believe that serious delays occurred at a vital stage some years ago from which important lessons can be learned, and not least that there is nothing more important in weapon development programmes than to carry out the programmes at full speed.
Finally, my third point, on public relations; that is, the relations with the media (the press, TV, radio and the like), which are so important. The Falkland Islands campaign was, I think, the first major international conflict carried out in the full glare of publicity, and maybe there will be others in the future. As the White Paper says in paragraph 257:Without the support of the British people it would not have been possible to mount and sustain the operation. It was vital to retain the support of friends and Allies abroad".Therefore, it is very important indeed to get relations between the Ministry of Defence and the media as right as we possibly can.
While not a disaster I believe that there is room for great improvement in those relations. Standards differed between the services, and not unnaturally the Royal Navy, the "silent service", found most difficulty in coming to terms with the novel circumstances, like having correspondents with a good deal of freedom actually in the ships of the task force. The army, with greater experience in these matters, did a good deal better. The MoD's performance was, I think, patchy.
Clearly the principle must be stated and firmly established that nothing reported or done by the media 1235 must jeopardise operations or make life more difficult for the services. On the contrary, and consistent with truth, though not necessarily the whole truth, the media must do all they can in such circumstances to help the armed forces. The right policies are very well covered in the report of the Defence Committee in another place: "Handling of press and public information during the Falkland islands conflict". That was referred to by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House.
I should like to draw attention particularly to Recommendation 20, which reads:It would be foolish for future plans for incorporating the media into the organisation for war to be too firmly tied to a particular environment, but it is clear that information matters are an intrinsic part of war and should therefore form part of the planning for war".I fully accept, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said, that such decisions have to be taken on the spot and as circumstances dictate. But if that recommendation of that committee is accepted, as I believe it should be, it must follow that there is need for better forward planning in relation to the media. I suggest that that means including media representatives in the staff work. That would lead to higher quality decisions being taken on the spot at the right moment.
It also follows that we need better training of the services in public and media relations. If we are to achieve that then we ought to get the media involved in training exercises. Both will contribute to a better understanding, which will be of great value. I believe it could also lead to the media (the BBC, the IBA, the press) co-operating wholeheartedly in helping to train service people in these techniques which are so important. I hope that these points will be taken up, perhaps by one or other of the inquiries that the Government have set up.
I was delighted to hear the noble Baroness the Leader of the House refer to the paradox that the better equipment we have the less likely we are to have to use it. It is another way of stating the old principle, si vis pacem para bellum. But in general it was a well conducted campaign directed and executed with great courage and determination, but there are, as the White Paper says, many lessons to be learned. I hope that the experience gained will be used to good effect so that, in line with the final words of the Paper, the deterrent posture of NATO will be further strengthened, for that is the issue from which we must on no account allow ourselves ever to be diverted.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lord Shinwell
My Lords, for rather more than four hours I have been fastened to my seat, except for a brief interval when I found it necessary to leave the Chamber to obtain some liquid refreshment. I assure you it was not very strong; just a cup of tea—make it a pot of tea. In the circumstances, having listened to some remarkable and weighty speeches from noble Lords—some gallant noble Lords, some civilian and therefore not particularly gallant—although I admired those speeches and listened to them as intently as I could. I admired my own fortitude. Some of the speeches I found lengthy in the extreme, some tedious, some realistic and some romantic.
1236 Some lessons have been derived from the Falklands affair, and that is one of the items to be debated, and already partly debated. There are two lessons to which one can refer. The first is that we have nothing to be ashamed of; nothing to apologise for. There was an undoubted act of aggression, even supported by some of the unfriendly persons associated with the United Nations, and, with some ambiguity, endorsed by our friends in the United States. That was the first lesson. It is true that some of my noble friends have referred to the Falklands affair as a disaster. Very strong language! It is not the view held by a majority of people in this country, although there are some who would not regard it as a remarkable triumph.
The other lesson is that we were not adequately prepared. That is the most important lesson of all. As my noble and gallant friend Lord Hill-Norton conveyed in his opinion to the House, the one consideration above all others which would concern the people of our country and those associated with us in NATO and elsewhere is to guard ourselves against the threats, and probably action, of the Soviet Union. True enough, there are suggestions that there is a change of heart in that area. I have heard all about that for years, but it has never assumed realism as we understand it—much talk, no implementation: and the talk has now been revived.
If ever there was a time to be careful, astute, watchful and vigilant, now is that time. Because of that, it was essential that we should act when the Argentine decided to invade the Falkland Islands. To those who say it was a disaster I venture the question: suppose we had not acted as we did? Suppose we had accepted the invasion as an act for which the Argentine Government—or junta, call it what you will—were responsible, in that their action was based on a belief in sovereignty. The fact is that if we had not taken the action we did, even with a lack of adequate preparation, our prestige would have disappeared and perhaps our association with our allies would have been destroyed. The action we took had to be taken because there was no rational alternative. We have gained at any rate some measure of triumph, and perhaps it will be a lesson to other countries equally threatened—if not now, to be threatened in the future.
However, we are concerned primarily not with the past. Indeed, during the Recess the press, which I read carefully, and the rest of the media—television and radio—referred to the future—economic, industrial, political, social and so on—of the Falkland Islands and there was a great deal of romantic suggestion about that. There was exhibition about it, too; people in the remote areas of the Highlands of Scotland talked about selling their belongings, such as they were, and departing for the Falkland Islands. Others have spoken in the same strain.
We are now building up the military strength of the area. Although, in the circumstances, it is essential so to do—it is impossible to avoid so doing—nevertheless we must not be too premature in coming to a conclusion about the future of the Falkland Islands. There is the possibility that some other countries in Latin America and elsewhere would come to the aid of the Argentine—a revived Argentine, even a disgraceful one—which was strong enough to make things difficult for the United Kingdom and other countries. In those 1237 circumstances we must consider whether the high expectations of many of our people, even of the Government and certainly of the Prime Minister about the future of the Falkland Islands are realistic in character.
I express, not my regret about that—because that would be of little value—but my doubts. After all, let it not be forgotten that we threw the Empire away—just like that!—some years ago: India, self-government; Burma, self-government; Malaysia, after a bit of trouble, self-government. We have almost lost Canada because of the separatist movement there, and sometimes even New Zealand and Australia are somewhat doubtful about their military association with the NATO pact. All those considerations must be in our minds, and certainly in the mind of the Government, when speaking about the future of the Falkland Islands.
There is of course the question of cost, but I disregard that, as I did when we debated defence some time ago. In that debate some spoke about the remarkable expense, as they described it, into which we should be forced, and I ventured the opinion, "Damn the expense! Let's get on with the job." And I would say the same about the future so far as we in the United Kingdom and NATO are concerned. Nevertheless, we must exercise caution. I do not rule out the possibility of the United States exhibiting not a passion but a friendly attitude to the Latin American countries, largely because they fear that the Soviet Union may anticipate them, and they could not accept a threat of that kind. Nor do I rule out the possibility that a revived United Nations—revived in the sense that they take cognisance of what is happening throughout the world—might decide to come to the aid of Argentina. Nor do I rule out the possibility that the Soviet Union might help the Argentine with the provision of weapons, which would extend the threat to the NATO pact, the United States, the United Kingdom and all concerned in Europe.
I listened with interest to what my noble and gallant friend Lord Hill-Norton—he is a military expert whose opinions cannot be ignored—said about the need for a strong mercantile marine. I repeat what I have said in your Lordships' House more than once: we have never won, and will never win, a war without being strong at sea; we must build up our mercantile marine and, if necessary, arm it for any eventuality. There can be no question about the need for a strong mercantile marine. My noble and gallant friend and others have argued in favour of that, as have noble Lords opposite. Time and again I have heard the demand for a strong mercantile marine, and it is anything but strong at present. Without it, in the event of conflict we should find ourselves in a very dangerous situation.
With all that in mind, I come to a conclusion, a temporary conclusion, which is dependent on the circumstances that confront us. We have gained what is regarded as a victory and our prestige has been established. We have proved conclusively that we have men and women of courage, fortitude and determination who are patriotic in the true meaning of the word. That has all been demonstrated and we are grateful for that. Nevertheless, we must be careful not to come to definite conclusions until we have 1238 established what is, above all, the necessary ingredient for our security, namely, adequate defence, a subject on which I shall comment briefly because this is not a defence debate.
I listened with interest to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, though I was out of the Chamber for part of the time, and I must remind him of something. In the past two or three years we have had defence White Papers, and I say with my characteristic modesty that nobody can accuse me of being unpatriotic in the sphere of defence.
I have taken risks in that respect even with my own party. I never yielded one inch—from the First World War to the Second World War or in any other conflict that may have occurred, in Korea and the like when I was very closely involved in the matter—over the need for an adequate defence. I venture to repeat, if I may, that we have to be prepared in the future, adequately prepared, for any eventuality. That is essential.
In those debates that we had, I warned the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, more than once when he came on behalf of his colleagues, members of the Government, the Government themselves, to present a White Paper to your Lordships' House. I said, "You have not come to the end of the story". He rebuked me for saying that. He said, "This is the last word"—or language to that effect. I told him that there would be more abuse than we had then; and now we have had the Falkland affair. And there may be something else. Who can tell? I do not think that we have come to the end of the story for a long time. We have to decide about Trident. I noted what my gallant and noble friend said about the need for submarines capable of using missiles as they did in the Falklands affair, to our great advantage and to the disadvantage of the enemy. All these matters must be considered; and I hope that they will be considered by the new element in defence.
May I say one last word on this subject?—not on the subject of defence but on this matter we are discussing. They have appointed a new Minister of Defence and he is being attacked all over the place. They are making fun of him. We should not make fun of any Minister of Defence. I, myself, was once a Minister of Defence and I know what it means. I was thrown off the Executive of the Labour Party, having been chairman and a member of that body for a long time, because I had been a Minister of Defence. You take risks in being Minister of Defence. Even Mr. Heseltine—that is his proper name, is it not?—may be subject to attacks from certain quarters. What do they expect from him—to cut down? We cannot afford to cut down. Defence has been cut down enough.
My Lords, just on that question, can we afford it? As things are, it does not seem that we can afford it. Our financial situation is extremely harsh at the moment; it is as serious as it can be. Perhaps we cannot afford it. All that I have to say about it is that if it comes to the pinch, to the crunch of the question, then if we have to choose between adequate and unprepared defence to maintain our security, then the question of expense does not come into consideration at all. We must find the money, even if it means more taxation—much as I dislike it and other Members of your Lordships' House dislike it. We have to find the money. I do not 1239 like this defence business. I do not like the expense of defence. I agree marginally with those of my friends who have advocated peace—except to say that they have been advocating it since the beginning of this century. I have heard it all—their speeches, their resolutions and all the rest. And we are now in as parlous a state as ever. We have gained nothing by demanding peace when there can be no peace. Perhaps some day we might promote peace. We long for it; but at the moment there is no realistic sign of it.
Therefore, I would ask Members of your Lordships' House to accept the situation as it is, to continue their defence policy. If we can cut it down reasonably after negotiation, then all the better, but, so long as it appears to be necessary, let us be prepared. That is the lesson we learn from the Falklands affair.
§ Lord Boothby
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I, in support of his argument, remind him that in this century, after all the unparalleled peace efforts that were made in the earlier part of the century, there has been more war on a bigger scale than in any other century in human history?
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Airey
My Lords, I plan this evening to speak on the relationship between the armed forces, the press, and the media. My noble friend Lord Caldecote in his third point has most ably also talked about this matter which is referred to in Paragraph 257 of the White Paper. If your Lordships will bear with me, I should like to enlarge on this subject as there is a number of points, further to those he has mentioned, that I should like to bring out. It has been said already by many noble Lords and by the noble Baroness this afternoon in her opening remarks that the training of the armed forces was, beyond any idea or possibility, absolutely magnificent. We have all been full of admiration for their behaviour. What I think is probably true is that it was not realised by the press when they went with the armed forces quite how well trained every single man was going to be in every single arm of the forces—in the army, the navy, the air force, the marines—and the independent way in which they were able to carry out their duties. This probably was quite a surprise to them.
A good journalist also needs intensive training but his training is rather different. He has to go after his story at full speed; he has to get a scoop; he has to send it back as quickly as he can to his paper or to the media. That is his job. But that is very difficult for the armed forces. That is where I think we have perhaps a lesson to learn in how best to deal with this matter. It could cause trouble if there was not a good understanding between the press and the forces.
My Lords, rather than face the difficulties I should prefer tonight to face our joint aims. I believe that any foe that we may have to fight will be from a government of the extreme right or extreme left. Neither of these are acceptable either to the press or to a democracy. In a government of the extreme right or extreme left there is no free press, there is no free speech as we know it in a democracy; so here we have not the difficulties but the joint aim. In the Falklands, when the fighting became hot, we know that a number 1240 of the press who were accredited to our forces had a tough time. They were involved in the marches, they were exposed to the bullets and they discovered all sorts of things about what modern warfare was like. While there is, I am sure, a feeling of cameraderie which only comes between men when they face danger together, let us make plans for the future, while there is this good feeling.
The question of reporting has been brought up by many noble Lords this evening. It is on the matter of telling the truth. In many cases, telling the truth was of a great advantage and we used it; but there are occasions, I believe, when it is not a good idea always to say what has happened. I have at the back of my mind—because we learn from the past for the future—something from personal experience about the battle of Dieppe, where of course, as your Lordships may remember, there were terrible casualties. Supposing those casualties had been published at that time, what would have been the situation in Canada? Many of the men who fought and died there—and at Puys—were Canadians, and what would have been the morale in this country when we were so near to invasion? I make the point that it is very important where the press and the media are concerned that there are occasions when the story should not be told.
Thinking about this relationship, what should we do while there is warmth, of feeling? I have an idea which I should like to put to your Lordships for your consideration. It would need a great deal of conversation and consideration at top level. Would it, I wonder, be possible to have a type of élite of journalists, possibly a form of unit or a form of territorial unit, who could go on exercises with our forces when they are going to tough places? We know that many of the forces who took part in the Falklands campaign had actually been practising in very tough circumstances in Norway and other places. I should like to put to your Lordships the possibility that an élite of the press could go with an élite of our forces on exercises from now onwards. If we should have another problem—and, let us face it, if it arose in a part of the world which was nearer than the Falklands the difficulty of preventing undesirable news from getting out would be far greater—the friendship thus created could be helpful. I therefore put this idea to your Lordships.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Energlyn
My Lords, I should like to stay as close as I can to the subject of this debate by selecting a lesson which is not referred to—not surprisingly—in the White Paper. The lesson is not to underestimate or undervalue the back-up information and services which have been provided in war and in peace by our famous and learned institutions. There are many of them, but, relevant to this subject, I select the Naval Hydrographer, the Ordnance Survey, the Geological Survey and, of course, the Falkland Islands Dependency Survey.
In December 1975 the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and a number of us pleaded in your Lordships' House for increased votes of confidence and money to the Naval Hydrographer in support of that valuable work. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, 1241 pointed out at column 1490 of Hansard for 17th December 1975:In 1973 the Naval Hydrographer said:'We need not only to explore the sea and the seabed, but to portray the detailed information so gained on special charts. It is an immense task, and progress is painfully slow. To meet the need an expansion is called for. The Hydrographer has a national function quite beyond the national concept of defence'.This is the department which supplied the charts and the information for our ships and our submarines to approach the Falkland Islands in safety. The message is therefore clearer now, I suggest, than it was then: that is, to give every possible financial aid, material and otherwise, to these several departments.
In the same debate on 17th December 1975 I made the following announcement:I turn to their wide-ranging interests. Your Lordships will see in the list of their activities that they work in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands and British Antarctica. It was my good fortune to have to investigate a collection of specimens brought back from the ill-fated expedition of Captain Scott to the South Pole. Among these specimens was one of sandstone which was representative of the great tract of beaten sandstones in Antarctica. Doctor Elliott and I found oil in it. This was the first indication that there might be an oilfield in Antarctica. If it had not been for the work of the hydrographer in that area we could not have begun to project that idea into that important strategic area.So there you have an example which has since proved to be of strategic and economic value in relation to Antarctica and the rest of the world. I and my colleague Doctor Elliott would not have been able to make that prediction, which has since proved to be true, without the backcloth of knowledge provided by the Falklands Islands Dependency Survey. Moreover, as a result of their work we are now able to define the potentiality of these oilfields. It could well be that it is this strategic knowledge which came the way of Galtieri, who could see in it, possibly, the way to solve his economic problems. If he owned the submarine area between the Falklands and the mainland he would be able to encourage foreign capital into his economy, just as we have encouraged it into the North Sea. It was a potentially important economic factor.
Whether that is true, I would not know. But the fact remains that because of this marvellous work that was done by ourselves in Antarctica we were able to draw conclusions of this kind. I therefore hope that this anecdote makes clear the importance of sustaining these institutions which from time to time come under attack from those who are trying to economise here, there and everywhere. These are vital parts of our strategic system and of our welfare. For example, at the outbreak of the second world war we had in our geological archives a more complete cover of no man's land and of France than either the French or the Germans, and because of this we were able to plan with certainty the most vulnerable points at which to find our way back into Europe. That is the value of this kind of institutional work.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will be the first to agree that he would not have been able to write his remarkable report in such a short period of time if he had not been able to draw upon this vast amount of fundamental knowledge which we have of the South Atlantic. Consequently, one can draw upon it to make suggestions to the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has asked: What is to be the 1242 future of the Falkland Islands? He pointed out that some people are unrealistic and some are romantic about it. I think I can be quite pragmatic by saying that if we can give to the Falkland Islands a source of electrical power to alter their way of life in the right direction then we will be giving them something of an enduring character.
But how could we provide them with a source of electrical power without that very power being vulnerable to imports of solid or liquid fuels, as it is at the moment? We should therefore look at the sources of power which do not depend on liquid and solid fuels. Wind power, as used in the installation that is being constructed at the moment in Carmarthen Bay, would be an interesting gift to them. We have several remarkable methods of trapping wave motion in this country at the moment, and wave motion could be applied in many areas of the coastline around the Falkland Islands. We could conceivably consider a mini nuclear power station for the islands, using the prototypes that we have in this country at the moment at places like Dounreay.
As a result of the lessons we learned and the information we gained from studying this material in the build-up of the Shackleton Report, it became perfectly obvious to me that here was the one place within our possession where we could exploit geothermal energy to great effect. I may say as an aside that ever since the last war geologists have been dying to get to Antarctica, and only the best men ever get jobs in the surveys of Antarctica. I know this because I have trained many of them. The quality of work that has been done in Antarctica is so good that one is now able to say, with as near certainty as nature will allow, that there are places in Antarctica where you could sink boreholes to hot rocks which would convert water into steam, and so create a geothermal power station which will require no fuel and will go on for ever.
The construction of this geothemal power station is very relevant, and I would suggest to Her Majesty's Government that the task, if they consider it to be a reasonable project, should be given to our crack Royal Engineers. Let them build the power station, because all it involves is sinking boreholes and digging shafts; and they can do it better than anyone else I can think of in the world. There you would have a task force on the islands, creating something for which they would be glad to be mentioned in despatches; namely, creating a source of electrical energy which would last for ever, for the benefit of the Falkland islanders.
With this energy the Falkland islanders could embark upon the many suggestions that are brought out in the Shackleton Report. They could put in refrigeration plant and refrigerate their meat. Instead of throwing it into the sea, they could send it to Britain to replace that which we have lost from New Zealand. They could also look more intelligently at the biochemicals that they could process from the flora and fauna of the sea. All these things would become possible if we gifted them a substantial source of electricity which would be safe and difficult for the enemy to destroy, and which would go on for ever and so give them the certainty of a future free from any intrusion on the part of an enemy from outside.
This is the lesson I project to your Lordships: that we should not in any way underrate the support we 1243 give to these valuable institutions which from time to time are under attack. We should cherish them, expand them and preserve them for the defence and the advantage of Great Britain.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, whose expert knowledge has shown us a new dimension for the future of the Falkland Islands. It seems to me that this has been an excellent and extremely interesting debate, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who thought that there had been moments of tedium. The debate has been sandwiched, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, pointed out, between discussions on the Shackleton Report and the Franks Report. It is a debate on a exceptionally well written White Paper about a campaign which well deserves the glittering adjectives given to it by my noble friend Lord Selkirk.
I must say that, listening to the debate, it has been a little difficult not to feel rather sorry for noble Lords sitting on the Opposition Benches, since perfectly obviously they recognise the great success of this great expedition. Nevertheless, they have, for the purposes of serving the cause of Her Majesty's Opposition, to express certain reservations, and so we have had quite a number of what might be called "Yes, but" arguments. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, criticised the visit of the Prime Minister to the Falkland Islands last week. While he was doing so I wondered whether he really thought that had Sir Harold Wilson, Mr. Callaghan or Lord Attlee carried out a similar successful expedition they would not have gone to the Falklands Islands too. Of course they would have done in those circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, after what, for him, seemed to be a mild, cartographical speech, as one might call it, full of a necrology of Ministers who one way or another had suffered because of Falkland Islands crises in the past, and giving us an effective broadside against his right honourable friend Mr. Peter Shore, felt bound to say in the conclusion to his speech that the campaign had been a total disaster. The conclusion certainly did not follow from the main argument leading up to that part of his speech.
Even the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, whose speeches I remember with great admiration in the course of the campaign, felt bound to say that surely the time had come when we ought to start having discussions with Argentina and try to establish a modus vivendi with Latin America—when surely the fact should be clear to us all that with a Government such as Argentina unfortunately has at the moment the possibility of serious discussions is not at all likely, particularly if the issue of sovereignty is not going to come into it. That, as the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, rightly pointed out, is not on the likely agenda at all. As for a modus vivendi with Latin America, I wonder whether in fact one does not exist. We have diplomataic relations through the continent and, so far as I know, we have not lost many contracts in trade during the last six months. Indeed, the only substantial one, it seems to me, is the loss of the sale of frigates in Venezuela and the temporary 1244 abandonment of commercial flights to Argentina by British Caledonian.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I am grateful to him for giving way. Before he goes on rather rapidly making what seems to me a rather less positive contribution than he might, he did say that I was critical of the Prime Minister's visit. What I said was that she made what she called a personal pilgrimage to the Falklands, albeit without the Foreign or Defence Secretaries. That was the sum total of my comment, and I think the noble Lord might even agree with me that it would have been better if she had had those two very important and relevant Secretaries of State with her to assess the situation which she and indeed Parliament will have to deal with for a long time to come. That was not a criticism but a positive suggestion as to how it might have been even more helpful.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I had been under the impression that he referred to the Prime Minister's visit as provocative. If he did not say so, then I naturally withdraw my remarks. As to the possibility of a visit at the same time by the Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and Defence, it was my understanding that the then Secretary of State for Defence, Sir John Nott, had been to the \Falklands during the last few months, and it was surely inappropriate for the Secretary of State for Foreign—I repeat, Foreign—Affairs to go to a territory which is, thanks to the Government's enterprise, still a part of British responsibilities.
I must beg the patience of the House, like many other noble Lords, if I devote some attention to the question of relations between the Government and the media in the course of this campaign, that is, in particular, to paragraphs 256 to 258 of the White Paper. I want also to refer to the report of the Defence Committee in another place, which has also been, very sensibly and wisely, referred to on a number of occasions. The fact that many noble Lords have already spoken on this subject does not discourage me, because what I want to say will not just repeat what they said.
I am glad to see in paragraph 258 of the White Paper that the Ministry of Defence is to ask the University College of Cardiff to investigate relations between the media and the Government in times of armed conflict. As Mr. Callaghan said in another place in the debate on this issue in December, we must expect that emergencies of this nature are, unfortunately, likely to occur on other occasions, and it is very important that we get right the relations between the media and the Government; in particular, because, as Sir Frank Cooper told the Defence Committee, most conflicts in which we are likely to become involved will not be ones where the Ministry of Defence could, in principle, completely control the whole means of communication, as was the case in the Falklands crisis. Any foreseeable future crisis is likely to be more difficult than the one which we are discussing today.
A Government involved in a conflict of this nature must consider three aspects of public opinion. First, there is our own public opinion at home which, as the 1245 White Paper states, and as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, pointed out, is absolutely crucial in ensuring the kind of voluntary collaboration which had a very successful result in this case; secondly, we must consider public opinion in the enemy country concerned; and, finally, we must consider public opinion in neutral countries—countries which are very closely connected with us, as allies or in the European Community, and other countries in the rest of the world, such as those in Latin America.
My impression is that, by and large, the Government's relations with public opinion in this country were successfully managed, while our relations with public opinion in other countries were less successfully managed. It seems to me that Argentine propaganda in neutral countries was quite successful. I do not know how much money they spent, but they probably devoted a great deal to it. I had occasion to be in Spain during the course of the conflict and, having been there a week, I began to wonder whether there was something in the suggestions put to me by many people, including one of the leaders of the Opposition, that the "Hermes" had been sunk and that the "Invincible" was being repaired in an American harbour.
Certainly, in Spain, which plays an important part as a kind of stepping-stone between Latin America and Europe, the creative compromise put forward by Her Majesty's Government on 20th May of this year (to which the White paper, incidentally, does not devote any attention) did not seem to have had very wide circulation. The same was true to a lesser extent in other countries within the European Community, although public opinion in those countries was, of course, important to us. The economic sanctions of the Community at the beginning of the crisis were very valuable but the question of military sanctions was absolutely fundamental, as one recognises when one considers the effect of substantial arms sales, had the Argentines won their case.
Of course, political public relations, particularly internationally, are very difficult. In times of major conflict, we have in the past embarked on the expedient of a political warfare executive to manage such matters. I think that all these things require very careful consideration. I was particularly impressed by the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, which called for the provision of professional public relations advisers, or information advisers, within the armed services and the Ministry of Defence, even in time of peace. It must be remembered that our major-enemy, the Soviet Union, has made use of an Agiprop representative, an adviser on propaganda, at every level and in every committee throughout its governmental institutions.
However, what I want to come to is not so much the detailed question of how these things may or may not have gone wrong or right, but whether we had the principles with which we were engaged quite correct. I am not suggesting that the war was not entirely rightly fought—of course not. What I want to suggest is that there was throughout the conflict some ambiguity as to whether or not we were actually at war. Indeed, this ambiguity survives even now. If you look at the White Paper, the word "war" is never mentioned; it is called the Falklands campaign. The word "war" is always 1246 avoided and we have heard people speaking about the "conflict" or the "engagement".
The Defence Committee of the House of Commons, however, use the word "war" quite often in the presentation of their case. For example, the contents page speaks of, "reporting the war". Paragraph 8 speaks of, "nurturing world opinion in time of war". Paragraph 47 recalls that the Ministry of Defence had, suddenly, "to prepare for war". Could it be that the Ministry of Defence thought that we were not at war and the House of Commons thought that we were? That might be a fair conclusion if these two documents happened to survive and were found many hundreds of years ahead in some archaeological dig.
Many of your Lordships may think that this is hairsplitting. I am not sure that that would be correct, although I have discussed this matter with one of the Ministers who was in charge of information during the conflict, and he dismissed the suggestion as such. Admiral Woodward felt that he was in no way inconvenienced—I put him a straight question on this matter—by the fact that we were not "at war"; and Professor Colonel Draper of the University of Sussex told the BBC that Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter has rendered the whole notion of war out-of-date. I am not sure that that is correct. Our attitude towards conflict seems to echo that colonel in Rudyard Kipling's Kim, who remarked to his adjutant before a battle "Remember, it is punishment, not war".
I personally believe that these resorts to euphemisms are unsatisfactory. Euphemisms always lead to muddles. Public opinion—and newspapermen have intimate knowledge and feeling for public opinion—knows what war is and knows what peace is. People know that in time of war special demands are made on them, including the use of censorship. They know that in time of peace no such special demands are made on them, and certainly censorship could not be thought of. I suspect that it was partly because of this that we encountered some of the difficulties which arose.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Hankey
My Lords, we have heard some very interesting speeches, but I want to come back strictly to the White Paper. I am full of admiration for this White Paper on the lessons of the Falklands campaign, for the conclusions the Government have come to and for the measures they are taking in the light of these events. I am sure we are right to retain a naval presence in the South Atlantic and to send HMS "Endurance" back. I shall give my reasons later. I warmly congratulate the Prime Minister on her visit to the Falklands. It really was no mean undertaking and I very much hope that she was not overtired by such great exertions.
I believe that this is the first time that modern ships have been in actual conflict in war with modern aircraft carrying modern missiles. It seems to me that in spite of the marvellous work of our Harrier force we suffered some rather serious losses. That requires very careful consideration. I hope the studies into correcting the vulnerability of our ships to air attack, and especially to fire, will be energetically pursued and pressed forward. I am glad that aircraft early warning will be made available to all carriers. I hope we can soon do more in that line also for other units of the 1247 Fleet, if that is possible. We have not many carriers and the Russians have a great many long-distance aircraft, presumably capable of carrying missiles.
I am also very glad that we are improving the in-flight refuelling capabilities of the Royal Air Force. I am sure that is vital also, for reasons which I shall give later. It is in any case wrong that we should have to rely on the Americans so much, either in that field or as regards naval protection for convoys. I am very impressed indeed at the ability of experts in our forces to alter the software of some of our weapons in order to adapt them to local needs. I find that really remarkable and a great tribute to the expertise of our forces.
I particularly welcome the improvement of satellite communications which is announced in the White Paper. It seems that while the working of the supreme command here and the division of functions with the area commander was excellent and worked well, there was a serious shortage of telecommunications channels and circuits and facilities for passing intelligence and, for that matter, press reports. But if we improve facilities, I hope that we shall always censor press reports in war, if it is necessary for the security of our people or the success of military operations. I do not care personally what the press think about it. Do not make any bones about it; the security of our forces and the success of our operations have to come first.
To return to what I said about satellites, I do not know how or whether we can protect our satellites in the event of war. I personally think that space is going to be very important both for telecommunications and intelligence and, in the end, surely also for weaponry, in spite of some of the treaties which have been made.
I want now to project these conclusions on to a much wider screen. In both of the last world wars we owed a large part of our success to the overseas territories of the Commonwealth and Empire who gave us inestimable help. Our well-established position all over the world helped us to have very friendly relations with other countries, notably in Africa and South America. We could protect many of them against enemy blackmail, and that was very important. It was difficult in the Mediterranean, where North Africa fell largely under enemy control; and in South-East Europe, where I served during the war, we saw to our great cost the effect of our inability to help our friends when the area was overrun by the enemy and subject to blackmail both by the Russians and the Germans.
How is the strategic situation today? In Europe, NATO is, I suppose, reasonably strong, in spite of France's unco-operative attitude. There are worries which the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, explained about the increase in the number of Russian missiles, and in certain respects we have been falling behind. But NATO has rather a psychological hang-up about areas outside the NATO limits. Those limits, I recall, are approximately the eastern end of the Mediterranean and the Tropic of Cancer, which runs south of Morocco and south of Florida. Nevertheless, judging by the last war and by this sudden eruption of hostilities in the Falklands, I think we have to look at the situation in other parts of the world outside NATO with some care.
1248 Following up the very interesting points made by my noble friend Lord Trenchard, I wonder how many of your Lordships have studied The Military Balance, published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, or, based on that, the very interesting summary of the Soviet position as now inherited by Mr. Andropov, in The Times of 20th December? They cause one to think furiously. The Russians have very large numbers of submarines, of which at least 100 are nuclear missile submarines, and some 290 major combat ships, including at least three carriers backed by an absolute mass of smaller vessels, deployed in the Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
I believe that the creation of such enormous fleets can only betray an aggressive intention. If Russia were beaten at sea. I doubt whether she would be very greatly weakened; but if the Western powers were beaten at sea they would be finished. Do not make any mistake about it. They could not for long keep their industries supplied with energy or essential raw materials on either side of the Atlantic. Their armed forces of all sorts could not be maintained for any time. In Europe we would, I think, eventually starve. American forces could not be moved to Europe, as NATO plans require, nor could they be supplied and maintained in Europe for any considerable time. I agree with a point made by the noble Viscount. Lord Trenchard, that the main direct threat is to Europe, but we absolutely have to look beyond Europe if one agrees with the argument which I have just deployed.
The Russians and their East German and Cuban allies have control of the southern end of the Red Sea, with forces in North and South Yemen, and control of Ethiopia. They have some forces in Iraq and Syria and a large force in Afghanistan. They are in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. They have naval facilities in India and a training mission there. The Indian army uses Soviet tanks and has Soviet army trainers. The Russians and their allies have forces in Algeria and Libya, so the southern coast of the Mediterranean is potentially in much the same position as it was in the last war when we were at such a disadvantage. They are in Angola and Mozambique, the Congo, Mali, Guinea and Mauritania. The Cubans are in Nicaragua and Grenada. They have a large Soviet training mission in Cuba itself and are certainly building up large supplies of Soviet arms.
Surely in the light of all this and of the considerable strain on our resources caused by this relatively small local affair in the Falklands, we ought to be looking at this world security situation all over again. It is quite clear that that great sailor, Admiral Gorshkov, has done much of what he set out to do. It is all explained in his remarkable book Red Star at Sea. The Soviet Fleet can operate in all the oceans and can support Russia's friends in several continents outside Europe. I am told that in the Falklands a Soviet satellite was able to tell the Argentines where our surface ships were—no mean feat of intelligence if that is true.
To sum up, I just do not believe that our ship numbers are adequate to meet the worldwide threat to NATO; I agree with everything that was said by my noble friend Lord Hill-Norton and others. Just for this local affair in the Falklands—brilliantly led and conducted—we had to draw heavily on our forces in the North Atlantic, and depended on the Americans in 1249 a number of respects. I welcome the ship replacement and construction and other measures which the Government have taken, but I urge that the whole position in the world now needs more serious consideration. We have to think of convoys to and from the Persian Gulf. Can their movement be hidden as they were in the last war now that there are satellites observing and photographing their movements? It presents a totally different problem. Will they not require a higher degree of protection? I do not believe we can any longer leave this to chance—and the convoys must clearly have air cover and aircraft early warning if shipping losses are not to be unacceptably high. I do not see how we can possibly provide this protection at the present strength of our forces.
In the light of the Falklands, I also draw two further important conclusions. First, we cannot stand alone. Our allies and friends in Europe and NATO gave us invaluable help. To propose withdrawing from Europe or weakening NATO, as some sections of the Labour Party do, is obviously sheer lunacy or clear evidence of fellow travelling. How much we could have used Simonstown in this latest conflict, and how much we are bound to need it if we are to protect convoys all round the coasts of Africa!
Secondly, the adherents of unilateral disarmament—and I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, were here now—might well be asked to explain why the unilateral disarmament of the Falklands and South Georgia did not protect them against the Argentinian dictator. What happened to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, who had treaties of non-aggression with the Soviet Union at the beginning of the last war? Your Lordships will remember that they were warmly hugged and were finally absorbed by the Russian bear, in spite of their treaties. Unilateral disarmament on our side would do more to encourage Soviet aggression than anything else we can do. I do not know how the unilateral disarmers can utter such utterly idiotic statements in the light of the history of the past 50 years, including that of the Falklands. We do indeed need multilateral disarmament; let us make no mistake about that.
Finally, I am deeply impressed by the skill, courage and sheer professionalism of our men and women in all ranks of the armed forces. Their training and dedication were both marvellous. The same applies to civilian personnel, not only here in all our ports, dockyards and industries but also in Gibraltar. In that connection, I believe that, whatever the cost, we shall make a very great mistake if we close the Gibraltar dockyard. It is truly essential to the economy and survival of the place. Equally, Gibraltar is truly essential to us in the control of traffic—especially submarines—through the Straits. To close the dockyard is like the very ill-advised withdrawal of HMS "Endurance" from the Antarctic. It is a covert invitation to the Spaniards to press their claim, or, in an evil moment, even to walk in. Our urgent requirements for the Falklands campaign showed how much we needed that dockyard. Some financial economies are very counter-productive, and I am quite sure that this one would be.
I have one final pregnant thought to add to this debate. What an immense fund of active goodwill there was among our civilians of all sorts during the 1250 Falklands campaign! Should the Government not build on this? I suggest that the time has come for the Government to start mobilising the sensible part of the public to undertake voluntary work for setting up a civilian organisation for backing up the police and other authorities in handling emergencies at home, and for that matter overseas. I believe there would be a big response and that our wonderful people would much prefer to know that in any emergency they would be able and trained to help each other.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord Murton of Lindisfarne
My Lords, as a Member of your Lordships' House who takes a keen interest in all defence matters, may I just state how grateful I am sure we all are to my noble friend Lord Trenchard, who is always accessible and receptive to the ideas and views of others. His robust answers from the Front Bench and his trenchant speeches (to coin a phrase) have always been a pleasure to hear. I am sure that we shall all miss him. I wish also to congratulate and encourage my noble friend Lord Belstead, who is now to bear an even heavier load of responsibility. I beg for your Lordships' indulgence if some of the matters which I am about to raise have been mentioned already during this long debate.
As many other noble Lords have said, the White Paper is both explicit and well written. It underlines yet again the generous and immensely well deserved tribute which our nation has paid to the courage, skill and sheer determination displayed by the armed forces, the fleet auxiliaries, the merchant marine and the hundreds of civilians in the various factories, stores and offices who were in direct support of the operation. As a result of this short but sharp campaign some lessons have been learnt, but, as the report states, many old lessons have been reinforced.
In my belief, the greatest lesson is fundamental—it is the unwisdom and improvidence of unbalancing in the name of economy a vital component of the Royal Navy's operational and tactical efficiency. I refer to the original intention to sell HMS "Invincible". Thankfully, no positive steps to complete this sale had been taken at the time when the Falklands crisis arose—and now, thank God! she will be retained. I should have thought that, having based our modern tactical training about the anti-submarine warfare carrier, it was elementary that we should need a minimum of three such ships, to allow two for immediate deployment and a third in refit or reserve. Now I am glad to know that we shall have them. I hope this lesson is one that none of us will forget, because, with HMS "Hermes", HMS "Invincible" was the lynch-pin of the whole operation. I shall not ask what we should have done had she not been immediately available for active service when required.
Similarly, it would have been most unwise to have scrapped HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid". Both of these assault ships have landing capabilities and command facilities which no chartered civilian ferry could ever match under conditions of active service. As the White Paper states, they emphatically proved their worth. While these ships will be retained, and also our gallant little friend HMS "Endurance"—which some of us have mentioned in 1251 debate a good many times in the past—I remain somewhat uneasy about the statement on the so-called increase in the planned number of front line destroyers and frigates. The figure of 55 is a welcome promise but it refers specifically and rather ominously only to 1983 and 1984. What is planned beyond that date? I do not expect that I shall be given an answer tonight, but I hope that we shall not revert to Cmnd. 8288 in which it was stated that in the late 1980s there will be a force level of 50, of which up to 8 might be in a standby squadron; in other words, only 42 ships operational. There should be renewed thought given to this question, particularly in connection with out-of-area commitments; and, indeed, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, made this point very strongly. If any noble and gallant Lord knows the answer, I am sure that he does.
Very often it is the least expected which happens. No one could have foreseen a campaign of the magnitude that took place in the Falklands; but there is no accounting for the possible actions of totalitarian régimes, be they large nations or be they small nations. There are still other parts of the world where our legitimate interests can be threatened by force. We can call these areas "choke points"—and that is a very apt figure of speech. I do not need to recount them for the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, has already done that, and very ably, too. We all know where they are and which are the most likely to pose a threat to our supply routes.
Nor do I need to be fashionable and quote the Russian Admiral Gorshkov on the value placed by him on Soviet seapower. He has been instrumental in building a formidable blue-water navy which, by showing the Soviet flag, can influence small and impressionable developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. We cannot afford to turn our backs on this constant ideological threat.
Closer to home, in the NATO naval role, I believe we should rethink our obligations, and restate them. In the Falklands campaign 10,000 men were transported 8,000 miles with 100,000 tonnes of stores—a major logistical success. In an emergency in North West Europe our ships would have to escort one million men and countless thousands of tonnes of stores over the best part of 3,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean—all under constant threat.
Great Britain contributes 70 per cent. of NATO's anti-submarine war effort, and it is well known that the NATO allies have in commission only half the number of surface escort vessels which would be needed in fully operational circumstances. This fact alone is the most cogent of reasons for maintaining 55 front line destroyers and frigates. Even applying the so-called "law of parsimony", which states that no more causes or forces should be assumed than are necessary to account for the facts, I do not see how even the most blinkered exponent of the SSN submarine and maritime aircraft school can deny the necessity for a properly balanced anti-submarine warfare capability—and that means fully adequate support from surface ships.
I now want to make some reference to the fleet train and its potential future use. This comprised 24 ships of 1252 the Royal Maritime Auxiliary and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary; and in this figure I include the six logistic landing ships. In addition, the Ministry of Defence took up from trade a further 45 vessels, as has already been described, ranging from liners to tugs. Quite rightly, the White Paper emphasises, in italics, the significant contribution which civil resources can make to the nation's strength in a crisis. In a subsequent paragraph the paper states that a working party of the Shipping Defence Advisory Committee will examine ways in which merchant ships can be designed, modified or equipped along the lines now decided in the case of the replacement for the "Atlantic Conveyor".
I wonder what, if anything, has come out of the ARAPAHO project, the study of which must have been tossed backwards and forwards for at least the best part of 10 years. At least at the last count, we are informed—the Daily Telegraph mentions this in the edition of 30th December 1982—the Russian merchant navy has overaken Britain's in size. According to Lloyd's Register of Shipping, the British merchant fleet is now reduced to 22,505,000 gross tonnes while Russia's has grown slightly to 23,789.000 tonnes gross. Britain is now sixth in size, where once it had the biggest merchant fleet in the world.
Statistically it can no doubt be argued that for the Falklands campaign only 5 per cent. of our merchant fleet was taken up: but the point to be remembered is that by no means all of our merchant ships are suitable or adaptable for the specific tasks required of them in times of crisis. Indeed, we have read in the press that our civilian maritime resources have now reached the point where it would be extremely difficult to mount a similar operation in the future. Our merchant shipping companies need more support than they have so far received under successive Governments.
I do not need to remind your Lordships that the Soviet merchant fleet is treated as the fourth arm of her defence forces, and that that objective is put before all commercial considerations. It is hard to see how one can compete with a state which provides from national sources funds for shipbuilding and, unlike most other countries, not from fleet earnings. Moreover, that state bears all the loan interest, and also the insurance of its ships. The Soviets ensure that bunker costs are about 25 per cent. of what other nations pay. Soviet wages are about one-third of comparable western standards. Russia always buys goods on free-on-board terms, but sells them on cost-insurance-freight terms.
The inevitable result of all this as regards western vis-à-vis Soviet Union commercial shipping operations is a hopeless imbalance in favour of the Soviets. In cross-trading the Soviet Union often undercuts by 25 per cent. whatever commercial rate is offered elsewhere. No British Government could or would follow the path of such blatant nationalism in a free world; but, on the other hand, and in particular at a time when shipping is still stagnant following the oil crisis of 1973, some drastic steps are needed to help the British shipping industry.
I believe that the General Council of British Shipping is in consultation with the Government, as are also the maritime unions. Let us hope that the Government can give some positive encouragement. 1253 Investment allowances for new construction are not enough. In its conclusion the White Paper on the Falklands campaign mentions the crucial role of the merchant navy. It is up to the Government to ensure that our worldwide shipping interests remain in a healthy state; otherwise, we shall be in really serious trouble.
In conclusion, in about 1870 a semi-humorous doggerel appeared in Punch. It went something like this:John Bull at seasons in a panic fright; Cries out for troops for all the world to fight. The House of Jaw resounds with long debates, And votes a huge increase in Estimates.The British Army, when successful task is o'er, Expects to be very much as it 'twas before. A stronger force has John his Fleet behind: He pays his money, and has eased his mind.Those comparatively easy days are no longer with us. Our armed forces have a much more difficult role to fulfil. John Bull must still "pay his money" if Britain and her allies are to remain secure.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I should have expected that a debate on a paper entitled The Falklands Campaign: The Lessons would have stressed the lessons and sought the means by which such destructive encounters could be prevented in future. Perhaps we shall have to wait for the Franks Committee Report and the debate which we shall no doubt have on that before we are able to turn our minds solidly to that task. It would seem to me more logical to debate the Franks Committee Report first, because that does not deal with the campaign itself. However, we have had it back to front and I want to avoid dealing with any of the issues which are likely to be germane to the debate we shall no doubt have on Franks.
One issue I would make at the beginning. It is very disappointing that in this paper the United Nations is mentioned, I believe, only four times, and was never mentioned at all in the speech of the noble Baroness who opened this debate. It has become fashionable to decry the United Nations. All I would say to those who do so is that the United Nations is just as strong and just as capable of preventing conflicts in the world as its members make it, and we are one of its principal members.
However, I want to confine my remarks tonight to one paragraph alone in the report, and that is Paragraph 110. It deals with the sinking of the Argentine cruiser "General Belgrano". I want to ask the noble Lord who will be winding up certain specific questions which, at least so far as I have been able to discover, the Government have not as yet answered. The reason that I do this is that I am concentrating what I have to say in this debate on examining whether it was possible during the period covered by this paper, that is after the task force had been sent, irrespective of whether the task force should have been sent or not, at any stage and by any means to prevent war, a war which cost about a thousand lives and, as we have heard many times this evening, a great deal of money.
1254 The first question I should like to ask the noble Lord is if he has checked whether Paragraph 110 is accurate. That paragraph begins:On 2nd May HMS 'Conqueror' detected the Argentine cruiser 'General Belgrano'.It has been asserted, publicly asserted, that it was not on the 2nd May that the submarine detected the "Belgrano"; it has been suggested that it must have been at least on 1st May, and possibly on 30th April. This is germane to this debate because the sinking of the "Belgrano", with the loss of about 350 lives, certainly ended any chance of there being a negotiated settlement which would have prevented the hostilities.
Now I want to ask the noble Lord three central questions, all related to this paragraph and to the action described in it. First, was it a political decision which led to the submarine "Conqueror" torpedoing the "General Belgrano"? I ask this because on 4th May 1982, according to Column 16 in No. 108 of Volume 23 of the Official Report of the other place, the Prime Minister, in answer specifically to this question as to whether it had been a political decision to torpedo the "Belgrano", said,The Task Force is and was under full political control".That was her specific answer to the question whether it was a political or a military decision to torpedo the "Belgrano". As my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney has already pointed out, there are still a number of mysteries concerning this action, which was crucial and which will certainly be seen by historians to be crucial, to whether or not there was to be war between Britain and Argentina.
I may add further testimony to the Prime Minister's statement. The commander of the submarine itself, HMS "Conqueror", when he returned to this country is reported to have said, "The order came from above", with the clear indication that it came from the special committee in London, chaired and headed by the Prime Minister, rather than from any of the commanders of the task force itself. This surely very strongly points to support for the conclusion, the only conclusion that can be drawn from the Prime Minister's statement, that the task force, all the task force, was under full—and I stress the word "full"—political control. May I ask the noble Lord if he will answer that question: was the decision to torpedo the "Belgrano" taken by politicians or by members of the task force?
The second question is why was the "Belgrano" torpedoed? As my noble friend Lord Jenkins has already pointed out, at the time it was torpedoed it was sailing in a direction that would have taken it to its home base, which I believe is in Uschaia. But there are a number of other factors which lead to the same conclusion. The "Belgrano" and its two escorts could hardly have posed any immediate threat to the British task force in the position in which she was struck. She was 35 miles outside the 200 mile exclusion zone. She was 200 nautical miles, which is about five hours' sailing time, from the nearest British ship. As I and my noble friend have already pointed out, she was on course for her home base. She was 35 miles south and heading away from the Burdwood Bank, which has been used by the Government on occasion as an apparent excuse, when they have suggested that the submarine commander was frightened of losing the 1255 "Belgrano". Finally on this point, why were neither of the two escorts attacked? As the White Paper we are debating points out in Paragraph 110, it was at least believed that both these escorts were carrying Exocets. Why were they not attacked? So my second question to the noble Lord is why was the "Belgrano" attacked? My first question was, was the order given politically or militarily; and the second question is, why was it given?
My third question is, is it not apparent from all the diplomatic writing that has taken place since this incident that at the moment the "Belgrano" was attacked it was known in London and in Washington that there was—and I am understating it here—at least a very strong chance that the Argentine junta was seriously considering accepting the peace plan put forward by the Peruvians? It was certainly believed by President Belaunde of Peru, who went on television in Lima that night to say that the Peruvian peace plan was likely to be accepted. It was believed in Washington, and I remind the House that at that moment the Foreign Secretary, Mr Pym, was in Washington. So all the facts that have emerged since that incident seem to point to one conclusion, that at the time when the "General Belgrano" was attacked it was known in London by the Government, by the Prime Minister, that there was at least a reasonable chance—again, I am understating it—that the Argentine junta would accept, had indeed accepted, the Peruvian peace plan.
Can the noble Lord give me any explanation of these facts that give a different conclusion from the one that appears to stand out very clearly—that this was a political act and that it could only have been designed to sabotage the Peruvian peace plan? If this interpretation is correct, or if the interpretation of any one of these three major issues if correct, that act described in paragraph 110 ended any chance of a negotiated settlement between this country and the Argentine. It made war inevitable and it is directly the cause of the death of the thousand men who died during that conflict, for the many injured and wounded, and it is responsible for the huge bill in both cash terms and in international friendship which we have paid for that incident.
§ 8.12 p.m.
My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and the noble Lord, Lord Murton of Lindisfarne, have already spoken with knowledge and authority on the vital part played by the Merchant Navy in the Falklands campaign and I do not want to repeat what they said, but to beg leave to agree with their observations. Although only about 5 per cent. of our merchant fleet was involved, in many cases the ships sent were almost the only suitable ones for the purpose and we used three of the only nine big passenger ships that we have.
Less than two months ago the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Trade said in another place:The shipping industry itself expects to remain in the doldrums until at least the mid 1980s".I believe that that is now an understatement. It therefore seems to me that we would be very unwise to 1256 rely too much on the ability of the Merchant Navy to repeat its magnificent performance, possibly on a much larger scale, on a future occasion. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will be able to tell us how the Government propose to deal with that situation. I also wonder how the combined NATO merchant fleets compare with the Russian merchant fleet.
§ 8.13 p.m.
The Earl of Cathcart
My Lords, I wish to follow the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, only in saying what a magnificent part the Merchant Navy played in this whole matter. In referring to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, I believe he placed far too great an emphasis on the effect on the conflict that the sinking of the "General Belgrano" had on the 2nd May. I put it to him that the real moment, which could not be reversed, was when the Argentine invaded the Falklands on 2nd April and then declined to accept the ruling given, quite clearly for the whole world to hear, by the United Nations.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, as the noble Lord said that he was putting the matter to me, I presume he wished for an answer. My answer is simply that I have never defended, and never would defend, the invasion of the Falkland Islands or any other part of the world. I agree with him entirely on that point. Some of us have had a longer history than the present Government in criticising the fascist régime in Argentina, so we have no sympathy there at all. The point I have been making is that there may be invasions by fascist régimes, by communist régimes, by self-styled democratic régimes, and there are conflicts in the world which I believe—and I think the noble Earl will agree—that we all wish to solve if possible by negotiation. The facts seem to suggest—and I have asked the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to answer them—that up to the time of the sinking of the "General Belgrano" there was an opportunity, devised by the Peruvians with American help, for a negotiated settlement which would have included—I make this quite clear—the withdrawal of the Argentine forces from the Falklands. That was part of the Peruvian plan. I believe the facts suggest—that is as high as I put it—that the Argentine junta had in fact been forced by the Army to agree to that plan. Within a few hours the sinking of the "General Belgrano" had destroyed any hope—it may have been a faint hope—that there could be a negotiated settlement.
The Earl of Cathcart
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for replying to the point that I put to him. However, once hostilities have started—and I say they started on the 2nd April with the unjustifiable attack on the Falkland Islands by the Argentines—one cannot mark time in an action that is taking place every time a neighbour tries to put up a face-saving proposal to get the Argentines out of the ridiculous position in which they put themselves.
1257 Now, my Lords, I will start my speech. In spite of the late hour, I do not find it possible to take part in this debate on the lessons of the Falklands campaign without first joining with other noble Lords in paying tribute to the courage, endurance and professional skill of the men of the armed forces and of the Merchant Navy who sailed with the task force and to all those whose superb logistic planning and administrative support ensured such a decisive victory. The White Paper which we are debating today describes these operations in some detail and draws many valuable lessons applicable to all three services. We owe it to all those who took part to ensure that this valuable experience and these most valuable lessons are made full use of and not obscured in the future.
How very proud we can be that in discussing these experiences there was no lapse of leadership at regimental level, nor indeed at any other level. How dreadful it would have been if such had been the case. There were no shortcomings of professional skill or courage. All ranks in all three services carried out their duties in the highest traditions of their service. The lessons are almost entirely matters regarding the provision of the right equipment and weapons. I would remind some noble Lords that we are discussing a White Paper on the military lessons learned in the Falklands; we are not discussing the Franks paper which is coming out very shortly.
It is not possible to discuss the lessons of the Falklands campaign in isolation from our overall national defence policy. Nevertheless, we must guard against drawing irrelevant conclusions from what must be a unique and unusual two-month campaign. In my view that is what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, referred to as a "temporary conclusion" and I must agree with that at this stage.
As many noble Lords have already said, this campaign provides the best example of the vital need to maintain a deterrent posture at all times. But a debate on whether the Argentine invasion would ever have taken place if we had not indicated our lack of interest in that part of the world by our drastic naval reductions in surface ships, is best left until we debate the Franks Report in due course. Nevertheless, deterrence is a very necessary military principle in the maintenance of peace. Just as we speak of the principles of war, so in an atmosphere of conflict between nations deterrence is an essential military principle of peace-keeping until such time as the causes of that conflict can be negotiated away. Deterrence cannot be achieved by lip-service.
This important and well produced paper which we are debating provides many important matters for debate and not least the need to improve combat clothing. One of the items of combat clothing which was severely criticised was army boots. I am extremely surprised by that because if ever there was a piece of military equipment which must have had excessive user trials, it is certainly army boots.
Because it is getting late I propose to try and emphasise only two aspects which are referred to in Part 2 of the "Lessons", one of which affects all services in the forward areas—that is, air defence. It affects ships, ground forces and also aircraft on the ground on air fields. Local air defence in the forward 1258 combat areas definitely caused problems and anxieties to everybody during the campaign. That especially applied to the ships at anchor or in confined waters during the landing phase. I do not believe that we have given all aspects of air defence nearly enough attention in the past. I believe that it is something upon which we must spend a great deal more time, and I have no doubt money, in the future.
Let us discuss air defence for the ground forces. The GPMG was the weapon that they preferred. It has a high rate of fire, but of course it uses a great deal of ammunition against continual air attack and that leads to the very obvious problem of ammunition replenishment which has itself been referred to as a grave problem in this campaign. As regards the other weapons, there were rival advantages between the Blowpipe and the Stinger missiles, but I do not believe that these have yet been fully weighed up and the opportunities to weigh up the pros and cons of those two weapons did not arise in the Falklands because the Stinger missiles were not used all that extensively.
The Rapier, which has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Caldecote, provided excellent air defence and fully established its reputation in a land based, low level air defence role. But it does have grave limitations on the battlefield. It is very slow to get set up, and in the Falklands it took a day and a half after landing before it became operational, and then only after very considerable technical effort by REME personnel. Furthermore, it travels very badly, because on arrival in the Falklands, having done the 8,000-mile journey from this country, of the 12 equipments landed five needed major servicing before they could be made operational. I believe that for future operations, whether with NATO or elsewhere, where a highly mobile and flexible ground force needs protection against direct air attack, this limitation needs to be overcome and this particularly good piece of equipment needs to be made battleworthy.
The second point that I wish to raise concerns the media, which has been well covered by many noble Lords, and therefore I shall not go into it in detail except to say that I agree with what they have said. The problem of reporting, whether for television or the press, with a combat force in action against an enemy is very grave indeed. The experience of the Falklands certainly highlighted this problem and I am very pleased to learn of the three reports that are being undergone. We shall watch their progress with very great interest. But just as this was the first time that ships of the Royal Navy had been subjected to missile attack, so this was the first campaign by British forces ever undertaken in an era of communication satellites and surveillance satellites. The surveillance satellites do not operate only for us. Those who are not so friendly to us or who are indeed our enemies have surveillance satellites probably telling them what we do not want them to know. They will make full use of them whether in the type of twilight war that we had in the Falklands or whether in full war—the "Lord Haw-Haw" type of programme—to cause anxiety among our civilian population. The media can play a very large part in countering that.
In my opinion, if members of the press and the television have the privilege of accompanying a task force which is going to come into action against an 1259 enemy, then they must have the same responsibility for what they say as the commander of a task force has to protect his future operations, to maintain the morale of his troops, and to guard against people at home being subjected to false stories. The media become part of the task force. The quicker we can achieve an understanding between the media and the fighting services that they work as one and the media is not critical of the services, the better. In reporting the activities of a task force there is no room for the media to go in for sensationalism. Nor is it right that they should report something for political motives—I do not mean that in an across-the-Floor way because, of course, it could work in either direction. We should all take extreme interest in learning the results of the three inquiries which have been set up; their findings will be extremely important.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Lord Brooks of Tremorfa
My Lords, I was personally very pleased to see the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, in the Chamber this afternoon and taking part in this debate. I by no means always agreed with him on these matters, but he was unfailingly courteous to myself and to other members of the defence group of your Lordships' House. We are grateful for the talents of those noble Lords who we are told are to help us in these affairs, but this cannot be a substitute for a Minister in your Lordships' House with clearly defined responsibility for defence matters. As the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said, "It is to be hoped that the present arrangement is temporary."
We were all sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, tell us that he is not well and cannot stay for the end of this debate. He is always worth listening to, especially on matters of this kind, and I particularly like his historical allusions. He reminded us that it was Henry VIII who was the founder of the modern navy. Henry was, of course, a Welshman from Anglesey, as my noble friend Lord Cledwyn reminds me, and Henry, of course, had very decided views on the role of women. President Reagan has said that Mrs. Thatcher is "the best man in England". I am not quite sure what Henry would have thought about that remark, but, being a Welshman, like myself, he would probably have thought it wrong to intrude on private grief.
As my noble friend Lord Bishopston remarked in his speech, we cannot consider only the defence aspects of the Falklands campaign. There are other issues to be considered, and answers are required to very important questions. As the White Paper states, it is clear that the Argentinian forces committed an act of unprovoked aggression in invading the Falkland Islands. Unfortunately, the Chronology on page 13 of the White Paper begins on 2nd April 1982, the day of the invasion. We do not have the advantage of the Franks Report, which is to be published tomorrow and which will be the subject of a further debate. We may learn from the Franks Report some information which might help us to judge whether the war was necessary or whether a settlement of the dispute could have been obtained by peaceful means. For we must remember that this war claimed more casualties than the entire population of the islands. When we recall this fact it is as well to remember the comments of 1260 some of our newspapers, which were a disgrace to British journalism.
Mr (now Sir) John Nott, said in another place on 21st December last that we have residual responsibility for our remaining dependent territories, including the Falklands, Gibraltar and Hong Kong. He said that we have obligations arising from agreements entered into with friendly states or with the United Nations, and extensive economic and trade interests in the Middle and Far East, North and South America and Australasia. A little earlier in his speech he said that we must not pursue a world-wide blue water role, as he put it: "swanning around in a silver sea". I find an inconsistency in those two comments, an inconsistency which I thought was pinpointed best by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I shall read his speech tomorrow with great interest.
My noble friend Lord Bishopston has referred to the four prongs of defence policy. This course was set by the 1981 Defence White Paper. The White Paper under discussion is a partial and, I believe, temporary retreat from the 1981 policy. The real choice has not yet been made between the four defence functions. The choice will have to be made, given that there will be low or no economic growth for some years ahead. All the economic forecasts for the future suggest that if the Government persist in their economic policies, then much more realistic choices in defence policy will have to be made.
We have a new Secretary of State for Defence and he will soon be faced with learning the lessons from the Falklands campaign. Given our economic circumstances, the axe will certainly fall in defence expenditure somewhere and, alas!, elsewhere, Where will the axe fall? On United Kingdom air defence? On our continental forces? On the Navy? Or on the strategic and nuclear theatre forces committed to the Alliance?
In an article published in The Times, following the Falklands compaign, Sir John Nott said that the planned size of 135,000 for the regular Army is the minimum needed to meet our peace-time and wartime commitments. Nor, he said, could we safely reduce our airforce. The article was headed:After the Falklands, let's not go overboard on Navy spending".I was impressed by the logic of much of what the then Secretary of State had to say, but I repeat what I have said before in your Lordships' House, and it has been repeated again today by other noble Lords: the Trident programme should be abandoned.
We are sometimes given the impression in this Chamber—and we have heard it again today—that there are no influential Conservatives who believe that the Trident programme should be abandoned. I understand that it is not the practice in your Lordships' House to refer to the speeches of Back Benchers in another place, but two very senior Conservative Back Benchers, who formerly had responsibility for defence matters, have stated quite clearly—and it is in the Hansard of 21st December last—that they believe that the Trident programme should be abandoned. So it is just not members of the Labour Party or spokesmen of other parties on this side of the House who believe that Trident is irrelevant to our needs.
1261 The peak budgetary impact of the Trident programme will be considerable. It is not just the share of the overall defence budget which the programme takes over 15 years, but its impact on the equipment budget in a period of a few years. I firmly believe that a Government will have to look again at Trident, not only because of its budgetary impact but in terms of its marginal contribution to our overall security.
What lessons have we learned from the events leading to the Falklands campaign? Do we intend forever to spend vast sums of money defending the islands from another invasion? The Prime Minister said during her visit to the Falklands that we would be there for a long, long time, and the Prime Minister has certainly opposed the very idea that sovereignty is negotiable. If the Argentinians should take the opposite view, as they do, then billions of pounds must be spent on the economy and the defence of the Falklands.
Reference has been made in the debate to the updated Shackleton Report. This report pointed out the dangers to the islands' economy of the constant drift of its people. The Prime Minister's pulse must have raced at the suggestion that the Government should interfere in the land market to encourage owner-occupier farmers. The Falklands Islands Company owns over 40 per cent. of the land. One absentee landlord is offering 100 acre plots at £1,500 each. At this price land which was bought for £300,000 would be sold for almost £2 million. There is great disquiet on the islands over these developments and the Government should declare their position on land reform. I have said before in this Chamber that I do not believe that the Falklands episode enables us to re-draw the map of military learning. But there are serious implications for the economy and for defence planning if we attempt to achieve that which is financially insupportable.
Finally—and I have deliberately kept my remarks brief—I would repeat the concern of my noble friend Lord Bishopston regarding the matters referred to in paragraph 124 of the White Paper. The 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards lost 32 men in the "Sir Galahad" and the incident has not been sufficiently dealt with in the White Paper or elsewhere. Mr. James Callaghan asked about the incident during the debate in another place on 21st December. Mr. Pattie, in his reply to Mr. Callaghan, quite properly said that he would need to check the point. Would the noble Lord in his wind-up speech say whether he has any further information on this episode?
My noble friend Lord Shinwell has said that some speeches have been tedious, some long and some romantic. I hope that at least I please him with brevity, for we shall soon be debating the Franks Report, when I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Shinwell will enliven our Chamber, as he always does on these matters on which he has such great experience.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, it is right that so many of your Lordships should have spoken today for, as the first words of the White Paper declare, the Falklands campaign was, in many respects, unique. It was a crisis which found the British people resolved to 1262 stand up for a principle. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, made this clear early on in his speech this afternoon. I should like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation of Lord Stewart's wise and perceptive views, which very often were not uncritical but which he expressed consistently during the difficult and dangerous months of last summer.
Our resolve was proved by the courage and the skill of the men of the task force. It was also proved by those who supported them. After all, this combined operation, fought 8,000 miles from home, was launched with remarkable speed and was sustained by firms up and down the country which worked, often round the clock, to get the equipment despatched. This was the contribution of countless people, and it was a tribute also to the strength and flexibility of the procurement procedures and to the men and women in the Ministry of Defence who are responsible for those procurement procedures. In truth, there was a widespread national response to the crisis. In your Lordships' House we recall particularly that my noble friend Lord Trenchard was the Minister responsible for defence procurement.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooks, does not need to apologise for making a reasonably brief speech, for the noble Lord put his finger on some important and difficult points. I should like to assure him and all your Lordships that it is the Government's firm intention to pay heed to the unique lessons of the campaign so that in future our armed forces may benefit from this experience. The campaign proved that most of our equipment performed very well despite the severity of the South Atlantic weather and the difficulties of conducting a campaign so far from home. Some gaps in our capability were identified, and indeed have been identified this afternoon by many of your Lordships with long experience of defence matters, but in general the campaign confirmed the need for improvements that had already been planned.
My right honourable friend the former Secretary of State for Defence made it clear last summer that we should replace all equipment lost in the conflict, and additional monies have been made available to the defence budget to cover these replacements. A detailed list is in the White Paper, and tonight I should only like to remind your Lordships of the orders which have already been placed with British shipbuilders for four type 22 frigates, including one which had been planned previously, and the orders placed with the British Aerospace industry to replace the Sea Harrier and Harrier aircraft and helicopters of various types lost in the conflict. An order for a further type 22 frigate, bringing the number of replacement ships ordered to four, and the numbers being built to five, will be placed as soon as possible this year. Three of the replacement frigates will be built to a new "batch III" design, incorporating many new features, including a 4.5 inch gun. Work is also proceeding on a replacement for "Sir Galahad."
In addition, we are now placing orders for additional equipment as a result of our experiences, both to provide extra equipment for the garrison and to augment our general capability, which will provide British industry with a substantial amount of new work. I do not think that I can possibly tell your Lordships anything about the enormous importance 1263 of having placed orders whenever possible as a matter of policy with British industry whenever it seemed right to do so. These additional orders include the purchase of 24 additional Rapier units, seven more Sea Harriers, six Sea King 5 helicopters, and at least 12 refurbished Phantom F4Js and five Chinook helicopters from the United States.
The noble Lords, Lord Stewart, Lord Mayhew, Lord Hankey, and Lord Mottistone, and maybe others—forgive me if I have missed the others—drew attention to the absolute necessity of having better airborne early warning for the Royal Navy. The Government agree that the campaign highlighted the importance of this. Interim measures have already been taken to increase our capability, and it is planned that both operational carriers will have Sea King helicopters fitted with the Searchwater radar. Of course land-based airborne early warning will be improved greatly within the NATO operations area when the Shackleton AEW aircraft is replaced by Nimrods in the Eastern Atlantic from 1984. So far as air cover is concerned, we have ordered more Sea Harriers and will now enhance our interceptor and tanker capability, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said in her opening speech.
So far as air defence is concerned, one of the matters to which my noble friend Lord Cathcart referred, we have already purchased a number of new BMARC 20 mm and 30 mm guns which are being fitted to Her Majesty's ships. Also the Vulcan Phalanx close-in weapon system, which is American, has been fitted to HMS "Invincible" and HMS "Illustrious" and a wider fit of point defence systems for assault ships, HMS "Bristol" and the type 42 destroyers is planned. The Sea Wolf and Sea Dart missile systems have been referred to today. They worked enormously well. However, planned improvements for Sea Wolf will proceed, and we are also studying enhancements to Sea Dart.
Also in the air defence field, but so far as the land battle was concerned, both the Rapier and Blowpipe missile systems were vital. My noble friend Lord Cathcart spoke of them. To maintain that effectiveness in the more demanding operational environment expected in Europe major improvement programmes are under way. I am not sure whether it quite answers one of the points my noble friend made about the length of time to set up Rapier, but I am advised that a track version of Rapier is going to enter service next year.
The operation reinforced plans, as your Lordships may have noted, to acquire more night vision aids for the infantry and to fit thermal imaging night sights to many of our armoured vehicles and to anti-tank guided weapons. A new mine detector, effective against minimum metallic mines, is being developed. This is a matter which is perhaps very much in our minds in view of the tragic news in the newspapers within the last two days yet again.
Experience in the Falklands will be used to improve combat clothing. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Cathcart will be particularly pleased to learn that a new combat high boot is already being issued, and troops now serving in the Falklands were among the first to receive these boots. Paragraph 223 of the White 1264 Paper sets out the greatly enhanced capability of the maritime patrol Nimrod. All these aircraft will be modified for air-to-air refuelling, and we are studying the possibility of a similar modification for the Nimrod airborn early warning aircraft. Then, as your Lordships have probably known before I did, the Hercules aircraft have been rapidly converted for air-to-air refuelling, and are being enormously useful in that respect.
One other point on this general area. Although the Vulcan raids on the Port Stanley airfield were the longest range bombing missions in the history of air warfare, it was clear that a specialised airfield attack weapon was necessary. Such a weapon, the JP 233, was already in development, and I am pleased to be able to remind your Lordships that we were able, in December, to place an order for the production of this system.
Following the conflict, the services are considering the wider application of certain equipment, particularly missiles, and the purchase of increased quantities. I will not identify them particularly now, and in the short time available on equipment, I have been unable to do full justice to the performance of all our weapon systems and the lessons from the campaign. But improvisation, innovation and improvement to existing equipment characterised much of the operations, and again I pay tribute to the training, professionalism and dedication of all the servicemen and civilians involved, which ensured our success in the campaign.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone spoke of the importance of deterrence; and other noble Lords spoke in the same vein. I think it is worth repeating the point made by my noble friend the Leader of the House at the beginning, that the nature of the equipment purchases arising out of the Falklands conflict—and I repeat that I have mentioned only some—coupled with the strengthening of the United Kingdom's forces, means that the alliance's defences have been substantially enhanced.
Talking of deterrence, the noble Lord, Lord Bishop-ston, said in essence that we must not sacrifice the conventional to the nuclear role, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooks, joined with his noble friend in calling for a renunciation of the development of Trident. I must say on behalf of the Government that we are convinced that Trident is an essential element in our armoury if the ultimate security of the nation is to be assured. The D5 system, as it is called, is expected to cost about £.7½ billion compared, for instance, with the Tornado at about £11.3 million. Over a 15-year period Trident is likely to take a smaller proportion of the defence budget than was the case with Tornado, and a substantially smaller proportion of the equipment budget. Broadly, we expect Trident to cost, on average, about 3 per cent. of the defence budget during its entry into service. It was important that my noble friend Lord Trenchard said that in almost every department the Soviet Union has increased its weapon preponderance. We are sure that pound for pound there is no better way of contributing as significantly to deterrence than by developing the Trident.
I was particularly glad, in this general area of deterrence, that my noble friends Lord Selkirk and 1265 Lady Vickers spoke of the dangers of unilateral disarmament. We can remain resolute while being determined to reduce the amount of arms held. But for the safety of us all, we really cannot put our national security in jeopardy with unilateral gestures; we must negotiate for lower levels of armament on each side.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, in an intervention, and the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, raised the question of the cost of the Falklands campaign and the continuing costs of maintaining the garrison. Total costs in the current financial year are expected to be in the range £700 million to £800 million. Replacing lost equipment and replenishing stocks will cost another £900 million over the next three years, with smaller sums thereafter. As for the costs of the Falklands garrison, an additional £424 million has been allocated for 1983–84, and increases for future years will be announced in the public expenditure White Paper which will be published shortly. All these costs were allowed for within the fiscal and other projections contained in the Autumn Statement of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, asked whether the decision to attack the Argentine positions at Goose Green was taken by a committee in London and against the advice of military commanders on the ground. There is absolutely no truth in that suggestion. There was no attempt, as my noble friend Lady Young said, to direct the battle from 8,000 miles away. General Moore decided to attack the Argentine positions at Goose Green in order to remove the considerable threat which that garrison and the airfield there posed to the flank of the British advance on Port Stanley. In the words of the White Paper, securing the flank of the battle was significant for two reasons. First, it gave us a chance to assess the fighting qualities of the enemy; and, secondly and more importantly, in doing it No. 2 Para established a psychological ascendancy over the Argentines which our forces never lost.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, spoke of the importance of surface ships, and I am sure he will not mind my referring to his speech in his absence as he said he would be absent for the end of the debate. The Government agree, of course, with the noble and gallant Lord's views, given from his great experience, although I would make the point that it was a submarine capability which effectively bottled up the Argentine fleet. The figures—perhaps they bear repeating—are, as in the White Paper, that we intend to retain about 55 front line destroyers and frigates at 1st April 1983 to 1984, with no ships in the standby squadron. In the longer term, as the former Secretary of State made clear in another place, we are aiming for a force level of about 50 destroyers and frigates, and I would say in reply to my noble friend Lord Murton of Lindisfarne that the division between front line ships and ships in the standby squadron will be decided later in the light of available resources. I can therefore say to my noble friend that the mind of the Government is not closed on the matter, and that it will be necessary to look at the issue on its merits as time goes on. I understood the noble and gallant Lord to suggest that these figures could be lower because of his assessment, as I understood it, of the residual life of existing ships. All I can say to that in his absence is that his assessment does not agree with the advice I have, and the 1266 figures for the future are as I have given them. In his typically hard-hitting speech, the noble and gallant Lord suggested that my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State failed to understand the true nature of the Soviet threat by concentrating on the European theatre. With respect, nothing could be further from the truth. As Cmnd. 8288, The Way Forward, said in 1981:Changes in many areas of the world, together with growing Soviet military reach and readiness to exploit it directly or indirectly, makes it increasingly necessary for NATO Members to look to Western security concerns over a wider field than before and not to assume that these concerns can be limited by the soundness of the Treaty area. Britain's own needs, outlook and interests give her a special role and a special duty in efforts of this kind".That remains the case.
One of the very valuable aspects of today's debate has been the most interesting speeches which have been made by noble Lords about public relations. As my noble friend Lady Young told the House, three separate studies are being undertaken into this whole area, and I shall certainly ask my right honourable friend's department if they will draw the attention of each of those three studies to the speeches which have been made on this subject. The value of it is that if one looks at the debate in another place on 21st December one sees that almost none of the speeches there examined this enormously important area; and I repeat, therefore, that this has been an important debate for the Government in view of the speeches made on the subject by your Lordships.
Specifically, my noble friend Lady Airey of Abingdon referred to the desirability of establishing an élite of journalists to participate as war correspondents in any future conflict. The Ministry of Defence is actively discussing with editors the best means of improving the training and experience of journalists to cope with the strains and stresses of military operations, including participation in field exercises; but, of course, ultimately the selection of journalists for such a role must be a matter for the press rather than for the Government. Several noble Lords have acknowledged the very important role of our merchant shipping industry in providing ships from trade in support of our fleet during the campaign and thereafter. We readily appreciate the importance of merchant vessels, and I ask your Lordships who have spoken with considerable feeling on this subject, and not least my noble friend Lord Murton, to accept an assurance that the question of the future availability of such ships is genuinely under active consideration.
I then come to the point which was put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, and by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, about the sinking of the "General Belgrano". Lord Hatch asked whether the sinking was a political decision. I do not think that to answer that I can do better then repeat the Answer to a Parliamentary Question, on 30th November, by my honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Blaker, which was given in these words:The 'General Belgrano' was attacked under the terms of our warning on 23 April that any approach by Argentine warships or aircraft which threatened our forces would encounter the appropriate response. There were indications on 2 May that the carrier '25 De Mayo' and her escorts would approach the task force from the north, while the 'General Belgrano' and her escorts were attempting to complete a pincer movement from the south. Concerned that 1267 HMS 'Conqueror' might lose the 'General Belgrano' as she ran over the shallow water of the Burdwood Bank, the task force commander sought and obtained a change in the rules of engagement to allow an attack outside the 200-mile exclusion zone but within the general principle set out in our warning on 23 April. Throughout 2 May, the cruiser and her escorts had made many changes of course. At the moment she was torpedoed, about 8 pm London time, 'General Belgrano' was on a course of 280 deg".I would add that I can refute the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, that the "Belgrano" was sunk deliberately to put an end to possible negotiations on the Peruvian proposals; and, in the context of those proposals, I would say that we never received any indication that Argentina was prepared to withdraw her armed forces from the islands.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, the noble Lord has, I understand, quoted from an Answer in another place given by a Minister of State, in which it is asserted that the commander "sought and obtained"—I think those were the words—approval for action outside the exclusion zone. "Sought and obtained" from whom?
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, it is not said from whom he sought and obtained a change in the rules, but the noble Lord can take it that it was sought and obtained from London.
If the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, and the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, would forgive me, I think that in view of the constraints of time it would be better if I did not go into the question that they raised about the Shackleton Report on the islands; because I think I have a great deal which would be new following on from the Statement made by my noble friend the Leader of the House on 8th December to your Lordships' House and the Statement also made in the House of Commons. I wonder if I might write to both noble Lords on those points and come finally to just a couple of political points.
It is important to make it absolutely clear that our current defensive presence in the Falkland Islands is not to be taken as reflecting any wish to establish a permanent military base in the South Atlantic. The fact of the matter is that so long as Argentina refuses to declare a definitive end to hostilities and refuses to renounce the use of force in pursuit of her sovereignty claim, Britain will be obliged to maintain an adequate defence force on the islands. Meanwhile, your Lordships will be aware of the Government's commitment to press ahead with the economic development of the islands starting with the implementation of the economic programme announced on 8th December. This will be accompanied and, where necessary, preceded by a continuing reconstruction and rehabilitation programme to ensure the existence of the sound infrastructure which any economic development requires. A good start has been made on this vital work, thanks in large part to the magnificent job done by the armed services. I am delighted to be able to echo the many tributes which have been paid to them for what they have achieved in this field.
I do not think that this is the time or the occasion on which to speculate about future political developments. The islanders themselves will have their own views, but at present they still need time to recover from the physical and psychological after 1268 effects of the Argentine invasion. We remain fully committed to consulting them in due course and to respecting their own wishes about their political future. May I end by apologising for not having answered some important points which I know have been put, but perhaps on this occasion that is enough from me. I will undertake to write to noble Lords to whom I have not been able to reply, and I would on this occasion genuinely like to thank the House for a very important debate which will be taken very serious note of by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
§ Lord Bishopston
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I think the House appreciates the positive effort the Minister has made to satisfy some of our questions. The point I want to underline is that made by the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal on this and other occasions when she and others have implied that, unless there is some certainty about the future—and that is not an easy matter—we shall not get the investment and support which is absolutely essential to improve the economy and viability of the Falklands. This is very important. I appreciate the difficulties the Government have on this, but, in the long term, and indeed in the short term, this is one of the most essential aspects of the future of the islands.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I absolutely understand the noble Lord's point. I think that I ought to write a rather fuller letter to the noble Lord, as I have promised. If I may, I should like to make two points. First of all, the fact that the Government have now committed money—and, indeed, have started to pay out money in considerable quantities—to the Falkland Islands shows that the Government are genuine and serious in supporting an improvement in the economic conditions of the islands, based of course on Lord Shackleton's enormously valuable and speedy report. Secondly, we have naturally been in touch with the Falklands Islands Company so far as investment is concerned. We have also had discussions with various companies interested either in investment or in the prospects of obtaining contracts. News of the establishment of a bank branch and a brewery represent the first fruits of those consultations.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.