§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement On the Defence Estimates 1984 (Cmnd. 9227).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I rose to speak on the occasion of last year's debate on the Defence Estimates I could not then pretend to have had much experience in the subject of defence. The intervening time, while not sufficient to enable me to amass as much knowledge in this matter as many of your Lordships, has underlined to me the vital importance of our defence policy and the measures we take to maintain our peace and security.
§ Once again we can hear some voices proclaiming that the NATO Alliance is in crisis. These voices talk of allies drifting apart and a strategy which is no longer sufficiently credible to ensure deterrence; but none offers any realistic alternatives. The Governments of the alliance welcome a debate on defence policy—the British Government are actively trying to promote and enhance this debate—but we must all beware of the self-fulfilling prophecy and make sure that we look to the facts.
§ This Government firmly believe in the strength and endurance of the NATO Alliance. The very existence of a debate about NATO policy is evidence of the fundamental strength of the alliance. NATO is a free association of sovereign states, and it is therefore 1257 enhanced and strengthened by democratic debates. NATO is a defensive alliance, determined to preserve the way of life of its members through collective security. It has succeeded in this role for 35 years—one of the longest periods of peace in recent European history.
§ The Government believe that NATO's fundamental strategy of flexible response and forward defence remains credible and sound. It is the only effective way of deterring the use, or threatened use, of Warsaw Pact military power. The alliance is working to maintain the credibility of that strategy at all levels, for NATO must have the ability to deter aggression at whatever level it might occur. Ways are being sought to apply the West's technological superiority to enhance our defence capabilities, and new tactical concepts are being devised to exploit their potential to the full. But none of this alters or replaces the defensive nature of the alliance: we seek strong and credible deterrence and a robust defensive capability. But we threaten no-one.
The Statement on the Defence Estimates, which is before your Lordships, reaffirms the Government's commitment to NATO and our continuing conviction that the alliance must have first call on our defence resources. The main challenge to NATO and to the United Kingdom's interests continues to come from the Warsaw Pact, and we believe that the collective security we enjoy as members of NATO is the only realistic way of providing for our defence. As the White Paper makes clear, we remain committed to playing our full part in ensuring the continued effectiveness of the alliance. At the same time we remain determined to pursue genuine progress on arms control and we shall seek a better understanding with the Soviet Union. As the declaration following the recent summit in London said:
Our aim is security and the lowest possible level of forces. We wish to see early and positive results in the various arms control negotiations and the speedy resumption of those now suspended.
§ The range of the United Kingdom's contribution to the alliance is impressive and is matched only by the United States'. We provide independent strategic and theatre nuclear forces committed to NATO; we conduct the direct defence of the United Kingdom; we make a major land and air contribution to the European mainland; and we deploy a substantial maritime capability in the eastern Atlantic and Channel.
§ Our armed forces, both regular and Ulster Defence Regiment, continue to provide support to the civil power in Northern Ireland—a difficult and sensitive task to which they respond with courage and restraint. We owe an enormous debt to them all.
§ The Government have repeatedly emphasised the high priority that we give to defence. We have demonstrated this visibly by providing for substantial real growth in the defence budget in each year since 1979. The 1984–85 budget amounts to some £ 17,000 million. We spend more in absolute terms and per capita on defence than any other ally except the United States. The defence budget provides for 3 per cent. growth in real terms to continue to 1985–86, by which time it will he nearly 20 per cent. higher than in 1978–9, excluding Falklands additions. This is a substantial achievement against background 1258 constraints on public expenditure, and it is a record which I believe speaks for itself.
§ But your Lordships will be aware that the resources which can be devoted to defence are finite. Adding to the money available is only one way to increase output. Another, and equally important task, is to secure maximum value from the money we spend. I shall not dwell on the organisational aspects of this issue, since we debated that matter yesterday. But let me state clearly the Government's policy on the cost effective management of defence, which is dealt with comprehensively in the White Paper. We are seeking the greatest possible output of front-line fighting capability, from the resources of money, manpower, and equipment put into defence. Chapter Two of the White Paper describes the management and organisational initiatives which are in hand in the Ministry of Defence to overhaul the machinery for developing and co-ordinating defence policy.
§ Continuing progress is being made in switching resources from the support "tail" into the "teeth" of actual fighting capability. The evidence is already appearing. For example, up to eight ships which would otherwise have been placed on stand-by from 1986 onwards will now remain in the operational fleet, utilising manpower released by improved efficiency in shore support. The result will be to enhance the number of escort ships available at short notice to NATO, or for national commitments, by up to 20 per cent., by drawing upon the existing manpower provision. In the Army, some 4,000 men will be redeployed to the frontline and facilitate the entry into service of a wide range of highly effective new equipment which will have very significant effects on the Army's capability in this area.
§ For the Army we shall form later in the decade an extra armoured regiment, the 12th, in First British Corps; a new air defence regiment, equipped with a new missile system; and the first of our regiments equipped with the new mutliple-launched rocket system. We shall also be able to make more effective use of the Army's helicopters; to increase our capability in the field of electronic warfare; and to introduce new equipment to help speed our increased war stocks to the battlefield. The Royal Air Force aims to release skilled manpower from training and support units for service on operational stations, so that RAF man-power will hold steady despite an increase of 15 per cent. in the number of frontline aircraft over the decade.
§ Evidence of the Government's success in directing resources towards the "teeth" of the armed forces is shown by the fact that expenditure on equipment now accounts for 46 per cent.—almost half—of the defence budget. Following the pattern of recent years, the 1984 White Paper lists a number of major projects which we have brought to the development stage in the past year. These include, among others, the advanced medium range naval surveillance radar, which I know has been of particular interest to my noble friend Lord Mottistone.
§ Your Lordships will be aware that the Government are determined to achieve greater competition in defence procurement whenever it is sensible and practical to do so. The Government seek to achieve 1259 the twin objectives of getting better value for money in defence procurement, and of stimulating British companies to greater efficiency, enterprise and technological achievement.
§ Achieving the first objective will enable us to put more effective equipment into the hands of our service men and will facilitate our plans to put more of our service assets into the frontline. Achieving the second will benefit British companies in both the domestic and overseas markets, strengthening our defence industrial base and contributing to the improvement of our economy.
§ We are aware that there are, inevitably, some limits on the extent to which competition can be introduced, but we shall he proceeding on a case-by-case basis in order to avoid possible pitfalls and to ensure that competitive pressures are applied in the most appropriate way. We shall seek to widen the field of suppliers involved at the early stages of new projects and make careful judgments on the timing and nature of our commitment to production with any particular firm, but in the context of what makes sound procurement sense. In addition to promoting competition for main contracts, we have made it clear to our contractors that we expect them to utilise competition in their sub-contracts, and we are encouraging small firms, in particular, to involve themselves in the competitive process.
§ Our competition policy will, of course, take time to work through, and it is too early to generalise about its results. But an analysis of recent contracts showed an average saving of over 30 per cent. following the introduction of competition.
§ We are sure that increased use of competition more generally will lead to lower costs, tighter timetables, and sound products. Competition will therefore have a major part to play in achieving that vital shift of our defence programme towards additional front-line capability.
§ Competition will also be rigorously pursued in the areas of support, supply and maintenance services. Warship refitting, aircraft servicing, equipment repair, freight movements. and "accommodation stores" are all examples of recent cases where competition has been achieved or is currently being pursued. Generally, we are seeking to apply the principle that work should be carried out within our own defence support organisation only where it is essential for clearly proven operational reasons, or where there is financial advantage for the taxpayer.
§ My Lords, the ultimate aim of our drive towards cost effectiveness and value for money must of course be improved force capabilities. That is the acid test. Chapter Four of the White Paper which is before your Lordships outlines the enhancements in capability achieved over the last year, or currently planned for our armed forces. These are many and varied, and I can only hope to highlight some of the major aspects of these programmes today, while commending Chapter Four to your Lordships for closer study.
§ The effectiveness of our strategic nuclear force will be maintained. New motors and the Chevaline programme will carry the Polaris system into the 1990s, when its replacement, the Trident II strategic 1260 weapon system, enters service. The size of the Trident force will be the minimum necessary to provide a credible and effective deterrent well into the next century. Its basic cost—around £8.7 billion—has not changed other than for inflation and exchange rate variations, and over half of this sum will be spent in Britain. The Government are convinced that no equivalent expenditure on conventional defences could possibly prove of equal deterrent value.
§ The White Paper reaffirms that the defence of the United Kingdom itself is of paramount importance to the NATO Alliance, as well as to citizens of this country. The Government continue to give this task increased attention, with highest priority going to air defence. The replacement and modernisation of Royal Air Force air defence assets is under way. Nimrod airborne early warning aircraft, which will be the United Kingdom's contribution to the NATO airborne early warning force. is due to enter service with the Royal Air Force later this year, followed next year by the Tornado F2 (air defence variant) aircraft. The Phantom F4J (UK) aircraft purchased from the United States will arrive shortly to compensate for deployments to the Falklands; and a programme to equip Hawk trainer aircraft with Sidewinder missiles continues. New ground radars will enter service shortly, followed by other sensors and communications. Additional Rapier units have been acquired and the first elements of a United States Air Force Rapier wing, operated by the RAF Regiment, have formed.
§ On land we are strengthening our forces available for home defence. The reserves are particularly important in this respect, and I shall return to them later. At sea, six new hunt-class mine counter measure vessels have entered service and four new river-class fleet minesweepers should be in service by the end of the year. More of these vessels are on order and a new class of minehunter is planned to enter service later in the decade.
§ My Lords, the defence of the United Kingdom is not just a matter of protecting our island shores. That is why we must maintain a substantial presence on land and in the air on NATO's central front in Europe, and continue our contribution to the northern flank. The reorganisation of First British Corps is complete. There are now three regular armoured divisions in theatre, with a fourth division with a BAOR role stationed in the United Kingdom in peace. On mobilization, the size of the Army in Germany would increase to some 150,000 soldiers and the White Paper announces our intention to test our ability to carry out this reinforcement in Exercise Lionheart in September this year, and I hope that some of your Lordships will be able to witness part of this important exercise.
§ At sea we shall continue to make a substantial contribution towards preventing disruption of NATO's vital Alantic and Channel reinforcement and resupply routes. The United Kingdom provides 70 per cent. of the forces involved in the eastern Atlantic and Channel and the Government are committed to maintaining this substantial maritime contribution. Our task at sea is a varied and demanding one, for which we need a wide range of flexible modern equipment from nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines to the third anti-submarine warfare 1261 carrier, HMS "Ark Royal", which will enter service next year, enabling us to continue to keep two carriers operational. In all, there will he about 55 front-line escort ships in service this year, and our long-term aim continues to be to sustain a force level of about 50.
§ There are 37 warships currently on order for the Royal Navy. However, it is not simply enough to build vessels; they must be properly armed and protected to operate in a modern hostile environment. Indeed, for example, 63 per cent. of the cost of a Type 22 frigate goes towards its operation and fighting capabilities—and the Government will continue to place great emphasis on the hitting and staying power of our maritime forces. Our effort at sea is a substantial one, and those who continue to carp about "cuts in the Navy" are refusing to face the facts. The facts are that in 1983–84 we expect to have spent about £750 million more in constant prices on the conventional Navy than was spent in the year before we first came into office.
§ I shall now return to the reserves. Your Lordships will he well aware of this Government's firm commitment to our volunteer reserve forces, which have a vital role to play in our defence efforts. We shall continue to maintain their effectiveness, to improve their equipment and to increase their strength; and, indeed, as I mentioned earlier this afternoon at Question Time, we are presently examining the role and size of the Royal Naval Reserve in relation to the tasks they undertake. We have ordered new ships for the Royal Naval Reserve, and we plan to increase the Royal Marines Reserve by about 400 men. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force, too, is in the process of a major expansion, with airfield defence squadrons now formed at six locations. As your Lordships are aware, the Territorial Army is to be expanded to a strength of 86,000 by the end of the decade. The first phase of this expansion programme, announced in March 1982, contains a number of measures, including the formation of additional infantry companies and six Royal Engineer airfield damage repair squadrons. This programme is well under way, and to date has been most successful. Our plan for the second phase of enhancements, of which I informed your Lordships on 26th March, will lead to a considerable increase in operational capability. Indeed, this was a subject very much of interest to my late noble friend Lord Glasgow, whom I am sure would have wished to say something on this matter had he been with us today.
§ In addition, we shall build up the Home Service Force to a strength of about 5,000 during the next few years. The Home Service Force recruits only from trained ex-service men and uses their expertise for less onerous guarding duties, thus releasing regular and Territorial Army soldiers for other important tasks. It provides a valuable and credible complement to our other defence forces. We are therefore keen to see the expansion get under way as soon as possible, and work is now proceeding apace to ensure that the new platoons are formed in the right place and with the right equipment. Your Lordships may also be interested to hear that I am considering the possibility of forming reserve units on the Home Service Force model in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Royal Marine Reserve. This, I am sure, will he of particular 1262 interest to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton.
§ The success of our volunteer reserves lies in the qualities and commitment of the men and women who give up their spare time to serve their country. We are very sensitive to the burdens placed on such reservists, who must reconcile the demands of family, work and the armed services. We have therefore taken various initiatives to help. We have, for example, launched a major national campaign to encourage employers to support the reserve forces. As part of this campaign, I have written personally to the chairmen of more than 600 major companies (not a few of whom sit in your Lordships' House) asking them to consider sympathetically applications from TA soldiers they employ to attend annual training periods. I can tell your Lordships that I have been greatly encouraged by the number of favourable replies and the messages of support which I have received. In addition, I am pleased to announce that we have now abandoned the old system of occupational screening for the volunteer reserve, so that volunteer service is now open to many employees who were previously barred.
§ We have also taken action to alleviate the difficulties faced by those members of the volunteer reserves who have the misfortune to be unemployed. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has announced proposals for improving the earnings disregard and the assessment of supplementary benefits for those in the reserve forces.
§ We must not forget our regular reserves, who also have a vital role to play. The Army regular reservists represent about a third of the Army's mobilised strength, and refresher training for them will begin next year, when we expect about 4,200 officers and soldiers to take part. In the longer term, the number will increase to about 7,500 a year.
§ I have concentrated so far on our contribution to the NATO Alliance. It is only right that I should do so, since NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence policy and some 95 per cent. of our defence budget is devoted directly or indirectly to alliance tasks. But even though NATO is a defensive alliance, whose essential purpose is to maintain peace and freedom for its members, we cannot afford to close our eyes to events and possible threats to our interests in the rest of the world. The United Kingdom of course retains certain obligations for the defence of our remaining Dependent Territories, and we continue to maintain garrisons in places like Hong Kong and the Falkland Islands, which account for the bulk of our defence expenditure outside NATO. But in addition to these direct responsibilities we must also recognise that events beyond the NATO area can have major implications for Western security interests. The Government believe it is right that we should be prepared to accept our share of the responsibility not only to protect our own interests but to help our friends outside NATO develop their own defensive capabilities.
§ The priority we accord to NATO clearly limits the resources we can make available for what are often called our "out of area" responsibilities. But there is much we can do at relatively little cost. For example, we train more than 3,000 personnel from overseas 1263 countries each year, and at the moment we have well over 700 of our own personnel on loan to the governments of about 30 friendly countries to help them develop the capabilities of their own forces. The White Paper also rightly draws particular attention to the contribution we make to peace-keeping forces. Sometimes such forces are a conspicuous success, as in Cyprus, where I visited a couple of weeks ago and where the United Nations force—to which we make the largest contribution—has played a very important role in reducing tension between the two communities. I should also like to pay tribute to our soldiers who form part of an unsung but successful international force—the Sinai Multinational Force and Observers, which I have also visited recently. On other occasions, sadly, attempts to keep the warring factions apart and promote reconciliation ultimately fail, as in the Lebanon. But such failures do not mean that we should not continue to play our part in trying to prevent an increasing spiral of violence, especially in those parts of the world where continuing instability could have dangerous implications for East-West relations.
§ Finally, we must continue to maintain an effective capability to intervene militarily where our own interests are directly threatened. Again, the resources available mean that we cannot dedicate substantial forces to such tasks, and a far as possible they would be drawn from those units whose primary role is within NATO. But we can do much to ensure that these forces are trained and equipped in a way which gives them the flexibility to operate outside the NATO area without detriment to their principal alliance roles. I commend to your Lordships the section at the end of Chapter Four of the White Paper which describes some of the ways in which we are enhancing the versatility and flexibility of our forces, to enable them not only to undertake their main tasks within Europe more effectively but also to increase their capability to deploy rapidly over much greater distances. The use of force must always be regarded as very much a last resort, but it is vital for our own security interests and those of the West as a whole that we have an adequate capability available should it be needed.
§ Many of your Lordships, learned and experienced in defence matters. will wish to speak today, and I commend to your Lordships the White Paper, which deals with all aspects of defence in great detail. I am proud of our men in arms and their civilian colleagues, and recognise the debt of gratitude owed to them by the country at large. We in the Government are pledged to ensuring that they will continue, as they always have, to enjoy our total support. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1984 (Cmnd. 9227).—(Lord Trefgarne.)
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
My Lords, we are very grateful to the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for introducing this debate on the Defence Estimates and for doing so in his usual clear and definite way. It is a measure of the importance attached to this matter that we have not only our own 1264 Defence Minister in this House taking part but also the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I cannot resist pointing out that once again your Lordships' House is taking a lead over another place—perhaps "stealing a march" would be more apt in this particular context—because this is the first debate in Parliament on these Estimates. That is after all not inappropriate in view of the galaxy of talent, experience and expertise in service matters that exists in this House, and we are privileged that we shall hear from some of those Members today.
Although there are differences on defence policy between parties and indeed within all parties and between individuals. I hope we can agree on one thing. That is, that the defence of the Realm is of paramount importance, as is the protection of the freedoms we hold dear and our way of life. We must be capable of defending ourselves and we need strong defence forces to do so—and here I pay tribute at once to the high quality and courage of our service men and women, and I join the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in doing so.
I want also at the outset to re-emphasise our commitment to the NATO Alliance in this its 35th anniversary year—a great power for peace in the world. We would like to offer our best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in taking over this month as Secretary General.
An essential part of our policy remains, of course, our relationship with the United States. We have had our differences and we have had to warn against becoming subservient to the United States. We are a partnership, and that relationship remains the cornerstone of our policy, based as it is in part, in my party, on foundations established by Attlee and Bevin and followed and developed by later leaders. I say all this because I believe it is essential to reaffirm what one might call some of these articles of faith. So often I feel that we are in danger of being so immersed in the details of policies that we lose sight of our fundamental guiding principles and our basic objectives.
That brings me to a fundamental shortcoming in this Statement on the Estimates. While it dwells upon plans to reorganise the Ministry—and I shall say something more on those later—it fails to reveal that there has been any parallel reappraisal of overall policy: and this at a time when the Government have been embarking upon the most massive and costliest ever exercise in re-equipment—the creation of our second generation strategic nuclear force. As a leading article in the Guardian put it on the 15th May this year, after referring to the reorganisation review—What is equall necessary—and long overdue—is a more reflective statement of how Britain wishes to influence the thinking of the NATO alliance, mesh the British services into a possible European defence community, or advance strategic planning so that reliance on nuclear overkill gives way to a more credible …. posture for Britain".And a somewhat similar criticism was in a Times leader the same day and, as the Guardian said, there is no discussion of such vital matters as the first use or no first use nor of no early first use of nuclear weapons partly because thisbrings into question the topic that Mr. Heseltine is not at all anxious to discuss: the destabilising and costly Trident programme".1265 Then the question is asked: Do we need a second generation nuclear force? Whatever view is taken of nuclear deterrence and the British nuclear deterrent—and I have never been in any doubt myself about the need for an effective Western deterrent pending all-round agreement on disarmament—it is relevant to ask whether the Government have ever asked themselves the question: does Britain need a second generation nuclear force and is this the most cost-effective contribution we can make to Western defence?
What the Defence White Paper says about the British deterrent, and the replacement of Polaris by the Trident II D5 system, is:The independent British strategic force is, and will continue to be, of the minimum size necessary to provide a credible and effective deterrent. We have no intention of increasing the capability of the force beyond that minimum".But, as has been pointed out elsewhere, that statement is self-contradictory, for if the force is the minimum now with Polaris it will clearly be many times more than the minimum when it is expanded so greatly with Trident. Our four Polaris submarines, with a total of 126 warheads, will he replaced by the mid-1990s by the four Trident submarines with up to an estimated 960 warheads.
Of course, the White Paper does say that current plans for the Trident force will not involve using the full capability of the system. But that is an extraordinary statement in itself, for having said that we will keep things to a minimum, why build far in excess of our needs—even with. as one estimate has put it, 384 warheads with Trident? That would still be three times greater than for Polaris. And we should bear in mind, too, that the Trident warheads will be far more effective than Polaris, with greater accuracy and range. and with separate targeting. As the Observer said on the 20th of last month:While opinions may differ on the value of an independent deterrent, Western purposes are unlikely to be served by Britain acquiring a deterrent larger and more expensive than it needs at the expense of its conventional forces. The Government should think again about Trident before it is too late".And it is not only in newspapers that these complaints have been made. They have been made by newspapers of a great variety of complexions—not only the ones I have mentioned but the Sunday Times, the Standard, the Mail on Sunday and the Listener. All those have voiced doubts, and also leading independent figures have voiced their concern. I will come to those in a moment.
But, first of all, cost, which has been mentioned by the Minister today. We see that the Estimates now put the total at just over £8.7 billion. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and others including Dr. David Owen and Mr. Keith Speed (the Government's former Navy Minister) have said, the total should already he some £400 million higher than in the Estimates, for the figure there is based on an exchange rate of some 1.5 dollars to the pound, whereas it has already gone to around 1.38; so the Government are already under-estimating on that account alone. Other authorities put the total very much higher. We understand from the White Paper that 55 per cent. of the spending is to go in the United Kingdom, whereas 1266 at first it was estimated to have been some 70 per cent., I understand.
If we look at overall defence spending, that is now in 1984–85, as the Minister has said, £ 17.033 billion and by 1985–86 it will be nearly 20 per cent. up on 1978–1979. My Lords, are we getting 20 per cent. more value out of it? The Secretary of State's aim is value for money—a most laudable aim—but has he put the whole policy to that test? Has he looked at Trident in relation to the rest of our defence programme in that way?
It is clear from the White Paper that defence spending in real terms will stop growing, and might decline, at just the time when the real costs of Trident bite into the budget. In the years of highest costs it will be taking 15–20 per cent. of total capital spending on defence. There is very real concern about the effect that will have on other parts of the defence programme. And there is precious little guidance, I am afraid, in the White Paper. Is this going to mean more cuts elsewhere in due course in defence? And, by the way, the White Paper does not explain the effects of the decision announced last year to abandon from next year the NATO target of a 3 per cent. real increase each year in the defence budget, which was referred to just now by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.
One fear of many experts is that by spending so much on Trident our conventional forces will be weakened just when there is growing support for deterring possible Soviet aggression by getting a better balance of conventional forces in Europe. We are entitled to ask what assessment the Government have made of this and what their answer is. Indeed. it is our duty to do so.
That brings me to some of the views expressed about Trident. There was the call by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, in a careful and devastating analysis very early on in 1982 (which he has since reinforced) that Britain should reject Trident. There were the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont—again, very early on—when he said that the Government conclude their argument with the ringing declaration thatthe provision of the new Trident force should not prevent or emasculate continued improvement in other areas of our contribution to NATO".And the noble Lord said:This is almost certainly what it will do".There have been the criticisms, particularly on costs, of a leading academic, David Greenwood, the director of the Centre for Defence Studies at Aberdeen University. Then there is a great authority, also outside this House, who also does not support my party—indeed he is a warm supporter, I understand, of the party opposite—Professor Michael Howard. In his book The Causes of Wars, published last year, he says of Trident:I have expressed elsewhere my regret that the British Government should have decided to spend five million pounds—he will he even more regretful now—out of our very restricted defence budget on a strategic nuclear strike force, which can only be at the expense of the conventional forces we can contribute to the Alliance".Earlier he emphasises what we could do if.we did not divert funds into procuring the most expensive available 'independent deterrent'"—1267 your Lordships will see that he puts those two words "independent deterrent" in quotation marks—the strategic rationale for which remains to me utterly obscure. From this you will see why I consider Trident to he a waste of money".Incidentally, he also says that he is sceptical about cruise and Pershing, and says that they will remain under United States control.
Then this very month the Government's former Royal Navy Minister, Mr. Keith Speed, said:I have regretfully come to the conclusion—that neither the United Kingdom nor the Royal Navy can afford Trident".There is I think some hope to be gleaned from this. Up to eight more frigates and destroyers are now to be in the active fleet, as the Minister has indicated, so Mr. Speed has already been vindicated and proved right once. What all this shows, at the very least, is that there are grave and genuine doubts about the British Trident programme, and among people who have been convinced all along of the need for the present British deterrent. The least the Government should do is to have a real look at this and to make a fresh assessment.
If it had not been for yesterday's debate. I would have spent less time on Trident, important though it is, and much more on the Secretary of State's reorganisation proposals. But we cannot completely ignore those today, for they are part of the overall defence scene and should not be looked at in isolation. Let me say at once that we have no objection in principle to reorganisation; and my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton dealt with these matters comprehensively last night. In fact, the Secretary of State is to be commended for keeping it under close scrutiny.
But how wise he was to float his ideas before deciding, for there have been trenchant criticisms from many very experienced quarters. I hope he will be wise enough to weigh those carefully before deciding, and I think the Minister has indicated that he will. The Secretary of State has said:Nothing must be done which would weaken the separate identities and traditions of the three fighting services. They play a vital part in the morale of our front line units".[Official Report, Commons. 12/3/84; col. 22.]Morale is precisely one of the things which critics, with all their service experience, fear will suffer.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, has said that the proposals would,relegate the individual service chiefs to the task of routine management".There has been criticism, too, as we know from the former Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach, from Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Michael Beetham, from the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, with his recent experience as a Defence Minister and from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton; and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, while favouring reorganisation, has serious misgivings, too.
I was particularly struck by some of the strictures of the noble and gallant Lord who initiated yesterday's debate, Lord Cameron of Balhousie. In a letter in The Times of 17th May he said of the proposed lines of advice to the Secretary of State, 1268A weak Chief of the Defence Staff and a strong Secretary of State could be a lethal combination".I agree, but so could a strong Chief of the Defence Staff and a strong Secretary of State, for the strong Chief of the Defence Staff might have suppressed or overriden crucial advice of one of the single chiefs. That highlights an overriding fear about these proposals which has not been spelled out sufficiently so far and we are still not reassured, even as a result of yesterday. The Secretary of State said that he was:seeking to replace the present situation whereby much of the advice depends on three individual single service staffs, which, by their very nature, can be competitive in their approach". [Official Report, Commons. 12/3/84: col. 25.]But the final arbiter needs to he the Secretary of State, so the advice needs to reach him direct before it is regurgitated or just swallowed by the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Permanent Under-Secretary. Otherwise, the Secretary of State might never see or benefit from the advice of the individual service chiefs in the formative stages of policy making.
I come now equally briefly to the plans for changes in procurement and defence contracts and the privatisation proposals. Again there can be no complaint about examining these to see what improvements and savings might he made. But serious questions arise. What are going to be the manpower implications, what will be the effect on jobs and, in throwing open contracts to greater competition, how will the Government see that there will always be enough firms with sufficient facilities, resources and skilled staff—and those are the crucial factors—to carry out defence work? After all, there will be no guarantee with this competition of continuity in contracts, and firms which have geared themselves up for defence work will not necessarily be able to count on continuing that work, so they might go out of business and not be there when they are next needed. Have the Government thought about that? And what about the security aspects of opening up sensitive defence work more widely? We ask these questions not in any destructive sense, but because there are real problems and we want to see that the Government find the answers.
Among the most mystifying for me of these proposals are the plans to alter—the awful word "rationalize" has been used—medical, catering, musical, educational (I am not sure about the chaplaincy) and other services. What exactly is planned here and how will the Government ensure that, for example, adequate dental and medical services will be available, especially to front line units? I confess I am also apprehensive about meddling with the musical set-up in the services. When it comes to ceremonial, I must confess that I am an absolute pus-hover. It is absolutely wonderful and it brings tremendous pleasure to people. The individual service bands are a tremendous boost to morale and loyalty to units, and many people will want to be reassured that their favourite bands are not going to be—I almost fell into the trap of saying "disbanded" or, worse still, "abandoned".
There are several questions on international matters which I wish to raise with the Government. First, there is the proposal to reactivate the Western European Union. This was raised for the first time in Parliament. 1269 since the new proposals have been put forward, last night in your Lordships' debate by my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton. It is opportune to raise this, too, because of the Western European Union Foreign Ministers meeting on Tuesday last. Would the Government tell us about their thinking on that? If President Mitterrand intends France to be more outward-looking on defence in putting forward his part of these proposals, that could indeed be worth encouraging. That leads on to the need for closer European co-operation on procurement. It will be helpful to hear more about the Government's views on that when the noble Viscount comes to wind-up, if he were able to say something on those points.
That, in turn, leads me to ask about the search for international agreement on the wider and more major problems facing us all. What are the prospects now? There has been a passing reference to these, but that is all. I make no complaint about that, because this is a lengthy matter. What are the prospects now, as the Government see them, for the resumption that we all hope to see of the Geneva talks on intermediate-range nuclear forces? And what progress do the Government anticipate in the Vienna negotiations on mutual and balanced force reductions? What prospects are there for agreement on chemical weapons? Here, I would commend the Government on their initiatives this year. As we know, this country stopped producing chemical weapons in 1959. We all hope that the 1925 protocol banning the use of chemical weapons can be followed now by a ban on production and stockpiling—possession, storage—and on export as well.
Perhaps I could add here that we should have liked to hear more from the Government on the need to do all we can to seek a solution to the Iran-lraq war and other problems in the Middle East, as well as on our role in South-East Asia. I was pleased to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, had to say about our role in other parts of the world, for we are all perhaps in danger of seeming to be too preoccupied with Europe and the Atlantic area.
There is one other specific matter which I should like to raise, and that is the dual key and the control of United States missiles in Britain. There have been exchanges in the House on this matter—as recently as 7th June my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney raised it at Question Time—but there is still a good deal of uncertainty about it. People are still left with the impression that the United States still thinks it has the sole, final word.
The Government say that the present arrangements stem from a formula worked out in the early 1950s and since reaffirmed by each new President and Prime Minister. What was the status of that understanding? Clearly it could not have been a formal agreement. But what was it that was agreed? I do not complain that it was not spelt out in detail on 7th June, because there are difficulties surrounding the confinement of Question Time. But the nature of weapons has changed since the original formula was devised. Most recently it was the deployment of Pershing and cruise missiles which caused renewed concern. As we have seen, people in this country are not alone in showing concern. We saw what happened last night in the 1270 Netherlands. We believe that the Government owe it to this House to make a clear statement about this matter in a debate on defence.
The present Government have been in power now for five years; they are likely to be in power for another three to four years, and we are still some way from a new Labour manifesto. It is right that in the meantime we should look critically at Government policy. We are entitled to do that. Indeed, it is our duty to do that. We have voiced our concern about aspects of defence costs. We know that there are considerable doubts in people's minds about cruise and Pershing missiles. On nuclear policy, my own view is that I would await the natural phasing out of Polaris. On overall defence policy, I would emphasise again the need for effective and efficient defence forces.
This is a debate on the Defence White Paper, and I have dwelt on some major aspects of policy that are dealt with in it. But it would be wrong of me if I did not conclude by stressing our deep commitment to disarmament. All-round disarmament is something we all want. We must all do all that we can to achieve that end—but from a position of efficient and effective strength, not weakness.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, may I echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham. in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for his lucid summary of the Statement an the Defence Estimates. May I also say how glad I believe the whole House will be that the Leader of the House has taken upon himself the tiresome job of winding up a long debate covering such an enormous front.
The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, has greatly shortened this debate by his speech because he has greatly shortened my speech. Most of what the noble Lord had to say about Trident—I found it a formidable statement—would be entirely supported by my noble friends on these Benches. I would add only one more count to the indictment: that the Trident system will be intrinsically an embarrassment to this country if ever real strategic nuclear disarmament begins to take place between the United States and the Soviet Union. I put the point as succinctly as I could in yesterday's debate and will not repeat it now. The force is not only expensive, and possibly vulnerable, but also intrinsically undisarmable, which could be a disaster in future years.
But after that bouquet I have to remind the House that the defence policy expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, does not wholly reflect the official defence policy of the Labour Party. It is, in fact, years since the Labour Front Bench in this House has reflected official Labour policy either on defence and disarmament or on the European Community. All the other parties in this House can be very glad that that is so, hut we must not forget that it is so when we consider the future politics of this country.
I would agree with the conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham. There should be a reexamination of Trident. I do not know when it will become too late. I do not know when the expenditure will have mounted so high that it will be impossible to stop it. I doubt whether that has yet happened. I 1271 hope—against hope, of course—that there will even now be an examination of it. It is not necessary to choose yet a successor to the Polaris system. The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, would say it is not necessary to choose yet whether to have a successor. If there is to be a successor, there are rapid, new and interesting developments in the United States in the design and engineering of small, single warhead, long-range nuclear missiles. Midgetman is the name of the general family. It would be perfectly possible to put Midgetman into submarines—smaller missiles in more submarines—which would get rid of many of the disadvantages of the Trident force. It would be perfectly possible to have sea-launched cruise missiles. And there is a wealth of other alternatives.
Let me seize once more on this running battle of the dual key. Last week—the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, referred to the occasion—a Question was asked in this House, and in a supplementary question I quoted a statement made by the chief of staff of the United States army, then General Meyer, in February 1983 to the United States Senate in the course of appropriation hearings. It went as follows—I shall repeat it now, because I hope that this may be a convenient moment for the Government to say something about it, which they were unable to do last week; I shall leave out certain words which are irrelevant to the argument and which do not affect the sense:The operational concept for …. the ground-launched cruise missile …. calls for a portion of these forces to be able to launch quickly at the direction of the theatre commander".In this context the theatre commander, as we all know, is SACEUR. I should like to call the Government's attention as forcefully as I can to the precise words. The operational concept is not the philosophical concept, or the political concept, or the diplomatic concept. It is the operational concept: presumably, that is, what is intended really to happen. The operational concept calls for a portion of these forces to be available for immediate launch at the orders of the theatre commander. This assumes that there is another portion which is not available for immediate launch at the orders of SACEUR.
What is the difference? On whose orders can that other portion he launched? Might it he on the orders of the President of the United States alone, or on the orders of the President of the United States in conjunction with the Prime Minister of this country, or on the orders of the Prime Minister of this country alone? The Government are bound to say what is the difference between the portion specified in that statement and the other portion that is not specified.
I would hazard a guess that the difference is, on the one hand, that the specified portion can he launched quickly, and that the unspecified portion, on the other, cannot be launched quickly. I would hazard a guess that the superior quickness that can be achieved by the specified portion can be achieved because the orders are given by the American commander in Europe—namely, SACEUR—and you do not have to go via Downing Street and the White House. So much seems likely. If I have got it wrong, then let us hear about it. If the noble Viscount the Leader of the House can inform us about that point at the end of the debate, 1272 I shall be grateful. Indeed, if the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, would like to say anything at this point I shall be very happy to give way now.
I turn to my main theme today, which could be called "the Maginot mentality", or "central frontism". Sometimes it is called "single scenario planning". Much of what is in the statement on the Estimates is, it is true, beginning to show an increased sense of defence needs at sea and on the flanks. The noble Lord gave absolute figures in terms of expenditure and in terms of numbers of ships. He did not produce any new language—and neither did the statement—about what it is that the Government hope to be able to do in the way of deterrence against possible attack in those two quarters. It seems to many of us outside the Government that too little thought has been given either to the bridge behind the Army on the central front—the sea bridge—or to the flanks on the land.
I should like to repeat a quotation from an interview given by SACEUR himself, General Rodgers, last December, which was used to some effect by my honourable friend Mr. John Cartwright in a recent debate in another place. Speaking about land defence, General Rodgers stated:What we are trying to do in Allied Command—Europe is to provide for a conventional capacity by 1990 that has a reasonable prospect of frustrating conventional attack by the other side. If we get to that position and are seen as being in that position, I think we will deter the Soviets from attacking—because if they attack and we are successful in frustrating them, they have two options. One is to withdraw and the other is to be the first to escalate to the use of nuclear weapons".That is extremely clearly expressed. It carries with it the assumption that the best deterrent possible would be one that threatened to prolong conventional resistance. If that is to look plausible, it means that the land forces must have the Atlantic bridge in place behind them, and that the ports for that sea bridge must be assured. If they do not have that, then conventional victory in Europe becomes a possible policy option for the Soviet Union. This is something we cannot allow ourselves to forget.
A sufficient level of expenditure on the Navy—and I shall not get into the question of what that level is—must be part of any strategy to de-nuclearise deterrence on land in Central Europe. It cannot be done except with a naval bridge. The United States Navy have grasped this very quickly; they have grasped it quicker than us. They are going for what they call "sustainability" in their new naval plans. What happens in this country? I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, when he complains that there is excessive moaning about the Navy in some quarters, but the mere existence of excessive moaning must not allow us to discount all doubts or complaints. We had from the noble Lord just now the welcome confirmation that the ships which were to be placed in reserve are to be kept operational; that carriers are not to be sold to Australia or scrapped; and that a new carrier is coming along. Against these welcome facts has to he set the others he gave: the long-term reduction in frigates and destroyers from 55 to 50. I wonder what justification there is for doing that.
Let me tell the House some odd little stories. The Government tell us that it is too expensive to reproduce and publish year by year maps showing 1273 where Soviet naval exercises have taken place off the shores of this country. That was done until the late 1970s quite regularly. I have questioned the Government often why it is no longer done, and I have asked that it should be done. The reply given is that the Government cannot afford to do so. But one must put that against the pages of Hansard devoted to detailing—and rightly detailing—every individual who is unemployed in Bermondsey by age, sex and former employment, right down to two or three individuals. Or one must put it against the pages of Hansard which are devoted year by year to the number of accidents suffered by children from fireworks on 5th November each year. It is wonderful that such detail is obtainable individual by individual, but why is it that similar information is not obtainable in respect of crucial aspects of the military nuclear threat? Perhaps we might hear more about that.
Moreover, in talking of the weapons balance the Government regularly leave out of account Soviet sea-launched nuclear missiles. They do not appear. For years the Soviet Union has possessed sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles capable of striking London or any other part of Britain. They have had submarine-launched missiles, too, of a shorter range. None of these appear in the Government's count. They have never been put forward by the Government in negotiations, either as strategic weapons or as tactical weapons. They are just forgotten. Why is that? Is it on account of laziness or complacency at large in this matter, too'?
We do not see—and the White Paper shows this quite clearly—any attempt at getting the general deterrent ladder at sea which we have on land. It has so long been a familiar doctrine that there must be no gaps in the deterrent ladder, that there must be an unbroken spectrum from the man with a rifle to strategic nuclear weapons—otherwise, the other side would exploit any gap by trading on our unwillingness to escalate two rungs to their one. But that is not the accepted wisdom at sea. We have already had one sharp lesson—which has not been learned, I believe, by successive Governments. That was the lesson of Iceland and the cod war. Iceland won that little war because we did not possess any ships small enough to deal with the Icelandic ships without sinking them. With their wooden-built ships, the Icelanders rammed our frigates. We did not open fire. We were not willing to sink them. So we sustained considerable damage—more than they did. We lost that little war. There was a gap there, and it is my increasing belief that there are other gaps in the ladder of naval deterrence.
Turning now to the question of the flanks themselves, on land, we know that we can treble our central front forces in a few days, and that is splendid. We know that there is a new agreement with West Germany that we will do so in the event of the crisis. We know that the German army is capable of putting one million men into the field on mobilisation. This is excellent; but should we not be thinking wider, too?
The precious 65 kilometres of "the defence of Britain" in the White Paper is not all. There is a contradiction here in the conventional wisdom. On the one hand, we all agree that the central front is the obvious place for the Soviet onslaught. It must be 1274 there—must it not?—so we put all our eggs in that basket and we keep them very shiny and beautiful. That reinforces our conviction that it must be there. Obviously it will be there, not only because they have so many men there, but also because we do, too.
On the other hand, it is equally entrenched conventional wisdom that the Soviet Union are great chess players and we can read—our military analysts do read—in all their strategic analyses express statements of their belief in the element of surprise in warfare. We are facing a country which trains its troops for, and publicly adheres to, surprise strategies. Yet 65 kilometres of central front is "the defence of our frontiers". I see the shade of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, standing on the Himalayas.
We now come to the political question of the moment; that is, the establishment, or reinforcement, of the European leg of the Alliance. The Statement on the Estimates rightly says that,we must identify the most appropriate frameworkfor this. Something of this kind has to be done on grounds of military procurement, on grounds of disarmament policy, and on grounds of out-of-area policy. I shall go no further than that. There is another good reason for doing so. The United States is always, in a certain sense and at one level, on at us to do it. It will be welcome to them: all the recent United States Governments have wanted us to do something such as that.
This week we have the meeting of the Western European Union Foreign Ministers and I understand that there is to be a joint meeting of the Foreign Ministers and Defence Ministers of that body in October. The choice of the Western European Union is a great convenience to France. It has been a French initiative that that should be where the leg is to be strenthened. They are a member of WEU, but not of NATO.
But before we adopt the Western European Union as the right place, let us pause and think for a moment. First—and this is, indeed, important—it does not contain any of the flank countries. It is all too easy to heave a sigh of relief when a difficult country such as Greece, or a lazy country such as Denmark, is out of the way and to say, "Now we can get on with it." But those are pecisely the countries which need coordinating in NATO, which need increased European co-ordination. Portugal and, above all, Spain need it. They are not in the Western European Union. Turkey, of course, is not in the Western European Union; nor conceivably could it be. There is a tendency here to avoid applying the ointment where it hurts. If we need more co-ordination, we need it above all with those with whom it is harder to co-ordinate.
So, the Western European Union has no flanks and no outlying countries. The European Economic Community has no Norway, no Spain, and no Portugal, as yet. There is no Turkey, and not likely to be. Ireland would hate it. In any case, defence is not in the Treaty of Rome.
That leaves us with only one alternative; that is, the Euro-Group which has been in existence for some years. It does not contain France, but the only reason it does not is in order to safeguard the historic shibboleth of not belonging to the organisation of the 1275 North Atlantic Treaty, a shibboleth which France adopted under de Gaulle 20 or 30 years ago. It would be a great irony if, in order to make it easy for France to come back into the fold, the rest of Europe agreed to the creation of a two-tier NATO—something which de Gaulle himself demanded and, when refused it, walked out. We have also much experience that a two-tier European Community is no good. It is now called a two-speed European Community, and within 24 hours Sir Geoffrey Howe rightly jumped to oppose the suggestion that that should be created at our expense now. We cannot leave out those flank and peripheral countries. Why should we? It is building up trouble for ourselves if we try to do so.
I wish to mention one last point, concerning privatisation. We are to debate this subject on Friday week on the Bill on the Royal Ordnance Factories. We have it hot and strong in the Statement on the Estimates. Will the Government talk to us about this? What about the loss of the pool of uniformed skills if the work is all done in private garages? What about the mobility of the repair and maintenance capacity? What about security, in both senses? What about the secret equipment which is to be maintained in privately-owned factories, and what about security against terrorist attempts to steal it? What about strikes in the private sector of industry? What about de-unionisation of the private sector of industry under potential pressure from the United States, as in the case of GCHQ?
The Government say that this will be done—and I quote,except in the case of clearly proven operational risks".For heaven's sake, what happens if an unclearly proven operational risk comes along? Is that to be kicked aside by some prissy civilian manager in the name of corporate policy or competition, or some other commercial slogan? I strongly hope that the Government will not go one step in this direction which is not fully welcomed in detail, by the services concerned and without everyone having been tested against operational likelihoods—not only certainties, but probabilities, too. There should be more debate about this, and I hope that the Government can give us a beginning in this debate.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, there are a great many of your Lordships who wish to speak in this debate today and there are a great many subjects one could talk about. There are many aspects of the Defence White Paper which are very commendable—for example, the improvements in the capability of the forces—and there are a number of aspects on which it could be criticised. I propose to limit my remarks to drawing attention to the conflict between the emphasis on competition in the final paragraphs of Chapter Two, which covers the management of defence, and those comments on international collaboration, in Chapter Three, which deal with equipment procurement.
In neither case is much said about whether the equipment to be provided as a result of all the high-flow verbiage in these chapters, including the reference to defence sales, is what is needed to outmatch that of 1276 our potential opponents—the Soviet armed forces—in the time-scale in which it will be produced. We shall certainly not be able to rely on sheer weight of numbers to compensate for any technical inferiority, as we did in Normandy 40 years ago.
Paragraph 235 states:Competition is vital for the achievement of the best value for money, the most efficient use of industrial resources and the stimulation of innovation and new ideas".The best answer to that, I suggest, is the existence of the firm British Aerospace, which looks like being absorbed by either Thorn EMI or GEC. Governments of both political colours had for many years tried to bring about a merger of the firms which eventually combined to form British Aerospace because those Governments could not offer sufficient orders for their products to justify separate design and development teams, production facilities, and all the paraphernalia of sales and management staffs. The logic which led to that merger has also led to international collaboration on projects with a high development content. That logic leads not to more competition, but to more of that collaboration which is referred to in Chapter Three.
For years the complaint has been made that NATO wastes a large proportion of the money which its members devote to defence, as a result of a lack of standardisation. The Americans voice that complaint the loudest—too loudly in my opinion. Nevertheless, there is solid justification for it. The facts which cause that lack of standardisation are two of those which are lauded in the Defence White Paper: the desire to provide work for one,s own defence industry, with a strong emphasis on defence sales; and the desire to shop around for the cheapest equipment on the market at the time one wants to replace one's old model.
Standardisation involves committing oneself, in common with others, to a specific design and sticking to it. If competition is to enter into it, it must be international competition either at the design stage, or when the equipment is offered as a fully developed item. Once the decision has been taken as to which design or equipment is to he accepted by all the nations concerned, they must then all abide by that decision, whatever the effect on their own defence industries. The latter may then compete, if it is appropriate for them to do so, for a share in the development or production. But if they all insist on too much of that, it will push the price up and prolong development and production time, which will push the price up further. This has happened both with the Tornado aircraft and with the arrangements for European production of the American F16.
The cheapest, and probably the most efficient, method of defence equipment procurement is to buy direct from the most efficient producer, of whatever nationality. However, I recognise that that is probably impossible to achieve in NATO for both political and military reasons of self-sufficiency, certainly if standardisation is also to be achieved. The second best method is that international competition to meet a NATO standardised operational requirement should lead to the designation of a prime contractor for development. International equity in work sharing could then be achieved by allocating production to 1277 other participants, each specialising in a specific task. That was recommended in a very interesting and important book called, NATO Arms Co-operation, by Keith Hartley, which is in the Library. That was the result of a NATO fellowship. International or inter-firm collaboration in development is usually a time and resource-wasting process. If this method that I have suggested is to work efficiently, nations should specialise in different fields of development, as the French have done in the larger missiles and as we have done for some time in tank guns.
If NATO were to adopt that true form of competition and collaboration, compatible with standardisation, it could disband its great host of committees, groups and staffs, who, as my noble and gallant friend will know, waste their time and the taxpayers' money in endless discussions, which never result in an actual item of defence equipment, superior to that of the potential enemy, in the hands of their armed forces in time. NATO would also actually obtain better value for money, and, what matters more, deploy a more effective conventional capability for it.
We have to face the fact that, with the dwindling size of our armed forces and the increasing cost of equipment needed to match that of our potential enemies, we cannot maintain a peacetime order hook which keeps in continuous development and production a defence industry to meet all our needs. Reliance on defence sales to non-NATO countries is not the answer. Their requirements are different, and the side effects have political, military and, indeed, moral disadvantages, as we have seen recently in the case of Argentina.
Successive Defence Secretaries of both political persuasions have been deluded by civil servants and others, or have deluded themselves, into thinking that the sort of gimmicks represented by the paragraphs in Chapter Two of the paper, and the high flown verbiage in Chapter Three, will somehow make it possible to get better value for the large sums of money spent on defence equipment; or that they will just get it cheaper, which is not necessarily the same as getting good value; and that they will be able to do that at the same time as achieving international standardisation and providing full employment for the British defence industry. They have refused to face the contradictions between their conflicting aims, and the present Defence Secretary is no exception. If he thinks that his gimmickry will make it possible for him to fund Trident without adversely affecting the conventional equipment programme, he is deceiving himself. A far more radical approach to the whole business of defence procurement within NATO is needed. Playing about with absurd arrangements such as that for the production of the new armoured personnel carrier, so proudly trumpeted in paragraph 327, will not help.
This radical approach will have to tackle the basic dilemma facing European defence industry. Does it wish to combine to compete against that of the United States, with the latter's vast resources of research and development that have been poured into it, or to collaborate with it, in the hope of sharing in the fruit of that R & D? At present European firms all do a hit of both, in what seems to me to be a half-hearted and confused way, neither making a real effort to combine 1278 their resources in Europe, nor showing enthusiasm for close and permanent collaboration with American firms, which they regard an rivals. Which is it to be? Could it not be both—a really strong combined European effort, collaborating with the major United States firms? If that is to be achieved, different European nations and their firms will have to special-ise and stop trying to compete with each other in everything. Ad hoc collaboration on specific projects, as occurs today, will not meet the bill.
All the initiatives taken within NATO in this field—and they have been countless—have run into the sand. They have come to grief (to mix my metaphor) on the rock of national interest—the political pull of national employment. We must ask ourselves where our real national interest lies. Does it lie with keeping in being uneconomic defence procurement facilities of our own, or in obtaining for our armed forces the most effective equipment, standardised within NATO, that money will provide? I do not suggest that all our defence procurement facilities are uneconomic, hut a proportion of them are, particularly those involving high development costs. I would not suggest that the answer to that question can be a simple black and white one. There are clear advantages in having defence design and production facilities of our own, for many reasons, including protection against the vagaries of fluctuations in the international value of our currency. It is those areas in which the development content is high, notably the aircraft and electronic fields, and in which the possibility of a continuous run of orders is low, that we should consider very carefully where the true national interest in defence procurement lies.
A further factor in favour of having defence production capacity of one's own is that Governments of all nationalities are more likely to spend money on defence if that money is going to be spent, and to provide jobs, in one's own country. The total sum to be spent on defence may, therefore, he higher, and the military capability thus produced greater, than if a high proportion of the country's defence budget were to be spent abroad. That factor compensates to a degree for the alleged waste in resources caused by the lack of standardisation and the higher prices that national retention of defence procurement facilities may produce. That is why earlier on I said that the Americans, who indulge in it as much, if not more, than anybody else, complain too loudly on this issue.
There is no doubt in my mind that this question of competition and collaboration in defence procurement is one of the major and most difficult issues to be faced. I hope—a rather slender hope—that the resuscitation of the Western European Union may help. France, Germany, Italy, and ourselves are the key countries. If we can bring Holland along as well, with its important electronics industry, all the better. If those countries can agree, it does not greatly matter if the other European members of NATO do not; and the necessity to reach agreement with all of them could make much too unwieldy an organisation.
I suggest, therefore, that if the Defence Secretary really wants to make a name for himself, as he appears to want to do, let him turn his attention to the need for a radical international approach to defence 1279 procurement on the lines that I have suggested, instead of monkeying about with the chiefs of staff.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I must apologise in advance for the fact that in order to keep a long-standing engagement I may miss some part of the debate if it prolongs itself. I should like to start by adding to the remarks of my noble friend the Minister in paying respect to my noble friend the late Lord Glasgow. My noble friend so often led for the Navy from these Benches with his usual charm and sincerity in our defence debates. He gave the House the benefit of his great knowledge and experience, especially on the importance of safeguarding the South African Cape route for shipping.
To touch briefly on that subject, I welcome the stronger approach in maintaining some semblance of an adequate destroyer and frigate force, described in particular in paragraph 436 of the Defence Statement. I also welcome continuance of the policy to have at least two carriers operational at all times, described in paragraph 437.
Of course we must contribute the right numbers and types of ships, submarines and aircraft to make the maritime capability of NATO wholly credible to the potentially irresponsible and excessively over-armed Soviets. However, as the Falklands campaign so recently reminded us, we still have important commitments outside NATO and we must—and I would repeat, must—also have the capability to deter threats to those commitments. These include safeguarding the way of life of the few remaining peoples who continue to depend upon us, and safeguarding the sea routes for the trade on which this country utterly depends. I was encouraged by the remarks that my noble friend the Minister made in this respect, and 1 trust that they are deeply sincere and truly represent the Government's thinking on these points.
I now turn to the very welcome new Chapter Five on "The Services and the Community". When my noble friend Lord Strathcona was the Minister in this House dealing with defence, I suggested to him in 1980, that a chapter such as this would be a useful addition to the Defence Review to show the public how much the services did for them in peacetime, thus emphasising the day-to-day practical value of our deterrent forces and encouraging the country to realise that the moneys spent on those forces were not wholly insurance. I am delighted that four years and several Ministers later the Ministry of Defence have at last responded to my suggestions. I hope that in future they will increase the amount they put in the equivalent chapter.
I have three comments to make on the chapter as it stands at the moment—and what is there is, I think, on the whole, excellent. First, salvage and oversight of rescue by HM ships could well be added, say, in this particular chapter, after paragraph 504. As I know from practical experience, salvage is an excellent additional training for a ship's company, as well as being a practical and often lifesaving benefit to a damaged ship. Her Majesty's ships, with their superior communications, can also contribute greatly to a 1280 rescue by standing by a ship in distress and co-ordinating rescue activities. There was an example of such action this very last weekend, about which your Lordships may have heard. In that connection, I would draw the attention of my noble friend the Minister to a Question for Written Answer on Tuesday, 8th July 1980, at column 1162, which referred to this particular subject.
Another point which I think perhaps deserves comment is paragraph 510 on the disposal of the defence estate. It is not particularly encouraging to see that we had 1,562 hectares disposed of last year and 3,000 awaiting disposal. That may seem quite a large amount but in terms of an estate it is not very much, and particularly in terms of the defence estate. I remember that when the late Lord Mountbatten took over as First Sea Lord some years ago he asked the Admiralty, as it then was, how many establishments there actually were that belonged to the Navy. This was back in the 1950s. They did not know. So he found an admiral who happened to be in between appointments at the time, and told him to go and find out. I forget the particular number, but it was something like 367 establishments over and above obvious places like dockyards, the Ministry of Defence itself and the Admiralty itself. It was a staggering number. The amount of land that was disclosed as belonging to the Admiralty alone was absolutely staggering—and we know that the other service ministries have even more.
So I think the numbers given in paragraph 510 are very small. My noble friend and. indeed, my noble friend the Leader, who is to reply, might comment on this. I should like to encourage the Ministry of Defence to try very much harder.
As to the amount awaiting disposal, my noble friend Lady Vickers has allowed me to quote from experience that she personally has had. It is all very well to have an acreage awaiting disposal, but one really needs to be disposing of it and getting on with it. If I can quote from a letter that was sent to my noble friend talking about a Methodist chapel not very far from where she lives, it says:This property has now been declared surplus by the Ministry of Defence but this office has not yet accepted the property for disposal as we have to negotiate a surrender of the 990-year lease from the trustees of the Methodist Chapel. When this lease has been surrendered the property will then be offered for sale in the open market, probably by tender".How long is that going to take? How many of the 990 years do we have to wait? I think there is a great reluctance on the part of, not just the military people (who may want to keep the land for very sound reasons; perhaps they feel they might have to do training which they have not yet introduced; that is one factor), but also probably the officials within these Ministries, who have a sort of squirrel-like habit of wanting to hold on to things. We all tend to suffer from this. I have an awful lot of things in my attic that I really want to throw out. However, I think the Defence Ministry could make a lot of effort in this area. I trust that my noble friend the Minister, Lord Trefgarne, perhaps aided by my noble friend the Leader of the House, will get them moving.
The third point I want to mention is a word about civil defence, which is not mentioned, as far as I can see, in this Defence Statement. It is not, strictly 1281 speaking, a defence commitment, but I would have thought that it does deserve mention in this Chapter Five. There is clearly a need for co-ordination, especially now that local authorities have a statutory duty to develop a civil defence capability more thoroughly than hitherto. I should like to take the opportunity, at this point, of thanking my noble friend the Leader, in his earlier capacity, for having helped those new regulations on their way in the last Parliament. I think they were greatly helpful, and I hope that something will come of it. I should have thought that there is a need for co-ordination in this area, and it is being a bit mealy-mouthed not even to mention it in Chapter Five. To my mind, civil defence is a very important part of our total deterrent effort, and I see it entirely as a deterrent effort.
In conclusion, once again we have a Defence Statement that is good on the threat but leaves an awful lot of gaps about how the threat is to be met. What is written down is all right as far as it goes, but I would have thought that there is a great deal more that one should like to know about how the Government are actually going to make their contribution for meeting the threat—not only the threat of our major potential enemy but also, as I mentioned earlier, the threat to all the commitments we have outside the NATO area. I trust that the Government will take special heed to what has been said in this debate and also what was said in the debate of yesterday.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Brockway
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, will excuse me if I do not follow him by commenting on his speech. I do not intend to deal with the details of the Defence Estimates. I heard with dismay the recitation of the increases in armaments which were announced by the Minister. I want to deal with a rather more fundamental issue, and it may surprise the opposite Bench if I do so in congratulation of the Government. I want to repeat and emphasise what my noble friend Lord Boston of Faversham said in his speech in appreciation of what the Government are doing in initiating the outlawing of chemical weapons. Mr. Richard Luce, the Minister of State, took the initiative at the conference in Geneva in his working paper. That has now been followed by a draft treaty which the United States of America has introduced.
The conference on disarmament at Geneva is resuming its sessions after the Easter recess. I hope very much that it will proceed with this hopeful development. There is hope that the Soviet Union will respond. Its delegate at the conference in Geneva has made a commitment to a treaty outlawing chemical weapons and has stressed Soviet willingness to agree to adequate means of verification. I recognise that verification is the difficult problem. Chemicals are required for our civilian industry, and to be able to decide whether those chemicals are for civilian purposes or for war purposes is not easy.
There is also the difficulty that each side fears that inspectors may be spies for the other side. I would ask the Government to consider whether they could not support at the United Nations a suggestion that there should he a United Nations inspection team drawn 1282 from non-aligned countries. That proposal would defeat the idea that inspection was being used only for spying. Mr. Richard Luce, in an article in The Times a few days ago urging the outlawing of chemical weapons, described them as "dreadful" and "odious". Those terms would be mild if they were describing a weapon not feared in the future but already in existence. I refer to nuclear weapons. I am distressed by the fact that while the Government are urging the outlawing of chemical weapons, they are so obstructive of proposals for outlawing nuclear weapons. They are not prepared to accept "no first use". They are not prepared to accept a freeze on nuclear weapons. They are even opposed to a proposal for the outlawing of nuclear weapons altogether.
Why is there this difference between the attitude to chemical weapons and to nuclear weapons? I do not like to be cynical, but one has to he a realist. I suggest that the difference in attitude may be that it is the Soviet Union that is stronger in chemical weapons and the West that is stronger in nuclear weapons. Mr. Richard Luce, in the article to which I have referred, spoke of the growing imbalance between East and West in chemical weapons. He wrote that,the Soviet Union has a massive chemical warfare capability comprising over 300,000 tonnes of lethal chemical warfare agents, and the means to deliver them".Is the readiness of the West to outlaw chemical weapons due to the fact that the Soviet Union, so far as chemical weapons are concerned, appears to have a much stronger force than the West has? I welcome the proposal for outlawing chemical weapons. I urge very strongly on the Government that they should reconsider their attitude towards nuclear weapons and use the treaty outlawing chemical weapons as a precedent for outlawing nuclear weapons as well.
Man cannot live with the nuclear weapon. The experts' committee to the United Nations says that one nuclear weapon has been created which is 4,000 times as deadly as the weapon that fell on Hiroshima. That means that in a crowded area, one weapon could kill 9 million people. The same report says that there are now enough warheads in the world to destroy the whole life of mankind many times over. I sometimes think, from a universal point of view, that the destruction of all life on earth would not be a disaster. There are many other earths with beings, perhaps superior to us, perhaps inferior. The fact that you have one planet as dead as the moon universally would not be a great tragedy. Oh, but we must not allow it! We must think of the young people growing up today whose lives may be obliterated. We must think of our children and of our children's children; in my case, of my children's children's children.
We must think of the amazing achievements of the human race in architecture, in arts, in literature. We must think of the beauty of our earth—and the thought that destruction is possible, indicated by the fact that governments are spending thousands of pounds on shelters in case it occurs—shelters which would be useless, as the British Medical Association have said. My appeal to the Government is that, just as they are proceeding to support a treaty outlawing chemical weapons, they will change their policy and decide to support, in addition, a treaty which would end nuclear weapons as well.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I thought that before he sat down the noble Lord was going to draw the conclusion about the massive build-up of chemical weapons by the Soviets. Surely the conclusion is that one should not disarm unilaterally in any field. In 1959 we disarmed unilaterally in chemical weapons. We destroyed ours; we sunk them at sea; we stopped, in the hope that this would set the example which we are always quoted, and that other people would follow suit. This has not been the case. The Soviets have doubled and redoubled their chemical warfare efforts, and this is a real threat to the alliance as they now stand. I was not altogether certain that a conference of non-aligned countries to inspect chemicals would be entirely neutral, since it was only recently that Cuba was the chairman of the non-aligned countries and a meeting in Cuba was considered a non-aligned meeting. That would hardly he a confidence-building committee, to he considered neutral by the free world.
I want to concentrate on the air defence of the United Kingdom region and, if I have time, in a quick postscript, to follow on what the noble and gallant Lord. Lord Carver, said about competitive tendering. Some seven years ago 1 concentrated the whole of my speech on the air defence of the United Kingdom. By the way, it is an enormous area; in extent it is 4 million square miles for which we have the responsibility. I then concentrated on the need to update the facilities in our radar stations and to modernise our air defence aircraft—our radar stations, our control methods, and the digital connecting network between them. I warned that all past experience I had in this field would show that it was likely to he the work services, the building of the bunkers, which might be the holding item. It is no secret that we are building bunkers for our radar stations up and down the country—the new and improved ones—and that we are building hunkers for the control at High Wycombe and at Stanmore, mainly, I understand, from looking at the visitors' book, with Irish personnel! I wonder whether these are being built with the maximum degree of urgency and priority. I shall come to that.
I think it is sad that although in this White Paper we are told that the air defence of this country is very shortly to be better, it is very much a case of jam tomorrow. For what have we got today? We have got Lightnings which are more than 30 years old; we have got Phantom F4s which are 25 years old. These are vital to the air defence of our country, and there are all too few of them; I believe there are some 70 in the front line.
Moreover, we decided not to buy the American airborne early warning aircraft. We decided to develop our own Nimrod force, and I hear that the date for operation is slipping. Every year it goes further back. At the moment we are actually using Shackletons—not Shackleton 3s, since they were not suitable, because they had a nose wheel which got in the way of the radar dome—but Shackleton 2s. These aircraft are 30 years old. The radar which goes into these Shackletons was developed for the Gannet and taken out of Gannet, which was operational in 1961. So at the moment we are relying on old aircraft, relatively old radar, and old airborne early warning. 1284 Hasten the day when we can bring the improved system into full operational capability.
The Times, reviewing this Defence Statement, said recently:The air defence of the United Kingdom is going to be very much better based than it has been at any time in peace time".It will be: but it is not today. The Tornado air defence version is due to come into operation, but it will not be operational until 1986. What about the work services? I am told that slow progress is being made.
On page 8 of the detailed statement (that is to say, Statement 2) I notice that the Ministry of Defence is spending £ 1 ¼ billion this year on work services. All this is being done by the Property Services Agency. We have in this House many people who have had a lot of experience of defence and I wonder whether it was not a retrograde step, in the days when big was beautiful, when we amalgamated all the work services from every Ministry and put them all into the Property Services Agency. They have a total staff of 25,000. That makes them a very big organisation by any standards. Their gross budget for 1984–85 is £2.000 million. If we are going to control this, make it efficient, get value for money, and get some sense of urgency, surely the Government should look at the advantages of the Ministry of Defence taking hack control, doing their own budgeting, and their own control, and setting their own priorities in order to put these matters right.
One of the "buzz" phrases nowadays is "responsibility budgeting". I am absolutely in favour of it, but I wonder whether, under this policy, station commanders now have responsibility for minor work services, for asking local firms to tender for repairs and other minor matters. If not, I suggest that it should be brought about immediately. A work service of £50,000 is not much these days, and why should not responsible station commanders, with very valuable assets under their control, look after their own minor work services? I would say that it would save time, it would save money, and certainly it would save a lot of frustration. A few years ago when I visited a station commander he told me that even to get some of the local paths re-done it all had to go back to the PSA. The staff on Ministry of Defence work at the PSA costs £236 million. One can get an awful lot of defence in more active areas for £236 million.
I am not always in accord with what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, says in this House, but I was very much in sympathy with his rather sceptical approach—perhaps it would be right to say, cynical approach—about the many chapters, the many paragraphs, about competitive tendering. From many years' experience in the electronics industry I can say that when people tender it is a very expensive operation; the cost of tendering is enormous. The cost of experience is also enormous because the person who knows all about it will tender accurately and will know what it costs, but the person who has never looked at it before, and who has only seen the drawings, the blue prints, and the like, will tend to quote much below. But when they go into production they find that it takes longer, costs escalate, and the forces do not receive punctual delivery.
1285 Moreover, if we are to have twin sources—and I very much wonder whether, for our own very small defence requirements, we could justify twin sources in many production areas—the cost of tooling can be very expensive indeed. Machine tools, and particularly the tooling of machine tools, can in cars cost hundreds of millions of pounds, and the more complicated the equipment, the more expensive it becomes.
I also read that there is to be tremendous encouragement for small firms, and I am delighted about that. However, I know of one active small firm, employing about a thousand people, called Weston Simfire which produces direct weapon fire simulators for main battle tanks so that the military do not have to use ammunition, but can use a simulator. It exports 85 per cent. of its products, which is a very high percentage. It recently won the Queen's Award as a result of this fantastically successful export. The MOD has now announced that competitive tendering is to be introduced for the product that this company sells. That has meant that 45 of its key skilled personnel have had to be made redundant.
While the tendering process is going on companies cannot keep highly skilled, professional people doing nothing. They cannot pay them for doing nothing, and so they lose them. Therefore, I wonder whether the implementation of this competitive policy should not be fairly flexible. If it is rigidly controlled, as is suggested here, a tremendous number of small businesses will go into bankruptcy and, above all else. we shall not be making the optimum use of one of our scarcest resources in this country, which is highly qualified engineers for both the hardware and, nowadays, the attendant software.
In passing let me say that I read that there are some 36,000 pages on the specification for the UKADGE programme. I repeat: 36,000 pages have been produced. I acknowledge that it is a very complicated programme, but a specification takes a great deal of costly preparation. Are we always to have these produced and then sent out to many firms? Do those firms have the necessary skilled personnel to examine these specifications in detail and put forward tenders?
It is a good idea, but I think that it must be administered with flexibility, because if we do not do that, we shall not get the best equipment punctually. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, has said, we must have a prime contractor and he must be the responsible person. He does the research, he does the development, he takes it to the production stage; and I hope that in most cases he would probably get the first production run. If we really go into competitive tendering without a prime contractor we shall be in trouble and our equipment, as compared with that of our enemies, will be even later and still more expensive.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, each year we hear of the increase of armaments by both the Warsaw Pact and NATO forces. Is that to go on to eternity, or will there come a time when the pressure will ease on both sides? The West is mercantile in outlook and wishes only to conduct its affairs in peace, and as it is unable 1286 to conceive that others do not want the same end, it is always looking for agreements on arms in the belief that the Soviets must want the same. But we fail to realise that agreement will never be reached, because the Russian aim and sense of duty is to spread the communist system to all corners of the world, and this was clearly reiterated in the Brezhnev doctrine of 1977. Therefore, there can be no lasting peace through negotiation, because what the Soviets want we cannot negotiate.
However, we have seen them spread communism in two ways: first, by war in Afghanistan, Vietnam, and elsewhere, and, secondly, by an attack on our will to resist, using the art of disinformation with telling results. They know that so long as the West remains strong, the most effective strategy is not armed conflict, but the weakening of us from within. Thus, they plan to obtain and keep military superiority and to exercise political blackmail as they can, and as their SS.20 programme, their overwhelming conventional arms, and their effort to stop cruise testify. They plan to attempt to separate the United States from Europe; to achieve political power through local communist parties, and on the backs of socialist parties; and to dominate and infiltrate trade unions and the Civil Service. Even Clement Attlee, when he was Prime Minister, recognised the danger of infiltration into his party. The Soviets try to interfere with the internal politics of Western countries. One good example was the campaign to discredit Franz Strauss. General Sejna, the Czech defector, testified that that was the work of the KGB.
The principal tool to destroy the West and to advance socialism is propaganda and this has been achieved by using, and through the freedom of, our own media. One set of evidence comes from the Czech Deputy Chief of Disinformation, Ladislav Bittman, who defected. He recruited political figures and journalists and fed them guidelines and themes to follow for their articles. Those articles were, in turn, used as the base of articles by perfectly innocent and well intentioned journalists. Thus, many journalists quoting from articles in archives do not realise that they are being manipulated by the KGB to help mould public opinion in the West.
The Soviets invest some three to four billion dollars a year in propaganda campaigns that are orchestrated by various Soviet organisations and fronts, and are known as "active measures". They view propaganda as indispensable to foreign policy and military strategy. They play on matters of genuine concern, such as peace, education of the young, and so on, and harness those genuine issues to promote Marxist Leninism. One obvious example of their success has been in the cancellation of the neutron bomb and their encouragement of CND and opposition to cruise. Janos Bercz, Chief of the Hungarian International Department of the Communist Party, wrote that the political campaign against the neutron bomb was one of the most significant and successful since World War II. We are having a war fought against us without our realising it, and we are losing many of the battles such as that as regards the neutron bomb.
It has long been accepted that the best form of defence is attack. Thus, we should go over to the attack on the propaganda front. In order to do so, we need 1287 nothing less than a department within the MOD headed by a politician. He must identify what propaganda attack is coming and identify, too, the media which are supporting it. He must be able to identify false and planted information and publish factual information for journalists to carry out their own investigations and draw their own conclusions. He must identify the financial backing of such journals that appear to be slavish to the Moscow line. He must consider what measures can he taken to ensure that readers are not deliberately misled, without restricting the freedom of the press.
But above all, the politician and the department must, in particular, consider how to carry information and truth into the Soviet Union itself in order to undermine the ability of their leaders forever to dupe their own citizens into supporting their huge, aggressive military forces. He must expose to the press of the world every lie upon which the Soviet system depends, and he must ensure that the Russian peoples themselves know that their leaders are ruling them with the constant lie.
I was impressed by the television programme of Russian soldiers in Afghanistan who were surprised to find that the natives there are just ordinary people like themselves and are not as they had been portrayed by their officers and leaders. We must remember that the ordinary Russian has the same emotions, fears and desires as we do, and most probably resents being ruled by men of such little honour. Their leaders must be publicly made aware that their lies have been rumbled. If we can sow truth and knowledge of the West in the Soviet Union, then we may be able to reduce their paranoid and induced fear of the West. In time the Soviet public must be made to understand our point of view and to demand a better standard of living for themselves at the expense of the expansionist aims of their communist leaders.
What a cost would be this department that I suggest, but how much more costly will be forever defending ourselves from gradual encroachment, with ever more expensive weapons, and worse, having to defend ourselves with bullets and missiles.
I believe that we already broadcast to the East, and I believe that the broadcasts are usually jammed. We must step up the broadcasting and overcome the jamming and spend—if necessary from our defence budget—to increase the flow of information.
We must also watch just what information is being sent considering the penetration by the East into our own media. But somehow we must spread information to the peoples of the USSR and actively and aggressively encourage them to question the expansionist policies of their leaders. We must treat the cost of doing so as a cost in lieu of war and devote technology to overcoming their jamming. In time even their leaders might be influenced and, lowering the threat, allow a reduction in the arms on both sides. In the long term this is the only way to bring this arms confrontation to a peaceable end.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Lord Hill-Norton
My Lords. I hope I may say, and I am sure that your Lordships will agree, a kind word 1288 to the noble Minister, Lord Trefgarne, for the speed with which he has got to grips with his difficult task, and the clarity with which he always deals not only with our debates but with our questions. Having said that, I should like to begin by repeating what I have said before on similar occasions about the practice of attempting to deal with the whole Statement on the Defence Estimates in one long debate. It most certainly does not best serve the interests of this subject, which is of overriding importance to all our other national affairs, nor is the manner in which the time is spent in any way commensurate with the extremely wide range of subjects which deserve—indeed, my Lords, demand—full discussion. I appeal once again to the usual channels to arrange this affair better in future.
There is in this Statement before us much that is to be welcomed, and not least that it is comprehensive and well laid out and clearly written. More important to me is that there is good news of various sorts of a general improvement in our defence capability both relative and absolute. I refer particularly to the remarkable achievement of raising the equipment share of the defence budget from 34 to 46 per cent. in nine years, while at the same time reducing the expenditure on people in about the same proportion. This now compares very favourably with all our allies.
I find even more impressive the plan to increase by nearly 15 per cent. the teeth arms of all three services within present manpower ceilings, although I must say that this will impose a considerable strain on their training and support organisations, which I hope will be able to cope. It is satisfactory to see, as the noble Lord the Minister reminded us, that by all criteria (with one special exception) we are now once again second only to the Americans among our allies in the resources we devote to defence. This will do much to enhance our status and weight in NATO. I have never understood those little Englanders who wonder why we should spend more than, for example, our commercial competitors. This seems to me to be totally irrelevant as a basis for any sensible defence policy.
Finally on that theme I am bound to welcome the major reversal of the idiotic and dangerous proposals to emasculate the Royal Navy which have been central to the White Papers of the past three years. Fifty destroyers and frigates in the front line are very much better than the 42, as the Supreme Allied Commander and our own Commander in Chief never tire, correctly, of reminding us. They are a good deal better than the 42 intended by the former Defence Secretary, especially when buttressed for the first time in the lifetime of this Government by a reasonable book of orders which have actually been placed. I hope in that context that the first order for the Type 23 frigate will be placed soon. otherwise there is going to he an awkward gap in the destroyer and frigate force in about 15 years' time. I shall return briefly in a moment to why I think that this number should, if anything, grow rather than further diminish.
I am sure that your Lordships share my pleasure at the tribute paid in the Statement to the armed forces, the UDR and the RUC, for their extraordinary bravery and resolution in Northern Ireland, and to the debt which we all owe them for it. Not enough is made 1289 of this frequently enough for comfort. I know of no other forces which could do it at all, much less do it so well. I also found the substantial analysis of the arms control problem clear, well reasoned, and convincing to anyone with an open mind.
May I turn from these important and welcome improvements to some entries on the debit side of the same ledger. 1 must draw attention to the fact that although the NATO-Soviet balance sheet has slightly improved, it will be seen from Annex A of the White Paper to be still alarmingly and in every respect tilted sharply in favour of our only potential major enemy. This is true of tanks, guns, anti-tank weapons, combat aircraft and of fighting soldiers, but it is particularly apparent and dangerous in their threat to us by mines and by chemical warfare. Our counter to the former—which was mentioned at Question Time today—is insignificant, and to the latter it is nonexistent. Both need sharp improvement.
NATO's modest successes in closing the gap in some other fields should not lead to any euphoria, for there is still a long way to go. The last thing it should do is to lead to any lowering of NATO's guard, for the threat may have changed in kind but it has certainly not changed in degree. Paradoxically the more stable the situation appears to be in Europe, the greater the threat to us all outside it.
Secondly, there are two important—and to me surprising—omissions from the Statement. I refer to the complete absence of any mention of merchant shipping, shipbuilding, ship repair, or the fishing fleet. This is despite the strong recommendation of the Select Committee on Defence in its 1979–80 Report, as a result of which Annex B on merchant shipping appeared in the 1981 Statement. It ought to be there now. It is also despite the fact, so amply and success-fully demonstrated in the Falklands' campaign two years ago, that in any maritime operations the Royal Navy absolutely has to be properly supported by a merchant fleet which is not only the right size but the right shape. Today ours is neither, and it is in a sharp and accelerating decline not only in ships but in the men who man them, the facilities to train them, and the yards to build them and repair them. I most strongly urge the Government to grip this urgent matter now, for at a moment when the merchant fleet has halved in the past seven years, it is already very late.
Of comparable, although quite different, importance and connected with that dangerous decline is the absence of adequate naval reserves. Some lip service is paid to the importance of the RNR at paragraph 445, but not only is the present total well below its current establishment but there is no mention of increasing these numbers as there is (quite rightly), and as the noble Lord, the Minister said today, for the territorial army and the Royal Auxilliary Air Force. We have paid insufficient attention, in my judgment, for years past to all our reserves, and the situation for the RNR, and hence for our fighting fleet, is now one of critical shortage.
Finally, I must refer to what I believe to be the major and most serious weakness of the Statement as a whole. This is the total absence of any attempt to deal with the really hard choices for defence policy. The 1290 Statement is, in short, no more than a catalogue—although it is quite a good one—of where we stand today and where we are expected to stand tomorrow and the next day. There is no conceptual thinking about how we are going to deal with the huge gap rising probably to £2 billion a year to which many expert commentators such as Professor Greenwood of Aberdeen have drawn attention, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Boston, drew attention earlier today. That gap is between what we are attempting to do and the resources which this Government are prepared to make available to do it. It is clear enough, at least to me, that something will have to give, and I have spoken more than once before in your Lordships' House about this exceptionally difficult problem.
What is quite certain is that MINIS, to which so much space and weight is given in the Statement, is quite irrelevant to the actual scale of this main problem, though it may well he a handy tool for recovering what, in this large context, can only be candle ends. I do not want to weary your Lordships by repeating what I have said before on this subject, but sooner rather than later these hard choices have got to be met head-on and dealt with. I can only hope that Government will get them right, although their last attempt was spectacularly unsuccessful. Really big savings have clearly got to be made before the burden becomes insupportable.
I notice in this context that, while the Statement correctly records that the Royal Navy does 70 per cent. of the whole allied job in the eastern Atlantic and Channel—and the noble Lord the Minister repeated this today—it does not go on to record that it does so for only 10 per cent. of the defence budget. But neither does it record the fact that, of the allied job done by the land/air forces in Germany, we do only 10 per cent., for a staggering 40 per cent. of our whole defence budget. These remarkably unbalanced figures look even more unreal when we examine the actual threat, and what has happened to it, for the land/air strength of the Soviets against Europe has not changed in the last 10 years while during the same period their maritime threat has increased tenfold.
Would it not be wiser to go on doing what we do best—what none of our European allies can do at all—and what our most powerful ally expects us to do, and so reinforce success? Why not take paragraph 125 of the White Paper to its logical conclusion and "show our determination", as it says,to contribute to Alliance collective deterrence as effectively as we arc able".by making the savings that will have to be made anywhere but at sea? If, indeed, as the White Paper expressly states on page 4,there is no substitute for the huge reinforcements planned to come from North Americathen surely this must he the right solution. The Defence Secretary, I am glad to note, went even further when he first used those words in the March issue of the NATO review, by adding:we remember how essential they proved on earlier occasions" —and so we do.
I would go further still by saying that, if war is to be deterred, those reinforcements, and resupply too, must be evidently able to cross the Atlantic safely both 1291 before hostilities as well as when opposed, if deterrence should unhappily fail. This is a vital part—indeed, it is the only credible basis—for the whole strategy of the allied land/air forces in Germany. And it follows from that, without, as the Minister put it, carping about cuts, that we simply dare not let a our maritime forces run down any further, and we simply must make every effort more nearly to meet the explicit requirements of the maritime commanders which are themselves annually endorsed by the whole alliance. When the Government are ready or are forced to face the hard choices I have mentioned, I do hope Ministers will bear these undeniable facts in mind.
§ 5.45 p.m.
My Lords, in speaking in this debate today I should like first to remember that today is the 14th June, which is the second anniversary of the British forces victory in the Falklands. I read in The Times the story of a splendid Welsh guardsman who was badly burned on the HMS "Sir Gallahad", anchored then off Bluff Cove. I think he had to have 24 operations. He stated:People who wanted to he British were being bullied by a dictator. We had to help them".He added:I hate nobody, and bear bitterness to no one".I think we are very lucky to have such men serving in Her Majest's forces—and long may it continue!
We heard last night about the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, but nothing about the magnificent service of the Royal Marines, and I was very glad that the noble Lord the Minister mentioned them today. I was lucky when I was a Member of Parliament to have a service constituency for nearly 20 years. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking all those who gave me such a splendid education, especially some of the people who we had in the top jobs and who were extremely kind in helping me to understand how I could be most helpful in these matters. They also took the opportunity physically to train me: by throwing me across a jackstay from one ship to another, by going down in submarines, and I visited all the service establishments overseas between Singapore and Belize, and I went to the Borneo war. So I have acquired, I hope, some understanding of what goes on in training and of the war elements that I had to see.
I should like today to concentrate purely on the dockyards. Nobody has mentioned them to date but I think they are very important. I regret we had to shut Chatham hut, on the other hand. I gather it is being made fairly good use of now. But I should like to know what is going to be the future of Rosyth, Portsmouth and Devonport.
Each month I receive a newsletter from Her Majesty's Naval Dockyard, Devonport. These are all headlines which I am going to mention. In 1983 it said, "We arc up to scratch—congratulations all round". Then came along the matter about the apprentices which I will mention in a minute. It said, "The top four"—and there were two girls and two 1292 boys who won top apprenticeships. Then there was, "MD leaked a report". In February of 1984 we get, "Cuts nonsense—Levene". The next one was. "Development starts with a hang". Following that we had, "No decision yet". Really, how can we play about with thousands of men and women working in these yards who really do not know what is going to happen to them next and what is going to be their future?
Dockyards have always been very good at training apprentices. They do not always take them all on because they do not need them, but they trained more than they needed because this meant that those concerned had been trained properly and could get good jobs outside the dockyard. This was also done, of course, by private firms: they very often trained more than they needed. We must not at the present time cut any more apprentice jobs.
I have a letter from Portsmouth Dockyard where they are worried. I went down there to present prizes to the apprentices and particularly the girl apprentices. The-letter says:Over the last two years we have found that the effect of the 1981 Defence Review has been to isolate us"—this is the dockyard—gradually from the other Royal Dockyards. We were therefore heartened by your determination that Portsmouth girl apprentices of the future should he eligible to compete for the Award".Modernisation of the Royal Navy, as we have heard many times, continues and there will be more construction of ships and their weapon systems than in the previous 20 years. We were told about the number of warships being ordered by the Royal Navy. I should like to know how many, and when will they be in service? Obviously it will take some years. We are now told also that Type 23 frigates will be ordered. Paragraph 239 of the White Paper states with regard to competition:At present the warship refitting load falls almost exclusively on the Royal Dockyards".When these are built will they be refitted later by private enterprise or go hack to the dockyards? Will the dockyards continue to have a vital role to play in the refit?
I gather also from the White Paper that the Ministry intends to offer two ships, probably a frigate and a conventional submarine, for refit by contract following competitive tender for the work. I should like to know whether the contracts have been signed and, if so, will the costs he any different from the work undertaken in the dockyards? Can the Minister tell us what will be the difference, if the contracts are signed, between work in the dockyards and similar work being undertaken in commercial yards?
No mention was made, until the last speaker, of the Merchant Navy, which played such an important part in the Falklands. I understand, as mentioned by the noble Lord a minute ago, that the numbers are reducing. I have the numbers with me. In 1975 there were 1.614 ships; in 1984 the figure is 736; for 1985 the estimated figure is 600 and for 1986 about 400 ships. There are 5,000 trained seafarers being lost each year, which is very undesirable, because on whom will we be able to draw in the future?
Looking hack over rather more than 20 years on the many White Papers we have had to read, I shall always 1293 remember particularly that so many of them stated:to establish and maintain a sound financial basis on which to develop and carry out defence policy and plans ahead".But all too often plans then were changed in the next White Paper. I think the changes in policy and plans have been very confusing.
I should like to mention, too, the Fishery Protection. I gather that there have been 2,000 boardings, but I should like to see some action taken in relation to the shipping off the Falklands within the 150-mile limit. Since May, 48 vessels from eight different nations have been fishing there and they are taking out far too much fish. This is worrying everybody in the Falklands area. I should like to see all these ships licensed, which would be very profitable for the Falkland islanders. We could then board such ships, as there are plenty of Royal Navy ships to help. What is done in Papua New Guinea, which I think is a good idea, is that a ship is boarded, all the workers are taken off and the ship confiscated until they promise to keep in order in future. It would help to conserve fish stocks if we could only license these many ships.
In the report to the Select Committee by an MoD witness it was stated that military stocks of equipment ran low during the Falklands war. It was stated that the Army, the Navy and the Air Force ran short of critical equipment during the six weeks of the Falklands campaign. Also evidence was given that it was admitted that fire control equipment ran short, but it was maintained that the British defence stocks and policy were "roughly right". I hope that in future it is "actually right" because in such circumstances it does not seem fair to state that things are "roughly right".
I should like to sympathise with my noble friend Lord Trenchard because I can see how very frustrated he must feel and have felt in Procurement because it is always changing. The system has changed to a certain extent but the principle has been continuing since the 1860s, so that is a frustrating situation to be in.
My noble friend Lord Ridley spoke yesterday about the Territorial Army. I should like to suggest that there should be more recruiting officers for the Navy both at Oxford and at Cambridge where the Army and the RAF also have recruiting officers. They should also go to the red brick universities.
Finally, I have a question on the Order Paper tomorrow concerning military hands, to which I understand that the noble Viscount would like to reply today as that is more convenient. I should like to mention that the Royal Marine Band was formed at Stonehouse, Plymouth, in 1755. It has given 217 years' continuous service and has served in peace and in war with great distinction. It received the Freedom of the City of Plymouth and I hope that this will be one of the bands to be retained, as it is the most historic band of all the Royal Marine bands. It is also a good recruiting agent and many people come into the Royal Marines because they like the band even though they will not play in it. It is a known fact that people like it and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, mentioned it. I agreed with him about this.
He also mentioned the medical side. I hope we keep the Royal Naval Hospital. It is essential to have it if we 1294 are to have the men trained properly to work on ships. I do not agree with everything that Lord Boston said, but I agreed with more things than I have ever agreed with him about before and I was grateful to him for mentioning those two points. I hope that we achieve something well worth while from this debate, and I am sure that with all the experts we have in this House some good must come of it.
§ 5.57 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to speak on one aspect only: that is, chemical warfare. This subject has already been touched on by several other noble Lords. Chemicals are covered by only one paragraph in the White Paper and one paragraph in its annex. A similar American Government publication entitled, Soviet Military Power 1984—which I stress is an American Government publication with a preface by Mr. Weinberger—only published last April gives the subject more space and more emphasis. I feel that chemical warfare is treated too lightly and does not receive the priority which it deserves. I suggest that it is essential that we provide our forces with an adequate deterrent against the use of chemicals by our potential enemies. This means having a limited chemical capacity ourselves.
We unilaterally destroyed our chemical weapons some 25 years ago and this should be a good lesson to those who now advocate unilateral nuclear disarmament. The Americans have not produced chemical weapons for 15 years, and their remaining stock is now of very doubtful value. The White Paper tells us that the Russians have a major capability in this field and that it includes over 300,000 tonnes of nerve agent. Like myself I do not suppose that many of your Lordships can visualise a single tonne of nerve agent let alone 300,000 tonnes of the stuff which was mentioned.
The White Paper tells us that the problem is being discussed at the Geneva Conference on Disarmament, but that there are the usual problems of inspection and verification. Surely we cannot rely solely on the possibility of a satisfactory outcome of these talks when we and our allies arc negotiating from such a very weak position. That would be too naive. All types of warfare are horrible but chemical warfare is particularly foul. Both sides—and this may be an over-simplification—used comparatively simple chemicals in the First World War until both sides decided that it was to the advantage of neither. In the Second World War, both sides had the capability but chemicals were not used. The deterrent had proved its value.
Today chemicals, and particularly nerve agents, are much more sophisticated. They vary from those having a temporary disabling effect to those where a minute droplet causes death. The ground can be contaminated with materials so that the chemical is released slowly over a number of days. These substances can be delivered by mortars, guns, missiles, bombs and aircraft sprayers. The Russians have facilities for all such methods of delivery. Our forces are said to he provided with the best protective clothing in the world, but it is rarely mentioned how inhibiting is this NBC equipment. To quote from the American publication: 1295We must recognise that the effectiveness of troops is significantly diminished if they are required to operate in a chemical-protective posture.".It may well he possible to exist in a hole in the ground wearing this clothing and wearing this mask, but any strenuous movement in such equipment is exhausting. Feeding and the calls of nature add enormously to the problem, as does the provision of devices to detect, warn and monitor enemy chemicals, not to speak of the problem of providing decontamination facilities.
One does not need to be a military genius to envisage the chaos which would arise from a chemical attack on our rear areas and airfields. Nor does one require to he a military genius to appreciate the danger from an enemy thrust if the flanks of that thrust are sealed off by chemicals against effective counterattack. From what I have seen, I am most impressed and proud of the efficiency and excellent morale of our forces and by most of their equipment. I accept that they could hold our sector of the NATO front for a period if attacked by an enemy using conventional weapons. However, if the enemy were to use conventional weapons plus chemicals I am less confident.
The awful thing is that if the enemy broke through, our only alternative to surrender would be the use of theatre nuclear weapons; and, surely, we should never lower the nuclear threshold for want of a chemical deterrent. I shall end by quoting two further extracts, which I believe are very apt, from the American publication. First:Even with their formidable protective capabilities, Soviet forces would face severe difficulties in sustaining combat operations if they faced counterattack with chemicals".And, secondly:We must maintain a credible deterrent against chemical attack that includes both protective and retaliatory capabilities".I believe that the American thinking on this vital problem is entirely sensible. The necessary action is not beyond our means or, I suggest, our existing technology.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, I should like to join all those who have expressed their appreciation of the very comprehensive and competent speech with which the noble Lord the Minister introduced the debate today. If I can be assured that praise from me will not be prejudicial to his future career. I should also like to say how well I thought he replied yesterday to a rather difficult debate from the Ministry's point of view; and that generally we appreciate the great attention that he paid throughout the debate and—if I may quote the noble Lord. Lord Mottistone—through speeches sensible and otherwise. But I shall not attempt to define which is which.
Following the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue, may I say how right was the noble Earl to stress the dangers of chemical warfare; although, I would not believe that having a small deterrent effect would bring about the result that both of us would like to achieve; namely, the outlawing of chemical weapons. It happened that I proposed in Geneva 15years ago the first draft of a 1296 collective ban both on biological weapons (which are even more horrible than chemical weapons) and on chemical weapons, too, after having successfully persuaded U Thant, who was then the head of the United Nations, to have a high-powered research report on both in which participated all the leading nations, those of East and West and the nonaligned—and to which our colleague the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, made a very important contribution.
We succeeded in getting a ban on biological weapons which I thought was extremely important not only because I think that it works but also because it established a principle that one can have a treaty without a cast-iron form of verification. In fact, one can breed the bugs so fast that no system of inspectors would guarantee that any ban on the activity was not being broken. To some extent there is the same practical problem in the chemical field. But I should like to join my noble friends Lord Boston of Faversham and Lord Brockway in commending the further efforts now of the Minister of State Mr. Luce and to wish him every success in the further attempts that we are now making in that direction.
In view of the large number of speakers on the list. I think that one needs to limit one's contribution. I want to turn now to what, as a Secretary of State. I constantly found to be an extremely difficult problem; namely, how we define our priorities—because, quite frankly, the tasks with which we are faced are more than our resources will permit us to discharge effectively. There can be no question that the whole of our defence effort has to be directed within NATO because, except through the North Atlantic Alliance, not even the larger member nations these days can be totally independent. We are dependent entirely on NATO and the question is how best to discharge our responsibilities in this field.
I believe that we have taken on more than we can possibly discharge. The Minister, when opening the debate, listed our obligations and contributions. First, he mentioned the independent contribution to NATO—and how it can be independent and integrated with NATO is something that I have never understood—in the field of theatre and strategic nuclear weapons. Secondly, there was the defence of the United Kingdom itself; and, thirdly, our contribution to the European land and air forces, to BAOR and to the tactical air force. Fourthly, there was the very substantial contribution—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, said that it was 70 per cent. of the contribution—to the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel.
While I would not necessarily accept the choice of priorities of the noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton—in fact, I wondered whether it might not illustrate the danger of having one chief giving the only policy advice to the Secretary of State—I thought he was absolutely right to say that we have not established our priorities, because we cannot afford to provide the forces and resources, and particularly the adequate equipment as the costs of equipment and technological advance rise greatly in excess of inflation.
1297 Although we take some pride in paying a bigger contribution per capita to NATO than any of its other members apart from the United States, what we should not forget is that, for reasons on which I shall not enlarge now, we have had a declining relative national income per capita from which we are paying this larger sum. If we continue to try to do all these things we shall not, in my view, do any of them successfully. I know the problem. One ought to raise this in NATO, and one does raise it in NATO. There are always people willing to specialise by giving up things, but nobody comes forward to take on the tasks that one is willing to give up.
What was of particular concern to me was the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, about air defence. I think it will be improved when the Nimrod and the air defence version of the Tornado come along, but certainly, with air refuelling available in regard to potential threats, attacks could come possibly from the east and could come around these islands if necessary. We have a very serious problem in air defence still to face. Probably the most terrifying problem of all is what can he done by mine laying, and how very inadequate still are mine counter measures vessels. I know that Hunt class vessels are expensive, but it is sad to know that they are not being proceeded with and that we are a very long way from having adequate mine hunting and mine clearing capability.
It seems to me that we have at least to begin to make some economics. The very first, and one where I am sure our NATO allies would accept that our contribution is at best marginal, is in the nuclear field. I do not believe that we should go in for a second generation of nuclear weapons—Trident or anything else—because that is one thing of which NATO collectively has too many. I believe that in the arms control negotiations, which one trusts will get under way again, any idea that we should try to exclude the British nuclear weapons from the arithmetic on both sides is not only wrong but is bound to fail. It is quite obvious that if allies of the Soviet Union had nuclear weapons we should insist that they were taken into account, and quite obviously they will insist that any such weapons we have will equally, be taken into account in any agreements which bilaterally the United States and the Soviet Union may reach.
It is also a cause of very grave concern to me that we are wasting so much money on peripheral exercises such as the Falklands. Frankly, we do not have the kind of resources that are being ploughed in there for no military advantage. The Falklands war could have been avoided by proper political steps, as a previous threat of an identical character was averted in 1978. If we had not all got so hysterical about it we could have come to a quite satisfactory arrangement which would avoid the enormous costs and the enormous employment of our forces, our scarce men and equipment, for no defence purpose.
On the other hand, I suppose we have to accept that we have again a non-NATO commitment in Northern Ireland which is likely to continue. I think we should recognise the enormous strain that this puts on the Army, with the number of tours of duty involved, as NCOs of almost any infantry regiment will tell you. Until I stopped it, they were even causing regiments to leave their tanks, guns and signals equipment behind 1298 in Germany to rust in the open while the trained, expert personnel were tramping the streets of Belfast. I did manage to insist on that, and I think it is still the practice that only the infantry units supported by the marines do these tasks now. Certainly we must accept that there is a responsibility there. And I should like to pay the warmest tribute to the Army for the way they have discharged those tasks—a job I am convinced no other army in the world could do.
Finally, I should like to say a few words on the question of procurement. I need to say very little because the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, with his typical clarity and a touch of sharpness, put the problem to us very clearly when he contrasted Chapter Two and Chapter Three of the Statement. We really have to make up our minds whether we are going in for collaborative NATO procurement projects or whether we are going to have everything down to the cheapest estimate. I would warn that sending things out to tender is not the cheapest way when one is dealing with highly advanced technological equipment and when one is going beyond the present frontiers of knowledge in that field.
I would illustrate this— I think the information is old enough now—by saying that I had this experience when three times the aircraft that is now the Harrier—I would be so bold as to say that it is one of the great successes of the British aircraft industry in the postwar decade—had been cancelled by Cabinet decision. It was only when I was able to get together the airframe and the aero-engine people, and go in detail through their estimates, and find out all the sums that they had put in for contingencies, that I managed to get the price down. I am glad to say that when I went hack—I was then Aviation Minister, I did not have the defence funds at my disposal—I was able to get the order for the first 60 aircraft. I am glad that that aircraft is playing such a prominent part not only in our defences but in those of the United States as well. But we would not have done it if we had just put out a specification for an aircraft, still a unique aircraft today, like the Harrier.
What is a matter of very great concern to me is this passion for privatisation; whether the Government are going to extend it to the armed forces generally. as they extended it to the Royal Ordnance Factories, I do not know. These are the oldest nationalised industries. They are even older than the Post Office, which we know has deteriorated enormously since it ceased to be a public institution and subject to parliamentary control. I do not think anyone would deny the decline in the Post Office. One noble Lord has a Question down asking the Government to do something about it in the very near future.
However, the first ROF was established in 1585, almost 400 years ago—I hope that some of them will he left a year from now and at least we can have that celebration. I believe that what is being done is a retrograde step. In my time we went to very great pains—the civil servants concerned and particularly my Permanent Secretary, Sir Frank Cooper—to put the ROFs on a businesslike basis, with their separate funding and separate accounting. They survived enormous problems which would have sunk a private firm, when, for example, there was an end of the Shah's orders for equipment from Iran. That meant 1299 tremendous problems for several of our ROFs and especially the one in Leeds concerned with tanks. I do not think we shall have a tank industry if we go for the privatisation of the ROFs.
I normally go along very closely with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, but of course the tank gun we have lost already in NATO, although I still believe we have the best tank gun in the world. I do not know how we would get on in a whole range of our ROFs without the backing of the research establishments which are funded by the Ministry. What is going to happen to them?
As a final point, I would argue against the concept of buying your stuff in the cheapest market. May I say how pleased I was that the Argentine Government must have done that, because the Falklands war would have been quite a different story if every torpedo or bomb that hit the target had exploded. We were extremely fortunate in that, and certainly I would not want to take any risks with the equipment that we were making available-to our own armed forces.
I think it has arisen since the White Paper was published, but we ought to do something about the Government's thinking now that Thorn has dropped out of the bidding for British Aerospace. I think we ought to know what their attitude is to the probability of GEC, which has an enormous share of procurement, joining up with British Aerospace. That would he a matter of very great significance and I think we ought to be told what view the Government are likely to take if, as we understand, a hid is made by the noble Lord, Lord Weinstock, for British Aerospace.
Finally, I should like to endorse the great tribute that all speakers, very properly and sincerely, have given to our armed forces. I should like, if I may. to get an answer to what I feel is an injustice to our armed forces, namely, the Government having withheld for some time part of the award that was made to them by the Armed Services Review Body. I feel particularly bitter about this, since I was subjected to votes of censure because at a time when we were, as a Labour Government, pursuing a very strict pay policy, we were obliged to follow that course for the armed forces.
The most far-reaching undertakings were given. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House will remember that the most enormous promises were made by the then Conservative Opposition that they would never—but never—fail to honour any recommendation the independent board made for the pay of the armed forces. It was written into their 1979 election manifesto. It was the nearest thing I can recall to a cash bribe offered in an election manifesto in that if the party were elected they would immediately pay the forces the balance of the money concerned. And here now in the year 1984 they are doing just that. I think we ought to be told, particularly in the light of their commitments to the armed forces, why they are doing that, because I do not feel that there is in the present circumstances the justification we had in 1979. Certainly I would go all the way with everyone who has spoken in saying how fortunate we are to have at all levels the quality of personnel that we have in all three services.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, I of course support the White Paper in its main themes but, with great respect, I find it wanting in two respects. The first of them is really rather minor and the second is quite major. On the minor point I will of course spend a minority of time. It is quite simply this. It is the acronym—the great curse of the 1980s: a great waste of time and money. And nowhere are acronyms more widely used than in the field of defence. I contend that they save neither time nor space and that they make the White Paper, like all other defence documents, esoteric and elitist. I do not really understand why we have to say, for instance, CinChan. What is the specific urgency of defence that denies us the time to say "Commander in Chief, Channel"? I am a very simple man, but am I unique in my ignorance of the meaning of UNFICYP, ERCS and AMF? I do know about STEALTH, HARM and ALARM, but I wonder whether even my noble friends on the Front Bench know about SADARM.
To be fair to the White Paper, the acronym is usually spelt out in full once, but even then I am left in the dark sometimes. For instance, I read that UKADGE means "United Kingdom air defence ground environment", and IEPG is of course the Independent European Programme. But what exactly do these mean, even in full? I would say with respect to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State what Lord Byron said to the poet Southey:I wish he would explain his explanation".I said that acronyms were a minor point, a bit of a niggle. But, seriously, I think they are a little bit more than that because they contribute to the public feeling that defence is somehow clandestine and elitist, top secret. They contribute to ignorance, and ignorance breeds fear.
My major point is this. The document does not provide enough information about nuclear weapons. I saw in The Times today a letter from Mr. Duncan Campbell of the New Statesman, headed "Nuclear ignorance". He concludes:It is an intolerable and typically British idiocy to argue that the defence of freedom first requires the suppression of free discussion, and to ask that vital arguments he conducted entirely from ignorance".Ignorance breeds fear, as I have just said. Nowadays there is great fear about the so-called arms race and certainly we live in the age of the great paradox. which is that,mutually assured survival is more dangerous than mutually assured destruction".I am quoting Professor Jones. Mutually assured destruction, with its acronym MAD, has kept the peace since the Second World War. But what of the so-called arms race? My belief is that our nuclear weapons today are less destructive than they were 20 years ago, as they are more accurate. It stands to reason that a missile landing within 10 metres of its target clearly need not be as destructive as one landing within a kilometre. But all that is pure guesswork, for I know nothing of the actual power of our warheads. If the worse came to the very worst—opinions differ—whom are we to believe? One noble Lord predicts the death of all mankind a thousand times 1301 over, but another (who is not here) describes a 2,000 megaton exchange as:no worse than a severe depression over the Atlantic".The truth obviously lies somewhere between the two.
What I ask, given that we have this horrifying but so far unproven mutually assured destruction, are the different levels of destruction? That is what none of us knows. What is the actual power, in megatonnes or kilotonnes of the following: Minuteman, Polaris, Poseidon, Trident, Pershing, cruise, Lance, Honest John and a 155 mm howitzer nuclear shell? I read in the papers, for instance, that our ground-launched cruise missiles have 18 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb. Whether that is fact or fiction, 1 just do not know. As I see it, the main job of cruise and Pershing would be to destroy 400 Russian airfields, and if that is the case, they are probably smaller than the Hiroshima bomb. They certainly would not need to be as big as it.
And we need more information, too, on radiation, because that, at the moment, is the ultimate fear of mankind, and quite an irrational fear. A man, terrified to walk the beaches of Sellafield, will happily go to his dentist where he will pick up considerable radiation from an X-ray; so powerful, indeed, that many a dentist has lost a finger from doing too many X-rays. My understanding is that our nuclear weapons are geared to the air blast with maximum blast and minimal fallout.
If I may possibly dare to anticipate my noble friend's reply to all these very specific questions, I suspect he will tell me that this is all classified information which could be of use to the enemy. Is not that, in itself, dangerous? Should a Russian pick up a cruise on his radar and not know whether its warhead equals 500 or 5 million tonnes, might he not respond in the most violent manner possible? Might it not be better if we each knew the value of the other's warheads; by "we" I mean we, the public. We the public are terrified of the Russian arsenal, but so is the Russian man in the street terrified of NATO's. I am more hopeful that my noble friend might be able to answer this kind of question on a very general level, as recently my noble friend Lord Trefgarne hazarded a comparison between a nuclear exchange and the power of the volcano Krakatoa.
I must say at this stage that, of course, I am in no way in favour of nuclear war, or of any war. I hate all war, and those who feel that conventional war has even a modicum of respectability need only look to Iran and Iraq and, of course, need only remember the terrible and inglorious tragedy that overtook the Welsh Guards at Bluff Cove. But I wonder whether there is just a chance that my noble friend can assure us that in pure megatonnage NATO's nuclear arsenal is no stronger than it was 20 years ago. If he could give that assurance, I believe he would scotch that wretched snake of the so-called arms race with the Soviets, and that would defuse things greatly.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I believe that your Lordships will not think me out of order if I join my noble friend Lord Mottistone in opening on a note of sadness, in that my dear friend Admiral Lord 1302 Glasgow slipped his cable only a few days ago just before what would, 1 think, have been his twentieth defence White Paper debate. I do not know whether he would have spoken in it. But for me it is the seventeenth, though I am far from having had the nerve to speak in anything like all of them.
But 17 is enough to give me a feeling of taking part in a kind of annual ritual dance. I make no complaint about that. I have always been fond of dancing, and I like ritual.
But the important thing about ritual is that it should be understood. One must be quite clear about the meaning of the symbols and the reality that lies behind them. The symbols in this ritual are everything that is contained in the White Paper—shoes, ships, sealing wax, aeroplanes, and so on, and all the men and women who have to use them. The reality has to do with defence as such, and defence is the preservation of peace, which is an operation that is divided into two phases, the first being intended to prevent the coming into being of the second. The first phase is that which we call deterrence, and when that one fails we move on to the second phase, which is reacting as effectively as we can to the attack, whatever it may be.
There is an advantage, to my way of thinking, in talking like this, in that I have already stepped outside the actual details of the White Paper. I am doing this on purpose, because the ritual dance is itself hypnotic and we have a tendency to forget what it is all about. It is not all about nuts and bolts and aeroplanes. It is about the preservation of peace all over the world. Our eyes are rivetted, naturally—and this is reflected in the White Paper—on the NATO front in Europe. This is repeated over and over again; it is true, and there is no escape from it.
But it gives rise to what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, has described as the paradox—that the more stable the situation appears to be in Europe, the greater is the threat to us outside it. We can see this happening fairly clearly at the moment, when we have what is probably—thanks to the deterrent effect on both sides—a situation approaching stalemate in which it is perfectly possible, at any rate in theory, for the enemy, if he should choose to become an active enemy, to achieve his aim simply by allowing, not by causing, the oil supplies to be cut off in the Persian Gulf. This is a situation towards which the world and its peace is advancing. But without a conflict, an enemy can win.
If that is so, we are entitled to look about and see whether our allies or our friends, even if they are not our allies, but favourably disposed nations, are doing all that they might. So, are we as safe as we can be? By "safe", I mean safe within NATO or without NATO, but particularly within, because, as has been said many times, we cannot easily operate outside the NATO area. In embarking on this kind of thought, I am, it might be said, stepping outside the realm of defence and into that of foreign policy. In my submission, there is no dividing line between foreign policy and defence. It has been said often enough, and with perfect wisdom and truth, that war is simply a continuation of foreign policy by other means. So is the deterrence of war and the maintenance of peace. Therefore, we may reasonably look about to see 1303 whether all the truth that has gone into the compilation of this White Paper is being adequately supported by our allies.
There comes into my head a fact that I have heard mentioned, though not by many, that from a detached point of view there is nothing to choose between the attitude of the Russians to the Americans and the attitude of the Americans to the Russians. Both are equally bellicose and suspicious. This is very dangerous nonsense, simply because of the obvious fact, as we know very well, that on our side there is no aggressive intention, whereas on the other side there is plenty. Apart from that distinction, on the other hand, there are some great and unfortunate similarities.
I venture to say that one of the more dangerous elements, one of the more destabilising elements, in the world at present is to be found in the United States, and that is the organisation known as the Central Intelligence Agency. It is an instrument of enormous power and of great importance to us, but it is a power not only for good, but also for danger. It is absolutely essential to our defence as an instrument for the collection of intelligence, which is what it is for. But it also has the power to initiate military operations, and it does so. There is no need for me to particularise in any degree at all some of the disastrous situations that it has inaugurated and is inaugurating now.
It might seem almost incredible, if we did not know it existed, that there could be a body with these two functions of collecting intelligence and of acting on it. It is quite inconceivable that our own intelligence agencies could do this. This particular one—though I believe that what I am about to say is not quite as true as it was a few years ago—is not responsible to any governmental body in the United States. It is not responsible to Congress, it cannot he called to order or questioned by any congressional committee, and its money supplies cannot be interfered with. It is answerable, through its head, only to the President himself. This goes with the fact that the CIA and, indeed, the United States have long since departed from the basic concept of the United Nations that no nation shall interfere in the internal affairs of another.
Nobody can pretend that the CIA does not interfere in the internal affairs of nations in Central America, or that the United States have not interfered in, for example, Korea, Vietnam or, more recently, Lebanon. This is an exceedingly dangerous situation. My personal candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize would be anybody who could persuade the President of the United States to abolish, not the CIA, which is vastly important, but its executive function of waging war, because with that function goes not only the danger of the war which they wage but the suspicion and the distrust which it is bound to engender all over the world. It is only by eliminating this distrust between the great powers that we shall ever again see peace in our time, or in our children's or in our grandchildren's time.
Perhaps the President of the United States might also be persuaded (I hope our own Government have a quiet word with him from time to time in the hope of persuading him) not to make inflammatory remarks, calling Russia a nation of evil. This one 1304 remark is probably the biggest single factor which has deprived the United States of the pleasure and privilege of having the Russians at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. I am not altogether surprised, either. It is well within the bounds of possibility that we ourselves are not universally trusted all over the world.
In no way do I intend to be superior, but these, I believe, are the facts, Our own governmental agencies, our own statesmen and our own leaders might well ponder—I am sure that they do—how they could bring about an amelioration of the situations which exist on the other side of the Atlantic, to the mutual benefit of us all. By "all" I include those who live in the Soviet Union. Having ventured to make those remarks. I hand the floor hack to the participants in the ritual dance and apologise for interrupting their stately sarabande.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Lord Ironside
My Lords, I did not speak in last night's debate because I felt that my remarks were more suited to this afternoon's debate. Nevertheless. I think that the theme of both debates is management of defence, and the management of a budget of some £17,000 million, up from £16,000 million last year, with the employment and deployment of some half a million people, 200,000 of whom are civilian.
Because 46 per cent. of this budget is being spent on equipment, I do not believe that anybody can therefore suggest that industry's role is a minor one. But I do see it as a significant and complementary one. I am therefore glad to see that so much has been spelt out in the Estimates about the way the Ministry of Defence propose to develop more closely their partnership with industry. The new management proposals are, of course, recognised as radical ones, but we must not forget that there is still a clear distinction between the armed services and industry, even though the armed services have become so equipment dependent. There is no take-over, other than a technology take-over, and the principal concern of the services is still that success is measured by fighting efficiency and morale, while industrial success is measured by product performance and reliability.
In each case success stems from greater added value and greater productivity; in other words, greater cost-effectiveness. It is produced by keeping as many people at the business end of things as possible. In the services this is in the front line, and in industry this is on the design and assembly line. Here I note that the sales and added value per employee in the royal ordnance factories has doubled over the last three years. The Government must be congratulated on this achievement, which I believe has been brought about through the move towards privatisation.
Defence business is big business. It is now much more open business, and it is world-wide. Constraints are less and leaks are more, but I very much support what the Government are trying to do in restructuring defence management. In saying this. I declare an interest in the research and development field, which includes defence. I should like to make one or two points which I believe are not brought out sufficiently in the Estimates and which I think relate to the defence scenario as it is now developing and which we need to take into account.
1305 First, the airlift-sealift strategy is not, so far as I can see, covered in the Estimates, but it is clear that defence commitments—at least, those outside NATO—depend upon having an effective air and sealift strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, touched on this point when he referred to the capability necessary to make a military intervention rapidly at great distance. We have never had to worry too much about this in the past as, in the words of the Ministry of Defence:The well-established procedures for taking suitable ships up from trade are available".Airliners can easily be leased or bought up on the market to supplement the RAF air transport wing. But even if the Army do find it more sexy to use the airlift in the good old paratrooper/air assault style, the cost per kilo is high. It is prompt but task-orientated, and only sealift provides the truly cost-effective payload which is invariably required on most expeditions.
We can still rely, naturally, on the Red Duster, but the United States is now faced with a situation in which their maritime flag is barely thought to he sufficient to meet their defence needs, and there is concern in various United States circles over whether or not the US Navy should have a sealift wing. I hope that the Government have this factor constantly under review, in case we may he faced with the same situation. In fact, the Maritime League here have already expressed some concern about this. But I should add, of course, that 50 or 55 front line ships for the Royal Navy are probably sufficient to meet present defence requirements.
Secondly, we sec that defence imports are rising and will continue to rise, hut I would not be happy about this unless I saw exports rising as well to match this trend. The biggest import rise appears to be in the electronics and optical equipment category, which seems to be the biggest export category as well, except for helicopters, where, luckily, imports are nil. As noble Lords probably know, this is really all connected with getting into imaging, which has now become the biggest thing since eyes were invented. This happens to be one reason, I think, why GEC sees that a bid for British Aerospace does make sense.
We shall undoubtedly be faced with increased defence imports because of the independent European programme group's moves towards standardisation or harmonisation, on the one hand, and the adoption of emerging technologies from the United States, on the other hand. This is not all bad, as we must remember that some of the research and development burden has been removed from our backs when we make a purchase. But, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, pointed out, it may complicate the procurement policy for the Ministry of Defence.
This brings me to the third point: the new opportunity/competition situation to be faced by British industry. On reflection, I think that it is an imaginative policy. It will allow the Ministry of Defence to draw more heavily on the skills and the inventiveness of British industry. It will make defence business more open, which will encourage industry to come forward. But there is still a very long way to go in perfecting the right procedures. This was pointed out by the noble and gallant Field Marshal and by my 1306 noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, when they expressed their doubts about the proposed competition policy.
Quality assurance procedures will not be allowed to stand in the way of small firms coming forward with ideas. As far as I am aware, most of the research organisations do not have the so-called 0521 quality assurance approval from the Ministry of Defence, but they are the organisations which will be likely to have the ideas. There is a need for greater quality in defence, quite apart from a crying need for engineering graduates. The Ministry of Defence project at Cranlield to educate graduates under contract is a hold move to help fill the gap between the output of something like 8,000 professional engineers a year in the United Kingdom and the many tens of thousands more turned out per year in Japan, the United States, Germany and France. We need, of course, to go much further, but I am glad to see that the Ministry of Defence is taking the initiative.
The qualitative edge is vital in being able to match the Soviet numerical edge. It is absolutely right that the Ministry of Defence ensures that British industry provides the quality needed—but the ideas must be allowed to come forward. In the Secretary of State's own words, the quality of defence equipment must grow. British industry can achieve this quality growth and the Ministry of Defence has the financial clout to set the pace, but it must use this particular weapon in the right kind of way. I hope that it will seek industry's advice on how best to achieve these aims. In this respect, I would ask the Government to publish more widely the list of contracts awarded, to whom they are awarded, and their value—and to pick out the prime contractors. This is a necessary feature of any policy based on greater opportunity and the competitive spirit.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Baroness Airey of Abingdon
My Lords, I am glad that the defence White Paper contains a paragraph about the armed forces and the media. I am not sure that this aspect has been touched on this evening—unless it was while I was away from this Chamber. From the point of view of the services, it is of the greatest importance—and to some extent. it is a completely new problem.
Today, through the medium of television and with instant communication, it is very difficult to know how to deal with this problem. Undoubtedly there are war correspondents who are very courageous and who have experience of some of the fiercest trouble spots in the world. Equally, in time of war, the forces have the most exacting task and are frequently working with highly classified secret weaponry. I was impressed by Max Hastings' book, The Battle for the Falklands, in which he and a fellow journalist wrote:Men worried deeply about their families at home and how bad news might be affecting them. They cursed the broadcasters and newspaper photographers when they believed that news and pictures released in Britain would cause fear or pain".I would remind your Lordships that this book was written by two prominent journalists.
I welcomed the invitation extended to war correspondents to participate in the 1st Armoured Division's exercise, "Eternal Triangle". held in Germany last October. May I ask my noble friend the 1307 Minister whether it would be possible to establish a war correspondents' territorial unit permanently affiliated to the forces; accompanying them on certain exercises, and forging I hope a camaraderie and a sharing of responsibility for secrecy when necessary.
I should like to say—as many other noble Lords have done—how much we miss our noble friend Lord Glasgow, who died last week. He was so pominent in our defence debates in the past, and if I may, I shall quote from a speech he made in your Lordships' House in July 1965. He said:In this highly technical age I feel there is a grave danger of forgetting that the old-fashioned virtues of courage, resource and leadership in its widest sense have never been more needed than they are today …. My fear is that we may lose a potential Nelson or Drake because he cannot get an A level in mathematics".[Official Report, 30/6/65; col. 898.]It was stated by a frigate captain who took part in the Falkland operation, and I quote:Most men in a modern warship are highly trained technicians, and the skills of all of them were pressed to the utmost. One did not depend only on brilliant people to excel but on the ordinary blokes to do what was expected of them. It proved that we train our people in the right way".Here, I should like to welcome the paragraph on the armed service youth training scheme and to mention another scheme in which I take a particular personal interest, as an honorary member of the Midland Branch of the Coastal Forces Association. Their members crewed the famous motor torpedo boats—once Britain's fastest and smallest warships, with their heroic history in the last war. The MTB. 102 has been converted, through a trust, as a training ship for Sea Scouts and members of other youth organisations. Training in this historic ship is much sought after. When the MTB. 102 is no longer viable as an operational seagoing vessel, it is intended that she shall be offered to the Maritime Preservation Society as part of our national heritage.
It is very encouraging that the White Paper recognises that the history of our armed forces is an important part of our national heritage. Approximately 100,000 school children visit the Imperial War Museum in organised parties, and that figure represents roughly one-sixth of the annual total of admissions to the museum. Alas, the numbers have to be restricted because of its size. There is a very imaginative extension to this vastly popular and beautiful museum, and perhaps I may end with a plea that financial help should be given so that more of the young of this generation shall be inspired by the courage of the last.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I am privileged to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Airey of Abingdon, for whose late and sadly lamented husband I entertained warm personal affection combined with total political disagreement. However, I cannot follow her altogether in her remarks concerning the role of the press. One can understand the fear expressed by men engaged in battle that disclosure might upset their relatives at home. One can well understand that point of view.
On the other hand, I found myself in greater agreement with what was said by the noble Viscount, 1308 Lord Mersey, when he quoted—I believe with approval—the activities of Mr. Duncan Campbell, who is a tireless investigative journalist. The noble Viscount suggested that ignorance created fear. I am rather inclined to think that in this country there is too much suppression of information and that we all ought to know a great deal more about what is going on. There is far too much secrecy in our country. The more we know about reality, the better it will be, even if when we know the true reality about nuclear warfare we are properly frightened, as I think we should be. So I think there is a role for the investigative journalist. If I misunderstood the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, in regard to our agreeing about that, he might wish to indicate so now; or am I right in thinking that we see eye to eye on this point, if on no other?
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. I also said that there were widely differing views as to the danger of nuclear war. I believe I quoted the noble Lord himself when I said that he was of the opinion that the whole human race could be killed a thousand times over. However, I also quoted an opinion from another noble Lord who likened a very large nuclear exchange to a rather large depression over the Atlantic.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for making that clear—at least. I hope he has made it clear.
I also find myself in agreement with another speaker on the other side—this is getting rather dangerous! The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery (I am sorry he has left the Chamber) referred to our proceedings as a ritual dance. There is an element of that. However, it seems to me that over the years the nature of the dance changes and the tune changes. As for some years, both in another place and here, I have been talking about this subject, it appears to me that in this country we have undergone that clarification, which Dr. Johnson spoke about, when we are aware of the possibility of being hanged. We are close to that possibility. In the shadow of the nuclear weapon we become aware of our dangers and are more inclined to discuss the nature of those dangers rather than to devote ourselves to the kind of rhetoric which the noble Earl rightly condemned.
The Statement on the Defence Estimates says that the NATO Alliance remains fully committed to achieving balanced, verifiable, and significant measures of arms reduction between East and West. Sadly, it has achieved the opposite. The record of the United States' Administration is even more dismal than that of Her Majesty's Government. During President Reagan's term of office there have been no disarmament agreements and United States spending on nuclear weapons has more than doubled. Soviet proposals for an immediate agreement to halt production by both sides have been ignored. The United States is committed to increasing its present arsenal of 27,000 nuclear warheads by a further 17,000; and this, apparently, is to take place even if the Soviets abandon all further nuclear deployment and production. That means that the president's words and those of the Defence Statement are the opposite of the truth because they both talk of peace but, in 1309 practice, appear to be making, or at least preparing for, war. If we are not careful, they will finish by exterminating us all.
President Reagan came to office in a bout of hysteria. I was in the United States at the time and almost all Republicans to whom I spoke believed unshakeably that America had been left defenceless by President Carter. That was at a time when, even then, the United States was by far the strongest country in the world and was in a position to eliminate the Soviet Union, and everyone else, twice over. I think that has now increased to about eight times over; but I should have thought that once was enough. However, impervious to reason, the Republicans did not want to know the facts. They just believed, and were determined to believe, in the face of all the evidence, that only this tall man from Hollywood could save them from being over-run by communism.
We know that nations sometimes are infected with something approaching madness. The Czechs and the Chinese have both had doses of it. We ourselves were not at our most balanced during the Falklands affair. But in every country in which American missiles are being deployed a majority of the people appear to be opposed to their presence. Only the Dutch have paid some attention to the apparent wishes of their own people. President Reagan is the only post-war American president who has made no kind of arms control agreement with the Soviet Union and who has never met, or even tried to meet, the Soviet leaders. His own arms control offers seem to me to have been designed from the start to be unacceptable to the USSR—this in spite of being given such titles as the "zero option".
That was merely a ploy to maintain the existing naval and air supremacy of the United States and to deny the Soviet Union a land-based response. In return for that the United States was ready to agree not to add a land-based capability to the powerful technical and nuclear superiority which it enjoys in other fields. American negotiators in these discussions seemed reluctant to reach agreement, and where they have shown signs of a meeting of minds with Soviet representatives they have been withdrawn. Their replacements have been people who seemed to share President Reagan's basic concept of international relations as a struggle between good and evil in which compromise is undesirable and peace a word to he brandished rather than a condition to be sought after.
The United States has moved, and is moving, from a deterrent posture to a war-fighting capacity. In defiance of existing agreements with the Soviet Union it is now developing the crazy concept of an arms race in space. What incentive is there for the USSR to reach fresh agreements with a Government who appear to ignore existing treaties? I have no affection for the Soviet system. It is the product of a country in which representative parliamentary democracy has never thrived. However, there is a degree of economic democracy and a grass-roots representation which means that the countries of Eastern Europe cannot be dismissed and classified with the unstable dictatorships which the United States supports in Latin America and elsewhere. It is not a straightforward case of good against evil on either side. As 1310 Attlee said many years ago, the alternative to coexistence with the Soviet Union is co-death.
The West is committed to arms reduction, according to the Defence Statement. It is committed, as I have said, to something in which it has had singularly little success. But President Reagan does not seem even to share the commitment which the White Paper claims. He is committed only to talking about it on suitable occasions. Before he became president he fought the partial test ban treaty and he denounced arms control agreements as an attempt to,buy our own safety from the threat of the bomb by selling into permanent slavery our fellow human beings enslaved behind the Iron Curtain…because we are ready to make a deal with their slavemakers".Those are not the words of peace. President Reagan opposed the non-proliferation treaty and he opposed the SALT I treaty. He attacked SALT II, which has never been ratified by the United States, but he said he would begin immediate negotiations for a new treaty when he became president, as he did.
Eugene Rostow admitted after 18 months that nothing had happened. He said that things ought to start without further delay. He was, for his pains, fired as director of the American Arms Control Agency. The START proposal, eventually tabled, concentrated on weapons which the Soviet Union had and left out weapons in which the Americans enjoyed a superiority. The United States, under these proposals, suffered no restrictions on its air- and sea-based missiles in which its strength was concentrated. But the Soviet Union, with 70 per cent. of its weapons land based, would, under the American plan, have to reduce its arsenal drastically, while enjoying no reciprocal reduction by its opponents. START was a non-starter, and surely intended to be so.
The present American five-year defence plan increases Tridents by five, up to 16, and together with the MX and other missiles, proposes a grand total of 5,000 silo-busting warheads. That is some arms control! Yet President Reagan says that there is no arms race. He produces charts, like those in the Defence Statement, designed to show a reduction in the American stockpile of nuclear arms. But the effective warheads were more than quadrupled, and now the president proposes to increase those more efficient and more dangerous weapons by 13 per cent., or 3,500 warheads.
As one of the president's admirals has pointed out—and I shall risk another quote—If you talk about a 20-submarine force at the end of this century, it will be a smaller number of missile tubes than we currently have operational. From the standpoint of capability it will be a far more capable force as far as warheads on targets….Certainly by increasing the size of the warhead and the accuracy, you improve the capability because to take out any one target, you can reduce the number of warheads per target that you have to shoot".That is the so-called reduction, and of course it is not a real one at all.
Arms control Reagan-style means reduction numerically, but replacement with more efficient and more deadly weapons, so that the total fire-power is increased. Naturally, the Soviet Union rejected that, as it is technically well behind the United States. The proposal never had a chance, and, as I say, it must have been intended to be a non-starter—a gesture 1311 which might impress the gullible and those who might want to be impressed, but something which was not intended to be taken seriously by the Soviets.
The SS.20 (the Soviet land-based missile) was originally designed as a counter to the Chinese nuclear threat, and was first deployed in Asia. The USSR clearly hoped at that time that, as that weapon was based in Asia, it would not be seen as a threat to the West. But, subsequently, it became a replacement for its old SS.4s and SS.5s in Europe. Although this is a long way behind, one can see operating on the other side exactly the same deadly scientific philosophy of more efficient, larger, and more deadly weapons, and a reduction in numbers, which has taken place on a far more advanced basis in the United States.
I think that the situation was summed up by Richard Burt, President Reagan's man in Europe. In explaining the zero option, he said—and I think that this is my last quote—The purpose of this whole exercise is maximum political advantage. It's not arms control we're engaged in, it's alliance management".That is precisely what it was. It was alliance management because, by the zero option, NATO was moved into supporting something it knew could not succeed. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will point out that the zero option ignored the existence of the British and French nuclear forces, the growing Chinese nuclear forces, and the proposed deployment of American cruise missiles in Europe.
Despite all this, it seemed possible that some compromise might emerge, and there was the famous walk in the woods; but President Reagan afterwards disowned his representative, Paul Nitze, and that was the end of that. The president was seeking, in the words of his Assistant Defence Secretary, Richard Perle, an agreement which would,strengthen the position of the West".and,improve our military situation".Reverse that, and it becomes clear that such a search must lead to your opponent concluding that you are not seriously seeking agreement. We cannot, therefore, be surprised that the Soviets are reluctant to sit at a table, the purpose of which, as they see it, is not to seek agreement, but simply to make more anti-Soviet propaganda.
Fortunately, there is in the United States widespread support for an alternative scenario, which begins with a series of agreed moratoria. I believe that this movement is growing and that it will gain further support in this country and throughout Europe. These details are set out in a pamphlet issued by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which will. I think, disprove the belief of anyone who imagines that that organisation is simply now what it was at the beginning—an organisation solely concerned with unilateral nuclear disarmament by this country. CND has come some distance since then and has produced a pamphlet which I believe will commend itself to anybody concerned with these matters as at least an alternative which is worth serious consideration. I commend it to your Lordships.
1312 Time will prevent me from describing it to you, but I think in the interests of our people it is time that we distanced ourselves, our country, and our government from what seems to me to be an American march to extinction. As I have said in another context, it is time that we began to take our fate into our own hands. I should much prefer to see it in the hands of a Government of this country, even if they are a Government who I do not support, than in the hands of anyone outside this country.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, the Defence Estimates White Paper could give us an opportunity—and has to some extent given us an opportunity—for discussing serious issues concerned with the priorities to be given to various aspects of our defence. But we find ourselves in such discussion under a certain inhibition because of the misuse which is so often made of arguments by defence experts on technical and professional matters by the campaign of disinformation to which the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, referred earlier in this debate. I am sure that some of the company with which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, finds himself associated in print is very far indeed from his own ideas and his own wish to see this country and its allies strong rather than weak.
However, there is another aspect, and there I think that the White Paper is to some extent deficient. It is I believe based on the assumption that all reasonable people will agree with the basic thrust, which is indeed one that has endured in our defence policy for some time. But I fear that we are under something of illusion—and possibly Her Majesty's Government are under something of an illusion—if we believe that such policies—the combination of deterrence and the search for arms agreements—are now fully understood, or fully accepted, in this country, and not only for the reasons which the noble Viscount. Lord Mersey, gave.
The arguments about deterrence and the arguments about defence and arms control are difficult arguments and would be so if you were presenting them in a forum such as this, where they can be rationally examined. But as my noble friend Lord Gisborough pointed out, what we in this country have seen is a very serious, determined, well-financed campaign by the Soviet Union, directly—and, through its friends in this country, indirectly—to circulate a picture of the world which is wholly inaccurate and which, on the other hand, because its simplicity, commands support.
A year ago the Government were heartened when they believed—with some justification—that this campaign had shown its hollowness by the fact that the ambiguities of the Official Opposition of the day on defence had contributed to their electoral victory. I have talked to a great many people concerned and interested in this field and I believe that since then the position has very considerably worsened.
No doubt from the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, the growth in the strength of CND is something to be welcomed. But for those of us who hold to the rather simple, geometrical formula, CND—KGB, this is something to be deplored. You find perfectly reasonable people in this country believing facts which are utterly remote from the truth. 1313 For instance, a large number of people believe that cruise missiles were introduced into this country and into other European countries in order to suit the convenience of the United States; whereas, as noble Lords are aware, these missiles were introduced because the European allies of the United States were worried about the proliferation of Soviet medium-range nuclear missiles and asked for a counterbalance of this kind to be provided.
One could give other examples of this kind of situation. You begin to get a feeling that you are arguing with people whose ideas of recent history are quite remote. For instance, no-one listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway (who is no longer in his place), or the speech of the noble Lord. Lord Jenkins of Putney (who is with us) would have gathered, if he had access to no other information, that it is not the United States which has refused to prolong discussions on nuclear weapons; it is the Soviet Union who walked out of these negotiations. It is the Soviet Union who has rejected appeals to return, not merely from the Western countries but from countries on the margin, if you like, of a non-aligned kind, which believed they had some influence in the Soviet Union.
It really is a pity and something at which the Government will have to look, that somehow or other we have failed to bring this home to a great many people who, as I say, are reasonable people, not fanatical, and who believe that somehow or other we are to blame for the impasse of arms control negotiations.
I believe, as does my noble friend Lord Gisborough, that the contest is one now of wills, it is not a contest of weapons. In weapons we have enough to deter, as indeed have the other side. What we have on the side of those who wish to weaken our will is a combination of propaganda directed towards imbuing people with fear of the horrors of nuclear war—and that of course is reasonable—but combined with a denigration of our Government and our allies, which leads people not to say, "We must not have nuclear war; let us therefore be certain that no one will launch missiles against us", but to say, "Let us disarm and be weak in the hope that somehow or other we shall avoid it".
If one looks at the Soviet Union, the Russians do not take this view. I believe, as I think do most noble Lords, that the Russians are quite genuine in their fears of the West and of war, because after all they have been subjected to war to a greater extent than any of us. The Russians fear nuclear war and the West's possession of nuclear weapons but believe that their security lies in their own defence, and in encouraging their own population to have confidence in its leadership and its institutions. We may believe that these leaders and these institutions are flawed, but I do not think we do enough to see that the presentation of our case is sufficiently maintained. It is particularly true—and this is an observation which many have made—that it is the younger generation which is particularly affected by this. It is adolescents who it is easy to grip with a slogan, "peace is better than war"—with which few people would disagree—and translate this into the view that only defeatism can help you to avoid the war that you fear. When one sees the babies against the bomb and the women of Green ham Common, and all these other well meaning 1314 people led astray in this way, then one feels that to some extent our responsibility in giving a leadership has not been fully maintained. The CND and its associates--the whole of the so-called peace movement—are orchestrated from Moscow. The noble Lord may laugh, but we are talking about matters of life and death, and I think the noble Lord would do better to refrain from laughing.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, if the noble Lord does not want anybody to laugh, he really should moderate his statements and stop equating "CND—KGB". While he makes that sort of statement, he is bound to be laughed at.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I would guarantee that I could find, in a file of Pravda, all the positions which CND have successively taken up on the Western alliance and Western arms. Therefore, though the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, may find these views curious, they would not be found curious by anyone who had studied the way in which certain themes and certain policies are disseminated, not merely in this country but, as he rightly pointed out, in the United States as well and among our European allies.
Last night we saw that the Dutch Parliament, with great difficulty—and it suggests a considerable degree of courage on the part of the Dutch Prime Minister—managed at least to maintain the country's pledge to NATO, though putting off—alas—the implementation of that pledge, which is a substantial victory for Soviet propaganda, for Soviet influenced peace propaganda in that country.
I only ask that we should not be complacent. Our position has deteriorated intellectually over the past year. It is necessary that we should obtain from the Government not merely a White Paper which is perfectly reasonable and very well set out; but we should get one in a context which explains why we need a defence policy, and what defence policy means in the context of our national life.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, let me start today, in contrast to yesterday, by congratulating the Government on their White Paper. I note in passing that it is perhaps because my noble friend the Leader of the House is replying to the debate that the usual number of between 35 and 40 speakers to whom I found myself replying in recent years seems to have evaporated down to 22. I wish that I had had a Leader of the House prepared to answer these debates. I am delighted that my noble friend has decided to reply, although I commiserate with him, and I look forward with great interest to hearing what he has to say on this vitally important subject.
Let me also congratulate the noble Lord. Lord Boston of Faversham, for speaking in a way that I do not think I have heard from the Front Bench of the party opposite for a long time. If the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, had been present he would have been very proud. I almost felt at one stage as though I might be 1315 able to ask the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, to join an organisation of which I now find myself president, namely, the Women and Families for Defence in Britain. Indeed, I thought that we were getting close to what we really should have in this country if we are to deal with the dictatorship world of the Eastern countries and the USSR—a bipartisan policy in defence on all main items.
I echo what my noble friend Lord Beloff has said in asking that the Government should not underestimate the degree to which the young, in particular, of this country are proving to be vulnerable to the campaign of misinformation. I believe that certain statements, based on the Government's election victory, that we have won these arguments are true in terms of the majority when the arguments are properly explained and when the opinion poll questions are asked in a sensible and neutral order. But there is far too big an element that is being led astray by the campaign of misinformation. I found myself almost totally speechless listening to the speech of the noble Lord. Lord Jenkins. I can only sum it up by saying that I think that the speech would be envied by Mr. Gromyko in his most belligerent moments. His attacks on America were certainly as strong as, or stronger than, those I have read of Mr. Gromyko making for some time.
Let me raise just one point in the interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham. He spoke of the cost of Trident. I do not want to deal with the other aspects of Trident today, but, as a recent past Minister. I want to assure the House that what I said when I was speaking from the Front Bench, I totally believe. It is that there is no alternative open to the British Government for the end of this century, which Trident is aimed for, that will provide an effective deterrent at anything like so cheap a cost. Spread over the 18 years—it will be 18 and not 15—it is still approximately 3 per cent. of the defence budget. The French pay over 20 per cent. of their defence budget for an independent deterrent. The whole programme costs less than the programme for the production of Tornado by a considerable amount.
The alternative of prolonging Polaris I looked at again and again when in government, as did my Secretary of State. The submarines will not last through to the timescale concerned. The cost of a deterrent of our own when all American production lines are closed is frighteningly high. In the period we are talking about at the end of the century, if we have not managed to reach an agreement with the Russians and the Russian people—and let us hope that we shall—then, at that time, with the likelihood of the kind of anti-ballistic systems that will exist and with the vulnerability of submarines in close waters that is probable, there really is not an alternative. Until we make progress on multilateral disarmament, the Government, in my opinion, have no alternative but to go ahead.
I wish to devote the bulk of my remarks to what was stated by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, on the cost of procurement. This was also discussed yesterday, and other noble Lords have referred to it. I join with those, including my noble friend Lord 1316 Ironside, who have pleaded for just a little sensible application of the principle of more competition in defence areas. I believe that this can be overdone when you look at the need for development work in firms and when you look at the investment of individual firms in the development of new weapon systems. You can reach a stage where firms, particularly small firms, working on parts of weapon systems will be less prepared to put in development work and investment if they believe that the likelihood, after they have done it and after it has all been written up, of their getting a good part of the production contract may be very remote.
Let me first deal with the statement that was perhaps heard more yesterday than today that the sheer cost of the people and the organisation in procurement is so enormous in its own right that it represents a large area for saving. I think that a total figure of 40.000 people was mentioned in yesterday's debate. Half of these are involved in research and development. I shall refer to the record of research and development in a moment. The cost of procurement which includes—noble Lords may not be aware of this—all the service controllers of the three services and their staffs was recently just under 3 per cent. of the cost of the weapons bought in a year. My experience of the cost of buying organisations is that this is not unnecessarily high especially when one bears in mind the enormous complications of the weapon systems concerned and how essential it is to be sure that they will work. I endorse the prime contractor principle that the Government again emphasised. This has led to a reduction of central staff in procurement—the numbers are down substantially—and can lead to a further reduction.
I think perhaps that the main immediate symptom rather than cause—the symptom that is most obvious in terms of the enormous escalation of cost if we call that a disease—is the number of delays that take place in going forward at different phases of development and production of weapon systems and often a final cancellation of those systems. This is caused not by the myriad of committees, although I am not necessarily in favour of them, but by sheer lack of cash and particularly cash on a per annum basis. This is what I have described as the symptom.
The real cause of the disease starts far further back. It starts in an age of change and a technical revolution in our very conscientious operational requirement staffs, particularly the vice chiefs and their staffs, looking at the likely threat ahead of them—that is a nerve-racking thing to do because enormous technical developments are being carried out in the USSR —looking at the threats as they will become, and stating, therefore, many requirements which they should like in the next range of weapons. This disease gets a hold because usually it is not until too late a stage that people are forced to look combinedly at the likely economics of each of the alternative routes and alternative ways which are open to NATO to meet those threats. Too often R & D starts in a whole host of areas and even in initial work towards a weapons system.
As was mentioned in previous White Papers, and as I know is still the Government's policy, it is vitally 1317 important to get economics in at an early stage. One of the best ways of doing it is to get the heads of the defence industry in at an early stage to view the future threat and to do the rough and guess economics in order to face up to the realities of how much of the OR requirements can really be afforded, either by this country or even, at times, by NATO itself. So the first selection process needs to take place at the OR stage, and I think it is the most vital.
The selection by country, which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, mentioned, is desperately important and awfully hard; I shall return to this later. I want to say that much has been done. The late Sir David Cardwell, as head of defence procurement, introduced the concept of the family of weapons and succeeded in negotiating with Europe and the USA a system whereby, for instance, the medium-range air-to-air missile would he developed and made in America and the short-range air-to-air missile of the next generation would be developed and made in Europe. In conjunction with Sir David, I tried very hard to do much the same thing in the torpedo field, and I feel that we lost only because of entrenched national interests of other nations concerned.
The Tornado programme was mentioned, in a sense as a failure, in terms of its cost. In fact, this is a popularly held, largely inaccurate, view. The completion of the Tornado programme at the development stage—I believe there will be a further pick-up at the production stage—was, and will be, in real terms, under 20 per cent. overspent from the original estimate. The Royal Air Force and the air forces of the continent will get an excellent plane—they are getting it—made under collaboration arrangements involving the three countries.
More recently, the EH.101 has been a collaboration with Italy; the AV.8 B, the successor to the Harrier, with McDonnell Douglas in America. The SP.70 is a European collaboration which, when I first heard about it, was described as being too expensive to sell. In fact, I believe we are now thinking that for that kind of advanced artillery gun it is likely to be a leader in the world, and provided security interests allow it, we should he able to sell it.
Therefore, so much collaboration progress has been made. I do not want to say to the noble and gallant Lord that there is not plenty more to be done, and certainly I do not want to pretend that there are not entrenched national interests. I do want to say that it is a fact that they are very difficult to get over, but that quite a lot of thought and an awful lot of discussion has taken place between this Government and their counterparts in order to try to find the politically possible way of selecting between the countries of the alliance.
It is a further fact that there is considerable British prowess in this area. Historically, we have spent a very large proportion of our Government research and development resources on defence. We have a big civilian spill-over as a result of that. We have few enough strong suits in our industrial area as a whole, and I for one believe that we have to be very careful, in the interests of collaboration, not to give away our strong suit to other countries, and particularly to our 1318 great allies, the Americans, whose commercialism at Government level usually exceeds our own.
We have leaders in the Harrier, in the Rapier anti-air missile, in the Stingray torpedo, in the Seawolf anti-missile missile, and in the Search Water radar, which can delineate ships 200 miles over the horizon. These are British successes, based to a degree on the Government research establishments, but developed splendidly by many firms in British industry. We must make sure those are recognised and we must not decry defence sales in this situation.
Until very recently the French have had a volume of defence sales over twice ours, and, of course, the Americans and the USSR a very much greater volume. If we were to be able to get nearer to the French level in terms of volume of sales, it would make a very real contribution to the cost of equipment. about which the noble and gallant Lord is rightly anxious. The Russians get approximately double the quantity of weapons that NATO gets, for approximately the same amount of money. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that their people at every level—in their armed forces, and right through into their factories—cost very much less than do the equivalent people in the West. That is permanent, and will stay. The second reason—in my view it is slightly the smaller of the two—is that they have the standardisation of equipment. There are disadvantages in standardisation. We can examine one set of equipment, and they have to think in terms of many.
I have already spoken for too long. I want to end with just one thought on the deterrence aspect. Many people are questioning whether deterrence remains credible, as based on the weapons as shown in Annex A of this defence White Paper, with the enormous preponderance of Russian superiority in conventional weapons and overall superiority in total nuclear weapons, too. People say that the peace of the world is kept by the credibility of deterrence as long as the defensive alliance only, who threaten no one, have the nuclear bomb.
People now say: how could we ever contemplate using it when the enemy has the ability to retaliate? MV Lords, we are not talking about fighting wars: we are talking about the credibility of deterrence. The thought that the possession by an aggressor of nuclear weapons equal or superior to those of the defenders weakens the deterrent value of the nuclear element in our deterrence is pure conjecture. Thank God, thank Governments, and thank NATO there is no experience of it being tested, and that there need never be any experience—because there is another question to be asked. Even if he had nuclear superiority, would an aggressor who knew that, notwithstanding his nuclear superiority, the defenders had the will to defend themselves, ever attack if he knew that they would use nuclear weapons to defend themselves? The answer we get when we ask that question is invariably, "No, of course he would not do so".
That is the central contradiction. It is the duty of all concerned, until and unless we can raise the nuclear threshold sufficiently, to keep it clear to the potential aggressor that we may well use any weapon at our disposal in order to ensure that he never in fact miscalculates and attacks.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Lord Ashbourne
My Lords, it is getting late and I will try to get into top gear as quickly as may be so as to weary your Lordships' as little as possible. As I studied the White Paper I rapidly came to the conclusion that it contains a great deal with which I agree. It talks of cutting out waste. It talks of avoiding duplication between the services. It talks of increasing efficiency and streamlining the Ministry of Defence. That is all thoroughly commendable and the Government are to be congratulated on a White Paper designed to ensure that the taxpayer gets full value for his money.
At this stage I decided to explore what had been omitted from the White Paper and which, had it been included, would have been informative both to this House and to the country in general. I aimed my inquiries principally at the Royal Navy as I had the honour to serve for over 20 years in that service.
The first point which came to light was the enormous strain put on the Navy by increased standing commitments. These assignments, laid down by the Ministry of Defence on behalf of the Government, have to be met by the commander concerned before other tasks are considered. In the last four years the directed tasks relevant to the Royal Navy have increased by a factor of four. I have always understood it to be a cardinal facet of defence policy that if commitments are increased, then the resources to meet those commitments should be increased in proportion. One might, therefore, have expected the number of hulls to have increased four-fold since 1980. If, for simplicity, we consider just destroyer and frigate hulls, we find that between 1980 and 1984 the number of ships fell from 65 to 54—a decline of almost 17 per cent. By 1985 the number will be down to 52 and thereafter the White Paper tells us that the number will stabilise at about 50 destroyers and frigates. And here the Government are again to be congratulated because the figure would have been down to 42 rather than 50 if a recent decision to reprieve eight destroyers and frigates had not been made.
However, we are not yet out of the wood, because although we shall have 50 hulls in the late 1980s we shall have only 42 ships' companies with which to man them. If I were to say that this was a pity, your Lordships might regard this as something of an understatement, although I have some sympathy with the Government on this point. The shortfall of eight ships' companies is, of course, the result of the recent decision to reprieve the eight destroyers and frigates, to which the Minister referred earlier.
Nevertheless, one does have to face the facts, and it is for your Lordships to judge whether a four-fold increase in commitments is compatible with a 17 per cent. reduction in destroyers and frigates, and whether this is a sound basis for maritime defence. Further-more, one has still to consider how to man 50 ships with 42 ships' companies, which the Government do not appear to have allowed for other than by the reduction of numbers borne ashore. This will, of course, adversely affect the training, which is largely carried out on shore.
Moreover, I am concerned by the move to increase 1320 training at sea at the expense of shore training. Paragraph 220 of the White Paper states:Within the individual services the shift from the support areas to the front line is gathering pace. The Royal Navy is drawing on skills and experience within the fleet to reduce the shore training load; this and a vigorous drive to secure economy in all forms of shore support will reduce the numbers of men employed ashore by 25 per cent. between 1981 and 1988".That reads very nicely. But what will actually happen? I think that this is one of the things to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, referred when he said, in his balanced and authoritative speech earlier in the debate, that he hoped that it would be all right when we shifted the emphasis from the support arms—if I may put it that way—to the teeth arms. I share his hope. I share it most sincerely, but in all truth I must own that I have severe doubts about it, and I have severe doubts for the following reasons. First, the ships have to be fitted with the relevant equipment. That is not insuperable but, as your Lordships know, ships these days are very sophisticated and complex pieces of equipment. Every cubic inch is stuffed full of electronic equipment and generally, if something else has to go in, then something else has to come out. However, as I have said, it is not insuperable.
Secondly—and this is more important—time has to be found, within the ship's programme, for training. If people are trained ashore, as at present, they are appointed to a shore establishment where they are trained. One of the reasons that they are trained is that there is nothing else for them to do. You cannot steam at 25 knots to give aid to a civil power in a shore establishment. A ship, on the other hand, is likely to have a very full programme and the chances are that time will never be found for training, with the result that operational efficiency is certain to decline.
So where does that leave us? Government commitments have risen four-fold since 1980. The number of destroyers and frigates has declined by 17 per cent. in the same period; the fleet is not fully manned: and there is a big question mark over naval training in the future. I would like to end on this not very happy note by suggesting that, if more training is to be carried out at sea, standing operational commitments will have to be reduced if the operational efficiency of the remaining ships is not to be unacceptably degraded.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords. I feel sure that many of us on all sides of the House will agree with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, has made about the need to match commitments to resources. I would also strongly agree with the noble Lord that the White Paper is very much at fault in not dealing with this point at all.
The White Paper deals with great emphasis with problems of management, of cost-effectiveness, of improving procurement, of saving jobs and of saving money, but it ignores a whole range of, or deals cursorily and in a bland and boring manner with, equally important, or even more important, defence problems. One of them, as the noble Lord says, is matching commitments to resources. Another is chemical weapons, which were referred to in a sombre and well-informed manner by the noble Earl, Lord Fortescue.
1321 The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was critical because the White Paper does not cover the vitally important question of the peace movement and subversion. Indeed, almost every speaker has pointed out that on a whole range of important defence policy issues the White Paper is wholly inadequate. It is plain that the British Government are not taking, and have not taken, initiatives in any of these fields. In the field of INF and of arms control, and in the fields that have been mentioned by noble Lords, there is nothing in the White Paper to suggest that the British Government have taken any initiative, or contemplate any initiative, in any of these important fields.
This is at a time when the outlook is bleak; when East-West relations are as bad as they have been for many years past; when the arms race is continuing without any check; when there are no discussions at all about nuclear disarmament; when the discussions that there are about conventional arms in Stockholm and in Vienna are making no important progress at all; when the crisis in Lebanon has not been solved; when a new crisis is coming in the Gulf; and when the Soviet peace offensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, pointed out, is still in full swing. However, if I may say so, I am a little less pessimistic.
I was struck by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, when he said, "Here in this pamphlet is the latest wisdom from CND". "It is not at all like it was some years ago", he said, "when it was purely unilateralist". That should encourage the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. The truth is that CND has moved away from unilateralism. The peace movement has moved away from unilateralism because we won the argument and because it made no sense particularly at the general election. Nevertheless, as he said, this is an important subject.
With the Government taking so few initiatives, it is natural to turn our attention to the Opposition and ask what the Labour Party is proposing for us. We had this afternoon, if I may say so, a thoughtful and well-informed speech from the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham. Having listened carefully, I think I can say that from beginning to end the speech was wholly acceptable to my noble friends and myself. Its acceptability was caused, of course, by the fact that it bore no relation to the defence policy of the Labour Party.
This is the practice in these defence debates. We are used to it. We are a tolerant place, and none of us objects at all to the Opposition Dispatch Box being used persistently for speeches of a purely personal nature. I would be the last to complain about this. But it is confusing, and particularly confusing when we get a well-informed and accurate presentation of the Labour Party's defence policy from the Back-Benches, from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, whose speeches we listen to with particular attention for this reason.
Like his party leader, and in line with all his conference decisions, he renounces all nuclear weapons. He is not like the noble Lord, Lord Boston, at all. He renounces all nuclear weapons and demands that NATO's nuclear bases should be removed from this country, whereas all the noble Lord. Lord Boston, could do was to offer his good wishes to the new Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Carrington. The 1322 noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will need some good wishes if the Labour Party ever form a Government, because anything more disruptive of NATO it would be impossible to conceive.
I must pick up one point when I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, was going a little beyond some Labour Party opinion, even, when he declared that there was economic democracy in the Soviet Union. We all know that it is the workers' state; we all know the trade unions are free in the Soviet Union; we all know that the means of production, distribution, and exchange are in the hands of the ordinary working-class family in the Soviet Union: but he goes too far to suggest, even in the Labour Party, that economic democracy exists in the Soviet Union.
It is tempting, of course, to take these extreme views on nuclear weapons when one looks at the excessive reliance on nuclear weapons by the Government. This is plain in the White Paper, and is plain from many of the decisions taken by the Government in recent years. There is a case for saying that an immediate declaration of no first use would not be in NATO's interests. We can understand that because there is a conventional imbalance. It is not as big a conventional imbalance as is often stated. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies—which, with great respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, is the best authority—the imbalance is there, but it is not great and it is not unbridgeable. Nevertheless, it justifies the Government in saying that an immediate declaration of no first use would not be in the interests of the West.
But the Government go beyond that. They deny that we should now be working into a situation where we can get rid of this reliance on nuclear weapons in the event of conventional setbacks. There is no reason whatever why the Government should not at least have a strategy for the future of creating the conditions in which our NATO conventional forces are strong enough to deter or, if necessary, defeat conventional attack by the Soviet Union. I shall not go into all the reasons for believing that to use a nuclear weapon first is a very big and dangerous step indeed. One of the objects of defence policy must be to get NATO out of the need to have to contemplate that. There is no suggestion in the White Paper, or in ministerial statements, that the Government have that in mind.
Nor in the White Paper or in their speeches do they touch on projects supported by a great deal of well-informed opinion—not partisan—on such questions as a zone free of battlefield nuclear weapons. This is not a unilateralist idea, and it is supported by authorities of all political views. Equally, the Government do not deal, either in the White Paper or in their statements, with the concept of a freeze. That, again, is not a unilateralist concept. It is supported by a great deal of well-informed opinion.
Then there is this reliance on nuclear weapons, and their insistence on producing Trident. I have seldom heard a better statement against Trident than that given by the noble Lord, Lord Boston, this afternoon. I would add only one argument to the points that he made. It is an argument that I put to the noble Viscount. Lord Trenchard, when he had Front Bench responsibilities for defence. I said, "Granted that Trident becomes operational in 1995, what will its 1323 vulnerability then be to anti-missile missiles?" With the science of the time and the conventional wisdom at his disposal, the noble Viscount laughed me out of court. But I saw yesterday that the Americans had succeeded in knocking down a missile in space. I ask myself: how much development will there be in this anti-missile missile both in the Soviet Union and in the United States over the next ten years? I would not mind betting that in ten years' time the conventional wisdom is that ballistic missiles must give place to cruise missiles, and that just as Trident at a cost of f 10 billion—because it is going to be £10 billion or more—becomes operational in 1995, all the conventional wisdom will say. "For heaven's sake, ballistic missiles are out: we must have cruise missiles".
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, I am sorry to delay the debate by intervening, and I thank the noble Lord. Lord Mayhew, for letting me do so. I said clearly—and it is in all the Government's open documents on the subject—that one of the reasons for choosing Trident was a consideration of the degree of defence against ballistic missiles by the end of the 1990s. Nobody would say that any scientist or group of scientists or experts will necessarily get their estimate right, but one of the reasons why the prolonging of Polaris, for instance, is not an answer is the appreciation of the better defences—better, but not total.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, perhaps we can leave this argument to the future, but it will be interesting to see whether there turns out to be substance in what I am suggesting.
I am inclined to make one more point. I believe that perhaps the most important omission in the White Paper is the lack of any acknowledgement that there is a need for a greater collective influence of the European members of NATO within the alliance. This is an increasingly important question, and I should like to say a few words about it. The White Paper is silent on it and does not admit that there is a problem; yet every well-informed person knows that there is a problem, and this has been well illustrated within recent years. The truth is that for various reasons the perceptions of the European members of NATO over the field of East-West relations, and on other subjects such as the Middle East, have proved to be more mature and more positive than the perceptions of the Reagan Administration. That is true. It is well accepted both in the United States and in Western Europe. But it has not been made felt.
Let me give a topical example. We can now see in perspective and with the dust cleared away the negotiations at Geneva about cruise missiles. When we look back we see that a great opportunity was missed. We see that very serious misjudgments were made by the United States. First, they began saying, I remember, that the Russians would begin to negotiate seriously as the time came round for the deployment of the missiles, and that was echoed in this House by Government spokesmen. Then, as the time came for deployment, the Americans declared that the Russians would begin to negotiate seriously when deployment had actually taken place and the peace movements 1324 had been beaten. Again, this was echoed on the Front Bench in this House. These were serious misjudgments, and the whole handling of the INF negotiations was seriously at fault.
If we look back now at the position of the two powers at the break point, we know that the Americans would have accepted no cruise, no Pershing, no SS.20s; and we know that the Russians would have accepted no cruise, no Pershings and 120 SS.20s. That was the break point. There should have been an agreement: if not something between zero and 120 SS.20s, then the "walk in the woods" compromise.
The Europeans could and should have demanded a compromise at that stage. The Dutch, as a noble Lord mentioned just now, are to decide whether or not to deploy missiles according to the negotiating position of the two super powers—and that actually was the policy towards cruise of the Social Democratic and Liberal Parties during the general election. If the Europeans had taken that view collectively—or even if the British Government had taken that view—there would have been an agreement. Instead, the Americans threw out the "walk in the woods" without consulting the European countries because the Pentagon did not like it. That must not be allowed to happen again. There must be provision for reaching a collective European view on this vital question of arms control, detente, East-West trade and the Middle East, and it is most encouraging that some steps forward are being made in the field of defence at the Western European Union.
I renew the request which other noble Lords have made to the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, that when he comes to wind up he will reassure us that the Government are taking a positive line on the question of a greater collective influence for the European members of NATO, perhaps organised and expressed through a revised Western European Union. We were not reassured by the Foreign Secretary's statement after the recent meeting of Foreign Ministers of the WEU. Perhaps when he comes to reply the noble Viscount will cheer us up a little and give us some reassurance that in this vital matter, at least, the British Government are going to take an initiative.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, today, as yesterday, your Lordships' House has been extremely well served by statements of weight and substance from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and we are grateful not only for those statements but also for the fact that the Leader of the House, the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, will reply to this debate. No fewer than 12 noble Lords who took part in yesterday's important debate on management and organisation have spoken today. All those—indeed, every speaker I heard today (and I missed on or two)—would merit the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, as having made sensible speeches. I will be asking many questions, and I fully understand that some of them will need to receive a written reply.
When the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, spoke in the Defence Estimates debate last year, he reminded your Lordships of some of the basic fundamental nostrums to which the Labour party subscribes, and to which I reaffirm our commitment here today: first, that our 1325 defence should be adequate and efficient; secondly, that we should ensure that we are getting value for money; thirdly, that defence policy should relate to a clearly defined foreign policy; and, fourthly, that we continue as members of NATO and play a full part in that alliance. So, the question which the noble Lord the Minister must answer tonight is whether we have 20 per cent. more value for the 20 per cent. more money we have spent on defence since 1979. Are our defences 20 per cent. better now than they were when this Government took office? The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. raised this issue and I think that we are entitled to have an answer.
The Observer main editorial dated 20th May had it about right when it started by stating:Mr. Michael Heseltine's defence White Paper is a smooth and well-tailored document—as befits its authorThat editorial went on to raise what many will have concluded are major questions: first, the treatment of Britain's independent nuclear deterrent and the Trident programme; and, secondly, allied to this, a lack of frankness about where the money is to be found to meet all the commitments the Government have taken on.
We are right to be worried about the impact of the Trident programme on the rest of the defence budget. This was a matter raised by my noble friend Lord Boston when he asked searching questions, and I believe we are entitled to have some of the answers tonight. I repeat the central theme of the worry: Trident is now expected to cost £8.7 billion and some academics have estimated that eventually it might be between £10 billion and £12 billion—and in its peak years it will account for between 15 to 20 per cent. of all expenditure on defence. We should hear again from the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, the rationale which witnesses Britain acquiring a deterrent larger and more expensive than we need at the expense of our conventional forces. Is it really too late for the Government to think again about Trident? Whatever else the estimates reveal, there is a yawning chasm when it comes to argument, even discussion, on the philosophy surrounding the nuclear strategy policy.
The House knows that an increasingly clamorous debate is getting under way around the argument of whether there be first use or no first use of nuclear weapons. It has been touched on time and again this evening, and latterly by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. The estimates tell us that the independent British strategic force is, and will continue to be, of the minimum size necessary to provide a credible and effective deterrent. But, as my noble friend Lord Boston pointed out, if it is the minimum now it will obviously be many times more than the minimum when expanded. The cost of Trident will create the very policy vacuum which is used as the argument for bringing in the policy of Trident in the first place.
The Minister who opened the debate laid great stress on competition policy; gloried, in fact, in the progress that the Government have made in this sphere; promises of more competition to come, indicating that in the sphere of support, supply and maintenance the principle to guide Government policy would be that work would only be carried out by Government in-store establishments where it was absolutely necessary 1326 for operational purposes. It is clear that there are literally no limits to the extent to which this Government intend to get out of the government of business. Can we be told whether advice is taken by government from the fighting forces or from any other service input before these dramatic and revolutionary changes are made?
Let us take, for instance, their determination to sell off our ordnance factories. That has been raised by a number of noble Lords here this evening. The Bill to privatise the ordnance factories will be given a Second Reading in this House next week. Ministers in another place have sought to persuade us that it is in the national interest not only to bring in private capital but to allow in foreign investors with all that that could lead to. Ministers have told us that there are built-in safeguards to protect the ability of Britain to control our own munition-making capability. But, knowing the propensity of this Government to trim and to rationalise, but, above all else, their determination to take the government of business out of the business of government, who can believe government professions that they have no intention to stop privatising our defence capability?
If the Government really believe that their policies in this sphere give confidence to defence personnel, the armed forces, employees in the factories, yes, and the people of this country, they are making a big mistake. It is the road down which the Government are marching to where they know not. Privatisation of the ordnance factories is a reckless gamble from a reckless Government.
Paragraph 116 of the White Paper, on page 4, deals with chemical warfare. That was referred to by more than one of the speakers here today: my noble friend Lord Boston of Faversham, Lord Brockway, Earl Fortescue and my noble friend Lord Mulley, to mention but a few of the speakers. I believe that the Government will be heartened by the interest in and support for their stance and attitude in general, as voiced by members of the House in that very important sphere. I recognise from reading the White Paper that the scale of operational oversight (that is the national responsibility) is daunting in national security terms. But as the Estimates show in detail, overshadowing all other aspects is our involvement in and commitment to NATO. As the noble Minister who opened the debate said, 95 per cent. of our total defence budget is devoted directly to the alliance tasks.
Curiously we do this against a background of statistical compilation and intelligence which we ourselves admit is far from satisfactory. On page 41 of Annex A we read:The only information on expenditure published by the Soviet Union is a single line entry for 'defence' in the annual state budget. These figures clearly present a totally inaccurate impression of both the scale and trend of defence expenditure and are incompatible with known force levels. Because of this lack of information from Soviet sources we have to estimate"—I repeat "we have to estimate"—the scale and trends of Soviet defence expenditure ourselves".Can we be told here tonight, or later, by the Minister whether and in what way he is satisfied that we have those estimates right?
We know that the Secretary of state nailed his flag to 1327 the mast of cost cutting when he introduced his organisational changes to the House on 12th March. He said:It is my intention to improve efficiency and to achieve significant savings".A major area of controversy surrounds the division of expenditure between nuclear and conventional weaponry. These are matters which require a mass of intelligence and data which, in the nature of things, are properly denied to the Opposition. But we on these Benches have repeatedly raised our concern that the seemingly uncontrollable cost of the Trident programme will distort dramatically our ability to combine with our NATO allies in securing adequate conventional capability.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, raised questions in the defence debate last year which were not answered. If Trident represents but 2 per cent. of the nuclear capacity of the West, with the other 98 per cent. coming from America, surely that 2 per cent. can be better spent on a progressively modernised conventional contribution. Do the Government still persist, in the light of that prognostication, to assert that the acquisition of the Trident system and the acquistion of more and more nuclear weapons will make war less likely? The escalation not only in cost but in destructiveness is a horror story to beat all horror stories. Is it necessary? Are we in charge of our own destiny? Do we really wish to be a party to a constant search for more horrendous devices?
The Government will plead in aid the result of the general election—complete endorsement of all aspects of their defence posture. But they should not underestimate the growing abhorrence of millions of our people at their enslavement. It is an enslavement by association with the horror of a nuclear holocaust. Whatever the provocation, whatever the action taken by an aggressor, growing numbers of the British people are quite unable to envisage their representatives being party to pressing a button to unleash on the world the nuclear darkness which will herald the destruction of mankind and civilisation.
As my noble friend Lord Boston put it very pertinently in his opening address, the real controversy surrounding the exact status of control on that button will not go away. The important and serious questions raised last week in your Lordships' House reveal deep unease about the nature of our relationship with the government of the United States. There are many fields in which one could criticise the Prime Minister and the Government for striking isolated postures in international affairs. We would applaud her if she would show a more independent and robust spirit in her relationships with the United States of America.
The established fact that missiles are now based at Greenham Common and that they can be used and operated without our say-so is a grim measure of the extent to which we have become subservient in our relationships. If the Minister who is to reply will refute the charge that I make, then we shall be very pleased to have, which we have asked for more than once, the authority upon which these buttons cannot be pressed without collaboration from the Government.
1328 When we are looking at the Defence Estimates, the United Kingdom continues to spend more on defence than any other European member of NATO, both in absolute terms and per capita. We also spend a higher proportion of our GDP on defence than any other major ally. While that is a bald statement, it is one to he questioned. A fair equitable share is one thing. To boast that we actually pay someone else's share as well as our own, is, so far as I am concerned, a matter that needs to be answered. Can the House be given a satisfactory explanation for why the per capita payment towards NATO from Canada is 273 dollars per person per year; Holland 294 dollars, Germany 364 dollars, France 396 dollars, and the United Kingdom 435 dollars? Will the Government explain why we appear to be paying more than our share?
My noble friend Lord Mulley drew the attention of the House to the apparent—I say apparent—contradiction in how this Government treat our armed forces when in Opposition and when in Government. The noble Viscount who is to reply needs to tell us why a two-stage pay award under Labour was heinous and outrageous, deserving of censure, and yet is perfectly reasonable when promulgated by this Government. If it was an insult then. why is it not an insult now?
We on these Benches support much that is said in the White Paper as to the stature and status of NATO. I particularly commend paragraph 101, which says:history shows that a nation that desires peace in freedom cannot simply rely on the hope that it will be left alone. If the preservation of liherty requires eternal vigilance then the maintenance of peace demands unremitting effort".We on these Benches say "Amen" to that.
Although the summit meeting last week was the London economic summit, it dealt, quite properly, with the issues of East-West relations and arms control. We share both the disappointment of the Government and their hope that the suspended arms control talks be speedily resumed, and we believe that, without the pre-condition offer of President Reagan, to recommence them is sensible and timely.
I ask these questions arising from that statement. What steps are the Government taking to get those talks going again? How far are we examining the causes of the breakdown to see whether we can induce Russia—and I acknowledge that the talks broke down because Russia left the table—to return to the table? Can the Minister say a little more about what is in the Government's mind when the communiqué refers to precise commitment to the principle of the non-use of force? The communiqué talks of pursuing the search to extend the political dialogue and long-term cooperation with the Soviet Union, and I wonder whether the House can be told of any new initiatives that are in mind?
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, aided and abetted by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, chided the Labour Party with divisions on the issues of nuclear policy. Yes, my Lords, in the Labour Party we confess to harbouring dissidents within our ranks. We do not all think alike. We argue and we disagree among ourselves. But we do not need to take seriously any charge of disunity from the Alliance, which is so riven by so many conflicts among its own forums of policy-making. I have in front of me a report from the Sunday Times of September last year, under the headline: 1329Owen gets tough with the Liberals".It states:David Owen yesterday carried his new authority as Social Democratic Party leader into the heart of the Liberal Party reproving its dissidents, routing its unilateral disarmers".It goes on:The parties might disagree as friends, but they must have none of the rancour, backbiting and bitterness of Labour feuds".—although they can disagree!
It continues:Liberal unilateralists broke their silence when Owen asked whether Trident should be cancelled. 'Yes,' they shouted. When he said that cruise missiles would be stationed in Britain for three or four years by the time of the next election, they cried 'Shame'. When he asked whether the Polaris submarine should cease patrolling 10 years before the end of its useful life, they again shouted 'Yes'.".My Lords, I simply raise those points because they were raised, and they are not part of the Defence Estimates debate. We are discussing the Government policy. But I think that the noble Lords, Lord Kennet and Lord Mayhew, will be interested to see what is the up-to-date policy of the Labour Party. If it were possible to put down in this place an amendment to a Motion, "That, the estimates be received in another place on Monday next", this is the kind of amendment that would certainly commend itself to noble Lords on this side:Line 1, leave out from "House" to end and add:believes that the plans outlined in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1984, Cmnd. 9227,and we are discussing them now—avoid the real and fundamental issues relating to the defence and security of the United Kindom; is convinced that the enormous and increasing cost of buying the Trident nuclear system from the United States will mean further cuts in, and weakening of, our conventional non-nuclear forces; deplores the fact that the White Paper contains no initiatives to stop and reverse the escalating and dangerous nuclear arms race; and calls upon the Government to work within NATO for a change in its existing strategy to a stragey based n the no-first use of nuclear weapons, to cancel Trident and to remove all nuclear bases, including Cruise missiles, from the United Kingdom.".That is the policy which, if 1 had been in the other place, I should certainly have supported.
In conclusion, my Lords, last year we debated the estimates immediately following a series of demonstrations throughout Europe against the impending siting of cruise missiles on European soil. In no place was that public expression of fear for the future of mankind more massively supported than here in Britain. So, again, history repeated itself. Last Saturday witnessed another eruption, a peaceful demonstration, when hundreds of thousands of men, women and their children truly peacefully demonstrated, giving President Reagan an invitation to take his cruise missiles home with him. The marches will go on. The message will be repeated. Cruise missiles on British soil will make war more certain, not less. Do not dismiss those who march and who carry the message as fools, knaves, or dupes. They are none of those. However, they are also not naive enough to expect this Government radically to reverse their defence posture.
I share the reservations of the Government that we shall want more than the suggestion that those who support the marches live in Poland, Russia, and Czechoslovakia. We shall want agreements with the USSR on arms control and reduction, and these will 1330 not come easily, or overnight. Those who march, in my view, have courage, strength and faith to sustain them on their long march. Their numbers are growing. They will use their conviction that nuclear weapons are evil to try to persuade this Government to join them. What is more to the point, my Lords, millions share their view that one day they will win, because they know that they are right.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, tempted me slightly, as did the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, before him. However, I shall be tempted only into making one (what might be called) outrageous political comment—and I do not think that it will be that—before I seek, as I think it is my duty, to reply in detail to many of the points made in this very important debate. My one comment would be this. If I were the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, I do not think I would bother too much playing around with trying to knock the Liberals down so hard, because, after all, in life, I always try to attract those people who might vote for me. Over the time I have been in this House I have never been aware of the Liberal Party voting for any other than the Labour Party. So that I must say it seems rather surprising that they seek so much to distance themselves from the Labour Party and that the Labour Party try so much to distance themselves from them. It is very interesting because, when it comes to the matter of a vote, I have not noticed that distance. Perhaps I am going to be rewarded soon and, when I am, I shall be interested to see it.
Perhaps now, my Lords, I can turn to the debate in detail. First of all, I should like to thank the noble Lords, Lord Boston of Faversham, Lord Graham of Edmonton, Lord Mayhew, and many others who paid tribute during the debate to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, not only for his speech in introducing the debate, but also in regard to the way in which he conducts the defence questions in this House—and, indeed, very difficult questions, as I think noble Lords on all sides of the House very genuinely recognise. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, that he should not worry that his commendation of my noble friend might do my noble friend some harm, because it will be allied with my very strong commendation. If my commendation is no good, well, it would be a sad day. But I hope it will be good, and I am immeasurably grateful to my noble friend for the way in which he conducts the defence business in this House, and I am very grateful for what has been said about him.
My noble friend's speech at the start of the debate also helps me very much in another field. It saves me from going over much of the general ground which he put forward. I am grateful for that because I wish to try to reply in detail to as many of the points made as I possibly can, and I wish to confine myself to a limited period. Therefore if I do that, and I do not therefore deal with some of the more very general points which he has made already, I am sure that the House will probably think that that is the best way for me to proceed.
There is one general point with which I think it is 1331 important for me to deal because it was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, right at the start of the debate; by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet; by the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, who speaks with all the authority of a previous Secretary of State for Defence; by my noble friend Lord Trenchard and by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—that is whether Trident is the right policy; whether it can be accommodated within the Defence Estimates as it stands. I would seek at this stage to plead in aid one very important view. There are those who accept that this Government should have their independent nuclear deterrent. They believe that they wish to maintain Polaris. But yet they say that they do not wish to move to Trident and they therefore hope that somehow Polaris can be continued for a very long period and will serve as a nuclear deterrent for a long period. I do not believe that that position is credible; nor indeed—which is far more important in my view—does the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, who, after all, had responsibility at the time when the decision was taken. He, in a very important maiden speech in October of last year, made some comments which are very important indeed. He said (at cols. 155–156 of Hansard for 25th October):There are those who would cancel Trident and keep Polaris against an uncertain future, perhaps for use as a bargaining chip in arms negotiations. This is in fact an option for unilateral disarmament. In the hands of such a Government that would cancel Trident but maintain Polaris, Polaris as a bargaining chip would be useless. The Russians would only have to wait and it would go—time expired—and in my view the sands of time would run out very quickly.He finished this point of his speech by saying:If we cancel Trident we will be out of the nuclear business and it seems to me that is not what the British people want.There are those such as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and others with great responsibilities and great knowledge who do not agree with that view; but I think I am entitled to rest on the view of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin, as expressed at that time, and also with the view of my noble friend Lord Trenchard, who also had responsibility at the Ministry of Defence and made a very important point on that very issue and on the cost of Trident. I do not accept for one moment what the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said about the costs. When I hear any estimate of future costs, I know that such matters can be very dangerous things to get involved in too far ahead. I have had much experience in these things because I have been a Minister for far too long not to have seen some of the troubles over costs which have arisen. But when I hear the noble Lord say that several academics take the view that costs are going to be vastly in excess of estimates, and use that as a political argument, I always think that we are entitled to have a certain doubt as to the wisdom of the academics who are quoted, because usually one can find some other academics at the other end of the scale who will say exactly the opposite. I do not accept therefore what the noble Lord. Lord Graham of Edmonton said.
It is well known that over the period of its procurement, Trident will cost on average only 3 per cent. of the defence budget, and 6 per cent. of the equipment budget. It is also felt by those who took the decision and were part of it that Trident is far the most 1332 cost effective purchase on this basis that we could have. Therefore I believe that it is right and I believe that it will be seen to be right. Those who do not wish for us to continue with a nuclear deterrent at all are entitled to their view; but those who wish to see us continue with one should have regard to some of the views—particularly those which I have quoted—from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Lewin.
The noble Lords, Lord Kennet, Lord Boston of Faversham, and others, raised the question of dual key. That has been answered on so many occasions by my noble friend in this House and by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place that I do not think there is any point in me adding to the answers by saying exactly the same as they would. It is the truth, and I have not anything else to say other than the truth.
I turn to what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked about Western European Union, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew.
§ Lord Kennet
Before the noble Viscount leaves the question of dual key, has he any comment to make on the statement by the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, which I have now read out twice in the House and on which I have had no comment from the Government at all, which divides the cruise missiles into two classes; those which can be quickly launched by SACEUR and those which cannot?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
Yes, indeed, I have an answer for the noble Lord. I was just coming to it but I will now come to it directly and give the other answer I was going to give him afterwards.
I quite agree that it is important that I should get this answer for him. When the question was asked at the time, I realised it was important and so did my noble friend. So investigations were made with the United States Government to see what exactly had been meant by General Meyer's comments. The answer—strongly supported by the American Government in the discussions they had with the Ministry of Defence—is that these words do not bear the interpretation which some commentators have sought to put on them. The American Government totally confirm that there can be no question of a military commander ordering the release of nuclear weapons without the appropriate political authority. I am glad to give that absolutely categoric answer which has been checked with the United States Government. I believe it has been checked and would be supported by many of those who had particular responsibility in this field.
I now turn to the other point that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made about Western European Union. The Government are glad to note the revival of public interest in the possibilities for improving European co-operation on defence and security, including proposals for making greater use of the Western European Union. We are playing an active part in the current discussions among the Western European members about ways of reactivating the organisation. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, will feel that is a reasonably satisfactory answer and is reasonably encouraging.
May I now turn to the question on defence 1333 procurement, collaboration and competition raised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. The noble Lord was also supported in questions on this subject by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, by the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, by my noble friend Lord Trenchard and by my noble friend Lord Ironside. I recognise at once that there is no-one—I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Carver, will accept this from me—who is capable of stating his case with greater authority, with greater determination and with greater assurance. The only point that I think I am entitled to make is that sometimes the assurance is just tinged with a little more question than he would appear to give it at the time when he is making it. On this occasion it is fair to say that he would he the first to recognise, as I think he did say, that this was a question to which there was no simple black and white answer. It is right in principle, and I would accept exactly what he says; It is very important that his views should be strongly stressed, and strongly stressed to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence and to all the others concerned with it. But it is equally true—as my noble friend Lord Trenchard made clear—that this collaboration and competition has got to be conducted against a background, however hard one tries otherwise—I am sure that the noble and gallant Lord found that himself—of people who are determined to pursue their own national interest. I know it has to be overcome; I know it is right to overcome it; but I do not think the noble and gallant Lord himself believes that it is all that easily overcome. Nevertheless, it is surely right that it should be stressed, and I think all the other noble Lords who spoke on this subject agreed.
My noble friend Lord Ironside, as well as speaking on this, spoke on various technological aspects of the defence programme about which he is extremely knowledgeable. He welcomed the privatisation of the Ordnance factories and their improved performance preparatory to privatisation. "Improved performance" does seem to have happened in other fields prior to privatisation. It seems to have a good spur for the future. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, gave notice of the views which he and his party have about the privatisation of the Ordnance factories. I was therefore all the more pleased to note the strong support given to it by my noble friend Lord Ironside.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone spoke about "The Services and the Community" and about the search and rescue operations conducted by the services. We would all agree that those are extremely important. He also referred to the need to reduce the defence estate and to get rid of property which is no longer required. I am not frequently able to speak away from any sort of brief or any sort of knowledge except my own experience as a Member of Parliament for 30 years, and from my own prejudices. All my own prejudices are that not only the Ministry of Defence but nearly all other Government organisations are the slowest people to get rid of property and land which they do not want, have no hope of wanting and are never going to want again. One sometimes wonders whether anybody will ever get any sense into the management of the Government estate. I have long since been a great critic of that, inside every Government of which I have been a member. That is a long time now, but it 1334 never gets any better! However, perhaps one day it will; and I could not agree more with what my noble friend said.
The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, spoke about chemical weapons, and he welcomed what my honourable friend in another place, Richard Luce, had to say on this subject about the need to seek to outlaw these odious weapons. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Fortescue pointed out on the other side, I think very fairly, that unless such agreements can be reached the danger of being unequipped and not ready to deal with these horrible weapons is a very real one. I think my noble friend made a very important point, which I am sure will be considered very carefully.
My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing has apologised to me for having to leave. He spoke first of all about the air defence of the United Kingdom and the fact that it is based on aircraft which are far too old. He has great experience in these matters, and, indeed, speaks with very great authority. He then went on to mention the work services and the amalgamation of the work services. He speaks to one who feels strongly on this matter because, again, that is part of the management of the Government's own estate; and, just as getting rid of surplus properties has long been a slow process, equally the building of new ones or improving others has also been a slow process.
Always one hopes for progress; and I am able to tell my noble friend that there has been some progress on one aspect which he mentioned. It is that there is an experimental scheme to give responsible military budgets for minor works and maintenance direct to established commanders. This is well on the way at HMS "Dolphin" for the Royal Navy, at Colchester for the Army and, for the RAF, at Linton-on-Ouse. I am pleased to hear that is happening. I hope it will go well, and I hope that it will be a long time before somebody restricts the amount of money that these commanders are allowed to spend, as they may be tempted to do even before they have been allowed to spend it! But I believe that these schemes are in fact in operation, and that is very important.
My noble friends Lord Gisborough and Lord Beloff spoke of the extremely important matter of disinformation and propaganda. In the process they sought to answer some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, spoke on one aspect of "having a ritual dance". I will simply say that I agree with the criticisms made by my noble friends of what he said, and I will not seek to indulge in a ritual dance with him myself. I do not accept his views; he knows that I do not accept his views; and he knows I never will—just as I know that he would never accept mine. So it would be a ritual dance for us to continue on that basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, raised the question about an extra debate. I can assure him (because this is something I simply cannot duck; I may be able to duck practically every other question I am asked, but when I am asked something concerning the "usual channels" of this House that is something I cannot duck, nor indeed would I wish to do so) that I have promised that in the next parliamentary year, 1984–85, we shall try to find two days on which to debate the Defence Estimates, approximately a week 1335 apart. When I say "try", we really do mean to do this. Indeed, my noble friend the Chief Whip has written about this and has expressed his determination on it; and I may say that when my noble friend expresses his determination I am delighted to find, since I have been working with him in this House, that he invariably succeeds—or very nearly invariably succeeds.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, then welcomed some of the improvements so far as the Royal Navy is concerned. He also made a reference, which I found very acceptable because it enables me to associate myself with it, to the RUC and the UDR in Northern Ireland. It seems many years ago now since I was there and used to be visited by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, who made various strictures on my behaviour, which I always fully understood but did not always agree with. Nevertheless, I think we all agree about the performance of our regular forces, the RUC and the UDR in Northern Ireland over all these years. It is terrifying for me to think that it is now over ten years since I left there, and in all that time I have thought that that is the most remarkable achievement which has been carried through by all those concerned. It is something of which this country should be very proud.
But I have a nasty feeling that we are slightly less inclined than we were to notice what is going on, and I think that this is rather a worrying aspect. Too often the hardships and difficulties pass almost unnoticed, or appear rather low on the pages of our newspapers. I do not think that is good, because the courage is probably all the greater when things are quiet. It is much more difficult, as, in a humble way, I once learned in life, to be courageous when things are very quiet than when you are being pushed around and under great pressure. I think that when things are quiet it is much more difficult.
My noble friend Lady Vickers paid a tribute to the work of the forces in the Falklands, and I think we would all wish to associate ourselves with that. She also raised various detailed questions about the dockyards. I hope she will understand that as they were so detailed I have asked my noble friend to write to her on those particular points.
The noble Lord, Lord Mulley, raised the question of priorities, as a former Minister for Defence Procurement, and I paid considerable attention, as we all did, to what he said on this matter. He raised the question, as did the noble Lord. Lord Graham of Edmonton, about service pay. It is true that the Government have decided to stage the pay on this occasion. It will be paid in full, of course, and the recommendations of the review body will be implemented in full by 1st November. I recognise that this is a disappointment to the armed services, but it is something which we believe we have had to do in the circumstances as they are at present. If I have to take the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, I certainly will take them, only to give them back quite quietly (or, rather, not quietly, because I am incapable of that, but give them back) by saying that the number of times in my ministerial career on which I have been censured by an opposition for something which I have constantly seen them doing is probably quite as many 1336 as he has experienced, and we both have to take it on that basis. But I do want to emphasise that there will be full implementation of the review body's recommendations by 1st November.
My noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery raised the question of CIA activities. I think it would be improper for me to do other than note what he said from his very considerable experience. It would be improper for me, as a Minister of this Government, to make any further comments on the matter. My noble friend Lady Airey of Abingdon raised the question of the services and the media. I agree that is very important, but it is two-way and I hope that the experience of the Falklands has taught both sides in this particular problem some lessons for the future. It is important for the services to work out how they are going to deal with war correspondents and the media, and I entirely agree with my noble friend. She raised the question of help for the Imperial War Museum and the need to educate our young people in the history of the armed forces as part of our heritage, and I am sure that we would all agree with her about that.
My noble friend Lord Ashbourne, with considerable knowledge of the Navy, raised the whole question of value for money which he thought we were getting out of the White Paper. He also raised the problem of commitments, which I think are very important, and indeed having the resources to meet the commitments, about which anyone who has been an officer and who has knowledge of the forces will feel very deeply.
I hope that I have managed to answer nearly all the points which have been made by noble Lords in this debate. I should like to end by saying that the Government accept what has been said on many sides: that the importance of Britain's contribution to NATO, our part in NATO as part of the NATO Alliance, has been crucially important and has been a vital factor in the true situation that peace has now been maintained in Western Europe for 40 years. I believe that NATO has had a considerable part in that. I think everyone would accept that and the British nation with members of all parties and all Governments in that time, have every reason to be proud of what we have done.
I finish on that note by saying that it does on that basis give me particular pleasure to refer to the appointment of my special friend and colleague Lord Carrington as Secretary-General of NATO. It is also most appropriate to refer to it in your Lordships' House where he enjoys such particular affection and respect. NATO is indeed fortunate to have him as Secretary General. We shall need him and we, and all the other member countries, know that the alliance will be exceptionally well served at a crucial time.
I wish finally to associate myself wholly with all those noble Lords in all parts of the House who have agreed on the immense contribution made by our servicemen in the three services. I should like again to thank all those noble Lords for the various points they have made during this debate this afternoon, and I commend this Motion on the Defence Estimates to the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.