§ 3.10 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985 (Cmnd. 9430).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
§ Defence is unique. There is no other single component of the Government's expenditure programme that is subject to annual reports to Parliament and to the taxpayer like our annual Statement on the Defence Estimates. This is as it should be. It reflects the importance that successive Governments have attached to the maintenance of the country's security—the first and greatest responsibility of all Governments.
§ But defence does not come cheap. In the financial year 1985–86, we are planning to spend over £18 billion on defence. This is a huge sum of money. And it is of course true that spending money on defence means forgoing expenditure on something else—expenditure to which, in an ideal world, we should all like to give priority. But, as I recall reminding the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, on one occasion, we must take the world as we find it, not as we should ideally like it to be. Wishful thinking is no substitute for a credible security policy, based on a sober and realistic analysis of the threat that we face.
§ The Statement reminds us of the realitites of today. After the last war, we in the West turned with relief to the tasks of reconstructing our societies and rebuilding our prosperity. By contrast, our wartime ally, the Soviet Union, kept 6 million men in arms and tightened its grip on the countries of Eastern Europe that it had occupied. It then turned the searchlight of its hostility on the West as a whole, and in the intervening 40 years has lost no opportuntiy to extend its political and military power-base. East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan are merely the most conspicuous examples.
§ There are those who say that all this simply reflects Soviet insecurity, which in itself stems from centuries of Russian experience of invasion, and that the Soviet Union offers no real threat to Britain. But we must judge them by their deeds and not their words. It is a pretty extreme form of insecurity that necessitates the build-up of a massive superiority in both conventional 741 and nuclear weapons; that requires the construction of a mighty navy equipped for offensive operations around the world; and that justifies the development and maintenance of a huge chemical warfare capability—all to the accompaniment of a ceaseless cacophony of propaganda against the West.
The response of the free world is now part of history. In 1949 we joined together in the North Atlantic Alliance. Indeed, it is through NATO, and only through NATO, that we can succeed in preserving peace with freedom because it is only by the collective commitment of all members of the Alliance that, between us, we can maintain the military strength necessary for successful deterrence. But as the foreign ministers of the Alliance reaffirmed at the conclusion of the Council meeting in Lisbon on 7th June:
We do not seek military superiority for ourselves. None of our weapons will ever be used except in response to attack".
And at the earlier May meeting of the Defence Planning Committee, faced with the continuing buildup and modernisation of Soviet nuclear and conventional arms, defence ministers stated:
We are resolved to maintain the credibility of NATO's strategy of flexible response and forward defence".
§ The Statement on the Defence Estimates describes NATO forces, and the United Kingdom's contribution to them, in detail. But I should like to take the opportunity of reminding your Lordships of the scale and extent of Britain's contribution. We commit the vast majority of our forces and about 95 per cent. of our defence budget directly or indirectly to NATO. We are the only European nation to contribute to all three elements of NATO forces; strategic nuclear, theatre nuclear and conventional. We provide forces for all three major NATO commands—the Atlantic, Europe and the Channel. And we concentrate our military contribution in four areas: nuclear forces, defence of the United Kingdom, the European mainland, and the Eastern Atlantic and Channel.
§ In addition, we have important responsibilities outside the NATO area. Some of them are ours alone, such as our responsibility for the external defence of our dependent territories. Some we share with other Western countries, such as the security of supply of vital raw materials and the protection of trade routes. Some we share with the international community as a whole, such as participation in peacekeeping forces or in humanitarian missions such as the Ethiopian airlift.
§ I cannot let the occasion pass without saying a few words about the superb operation carried out over the weekend by the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force in close collaboration with the coast guard, the United States Air Force, and the Irish authorities following the dreadful tragedy which befell the Air India Boeing 747. The first RAF aircraft was airborne within 20 minutes of the emergency call being received, and was on station in less than an hour. The operation was co-ordinated by RAF personnel at the search and rescue centre at Plymouth. I am sure your Lordships would wish to join me in paying thanks to all the emergency services concerned in this tragic affair.
§ The Government are committed to maintaining a substantial contribution in all four areas of NATO 742 commitment, as well as our activities outside the NATO area. I think that it is worth emphasising this point because there are those—not least the defence committee in another place—who do not think that we can do it. Our critics draw attention to the ending, after 1985–86, of the Government's commitment to annual real increases in defence spending in line with the 3 per cent. NATO target. They refer to the programme that we have embarked on to replace Polaris with Trident in the 1990s. They point to the ever-increasing cost of defence equipment. They stack all these factors together, and conclude that we cannot hope to sustain all our commitments from our future resources, that we are therefore heading for a defence review, and that we are being less than honest for not admitting the fact, and discussing it in detail, in the Statement on the Defence Estimates.
§ But by stacking the deck like that, our critics make the mistake of underestimating the cards in the Government's hand. I leave on one side the fact that had we conducted a defence review in the pages of the White Paper our critics would have taken us to task for not announcing such a major undertaking to Parliament. The first point that our critics ignore is the major and continuing impact that is being made by the increased resources that are now available to defence. The increased level of spending in the current year marks the culmination of an unprecedented period of real growth in defence spending; a record unparalleled in peacetime. As a result, the United Kingdom's defence budget is the second in NATO in absolute terms and on a per capita basis, and contains the highest proportion spent on equipment of any NATO nation.
§ As for Trident, your Lordships have discussed the relevant issues in detail on more than one occasion. I do not intend to rehearse the arguments now. If any noble Lord is unsure of the Government's policy or of the reasons why we have embarked on the Trident programme, may I commend to his attention the excellent and cogent essay on page 6 of the Statement. There are just two points that I would emphasise. The first is that Trident is expected to absorb on average only about 3 per cent. of the defence budget over the period of its procurement, and about 6 per cent. of the equipment budget. The Ministry of Defence is well used to managing large projects within the year-to-year constraints of the normal budgetary process. Tornado, for example, not only cost more than Trident in real terms; it also absorbed a higher proportion of the equipment budget during its period of procurement. But Tornado was easily assimilated in the defence programme, as will be Trident. The second point is that, although the capital costs of the Trident programme are comparatively large, the running costs will be small. By contrast, the costs of running and manning conventional weapons are normally a high proportion of their total costs. It is therefore a mistake to assume that without Trident we should be able to sustain much larger conventional forces than with it.
§ The Defence Committee in another place has drawn attention to the historic tendency for the costs of defence equipment to increase every year above the rate of inflation generally. Many voices have been raised predicting a shortfall between resources and commitments if this were to continue. But the 743 Government do not accept that this tendency—a product, we believe, of slack practices in defence contracting in the past—is inevitable and that we can do nothing about it. Indeed, we are committed to increasing efficiency and improving value for money, recognising always, as the recent NATO ministerial meeting also did, that what really matters is the output we get for our money. Chapter 5 of the Statement sets out the ways in which we are going about this process: more competition, tighter contracts, savings on overheads, and better management. It also sets out some of our recent successes, of which the competition for the new RAF basic trainer aircraft is but one example. Elsewhere in the Statement we describe the measures we are taking to improve value for money by increasing collaboration, both within NATO as a whole and specifically within Europe, and by making a concerted and systematic effort to exploit the new technologies to the full.
§ This Government are not in the business of retrenchments and withdrawals. We are in the business of improvements and enhancements. We are certainly not retreating from our adherence to the principle of deterrence, which has kept this country and our allies in peace and freedom for 40 years. Nor do we believe that NATO's strategy of forward defence and flexible response has outlived its usefulness. We shall maintain and strengthen our contribution to NATO's military posture, and we shall continue to pursue the goal of value for money in the equipment programme. In case I have not got the message across, let me emphasise it again, in plain language: we are not conducting a defence review, by stealth or otherwise, and we have no intention of embarking on one.
§ So far, I have touched only on our defence policies and military capabilities. By themselves, these are not the whole picture. Part and parcel of our security policy is our commitment to arms control. A symbol of this commitment is the setting up within the department of the Defence Arms Control Unit, which provides a focus of advice to the Secretary of State and his Ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Defence on arms control issues. Substantial all-round reductions in armament levels are, of course, the aspiration and the ideal of us all. That does not mean that arms control is an occupation for the starry-eyed. As I have said to your Lordships on a number of occasions, arms control measures must be realistic, balanced and verifiable. Negotiations are not easy. Significant successes have been achieved in the past in the control of arms, if not in their reduction. The task ahead is to maintain and build on those agreements, at Geneva and elsewhere.
§ The United States have demonstrated the importance they attach to arms control by their decision to continue their political commitment not to undercut the provisions of the unratified SALT II treaty. The Government strongly support and applaud that decision. We hope that the Soviet Union will be prepared to show that they, too, take arms control seriously by an equally scrupulous attitude to their obligations and by entering into serious negotiations at Geneva.
This leads me to President Reagan's strategic defence initiative. This is another subject that has
benefited from extensive discussion in your Lordships' House, and I have no intention of rehearsing all the arguments again—although I have no doubt that some of your Lordships will wish to comment in depth on these matters. There are those who say that the very existence of the SDI programme is a violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. But, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to read an extract from a speech that was made in a very different place:
The ABM treaty does not place any limitations on carrying out research and experimental work directed towards solving the problems of defence of the country against nuclear missile attack".
§ That was said, not in the American Senate but in the Supreme Soviet in 1972 by Marshal Grechko, then Soviet Minister of Defence. The Soviet Union has been acting on his words for the last 13 years. In these circumstances it would have been folly for the United States not to undertake its own programme of research into ballistic missile defence. The Government support the SDI, in line with the four points agreed between the Prime Minister and the President at Camp David, and we are at present in detailed discussion with the United States Administration about British participation in research in areas relevant to strategic defence. Our objective is to ensure that the traffic in technology and expertise is two-way, and that there will be clear benefits for our own defence programmes and industrial base.
§ "Peace in our time" is perhaps an unwise slogan for a British politician to use. If it is based on wishful thinking, it is not just unwise but downright dangerous. The White Paper reminds us that 50 years ago, when the first ever Central Statement on Defence was published, we hoped for the best but were unprepared for the worst. It also reminds us of the futility of one-sided disarmament. We have learnt the lessons of the 1930s. We must not be complacent; but we can take comfort from the success of the policies that hitherto have been followed by all Governments and generally supported by all parties since 1945. So long as we sustain these policies, "peace in our time" will not again become an exercise in wishful thinking.
§ The Statement describes the massive increase that the Government have provided in the resources devoted to defence. It describes the measures we are taking to ensure that these resources are used as efficiently and as effectively as possible. It reaffirms our commitment to realistic measures of arms control and disarmament; and it sets our defence policies and capabilities firmly in the context of our commitment to NATO and our determination to maintain the strength and credibility of the alliance. Security does not come cheap; nor is it won easily; and, given the strategic realities of today, it cannot be won alone. But, so long as the NATO alliance remains united and steadfast, we surely have nothing to fear. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1985 (Cmnd. 9430.—Lord Trefgarne.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
My Lords, I thank the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for introducing this debate on the defence estimates in his customarily clear and competent way and also for his 745 wide survey of our commitments. Perhaps I may also join him in the tribute which he paid to the forces of this country and elsewhere in the rescue operations which were carried out a few days ago.
I wish I could be as complimentary about the Defence White Paper as I am able to be about the Minister himself. It has, it is true, some improvements and more information, including more on Trident, although there is nothing new; and there is more about the Merchant Navy, as promised. But on policy it has severe shortcomings, and I shall come to those shortly. First, I want to emphasise one thing on which I hope most of us can agree—that the NATO Alliance remains at the heart of our defence policy, as the noble Lord indicated. Central to that is our relationship with the United States. We have our differences from time to time, of course, but that should not prevent us from remaining the closest of partners, as we have under successive British Governments since the war. It is right that in this 40th anniversary year of the ending of the Second World War we should remind ourselves of that.
That anniversary also reminds us that policies pursued over those years, not least of deterrence, have preserved the peace in Europe. I have always been among those who believe in the need for an effective Western deterrent pending all-round agreement on disarmament. But that does not mean that we should not constantly seek ways to see that we make the best contribution that we can to NATO; and that brings me to some of the shortcomings in the White Paper.
As the Minister indicated, defence expenditure is now £18,060 million. We have a duty to subject that to the most searching scrutiny. I think that it must have been particularly hurtful to the Secretary of State for Defence to find that among his severest critics was the Daily Telegraph. In a leading article headed. "Heseltine's Fudge", it said:If the statement on the Defence Estimates were the accounts of a public company they would at best have sent the share price sliding and at worst been qualified by the auditors. The picture which Mr. … Heseltine … is trying to present … has only a passing resemblance to reality. The White Paper claims that the defence budget for the current year 'will provide for annual real growth in the region of 3 per cent.'. In order to reach this number there has been some pretty ruthless fudging".It went on to explain that once inflation was taken into account there would be not just zero growth but a reduction in expenditure in real terms.
We know that the Government have already announced that from next year they will abandon the agreed NATO target begun in 1979 of a real increase in defence spending of 3 per cent. a year. The Daily Telegraph points out that,the respected defence economist David Greenwood [says] adherence to the 'programme in being' will result in a defence funding gap of £4 billion by 1987–88".It could not have been any more encouraging to the Secretary of State to see the comment of the Economist on the White Paper that,this bland document has avoided all important decisions and contains no new signposts to future defence policies".But it must have been especially disturbing for him to see the criticisms which have already been alluded to, although not I regret to say in detail, by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, of the Select Committee on Defence of another place chaired by Sir Humphrey Atkins. In its third report published this month it says: 746In terms of broad policy, there is little new in the 1985 … White Paper. We said in our Report [last year] that there was: 'little new in the 1984 Defence White Paper. This was acknowledged by the Secretary of State, who said … he hoped next year to move towards a review of policy priorities'. The 1985 White Paper does not realise that hope. We regret this and expect that next year such a review will be included".Far from being surprised, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, suggested just now, if such a review had appeared in this year's defence White Paper, it was indeed expected by no less a body than the Select Committee in another place.
Later in its report the Select Committee says that its,concern that there might be difficulties in managing the defence budget in the 1990s has as a result of our inquiry turned into the strongest suspicion that there will indeed be considerable difficulties leading to cancellations, slowing-down of acquisitions and the running on of equipment beyond its economic life-span. The evidence … from the Ministry has not allayed our fears".It says of future expenditure that its view,which was confirmed by the thrust of the evidence [of the Chief of Defence Staff], is that with the present policy there is bound to be a substantial real cut. It was acknowledged in evidence in the clearest terms that the conventional equipment budget is particularly at risk".The report ends with these words:We have drawn attention … to substantial pressure developing on the defence budget over the coming years, and have no doubt that this will require some hard decisions. We are told that there is no immediate need for a defence review; but we fear that the cumulative effect of managing the defence budget in the manner endorsed in the White Paper may result in a defence review by stealth".Just one crisp answer in evidence by the Chief of the Defence Staff says it all. Asked whether we were facing a substantial diminution in defence expenditure in real terms after 1985–86, he said:Yes, that is exactly it".There is growing strain on the defence budget just when two things begin to happen—first the need to renew conventional projects builds up, and then peak expenditure on Trident starts.
That brings me to Trident itself. As the White Paper states, the cost has now reached £9.285 billion, which almost everyone but the Secretary of State seems to see as a wildly conservative estimate. David Greenwood, the director of the Centre for Defence Studies at Aberdeen University, puts it at some £13 billion. Even the Secretary of State still sticks to an exchange rate of 1.38 dollars to the pound, when it is 1.28, so we can add on £250 million straight away, and it is now, £9.7 billion.
§ Viscount Trenchard
My Lords, has the noble Lord a forecast of the exchange rate over the next 18 years?
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, who has considerable knowledge of these matters as a former Minister in the Ministry of Defence, that is a point which has been put repeatedly from the Front Bench opposite. It is no excuse to stick to an out-of-date exchange rate when we know the up-to-date exchange rate.
At least the White Paper acknowledges the high costs of Trident. It says:Trident will undoubtedly cost a lot of money".I shall refrain from saying, "It can say that again!", if only because I would rather say, "It should have said 747 that before!". It goes on in another belated admission:money that will not therefore be available for other defence purposes".I shall come back to that.
Before leaving costs, it is worth noting that since Trident was announced the proportion to be spent in this country has kept going down and the proportion to be spent in the United States has gone up. When it was first announced it was noted that 70 per cent. would be spent in the United Kingdom and 30 per cent. in the United States. Then the Comptroller and Auditor-General reported last year that of the total costs some 60 per cent. was expected to be incurred in the United Kingdom and some 40 per cent. in the United States. This year's White Paper says:we expect 55 per cent. to be spent in this country".So it is not 70/30 in our favour, nor even 60/40, but only 55 per cent. to be spent here and 45 per cent. in the United States.
That is not all. The Government say that Trident will cost on average 3 per cent. of the defence budget and 6 per cent. of the equipment budget. But in the years of highest costs—and we are just approaching those—it will be taking 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. of total capital spending on defence. It is a pity that when the Government acknowledge that point they do not actually give those figures. On equipment in those peak years the Chief of the Defence Staff says that it will absorb not 6 per cent. but 11 per cent. of the total equipment budget. As David Greenwood said:the sums spent on Trident will soak up 12–15 per cent. of the money for research, development and production".In The Times in February of this year he said that,it will take 15–20 per cent. of the funds available for major equipment purchases".The former Navy Minister, Keith Speed, said that it would take 30 per cent. of the Royal Navy's equipment budget. No wonder there is such widespread concern about the wider effects of this project.
There are other weighty arguments against Trident. It has been pointed out that while the Government claim that our deterrent when equipped with Trident will remain the minimum size compatible with cost-effectiveness and credibility, there will in fact be a huge leap in destructive power from Polaris to Trident; and that what is the minimum now with Polaris will clearly be many times more than that minimum when the force is expanded with Trident.
Let us just look at the facts. At present we have four Polaris submarines, each with 16 missiles with two warheads, totalling 128 warheads. By the mid-1990s they will be replaced by four Trident submarines, each capable of carrying 16 missiles with up to 15 warheads in each, so that is up to 960 warheads, all with separate targets and greater accuracy and range than Polaris.
Of course, the Government say:current plans for the Trident force will not involve using the full capability of the system.That is an odd statement in itself because, having said that we will keep things to a minimum, why build in something way above it? As the Guardian said,What surely is now beyond belief is that we need to leap from the ageing Polaris stand-by into one of the most extravagant systems so far developed with a potential striking power 14 times as great.748 There is an ever-growing body of expert and informed opinion against Trident and it is no wonder that Ministers do not spend more time in debates on this particular matter. In the vanguard, from the earliest days, has been the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, who speaks with all the authority of a former Chief of Defence Staff. The analysis he made back in 1982, when he called for Trident's rejection, has gained strength with time. Another example of foresight was the early criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, when he noted the Government's claim:provision of the new Trident force should not prevent or emasculate continued improvement in other areas of our contribution to NATO".He then said,This is almost certainly what it will do".He can now dispense with the reservation "almost certainly" for, on the Government's own admissions now, that is what is happening and he is being proved right.
We have had the call from the Government's former Navy Minister, Keith Speed, for Trident's cancellation. Another leading authority, outside Parliament this time—again not a supporter of my party; in fact he supports the party opposite—has been proved right. That is Professor Michael Howard, who said that the strategic rationale for Trident remained to him utterly obscure, that it was a waste of money and that its purchase could only be at the expense of the conventional forces we could contribute to the Alliance. That was in 1983. How right he was!
What has also been notable has been the growing concern and opposition among such a wide spectrum of responsible journals and newspapers. The concern focuses increasingly on one major point: the effect on our conventional capability, and at a time when the Supreme Allied Commander Europe is urging NATO European countries to raise the nuclear threshold in Europe by increasing their conventional forces.
That leads on to proposals for improving our conventional contribution to NATO. I will not go into those in detail now because that has been done before, and I have too quite recently. However, I hope that the Government will not again trot out their familiar and totally unconvincing claim, as indeed the Minister suggested this afternoon, that savings on Trident would not buy anything worthwhile in conventional arms. Ask any of the service chiefs and they will come rushing with briefcases full of shopping lists. Just to quote one simple example, even £3 billion would buy some 27 frigates, let alone what £9.5 billion would buy.
Anyway, there is an admirable set of proposals put forward in a book just published, Strengthening Conventional Deterrence in Europe. It is the second and updated report of the European Security Study, a distinguished group of people, including Lawrence Freedman—who, by the way, is not an opponent of Trident—and Professor Michael Howard. Also, among those who took part in the original study, and on the steering group, is the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. One of its basic purposes is to strengthen NATO's conventional capability so as to enhance its overall deterrent and lessen its reliance on the early use 749 of nuclear weapons should deterrence fail. It notes that a widespread consensus has emerged in the Alliance in favour of that aim.
It is a masterly, thorough and practical report with precise and specific proposals, all costed. I am not able to embrace all its proposals. For one thing, I notice it endorses the follow-on-forces-attack concept on which I have previously expressed reservations. (I hope it is the only piece of defence jargon that I shall thrust on your Lordships this afternoon). In any case, the proposals need closer study than is possible in the six days I have had them. However, there is much that appeals in it. What strikes one at once is that the costs are realistic and manageable. Spread over a 10-year period, the total comes to 22.5 billion dollars.
The report points out that the actual costs may exceed those costs if only because of inflation, but many of the proposed systems are already in production or substantially mature, so should not vary greatly from the estimates. Also, even if the real costs of the less mature systems were to double, the total for the revised programme should still be less than 30.1 billion dollars. We bear in mind that Trident will cost us, alone, £9.5 billion over a 20-year period, also subject to inflation and exchange rates, while the conventional proposals would be shared by the whole of Western Europe.
A feature of this year's White Paper we welcome is the extra information on the Merchant Navy as promised by the Secretary of State. But what is not so welcome is what has happened to the size of our merchant fleet. I realise that most of the details about the Merchant Navy come in Chapter 4 of the White Paper, which comes into the second half of our debate next week. But the role of the fleet and the strategic implications come into the early chapters, so I should like to deal with them here.
We all recall the splendid part that the Merchant Navy played in the Falklands campaign. It fulfilled its historic role of augmenting the Royal Navy in times of war and emergency, something it has done from the time of Elizabeth I and beyond. Not long ago we still had the largest merchant fleet in the world. Last year, we were down to seventh place. Your Lordships heard this month from the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, that in March 1985 we had 758 ships with a total dead weight tonnage of 21 million tonnes in our fleet of 500 gross tonnes and over. The figures for March 1980 were 1,297 ships and 42 million deadweight tonnes. In five years the tonnage halved, the number of ships down from 1,297 to 758.
That is a tragedy. It is also a danger. No wonder the Select Committee on Defence of another place in its report, The Use of Merchant Shipping for Defence Purposes, which was published on 10th June this year, began with the words:The availability of merchant shipping to meet possible defence needs has become a matter of concern".By the end of the report it was saying,Effective deterrence requires that no would-be aggressor is tempted by vulnerability. Present trends seem to be setting in this dangerous direction".Its final words were that the comparison between the Allied position and that of the Warsaw Pact was 750 "extremely disturbing". Beside that, the Government's defence White Paper on this aspect sounds complacent. However, it does say that if the decline in our merchant fleet continues for several more years at the present rate, it could become increasingly difficult for us to discharge at least some of our NATO obligations.
Now, I know that the Department of Transport, with the Ministry of Defence, commissioned consultants to do a major study of the availability of merchant ships. I gather that is now being studied. We hope that that will help, but it will not be enough—nowhere near enough. We need to know the causes of the decline. It is all very well for the Government to say that the causes are well known, but let them be set out and examined. After all, the merchant fleet is one of the bases of our economy. Ninety-eight per cent. by weight of our trade still travels by sea. Our capacity to take goods out and bring goods back by sea will long remain an essential need.
The Defence Select Committee said that when the consultants' report has been considered, the Government should publish a White Paper or give further evidence to it on the availability of ships for defence. But that is not enough. We need to know what, if anything, can be done about the decline; whether anything can be done to discourage British ships from flagging-out; whether flagging-in can be encouraged. The president of the General Council of British Shipping, Mr. Menzies-Wilson, said they only stay in business at all because they are among the most efficient ship operators in the world. However, he said:no amount of efficiency can overcome the handicap of being the only Western fleet to have suffered withdrawal of all Government support.So the Government should not be surprised if shipowners move their fleets to other flags or else put their money into non-shipping".Those are harsh words from traditionally strong supporters of the party opposite. But this is not a party matter, or need not be if something is done. What is needed as a first step is a White Paper on the entire subject, defence and civil needs. We have a Defence White Paper. Let us have a Merchant Navy one.
Before turning to one final matter, let me just mention a subject to which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, referred. This is a two-day debate on defence and not on disarmament. But it would be remiss of us not to mention it. The fact that the Geneva talks are on at all gives some ground for hope if as yet not too much optimism. But we must continue to exert all possible efforts to securing agreement. We must not be deflected from that. It was certainly a welcome sign that President Reagan decided to continue to observe SALT II.
My final point concerns something not in the Defence Estimates. Your Lordships will recall that a year ago the air was rent with the sound of trumpets heralding the Secretary of State's great reorganisation of the upper echelons of the Ministry of Defence—the great battle over his proposals to change the relationship between the service chiefs of staff and himself and the Chief of the Defence Staff. That was in full swing. Yet not a word appears in the White Paper. Yes, there is something on reorganisation and some welcome savings in money, but nothing about the chiefs of staff and all that.
751 Not that I expected a blow by blow account of the battle within the Ministry from the Minister. But last year the Secretary of State kept us all on the edge of our seats as he went round upsetting almost everyone. He kept us all entertained and lightened our lives for a bit, or would have done if it had not been such a serious matter. So it is deeply disappointing to have nothing on it. We have heard nothing on this from the Secretary of State, neither in his White Paper nor in his speech on it in another place two weeks ago. I wonder if it could be that he did not win the battle. After all, when the Secretary of State gets his way, he usually finds a way to let us know. We can seldom accuse him of being shy, or reluctant to publicise a victory.
And what have we heard from the chiefs of staff? Nothing! That is a comfort. That is reassuring. Their silence could mean—I will not embarrass them by suggesting that it does mean—that they have had some success. But if they have not, I suspect that a way would have been found to let us know. After all, it is hard to suppress those mercifully strong-minded characters. Last November, I ventured to suggest that, thanks to some words from the Chief of the Defence Staff, the indications were that a way had been found to ensure that all would go on much as before. Now we see that the one person to say something recently is the Chief of the Defence Staff himself. In an interview last month, Field Marshal Sir Edwin Bramall said:I think there was some worry"—I like the delightfully modest words that he chooses—that in the years ahead the individual chiefs would find themselves more distant from policy making, that they might not be quite so effective in their professional advice as they had been in the past. I think we have written in adequate safeguards"—I shall refrain from commenting on those words. I will content myself with repeating them—I think we have written in adequate safeguards and I think that now the new organisation has been thoroughly accepted".One can only ask, "Why did not the Secretary of State tell us that?" How apt it was that those well chosen words of the Chief of the Defence Staffs appeared in that most aptly named journal of Defense Diplomacy, last month.
I take it, therefore, that those adequate safeguards mean that all our service chiefs are safeguarding our security in all ways as before and that they are carrying on much as before. That will be a great blessing to us all, just as all our forces, regular and reserve, with their high and continuing record of achievement and courage, are a great blessing to us all. We join in a warm tribute to them all.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, we endorse what has been said about the role of the armed forces in connection with the recent airliner disaster in the eastern Atlantic.
I shall spare the House a sixth speech about SDI in a period of 18 months. I must, however, take up the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, on his statement that there are some who maintain that the present research phase of the strategic defence initiative is against the ABM treaty. He may have met some people who maintain that, but I have not. If I may respectfully put the suggestion in the mind of the House, that may have been a bit of an Aunt Sally to cover up the fact that he 752 was not answering the real objections of those who think that SDI is a bad plan.
On the defence review, we must all have been struck by the vehemence with which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary denied any possibility of there being any prospect of a defence review in public, in private, or in secret. Okay, we, here, would not have any objection if there were one. Indeed, I believe we would think it a rather good plan, particularly in connection with Trident. I hope, however, that the Government will not talk themselves into a position in which they will feel ashamed about having another defence review within x years of the last one. It is a changing world. Any self-defensive feelings about that, I submit, would be a danger to the country.
It is a great pleasure to follow the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boston, not only because it was clearly expressed but because in the opinion of the Alliance parties, it was correct in every detail. It is something that we absolutely endorse. I take personal pleasure in pronouncing the unanimity of the Opposition parties on the subjects at issue today. This depends, of course, upon the crucial fact that what the noble Lord, Lord Boston, has been saying is not in all respects concordant with the official policy of his party.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, in some respects, yes. I believe that the Labour Party, as a whole, is against Trident. But what the noble Lord said about NATO is certainly not in accordance with official Labour policy. Over the years, a welcome tradition has developed in this House that the Front Bench of the Labour Opposition does not bother itself with its own party policy so much as it does with truth.
There is one thing especially to be welcomed—the noble Lord, Lord Boston, has already wisely done so—in the Defence White Paper. That is the dawning awareness of what is happening to Britain's maritime presence as a whole, civil and military. We all realise that the Prime Minister learnt at her father's knee that if you look after the pence the pounds will look after themselves. Many of us are beginning to wish that she had also learnt, perhaps at her mother's knee, that a stitch in time saves nine. The pence saved in the past are now putting too many future pounds at risk. We may be saving a few of them today but in the long run we have been losing, losing and losing in the matter of the sea.
Shipping and shipbuilding are told to be competitive. But in what way? Of course it means that they have to be economically competitive. They are told to compete with the merchant marines of countries all of which, as the noble Lord, Lord Boston, correctly pointed out, receive Government subsidies in one form or another, and to do so without Government subsidies. Apart from being the linchpins of innumerable other nationally lucrative service industries, the merchant marine, the fishing fleet and so on, are also linch-pins of national security, which justifies their discussion today. I hope very much that the new arrangements in the Ministry of Defence mean that all senior officials and senior officers and, most importantly, all Ministers, will now read their 753 Gorshkov and will take his book The Sea Power of the State, 1979, with them when they talk to the Treasury and when they discuss shipping and shipbuilding, if they ever do, with other departments. They could even leave a copy at Number 10 Downing Street, open at page 109, with the passage marked in which Admiral Gorshkov says:The plan of Hitler's Germany to gain dominance in western Europe, chiefly by the forces of the land troops and aviation, appeared to be close to a successful conclusion. But there remained defiant England, and it was impossible to make her surrender in the absence of adequate naval forces".Admiral Gorshkov continues by saying that the Soviet Union is now facing "a coalition of naval powers" and has to develop what are for it quite new naval capabilities. He then says, that, as well as the need to destroy the enemy, there is:a qualitatively new task … the curbing of his military economic potential by directly acting on his vitally important centres from the sea".That is what we face.
The House of Commons Select Committee found, as indeed the Government themselves found in the Falklands War, that ships have to be available to be "taken up from trade" if they are to play their role in a crisis in support of the Navy, and to do so without delay. For that you need two things: first, ships and, secondly, their availability.
Let us consider the ships. The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, began to touch on this subject, but I should like to take it a little further. Looking at the register of ships, Britain has fallen from 1,600 to 690 in 10 years. Norway, a neighbouring country, has suffered rather the same fate. Norway is down from 45 million tonnes GWT to 27 million tonnes in 10 years. Greece—which has had a freak history—is up 37 million tonnes to 59 million tonnes in five years. There are many other countries moving under the Greek flag because—and let us face it—of low standards. France is very similar to us; France is down from 18 million to 14 million in 10 years. The United States—and here we have a success story—is up from 17 million to 25 million in 10 years. Let us consider the effect of all that on NATO as a whole. The NATO fleets collectively are down from 206 million to 184 million tonnes in 10 years—not, perhaps, a very catastrophic fall, but we must remember the role of Greece in that regard. The principal merchant shipping powers—Norway, Britain and, to a lesser extent, France are rocketing down.
What do we find on the other side? We find that the Soviet Union is up from 16 million tonnes in 1975 to 23 million tonnes now, and that excludes the astronomical and well-known growth of its fishing fleet and all the other disguised military capabilities which it has at sea.
The second matter for the Ministry of Defence must be the question of availability, which is now to be investigated. I am sure that the Department of Transport has studied the problems, even possibly taking the good advice which I gave it a year or two ago to consult the trade unions. God knows why, but between them the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport have not been able to find their own answers and have had finally to go to consultants to find out the state of affairs as regards the 754 availability of ships, largely, I gather, because they do not like what the General Council of British Shipping and others have been telling them; namely, the figures which I have just given the House. They have put the matter out to consultants—a good commerical course which covers as many sins as the setting up of Royal Commissions in the past under Governments of another colour.
I should like to quote to the House the circumstances in which this consultancy report was commissioned. I am referring to the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Defence Committee of the House of Commons in December last year. The Chairman of the Committee said to Mr. Stanley, the Minister of State for Defence:you said in your evidence that this study was based on various assumptions as to the size of the British merchant marine. Now we are told that you are hiring consultants to forecast the availability in each category of the defence role. What has happened to your studies?Mr. Stanley then gave an answer to that question. The Chairman went on:I see. Mr. Stanley, are you telling the Committee that it took you seven months to decide that you had not got enough expertise in your own department to produce the answers.?Mr. Stanley replied:No, Mr. Chairman … The intervening months have been taken up in negotiations between consultants and the Department of Transport".Presumably they got a good fee for that, but I do not know whether that can be published. A little later in the same session Mr. Stanley was asked:I am interested in knowing … your concept of 'availability'".Mr. Stanley answered that question and was asked further:have you told the consultants what your requirements are, in terms of immediacy of availability"?Mr. Stanley answered:We would assume that if a ship is UK registered, then we would have very ready access to it".At that point he was interrupted by the question:Wherever it was?Mr. Stanley answered:No, please. We would have very ready access to it, in legislative terms".A little later he continued:I do not believe the terms of reference"—that is, the terms of reference of the consultants—have been couched in a form of words … which asks them to take a view as to how many [ships] are going to be available within a certain timescale".I submit that that is prima facie evidence in advance that the study will be quite useless for any practical purpose. I do not know what "legislative availability" means. Even so, the two departments have said that they are to carry out a further study when they get the SEA, the consultancy study, in. We should be grateful if all this apparent muddle could be sorted out and also if we could be told; is that not the type of thing that departments are paid to know in the first place?
The registers themselves could be the subject of a good deal of shuffling. It may be that when the availability figures are made known they will be found to contain ships on the so-called UK dependent registers as well—that is, Hong Kong, the Cayman 755 Islands, and, for instance, Vanuatu—which will make the situation look less bleak. The Hong Kong Register itself has increased fivefold in the last 10 years, and that is because it includes a lot of Chinese-owned ships. Presumably not even the most optimistic report could maintain that they would be readily available to us in time of international crisis. We also know that our own register includes a great many Norwegian ships which they would be as free to withdraw in a Norwegian time of crisis as we should be to withdraw our ships in a UK time of crisis. I think that it would be better not to massage the figures, if the Government had that in mind to do. The situation is very serious indeed, and Ministers know it.
If our shipping and shipbuilding industries vanish, not only will it have an immediate effect too obvious to be spelt out on our preparedness for a major political crisis and the possibility of war, but other industries and national capabilities will vanish with them. I am referring to engineers, designers, draughts-men, the entire maritime education industry, which is a big earner, and all the sea-related service industries of the City. Will the Government wake up to what is happening in time? Can the Government wake up to what is happening in time? Our hopes are high, our faith needs restoring.
There is another peacetime security role which the Government have consistently ignored. I am referring to the provision of a British presence at sea in places where a British absence creates a dangerous vacuum. I am referring to British fishing vessels, fishery protection vessels, and research vessels of all kinds. They are the bottom rungs of the ladder of deterrence at sea. Deterrence at sea is different from deterrence on land, as we learned at the time of the absurd Cod Wars against Iceland, when they came out against us with wooden gunboats and we had nothing smaller than frigates, with which we scarcely wished to ram them. So they were free to ram us. Small ships were lacking. We also learned a great deal about it from the withdrawal of HMS "Endurance" from the South Atlantic. The Argentine junta's reading of that withdrawal, and the actions which they took in consequence of it, should be written out in Gothic script and left on the mantelpiece of every Defence Secretary and every Foreign Secretary from now on.
Twenty years ago we had fishing fleets in the Barents Sea. Now, perhaps in part thanks to the convicted Norwegian spy, Treholt, things have been made difficult for us, and there are no British trawlers, no British fishery protection vessels, and virtually no other British maritime presence in the Barents Sea. We all remember what happened to HMS "Glasgow" when she made a rare outing beyond the usual frontier of NATO maritime activity.
In another place the Minister of State, Mr. Stanley, has sung the usual litany about the overriding importance of the central front, and of course it is of very great importance. But do we not also remember that the Russians are chess players, besides being a very strong military power, and that the central front is so obvious a place to attack that NATO has devoted most of its resources over 30 years to defending it? If one was a chess player, would one not seek an element of surprise? If one were to seek an element of surprise, 756 would one not turn inevitably towards the northern and marine flanks of this country?
A few years ago I asked for some figures. They were about the number of Soviet vessels in our ports. I got the answer that it was about 1,200 in a given year. What is it now? Has it gone up? How many Soviet sailors are allowed ashore without visas on a given night? How many Soviet sailors are wandering around this country without visas? Is there any other class of Soviet citizen allowed to wander around this country without a visa? On any given night how many British sailors are wandering around the Soviet Union without visas? How many nights last year did British ships spend in Soviet ports? I am referring to merchant ships all the time. Are Aeroflot air crew allowed to wander around this country without visas? I raise these questions in, I hope, a spirit of constructive curiosity.
We are at the beginning of a new age, I hope, in defence policy, and there is time for a new age in the co-ordination of maritime policy. It is now six years since the last Conservative Government abolished the co-ordinating role in maritime policy of the Lord Privy Seal. That is left to low level ministerial co-ordination by the Department of Transport. It is co-ordination of funding which counts. There is no way to co-ordinate policy except by controlling the flow of money through the entire system; and I commend that view of things to the Government in the efforts that I hope they will shortly be making to restore even that little central co-ordination of maritime policy in the national interest which existed under the last Labour Government.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, I wish to concentrate on Chapter 2 of the Defence White Paper which is called The Western Approach—nothing to do with the western approaches—relating it at the end to the insert on pages 6 to 8 in Chapter 1 about Trident, to which the noble Lord has already referred. Defence faces the same challenge today as do industry, commerce, Government agencies, and every activity of modern society in developed countries: the high standard of living that people have come to expect, and the electronic revolution.
The former results both in the high cost of employing manpower and womanpower, whether in uniform or not, and also in falling populations of an age normally considered suitable for military service. I suppose that our predecessors in this century and the last could, no doubt, have made much the same complaint. They should have also drawn attention to the potential effect on defence of the technical revolution which was going on in their time; on the equipment the armed forces needed; and how they should be organised, which ought to be, but seldom in fact is, determined by the former.
These two factors combine to exert a tight grip on the resources the nation is prepared to devote to defence. It is clear from Chapter 5—which we are not supposed to be discussing today—that the Government acknowledge this as a significant problem, and it is made more so both by their announced intention of abandoning next year their commitment to NATO to increase defence 757 expenditure by 3 per cent. per annum in real terms, and by their recent sleight-of-hand over service pay.
Although they have appeared generous in accepting the Armed Forces Review Body's recommendation of an average increase of 7 per cent., I understand that they have not relaxed the Treasury's tight-fisted grip on limiting cash to their original forecast of 3½ per cent. inflation. It is my understanding that the pay increase therefore means a reduction in other elements of the defence budget. If I am wrong, I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will correct me.
In these circumstances therefore it is as clear as daylight that the Government must clarify priorities and see that they obtain the best value for the admittedly large sums of money spent on defence. Economy in the employment of full-time manpower has obviously got to be exercised, and the implications of the electronic revolution, both to ourselves and to our allies, and to our potential opponents, must now be faced.
Let me first deal with the first. I suggest that NATO as a whole should organise its forces and resources on the general principle that what is static and what can be provided from civilian resources, both human and material, should be found, so far as is practicable, from reserves: that is, men and women and material resources which do not form part of the standing forces and their equipment. This of course is more easily applied to those countries which are themselves potential battlegrounds, and I know that most of those countries say that they are doing all they can in this field already; but I am not convinced that they are. More imagination, less conservatism, and greater political and military will and enthusiasm for that concept is needed.
Let me turn now to the electronic revolution, or what is sometimes called new or emerging technology. Over the last 100 years our armed forces have been slow to adapt themselves to the technical revolutions which have occurred: first of all, the steam age, when we were inclined to hang on to sail for too long, and to fail to appreciate the significance of railways to continental warfare; then the electrical and internal combustion engine age; slow to appreciate the influence of the submarine and the torpedo at sea, to develop radio communications, and to replace the horse by the motor vehicle; reluctant to recognise the significant effect of aircraft.
The electronic revolution is perhaps more radical and swifter in its development than any of those. It revolutionises the acquisition of information in a vast variety of forms; it affects every aspect of weapon systems, their means of delivery, their control in flight, and their effectiveness on impact, as it does all means of trying to counter them; and of course it has an immense effect on all forms of communication and on methods of interference with it or detection of it.
If NATO's forces are to be able to face those of the Soviet Union with confidence and therefore present a credible deterrent to their embarking on a military adventure, they cannot afford to fall behind in this technical race. However different the views held in this House about nuclear weapons there is, I think, little disagreement that we must maintain and, if possible, improve the capability of our conventional forces.
758 The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, has already referred to the Anglo-American-German European Security Study, in which I took part, three years ago, the report of which was published two years ago under the title, Strengthening Conventional Deterrence. The noble Lord the Minister and his colleagues received copies at the time. I make no apologies to the House for reading what the Economist said in its review two years ago:Defence thinkers are second only to economists in squabbling among themselves. It is therefore startling when two dozen of them can agree on anything: it is doubly startling when the group includes such powerful intellects as Professor Michael Howard, General Sir Hugh Beach, Professor Lawrence Freedman, Mr. William Perry and General Andrew Goodpaster; and downright astonishing when the agreement has to do with nuclear weapons. Yet it has happened".That report had a rather lukewarm reception in the Ministry of Defence. Paragraphs 212 to 215 of the White Paper reflect that. Some of the projects referred to in those paragraphs are in line with the report's recommendations, and I welcome the effort devoted to them. But the trouble is that the great majority of defence spending goes into weapons systems, and the men to man them, which are little more than modernised versions of what we were using 40 years ago—and that applies to all three services. There is little left over, either in terms of money or manpower to devote to new systems and radical changes. It is the same old story that has inhibited progress for the last century. Only wars have shaken us out of that attitude.
In the light of the reactions of the report that I have referred to in this country, in the United States, in Germany and NATO generally, not only to that report, but to similar suggestions emanating from other sources, including SHAPE and the Pentagon, the steering group deputed four of its members—two Americans (the two, in fact, referred to by the Economist) one German General and one British Air Chief Marshal, Sir Alasdair Steedman, assisted by an American research corporation—to review its recommendations, especially the costing, on which some doubt had been thrown. The result of that review, as the noble Lord, Lord Boston, mentioned, has been published and copies have been forwarded to the noble Lord and to practically the whole of the hierarchy of the Ministry of Defence.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Boston, I should like to draw the Minister's attention to Table VIII-4 on page 111 which is headed: "The Total Estimated Costs for Recommended NATO Conventional Improvements". These include both acquisition costs and running costs for 10 years. The cumulative total, as he says, taking the average cost estimate at 1984 prices, is 22.5 billion dollars. If you add up all the maximum estimated costs, it comes to 30.1 billion dollars. That sum would be spread over the nations contributing forces to NATO's Central Front: that is, the United States, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Canada and ourselves. I am afraid that I have not been able to work out what proportion of the total would be considered appropriate either for us to man or for us to contribute, in financial terms. At the maximum, I would suggest 20 per cent. and it might well be less. Taking the worst case, that is, the 30 billion dollar total and one-fifth of that falling to us, at the current exchange rate of about 1.27 dollars to the 759 pound, our contribution over 10 years would be £4.72 billion. That is about half of what the Government themselves estimate that Trident will cost.
But it should not all be considered as additional expenditure. Not only are some of the projects ones on which we are already engaged, notably stand-off missiles, airfield attack weapons and the multiple-launch rocket systems, but the introduction of the systems recommended should place a large question mark, in my opinion—and this is my opinion and not the report's opinion—over the requirement for fixed-wing aircraft in some of the roles for which they are now used. The manned aircraft, taking off from and returning to a fixed airfield, is increasingly expensive to produce and operate, increasingly vulnerable to a host of counter-measures, and in many ways less effective than unmanned systems for reconnaissance, strike and air defence. Perhaps the noble Lord would suggest to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence that he might think again about whether he really needs to develop the new European combat aircraft which is causing him and his NATO colleagues such a headache.
Nobody doubts that it is going to be a constant struggle to maintain the effectiveness of our forces within the limits of finance which this or any other administration is likely to provide. The Government have already applied two severe squeezes. The Trident programme is one, and their decision to abandon their commitment to a 3 per cent. annual increase in real terms, is the other. Either of the sums they represent would more than pay for a British contribution to the recommendations of the report to which I have referred.
My Lords, why do the Government obstinately persist in wasting money on a so-called British independent deterrent? The standard rationale is set out on pages 6 to 8 of the paper: it is what is called the second-point-of-decision argument. The paper states that that is:an essential element of the deterrent strategy of NATO".In other words, that, if it did not exist, the whole panoply of the United States nuclear systems in the United States, at sea and all those based in Europe, including the aircraft and cruise missiles in this country, does not provide a credible nuclear deterrent. That is the argument. And that the Soviet Union would disregard the risk they represent and launch into a military adventure across the Iron Curtain were it not for the knowledge that the British, unlike the Americans, would be prepared to sacrifice their cities in the hope of stopping the Russian tanks.
That absurd argument is not the justification for an independent deterrent which most Ministers and others usually employ when they are being pressed about the subject. They tend to call it a weapon of last resort and to conjure up scenarios either of the Americans having abandoned Europe or of NATO having failed to hold a Soviet attack which has reached the shore of the Channel without, apparently, our ballistic missile submarines having fired off their weapons in spite of the second-point-of-decision theory and the statement on page 8 that they are,assigned to NATO and targetted in support of the policy and strategic concepts that have been collectively agreed".760 Our ballistic missiles submarines are not an essential element of NATO's strategy. Whether they are regarded as an addition to the force assigned to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe or as an independent force, they are superfluous and a waste of money. The essential element is the stationing of United States conventional land and air forces on the Continent; and, in order to persuade the American people that it is right, proper and in their own interests that they should continue to make that vital contribution to European defence, it is essential that we and our fellow-European members of NATO should convince them that we are using our money and manpower effectively to maintain, and if possible to improve, the capability of our conventional forces to fight alongside them. That, my Lords, is the first priority of our defence policy, not illusions of nuclear grandeur.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Viscount Eccles
My Lords, I have first to apologise to my noble Leader that tonight I have to attend an annual dinner, the date of which was fixed a long time ago. I do not intend to follow those who are really expert in weapon systems; but if we are to have the best chance of preventing a war with Russia, our strategy must embrace assets beyond weapons and armed forces. That is acknowledged in a very few words in paragraph 217 of Part I of the Defence White Paper. An important part of policy must be to increase the number of allies and benevolent neutrals seen to be on our side before an aggressor has made up his mind to take the plunge.
Winning friends outside the NATO Alliance, individuals as well as governments, including the Communist bloc, is an aspect of non-military defence that is bound to become more and more important as the world gets smaller and smaller and every continent almost is within range of the other. I remember 30-odd years ago a discussion in Churchill's last Government in cabinet when we were to decide whether or not to abandon one of our overseas military bases. The case was put by the Minister of Defence, the late Lord Alexander of Tunis. Sir Winston listened to the argument in silence. Then he said—and his words impressed me so much that I well remember them: "A base is a place from which to sally forth to fight the enemy. What good is it if the natives round about don't like us and won't help us if it comes to a war?" That is the sound judgment of a great man of common sense.
How important is it in 1985 that as many people as possible all over the world should like the Americans and their allies? How much in fact do they like us? It would make a very great difference to their attitude if we were explaining to them more often, more skilfully and less one-sidedly the objectives for which we are prepared to fight rather than surrender to the communists. I hope to show your Lordships that these explanations have to go beyond telling other people what good fellows we are. If it is strategically important to have their friendship, what we say to them must take account of their views as well as our own. It is not enough for the propaganda to repeat over and over again that the United States is much richer than they are and that we in the United Kingdom are remarkably tolerant. Non-military defence requires a continuing discussion on fundamental issues.
761 Very well, then. What are our instruments for this kind of dialogue? We British have our missions abroad. Some of them are very good. We have the British Council and the BBC overseas broadcasts; and of course the way our citizens behave when they are abroad is also important. The United States has much larger missions and it has the "Voice of America". Just recently a new, round-the-clock programme is being broadcast from Miami to Cuba in Spanish. It is going to be highly interesting from the point of view of the strategy of the Caribbean to see how that programme develops and what results from it. Perhaps it is true—it is very often said—that in this kind of international conversation the Americans have more money and less skill than we have, while we have more skill and less money than they have. If that is true, and I think probably it is, that is a very good reason for putting our heads together and working in this field for a common end.
Be that as it may, all these instruments of communication are potentially very powerful. Are we satisfied that the resources devoted to them are adequate to achieve the results that our defence policy should require? Is the balance right within this enormous expenditure on defence? I do not think it is and I hope I can convince your Lordships that you should agree with me.
Our worldwide information services could be improved in several ways. We start with the enormous advantage of the English language. The men in the control tower at Beirut Airport spoke to the captain of the TWA aircraft in English. There was no chance of their understanding each other in any other language. But how can we speak to all the other terrorists and all those who instigated the act of terrorism, when probably not more than one in a thousand knows a word of our language?
Therefore I think that part of our defence policy must be to spread the use of English. Our language is the entrance ticket to the appreciation of what our global strategy is all about. English, as the only possible world language, places upon all the English-speaking peoples a duty not only to keep the language as pure as we can—and we are not doing much about that—but to exploit the strategic importance of being able to talk to neutrals and would-be opponents far more widely than we are doing at present. We have at our disposal the only effective medium of world communication. What is the message that should be communicated?
Of course it is a huge benefit to have, as the BBC has, the foremost reputation for telling the truth. Governments spread awful lies, distorting or suppressing the facts, with the result that half the world now turns to the BBC in the hope of learning a bit of the truth. These services should be steadily expanded as part of our defence, both in English and in other languages—and that in co-operation with the Americans. It does not make sense to be the ally of the United States in military preparations and then not concert with them in winning benevolent neutrals. I could give your Lordships some nasty examples of where we have been saying quite different things to the same overseas country.
762 There is something more to communicate than news and an accurate account of current events. "Communicate" is not the right word: what I should have said is that there is something more we ought to discuss with anyone anywhere in the world who will listen. We have to persuade these people to prefer us as partners, rather than the communists, in shaping the future. That means listening to them as well as talking to them. They have their own religions; they have their own cultures; they have their own ambitions; and their political and spiritual resources may be as important to our future as our military strength is now to them.
So I would conclude these few words by saying very definitely that there is a gap in our defence strategy. We are missing an opportunity to make it less likely that a war will occur and more certain that, if it did, we would win. I come back to Sir Winston Churchill's summing-up at that Cabinet discussion: how much use are weapons and fortifications if the natives do not like us?
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Lord Shinwell
My Lords, if I fail to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in his submissions about defence strategy, it is not because I reject any word he uttered in that connection: it is because although I have no standing engagement for dinner or anything else tonight, physical deterioration makes trouble for me as the day wears on and I may have to leave before the end. I apologise. However, as I have been interested in defence matters for many years—even as far back as the Boer War, the First World War and the Second World War—and in all the turbulent affairs in which we have been compelled to indulge, I thought that I might make a contribution.
The first thing I do is to direct attention to the fact—and it is a fact—that we are not asked to approve the White Paper: we are only asked to take note of it. That raises a question in my mind. Are there doubts in the minds of those associated with the Minister of Defence as to whether all that appears in this White Paper is accurate, desirable, and should have been publicised? I ask the question. On the other hand, I accept the interpretation, because if we are not asked to approve the White Paper then at least we can indulge in some investigation of its contents and engage in what might be regarded as a defence study. In this statement on strategy we proceed on certain assumptions, to which I direct your Lordships' attention. For many years, the Soviet Union constituted a threat to the democratic sentiments and liberties of the West—the United Kingdom, the United States of America and many of our allies. That threat continues, and, in consequence, because they have built up a formidable military organisation such as has never existed before, we have been compelled to follow suit and have created a military organisation which is far greater and, I believe, more effective than anything that we have ever produced before. The question must then arise: for what purpose?
As I have just mentioned, there is an assumption contained in the White Paper which will be realised at some time or other—perhaps not before the next century, though it could take place within the next few weeks—who can tell? There is a great deal of uncertainty about the intentions of the Soviet Union.
763 At any rate we must be cautious, we must be prudent, and we must keep a note of their activities. In particular, we must take note of their victories. Especially, I direct your Lordships' attention to the remarkable victory that they gained at the end of the last war when they succeeded in dividing Germany. They have continued to weaken it in the hope of destroying their hereditary enemies, who are now Federal Germany. Moreover, they turned Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other countries into satellites and then proceeded to invade Afghanistan, where they have been operating for four or five years but have still failed to achieve success.
We must ask ourselves the question: what are the intentions of the Soviet Union? Are they, as many suppose—there may be some objection to this view—at some time to launch an attack on the West with everything they have in their possession, in order to make it impossible for us to continue or to destroy us? On the other hand, do they have intentions to proceed as they have done in Germany, Hungary and now Afghanistan, and to create in many parts of the world additions to the communist society? Is that their main objective? Is that what they are after? And are we certain that we are the target?
When all is said and done, what are they likely to gain? It would be of no advantage to them at all to destroy the united nations in the West, the strength of the United Kingdom and the trading and financial activities and strength of the United States of America. They are not intent on a scorched earth policy. That is not their aim. They are seeking, as they have sought since 1917, to create a communist world, and that will not be achieved by destroying Europe and the West or other parts of the world. We should direct our attention to watching their efforts. We must regard them as a threat to this country in the long run and we must therefore have a defensive strategy of the most formidable character. That we have, but it has shortcomings.
If I had been asked to express an opinion about the publication of this White Paper, I should have said without hesitation, "Don't publish", because it not only contains some strengths but also admits many weaknesses. It refers to our maritime weakness, to which attention has already been directed and which has been mentioned many times in your Lordships' House by myself and by other colleagues. It also refers to the fact that Trident is not the last word. It is very expensive and, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, said, it may be of no value in any event, whether it is used for NATO or in other connections.
But if you start with Trident, then the scientists, the technocrats and the military experts will decide that we must go further, as the United States are now doing. They are talking about space satellites, and heaven knows where they want to go. The scientists never stop, though of course we must give them all the credit they deserve, because they are seeking discoveries which are important to society in all parts of the world. I would say let us be very careful about our assumptions; let us build up our defence, but let us be careful to look round the world and take note of what is happening elsewhere.
764 If I may interrupt my remarks at this stage, I will ask a further question. If the Soviet Union are attacking Afghanistan, is it for Afghanistan alone or do they have their eye on Pakistan, and on India, where there is a great deal of turbulence, mischief-making and difference of opinion? Do they want to control some parts of India, as we controlled India in the past, for a wrong purpose? After all, we can hardly raise any objection. We had our period in India and the Russians will say that they also want their period in India. Afghanistan would be a way out or a way in, however you look at it. That is the situation.
I come now to the question which we ought to be discussing, which is this study of defence strategy. I note that my noble colleague Lord Boston admitted that there were shortcomings, and that is apparently the official view of the Labour Party. Of course there are shortcomings. There are bound to be shortcomings. When you embark on defence measures, there are gains but there are also weaknesses and very often losses, and that is happening at the present time. All the money that is spent now will lead to a need for more money in the long run, as indeed the noble Lord ventured to suggest. It never stops, and because of our economic and financial position, I doubt very much whether we can afford it. Therefore we must exercise great care.
I come now to the question: do we need any defence at all? I say this without hesitation: I have 100 per cent. support for the Government's defence policy, apart from some criticisms in which one may indulge. We must have a formidable measure of defence; the greatest strength we can create. It may be necessary some day and it may prove to be the deterrent that many of us have thought it wise to produce. Whether that deterrent will be effective enough in the long run is difficult to say, as indeed the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, seemed to indicate, as have other colleagues. Nevertheless, we must have it. So, as regards the Government's policy of defence, whether there are shortcomings, whether there is too much expenditure and whether we can afford it, the fact remains that with the Soviet threat throughout the world we must continue with our defence measures. Whether we have the right strategy is another matter and to that I come in a sentence or two.
You cannot indulge in strategy until the battle begins. The late Field Marshal Montgomery found that in the deserts of Africa. When he was asked to take charge, what did he ask for? Did he ask for documents about strategy? Not at all. He said, "Give me masses of manpower, give me the most modern weapons and masses of them, and I will deal with the situation." Without the masses of men and modern weapons for which he asked, and with which we provided him, he never would have succeeded as he did in that part of the battleground.
All the military experts—I do not care where they are, whether in your Lordships' House, in the defence departments or in the Cabinet—and all those in the past, all the Field Marshal Hardings of the past (some of them still alive, I am glad to say, and thriving) have rendered great service to our country. But when it comes to strategy, it is only when you are facing the enemy that you can determine the right kind of strategy that is required in order to gain victory or, at 765 least, to avoid defeat. That has been found in the past, and it may have to he found in the future.
I have a right to speak about the subject because about seven or eight years ago, as a result of a visit to NATO with a few colleagues, which was in an almost infantile condition at that time, not very effective and not very strong, I ventured to suggest that in your Lordships' House we ought to have a study of defence. We created the Defence Study Committee, which has been thriving for seven years or so, chaired by our noble friend Lord Chalfont. I venture to suggest that that committee has done excellent work. All we can do—we are doing it today, and we should do it when we are dealing with the next sector of the defence documents—is to engage in a study, but we cannot determine what the strategy will be. We can decide whether we can afford the money or whether we should stop somewhere and create a new situation, such as in the shipbuilding industry of the country.
By the way, when we talk about producing more vessels to create a more effective maritime situation—I advocate that myself; I have done so in the past and will continue to do so—we have to ask ourselves the question: how will they be used? In the last war we used them in the convoy system, which was useless because they did not have the speed to elude the submarines. If that is the intention, they will not be of very much value in the future. But we must have masses of vessels in order to convey our stores and our manpower from one part of the battleground to the other. We need those vessels, apart from the need to employ vast numbers of men who will be only too glad to gain the opportunity of working in their industry again. But we must be very careful about it.
So I conclude on this note. A study, yes: a strategy within the limits of our capacity, our knowledge, the information in our possession and the advice that we receive from those more expert that we can expect to be, yes, of course. Some sections in the country, the peace movements and all the rest of them, have expressed criticism. I do not doubt their integrity and honesty for a moment. I can understand their sentiments. But in the situation as it presents itself to us, with the Russian threat which, as I have said, has continued for a long time and may continue for many years to come, we must ignore these peace movements. Despite the sentiment involved and the objectives in the minds of those behind the people who prefer peace rather than see the country engaged in another conflict, we have to proceed with our defence measures.
That should be the policy, not only of the Government but of the Labour Party; and, indeed, it is the policy of the Labour Party. When we have been accused of faltering on the subject of defence, it has been because some of our members have been regarded as militant. They have been anything but militant. They want peace. I cannot understand anybody being militant who wants peace. He should he only too glad to attack the enemy where there is a chance, provided he is satisfied that he is attacking the right enemy.
So, accepting the facts as they are, we accept this document as a note and we shall accept the next document as a note. There will be further reviews for many years to come. Better the reviews, better the talk 766 and better the negotiations, though I do not expect much from the negotiations. But proceed with them, in the hope that we shall be able to prevent another great conflict.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the Government on the excellent presentation of their Statement on the Defence Estimates. It seems to be well laid out, lucidly argued and illustrated and admirably open and fair in its presentation of the military facts, or what is known of the facts. The White Paper, notably in Annex A, displays the relentless build-up of Soviet Russia's conventional and theatre nuclear forces in Europe and the astonishing growth of her submarine and surface fleet; and indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, was so right to point out, of her merchant shipping fleet as well. It shows the bewildering succession of new types of intercontinental missiles which she has introduced, and which have succeeded in making vulnerable the United States land-based nuclear retaliatory capacity.
This momentum will be hard for anyone to stop and, on the face of it, the West has to take very good care to repair or prevent any weakness or potential weakness, military or political, which exists or which could develop in the alliance, lest one day the West's inferiority in military strength or political resolution, or its perception as such by the Soviet Union, might provide an irresistible provocation for Soviet aggression.
It is unfortunate, but unquestionable, that the strategic defence initiative could provide a divisive issue for the alliance. I was in Washington last week on a Western European Union parliamentary delegation and I returned convinced that Europe generally does not appreciate the degree of attachment that the Americans have for the concept of SDI. In the first place, the American public is, naturally enough, attracted to the idea of receiving protection from nuclear attack; indeed, the majority of Americans had probably not fully grasped the fact that they are now unprotected. Secondly, the defence stategist would like to see protection given—and, hence credibility restored—to the now vulnerable land-based nuclear retaliatory capacity. Thirdly, I think that the whole challenge is appealing to the United States and will be embraced in rather the same way as the space programme was embraced when launched by President Kennedy; and, incidentally, like that programme, launched in response to an initial Soviet lead.
It is true that a full space-based or partially space-based defensive system, which is what would be required to protect populations, is some way away. No one can say now with certainty that it will prove practicable. However, land-based defensive systems capable of protecting military targets are a much more feasible proposition and much closer in time.
In the face of this American commitment and its probable developments, how should Europe react? In the first place, Europeans must remember that on this issue, unlike on the issues of the cruise missile or the neutron bomb, which needed to be stationed on European soil, European co-operation is not required. The Americans will proceed or will be able to proceed 767 whatever the Europeans say. But if Europe dissociates herself, at whatever stage, from SDI, the Americans will likely say, "Very well, you go your way. We'll go ours". They will not then develop a defensive shield to cover Europe, if it proves possible to create such a shield. They will also in those circumstances be more likely to withdraw their troops from Europe, rather than less likely, for they will hardly choose to leave troops to defend a Europe which is perceived as having refused to allow some of the means for those troops themselves to be defended.
On the positive side, European Governments should also start to consider what uses there might be for them in elements of SDI. Apart from the more distant prospect of population protection, which presumably would be as attractive for European populations as for the American population, the land-based defence of missiles, airfields, submarine bases, command and communications posts, including those on which our own submarine-launched missiles will be dependent, would enhance the deterrent value of our military retaliatory capacity, whether nuclear or conventional.
In some circles it is even thought that it may prove easier to develop a system against short-range missiles than against long-range missiles. The argument in favour of Trident would not be affected. For the reasons stated in the White Paper, it would still be desirable for the United Kingdom to have its own deterrent—its credibility possibly enhanced by a measure of SDI—and to have in Trident the best deterrent available.
The point is that I think the United States and the Soviet Union are going to move towards strategic defence, a strategic situation in which defence plays a part, perhaps a predominant part, either by negotiation or independently in parallel. If that is so, Europe should take care to make the best of it, and above all not give the impression that we consider that our security requires the United States to remain vulnerable. This is something that we need to keep very firmly in mind whatever superficially attractive proposals the Soviet Union may announce to the world at large while engaged in talks with the United States in Geneva.
Another issue of importance for the alliance is the need for Europe to make a greater effort in conventional defence. The great American defence effort of the past five years has exposed Europe for some time to come to the risk of an American reaction, based on the feeling that Europe is not contributing enough to its own defence. I am pleased therefore that the decisions have been taken to allocate increased finance for infrastructure—in particular for the hardening of aircraft shelters—and for increasing ammunition stocks.
Another means by which the Europeans could do more to improve their conventional contribution is through a greater degree of co-operation in arms procurement and manufacture. This is a field in which great duplication of effort takes place and in which, accordingly, both financial savings and greater efficiency, as a result of standardisation and interoperability, could be achieved. It may also in the long run provide the only way of preserving an independent European defence industry. But the 768 difficulties in the way of breaking down the standard pattern of six or seven independent national governments contracting out to their own defence industries are of course formidable. It must be particularly difficult to increase international co-operation while at the same time trying to preserve the principle of competition among contractors. I know the importance that the Government give to this area.
Accordingly, I should like to ask them—I have given notice of my intention to ask this question—what progress from this point of view has been made in three fields: first, in the development of the European fighter, where there have been difficult negotiations; secondly, with regard to a battle tank for the future, where I understand the French, the Germans and the British are all conducting their independent lines of research; and, thirdly, on the almost unbelievable situation where there is no agreed NATO system of aircraft identification, with the result that in the event of hostilities it is likely that NATO itself would shoot down most of its own aircraft.
The last issue I should like to take up is one which I have introduced before into debate in your Lordships' House—the question of a ban on chemical weapons. Here I think the Government labour under an illusion. The White Paper states that progress has been made towards reaching an agreed ban on the production and use of chemical weapons. I do not believe this to be the case. I do not believe that the Soviet Union has any incentive to alter the present situation in which it holds, to all practical purposes, a monopoly on the manufacture and deployment of chemical weapons. Why should it agree to a ban for itself when it enjoys all the advantages of a ban applying only to its opponents?
The concessions offered by the Soviet Union recently after 15 years of negotiations have, I believe, been made simply to prevent the West abandoning hope of an eventual agreement. The White Paper states that the Soviet Union has accepted the principle of on-site inspection of the destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles. The Soviet Union in fact has accepted the principle of on-site inspection of the destruction of its own declared stockpiles of chemical weapons. It has refused to accept the right of any other country to challenge what it declares to be its own stockpiles. It also refuses the right of inspection of manufacturing facilities.
But even if the Soviet Union was to make further concessions I do not think that a verifiable ban is attainable, since I do not think that verification is possible. It would require an almost inconceivable degree of constant access to possible manufacturing facilities throughout the world. Therefore the only way to prevent the use of chemical weapons in the event of war is by deterrence. At the moment the situation is very dangerous. On the one hand, as the White Paper says, the Soviet Union,has retained, and continues to develop a massive chemical warfare capability".On the other hand, NATO possesses no credible deterrent of its own.
In the event of a conventional attack, therefore, NATO has to assume that chemicals would be used against its forces. It is particularly likely that they 769 would be used against points of congestion, airfields, bridges, supply ports and so on. The need to take protective measures against this possibility will severely degrade NATO troops' fighting capacity. The Warsaw Pact forces, on the other hand, need currently suffer from no such comparable disadvantage. There is perhaps no other single factor which would be more likely to force an early use of nuclear weapons to defend against a conventional attack as this imbalance in chemical warfare capacity.
The importance of this issue at the current time is enhanced by the fact that Congress seems to be in the process of voting funds for the production of binary chemical weapons in the United States—the first time the United States will have manufactured chemical weapons in 16 years. Yet those weapons will be useless unless Europe is prepared to receive them. Once America has overcome its own emotional inhibitions and manufactured them, it would do little good to the state of the alliance if, in the face of Europe's obvious self-interest in possessing that deterrent, Europe nevertheless was politically too inhibited to accept chemical weapons on its soil.
The House of Representatives has attached two conditions to its favourable vote: first, that NATO formally endorses the need for modernisation of its chemical stocks, and secondly, that the stocks can be stored on the territory of European members of the alliance. Whether these conditions remain, after both Houses of Congress have met in conference, we shall have to wait to see. But already the Soviet Union, naturally enough, has reacted in a hostile manner. In the Bundestag there were immediate moves to try to push the Federal Government into declaring that in no circumstances would that country permit any further storing of American chemicals on its soil.
Her Majesty's Government should act quickly to try to ensure that Europe plays at least this very minimal role in co-operating with the United States in the interest of Europe's own security. Given the inhibitions felt in other European countries—for example, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Italy have all renounced the right to use chemical weapons even in retaliation, and Norway and Denmark already prohibit storage of chemical weapons on their soil—it really falls on the Government of this country to rally what European support can be rallied on this question.
In conclusion, let me say this. In our time, no task is more important for all of us who wish for the survival of demoracy in Western Europe than the maintenance of the cohesion of the relationship between Western Europe and the United States. In the years ahead this task will require vigilance, courage, sensitivity and endurance. For its own security, Europe is asking the United States to make big efforts and run great risks. In return, we should give them what they above all want of us. And what they want of us, I believe, is support in what they conceive as the task they have taken on of defending the free world against the encroachments of the Soviet military empire.
The support need not always be material; very often it is only political or moral support that is required. But the United States want an acceptance by us of some share of the responsibility they have 770 assumed—whether it is in challenging the Soviet Union over treaty violations (where they feel we tend to wash our hands, even while at the same time we call for new treaties on arms control, and so forth), or whether it concerns activities to protect Western interests outside the NATO area (which they feel are our interests as much as theirs), or whether it is a question of research into new technologies necessitated by a developing Soviet lead in those technologies, as was the case with SDI.
Europe needs to shed itself of a tendency towards irresponsibility, whereby we leave all action to the United States and ourselves claim only the right to judge and to criticise. If we can avoid that course, then perhaps, with good fortune, we can help to secure that peace in Europe which we have now enjoyed, although not without anxiety in recent years, for four decades, for our children and our children's children.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, our considered view—and here I speak for the Liberal Party—will be expressed later in this debate by our defence spokesman, my noble friend Lord Mayhew. Beyond saying, then, that I agree with every word of the splendid speech which we have just heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, I will chiefly confine myself to a few remarks on star wars—a subject on which I have recently been corresponding at considerable length with the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I rather hope that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, who I believe is to wind up this debate, will not be surprised by what I have to say; I do not know whether or not he has read that correspondence; but it appears not. Anyhow, the correspondence exists and if the noble Viscount has not read it, then perhaps he will do so at some stage in the near future.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, will equally not be surprised to hear that on the subject of star wars I disagree totally with what he had to say, though on other matters as regards defence, I thought that the noble Lord was very sensible. In any case, as I see it, star wars is a great matter on which, above all matters, the European members of the North Atlantic alliance ought to speak with one voice. This, if only because of the fact that if by any chance the Americans are successful by the turn of the century or earlier in making themselves immune, or nearly immune, from nuclear bombardment by the Soviet Union, it is almost impossible to imagine (and here I think that the bulk of scientists are on my side) that the Americans could at the same time devise means for extending such immunity to their European colleagues, who would hence remain exposed to nuclear attack from the East by methods not susceptible to interception by lasers or direct energy weapons based on huge platforms in space.
It is also true I think that most informed scientists regard the whole project of star wars as a vast and destabilising waste of money, being incapable of realisation even by the year 2000. But, along with the Russians, we cannot ignore American assurances that star wars may be established well before then. If it is so established, then so much the worse for Europe. That is something upon which the European members of 771 the alliance should, I suggest, now speak out loud and clear.
There is another and equally important, and certainly more immediate, reason why the Europeans should unite in frankly condemning this scheme—at least as it is currently formulated and not simply used as a bargaining counter, which is, after all, a possibility. If star wars goes ahead as now proposed—and that depends largely on whether Congress votes the money for it—there is no doubt that the Russians will, over the years, necessarily feel obliged to take some sort of counter measures, which would presumably imply the end of the negotiations for arms limitations now going on in Geneva. There is scarcely any doubt about that. For if the Russians have any regard for their own security, they must do their best to avoid being placed at the mercy of their great adversary, if only in a quarter of a century's time. Accordingly, we shall be faced with the likelihood of an uncontrolled and insensate arms race, the end of which cannot be foreseen and which cannot be other than highly dangerous for all of us.
The proponents of star wars will of course ask at this point, "What if the Russians have their own SDI projects and are even now themselves preparing to set up great platforms in space or otherwise to achieve a position of nuclear superiority? What of that?" For some time there have been mysterious references emanating, I believe, exclusively from United States sources, to experiments with lasers and directed energy. Much emphasis is in any case placed on Russian efforts to establish an effective ABM system around Moscow. I therefore ask the Government —and this is my main question—what actual concrete evidence is there that the Soviet Government are at work now on any space-based system? The development of an ABM system round Moscow is neither here nor there, because it is essentially a land-based system and one which is specifically authorised by the famous treaty of 1973. In any case, simple experiments with lasers and directed energy can hardly be seen in themselves as proof of work on a star wars system, since such experiments can be perfectly consonant with the preparation of weapons of an entirely different sort.
As I see it, the only hard evidence there is that the Soviet Government are possibly at work on a space-based system lies in the erection what is called a "phased array radar" station at Krasnoyarsk, in Siberia. The Russians say that it is simply designed to track satellites but the Americans may be right in suggesting that it violates the treaty of 1973. Here, the only solution seems to lie in Soviet agreement to its inspection by Western experts. I believe I am right in saying that this possibility has not been dismissed by the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Dobrynin. Perhaps such a concession might be traded against a considerable reduction in United States expenditure on research on the SDI. Why not? In return, obviously, the Soviets should also be ready to accept a notable reduction in the number of their land-based strategic nuclear missiles. That is the sort of arrangement which ought to be negotiated in Geneva.
To sum up an argument which can only with difficulty be compressed into a speech of a few minutes 772 my suggestion is that the European allies should, if possible, express a joint view on the kind of agreement which they should like to see achieved on star wars at Geneva. In no circumstances should they be tempted by what in any case might be severely circumscribed offers to participate in a research programme now contemplated by the United States Administration. Of course we must preserve the alliance, on the continued existence of which, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Reay, our whole future depends. But that need not—and should not—prevent us, along with a large section of informed American opinion, from telling our great ally that pressing ahead with star wars, irrespective of what the Russians may say or do, might very well be the one action calculated to undermine the alliance on which we all depend. It will be interesting to hear whether the Government spokesman can at least make out a brief case for any rejection of this general thesis.
I end with one other question on a totally different subject but which I believe is relevant to our defence in general. Have the Government by any chance read a pamphlet which has just appeared called The Defence of the United Kingdom base in War? This has been issued by a group called "Defence Begins at Home" headed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton. The case for the institution of a voluntary and part-time body to act alongside territorial detachments for the protection of a vast number of key points likely to be attacked in the event of war by specialist saboteurs trained in the Soviet Union strikes me as impressive. As I see it, such a force of at least 100,000, at only about 100 per year per person plus capital expenditure over five years of only 17 million, is not only financially tolerable but is likely also to be popular in all our towns and villages.
I urge the Government not to dismiss this proposal out of hand. A non-nuclear war is entirely possible and there is much evidence that the Soviet Government are already training men to act as professional saboteurs behind the lines in such an emergency. Again, I ask the Government to pay real attention to what I think is a highly intelligent proposal by the group.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Zuckerman
My Lords, I should like to focus my contribution to the debate today on an observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his opening speech about the desirability of a two-way exchange given that we co-operate with the United States in the SDI programme. Yesterday, the main editorial in The Times began by telling us that the purpose of the present trip to Western Europe by Vice-President Bush is to explain about the nature of SDI. It went on to say:He must allay fears about a possible future brain-drain".In a debate on 14th June in another place, the Secretary of State for Education and Science referred to the fact that,it may in future become more difficult to borrow technology developed overseas because the increasing awareness of scientists and industry the world over of the commercial potential of research seems likely to inhibit the free circulation".773 He went on to say:I view with some concern reports that increasing numbers of our brightest scientists are leaving this country, perhaps for good, to take up research appointments overseas … The impression is that the loss of our brightest scientists is not being balanced either by the return of British scientists or by immigration into Britain of overseas scientists".He concluded that section of his speech with the statement:In other words, there is a net brain drain".—[Official Report, Commons, 14/6/85; col. 1135.]I was interested in that fact because many years ago I was concerned in a report which was prepared for the Government by Dr. F. E. Jones, a Fellow of the Royal Society and then a research scientist at Mullards. He conducted an inquiry into the nature of the brain drain and he concluded that a significant number of scientists and engineers who had been trained in our universities and colleges of advanced technology were seeking employment overseas because prospects were better there. I have not had time to refer back to the actual report—I am speaking from memory—but I managed to obtain today some figures from the American sources for the period. They are extremely interesting and very important for the future.
What it adds up to is that in the seven years 1957–64—which is when we were having our first major discussions on anti-ballistic missiles and also when the Apollo programme was being launched—40,000 professional scientists and engineers entered the United States and took up permanent employment. During that period this country contributed a total of 6,000–15 per cent. Admittedly, these figures relate to a period of nearly 20 years ago, but I think it represents a marker because the report we had previously on the brain drain was unable to obtain exact figures. I know that the advisory board for the research councils, to which the Secretary of State for Education and Science referred in the debate in the other place two weeks ago, is having difficulty now in providing hard information to back up the statement which he made then.
I was interested in the fact that the Secretary of State was talking about the brightest scientists and it suddenly occurred to me to ask: who are the brightest scientists? I confess I found it extremely difficult to find a good definition, and for want of a better source I decided to refer to the Royal Society, assuming of course (and it is not an infallible test), that those who become fellows belong to the community of the brightest.
I had noted for some time that among candidates elected to the Royal Society there was an increasing number of British passport holders who were working abroad. I got in touch with the librarian, who did some research for me yesterday and who is continuing the research. He limited his inquiry to the past 10 years—a period in which the society has elected 40 new fellows a year, which is more than twice the number elected at the time when I became a fellow. While the statistics are still obviously inadequate, it turned out that in the first five years of this recent period 14 of the 200 fellows elected were working in the United States —about 7.5 per cent. But in the last five years the proportion has doubled.
774 I make these two observations—the American information about where the people have come from and the figure which I managed to get hold of—merely to give an indication of the numbers of British passport holders who have been trained in this country, many of them well beyond first degree course ("post-docs" as they are now called), at very great expense, who are now in the United States. I hope that this will be followed up.
This brings me to the question to which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, drew attention. I should like to know what substance there is to the fear that there might be another brain drain. Recruiting sergeants from the United States are already around. I think we all know that, and I have met one. They have been approaching individuals and firms in this country to encourage people to participate in the SDI research programme. Obviously the fear is that there might be another brain drain. That was the point made in the editorial in The Times yesterday.
In addition to the general job opportunities that lead men who have been educated here to seek employment in the United States, there was the particular attraction in the 1960s of the Apollo—the man-on-the-moon—programme. That programme differs from SDI research because the scientific work which NASA encouraged then was open work. It was unclassified. We all shared in the benefits. I knew several of the British nationals—and I know them still—who were working on that programme.
On the other hand—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will take this on board—the work which will be done under the SDI programme is almost bound to be classified—not all, but certainly the major part of it. The question then is: what about that two-way exchange? Whatever form in which we co-operate, we may not necessarily have free use of either the intellectual or the industrial property rights which derive from any work in which we might co-operate.
Furthermore, I believe that if our lawyers were to look closely at the full ABM treaty they would discover that there are constraints on the passage of information between the two parties which concluded that treaty and any third party. That is another point to which I think attention should be paid. Attention is certainly being paid to it in the United States, and it is a matter on which the USSR has differed publicly in its legal interpretation of what can and cannot be done under the treaty.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, spoke about the shortage of resources that affects some of our own defence problems or our defence problems within the context of NATO. I think that your Lordships should know that there are serious shortages now in the recruitment to some of our critical establishments. The number of first degree science and engineering graduates that we are turning out is something like 35,000 a year. They will be needed here, with the help of judicially directed investment, if British industry is to adapt to the new technological age, to which the noble and gallant Lord referred, and so contribute to the improvement of the national economy. I therefore hope that the statistics to which the Secretary of State for Education and Science is looking forward at the 775 end of August, I think, will be there and that a real effort will be made by combing not just our own sources of information but also American sources about the number of people who are going over there.
Anyhow, much of the SDI programme and what is being pursued in the USSR was going on long before President Reagan coined the umbrella term, strategic defence initiative. Many of the items in the programme, all of which have been laid out in a report to Congress, are old items. I can well imagine that related work is also going on in our own Government establishments. When I say that President Reagan coined a term which covered old work, he was not the first Amercan President to express the wish that nuclear weapons should be eradicated from the world. I believe that if one looks at the record one will find that every President bar President Truman has given that promise or expressed that wish.
The real point is that we know that the United States recruiting sergeants, if I may call them that, are interested in specific fields of inquiry which are being pursued in some of our universities, in West Germany and in France. There are questions there which need to be asked.
If participation therefore means the encouragement of such work as we might do without restriction on the use of intellectual and industrial property rights, well and good. But if the amount of good is to be counterbalanced by a brain drain of some of our brightest and best potential intellectual property, it will not be to our benefit, any more than I believe that strategically the whole concept of SDI, in so far as it might prove destabilising to our present state of mutual deterrence, in which I have full confidence, will be in the interests of our national security.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
My Lords, I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, say that he had complete confidence in our present system of mutual deterrence. That was one of the topics on which I hoped to say a few words—that of nuclear weapons.
A number of speeches have mentioned the part played in our defences by formidable conventional weapons and by chemical warfare, but it still remains true that in the end the defence of the liberty of this country and of our allies in NATO depends on the mutual balance and deterrence of the nuclear weapons on both sides. If one imagines the country neither possessing nuclear weapons nor allied with any nuclear power, it would not be in a position to defend itself against any country that had nuclear weapons. It would be completely at its mercy and be unable to defend its liberty.
In those circumstances surely what we have to search for in disarmament arguments is an agreement which retains the present balance, one hopes at much lower levels, much lower totals on both sides, and above all one which is verifiable. If we can search for that, we must at the same time try to avoid the kind of argument that would commit us as to the circumstances in which we might or might not use nuclear weapons. It seems to me that what NATO ought to be able to say to any potential aggressor is that 776 we have no intention of using weapons of any kind against anybody if we are not attacked; if we are attacked, we reserve the right to use whatever weapons we have in whatever way seems most likely to be effective at the time. However, if we start committing ourselves to not using nuclear weapons first, or using them only in certain circumstances, we present to a potential aggressor an obvious advantage. It is important that a potential aggressor should always be in a state of ignorance as to that might or might not be used against him. I hope we shall always bear that in mind.
We must also avoid the illogical kind of argument which crops up in many forms and which says, in effect, that nuclear war is a dreadful thing therefore this country ought not to have any nuclear weapons. This of course is a gigantic non sequitur. There is no reason to suppose that if this country had no nuclear weapons, then nuclear war would be any less likely than it is at the present time. Indeed, by the upset of balance between NATO and the other powers, it might make nuclear war more likely. Thus, there is really no point in propagandists constantly reminding us how fearful nuclear war is. I should have thought that by this time we all knew that.
The question is: what kind of policy will make it less likely? Here, we should do well to follow the excellent advice of the late Lord Mountbatten, in a part of his famous speech, which is not usually quoted, where he said that the first and most important thing to do is to retain, to preserve, the balance that we have at the present time. If we can go on doing that, then, like the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, I have confidence in our present system of deterrence.
However, notice how all this depends on the Atlantic Alliance being real and solid. This is the second main topic about which I wish to say something. However much argument one engages in about Trident or an independent British deterrent, it is still quite clear that for our defence we cannot rely completely on our own efforts alone. The effective nuclear defence of this country depends on the North Atlantic Alliance being effective and real. Today a real and effective alliance does not only mean a promise on paper to come to the aid of one's ally if he is attacked: it means making recognised plans for how one will do that. Modern war is too complicated for mere promises that one will come and help to be of much use, if it is not at all clear how this will work out in fact.
Recently, as part of the Atlantic Alliance, we agreed to have in this country, and so did certain other European countries, cruise missiles as an offset to the SS.20s which the Soviet Union was planning throughout Eastern Europe and targeting on this country and other countries in Western Europe. It has been suggested that we ought now to adopt a policy of sending them back to the United States or getting rid of them and making this country a country in which there were no American or other nuclear weapons.
I invite your Lordships just for a moment to consider what is involved in that. In the first place, are we saying that we ourselves want to get rid of the cruise missiles that we have here but that we should be very glad if the other European countries that have them would retain them because that would help our 777 security? I can only say that I should not care to be the British Foreign Secretary who had to argue that singularly inglorious policy in front of the NATO Council. More serious than the embarrassment of the Foreign Secretary at that time would be the damage done to the credibility of this country if we put forward a proposition of that kind.
If, on the other hand, we mean that not only do we want cruise missiles removed from here but removed from Western Europe generally, then we are left with the SS.20s targeted against us, with no nearer method of retaliation than weapons sited in the United States that would have to be flung across the Atlantic as a possible deterrent. That is to say we would be relying on American help but insisting that it should be done in circumstances of the maximum difficulty and risk to the Americans. I cannot think there would be much credibility left in our repeated assertions that we were loyal members of the Alliance.
Thus, let us be frank about this. In effect, a policy of that kind will mean in time—and not a very long time either—leaving the Alliance with all the grim consequences that would follow from that. Of course there are people who will argue that we ought to leave the Atlantic Alliance. I shall not pursue that now. It is a topic that one could discuss at great length but I am assuming that a great majority of your Lordships on all sides of the House do not want to see that done.
The third topic to which I want to refer, where I fear I shall not command such agreement, relates to the cost of all this. I shall not make a pronouncement about Trident. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to those of us who were on the Front Benches and those who were not. Of course, the great advantage of not being on a Front Bench is that one is not required to express an opinion on all the controversial topics that crop up. I therefore do not propose to express an opinion on Trident. But whether this country spends its money in that way or not, it is quite clear that anything like an adequate defence of a kind about which this White Paper is talking will be extremely expensive and will become more expensive as time goes on.
While that is so, the Prime Minister is going around making speeches about the absolute necessity of reducing taxes. I want to know how one adds this up. If one reduces taxes and spends more on defence, one has to meet the gap by cutting the social services. Of course, the Government have already shown us the way in that particularly mean decision on child benefit, where inflation goes up 7 per cent. and child benefit is raised by 2.5 per cent. Is that how we propose to pay for our defence? Apparently that is the Government's view.
I do not believe that that will do. If the Conservative Party are serious about defence, they have to have the courage to say, and say to many of their own influential and wealthy supporters, that defence and freedom have to be paid for and have to be paid for by everybody in this country, particularly by those who are most well off. This will mean a reversal of what has been the Government's approach to taxation ever since they came into power, since one of their first acts when they were elected was to reduce taxation on very wealthy people. They cannot go on doing that if they 778 are serious about defence. They will have to decide that the freedom of this country is worth defending. That is not only on this country's account because bound up with it is the freedom of mankind.This is something in which we are all involved and of which everybody ought to pay their share. It is time that the Government made that clear.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, the 1985 defence White Paper has the same principal object as its predecessors: the prevention of world war three by our possession of inter alia nuclear weapons. That indeed must be the proper object of our military thinking. I was delighted to hear just now that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, was broadly in agreement with that.
There are other options but I think all of them are dangerous. At one extreme we rightly dismiss as a complete "nutter" that Danish politician who suggested disbanding his country's armed forces and substituting a simple loop of tape, bearing on it the recorded message, "I surrender" in Russian. We dismiss it not only because of its defeatism but also because we remember the unhappy lot of countries, such as Italy, which did surrender, some of them twice, in the second world war. Surrender is not only defeatist, it is no soft option. Nor indeed is neutrality a soft option. Armed neutrality is very expensive. Were we to adopt that line, with the rest of NATO fighting the Warsaw Pact, or indeed just the Americans fighting the Russians, we could for a while say, "I'm all right, Jack", but not for very long because we are not self-sufficient.
Those extreme options of surrender or neutrality are not very common. What is common is the conventional weapons only argument. That is an argument that I have heard noble Lords opposite leaning towards this afternoon. It is the argument that war fought only with high explosives would somehow be bearable and perhaps even respectable. In order to contemplate that course of action we would have to build up NATO forces to exceed those of the Warsaw Pact. That would be very expensive, far more expensive than the nuclear deterrent. Yet I should like to suppose that NATO decided so to do, and to examine the consequences. I hope to demonstrate that a massive conventional build-up would be far more dangerous than the development of our Trident submarines.
How would Russia feel about a superior army facing her across the Elbe? Would she not feel frightened, particularly when her own satellites went through periods of unrest and revolt, as they so often do? And a frightened country is a dangerous country. Might not Russia be tempted to take the valuable prize of West Germany before NATO had achieved conventional superiority? West Germany is a valuable prize indeed. It contains 24 per cent. of NATO's steel-making capacity. The heartland of NATO is hard up against the Iron Curtain. But the heartland of the Warsaw Pact is 1,000 kilometres back and east of it. I ask therefore, might not the Russians be tempted? For them, it would almost be a colonial war, far removed from Moscow. For us, it would strike immediately at the heartland. NATO's heartland is in the front line. We 779 cannot afford to yield one kilometre of German territory.
Let us not underestimate the awfulness of conventional weapons. In the event of nuclear attack on this country, some people throw up their hands in horror and say that all 50 million of us would be killed. Those who say that would do well to remember that exactly the same number of people were killed in World War Two—50 million. And they were killed by conventional weapons and their side-effects. In a conventional third world war, that number would be greatly exceeded, for Russia's conventional capability is the greatest that the world has ever seen. Not only has weaponry increased; so also has our vulnerability. The United Kingdom depends more on petrol and electricity than it did 40 years ago. So, bomb the power stations, bomb the oil refineries and it is fairly easy to see what would happen here. There would be starvation. Immediately, milk production would be hit as our powerless milking machines went out of action and we then discovered that we did not have enough people left on the land who could milk the cows.
The whole modern pattern of food production could easily be destroyed. Food, nowadays, is transported, stored, processed and distributed to supermarkets, transported again by the customer and then stored in his refrigerator or deep freeze before being eaten. Take away the transport and the power and you have taken away the food. Power stations and oil refineries are therefore obvious targets for any enemy, as indeed is the petro-chemical plant that makes our pesticides and fertilisers. Thus, in the longer term, we should be unable even to grow enough food and, as I have said, we should starve. Not only should we starve, but, also, without electricity, we should freeze. We should be like the people of Leningrad in the last war. We should suffer a perpetual winter. What politician would be rash enough to get up and say to us, "don't worry: it's not a nuclear winter; it's just a conventional one!"?
There is, I believe, as dangerous fallacy about a conventional alternative to nuclear weapons. I believe that conventional weapons are more dangerous than nuclear as they make world war three more likely. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has just said so. He has said that a non-nuclear war is entirely possible. But that war, my Lords, would still be the worst the world has ever known. If I am practical for a moment, noble Lords will know that the scrapping of Trident would only generate sufficient funds to create two more armoured divisions. That would scarcely tilt the conventional balance in our favour. But the essence of my argument today is to be impractical and theoretical. If we did achieve a conventional balance, that would be dangerous specifically because conventional weapons cannot reach the Russian heartland as can the inter-continental ballistic missiles. Therefore, it is conceivable that Russia might regard a conventional threat as a mere frontier threat, far from home. She might think the game worth the candle.
Members of the CND like to describe themselves—in all sincerity, I am sure—as the peace movement. But Professor Hermann Bondi, in his excellent article in Catalyst, gives CND a new set of 780 initials. They are BECW. That stands for the Band of Enthusiasts for Conventional War. I am no enthusiast for any sort of war at all. Each one has become progressively more awful since David slew Goliath. All that I am saying today is that we must avoid world war three. If we keep our nuclear deterrent, it is obvious to one and all that world war three will be the end of us all. Therefore, no one will allow it to happen, just as no one has allowed it to happen over the past 40 years. But if we throw it away, it is not obvious to one and all that world war three will be the end of us all. Therefore, it might happen. Only when it does happen will we discover that the difference between nuclear and conventional war is the difference between sudden death and lingering death.
As to the nature of our deterrent, I am not sufficiently expert to argue the merits of the D5 over the C4 system. I feel that the system must be submarine-launched and that it must be ballistic, for a cruise system would not be subject to the ABM treaty and it would need more submarines since cruise missiles have only one warhead. It would therefore be more expensive and less effective. I do not feel that Trident or the NATO Tomahawk GLCMs, or cruise, at Greenham are particularly dangerous for us. I feel that they are at least less dangerous than the short range weapons like Lance or Honest John. Those weapons are near the forward edge of the battle area and a comparatively junior gunner would have to decide in the heat of battle whether to use them or lose them. Any reassurance that my noble friend the Lord President of the Council can give that such short range weapons are to be replaced by longer range weapons would be more than welcome. Strangely, it is safer to have more missiles in the United Kingdom and fewer in West Germany. By that, I mean safer for us here in England.
I must therefore say, beware of the subtle danger of respectable conventional war. For there is no such thing. While we must not forget those two brave men who won Victoria Crosses in the Falklands, we must also remember the 60 Welsh Guardsmen at Bluff Cove who never had a chance to show that they were brave. Modern conventional war has little to do with heroics. I could not better conclude than by repeating what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said on 23rd May last year;We are founder members of NATO, the shield of the West. A NATO with a nuclear deterrent, fearful weapons though they are. But so are conventional weapons. Let no one forget that".
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, in so far as the message of the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, was that we must do everything in our power to avoid war altogether, any sort of war, I could find myself in agreement with him. But he will forgive me if I do not follow him on other parts of what he had to say. The Statement on the Defence Estimates begins with a chapter called "The Strategic Context". In such a statement as this, one would be foolish not to expect it to be partisan. It is obviously a statement of the Government's point of view. But this year's opening summary of post-war history goes beyond what is reasonable. It is so oblivious of anything other than a narrow Western point of view as to be almost 781 laughable. The brief of the noble Lord the Minister was, I fear, perhaps prepared by the same hand. I found that he seemed to follow rather closely the mistatement of history, I believe, that leads to the conclusions that are behind Government policy at this time.
The picture is as black and white as its Soviet counterpart with the difference, of course, that in the Soviet version they are the white knights and the West are the wicked nuclear dragon. In this version the West are "the goodies", in the white hats, offering Marshall aid which is scurvily rejected by the graceless Soviets. It is conveniently forgotten that the acceptance of the dollar in those years was widely considered to be acquiescence in a yoke of economic imperialism. That thought was not entirely misplaced, as recent history suggests.
The fact is also ignored that the division of Europe was, to a large extent, a matter of agreement. It recognised strategic and geopolitical reality. However, here a picture is drawn of the Soviet Union surging over Europe, but not in the course and as a consquence of helping us all to defeat fascism. Instead. Russia is seen as imposing communism on unwilling states deserted by the West, which is presented in the Government's opening statement as being stupid to the point of being naive.
The reality is that all sides were war-weary and that in those years we still saw the Soviet Union as our ally—or, rather, some of us did. In the United States, the Soviet Union was often seen as a threat to the very existence of capitalism, and I think that it still is seen as such. However, as politics there and in Europe moved to the Right, the Prime Minister of the time, Clement Attlee, was soon having to point out that the alternative to co-existence was co-death. Not until the second page of the introduction, in paragraph 107, is it admitted that the central reality of the post war years was that American hostility to communism was hacked by the nuclear weapon in the sole possession of the United States. That pre-war hostility resurfaced on VE-Day, and from then on the peacemongers in the United States fought a losing battle.
I was sorry to hear Lord Kennet's suggestion that the Labour Front Bench in this House does not support the policy of the party which it represents. It is true that the post-war history of Parliament—and this applies not only to the Labour Party—was that parliamentary parties reluctantly followed the views of the people whom they represented outside Parliament. However, over recent years Parliament as a whole has moved closer towards the view of the Labour Party, which is that the nuclear weapon is something which we ought to be rid of as soon as possible. I hope that it will be seen this evening that our Front Bench are not willing to drag their feet on this matter. I am not speaking myself from the Front Bench. I have never dragged my feet on this matter. I know that my noble friend on my left, Lord Stewart of Fulham, has always taken a different view from the one which I take about this matter. My noble friend's consistency about the matter is only exceeded by my own. We have over many years taken a different view on this subject, and that, I think, is permissible and reasonable. What is more difficult to justify is a strong difference of view 782 between the Front Bench of a party and the view held in the party elsewhere.
I should like to say a few words about the present position. The American stock of nuclear weapons has increased year by year in number, in variety, in accuracy and in methods of delivery. The Soviet story has been one of continually trying to catch up until the position was reached several years ago when either or both of them could destroy the world and possibly even all life on it. In at least one range of weapons the Soviets established superiority. All over, of course, the Americans spend much more on arms than the Soviet Union, which because of its relative economic weakness, cannot hope to match the West.
However, the present position of the American Government seems to me to be verging on the insincere. They appear to see arms control talks as a front behind which the weapons can continue to grow as they have done over the years. Our own Government are left with the task—which they are attempting to do, as far as some of your Lordships are concerned, with success—of presenting the American march to extinction in credible terms. Indeed, in this document they do their best, arguing, for example, that although Trident will be a weapon with first-strike capability, it will not be used as such—at least, not by this country acting alone. Just suppose that the Soviet Union presented us with that argument in reverse. A horse-laugh would be the only reception that such a statement would receive, as, indeed, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, has already made abundantly clear—much clearer than I could make it.
The Government are always telling us—and they do so again in this document—that a nuclear exchange will not occur so long as they keep piling up the warheads. However, at the same time the Americans are developing first-strike techniques which include not only LUA (launch under attack) scenarios but even LOW (launch on warning)—plans which our Government appear to go along with when they talk in the statement about Trident:posing a credible threat to key aspects of Soviet state power".Lord Carrington, quoted here, should understand, and the Government should understand, that, faced with that, the Soviet leadership cannot, as he says, indulge in wishful thinking by saying "Oh, but they wouldn't". That is Lord Carrington talking about what he cannot do. Equally, neither can the Soviets do that. The American Under-Secretary for Defence has even blurted out publicly what they have long been saying privately: that is, he has referred to Trident as having a "pre-emptive capability".
Would it be surprising if Soviet thoughts were moving in the same direction? If so, so far from making us safe, Trident could be our death warrant. In the light of that, the section on arms control in the statement is an amazing flight from reality. It fancifully contradicts the doom-laden verbiage in the Trident essay.
Weapons with the technical attributes of Trident D5 have the requirements of first-strike—that is to say, they have even the requirements of pre-emption; namely, accuracy, destructive power and speed. Trident D5 can carry out pin-point attacks that could destroy Soviet underground silos and command posts.
783 They will present a temptation to be used in times of crisis before the Soviets give way under the strain and perhaps think that they have to use the SS18, which will be developed by then, to precipitate the nuclear exchange which may be the end of us all.
The policy of placing the anticipated adversary under increasing and ultimately irresistible pressure is incompatible with effective talks of arms control. It is sheer lunacy. As the American Paul Bracken puts it in his Yale University press paper:Political leaders on both sides may not want war but they may be unable to stop each other, or themselves, from pushing the button".This Statement on the Defence Estimates is no more reassuring when it purports to show the balance of forces between East and West. Annex A is no more than a propaganda presentation designed to justify a still further increase in the massive nuclear armoury of the West. For example, in Figure 12 on page 54 the Government (who are always telling us, when it suits their case, that it is warheads and not delivery systems which count) present a diagram showing a Soviet preponderance of delivery systems, because in warheads the USA alone has 11,000 to the Soviet's 9,000. A diagram showing that would not fit the argument: therefore, we show the other argument. It is sufficient to show, of course, that both sides are grossly over-armed, and more over-armed than the dinosaurs, which are supposed to have died out as a result of being so heavily over-armed. Maybe that is the fate in store for us, too.
The American Congressional Study is much more informative, and deals with the crucial question of survivability. In The Nation earlier this year Howard Moorland argues that Soviet vulnerability is such that our own weapon-perfecting could lead to nuclear disaster. This is the argument which I have been trying to present to your Lordships.
I was glad to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, at Question Time today—and indeed, it was confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman—that we are shortly going to hear something authoritative about the question of the nuclear winter. It is about time. I was about to say that there was nothing in the statement about it, but I had that withdrawn from under me at Question Time today, and I am glad that it was. I look forward to hearing what is said.
My Lords, the course of action advocated in this statement leads straight to disaster. If it is persisted in it must surely put in danger the continued existence of our civilisation, and perhaps even of humanity itself. On this course our generation might even be the last, and we should then have failed to carry out the first duty of mankind—to hand on the planet in a survivable form. It would be shocking to give our successors the precious gift of life only to snatch it away from them before they had tasted it. We should then have committed the ultimate crime of bringing the human experiment to a miserable, premature, self-inflicted and entirely unnecessary end.
§ 6.14 p.m.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, it would be impossible to imagine two points of view on matters of national security and defence which are further apart 784 than those of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and myself. He has been consistent all the time—and I respect that—and so have I. Therefore I do not think that he will collapse with shock when I say that I am firmly in support of the Government's policy of retaining a British nuclear capacity.
I use the word "retaining" advisedly. One scarcely will have gathered from some of the speeches in this debate that we have had a nuclear arm, the Polaris submarine, ever since the early 1960s—over all the years, as a matter of interest, during which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, was pursuing his valuable and distinguished military career. The British Polaris submarine has been accepted by successive Governments, both socialist and Conservative, since the beginning, and also by the NATO Alliance. I am bound to say that I have never heard in alliance circles that they would be happy to see Britain withdraw that support.
My first reason for retaining a British nuclear arm is that until we can see much more clearly than we can today the future pattern of power relationships in the world, I do not believe that we should be justified in depriving ourselves of a defence option. I must remind your Lordships that the non-proliferation treaty has soon to be renegotiated. No one knows what the shape of armaments in the world will be after that. I want to see that shape before I take a decision as fundamental as that proposed of ridding ourselves of a nuclear arm.
More particularly if Britain is to have a nuclear capacity and a nuclear arm, let it be one that is credible, one for which the availability of spare parts is ensured for many years in the future. That would not be so if we were to try to spin out the life of Polaris. It would be so if, as we intend to do, we adopt Trident.
I have nothing but the friendliest feelings towards the French, but I would not be very happy if France was the only nuclear power left in Western Europe. I think too that it is possible that if we retain our nuclear deterrent Britain and France may in future years be able to co-operate more closely in that field, to the advantage of the defence of the European continent. I want to keep that option open. Then when the negotiations for a new balance of power at a lower level—as we all hope—come to the crunch (and they have already started in Geneva) I want Britain to be at the negotiating table. We would not be there if we had no nuclear weapon at all. With Trident we shall be there, and we shall have something of substance to contribute both to discussion and, we would hope, to solution.
Finally, there is a consideration which has been raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey. The preferred popular picture of future defence seems to concentrate on the balance of conventional arms. We have to face the fact that the trouble in the past has been that all confrontations have been with conventional arms (many of them are going on now all over the world), and they have not ended war, for the reason that one contestant or the other has always calculated that it could win that war. I doubt if there is any security in a balance of conventional forces.
It so happens that we must not push too far the argument that where the nuclear weapons are there has not been war for a long time. That argument could 785 be overdone. But the fact of nuclear stalemate, and the knowledge shared by the Soviet Union and the rest of us that no one can win a nuclear war, at least gives us a breathing space during which we can negotiate and hope to be able to lower the level of all arms. What, in short, I am saying is that I do not think that there is any case now for depriving ourselves of a nuclear capacity, and as far as Trident is concerned I am prepared to pay the insurance premium.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, many noble Lords who have taken part in this debate have spoken with great authority and experience, not least the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, who as always has given us words of wisdom. They include a former Chief of the Defence Staff, my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver. Having myself spent part of my war as an ordinary seaman and part as a sub-lieutenant RNVR, I feel somewhat diffident at intervening in this debate. I said to myself, "Who am I to bandy words with a field marshal or indeed with an admiral of the fleet?" But I was concerned with defence questions on and off a good deal during my time in the Diplomatic Service and I think that ordinary people are very much concerned with these questions—they, after all, pay the bill—and that we should not leave it entirely to the experts or to those who look at the problem primarily through political spectacles.
Fundamental to everything, I believe, is the balance which in some form or other has kept the peace in Europe since 1945. It is that which allows us to go home to bed tonight and to expect to be here again in the morning. I agree very much with what was said tonight about the balance by my former chief, the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. It is not only the overall balance which is supremely important; it is in my view important to have a balance in the main groups of weapons. It was that that got out of track with intermediate-range missiles and we found then in NATO that it is always painful and difficult to catch up. It was an agonising process to do so.
I hope that we have now learnt that lesson. But the problem is that the balance now has tilted quite a long way against us. This is brought out with admirable clarity in Annexe A of the White Paper, which shows that the West is heavily outnumbered, two to one or three to one in submarines, tanks, artillery, and tactical aircraft; and by no less than five to one in intermediate missiles. There is also the question of quality, on which the White Paper tells us that we can no longer count on having a substantial lead over the Soviet Union. Ten years ago, when I was in Hungary and watched amphibious tanks swimming up the Danube, I was impressed by the quality of the Soviet equipment that I saw and I think that they have made substantial strides since that time.
The Statement also reminded us that the Russians, unlike the West, have a massive chemical warfare capability and that the Soviet Union alone has an ABM system in place. Therefore from the point of view of the alliance, unless, as seems most unlikely, the Soviet Union decide to halt or reverse their enormous military build-up, the need clearly is to increase our effort and to try to rectify the balance or at least to prevent it from being tilted dangerously against us. I 786 do not know, I am not qualified to judge, how far it can be tilted against us without serious risk. Those who have spent a lifetime studying these problems can tell that much better than I can.
In this context, I am myself inclined to believe that the SDI research is a sensible step to take. I made the point many times in public when I was in Canada about the need for the alliance to do more, and I am very glad that the new Government in Canada are now taking Western collective defence and NATO much more seriously. But I think that it is equally important that the burden—and it is a heavy burden—should be fairly distributed. At present, it is not. I cannot think that it is sensible that we should spend 5.3 per cent. of our GDP on defence while France and Germany spend 3.4 per cent. and 3.3 per cent. respectively and Italy, Denmark and Canada all under 3 per cent.—and some of them little more than 2 per cent.
I wonder whether we cannot tackle much more vigorously the problem of getting the burden more fairly shared between the NATO allies. So far, it seems that very little that is effective has been done in this field. The White Paper says that we spend more on defence in absolute terms per capita than any other ally except the United States. The Minister, in opening this debate, stressed that we are the only European nation to contribute to all three elements of NATO's forces. Well, that is a very good thing from one point of view but the question is whether we can afford it.
Total British defence expenditure, I see from the White Paper, has increased from £9 billion in 1979–80 to an estimated £18 billion in 1985–86—a doubling in six years. I wonder myself whether we can really continue much longer to carry this huge and disproportionate burden. We have been doing so, I know, in one way or another since 1945, with, for example, the Eden pledge to keep troops in Europe, but I wonder whether some of it is not inspired by our nostalgia for lost great-power status. Certainly I am absolutely convinced that we must do our share, but not, I think, year after year a great deal more than our share, while we struggle economically and others in Europe overtake us in national wealth.
I am not qualified to speak about Trident. I am myself disposed to accept the case for an independent deterrent, although I am given pause by the powerful speech made by my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver; but I must say that I am not happy about the degree of dependence on the United States that we propose to assume in respect of that system. I wonder too whether we have negotiated the best possible offset arrangements. If we must spend £9 billion on an independent deterrent, I would much rather see a far higher proportion of that money spent in the United Kingdom. Incidentally, I note that in the essay on Trident in the White paper, it says that,there is no realistic prospect that the Soviet Union will be able to destroy our submarines at a time of its own choosing in the foreseeable future".In the light of the current anxieties about longstanding espionage in the United States Navy, I hope very much that this is still true.
To come back to the main question, if I am right and if we have eventually to reduce our expenditure, I believe that our priorities should be those that were shown to be essential between 1940 and 1943; the 787 defence of the sea lanes to and around these islands and the defence of these islands themselves. If that is right, then I think that we must think first of the navy and, indeed, of the merchant navy, and of the air force. The navy has, I think, already been cut perilously near the bone and I share the concern expressed by some noble Lords about the decline of the merchant fleet. But if the time comes when we are compelled to make some cuts, then I think myself that we should look first at our 55,000 troops in Europe.
I believe that the White Paper tells a proud story and that our defence record is very good. All I am arguing is that the time may come when we can no longer afford to do everything and will have to think seriously about what is most essential and do that at the expense of some other things.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, a great deal has been said in this debate by several speakers which I know would be warmly supported by my noble friends on the Liberal and Social Democratic Benches. No speech would have commanded more warm-hearted support from us, apart from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, than that of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver.
I should like to ask the noble Viscount the Leader of the House about the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Carver. I think the House heard with the greatest possible interest his account of the report, published and reviewed, of defence experts of the highest standing, many of them, if not all, known to many of us in this House. It was a report that was unanimous, extremely well researched and well argued and which came down in favour of a series of specific recommendations for strengthening the conventional power of the NATO countries. Therefore I would ask the noble Viscount, as Leader of the House, to see that these specific recommendations are not just brushed aside by the Government. As we know, copies of the report have been sent to Ministers and officials in the Ministry of Defence. They have already had time to study them and make up their minds what attitude to take. Therefore I would ask the noble Viscount quite specifically if in the defence debate next week, we could have the Government's considered replies to the particular points made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, in his speech. I believe that would be the wish of noble Lords on both sides of the House. I may add that it might be as well, if the Government are going to reject these suggestions, that they should make out their arguments now, because they will certainly hear about them again and again, including at the next general election.
A major part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was taken up in attempting to defend the Government against the attacks of the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence. That was a devastating attack on the concept that the Government have planned for what they call "level funding" in real terms for the defence services in future years. With the utmost care, with elaborate calculations and taking the most expert evidence, the Select Committee came to the conclusion that if the Government pursue what they call "level funding" it 788 will result in a shortfall of 6.1 per cent. of the defence budget; that is to say, £970 million a year. That is the conclusion of a Select Committee with, of course, a majority of Government Members of Parliament on it.
With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his informative speech he did not begin to answer that criticism of the Select Committee. He made three points in the Government's defence. He said that there had been a large increase in Government expenditure on defence in the past. Of course, that is true, and tribute is paid to it by the Select Committee. But it is irrelevant to the criticism made by the Select Committee about the future level of real expenditure on defence.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, went on to say that Trident takes only 3 per cent.; but that again was not part of the case put forward by the Select Committee. Indeed, the Select Committee conceded that there was unlikely to be any escalation in the costs of Trident. It simply did not enter their arguments.
Finally, in regard to the Committee's warning that defence expenditure on equipment would rise more quickly than the rise in the retail price index and that it would rise by an average of 2 per cent. per annum, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said, no, the Government were going to make economies—that is perhaps rather vague—so that it would not. But the points made by the Committee which the noble Lord did not answer at all were: first, the Government's estimates of the future pay of the armed services. In the White Paper there is an estimate of 3 per cent., but only last week it was announced as 7.3 per cent. And when the Prime Minister was asked in the other place how the money was to be found, she said that it must be found from other parts of the defence budget.
The Select Committee also said that the Government's estimates of real expenditure on defence allowed for an increase in prices in the retail price index of 5 per cent. Yet only a few weeks ago we were told that it is now 7 per cent. per annum. In adding up these discrepancies, the Select Committee comes to the conclusion, as I said, that there will be a shortfall of £970 million a year in the Government's defence budget. How is that deficit to be met? The noble Lord, Lord Moran, has set an example to the Government. He said that if we have to cut, let us have some priorities. But the Government refuse even to face the problem. They say there is not going to be a deficit; they are not going to cut any commitments; they are not going to cut BAOR, the frigate fleet or Trident—they are not going to cut anything.
What is going to happen? Again the Select Committee makes the point quite clearly: they are going to make both ends meet by postponing delivery dates of equipment. It is not difficult to do—I speak as an old service Minister who has had budget problems himself. It is quite easy to fake or to fudge it. All you do is to postpone for a year the delivery date of some expensive item of equipment or some ammunition. That means that there is an insidious hidden weakening of our defence services. It is a kind of defence review under cover and that is precisely what the Government are on course to do. I am afraid that nothing the noble Lord said in his speech could reassure us on that.
789 I turn now to the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boston. As usual, he spoke with the utmost eloquence and set out far better than I could the defence policy of the Alliance parties. This has happened often before and it will happen often again, because of course he never mentioned for one moment the most distinctive and the most important part of the Labour Party's defence policy—the part that was moved in an amendment during the defence debate last week in another place, which, "called upon the Government to remove all nuclear bases from the United Kingdom". That is to say that Britain's cooperation in the NATO nuclear deterrent must be ended; Polaris, which is assigned to NATO, must be scrapped; the American submarines must leave Holy Loch; the F111s must be withdrawn and the cruise missiles must be sent hack. That is the official Labour Party policy and it is much the most distinctive part of Labour's defence strategy. Indeed, it has far wider implications than anything else. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Boston, what he said about the merchant fleet and so on was all very interesting and important but it had only a tiny fraction of the importance and the implications of what he did not mention.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, as usual, helped us. He helped us to understand the Opposition's defence policy. He said in rather a wry manner that he was not speaking from the Front Bench. I thought I detected a slightly wistful note in his voice—and of course, if he is surprised, he has every right to be surprised because of course he ought to be speaking from the Front Bench and, with the greatest possible respect to the noble Lord. Lord Boston, he should be speaking from the Back-Benches.
Perhaps the most amusing remark made today during this debate was made by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham. He made a brilliantly concise and persuasive speech about deterrence, which I think we on these Benches would feel much sympathy for. But then he astonished us by the remark that one of the advantages of speaking from the Back-Benches was that one did not have to follow Labour Party defence policy. But that is a privilege that is enjoyed on the Opposition Front Bench as well; it has been enjoyed for years. Of course it makes it very interesting, but it does make it a little misleading.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the political knock-about, will he explain Liberal and Alliance defence policy? Will he tell us abut the events in the last Liberal conference when the conference rejected the advice of the leadership and so on?
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, perhaps I may say to begin with that we agree that while the Russians have a nuclear deterrent the West must have a nuclear deterrent too, and our parties both agree that Britain should be prepared to contribute to the Western nuclear deterrent. We shall hear very soon the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, answering this question. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, will come to the Despatch Box and will answer this question: given that it is right for the West to have a nuclear deterrent, as the noble Lord, Lord Boston, has said, why is it wrong for 790 Britain to help with it? That is the simple question. Given that the Labour Party believes that the West must have a nuclear deterrent, why is the Labour Party saying that it is wrong for Britain to have anything at all to do with it and that Britain should make no contribution to it? That is a simple question. I can answer that question easily on behalf of the Alliance parties. We think we need a deterrent in the West and we think that Britain should play its fair part in contributing towards it and should allow the American submarines in Holy Loch, and the F111s and the cruise missile, and therefore we say that we want an explanation from the Labour Party.
I was diverted by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn and I must hurry on, but only to say that of course this is the same flaw in Labour's defence policy as was exposed at the last general election and which was denounced by the Labour leader after the election results came out. I should like to read out what Mr. Hattersley said about this disastrous flaw in Labour's defence policy:The notion that we might give up our nuclear protection if others"—he means the Russians—did not do the same was overwhelmingly rejected. Opposition to our policy was intensified by the confusion that surrounded our proposals. We said that NATO remained our protection hut we refused to accept our NATO obligations".That was how Mr. Hattersley accounted fog the Labour disaster on defence at the last election. Well, it is not for the Alliance parties or the Conservative party to complain if the Labour party puts itself on the same electoral hook again ready for the next general election, but I think it is a matter which the Labour Front Bench should try to answer in this debate.
I must now hurry forward. There is another point that the noble Lord made which is of great importance and which requires careful thought. He said that the British Government supports the SDI, subject to the four conditions agreed between Mrs. Thatcher and President Reagan. On these Benches we feel that this is a disastrous policy line to take. It is not about research. The noble Lord erected an Aunt Sally when he said that there are those who think that research would be a breach of the ABM treaty. No, it would not. Indeed, I would say it is very hard to oppose the concept of the West going ahead with the research into space-based anti-ballistic missile defence, because it cannot be verified. That is agreed: we cannot verify space-based research. In addition, no doubt, the Russians are going ahead with it. If they have not gone very far with it yet, they probably will in the future. It is therefore surely wrong to expect the Americans to try to negotiate a ban on research into space-based ABMs.
But of course that is not the point. The point is that testing, development and deployment can be verified and would be a breach of the ABM treaty. The question is, why are the Americans not trying to reach agreement with the Russians not to test, develop or deploy them—that is to say, not to alter or amend or abrogate the ABM treaty? That is what they should be doing. That is what the Government should be urging them to do, and what they are manifestly refusing to do. Rather than negotiate with the Russians on this, they are putting at risk the arms control talks in Geneva. In regard to the language they used about 791 SDI, they do not say, "This is something that we can negotiate", but, "This is a moral imperative and a political imperative". The way they talk about it makes it perfectly clear that they have no intention whatever of reaching agreement with the Russians on that point. Yet the impact of what the noble Lord was saying is this: "We have our four conditions and one of the four conditions is that there must be negotiations before deployment, before development and testing".
What is that assurance worth? It is worth nothing. It is quite plain that the Americans will go through the motions of negotiating and, when the talks have failed, they will go ahead with SDI. The so-called "fourth point" to which the noble Lord referred is frankly worthless. If the research is successful, how can one imagine President Reagan going to Congress, or to the hi-tech and aerospace interests that will have built up and saying, "Thank you very much. The research has been successful, and a lot of money has been spent on it, I agree, but now I've changed my mind. I don't think after all that there are advantages in going ahead with SDI. I think after all that the best hope is Mutually Assured Destruction." Of course it is inconceivable; it is not on the carpet. He will go ahead.
What will happen then? There will be an interim period of 10 or 20 years while, with enormous technological skill and at vast cost, the Americans build up a capacity for destroying a proportion of incoming ballistic missiles. It is only a proportion and no one suggests it is any more than that. No one suggests that they can protect the United States. And while they are doing that, what are the Russians doing? That is easy to predict. First, they will build up their offensive ballistic missiles in order to maintain their strike capacity against the United States. They will invent new decoys; they will invent new countermeasures, they will retarget the missiles so that they do not go for the silos, which are protected by the ABMs of the Americans, but they will go for the cities. That is the first thing they will do.
Secondly, they will redouble their fleets of submarines carrying cruise missiles, because against the cruise missile a whole new technology is needed. To defend against cruise missiles with the comparatively short range of submarines, they need technology that has not yet been developed or begun to be invented.
The third thing that the Russians will do is that they will no doubt develop their own anti-ballistic missile system. If they find, which is doubtful, that the American system is cost-effective, they will certainly do that themselves, and they will develop anti-satellite weapons to shoot down the American weapons and control satellites in space. At the end of all this, when the American ABM system is in position and when they are able to shoot down these missiles in the boost phase to start with—they have five minutes exactly in order to shoot down a missile in the boost phase, and that is what they will have laid on; they have to find a rocket, detect it, fire, hit and destroy it in five minutes—how much safer will the world be? It will not be any safer at all. This great escalation on two sides will have left the world in greater peril than before.
The duty of the Government is plain. With their colleagues and allies in Europe they must try to 792 persuade the Americans now to start reaching agreement with the Russians for a mutual ban on the development and deployment of space-based ABMs, and meanwhile the Government and its allies in Europe should distance themselves from this disastrous project.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. We heard a clear introduction to the White Paper from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and several knowledgeable speeches from noble Lords with great experience in the field of defence. We are of course to return to the subject next week, although I am not sure that this is the best way to arrange our affairs. I doubt whether a total of two days on defence in separate weeks is the most effective procedure; but we shall have to make a judgment on it again.
However, we are called upon to make infinitely more important judgments than that, because a debate about defence—its cost, its scope, its nature and our overall commitments—covers matters of the utmost complexity, upon which even the greatest experts disagree, as this debate has already shown. My noble friend Lord Boston has covered most of the ground in his able and comprehensive speech, and I shall refer to a few of the points which have been stressed in the debate thus far. We are all agreed on the essential need for an adequate defence within the context of NATO—an alliance which, as several noble Lords have said, has served us well for a period of 40 years and in the establishment of which the then leaders of the party, like Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin, played a central role.
The Labour Party's policy on this—and here I deal with the point raised at considerable length by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—is clear, and I shall read it out so that he may comprehend it:We firmly support continuing British membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the continuing alliance of the Western European democratic countries with North America within NATO.I shall also seek to deal with Trident, which lies at the heart of the nuclear problem, a little later—
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord, as he mentioned me? Does not the policy as stated in the amendment in the other place last week also say:calls upon the Government to remove all nuclear bases from the United Kingdom"?
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, I realise what was in the amendment moved in the other place. It was a matter for those who drafted that amendment. At this time I am dealing with the White Paper. I am not responsible for the amendment in the other place, but several of my noble friends and honourable and right honourable friends will share my view. Perhaps the noble Lord will be good enough to listen to my speech, as I listened to his.
I was saying before I was interrupted that I would deal later on with the question of Trident. I do regret however, that the noble Lord used this debate on the White Paper to try to win a few votes in the by-election in Brecon and Radnor. But let me say one thing which 793 may comfort the noble Lord: if he continues to support this Front Bench, as he supported my noble friend Lord Boston's speech, we may in due course invite him back into the Labour Party.
NATO has seen its ups and downs and has suffered strains and stresses, including the withdrawal of France from the Military Committee in 1966. But NATO has survived and this country has played a leading role under successive governments in NATO committees and in the area of command. New developments, like the strategic defence initiative which many noble Lords have mentioned, are making it more difficult for us to see the future as clearly as we should like. Obviously, we should like to perceive a clear, long-term strategy where everything falls into place. Many noble Lords have dealt with this; but their speeches have illustrated the difficulties which exist.
One of these difficulties is the White Paper itself because it brings into focus once again the annual argument between the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence. It is a very old argument. It has been going on for decades. It is best illustrated by Winston Churchill himself. When he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1920s, as the House recalls, he clamped down severely on naval expenditure. When he was First Lord he took a very different point of view! It is the battle between short-term political and financial constraints and long-term policies.
We are therefore fortunate to have the noble Viscount the Leader of the House to wind up our debate this evening, for as we know, he has been heavily engaged as chairman of a committee looking into the Government's expenditure. Last Sunday's Cabinet meeting will also be very much in his mind, as it is in ours. We understand that he cannot tell us the details of what took place there, but perhaps he can give us a hint of how things are going.
Furthermore, although we are formally looking at the Defence White Paper, as several noble Lords have pointed out we have two documents of which to take account; that is, the White Paper on the one hand, and the report of the Select Committee on Defence in another place on the other. The Secretary of State for Defence, in his speech in another place on 12th June, said that there was no big change in the White Paper. In one sense, I think this may be true, but in another sense it is not because forward financial projections in the White Paper are of profound significance.
It is stated that next year, 1985–86, the defence budget will be £18 billion, as we have just been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and that constitutes the highest expenditure among the big European members of the Alliance. That has been the case indeed for the past 40 years. It seems to me to be ironic that, because of our comparative economic weakness in the EC, we are in annual budgetary difficulties there, but when we have our NATO hat on we are assumed to have a bottomless purse and are expected to make the biggest contribution of any country in NATO. France, on the other hand, enjoys the best of all possible worlds. Perhaps we should have a Minister for French Affairs, but he would need to be a pretty smart chap to deal with that portfolio.
In the Commons debate on 12th June, the Secretary of State said something which reflected the current 794 expenditure argument. He said at cols. 913–4 of the Official Report:We now plan our programmes to live within the cash available to meet them. Just because a Department is large and its budget huge, there is no excuse for ignoring the basic rules of prudence that characterise the private sector but not public expenditure planning.This is where realism walks onto the stage, for it is clear, both from the White Paper and from what Mr. Heseltine himself said, that from 1986 the defence budget is planned to reduce progressively. I shall be grateful if the noble Viscount will deal with that and confirm it when he replies.
There is no question in my view, having read the White Paper and the report, of reaching a plateau, as has been suggested, and then levelling off with stability as the objective. This is where the report of the all-party Select Committee is important. The conclusion of that report is that planned defence commitments cannot be achieved on the basis of projected levels of spending from 1986 onwards. This is where strategy comes in, for if that is true then our strategy must be planned to allow for the inevitable changes which follow. Where is the belt to be tightened? And we do not forget that we have not only home defence and NATO to finance; we also have the extra-NATO responsibilities of the Falklands, of Hong Kong, of Belize, of Gibraltar, and so on, and we know that the Falklands cost is especially significant in the context of the defence budget. The detailed consequences of the reduction in expenditure or, as it is called nowadays, the zero option, from next year onwards will no doubt be dealt with in next week's debate because the Army, the Navy and the Air Force will be affected.
But there is one crucial issue to which my noble friend referred and which I should also like to stress; namely, the decline in the merchant fleet. We have had a number of exchanges in the House about this recently. The White Paper suggests that if the reduction continues, it could endanger our ability to fulfil our NATO obligations. It further states that with the exception of deep sea trawlers:there are sufficient ships in each category to meet our defence needs.In other words, the merchant fleet as it is is adequate. There are many noble Lords who are far more knowledgeable than I am about this matter of the merchant fleet and the dependence of the Navy upon the availability of merchant ships. But it is clear to the lay observer that the decline has been alarming, as my noble friend has said, from 1,600 ships in late 1975 to 686 last February. All this is of course reflected in the matching decline in trained officers and men. There were 160,000 men in the merchant fleet in 1939 at the outset of war; there are 40,000 today.
I have lived in a seafaring community all my life and I know that there is profound concern about these trends. Anglesey, which I had the privilege to represent for nearly 30 years, sent more men pro rata to the Royal Navy and the merchant fleet in the first world war and the last war than any other part of the United Kingdom. Given that Britain has been a great maritime nation, these experienced seamen see a change which is of the utmost significance, not only in terms of employment and commerce but in relation to the merchant fleet as an auxiliary to the Royal Navy. These trends are serious and their implcations for the 795 nation gave. The three paragraphs which the White Paper devote to this subject are neither adequate nor clear. It is worth making the point that the Soviet Union has overtaken Britain and the United States as a merchant shipping power. I believe that Soviet merchant seamen are all naval reserves. That is also something to think about.
We were told last year—I think in November—that an inquiry was being conducted into the merchant service. Perhaps the noble Viscount can tell us when he replies when this inquiry will be completed. I also hope he can confirm that the report of the inquiry will be published so that we can debate the matter with all the facts and all the arguments before us.
My noble friend Lord Boston and other noble Lords have dealt with Trident in some detail. In the light of what has been said, perhaps I should say a word on the argument about total dependence on Trident, and its effect on other areas of defence. The question is whether this country with its present economic limitations can afford to put all our eggs in this basket. A man with a wife and six children and a mortgage and a modest income cannot afford a Rolls-Royce. The Secretary of State himself has admitted that the Trident missile programme will cost a lot of money, and as he said,money that will not therefore be available for other defence purposes".That is the real worry and it must be one of the focal issues in this debate. For if, as Mr. Heseltine has said, other defence purposes are going to suffer because of the cost of Trident, and if also there is to be a decline in defence expenditure from next year onwards, what other aspects of defence are therefore going to be scaled down? We shall be most grateful if the noble Viscount will address himself to that central question when he replies. This was also the nub of the Select Committee report which spoke of substantial pressures on the defence budget and the need for hard decision making.
The cost of Trident at about £11 billion over 20 years is hard to justify. If the Government argue that there is no alternative then there are experts who take a different view. The Economist, for example, has said that if Trident is proceeded with the Government will be,condemning the conventional forces to damaging cuts in both numbers and effectiveness".I acknowledge that the choices are not easy but to commit ourselves to an irreversible course in terms of resources and strategy is something which must cause the most acute concern. This has been reflected in several of the speeches that we have heard today. The key question is whether Britain can achieve adequate conventional weapons of the kind described by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, in a remarkable speech, if we proceed with Trident as it is.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and others have also referred to the strategic defence initiative and to the four Camp David points, but I shall not go into those in detail. But in my experience in a short space this seems to have developed from being a figment of the imagination into a factor of the very first importance. At this stage the discussion centres around reseach. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, 796 made an interesting speech on this very point. The Foreign Secretary in his recent lecture also made some constructive comments about SDI. It is horrifying to contemplate an arms race in space following upon the present arms race on earth. SDI is very much in the future, beyond the life of the great majority, I think, of us in this Chamber, but its very inception has already created new tensions and strains in relationships, notably between the United States and Western Europe. The Government as I understand it have agreed to participation in this research. I think that we ought to be told a little bit more about it. What does the research involve? Are we to make financial contributions? If so, on what scale? We assume that we are keeping in close touch with our European allies on this subject, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, suggested. I also agree with him about the possible initiative by ourselves and our European allies on this matter. But all the implications have not been fully explained. For example, would we expect to be involved in the whole programme of research; or would we be operating on the fringe in a kind of presentational exercise? It is a question of high politics with long-term implications beyond our present perception.
My noble friend Lord Zuckerman, who always makes constructive and interesting speeches, referred to the brain drain, which is especially relevant to this huge project of SDI research involving, as it does, enormous costs, scientific resources and human talents. I thought that the figures that he had extracted from the Secretary of the Royal Society were extremely interesting; and there are further figures, as he said, still to come. I hope that the noble Viscount and his colleagues will look very carefully at what the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, has said.
I believe that our primary role—the role to which Britain is now suited—should be in NATO, working in the closest co-operation with our European allies and making a continuing and more effective contribution to the conventional defence of Western Europe. I believe that that should be our policy. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, gave us some very good advice on this to which the Government should listen. Some distinguished scientists think star wars is a practical possibility. Other equally clever American physicists believe otherwise. The costs are estimated to be astronomical—to use the appropriate word—anything up to £1,000 billion or more spent on research alone, has been quoted as a possible figure. The Prime Minister herself about 12 months ago said some sensible things about this when she called for "mutual restraint and negotiation". I agree with her entirely on that. I hope that she did not change her mind after she visited President Reagan. Perhaps the noble Viscount will tell us what is her present attitude.
Finally, let me make it plain that I have no illusions about Soviet attitudes to arms and defence. As the late Mr. Andropov said, "We are not naïve". And it is as well to remember that. The USSR do not discuss their military strategy in public. There is no annual debate on the Russian White Paper in the Praesidium with arguments about costs; about whether they can afford their vast arms expenditure. I did however read in the Observer that Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov, who has 797 come back into prominence in the Soviet military field, has said some interesting things publically. According to the Observer:Ogarkov argues, as he has for several years, that the number of strategic nuclear weapons is so great that 'You don't have to be a military specialist to see that their further accumulation … becomes simply pointless'".That was a very sensible statement made by the greatest Russian military expert today. I only hope it reflects a change in the views of the Soviet leadership.
We are reliably informed also that Mr. Gorbachev is concerned about the Soviet economy and about expenditure in the Soviet generally. I hope this will create a desire to make real progress in Geneva to achieve the balance, at much lower levels, to which my noble friend Lord Stewart of Fulham referred. For it is there in Geneva that sanity is needed if we are to bring some hope to a bewildered world.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should be grateful if he would clear up one point which puzzles me. In the noble Lord's exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, at the beginning of his speech, he seemed to be distancing himself from the official amendment proposed in another place by his party. Was he then speaking as a Peer in his own right, or was he speaking as Leader of the Labour Opposition, which would make his statement official? It would be helpful to know exactly what the situation is.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, is, as always, running true to form in his intervention. Had he been in the Chamber during the whole debate he might have understood the position. I explained it fully and clearly in my speech, and I hope that the noble Lord will be good enough to read it in Hansard tomorrow morning.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, this year, in response to representations, we have instituted a two-day defence debate. As Leader of your Lordships' House I will be only too ready, after the debate next week, to consider through the usual channels future arrangements based on our experience of this year. That is one of the reasons why I thought it right to wind up what was to be this broad debate today. I wanted, through personal participation in the debate, to gain experience myself on the best way for this House to proceed.
I have to say that, so far, I have some anxieties. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, for example, said to me that he hoped that a full answer would be given to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, in next week's debate. It may very well be that other noble Lords will speak about Trident next week and that my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State will reply to them at the end of that debate. But that was not the intention of the two debates and I have to make that perfectly clear.
This debate was to be the broad, strategic debate. Next week's debate is meant to concern itself with manpower and various armed forces matters. We shall not have succeeded in having two separate debates if we go down the road which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—and, I suspect, other noble Lords—may 798 follow next week. If we do go down that road, then I shall be interested to see whether this effort to divide the two days will succeed.
Frankly, I rather doubt that it will. I also have some reservations, as has the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, about there being a week between the two debates. There were specific reasons of programme management why that had to happen this year but, again, I doubt whether it is terribly wise to do that in the long term.
Secondly, I wanted to speak because, with the immense defence knowledge vested in your Lordships' House, I consider it my duty to listen to, and seek to respond to, views which are of great importance to our nation. Before I do so I should like to say a few words as a background about the Government's general approach. We have been taken to task by some commentators—notably the Defence Committee in another place, to which I shall return later—for wilfully adhering to present policies, and for failing to analyse long-term, political and strategic prospects in the White Paper.
If consistency is a crime then the Government must plead guilty to it. Equally, I would answer those who criticise the Government for consistency by saying that the NATO strategy which has been supported fairly widely in this House this afternoon has been to pursue a consistent line. That consistent line, working with our allies, has helped us for 40 years—and this is surely a reasonable claim—to maintain the peace. If consistency has done that, then there seems to be some value in consistency.
My noble friend Lord Trefgarne has already explained that we are committed to maintaining our contribution to NATO's military posture; that we are implacable in our pursuit of better value for money in our defence budget (and I shall return to what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and other noble Lords had to say about that point); and that there can he no question of our embarking on a defence review on resource grounds. I want to reinforce what my noble friend said about those matters.
The essential starting point must be the adequacy or otherwise of NATO's strategy of forward defence and flexible response. The White Paper sets out in detail the reasons why the Government believe that the strategy has worked and why we believe it remains appropriate in today's circumstances. I was grateful for the support given to this view by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and by many other noble Lords. As this is the first time that we have had a defence debate since the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, took up his new post, I should like to say how much I personally, and, I am sure, the whole of your Lordships' House, welcome the fact that he is now the Secretary General of NATO and how much we believe he will contribute to that organisation.
I turn to some of the speeches made in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, paid a very well-deserved tribute, as I see it, to all our forces. He mentioned, as did my noble friend, the particular problem of the rescue off the coast of Ireland earlier this week and I was most grateful to him for associating himself and his noble friends with praise for that effort. The noble Lord made a very clear and 799 concise review of the whole position of the White Paper, and he voiced many different criticisms. I shall come to them when I deal with other speeches. It is perhaps a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, that I may deal with his points that way, because in opening the debate he covered so much ground.
I should like to answer the noble Lord in one particular respect, when he questioned what had happened to the defence reorganisation. He sought to make some amusement at the expense of my right honourable friend the Secretary for Defence. It behoves me, as one of my right honourable friend's Cabinet colleagues, to come resolutely to his defence, and I intend to do so. After all, the principles of the organisation were explained at great length in Command Paper 9315 and in the defence open government document OGD 84/03. There would have been little point in publishing those documents all over again in the Statement.
It is also fair to say that to offer detailed comment now would be too soon. If my right honourable friend had claimed in the Statement great success already after such a short time, the noble Lord would have been on his feet very quickly to ask how on earth could the Secretary of State declare a triumph so soon—suggesting that the Secretary of State was trying to claim success that did not yet exist. So I am being very cautious on behalf of my right honourable friend. I will say that the indications are that the new arrangements are settling down very well, but I give an undertaking that they will be appraised and reviewed at the end of the year. If the noble Lord and I are still a going concern at that time, then no doubt we shall both be able to consider those matters once more.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Boston, Lord Kennet and Lord Cledwyn, all referred to the question of the merchant fleet. Like all noble Lords who have spoken on this matter, the Government are most concerned about the position of our merchant fleet. The result of that concern is a study which has just been received by the Department of Transport and will be most carefully considered by both departments.
It is too early for me to say at this stage exactly what will happen to the study and whether or not it will be published. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, that I will take very careful note of his remarks and make representations to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who is probably the Minister most closely concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked some specific questions to which, as I believe they are important, I have been able to obtain suitable answers. I do not think the noble Lord would expect me to have known them otherwise. He asked if there were any up-to-date figures on the average number of Soviet ships in our ports. I understand that there were 1,492 ship visits during 1984. In May 1985 there was an average of 18 visits. Equally, I am informed that the numbers fluctuate substantially.
800 The noble Lord also asked how many Soviet seamen wander freely around the country without visas. Operational crews of aircraft arriving in the United Kingdom and leaving within seven days do not require visas, so it is clearly impossible to give an exact figure. Operational crews of ships arriving in the United Kingdom are permitted to stay in the United Kingdom without a visa for as long as the ship is in port. That may be more or less than seven days, but so long as the ship is in port that is what the crew are allowed to do. Soviet seamen arriving in the United Kingdom to join their ships are permitted in without a visa provided they have a valid contract and an up-to-date seaman's book. I understand that there are at least 35,000 such visits each year. Those are the figures for which the noble Lord asked, and I hope they are of help to him.
I now come to one of the central parts of the debate—the speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. My problem is that I have so much respect in so many ways for the noble and gallant Lord that if I am trying to disagree with him I almost have to shut my ears while he is making his speech in case he converts me during it. I managed on this occasion to listen very carefully, and I will, with some trepidation, seek to answer some of the points that he made, because I think they are central to the debate.
I am encouraged to do so because I have received very powerful support from my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, who strongly, and very plainly and clearly, believes with his great knowledge that Britain should retain its nuclear capacity. We have had Polaris since the 1960s but—I think there is general agreement on this, and, if not complete agreement, agreement in many circles—Polaris would not be a credible deterrent in the 1990s and beyond, whereas, as my noble friend Lord Home says, Trident would be. My noble friend also feels that he would not like to see France as the only nuclear power in Europe, and, I am bound to say, nor would I. For all those reasons I strongly agree with my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel. I have never found myself likely to disagree with him on almost any matter that I can imagine, and certainly not on this one.
However, that means that I have to give some answer to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, even if I take that very plain view on the importance of the insurance of our own nuclear deterrent. I think I would say this to him. I accept that the report was drawn up, as the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Mayhew, said, by some very important and knowledgeable people, but I wonder whether it fairly reflects what might be the cost of trying to do what they want, which is to improve our conventional forces on a technological basis and in line with the Soviet Union. Would I not be right in thinking that the more we did that the more certainly the Soviet Union would seek to preserve what I understand is about a two-to-one superiority? If that was the case, would we not soon find that the cost of going down the route proposed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, and seeking to maintain conventional forces of the necessary size would be every bit as much as the cost of the Trident programme? At least, it would not be as different as the noble Lord and those who prepared the report sought to put out. I think that aspect ought to be considered.
801 It is also fair to say that while, of course, very knowledgeable people are associated with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, they are not absolutely agreed with by all those in similar positions in many different capacities. As I understand it, and from what I have heard them say in the past, some of the noble and gallant Lord's other colleagues who have been chiefs of the defence staff do not happen to agree with him. I do not make too much of that because, after all, it is very rare in any profession that everyone agrees on everything. If I was asked whether I agree with my Cabinet colleagues on everything that arises in Cabinet I would not be able to say that I do. It would not surprise me if the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, was not able to say that all the other chiefs of defence staff agree with him. I do not think they do. Therefore, one has to say that the report, while very important, does not necessarily carry all the experts with it, and it would be very surprising if it did.
Those are the answers that I seek to give. I do not believe that the cost of maintaining the conventional forces that would be required to take the place of Trident would be ("nearly as cheap" is the wrong expression) less expensive than Trident, as some, including the noble and gallant Lord, sought to argue.
I turn from that subject to my noble friend Lord Eccles, who, on a totally different front, spoke about winning friends in the world outside NATO and the importance of what he described as the defence discussion outside pure defence matters: the need for communication; the value of the English language; and the importance of the BBC's reputation for telling the truth. That reputation, I always think, rather amusingly, is very much more accepted abroad than it is in this country; but that, perhaps, is our own capacity to have a problem about balance. Indeed, those who feel they are discriminated against should consider that balance is frequently in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, as one sees and hears more of what they do both at home and abroad, it perhaps explains our own feelings on that subject. But certainly my noble friend is perfectly right about the BBC's reputation abroad. With all these attributes, my noble friend says—and I thought the House seemed to agree with him—we ought to be doing more towards winning the support and, therefore, the encouragement of benevolent neutrals. That, after all, is vitally important for our defence forces in various parts of the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is a great encouragement for me. Whenever I begin to think that possibly I am getting rather old, I get a new lease of life. If one can remember well the Boer War, as well as the First World War, you put those who can claim only that they fought in the Second World War a good deal in the shade; and that is where he puts a great many people in this House. Nevertheless, his robust belief in the need to stand against the Soviet Union and against the Soviet threat, which he believes strongly continues, is very important and gives considerable pleasure to many people who believe that the need of our defence policy is, indeed, to stand up for our own position in the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, spoke about the strategic defence initiative from the standpoint of having been recently in the United States. I thought 802 the noble Lord made a most interesting and valuable speech. He declared that if Europe were to dissociate itself from the American initiative—and I think there are those who are possibly rather too quick to think that we should consider that move—then he believes we would be in danger (and it is a thought we should all carefully consider) of the Americans saying, "If they are going to dissociate themselves from us, we might dissociate ourselves from them". It has always been one of my great fears that the Americans would feel like that at some stage, because if they ever withdraw from NATO or withdraw their troops from Europe that would be a catastrophe for this country. It is worth remembering that.
The noble Lord also asked about European collaboration on various weapons and projects. I do not think that such collaboration between nations all seeking jobs for their people in many different defence industries has ever been a particularly easy matter, and I do not think that it is any easier today. It is not the less important for that. I hope very much that we shall get further results from what we are seeking through that collaboration at the present time.
The noble Lord also raised the question of chemical weapons. We have no intention of changing our present policies. There are very grave risks of the proliferation of chemical weapons. Indeed there is a threat posed to NATO by the massive Soviet chemical warfare capability. But we are convinced, as are our allies, that in what is a highly emotional field the right answer is to do everything that we can to gain a comprehensive and verifiable ban upon those weapons, and that is the policy which we and our allies are pursuing at the present time.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, raised the question as to whether the Soviet Union is working on ballistic missile defence.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
The evidence seemed to come, my Lords, from the noble Lord's noble friend Lord Mayhew, who was quite clear that this was taking place. In view of the exchanges that have continued among various noble Lords about different aspects of defence policy, I was hoping that possibly both noble Lords might get together. I heard the noble Lord. Lord Mayhew, declaring quite plainly that he believed that that was certainly happening, and so I was delighted to quote him in aid.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, the worst possible thing would be for any suggestion to arise that I differ in any respect from my noble friend Lord Gladwyn. My point was, I think, that we have to distinguish between ground-based research, in which the Russians are world leaders, and space-based research; and I said that if they had not started that they would start it soon. That is all.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I think that that in certain ways reinforces what I said. It is understood that the Russians have started. They have the world's only deployed ballistic missile defence system around Moscow and they have an extensive and long 803 established research programme into ballistic missile defence. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, says that they certainly would start it. He is possibly behind events. They have already done so. Possibly that will now satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. First of all, his noble friend believes that the Russians are likely to start it; then indeed I have been able to confirm from the information given to me that they actually have.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, I do not want to disagree with my noble friend at all. But it seems to me unlikely that the Soviet Union has embarked on enormous preparations in the same way as the Americans have for a space-based ABM system. Is there any direct evidence that it has? It seems to me unlikely that it will, given the immense size of the project and the immensity of the expense involved. It seems to me highly unlikely. Unless there is proof that it has done so, the assumption must be that it will not do so.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
It is too much for me, my Lords! I was asked a question; I gave the answer that I was given. I hope that I have fulfilled my position. To go further would get me into water in which I do not think I am capable of swimming.
I therefore turn to the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, who, as he would with his special knowledge, made a point of great seriousness and of great importance—the danger of a brain drain in scientists. It is important that the research conducted into the strategic defence initiative should be two-way. We should be able to negotiate that, and we must be careful to make sure that we do not lose scientists as a result, particularly if, as the noble Lord said, we are already experiencing shortages in recruiting scientists. I shall certainly pass all those points to those of my right honourable friends who are most closely concerned.
For me, the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, has two attributes. When he agrees with me, or, to put it more properly, I agree with him, I am simply delighted, because he puts it all so plainly and clearly and so much better than I can that I rest happy and satisfied thereafter. When he disagrees with me, alas, it is very much on the other side. Again he puts the points with which I disagree so trenchantly that I find it difficult to rebut them. I was delighted by what he said about the power of mutual deterrence of nuclear weapons and their importance. Perhaps your Lordships should notice that that view came from two noble Lords, both of whom have been Foreign Secretary of this country at a very important time. That of itself must have considerable importance.
On the other side and against me, the noble Lord questioned the whole position of the Government's economic policy on taxes and benefits. I shall run for cover immediately and suggest that your Lordships may feel that, although I am coming to the costs of the defence programme, if I entered into a discussion of the Government's economic policy I should be going rather far from the discussion we are having tonight and perhaps delaying the next part of our business. I have noted carefully what the noble Lord said.
My noble friend Lord Mersey spoke of the importance of remembering that a conventional war is 804 in itself a very nasty business and should not be written off as if we could abandon nuclear weapons and settle down to an afternoon garden party with conventional weapons. Anyone who has had experience of fighting with conventional weapons knows that it is far from being attractive. Though I cannot do the Boer War or the first world war, at least I have some experience of the second world war.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, will not think that I am rude, but against his name I have written down in my note, "Usual speech". I hope that he will accept that that is a perfectly fair description of what he said. My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel said that the noble Lord is always consistent. Indeed he is. He and I hold totally different views. I hope that we shall both live long enough not to be able to prove that either of us is right. One thing is quite certain. If we both live to about the same time, at that moment I shall be right, provided that there has been no war, and he will not be able to prove his assertion! Therefore on the whole I shall have done better than he has at that stage. I am still hopeful that that will be the case.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, the noble Viscount, too, has made his usual speech. It is as full of charm as ever and as wrong as ever.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I can only say that I have to reciprocate, do I not? We shall be able to remain in that position for years to come, let us hope.
The noble Lord, Lord Moran, properly raised the point that we should bear our fair share of the costs in NATO but that we should not be burdened with more than our fair share. That comes to the question of costs, which the noble Lords. Lord Mayhew and Lord Cledwyn, also dealt with. One or other of them said that at one time when it came to European matters we were regarded as not being in a very strong position but when it came to NATO everybody immediately suggested that we had a bottomless purse. I think that there is a danger of that, and a very fair point was made.
The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me about plans for the future of the defence budget. As it was foreshadowed in the 1981 White Paper, the Government's commitment to 3 per cent. real growth in the defence budget will not, as noble Lords have said, be continued beyond the current year, although the benefits of the steep increase—and I emphasise that—achieved since 1978–79 will continue to be felt by the services in the years to come. The task now is to make better use of the significant extra funds which the Government have made available through a vigorous pursuit of the efficiency programme which is outlined in Chapter Five of the Statement on the Defence Estimates.
I should say that I think the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was somewhat unfair to my noble friend's opening speech. In fact, for just a moment I wondered whether he had written his speech before he heard what my noble friend said. That was because my noble friend went to considerable lengths, first of all to set out the Government's case against some of the criticisms of the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence. Indeed he also sought to make 805 the point very strongly about the need to get value for money out of our defence programme, and spoke of the very great determination of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence to make sure that that was what has happened.
I think I have spoken for long enough. I hope I have answered many of the points which were made in the debate. I feel that today we have had a constructive and very important debate. I am very grateful to all the noble Lords who have taken part in it.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until Wednesday next, 3rd July.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until Wednesday next, 3rd July.—(The Earl of Cork and Orrery.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.