§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1986 (Cmnd. 9763).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
§ Successive annual Statements on the Defence Estimates have a number of features in common. They seek to explain the international background to our security policies; to set out the strengths, activities and equipment programmes of the armed forces; and to describe the Government's plans for managing the Ministry of Defence and the defence budget. In recent years this Government have also aimed to provide Parliament and the taxpayer—for whom the Statement is primarily intended—with much more information about the background to our defence policies, decisions and activities. This year's Statement improves even on last year's in the wealth of such information that it contains.
§ But, at the same time, each Statement may be said to have a main theme of its own. The main theme of the 1986 Statement is the need for stability, continuity and consolidation in defence policy. The international scene, of course, will not be static. Much has happened in the last 12 months. One of the most significant events is referred to in the opening paragraph of SDE 86: the return of the Soviet Union to the Geneva negotiating table. That it did so is a tribute to the resolution and firmness of the North Atlantic Alliance and indeed to the realism of the Soviet Union.
§ Another important feature of the year has been the continued emergence of a new, younger leadership in the Soviet Union. Many people have high hopes and expectations of this new leadership—not least, perhaps, the Soviet people themselves. The new leaders appear eager to talk the same language as ourselves, which is surely a hopeful and encouraging sign in itself. The very process of exchanging views can help in reducing tension and in fostering the long-term relationships that will allow security to be achieved 284 with fewer armaments on each side. The Government are absolutely committed to the development of such a constructive dialogue; it is part and parcel of our approach to East-West relations, as is our parallel commitment to realistic, balanced and verifiable measures of arms control. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur will say more on this when he replies to the debate.
§ But in seeking to develop a dialogue with the Soviet Union we must not forget the lessons of history. For nearly 70 years it has been a wise and prudent maxim that those who do business with the Soviet Union should look for the reality behind the rhetoric. We should remember this principle when assessing not just the Soviet Union's commitment to its own security—which no one could doubt—but its attitude to the security of others. The facts behind the friendly words are set out in detail in Annex A to the Statement: the Soviet Union devotes some 14 per cent. to 16 per cent. of its GDP to military spending; in the past 12 months it has continued to modernise and improve its nuclear weapons (and has, for example, deployed another inter-continental ballistic missile, the mobile SS.25, and increased the numbers of modern submarine-launched ballistic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles and SS.20 missiles); it has kept up its substantial programme of modernising its land and air forces in Europe; it is building at least six different classes of submarine and a surface fleet of increasingly larger and more versatile ships; and, unlike NATO, it maintains the ability to engage in chemical warfare on a huge scale.
§ In reciting these bald facts, I am not attempting to disturb your Lordships' well-earned rest. I am simply stating the position in as objective a fashion as possible.
§ I do not propose to discuss the possible reasons for the possession and continued strengthening of such powerful military forces in Europe, although some of the background is summarised in the first chapter of the White Paper. The crucial facts are that these forces exist, that they are a serious threat to peace, freedom and security in Europe and that it is essential that we and our allies should provide an adequate political and military counter-weight to them.
§ NATO's fundamental philosophy is the deterrence of aggression. At the heart of that philosophy is the strategy of forward defence and flexible response. In last year's Statement, we reaffirmed the validity and effectiveness of that strategy. This year's Statement sets out in detail the steps that the alliance has been taking to ensure that NATO's strategy continues to meet our needs. Let me highlight some of them.
§ NATO has continued to modernise its longer-range intermediate nuclear forces, in accordance with the "twin track" decision of December 1979. The alliance is committed to maintaining a full range of nuclear forces, but with no more warheads in Europe than are necessary to maintain deterrence. Indeed, warhead numbers will be reduced to no fewer than 2,400 below the level that existed in 1979. NATO Ministers have endorsed proposals for improving critical aspects of the alliance's conventional defences. We have revised the concept for the defence of NATO's Northern Army Group area, placing a greater emphasis than 285 before on the selection of vital areas, co-operation between different forces, and on tactical mobility and flexibility. There has been a substantial upsurge in international collaboration on defence equipment.
§ To dwell for a moment on this last point, equipment collaboration is vital for Britain, for Europe and for the Alliance as a whole. It will reduce the wasteful duplication of scarce scientific, technological and industrial resources. It will lead to improved interoperability and standardisation of equipment in NATO, and thus enhance the military effectiveness of the NATO countries' armed forces.
§ A particular effort to strengthen European collaboration has been made by the Independent European Programme Group. This is one of the clearest ways in which the Europeans can demonstrate their commitment to their own defence. It will enable Europe to pull its weight even more effectively within NATO. In making this point, I do not wish to play down the transatlantic dimension. This European effort is not an alternative to that. On the contrary, a strong Europe is able to co-operate more effectively, on a more equal footing, with the United States. The United States' own support for transatlantic co-operation has been shown through such measures as the Nunn and Quayle amendments.
§ Both pillars of NATO—European and transatlantic—are crucial to the security of all members of the Alliance. The defence of Western Europe depends on the continued presence of United States and Canadian forces on European soil. Equally, the forces of the European members of the alliance contribute to the security of our North American allies. The strength of the transatlantic bridge depends on both its pillars. The Government's policy is to strengthen the European pillar of the alliance through political, military and industrial co-operation, and to make it unequivocally clear that the Europeans are playing a full part not only in their own defence but in the security of the alliance as a whole.
§ Co-operation is important for another reason: NATO itself is nothing if not a co-operative venture. Indeed, it is one of the most successful multinational co-operatives that has yet been seen. The White Paper this year includes a short essay explaining briefly how NATO works. In this essay, the words "consultation" and "discussion" occur repeatedly. They are at the heart of NATO's processes. Their effectiveness is illustrated not only by the success of collective agreements—as in the case of the conventional defence improvements exercise—but also, for example, by the discussions in which the United States has sought the views of the other allies on the bilateral negotiations on nuclear and space arms at Geneva.
§ Among the European members, the United Kingdom's voice in NATO is strong and respected. Our major all-round contribution is recognised and valued by our allies. In absolute terms, only the United States has devoted more resources to defence. In 1986-87, the defence budget will be £18½ billion: the result of seven successive years of real increases. Over the past seven years, the Government have acted to repair the substantial deficiencies that had been left in our defences. We have greatly improved the ability of the Services to undertake the demanding tasks that are 286 required of them. We have raised service pay; we have increased the numbers of reserves; and we have kept up the drive to obtain better value for money in defence spending and in the use of resources. Not least, we have greatly improved and modernised the services' equipment: perhaps I can remind your Lordships that some 45 per cent. of our defence budget is spent on equipment.
§ The fruits of this commitment are remarkable. Since 1979 we have ordered over 50 warships. We have ordered nearly 500 aircraft for the Royal Air Force, and over 80 for the Fleet Air Arm. We have ordered six regiments of Challenger tanks, 23 battalions of Warrior and Saxon armoured personnel carriers, three regiments of the new multiple-launched rocket system artillery and 18 batteries of air defence missiles. In the last financial year alone we brought into service 13 warships, as well as a number of smaller vessels, nearly 70 aircraft, another regiment of Challenger tanks, two battalions of Saxon APCs, four batteries of air defence missiles and a whole host of other weapons and equipment, including the Sea Eagle missile, the JP 233 airfield denial weapon, the Ptarmigan digital communications system, the new SA-80 range of small arms and new radars for the air defence of the United Kingdom.
§ The Government's task now is to consolidate these substantial improvements, and to manage our resources to best advantage. We announced last year that our commitment to the NATO real growth target would end after 1985–86. This is no more than realistic: real growth could not simply have gone on for ever. But the ending of real growth inevitably means harder choices in the management of the defence programme.
§ Of course, the process of managing the defence programme has always required timely and careful decision-taking. This is part of everyday life in the Ministry of Defence. I emphasise this because sometimes it seems to be believed that the defence programme normally runs along smoothly on automatic pilot, and that every decision to change the financial commitment or timescale of a project is a sign of crises and catastrophe.
§ The reality is that the tailoring of commitments to available resources goes on continually, and changes to programmes are taking place all the time, for a wide variety of reasons. Every year, some of the decisions involved are harder to take than others. The White Paper makes clear that this year there will be some difficult decisions to be taken. It is important to get the answers right. I do not intend to go into details now. But my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already cited the provision of an effective airborne early warning aircraft as an instance of the nature of the decisions with which we are faced.
§ I do not wish to paint too gloomy a picture. A number of factors are working in our favour. Expenditure on the Falklands is continuing to fall. We are benefiting from reductions in the price of oil. Most importantly, defence is sharing with the country as a whole the dividends of the Government's success in combating inflation. Last year, the Opposition defence spokesman in another place spent a good deal of time pouring scorn on the Government for having the temerity to assume that inflation might have fallen as 287 low as 3½ per cent. by 1987–88. It will not have escaped the attention of your Lordships that we have achieved this target a year early.
§ Another encouraging development is the substantial improvement taking place in the efficiency of the Ministry of Defence and the value for money we receive for defence spending. We are reaping the benefits of competition. Only two years ago the total percentage by value of contracts placed subject to competitive forces was 38 per cent. whereas last year it rose to more than 60 per cent. We are now much more commercially minded in our contractual negotiations with industry. As a result, the taxpayer is getting a better bargain and British defence manufacturers are becoming even more efficient and competitive overseas.
§ As I mentioned earlier, international collaboration on equipment is increasing in importance. Already about a sixth of our equipment budget is spent on collaborative projects. Finally, we are continuing the drive to transfer scarce resources so far as possible from the tail to the teeth, and to improve the effectiveness with which defence as a whole, and defence resources in particular, are managed.
§ All these factors help, although they do not remove the need to face up to the hard decisions that are necessary. But the improvements that we have made to the nation's defences will continue. As your Lordships will know, during the current financial year we plan to spend more than £8,000 million on equipment alone. Although it is difficult—and perhaps not altogether wise—to forecast precise delivery dates, I can tell your Lordships that by the end of the current year we expect to have brought into service: six major Royal Navy vessels; more than 40 aircraft; much new equipment, from fully operational stocks of Sting-ray torpedoes to advanced respirators; and further deliveries of, for example, Challenger tanks, Saxon APCs, Lynx anti-tank helicopters, improved BL.755 anti-armour weapons, and UK air defence radars.
§ Our achievements over the past seven years, and our plans for the future, are by any standards impressive. They illustrate the importance that this Government attach to the security of the nation. By way of further illustration, we are today announcing that GEC Telecommunications has just been appointed prime contractor for the expansion of UNITER, to provide a new generation of secure and survivable telecom-munications for some 60 RAF sites. When competitive sub-contracts have been placed for major sub-systems the total value of the order is expected to be more than £90 million.
§ I should now like to turn to an important matter which has been raised with the Government by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton. This is the question of the relative merits of the so-called short fat design for naval frigates and the more conventional long thin design, and whether the decision made in 1983 to select the long thin design as the basis for a class of anti-submarine warfare frigates was the correct one.
§ As your Lordships will be aware, the noble and gallant Lord recently chaired a committee which produced a report on this question—a report which deserves, and which will get, the most thorough 288 consideration. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has already informed the noble and gallant Lord that we intend to take up his suggestion that there should be an impartial inquiry into the issues raised, and that we would be appointing a recognised professional expert to undertake this task.
§ I am today able to inform your Lordships that Professor John Caldwell, president of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, has agreed to chair this inquiry and that he is now assembling a small team of independent experts to help him. I am sure your Lordships will agree that it is of the highest importance that this matter should be looked into very thoroughly in order to settle once and for all an issue which has been the subject of debate and controversy for some time.
§ Among our NATO allies only the United States maintains a greater range of commitments. To NATO we contribute our independent strategic nuclear forces; our land and air forces in the Federal Republic of Germany; our maritime forces in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel; and the forces devoted to the defence of the United Kingdom. We also provide specialist reinforcement forces, in particular for NATO's northern flank. There are those who say that we cannot afford this spread of commitments any longer. The Government believe that we can and must. For these commitments cannot be seen in isolation one from another. They are more closely inter-related today than at any time in our history. Elimination of any of them would seriously weaken the alliance and make this country itself less secure.
§ Now to the future. We shall continue the drive to secure better value for money from defence spending. We shall sustain our efforts to modernise the equipment of the services. Above all, we shall continue to recognise the debt we owe to the men and women of the armed forces, and to ensure that they are properly rewarded for the service that they so readily give. Nothing is of greater importance to a country than its security. Nothing occupies a higher place in this Government's priorities. We intend that it shall remain so in the future. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1986 (Cmnd. 9763).—(Lord Trefgarne.)
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Lord Boston of Faversham
My Lords, it is pleasant to be able to begin on a harmonious note by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, on his admirable exposition of the Government's defence policy. I hasten to add, however, in case any ambiguity lurks in that observation, that I am not able to commend as admirable every aspect of the policy itself. But there is one development I can commend. I refer to the noble Lord's promotion to Minister of State for Defence Procurement. As this is our first full defence debate since that recent event it is right to offer him warm congratulations here. Your Lordships will also note that this is the first debate on the Defence Estimates 1986 in either House, a rare event I believe.
Two matters are at the forefront of our minds on defence. One is the need for strong and efficient armed forces sufficient for our needs both to defend ourselves 289 and to fulfil our obligations to our allies. Let me say at once that central to that policy is our membership of NATO with its dependence on both conventional forces and the Western nuclear deterrent. It is of course the paramount duty, as the noble Lord himself has just said, of any government to provide for the security of our country and people.
The other matter at the forefront of our minds is the need for effective agreement on disarmament and arms control, to which the noble Lord has also referred. I shall later return to our forces. My noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton hopes to deal more fully with our forces and equipment. But I now want to concentrate on arms control and disarmament, not least because this year's Defence Estimates give those matters more space and prominence than before; and we welcome that.
In the 1984 Defence White Paper, arms control was given two pages. Last year, it was given just under three. This year, not only does it get six pages but it is given a whole chapter to itself with related passages elsewhere. If that is a sign of a new approach from the new Secretary of State for Defence, we welcome his appointment.
Another welcome indication of a more positive approach came from the visit to Moscow last month of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House at the head of all-party parliamentary delegation. I was encouraged to a large extent by what the noble Viscount had to say at the end of his visit. He said, as reported on 3rd June in The Times:I hope we have established a basis for greater understanding and perhaps greater mutual respect.Even more encouraging was his comment that he was certain that the Soviet Union wanted an agreement on arms control—a view shared by the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. We, too, believe that to be the case. But perhaps the Government could do more to convince our American friends that that is the case.
We were also encouraged by the importance the noble Viscount attached to SALT II and the emphasis he gave to the Government's opposition to any scrapping of the treaty. I hope that the Government will not only continue to impress upon the United States Government the need to continue to observe the SALT II agreement but will also impress upon them the need to avoid making contradictory statements about it. One moment the United States Administration are saying that it is dead and the next moment they are saying that it is not dead. These statements are not only damaging to the alliance and its credibility; they are also a trifle alarming. They hardly show precision and clarity of thought on what is, after all, a matter which needs clear thinking—nuclear arms. If we, America's alliance partners, have been confused by these statements, it is hardly surprising that Mr. Gorbachev is reported to have found them confusing. On that, at least, I am bound to say I have some sympathy for him.
I just add this. Differences sometimes arise with our American friends and it is no use disguising those differences for I want them sorted out, as we all do. I am among those who regard the United States as our closest ally. Despite the problems over SALT II and 290 the differences within the alliance caused by the United States threat to scrap the treaty unless the Russians are forthcoming about their alleged violations, the prospects for agreement on arms control seem to be improving.
This has been highlighted by President Reagan's speech on Thursday last which was more conciliatory in tone than some he had made recently. It welcomed some aspects of the Russian proposals. We hope that this will have helped to put plans for the second Reagan-Gorbachev summit, due later this year, back on course after the recent signs that it might not after all take place because of President Reagan's SALT II pronouncement. We regard it as of vital importance that the personal dialogue between East and West is kept up and that the impetus of these arms control negotiations is maintained.
However, there are two aspects of the arms control negotiations which are causing us particular concern, and both are dealt with in the Defence White Paper. One is on the proposed comprehensive test ban treaty and the other is on chemical weapons, to which the noble Lord has already referred. I shall deal with that one first, if I may. We have been deeply disturbed by the recent moves within the alliance for a new generation of chemical weapons. There are United States plans for developing binary chemical weapons and the adoption by NATO of a force goal supporting the production of those weapons. Both these developments give cause for considerable concern and raise the spectre of a new arms race involving these appalling armaments.
Over the past year or so there has been a clearly discernible change in the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards chemical weapons. Let me say. first of all, that the balance of these weapons as between East and West is overwhelmingly in the Russians' favour. It is not known, I believe, precisely what the amounts come to, but according to the Defence Estimates the Soviet Union is estimated to have some 300,000 tonnes of nerve agent alone and to have kept its stockpiles up to date; while the United States has a very much smaller stock of chemical weapons—some reports suggest 30,000 to 50.000 tonnes—which is ageing. They have not manufactured any stocks since 1969, and it is not declared to NATO.
The views of the military commanders that this imbalance should be put right are understandable, so it is not surprising that the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Bernard Rogers, called for modernisation of these weapons. However, decisions of this kind are clearly political ones, or they ought to be. Until a year or so ago our Government's position was clear—that Britain would stick to its policy not to use, produce or possess chemical weapons and would continue to press at the conference on disarmament in Geneva for a convention banning, comprehensively and throughout the world, the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons.
We had of course played a leading part in creating the 1925 Geneva Protocol outlawing the use of chemical weapons and we have not produced or possessed any of these weapons since the 1950s, when we abandoned them unilaterally. Britain's position was thus impeccable and we continued to occupy what 291 can be called the high moral ground on this matter. In a debate in your Lordships' House on 23 rd April last year the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, also said this of government policy:While I recognise that there are those who … believe that the present situation may justify the acquisition by NATO of a retaliatory chemical capability, it is the view of Her Majesty's Government and of our NATO allies that the best answer is to work urgently for a comprehensive and verifiable world ban on the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons".So the Government's position remained untarnished.
However, over the past two months or so we have seen a dramatic change in the Government's position. First, in the NATO Defence Review Committee our permanent representative supported the decision on, I believe, 27th April to adopt a force goal to approve United States production of a new generation of chemical weapons. That was then noted by the NATO Defence Planning Committee of defence Ministers on 22nd May; which meant that the force goal had now become NATO policy. If adopted by ambassadors in the Defence Review Committee, it then goes to defence Ministers in the Defence Planning Committee for noting, which I understand completes the process by which force goals become NATO policy.
This is understood to have been the procedure by which this policy decision was taken; and once representatives, not Ministers, have taken a decision it goes to Ministers where all that it is open for them to do is to note (or presumably not to note) the decision. It is apparently not open to them to vote against a proposal for noting. It then automatically becomes a force goal and is NATO policy.
I should like to be told that this is not the procedure. If it is not, no doubt the Minister will tell your Lordships what is the procedure. It is extraordinary and disturbing, if that is the way it was done, that such a momentous decision can be taken with major international implications and consequences and reversing, in part, a significant aspect of national policy built up over many years without any public discussion or debate and bypassing—indeed, ignoring—Parliament and people. People are disturbed, and one example is a leading article in the Daily Telegraph of 27th May which expressed deep concern. Those are just criticisms of the procedure, let alone the merits of the proposal itself for a new generation of chemical weapons.
There is one other aspect of this matter that I wish to raise. It is said that this NATO decision was taken to enable the United States to gain the support of Congress for the production of the proposed binary chemical weapons, so that Congress would release the funds needed to go ahead with them. The approval of Congress is conditional partly upon President Reagan gaining NATO support and upon contingency plans for deployment. We understand that the United States has reached agreement with Chancellor Kohl of West Germany that his country will agree to deployment of the weapons in a period of imminent crisis. However, we also understand that Chancellor Kohl would agree to that only if at least one other NATO country agreed to deployment in those circumstances. If that is so—and no doubt the Minister will tell us if it is 292 not—we wish to know which other country that is. Apart from our country no other country appears to have agreed, so it looks as though it must be us. Was it?
When I asked the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, on 19th May whether the Prime Minister or any other Minister had given an undertaking to Chancellor Kohl that we would deploy those weapons in those circumstances, I was told that we had received no such request from the United States. With respect, I was given an answer that my witnesses sometimes give me in court. I was given an answer to a question I did not ask and no answer to the one I did! Can we now please be told whether we have given to Chancellor Kohl, or anyone else, any undertaking along the lines of an agreement to deploy these weapons and in what circumstances, if any? If we have, that is a serious matter. If we have not and if no other country but West Germany has agreed, then Congress can hardly be satisfied about plans for deployment.
Despite the criticisms that I have made, it would be churlish not to compliment the Government on the efforts that they have been making to secure a convention banning chemical weapons. Verification need no longer be a problem. The Government themselves have acknowledged that a perfect system of verification is not possible. The prospects for agreement are perhaps better than ever before. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, told your Lordships on 12th March that we may now be better placed than ever to resolve outstanding problems. We hope that with the United Kingdom this year in the chair of the Committee on Chemical Weapons at the conference on disarmament in Geneva, the Government will be able to provide the final impetus to secure agreement. Perhaps the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, will tell us about the prospects and give us a report on progress since the talks resumed there on 10th June.
There is one other question I would ask on this. Surprisingly little attention has been given to a remark of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House during his Moscow trip. He was reported in The Times of 27th May as saying that he stressed positive aspects of Mr. Gorbachev's approach, which included a new approach to the chemical weapons talks in Geneva. We were pleased to see that, and I would be grateful for further details of the new Russian approach.
We were also pleased to see in the Defence White Paper references to the successful conclusion last September of the third review conference on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, one of the few great achievements to come out of arms control negotiations. Unhappily, however, while it refers to differences of view at the conference, the White Paper glosses over—indeed, does not even mention—a main decision of the conference, the call last year upon the nuclear weapons states to resume negotiations to end all test explosions for all time; in other words, for a comprehensive test ban treaty.
The conference was also critical of the depository states of the non-proliferation treaty—the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union—for failing to fulfil the pledge in Article 6 of the treaty for various disarmament measures, and the conference gave those countries what amounted to a 293 salutary warning, for it became clear that, unless significant progress was made on those various disarmament aims, the treaty itself would be in jeopardy when it comes up for review again in 1990 and for renewal in 1995.
There is now no longer any adequate reason for refusing to resume negotiations for a comprehensive test ban treaty. The terms for a treaty were close to being finalised in 1980, but the negotiations lapsed in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.
If the deterioration in East-West relations caused the talks to break down, that cannot possibly be the case now with the improvement in East-West relations and all the contacts and negotiations now going on. It is said that verification is a problem and that we cannot resume negotiations until that is sorted out. Even if we were to accept that verification is still a problem, the argument that it is an obstacle to resuming negotiations does not stand up for a moment. After all, verification was said to be a problem in 1980, but that did not stop us negotiating then. Everyone would agree that there has been progress on verification since 1980, and so, if it was not a bar to negotiations then, it cannot possibly be now.
The fact is that there is a growing body of expert, informed and influential opinion which is convinced that verification is no longer a problem. It is claimed that developments in detection techniques, seismic monitoring and satellite surveillance are making verification easier all the time, and make it possible to meet our needs. We are told that leading seismologists from East and West agree that explosions of more than 1 kilotonne can now be detected. We are also told that most seismologists accept—though some are said to be more pessimistic—the judgment of the head of the Institute of Earth Physics at the Soviet Academy of Sciences, academician Mikhail Sadovsky, that the United States system of seismic stations guarantees in practice, with a high degree of probability, the detection of underground nuclear explosions of substantially less than 1 kilotonne in Soviet territory. We ought to be told if that judgment is suspect. We are told, too, that the assurance would be even greater with seismic monitoring stations on Soviet territory. Let us not forget that the Russians agreed to that in 1978. Only the very smallest nuclear explosions could escape detection, and those would not be of military significance.
Even if verification problems still remain to be resolved—and, if they do, perhaps the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, can tell us what they are—this cannot possibly be an obstacle to resuming negotiations. If the Government have other reasons, if they do not want a ban because they want to continue testing, they should tell us plainly.
Before leaving these matters, may I say that I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Brockway is with us today and taking part in the debate. While I do not always agree with all that my noble friend says, his great concern and deep knowledge of the subject is unchallengeable.
The moment could hardly be more propitious for resuming negotiations on a comprehensive test ban treaty. Last year the Chinese Government said that 294 they were willing to join the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia in an ad hoc committee to produce a ban on nuclear tests, and that was greeted as a major change in Chinese policy. I hope that the Government will say that they are prepared to resume negotiations.
There is one other matter that I wish to mention—the Merchant Navy. It is good that the Government have kept their pledge again this year to include in the Defence White Paper a passage on the Merchant Navy. The Falklands war highlighted the vital role that it plays in supporting the Royal Navy. Last year deep concern was expressed in all parts of your Lordships' House and elsewhere at the decline of the merchant fleet. There is even more concern this year. On 30th May the new president of the General Council of British Shipping, Mr. Garry Runciman, was reported in the Daily Telegraph and theFinancial Times as saying that the Merchant Navy could "sink to almost total insignificance" unless something was done. It was for the Government to decide, he said, whether there was a minimum below which the British owned and registered fleet ought not to be allowed to fall and, if so, what was to be done about it.
Is the Government indifferent to what is happening?",he asked. The Daily Telegraph went on to quote him saying that,he preferred to believe that the Prime Minister stood by her earlier avowal that a strong Merchant Navy was vital for strategic purposes.The Defence White Paper sounds remarkably complacent in saying of the merchant fleet that,the scale of its recent decline has caused some concern".The White Paper says that there are still sufficient ships of most of the types needed, and it adds that "most" of our requirements are "likely" to be met—not a very reassuring way to put it.
The White Paper says that the "one exception" is in mine countermeasures vessels, and it refers to the "serious shortage of trawlers" suitable for these purposes. It says that studies to find alternatives would be completed "in the spring". Yesterday was midsummer's day. I am wondering about the outcome of those studies.
That is "one exception" identified by the White Paper, but it is a pretty important exception, for the White Paper also says that,One of the more serious threats to shipping in shallow waters is that from modern mines".It says that those could be,an effective way … of impeding seaborne re-inforcements.… or inhibiting the movements of our Polaris submarines".Doubt has been cast on the claim that our other defence needs can be met from the merchant fleet. I give just one of many sources of that doubt. It is from somebody who has made a special study of shipping over many years, the Minister's right honourable friend, Sir Edward du Cann, who said:The complacency of the Government and Ministers in this most serious situation is astounding"—[Official Report, Commons 6/2/86; col. 485.]In two very closely argued speeches in another place recently he analysed the problem and put forward a series of detailed proposals.
295 By the way, the General Council of British Shipping is not looking for subsidies. We know of course of the world decline, but there are steps that the Government could take, and in view of the threat to our security which they rate so highly, as we have just heard, we hope to hear of action that is to be taken.
While referring to ships I must mention another matter upon which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, touched. I want to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, on the recent admirable report on hull forms for warships by his committee of inquiry into the controversy over whether we should have the traditional long, thin hull or the more radical, short, fat type. I congratulate the committee on its immediate success in persuading the Government to accept its recommendation to set up an impartial official inquiry. I congratulate the noble and gallant Lord not only on his inquiry into hull forms but also on the most skilful form of his committee's report, which looks suspiciously like the Defence Estimates themselves. I should not be at all surprised if the reason the Government accepted the report so swiftly was that they thought that it was one of theirs! I am sure in fact that it was decided on the merits.
The serious point I am making is that we should try to do all that we can to ensure that our armed forces have the best possible equipment within the limits of national resources and policies. We cannot praise them enough (and our reserve forces and support services) for the courage and devotion that they show in performing their duties, and we commend them not least for the way that they act as outstanding ambassadors of this country when they are abroad. We want to express our thanks to them all.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, we join with the Labour Opposition in congratulating the noble Lord—I think it is a matter of congratulation—on his translation to the post of Minister of State for Defence Procurement. Late last night I was full of admiration and amazement when I saw him soldiering through amendment after amendment in this House on the Wages Bill. We just hope that he will not allow his good nature in doing the work of other departments to prevent him from procuring defence.
The noble Lord, Lord Boston, mentioned what is perhaps the most important thing in our view also in the Defence White Paper, and that is the run down of the merchant marine and its defence implications. I should like to add another chapter to that story, which I also mentioned last year and about which I have heard nothing further since. In 1984 there were 1,400 Soviet ship visits to this country. In 1985 there were 1,600. The latest date that we have for the reverse process is 1983, when there were 80 British ship visits to the Soviet Union. I recently asked a Question of the Government in the hope of obtaining more recent figures and the Answer was as follows:The information requested is not available. However, the UK vessel operating in the UK/USSR scheduled liner service makes some 25 to 30 visits annually. In addition there may be a limited number of [other] calls".So the Soviet visits are going up beyond 1,600 and ours are coming down below about 50. Quite apart from all the obviously bad results of that—it is a good 296 thing to have one's ships in the trade between one's own country and another country, and it is a good thing that British mariners should still know how to operate in the far north—there is the point of the seamen's visits ashore. We have some figures about this. Last year the Foreign Office thought that there were more visits by British ships to the Soviet Union than the Department of Trade thought; they also thought that there were fewer Soviet seamen ashore in Britain than the Home Office thought. They have subsequently revised their estimates to come into line with the functional departments in both cases. We are now told that there are more than 30,000 Soviet seamen coming ashore in this country each year without visas. I do not quite know what to think about this matter. If there were 30,000 British seamen going ashore in the Soviet Union without visas and wandering around there, one might not worry too much. What is the Government's view of this extraordinary disparity? Does it matter, or does it not? If not, why not?
I should like to turn now to make a brief discourse on part of the Alliance policy on defence. Two years ago the leaders of the two Alliance parties set up a joint commission to look into our defence and disarmament policy. Its report was published two weeks ago. It is quite long, and it sets out the commission's views and policies quite unequivocally as 24 recommendations. All these recommendations have been accepted by all the members of both parties on the commission. The report is unanimous, and there are no notes of dissent from any recommendation. My noble friend Lord Mayhew was a member of this commission, and both parties owe him a great debt for the part that he took in its work.
The recent press coverage of the supposed differences between our two parties in the Alliance refers to only one of these 24 recommendations—actually No. 11 in the summary, about replacing the Polaris system. I hope that later in the debate my noble friend will be able to give the House an idea of the great breadth and thoroughness of the report as a whole. Let me, if I may, read out this recommendation as it appears in the text of the report of the joint Alliance commission:We believe that the Polaris submarines should be maintained in service as a European contribution to deterrence for the next decade … and therefore do not need to be replaced now. During this period we believe it will be the duty of the British government to play its proper part in the arms control process by ensuring that British nuclear weapons are included in the negotiations. No decision on whether and if so how British nuclear weapons should be maintained beyond Polaris can properly be made except in the light of"—and here follow four separate points—
- "—the progress of arms control and disarmament,
- —the balance of relationships within NATO between Europe and the United States,
- —the range and costs of the technical alternatives … available to maintain a European minimum deterrent,
- —the views of our European allies on whether new British nuclear capabilities are required for European defence.These are matters which have not been fully taken into account by the present government in coming to its decisions on the Trident programmeThat is a perfectly clear statement that we shall keep Polaris going for some years more than the Government at present intend, and that we shall take 297 our decisions about its replacement at what we consider to be the right moment, which is not several years before such decisions need to be taken. We shall not follow the Government in their haste. We are responsible people. We shall neither put the security of the country at risk nor take decisions today which may become outdated before they have even become necessary. We are saying today how we shall decide, not what we shall decide.
For the last six years we have clearly and continuously condemned both Labour and Conservative parties for nailing their colours to masts of ill thought-out and dangerous policies—indeed, for positively glorying in closing off options before due time. On the one hand there are "Ban the bomb" and "Yanks go home", and on the other hand there is "Trident D5 and quite possibly nothing but Trident D5".
Let us look at reality; let us look at these four factors, as we call them. Three of them are about future political developments and one is about the future of technology—that is the one where we say we shall take the technical alternatives to Polaris into account in reaching our decision. As for the political ones, one is about intra-European relations—consulting our allies and listening to their views on our continuing to contribute to the nuclear European deterrent. One is about transatlantic relations—about the balance between the United States and Europeans within NATO. The third (which is actually the first in the text) is about East-West relations—about disarmament. Two West-West, and one East-West.
Technology moves fast, and its political and strategic implications are hard to predict. World politics move even faster, and in many directions, and are even harder to predict in their strategic implications. But it is possible to see what these factors look like now.
Technology today already gives us a wide choice of alternatives to Polaris. We must reproach the Government for not having looked at that choice themselves. The Government did not even ask British Aerospace to make suggestions; though they had hoped to be asked. The Government did not even approach the French, with their much greater experience of missile building. The Prime Minister made a single speech in Bordeaux, at the beginning of her time, and then dropped it.
We should examine all the possibilities, and they are quite numerous. They have all been published in the technical press and they all have their friends. Any of them could be an Anglo-French programme. Some of them—those using weapons systems which would also carry conventional warheads—could be European NATO programmes; and any of them could include United States elements. These are options which are there now, and were there when the Government plumped for Trident in 1980. Their Open Government paper of that year shows that they did not consider them. They chose instead a missile system which I would remind the House has not even yet been flight-tested—the D5. I wonder what the Government really think about that after the Shuttle disaster and the Titan and Delta failures.
298 I turn now to the three political factors which we would take into account when we come to make our decision, and the first is intra-European relations. It is some years now since the arrow in Paris began to turn towards military nuclear collaboration with this country; it is now pointing firmly that way. There are of course many obstacles, but they are not political ones. They are to do with industrial and military tradition, by now not with will, and it is time to examine them and to disperse them. In Bonn the same is true; except of course that collaboration with the Federal Republic cannot be in the manufacture or control of nuclear warheads themselves. In Rome, it has been the same climate for years. I do not know if the Government know this, but the need to add London to the now fully developed Paris-Bonn military understanding is generally felt in Western Europe, and the obstacles are seen as being in London. I think perhaps the Government do know it and are just not good enough Europeans to want to do anything about it.
As to the balance between the United States and Europe within NATO, here we tread on more delicate ground, especially perhaps in this House. NATO belongs to all its members. Under its present administration, the United States has sometimes forgotten this. We in the SDP-Liberal alliance are sometimes accused of being anti-American. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, like Her Majesty's Government, regard the United States as a great western democracy and one to which, between 1942 and 1950, and indeed ever since, Europe has come to owe a very great deal. But administrations vary. If you consider United States actions and policies in the politico-military field since this administration came in, it would be difficult indeed to say that they have been as helpful to Europe, as regardful of European interests and views, as other American administrations since 1942.
We now see a fundamental change in United States military thinking—what Admiral Crowe, the chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff has epitomised as, "peace through strength". The phrase has a rather chilling sound to the European ear, and so does the kind of operational posture that is to embody it—a very high profile forward defence, the air-land battle concept, and its very deep strike capability, growing out of FOFA, the New Maritime Strategy, the new, too vulnerable land-based strategic missiles in the United States, and eventually SDI itself as a cap over the Soviet Union. These are all United States national postures affecting us and undiscussed with us.
These developments may make sense within the United States military, and perhaps wider in the United States to the generation who fought and suffered terrible losses in Vietnam and feel they have wrongs to put right. But for us, as we edge steadily towards reducing the barriers and divisions of our small continent, they spell an unacceptable hardening and heightening of those barriers and divisions.
If we have to keep pointing out the current transatlantic difficulties, it is not because we are anti-American; it is because this administration actually does keep doing things which make life quite difficult for us in Europe. We do not take these difficulties themselves too tragically: NATO will survive, because 299 it is in all our interests that it should. But how many people are there in the country who do not yet understand that, if things can get this bad under this President, with European Governments as sympathetic to him as today's are, they could get worse under another? It is that thought which convinces us that the time has come to begin to redress the balance and to increase the weight of the European pillar of NATO in all ways.
Third, is the factor of East-West relations. I believe this is the one which, in this House and among the people at large, will be most readily understood and accepted. We are a nuclear weapons power in a world which contains nuclear weapons powers, and as long as the world stays like that we will stay a nuclear power. This is the view that the people of this country have long held and continue to hold. We welcome Mr. Gorbachev's recognition that this fact has to be taken into account in any plausible international arms control-disarmament programme. Naturally—and our commission report has pages about it—we will work within NATO, and in solidarity with the whole community of mankind, to reduce and finally perhaps even to eliminate the nuclear weapons threat. But it would be an optimist indeed who believed that that was certain to come about before the British Polaris force reaches the end of its natural life, or who envisaged the future framework of this country's defences in terms of that optimism.
We welcome the comprehensiveness and the increasing realism of Mr. Gorbachev's recent proposals. At last, they take up and respond to what sensible Western governments—and that includes Her Majesty's Government—have been saying for years. Particularly, we in the SDP-Liberal Alliance agree with him that, "a reasonable sufficiency" of military forces can and should be our aim. Then of course comes the problem of defining" "reasonable sufficiency". May I recommend noble Lords who are interested to study Sir Michael Howard's article in the current RUSI Journal on the necessary concept of minimum deterrence? I think the whole House will be delighted with the knighthood which has been conferred on this great reasoner and historian.
Let me now turn once again to SDI—this time outside the framework of the Alliance report on which I have been commenting. At Christmas 1984, the Prime Minister went to Washington and drew up with President Reagan the famous Four Points, which were in fact the conditions on which we agreed to support the research phase of the SDI. The Government have stuck by those points through thick and thin, as an appropriate basis for agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union on space weapons. They reproduce them most recently in the Defence Estimates which we are now debating, and they have been right to stick by them and to reproduce them again and again. Moreover, these points actually have a wider reference than SDI; they could and should govern NATO in all its dealings with the Soviet Union.
Now, two days ago, they have been explicitly disavowed by the United States Secretary for Defense speaking, we must fear, for the United States administration. I quote from yesterday's Daily Telegraph—an all too credible report.
300Asked whether he would be prepared to subject certain parts of the Strategic Defence Initiative programme…to negotiation",Mr. Weinberger replied,certainly nothing should hamper or delay in any way our ability to deploy a strategic defence system should the research prove—as I believe it will—feasible.That was yesterday's story. Today's story is that Mr. Younger has gone to Washington and has signed up with this very Mr. Weinberger a £10 million contract to do research into that part of SDI called "European Architecture". This will be taken by many people in the United States, and powerful ones at that, to constitute British agreement to bury the Four Points. Will the Government please deal with that if possible at the end of the debate?
Will they also please deal with the status of that European architecture agreement as between the United Kingdom and its European allies? The Minister of State has recently told the House that European architecture research, as it is called, will be done by us in a NATO context under a NATO banner. How does one NATO ally do classified research at the cost of another under a NATO banner? Details would be welcome.
This deplorable tangle has a relevance to the question of Polaris replacement, as I am sure the Government will agree. If SDI goes ahead despite Russian protests—and Mr. Weinberger has made it crystal clear that if he has anything to do with it, it will—and against ours too—then the Russians are likely to develop their own SDI. And they will find it a great deal easier to put up a defence against our little nuclear force than against the vast American one.
I am not here talking of the nonsense of a British first strike against the Soviet Union. That is not how life is. British nuclear weapons, and French, present the Soviet Union with a risk that they will not take, not a threat. That is the essence of retaliatory deterrence. I am talking of the general feeling of "think twice", which even the smallest retaliatory nuclear force inspires. That is how life is. But a retaliatory nuclear force which is rendered ineffective inspires no sense of anything at all.
In short, we on these Benches stand 100 per cent. with the Government in support of the Prime Minister's excellent four points agreed with President Reagan, and we are puzzled why she is helping the United States, through her avid co-operation in its SDI research, to impel the Soviet Union to do something which would render our nuclear force inoperative long before it had any effect on the American one. I am sure that we can trust the Government to clear up those contradictions later in the debate.
I end with a compliment to the Government on the continuing clarity and fullness of their Defence White Papers each year, especially the essay system. I regret to see that some of the essays are a bit short compared with tradition. I hope that they will not be allowed to vanish. It certainly is much easier to follow government thoughts that way, with full exposition, and that very ease of following leads me personally to agree with more of government policy than I used to in the days when it was shrouded in an obscurity which contrived to be both bureaucratic and laconic at once. The Government are right not to fear clarity and I hope that they will continue in that way.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Lord Hill-Norton
My Lords, I must start by criticising as vigorously as I am able the usual channels, which have arranged for our defence debate this year to revert to the entirely unsatisfactory practice of being confined to one day. I have so informed both the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that I was about to do so.
Your Lordships will recall that last year, after several years of sustained pressure from many noble Lords, they were reluctantly driven to allocating two days, which I warmly welcomed (and so did other noble Lords) at the time. I do not agree with the noble Lord the Government Chief Whip, who has said that "the general view (of your Lordships) seemed to be that the arrangement was not a success", and I am bound to wonder how many noble Lords who usually speak about defence in our debates were actually asked. I certainly was not.
As I have said, ever since I have had the honour of membership of your Lordships' House, defence cannot be regarded as other than of overriding national importance, by whatever criteria that is measured. It may well be that to spend just two days on it compared with, for example, recently seven days on the Gas Bill, three days on the Agriculture Bill, goodness knows how many days on the Shops Bill and three days on the Dockyard Services Bill, which itself is just a very small part of defence, is not convenient to the usual channels.
§ Lord Hill-Norton
No, my Lords; I am sorry. I speak only once a year and I should like to continue.
But I have to regard what I have just said as a great deal less important than the reputation of your Lordships' House. As for the serious difficulties which it was claimed that a two-day debate might cause for the Opposition parties, to which the Chief Whip has also referred, I find that, if it is true, a dreadful reflection on the importance in which defence is held by them. Are there really fewer than four Front-Bench spokesmen in the whole of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition prepared to speak about defence in a two-day debate? If so, I cannot be alone in finding that simply astounding.
§ Lord Hill-Norton
No, my Lords. I very much hope that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will give the matter his personal attention before arrangements are made for the debate next year. If the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has something to say now, I shall give way.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble and gallant Lord for his courtesy in giving way. I was not consulted about the change back to one day, and, as a party spokesman on defence, I very much regret that.
§ Lord Hill-Norton
If I may continue, my Lords, I have some points of substance to make on this year's Statement. First, I congratulate the Ministers, the editor and the authors on an extremely well-presented, well-written and generally informative document. It has been criticised in some knowledgeable quarters as being a bit glib, and so I suppose it is in the sense that most of the really difficult problems before the Government in the defence ministry are glossed over a bit easily, not least, of course, the fact that defence spending is set to decline in real terms by 6 per cent. over the next three years. It is that central decision by the Government which has caused and given rise to the serious difficulties which face those who have to administer defence today, which will certainly be exacerbated in the next few years and from which our general defence posture now suffers.
A few of those difficulties, such as equipment and manpower shortages, stretch, training and support are bound to worry those like myself whose primary concern is to see no diminution in our country's broad defence within the NATO alliance. What the White Paper correctly reminds us of is the seamless robe of deterrence.
I should like to refer next to the question of frigate numbers. The Government have repeatedly pledged that those should not fall below 50, and they said that again in another place last week. I have equally often said that that is not enough. I am supported in that view by the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic and the former Commander in Chief Fleet, now the First Sea Lord, who have both stated publicly that they need about double that number. But to maintain even such a modest force requires actuarially that three a year should be ordered.
We see in the White Paper, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said in his opening speech, that only nine have been ordered since 1979, and that is a shortfall of no fewer than 12 on what should have been ordered, or a quarter of the whole force. That is impossible to understand if the pledges repeatedly made by Ministers are to be believed. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister who is to wind up will explain that extraordinary discrepancy.
In the general context of warship orders, I was not alone in being deeply disappointed not to see any reference in the White Paper to the much-needed replacements for the two assault ships which are now nearing the end of their highly valuable lives. I am informed that it is common ground today among all three services, and certainly among our NATO allies, that purpose-built ships to replace the "Fearless" and the "Intrepid" are essential and that they should be ordered now if they are to be available in time. Such replacement ships would not only do the operational job much better, but they would be much more economical in every way. Particularly in the all-important respect of manpower. I ask the noble Lord who is to reply to tell us when we may expect those orders to be placed.
To return to frigates, may I urge that we should press vigorously ahead with the NATO frigate replacement referred to briefly on page 19 of the White Paper? That project can, and should, be driven through to a successful conclusion if the will is there and if we take 303 a robust but flexible lead. It was we who were responsible for the collapse and failure of the comparable minesweeper project some years ago by refusing to try hard enough to reconcile originally conflicting requirements. We shall not be forgiven if we also cause this imaginative venture to founder.
There can surely be no doubt that the hull, machinery and accommodation for the ships can be built to a common design. If countries are determined to have a different weapons fit (and that is nearly always for industrial or political, but not military, reasons) that can today be readily managed on a modular basis. We are very good at that sort of task both by history and by aptitude. If we were determined enough to make it work, we could certainly do so, and nobody would be better pleased than our allies.
Manpower, as the White Paper correctly observes, is one of our major resources. Like most senior officers, I go much further and say that it is our most important resource. I am concerned that it has now been cut too far in all three services, but particularly in my own.
I applaud of course all the efforts which have been made to improve the teeth-to-tail ratio and to squeeze out fat—not that there has been much of that about in recent years. But if the process is allowed to go too far, as I believe it now has, our men and women in uniform will be stretched to a degree which in 1986 and peacetime is no longer acceptable to them. It should not be acceptable to us.
It is not only that people, even those as well trained and well motivated as ours, are liable to make mistakes—that is extremely expensive and highly dangerous with modern equipment—but they also start to wonder whether they want to join the services or, having joined, whether they want to stay in them.
I agree that manpower ceilings must be established, but it is my view that they should be flexible and not too rigid so that if new commitments arise or existing ones become more demanding than had been foreseen, such ceilings should be allowed to rise, and the money made available to pay for them, so that the resources can match the task. If that is not done, either the job will not be done or not done properly, or the people concerned will vote with their feet and leave.
I should mention the Royal dockyards. They are discussed at some length on page 50 of the White Paper. I made my views clear enough I hope on Second Reading of the Dockyard Services Bill and there is no point in saying it all again now. A great many of your Lordships have shown a keen interest in that Bill, as its importance deserves. I should just like to repeat my view that the outcome must include, if the Government's proposals are to have any chance of success, the removal of the workforce from the entirely inappropriate constraints of the Civil Service rules about pay and working conditions, which make it impossible for management to manage enterprises of that nature. Secondly, the capital assets must remain the property of the Government. Thirdly, the workforce must be contented and, above all, the interests of the fleet must be uppermost in Ministers' minds. I do not believe that those four aims have any chance of being reached with the Bill in its original form. I have high hopes that it will be suitably amended on Report.
304 I must record my anxiety, which I share with the noble Lords, Lord Boston and Lord Kennet, about the perfunctory reference in the White Paper to merchant shipping, which is quite unworthy of its importance to defence. Indeed, the few words which have been used can only be considered alarming. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, quoted them. I shall quote them again:there are still sufficient ships of most of the particular types we need to meet our defence requirements and … most of our requirements are likely to be met".Is there any other respect in which only "most" of our requirements for defence are likely to be met, one wonders? If so, whatever happened to the "seamless robe"? It is a disgraceful admission which flows directly from the Government's almost total neglect of all our maritime requirements, about which I have frequently spoken in your Lordships' House.
In truth, the facts are much worse, and it would be much more accurate to say, "Many of our requirements can no longer be met". I assert, without fear of contradiction, that today we could not mount even such a relatively small operation as the Falklands with the numbers and particularly the types of ships under the red and blue ensigns.
Although I have confined my remarks almost entirely to the Royal Navy, I must refer to the Nimrod shambles. Ten years ago, as chairman of the NATO military committee, and thus an international servant, I urged the British Secretary of State for Defence to join virtually all the allies in the purchase and deployment of the American E3A aircraft which was then operational. For almost entirely political and industrial reasons he decided to go for the Nimrod instead. I warned him that even if it were operationally effective, which was certainly doubtful, it would probably be five years late and cost twice as much as expected. As your Lordships will know, both those warnings proved to be gross underestimates. What is required is urgent remedial action to close that yawning gap in our air defences and those of our allies, which critically affects all the services. I hope that this time round defence will be uppermost in the mind of the Secretary of State for Defence.
In conclusion, I must say a word, though I had not intended to do so when I stood up, about the hull committee which I chaired and which recently reported to the Prime Minister, because the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne and Lord Boston of Faversham, mentioned it as well as my name in connection with it. I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that Professor Caldwell has been appointed to conduct the inquiry. The Prime Minister promised me that there would be a suitably eminent and qualified person—I cannot remember the precise words—of well-known impartiality to conduct it. I can think of no one better than Professor Caldwell.
I should just like to say, without going into any of the merits or demerits of what is discussed about the controversy, that the most important points are, first, that the inquiry should be impartial and, secondly, that it should concern itself, as my committee did, with which is the best hull form for modern warships of the frigate or destroyer size, and it should not rake over the embers of what took place, rightly or wrongly, in 1983. Finally, when the report has been made I hope that everybody concerned, including myself, will shut up about it.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, I apologise for the fact that I shall not be able to stay until the end of the debate due to an engagement to speak elsewhere. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I should like to congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the way he introduced the excellent White Paper on Defence.
I was very pleased at the way the chief Opposition spokesman on defence, the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, so firmly stated his support of the United States as our closest ally. I agreed with him when he drew attention to the remarks of Mr. Garry Runciman in relation to the plight of the British Merchant Navy. I am as firm a supporter of the free market as anyone in this House. It might, however, be helpful to remind the Government that Adam Smith in Wealth of Nations made a significant point when, after having discussed at great length the importance of free trade, he said:Defence is more important than opulence".I agreed with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, when he said that there was a good case for having two days devoted to defence in the course of the year, one devoted to general principles and the other devoted to practical details to which he gave such attention.
When preparing for this debate, I chanced to look through a volume of the short stories of Kipling. I came across one entitled Between the Devil and the Deep Sea in which the sentence occurs:Deep peace lay over Europe, Asia, Africa, America, Australasia, and Polynesia".It is tragic to have to admit that not since 1914 has it been possible for anyone to write a sentence of that sort. I am not so simple as to think that there is only one reason for this obvious decline in international manners. One obvious reason, summarised extremely well in Chapter One of the White Paper, is the unique challenge posed by the complicated and unprecedented blend of Russian nationalism and Marxism-Leninism, so intertwined that the two are really no longer, for practical purposes, distinguishable.
My noble friend Lord Trefgarne spoke of the supposition that the new leaders in the Soviet Union seemed eager to speak the same language as ourselves. I would venture to suggest to him that anyone who has read carefully the speech made by Mr. Gorbachev to the February congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would draw the conclusion that the present leaders of the Soviet Union are still speaking the language of ideology rather than the language of free people and the way that we speak or wish to speak ourselves.
I wish to draw particular attention to three points in Chapter One of the White Paper. First, there is the reminder that events of the recent past suggest once again—this cannot be stated often enough—that it is not conciliatoriness on the part of the West but strength that takes the Soviet Union as a rule to the conference table, whether on disarmament questions or anything else. Secondly, the White Paper reminds us that the Soviet sense of insecurity is such that history suggests that it cannot properly be soothed 306 without a sense of total insecurity on the part of its neighbours. This is something that Eastern Europe learnt long ago and that Afghanistan is still learning today.
The next point to which I wish to draw attention is that part of the White Paper which notes that, in the course of the last generation or so, there has been a major amendment to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism in respect of the inevitability of war. If nuclear war, as is now the case, is wisely excluded from the theory of struggle, which is indeed suggested, it is nevertheless left to us to realise—this is put extremely well in the White Paper—that the Soviet Union holds itself entirely free to embark on a wide range of other forms of struggle such as subversion, economic competition, pursuit of strategic advantage in the third world, propaganda, espionage and so on. These are activities that, at any previous stage of history, would have been regarded as something close to conflict itself.
One might well suppose that the wars of the 18th or 19th centuries were more like the peace of the 20th century. There is a paradox here. Marx, as I understand it, suggested that economic competition would automatically lead to conflict. It would be the normal proposition that if you have a row over economic matters, this could seriously risk good relations. Yet this is one of the few things that is now thought to be an allowable activity between West and East.
The points made in Chapter One seem to me so interesting and important and indeed so well put that I should like to suggest to the Minister who is to reply that he might contemplate making some kind of summary for the benefit of the public at large who do not read the Defence White Paper—for example, schools, universities and polytechnics. It would be particularly helpful if a pamphlet based on this chapter could be supported by the Opposition. I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, would have no hesitation in thinking that this might be beneficial. It would perhaps be the beginning of the revival of our appreciation that while we are formally at peace, the battles of propaganda are as important as any other in our relations with the Soviet Union.
I wish to make one or two remarks in relation to Chapters Two and Three. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned the unprecedented prominence given in Chapter Two of the White Paper to the idea of arms control and disarmament. That is true. Whether it was right to do so, it seems to me. is a different question. These are matters of foreign policy and not of defence.
There is another respect in which I cannot help being sceptical about the importance given to these questions in the White Paper. I am not a total sceptic about arms control and particularly about confidence-building measures. It would be an excellent idea if the partial test ban treaty could be extended. The non-proliferation treaty is obviously a beneficial contract. The hot line between Moscow and Washington must be an improvement on what was there before, which was nothing. Nevertheless, we are sometimes in the habit of underestimating the colossal novelty of the idea that it is conceivable that the two great powers will, one day, sit down surrounded by 307 ourselves, the Chinese, the French and other difficult countries, and reach a permanent agreement that will, first, sensibly reduce the risk of nuclear war; that, secondly, will affect the consequences of nuclear war should it happen to occur; and that, thirdly, will seriously reduce the impact of arms spending on budgets as a whole. It is particularly difficult to imagine this as something that is likely to happen in the foreseeable future if the Soviet Union is the nation that it is represented as being in Chapter One.
There is an additional paradox which would apply whether the Soviet Union were a normal country or not. I think most of us appreciate that in order to achieve effective disarmament there must be some kind of trust between nations. Indeed, one cannot help supposing that if there were enough trust between nations to achieve disarmament they would disarm without having to have a treaty to oblige them to do so.
One day no doubt the problems which are pointed to in Chapter Two relating to nuclear weapons will be dealt with if the earth is to survive. But I think that it is much more likely that an approach based on a revival of the idea of the international ownership of nuclear material and its production is one which will be more profitable and helpful than the suggestion that we can reach lasting deals between sovereign states.
For those reasons I am much less inclined to be disturbed than the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, was about the apparent demise of SALT II, which seems to me to have been far from a perfect treaty, dealing as it did with launchers rather than warheads, as my noble friend Lord Chalfont pointed out in a recent letter to The Times. I think that it is worth while recalling, too, that the reason SALT II was not ratified by the United States legislature was that the Soviet Union embarked upon a massive use of conventional weapons in Afghanistan just before the United States legislature was going to act upon it.
I want to devote one sentence to the question of chemical weapons, to which the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, devoted some minutes of his speech. He pointed out quite fairly that the United States has not produced any chemical weapons capacity since 1969, and then talked about the Soviet capacity for chemical weapons. But surely the way that he put it was a distortion of the balance between West and East on this issue, since the Soviet Union has invested very substantially, as it would seem on his own reckoning, in this particularly vile method of warfare at a time when the West has done nothing.
Perhaps I may devote a word to two to Chapter Three. I think that this is an innovation, at least in the way that it is put. I perhaps detect the role here of the former Secretary of State, Mr. Michael Heseltine, who we know was much interested in building up the European pillar and collaboration in the European arms market. I must give that chapter a guarded welcome. It would be churlish not to do so since I previously supported in this House the idea of a European defence dimension, even if we have to recognise that this will occur outside the framework of the European Community and although it will involve a great deal of careful diplomacy with France.
However, the reason I want to make it a guarded welcome is that it must be recognised that the concept 308 of a European pillar can create troubles and misunderstandings with the United States. We have the evident desire of the Soviet Union to puts itself forward as European and as a European power. We have the evident new interest of the United States in the Pacific. After all, its trade with Pacific countries was higher in 1984 for the first time than its trade with Atlantic littoral countries. Then there is the fact that for the first time ever the United States has perceived a sense of threat on its south-western borders, a threat which, to put it mildly, European public opinion has not taken very seriously. Diplomacy is extremely important here, given the state of British as well as European public opinion about the presidency of President Reagan. It is not necessarily a very difficult act of diplomacy but it could go wrong.
I think that all Europeans must remember that although George Washington's farewell address advising his countrymen to avoid always entangling alliances with Europeans is on a very remote and dusty shelf in most American libraries, it is on that shelf, and it could—if taken down at an awkward moment— make for all of us, very awkwardly, eloquent reading.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I am very tempted to take up the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, on his political interpretation of the development of the Soviet ideology and our relations with it, but that must wait for a foreign affairs debate. On the other hand, I would differ from him specifically where he separates, very sharply apparently, our consideration of defence from that of foreign policy. I would suggest, and I believe that this would be accepted by the noble Lords speaking for the Government, that defence and foreign policy are two arms of the same policy, and that it is essential that they should be inextricably linked together to achieve the same purpose, which is that of establishing peace and a sense of security among the people of this country.
I am glad to see that the Government have now publicly agreed that sovereign states have the right to determine their own defence policies within NATO. What we are therefore discussing is the contribution of Britain and British defence policy to NATO. But we are discussing the specific policy which our Government are contributing.
I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who opened the debate, not only for his exposition but also for sending me the public information booklet along with the White Paper explaining the whole background of government policy. I do not think that it would be unfair to say that the government defence policy is essentially based upon the concept of nuclear deterrence to guarantee peace. I would make an appeal to the Government that there should be a serious public debate on this thesis which the Government put forward with, so far, very little supporting evidence. There should be a public debate because I am sure that noble Lords throughout the House would agree that we have here an issue of the utmost significance for the survival of the whole human race.
In this debate we have already seen that many prominent military strategists and former leaders of the military forces take different sides within the 309 debate. I have previously described the Government's thesis that nuclear deterrence inevitably guarantees peace as an argument that can be described as post hoc, propter hoc. It has a kamikaze mentality that, "I will commit suicide if in so doing I can damage you."
When the Government claim that for the past 40 years peace has been maintained through nuclear deterrence, I would point out to the Government that since 1945 it is estimated that there have been 140 armed conflicts in other continents of the world outside Europe. That deterrence did not prevent the war in Vietnam; nor the invasion of Afghanistan; nor the invasion by the Argentinians of the Falklands. Even in Europe it did not prevent the invasion of Hungary, the invasion of Czechoslovakia; and it did not prevent the invasion of Suez by the British, French and Israelis.
The logic of that argument is that if we are to prevent these numerous conflicts which have taken place in different parts of the world, then each of the combatants should be supplied with nuclear weapons. Are we going to supply Iraq and Iran with nuclear weapons? Would that prevent war there? What about Israel and the Arab States? This is surely reductio ad absurdum. In the meantime, one of the most tragic victims of the process has been the United Nations, our contribution to the United Nations, and the strengthening of the United Nations as a means of settling international differences and preventing conflict. That has been surrendered to the concept of the super power competition.
When we talk about the conflicts that have sundered the peace of the world, many of them in third world countries, let me remind your Lordships that the Second World War was not started in Europe; it was started in Asia. It was started with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1932. It was continued with the Italian—Mussolini—invasion of Abyssinia in 1935. Wars can start, and frequently start, in other parts of the world and then spread to Europe.
If ever the concept of nuclear deterrence was valid—if it ever was—then surely it is clear that it is no longer valid. Surely it is clear that the super nuclear powers are today discussing the possibilities of winning a nuclear war. The question of first strike has become one of immediate military and political consideration. And yet this is taking place at a time when, between them, the United States and the USSR have 20,000 strategic nuclear warheads; and if one takes into consideration the intermediate and tactical weapons, they have over 50,000 nuclear warheads—more than 1½ million times the power of a Hiroshima-size atom bomb.
My submission is that the continued possession of nuclear weapons has fuelled the arms race. I wonder whether noble Lords have read the submission to Congress of Richard de Lauer, the Pentagon's chief of engineering, when he was recommending the Trident D.5 missile. On what grounds did he recommend it? He recommended it as a counter-force weapon; as a weapon which will give the United States a pre-emptive capability. We have moved on from the concept of nuclear defence and have now entered a 310 world of nuclear, or potential nuclear, victory. It is this weapon, the Trident D.5, that the British Government are planning to buy at an enormous cost.
If I may substantiate still further my fears that this is a new form of nuclear age with a new dimension, one has only to look at what the United States is doing in the nuclear field: new nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles; new strategic nuclear bombers; new air-launched cruise missiles; new missile-carrying submarines; and the project to replace the obsolete nuclear weapons in Europe. And no doubt the Soviet Union is doing precisely the same.
The people of this country have become increasingly alarmed over the last few weeks since the accident at Chernobyl, and since the use of the F-111s to bomb Libya. They have become anxious because they have seen the effects of a nuclear explosion, though on a much smaller scale—and they realise on a much smaller scale—than those of the nuclear weapons I have mentioned. But they have also seen that nuclear weapons held in this country are not necessarily under the control of the British Government.
I would remind noble Lords that constitutionally the President of the United States is commander-in-chief, and constitutionally he cannot be inhibited from any action in ordering United States military forces on any occasion if he considers it is in the interests of the United States so to do. Whatever the agreements, the understandings, that we have talked about so much at Question Time in this House, that is the constitutional fact. He is commander-in-chief, and he has absolute power over United States military forces.
My submission is that the possession of our own nuclear weapons, and of foreign nuclear bases in this country, spotlight Britain as an inviting target for nuclear attack. I would ask the Government: do they really believe that the people of Norway and Holland, of Spain and Greece, of Italy and Yugoslavia, of Austria and Finland, feel any less secure than do the people of this country because they do not possess nuclear weapons?
I suggest that nuclear weapons seriously threaten the security of the British people; that they are an obstacle to British influence in disarmament negotiations; that the projected purchase of Trident in a defence budget that is to be static, or is to fall, over the next three years is bound to damage the procurement and the organisation and efficiency of conventional forces. This belief is supported by many military strategists—and I particularly look forward to hearing the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, this afternoon—and many ex-military leaders of this and other countries who believe that a non-nuclear strategy gives greater security than continuing with nuclear weapons.
Therefore, I would suggest that the security of the British people demands that we dispense with our own nuclear weapons and those on our land; that it is the responsibility of our Government to build a sound, conventional defence, but that that is a defence and not a threat, as nuclear weapons are, to any other country or any other people. But it is the responsibility of the British Government, if they are concerned with the security of the British people now and in the future, 311 greatly to strengthen their contribution to the United Nations as a peace-keeping organisation and as an organisation that is preventing and undermining international conflict.
The British Government should use their political influence inside and outside NATO at all times to promote the cause of genuine global disarmament. This is the defence programme which the Labour Party has agreed on and which has already been put to the electorate in by-elections and which will be put before the electorate at the next election. I hope that the Government will take the very real arguments and combat them rather than simply go on repeating parrot-like, "Nuclear deterrence brings peace".
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, discussion of defence in this House, to which I agree more time ought to be devoted, often concentrates on details rather than on general principles. So today, while saluting an admirable introductory speech by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, I should like to dwell on one broad factor; namely, something that I consider to be a potential long-term danger to the Alliance inherent in certain transatlantic attitudes.
Unfortunately in recent years there has been an obvious deterioration in what might be called European-American relations. It is nearly 40 years ago now since that rather more confident summer when I was the first negotiator under Mr. Bevin on what turned out to be the North Atlantic Treaty. We have come along way since then. Along with other reasons I think this malaise has been building up since the Republicans took over the presidency and embarked on a rearmament programme which progressively became more extensive. Initially I believe it was welcomed by most European members of the Alliance, who themselves had agreed in 1978, was it not, to achieve a real 3 per cent. increase in their own defence budgets. The Soviet Government had admittedly taken advantage, both politically and by reasons of arms increases, of the rather mild attitude of the Carter Administration, itself no doubt the result of despondency in America following its tragic defeat in Vietnam.
But gradually most Europeans gained the impression that, despite notable Soviet increases, the Americans were, as it were, over-insuring, more particularly in the nuclear sphere. Why? Well, there was the new and gigantic Trident submarine programme, and other matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, referred. There was also the so-called MX project for a large number of very powerful and originally indestructible, very possibly mobile, strategic weapons; a vast new fleet of bombers armed with the "Stealth" device for avoiding Soviet radar, and the construction of a very large number of advanced cruise missiles for various types of employment; to say nothing of aircraft carriers and ordinary killer submarines and so on. All this seemed rather exaggerated.
So, when the time came for cruise missiles and Pershing IIs to be stationed in Europe to counteract the clear threat posed by the Soviet SS.22s (originally a European suggestion) the Europeans as a whole, as we 312 know, gave their consent only on condition that talks took place with the Russians on arms limitation, thus possibly lessening the chances of a nuclear war which might well be confined to their continent, the two super powers, simply for reasons of self-protection, remaining more or less immune from nuclear attack.
We all know what then happened. The talks, after long delays, eventually took place and were eventually broken off, no doubt owing to faults on both sides. For example, both should have agreed to the formula for the restriction on intermediate weapons worked out in the walk in the woods between Mr. Paul Nitze and his Soviet colleague. Nor should the Russians have used star wars as a reason for leaving. There were faults on both sides for the break-up of the negotiations.
The famous summit, nevertheless, followed at which absolutely nothing was agreed, save that a nuclear war could not be won and must not therefore be fought, and there were arrangements to meet again—both admirable declarations of intent, now seeming to be a little frayed at the edges. Nor did it help when the President, perhaps in a fit of absence of mind, subsequently referred to his Geneva friend and colleague as the equivalent of Colonel Gaddafi.
As for the resumed talks, they are still in the doldrums, while the Americans consider what most people on this side of the Atlantic would regard as reasonable proposals advanced by Mr. Gorbachev for discussion—I repeat, "for discussion"—possibly the result of the rather parlous economic conditions in the Soviet Union following the recent fall in the price of oil.
At this point it might be observed that the notion of exact nuclear parity, or equality, which still seems to be insisted on by both sides is a logical absurdity. What does it matter if the adversary has more nuclear weapons than you do, if you have the assured capacity of inflicting intolerable damage on him as the result of a possible second strike? That is the conception embodied in the doctrine of MAD (mutually assured destruction) which many feel has been chiefly responsible for the preservation of peace in Europe—I repeat to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, "peace in Europe"—for the last 30 years or so.
An idea, often put forward in America, is that the Russians might theoretically on a first strike, eliminate all or nearly all American strategic land-based nuclear missiles, thus leaving the remaining nuclear missiles in submarines or aircraft with the only option of bombing Soviet towns and the consequent destruction of American cities. But all that is nonsense. What Soviet Government in their senses—after all, they are not mad—would resort to such an act? Even if total nuclear war was avoided—a dangerous assumption—the Soviet Government would inevitably be involved in a continuing and disastrous trade war with the whole Western world, not to mention the Eastern world as well. It is indeed almost impossible to imagine that the Russians would ever behave in such a way, if only because (short, conceivably, of losing out in space, which is a theoretical possibility) it would obviously not be in their interests to do anything of the kind.
Against a rather forbidding background what is now the likelihood of advancing, if not towards detente, for there will probably, as my noble kinsman has inferred, 313 always be tension—that is undoubted—at least towards some kind of understanding with the super power of the East? Surely we must recognise that there are now two broad and conflicting policies battling for mastery in Washington. The first is favoured by many Democrats and some Republicans in Congress; by leading newspapers and columnists; by what used to be called the eastern establishment—that is to say, majority opinion in the East Coast universities— eastern big business; eastern policy-making bodies, with some support all over the country; and probably by a majority of experts in foreign affairs, including those in the State Deparment.
Such people are chiefly appalled by the excessive cost of the Reagan defence estimates, resulting, to the detriment of the American poor and of course world economy generally, in a huge budgetary deficit. But, more especially, they feel that chances are being repeatedly missed of coming to some agreement on arms limitation with the Russians and that a rather obvious, if disguised, desire on the part of some powerful elements to achieve superiority, coupled with the increasing reluctance to grant aid to developing countries and perhaps to come to terms with social reform in Latin America, is carrying a natural reaction to the Carter policy much too far.
The other school of thought is very different. Here it is openly stated that the only way of coping with an irreconcilably hostile government in Moscow is to build up some irresistable force that the Russians cannot match, to avoid, consequently, any agreement on arms limitation if only because such agreement would inevitably be violated by the Soviet Government; to free the United States of any lingering obligation to abide by SALT II; if possible, to reinterpret the terms of the famous anti-ballistic missile treaty of 1972; to resist any attempt to arrive at a freeze on nuclear tests and, still more, on the deployment of nuclear weapons; to build up a sure means of eliminating Soviet satellites in the event of war; and, finally, to renounce the whole conception of MAD in favour of MAS (mutually assured security) by the eventual construction of an anti-ballistic missile screen over the United States, if not over Europe, which of course, if it were ever achieved, would enable the Americans to dominate the "high ground", as it is called, of "space", thus placing the Soviet Union at their mercy.
The chief advocates of this second policy are the Defense Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, with his lieutenant, Richard Perle, supported chiefly by the Pentagon, the arms industries, the Right-wing Republicans in Congress and, in the west, more especially of course in California, to say nothing of widespread popular support in the shape of numerous patriotic groups, "Born-again" and "Fundamentalists" Christians, and denouncers of the "Evil Empire" generally. It is a formidable combination.
Between these two obviously conflicting groups, apparently, sits the President, now favouring, it would seem, the one, now the other, and occasionally both at one and the same time. It appears to depend largely on whoever gains his ear at the critical moment, and more especially on the immediate advantage, from the 314 internal political point of view, in what he detects in any particular proposal. Unhappily, more often than not, he seems, up until now at any rate to come down in favour of the tough policy which I have described.
The President, whatever difficulty he has in answering the questions of intelligent correspondents, is personally immensely popular. His only difficulty lies in getting the money for his projects through Congress. On one thing he has admittedly never wavered—star wars. This he probably genuinely feels is a factor favouring peace in spite of all the arguments that, on the contrary, it is probably highly destabilising, at any rate, in the long run. But if he gets the go-ahead to spend a limited amount on "research" into this project, he will no doubt be happy. Let us hope so.
In the face of this situation what line should we on this side of the Atlantic best adopt? I think that in the NATO council we should be perfectly frank about our support for the first school of thought and about the grave dangers which we see in the second. We got near to doing this at the recent NATO meeting in Halifax when all the non-American members expressed dismay at the proposed intention of the Americans no longer to abide by SALT II. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will tell us whether this, in fact, is still their intention. Naturally, if we could revert to something like our original undertaking to increase our own, preferably non-nuclear, expenditure by a percentage or two, we should have much more influence in pushing our point of view, if not in the White House at any rate on Capitol Hill.
The main question that I should like to put to the Government this evening is, therefore, this. Do they agree that there is a fundamental and dangerous difference of opinion among policy-formers in Washington on defence generally; and are they prepared—and I put this to the noble Lord who is going to reply—to exercise such influence as they have in order to resist the Right-wing tendencies that I have outlined and to urge that, on the contrary, sympathetic consideration should now be given by the American Administration to the latest proposals of Mr. Gorbachev in spite of the vigorous opposition that the Right wing will no doubt put up when it comes to actual negotiation on these proposals of Mr. Gorbachev in Geneva?
My second question—of which I have given the noble Lord advance notice—is this. Has he seen the reasons advanced by Mr. Leggett of the Verification Technology Centre for thinking that American denunciations of Soviet violations of various treaty obligations are to a considerable extent invalid; and do they regard the arguments of Mr. Leggett as at all convincing? If they are, a great deal of American objections to concluding any sort of deal with the Russians on arms limitation clearly falls to the ground and my question would thus seem to have considerable pertinence at the present time.
I realise, of course, that since, for the reasons which I have explained to the noble Lord, I cannot, most unfortunately, stay until the end of the debate, this may make it difficult for the noble Lord in my absence to be able to reply in his speech to my questions. If so, I shall await a written reply to them eventually with the greatest of interest.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Viscount Trenchard
I certainly support the excellent White Paper which is well written and well presented. I regret, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, has said, that we have not kept to the two-days debate system. Last year I chose the "nuts and bolts" day. This year, as there is only one, I shall speak mainly on general policy. But, my Lords, allow me one comment on nuts and bolts in relation to the points which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, made, in relation to the Nimrod situation. All that I want to say is not that he was wrong 10 years ago but that the situation before the Government today is, whether, having spent a very large amount of money on a very large amount of high technology, we should not complete the job.
It is wrong to disparage the benefits to industry as a reason for going British, sometimes at a premium. If we do not have a big GNP based on a high-tech lead, then 5½ per cent. of that GNP is not going to pay for the defence that we have today.
Mainly today I want to talk about the need for our legitimate dialogue in a free democracy on these important questions to be conducted on the basis of the facts of the defence situation in relation to this country and to other countries. If I have time at the end, I want, again impertinently, to offer the odd opinion on the vital question of maintaining the credibility of deterrence in order to make sure that there shall be no war.
I congratulate the Government on the presentation in the White Paper and in particular at page 60 of Annex A the table showing the massive superiority of Russian conventional forces. I would quote first the tank figures which are, for NATO, 7,800 and, for the Warsaw Pact, 16,600. The artillery figures are even more dramatic, as are the tactical aircraft figures. To see those comparisons is to bring one down to earth in this discussion and also in the discussion of disarmament measures.
It is sometimes said that NATO, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and even the MoD, present the facts in a particular way and that, looked at from the Russian point of view, they could be put in another way, particularly as they do not take in the global strength of the two super powers. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the facts, before discussing the need for a dialogue on the basis of facts, and use the latest publication of, I think, the universally respected International Institute of Strategic Studies. They give their figures for the military balance for 1985–86. If I may first take the figure for the United States total armed forces in terms of people, it stands at approximately 2,151,000, with reserves of all kinds amounting to about the same figure. Those figures can be compared with the Soviet regular forces figure of 5,300,000 and reserves with service within the past five years of 5,400,000.
May I also compare, just as one example—but it is good reading for those who want to start thinking about ways forward in disarmament—the tank numbers of the United States, whose reinforcement to Europe would have to come across the Atlantic, as opposed to the Russian reinforcements on internal communication lines. The global total for tanks possessed by the United States is given as 13,423, and 316 in the case of the Soviet Union the figure is given as 52,600: that is four times the quantity of the United States. So I suggest that the many comparisons which are done of the balance in Europe do not warp the position from the point of view of the West.
All those who understandably crave for nuclear disarmament, including those who press for either slow or fast multilateral nuclear disarmament, must face up to the massive Soviet conventional superiority. So, I suggest, must those who advocate "no first use" declarations, even in defence, of nuclear weapons. So, too, must those who advocate that we should greatly increase the effective firepower of our conventional defence by the use of emergent technologies (notably the distinguished ESECS group) face up to the quantity superiority of the Soviets to which I have drawn your Lordships' attention and, additionally, to the fact that the technological gap—that is, the United States and the West's technology lead—has been closing up and continues to be closing up rather than being widened. Indeed, in many areas the Soviets are now ahead.
One has to say that at present the ESECS recommendations remain highly intelligent and highly desirable, but they are as yet wishful thoughts. They remain so because no way has yet been found, despite the words of my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, for getting a really united, single-minded NATO approach to particular selected roads. If the working members of the ESECS groups were appointed managing directors of NATO defence and were allowed to select from the countless technological possibilities before us today the routes which we should follow, then I would agree that we could effectively increase the awesome firepower of conventional defence by a major degree. However, I believe that even if this happy state of affairs could be brought about, the group under-estimate the Soviet's ability to counter what is done—made slightly more easy if they have to counter one approach.
In the world in which we actually live, in our free societies in the West, with the countless opinions as to which way to go in these complex questions, it will in my view be time enough to consider changes in the current deterrence policy, importantly including its nuclear element, when and only when we have actually raised the nuclear threshold from days, even to weeks or months, let alone to effective parity of force.
The prospect of a modern conventional war lasting months and reaching the same agonising choice of whether or not to invoke nuclear defence does not fill me with unqualified enthusiasm. That is why I believe that the policy crux today is not war fighting and the elements of war fighting, as it has been in the past and as CND continually claim it to be likely to be in the future. It is about maintaining, with these awesome weapons, a credible deterrent.
If I have time, I will go into particular views on that subject later, but may I return to the paramount need, in this country and in NATO, today to have the dialogue on these vital questions on the basis of the facts? The public either do not know or are more confused than ever about the facts. This is not just because the Russians are using our free society with great skill to disseminate propaganda and confusion; it is also, regrettably, because over recent years the last 317 vestiges of bi-partisan defence policies seem to have disappeared. In this context, I was delighted with a large part of the speech today made by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, and with his unequivocal support for NATO—including, I presume, most of its policies.
However, in recent years as parties have contradicted one another with, to put it at its kindest, the selective use of facts, so an ever growing percentage of the public has moved not just into the "don't know" category but into the "don't know what to believe" category. Let me substantiate what I am saying. In December last year I was asked by the Foundation for Defence Studies and the European Institute for Strategic Studies to chair a conference at King's College, which was based on a full Gallup sample opinion poll. The poll set out to discover whether the public had a good awareness of the facts of the East-West balance and the facts of the cost of defence. To the question:Which military alliance, NATO or the Warsaw Pact, has more conventional forces—tanks, aircraft, artillery and infantry— deployed in Europe?'a startling "don't know", which professionals tell me includes "don't know what to believe", was 43 per cent., while 23 per cent. thought NATO was superior and 30 per cent. thought the Warsaw Pact was. When we came to the ladies and the young, the percentages were more alarming still and very nearly level in terms of who had the most conventional forces.
I ask your Lordships to take that against the figures which I have quoted and which are shown in Annex A, page 60, of the Defence Estimates. Only 30 per cent. of a full Gallup sample knew that the Warsaw Pact had more conventional forces than NATO. I shall not weary your Lordships with the figures on the much publicised medium-range nuclear missiles—the SS.20s and all that—which are much the same. Only 29 per cent. knew that the Warsaw Pact had more than NATO.
When we come to the costs of nuclear defence, alarmingly of the 16 to 24 age group 42 per cent. thought that our nuclear costs were over 25 per cent. of our defence budget. The figures for the total poll were 28 per cent.—huge exaggerations of cost brought about, in my opinion, partly by the regrettable degree to which we have moved into political argument on defence and, at its best, the selection of facts to suit our argument.
In a democracy, we all believe that we should be free to form our own views and to express them through the democratic process. But we should also consider whether there is some residual strength in this area in Lord Melbourne's old dictum, when opposing universal suffrage, that he did not believe in mass wisdom based on individual ignorance. The strength of the bipartisan policies of the past was that, in an area where the public cannot know of their own observation what a potential enemy possesses in the line of weaponry and in offensive power, they were fed largely common information. It is vital that all responsible people in the land should reach broad agreement on what the facts are.
We not only need agreement on the facts, but we need to share such things as a reasonable estimate—in 318 spite of non-proliferation treaties—of which, and how many, countries will have nuclear weapons by the end of the century, before we ask the public to express their views on questions like our independent deterrent. Of course, there is always argument on the facts and that is why I quoted from the international institute on the two so-called super-powers in this respect.
But there is a further reason why people tend to question the facts which all these responsible bodies produce, and it is that at the official rate of exchange the East and the West appear to spend the same amount of money on defence. How then can it be that the fire-power is more than two-to-one in favour of the East in conventional forces and in part of the nuclear area? The first main reason is that the cost of Russian people in the forces and in the munition factories is certainly a half, and perhaps averages a third—in some cases, it is less—of what it is in the West. Since half a defence budget is made up of people in the forces, and since of the other equipment half is made up of the people who produce the weapons, that is the overriding reason.
The second reason is that the Russians have many fewer people behind the front line to maintain each man in it. The Americans require more cooks and Coke. The final and major reason is that they have the advantage of dictatorship, and thus of standardisation of equipment, and they have huge arms sales of their standard equipment, so they get over double the firepower. I ask all your Lordships to play a part in returning to a common agreement on the facts of the situation and in a disparagement of wishful thinking.
I had intended to give the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, the opportunity of speaking after me for once on the credibility of deterrence as it, in my view, remains intact. That would take up too much of your Lordships' time on this occasion, and I shall store it for another time. But let me as a matter of opinion merely say that the more I dwell on this subject, the more I believe that when both sides have nuclear weapons—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said regardless of how many of them they have—I think as follows, their value to a potential aggressor and a potential defender, in the threat of their use, is very great in both cases; their value in actually being used, should an aggressor miscalculate the will of a defender, is, in my view, in cool logic not great.
Whichever side one conceives might be wishing to push the Iron Curtain in one direction or another—and, to me, it is inconceivable that the West would want to push the Iron Curtain eastwards, nor could it conceivably do so against the figures that I have given both for Europe and for the two super-powers—nevertheless, an aggressor, whatever pretext he uses, has decided that by armed intervention he can dominate an extra part of the world and that is his prize. He will only have a go to get it if he believes he can get away with it.
If he were, regrettably and quite unnecessarily, to believe that he could get away with it and attacked, and found that he had miscalculated, the cool inescapable logic is not to retaliate and cause Armageddon, but to say "My God, we are not getting away with this. We must get back to the status quo." I am not pretending that there are not appalling questions of decision, should this state of affairs ever 319 arise. But what I am suggesting is that it is quite theoretically conceivable that a defender, if an aggressor miscalculated, could in some circumstances use nuclear weapons and force the aggressor to cease his aggression. I believe that is the logic of the situation, if one is not too frightened to look at it and think it through.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Lord Brockway
My Lords, I hope the noble Viscount will excuse me if I do not follow his speech in argument. I intend to take a broad view, but during the course of what I say the depth with which I differ from him will become clear.
If a disease were found which threatened the whole life of mankind, every government would seek to end it. I once wrote a very bad novel on this theme, with the Soviet Union and the United States of America co-operating and Great Britain praised for having eradicated it. I want to submit that the nuclear weapon is a disease threatening the life of mankind; that is so, just as much as any illness which occurs from infection, from a germ. There are now enough nuclear weapons in the world to destroy all life many times over; but instead of governments uniting to end them, there is the confrontation between West and East to expand them. Those of us in this country who wish to end nuclear weapons here are regarded as traitors to the cause of freedom.
The distortion of the mind of governments has gone so far that they even regard the nuclear weapon as an instrument of peace. They have developed the nuclear deterrent theory, arguing that the fear of nuclear weapons brings about peace. My Lords, fear can never guarantee peace. Apart from other factors, if one side fears that the other side is becoming superior in arms, it will be tempted to begin that war. The nuclear deterrent is peace by terror.
What has happened as a result of the nuclear weapons deterrent? First, nuclear weapons have become far more deadly. Five years ago the General Council of the United Nations asked the Secretary-General to appoint a committee of scientists to examine the question of nuclear weapons; 12 of the most important scientists in the world. They reported that a nuclear weapon had now been made 4,000 times as deadly as that which fell on Hiroshima. At Hiroshima 200,000 died. That weapon could kill 9 million people, the whole population of Greater London.
Secondly, technically, war with nuclear weapons has become much more likely because of the accuracy of aim. The nuclear weapon can be targeted at military and political objectives within a few hundred yards. Anyone who believes that a war which began with those limited objectives could continue in that way is ignoring the lessons of both the First World War and the Second World War. In the First World War no chemicals were to be used. Hundreds of thousands died from gas. In the Second World War only military objectives were to be the target. The civilian populations of London, Plymouth, Coventry, Hamburg and Dresden were deliberately made a target in that war. A nuclear war which began with military objectives inevitably under the tensions of war would become one against civilian populations as well.
320 Terrible crimes have been committed in the interests of the development of nuclear weapons. There is the criminal policy of British governments in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, exiling the whole population, leaving them at first in such dire poverty in Mauritius that the women had to become prostitutes to keep the family alive—doing that in order that the island might become an American nuclear base. There is the American parallel to that. A large island was made an experimental area for testing the accuracy of missiles from California, 4,000 miles away from that island. The whole population was evicted, crowded in a small island slum. Those are crimes for which the British and American Governments are responsible.
Nuclear weapons are spreading. In this country there is not only Polaris but also the plans for Trident, and staggered about the country are American bases with their nuclear weapons. We are in danger of becoming an American military colony. Not merely America and the Soviet Union but France and China have their nuclear weapons and secretly other governments probably also have them. Twenty are now in a position to have military nuclear weapons.
The Government argue that the nuclear weapons in American bases in this country are under dual control. But does anyone doubt that in a war situation the United States would use those weapons, whatever might be the view of the British Government? We are in the front line, and the use of those weapons would inevitably lead to the destruction of our population by the retort which would come from the Soviet Union. Thank heaven that the Labour Party is now committed to ending nuclear weapons in this country—Polaris, Trident and the nuclear weapons in American bases. The Soviet Union has responded to this by saying that it would dismantle all nuclear weapons aimed at this country. Labour's policy, and Labour's policy alone, would save the destruction of millions of people in this country.
The noble Lord mentioned that there is a non-proliferation treaty aimed at ending the spread of nuclear weapons. In that treaty the Western powers promised to reduce nuclear weapons to the point of zero. We have completely failed to carry out that policy and as a result the third world, where nuclear weapons were to be prohibited, is disillusioned and likely to ignore it.
We must insist on more than ending nuclear weapons in this country. It is difficult to believe that only eight years ago, at the first United Nations special session on disarmament, recommendations were made by all the governments of the world. The United States of America, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, West Germany, China, and the non-aligned governments all made these four recommendations.
The first was the abolition of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. The second was the phased abolition of conventional weapons in a planned way over the years. Thirdly, it was recommended that this should lead to general and complete disarmament except for weapons necessary for national security or as contributions to a United Nations peace-keeping force. The fourth recommendation, which I particu- 321 larly welcomed, was the transference of military expenditure to development in the world and to ending poverty in the third world.
Only eight years ago that was the climate in the world. We must recreate it. A beginning will be made if world pressure brings about the summit meeting between the United States and the Soviet Union, with the expansive proposals which the Soviet Union has made and the proposals which are coming from America. That may be the beginning of a new climate in the world.
I believe that the peace movement in the world, growing stronger every year, is now so powerful that within a few years it may be able to influence decisively the policy of governments, and even change their nature. Those of us who sincerely desire peace in the world must dedicate ourselves to the achievement of that purpose.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, I am sure that a debate on defence would not be very useful if everyone simply put forward their party's line. I do not propose to do so. My remarks are my own thinking, but with very few exceptions are not far out of line with the recently published Alliance report.
1 suggest that the first factor to take into account is the vast superiority of the Russians in conventional weapons, both on land and under the water. That point was very well put earlier in the debate. No acceptable expenditure by the NATO powers can hope to match that superiority, even in the future. In those circumstances we cannot hope to hold a Russian invasion of Europe for more than 10 to 14 days unless we deploy nuclear weapons. It must follow that if we really believe in a deterrence philosophy and a credible NATO defence, we must accept a possible first use of nuclear battlefield weapons, however much we may dislike the idea.
But on deterrent grounds this does not lessen the importance of improving NATO's conventional capability as a progressive way to decrease the likelihood of Russia attacking us; and hence the possibility of our being forced to use nuclear weapons in defence. There are very many difficult scenarios of bluff, counter-bluff, and the limited use of nuclear weapons—including tactical, medium and long-range—but I do not think any of them affect what I propose to say today.
In passing, I have some sympathy with the CND, but only if its members really have decided that a Russian-dominated Europe and Britain would be better than the possibility of a deterrence failing and resulting in nuclear war. I wonder how many of them think that equation through.
Before dealing with our own nuclear deterrent, chemical warfare must be mentioned. Because of experience of the 1914–18 war attitudes are still highly emotional. But if—I repeat, if—we are only considering the modern nerve gases and mustard gases, we must bear in mind that nerve gas either kills outright or else the victim recovers completely. Mustard gas only slows down well-protected troops, 322 although I agree that its effects on unprotected civilians caught up in the war zone would be very nasty indeed.
Having said that, we should support the 1925 ban on chemical and bacteriological warfare. But let us be realistic. What were we doing on a Scottish island with anthrax experiments? Your Lordships may say that these experiments were solely to find out how to protect against an attack by the enemy, but personally I doubt it. In extremis, if it had been really effective, Churchill would have authorised its use against the Germans.
It follows again that NATO must provide and stock chemical weapons as a deterrent against the Russians' own very large chemical capability and, if need be. we must store them here.
Turning to our long-range nuclear deterrent, I am sure that it would be unfair to the Americans to leave it entirely to them to come to the aid of the European countries and risk retaliation on their home cities. It must be that we and France as existing nuclear powers, have an obligation to the rest of Europe to maintain a deterrent into the near future at any rate.
There are two other reasons why I believe our own nuclear capability is necessary, and neither of them seems to receive much publicity. The first is that having decided, rightly in my view, to accept cruise missiles, Britain has become a prime target for the enemy to try to neutralise them. It has been argued that we are already an important target as the base for American supply and build-up in Europe; but the stationing of cruise missiles has increased our importance as a first strike target. An effective Polaris, or better still a Trident submarine capability, offsets this hazard.
Secondly—and Opposition Peers please take note—more and more potentially irresponsible small nations have obtained, and will obtain, nuclear capability. I hesitate to think about a situation where we in Britain without nuclear defence could be held to ransom by a nuclear bomb in its most basic form planted or threatened against London. We might also need to help people to whom we have commitments overseas; for example, members of the Commonwealth. Just imagine what might have been the situation if Amin of Uganda had had the atom bomb.
That having been said, a decision as to what we do must surely be based partially on cost, but into the equation comes the length of time that the nuclear deterrent is required—unfortunately, I think that this is as far as we can foresee at present—and how far the relatively cheap cruise missiles and the nuclear bombs carried by aircraft are sufficient. In essence, the more effective the nuclear deterrent, the better, and submarines are still the most invulnerable option. But we have to weigh the cost against perhaps increasing our conventional forces, and they, as I have said, should decrease the likelihood of nuclear war.
I am afraid that emotional attitudes and the party politics which tend to follow these attitudes may prevent a logical decision. I submit that these attitudes are to a great extent subconsciously conditioned by our innate dislike of the ridiculous amount of money being spent, together with the possibility of a doomsday outcome.
323 We cannot at this moment decide whether to spend more on Trident or whether we need a long-term nuclear deterrent—and at great cost—by refurbishing Polaris. Yet once again it seems that our democracy may waste time, effort and money in trying to alter an existing programme. The classic example of this was, of course, the steel industry, with all the unfortunate results.
I cannot avoid a mention of SDI—star wars. Opinions differ, but one thing is quite certain: if implemented, it will lead to a new dimension in defence expenditure. Almost as certain is that it cannot hope to interdict or destroy more than a proportion of ballistic missiles. Since Europe is vulnerable to intermediate range weapons, it would be of much smaller benefit to us. My own view is that it would destabilise the present situation and lead to more and more nuclear missiles, not fewer, as some enthusiasts imagine.
Finally, it must be a matter of opinion as to how best to steer a course in the future and negotiate meaning-fully with the Russians. I cannot think why we should be unwilling for our nuclear deterrent to be taken into account in negotiations with Russia—our weapons are targeted against them. It need not follow that with an overall nuclear reduction agreement we have to reduce our capability, nor that of France. It would make sense if Europe was more self-sufficient, without having to rely on the Americans and their continental missiles.
I ask myself whether Mr. Reagan's very tough negotiating stand and determination to increase American strength is right. The answer, I think, is both yes and no. I am afraid that in this very imperfect world nations put self-interest first, as unfortunately happens in the Common Market. Russia probably does this more than most.
What does not follow is that the only way of dealing with Russia is by superior force, which is likely to be unattainable. A strong bargaining position is vital, but my feeling is that a more flexible and accommodating policy should be adopted and that some risks are justified in reaching settlements. By all logical reasoning the present situation of nuclear overkill representing a potential doomsday for most of the world is just plain mad, and the Russians know this too.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on having produced an even larger and glossier defence White Paper than ever before, to compensate I suppose for the inevitable decline in our defence capability which will result from the most important statement in it. That is tucked away in one paragraph of chapter 5, paragraph 503:Although the budget for 1986–87 and the two subsequent years, as published in the recent Public Expenditure White Paper, is planned to rise in cash terms, its value in real terms will decrease by about 6% over the three-year period. At the same time, expenditure on the Falklands will continue to fall significantly. We are currently engaged in the annual re-costing of the defence programme to provide an up-to-date framework for Ministerial decisions on expenditure commitment. We shall need to balance the preservation of our present front line numbers against the requirement to invest in expensive new equipment to strengthen further the fighting power of our armed forces in the 1990s and beyond. Some difficult decisions will have to be taken but there will be no need for any change in our main defence posture.324 The situation that confronts the Government, having made those decisions, and that will confront their successor, whoever that may be, is aggravated by their stubborn refusal to deviate from their belief in the need for an independent British strategic strike force, an expensive luxury that merely adds to the superfluity of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, and is irrelevant to the real needs of NATO which is our first line of defence.
For several years now there has been near unanimity among those qualified to judge these matters that NATO's primary need is not to increase its arsenal of nuclear weapons, but to improve its conventional capability. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, referred to the Anglo-American-German European security study in which I took part some years ago, and rather gave the impression that its recommendations were imprecise and unrealistic. They were very precise, so much so that we set up a working party a year after publication to re-examine the recommendations and to re-cost them. The cost that would have fallen on the United Kingdom as our share of implementing those recommendations would have been about 3 per cent. of the defence budget in real terms—that is, the amount that the Government say they will spend on Trident. So they were not unrealistic.
There is no doubt that the first priority for us, both for its own sake and to persuade the Americans themselves to continue to make an adequate contribution, is to improve the capability of our contribution to NATO of conventional forces both maritime and land/air. But the decision not only to cease increasing our defence budget by 3 per cent. per annum in real terms but actually, as the White Paper itself admits, to reduce it in real terms by an average of 2 per cent. per annum, and within that to devote 3 per cent. of the total and 6 per cent. of the equipment budget to Trident, inevitably seriously handicaps attempts to improve our conventional capability. Indeed, it prejudices the maintenance of our current capability.
Some difficult decisions will indeed have to be made. Just "engaging in the annual re-costing of the defence programme to provide an up-to-date framework for ministerial decisions on expenditure commitments" will not produce the right answers. It will produce only the mixture as before, with cuts in those areas and projects where they can be made with the least penalty, financial and traditional. A much more drastic, searching and objective review will be needed. The very difficult decisions that are required cannot any longer be evaded, as the Defence Secretary's predecessor had hoped, by a combination of gimmicks—described in Chapter 5 of the paper as "The Efficiency Programme"—and postponement of major decisions.
The paper states that:there will be no need for any change in our main defence posture".If that statement means rejection of the suggestion that is frequently made that we have to make a choice between a maritime and a continental contribution to NATO, I agree with it. The idea, favoured by the navalist school, that we should either reduce our Continental commitment or make service in it 325 unaccompanied, is as foolish and impractical as the suggestion made by some landlubbers that we should abandon our contribution to maritime warfare capability in the eastern Atlantic, the North Sea and the Channel. Our geography forces us to seek a delicate balance between the maritime and Continental commitments, as it has done all through our history.
We need urgently to examine with the most searching analysis what is required in the future in order to provide the most effective military capability in both fields, as well as in the direct defence of the United Kingdom, within the limits of finance and manpower that it is reasonable to expect future governments to provide.
I suggest that something more than an in-house Ministry of Defence study is needed if the right answers are to be found. I believe that a review should be chaired by an independent individual of considerable authority, preferably someone who is not committed already to a particular defence viewpoint. A precedent for that seems to have been set in the work that Professor Caldwell will do that was referred to earlier. It does not matter what that individual's previous background has been, whether scientific, industrial, financial, legal, civil service, or even conceivably political. The one profession from which he should not come, if he is to be seen to be free from prejudice, is the military profession.
In 1958 that wise man, the noble Earl, Lord Stockton—and I am sure we all hope that he will recover soon from his present indisposition—when he was Prime Minister and looking forward to an election in about 1960, being distrustful of committees, which merely represented the established views of the principal departments of state, set up a future policy study group. Its terms of reference were to suggest what the world would be like in 10 years' time and to recommend the policies that Britain should accordingly adopt. The final report was to be made available to whatever administration resulted from the next election. He was not entirely successful in achieving a wholly objective report, as he was forced to accept a steering committee consisting of Permanent Under-Secretaries and the Chiefs of Staff, inserted between himself and the study group. As a result, its conclusions were considerably watered down, but it had an important influence in suggesting radical changes in foreign policy and its defence aspects.
I suggest that the Government should now embark on a similar procedure to produce a defence review that is ready to be served up to whoever wins the next election. Today there are a number of highly qualified academics who specialise in the defence field and who could make a significant contribution to a study of that kind, which would have to ask some very searching questions. Apart from the obvious one of future nuclear weapons policy, I believe that the most difficult question concerns the future of the manned combat aircraft, particularly fixed wing aircraft operating from fixed airfields. Both on the ground and in the air that type of aircraft is becoming increasingly vulnerable to missile attack. In the land/air battle against Soviet forces, the tasks of the manned fixed wing aircraft can probably in future be more effectively and economically performed by missiles or 326 pilotless flying vehicles, whether the task is strike, reconnaissance or air defence.
In contrast to what I believe is a reduced role for such aircraft in land/air warfare, I think that both the long range fixed wing aircraft operating from land bases and the helicopters operating from floating platforms should have a larger part to play in maritime warfare, in co-operation with nuclear powered submarines, than surface craft, which without helicopters will contribute less and less, whether they are short and fat or long and thin. If such a study were to come to the same conclusions, it will be essential that it does not shirk the very awkward question that then arises: whether there will be a real need for an airforce separate from the other two services.
If many of the tasks in land/air warfare are to be taken over by systems which need no air crew, there is no reason why the Army should not man them, as it does now; and if the part played by aircraft in maritime warfare were to increase in proportion to that played by surface craft would it not be sensible for the Navy to man them? The original reasons for setting up an independent airforce as a result of the Smuts report concerned the difficulty of co-ordinating the aircraft production needs of the navy and the army, and the Navy's neglect of the task that it had been given of air defence of the homeland. The first requirement is now covered by the centralised procurement executive of the Ministry of Defence. The second task, in the missile age, could appropriately be allotted to the army, whose anti-aircraft command played such a major part in the Second World War. I do not for one moment suggest that a decision of that nature would not be very difficult to take and even more difficult to implement, but I believe that it has to be faced.
So far as concerns the Army's existing order of battle, I believe that a critical look will have to be taken at the number of regular infantry battalions. With the almost total disappearance of overseas commitments outside Europe, a figure of 56 battalions (of which 31 are stationed in the United Kingdom) is a large number in proportion to units of other arms, bearing in mind that infantry battalions are one of the easiest units to raise from reserves. It is only the potential commitment of worse trouble in Northern Ireland that could justify continuing that number.
From what I have said I am sure that you will agree that there are indeed some very difficult decisions to be taken, and it is very important to the country and to NATO as a whole that the right ones are taken. I urge the Government to consider very carefully how they set about it.
§ 6.9 p.m.
My Lords, this debate will be lengthy and there are many speakers. I shall confine myself to four points only. My first point concerns chemical warfare. I have stressed my concern for the past four years about NATO's virtual absence of such a chemical deterrent against the huge Russian chemical capability and the consequent lowering of the nuclear threshold as a result. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Boston, I am delighted that this White Paper gives chemical warfare the prominence that it deserves. Since the White Paper was published, I 327 understand that the Americans are a step nearer to renewing and increasing their chemical capability.
I hope that this Government, if asked to do so, will contribute financially and allow such chemicals to be deployed in this country. I see this as a most valuable deterrent and hopefully an action which will bring the Russians to an acceptable agreement, banning the use of chemical weapons altogether and destroying existing stocks. That may be overhopeful.
My second point concerns armoured personnel carriers for the use of infantry in armoured divisions. They are expensive, fairly vulnerable and relatively slow. I understand that a soldier in such a vehicle tends to feel disoriented when he dismounts after travelling in the back, even after a short distance. I would suggest that APCs are partly replaced by helicopters, which, though expensive, are much faster and more flexible. Many fewer would be needed to carry an infantry battalion a given distance in the same time. In a defensive situation I can envisage a considerable advantage in having the infantry element of an armoured brigade well dug in and prepared before the tanks arrive.
I suggest that APCs and helicopters are used in conjunction with one another and that both come under divison or corps command. In that connection I understand that the ratio of helicopters to men is lower in the British Army than in any other large, modern army.
My third point concerns the navy, about which I know very little. I am not entirely happy about the vulnerability of the submarines and their bases in the Clyde estuary. I visited those bases recently and I saw the enormous amount of shipping in the area. I am no sailor, but it struck me that when a submarine is surfacing or about to surface there is a lot of tension among the crew. This country is surrounded by water, and I just wonder why so many of the bases and the submarines have to use the Clyde.
My final point concerns the remuneration of a member of the territorial army when he is unemployed. The TA is now recognised as an efficient force and people give a lot of their time at relatively low cost. However, if a member is unemployed or becomes unemployed he loses much of his DHSS benefits, and nearly one-fifth of the volunteers are at present unemployed. The details of the problem were given in the speech of my noble friend Lord Ridley in the defence debate last year, on 3rd July. They were also given in the debate initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, on 5th February this year. Nothing so far has been done to remedy the situation.
Briefly, the Government want to recruit 10,000 more reservists within the next three years to bring the numbers up to 86,000. However, that is more difficult than it sounds as wastage is high, partly because of pay. A total of 34 equivalent training days are normally required each year, and for a standard training month the anomaly is that an employed soldier nets £44.74 from his TA pay each month; an unemployed soldier on supplementary benefit nets £32 a month; and an unemployed soldier on unemployment benefit nets only £ 16.30. That is clearly an inequitable way to treat volunteers. Lifeboatmen and volunteer firemen are not so treated. Any remuneration that they get is not 328 subject to deduction from their supplementary or unemployment benefit. I ask that something is done on that urgently.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I count myself most privileged to be here this afternoon and to be able to listen to so many sincerely-held views on both sides of the House, and in particular to the magnificent speech of my noble friend Lord Brockway and indeed to the hard common sense expressed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I hope that it will not be thought too bizarre if, instead of dreeing some of my weirds, I address myself to the document of which we are taking note.
As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, said, it is a glossy affair. The contents do not quite come up to the packaging, but that is not an unusual experience. It is certainly a well-produced job. Unhappily, it begins with statements which seem to me to be both unnecessarily aggressive and even possibly questionable. The first thing that it says is that last year the Soviet Union was forced to negotiate because of the strength of NATO. I should have thought that that was a questionable proposition. It seems to me often that it is the Soviet Union which is aching to negotiate and there has been a certain amount of reluctance and equivocation on our side of the fence, and particularly in the United States.
The Statement then proceeds to a summary of Soviet-Western relations, some of which seems to me to be historically inaccurate and intellectually not of the level that we ought to expect of such a document. It talks about the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1917 and the struggle between communism and capitalism in terms which simultaneously imply that the USSR is powerful and aggressive and also incompetent and weak. Presumably, on the one hand, the picture of the Soviet Union as a formidable threat must be stated in order to justify the huge arms expenditure of the West; on the other hand, the USSR must be seen as feeble and confused so as to maintain the notion that capitalism is inherently more efficient than communism. In reality, of course, both systems have their successes and their failures. For every Chernobyl there is a Challenger. On both sides, from time to time, man fails under pressure, and that is precisely why, if we do not abandon the atom both as a means of war and a source of energy, it seems likely that we shall make our world uninhabitable—and that before very long.
Nowhere in the introduction is there the slightest recognition that the Soviet Union has been invaded by the British, the French, the Americans and half a dozen other countries, but has never invaded us; and that it might convincingly argue that it has much more reason to fear the West than we have to fear it. The Warsaw treaty was formed to counter the threat that the Russians perceived in the earlier formation of NATO, and not the other way round. But the whole drive of the document is predicated on the proposition, which is never argued, that we have to arm ourselves to the teeth against a power which will overwhelm us if we do not.
It is true that the Soviet Union sees the West in similar terms, I suggest with perhaps even greater 329 justification. It is true, as the Statement says, that some communists have believed that the two systems cannot co-exist. But that belief is also held in the West. Indeed, the violence of American anti-communism over the years, the determination to preserve profit-seeking as a way of life throughout the American continent, the eager adoption of the role of world policeman, the rejection of the United Nations now that it is no longer dominated by the Americans and their client-states, are all seen by the Soviet Union as confirmation of the view that it is not so much that communism cannot live with capitalism but that the Americans under President Reagan do not believe in co-existence and are implacably determined to destroy a system which they see as a threat to their way of life, equating as they do, the profit system with freedom. The United States believes that there is no freedom without money grubbing: the two things are synonymous. I was going to take a little time and illustrate that point somewhat further, but I shall not trespass on your Lordships' kindness. I am sure that at least some can think of other examples.
The document totally ignores the fact that the West enjoyed a monopoly of nuclear weaponry for years after the war. Nor does it mention that American military expenditure is greater than the total expenditure of the Soviet Union and its allies. This glossy blue sheet is a propagandist brochure—I think that is the right word for it. It does not admit to the reality that great concern is felt by European members of NATO at the militaristic and aggressive verbiage of the American Defense Department. Instead, it pretends that those differences are created by a suddenly acquired skill in the Soviet Union in using the Western media to its advantage. The Soviet Union still has very little idea of how to win friends and influence people in the West. Its propaganda has increased in quantity but it does not employ Western professionals who might teach it to put over what is in fact no mean case in a manner which would be hard to resist if it were delivered in less turgid terms.
Paragraph 111 on page 2 says that the Soviet Union is obsessed with its own security. I believe that to be true, but the same could also be said about the United States. When it comes to fighting wars far away from its own borders, the USA is in a class of its own. Nothing like it has been seen since the collapse of the British Empire and since we stopped meaning it when we sang about our bounds being set wider and wider and God making us mightier yet. The Americans now believe that. That is a dangerous stage for any nation to be in at a time of nuclear weaponry. It would be hardly surprising if the Russians failed to perceive much difference between American economic imperialism, which finds it necessary to send gunboats into the Black Sea and to surround the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons all labelled "Moscow", and earlier forms of empire building.
On page 2 there are a couple of entirely uncharacteristic quotes, both outlined in green boxes. The first is a sensible remark by the Prime Minister; the second, a stupid one by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. Mrs. Thatcher got it right for once when she told the American Congress that there must never again be a conflict between the Soviet Union and the 330 West. I think that she had forgotten that there never has been a conflict in the sense of open war since we invaded Russia to try to prevent the establishment of socialism after the First World War, but never mind; the Prime Minister meant well, I think.
The quotation by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, must have been included by the Ministry of Defence to discredit a former Foreign Secretary, because it seems that, incredible though this may seem, in an address to the Royal Institute of International Affairs the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, embarked upon a childish analogy in which the West was a householder and the Soviet Union a burglar who had to be kept at bay by an insurance policy called nuclear weapons. That is surrounded in green and drawn to our attention. It surely cannot be held as typical of the statements we have heard and expect from the noble Lord. I should defend him entirely from any such charge. It is, to say the least, unfortunate that he should be represented in this document as capable of uttering nothing more than "kiddispeak" for readers of the Sun. That is said to justify the existing NATO policies of forward defence and flexible response. The essential lunacy of both propositions is concealed under a barrage of technological talk about force structures and such like, interspersed by a couple of pages which seek to justify British participation in star wars.
The second chapter begins with a section on nuclear arms control, maintaining a position which ensures that there can be no effective control—the insistence that Britain and France are not bound by any US-USSR nuclear agreement. The ritual talks continue while the arms pile up all around. The attempt to blame the Soviet Union for the virtual breakdown of the endeavour to secure a comprehensive test ban is singularly unconvincing. That the side which has stopped testing unilaterally is responsible for its continuation by those who have not stopped is merely assumed to be the case, possibly because no argument could support it. And so we go on.
The sad conclusion must be that the Government are more concerned to justify their own arms expenditure than they are to secure general arms reduction. Under this Government, Britain is making no effective contribution to the search for real peace. If the people of Britain want to escape from preparations for a war that they cannot survive, they will have to turn elsewhere. The Labour Party's non-nuclear defence policy alone offers that alternative. At present, we are still on the road to extinction, and the Government show no intention of doing anything other than forge ahead to the brink of the abyss about which Lord Mountbatten warned us 20 years ago.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ironside
My Lords, before starting, I declare my interest with a British engineering group supplying equipment and services to the Ministry of Defence. What I say, therefore, will be largely connected with procurement. As my noble friend Lord Trefgarne has said, this now amounts to some 45 per cent. of the £18.4 billion budget. My remarks will be coloured to some extent by my own experiences.
The new customer-contractor relationship that has evolved between the ministry and British industry has been refined to deal with some very complex weapon 331 systems and a new range of services. I do not believe that the relationship has fully developed yet. We see industry now as less of a manufacturer but more of a designer. We also see that defence is less of a designer and more of a user. That is what the British Army equipment exhibition now taking place at Aldershot is all about. Industry is exhibiting its designs of equipment used by the Ministry of Defence to foreign buyers, and export sales are running at over £2 billion.
We are fortunate to have my noble friend Lord Trefgrane as Minister of State for Defence Procurement in this House, with responsibility for getting value for money from a £8 billion-plus equipment budget. This is a problem area for most countries. In one form or another competition policy is being implemented as the best way of getting answers without sacrificing operational commitments. The sourcing of material has become a critical factor and industrial issues as well as operational and financial ones must be properly faced.
It is true to say, I believe, that because procurement has not exactly been a keen or sharp discipline in the past, there is plenty of slack to take up in certain areas for a start. Already, savings have been demonstrated. As the Defence Committee in another place has reported today, we must be careful how we reckon these savings. Savings on the estimated budgetary cost are rather like savings on the recommended retail prices proclaimed in the high street.
They are notional in a buyer's market. So the significant savings achieved on the Tucano trainer, said to be £60 million, may sound amazing, but should perhaps be compared with the going prices for a similar product elsewhere. Are the £100 million savings on Warrior MCV 80 notional as well? It is difficult to make comparisons, as the Defence Committee says in its report. Asked by the Defence Committee what he might expect to save over five years, Mr. Peter Levene, when pressed, said, with a shrug of the shoulders "Around 10 per cent." He is, I think, being realistic, and I support him. By shopping around, he will, I think, get the taxpayer value for money. We shall judge him not so much on buying cheaply, but on how his procurement policy strengthens the hand of British industry.
He has the financial clout of a public sector purchaser to set high standards, to foster excellence and to ensure that an adequate defence industrial base is maintained for times of emergency. We expect him to look at equipment exportability, the ability of a contractor to complete on time and to cost the whole-life costs of equipment and not just the original cost, and the technique of designing products—this is important in Industrial Year—to save on maintenance and spares costs.
There are, of course, many other factors. But if he saves 10 per cent. in five years, he will have saved six months' procurement expenditure on present commitments at today's prices. In industry's eyes he must be seen to be acting equitably and positively. We have seen major procurement action taken in recent months with frigates, with submarines, with AORs, the one-shot replenishment vessel, the "Fort Victoria", where the order has been placed with Harland and Wolff, and now the Challenger tank involving firms in public ownership.
332 Industry does not fear competition, but it must be allowed to compete on equal terms. It must be able to feel that competition is fair if it is to put its heart into competing with firms in the public sector. We have all now seen competition policy at work. It is beginning to bite, but it must be seen to be fair. If competitive bidding is a better test of a contractor's ability to perform at the right price, it is also a test of the customer's ability to pick the winner on time. We have seen delays in recent times on major orders and major procurement, There are, of course, reasons. National issues are at stake. But money put up to bid—in some cases large sums—has to be serviced, and a delayed decision incurs additional cost for the bidder.
First, we have the shadow of the airborne early warning hanging over our heads. The AEW symbol in the White Paper is the Shackleton aircraft and not the Nimrod. I hope that the end of this story will allow Marconi to complete; otherwise AEW excellence will be lost to this country. This point was emphasised by my noble friend Lord Trenchard. Tigerfish has lived a tortuous life since 1974 and I am glad that it has now succeeded in coming through successfully. It is a case, I believe, for saying that we should stick to the programme.
I would call SDI emergent science rather than emergent technology. It goes without saying that United Kingdom participation in the SDI is a subject for this debate. I should like to congratulate my noble friend's right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on signing the SDI research contract with Mr. Caspar Weinberger. The degree to which British companies are taking part in this imaginative programme is welcome. As the Secretary of State for Defence has emphasised, it is business for our laboratories. It has been gained on its technical merit in competition. We have contract research laboratories in this country that do an excellent job. This includes those in the public sector. Why should they not go after this business? It is their mainstream business, and it makes sense.
I am delighted that work is well advanced on other British proposals for participation in the SDI programme, taking into account the electromagnetic launcher, in other words, the rail gun, as well as the sensors and command and control communication systems. These contracts have to be gained on a competitive basis, and it shows the significant role that this country can play in advanced technology fields which will open new product areas for British companies.
This follow-up initiative, although well into the pipeline, is delayed. I have noted with interest the formalities that have just taken place and that were seen on television last night. Can my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who is to respond to the debate, say what the next steps will be? Is the ball now in the Ministry of Defence's court, or are we waiting for action to be taken by the United States Government? Are more contracts to be signed between the two governments or between British companies and the SDI office or the SDI participation office in the Ministry of Defence?
As to competition overall, industry is concerned that the profit formula negotiated with the review board for government contracts reflects adequately the increasing risks that competitive bidding brings about. 333 I hope that the Government can look seriously at this matter. If competitive bidding is to predominate, then timely procurement decisions are essential to keep the goodwill of industry. Much encouragement is being given to the private sector to come forward and compete for Ministry of Defence business and we now see some new ventures into commercial management and contractorisation, which I welcome.
On the Dockyard Services Bill we have discussed the ethics and legalities of forming a company whose only function would be to employ labour within the contracting company which is to have control over the utilisation of the assets in government hands. Separating the workforce from the assets in this way is not I think unworkable, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, would have us believe. I think that his analogy with the hive of bees falls short of human achievement today. Yes, I think a partnership between the queen as the asset and the workers is a natural phenomenon but it takes no account of human intervention to organise a more efficient system using a queen excluder, thus creating the two-tier group with the workers kept at arm's length from the assets.
The idea of the labour unit is already accepted by the Ministry of Defence as being the preferred way of operating facilities in research and test establishments, and industry is being invited to tender for these services. But it is attracting the body shops such as Airwork, and RCA Services—an English subsidiary of Radio Corportion of America—whose principal expertise is in contracting labour. Industry is being asked to participate in this rather limited way, but surely there is a case here for inviting industry to apply its engineering skills and know-how comprehensively and to take part in the provision of technical, commercial and managerial skills, as with the dockyards, instead of just provision of labour which attracts only the body shops. The Ministry of Defence then has control over the flow of technology into defence from industy, which surely must be a beneficial spin-back effect.
I should like to move on to another matter referred to in the estimates which now allows the procurement executive to introduce break points into the procurement process. This must be a two-edged weapon. Like the blade of Queen Boadicea's chariot wheel, it can cut both ways. While it may ensure keen prices in production, following development, it may also be a disincentive to industry to innovate.
There are two reasons for this. First, innovation requires a company to invest smoothly from research into the market without interruption. Secondly, competition at the production stage requires a company to provide drawings perhaps for a competitor to bid, thereby leaking information and know-how of value in its mainstream business. I think that these new powers should be used with discretion, bearing in mind that a company's main purpose in business is to get a product into the market place according to a planned series of events. Therefore a measure of production to follow development makes real sense.
Turning to another initiative taken by the Ministry of Defence with the express purpose of generating the spin-off effect from government research, I think that 334 this is akin to the initiative taken by universities in creating the so-called science park. Mobilising the skills at a university by bringing industry closer to the fount of knowledge makes sense and the creation of DTE (or Defence Technology Enterprises) to ferret out ideas from defence research will be of great benefit to British industry—or so it should be.
The private sector is the right place to put together the technological jigsaw from the scientific bits and adapt it to civilian use. But with the example of Cambridge, where 60 per cent. of the science park occupants or tenants are foreign firms, I hope that the opportunities offered by DTE will not be taken up by foreign firms when quite clearly the venture is surely aimed at strengthening the British industrial hand. As the Secretary of State says in the estimates, Defence Technology Enterprises is there to increase the contribution that these defence resources in the government research establishments in the MoD make to the development of the economy.
Finally, I turn to the question of merchant shipping and the defence requirements arising. This has been mentioned by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, and the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham. The amphibious capability is of considerable importance, as has been said by the Defence Committee in another place. The figure for available shipping is dropping all the time, as we know. In the United States, it has dropped so much that the creation of the strategic sea lift force has been brought about. If one looks at the registered ships, the Defence Estimates say that there are 876 ships of 1,000 tonnes gross registered tonnage available. But the General Council of British Shipbuilders tells me that if one looks at the owned and registered UK ships of 500 tonnes gross registered tonnage and above, there are 602 of which approximately 500 are 1.000 tonnes gross registered tonnage. Those are the ones owned and registered in the United Kingdom and not just registered.
Money set aside for the modification to Jones Act vessels—those are the vessels in the United States which ply between American ports and carry American cargoes; and one might say that these vessels are equivalent to our owned and registered ships in the United Kingdom—is intended to deal with the problem of underway replenishment, the handling of "seasheds" designed for military cargo that will not fit into containers, the conversion of container ships to fast sea lift vessels, and the building of auxiliary crane ships, quite apart from the maritime prepositioning ships which carry the equipment needs of complete army brigades.
All this points to the need for us to look very much more closely at whether the STUFT (the ships taken up from trade) arrangements are adequate and whether there is a need to develop maritime reserve capabilities—amphibious capabilities—which are compatible with the techniques now being developed for the strategic sea lift force in the United States. I imagine that there must be some logic in trying to standardise on methods and equipment, as both countries are members of NATO and will be required to work together in many circumstances in the future. I should be grateful if my noble friend on the Front Bench, when he comes to reply, is able to give the 335 House some assurances about further developments in this sector. These are of great public concern. The maritime reserve which can be called on and its suitability are of great concern not only to the navy but to the defence forces as a whole and to NATO.
I was not going to say anything about the Hill-Norton report, but as it has been mentioned I should like to say this. Having read the report closely, I would say that the inquiry—Professor Caldwell—should look at the general case for the design of frigate hulls and take this as an opportunity to design cost-efficient hulls, operationally suitable for our needs, and not look at the problem just as an answer to the Type 23 frigate problem which we faced in 1983. If we look back at the events which we faced then, I do not think that we gave sufficient attention to the short fat ship design.
The NATO frigate design NFR. 90 is now being looked at and has passed the feasibility stage. As I understand it, it is going into the project definition study phase, and I wonder who the host country would be for this. The most important point about the NFR. 90 is that British industry should be able to tender for equipment which is specified by the ship builder when the time comes for one of these ships to be built, if the time comes at all. It will be a long way off, of course, as we all recognise.
I have covered a number of points arising from the estimates, and I hope that the Government will continue to give the greatest priority to maintaining strong and well-equipped armed forces.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, a broad philosophy for defence may be divided into four elements, all of which are necessary and linked together; one, an effective shield; two, a sharp sword; three, strong arms; and four, a sound body and mind. I intend to highlight some problems, vulnerabilities and limitations with regard to the defence of this realm, and then briefly to summarise the effect on these four elements.
Needless to say we have to look a little wider than the Statement on the Defence Estimates. We must be concerned, following the Westland fiasco, that there appears to be no clear, coherent military philosophy about the role of helicopters in modern warfare. I was also appalled recently to hear on the radio a report from the recent defence sales exhibition that, "Tanks were designed for static defence". What a godsend to any potential enemy of ours if that statement were true. I know that it is not true.
If we look at the operational state of our armed forces, we can see some weaknesses on the manpower and equipment fronts. On manpower what are the likely operational and other consequences of separate arrangements for officers and other ranks in the fields of education for their children, and in another area, the messing arrangements? We know, for example, that separate canteens for senior staff, office staff, and shopfloor workers in industry are counterproductive. Maybe the noble Lord, Lord Young, should be encouraged to advise the Ministry of Defence on this subject.
With regard to equipment, the Nimrod early warning system is late; the new infantry weapon SA.80 336 is reported as being usable only by right-handed people. I note that during last year one of our Tornados crashed, and if memory serves me, I think that is the second or third Tornado to have crashed in recent years. I can understand the loss of a prototype; I am a little more concerned about the loss of production versions in peacetime.
We have still not resolved the conflict between the thick and thin warship design philosophies. However, we have another committee to look at it. I seem to remember reading somewhere that experts suggest that the only way to resolve that controversy is actually to build one, and see how it works.
With regard to resource availability, can all spare parts and expendable items be obtained from United Kingdom sources? Are there healthy, fit, adequately educated and trained reserves of manpower and womanpower available for recruitment into the armed forces without denying civilian industry of its requirements?
If we look at the range of industries essential for our defence requirements, we can see that they are either already gravely damaged or else capable of being easily damaged. Energy production by large power stations with distribution lines over long distances is vulnerable to attack. Our steel industry comprises three sites for bulk steel production. We do not even produce enough steel in this country to satisfy our peacetime needs. What is the situation going to be like in wartime? Machine tool production capability has been virtually wiped out already. Even Hitler could not do that. Manufacturing industry is a shadow of its former strength. Shipbuilding is going to rack and ruin. Our water industry is virtually cracking up for want of investment. Our roads and our railways are hardly much better.
We hear a lot about defence exercises with large numbers of soldiers and services personnel, and they are essential for adequate training. But how about a defence exercise to test our civilian capability? For example, how about an exercise to repair all the defects in a particular area of the road network? If we take, for example, spaghetti junction near Birmingham, we all know that it is going to need replacement and rebuilding within a fairly short time. What would be the result if we were to pretend that it had been destroyed by enemy action and we actually went and did it now as an exercise?
How about repairing and replacing the decrepit water and sewerage system in Manchester? It needs doing anyway. Why not pretend that it has been destroyed by enemy action and do it now? How about building as an exercise—and as an essential defence exercise—a new steel plant in the Birmingham area? That would give us four, and reduce our vulnerability to attack.
Perhaps I may now turn to our longer-term vulnerabilities in a war of attrition. All major conflicts in modern times have started with the idea that they will be "over by Christmas". However, once the first Christmas is passed the question is then, "Which Christmas?" That has implications for other areas of investigation—additional manpower for the services, with the consequent problems of availability and suitability. If we look at the health, strength and fitness of our population; if we look at education and training 337 standards; if we look at the moral and philosophical attitudes to fighting itself and also to serving overseas; if we look to the attitudes of the civilian population to pay and conditions in the armed forces—how are those aspects to be gelled with the possibility of long-term conflict and the additional demands on manpower by the armed forces?
There are other resource implications. How capable is our munitions industry of providing the ammunition for our guns and tanks, etc. at a sustained output over a long period of time? How capable is our aircraft industry of producing over a period of time the sort of equipment they would need to produce? What is the capability of our industry to provide guns, tanks, trucks, and all kinds of equipment? I have already mentioned that shipbuilding capacity is woefully inadequate. What abou foodstuff production, housing standards, communications networks, energy production, chemicals?
We think of the backup for the armed forces by the civilian population; and it is too easy to forget the contribution that has been made in previous major conflicts by civilians—the factory workers, the Land Army, Bevin boys and the dockyard workers. Too often they have been forgotten and not entered into the equation of defence capability. Have the questions been asked? Have we the factories and the skilled workers for a long-term defence effort? Have we the food production capability, or do we depend on imported fertiliser and agrochemicals? Does that make us vulnerable? Have we the coal production capacity to provide energy and to provide the chemical feedstocks which are essential in a modern age? Have we the shipbuilding capacity? As has been mentioned by a number of speakers today, and also by many noble Lords previously over weeks and months, we know that our merchant fleet is inadequate for our defence needs, but the Government refuse to do anything about it. Have we the steelmaking capacity? No, we have not. What would be the effect on our housing stock if there were no maintenance and no new build of housing for five years? What would be the effect of that upon society?
Now I come to some problems engendered by the Government's philosophy. First, there is the privatisation of the Royal dockyards. Some people believe that Colt started the idea of the interchangeability of components for his revolver. Some people think it was Henry Ford who started modern production. Those aspects of history are nonsense. The first interchangeability of components and the first production line were in the Royal naval dockyards in the Napoleonic era, hundreds of years ago, run by civil servants. The naval dockyards in that very good novel The Cruel Sea were slagged off compared with the Navy, but that was a work of fiction. We need to look at the reality.
Secondly, there is the Government's nuclear philosophy. Chernobyl has demonstrated the risks to the wider community across international frontiers of nuclear fall-out. Yet this Government still go ahead in the belief that nuclear weapons will affect the other side and not our side, that nuclear power stations and nuclear reprocessing works are legitimate military targets: "They are OK, you can take them out boys, 338 and that will hinder the enemy's defence efforts". But surely we know that we shall get the backlash from that.
The Government's antagonism to trade unionism hinders our defence capability. We only have to look at the drop in morale, the almost inevitable drop in effectiveness at GCHQ by the Government's attitude to unions there, to realise that. I am a very proud member of my trade union, AUEW (TASS). That union has fought long and hard, not only for the HS.146, which it has seen survive and become a useful commercial aircraft, but also for the advanced fighter aircraft. I am proud to be part of the union that fought for that to ensure that it would come to fruition. The Government's attitude to trade unionists and trade unions does the defence of this realm no service.
The Government's attitude to defence leaves us vulnerable in three broad areas: to the belief by potential enemies that our defence commitment is just a facade and that it has no depth; and, secondly, to the belief by service personnel that they may be called upon to do things that will quickly rebound on their folks back home. What will be the effect on a missile launcher, a gun aimer or a bomb aimer if he feels that his target is a nuclear power station in the Soviet Union and that that fall-out will come back and render the food production in this country uneatable? What will be the effect on that service personnel? The Government's third attitude to defence renders the belief that the military establishment is at the beck and call of government and is not there to serve the people.
It is postulated that if we were ever in a major war, nuclear weapons would be used and it would be all over very quickly—everything would go completely. I believe that by concentrating on that philosophy we are neglecting the real defence of this realm and consequently making ourselves vulnerable to defeat by so-called conventional arms. My argument is that instead of arming ourselves to the teeth with suicide weapons we should look at other ways to reduce our vulnerability to attack and to benefit our people as well—by better water and sewerage services; by better transport services and infrastructure; by better housing; by better energy production and utilisation; by better manufacturing capacity and capability; by better health and education of our people; and by reducing unemployment.
To conclude, while I have made some criticisms of the military establishment in terms of personnel policies and equipment deficiencies, these are from the point of view of support rather than detraction. My major criticisms concern the political philosophy that attaches to our defence needs—that political philosophy projected by senior Tory politicians, and, I am sad to say, by some senior politicians in other parties as well.
If we now look at the four elements of defence that I mentioned at the beginning, how have they come out of my review? Our shield is a bit suspect; remember, my Lords, we are still waiting for Nimrod. Our sword is the sword of Damocles, hanging by a thread over our existence, not the existence of any potential enemy of ours. Our arm, the connection between our military and civilian people, is fairly strong as yet, I believe. But our body is weak and our mind is affected by blinkered vision, lack of thought and preconceived hostility.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Lord Crawshaw of Aintree
My Lords, earlier this year I had the opportunity and the privilege of visiting the forces in Norway, and for the first two or three minutes tonight I should like to pay tribute to the work they are doing out there in extreme conditions. As your Lordships probably know it is a vital area in any possible conflict. Their task is to ensure that the airfields in northern Norway do not fall under Soviet domination. It would be possible to secure them by airborne forces, but to put airborne forces into those positions with back-up support would be almost suicide.
That brings me to a point that has already been raised about the replacement of "Fearless" and her sister ship. I hope that the noble Lord who will respond to this debate will give us some assurance that "Intrepid" and "Fearless" will be replaced, and will tell us when that is likely to be. Those are the only types of ship which really serve the purposes not only of putting a force ashore to seize airfields, but also of providing back up by way of supplying them afterwards.
The worst of speaking at this time in the debate is that everybody has already touched on the subjects I wanted to touch on, but I shall still speak for a few moments about the Territorial Army. The point I wish to make has in fact already been mentioned, but I think that noble Lords, and particularly those who have served in the reserve forces in recent years, will remember a rather nice document that was produced called Twice a Citizen. A man was twice a citizen by being a citizen of this country and also by enlisting into the reserve forces to serve his country in time of war. That is twice a citizen. I regret to say that it is about time we had another booklet, Thrice a Citizen, because we have another category now. Not only do we have people who are citizens of this country and who enlist into the armed forces to serve in the reserve, but we also expect some of them—and the question was raised about unemployed people—to be out of pocket by the drills that they attend.
This surely cannot be right. We are not talking in terms of billions but in terms of a few millions. I believe that this is a festering sore in the reserve forces. I do not think that I need to convince the noble Lord the Minister; I think that in his heart he is for it. But I hope that something will be done about it because it was existing a year ago when I had the privilege of coming into this House. This is the third time I have spoken on it, and I hope it might be the last. I hope the Minister will take due regard of it.
The other thing is that I am sure we are all delighted to see the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, here, and that she is going to take part in the debate. I am sure that we are also delighted with the news that was received about a certain refit at Devonport which is to take place. That is another thing which is coming up this week. I believe the Bill is due for Third Reading. Devonport was mentioned in the documents, and I am sure that many noble Lords in this House are hoping that the Minister will be able to give not a guarantee but some assurance that the dockyard will be run by not separating the equipment from the men. That is something which I hope is going to happen this Friday.
340 There has been a lot talked about nuclear weapons this afternoon. This is not only a financial problem but a moral problem as well. I have the greatest respect for those who say that under no circumstances should we have these nuclear weapons. I have the greatest respect for people who say, "I am a pacifist, and I will not fight in the armed forces." All I can say to that is that, as a barrister, I defended and put forward the case for many of those people so that they did not go into the armed forces. So I respect people's views on these particular issues. But this afternoon my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby—and I think I am keeping him from something else, because I told him that I was going to mention what he had said—brought up several matters on how wars start, and so on. Of course, he was perfectly right. He went back as far as Manchuria in 1931. But, unfortunately, he drew all the wrong conclusions from what had happened.
He went on to say that the Americans are devising weapons for first strike. He also told us, and rightly so, that there had been 140 conflicts since the end of the last war. But what there has not been is a conflict in Europe. This is the point that was not made. You have to ask yourself why there has been no conflict in Europe. Everywhere else, all over the world where there was no danger of atomic weapons being used, there have been conflicts. In other words, the absence of nuclear weapons has not saved people; they have had their conflicts. The nearest possibility of a conflict that we have had since 1945 was at the time of the Berlin blockade, when Russia went against the Yalta Treaty and tried to stop us going into Berlin, and we had to have an airlift.
If America was so aggessive—and she was the only one who had the atomic weapon at that time—she could have blackmailed Russia into submission. What appals me sometimes, in both Houses, is the anti-American attitude of some of the Members. I look round the House and I see here other people of my vintage. I cannot remember in 1942, when the Americans were arriving by the hundreds of thousands in Liverpool, notices being put up saying: "Yanks go home!" No—we were very relieved to have them here in 1942, after two years in which we had stood alone and in which Germany, for one of those years, had been fed and succoured by Russia. That is what we have to remember.
When I hear people say that the fact that we have nuclear weapons means that we are going to be a target, I say that we are going to be a target in any war if it comes about. But the purpose of nuclear weapons is not to fight a war: the purpose is to stop a war starting. That is the whole purpose of them. When you talk about trying to be neutral in any conflict, I cannot remember that Norway was considered neutral when Germany thought it suitable to enter Norway—or Belgium or Holland or Denmark. They did not have any treaties with us. They were peaceful countries that wanted just to live their own lives. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, asks: "Would any of these countries [those that he listed] be any more secure by having nuclear weapons?" Of course they would not. Their security depends upon the freedom of the West. The freedom of the world, apart from Eastern Europe, 341 depends upon the fact that the West maintains its own freedom. If that goes, it does not matter about how many nuclear weapons; their freedom will go as well.
What we have to consider is how we stop a war from starting. I believe that had it not been for nuclear weapons many incidents during the last 40 years in Europe could have led to a conflagration. In an age of non-nuclear weapons, I can see that when Czechoslovakia was invaded, when Hungary was invaded, and at the time of the trouble in Poland in recent years, these could all have spilled over into a conventional war. As many noble Lords have said today, what sort of war do you think we would fight as a conventional war? We would not be fighting with bladders on sticks! What we saw in the last war was quite sufficient to tell us that it was not a war that one would wish to enter into, anyway. A non-nuclear war is a war I do not want to see, either.
What is the answer to it? This is a moral problem. I believe that the need for nuclear defence has gone by default. I believe that the Government have assumed that everybody is in favour of it. What I find when I go round speaking to people about this is that, when you meet with many people, unless they are committed absolutely to non-nuclear then once they understand the argument they understand the sense of it. I believe that the defence that is being put forward today by the Government is the sort of defence that we ought to have.
Let me say this. I have mentioned the Soviet Union on several occasions. I believe that we do not do enough to try to break down the barriers between East and West. I believe that one of the difficulties of trying to get any negotiations on the lowering of the threshold is the mistrust that exists between the two sides. Therefore—and I have put this forward before—instead of sitting down wasting our time year after year trying to work out how we are going to reduce each side's nuclear weapons or conventional weapons, it would be better if we sat down for three or four years and worked out how we were going to verify anything that we decided. I am certain that it is more important to be able to verify than anything else. If the people in this country and the West knew that they could verify what Russia was doing and Russia was able to verify what we were doing, I think the other things would fall into place.
Sometimes I think that perhaps we ought to take 50 or 60 Members of Parliament or members of your Lordships' House and put them with a similar number of Russian politicians for a couple of months and let them talk things out, because I have been in most countries of the world and I have found that the people in those countries want the same as most of us want; that is, to live in peace. Therefore, I believe that the more we understand about other people the better it will be. But we start these arguments against one another—and (if I may just digress for a moment) we have the Argentine problem still with us. Why did we not, at the end of that war, have a situation in which the Prime Minister or some other member of the Government could say, "Can we come over and discuss things with you?" That is the sort of thing that Churchill would have done. He believed in magnanimity in victory: that was his expression.
342 I believe that is the sort of thing we ought to do, but it must be done from a position of strength. Once you are in a position of strength you can argue. The reason the Russians are coming to the negotiating table is not because we are going to throw away our nuclear weapons, but because we are going to keep them. Therefore, although I respect the views of those who have spoken to the contrary in this debate, including my noble friend—at least, I like to think of him as a friend—I believe that we should not put ourselves into a position in which without the Americans we were incapable of defending ourselves, because when it comes to the crunch every country looks to its own safety. I have said in this House before that one of the most appalling things I have had experience of was the fact that when the French Army was reeling back in 1940 we brought the air force back to this country. That was quite right as it turned out, because without the air force here in 1940 we should have lost the Battle of Britain and probably we should have lost the whole war.
That is what we have to face in the ultimate. I am 101 per cent. American but, even so, I do not ever want to reach a situation in which, if they decided it was to their advantage not to defend Western Europe, we would be left on our own with no defences, and while I have a voice in this House I hope I shall always be able to put that view forward.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—I did not want to interrupt him each time he referred to me—will he accept from me three points? The first is that nothing I said in my speech was anti-American. I always linked what was happening in America with what was happening in the Soviet Union. That is the great problem: that nuclear weapons have now become offensive on both sides, instead of being non-defensive. Secondly, would he accept that to the Hungarian, to the Czech and to the Pole, to say that there have been no conflicts in Europe over the past 40 years is to stretch credulity? Thirdly, would he accept that the reason I used the example of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia was that in both those cases, which led directly to the Second World War, the failure was in those members of the League of Nations, who at that time could have stopped those aggressions before the Second World War came, and that now we are in the same kind of danger with similar conflicts which could lead to another world war?
§ Lord Crawshaw of Aintree
My Lords, I wonder whether I might answer my noble friend here. On the third thing, yes, it was the weakness of the League of Nations; but Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland were, by the Yalta Agreement, made parts of the sphere of influence of Russia. That is why I have to live now with the fact that, although I volunteered in 1939 in order to go and save Poland, I go to bed every night 343 knowing that they are under subjection to the Russians, because that was part of the Yalta Agreement—it was something that was signed. That is why we have them where they are. But it was not us who invaded Czechoslovakia and Hungary; it was the Russians.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the splendid speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw. Indeed I think it is the best speech we have had this evening. I only hope, apart from the detail, that it convinced the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby; but I fear, from his supplementary, that it did not.
What I really want to speak about is my very grave concern—and I am very serious about this—over the lack of understanding by many intelligent and influential people in the country of the importance of maintaining a credible deterrent capability. And of course I bracket the noble Lords, Lord Hatch of Lusby, Lord Brockway and Lord Jenkins of Putney, as being certainly intelligent and to a large degree influential people who fall into this category of people with totally closed minds on this subject. I shall hope to try and push a little thought into their minds.
A credible deterrent capability is essential if we are to preserve our way of life. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I am repeating something that the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, has said because I hope to expand on it and not to duplicate it too much. Preserve our way of life we must if we are to have the foundation on which to build our capability to compete in the world markets with our manufactures and our commercial services. Only if we can so compete will we be able to provide for ourselves the overall health and other social services that we need and that everyone expects, and expects in increasing amounts.
The need for the overall deterrent within NATO is well expressed in the White Paper and summarised under the heading "The Seamless Robe" on pages 7 and 8. I would emphasise to your Lordships that nuclear is only part of the seamless robe, albeit an important one. We also need a deterrent capability to avert war in our remaining dependent territories around the world, as the totally unnecessary but splendid Falklands campaign showed us. That is touched on, most inadequately, on page 21 of the White Paper. I say "inadequately" because when major deterrents ensure peace between major powers, the importance of preserving peace for the more distant territories for which we are responsible becomes all the greater.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, has just left his place, though I am not surprised. He quoted the figure of 140 armed conflicts that had taken place in the past 40 years. That point was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw; and indeed Lord Crawhaw's answer to that point was absolutely right. That was that some of those— actually he did not make this point—140 armed conflicts were extremely small. And I was involved in 344 some of them. Others, like Vietnam, were quite large; but some of them could well have become global had it not been for the nuclear deterrent. That, plus the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, about Europe having escaped (albeit not the other side of the Iron Curtain) is a fact which really must be accepted by those people who do not understand the point of the nuclear deterrent. These things happen overseas because greedy people risk things when "big brother" is not going to intervene.
The peace that we require in the overseas territories for which we are still responsible can be preserved in most of those territories only by balanced naval forces, supported where practicable by arms of the other services. That important point is not made in the White Paper. We must continue to learn from the lessons of the Falklands, so long as we have responsibility for peoples in lands distant from the North-East Atlantic. It may be that we feel that we do not have to bother about it. People have talked from time to time about morals, but it is morally indefensible not to make provision for that sort of deterrence for the important reason that those are the areas in which the little wars are more likely if the deterrence does not cover them as well.
We all attach paramount importance to the preservation of peace. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, mentioned the search for real peace, and I think for the first time I understood why he does not understand the essential truths that 1 am speaking about. I think it is that people who intellectually think of real peace, imagine a glorious world—a Utopia, a second heaven, a world that, sadly, is not real in this sinful world that we have around us. One has to be as blunt about it as that. The fact is that in the real world peace can be achieved only by comprehensive deterrence against whatever is the level of capability for waging war that is held by countries which threaten us, or—and I add again—the peoples for whom we are responsible.
There is no need for deterrence that is greater than it need be in order to be credible to the people who provide threats to us, and one of the problems about the Soviets is that they have not realised that second point. As was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Trenchard, they have grossly over-insured, and have therefore created a situation in which, in order for us to be credible, we have to be much more powerful than we either want or need to be.
The solution to the problem rests entirely in the Soviets appreciating, as the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, said, that on the few occasions in the 'fifties when the United States had their superiority unchallenged, they did not use it, and there is no real reason for the Soviets to think they will use it now. So the solution to the problem rests entirely on their bringing their capability down to what they need, without creating such a serious threat as we are faced with.
With the major threats that we face, such comprehensive deterrence can only be achieved collectively within NATO, as is well expressed in chapter one of the White Paper, whose penultimate section on page 6 makes it clear that Britain's 345 contribution should, and can, remain more or less unchanged. I was delighted that my noble friend the Minister, when commenting upon that in his concluding remarks, strongly endorsed that statement, though I noted that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, challenged it.
I was intrigued by the suggestion of the noble and gallant Lord that we must set up a special committee of people who know nothing about defence. I am not sure whether that is the right answer, and it is a pity that he is not here. When people want to put up a view, perhaps because their own view has not been accepted by the establishment, they always want to have a committee. With the greatest possible respect, my noble and gallant friend Lord Hill-Norton, if I may so call him, set up a committee over his ships. That has been successful, but I do not think that the committee of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, would be. Perhaps that is because of the greater skill of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton.
Any major change in the present position as regards our contribution, as set out in the White Paper, could only have the effect of diminishing the credibility of the deterrent as a whole. This—and I cannot say it too strongly—would make the possibility of war or blackmail, which is just as bad, more, not less, likely. That is fundamental. What concerns me so greatly is that far too many influential people, both inside Parliament and outside, cannot grasp that essential truth as the inevitable consequence of some of their recommendations.
It seems at times as though some people actually want this country and its allies to be subservient to the now wholly discredited Soviet system. They grasp at superficially helpful statements, such as that accredited to Gorbachev on page 1 of the White Paper, as an excuse for abandoning major deterrent capabilities. Such people also listen readily to, and read, the extensive disinformation programme of the Soviets, which was well exposed by many speakers in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Home, on 23rd April 1985—a debate, incidentally, which did not receive anything like the publicity it deserved. One can also be very concerned at that. Only the Soviets can benefit from not having their underhand propaganda methods exposed. The media men require a greater understanding of the threat to their own credibility by the Soviets' covert propaganda, and they need a greater courage to act as part of the deterrent themselves.
I should like to make a few remarks about points that other people made which I took up. I was disappointed at the large part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, which was devoted to the chemical weapons problem. I quite understand what he said; but the fact of the matter is that the Soviets have a capability—my noble friend Lord Fortescue made this point, too—which is providing a threat. In order to have a credible deterrent, we must in some way be able to afford to provide a balance to that threat.
It is very sad, it is quite unnecessary and I think I am right in saying that it is illegal in terms of the 1925 346 agreement. But they have this capability and we must, at least, be credible in our resistance to it, because the last thing we want is for the Soviets to say "We will not use atom bombs, we will not use conventional forces, but we will smother you in chemicals". It may sound ridiculous but if they said it, and we believed it, they could blackmail us, which would be disastrous.
I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said about 30,000 Soviet seamen being ashore for a year without visas. I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench can say something about that because it seems ridiculous that we should have these chaps, who are potential spies, hovering around our seaports without visas. Half of them could well be KGB men; you never know with those chaps. It seems to me that that calls for some sort of answer and, possibly, a little more than that. It may mean some sort of arrangement by which they are shadowed by that splendid team of chaps that my noble and gallant friend Lord Hill-Norton has in mind to recruit. But just to leave them around seems ridiculous.
I was delighted that the Minister told us that the design problem of the short-fat versus long-thin frigate of my noble and gallant friend Lord Hill-Norton would be properly studied. I am sorry that I was not here for my noble and gallant friend's speech, but I had to be elsewhere as I told him.
I was pleased by what the noble Lord. Lord Monkswell, said, surprisingly, about including Manchester's sewerage system in a defence exercise. If we carry that on properly, it will have two effects. One is that it might make the Labour Party keener on civil defence, because that is the way it would be done; and, secondly, it might mean that we had a larger territorial army to help it work. But the long war concept of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, struck me as being very strange.
Very quickly, and on a quite different subject. I must tell your Lordships that I had the immense privilege the week before last to go down to address young officers under training at the naval college at Dartmouth, where I had the privilege to be educated. I was so impressed by the standard of the young men we have coming into the navy at the moment, by the speed with which they are trained to be really capable young officers and by the whole pattern of the training programme, which is of course quite different from the kind of training that I had. I say only too readily that, at their present age, which is early twenties, they seem to me to be much more switched on and capable than I ever was at the same age, and no doubt my noble friend Lord Ironside would agree—I do not know. But they really are first class, and the system of training is tremendous.
I have another quick point. I have the privilege now of having an increasing amount to do with the Territorials. Although I have not seen them as Territorials in action, I have attended several meetings. I want to endorse so much what my noble friend Lord Fortescue and the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, said about this business of proper regard to those on unemployment benefit. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to say something about that; and not just something, but something helpful.
347 In conclusion, it is of overwhelming importance that persons like the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, (and there are far too many of them) really need to grasp the fact that appropriate deterrence—and I emphasise "appropriate"—including nuclear, is essential to maintain peace and prevent blackmail. It is not in itself a threat to anyone. A good start would be for them to read Chapters One and Two and Annex A of the White Paper with an open mind, but I suppose that is really too much to ask.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Viscount Allenby
My Lords, as a recently retired officer perhaps I may also congratulate the Government on again producing a very valuable and worthwhile set of estimates, laying out the position of the forces today. If I may be permitted to say so, they reflect the healthy state of our armed forces.
Enough has been said about nuclear deterrence, chemical weapons and so forth, and so I shall therefore confine my remarks to just one part of the estimates, what I call the three Ms—money, men and management—in Chapter Three. Within the limited resources available resulting from strict control of both manpower and finance, our armed forces continue to provide excellent value for money. As has already been stated here this afternoon, the armed forces have the up-to-date and sophisticated equipment they so badly need, although, for reasons about which your Lordships have already heard, equipment takes a very long time to get into the hands of the user and in sufficient quantities.
The serviceman today is well paid, thanks to the continuing efforts of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. As stated in paragraph 513 of the estimates, there is no evidence that service personnel are leaving because they consider their pay too low. That is a very true statement of fact. However, as indicated in Part 2 of the estimates in the table on page 39, there has been a steady increase since 1980–81 in the outflow of trained service personnel of the major skills. That is alarming, for without these skilled personnel the armed forces are unable to function properly.
There are a number of reasons for that, not least that there is a ready civilian market for service personnel with those skills. But, sadly, due to the need to increase salaries and provide more sophisticated equipment, there has been a gradual loss of job satisfaction in service life since the 1970s. To put it another way, it is an erosion of the quality of service life. Undoubtedly a certain degree of frustration is being felt because of continual cuts in manpower and other cost-cutting exercises. Because no allowance is made in manpower planning for training courses, intervals between postings, leave, sickness and the natural exigencies of service life, there just is not the manpower available to man fully our ships, our tanks and aircraft in peacetime.
I strongly support the thoughts of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, on having more ships, but in the navy at the present time there just is not enough manpower for the ships it has. Therefore if the navy is to have the ships that are proposed there will have to be a large increase in naval personnel.
348 Training time has also been cut in order to save money. We get very good recruits. We have already heard about naval cadets and how efficient they are. That is all to be applauded. But their training is being cut, and cut to the bone, and they are being rushed into service life in order to save time and money. There are many other cost-cutting exercises which while saving money are causing a degree of frustration, leading to the loss of job satisfaction. While efforts are being made to transfer power from the tail to the teeth of the forces, which is to be greatly applauded, this move could go too far and must be kept in balance.
Social patterns of service life are also changing. It is estimated that in 1983, 75 per cent. of all officers owned their own houses compared with 40 per cent. in 1970. From the table on page 53 of Part 2 of the estimates, similar increases apply also to the serviceman. But this is only an estimated figure of three years ago and does not include the unmarried officer or serviceman. My experience is that high numbers of young unmarrieds are also buying their houses because of the concern felt at coming to the end of their service with nowhere to live and the realisation that terminal grants and gratuities will not now match the sums needed to buy a house.
For too long now the assisted house purchase scheme has been around the corner but has never arrived. While the sale of surplus married quarters at discounted prices is a welcome move, all too often these houses are away from centres of employment and in unattractive parts of the United Kingdom where people just do not want to live. The current trend is for buying houses before reaching the middle of service career and then, after marriage, often for the wife to stay at home and go out to work. As a result, wives working in the United Kingdom are reluctant to give up lucrative jobs when the husband is posted abroad. This, in turn, is causing servicemen to want to serve on extended tours near their homes so that they can occupy their houses, and an increasing reluctance to serve abroad in such places as Germany where the financial inducements have been severely cut by the virtual elimination of the local overseas allowance.
One of the job's satisfactions is the ability to train and to do one's job properly. One aspect to which servicemen really look forward is to be able to visit one of the exotic parts of the world enumerated in Annex B of Part 1 of the estimates; but it is quite another matter to be able to train realistically when they get there. The training ground in Suffield, Canada, has been excellent for our armoured units and infantry, with their supporting arms, to train together for some years now. Time, however, may be running out for Suffield. It is largely flat and featureless, more like the Western desert than anywhere else in Europe. Surely, with highly mobile forces and long-range weapons, the time has come to give up some of the pocket-size training areas in the United Kingdom which originated as far back as World War II.
We should look for expansion of the major training complexes and at the same time look for new areas to train on. With the need to carry out deployment exercises for cruise, greater usage by RAF ground and air forces and the increase in the territorial army which 349 we all welcome, the pressure on the existing large training areas is as great as ever, with often as many as four or five units being in one area at the same time.
Since the end of World War II we have been most fortunate to be able to use the German countryside for our autumn manoeuvres. This is becoming more costly and politically difficult. Friendly Germans have often said to me, "Why do you not do this in your own country?" They have a point. Possibly we should seriously consider the greater usage of Section 6 of the Land Powers (Defence) Act 1958 for the training of our defence forces here at home.
Great improvements have been made in recent years with high-level simulators and greatly improved targetry on all our ranges. which are reflected in the estimates. However, there is an urgent need to provide the finance for low-level simulation. When we consider that the Chieftan tank has absolutely no simulation at all we are almost back in the times of waving red flags at each other.
For the army, there are very good and very cheap simulators for infantrymen known as SAWES and, for the tanks, SIMFIX. The corps in Germany are keen on this idea as training in the German countryside becomes more difficult. As compensation costs rise I urge that more funds are allocated to low-level and comparatively cheap simulation.
Turning to another matter, certainly the 10 per cent. X factor inducement for men and 7½ per cent. for women is most welcome, but the lack of job satisfaction is causing frustration at the lower levels in the forces today. Cuts in manpower, coupled with shortages of mileage, fuel and ammunition allocations, and many other limitations, are today causing a certain amount of frustration. The reason for these cuts is well understood by servicemen but, because of the lack of tools for the job, pride in the job is slowly disappearing. Nowadays all too often one sees servicemen driving around the countryside without wearing their berets. The only consolation I get from that is that there must be a great saving on headware expenditure.
I urge that the quality of life is carefully monitored and studied, after so many recent years of cost-cutting exercises. We have excellent volunteer sailors, soldiers and airmen. We need to retain them and ensure that they, in turn, get job satisfaction by being able to do the job expected of them; that they are able to train realistically and at the same time continue to have realistic conditions of service with allowances for the work they are called upon to do.
§ 7.52 p.m.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to join in the debate. I shall be even more brief than usual because the noble Viscount has made practically every point I intended to make. I was getting away with it until he spoke.
For nearly 40 years I have taken part in these debates—20 years in the other place and 20 years in this House. I have tried to learn from the various 350 services as much as I could of all that needed to be known in order to be a good representative in the House. I notice on pages 36 and 37 of the estimates the number of countries which our forces visit and in which we have troops of some kind. I have visited all but three of those countries and it gives me great satisfaction to see that Belize still has the Royal Air Force stationed there and that it is still a democratic country in a continent that is far from democratic.
I also attended many shop windows for the navy and went on various sailing expeditions which used to take place outside Portsmouth. Navy Days are an enormous help in informing the public of what is going on. I should like to see more reviews because I think they show, as Operation Shop Window used to show, the navy in a very good light. I myself have been over the jack stay and down in submarines and that enables me to give little talks occasionally about what that life is like.
There was a time when we had a marvellous contact overseas with all the different dockyards—I shall not talk about dockyards in general, as I am leaving that until Friday's debate—but unfortunately that contact has ceased. It was very helpful in visiting the various dockyards because one could get minor things done. For example, I visited Borneo during the war and found that the Gurkhas were getting less for cooking food than were the local cook-boys. That was not too difficult to get reversed when I returned. I was also able to get a number of barracks rebuilt, including one in Singapore which was almost immediately turned over to the Singaporeans.
I should like to take this opportunity of thanking my noble friend Lord Trefgarne for the help he has given particularly in regard to keeping open the Royal Naval Hospital at Devonport. That is entirely due to his intiative, and I think that he will not regret it. We need people to go overseas with proper nursing training, which is rather different from the training and work here. I also wish to mention that my noble friend went to Wiltshire to see the war widows off to the Far East. He was welcomed by them, and I was told this only today because I happened to have lunch with two of the widows and they told me how much they appreciated his visit. Of course, on Friday we shall be trying, with my noble friend's help, to find the right solution for the two dockyards at Rosyth and Devonport.
I return now to the question of service life, on page 44 of the estimates. Having left Devonport I am now living on Salisbury Plain with Upavon and Netheravon airports on each side of me. Moreover, the army continues to enjoy local battles. In Britain we are unique among the European NATO forces that our armed forces are manned with volunteers. We must congratulate ourselves that we have no conscription. I understand that we need to recruit about 30,000 men and women every year and to be able, as the noble Viscount mentioned, to retain them when they have been trained. This is very important because training, particularly for the RAF, is extremely expensive. One would have thought that with so many people unemployed the services would appeal as a worthwhile job. For example, the estimates show that there were 351 600 overseas expeditions to 62 different countries in 1984–85. That should create an interest in seeing the world.
Going overseas means separation from the family, but it is for comparatively short periods. There is a part of Devonport still known as China Town because in the old days after three years at sea the sailors returned with their tarred pigtails, not knowing that these had gone out of fashion. Those sailors did not see their wives for three years. Nowadays the separation is for three months, or even less, and in that time they have contact with their families. When the separation was for three years the wives had no contact with their husbands. There was no television, radio or newspapers.
I should like to speak now about the reserve home force. It is a success and over 5,000 strong. For example, the Royal Navy reserve increased by 40 per cent. The Royal Auxiliary Air Force has six new field squadrons. The Territorial Army is hoping to expand by 1990 to 86,000. It would be extremely helpful if it did.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, because he is a great enthusiast who has done so much in his army life; and also for Liverpool The services have the benefit of a review body. The Armed Forces Review Body understands that service life has certain disadvantages, especially for the young married men and women. As a result, there is what is known as the X factor, mentioned by the noble Viscount, of 10 per cent. for servicemen and 7½ per cent. for servicewomen. I should like to know why there is this difference. It must also be pointed out to potential recruits that there is free medical service and dental treatment, which they do not seem to understand. There is also assistance with boarding school fees. There is also, as has been mentioned, the question of married quarters. One can now buy these freehold, as they are in very nice areas, including Salisbury Plain.
As regards civilian apprentices, the Ministry of Defence, I gather, is the major employer and trainer in the country and the main source of craftsmen and technical officers. It recruited last year 1,040 apprentices, and in 1985 there were 4,100 in training. Does the money come out of the Ministry of Defence budget or out of that of the department of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham? It seems to me that it should come from his budget.
Is action taken to contact universities, technical colleges and secretarial colleges, especially in places outside London? What arrangements are made for accommodation in London, as the difficulty of finding accommodation and the high cost of renting is likely to deter many people from applying? I wonder whether it may be possible to take over one of the unused hospitals which could fairly easily be adapted so that people could stay there when they first obtain a job in London.
Special pay additions are mentioned as being introduced. However, these will be eaten up by the cost of moving. Would it be possible to acquire accommodation more cheaply for people?
352 I should like to see action taken in regard to unemployment in, for example, areas such as Liverpool. I cannot see why we could not have an establishment there so that people were able to do the work which is needed. Many people need to be recruited—scientists, engineers, accountants and, strange to say, experienced clinical staff. Surely it would not be difficult to have an establishment in Liverpool to which people could go and be trained. Nowadays, with easy movement between various towns, there could surely be special postal arrange-ments and facilities for travelling. In this way one could help alleviate unemployment, and obtain a number of new recruits.
I shall cut out some of what I had intended to say because it has mostly been covered, and mention finally the question of the evacuation of Aden. I consider it a good example of close working by the Russians, the British and the French—a fine operation. Surely we might think of finding other operations in which we could co-operate.
I feel that I have said as much as I need say at this late hour. With regard to the few points that I have put forward, perhaps the noble Lord, if he cannot answer them now, will write to me.
§ 8.3 p.m.
Lord Bird wood
My Lords, I want to touch briefly on the research side of our defence effort. I am not alone in being troubled by the cuts in this area, particularly in the case of research that is passed on to outside bodies, especially category 4, long-term programmes.
The consequences of stretching out a development programme can be hugely disruptive. Because of the discipline of what is called configuration control, if a system is delayed so that it misses the first fit on a batch, it misses the whole lot. Configuration control is not holy writ. I suggest that if this back-door moratorium of cost-cutting delays on research projects is continued, there should be a good, hard look at configuration control for its own sake.
My noble friend began the debate this afternoon by emphasising the priority given to collaboration. Nobody in his right mind would oppose consistency in these matters country by country, but to promote collaboration as a technique for keeping down costs is just fanciful. Individual weapon-fit requirements alone will push costs way beyond any notions of economies of scale.
There is a rather curious by-product of this push to collaborate, certainly as seen from those defence research establishments that can take a view on these matters. It is that competition among United Kingdom companies has perhaps never been more fierce, but these international programmes positively encourage a sweetness of temper between British defence companies and foreign firms. I am not being xenophobic in this observation, but we have a sorry track record for letting slip technology initiatives when we play away.
Returning briefly to research, I believe it is essential now for there to be an annual statement and detailed 353 report on MoD-sponsored research projects. This week's New Scientist calls for such an annual report, and its logic is sound. A regular, official and open statement of research effort such as this would be an invaluable tool for Parliament, industry and our own science establishments. I ask my noble friend's view of this.
Finally, I give unhesitating congratulation to the idea that resulted in Defence Technology Enterprises—DTE. It seems to be a thoroughly positive initiative. AH the signs are that DTE will create a badly needed bridge between defence research results and commercial opportunity. From what I have already learned of it, it is approaching these issues with vigour, and I wish it well.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I apologise that I was not able to be present for the first part of the debate because of a previous engagement. I want to concentrate on the important topic of chemical weapons, which has been mentioned by several noble Lords and is mentioned in the defence White Paper. The question really is: escalation or elimination? To me it is a matter of concern that these unpleasant weapons have become topical again. There was a generation that had experience of them in the front lines of the Great War, the 1914–18 war. Both sides on the western front had the terrible experience of chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas wafting over and into their trenches. Sometimes the wind changed and own gases rather than own goals were scored. The Russians, without means of retaliation, suffered severely on the eastern front in that war. It is worth mentioning that the nerve gases now available are far more lethal than was World War I gas. I could give sickening medical details, but I will spare your Lordships.
In the last war, both sides thought better of using chemical weapons for fear of retaliation. The same kind of thinking probably explains why the United States and the USSR have retained chemical weapon capability despite its illegality in use according to the 1925 Geneva Convention. The Russians, we have been told, have kept their stocks at a higher and more up-to-date level than the United States. However, it is worth pointing out that the United States today possesses about 40,000 tonnes of nerve gases, sufficient to wipe out the entire world population ten times over if accurately delivered.
We do not know whether the Soviet stocks are as lethal as this, though rumour has it that the Russians now have an even more lethal gas than the Americans. They are now issuing suits with recyclable masks, so that they do not have to breathe the outside air. Perhaps they are anticipating something coming from our side. Though the basis of the information that the Russian chemical weapon stocks are greater and heavier than ours has been disputed, I understand it is accepted that there are 300,000 tonnes of Soviet chemical weapons in existence.
While on this unpleasant subject, it is worth noting that only one of the components of Big Eye", which is the colloquial name for the new proposed binary 354 weapon which some people in the United States wish to manufacture—and I should say at this point that other people in the United States strongly oppose its manufacture—is as lethal as methyl isocyanate, which killed 2,500 people in Bhopal. This is supposed to be a "safe" weapon. The mind boggles at how lethal the combined product must be.
I do not need to rehearse the argument which we have heard many times both in your Lordships' House and in another place as to why the United States should manufacture this new generation of binary weapons. It is spelt out in the defence White Paper. It is true that no chemical weapons have been made in the United States since 1969, but that does not mean that existing stocks are useless. In 1983 a presidential panel reported that less than six per 10,000 artillery shells that were filled with chemical weapons had leaks, and that these leaks were small. The main point is that modernising American stocks encourages the Russians to be more amenable at the conference table and thus to agree to a workable and verifiable ban on the manufacture and deployment of these weapons. This of course is the twin track logic that we have heard before on many occasions: escalate and negotiate—otherwise known as "upping the odds" or "arming to disarm".
Quite apart from the logical difficulty of this argument there is the historical problem that, however superficially attractive it may seem, the tactic has never actually worked in the past. More important is the fact that it ignores the knowledge available to us that very considerable progress has been made at the 40-nation United Nations Disarmament Conference in Geneva which has been working on the problem for years. Our representatives have made a significant contribution to the progress of these talks. Since February of this year Britain has taken the chair of the chemical sub-committee of the Geneva Conference, which gives us a unique opportunity to influence the course of the discussions.
I hope that when the noble Lord the Minister replies he will be able to correct me if I have been misinformed, but it would appear that there have recently been some quite significant Soviet concessions at these disarmament talks. The announcement by Mr. Gorbachev in January that the USSR favoured early and complete elimination of chemical weapons and the elimination also of the industrial plants where they are produced, has been followed up by more detailed proposals. According to the Financial Times of 23rd April this year the proposals, which are listed under heading "Soviets offer…", are:The Soviet plan presented to the conference proposed among other things:355 At the negotiations the United States is insisting on the right of "mandatory challenge"; that is, to be able to demand on-site inspection at short notice anywhere in any signatory state. At present this is regarded by the USSR as too intrusive. However, according to the most recent ADIU report from Sussex University, the Netherlands and West Germany are working on a compromise which would narrow the "challenge" position. A British official was quoted as saying that the "challenge" right would only be a deterrent to cheating and would rarely be used, and if it were used in fact the convention would be in jeopardy.
- —Destruction of chemical weapon stocks should start 'not later than six months' after a convention enters into force and be completed within 10 years.
- —All production facilities must be declared within 30 days.
- —Destruction of such facilities must begin not later than one year after the convention comes into force.
- —All operations at production plants must stop immediately.
- —Cessation of production operations must be verified at all plants, 'including private enterprises and transnational corporations'.
- —A convention should include measures 'to prevent the use of the commercial chemical industry for the development and production of chemical weapons' "
I am giving this account in some detail in order to illustrate that the negotiations at Geneva have really narrowed down the discussion to such a degree that if all parties want an agreement it should be attainable. So I ask noble Lords whether this is the time for the United States to press ahead with the production of a new generation of chemical weapons. To my mind this move would be more likely to wreck the negotiations than to enhance their success, and this is a view which is held not only by the USSR but by many of those at the conference table.
There are many people in the United States who oppose the new binary chemical weapon "Big Eye", for financial and military reasons and not simply on moral grounds. Congress want to know what Europe thinks; and what Europe thinks is crucial. After all, it is in Europe that chemical weapons will be deployed, and European civilians will bear the brunt if they are used. Senator Mark Hatfield is quoted by the Guardian of 12th June as complaining of "the virtual silence of the West European media" on a weapon whose deployment "would signal a profound shift in current policy".
It is true that the noting by the NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels last month of binary weapons as a NATO "force goal" should have been much more thoroughly debated throughout Europe prior to the event. It was pushed through with indecent haste. Many people feel that this was in order to avoid the sort of adverse publicity that greeted cruise and Pershing. But I suggest that it is not too late for Britain to speak out. Five other NATO countries have declared that they will not allow chemical weapons to be deployed on their soil in any event.
We should inform the United States—and we can do so quite politely—that these weapons are not wanted in this country either. We should give full backing to our negotiating team in Geneva, who are in a position to achieve something much better than a "force goal". They might even score a "peace goal", which would hearten us all. This would set a very good example to those other negotiators in Vienna, Stockholm and Geneva who at present are virtually bogged down in their attempts to reduce nuclear weapons and conventional forces.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Lord Ashbourne
My Lords, it is getting late and I promise to be brief, partly because many noble Lords have spoken in the debate and made many wise pronouncements, leaving little left to be said at this 356 stage of the evening; partly because the points that I had intended to make were both covered by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, in his wide-ranging, authoritative and mainly maritime speech; and partly because I see the big guns on the Front Bench are flexing their muscles and waiting to wind up.
§ Lord Ashbourne
However, my Lords, I should like to touch on two points—and I thank the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite for that encouragement! The first point is manpower. Perhaps here I should congratulate the authors of the White Paper on the article entitled "The Service Life" which appears on pages 44 and 45 of the Defence Estimates. I thought that that gave a balanced and accurate description of service life as a whole and listed both the advantages and disadvantages with great accuracy.
However, as is well known, training plays a large part in service life—a much larger part in service life than it does in civilian life. That is partly because a high degree of training is required in the services today and partly because of the complex electronic equipments which are used. Therefore it is of critical importance that valuable and highly-trained personnel are retained for as long as possible.
That being the case, it is of the greatest importance that those personnel do not go early. If they do, it is highly costly to the services and very inefficient. The White Paper, somewhat laconically, states that there are still shortfalls of officers, technicians and other skilled trades. It goes on to conclude:But there is no evidence that service personnel are leaving because they consider their pay to be too low".I believe that that is a correct assessment of the situation, but if the retention levels are not proving satisfactory, something must be causing the premature brain drain from the services.
I should not wish to be alarmist in any way but I merely sound a warning bell that if that problem is not resolved with speed and determination it will get worse until the authorities are forced to take drastic action. In the first place, an accurate assessment of the cause of the problem has to be made, and I suspect that overstretch has a lot to do with it. But if one overstretches the man—the greatest single factor—there is a danger that he will speak with his feet, thus reducing further the efficiency of the services.
Secondly, I am concerned about the amphibious reinforcement of the northern flank of Europe, referred to on page 34. That item comes up every year in the Defence Estimates, and every year the two ships that are of critical importance to the operation—namely, our two LPDs (landing platform docks, for the uninitiated); that is, HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid"—are one year older and there is still no sign of a replacement being ordered. Last year, the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence made some somewhat caustic comments about the lateness of the ordering of the replacements for those two ships. This year, I see that the same omission obtains.
357 Both the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, and the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw of Aintree, are concerned about that lack of any replacement. I should like to end by asking the Minister who is to reply to the debate whether he can give us a firm assurance that the ships are to be replaced and tell us when specific orders are to be placed for their replacement, observing the great emphasis in the White Paper on the defence and reinforcement of Norway and the northern flank.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I should like to begin by adding my congratulations to those already offered to my noble friend Lord Crawshaw on his spirited defence of the continuing need for a Western nuclear deterrent and for our alliance with the United States. That is vital common ground between the Alliance parties and the Government. I hope that none of the criticisms that I wish to make of the White Paper will obscure that fact.
Nevertheless, I have reservations about the opening chapters of the White Paper; for example, about the Soviet threat. The assessment seems to me a shade simplistic. It is summarised in paragraph 104:There have been many fluctuations and differences of emphasis by successive Soviet leaders over the years; but the overwhelming impression of Soviet behaviour since the war remains one of an underlying continuity".At first sight that sounds all right, and yet I think that those with long memories who recall the days of Stalin, Vyshinski and Molotov, the Berlin blockade, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the naked subversive activities world-wide of the Cominform, the inaccessibility of Soviet delegates and the total isolation of the Soviet people from the rest of the world will think the assessment a shade pessimistic. Gorbachev is not Stalin; there has been a change.
I have visited the Soviet Union several times over a period of 50 years. It is still a closed society, but it is much less inaccessible and mysterious than it used to be. The standard of conduct has not fluctuated, as the Government say; over the years since Stalin's time it has improved. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, is not in his place. He apologised for not being able to be present. I disagreed profoundly when he not only praised that passage in the White Paper but decided that it ought to become a pamphlet and be circulated to schools. For a distinguished historian I thought that he was showing a lack of historical perspective. Things have changed.
It is most important when we are deciding matters of foreign and defence policy that that development should be recognised. It should be encouragement to us, among other reasons because I think that it is a tribute to Western policies during the period. It is an argument for NATO. If it was properly acknowledged, it would lead to a rather less negative attitude towards the problems of arms control and the handling of East-West relations.
358 The Alliance's defence commission report seems to me to have a more balanced assessment. For example, it says:While we do not believe that the Soviet Union intends to invade Western Europe, where it is militarily dominant, as Afghanistan and Poland show, it is prepared to use or threaten to use military power to impose its will on other countries".At the same time the report reflects the limited long-term improvement in Soviet conduct and makes a series of recommendations to encourage that trend.
If the White Paper's assessment of Soviet conduct is a shade too negative, its view of United States policy can only be described as reverent. I ask the Minister when he comes to reply to quote from that lengthy document some passage suggesting that United States foreign and defence policy is not perfect in every respect; I ask him to quote one passage.
§ Lord Mayhew
I have found one passage as follows, my Lords. In a long tribute to the strategic defence initiative, hidden away in 15 paragraphs which explain and support the initiative, there is this sentence:SDI naturally carries many strategic implications which. as the Foreign Secretary said in a speech in March 1985, will require careful consideration in the years ahead".That audacious sentence is the closest the Government come to expressing any misgivings about any aspect of United States foreign and defence policy; otherwise, on arms control, the test ban treaty, SALT II, SDI, and the threat to the anti-ballistic missile treaty, the chemical warfare force goal, Libya, Nicaragua and on the Middle East, according to the White Paper, the United States record is impeccable. Only the Soviet Union is at fault.
The last thing that I should want to do is argue an equivalence between the international conduct of the Soviet Union and the United States. But it is equally misleading to present the picture in black and white because there are inescapable similarities. To anyone who studies the nuclear arms control negotiations, for example, there are similarities between the conduct of the two super powers. No one who studies that seriously can avoid seeing that.
I have gone through the relevant paragraphs (202 to 217) on nuclear arms control negotiations. I have abstracted all the adjectives and descriptive phrases applied to the Soviet and the United States contributions. The Soviet contribution is described as "inequitable", "unverifiable", "one-sided", "clearly unacceptable" and "aimed at perpetuating Soviet advantages". The United States contribution is described as "realistic", "constructive", "specific", and "demonstrating United States commitment to pursuing agreement".
§ Lord Mayhew
The Government may say, "Hear, hear", but no serious investigator into those nuclear 359 arms negotiations can think that that is a truthful and objective description of the attitude of the two sides. Those who, for example, went into the question of the Geneva intermediate nuclear weapons negotiations or the negotiations about not having negotiations on the test ban treaty and who thinks that the picture is black and white quite honestly have not studied the intracies of the conduct of the two powers.
I have assembled my own adjectives for those paragraphs. They are, "bland", "unsophisticated", "one-sided", and "sycophantic". That is the truth about those paragraphs.
I should also draw the Government's attention to paragraph 110. It mentions the Soviet Union, and not the United States, as seeking military facilities overseas. It criticises the Soviet Union, and not the United States, for actively encouraging disruptive elements in central America.
Unrestrained criticism of an ally is of course wrong, but abject deference is also wrong. I prefer again the language of the Alliance Defence Commission Report. We said.Serious policy differences can do harm… Unilateral intervention by the United States, for example in Central America and most recently in Libya, is causing concern and friction in the Western Alliance. We see this as an argument for strengthening the European voice within the Atlantic Alliance and not for distancing ourselves from it. … We believe that the resulting change in the balance within the Western Alliance will make for a more positive approach to solving international tension and achieving disarmament, without any sacrifice of mutual friendship and respect between Europe and the United States".That language and attitude are more accurate, more truthful and more balanced than those of the White Paper. I challenge anyone to deny that. What is more, in my opinion, it will have more public support in this country. I warn the Government of the recent Marplan poll which showed that nearly one-third of Conservative voters think that the Government are too close to the United States Government and 2 per cent. think that they are not close enough.
As the Government are so close to the United States Government, it is natural that the White Paper should pay only lip service to the idea of a European pillar. It says a great deal about the European pillar (paragraphs 303 and 304) but plays down the need for a counter-balance to United States dominance in policy decisions, and it presents the need for a European pillar simply in terms of strengthening the European material contribution to NATO and increasing equipment collaboration among the European countries.
In contrast, the Alliance report suggests that the building of the European pillar should be a central feature of British foreign and defence policy. It does not rule out the possibility that Europe might lessen its dependence upon the United States with a minimum deterrent of its own. My noble friend Lord Kennet set out the Alliance Defence Commission's recommendations on that point.
The natural life of Polaris is I think universally accepted as lasting until 1997, and some would say 1998. If it were decided to replace Polaris, the most 360 widely canvassed replacement at present is by seaborne cruise missiles, the lead time for which, according to expert advice, would be about four years. Thus that option will remain open until at least 1992.
The question is whether it is necessary or wise to take the replacement decisions now. As my noble friend explained, the Alliance commission said, no, and laid down four criteria according to which the decisions should be taken when the time came.
The difference between the Alliance parties and the other two parties on that is plain enough. The Labour and Conservative parties long ago decided to ignore the important criteria—factors laid down by the Alliance commission. The Labour Party long ago decided not to replace Polaris in any circumstances. It is apparently quite sure that it can foresee what the world will be like in the mid-90s. It has consulted the stars, and the moderates see a world in which Europe can and should still rely upon the American deterrent. The Left sees a world in which Britain and Europe can safely dispense with any nuclear deterrent. They may be right; I am not arguing that point now. I am saying, why take the decision now without reference to the relevant factors? The answer is plain enough. The Labour Party is ideologically anti-nuclear, and that is the basis of its decision. And so are the Government. Is that what the Minister is saying?
The Government committed themselves on the Polaris replacement in 1980. They, too, consulted the stars. They, too, know what the mid-90s will be like, and what the world will be like in the mid-90s. It will be a world in which Britain will require a vast escalation of its independent strategic nuclear capability. It will be a tenfold escalation if we count the independently-targeted nuclear warheads. That is the world the Government predict. It is a world in which Britain must be able to use or threaten to use its nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union, independently of her European and American allies. It is a world in which no agreement will have been reached by the Americans and Russians on deep cuts in strategic weapons; otherwise the Government's deterrence policy is in ruins. It will be a world in which that vast escalation neither obstructs disarmament, causes resentment among our allies, nor diverts resources from our conventional strength.
It seems very unlikely indeed, but it may be such a world. These are the assumptions behind the Government's deterrence policy. The Government would have been much wiser to have held their hand until they could see more clearly what the future held. They should have kept open the option, if they so wished, of a Polaris replacement more suitable to Britain's needs. This is how a great deal of independent and conservative thinking is going at present. It is a course recommended, as my noble friend explained, by the Allied Defence Commission. It is a position warmly welcomed by a large amount of independent and informed advice. It was described by the Financial Times as "defensible and sustainable".
Instead, the Labour Party and the Government took their decisions on nuclear deterrents too early and in the wrong way, mainly for ideological reasons. I said at the beginning, and should perhaps repeat, that there is 361 a wide amount of vital common ground between the Alliance parties and the Government on the continuing need for a Western deterrent and on the continuing need for alliance with the United States. But the Government's deterrence policy, the building of Trident and their analysis and assessment in the White Paper are flawed. They are flawed mainly because of the ideological prejudices of the Government.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, the House has expressed its appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for starting off this important debate. I echo all that has been said. It was a very good introduction. We have also been treated to the special character of your Lordships' House, including, as it does, specialists of a high order. That has been amply borne out over the past five hours. My noble friend Lord Boston treated the House to an impressive and comprehensive review of our defence needs. His speech was impressive in its penetrating analysis of major facets of the matters contained within the pages of the Defence Estimates and comprehensive in its mastery of those details and their implications
I wish to begin by reminding the House and in particular the Minister, who has the difficult task of replying, of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Boston, although the Minister, we accept, cannot be expected to reply to all the matters that have been raised. On arms control and negotiations with the Russians, my noble friend paid a warm tribute to the Leader of the House, who recently visited Russia. My noble friend Lord Underhill played a notable part in the visit and in the fruitful discussions that took place. On the SALT II talks, my noble friend reminded the House of the confusion engendered over the past few weeks, especially in the United States. My noble friend was uneasy as to the real reasons for lack of progress over the test ban treaty. The noble Lord the Minister can perhaps answer some of my noble friend's questions on the changing nature of the problems of verification.
My noble friend also asked some deeply disturbing questions about chemical weapons and Britain's commitment to them in recent months. The House will expect the Minister not only to speak on those points but also to deal with the profoundly sombre speech made by my noble friend Lord Rea, which I much appreciated.
My noble friend Lord Boston returned to a recurring theme of his defence speeches over the years—the primacy of maintaining our merchant fleet. He asked the Government whether they really cared what happened to that fleet. The Government have a prime role in ensuring that we retain a merchant fleet capable of servicing the nation, not only in peacetime but also in wartime, as we so gratefully found during the recent Falklands crisis. Leaving things, as this Government are so prone to do, to market forces can be catastrophic, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, so graphically reminded us in a compelling speech.
362 My noble friend described as astounding the complacency existing over this matter. We want to see the Minister drag matters out of that complacency when he replies. Can he say, for example, what has happened in respect of the call made by my noble friend in last year's debate for a committee of this House to examine the state of British shipping? If not, why not? Who could do this better? I hope that the Minister will take this point on board.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, who is in his place, may have a point in wishing to see two days for a debate on the estimates. He may find grand strategy and high policy—the broad sweep so appropriate to these debates and to Second Reading debates—to his liking. The noble and gallant Lord referred to the Dockyard Services Bill. I am certainly heartened by the stress that he laid on the defects in the Bill and the crucial need for a contented workforce. I would simply remind the noble and gallant Lord that it is at Committee and Report stages of Bills that grand declarations made on Second Reading can be translated into the changes in the Bill that he seeks.
We should be grateful indeed to see the noble and gallant Lord in his place on Friday of this week. I can tell him that the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, will certainly be here with me speaking to amendments that the noble and learned Lord would certainly find to his liking. I look forward to the noble and gallant Lord helping us and joining us in the Lobby on these matters on Friday.
Central to our defence has been, and will continue to be, our membership of NATO. There is common ground, I believe, in the House and throughout the country that we cannot contemplate a rupture within its fold. I found much in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that I was able to agree with, both on the need to be apprehensive as to President Reagan's grasp and sensitivity in respect of defence matters and in his call for an enhanced role for NATO in our nation's defence. The United States is one of our closest allies. This was mentioned by my noble friend in his opening speech. I simply reiterate it now. My noble friends Lord Brockway, Lord Jenkins and Lord Hatch, while critical, do not slander the American people. They were entitled to ask the sensible questions that they did and to expect answers tonight.
There is no nation with which we have a greater affinity. But friendship and dependence must not be mistaken for a supine, subservient relationship. We are, and will remain, two separate and sovereign nations, and we should treat each other as such.
We know all about difficult defence decisions. In his first days, the present Secretary of State for Defence has repeatedly warned that difficult decisions would have to be made as a result of cash limits. Gone are the days of defence at any cost. Prudence must now come into the equation. We on these Benches have no complaint about spending less on defence than our GNP has had to bear during the past seven years. We shall have arguments with the Government about the split between conventional and nuclear, between the 363 madness of Trident expenditure, which is out of control, and a defence policy that is costed and fitted for Britain fulfilling a role within NATO and in agreement with our EC allies.
An escalation in Trident costs, announced earlier this year, of £584 million is clear warning of a programme out of control. When such a central issue as Trident is so prone to costs incurred in the United States and to currency fluctuations, it merits the most crucial of reviews and we would say, as part of our policy, its cancellation. The White Paper shows that we spend far too much and more on defence than many other nations within NATO. We find that while we spend 5.2 per cent. of GDP, this compares with Turkey at 4.4 per cent., France at 4 per cent., Belgium at 3.3 per cent., West Germany at 3.3 per cent., Italy at 2.7 per cent., Canada at 2.2 per cent., and Spain at 2.1 per cent. There are others who spend more. There is Greece at 7.4 per cent., and the US at 6.9 per cent.
We on these Benches hold no brief for the maintenance of particular programmes, but the Minister has a duty to tell the House where savings in the order of £3 billion will be found. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, asked some searching questions that deserve answers tonight—none more so than those relating to the Trident programme. His exposure of the fallacies in the NATO policies—vis-a-vis conventional versus nuclear priorities which are peddled by this Government—was timely and effective. I wonder whether the Minister will deal with that aspect of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Carver, tonight.
We read in the press and by other means that we are in for a great new sweep through all the defence budgeting. We can support the elimination of waste not only in defence expenditure but in other ways. Mr. Peter Levene is the poacher turned gamekeeper upon whom the Minister will rely, and unquestionably he will see as a major headache the resolution for the future of the Nimrod early warning system—what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, called the Nimrod shambles.
Can we be told something concerning the Government's thinking in this matter especially as the six months' grace awarded to GEC Avionics is ticking away? Just how dissatisfied is the RAF with GEC Avionics? What weight will be given to the continuing dilemma which faces all governments: how do we sustain adequate defences and procure adequate equipment, and do we accomplish it by ignoring other factors such as British jobs? Do we lightly throw away an estimated £1 billion of the taxpayers' money?
How serious is the Government in promoting Britain's high-tech industries? Those are some of the questions to which the House and the nation are entitled to answers tonight, or at another time.
It should not be only Mr. Levene who should be concerned with waste or excess public expenditure. A recent report from the Public Accounts Committee queried the non-competitive nature of defence contracts. We all know of the kind of situation which leads to negotiated contracts, in particular if the 364 procurement can be provided only by one supplier, or in cases of urgency, or of operational requirements. The sheer scale of the requirements may freeze off all but one tenderer. When the Minister said that we must all be more commercially minded—and this was one of the phrases that he used—will he give us some of the figures which demonstrate just how much more commercially minded we have become?
We know that the Public Accounts Committee is deeply concerned that excess profits are being made by the use of current systems. To date £3,000 million of contracts have been costed showing excess profits by contractors of £42 million. Can we have ministerial comments on the scandalous procedures whereby contract pricing was delayed in 1983–84 in 36 per cent. of such contracts until more than half completed, and 7 per cent. not priced until after completion? What is this cost-conscious Government doing to allow that?
I need to say a word about the Royal Ordnance factories. This is a cornerstone of the nation's weapon procurement. The Ordnance factories are in a right old state. Never has there been more uncertainty as to their role or future. There is a space in the document on page 50 which deals with the Royal dockyards. Much of it has certainly been worthy of the phrase used by the Minister in opening this debate: "searching for the reality behind the rhetoric". There is force which drives this Government to throw off any semblance of Government control and to put our fate in private hands. There can be few areas which merit this treatment less than our dockyards or our Ordnance factories. In this review reference to the Ordnance factories is conspicuously absent.
I want to ask the Minister what is happening in our Ordnance factories? I believe that it is a warning as to what can happen to the employees in our dockyards. Employees in the Ordnance factories have been betrayed. Jobs have been lost. Orders have been lost. Capital values have depreciated. There has been uncertainty as to programmes. There is no doubt that the Government are responsible for this shambles and where it will lead. Driven by their own incompetence from their favourite option for flogging off our Ordnance factories, we hear of piecemeal sales to raise something—anything—before a general election. The losers have been redundant workers and the security of the nation. The beneficiaries have been financial advisers and the banks.
Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, to the paragraph on page 44 which deals with recruitment, retention and morale, and service life. In this paragraph we have our attention drawn to the increase in what is called the voluntary outflow. In other words, the resignation from the forces. We are told that,while it is not at a critical level, shortages of officers in a few areas in each Service are causing concern".Can the Minister tell us which are those few areas which are causing us concern?
When we are talking in terms of service life may I draw attention to an item number 4 in the brown-coloured part of the document: 365Individuals' reasons for joining and remaining in the services are many and varied; they include duty, comradeship, learning a trade, responsibility, travel, sport and adventure".Inevitably, some will suffer from disappointed expectations.
The Minister who opened the debate knows that I have raised in the Chamber the very vexed question of the absence in our forces of any statistics relating to the ethnic origins of many of our servicemen. In my view the Minister has not only been disappointing but has been defensive, evasive and unsure of his ground on this matter. All that I have received in Parliamentary answers today is that there are no statistics available. That is the best cover-up of all. Why does the Minister not make some efforts to find out what is being said by members of the forces who leave because they allege discrimination? Why does he not do something positive about it?
In conclusion, I want to say that this has been a sober debate. We debate issues of crucial national interest against a world background of the search for a lasting peace, the removal of fear, tension, enmity and bloodshed. The awfulness of this nation budgeting to devote £18 billion of our resources to weapons of destruction, nuclear and conventional, fill me with despair. Other nations do it—all nations do it—and when Labour gains power we will spend such sums if need be to ensure the defence and the protection of the realm. But, while doing so, we can still dedicate our efforts to spending that money on improving our hospitals, giving our elderly a happier old age and our children a better start in life. We can dedicate our efforts towards feeding the starving millions on our earth for whom the expenditure we devote is obscene and who if we ever needed it, provide us all with the spur to one day eliminate our need for weapons of offence in favour of food and fulfilment for all mankind.
§ 9 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)
My Lords, we have reached the end of a characteristically well-informed and wide-ranging debate. I shall do my best, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, would have me do, to answer as many points as I possibly can. However, I should like to begin by dwelling on one or two areas of particular concern which have been raised, and first of all I take arms control. It is a matter of great concern to us all, and was particularly referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham.
As my noble friend Lord Trefgarne reminded us, the Government are fully committed to achieving realistic, balanced and verifiable agreements on the control of armaments. This is an essential part of our security policy. Indeed, arms control and defence are two sides of the same coin—the security coin. This year's Statement contains a short section that sets out the issues very clearly, and I commend it to your Lordships. It reminds us that arms control adds to our security by contributing to world stability; by reducing 366 international tension and limiting the arms race; and by preventing the spread of weapons.
It also reminds us that arms control, by itself, is not enough to preserve the peace and freedom that we enjoy. It is not an alternative to prudent defence; it is not a means by which one side can gain, or keep, an advantage over the other; and it is not a quick and easy short-cut to better East-West relations. In fact, satisfactory arms control agreements are more likely to flow from stable international relations than to create them. The Government's approach to all arms control discussions must be seen against this background.
No more important talks are now taking place than those between the United States and the Soviet Union on nuclear and space arms in Geneva. Britain is not involved directly in these talks, nor should we be. Our independent strategic deterrent is a minimum force of last resort, which will continue to represent, even with Trident, a tiny proportion of US-Soviet strategic weaponry. The priority must be for reductions in the arsenals of the superpowers. The United States consults us and our other allies closely on the details of the talks. Arms control is a slow and painstaking business.
We cannot expect success overnight. We must be realistic in our expectations of Geneva. But the Government thoroughly and whole-heartedly support the objectives of the talks, and the United States proposals on the table for implementing them. These include a balanced proposal for 50 per cent. cuts in strategic weapons, and the global elimination of INF weapons—or an interim agreement if the Soviet Union cannot agree to a ban immediately. We hope that the latest Soviet proposals tabled at the negotiations in recent weeks indicate that they, too, are now prepared to take a more positive approach. In the meantime, we support adherence to those treaties and agreements that are already in existence.
More than once in the past year President Reagan has taken a deliberate decision to dismantle older weapon systems in order to remain within the limits specified in the unratified SALT II agreement We support and applaud those decisions, and we urge the Soviet Union to respond constructively to US concerns over their compliance record, and hope that both sides, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Boston, would have them do, will continue to observe the SALT agreement in the future.
This country plays a prominent part in other forums for arms control. At the Geneva Conference on Disarmament we are working actively towards a comprehensive and verifiable worldwide ban on chemical weapons—a subject raised by many of your Lordships. As has been said, we abandoned our stocks in the late 1950s, and no change in that policy is proposed.
As the noble Lord, Lord Boston, said, the Soviet Union has for many years had a virtual monopoly of these dreadful weapons in Europe. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said, it has shown scant enthusiasm for serious negotiations to get rid of 367 them—a perfect illustration of the ineffectiveness of one-sided disarmament by the West. The United States plans to modernise their own chemical weapons stocks, which we fully support, underline to the Soviet Union the benefits of achieving a realistic global ban on these weapons. Surely any criticism should be directed at the Soviet Union for retaining a massive chemical warfare capability—a point which underlay some of the speech by my noble friend Lord Fortescue and was indeed stressed by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, too.
As to the suggestion that there had been some change in policy formulation on this issue—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boston—force goals are part of collective NATO defence planning. A number of force goals are added to each member country every other year as part of alliance procedures. The final step is for the force goal package to be formally adopted by the Defence Planning Committee. This meets first in permanent session with countries represented by ambassadors; then, as on 22nd May, in ministerial session. The fact that on 22nd May Ministers were invited simply to take note of the permanent representatives' recommendations on no sense precluded them from discussing the matter or from rejecting the proposals if they so wished.
In Stockholm we take part in the Conference on Disarmament in Europe, and together with our allies we have put forward a package of practical measures for increased openness on military activities as a means of building confidence and lessening tension in the whole of Europe. Progress will be reviewed in Vienna this November.
In addition, at the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions talks in Vienna we and our allies continue to seek agreement on balanced and verifiable troop reductions. We still await a constructive and specific Soviet response to our proposals of last December—to which the United Kingdom made a major contribution. We are studying with interest Mr. Gorbachev's recent proposals for widespread cuts in troop and weapon numbers in Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals.
The renewed Soviet interest in conventional arms control is welcome. For our part, NATO Ministers decided last month to set up a high-level task force on conventional arms control. Its purpose is to look for new and imaginative ways forward in this field. We intend to play a full part in this group's activities, and to work urgently towards the objective of a verifiable, comprehensive and stable balance of conventional forces at lower levels.
Major difficulties in this quest have included the Soviet refusal to discuss force numbers or admit the extent of the current imbalance, or to accept adequate verification measures. We hope that the Warsaw Pact is now prepared to move on these issues. The opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to make progress is there in the negotiations already under way. If the Warsaw Pact is ready for genuine negotiation on these matters, they will find that we are, too.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I have a lot of material to get through, and I shall never finish if I give way to the noble Lord at this point. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, raised a couple of important points to do with differing views in the United States on defence issues, and in particular on the latest proposals tabled by the Soviet Union at the Geneva negotiations. The Government have no doubt that the United States remains firmly committed to the NATO alliance as the only way of effectively maintaining our collective security.
As to the United States view of the latest Soviet proposals, I refer the noble Lord to the statement made by President Reagan in his Glassboro speech last week, where he stated that, while they could not be accepted as they stood, he believed that the Soviet Union had begun to make a serious effort in the negotiations and that the atmosphere could be right for a serious discussion. President Reagan also reiterated his desire to make progress at the next Summit meeting. The Government have welcomed this positive response, which I hope will be appreciated by the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham.
The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked another question to do with Soviet treaty violations in the light of suggestions that the US conclusions were invalid. I shall correspond with him on that. Our record on arms control is good. We have imaginative proposals on the table. We look for progress in the future. We can best contribute not by one-sided gestures but by a positive effort within the alliance framework.
The next subject I should like to turn to briefly is the strategic defence initiative, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and my noble friend Lord Ironside. As the Government have said on many occasions, we fully support the SDI research programme as a prudent hedge against long-established and extensive Soviet activity in the same field.
Moveover, your Lordships will recall that resulting from our support for SDI research we have entered into a formal agreement with the US Government to participate in the research programme. The extent of our involvement in these early days has so far been modest but I am particularly pleased to be in a position to confirm the awards of two significant US contracts to the UK for SDI research work, of which your Lordships will have read in today's papers. One is for a European architecture study, to be managed by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, in which we intend to make an original and independent contribution to the studies on SDI architecture already in train in the United States and to broaden the scope of the studies so as to encompass threats from intermediate and short-range missiles and air-breathing cruise missiles and aircraft, as well as ICBMs. The Ministry of Defence will be involving a range of high-quality British contractors in the work.
The other award is to one of our most prestigious, publicly owned but non-governmental laboratories, 369 for work in the neutral particle beam technology field. As my noble friend Lord Ironside said, this country has a great deal to offer to this endeavour and there is a lot waiting in the wings. I am convinced that co-operation with the US Government in this field will be a success.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, suggested that these new research contracts in some way ran counter to the four points agreed between the Prime Minister and the President in 1984. This simply is not the case. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said at the time and as the Government have made clear many times since, we fully support the need for SDI research in the light of Soviet developments and this is fully consistent with the four points, as is British participation in it.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I am afraid I said nothing of the sort. What I said ran counter to the four points was Mr. Weinberger's reported statement that he would allow nothing to stand in the way of SDI deployment when the time came.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I shall study the noble Lord's remarks and correspond with him on that point, if I may. If I have him wrong, I apologise.
Turning now to the matter of Trident and the subjects that were raised with it, I must first respond to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, that Trident, whether in United States or United Kingdom hands, is a first strike weapon. That is absolute rubbish. A first strike plays no part in our thinking on nuclear weapons nor, for that matter, in that of our allies. It is quite inconsistent with our policy of deterrence based on the possession of a minimum force consistent with that purpose.
May I say how much I agreed with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw of Aintree, in the extremely effective way he demolished not only once but twice so many of the discredited ideas of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, and indeed many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, as well by setting out the real meaning and purpose of deterrence. He made several other very important points in his speach. I enjoyed hearing his eminently sensible remarks.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, questioned particularly the Government's decision to acquire Trident to replace Polaris as our independent strategic deterrent. He suggested that the Government did not study the alternatives. This is simply not the case. The Government conducted an extremely thorough and wide-ranging study on the range of possibilities for replacing Polaris, as anyone would expect the Government to do. These were described in considerable detail in the open Government document on the subject which we published in 1980 and in subsequent White Papers. These arguments remain valid today. It is as clear now as it was in 1980 that the Trident system is far and away the most effective way 370 of maintaining the effectiveness and credibility, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone would have it do, of an independent deterrent.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, also suggested that the decision on how, or even whether, Polaris should be replaced need not be made now. I can well understand why such a conclusion should be attractive to the noble Lord and his Alliance colleagues, but it does not bear much scrutiny. Polaris has been a very effective deterrent, and remains so today, but it will not be able to continue to be so much beyond the middle 1990s, given the length of time required to introduce into service a modern strategic deterrent force. I do not find the suggestion of four years by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, anything other than a pretty far-fetched consideration.
We needed to take the decision on its replacement, and we decided to acquire Trident in 1980. This was an entirely responsible decision that will ensure the maintenance of an effective deterrent until at least the year 2020. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, spoke of the cost of Trident and of whether at a time of a reducing defence budget we can still afford this system. It may help your Lordships if I were to put the cost of Trident into perspective. The noble and gallant Lord was quite correct in saying that it would cost about 3 per cent. of the defence budget over the life of the programme. This will be the equivalent of about three armoured divisions on the central front or, in terms of the equivalent annual expenditure, half the amount we spend on service training, a third of the amount that we spend on BAOR, and a mere one-sixth of the amount that we spend on service pay and allowances. I would ask the noble and gallant Lord to consider, if he were sitting in the Kremlin, by which he would be more deterred: an effective independent nuclear deterrent or three additional armoured divisions at a time of already significant Warsaw Pact superiority. The Government believe that Trident represents the best value for money for the deterrent effect that it possesses.
The noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, raised the important matter of a comprehensive test ban treaty. While our highest priority is to achieve cuts in the levels of nuclear arsenals, we remain committed to making progress towards a comprehensive test ban. However, at present, serious verification problems remain. We are not confident that we could ensure that nuclear tests at militarily significant levels could reliably be both detected and distinguished from natural events. It would be premature to resume negotiations until a solution to these verification problems is more visible. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, asked for details of these verification problems. The Government tabled a technical paper at the Geneva conference on disarmament last July that set them out at some length. A copy of it is in the Library, and I commend it to the noble Lord.
I now turn to some of the other points that have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, spoke once again with passion on the cause of unilateralism. He suggested that for doing so he is regarded by some as a traitor to the cause of freedom. I certainly do not regard the noble Lord so. I do not in the least doubt his 371 honesty, or his commitment, or his sincerity of purpose. However, nor do I in the least doubt how misguided he is in his views, with respect. Unfortunately, a misguided approach to the central issues governing our security can have dire consequences for all of us, as history has repeatedly demonstrated. The nuclear deterrent has kept the peace for 40 years. It would be folly indeed to throw that away in favour of little more than wishful thinking.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, suggested that an independent study should be set up to consider the difficult decisions that need to be taken in reconciling competing priorities on the defence budget. Yes, a difficult balance it is, but it is a central task of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his ministerial colleagues, including my noble friend, to take such decisions. I really think that they are better placed than an independent study to consider these matters, with all the relevant information and expertise available to them. I agree with my noble friend Lord Mottistone on that.
Both the noble and gallant Lord and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, mentioned the matter of overstretch in the services. Recruitment and retention are generally satisfactory, but inevitably there are more tasks than manpower available to do them. We therefore have to rank our priorities carefully to ensure that as much effort as possible is concentrated on the front line and that our manpower is used as efficiently and economically as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone, referred to Soviet seamen entering the United Kingdom. I understand that in 1985 there were 1,612 individual visits by Soviet vessels to the United Kingdom and during that year about 41,000 Soviet seamen were potentially eligible to take shore leave during their ships' stay in port. I take my noble friend's point, and if he will allow me, I shall elaborate a little more in writing to him.
I noted the views, based on his great experience, of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, on the matter of the Nimrod airborne early warning project; and indeed the views of my noble friend Lord Ironside as well. A full statement on that project was made in another place by my honourable friend the then Minister for Defence Procurement on 26th February. The present position is that we have received proposals for AEW systems from six contractors, including GEC Avionics and three United States companies: Boeing, Grumman and Lockheed. The contractors have been asked to submit firm price bids by the 7th July. In addition we have had proposals from the United States Goverment to supply either of the systems in current United States military service through foreign military sales arrangements.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, said that it was the Government's policy to order three frigates a year; yet, he said, since 1979 we had ordered only nine frigates, leaving a deficit of 12 (if I have the mathematics right). The statement of intent to order 372 about three a year must be read in context. It was made with reference to the new Type-23 design. Thus in the 1982 defence debate in another place the then Secretary of State for Defence said that our aim was to achieve eventually an order rate of about three new Type-23s a year. The first of class was ordered in October 1984.
A gap is to be expected between the first of class and follow-on orders because it is necessary to take time to evaluate the construction of a new design and to iron out any problems. As the House will know, it is the Government's intention to announce follow-on orders before the summer Recess. We are looking at the benefits of batch ordering. Meanwhile, I can assure your Lordships that we are meeting our aim of maintaining about 50 destroyers and frigates in the active fleet, subject to the availability of resources. At present there are over 50 such vessels in the active fleet. Having myself just visited a Type-42, HMS "Exeter", I can vouch for what my noble friend Lord Mottistone said about the quality of those joining the service today. I fully agree with him that they are most impressive.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, and my noble friend Lord Ashbourne particularly asked about amphibious shipping. In anticipation of "Fearless" and "Intrepid" coming to the end of their planned service lives in the mid-1990s, we have been carefully examining all the options in connection with our future amphibious capability. We expect to make a decision on the best way forward later this year. The next step would be setting in hand detailed feasibility studies and that sort of thing.
As to the question of dockyards, I rather agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, when he said that this is a subject perhaps better debated within the confines of the Bill which is currently going through your Lordships' House. As to the connection which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, drew with Royal Ordnance, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence said in another place on 18th June, although substantial progress has been made in the process of transforming Royal Ordnance into a fully fledged commercial activity, it has not been possible to take this far enough and to have in place all the features necessary to provide the basis necessary for a successful flotation this summer. It remains our intention to privatise Royal Ordnance and we are giving further consideration to the means of achieving this.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, may I intervene to ask what is going to happen to all those employees who have been made redundant in anticipation of the flotation?
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to correspond with him on that point. I am not sure he is necessarily correct in saying that they have been made redundant in the way that he has suggested.
As to the shortage of trawlers, which was a point particularly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Boston, 373 following the report of the sea group study, the studies into alternative ways of meeting the requirements for alternative vessels for minesweeping auxiliaries have been completed and it seems likely that a solution can be found using offshore supply and support vessels. This possible solution is being developed with a view to holding trials as soon as appropriate.
The noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, and my noble friend Lady Vickers referred to premature voluntary release and the question of retention. It is true that there has been an increase in the voluntary outflow, particularly among army officers; but it is not at a critical level and is still below the levels reached under the previous administration in 1977–78 and 1978–79. The noble Viscount raised a number of critical points and painted a rather depressing picture, which I do not think can be justified by the facts. I am sure he will take a realistic view of how we should make the best use of the enormous amounts of money which are voted for defence purposes.
He referred to the local overseas allowance. A repricing of the LOA budget for Germany was undertaken during March and it resulted in reductions in the allowances paid to service personnel. The reduced rates come into effect on 1st August this year. The LOA is a tax-free allowance which compensates for the extra cost of living overseas. The reductions arose because inflation in the United Kingdom is higher than in Germany and prices in this country have been increasing at a greater rate. But taken in conjunction with what a serviceman would spend in the United Kingdom, the new rates of LOA will enable him to maintain his previously established life-style.
I turn now to the remarks made, to which I listened with great care, by the noble Lord, Lord Boston, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, my noble friend Lord Ironside and the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, about merchant shipping. At present, there is enough United Kingdom owned and registered merchant shipping to meet our defence requirements. I can assure your Lordships that the position is closely and carefully monitored by the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport to ensure that this remains the case.
As the White Paper says, we are hopeful that offshore supply vessels will provide an alternative means of meeting our auxiliary minesweeping require-ments, as I have just mentioned. As to the question of repeating the Falklands operation or something similar, which was raised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, the Ministry of Defence believes that, in the unlikely event of a similar operation being needed, we could mount such an exercise.
As for the suggestion that my noble friend Lord Ironside made, when he referred to the US strategic sealift, the US adopted their policy of purchasing and mothballing shipping because they had no legislation allowing them to requisition shipping. In the United Kingdom, we have the benefit of that sort of legislation and are therefore able to avoid the expensive alternative espoused by the US. We are satisfied that we have 374 sufficient shipping available for our purposes. I understand that the US authorities are now seeking legislation comparable to our own to meet their needs.
My noble friend Lord Fortescue, the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone drew attention to the present difficulty experienced by members of the voluntary reserves, whose unemployment benefit is reduced because of payments they receive in respect of their duties. I recognise this to be a real problem and we are considering in conjunction with the DHSS, what can be done. I can assure all those noble Lords who raised this point that we shall do everything we can to find a solution to it.
My noble friend Lady Vickers inquired why female members of the armed forces receive an X-factor of 7½ per cent., while their male counterparts receive 10 per cent. The X-factor addition to pay is designed to compensate for the relative balance of disadvantage between service and civilian life. Servicewomen do not undertake combat duties, their careers are subject to less turbulence, and a smaller proportion than servicemen are required to work long hours. It therefore has been agreed that the lower X-factor is appropriate. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body and the Government recognised that women were increasingly adopting wider roles and responsibilities when increasing the X-factor rate from 5 per cent. to 7½ per cent. in 1982 for servicewomen, and the position will be kept under review. My noble friend Lady Vickers raised a number of other points relating to servicemen and women and I shall write to her about them.
My noble friend Lord Birdwood made some very helpful remarks about the research side, and particularly about the DTE. I am particularly grateful for those comments and I shall write to him on the matter of an annual statement, which is one of the points he raised to do with research.
I am sure that all those who have a hand in the editing and publication of the Statement on the Defence Estimates will be grateful for the many encouraging views (with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney) which have been expressed on its style and readability, let alone its contents. I was interested and somewhat alarmed by the forecast of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, of what he hoped the Alliance document, perhaps in years to come, might contain.
I noted the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Thomas about the publication for schools of an easily readable or digestible summary of Chapter One. I can tell my noble friend that such a document exists, and I will certainly let him have a copy of it. Perhaps reading some of that document would do much to educate those who took part in the poll to which my noble friend Lord Trenchard referred, and the alarming results of the survey which he related.
I noted the very sincere views of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, and my noble friend Lord Trenchard about the arrangements for this debate. Both of them will understand that this is a 375 matter more for the usual channels than for me, but I can say to both of them that there is a body of opinion which thought that last year's two-day debate was not quite as successful as some hoped it might be. I realise that there is an opposite view to this; but having said that, I am sure that the usual channels will have in mind the views of the noble and gallant Lord when making arrangements for next year's debate.
My noble friend and I will study with care the many points which have been raised in this debate which I have not been able to cover in winding up. In 376 conclusion, let me say this. The preservation of the nation's security is the first and foremost responsibility of any Government. The two facets of security—the pursuit of better relations with fewer armaments, on the one hand; the maintenance of credible and effective defences, on the other—are inseparable. Neither must be neglected; both must be pursued with vigour. The alternatives advocated by both parties opposite tonight are deeply inadequate. This Government have faced up to their responsibilities and will continue to do so in the future.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.