Debate on the Address
Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech
Mr Reginald Paget (Northampton)
I have very great pleasure indeed in congratulating the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) on what, I am sure, we have all felt to be an excellent maiden speech. He has shown a sensitivity to the needs of the countryside and of England's need for her countryside, a need which is not primarily economic but is social and cultural within the balance of our community. The hon. Member expressed that with very great feeling.
It was in connection with the subject of defence, with which I want to deal, that I first met the hon. Member, for we then had the education of serving together in an expedition which epitomised everything which should not be done in a military adventure. We went to Dakar together. He was a young Marine officer and I was the chap who was supposed to land him on that shore. Mercifully, it did not come to that. I remember that we were in the first landing craft that had ever been seen. We travelled on lorries straight across England equipped with tropical gear. On our very secret expedition, when I arrived at the docks at Liverpool and asked for my ship, I was asked whether I was for the Dakar expedition. Off we went, and, meanwhile, the only person who did not know about the Dakar expedition, apparently, was the admiral-in-charge at Gibraltar, because he led two cruisers through to stop us.
Even then, we went on and we came to Dakar. On the one day upon which there was a heavy fog and an absolutely calm sea, we had our chance to land, but, unfortunately, a bombardment had been laid on so we went round in circles waiting for the fog to move; and then the bombardment came from the other way and we had to go home. It was a lamentable event, and I remember then having various political conversations with the hon. Member. I remember counselling him political moderation, and when I see him sitting on the benches opposite I have a feeling perhaps of having been a little too successful.
The main subject to which I wish to revert is what I consider to be the gravest omission in the Gracious Speech; that is, the failure to recognise as a major task of Government a radical readjustment of our Armed Forces to meet our needs in a totally new context, the context which results from the decision taken at N.A.T.O. that Europe can be defended by atomic means, and atomic means alone.
When I look at the Front Bench opposite I must admit to a slight feeling of alarm, which does not detract in any way from the feelings of affection and respect which I feel for the individual Ministers. When I feel that those are the men selected by the Conservative Party to match the power of the Service chiefs, backing the vested interests of existing establishment, and when I realise that they have to match not only the power and influence of those Service chiefs within their Services, but their power and influence within the Conservative Party, I feel that if anything really is to be done, it needs a major figure—might one perhaps mention Lord Salisbury, somebody of that power—within the Conservative Party to be in charge of carrying out the degree of reform which is necessary within the Armed Services.
Let us look at the context of what we are doing and let us look, first, at the functions of the Army. We have to provide four divisions in Germany. I immediately recognise that these are the most essential single thing in world peace today. The hope of stabilising the world depends upon an integration of Europe that brings in Germany. That is the real reason we require German rearmament. It is not because, within an atomic age, so many more ground troops are very important one way or the other. It is that by bringing Germans in as a contribution to the defence of Europe, with an Army integrated, commanded, supplied and armed from N.A.T.O., we create an integration within Europe which is not available in either the political or the economic fields.
Our divisions in Europe are the guarantee of that integration. They are Germany's guarantee against France and France's guarantee against Germany. They are the guarantees against the fears of Europe, and that they should be there, and there permanently, is of vital importance. They have that great political function. But the fact that they have a political function does not seem to me to be a really adequate reason for organising them in such a manner that they could not possibly perform a military function. That is how I see it today.
Let us realise this. Those divisions can only be used in atomic warfare. There can be no other form of European war, because our N.A.T.O. Command is completely committed to an atomic defence against attack. And yet these divisions are organised upon last-war experience, upon the conception of a division that might be required, as occurred in our seizure of Antwerp, to move 300 miles a day with absolute air superiority. On the road with their transport they occupy more than 100 miles of road. They are nearly twice the size in manpower of a Russian division and have less firepower. They are organised on that basis to provide them with a mobility which will be fundamentally unavailable in atomic circumstances.
What we have to realise is that if we are to meet an invasion with atomic weapons, we must have highly trained troops who are capable of dispersion such as we have yet to experience and who are able to maintain their cohesion although organised in very small and widely distributed groups. That is a job for a professional, and not a National Service, army.
What we need is divisions of about half the present size, of highly trained, long-service men, trained to do with a third of their present transport, trained to operate in small units under dispersion such that they do not provide the atomic target but can infiltrate into the atomic gaps which we create. Such divisions will still perform their political function and will also be able to perform a military function which they cannot at present.
I have been—and I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for War for providing me with the opportunity—to all the manoeuvres that have been held in Germany. It has been an intensely interesting experience. However, as year has passed year, the total unreality of those manoeuvres, with the present organisation and the present levels of concentration, has borne itself more and more on my mind. This primarily German commitment requires four professional divisions very much smaller than the present divisions.
What are the other commitments? In the Pacific we have to maintain fairly heavy forces at the moment in Hong Kong. There is no question about that. From a prestige point of view it would be very dangerous to reduce the forces there, although, personally, I am not optimistic as to what they could do in the event of an invasion. They might be able to cover a civilian evacuation. However, politically they are a necessity, although I hope it will be a transitory one and that the level of forces we have there will not be a commitment which will run very long if we can persuade our American friends to be a little more reasonable in their Pacific policy.
Then there is the Malayan commitment. It is about time that we said to our Commonwealth friends, "You live in this sea, and this is something which you ought to do something about." I think that the time in which this island has to carry the whole peace-time commitments of the Commonwealth has passed. There is no reason why Canada and Australia and New Zealand, all of which abut upon the Pacific Ocean, should not be asked now to take over the Pacific commitment. They, after all, are as dependent, perhaps more dependent, than we are upon the contribution of Malaya to the sterling area, and they can and should do something about that, and it is high time the Government had the courage to say to the other members of the Commonwealth, "You have got a job here, too."
Then, as far as the Mediterranean commitment is concerned—