Orders of the Day — Defence Estimates
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
I beg to move,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,508,716,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, for or towards defraying the charges for Defence as set out in House of Commons Paper No. 11, for the year ending on 31st March 1975.
Today's debate is something of an experiment. We had a debate last autumn which was restricted to the Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order—a a similar motion stands on today's Order Paper
That the Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th October, be approved—
and I think there was a very general feeling in the House that the scope of that debate was too narrowly drawn. Indeed, some of us had difficulty in keeping within the rules of order laid down by the Chair. The Procedure Committee recommended in its Third Report, published in May this year, that we should spread out the time that we devote to defence more evenly through the year.
My intention this afternoon——
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
My intention this afternoon is to begin with a fairly brief account of the recent NATO meetings and one or two aspects of the Middle East crisis. I shall then say something about Northern Ireland. The second half of my speech will be a rather miscellaneous rag-bag of items. I shall not have anything to say about the Nugent Report on Defence Lands since my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House last Thursday said that is is hoped to arrange for a separate debate on that matter after Christmas. Nor shall I say very much about the Royal Air Force. I shall leave that to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force when he winds up.
The most dramatic development since our last defence debate in May has, of course, been the Middle East war. I should like to consider very briefly two aspects: namely, the oil crisis and the lessons that the war may hold for our future equipment programme and tactical thinking.
The Services, like the rest of the community, are coming to grips with the shortage of oil. If he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend will deal with this in more detail at the end of the debate. I would just like to reassure the House that we are able to carry out essential training and that this does not present an immediate problem. We have already put into effect a great number of measures designed to conserve fuel.
There are obviously lessons to be learned from the Middle East war. Here some of the most modern equipments in the inventories of the Warsaw Pact and of NATO were used against each other under operational conditions which are much more akin to those we could expect in Europe than, for example, the conditions in Vietnam. However, it is also clear that there are very considerable differences of terrain and climate and, perhaps equally important, of the degree of training and skill possessed by the troops that operated these sophisticated equipments.
There are those who have the clarity of vision to assimilate the lessons of the war and are ready to translate them, at a cost of many millions of pounds, into decisions on equipment. There are others —here I must include all the experts in the Ministry of Defence—who feel that the task is highly complicated and will require a great deal of painstaking effort before we begin to draw firm conclusions. It may be that as a result of the 1973 war there will be a change in military tactics or weaponry as revolutionary as the changes which followed the battles of Arianople, Crecy, Ravenna or Cambrai. But I suspect that the results will not be quite so dramatic. I assure the House that we regard the task of assessing the lessons to be learned from the recent war as of the highest importance.
I come now to NATO. The House will have read the communiqué of last week's Defence Planning Committee. I was encouraged to hear from my right hon. and noble Friend of the businesslike and friendly atmosphere which characterised this meeting. Nevertheless, the Middle East war and crisis has undoubtedly put the alliance under strain, such crises at least have the effect of galvanising the energies of NATO Ministers. We can be sure, for instance, that NATO's procedural arrangements relating to consultation, which are anyway kept under continuous review, will now have several sets of unusually sharp eyes cast over them. We must also recognise the obvious truth that common interests which bind the alliance together are much stronger and much more vital than other areas which may be potentially divisive.
In preparing for today's debate I subjected myself to re-reading the speech I made in May. I said then:
The maintenance of confidence is critical to NATO's well-being. The present happy situation of mutual trust did not arise by accident but by hard work, and we need to continue to work hard in the cause of confidence. This means full and meaningful consultation and frank speaking between allies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May 1973; Vol. 856, c. 760.]
Those words are even more valid today.
It is worth mentioning the concern the NATO defence Ministers expressed in Brussels last week that, despite generally welcome developments in the political field, the Soviet Union and its allies have continued to increase the scale of their military programmes and to strengthen and improve their forces, and that the current military capability of the Soviet Union is well in excess of its need to defend its own territory.
Equally—this is something which I know my right hon. and noble Friend is much concerned about—the NATO Ministers recognised the vital need to develop public understanding of these facts and of the necessity for the West to maintain a resolute defence effort.
It would not be fitting for me today to give a detailed report of the various NATO meetings or of the Eurogroup meeting which preceded them, but there is one matter affecting relations within the alliance on which I should like to say a word. I have no need to remind the House of the internal debate within the United States over the last year or two over the levels of United States forces in Europe or the pressures within Congress for change in the distribution of relative defence burdens within the alliance. The enactment last month of the Jackson-Nunn amendment to the United States 1974 Defence Procurement and Manpower Authorisation Bill, calling on the United States administration to reduce American forces in Europe proportionately to the extent that the United States is unable to recover the balance of payments cost of these forces, served to bring these difficulties into sharper focus.
At the discussion in Brussels last week there was a frank recognition of the problems facing the United States administration and a desire on the part of the European partners to respond positively, although not necessarily in exactly the same way in each case. Equally, I believe there was a good understanding on the part of both our American and our European friends that Britain, which in many ways is in a similar position to the United States in maintaining substantial forces in Germany in pursuance of our treaty obligations, could not be expected to contribute towards the budgetary or balance of payments costs of United States forces in Europe.
Various negotiations are currently in progress between East and West. The most important from the point of view of defence are the MBFR talks in Vienna. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder) was right in pointing out in our last debate the lack of public interest in these talks. Undoubtedly, the issues are complicated and not easily understood, but they are of fundamental importance to the future of us all. I hope I will not be thought unduly pessimistic if I say that I believe that there are great dangers inherent in the talks as well as great opportunities. The danger arises because discussions, once started, may generate their own momentum and NATO security might be put at risk if the bargain contained in the outcome was not right.
I do not think there are many hon. Members who are informed on these matters who would not recognise that if our relative security is to remain unimpaired, force reductions will need to be asymmetrical.
Mr Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Those of us who have been serving on the Committee dealing with the Biological Weapons Bill have tried to raise the question of the negotiations on chemical weapons. Will the Minister say what are the sticking points on the negotiations that are taking place between East and West?
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
I would rather not be drawn into the details of negotiations either on MBFR or on chemical weapons, because they are extremely technical and complicated and have reached a fairly delicate stage.
The reason why the force reductions will need to be asymmetrical is simple. The Warsaw Pact has more men, tanks and aircraft in Central Europe, and Russia has the advantage of geography, which enables it to reinforce Eastern Europe more quickly than the United States can deploy additional forces and equipment to Germany. But this is not an easy point to put across to public opinion or to Congress. However, the NATO alliance has entered these talks with a firm commitment that it is not prepared to accept any settlement which impairs security. It will be a great test of solidarity to see that that pledge is redeemed and cohesion maintained.
The United Kingdom worked hard in this cause throughout the summer in the preparations leading up to the opening of talks on 31st October, and it is a considerable indication of the good sense and good spirit within the alliance that we entered negotiations well prepared and united. They have started in a thoroughly businesslike way. Both sides have avoided polemics and are starting to tackle issues. But we have a long way to go, and it would be foolish to believe that such complex negotiations can be easily concluded.
I turn now to Northern Ireland. My right hon. and noble Friend, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army and I all try to make fairly frequent visits to Northern Ireland, and I was there at the end of last week while the momentous talks were in progress at Sunningdale. I visited Army units in Belfast and also in Lurgan and Armagh, where I also saw a UDR unit. I had a chance to see units of the Royal Military Police which are doing such a fine job in co-operation with the RUC. The border areas, where I spent some time, are where the Provisional IRA has concentrated in recent months because it has been severely weakened in the cities. Many of the incidents there have obviously been designed to catch the headlines. The security forces have taken steps to counter this development, including the closing of certain unapproved border crossings.
Every time I go to Northern Ireland my admiration for the way in which the security forces have carried out, and are carrying out, their duties through this long vale of trouble becomes even more pronounced. When their job is not dangerous it is uncomfortable and boring, and it is often all three things together. Yet day after day, night after night, they are subjected in some areas to unremitting abuse together with more tangible tokens, and, sadly, these often come from women and children. Yet, despite this dreadful provocation, the ordinary soldier tenaciously clings to his belief that at the end of the day fundamental human decency will triumph over the evil and warped designs of terrorists who are not heroes or martyrs but simply common criminals of a particularly nasty sort.
We must hope that the dawn of reason is now upon us. But, whether it is or not, our forces, without flinching, will continue to do all that is necessary to restore the security situation. The House may be interested to know that so far this year 1,353 persons have been arrested and charged with offences of a security nature, of whom 810 are Catholics and 543 Protestants.
We have recently reduced the force level in Northern Ireland by two battalions, so that there are now 16 major units in the infantry rôle. I should like once again to assure the House that we watch the situation constantly and closely and that the force level will be adjusted to meet whatever operational situation should arise.
I should not like to leave the subject of Northern Ireland without a word on behalf of the Armed Forces about my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Employment. Although he has, naturally and rightly, always looked at the problems of Ulster from the point of view of the civil population as a whole, he has throughout these desperate times been a constant source of inspiration to the troops and a tower of strength to the GOCs and the senior officers. The close and harmonious working relationship between the civil power and the security forces, which is so essential, is in large part due to the efforts of my right hon. Friend. The Armed Forces wish his successor well and look forward to working with him.
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
We try to avoid using any of these gases or weapons because we follow the doctrine of minimum force. But where there is a riot and where it is likely that fierce measures would have to be used, troops may use CS gas. The use of CR gas has been authorised, in special circumstances, against terrorism when the use of gunfire would be the alternative. But it has not been used yet.
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
I do not wish to say too much about it. The guidelines are very strict. I cannot add to what I said, except to repeat that CR gas has not yet been used.
All Defence Ministers try to find as much time as they can to get out of our offices and talk to as many units of the three Services as we can. There are two main worries that I have come across in recent months, and I dare say hon. Members have found much the same through their constituents—pay and house purchase. There can be no doubt that the pay of the Armed Forces has fallen behind comparable civilian earnings since the beginning of 1972. The Armed Forces Pay Review recommended earlier this year that the forces should get the maximum permissible increase under stage 2, and this was paid from the 1st April. The review body is now engaged in considering the next regular two-yearly review of pay due next April against the background of stage 3.
The rapid increase in house prices has meant that many Service men have not been able to purchase a house on leaving the Service: their savings have not kept pace. It is a matter of serious concern, and it is having an effect on the re-engagement rate, since some Service men undoubtedly feel that they have to leave in order to stand a chance of owning their own house. Others, understandably, buy a house at an early stage of their Army career as a hedge against inflation. However, this can lead to problems with officers and senior NCOs, living in the mess during the week and then going off to join their families—perhaps a very considerable distance away—at the weekend. It is disruptive of their family life, and it is also changing the way of life of Service units. Unfortunately, as usual, it is a great deal easier to outline the problem than to outline the solution. But, as I have told the House before, we are urgently considering various possibilities.
Pay and housing are, clearly, factors which have an important influence on recruiting, though there are others which are also important.
Mr Don Concannon (Mansfield)
Before the Minister of State leaves housing, during the last debate one or two hon. Members stressed the importance of council houses. There was a half-promise that the Department would look into this seriously and strengthen the circular sent to local authorities to try to get over the problem of Service men coming out of the forces. I have had no intimation that this was done. I think the promise was that the Department would keep us in touch, but I have had nothing sent to me. Are the wheels still grinding, albeit slowly, and will this go out to the local authorities?
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
I can confirm that the wheels are still grinding. We have had consultations with the Department of the Environment, which is ultimately responsible, to see whether a firmer circular would help the position. It is a matter for the local authorities themselves. We are certainly anxious to encourage them to do what they can for ex-Service men. While many are very good indeed already, some are not.
We forecast earlier this year that the Services would face problems of recruitment in 1973 and, indeed, for the next few years. But things are turning out even more bleakly than we expected. The House will be aware from the latest recruiting figures that the number of Service men entered for all three Services in the 12 months to the end of September this year was a little over 28,000 compared with nearly 44,000 in the corresponding period last year. The greatest shortfall is in the Army, where we look like recruiting only half as many soldiers as last year. So far the trained strengths of the Services have not been affected, but, obviously, we cannot afford to sustain such a rate of loss for very long.
Dr Alan Glyn (Windsor)
Is there any significance in the fact that recruitment for the Army is lower? Is not this tied up considerably with what many of us raised last year on the whole question not only of housing while men are in the Services but of housing afterwards, because it probably affects the Army more than the other Services?
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
My hon. Friend may well be right. As I have indicated, housing is an important matter.
A system of voluntary recruitment such as we have, and which best suits the need of this country, obviously involves the possibility of varying success from one year to another.
Mr Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow East)
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
We are looking at this. Our belief—it cannot be a certainty—is that advertising does have a considerable effect. That is why last week we authorised an additional £400,000 advertising expenditure for recruitment. We must hope that the present situation is only a temporary setback.
Reverting to housing, I have been concerned recently about the number of empty married quarters. Inevitably, there will always be a number of houses empty because of the need to make repairs and the short intervals between occupations. But this does not represent a real problem. There are also houses that are no longer required which we try to dispose of as quickly as possible. More difficult problems arise when an Army unit is moved overseas and there is a time lag before another unit takes over the vacated barracks and associated married quarters.
To take another example, we may be introducing a new aircraft into service, and this may involve a chain reaction of redeployments. In the meantime, one or more stations may have to be kept empty temporarily with the associated married quarters.
We are looking into the possibility in this sort of situation of letting the houses temporarily to the local authorities, for example. There are problems, and the biggest is to ensure that we get the houses back again when we need them for members of the Services. We shall have to see whether we can solve that problem. Meanwhile, I am pleased to announce that we have in the last few days offered to make available the use of about 100 Army married quarters in Scotland for up to a year, to accommodate men working away from their homes on the construction of oil rigs so that they can have their families with them.
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
I am glad to hear that.
A few weeks ago I visited Scotland myself to see the Service men who provided fire services for Glasgow during an industrial dispute. They performed the task magnificently, but it was a most worrying time for us and for Glasgow, because a major fire, or one, for example, at the top of a high building, would have presented the greatest difficulties to Service men who were not trained for such specialised tasks.
Since we last debated defence, the so-called "cod war" off Iceland has come to an end and the frigates and RAF aircraft have been withdrawn from the waters and airspace round Iceland. Not surprisingly, the Royal Navy has been highly praised by the trawlermen and the public. Yet again the good sense, the good humour, the courage and the sheer professional skill of our forces were amply demonstrated.
Finally, I should like to mention a change we are making in the method of deploying the Fleet. Before I do so, however, I shall just say a brief word about the maritime Harrier. I am well aware of the anxiety felt by many hon. Members that there should now be a decision, but I am afraid that I am not yet in a position to announce such a decision. I believe that in the present situation the reasons for this will be well understood.
For some time we have been concerned that meeting overseas commitments by single ship deployments has involved long and unproductive passages, expensive in ship time, for the destroyer and frigate force of the Royal Navy. This has been particularly true of commitments a long distance from the United Kingdom, such as those east of the Cape.
Efficiency and economy of operation require that ships operate as far as possible in self-sufficient groups in which they can train together. Some commitments must continue to be met by single ship deployments, but next year, so far as is possible, the destroyer and frigate force of the Royal Navy will operate in groups of ships. As far as commitments east of the Cape are concerned, groups of five to six ships will be deployed so that one such group is present east of the Cape for up to 10 months in the year. A small permanent nucleus of ships, including frigates based on Hong Kong and Singapore, will also be maintained in the area.
I emphasise that this is a change in method, not in policy. The new arrangements will enable us to meet our commitments east of the Cape more effectively. For most of the year there will be more than six ships east of the Cape, though for a small part of the year fewer than that. The benefits from this will not be confined to the region east of the Cape. For example, it will now be possible for us to offer a full-time contribution to NATO's proposed Standing Naval Force in the Mediterranean.
In conclusion, I should like to say how lucky I feel I am to have been able to work so closely with the Armed Forces. Over the past year I have seen them at work in many parts of the world. I know that the Diplomatic Service will forgive me if I say that our soldiers, sailors and airmen are undoubtedly our finest ambassadors. I know that the House will join me in sending our Service men and their families our best wishes at this time of the year and our thanks for their vital contribution to our national well-being.
Sir John Morris (Aberavon)
The Minister divided his speech, like Caesar's Gaul, into three parts—first a short word on NATO, then Northern Ireland and then what he described as a miscellaneous rag-bag. I will seek to follow him on NATO and Northern Ireland though I do not know what justice I can do to the miscellaneous rag-bag that he galloped through.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and others of us, as my hon. Friend reminded us, have raised in trenchant terms the real problems of housing. I was amazed to hear the Minister say today that he is urgently considering the matter. It was raised as long ago as March of this year in the Estimates debates and, if I recall aright, even earlier than that.
Mr Ian Gilmour (Norfolk Central)
There are, of course, two separate points. The question which the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) raised was that of trying to persuade local authorities to be more forthcoming in providing houses for the Services. The second is enabling our forces to buy their own houses. It is the second about which I was mostly talking about.
Sir John Morris (Aberavon)
Be that as it may—we shall study HANSARD carefully—this is an urgent problem. Only last week, I came across a constituency case showing the disparity in the attitudes of local authorities which, because of the high cost of building, cannot provide houses. This means that soldiers with perhaps tenuous connections with a locality are in great difficulty in getting on any housing list. This is a matter of the utmost importance. There are tragic cases and the Minister was right to underline the fact that this must be a major factor in re-engagement.
Perhaps the Minister could bring forward concrete proposals. I recall the circular that we issued and I know that this is a matter within the jurisdiction of local authorities. Since he regards it as important to ensure the right level of engagement and that soldiers do not opt out, perhaps he could offer some financial assistance to local authorities which would otherwise find it impossible to build more houses than those living in their areas normally require. Whether or not the urgent consideration is only one aspect of the problem, I hope that, by the time of the next White Paper, the Minister will have specific proposals to ameliorate the undoubted hardship faced by many Service men who want to ensure that they have somewhere to go at the end of their Service days.
I found very odd and sad the recruitment figures that the Minister gave. My recollection, and I am sure that of the whole House, is that, when we had difficulties over recruitment, before the introduction of the military salary under my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), which did so much to correct the position, we were taunted from this Dispatch Box that the reason for the fall in recruitment was our policies. I hope that the Minister will recognise now that recruitment is not immune or isolated from the economic conditions of the country and that he will not regard it as appropriate to use that argument in future, bearing in mind his present difficulty.
1 accept that it is highly appropriate that today we should depart from the procedure of last year, when we had a very narrow and constricted debate which perhaps is best forgotten. Today's procedure is very much better. It is in accord with some of the proposals of the Select Committee. Now that the Committee has heard evidence from many parts of the House and has reported, what will be the Governments' approach by the time the White Paper comes out? So far, we have not had any Government reaction.
I want to deal with the undoubted crisis which the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has gone through since our last debate in May. We have been told time and again that NATO is the cornerstone of American foreign policy. It was reaffirmed by Dr. Kissinger only on Monday. But to us it is more than a cornerstone—it is the whole foundation of the stability and security of this country. We participate in NATO, contribute to it and benefit from the partnership arising within it. Therefore, it is right to examine how the present situation departs from the principles of the North Atlantic Treaty, the 25th birthday of which will be celebrated on 4th April next.
In the treaty, the members first of all reaffirmed the Charter of the United
Nations; secondly, they pledged their determination
…to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded "—
it is right that we should remind ourselves of this on some occasions—
on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law".
Thirdly, they sought
…to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area".
…resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence. .".
What we should ask now, as we have done on previous occasions, is whether the hands of the member nations are clean on the second pledge. I refer in particular to Greece.
Where stand Her Majesty's Government on this issue? Not only is there a question of political morality and adherence to these principles, to which we are a party; there is also the question of how far in Western European defence we can depend on Greece, given the turbulence and turmoil there today.
I understand that at Monday's meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers, the Dutch, Canadian and Norwegian Foreign Ministers all reminded their Greek counterpart of the need to return to democracy in Greece and that the continuation of the military régime there could endanger the security of NATO's southern flank. Proposals were made to examine the situation. Where stood Her Majesty's Government? What was their reaction? Did they stand on the same platform with Mr. van der Stoel, the Dutch Foreign Minister, and the Canadians and Norwegians? We should be told where the Government stand on this issue.
Understanding the treaty as we do on this very issue of stability and well-being of the treaty area, how far has this aspect affected the consideration of the crisis of the events outside the NATO area in the last few months? There was a difference in approach to the Middle East crisis, both within Europe itself and between Europe and the United States. I do not propose in a defence debate to go into the merits of the different approaches, but we must examine the implications and the lessons to be learned about defence arrangements and the collective security of NATO.
Hard words were said and unfortunate attitudes were taken. This week, Dr. Kissinger has been trying to patch up the family quarrel. He knows—and it is right to remind him—that unless this cornerstone of his policy is sound, it will be that much more difficult for him to be adventurous in the pursuit of peace and the East-West détente. I invite the State Department spokesman, Mr. McCloskey, to read the NATO treaty, because he it was who questioned how European activities squared with European references to the indivisibility of security.
Criticism of the fact that the quarrel took place in public has been made by The Times, but I remind it that in a democracy it is one of our greatest and most highly prized jewels that we can ventilate our differences in public. The way we do it is the price that has to be paid. If some leaders of nations behave like raucous fishwives, it is all that much more difficult for the family to live happily ever after.
What did happen towards the end of October, and what lessons are to be learned for the defence posture of the alliance and of Europe in particular? First, the National Security Council met in Washington on the night of Wednesday, 24th October, to discuss the issue of its understanding of the departure of Soviet troops to the Middle East. Present were President Nixon himself and Dr. Kissinger. Secondly, in the early hours of Thursday, 25th October, the American Strategic Command and strategic units were alerted. Thirdly, the NATO Council was called latish on the morning of 25th October for a special session.
I find it odd—indeed, somewhat bizarre—that as late as lunchtime on the Thursday the senior officers at NATO's Oslo headquarters were not aware that there was an alert at all. Whatever noises are made by the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary now in defence of what took place, the truth of the matter is that we were not informed in time of the American intentions. This is why we should examine, first, whether there were good reasons for the alert; secondly, how effective the machinery for consultation was; and, thirdly, whether the United States was justified in complaining about lack of European co-operation.
On the reasons for the alert, the best verdict we can return is one unfamiliar to English law but prevalent in Scotland—not proven. The Foreign Secretary himself reported on 29th October that there was no evidence that the USSR seriously considered sending troops to the Middle East. Indeed, the NATO Council leaked on Friday, 26th October, that it had no good reason for believing that the Americans should have gone so far as to have a full alert. Thirdly, Britain and, indeed, NATO, did not know or have the necessary knowledge to reach a decision whether there was cause for this degree of alert or not.
Sir John Morris (Aberavon)
I do not think I used the word "full". It was an alert grade three, which was referred to by the Foreign Secretary in the debate on the Loyal Address on 31st October. If I may deal with the point, as it has been raised, it is rather odd that the Foreign Secretary should tell the House that when the Americans alert their forces there is no obligation on the Americans to discuss this matter with their allies. This is odd in the extreme. The Foreign Secretary added:
If there had been a proposal that they be used from the United Kingdom, consultations would have had to take place."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October 1973; Vol. 863, c. 185.]
I find it odd that we are first told that there can be an alert of troops within the United Kingdom without any consultation. The whole purpose of an alert is to place troops in readiness for use. One of the excuses given was that there was no time for consultation, yet if the troops had to be used there would have been, according to the Foreign Secretary's understanding, some consultation. This is bizarre in the extreme, if it is the reality of the situation, and the sooner it is remedied the better.
Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what the situation was when he was the Minister involved in this vital sphere of defence preparation?
Sir John Morris (Aberavon)
It is not for me to disclose in any way such matters. With respect, the hon. and gallant Gentleman should know better. I am merely quoting from the utterances, which cannot be reconciled, of the Foreign Secretary in this House. I am suggesting to him that if he has stated the situation accurately—and I hope he has—it urgently demands a remedy.
The need for an improvement in consultations has been set out and discussed in the deliberations of the NATO Foreign Ministers this week. I was glad to read the communiqué issued today about the Ministers' instruction to the Council to consider the most appropriate means of ensuring the full effectiveness of the consultations, which is so necessary. That is an admission that things are not as they should be and an admission of the need for reform and improvement. I hope that these will take place shortly.
Then there are the complaints made regarding the European lack of co-operation. The international power structure today is dominated—in my view disproportionately—by the super nuclear Powers. One remembers the maxim that all power corrupts. The same is even truer when the degree of absolute power is such that the whole world could be destroyed. In this structure the United States is the dominant partner of the alliance, and Western Europe, whether it likes it or not, shelters under the American nuclear umbrella. The Middle East war has demonstrated that Europe's peacetime interests are not necessarily co-terminus with those of the United States. While Western Europe depends on the Americans, the Americans—perhaps in a different way—depend in turn on Europe. This is why NATO is the cornerstone. The American policy, and the part they play, is also the cornerstone of our policy.
But the fact that we in Europe, through our successful arrangements in Europe, are a cornerstone of United States foreign policy should not be taken to mean that a cornerstone is a doormat for the United States. The sooner Dr. Kissinger—who is said to be "disgusted with NATO "—realises that, the better. Europe cannot be bulldozed. There is no such thing as a European view on matters which occur outside Europe. I hope that this has been realised. There is a right to disagree, and Europe will disagree on many matters which arise outside Europe. That may be unpleasant news for the State Department, and the sooner it learns that the better.
I find odd a statement by President Nixon in which he said:
Our European friends have not been as co-operative as they might have been in attempting to help us to work out the Middle East situation.
So far as America was concerned there was no rôle for Europe in the Middle East situation. Europe was not to play a rôle. Europe was denied a rôle. The only co-operation needed was not in settling the dispute but in carrying on the fighting.
Therefore it is right that we should examine further what happened in Britain on that occasion. We have for a long time been regarded as an unsinkable aircraft carrier for the United States. We should know whether the United Kingdom accepts that American bases in Britain can be alerted and activated without the prior permission of the United Kingdom. The moment the alert takes place the degree of danger to us rises.
That is why it is so necessary to work on and urgently to improve on what I understand is the present situation, as reported in HANSARD on 31st October. The House should be told whether we denied the use of sovereign bases in Akrotiri to the Americans when, I understand, they wanted to use them. If we were not specifically asked and there was no specific refusal was a message conveyed to the Americans, in the usual diplomatic way in which these things are done, querying whether they wanted to use the bases for this purpose, with an indication that it would be unwelcome if any such need arose? Various organs in America, for example the Wall Street Journal, have condemned Herr Brandt, President Pompidou, our Prime Minister and the whole of Europe for a lack of backbone. I find very odd Dr. Kissinger's statement in which he said:
For two weeks while the United States had to make significant decisions the Europeans acted as though the Alliance did not even exist.
If that is the case, and if there were two weeks in which these decisions could be taken, the allies were treated in a curious way, without any warning being given. The trite phrase was forged in Madison Avenue for Dr. Kissinger that this was
the year of Europe. Now, almost at the end of 1973, that phrase must have turned into ashes in his mouth, when he contemplates what has happened in October. It was Lady Macbeth who said:
All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.
Despite the immense and welcome effort at conciliation in the past few days, one hopes that it is now fully understood by Dr. Kissinger and President Nixon that the memory of the arrogance and petulance of the last few months will not easily be eroded.
If there is to be a partnership in Europe worthy of the name, and if we are not to be obliged to take instant American diplomacy unquestioningly, there is a need to recognise these lessons, act upon them and do business accordingly. I was glad this week to read Dr. Kissinger's statement in which he recognised that there was no incompatibility between Europe having its own identity and continuing the transatlantic unity. What is odd is that such a statement had to be made at all or that this had been in question. What is odd is that the State Department did not realise the difference in identity and our wish, from time to time within Europe, to act differently. It is against that background that I hope that the present arrangements in NATO can be translated into effective machinery which will avoid the embarrassment of the past few months.
It has been asked in the NATO Council this week just how much can the alliance be transformed from a purely defensive arrangement into a piece of diplomatic machinery. We very much hope that we can play a significant rôle in the Vienna talks. We attach importance to the European Security Conference. I know of the immense amount of work that has gone into preparing for these talks. Great difficulties will arise, bringing with them a need for much patience if the talks are to meet with some degree of success.
What is important is that we should play a part and be able to decrease the tension by some practical measures within Europe, particularly Central Europe, at the same time maintaining the security of this country. If the United States wishes Europe to play an important part, I wonder why we should be so excluded in the next stages of the Salt talks. Now that we are getting away from the stratosphere and nearer to the ground, why should Europe and other countries be excluded from bilateral and secret talks? Europe is left to guess at what bargains are being struck.
One impression which has been conveyed is that the Vienna talks are something to do with the reduction of Warsaw Pact and American troops. I hope that that is a wrong impression and that the beneficiaries of these talks will also include ourselves and other European countries. It has been cynically asked whether the talks are a means of balancing a reduction of Warsaw Pact and NATO troops in Central Europe or merely a formula for pre-empting the unilateral reduction of American forces in Europe. Despite what Mr. Schlesinger said recently, we all know that pressure for the reduction of American troops in Europe is increasing month by month in the United States. Senators and Congressmen to whom one talks are quite frank in their approach and tell us that this is the reality of the situation in the United States. What we must ensure is that any such reductions are part of the whole arrangement arrived at in Vienna, involving the whole of Europe.
I hope that we shall benefit from a limitation of defence expenditure. Ours is wholly out of line with other western European countries. Our aim should be to bring it into line. This is the time when next year's defence budget is being considered. In comparing our defence expenditure with that of other countries we should ask whether we are comparing like with like. Are the same factors fed in? It has been estimated that provision of married quarters, education and medical services costs something in excess of £250 million in one year. It is important that the comparison should be correct and that our defence budget should carry only its correct proportion of the burden.
Mr Winston Churchill (Stretford)
While I strongly agree with the right hon. and learned Member's latter point, may I put it to him that it is absurd that we should judge our defence expenditure by comparing it with that of our allies? Surely that is an irrelevance. It is more appropriate to judge it by the defence expenditure of potential aggressors.
Sir John Morris (Aberavon)
The hon. Gentleman will remember that our American allies argue that their burden of defence expenditure is in excess of that carried by other European countries. We can argue that our burden vis-à-vis our European partners should not be excessive.
When I was in the Ministry of Transport I chaired an inquiry into the financing of British Rail. The aim was to examine whether the service was carrying the right burden of expenditure on things such as pensions, museums, railway crossings, and so on, and to analyse the performance of British Rail. It was from that exercise, which I think I can describe as being highly successful, without being unduly modest, that there emerged much of the Transport Act 1968. That is the sort of basis on which I would like us to consider our correct defence budget.
We live in an era of economic adversity. No one would deny that, except perhaps the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who sees a crock of gold at the end of every rainbow. We believe that we must cut our coat according to our cloth. When we preached that philosophy in Government we were derided by the then Opposition. It was strange that in one of his first speeches the present Secretary of State for Defence accepted that philosophy.
In the last two months we have seen a number of kites being flown about projects in their early stages which might be axed. Are we to be told what is being considered in the defence review, which forms part of the review of public expenditure generally? I find it odd that the Minister was not able to reach a decision about the Navy Harriers. That has been shelved. I know of the rage there was m the Admiralty in July because the admirals failed to get their way. There are a number of such projects being canvassed in the national daily newspapers as being either at risk or in danger of being pushed to one side. The House and the Services should be told what these are. If there are to be cuts in public expenditure then defence must carry its proper share.
I turn now to the sad news we had a few days ago which came with the disclosure—without a word to the House—that the seven Westland Wasp helicopters were beginning to be delivered to South Africa. The last we heard of these matters was as far back as 22nd February 1971 when we were told that the Westland production line had been closed down. We all recall the traumatic experiences of the Foreign Secretary and the Government following their instant reaction in June and July 1970. Now we hear that three have been sent, without a word to the House, ready to take part in CAPEX, the joint British and South African naval exercise. I am told that it is a new exercise which is to be biennial.
We thought that the Government had learned their lesson. They nearly wrecked the Commonwealth Conference in 1971. Dependent as we are on Nigeria, among other countries, for oil, is this the time to throw this issue in Nigeria's face? Has there been consultation with Nigeria? If so, what reactions have there been in that country? Will the Government never learn? Whatever price they have to pay, they stubbornly continue with policies that have been condemned as outrageous by the Commonwealth and, indeed, by the world.
I endorse the congratulations that have been extended to our troops in Northern Ireland. Their gallantry and patience has been unparalleled. When I heard in the House on Monday the congratulations to individuals concerned in the Sunningdale talks, my mind went out to our troops who by their unenviable daily tasks have laid the foundation which has enabled the politicians to have time to reach a measure of agreement.
More than 200 of our men have paid the supreme price. Others have been injured. We have made arrangements for pensions to assist the families of those men who served so bravely in Northern Ireland. We send them our best wishes.
I hope that the Minister will recall the request I made in our last defence debate for a proper appraisal to be included in the next White Paper of the effects of service in Northern Ireland upon our Army and defences in Germany. When the cavalry and the armoured regiments are sent to serve in Northern Ireland they have to wrap up their tanks and prepare for service in Northern Ireland, and it is the best part of a year if not more before they return to their normal duties. That is probably why the cavalry regiments are not called upon so frequently as are other units to serve in Northern Ireland.
So far as security considerations allow, I hope that the Minister in his statement and in the White Paper will tell us as much as he can about the effect on our defences of service in Northern Ireland, especially when our troops are called upon to serve there for such long periods.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in sending our good wishes to all our troops wherever they serve, in particular to those who carry this enormous burden in Northern Ireland.
Mr Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) began by saying that the NATO, the alliance, was vital to the security and safety of both Europe and the United States. That is easy enough to say. So far, so good. As a generalised view, it would, I think, have the support of the great majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House. But I cannot follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman's strictures on some members of the alliance. It is true that some of them are not as we are and that that to a degree weakens the cohesion of the alliance, but to expel them from NATO, which is the implication of his rebuke, would weaken that alliance still further. I will concentrate on the relationship between Europe and the United States, with special reference to the NATO Council meeting that is being held at the moment in Brussels.
Europe is in search of a foreign policy. A foreign policy must imply, sooner or later, a defence policy held in common. A defence policy for Europe can be formulated only in the context of European-American relations. Somewhat ironically, 1973 was declared by the Americans to be "The Year of Europe". Nixon—a wounded President—was to have visited Europe. The last time an American President visited Europe was a decade ago, in 1963. In that intervening period how have our perceptions of each other changed?
Europe sees America as a "rogue elephant" in the forest wounded after a reckless adventure in the Far East. We see America less and less available for the process of leadership. On the other hand, America sees Europe as divided, surprisingly rich and exceedingly selfish—hardly a good augury for success.
Mr Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I apologise to the House for that error. I am making the general point that had Nixon arrived this year there is a comparison to be made between his visit and that of Jack Kennedy in 1963. I know that the visit of President Johnson intervened——
Mr Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
The right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) is being a little less than fair. The whole purpose of Nixon's visit in 1973 was to visit not only this country but to make a grand tour of the alliance within Europe, which is what Jack Kennedy did in 1963. Perhaps I may be allowed cautiously to make the comparisons between 1963 and 1973 in the perceptions that the Europeans have of America and the Americans have of Europe.
A decade ago a confident United States saw France under de Gaulle calling for the Europe of the Nation States, a Europe strong enough to be able to challenge the super-Powers. America saw Germany a decade ago economically strong but hesitant, still with the marks of the self-inflicted moral wounds of the Second World War, but none the less anchored securely to American policy.
America saw England, under the leadership of Harold Macmillan—her most successful Prime Minister since the war—an England that had abandoned the Empire and was in the process of winding up the "special relationship" with the United States, an England hell-bent, to use the word of the present Leader of the Opposition, on entry into Europe. A decade ago America was a country in surplus, suffering from no obvious moral or financial crisis, optimistic, sure in her strength.
In 1973 the Europe of the Six has become the Europe of the Nine. The accession of the United Kingdom to the EEC has changed Europe from a collection of satellites of the United States into the largest economic rival of the United States. France no longer speaks with her old authority, and the expulsion of Debré from the French Government has signalled the real possibility of new forms of defence co-operation between Britain and France. Germany, by its diplomacy over the decade, has conferred international recognition upon the post-war frontiers of Europe.
In his April speech Dr. Kissinger not only alarmed Europe by his rhetoric—in particular by linking economics with security—but he also asserted
The United States has world-wide interests and responsibilities …the Europeans have only regional interests.
While this is true in part with regard to security interests, it is untrue with regard to economics; and it is with security that I wish to deal. It was the existence of a separate European regional interest that was the root cause of the complaints and squabbling between the alliance as a result of the Middle East war.
Mr Thomas Peart (Workington)
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) is a distinguished member of the Western European Union Assembly. He mentioned Mr. Debré. It is true that Mr. Debré argued about France playing its part purely as a national power in Europe, but the hon. Gentleman was at the assembly only recently when Mr. Jobert, the French Foreign Minister, endorsed exactly what Mr. Debré said. Why does the hon. Gentleman take such an optimistic view?
Mr Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
The right hon. Member for Workington interrupted Mr. Jobert in the middle of his speech, but he could not have listened to that speech with care. Mr. Jobert said that he felt that WEU might become the fulorum through which the defence identity of Europe might emerge. Mr. Debré said no such thing. Does the right hon. Gentleman want to intervene again?
Mr Thomas Peart (Workington)
I merely asked Mr. Jobert why if France was interested in the defence of Europe she did not join NATO. If the hon. Gentleman reads carefully what Mr. Jobert said, he will see that he took Mr. Debré's view.
Mr Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I do not want to go over the answer I have already given to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am saying that there is now a distinct difference in French foreign policy, and it is interesting and discernible. It may not go as far as the right hon. Gentleman or I would like but there is a difference.
European foreign policy has already evolved in part through the need to coordinate allied policies for the CSCE and the MBFR, and in part in response to Europe's lack of oil. If American force reductions are inevitable, and also German force reductions, then a similar compulsion must oblige Europe to harmonise its policies on defence. Fewer troops will force us to seek new strategies for the defence of Europe.
But what of Henry Kissinger? It is good to have a Secretary of State who has not only heard of Metternich but has also written a book about him. He has a remorseless sense of humour of which I should like to give an example. He was recently asked at a Press conference by an earnest newspaperman from Newsweek why he was seen so often in the company of glamorous girls such as Jill St. John. He replied "If you spent a good deal of time negotiating with Golda Meir, would you take Indira Gandhi to dinner?" Anybody who could make a crack like that cannot be all bad.
United States diplomats have always been inclined to hector their allies, and Dr. Kissinger lectures them as well. There have been times when he has treated his allies as though they were in the "C" stream of his international relations classes at Harvard. What the alliance has to decide is whether it is to be of a regional nature or a world-wide alliance. If we examine the Middle East crisis, it is clear that on both sides there has been a degree of bad management. Dr. Kissinger failed to inform and consult his allies, but Europe expects too much since we have no unity in political terms and have made no progress whatever in seeking to find an institutional framework for our defence and foreign policies.
There are four lessons to be learned from the Middle East crisis. First, it was inexcusable for the alliance to be caught napping; secondly, the interests of the alliance cannot always be identical; thirdly, the United States-Europe alliance is essential to the security and survival of Europe; and fourthly, since the United States position both morally and politically has been weakened by recent events—not least by Watergate—she needs to be reminded that she needs the support of Europe as much as Europe needs the protection of the United States.
To return briefly to the defence of Europe, our problem is that we shall have to hold the line with fewer men. The present strategy involving a linear defence, with few reserves and American nuclear weapons, must be replaced by a system of defence in depth in Germany with fortifications, and a force of militia in reserve perhaps on the Swiss pattern, together with many more and improved defensive weapons such as anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. A smaller number of American forces should be included as proof of America's interest in the security of her major ally.
Clearly Europe must re-evaluate her own defence positions. What sort of institution should she seek? She may choose a newer, looser form of a European defence community of a non-nuclear character but without the integration proposed in the 1950s. On the other hand she may prefer a defence committee combined with a European nuclear committee, as I advocated last month in Paris at the Western European Union Assembly. United States nuclear assistance on equal terms to both Britain and France would be a means not of weakening but of strengthening the alliance. But whatever its shape may be, the conventional defence of central Europe should become a mainly European responsibility.
After a decade we see that the American hegemony over Europe has diminished, yet Europe still remains humiliatingly dependent upon America for her defence. Europe has a gross 'national product larger than that of Russia and larger than that of China and Japan combined. We enjoy a respectable rate of growth. Europe is responsible for 40 per cent. of the world's trade. She can rival the economy of the United States. But Europe needs allies. The task of her statesmen is to change the nature of her relationship with America in order to preserve a permanent American interest in her security and survival.
Mr James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)
The disciplinary legislation which we are nominally debating today represents a distinct move forward in co-operation among the Services and is a great memorial to Gerry Reynolds' work on this subject. When he started on this task it was thought to be a most difficult one, full of Service rivalries, but he persisted with it and we now take it for granted that there is much greater unification among the Services.
My theme today is that one of the areas in which there has not been sufficient movement in the Ministry of Defence is in the continuing co-operation among the Services in terms of economies. These are matters on which the Defence Subcommittee of the Expenditure Committee is trying to get more action. No doubt the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) will have the opportunity to elaborate this point a little later and to some extent perhaps I have anticipated his remarks. However, this theme has lost much of its momentum in the last two or three years.
One large area in which there could be some savings—I do not say that they would be dramatic, but they would be worth while—is in training matters. If the House looks at the expenditure on training as set out in the White Paper, hon. Members will see that £348 million is spent on training, which is not so very different from the figure for the whole of BAOR. In fact our expenditure on BAOR is much the same as our expenditure on training and the number of people involved in training is actually greater than the number of personnel in BAOR.
To the layman there seem a great many areas in training where anomalies exist. Only a few days ago the Defence Committee was discussing the Jarrett Report, and there are a number of small areas there where the Jarrett Committee has made recommendations about common training for some medical branches of the Services. I hope that the Under-Secretary can give some indication of the progress being made.
These are relatively small areas, but what is striking is that they appear to the layman to be matters to which attention should have been given years ago. Perhaps some of us on the Opposition benches are disappointed that we never came upon them and attended to them ourselves when we were in Government. It is because these small matters have remained unattended to that I draw attention to a number of larger ones where there could be substantial savings in the cost of military training.
I make no criticism of the quality of training in the Services. In many ways military training, especially in technical subjects, is superior to civil training. In putting forward my argument I do not suggest any diminution in standards. However it ought to be possible to do what is already being done and to have one Service take on training for the other two. In that way economies may follow with no effect on efficiency.
I take as an example training in catering or victualling. It is ridiculous that the three Services should have three sets of training. Food does not taste so very different whether it is eaten in a ship or on an RAF station, and catering operations in the field are not dissimilar. Whatever slight essential differences in techniques there may be could be taught, after the basic training, in a few days in the ship or at the field kitchen.
I take as another example the training of physical training instructors. The Services are excellent at it. But there is no reason why one Service should not do the training for all three. There are also a number of examples in engineering, in armaments and in gunnery.
If the Ministry of Defence applied its mind to this general problem and if Ministers brought pressure to bear on the Services, considerable results could be achieved. I suggest the appointment of an Under-Secretary and a senior officer from each of the Services—a major-general, an air vice-marshal and an admiral—devoted to this task. With the backing of Ministers, their task could be to comb the Services to see where one Service might train for the other two.
Far too much difficulty is made about co-operation. If we had a high-powered, detached committee backed by Ministers looking into these matters a great many results could flow from it. The Jarrett Committee has acted in this way in medical matters. It needs to be applied across the board.
Where agency services exist—for example, in education overseas where the Service with the most schools and the greatest number of personnel provides education for the other Services—this works very well, and it could work on a greater scale throughout the Ministry of Defence.
The same emphasis on co-operation is needed in NATO. Again Ministers should apply their minds much more vigorously to getting practical co-operation in armaments procurement, on exercises and even in rehearsing for crises. I know that Ministers are burdened with their day-to-day problems and do not have a great deal of time for new thinking about these matters. But in the Ministry of Defence and in NATO there should be much more ministerial direction towards getting cooperation at the nuts and bolts level. I know that a small team in the Ministry of Defence is working on common equipment standards and a common equipment vocabulary. Is it making reasonable progress? It is absurd that a squadron of the RAF should not be able to operate from many NATO airfields because the nuts and bolts do not fit. It is in a way an insult to the human race and to the democratic idea that this should be so.
I know that the matter is complicated, but I am sure that if there is enough application to the problem—and it is more a matter of application than anything else—solutions will be found.
When one moves from small but important matters like nuts and bolts, taps and pipes, and ammunition to the matters which WEU has been studying in a fairly detailed way for some years, there are a number of fundamental problems involving the economies of the countries concerned. I have in mind our efforts to get a common NATO battle tank. The moment is appropriate for putting pressure on NATO to make it a NATO effort. At the moment the Ministry of Defence is considering ideas on the shape of the main battle tank. But I am sure that many of us are not satisfied that in making this study enough effort is being put into getting co-operation from other European countries. The French, who are extremely awkward over NATO, can be persuaded to co-operate in joint arms production. Here is an area in which there is a reasonable chance of getting co-operation from the French.
So often the problem is not studied from all aspects. It is, for example, unreasonable to expect one country to make considerable sacrifices in terms of its factories and working people liable to be made redundant purely to get the most economic and militarily effective weapon. Social conditions have to be considered. The Common Market and the Council of Europe constantly refer to this kind of problem. One issue which should be put into the scheme of things in discussions about common procurement is a scheme of compensation for factory workers who lose their jobs because a common weapon is evolved and millions of pounds are saved to the total NATO budget. Some of it should go back to those who lose jobs.
A great deal of criticism has been made of the attitude of the Americans. In trying to get common procurement and common weapons in NATO, the Americans at the moment are showing the worst possible attitude. It is not very helpful towards NATO co-operation to bring pressure to bear on Europe to buy American equipment. I hope that the Foreign Office will at least reason with the Americans and underline some of the pitfalls that there are in forcing European countries purely for financial reasons to buy American equipment. In the United States in March of this year I was very disappointed when we had discussions about the evolution of a common NATO battle tank and it became clear that the Americans intended to go their own way.
At home, domestically, where we have much more control, we can make economies and even improve efficiency by a much greater attempt to get one Service doing certain training for the other Services. This must come from ministerial pressure. It will also strengthen the alliance if our weapons and equipment are much more in common. It would not eliminate the difficulties of diplomatic situations such as those which we have been discussing, but it would certainly make a much firmer basis for co-operation and stability if far more of our equipment was in common.
Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I am sure that some hon. Members are grateful for the opportunity to debate some of the defence issues which formerly attracted our attention only in the spring, when the Defence White Paper and the Defence Votes A are before the House. I welcome the proposals of the Procedure Committee that defence debates should be spread throughout the Session. I hope that the Expenditure Committee's Defence and External Affairs Subcommittee, of which I have the honour to be chairman, and all the papers that we have seen, can play a part in providing extra information for discussion on these occasions.
It is a great pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden). He is a very valuable member of my sub-committee. Because the matter worries my subcommittee, I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about training being separated between the Services. We feel that economies could be made by training being brought together to a greater extent.
Perhaps the most important report prepared by the sub-committee last Session was on the nuclear weapons programme. We found it impossible to produce a definitive report or to make recommendations for the future because, perhaps understandably, the Government were unable to provide, even on a classified basis, the estimated time scales and costs of the various possible successor weapon systems to Polaris which are likely to become available. We tried to assess the current effectiveness of Britain's nuclear deterrent and to review the options open to the Government in purchasing a possible future system.
That report was published in August. Judging by the enormous Press conference that we had and all the comments in the Press, it caused a great deal of interest. Even I was asked to go on television and to speak about it. It seems that a decision will need to be taken by 1977, when the long re-fits and, therefore, possible conversion of the Polaris boats could begin. We felt—unanimously, I think—that the penetration ability of the present Polaris fleet and missiles, even limited to the current number of four boats, was adequate provided that measures were taken to lessen the future vulnerability of the boats to antisubmarine warfare.
The sub-committee was surprised to learn that no estimates of the cost of possible successor systems to Polaris, such as Poseidon, ULMS 1 and Trident, were available. From our visit earlier this year to the United States we know that the cost of these systems is great compared with what we spent on Polaris and that these systems would make heavy demands on our defence budget.
Polaris was and still is an extremely cheap deterrent, for which we owe so much to our American allies. A conversion programme of the Polaris boats to carry Poseidon missiles, without purchasing any missiles, is likely to cost more than the total capital cost to us of Polaris. As the range and penetration ability of Poseidon is only marginally superior to that of Polaris, we did not consider such a cost to be worth while. The subcommittee also fear that to convert to Poseidon might be so expensive as to prevent Britain leapfrogging and buying a later missile system. The most expensive Trident system, already estimated by the United States as costing £560 million per boat, has just been given the go-ahead by the United States Congress. I was surprised when I heard of this decision, because when we were in the United States last March there was considerable opposition to this great cost.
We consider that Polaris is a very cost-effective deterrent. The experiences of the French, still without an effective underwater deterrent after great expenditure, indicate the price of going it alone. I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the nuclear installation at Apt last spring. I felt that a static nuclear deterrent site is far less effective, and would prove so, than a boat. I hope that if the Government consider it necessary to supersede Polaris they will put before the subcommittee the costs of the various options open to Britain.
We got much valuable information during our visit to Ottawa and Washington. We were much impressed by the quality and quantity of the information available to all members of Congress. Defence matters are more openly discussed in Washington than they are in London. The Congress committees concerned with defence have greater access to information and greater freedom to publish the information which they receive. The most important material published includes the unit costs of ships, aircraft, weapons and equipment, and changes in those costs. In a report following our visit we recommended that the Secretary of State should continue to supply our sub-committee with classified material and particularly unit costs of major procurement programmes. We have very good relations with the Department, and we hope that we shall not be disappointed on this score.
Mr Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
As an example of precisely what the hon. and gallant Gentleman is saying about the publication of costs, would it not be a good thing, when the cost, for example, of a through-deck cruiser goes up, in British terms, from £110 million to £120 million, as it has done, that this sort of information should be given to the House? If the Americans do it, why should not we give the costs of through-deck cruisers?
Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
I accept what the hon. Gentleman said, and I shall be mentioning that matter shortly.
More important from the point of view of Members of Parliament was our recommendation in the same report that the Defence White Paper should include more information about policy and strategic matters, as well as costs, in addition to the largely rather backward-looking matter which is currently published. I recall that when I first became a Member of the House, thick volumes for each Service were published. In those days interest in defence matters was so great that debates often continued all night. Now it is a rather slim paper that is presented. For the ordinary Member who wishes to study these matters in some depth, it is by no means as useful as it could be.
We requested from the Ministry of Defence comments on the practice of the United States Government of publishing considerable detail of the costs and performance of individual weapon systems. We were informed that whereas the deterrent value of the United States' abundance of weapon systems was increased by disclosure, the weaknesses as well as the strengths of our much smaller British efforts might be revealed if as much information were published about our armaments. Even if we accept this constraint, we do not accept that the White Paper is wholly adequate.
The White Paper should be the basis of the main defence debate of the year, and should provide all Members of Parliament with the information necessary for an informed debate on the Defence Estimates. We should like to see a clear statement of defence policy in the White Paper, with the costs of weapon systems demanded by that policy and the expenditure committed in future years to those projects. Until more financial detail is disclosed, the House will not be in a position to judge the wisdom or otherwise of these commitments. We should also like to see included in the White Paper some comparison with the expenditure of our allies, an assessment of the threats which Britain might face, and the strategic balances of manpower and armaments.
In view of the lack of published material on which the House can make its own assessments of procurement policies, my sub-committee is currently investigating several high-cost projects from each of the Services. We have received papers on the Royal Navy's new through-deck carriers and their armaments, on the multi-rôle combat aircraft which we saw earlier this year in its building stage at Munich, on the future main battle tank and on helicopter-borne anti-tank missiles. We hope to publish unclassified versions of these papers before the next debate as we did on the nuclear deterrent, which last year stimulated a lot of interest in the main defence debate.
Even without further expenditure on nuclear weapons, these projects will account for a very substantial part of the defence budgets in the late 1970s and 1980s, and we estimate that they will cost many hundreds of millions of pounds. From the first, the Defence Sub-Committee has been concerned that commitments for long-term projects such as these may pre-empt future resources. If we are committed to all these projects, the bulk of expenditure will fall due in the years ahead. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is aware of this prospect, but can he be certain that our resources will be adequate to meet these demands? By 1978, the Government of the day may well be faced with the stark alternatives of an unduly increased defence budget or the need to make arbitrary cuts.
As regards the management of procurement projects, we were much reassured by the impact made on us in the sub-committee by the first head of the Procurement Executive, Mr. Derek Rayner, now Sir Derek Rayner, in instituting reviews of projects every six months. I believe that the previous practice was to review them every two years. I hope my right hon. Friend can assure me that there are similar reviews of all these projects. It is important to look at major projects most vigorously in the development stage, to establish the estimated incidence of expenditure for some years ahead in the production phase, the overall effect on the defence budget as a whole and—perhaps even more important when considering whether projects should continue—to see whether, in spite of changes in the world situation, they will achieve the purpose for which they were designed.
We hope that in future the minor cuts inflicted on the defence budget in recent months can be avoided. We recently considered the defence cuts made this year as part of the Chancellor's package of 21st May, and the more recent economies announced with phase 3. The Government's policy seems to be to make small cuts, mainly by way of deferments, on many projects. This policy seems likely to lead to higher costs in the long run and may be an illusion if some of those cuts are really shortfalls in expenditure which would have occurred anyway. Moreover, the Ministry is still unable to say where all the cuts will fall and £10 million-worth of cuts, although approved, are not yet allocated. May I suggest that it is sometimes wiser to cut out a whole project, than to tinker a little with a great many?
Another problem arises in considering procurement objectives. How effective will these weapon systems be in the 1980s? The recent unfortunate Middle East war has shown that some tried and tested weapon systems may be rendered less effective by newly developed missiles. It is too early to be certain, but there are some preliminary lessons which our planners should consider, as the Minister of State said. We do not want to take quick decisions, but in the light of the recent war we should study these lessons in estimating the demand for the MRCA and the future battle tank. Moreover, our missile systems and the means of delivery need to be closely examined to assess the best means of deployment in a battlefield situation, and consequently the number of weapons required.
The Israelis' British and American-built tanks effectively outgunned the Soviet-built tanks, so far as we can gather. I would remind the House that the British Centurion tank used by Israel has been superseded in our own British forces by the more effective Chieftain. But even the most advanced tank may be increasingly vulnerable to anti-tank missiles, and indeed in the fighting many tanks were lost through hits by relatively unsophisticated Russian anti-tank missiles operated by the Arab forces.
The anti-tank missile has thus made its first real mark on the battlefield, and the infantry—of which I was a member during the last war—clearly has a weapon which is effective against the heaviest tank, at both short and long ranges. That does not mean that the day of the tank has ended. These missiles are defensive weapons, and tanks are still needed for offensive operations. But the balance has swung against the tank, which has dominated the battlefield for many years. What may be needed now is a mixture of missiles and tanks, possibly with some missiles mounted on tanks, according to tactical requirements. The conflict may have some bearing on the number of new tanks which will be required.
In the air, I feel that the lessons are not so comforting for Western observers. Although American-built Phantoms proved superior to any Soviet-built planes, the emergence of effective ground-to-air missiles, the SAM defences, markedly reduced the effectiveness of Israel's air operations. Many planes were lost not only through direct hits from SAM 6 missiles, but also from anti-tank guns or man-portable or vehicle-mounted SAM 7 missiles, because to avoid the SAM 6 missiles the planes flew low. The balance may therefore have shifted against the fighter-bomber. Yet—and very rightly—we are pursuing an expensive development programme on the MRCA, in part to produce an aircraft of this type. The task of the fighter-bomber is now more difficult, which may suggest that in future some of its targets will have to be taken over, in the face of dense SAM defences, by surface-to-surface missiles or artillery. The introduction of precision guidance for missiles and artillery makes it more likely that such systems might cut sharply into the rôle of the fighter bomber in a European battlefield.
Helicopters were little used in the Middle East battlefields. In forward zones helicopters were easy targets and could not operate. That may have implications for the tactical handling of antitank airborne missiles carried by helicopters. It may be that vehicle-mounted or hand-held launchers may be more effective. We do not yet know the answer, but that matter must be considered. At least the inventory of armaments deployed in Europe will have to be reassessed in the light of recent experience.
In seeking to assess the effectiveness of our defence expenditure and in reviewing the complex weapon systems needed today, account must still be taken of the quality of training and organisation of our forces. We were encouraged from recent visits to RAF Strike Command Headquarters, to RAF Wattisham and to Headquarters Eastern District Colchester by the efficiency of the headquarters and the local organisation of our services. If our costly procurement programme can be managed as effectively as our manpower, I should be more confident of value for money from our defence forces.
I have tried to put shortly before the House the complex problems posed by defence hardware. Costs continue to increase. The Minister said that we must increase the pay of the Service personnel. That will leave us with less room overall for hardware. It is vital that all hon. Members should thoroughly understand the position facing any Government in this sphere over the next 10 years.
Mr Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I followed with great interest the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Colonel Sir H. Harrison) as chairman of the Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. I endorse and support his view that if hon. Members are to take a more informed part in defence debates, including the area of public expenditure which is of such massive importance, they should be supplied with information of the kind which he and his committee have been seeking so assiduously.
I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member and his committee upon the most important work which has been done in the face of a notable reluctance on the part of Ministers to volunteer detailed information on many projects of considerable cost. There is no doubt that there is real difficulty for the Government in determining what information can be given without jeopardising our defence effort. However, there is a widespread view in the House that the line is being drawn too restrictively and that insufficient information is being given to enable the House to exercise proper long-term control over our defence expenditure.
First, I make a constituency point concerning the future of the naval nuclear propulsion programme which is now under discussion and upon which it is expected decisions will be reached in the next few months. The matter is of importance to my constituency because of the establishment of HMS "Vulcan" where research work is being done on nuclear propulsion for the Navy. It is hoped that a second phase will be authorised by the Government to enable that extremely valuable research establishment to continue its work not only under the current programme towards the end of the decade but in the following years. If the Minister can say anything about that matter it would be of great interest to my constituents.
I now turn to the wider issues which are posed by the debate. I welcome the fact that the debate is being held now. In the past it has been unsatisfactory to have concentrated all our defence debates into the early spring season. There is a certain artificiality in having a season for defence debates. The timeliness of the debate is clear in the light of the developments in NATO during the past two months.
I begin by considering the east-west issues which now confront NATO. It is too early to formulate any conclusive ideas on how useful the multilateral discussions on disarmament and European security will be. Initial debating postures have been struck both at the MBFR conference in Vienna and in the other talks. The background to the talks is somewhat sombre, although I and my hon. Friends place great hope in their coming to some fruitful conclusions.
However, we notice the quantitative and qualitative increase in the Soviet Union's military effort in recent months. We view with some disquiet the fact that, notwithstanding the protestations being made by the Soviet Union at the opening of the talks on mutual and balanced force reduction, it is going ahead with the perfection of its strategic nuclear weapons, improved MIRV's and, at the same time, the improvement of its tactical weaponry, especially tanks. That is a somewhat sombre backdrop to the present discussions. We view the discussions with considerable caution but not without hope.
It is in west-west relations that there has been the most dramatic development since the outbreak of war in the Middle East. The disarray in which the Western alliance found itself in consequence of the unleashing of the fighting was deplored and regretted in a series of earlier debates. It is a matter of some satisfaction that the United States administration, and particularly Dr. Kissinger, appears to have recognised that the fault lay not only in the European members of the alliance but at least in part in the failures of the consultation procedures adequately to provide information about the intentions of the allies.
I take it that Dr. Kissinger's opening speech in Brussels, in which he stated that the permanent representatives of the NATO Council should look urgently into ideas for a more systematic programme of consultation, amounted to something of an amende honorable, an admission that all was not happy in the alliance relationship.
The meeting of NATO Ministers appears to have been very constructive, as was the prior meeting of the Euro-Group. I should have liked to hear more detail from the Minister of State about what was achieved at that conference. One matter was the apparent decision to reorganise Europe's air defences by the proposed merging of two commands into a single centre of command. This seems to have considerable strategic significance in that the two commands—the British and United States Commands—hitherto appear to have pursued somewhat different objectives. Whereas the United Kingdom's effort seems to have been primarily directed towards supporting ground forces, the United States effort seems to have been capable of being used in action against enemy aircraft and in strategic actions undertaken a considerable way behind enemy lines. It would be of interest to know which philosophy is to prevail if the two commands are to be merged and under whose aegis of command the new air defence structure will lie.
Mr John Wilkinson (Bradford West)
May I ask the hon. Gentleman to be more precise on that point as some hon. Members may be less well informed than he? Is he meaning a merging of the Second Allied Tactical Air Force with the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force in Germany? The Second ATAF has, of course, a Royal Air Force and, apart from the United Kingdom, includes other nationalities. It is an important point.
Mr Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
These are the matters to which I am referring. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that I posed them in an interrogative way, hoping that the Minister will take the opportunity to explain what has happened because reports have not been very full.
It would be of interest to know what steps have been taken at the Euro-Group meeting—I understand that some steps have been taken—to rationalise procurement policies. From the original setting up of the Euro-Group this has been one of the most hopeful developments of cooperation within the NATO alliance.
It would also be of interest to know whether Her Majesty's Government take the view expressed by the German Minister of Defence, Herr Leber, that it is within the Euro-Group that we can best hope to build up the European identity in defence which it is recognised, not only in this country but in the United States, is not incompatible with a wider alliance and is indeed calculated to strengthen it. Alternatively, do the Government share the view of M. Jobert that WEU offers the greatest potentiality for the development of this European personality?
It appears from some of the remarks that have been made in France that the Government at least gave the impression that they shared the French view, although subsequently there have been denials of this. It would be of interest to know just where the Government stand on what is becoming a lively debate among some of our Western European allies.
Will the Minister also tell us more about the major issue of burden sharing? I was glad that he referred to this matter and, in particular, spoke of the Jackson-Nunn amendment. It appears that although the problem is recognised by the European members of the alliance, little progress has been made in coming up with ideas on how this burden sharing requirement is to be met. It is welcome news that the Government have made it plain—I wonder whether it was made plain to the United States administration; I presume that it was—that we would not be in a position to bear the extra foreign exchange costs of United States forces in Europe.
The communiqué from the meeting of Defence Ministers referred to the agreement that there would need to be a significant increase in the defence budget totals forecast over the next few years. What are the implications for this country? I appreciate the artificiality, and inaccuracy in some cases, of seeking to make comparisons in terms of gross national product and contributions made by member countries of the NATO Alliance to the defence burden, but is it anticipated that we shall have to bear an increased share of the NATO burden? A significant increase of that kind could scarcely be less appropriate for Britain at this time.
I believe that there is a certain inherent contradiction in the expressed collective view of the Defence Ministers with the national policies of most member countries of NATO. It is quite striking that in the week that the communiqué is issued Herr Leber should announce proposals for a major reform of the German Army and military effort with the purpose of substantially reducing the escalation of defence costs in the Federal Republic of Germany. This is a recognition of the growing pressure within that country against limitless increases in expenditure to match the threat posed by the fear of Soviet intentions. It is also ironic that this commitment comes shortly after pressures have become more apparent in the United States for similar cuts in the financial burden.
I was most interested in the remarks by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) on this matter. He indicated that the defence costs of NATO—I hope I do not distort what he said—were becoming insupportable and must lead to a reappraisal of NATO's basic strategies. This view is becoming almost a conventional wisdom among experts outside this House and it is perhaps surprising that not a whisper of it has percolated through in ministerial statements. There has been not the slightest indication of an intention to change course or even to recognise the pressures which plainly exist, pressures created not only by the competing demands for scarce resources of social and economic requirements, but also by the sheer difficulty of meeting our recruitment objectives. This is particularly relevant to this debate and we shall be interested to hear about the Government's forward thinking on the matter. Is there any recognition that NATO may have to adjust its strategy not purely for financial reasons, but in ways which will enable us to reduce our expenditure?
It is most satisfactory that after the extremely fraught days of the Middle East struggle it appears that the Brussels meetings last week have restored a semblance of order into the affairs of the alliance, a semblance of trust which, frankly, had been considerably shaken by the events of October. I said in an earlier debate that we understood the strains under which Dr. Kissinger and other members of the United States administration were operating. We now feel a great deal happier over the tone of the contributions by Dr. Kissinger which appeared to recognise that Europe is developing an identity which will reflect increasingly in a common attitude towards defence questions. We are still a very long way from a common defence policy but the recognition of common interests is at least a step in the right direction.
Major-General Jack D'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I shall confine my remarks to manpower and expenditure, but I share the anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) about the alarming growth of the Soviet forces.
In a recent debate in another place my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State pointed out that the target for Army recruiting this year was 26,000 but that it had been estimated that the result would be 13,000—a shortfall of 50 per cent. The other two Services are not so hard hit. The reasons for the shortfall vary from repeated tours in Northern Ireland, which are highly unpopular with mothers and wives, to the state of full employment which now exists. The problem is further aggravated by the raising of the school leaving age and the fact that 15-year-old entry, which last year formed 20 per cent. of the total entry, is now denied us. Of course, the most important reason, which has already been stressed, is that the military salary has not kept pace with civilian earnings.
I have two minor suggestions for dealing with the problem. On Northern Ireland, I suggest that an adjustment might be made to the X factor in the pay code. It is an integral part of the pay code and I realise the difficulties that that would entail. The people there are working unsocial hours—not necessarily every day but certainly a great deal—and there is surely scope for improvement of the X factor. We know that the pay review will not appear until next April and will be bound by phase 3. I hope, too, that an attempt will be made to persuade my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to have second thoughts about the younger entry.
We must be prepared. If we do not make preparations we may well be caught short, but if we make preparations the chances are that we shall be in the clear. The obvious solution is an unpopular one—the reintroduction of conscription. In the past it has taught us valuable lessons. I believe—and I hope and trust—that we shall never have to entertain it again. I say that particularly because the success and contentment of the three Services stems from the fact that they are manned by volunteers, and that success and contentment is shown by what is happening in Northern Ireland. However, we must be ready.
Just over 20 years ago I was commanding my regiment, which at that time was a mixture of Regulars and National Service men. In those days National Service was a way of life and everybody accepted it. The forces were big enough and had sufficient worldwide commitments to support the whole intake. The National Service man was paid at a lower rate than his Regular counterpart, even though he might be doing exactly the same jobs. The call-out was total, which meant that the Services were obliged to accept people whose character was not without blemish. The term of service was two years but the initial training was normally done in this country and was expensive in terms of regular instructors, because of the constant turnover.
My regiment was armed with tanks. Initial training took between four and five months, and by the time a recruit had finished that and had leave he had probably completed six months' service before ever reaching his unit.
The lessons we learn from that are fourfold. First, if we had to reintroduce conscription under present conditions, people would not accept different scales of pay. Therefore, there must be one pay code. We would be aiming not to expand the forces but merely to keep them up to establishment, and if men were to be asked to do similar jobs they would have to receive similar pay. We must maintain the two-year tour. Equipment has become more and more sophisticated and initial training is almost certain to take six months. To obtain the full benefit of training men would have to serve at least 18 months.
We must insist that the current character standards applying in the forces are maintained. Experience shows that a rotten apple in the barrel usually takes one good one, if not more, with it. Finally, the call-out must be a total call-out. If we have a selective call-out we are asking for trouble. Taking into consideration the size of the forces as they exist at the moment, there is no hope of the total National Service intake being absorbed. Therefore, there will have to be alternative forms of service. There are glaring gaps. One can put people on the land or in jobs where there are manpower gaps, such as hospitals and institutions. Other places where I can see men being well employed are the coal mines, as in the Bevin Boys' days. I hope that this will not come 1o pass, but let us be prepared.
I understand that we are meant to be living in a period of détente, but while we have the MBFR and SALT talks we read of alarming increases in tanks, missiles and aircraft in the Warsaw Pact countries. We hear rumours of possible American European ground force reductions. One point emerges strongly: there can be no possible reduction in the defence budget's share of the GNP. One has only to glance at the defence budget to see that over half goes on pay. We have already heard about the increase in sophisticated modern weapons and their greater expense. I was amazed and appalled that responsible hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench should recently have suggested that the defence budget should be decreased by sums varying from £50 million to £100 million.
Major-General Jack D'Avigdor-Goldsmid (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I thank my hon. Friend. On this side of the House we have to see that the defence budget is properly spent. I should like to think that this is one of the tasks which our Expenditure Committee has been endeavouring to do. This has been referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden). I hope that we are helping in this matter.
With a limited defence budget, combined with increasing sophistication of equipment and rising prices, the emphasis must be to ensure that the fighting elements of the three Services are looked after and that any cuts are in the tail or on the administrative side.
Recently we have been with our committee to various places. We went to see RAF Strike Command. I was appalled to be told of our current weaknesses in operational aircraft and air defences. I was not the only one to feel that way. On a happier note, we learned that the reorganisation of RAF Strike Command had produced considerable savings in money and in manpower—savings of about £10 million a year and a reduction of about 1,400 mostly staff appointments. When we asked how the Royal Air Force had taken this change and what was its effect, we were told it had been to speed up the work rather than slow it down. That was very reassuring to hear.
We went to see the new Army set-up involving the United Kingdom land forces, again the subject of reorganisation. The old Command system has gone with a consequent saving in manpower and real estate. We visited a district headquarters, covering 13 counties, which had 8,000 regular soldiers supported by 9,000 civilians. Admittedly, among those 9,000 civilians was one fairly large central ordnance depot. But that figure did not compare favourably with the figures we got at RAF Strike Command, where 43,000 airmen were supported by only 8,000 civilians. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, we went to Canada and at their forces headquarters we received first-hand information on the progress of the unification of their three forces. Clearly, that is not something that we could attempt in Britain. It is not suitable to us. But there were lessons to be learned. We put feelers out here, to the effect that there should be some form of integration in the training of trades common to all three Services in order to save overheads. Although the feelers were put out there may have been certain facts which mitigated against further action—or it may be that the savings which would have been effected would have been small. At any rate, we had no further information on the subject.
This week we have examined the Jarrett Report—the report of the committee which has been examining the medical services of the forces. The committee was set up in April 1971 and it published its report this year. The report is now being considered by the Ministry of Defence. It was interesting to note that one of its recommendations coincided exactly with one that our committee made previously—that one of the main Service hospitals in Cyprus—there are two—should be given up. The Jarrett Committee agreed with us. Perhaps, in replying tonight my hon. Friend the Minister will be prepared to answer three questions. If he cannot reply tonight, perhaps he will do so later, in writing. The first applies to the Royal Armoured Corps Gunnery School at Lulworth, the subject of investigations by the Nugent Committee, which recommended that it should move to Castlemartin, despite vigorous protests from people in the Lulworth area, despite vigorous protests from people in the Castlemartin area, and despite vigorous protests from the Army authorities, starting with the Chief of General Staff. I should like to know whether we shall be overruled for the sake of a vociferous protest body.
Secondly, I should like to know whether, in this time of economy, any thought has been or is being given to a reduction in the size of the Ministry of Defence, considering how effective have been the reductions in RAF Strike Command. Thirdly, I should like to know whether we are going to hear anything about the recommendations that we have made in the past about the integration of trades training.
Mr Maurice Edelman (Coventry North)
I was greatly impressed by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) who presides over the Defence Sub-Committee with such distinction. He properly complained about the lack of information given to hon. Members, compared with the detailed information received by Senators and Congressmen generally in the United States. In taking the MRCA and Polaris as examples of systems for which information is inadequate, he was merely illustrating a more general problem, the solution of which will not have been encouraged by the skinny speech of the Minister of State. Not only did he give little information; in relation to the great and convulsive events in the world in the last few weeks I could not help feeling that his speech fell far short of the occasion.
We have recently seen the way in which a war fought by proxy by the Russians in the Sinai Desert and on the Golan Heights has proved that in terms of weaponry the Russians are far ahead of the West. It is proper that we should reappraise the situation in terms not only of weapons but of general NATO strategy in relation to the Soviet Union.
We have to ask whether we are producing the right weapons. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye was right to say that every now and again there should be a retrospection as well as a prospect about the kind of weapons that we are producing. We should ask whether our system of planning and consultation is satisfactory. During this debate there have been several references to the lack of consultation between the United States and the countries of NATO and the EEC. Opposition Members must ask themselves whether, in the new post-Middle East war context, the proposal to reduce military expenditure by £1,000 million is realistic.
My purpose today will be to urge, first, that there should be an urgent reappraisal by NATO of the weapons which we have it in mind to produce, and, second, that we must reconsider the technique of consultation among the countries of NATO and particularly between the United States and ourselves, the failure of which brought us so close not simply to disarray but to disintegration.
Whatever the political merits of the confrontation in the Middle East—with which I will not deal—it turned out to be a demonstration of Soviet power. The Middle East war was a laboratory in which the Soviet Union tested its weapons in exactly the same way as Hitler and Mussolini tested their weapons in the Spanish Civil War. What happened has not only regional importance but global significance. The Frog missiles, and the Snappers and Saggers, as hon. Members opposite who have been there will confirm, proved that they were not just showpieces at May Day demonstrations but weapons capable of being used with deadly effect—in some cases after relatively little training by those who employed them.
Some of our military assumptions were destroyed in that war. The general assumption of Western strategic planners that armour was the queen of the battlefield was destroyed by infantry with portable anti-tank missiles. The most sophisticated Skyhawks and Phantoms proved highly vulnerable to a combination of SAMs and anti-aircraft guns. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye was absolutely right to say not only that these sophisticated missiles were able to bring down the most advanced aircraft but that the largest proportion of Israeli aircraft in particular which were destroyed were destroyed by conventional guns equipped with radar. Although, as the war continued, electronic counter-measures imported from the USA were introduced, saving Israel from the disaster which threatened her, it is still a fact that even those counter-measures systems were unable to deal with the Russian SAM6, which eventually had to be destroyed by land action.
It is in this framework that we must assess the merits of a defence programme for NATO which was, after all, planned several years ago. Even the 1970 programme was based on certain assumptions which pre-date the Middle East war. There is always the historic danger that generals will be fighting, or at any rate responding to, not the dangers of what might be the next war but the techniques and systems of the last war.
Bearing this in mind and remembering the somewhat apathetic reaction of the Government, illustrated by the Minister's speech, I do not believe that the fact that the situation has changed is necessarily an argument for cutting the defence programme by £1,000 million—but it is certainly an argument for carefully assessing and examining the question whether military expenditure is being undertaken properly and wisely.
I respect the view of pacifists who are in favour of a major reduction of arms expenditure, although I am sorry that none of them is represented here today. But if we believe in defence—as, I think, do the majority of my hon. Friends—we must make sure that our defence expenditure is properly applied and is adequate for our needs and, above all, that its adequacy is assessed and measured not by the arms lobby or the military-industrial complex but by this House, acting on the best advice in order to obtain the best value in terms of strategy and tactics.
This is not a case for giving a blank cheque to the military establishment and those behind it. We have heard a great deal about "flexible response", which presumably means a mixture of conventional and tactical nuclear weapons, but under the nuclear umbrella we have seen in recent weeks how a conventional war can be fought involving the use of admittedly ultra-sophisticated electronic weapons but weapons which have been reduced to inexpensive, simple and basic forms. Masses of infantry and armour, reinforced by advanced weaponry and following the Soviet doctrine of attack in irresistible numbers, nearly overwhelmed Israel.
Face to face with the Warsaw Pact powers, with an air superiority of two to one—I do not think that the Minister will deny that preponderance—we have to ask whether, in the face of a conventional attack from the air, we should have to respond by nuclear means or should consider ourselves equipped to respond by conventional means—but conventional means which have been improved in the light of recent experience. What we are saying now is that piecemeal conventional wars and other forms of pressure, such as oil sanctions—which are another form of physical pressure—are being instigated by the Soviet Union to our continuing detriment.
The striking fact is that whenever the Soviet Union advances in this way it does so under a smoke screen of verbiage and verbal traps—a method of using language to convey exactly opposite ideas.
The Soviet Union talks of peace—and invades Czechoslovakia. It talks of détente—and supplies arms to the Middle East which it must have known, even if it had not supplied the technicians to support them, would mean the beginning of war. Indeed, looking back on it all, we see that the Soviet Union, by enjoying now what Winston Churchill called the "fruits of war" without actually practising war, is really the Tactius gaudens of the situation. We must take note of that fact.
In this context, we have to ask ourselves whether we can rely exclusively on the United Nations to protect our interests. Can we, indeed, rely on NATO to protect our major world-wide interests? If we do so, we must be prepared to say that our contribution to NATO—I say this to some of my hon. Friends—must be credible, our purpose in supporting NATO must be made clear.
I do not believe that European defence has any credibility outside NATO. The dream of M. Jobert of some kind of European defence personality which has an existence without the United States is a Gaullist dream, with no kind of reality. When President de Gaulle withdrew from NATO he did not withdraw from the Atlantic alliance. He wanted all the benefits of the alliance but he did not want the burden of making a contribution to NATO. Therefore, we must be very careful when we examine this tantalising mirage of the idea of a European defence personality which will be somehow independent of the United States.
Clearly, when we deal with the United States, we must make our voices heard individually and collectively. Obviously, it was improper of the United States to declare even a partial nuclear alert without proper consultation. Perhaps it merely means that the machinery of consultation is inadequate, in which case the right hon. Gentleman should seek to improve it. We must accept that even the sharing of conventional weapons with our partners in Europe would be an inadequate form of defence unless we had the backing of the United States.
The Russians showed what an Egyptian peasant plus electronics can do. That is something we must take closely to heart in assessing whether the type of equipment that we supply to NATO is really fitting for the new situation in which we find ourselves. If an Egyptian peasant, reinforced by electronics, can have such success against a highly developed force, what could a Soviet soldier do, brought up two generations removed from the land and reared in an atmosphere of technical development and industry and in close contact with factories and machines in a way which even Red Army soldiers of the last war were not?
I have one or two questions to put arising from NATO reports. For example, in the NATO provision for last year there was what is called a "procurement committee" of 8,500 anti-tank weapons. As the hon. and gallant Member for Eye said, we have no details, and cannot know what is involved. What sort of weapons are these? Are they wire-controlled—the type of anti-tank weapon used in the Middle East? Are they portable? Do they match up to the Soviet Saggers and Snappers? Even assuming that they are the latest form of anti-tank weapons, is 8,500 not a relatively small number for the potential confrontation in which we may be involved? There is also the question of the provision, under the programme AD70, of 3,000 anti-aircraft guns. What sort of guns are they? Are they equipped with radar? Even then, is 3.000 not also a very small number in relation to the Middle East experience?
I believe that the basic lesson of the Middle East war is that electronic counter-measure equipment must be studied as a matter of vital urgency, and that we must have a new array of mobile anti-aircraft guns and other weaponry. I believe that to be essential because, hitherto, most of our thinking has been based on the assumption that ultrasonic and supersonic aircraft would command the sky and would be irresistible, and that a combination of tanks and aircraft are the weapon of tomorrow as they were the weapon of yesterday. Those assumptions have been undermined.
Air Vice Marshall S. W. B. Menaul, Director General of the Institute for Defence Studies, has summed up our tactical needs in the light of the Middle East war. He says:
While the advantage appears to have shifted imperceptibly in favour of defence, much more needs to be done in the anti-tank, ECM and SAM fields to correct the serious imbalance that exists between the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces. NATO forces defend a front of 400 miles from the Baltic to the Austrian border and their strength is thinly distributed along it.
Advanced technology, which is available now, is the key, since sufficient manpower will never be available to increase the effectiveness of NATO armies and air forces.
NATO aircraft are on the whole superior to those of the Warsaw Pact and it could well be that in the ground-attack role Europe could have an impressive advantage if it exploited Harrier can operate from semi-prepared strips, thereby increasing its own security and the sortie rate.
In the light of that, I was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman, instead of announcing that the Harrier was to be purchased, as many of us confidently hoped he would do, saying yet again that orders for the Harrier are to be postponed. I said in an earlier discussion that this kind of delay in procurement is one of the reasons for the escalating costs of military equipment, especially of aircraft equipment. The right hon. Gentleman flatly denied that statement, but I assure him from my own observations in the factories of Coventry and elsewhere that the dillying and dallying by the Government and previous Governments has been one of the major reasons for the escalation in costs.
What measures of urgency are the Government going to take to face the challenge of our times? We are living in a revolutionary ago in which, within a few weeks, the whole strategic situation of the West has been transformed. Our Western industrial democracy is under threat in an unimaginable way because we seem to be proceeding with our lives and our industry in the ways in which we went on with them in the past. But that does not undo the underlying fact that Western democracies, including our own, which is uppermost in our minds, relying as they do on energy, are now faced by a stranglehold which in a byegone age could not have been tolerated. How we resolve these questions is for the future—for the development, I hope, of other means of exerting pressures that ensure that the life blood and the breath of our industrial democracy are preserved.
There is no doubt that at the time of the Middle East war the Western Alliance was in disarray. It is, and was, useless to talk of the Brussels Declaration at the time of the war as anything but part of a general obeisance to the oil States. It was not a declaration of solidarity. There was no solidarity, political or military. The fundamentals of NATO were ignored when there was need of urgent and collective action to restrain the Russian presence in the Middle East, from which we are suffering second-hand.
The postscript of those days lies in the present humiliated and dangerous posture of the West, grovelling on its knees to the oil potentates who, like the Russians, know that when the tocsin sounded the Western countries were not there. We should be grateful that the United States did not echo the French king who said to the Duc de Crillon:
Hang yourself, brave Crillon. We fought at Arques, and you weren't there.
We live in days of grave economic danger. But the danger is deepened by our conspicuous military weakness, which deprives us of a great measure of our authority. The Middle East war proved the weaknesses of NATO as well as of the European Community. It is up to the Government to restore Britain's military and political credibility within the alliances by a radical and far-reaching strategic and tactical reappraisal. Only then can we restore our shaken authority with our enemies as well as with our American allies.
Mr Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I admire the common sense of the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) when he attacks and criticises some of the wilder eccentricities in some of the fringe policies of his party's defence strategy, but I part company with him in his technical assessment of the lessons of the Middle East war. We cannot assume that this shows that Soviet technology and equipment is superior to Western equipment. At sea the Russian STYX missile was ineffective—or, rather, the counter-measures against it were very effective. On land, Western tanks, particularly the Centurions—even without the spares and ammunition they might have had—were more effective than any of the Soviet battle tanks. In the air the American aircraft which the Israeli Air Force was flying proved to be more effective than the Soviet aircraft.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) has given some remarkable statistics in Press articles on this matter. It is fair to say that the whole war underlined the importance of electronic warfare. I do not believe that the West lagged behind the Soviet Union in this branch of technology. I am glad that weapon development seems to suggest that the mass of armour and aircraft which the Soviet can put into action can be counter-balanced by more effective weapons which we have in the West.
In opening the debate my right hon. Friend was right to say that it would be a long time before we could draw the real lessons from the fighting. It will, indeed. I am sure that the Arab forces and their Soviet allies will not give us the technical information we need to draw the lessons from the fighting. I am reasonably sure, given the present state of diplomatic relations, that the Israelis will not be keen to give us information we need. I am also reasonably sure that the Americans will not be too enthusiastic about passing on to us the information that they have received from the Israelis. It takes a long time to draw the proper conclusions from the outbreak of fighting in the Middle East.
We know, without any technical analysis, that a surprise attack can be a very effective weapon. There is no doubt that the Egyptians and the Syrians gained an enormous advantage from the element of surprise which they were able to achieve. Given the importance of the element of surprise, much of the discussion earlier, about the state of alert of the American forces in Europe at the time of the Middle East war, sounded rather threadbare and academic.
Instead of complaining that the American forces were brought up to an adequate state of preparedness—as the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) seemed to be arguing—we ought to have been pressing the Americans at an earlier date to bring their forces to a state of readiness at a time of substantial danger to the West. I fear that the criticisms of the right hon. and learned Member, if they carry any weight, may make the Americans, in some future state of emergency, more reluctant to bring their forces to a state of readiness.
There should be an overhauling of the whole system under which NATO brings its forces to a greater state of alert, not in order to slow down bringing the forces to a proper state of readiness but to make it easier for us to enter into a proper posture of preparedness. Therefore, in so far as we are reviewing the whole system of security alerts and preparedness, I hope that we remove some of the brakes in the system, rather than slow it down.
Sir John Morris (Aberavon)
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to misunderstand what I said. I was not arguing against a proper posture; I was saying that in any partnership the partners should be aware of what is being done.
Mr Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I agree that partners should be aware of what is being done. I listened carefully to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks, and it seemed that the tenor of them was distinctly hostile to what the Americans had done. We should have pressed the Americans earlier to move to a state of alert. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is consistent and we need some degree of consistency in these defence debates.
I have argued for more than a decade that it was absolute madness for us to withdraw our forces from the Persian Gulf at a time when we were wholly dependent on oil from the Gulf for the energy which our industry needs.
I do not argue that if our forces were still in the Persian Gulf there would be no oil problem today. I do argue that by abandoning our positions in the Gulf we have weakened our negotiating position with the Governments there. At the same time, I do not argue that we should turn round and try to put forces back into the Gulf tomorrow. We have to look at the question whether we are still as much in favour of the status quo in the Persian Gulf as we have been for the past 40 years. We are living in cloud-cuckoo-land if we imagine there will not be some violence in the Gulf in future.
When there is an explosive combination of heavily armed Arabs, vast quantities of money and vast reserves of oil, the chances of a conflict or a coup before we cease to be so dependent on Middle Eastern oil—by the end of the decade—are very good indeed. I believe that our contingency plans should take this risk into account.
Lieut-Colonel David Mather (Esher)
On the question of the Persian Gulf, it has probably occurred to my hon. Friend that we were responsible for the foreign policy of the Gulf States. If we had continued to be so responsible it might have made a big difference to the present situation.
Mr Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
That is to a large extent true. It would certainly have strengthened our negotiating position.
Six years ago some of us were warning that a British scuttle from Aden was likely to endanger peace in the Middle East. We have been proved right on two counts. First, Aden is now the centre for attacks on the still friendly State of Muscat and Oman, and there has been the blockade of the mouth of the Red Sea. Six years ago some of us argued that we ought to maintain a presence on the Isle of Perim. If we had done so it would have been a great deal easier to bring an international force into being at the foot of the Red Sea, where the danger of a blockade is currently a major threat to peace. I do not believe that we should have abandoned our military positions in the Middle East.
We meet under the shadow of the NATO Military Council meeting. Perhaps we should be thankful that that meeting has not produced even more violent explosions. Many people seem to believe that the disagreement that has grown up between the United States and the European allies in NATO stems largely from the Middle East. Alas, I believe that the disagreement was there before fighting broke out.
I believe that the root cause of our divergence of opinion is money. When Europe was poor America was prepared to pick up a large part of the financial bill, but when Europe grew rich—when the dollar was constantly devalued against the deutschemark and the franc—it was only natural that a weary and divided United States should look to Europe to carry a greater share of the defence burden. This is not at all surprising.
We ought to have taken the lead in trying to bring into existence a new method of burden sharing within NATO. We certainly managed to give the impression to our American partners that we were wholly opposed to this and were taking a lead in encouraging the Europeans to resist it. That may be wrong, but I fear it is the impression that has been given and it has done much to jeopardise the old "special relationship"—now, I think, called the natural relationship—between ourselves and the United States. It has lasted for 30 years. We have benefited enormously from it in the defence area. The time has come when we must give our highest priority to trying to repair the breaches in this alliance.
I have been critical of both the Opposition Front Bench and my own Front Bench. I am glad to be able to congratulate the Government on their considerable achievement in Ireland. I was glad to hear the tribute that the right hon. and learned Gentleman paid to the rôle which our forces have played in Northern Ireland, in at least laying some foundation for future political stability. But the danger has not vet passed. In some ways it is more difficult to bear the burdens of discomfort and long hours when the pressing danger seems to have passed and when one has slipped out of the headlines and away from the television screens.
I hope that the lowering of the temperature in Northern Ireland will not lead to any reduction in our efforts to improve accommodation and amenities for the troops. I hope, too, that in the course of the next few months we shall be able to thin out the number of soldiers serving there. If we can move to a situation in which soldiers are not expected to serve in Northern Ireland on emergency tours for more than 12 or 18 months a great deal will have been done for the re-engagement and recruiting figures. I am sure that we continue to owe an enormous debt to our soldiers in Northern Ireland—a debt we have not begun to repay.
Mr Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) that we should be careful about the length of tour that we ask our soldiers to serve in Northern Ireland. Is it wise for the hon. Member for Beckenham and the hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) to talk in terms of putting the clock back in the Arab world?
I hate to put the Ministry of Defence to any trouble for events that will not happen, but I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy to give attention to the strategic implications of the Liberal proposal to build a dam across the Channel. That proposal was put forward by an official Liberal Party spokesman. It is not my fault that the Liberals are absent today. I should like to have the hon. Gentleman's reflections on the vulnerability of locks, and the question whether through-deck cruisers could go through the locks, given the tides. A study might be done in the odd hours when the Ministry of Defence has nothing else to do.
Mr Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
What has happened to OPMACC? Although it is understandable that this military aid operation to the civil community might be run down in a situation of acute shortage of forces, once our troops return from Northern Ireland we should go back to the work started by Sir Derek Lang in remote parts of the country in what might be a post-Ireland situation.
Those of us who are interested in Service recruitment view with alarm the re-engagement figures, particularly for warrant officers and ncos. May we have the Minister's reflections on that?
In passing, I shall touch on a subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). What are the implications of the oil shortage for industry and the military world as a whole? This is a new situation. To give a trivial example, the week before last the Sunday Mail commented on helicopters flying from the carrier to Arbroath and back at a time of fuel shortage. What instructions has the Department given for saving fuel, particularly that used by voracious eaters of fuel such as helicopters?
Coming back to the old subject of the through-deck cruiser, just as in churches and cathedrals there is a tabulated list showing that a certain amount has been given towards certain funds and so much more is wanted, I suggest that outside the yard where the through-deck cruiser is being built there should be erected a notice board giving monthly estimates of the cost. The cost started at £70 million, went up to £75 million. £85 million, £90 million, £100 million. The Government Front Bench then assented to £110 million. The latest figure I have is at least £120 million.
When I asked the Prime Minister about the public sector borrowing requirement he said that it was serious but that public expenditure in the years 1974–75 and 1975–76 would start to come down. We shall believe that when we see it. Granted that the MRCA, Sea Wolf and the through-deck cruiser are maturing, there is a public expenditure crisis in the Defence Department alone. That will have serious implications for the Government's overall strategy, particularly in the defence budget, and a decision must be made soon on the next two through-deck cruisers.
In company with several admirals, such as Sir Ian McGeoch—to whom I may refer as he has retired—I wonder whether it is sensible to have these enormously expensive ships which in the opinion of both young and old naval officers to whom I have spoken are very vulnerable. There is a division of opinion in the Admiralty whether it is sensible to have a ship that can be knocked out by a fairly simple and inexpensive weapon. I should like to have the Minister's reflection on that.
Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman speak so volubly on behalf of retired naval officers. Every naval officer ever born knows that it is necessary at sea to have air power on the spot on the dot.
Mr Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
It is the hon. and gallant Gentleman against Sir Ian McGeoch and others. There are doubts among the hon. and gallant Gentleman's colleagues, both serving and retired. I am not saying that it is absolutely wrong in all circumstances, because it would be an impertinence for me to express such a dogmatic opinion, but I am entitled to ask the Ministry of Defence for some serious reflections on this question of vulnerability which has been raised by people who are far more qualified than I am.
I wish to raise in some detail a matter on which I wrote to the Minister responsible for the Navy, to which he courteously replied. That is the North Sea environmental command proposed by John Erikson—a professor at the University of Edinburgh—and his team at Heriot-Watt. If I seem to speak with knowledge it is partly because I attended one of the many seminars and talked with Professor Erikson and his colleagues. It is proposed that the Ministry of Defence, together with the Department of Trade and Industry, should set up a North Sea environmental command. There are problems of defence and difficult legal problems in relation to oil rigs. By 1980 we may hope for at least 120 oil rigs in the North Sea. The Navy lacks the specialist facilities and the complex policing and security resources that will be needed. It is an entirely new task for the Royal Navy.
The rigs are a potential source of massive pollution should there be accidental spillage, pollution by collision and pollution by sabotage. They are targets for acts of sabotage or blackmail by extremist organisations. I will not say that oil rigs are sitting ducks, but it takes little imagination to realise the potential they represent to determined saboteurs for sabotage or blackmail. This is a highly sensitive political and security issue, and its importance will increase as more oil and natural gas are discovered.
As well as the defence aspect there is the question of the precise legal status which has lapsed into one rather grey area of international law. There is not only a military requirement but an international law requirement. This could be taken into account by a civil and military command of the kind which Professor Erikson suggests. The economic and offshore technology expertise that is growing up in our universities, not least in Heriot-Watt, could be brought into the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry in this environmental organisation. As envisaged by the working party it would be a unique force, commanded perhaps by the Royal Navy but including civilian skills, and tailored to the special problems of the area and any oil that may be discovered in the Celtic Sea off Wales or Cornwall. For underwater operations in the North Sea the Navy maintains an expert but small deep-diving unit. This will be inadequate to protect such a vast operation in the North Sea.
One can see advantages in a joint military-civil command since this may attract able top graduates or people of that calibre to undertake diving protection and diving research work. The wonderful facilities at Alverstoke are being harnessed to the North Sea oil effort. If the Government hope to bring oil more quickly to British shores, as I gather is the policy of the Department of Trade and Industry, the expert naval facilities should be used as much as possible and should be put at the disposal of the oil companies.
Mr Antony Buck (Colchester)
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about the extent of correspondence with my Department. The hon. Gentleman knows that we are awaiting a document from Professor Erikson and we shall examine that document with care. It is clear from what the hon. Gentleman said that he has already seen that document. I have not.
Mr Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I have had detailed discussions with Professor Erikson on a number of matters.
I shall not address the House at length because it would be unfair to other hon. Members. I conclude by saying that the law of the sea conference which was to take place at Santiago is now to be held in Caracas. I hope that the House will have a chance to look at some of the papers and comment upon them before the British delegation goes to the conference. These are early days, but we do not want this matter to be left to the last minute. I hope that representations will be made to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House to facilitate serious discussions on this topic, if possible in Government time. The decisions made at Caracas will be very important to the United Kingdom, particularly in regard to what constitutes national waters and international waters and also what comprises a national sea bed as opposed to an international sea bed. It may be that we shall have to make major concessions in terms of Britain's national interests. If we do, I hope that Parliament will have an opportunity to discuss the kind of concessions we may have to make.
Mr Winston Churchill (Stretford)
I must confess some surprise at the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) in opening this debate for the Opposition when he spoke about Westland helicopters. Has he forgotten the deliveries to South Africa of the Puma helicopters in the joint Anglo-French project which took place during the tenure of the Labour Government of which he was a member? I wonder what consultations took place then with the Nigerian Government of the day.
I welcome the heavy hint about the naval version of the Harrier given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence. I accept that it may not be appropriate to make an announcement at this stage, but there will be a widespread welcome that at last we are coming to the point of decision on what could be an important export winner. I accept my right hon. Friend's strictures to the effect that it is not possible immediately to evaluate the lessons to be learned from the recent conflict in the Middle East. Nevertheless, I should like to offer a few observations as one who makes no pretension to any military expertise.
At the root of this conflict is seen the hand of the Soviet Union. This was a view put forward forcibly by the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). It is difficult for us to comprehend the volume of equipment pumped into this theatre of war, for such it is, by the Soviet Union. In the period since the war of June 1967, 3,800 tanks have been delivered by the Soviet Union to Egypt and Syria alone, leaving aside Algeria, Iraq and other countries nearby. In addition, the Soviet Union has sent to Egypt and Syria nearly 1,000 front-line tactical fighter aircraft of the highest sophistication, and large quantities of missiles—not only anti-aircraft missiles but also the soft-target surface-to-surface Scud missiles with a range of 160 miles—which means that even from the West side of the Suez Canal they can reach within 30 miles of Tel Aviv. This is something which clearly will have a substantial bearing on any question of the future of the Sinai in the event of an Israeli withdrawal.
It must be clear that no peace settlement in the Middle East can survive such an unrestricted injection of weapons of war into this area. The level of delivery by the Soviet Union to the Arab States has been running at more than three-to-one the rate of United States resupply to Israel.
A second lesson of which we would do well to take note is that surprise attacks can come like thunderbolts out of a blue sky. It is very much the basis of NATO strategy that there will be a period of tension of several weeks before we need be at a high level of readiness. This is something that can no longer be indefinitely relied upon.
Various speeches have dealt with the problem of how the new missiles introduced by the Soviet Union into the Middle East conflict may affect the situation in Central Europe and indeed the future of the fighter bomber and the tank. It is clear that the SAM missiles supplied by the Soviet Union were in no way decisive in this conflict. The Israeli Air Force attributes no more than 10 per cent. of its losses, which total approximately 100, to SAM 6. The overwhelming number were lost to heavy concentrations, literally in their thousands, of quadruple 23 mm, 37 mm and 57 mm anti-aircraft guns, as well as SA2's, SA3's and the SA7 Strela missiles launched in salvoes of eight from tracked vehicles—a modification of the single-shot version, which appeared in North Vietnam.
Mr Geoffrey Stewart-Smith (Belper)
Does my hon. Friend not agree that the Middle East war provided lessons which Britain should learn? I refer to the arrival of self-homing short-range guided anti-tank weapons of which it appears we have no counterpart since the Hellier and Karl Gustav weapons are now out of date. It is a great source of concern to us that we are being left behind in this technology.
Mr Winston Churchill (Stretford)
I agree, and I was about to come to that very point.
As for surface-to-air missiles, another intriguing statistic is that the Israeli air force had a loss rate of 0·9 per 100 sorties—in other words, less than 1 per cent. of their aircraft failed to return from each sortie. That said, they made more than 11,000 sorties, and that accounts for their loss of more than 100 aircraft.
It is also important to realise that for the first three days the Israeli air force was not able to operate, as it would have done had the initiative been with the Israelis, by attacking the missiles themselves. For three days Israeli aircraft had to operate in the full air defence environment on both fronts, especially on the Golan Heights, to provide first aid to their hard-pressed ground forces and to give close ground support. It was in those three days that the Israelis sustained very nearly two-thirds of their total aircraft losses.
Later in the conflict, when they turned their attention to the equally sophisticated and concentrated belts of SAM missiles on the west side of the Suez Canal, the situation was very different. Although there were only seven SAM batteries within the enclave taken by Israeli ground forces on the west side of the Canal, four times as many SAM missile sites were destroyed by Israeli air strikes by Friday, 19th October, three days before the cease-fire. That was done with a very low level of loss and it is significant to notice the difference.
Israeli aircraft, above all her Phantoms, were able with relatively limited losses to attack and destroy the sophisticated SAM missile systems when they were their target. Obviously when they were operating to provide ground cover their losses were very high.
One of my hon. Friends referred to the effect of new missiles in the land warfare. This is much more far reaching than the development of the SAM missile. The Sagger anti-tank missile requires very little training to operate. It means that an infantry man by himself, hiding behind a rock or in a trench, can pot a tank at a range of just under a mile, and do so before the tank commander has a chance of identifying from where, the missile is coming. Sagger missiles are not invulnerable. Even though they are wire-guided, within a few days the Israelis were able to develop electronic means to deflect them to a very large extent. Although it is clear that the tanks is not obsolete, none the less this conflict has reinforced the point that there is a necessity for evenly-balanced forces on the battlefield in terms not only of armour but of artillery and infantry and above all of infantry equipped with effective personal anti-tank missiles.
I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary what this country has on the drawing board in terms of anti-tank missiles, especially anti-tank missiles operated by a single soldier. Will my hon. Friend see that the highest priority is accorded to the development of such a system and to its deployment to every platoon in the British Army?
Mr John Wilkinson (Bradford West)
My hon. Friend will remember that the British Army has been equipped with the Vigilant since 1964? That is a fairly rudimentary and basic but none the less effective antitank guided weapon. It would be wrong to give the impression that the British Army is ill equipped. It is, after all, in the process of being equipped with the Swingfire, an extremely effective antitank weapon.
Mr Winston Churchill (Stretford)
I accept that, though I understand that they are systems which are relatively sophisticated, which require more than one man to operate them and which cannot be carried by one man.
Mr Winston Churchill (Stretford)
In that event, I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary what steps are being taken to deploy these systems to every unit in the British Army. Perhaps that has been done, too, unbeknown to me.
I turn my attention from the Middle East to some rather disturbing trends in the European theatre. Although Britain's Armed Forces have declined in the past 20 years from a strength of about 902,000 to 350,000, those of the Soviet Union have been growing steadily since 1965 by more than 275,000. What is more, although the figures for Britain's tanks and tactical combat aircraft have remained practically static since 1970, in those three years alone—three years characterised by the word "détente"—the Soviet Union has deployed in Central Europe alone 2,000 more main battle tanks and 400 more tactical combat aircraft. These increases by the Soviet Union in Central Europe represent approximately double Britain's total strength of aircraft and tanks. What is more, this has been done at a time when the Soviet Union have been deploying an army of about 1 million men equipped with tactical nuclear weapons along the Sino-Soviet border.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State said that this concentration of Soviet expenditure on arms represented substantially more than any policy of self-defence. I agree wholeheartedly, but I also ask what we are doing about it. It endorse the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Coventry, North that this is no time for our country to talk in terms of cuts in defence expenditure.
Perhaps it is true to say—and frighteningly so—that, leaving aside nuclear weapons, Britain's defence capability relative to the forces facing us has not been weaker at any time since 1938. We may seem to be far removed from the area of principal concentration of the Soviet arms build-up. However we are only 20 minutes' flying time from the air bases of East Germany.
I have the highest regard for our soldiers and airmen. They are second to none in the world. But without sufficient numbers of aircraft and tanks their fate could be that of those brave Israeli soldiers manning the front lines of the Golan Heights and the Canal on 6th October who found themselves facing a first-wave assault of 2,250 Syrian and Egyptian tanks with an equal number of tanks in reserve.
We must ask ourselves what the British taxpayer is getting for his £3,000 million of defence expenditure and where the money is going. I am sure the vision that some people have of armies of civil servants pushing round endless cups of tea in no sense represents the picture. But it is a cause for great concern that every year a higher proportion of the defence budget should go to pay, pensions and other non-military expenditure and that at the end of the day there should be an ever-smaller slice of the defence cake left for new hardware which is vital. I must ask my hon. Friend how many non-industrial civil servants and civilians come out of the defence Vote and what is the total cost of those personnel. What is the cost of pensions for the Armed Forces within the defence Vote? Could not consideration be given to the transfer of these payments from the defence Vote so that more money was available for the purchase of hardware.
No doubt if I asked my hon. Friend the Minister how much of the defence budget was devoted to hardware I should be told that that information was secret. Perhaps it is best that it should be so, because it is no doubt very small. How can we in this country be satisfied with only 900 tanks, one-fifth of the number that Egypt and Syria deployed in the recent war against Israel? How can we be happy with less than 300 tactical combat aircraft, not even one-third of the 1,000 tactical combat aircraft of Egypt and Syria? Perhaps my right hon. Friends, the Minister for the Defence of the Army and the Air Force, will ponder these figures.
We talk of giving guarantees in the Middle East. What are we in a position to guarantee? It is very much an open question whether the whole of the British Armed Forces together with sufficient tanks and aircraft today to withstand the weight of armour and tactical air power deployed by Egypt and Syria in the recent Middle East conflict Is there not more that the Government can do to provide more hardware to our forces and to increase expenditure on electronic counter-measures, something which is pointed up very much by the recent conflict? Is there nothing that we can do about the totally inadequate number of reservists that we have? I for one would like to see a one-year voluntary—and I stress the word "voluntary" National Service available to anyone who wishes to do it. It would find many recruits. It would also be a source of substantial reserve manpower carrying on into the future in case we should need it.
Mr Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Has the hon. Gentleman had a word with his Prime Minister on the little matter of public expenditure? The Prime Minister has promised that public expenditure in the years about which the hon. Gentleman is talking would decrease and not increase.
Mr Winston Churchill (Stretford)
Some of us feel that the situation has become so critical and that the preponderance of armaments facing us in Central Europe today means that we should be talking in terms of increasing the defence Vote and, above all, increasing it in terms of hardware. That is what I wish to see. I believe that I am not alone in that wish on the Government back benches and, perhaps, on the Opposition benches.
While the West talks of détente, the Soviet Union is continuing to arm. I wonder what the men in the Kremlin think when they survey the great democracies of Western Europe and see them cowed by the oil weapon wielded by a handful of petty sheikdoms. Recent events have shown the dangers for Europe of allowing ourselves the luxury of a foreign policy independent of the United States while not being willing to afford the cost of an independent European defence policy.
It is right, indeed essential, that Europe should move forward to an independent foreign policy, but a vital prior requirement is that we should have an independent defence policy. Until that is achieved the United States' commitment to Europe's defence is vital and it is one which cannot be treated in any cavalier fashion. We should attach the highest priority to the re-establishment of our former good relationship with the United States.
Will the Government show the way to our European partners by substantially increasing appropriations for hardware for the British Armed Forces and pressing our European partners to move forward to a credible European defence posture?
Mr Bill Baker (Banffshire)
When my right hon. Friend opened the debate he said that there would be an alteration in the disposition of ships of the Royal Navy east of the Cape. It would be fair to sum up his speech by saying that what he wished to achieve was a more effective use of our ships in that area. I want to deal with two interrelated subjects. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has touched upon one of them. They are the Beira patrol and the defence—if that is the right word—of the oil rigs, and so on, in the North Sea.
Cost-effectiveness is the great cry these days, even in matters of defence. I question the cost-effectiveness of the Beira patrol. If ever there were a time when we were wasting money, and time itself—and, indeed, in the present context, energy—the Beira patrol takes the biscuit. To maintain that patrol we clearly have to have three frigates constantly at the ready. One of my hon. Friends has just pointed to the Opposition Front Bench. I do not know whether the Opposition would equate themselves with a modern frigate. I very much doubt it.
The Beira patrol is achieving practically nothing, and the Royal Navy is stretched quite far enough already. This is a very delicate matter. If it is referred to when my hon. Friend winds up the debate, no doubt we shall be told that we are fulfilling a NATO rôle. If we are fulfilling a NATO rôle in maintaining that patrol, why are not some of our other NATO partners' or United Nations' ships involved? Why should we carry the heat and burden all the time?
I had the opportunity recently of talking to the captain of one of the frigates which had been engaged on this patrol. I asked him what he thought were the benefits, if any, of his ship serving on this patrol. He said that the only possible benefit that the ship got was that the personnel had a little extra time in which to work up in going out to that part of the world. That in itself is a fairly average condemnation of this exercise.
Miss Joan Hall (Keighley)
It is also interesting that the Indian Ocean at present contains a certain number of Russian ships. If we have a number of frigates there, perhaps we can see what is happening with regard to those Russian ships, whereas if our frigates were not there we would not know about the movements of Russian ships.
Mr Bill Baker (Banffshire)
That may be so. I am sure that the House would very much like to know how many blockade runners the Beira patrol has stopped while it has been on duty out there over the last six years or so, and what effect the patrol has had on the economy of Rhodesia, which it is supposed to be damaging. Obviously, any estimate of the effect on the economy of Rhodesia must be a guess, but it is one that we are entitled to know. I should also like to know how long Her Majesty's Government believe that we are to go on with this farce—because a farce it certainly is.
I should now like to turn to the security of the oil and other rigs in the North Sea, both now and in the future. I understand that at present there are 14 semi-submersible rigs in the northern North Sea with two jack-up types, making a total of 16. In the summer of next year there will be 50 and, as the hon. Member for West Lothian said, there will be 120 by 1980. In addition to that, there are already 26 completed platforms in the southern North Sea, so that is some measure of the problem that we have to face in this context. Furthermore, I understand that there are also nine or 10 permanent platforms in the course of construction. There is also quite a possibility that some of the oil, if not the gas, will be brought ashore by having totally submersed connecting points on the sea bed.
These are all potential targets for all sorts of weapons, not least wave-hopping aircraft. I understand that we have no proper airborne radar which is capable of dealing with that sort of problem, so the Navy and the Royal Air Force should be trying to get early warning radar aloft as quickly as possible. I submit that speedy action is essential. One possible answer to the problem of the wave-hopping aircraft is, alas, four years ahead—the versatile Type 22 frigate which will not be in service until later. It will have surface-to-surface as well as SAM missiles. I suggest that the half squadron of frigates which is needed for the wasteful Beira patrol could be withdrawn from that duty and trained specially for the protection of the rigs and platforms.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) rightly stressed the enormous preponderance of the USSR's ironmongery. I remind the House that the USSR will shortly have two aircraft carriers, whereas we are running down and will soon have none. The Russians already have 400 operational submarines, of which some 75 are nuclear powered, and they have a great many frigate-type vessels which are equipped with surface-to-surface missiles. I remind the House that by the 1980s the United Kingdom will be almost self-sufficient in oil. Can anybody doubt that the platforms and rigs would be a No. 1 priority for the Soviet marine forces if there were a general conflagration? A run-down in oil supplies in peacetime could cripple our economy. How much more would an attack on these rigs in wartime cripple our economy?
The hon. Member for West Lothian mentioned guerrilla attacks on these rigs and platforms. Anybody who wished to attack them, either now or in the future, must be made to think again. Not only could sabotage cause a great deal of trouble, disturbance and inconvenience, but any pollution would have a very serious effect upon our coastline and our very large fishing grounds in the North Sea. The other side of the coin is the damage that could be caused near the shore, or on the shore itself, by the fracturing of the landward or near-landward end of a pipeline. Therefore, the Ministry of Defence has a twofold yet unitary problem to face. First, we must fairly soon have highly mobile landward security forces to guard against or repulse attacks on the pipelines coming ashore, and there should be close co-operation with the oil industry to see that emergency repairs can be carried out quickly. Secondly, a very efficient communications network is necessary between the rigs and a shore-based naval and air headquarters. Such a headquarters should be established in the North-East of Scotland, independent of, but responsible to, the Flag Officer, Scotland.
Mr Bill Baker (Banffshire)
Yes, but there would need to be more emphasis on the military side. There should be a high military content, although civilians will be necessary to help. A half squadron of frigates is the minimum naval force, but we also need air transportable marines and sappers, and helicopters to carry them. Now that the cod war is over, a Nimrod night well be attached to or under orders from, that headquarters, and a good deal of specialised training is necessary as soon as possible. This is no time to go into the interaction between oil exploration and exploitation and the fishing industry, but the training of a force such as I have outlined might prevent fouling of the seabed by debris from rigs and platforms.
Mr Geoffrey Stewart-Smith (Belper)
Under international law, does this House have absolute control over exactly what happens on these oil derricks? Are we responsible for their security? Can we send out troops to protect them?
Mr Bill Baker (Banffshire)
To be perfectly honest, I cannot answer that question, but I imagine that we have jurisdiction. There is a Bill going through the other place which will have a certain bearing on what my hon. Friend asked, and perhaps he would like to have a look at it. At all events, I am sure that the House will be interested to hear what steps Her Majesty's Government intend to take on these very important matters.
Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am astonished that so few Labour hon. Members are present. At the Labour Party Conference strong views were expressed by some leading Front Benchers. I only hope that their absence means that they have changed their views.
I turn to the question of the way in which naval ships will be fuelled. The Minister may have seen a report in Business Week about the oil threat to the American forces. It says:
With the Mideast situation delicate, the Arab cutoff forced the US to supply the Sixth Fleet by a massive air and sea lift. But this
has not been enough, say sources in Europe, and the US military has curtailed its normal sea and air operations—potentially dangerous when there is still a possibility of renewed Mideast fighting".
The United States forces could not get any oil in the Philippines, even though the four refineries in the Philippines are 100 per cent. American owned. The report continues:
The decrees by the oil companies and the Philippine Government caused a 100 per cent. slash in bunker fuel, grease and lubricants for the huge Seventh Fleet base at Subic Bay.
Are we sure that we have made provision to fuel the Navy? We have a small enough Navy as it is, and we cannot have it restricted because of lack of fuel. There are ships in the Far East at the present time and they may be faced with a shortage of fuel. I hope that we shall be told whether we have friends, for example, in India and other places who will be willing to refuel our Fleet when needed.
Views have been expressed from the Opposition benches about Greece and NATO. The matter was raised by the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) in the last debate on 15th March. I hope that we shall not continue to wish to push Greece out of NATO for, if Greece is removed from NATO, Turkey will be left out on a limb. That will be unfortunate. Furthermore, we must remember that the Foreign Minister of Holland, Mr. Van der Stoel, made a report on that matter at the Council of Europe, so we knew what his feelings have been from the very beginning. I hope that this matter will not be pursued by Labour hon. Members. We need Greece, and it is better for Europe that Greece should remain in NATO.
Mr Frank Judd (Portsmouth West)
The hon. Lady is saying that we should not push for the removal of Greece from NATO. Does she agree that it is appropriate to bring pressure to bear upon Greece in no uncertain way to restore the fundamental freedoms which NATO exists to protect?
Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
That was done by the Council of Europe, and it made no difference at all. In any case, the hon. Gentleman is talking about the internal affairs of Greece and we want Greece to help us with external affairs.
Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I shall quote from the speech of the Minister of State for Defence on 15th March. He said:
Defence policy goes in step with foreign policy; and if, as we hope, world conditions change, and in particular if Western and Eastern Europe move into a more normal and civilised relationship, then of course, our defence policy will be suitably adapted. No one wants to spend more on defence than he needs to, and if we get a chance to reduce our expenditure we shall take it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March 1973; Vol. 927, c. 1503.]
But history suggests we are more likely to spend too little on defence than too much.
If we are to fit in defence policy with our present foreign policy, surely we will have to spend more or at least maintain an equivalent rate and not have any of the cuts which we are told we shall have? I represent a Service town. There is anxiety—and I am sure that the anxiety is on a national level—about the cuts which may take place; people are anxious that they will make a difference to the whole of the Western area.
I have recently been to China. The Chinese people are practical about these matters. They are building air raid shelters in every one of their major towns. They are spending money on providing shelters when they would much prefer to be spending money on improving the standard of living of their people. However, they see the necessity to spend money on air raid shelters because of the terrible tension which exists throughout the world.
We know that has been well demonstrated by recent events in the Middle East. Those events will affect the lives of millions of people, and we shall not, for example, be able to continue to help the poorer nations if we cannot maintain growth because of industrial action or because of the lack of oil.
We must remember that Russia has reinforced its frontier with China, but it has not depleted its forces in Europe. That is why the Chinese are so wise to be ready and we should take their example and not necessarily build air raid shelters, but be ready for any eventualities which may occur in the not too distant future.
I am now a delegate to the Western European Union. The European countries must reach agreement to bring into effect much better co-operation. Europe cannot defend itself without France and the United States. The Western European Union should contribute more to the services which are rendered by the United States.
It seems that there is no real European defence policy or armaments policy and if we are not prepared to have such a policy we are wasting money and time going to the many meetings of various organisations, such as the Western European Union, NATO, the Euro-group and the North Atlantic Alliance, which I suppose is probably the most successful organisation in co-ordinating the defence policies of Europe and America.
It seems that there is too much overlapping and unnecessary expense in producing individual weapons and ships Surely it should be agreed between the different nations that overlapping should be avoided. It seems ridiculous that France, for example, should be building tanks, that Germany should be building tanks, and that we should be building tanks, without knowing the exact number of tanks which each country is building. It would be better for one nation to build tanks and for other nations to make other necessary weapons, so that would avoid overlapping.
The navies have too many frigates, in comparison with other ships—or, rather, they are out of proportion with the other ships of the various navies.
I gather that defence costs over £3,000 million. BAOR costs about £354 million and that RAF General Purposes Combat Force about £496 million and we cannot afford to cut any of those sums. I support what has been said about trying to shed some of the high costs of education, housing, welfare services and pensions. The latter, for example, costs approximately £173 million. Whitehall costs about £69 million. It is difficult to discover the exact details, but local administration costs £184 million and family and personal services cost £90 million. None of that money is used for the defence of the country. It is used to help the people who are defending our country. However, they must have the equipment to use for our defence. The money which we are spending should be separated, so that we know what we are spending on equipment, arms and hardware and what we are spending on other services.
I recently visited the Property Services Agency—at the beginning of the debate there was talk about housing for the Services—and was greatly impressed by the improved standard not only of the accommodation, but of the layout of the estates. Some of this new accommodation will appeal greatly to Service families. There is the difficulty of having estates which are too large—for example, Rowner. We should not in future have such large estates, with so many people of one profession living together. I should prefer to see much smaller units.
Cities like Plymouth are extremely short of housing accommodation for ordinary civilians, some of whom have been on housing lists for several years. Therefore, I suggest that a certain number of houses should be built for sale to people who intend to continue in the Services—in other words, to re-engage. This is not a new idea; I have put it forward on other occasions. But it seems sensible that if people intend to re-engage and complete their 22 years' service they should be allowed to buy a house.
I am very worried—there are not many hon. Members on the Opposition benches at the moment to whom I can put my worries—about the suggested cut of £1,000 million on defence expenditure. Coming from a dockyard town, I am worried that such a cut might affect the workers there if that threat were carried out.
I should like an assurance about employment in the dockyards. Advertisements have been put in newspapers asking for more people, but if we are to have cuts in the Services, what will happen to the people who are taken on? Will they have to leave their jobs shortly? Some grades are offered wages which are too low. I know many men who have two jobs, or whose wives have to go out to work in the evenings. I understand that there is to be a review of wages paid to dockyard workers. How will that be affected by stage 3?
My hon. Friend may like to know that since the girl apprentices scheme started at the Royal dockyards there has been a competition, which has been won by Rosyth, with Devonport in second place. I shall be entertaining the winners at the House after Christmas. I thank him for agreeing to them entering, because the scheme has been a great success.
I should like to know what is to happen when we have the Armed Forces pay review in April. At the moment there is an extremely poor relationship between civilian and Service pay. This is one reason why people are not re-engaging.
I should now like to make my annual plea for the pre-1950 widows. I suppose that this appeal will again fall on deaf ears—perhaps for economic reasons. I have just received a letter dated 10th December from a lady whose husband served on HMS "Repulse". He gave marvellous service, joined up again in the last war, and was demobbed in 1945. He died just a few months ago. His widow is left without a pension after the splendid service that he gave during all those years.
I should like to pay special tribute to the Royal Marines who have been serving in Ulster; some of them have been to Ulster probably more times than other in our Services. Some troops have been at least twice, and others four times.
It is essential to get a better understanding and co-ordination with our allies, especially Europe and the United States, so that we may feel reassured that we have some protection in this tense world. And we also want to play our part, in trying to maintain the future peace of the world.
Mr Edward Leadbitter (Hartlepools, The)
One of the great difficulties of analysing the United Kingdom's defence position is in trying to understand the factors which have directly and indirectly impinged upon it. It seems clear to me and, I am sure, to hon. Members on both sides of the House that for more than 20 years at least three fundamental factors have impinged upon our thinking and brought about trends in defence that I suspect now alarm the House of Commons and the country.
The first of those factors is a profound change in our social habits and attitudes which, at different times in the past two decades, have amounted to a social crisis.
The second factor is the growing generation who have no experience of the meaning of a just war with conventional arms or, apart from news broadcasts and television, of the types of war that we associate with the term "conventional arms".
The third factor has affected Governments more than the House of Commons. It is well known that in the House we discuss defence matters on approximately six days in the year—two days on the White Paper, one day on each of the Services, and a day such as this on the Supply Estimates. Therefore, the Government in their executive position are affected by this third factor of increasing military costs accelerating to astronomical levels.
These three factors have impinged greatly on defence policy. Their combination has recently brought about such policies as Willi Brandt's Ostpolitik, less recently our withdrawal from east of Suez, and, more recently, President Nixon's talks in Peking and Moscow. In consequence, we have been lulled into an assumption of security which in reality does not exist.
We have been brought face to face with reality from our experience in the Middle East. Another reality which we must face is the impending and inevitable withdrawal of more troops from Europe.
Taking all these matters into account, we have a new political and defence position to assert—namely, that on the paramount issue of the defence of the realm the House of Commons should be united. It does not matter what is said at the party conferences. What matters is what we say here as Members of Parliament when we exercise our constitutional rights. We are faced with the facts of life and must have the courage to say what should be done.
We should bear in mind our recent history and learn from the trends of the past two decades. We must guard against being lulled into a situation in which we take too much for granted and find that perhaps once more we are not ready to deal with a situation effectively. That does not mean that we should start war-mongering or an arms race. It means considering how best we in the House of Commons can ascertain whether this country is properly defended.
I believe that at the moment it is not and I have some pertinent statistical facts to show why. Unlike the situation in the United States, the House of Commons is kept horribly misinformed on defence matters and, although the House has tried to provide some remedy for that in the last two or three years through the Select Committee system, that remedy is still in its infancy and does not possess the power to get for the House the information it requires.
We must look at Europe in the light of recent history, in the light of what can happen in the Middle East and in the light of American intentions. We must ask whether we can withstand a conventional weapons attack, and I believe that the answer to that question at the moment is that we could not stand such an attack in Europe for more than three or four days, or three or four weeks at the most. That raises a most important consideration. In the last few years we have enjoyed what we thought was a state of security beneath the nuclear umbrella. If, as I suggest, we cannot stand a conventional attack, we must consider whether that weakness does not present the threat of the use of tactical nuclear weapons, and the corollary of that would be whether there was not also a threat at a later point of the use of strategic nuclear weapons.
Perhaps I may give some indication of the dilemma we are in. There are three sets of talks going on. First are the European Conference on Security and Co-operation talks; second are the MBFR talks in Vienna; and the third are the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. All three are in some way related to security and defence and of conventional weapons. These talks are completely unco-ordinated.
A week ago Senator Jackson in Washington, considered to be an authority on defence matters, announced that the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks had come to an impasse. He is reported as proposing as a way out of this deadlock that each side be limited to 800 intercontinental ballistic missiles and no more than 560 submarine-launched missiles. The SALT No. 1 agreement of a year ago allows the United States up to 44 nuclear missile submarines containing 710 launch tubes and the Soviet Union up to 62 submarines with 950 launch tubes.
The arithmetic of that is alarming. The two supreme Powers are using that kind of language about strategic arms. Russia, we know, is developing sophisticated conventional equipment in addition for low-level attack to avoid our detector and interceptor systems. And Europe does not have the fullest co-ordination in defence matters. So, whether we are talking in terms of conventional weapons or strategic weapons, we are falling far behind America and Russia, and the hopes of progress in SALT are fading.
We in Europe must try to divert our minds from the political machinations of the Common Market. We must cease assuming that we must plan our defence according to where the ball is being played.
Experience tells us that if they cannot find agreement on economic matters they cannot do so on military matters. We have the situation where France is not a member of NATO and where for political reasons we may at some time be involved in an unholy nuclear marriage with France. But that would not be a solution.
There is a need for the NATO Powers to remove themselves from the philosophy of the line of defence and to revert to a more mobile position of defence in depth. Such a move would produce financial advantages, flexibility and modern methods of anti-tank warfare such as the use of helicopters. A whole string of other advantages would follow. But for this we need a new European Defence Agency.
Ponder on the question of Britain's position and contribution. I promised to return to "alarming facts" about our defence position. There are gaps in our communications system and in our radar coverage of a most serious nature. There is considerable delay in the application of the most up-to-date computerised systems of co-ordination. But when it comes to military hardware in the Army, Navy and Air Force equipment, the House might be alarmed to know that 20 years ago the Royal Air Force had 700 jet fighters. At the moment it has about 70. There are no anti-aircraft missiles in our aircraft strike force. Britain has no fighter of any kind under production in this country. Indeed, we have to resort to foreign manufacturers for our strike force aircraft production.
Ten years ago our effective warships numbered 230; at the moment we have about 170. Ten years ago we had five aircraft carriers; now we have one. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) referred to this position earlier and has done so on previous occasions. He has expressed his concern that we should have only the "Ark Royal". Unless a new policy decision is made, its life is limited. The "Ark Royal" has a squadron of Buccaneer strike aircraft and a squadron of Phantom fighter bombers. It is the only weapon in British hands capable of striking targets beyond 25 miles. That is a dangerous situation for us. I repeat the "Ark Royal" is the only weapon of its sort that we have, the only warship at sea with the capacity to strike a target at 25 miles. I suggest that we should consider these facts with some care.
What is the effect on Britain of the SALT talks? Russia and America have ignored the first agreement while we have kept ourselves nicely in agreement. In the same way we bend over backwards to keep in agreement with every silly regulation in the Common Market. We have four Polaris submarines. Everybody knows that they are expected to be sufficient until the early 1980s at the latest. But we are not even in a position to introduce the multiple independently targetted re-entry vehicle system of Poseidon. America has the system; Russia has advanced on it.
In America the work in that area is due to end possibly next year. Unless the Government make a decision we shall be without MIRV. It is a serious matter because, as the Minister knows, the anti-ballistic missile programme was limited by the SALT talks. We had hopes of replacement through the MIRV system. If we need it, a decision should be made early. If there is anxiety about it, then it is the Government's fault because the House of Commons has been kept rather misinformed and lacking in information.
I stress the importance of this problem to those who presume to be pacifists and who presume that our social and economic future is best enhanced by cutting down on defence expenditures. Our social and economic situation has never in our history been enhanced by overindulgence in pacifism. On each occasion that the pacifists have had their way, the House has eventually at some point reasserted itself and saved the day.
Now, when space and time scales have considerably changed, when we have supersonic flight and pictures can be brought back from Jupiter at the speed of light, science has introduced a new spectrum into political and scientific thinking.
The House must charge the Government, any Government, to remember that we cannot afford and must not try, on the grounds of protecting our social and economic future, to afford a reduction in arms expenditure. The defence of the realm must come first and when that first charge is met, we can feel secure to get on with the job of earning our living in peace.
Mr Oscar Murton (Poole)
Order. Before calling the next speaker, I would point out that time moves on and that a number of hon. Members still wish to contribute. It would be helpful, therefore if speeches could be kept as short as hon. Members feel they can be.
Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
Defence debates always seem overshadowed by events of much greater immediate urgency. Without criticising Mr. Speaker's decision. I have a great deal of sympathy with the application by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) earlier today for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9.
The origins of the present economic crisis, brought on by the oil shortage, can be traced to the Labour Government's decision in 1967 to withdraw from the Gulf. Before anyone accuses me of "gunboat" ideas, I hasten to add that I am talking merely about a military presence as visible evidence of our political will to continue to influence events in that part of the world. Without such influence, the Arab rulers despaired of us and reinsured with the Soviets, whose political will was so apparent in arming and then rearming the Egyptian and Syrian armies.
We should pay tribute to the policy of the Government of Iran and of the Shah, who seems to have a very far-sighted policy in regard to security in that neck of the woods.
The Russians must now be laughing all the way to the Kremlin. They have deprived the capitalist world of its oil without shedding a drop of Russian soldiers' blood. They have found vast markets for their armaments. It is, to say the least, a curious coincidence that their sympathisers among the industrial militants in the United Kingdom simultaneously produce trouble in the mines and the railways just when we are desperately short of oil. The timing is significant. I am not seeing a Red under every bed, but I am seeing enough Reds under beds to stop the sophisticated machinery of modern civilised society—as my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) pointed out yesterday.
In the face of all these facts, and in the face of weakness and confusion in NATO, it is fantastic for the Labour Party to suggest, as they did at their party conference, cutting defence expenditure. The European members of NATO must pull themselves together and give evidence urgently to America of their political will to survive. It is as simple as that. This means greater and not smaller defence expenditure.
The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) wants, apparently, to equate downwards towards other members of NATO in Europe. I wonder why he thinks it correct for us to level down to Holland and Denmark, for example, rather than that they should perhaps be encouraged, to level up to us.
My right hon. Friend will not expect the debate to go by without mention of the Harrier. I saw Operation "Sally Forth", the NATO operation in the Firth of Forth, this summer. It was without question the most impressive demonstration of naval power I have ever seen. The belle of the ball was undoubtedly HMS "Ark Royal". I had the pleasure of standing on the deck of one of the guided missile cruisers with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy. I saw the Harrier landing and taking off from the deck of HMS "Albion", and had the pleasure of whispering in his ear, "Project definition studies, my foot". The thing works perfectly well, as the Government well know, and it has worked perfectly well for years. My right lion. Friend said that he thought the House would understand his announcement today of further postponement of a decision, but I assure him that this side of the House does not understand it at all.
I hope that my hon. Friend, in replying to the debate, will say something more about recruitment at age 15. The argument seems so simple and straightforward. Many boys do not want to do their additional year at school brought about by the raising of the school leaving age. My right hon. and fair Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has overfilled classrooms and not enough teachers. It seems sensible that we should let these boys go sideways into the forces, where they could continue their education while developing the military virtues. If they did not like it after all, they could leave at 18—and if the Services do not put their thumbprint on boys' minds in these formative years, they never will.
Another point raised in the debate is forces' pay. We must allow forces' pay and allowances to catch up with the phase 3 level now, and not wait until April. It is not sufficient to say to the forces, "Your regular review comes up soon and maybe you will get something in April."
If my right hon. Friend needs a pretext, there is one in the "unsocial hours" provision of phase 3. Does my right hon. Friend think that the hours spent on the bridge of a coastal minesweeper in a channel gale in mid-winter are unsocial or not? Does he think that patrolling the streets of Bogside on Saturday at midnight constitutes unsocial hours?
It is not good enough to offer the miners and others payments for unsocial hours while delaying the long-overdue increase in forces' pay. The men in the forces do not go on strike or go slow or operate overtime bans. They do their duty 24 hours a day so that the rest of us can sleep quietly in our beds. They deserve better than they have been getting, and repeated tributes from both sides of the House are not enough.
The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon started by saying, correctly, that NATO was the cornerstone of our defence policy, but very soon proceeded to wallow in his ideological obsessions. He criticised Greece for its internal policy, and then accused President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger of "arrogance and petulance". What a way to bolster the cornerstone of our defence! He also referred to the American nuclear umbrella, on which our entire security depends, in terms of, "All power corrupts…".
Finally, he pays fulsome tribute to our troops in Ulster and asks for additional expenditure on housing for them. These words sound hollow when it is borne in mind that at the Labour Party Conference there was a resolution to cut defence expenditure by £1,000 million.
Andrew Alexander, who used to report debates for the Daily Telegraph, once wrote,
The Tory defence experts, though an amiable lot, cannot be described as the light cavalry of the debate.
It is not so easy to summarise in such felicitous phrases the few defence Members on the Opposition benches. They comprise hand Standers; round-earthers; pacifists; nuclear disarmers; tight-rope walkers with dockyard constituencies; and one or two honest men such as the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) who, as Shadow Secretary of State, is distinguished by having been absent from the debate from after the first speech.
Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles (Winchester)
In that case I entirely withdraw my remarks about the right hon. Gentleman, with the exception of my observation about his being an honest man.
As I was saying, I am not happy about the Government's defence policy, and the Minister's speech, on such an important occasion, was rather skinny. But the Opposition's views can only be described as grotesque, while the Liberal's policy is non-existent.
Mr Peter Rees (Dover)
I reassure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) that if he is not part of the light cavalry of debate—perhaps in any event the heavy cavalry are rather more in fashion these days—the pattern of his charger's hooves beat for me an interesting and attractive refrain. Because of the shortage of time I shall not attempt to take up the detailed points that my hon. and gallant Friend has made, and in any case I am not qualified to do so. I wish to touch on a general point which was foreshadowed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid), who also speaks with great authority on these matters. The point also touches my constituency and therefore I have taken a close interest in it. It has recently been announced that the junior leaders' regiments are to be reorganised and streamlined. Those of us who are acquainted with the euphemisms of public life fear that this means that the regiments will be cut. The junior leaders' regiments are the most admirable institutions. They offer a fine general and trade education for the boys they take in, and perhaps more importantly, from the country's point of view, they provide a useful cadre of potential ncos and long-service soldiers who are inevitably the backbone of any professional army.
The Minister of Defence has told us with complete candour the sombre state of recruiting. It cannot be right, against this background, that we should be streamlining our junior leaders' regiments.
I have a particular constituency interest, because a shining example of these junior leaders' regiments is the Sapper Junior Leaders' Regiment, in Old Park Barracks, Dover. I have always had a particular admiration for sappers, who seem to combine all the martial virtues with a high degree of intelligence and technical expertise. This regiment is a fine example of the sappers as a corps. The regiment moved into Dover in 1959 and from that moment established a close relationship with the town and meshed in with the activities of Dover in many ways. I hope to be at the passing-out parade on Saturday. Whether I am received at that parade with enthusiasm or dismay depends on the answer which I extract from my hon. Friend when he concludes the debate.
Without the raising of the school leaving age it was inevitable to anyone who had studied the matter that the future of the regiments would be called in question. It has been announced that some time after 1975 the junior leaders' regiment is to be transferred to the Royal Engineers Apprentice School at Chepstow an equally fine organisation, also demonstrating the finest virtues of the Corps of Royal Engineers. But the apprentice school at Chepstow can house only 1,000 boys. The junior leaders' regiment at Old Park Barracks, Dover, has a nominal establishment of 630, but over the past three years, with the upsurge of recruiting, it has had between 750 and 800 boys on the books. It stands to reason that the so-called transfer to Chepstow means a cut of one third in the number of junior leaders being produced for the sappers.
Several questions arise, which I hope will be dealt with in the Minister's reply. First, the education is excellent. So I ask, is it not true that most of these boys are better employed, better educated, between 15 and 16, in these regiments than they would be in their local schools? Secondly, can the Army, with its present recruiting figures, really afford to dispense with this source of good recruits? Finally, is it a very good solution from the point of view of the barracks at Dover. They have been expensively altered and improved for the intake of boys and have facilities which a normal infantry barracks does not have.
On the other hand, by the very nature of things, junior leaders are not usually married, so that if a normal infantry unit is moved in, an enormous number of married quarters would be needed. I cannot help but feel that this is a highly questionable decision. We have a few more years before it is to be implemented. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends who are concerned with these matters to bear in mind several points. Could it not be arranged so that a year in a junior leaders' regiment, with, if necessary, appropriate adjustments to the education offered, could count as the equivalent to the last year at school? Would it not be possible, in view of the recruiting figures and the excellent quality of the boys turned out—bearing in mind the contribution they make to the nco and long-service cadre—to expand rather than contract these regiments?
This is perhaps a slightly rash suggestion, since I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is a very determined lady, but if there is any question of the defence budget being inadequate to carry the extra costs—and I appreciate that the type of education offered may be expensive—perhaps part of the cost could be carried on the budget of her Department. The regiment is, in a sense, an educational venture.
Could the decision not be looked at again from the point of view of Dover, because we have a warm spot in our hearts for our junior leaders' training regiment? It has made a special contribution to life in the town, and the barracks are tailor-made for its requirements. That is not to say that we would not welcome another infantry battalion. Dover is a garrison town and proud of its connections with the Services. But the junior leaders' regiment is a special case. This is a bad decision, not only from the point of view of Dover, which I am proud to represent, but from the point of view of the Army as a whole. It cannot be justified in the light of the sombre figures my right hon. Friend outlined at the start of the debate. I hope therefore that, if we cannot be given some reassurance tonight, at least in the intervening years before 1975 there will be some re-thinking of this small but important problem.
Mr John Wilkinson (Bradford West)
This debate has been dominated by two themes. The first has been the Arab-Israeli war and the second the state of the NATO Alliance. On the first I would just say that I think we have seen that superior force at the decisive point and combined with the element of surprise is, as usual, a most effective combination. I do not believe that the events in the Middle East have shown that we are particularly deficient in weaponry. On the contrary, dealing with missile equipment, the British Armed Forces compare favourably with many of their counterparts. For example, no one has mentioned the Rapier surface-to-air guided weapon which is coming into service with the Royal Air Force Regiment and the light anti-aircraft units of the Royal Artillery. As a low-level anti-aircraft guided weapon it is second to none and is doing well in export markets, particularly in Iran. We should not therefore be deluded into thinking that our own Armed Forces are particulary deficient.
We have also seen that a citizen force, even after an initial setback, is capable of rapid mobilisation into an effective instrument of war. At a time when our defence budget is subject to increasing financial stringency, I hope that we shall examine the situation closely to see whether we can derive benefits from an increased reliance upon volunteer reservists. The way in which the Israeli Air Force went into action at the concluding stages of the war against the surface-to-air guided weapons on the west bank of the Canal shows that air power is still an effective offensive instrument. Sir Andrew Humphrey, the Commander of Strike Command, in evidence to the Overseas and Defence Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, made some fairly telling points about Strike Command.
I will make only four requests to my hon. Friend. First, will he try to ensure that the Hawker-Siddeley Hawk aircraft has an armament capability so that it is capable of being used for close air support in addition to training? Secondly, will he ensure that the MRCA does not have a degradation in its STOL capability? It will have a good short-field performance which is extremely important in these days when fixed bases are so vulnerable. Thirdly, will he retain as many Lightnings as possible for the air defence rôle as long as is technically feasible? Fourthly, will he try to speed the replacement of Whirlwind air/sea rescue helicopters at present in service with Sea Kings which have longer range and better endurance?
In short, it would have been better if the NATO ministerial council had taken less time on the cosmetics of putting a good face upon our relationship with the United States and spent more time in active preparation of the measures necessary to counteract the grave imbalance which Dr. Luns revealed in its force levels vis-à-vis the Warsaw Pact. Our own main contribution should be in sea and air power. That was brought home to me this autumn on the NATO Assembly military tour of the northern flank. I noted particularly how vulnerable are Denmark and Norway. They have no overseas forces stationed on their soil and no nuclear weapons in time of peace. The imbalance is a grave one, particularly as the Murmansk region on the Kola peninsula is a major Russian base area.
If my hon. Friends are seeking to make cuts in defence, they could perhaps make them in BAOR by cutting some of the fat off the tail and spending more on naval and air systems to achieve the sort of air mobility and rapid reinforcement capability that we can provide for the flanks of the alliance.
I am disappointed at the continued procrastination over the Harrier. It is an outstanding aeroplane. The Fleet will need it for its reinforcement rôle on NATO's flanks and if the Fleet is to be effective in interception, strike and reconnaissance into the 1980s when the "Ark Royal" comes out of service. If my hon. Friends are not happy about ordering a Royal Naval version of the aeroplane, they could more than recoup the money from sales of this aircraft to overseas customers. By ordering the Royal Naval version my hon. Friends would have a good foundation for building a more advanced variant of the aeroplane that might commend itself to the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps and, perhaps, to the United States and other air forces as well.
It has been a worthwhile debate, but I ask my hon. Friends, if they are contemplating cuts, not to make them on naval and air systems that will be important for us in the future.
Lieut-Colonel David Mather (Esher)
In the few minutes at my disposal I should like to say a few words about the security situation in Northern Ireland following a visit early this week.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence said in opening the debate, the campaign has shifted away from the cities to the border areas. The IRA is concentrating on those areas, hoping to pin down our forces away from the cities. My impression from my visit was that we have a better grip on the border areas and the border crossing places than we had a year or six months ago.
What impressed me were the recent operations to block unapproved roads. Many of us in this House have argued for a year or two that these roads could and should be blocked. This is now happening in several different areas, particularly in the south-west, and is being effective. These are substantial concrete blocks over wide areas which are effectively closing unapproved roads. This is canalising the passage of terrorists through certain areas where we have permanent check points. Forged documents are being used on a large scale, and those who are concerned with these border check points believe that it would help them immeasurably to control the passage of terrorists and the document situation if a system of identity cards were introduced Another suggestion is that since the number plates on cars are frequently changed, the chances of deception in this way might be decreased if the numbers were engraved on the windscreens or rear windows of all motor cars.
These suggestions require the co-operation of the Republic, and following the Sunningdale talks we can expect this co-operation with the Republic and the Garda and Irish Army in the south. The general security situation has improved in Northern Ireland. But this is an uneasy time. A large section of the population of Northern Ireland is frustrated and fearful, and something could be triggered off very easily at short notice.
It is important that we have a demonstration that the Republic is in earnest over what was agreed at Sunningdale and that it is prepared to take action south of the border to control the movement of terrorists—and that demonstration should be given soon.
Mr Frank Judd (Portsmouth West)
This has been a thoughtful and probing debate. If one point has become clear, it is that Britain is as dependent upon her relationships with the world as she has ever been. If we are to ensure our survival, let alone our enhanced well-being as a community, a successful foreign policy is indispensable to us. This has been dramatically illustrated by the Middle East crisis and the ensuing fuel problems.
Tribute has rightly been paid by Members in all parts of the House to the Service men in Northern Ireland who have shouldered such a heavy burden in the most difficult circumstances. I endorse all that has been said on this matter.
Four questions formulated themselves in my mind as I listened to the debate. First, what is it we are defending? Secondly, what are the real threats? Thirdly, what can we afford and how do we obtain value for money? Fourthly, in what context should we approach defence questions?
On the question "What are we defending?", it seems to me that in a free, open and democratic society it is essential to define this matter if we are to ensure adequate economic priorities for defence programmes and, perhaps even more important, the will and motivation to make them effective. We are not just concerned with protecting impersonal power structures in the West from encroachment by the impersonal power structures of the East. We are concerned with protecting the civilised values which are the basis of our society and the quality of our existence.
These must involve the principles of human dignity, freedom, social justice, tolerance, democracy and civil rights. These values are under attack increasingly on many fronts in different parts of the world, and all those who care about their preservation have an inescapable responsibility to stand firm.
We in this House have to recognise that every time we condone or, worse still, directly or indirectly collaborate with oppression in any part of the world we undermine those very values that we most wish to preserve as the basis of our own society. We also encourage polarisation, as the oppressed see no alternative to militant extremism. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) forcefully spelled out the origins and purpose of the NATO alliance. I was very young at the time, but I can remember the response in this country to the encroachment across democratic societies of the totalitarianism of Stalin. There was a real crusade to preserve the values which I have just described.
It seems that we cannot now sweep under the carpet any erosion of those principles in the Western community, whether it is happening in Greece, in Portugal or in Turkey. Some Government supporters argue sincerely that this is not our responsibility and that it is up to the Greeks, the Portuguese or the Turks to look to their own affairs. No doubt that is why the Government failed to ally themselves with the Dutch, the Canadians and the Norwegians in the recent pressure which they brought to bear.
The Opposition disagree with that approach. As we see it, the original purpose of NATO was the collective defence of these qualities. If we are concerned with the external collective defence of these qualities and principles we must be just as much concerned with the internal defence of them within the Western community.
That does not apply only to our efforts and attitudes in NATO. There is also the fact that every time we seek by arms exports to ally ourselves with the oppressive régime in South Africa we contradict the principles that we say we want to defend. When senior naval officers pay visits to Chile so soon after a reactionary coup in that country, again we introduce confusions and contradictions about our defence objectives. We need a coherent strategy in the philosophy of defence, otherwise scepticism and indifference will increase as inevitably we sink into a morass of relativity when we discuss defence issues.
My second point concerns the real nature of the threats with which we are confronted. I have mentioned the problem of the erosion of democracy and freedom in the Western community. It also seems extraordinary, in practical defence terms, to believe that régimes which are preoccupied with coercion will be reliable partners should the alliance as a whole come under pressure. That is a point which I have never heard answered convincingly.
We have also to examine the position of the Soviet Union. It would be irresponsible to ignore the warning signs there. Immediately available in Europe the Soviet Union has 11,000 tanks, 2,000 combat aircraft and 430,000 men. We know that 1,500 of the tanks are of the modern T62 type whose versatility was well demonstrated recently by the Egyptians in the Middle East war. We also know of the rapid and dramatic expansion in the Soviet Navy, which has 200 sophisticated naval ships, 600 fast patrol boats, many with missiles, and the largest submarine force in the world. We know, too, that the Russians have been launching new nuclear submarines at the rate of about one a month.
In trying to analyse what the Russians' objectives may be in this respect, most of us will agree that there are probably no intentions on the part of the Kremlin to invade or to annexe Western Europe. But in the age of the condominium, spheres of influence are all-important. I have few doubts that those within the Kremlin would be very happy if Western Europe were increasingly to fall within the Russian sphere of influence—the Finlandisation, as it has been described, of Western Europe—rather than remain within the American sphere of influence.
Beyond the Soviet Union there is China. I had the privilege of being a member of the recent all-party delegation to China, led most successfully by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers). In our discussions with Chinese leaders and others we were all struck by their constant emphasis on the fact that China had no ambitions to become a super-Power. We were also struck, as the hon. Lady said, by China's preoccupation with the Russian threat. I certainly endorse the hon. Lady's comments about air raid shelters being built everywhere we visited. These were accompanied by slogans encouraging the Chinese people to be prepared for war and for natural calamities, and to work hard for the people. We heard analogies drawn between the Russians today and the Germans in 1939. It was said that if the Chinese were well prepared the Russians might not come.
We were also interested to hear the comments of the Chinese about the need for caution in the European security conference, because they thought that this was a way, perhaps, of getting the West to lower its guard. Their feeling was that Western defence integration was good as a means to contain the Russian threat. All this is interesting in the context of their position. However, it would be a little short-sighted to believe that necessarily China will always forgo ambitions of world super-Power status. The very impetus of her industrial and economic expansion and the population growth—although now somewhat modified—with the need for greater access to world resources may, even if her present leaders genuinely want to avoid this, lead her inescapably in that direction.
When considering real threats we have also to consider the increased pressure on scarce world resources, coupled with the world population explosion. I have often remarked that in the developing countries at present unemployment rates are already in excess of 30 per cent. We know that by 1980 there will be 225 million more people of working age in those countries. That cannot be prevented; they have already been born. This must mean increasing instability in the world. We have to be honest with ourselves and the country. Unless we intend to deploy our military and technological hardware in suppressing the majority of the world's population, in keeping it at bay and preserving our disproportionate advantage in terms of access to scarce world resources, we must come to terms with this new development and quickly.
There is another threat about which we do not talk often enough, although it has been mentioned in this debate. We should be unrealistic not to recognise it. I refer to the problem of social unrest, subversion, modern terrorist techniques and new methods of urban guerrilla warfare. This is particularly macabre when we see these techniques leap over the barriers of the nuclear stalemate which has existed for two decades. It is particularly sinister when we realise that we live in an age when crude bacteriological, chemical and nuclear weapons are not an impossibility, and we have to worry about not only political forces which might gain access to such weapons but large international crime syndicates. We must consider all these points very carefully. But we have to ask ourselves, what can we afford as a nation? My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon laid emphasis on this point in his opening remarks. Defence policy in a country such as ours has to be tailored to what we can afford. It would be indefensible and counterproductive to carry a defence burden so large that it undermined our ability to build a society worth protecting.
There have been interesting suggestions in the debate about how economies might be achieved. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) referred to rationalisation in training, and that is something which deserves attention. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) talked about the economies still to come from co-operation within the Euro-Group, and that, again is something at which we must look very closely. It was interesting to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite also making the point that there is room for greater equality in burden sharing within the alliance as a whole, particularly among the European Powers.
We have to appreciate the significance of the military industrial complex as it has emerged, which was well described by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) in the recent Public Accounts Committee debate, and we must recognise the dangers of the self-generating momentum within it. Therefore we have constantly to keep it under a critical eye, and to ensure at all times that we are getting value for money. I am sure that those of us who do not serve on the Select Committee would like to pay our respects to those who do for the invaluable function which they are fulfilling in this context.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) drew attention to the confluence of the peak of expenditure which we might expect, with so many projects in the melting pot and about to emerge, such as the MRCA, the Harrier, through-deck carriers, Fleet submarines, Lance tactical nuclear weapons and the Sea Wolf. It is intriguing to us on this side of the House that so many of these projects may reach a peak at the same time. There is great need for a far clearer indication of the Government's priorities, because they cannot follow all these through at one and the same time.
Mr Frank Judd (Portsmouth West)
I certainly would not add them, but if the Government wish to do so it is up to them. But we on this side of the House believe that the delay in coming to a decision about the Harrier is becoming intolerable. We feel that we owe it to the men of the Fleet Air Arm that, as soon as possible—it should have been done long ago—they should have a clear indication of what the Government intend to do, because they need to be able to think with certainty about then-future. Let us have a decision, whatever it is, at the first possible moment.
We must also examine the suitability of our defence forces to meet the real dangers which I have described—for example, their suitability to cope with internal as well as external threats, with unorthodox as well as orthodox dangers within the context of a free and democratic society, their adaptability in protecting oil rigs, fishing fleets or survey teams, their ability to contribution to international policing operations where appropriate.
In this connection, it is necessary to ask whether much of modern military and naval technology is in danger of becoming muscle-bound. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) made this point very effectively. We have to learn the lessons of the Middle East war.
In naval policy, I sometimes wonder whether we are beginning to find ourselves concentrating on too many individual boffin showpieces, as it were, at the expense of overall versatility and an overall viable force. It was interesting to hear the comments of the Minister of State on future policy about ships operating in groups. I do not think that that completely overcomes the doubt which exists, and this is something at which we must look very critically in the light of recent international experience.
I should like to say one or two words about defence policy and defence expenditure. Obviously, we have to work within alliances. In our post-imperial era, it would be impossible, even if we wanted to do so, to police our own interests all over the world alone.
I argue that the story of the NATO alliance since the late 1940s has been one of success in maintaining relative stability. The rationalisation of the Western and Eastern communities into the NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact is the key to any chance of progress in talks on mutual and balanced force reductions and a meaningful implementation of détente.
The key to the power balance which has been established, whether we like it or not—some of my hon. Friends have sincere and genuine misgivings about it—seems to be related to the inextricable inter-relationship of the American deterrent and the integrated American and European land forces on the European continent. We can no doubt understand the domestic pressures that may have developed in the United States, if need be, for a unilateral reduced US presence in Europe. But we must put two points to our colleagues in the United States.
First, they must ask themselves how a unilateral withdrawal by America will affect the willingness of the Russians to make significant or meaningful concessions in the context of mutual and balanced force reductions. It would surely make a nonsense of all that is under way in Vienna at the moment.
The second point that we must make is that a unilateral American withdrawal would probably lead to increased emphasis on an independent European defence force, perhaps with its own deterrent. Some of us would at least argue that this would have an acute unbalancing impact on the international situation as it now stands.
While making that point, I believe that we should mention the British deterrent. If we accept the analysis that I have just indicated, there does not seem to be a case for a new generation of a British so-called independent nuclear deterrent. We should be careful to avoid drifting into such a commitment. In any case, in the context of the SALT talks the Russians have made it perfectly clear that in their view any increase in our nuclear capability in this respect would be regarded as an increase in the United States capability. We must treat that point seriously.
There is much cynicism—perhaps in this House as well as outside—about the cause of disarmament. But surely effective policed disarmament is still self-evidently the best form of defence, especially with the development of chemical, biological and even crude nuclear weapons which might be used in a guerrilla context. Lestor Pearson, the previous Canadian Prime Minister, once commented that we prepare for war like prodigious giants and for peace like retarded pygmies.
We must not despair on this course. We should use the new realities as an incentive for unceasing efforts on the disarmament front. I suggest that to give up would amount to criminal neglect of the interests of those whom we claim to represent.
Similarly, the Middle East and the crisis in world resources have demonstrated more than ever the relevance of an international security agency with teeth if this could but be established. This would clearly be as much in the interests of the super-Powers, who can still be drawn into confrontation against their better judgment, as in the interests of the weak who need guaranteed access, for example, to their fair share of limited world resources.
I should like to commend something that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. If we are concerned about world stability and peace in future, we should already be debating in some depth in this House our policy at the forthcoming Law of the Sea Conference.
Meanwhile—here I want to say something which may be regarded by some hon. Members, even on this side of the House, as a little contentious—we must recognise, in the age of guerrilla warfare and terrorist techniques, the importance of intelligence operations in defence policy. But in our kind of democratic society we must be careful about potential sinister developments in any strong emphasis on intelligence. We must be clear about the way in which we at all times guarantee the political accountability of the intelligence machine.
There are two other matters that I shall mention briefly. First, in our concern about achieving value for money in our defence programme and defence expenditure, we must remember the large body of civilian industrial and non-industrial staff which is employed directly by the Ministry of Defence. I suggest that in the midst of our grave energy crisis there is an urgent need to utilise a growing proportion of our research and development programme in an onslaught on the energy crisis itself. There must be research into alternative sources of power and less energy-intensive means of production. In other words, we must consider relevant technology for survival, which is more intimately related to the concept of defence than might at first seem obvious.
Second, there are large civilian establishments employing considerable numbers of industrial and non-industrial staff. They include the naval dockyards. At a time when hon. Members on both sides of the House like, at times, to moralise about the responsibility of industry for devising up-to-date techniques in industrial relations and management, it seems extraordinary that we should tolerate so much antiquated and thoroughly archaic organisation in the naval dockyards. They are large units of industrial activity which are directly under Government responsibility. It seems that there is an urgent need for a sensible and competitive pay structure for all civilian employees, with an emphasis on decent basic pay.
There is a need to revise drastically, if not to eliminate, the incentive schemes which, with their present dependence on individual incentives, are inappropriate for the sort of work that is undertaken. There is also a need for decentralisation of management control, with far more responsibility delegated to individual yards and units for running their own affairs, and for negotiation on the spot between workers and local management, which should have real authority.
We should endeavour to achieve significant economies by drastically pruning all unnecessary, expensive and top-heavy bureaucratic overheads in the yards themselves, at Bath and at the Ministry of Defence, Civil Service Department and the Treasury at Whitehall level. They serve to put an unfair burden on productive management and workers in the front line. It is important that we should have a determined drive to increase revenue to the defence budget by utilising fully their capital equipment and manpower. If necessary, that could be done by operating a 24-hour day on a shift basis and taking on far more engineering work, for which the yards are ideally suited for outside industry, especially the public services and public enterprises.
A good deal of attention has been paid by hon. Members from both sides of the House to the downturn in recruiting for all three Services. Naturally, this is not a matter for partisan point scoring. It is a matter that concerns us all.
Mr Frank Judd (Portsmouth West)
It may have been, but it is a tradition which we shall not continue whilst in Opposition. We are proud that when in Government we were able to introduce the military salary, which did so much to combat problems of recruiting. It is tremendously important that the value of that salary should be maintained. It is not only the military salary which should concern us, but the other conditions of service. I re-emphasise what has been said about housing. We must ensure that Service men who want a home of their own are given every possible support to purchase it. Those who, having completed their period of service, want to establish a home for themselves in civilian life should have a real opportunity to do so. It seems completely unacceptable that men and their families who have served the nation should be confronted with all the insecurity and difficulty of trying to find a home of their own when they leave the Service.
The tragic cases should not be forgotten, either. I refer to the stories, of broken families, with which I am sure many hon. Members, like myself, are familiar. The House has a responsibility in this respect, because the family has a positive contribution to make to the effectiveness of the Service man, and therefore we encourage the feeling of family involvement in many ways in the Services. We encourage the concept of providing housing for Service men near their work. If a family breaks under pressure, with all the tragedy inherent in that situation, we cannot simply discard the wife and children. We in this House have a heavy responsibility to ensure that their needs are met. There are too many tragic cases falling into this category.
We must also recognise the special welfare problems that still exist within the Services, because there is much in Service life that will always involve more difficulties and tensions than are to be found in civilian life. Within the forces we must provide welfare services which are as effective as possible.
The Opposition join wholeheartedly with the Government in paying unlimited tribute to the men and women of our Services for the burden they carry on our behalf, not least in Northern Ireland, and in wishing them all success in the duties which we continue to ask them to undertake on behalf of the British nation.
Mr Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
This has been a useful debate, and many hon. Members have made valuable contributions. Unfortunately, these contributions have not come from the Liberal Members, who have not attended the debate. I shall endeavour to reply to as many of the points raised as I can and if I miss any I hope that hon. Members will forgive me, but I shall write to them in reply.
The debate has been wide ranging, but I begin by saying something about the Service for which I am responsible—the Royal Air Force. I start with one aspect of the RAF's activities which does not normally figure largely in the public mind but of which we can all be very proud. I refer to the numerous operations carried out for the relief of disasters and emergencies of all kinds in many parts of the world. The increasing frequency of these operations and their scale are perhaps not generally appreciated. There has been hardly a month this year in which RAF aircraft were not engaged somewhere in the world in operations of this kind. I mention three of them to illustrate their diversity.
In March, four Hercules aircraft were deployed to Nepal where, with the aid of air dispatchers from the Royal Corps of Transport, they dropped emergency food supplies to people in remote areas severely affected by a succession of failed harvests. Nearly 2,000 tons of food were dropped in 10 different areas. The skill with which this technically very difficult task was carried out earned many congratulations, and our long association with the Gurkhas of Nepal made it an operation which we were particularly proud to carry out.
In July and August, Hercules aircraft were engaged in another and very different relief operation in West Africa helping to bring food to the drought-stricken Sahel Zone. Flying long sorties from Dakar, RAF aircraft lifted more than 2,400 tons of food to destinations in Mali. I pass over other operations, such as those in Sudan and, for flood relief, in Pakistan, in order to come to a major operation which is going on at this moment. This is the United Nations operation to exchange Bangladesh and Pakistan citizens following the Delhi agreement of 28th August. This operation will be the largest planned transfer of populations in history and a very important part is being played by RAF Britannia aircraft, which are maintaining daily round trips between Pakistan and Bangladesh. These operations involve round trips of about 1,700 miles each day by each aircraft, and as at this morning over 13,000 people had been carried by the RAF.
Although not strictly a relief operation, the support the RAF has given to the United Nations in connection with the Middle East operation has been of great importance. Within hours of the United Nations request of 25th October to assist in the movement of peacekeeping forces, the Royal Air Force had begun an airlift of Austrian, Finnish and Swedish contingents from Cyprus to Cairo. This airlift was provided free of charge and was completed on 30th October, after 44 aircraft sorties had carried a total of 753 men, 56 vehicles and trailers and almost 428,000 lb of other freight. A generous letter of appreciation was received from the Secretary-General.
My object in drawing the attention of the House to these operations is not simply to praise the Royal Air Force, although it is a Service I have come greatly to admire in my short period as Under-Secretary of State. Nor is it to seek praise of the Government's action in helping out in these emergencies, because I am sure that any Government, of whatever complexion, would have done the same. My object is to illustrate and emphasise the increasingly valuable rôle that the Services play in peace time in support of the civil community. While it remains true that their primary purpose is to prevent war, the equipment, training and, perhaps above all, the discipline and professionalism of our Services makes them uniquely valuable in a wide range of essentially civil rôles, and at a time when the cost of defence presses heavily on every country, not least on this one, this aspect deserves emphasis.
But the RAF spends much of its time ensuring that it can properly fulfil its operational rôle. There is one aspect of this training which concerns many hon. Members—we recently had an Adjournment debate about it—and that is low flying. It is no secret that military aircraft undertake low-level training over many parts of rural Britain and that this type of activity has been increasing in recent years.
To the general public this activity is clearly one of the more obtrusive forms of training practised by the Armed Forces. We carry on this low-level training not because we take pleasure in inflicting noise on rural communities but because it is operationally essential. All the world's major air forces recognise the importance of low-level capability in the attack rôle, though some are more advanced than others in developing such a capability.
As the performance of the Russian-manufactured equipment in Vietnam and in the Middle East wars has demonstrated—hon. Members have referred to this tonight—a sophisticated air defence system can inflict heavy losses on defensive aircraft, particularly at medium altitude. But there is weakness in ground-based radar systems. It is difficult for them to pick up and track fast-moving aircraft which are travelling close to the ground and taking advantage of any cover provided by natural features of the landscape. This gap in capability substantially reduces the possibility of a successful missile-firing against such aircraft.
To meet the requirement of this tactical concept we must obviously have aircraft capable of undertaking low-level sorties at considerable speed. It is not enough even to have the aircraft; we also need crews fully trained in the very special techniques involved in low-level operations. Even when aircrew are trained and assigned to a squadron, it is essential for them to go on practising their skills. Without this constant practice, it would be impossible for even the most experienced pilot to maintain the high level of proficiency required.
I hope that I have said enough to show that an extensive low-level training programme is vital to the operational efficiency of the RAF. At the same time, however, we do everything possible to ensure that this programme is conducted so as to cause the minimum of disturbance to the general public, and to this end we keep the whole subject under continuing review. I regret the inconvenience that we must nevertheless cause.
Hon. Members have rightly been concerned with the Middle East War and the lessons to be learned from it, particularly in air defence. There are obvious differences in terrain and weather between Europe and the Middle East, but any lessons to be learned by our forces from the recent conflict are being carefully studied. The exercise is complex, and it will be some time before firm conclusions can be drawn about the relevance of the war to our own capabilities and our future concepts.
Turning to air defence, our forces already have a range of missiles well suited to their needs, and further missiles such as the Rapier and Blowpipe are in prospect. Consideration of our air defences cannot be confined, of course, to missiles, because aircraft can be accounted for by other aircraft as well as by ground-to-air missiles. So far as the defence of the United Kingdom is concerned, we are examining how our existing and planned air defence may be improved.
While on this subject, however, it is perhaps relevant for me to be able to announce that the transfer to the Royal Air Force of the LI building at West Drayton will be substantially finished before Christmas. This will represent the effective completion of the Linesman system. Some of the facilities for the building have already been handed over to Strike Command. The forthcoming transfers will enable the command to work up the system to full operational efficiency during 1974.
The building will be known as the Air Defence Data Centre and will provide automated collection, collation and dissemination of information from the Linesman and other radars. It will have links with the NATO early warning system in Western Europe and will significantly improve the effectiveness of our air defences. As with any military facility, the air defences ground environment system needs to be kept up to date. Improvements are already in hand or are being planned, giving measures which will enhance the ability of this system to survive in the event of conventional attack on military targets.
Hon. Members have naturally been concerned about the amount of fuel that the Armed Forces consume in the present fuel shortage. Like the rest of the community, the Services were asked on 24th October to exercise voluntary restraint. On 14th November, more detailed instructions were issued, the aim of which was to achieve an economy of fuel of about 10 per cent., but we could not simply cut all consumption by 10 per cent. There are some areas in which it would not be right to make any cuts—operations in Northern Ireland are an obvious example. We also felt it right to exempt some other essential operations and training. The low-flying training for the RAF about which I have spoken is essential. As it is, we fly no more than is necessary for this training. Therefore, scope for reduction is very limited.
I do not want to go into details about the exercises and activities which have been specifically curtailed or cancelled, but I assure the House that all necessary steps have been taken to ensure that the Armed Forces make the maximum contribution to the conservation of supplies of fuel and power that is consistent with the need to maintain their operational capability and standards of efficiency and safety.
Mr Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
It is 10 per cent. compared with a relevant period before—say last year or last month, as the case may be. We intend to try to save that overall, but some activities are entirely exempted from it.
The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) complained about our attitude towards Greece. Her Majesty's Government have always made it clear that we wish for a return to democracy in Greece. Indeed, at this Box, I have said as much a number of times. The Greek Government repeat that they also wish to achieve that. But I respectfully suggest that no good will come to the freedom and peace which NATO is pledged to defend by trying to freeze Greece out of NATO, as the Labour Party seems to be trying to do.
Certainly, no good will come of noisy and heated squabbles in public about it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, drawing no doubt on his experience with the Labour Party, may think that such squabbles are one of the glories of democracy, to use his own words, but in international politics, such polemics are apt not to be helpful. Nor do I think it appropriate, within the forum of NATO, to discuss the internal affairs of countries which are members of it. Greece occupies, as has been said tonight, a very special geographical place in NATO which is important.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) said that our defence is not merely about protecting bases; it is also about protecting democracy and our moral values. Of course I agree. The hon. Member will find that if we lose our bases our democracy and moral values will not last very long afterwards.
Mr Frank Judd (Portsmouth West)
How does the hon. Gentleman deal with the argument that, by condoning suppression and abuse of freedom in Greece or any other member country of NATO, we are playing into the hands of those extremists who want to subvert the alliance from within?
Mr Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
We are not condoning oppression and mis-government any more than the hon. Gentleman did when he sat on the Government side of the House. We deplore it. We have very good reasons, for our own purposes and for the purposes of freedom and democracy, to get on with the Government who are in Greece at present.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about the nuclear alert. He made some rather serious charges about lack of consultation by the United States in putting its forces on a national alert during the Middle East crisis. He was dissatisfied with the method of consultation, both in NATO and nationally. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have already made the position clear on both points. But, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, the events of the past months do disclose some weaknesses, and NATO will be looking at its consultation procedures—not, I hope, in a spirit of recrimination but in the constructive manner we saw at the recent meetings in Brussels.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, West asked about the helicopters for South Africa. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also raised the matter. These helicopters are being supplied in accordance with our legal obligations, which were defined by the Law Officers in the White Paper of February 1971 as including.
… such number of Westland Wasp helicopters as is necessary to equip the three antisubmarine frigates supplied under the sea routes agreement with their initial complement (together with reserves) of Westland Wasp helicopters.
That is the legal obligation which we undertook. We have talked about it before in this House.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) discussed the mutual balanced force reductions. I was asked whether it was true that the forces of Western European countries, including our own, are to be excluded from the reductions negotiated in the talks on MBFR in the first instance. Although my right hon. Friend said today that it would not be prudent for details of these delicate negotiations to be revealed and discussed today in the debate, I can give the House an assurance that such reductions of our own forces are not excluded, although our view is that, in the first stage, we should look for reductions confined to the forces of the United States and the Soviet Union.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the BAOR units in Northern Ireland. It has been necessary to deploy from BAOR, and at present six major units of infantry, two armoured reconnaisance units and an engineering squadron are serving four-month emergency tours in Northern Ireland. These deployments have been made in consultation with our allies, for whose understanding we are grateful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who has had to leave to go back to the WEU meeting in Paris, made a characteristically interesting and well-informed speech.
Mr Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
No doubt the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is a judge of that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aidershot was primarily interested, as was the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, in what we are to do about WEU and the Euro-group. We have read with particular interest M. Jobert's interesting and important speech, and welcome in particular his emphasis on the importance of the Atlantic alliance for our common defence.
We naturally do not rule out a role for WEU in future, but we see that it has drawbacks. It does not, for example, include all the European members of the alliance in its membership—it excludes the flank countries—and we need to take care that it does not cut across the work of the Euro-group, to which we are firmly committed.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) and my hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and Lichfield and Tamworth (Major-General Jack d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) were all concerned that we should save money by unified training. We have taken note of what the Committee said about this. We have had the Jarrett Report about the medical services, which we are still studying and hope to implement in due course. We are studying how the basic training of non-specialist trades can be made the same in each Service. We are examining the problems of helicopter pilots, drivers, cooks, pay clerks, clerical staff, vehicle mechanics, and so on. This is an important matter, which is being examined carefully. We hope to be able to make a reduction in expenditure.
It would, of course, be logical for us to standardise on procurement and equipment in NATO. We are all fighting the same war in the same way and should have the same kind of weapons. It is difficult to get individual nations to give up their share of manufacturing and to put people out of work, along with the other things which are necessary for such sharing. Some progress has been made and there is a committee within NATO monitoring these things and making suggestions.
There is most hope in the larger projects such as the Jaguar, the MRCA and the battle tank and ammunitions and guns. In these spheres we have made a fair amount of progress. I hope we shall make more.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye talked about nuclear weapons. The Government have taken note of his Committee's report on this subject and have studied it with great interest. For the reasons explained by the Secretary of State in his oral evidence published with the report, we cannot comment on the detailed arguments of the report or its recommendations for the future. The Government are satisfied that Polaris provides us with a fully effective nuclear deterrent. We do not share the views of the hon, Member for Portsmouth, West about that. Obviously we must keep the position continuously under review and come to the necessary decisions in due course about what improvements shall be made and when.
A number of hon. Members were bothered about peaking in expenditure on various expensive projects at the same time. This is something we must watch closely. If they all came together we would find ourselves in a mess. We have thought of that, and the programme is to that extent flexible, so that we will, I hope, be able to avoid such dangers.
Mr Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
I cannot anticipate my right hon. and noble Friend's White Paper, which will be out before long. Incidentally, my hon. and gallant Friend has said that he would like a good deal more information in White Papers, and he compares ours unfavourably with those produced by the Americans and Germans. The comparison is not exactly apt. Our White Paper is meant to be for one year and is a rather succinct account of proposals, whereas in America and Germany there are different habits. There are different considerations, security and industrial confidence among them. Our practice, which has been expanded, is suitable for us.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland asked about HMS "Vulcan". We do intend to continue with our study of an improved version of the Swiftsure nuclear-powered submarine. I hope that answers his question from a constituency point of view.
Mr Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I am grateful to the Minister, but he has not quite cleared up the doubt. Will he say whether the second phase is going ahead? It is perhaps too early to give a categorical answer, but there is some ambiguity. I appreciate that the present programme will go ahead for some years, but it is about the second phase that there is doubt.
Mr Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Navy will write to the hon. Gentleman to clear up any ambiguity for which I may be responsible, for which I apologise.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth rightly emphasised the importance of pay and housing. My right hon. Friend, in opening, made clear that we appreciate the importance of those matters and will consider them in the spring. He also mentioned, as did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Peter Rees), the 15-year-olds. We have not closed our minds to the possibility of recruiting 15-year-olds and giving them what amounts to a final year's schooling before they enter full military service. That will be costly and, generally speaking, the Services have never recruited boys before the minimum school leaving age. We have yet to make sure that we can provide them with the education that they would otherwise get in school. At the end of this year we shall have seen the effect on the Forces of the raising of the school leaving age, and I think that we should wait until then before coming to a decision. My hon. Friends are studying this question carefully and agree on its importance.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester asked three questions. He wanted to know what is happening to Lulworth. I cannot tell him that. We are still open to representations, and, as my right hon. Friend said, we hope to publish a statement after Christmas, when I understand that there will be a debate. The reduction in size of the Ministry of Defence and the integration of trade training are under constant review.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) thought that the lesson of the Middle East was that in terms of weaponry Russia is far ahead. I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), Stretford (Mr. Churchill) and Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) that the hon. Member for Coventry, North is too alarmist. He has no cause to be despondent, nor should he reproach the Government for not frantically galloping off in every direction in an attempt to cure the situation. I am glad that the foolish policy of a cut of £1,000 million was repudiated by him. I do not accept the suggestion that NATO is nearly powerless. Of course the Eastern bloc is stronger than we are, but we can inflict unacceptable damage on it. We no longer rely on a trip-wire; we now have a flexible response.
I assure my hon. Friends who are concerned about anti-tank missiles that we have a very good one—in fact, several of different types, and research into smaller types and others is going on energetically. I also agree about the importance of electronic counter-measures and we are devoting much effort to them.
I very much enjoyed the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, but in the matter of burden sharing we have nothing with which to reproach ourselves. We have set a good example to our European allies. I assure my hon. Friend, from good information, that the United States does not reproach us in this matter of sharing the burden with it.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) that the Royal Navy has its fuel and has in hand the necessary organisation to deal with the fuel shortage. I am sorry that I have been unable to answer all the questions, but I hope that the House has enjoyed the debate as much as I have.
Mr Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Since a Liberal Member has now joined us at the last moment in this debate, may we have a promise that a feasibility study on the military consequences of a dam across the Channel will be undertaken?
Mr Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)
I shall look into that possibility. I am sorry that I did not see the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). He came here so recently that I did not recognise him.