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Defence

LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL (GENERAL POWERS) BILL [Lords] (By Order) – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1959.

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7.32 p.m.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

Before the Private Business came on, the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) was about to interrupt to remind me about paragraph 61 of the Defence White Paper of 1957. For the purpose of greater accuracy, I have obtained a copy of it, although I was very well aware of its contents. It refers to the Government decision not to introduce any further types of bombers and to drop the development of the supersonic manned bomber, which could not have been brought into service in much under ten years. I was well aware of that, and I hope that in my remarks, the hon. Member paid particular attention to one observation which I made to the effect that research and development should continue.

I have never assumed that paragraph 61, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, automatically meant that there would be no aircraft development from then onwards. It was a question of the sort of aircraft required and for what purpose, and my own feeling is that the Swallow, if it works out in the way I believe it will, will be applicable to all types of military as well as civil aircraft. It is a question of choosing the right size and the right equipment as well as the use which will be made of it. It involves a fundamental change in the design of aircraft, and it is of the utmost importance, both from the defence and the civil points of view.

If I might return to my general theme, I would say that one pretty good test to which a defence policy might be subjected is this. Has there been comparative peace or not? I think that, whatever else may be said about N.A.T.O., and I have read Lord Montgomery's observations with the greatest interest, it has helped to keep the peace. It may be that it could be better equipped than it is, and it is most important that we should continue to ensure that our contribution to it is as efficient as possible. I have no reason to think that our contribution compares unfavourably with that of others. Our contribution to it is a substantial one, and is very high, financially, in relation to our thin population, when compared with that of any other nation in the world.

My belief is that we have to face this situation. We have to be prepared to use American anti-tank guns, while allowing ourselves to develop one type of tank and the Americans another, the Belgian rifle and so on. We have to do these things, because if we attempt to do all of them ourselves, we shall overburden ourselves economically.

On the general question raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East as to whether we can afford not to be a nuclear Power, I have no doubt about my answer to that question. We have got to be, if we are to be able to influence the policies of those who are. I think that of all the inanities which have been uttered on this subject, none has ever equalled what was said by the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) in a television broadcast, in which he said that he felt that we ourselves could well rest content with the Americans and the Russians having these weapons, and us not having them, because they would never use them to blow each other to bits unless it was absolutely vital to do so. I think that is some of the most muddled thinking I have heard, because it seems to me that, if it is vital to blow each other to bits, that sort of argument defeats its own object. It is the possession and not the use of the bomb which is important. It is the possession of the bomb, because by possessing it we can make clear our own power to devastate the other side, while living in the hope that that knowledge—granted it is a gamble—will deter anybody else from deliberately creating a situation in which the use of the bomb would become inevitable. That is, in my view, the only logic to employ in the possession of the H-bomb.

Unless we can make certain that nobody else in the world would ever make the bomb again and had destroyed what they had, it seems to me to be a terrible mistake not to have it. For that reason, I support the Government, and I cannot understand at all the argument in favour of a non-nuclear club, even assuming that other people would join it, which I believe they would not do. I should like to repeat my congratulations to the Government on having made up their mind two years ago on what they wanted and on having stuck to it, and I hope they will continue to stick to it and to carry it through to a successful conclusion.

7.36 p.m.

Mr. Mark Bonbam Carter:

I do not propose to answer the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) in so far as he spoke about Government policy on aircraft, because I see that he has received the same document which I have received, and presumably from the same source, and therefore it is no longer necessary for me to take him up on that point.

Though I share his slight astonishment at the remarks which he quoted at the end of his speech, I feel that the peace of the world, to which he quite rightly gives his support, is, after all, the main purpose of any sort of defence arrangements. Whether it will be increased if more people possess the nuclear weapon is, I think, a difficult proposition to accept. If, at the same time, one shares with him a belief in genuine inter-dependence in the world, then this proposition becomes even more difficult to accept, because if interdependence means anything at all, it means genuine integration of defence forces, genuine alliances, in which we accept the contributions of someone else which they are best fitted to make, and make ourselves the contribution which we are best fitted to make. This dove-tailing does not occur on the basis that the alliance will suddenly break up, which seems to me to be the assumption on which his argument was based.

I must admit that, since we last spoke on this subject in February, there have been considerable changes in the general aspect of this problem, and, therefore, as other hon. Members have said, we should be very grateful to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for raising this issue so that it can be discussed once more before this House goes into Recess. An interesting contribution was made by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) who said that since then the military situation had altered. I agree that certain things have happened which have changed the approach which all of us have made to this subject of defence. The first is the progress that has been made in the talks on nuclear testing since that time, and the second thing, which I do not think any of us on either side of the House today should under-estimate, is the change which has happened in Labour Party policy.

When we last discussed it, the position of the Labour Party was most clearly and unequivocally stated by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), who is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench now. Since then there has been a very noticeable change in what members of the Opposition have said. To say that it is a change might be an understatement; I would describe it as a volte face. Whereas at that time, according to the Minister of Defence, they were batting in the same team as the Government and in favour of this country maintaining an independent deterrent, they are today in favour of starting a non-nuclear club.

I remember very well, and I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House remember it, the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I think other hon. Members will remember it because they made a very large part of his speech for him. There has seldom been a speech so interspersed with interruptions. He was putting forward a policy which, although not identical, was very similar to that which the Front Bench of the Labour Party is now supporting. We all remember the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) regarded the argument put forward by my hon. Friend as "nauseating" and "sanctimonious." He was not alone in taking that view. As I remember it, the old guard of the Labour Party was at one with the Government Front Bench. The right hon. Member for Easington when he spoke on that occasion, referred to the speech of my hon. Friend and said that my hon. Friend's argument was to be an accessory both before and after the fact—that is far worse than petty larceny."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 1336.] Presumably the right hon. Member takes the view that when petty larceny is taken up by the Labour Party it ceases to be petty larceny and becomes Socialism. That is fair enough. In those days the right hon. Member was in favour of a modest contribution to the nuclear deterrent. Today, presumably, he is in favour of a belated contribution to the non-nuclear club.

These two events, the progress of the Geneva talks on nuclear testing and the change in the Labour Party policy, alter the terms in which we have to discuss these things. The Labour Party change plays a very important part in the discussions. It may even lose it the next General Election.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

It may lose the hon. Member Torrington.

Photo of Mr Mark Bonham Carter Mr Mark Bonham Carter , Torrington

It may lose Torrington, but it may also help me to win it. The fact that the Labour Party has made this change raises a crucial question which we have to answer. What happens if a fourth or fifth Power refuses to join the non-nuclear club? Precisely the same question arises if France refuses to agree to a three-Power agreement to stop nuclear tests. There is no distinction at all.

To this question the Prime Minister in the last foreign affairs debate did not attempt to give an answer, nor, I must admit, did the Leader of the Opposition. Roughly speaking, both said that they hoped in course of time the French would come to see reason, reason they have not yet seen. That was a fair answer from the Prime Minister, who after all is "ad hoc-ing" along from one untenable position to another carrying the whole weight of the Tory Party behind him. It is a very laborious process in which he is extremely expert, but that is not a position for the Leader of the Labour Party to adopt. I think he should say something rather more positive.

I do not want to shorten the time for the reply to the debate, but undoubtedly it is up to the Labour Party to explain this matter. If one joins a club, still more if one starts a club, it is up to one to calculate what one is to get for a contribution, an entrance fee, or a subscription fee. This is a question which has got to be faced and which the Labour Party and, it seems to me, the Government in their talks on nuclear tests, have not faced.

If we look at this question we have to ask what contribution this country can make to the defence of the West. This contribution cannot be confined simply to nuclear capacity. The idea that when we talk about the deterrent we are talking only about the H-bomb is surely nonsense. The deterrent is not the H-bomb, but the war-making capacity of the West as a whole. The reason why we talk about the deterrent as the H-bomb is that in his first White Paper the Minister thought he would make great economies, streamline our forces at the expense of conventional forces, and concentrate on the nuclear deterrent. I do not think that under present circumstances this really makes sense.

I do not believe it makes sense either when we say that it is disgraceful or dishonourable to shelter—I think that is the word used—behind the American deterrent. After all, we must face the fact that we have sheltered under the American umbrella ever since the war, and are likely to shelter under it in the foreseeable future, as the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley made quite apparent. I must not keep the House unduly. I have an enormous lecture I should like to deliver, but I should hate to abbreviate the time left for the Government reply.

There are, however, one or two questions I want to ask. This primarily is a matter of clarification. In view of this debate, I took the trouble to read the Defence debate of last February. I found that reading it was very different from listening to it. The White Paper for 1959 stated that there would be no great change in defence policy. On reading the debate it seemed to me that there is a very major change. I am not referring to the alteration in the number of military forces which the right hon. Gentleman announced off the cuff, but to the way in which he and the Minister of Supply referred to our nuclear bomb. As I understand it, the view of the Government used to be that this country should have an independent nuclear deterrent and anything else would be shameful and dishonourable.

Nevertheless, although the Minister of Defence spoke in the debate once of an independent deterrent, both he and the Minister of Supply spoke far more frequently of our contribution to the deterrent. That is something very different. Indeed, when the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) interrupted the Minister of Defence and asked what was the difference between "independent" and "a contribution" he got, as I think he would agree, no answer. This is a very important and crucial point. One feels that the Government are sliding out of the 1957 policy into a new policy. I should like to know what the new policy is. This became very apparent in the speech of the Minister of Supply. Among other things, he said that we had invited European co-operation in the development of our own deterrent. It was "cooperation" this time, not "contribution" nor "independent deterrent." In this respect it was Blue Streak.

I should like to know whether by cooperation, contribution, and independent the Government mean the same thing. If they do, I find this a very strange semantic world in which they live. It is particularly relevant since the Minister of Supply said we could not make a contribution to the deterrent less than one weapon. Yet this is precisely what we are inviting our European partners to do. This is something which ought to be cleared up. If we cannot make such a contribution how can our colleagues make it?

I do not intend to detain the House for very much longer, but I think that the case which is being made tonight largely from this side of the House represents views which are held not only on these benches. Two distinguished ex-Members of Conservative Governments, sitting on the benches opposite, have said things very comparable with those which we are saying, and they are not altogether without knowledge of what happens in Government. The basic thesis which I should like to support was put by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Sir F. Maclean) when he spoke in the defence debate earlier this year. He said, We should aim at a regular division of labour between ourselves and our American and European Allies. They should make themselves principally responsible for the deterrent and we should make ourselves principally responsible for the cold war, which, after all, … is obviously the r61e for which we are best suited."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 1340.]

7.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. Bonham (Carter) talked a little earlier about "ad hoc-ing" along. He must have been thinking of the performance which he himself was making, because I have heard nothing better to describe it than that.

Like all hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) on the fact that we are having a debate on defence before the House rises. I congratulate him all the more because it is extremely difficult to get this done through the official channels. There are not enough Votes in defence, I suspect, for us to give it the attention officially which we ought to give it. We have far too few debates on this subject, and my hon. Friend is entitled to make whatever he can out of the fact that, but for him, the House would have risen without a recent debate on it.

Having said a nice thing about him, he will regard that as a proper opening for me to make my next comment. One of the things which always interests me about my hon. Friend is that, despite all the agreement which there is between him and me, he persists in picking on the little disagreement which there is between us and thus throwing me in the same bag as the Minister. Despite the small amount of agreement between the Minister and me and the large amount of disagreement, my hon. Friend persists in believing that there is no difference between us.

There are three people I include in this category. First, there is my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley. Secondly, there is my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who has just left the House, no doubt to prepare the column which will appear in the Daily Mirror tomorrow or two days later. Thirdly, there is Mr. Massingham, who writes in the Sunday Observer and is probably the largest contributor to the increase in sales of the Sunday Times.

Those three gentlemen, by continually asserting that the Labour Party is in agreement with the Government on the major issues of defence, do a very grave disservice both to this party and to the real issues of defence. When I listened to my hon. Friend again talking about the 1957 White Paper and to his remarks that we were involved in it, too, I had to go out of the Chamber to look up HANSARD to remind myself of what I thought was true—that, on behalf of the Labour Party, I moved from this Box a Motion which said that the House declined to approve the White Paper for a number of reasons, one of which was the notorious paragraph 12 and the overemphasis by the Minister of Defence on the thermo-nuclear deterrent.

It is true that I have always accepted and still accept that a thermo-nuclear deterrent is essential to a defence policy for the west. It is perfectly true that I have always accepted that an independent deterrent on our part was also vital. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and the hon. Member for Torrington raised the issue, which is an issue of foreign policy, in view of the changed situation, with the arrival of the fourth-Power problem in a real sense, whether it is appropriate as part of foreign policy to be willing to give up the advantages which I have always seen in terms of defence policy which stem from having our own independent deterrent in order to ensure that no fourth Power makes its own bomb and independently controls it.

It is quite true that this is a new position which our party has taken. It is no use pretending that the situation today is the same as that four years ago or even two years ago. It is an issue of foreign policy whether we try for multilateral disarmament with all the Powers of the world; and, if that fails, whether we do nothing or balance what we should lose by not having an independent deterrent of our own against what we should gain by eliminating the fourth-Power problem. We have to balance these things.

Only an idiot would stand at the Box this year and say that the fourth-Power problem has not come nearer, that we need not examine it and that we have not to balance the defence argument for one policy against the different argument for the other. This is the position of the non-nuclear club, and it is the position which we have tried to face. It has led us to produce the policy on foreign affairs to which reference has been made.

No Defence Minister has ever been or ever will be in a position to make his defence policy without regard to the foreign policy of the Government of which he is a member. As a famous gentleman once said, "Defence is only an extension of policy carried on by another means". Our defence policy will have to fit into the foreign policy which we make from time to time. We have said that we are not going back on what we said previously about the independent thermo-nuclear deterrent unless and until an agreement is reached great enough and sufficient enough in our eyes to pay for the change. If that does not arise, then the other proposition does not disappear; it remains until the new situation arises.

I therefore should have thought that there is no problem about this. If defence policy were to change for the Conservative Government, if an agreement were to be reached in Geneva by that Government, then the defence policy pursued by the Minister of Defence would have to change. That is the only sense in which we have put forward this new policy, and I think it is very sensible.

I have said this in order to get rid of the idea that we have wantonly thrown away our position. Having also got rid of the rather foolish argument that I am tied, and the Labour Party is tied, to the policy of the present Minister in his 1957 White Paper, let me return to other matters. I intervene in the debate partly because of some of the things said, of which that was one, and partly because this is possibly the final opportunity of placing on record—that lovely phrase which means placing it where we can read it but probably nobody else reads it—our judgment on the stewardship of this Government in defence.

The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely, who has remained with us, and the hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Sir O. Prior-Palmer), who has not, both made references, one of them standing and the other sitting, to the position before the war and the fact that the Labour Party voted against the Service Estimates. I have said many times that for myself I will accept whatever guilt anybody wants to fasten on me for what happened before the war. I make no issue of it. I have my personal sense of guilt about it and nothing can wipe it out. I cannot say, as can my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, that I was a regular soldier. When all is said and done, however, the fact remains that the Conservative Party were the Government, that infallibly every year they were given their Supply and yet they sent the troops into action in 1939 with thirty tanks, or some similar ludicrous figure, in the British Army, hopelessly ill-equipped and under-armoured. They may blame us for not having been an Opposition as we should have been. The fact remains that the major guilt lies on the people who were the Government, who had the power, who spent the money, but who did not do the job. That, I think, is the answer to that kind of remark.

Further—and here, I think, the hon. and gallant Member did not listen carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley had to say—the reason why we go on raising this issue and lading ourselves open to the charge, which the hon. and gallant Member did not fail to make, about our spoiling the morale of the troops by raising doubts about their equipment, is that we have learned the lesson of the 'thirties. We, at least, are not walking that road again. Can the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely, with his hand on his heart, say that his party is not? This is our case and, with repect to him, he does not know enough about it to dispute it, whatever his son may tell him. He is in the same position as the rest of us. We get very little in the way of facts from the Government Front Bench.

So far as we can assess the position, we are very near that state of things again. This time, we are not acquiescing. We are not sharing the guilt. This time, we are making it perfectly clear that, whatever last-minute, death-bed attempts the Government may make to prepare plans that look better than their performance, the fact of the matter is that, in this year of grace, 1959, and, therefore, for several years ahead, the British Army is and will be under-provided in armour, equipment and transport.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

I do not rely on my son as my sole source of information about the Army. I am sorry if I conveyed that impression. One need do no more than compare the amount of the average soldier's pay with what it has been in the past to have some indication of the fact that he has been taken care of better today than he was in those years. I welcome that, and I agree entirely that one is absolutely justified in making sure that he is receiving enough of both weapons and money. What I think that hon. Members opposite are not entitled to do is to suggest that what is now coming from the pipeline is not good. I believe that it is.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

What the soldier is now receiving is not good for the job. What Ministers say he will have in the future, if it is as good as they say it will be and it comes forward in sufficient quantities, will be all right. Our point is that they said, several years ago, that what the soldier would have by now would be good and would be all right. Perhaps, because I am not a Conservative Member of Parliament, it is easy for me, but I am not as willing as the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely to assume that Ministers' promises about the future will necessarily be any better than what they promised in the past for today. As at this moment, as I shall try to show, they have not delivered the goods.

I am glad that the Minister of Defence has sat through the debate. We are, naturally, sorry that he is not to address us. On the other hand, the fact that he has not come down here with a speech already made out probably means that he is in a better state of mind to take into account what we are saying. How much good that will be I do not know, because he will not be Minister and will not be able to do anything about it in a very short time.

The Minister of Defence is very much like a man who keeps two sets of books. Again and again, he has come to the House, and has authorised his Service colleagues to come here, to put before us one set of books just like some business man might put one set before the accountants employed on behalf of the public to look into tax matters. He has presented us with a state of affairs which seems to be compounded as to one part of optimism—a genuine hope that things will improve—as to another part of wishful thinking—this is what he would like to do and would like to have—and as to a third part, frankly, of misleading aspersions. I think that his public presentations have included all three parts. The whole lot have been founded, as I think the hon. Member for Torrington said, on a policy changing all the time.

I rejected the Minister's White Paper in 1957 because of what I regarded as the central fallacy that, by taking up Mr. Dulles' idea of massive retaliation, we were bound to achieve some streamlining of forces and save vast sums of money. I have never been one to claim that we could run defence cheaply, and I do not think we can today. From our point of view on this side, we should not have had a static or declining national economy, so that we could have had expanding resources and, therefore, would have had a larger share available for defence.

The Minister of Defence thought that he could save a lot of money at that time. He founded himself on that idea, but, gradually, he has been pushed off it, because, for instance, N.A.T.O. would not stand for the reduction he made in British troops and he had to make a partial recantation on that account, because the Air Force Chiefs of Staff ran "Operation Prospect", or because Admiral Lord Mountbatten managed to run a great effort about the rôle of the Navy. The Minister's policy has been changing all the time, and these changes of policy have meant that his presentation of the situation have never at any stage shown things as they are. Not until this year did Ministers come to the House and confess openly—not as well as to earn them complete absolution but, at least, to a limited extent—that the situation in the Services was not at this stage satisfactory or even very encouraging.

Anybody who thinks that it is sensible to make the kind of speech that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely made really ought to re-read the debates of this year when Ministers all came clean fairly well about what was at present wrong, especially as regards the Army, and said that they all now realised it and were going to put things right in the years ahead. They have not done it in the past, and I really do not see why we should believe that they will put things right in the future.

This has been the Minister's public presentation—optimism, wishful thinking and misleading assertions—claiming credit for things which are not even in the pipeline, claiming credit for aeroplanes which are no more than a gleam in the eye of the man who hopes to help on the conception in the future, claiming credit for the T.S.R.2, which, heaven knows, is æons away, and claiming credit for transports when they have not even settled what they want. I could give a host of examples.

There is another set of books. No doubt, we shall find them in November. This set of books which the Government keep very close to themselves really shows the situation. One can but speculate now, but information does from time to time find its way out because every now and then somebody wants his particular grouse to be heard. On such information as one has, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley in asserting that it suggests a very unhappy situation indeed, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) says, it suggests that we have not anything like value for the £1,500 million a year during the years that the Government have been spending it.

The priorities have all been wrong I still do not go along with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley about the place of the thermo-nuclear deterrent I still believe that it was required, and I still join in the declaration which was made. But I never did believe that it should occupy the place it has come to occupy in our thinking, and I do not believe in committing ourselves, for example, to £200 million for Blue Streak and other future delivery systems. Nor do I necessarily believe that it called for another race of manned bombers. I am not at all sure that the present V-bombers with the stand off bomb would not have made that deterrent credible and relevant for as long ahead as we needed to cover ourselves, until we could see that we were to have a solid fuel rocket which could be delivered by other and much more mobile means.

However, let us accept that the thermonuclear deterrent exists. I thought I understood my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington to say that he did not believe that there was such a thing.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

It is not often that I suspect my right hon. Friend is absolutely wrong, but on that I think that I do.

But let us assume that the thermonuclear deterrent exists. [Interruption.] Sometimes, especially as the next few weeks go by, it would not be a bad idea if my right hon. Friend occasionally listened to me as well. As I say, let us assume that the nuclear deterrent exists. Let us proceed to look from that at the provisions which we have to make. The outstanding priority obviously must be to be able to deal with what else might be deterred. The first thing to realise is that the thermonuclear deterrent now deters much less, probably not much more than itself, for reasons which we need not go into now. We have to deal with or deter other things. This raises the question of what are called limited wars, which are not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley so often seems to assume, wars fought with conventional weapons and old-fashioned T.N.T. weapons. Limited wars are limited as to objective, geography and as to the means employed. Limited wars may be other than T.N.T. wars. They may well be nuclear, but will nevertheless be limited in the ways that I have described.

The overriding need in this situation is an army which can be got where it is needed adequately armed and in time to be effective, and then when there conduct highly mobile operations without itself presenting a nuclear target—that is to say, without concentrating in such mass that it is disqualified because it becomes a nuclear target. Again, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, I believe that an all-Regular Army is perfect for that purpose. It is worthwhile reminding my hon. Friend that we called for that before the Government decided to go along with us. However, the corollary of an all-Regular army is that it must have mobility both for men and for materials. We have not got that. The Secretary of State for War can tell us what he hopes to have, but we have not got it, and we will not have it for the next five years.

Let the right hon. Gentleman face the fact that when this side of the House replaces that side in November we will do all we can to overcome the failure of the Government to make a decision. However, we will not be able to do much to hide the fact that there will be a disastrous gap if anything happens in strategic mobility for material for the three years after the all-Regular Army comes into being. This is the result of the failure of the Government to make decisions. We have not the aeroplanes to carry the equipment, and it is no use pretending that we have. We have not the bases from which to operate. We have not overcome the overflying problem that we cannot get to places in the Middle East because of the air barrier in between. The Government have not made progress in Kenya with the base between Mombasa and Nairobi which might be the place from which we could get behind the air barrier. None of that has been done. We have neither the mobility in terms of bases nor—

Photo of Mr Ellis Smith Mr Ellis Smith , Stoke-on-Trent South

Where has all the money gone?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

That is one question that must be pressed. I cannot answer it. In the same way, apart from strategic mobility, we must have tactical battlefield mobility, and the right kind of armaments for use on the battlefields. We have not got this and it is no use saying that it is in the pipeline or should be coming along. We have not got successful antitank weapons, although no doubt the Secretary of State for War will say that if he stays in office long enough they will come along. We have not got the ground to-ground missiles or ground-to-air missiles. We have not the tanks which the Army need for its own purposes and operations. What is being done about helicopters? There is still discussion about the weight limit. None of these things is available, nor are we likely to get them in the near future.

I now turn to N.A.T.O. and M.C.70 and the revised downward statement of what N.A.T.O. requires. The Minister and the Government contributed to running away from building up the N.A.T.O. forces. Our troops were taken away in the most classically cavalier way. General de Gaulle today is only continuing from where our Minister of Defence began. It is no use talking about the great strength of N.A.T.O. The Government are largely responsible for the running down of it. They have failed to keep the forces there which they promised to keep there. They have failed to solve the question of political control within N.A.T.O. of weapons and military forces. They have started on a reorganisation scheme which I regard as most inappropriate for our forces within N.A.T.O.

There is also the deployment of forces in peripheral wars. The British Army is not equipped and is not mobile for peripheral wars which are so often talked about. It is no more in a position to fight a peripheral war than it is to do its job in Europe. I have not had a chance to say anything about the Navy's rôle and the extraordinary failure of the Government to decide what is the Navy's rôle. The Navy should be given the ships and armaments that it requires for that rôle. With regard to the Royal Air Forces strategic and tactical work, we are relying on aeroplanes which it is hoped will come along at some time in the future.

I butted in on what is called a back bench Members' debate, but I, too, am an individual Member of the House. This is a debate on as important a subject as is possible, and I mean no disrespect to the happenings at Hola nor to the other subjects on the Order Paper. I do not think that we can do anything else but decide that at the end of their stewardship the Government have been sadly lacking in ability to make up their mind and to take the right decision—which, after all, is important—and to carry out the requirements of those decisions once they have taken them.

I have said before that I regard the Minister as a man of some courage, but courage easily becomes obstinacy if one clings to a pattern long after one has been pushed off the basis of that pattern. That is what the right hon. Gentleman has done. In 1957, he thought that he could save a lot of money. He thought that he could rely on the thermo-nuclear deterrent. He has been gradually forced off that belief as the years have gone by, but he has not made the changes in his stated requirements that follow from those changes in basic policy. Somehow he has failed lamentably to gear up the suppliers and the Services themselves to the new requirements. I believe that in the years ahead we shall require not merely a contribution to security, but we shall have to put a very large part of our national income and national product into the defence of these islands and into our contribution to th defence of the Western world. I shudder to think what is left to be done simply because the Government have wasted so much money and time and have failed so badly to provide the equipment and armaments that our troops need.

8.20 p.m.

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

The right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) opened his speech by congratulating his hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) upon having this debate. What I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman is that had he wanted a debate, he could have had it himself. When Opposition Members feel strongly about Government defence policy, they do as they did last year, when they found a Supply Day to debate defence, and we have a whole day's debate. This year, however, the Opposition did not do that. The inference which we choose to draw is that hon. Members opposite are quite happy with the way that defence is going on and they leave it to the hon. Member for Dudley, who always works very hard at these things and has worked hard, I am sure, to get his right hon. Friend the Member for Belper to have a debate.

The hon. Member for Dudley, in his inimitable fashion, put down a few mortars at the end of the Chamber and the shells fell fairly widely over the House. The right hon. Member for Belper had to go to some pains, because what seemed to wound him was his hon. Friend's assertion that his own defence policy was too much akin to that of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman went to pains to try to show that that was not so. He told us that he was in favour of all-Regular Forces, that he recognises the value of an independent British nuclear deterrent and that our conventional forces should be provided with the best modern equipment and given air mobility. Those are three basic principles of Government defence policy and it is not any good the right hon. Gentleman endeavouring to show how wrong is his hon. Friend the Member for Dudley in saying that there is common ground between himself and us.

The right hon. Gentleman told us some interesting things about how he has changed his views about Britain owning an independent deterrent. Since the right hon. Gentleman has raised the subject himself, I would like to ask him one or two questions about it. What he appreciates as well as we do is that nuclear development has progressed in two ways. Bombs have got bigger and bigger. The capability of a megaton explosion has become possible since the end of the last war. At the same time, scientific development has made available bombs of much smaller yield—tactical nuclear weapons as they are called.

When the right hon. Gentleman talked about the non-nuclear club, I wondered whether he had in mind just the thermonuclear weapon or whether he was also referring to tactical nuclear weapons which Western forces must possess if they are to be able in battle to redress the balance of numbers with which inevitably they would be faced should war break out.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

The answer to all these questions is in our document on the subject. I hope that the Secretary of State will not slide off answering the criticisms which have been made of the state of our forces and of their equipment by asking question on this one subject which, as I have pointed out, is a matter of foreign policy and not of defence. I will, nevertheless, give the right hon. Gentleman the answer to that question, but he will convict himself if he does not deal with the other criticisms which have been made of him.

The answer to that one is that the question of possession is different from the question of ownership and independent control. As the right hon. Gentleman will see in the non-nuclear club declaration of our party, we are dealing with the independent manufacture and the independent control. At the moment, as the Secretary of State would say if he were honest with the House, we do not manufacture any tactical nuclear weapons of our own. We have no independent tactical nuclear weapons. The Secretary of State is being more dishonest than he could possibly expect to get away with.

I assert—let the Minister deny—that there is no independent tactical nuclear capability in this country today. Therefore, anything that we would be saying on that would be no different from the position today. If the right hon. Gentleman feels so sure that we ought to have an independent tactical nuclear capacity, why has it not been provided?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

I would certainly not have touched this point had the right hon. Gentleman not made a feature of it at the beginning of his speech. To say that I am dishonest in asking him a question on what he went to some length to explain, but this important feature of which he left out, is completely inaccurate, as, I think, the right hon. Gentleman would agree.

The right hon. Gentleman said that his party's document explained all that. I have read it through but I find no mention whatever of tactical nuclear weapons. Perhaps between now and his party conference, the right hon. Gentleman will work out what he intends to do concerning tactical nuclear weapons. Our position is perfectly clear.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Have we got this weapon or not?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

We are intending to keep for ourselves, for the British Army, a tactical nuclear capability. We are limited with what we have got at the moment because these weapons are not available to us, but we have plans to furnish the British Army with tactical nuclear weapons.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Am I correct in understanding that at this moment, in 1959, there is no independently British-owned, provided and controlled tactical nuclear weapon? Secondly, if the right hon. Gentleman were able to carry on in office, by what date would we have our own tactical atomic or nuclear weapons?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

I cannot go into details of dates.

A great deal of other matters have been mentioned in this debate. The theme which ran through it, until the right hon. Gentleman introduced this aspect, was broadly one of equipment for the Forces, with particular reference to the Army. The hon. Member for Dudley talked about the need, and rightly so; for rapid dispersal and concentration. What he regarded as being a shortage of aircraft for Army mobility was referred to also by the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and by the right hon. Member for Belper. The figures have been quoted often before to show how the lift capacity of Transport Command has been increased since 1951 with the advent of the Beverleys and now with the Britannias coming into service.

In the past few months, as the House is aware, it has been decided to order more transport aircraft. The Britannic is a strategic freighter and the Argosy is a tactical troop transport within a theatre. All these, however, are large aircraft and in general terms it would be neither politic nor economic to use them forward of the Army maintenance area What we must appreciate is that the degree of dispersal which will be forced upon any Army in modern warfare will be such that we must have air mobility, not only in terms of arriving within a theatre, but also on the battlefield itself. It is to meet this need that we must have a vertical take-off aircraft to furnish supplies from the Army maintenance area right up to the brigade areas. It will have to be vertical take-off because it will only be rarely indeed that an airstrip capable of taking fixed-wing aircraft carrying a big load will be available within a brigade area.

We shall also need helicopters to move forces around tactically inside the Army area.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

When shall we get them?

Mr. Soanes:

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the Rotodyne which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply mentioned in the debate, and he also knows what is the length of time of the gestation period, so to speak, of an aircraft so novel, with such a novel method of flight, as this aircraft. It is certainly not for me to endeavour to hazard a guess as to when it will finally be in service, but I think we have reasons to hope that it will be in the early 'sixties.

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

The early 'sixties—certainly not ten years.

All these aircraft come under the heading of transport aircraft and will be purchased and operated by the Royal Air Force. They will provide for us a highly developed degree of mobility both for men and material from our base in the United Kingdom right into the battle area. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the all-up weight limit. The Army Air Corps will continue to be responsible for tactical reconnaissance and Air O.P. and light liaison work within the Army area. When we are talking in terms of the all-out limit, what matters is the rôle which the aircraft is performing much more than what is the weight of a particular aircraft.

When hon. Gentleman opposite cast aspersions on the ability of Transport Command to meet our defence needs—I am sure that if they are proved wrong none will be more glad than themselves—I hope they noticed this time last year, when we feared there would be trouble in the Mediterranean, the speed with which brigades of troops were flown out to Cyprus. We flew some 5,500 men from the United Kingdom to Cyprus, two brigades out to Cyprus in the latter part of June last year.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

In how many American aeroplanes?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

None. I said Cyprus. We flew them out to Cyprus. The right hon. Gentleman hates that, of course, and asked how many American aeroplanes we used. I say we did not use any getting out to Cyprus.

What we did then was to move one battalion from Cyprus to Jordan. That was done with British aircraft. The right hon. Gentleman himself referred to the fact that after they got there American aircraft were used to maintain supplies. There were two reasons for that. Firstly, we feared other dangers at the same time and we had pre-located a very large part of our transport forces to meet the dangers as they arose. Secondly, I do not think it did any harm in this country or to world opinion to appreciate the solidarity which existed between the United States and this country at the time of Lebanon and Jordan.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

I quite agree with that sentiment. It was not very evident at the time. One had to wait a year to get this Question down, to ask the right hon. Gentleman the rôle of American aircraft. I am not sure the right hon. Gentleman is wholly reformed on this whole issue. I think we had to move freight and equipment from Germany by means of American Lockheeds because our aircraft simply had not the range.

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

I can assure the hon. Gentleman we could have done the whole operation with our own aircraft, and we could do a greater operation than that with our own aircraft.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington complained that he was not being given sufficient information on defence, though my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) reminded him of the atom bomb which his party made when in power and did not disclose to the House. As far as I understand it, his attitude was, "Well, bombs do not count. What matters is aircraft and guns and that sort of thing." He then said he had not been told enough about whether there were any H-bombs, thermonuclear bombs, in the possession of this country at present. With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I would suggest that he does not do enough homework. His hon. Friend the Member for Dudley does the homework, but then he makes the speeches. I would ask him merely to read the White Papers, that is all, not make any great detailed research into these things.

The Defence White Paper for 1958 says: Following upon the successful thermonuclear tests at Christmas Island, British megaton bombs are now in production and deliveries to the Royal Air Force have begun. The 1959 White Paper, "Progress of the Five-Year Defence Plan", states: The last series of British tests and the valuable exchange of information with the United States have enabled important technical advances to be made in the design of nuclear warheads. This will permit a significant increase in the rate of production. I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon Friend the Minister of Defence did not put in his Defence White Paper, "We own X numbers of bombs," but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would have expected him to do that. I say only that if he had merely read the White Papers he would have achieved that amount of information about that particular weapon which is quite important, about the equivalent of which his party when in power did not tell us anything at all.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

This confirms my suspicions. Nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has said in quoting from the two White Papers indicates that we are in possession of the hydrogen bomb. If he cares to read it again he will discover that there is nothing in it. All I ask him is: have we got the hydrogen bomb? Can we have a straight answer, yes or no?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

If it is said that deliveries to the Royal Air Force have begun, I do not know what that means except that deliveries to the R.A.F. have begun and that it has got there. The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with it. I am afraid that he did not read the White Papers or, if he did, he has forgotten them.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

If the right hon. Gentleman is so adamant in his mind that we have the hydrogen bomb, and the Royal Air Force is being supplied, why cannot he be forthcoming and frank and say that we have?

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

And the R.A.F. is now receiving them?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

I was very grateful for the speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) on the subject of equipment being unnecessarily denigrated. It is, of course, always an easy thing to do, and this is tied up to some extent with our endeavours to keep the House informed of the way our minds are moving, of what we are doing, and the new equipment we are looking to for the future. But the trouble is that when, to keep hon. and right hon. Members informed, we show and talk about the equipment we have in mind and which is coming forward, hon. and right hon. Members opposite say that we should have had that equipment already and that the article of equipment in prototype should be in service today.

I take, for example, the School of Infantry at Warminster which puts on an annual demonstration of infantry weapons and equipment to which hon. Members are invited and which they frequently attend. Some of the weapons shown are in the prototype stage and have not got into production. Others are on troop trials which must precede general issue. The fact that we demonstrate all of them illustrates our desire to make available to hon. Members, who have a welcome interest in the Army's weapons, information about what we are doing and planning to do in the future. As long as it is consistent with security, it is our aim to make as much information available as we can. The weapons which we show at Warminster are not only those in general issue to the Army, otherwise indeed hon. Members would have legitimate grounds for complaint. This applies not only to Warminster but to centres concerned with other arms as well.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer quite categorically the question which I asked. Are our infantry in possession of a modern rifle, after eight years?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

I am coming to that very point. I and my predecessors do not have to apologise for the list of weapons and equipment which has come into general service in the last two years and is still coming into service in the Army today.

The F.N. rifle, about which the right hon. Gentleman asked me specifically, is now in the hands of all Regular units of the infantry, with the exception of one or two garrison units in this country. Issues of the Sterling sub-machine gun is now virtually completed throughout the whole Army.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

Let us get this quite clear. That answer will not do and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. Let me put it the other way round. How many mark IV rifles are still in issue in the Army?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

I cannot answer that question off the cuff.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the infantry have the F.N. rifle. The answer is "Yes". At the time of the Army Estimates last March, I told the House—the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the anti-tank gun—that the battalion anti-tank gun, the Mobat, the lighter and more accurate version of the Bat, was being issued in quantity. Since then, production has been well maintained in all infantry units.

We are in the process of up-armouring and up-gunning the Centurion tanks, and that programme is going forward. Our armoured cars, the Saladin and the Ferret Scout car, are both nearing the end of their production and both these vehicles have proved highly successful. By the end of the financial year all units will have received their full complement of them.

In the sphere of air defence, all light anti-aircraft regiments of the Regular Army and those of the Territorial Army earmarked for the air defence of the United Kingdom have now been re-equipped with the L.70 gun and they also all have the latest tactical control radar. Anti-aircraft missile equipment has been issued to schools and training establishments and our first heavy anti-aircraft regiments will be equipped with these missiles during this year.

Our surface-to-surface missile regiments are now equipped with the Corporal missile and have already reached the necessary standard of training to be able to operate this weapon in the field. Our communications equipment, which has for long been a source of adverse comment among hon. Members during their visits to Army units, is steadily being replaced by an entirely new range of wireless sets, and this is going forward today. This part of our replacement programme has not been done without its difficulties, but the House will be glad to know that before long our units and formations in Germany will be entirely re-equipped and at present we are ahead of our forecast. The new equipments are of longer range, lighter in weight and more reliable and simpler to maintain, and hon. Members who visit units that have this equipment will find that they are very pleased with it.

Steady re-equipment of the Army continues. Already we have many millions of pounds worth of orders placed for 1960–61. We have much new equipment now under development which will come off the production lines in the years after that. We are paying a lot of money for this equipment, but we believe that it will be good. When there is added to these sums the money that will be spent upon providing airlift for Army personnel and equipment, the figure rises steeply but so, we believe, does the effectiveness of the Army to fulfil its future rôles.

Whether our resources available for defence are being apportioned correctly as between nuclear and conventional weapons must be a matter of opinion, and that is a subject which will always be argued. However, there is a strong and notable body of opinion which agrees with the apportionment as laid down by the Government, which is aimed at preserving the balance of reality, of reconciling the desirable with the possible; and that, I believe, is widely appreciated among those who make a serious study of these most complex problems.