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It is an odd trick of our procedure that debates upon matters relating to defence are concentrated within a period of six weeks in the first quarter of the year and then, for the next ten months, the House leaves defence on one side except for the cut and thrust of Question and Answer.
I have always thought that this is regrettable, and it seems to me particularly regrettable at the moment, because I think that it is the opinion of most of us that seventy-two hours from now the House and its work will be ended and a General Election will be in front of us. I am not one of those who think that a General Election is merely a business of casting votes and counting them. To my mind, it is the great forum of the nation, in which public opinion is educated and formed. There is no subject in which it is more necessary for the facts to be understood by every citizen, voter or non-voter, than that of defence. I therefore do not apologise for seeking to bring this matter before the House in order that we may discuss here, not only for our own information but, through the report in HANSARD, for the information of people throughout the country, some of the facts which have to be faced.
I am not one who sees the subject of defence primarily as a matter of principle. It is a matter of the application of principles rather than of first principles themselves. We live in times of quick changes which are not understood. I say categorically that I do not believe that the implications of nuclear energy, not only for defence but for other aspects of all our lives, are understood. We certainly cannot solve defence problems in terms of slogans, be they "Ban the bomb" or "More bombs". There is a great deal more to it than that. I have at my disposal only half an hour, because other hon. Members will wish to speak. I shall confine myself, first, to a brief examination of what has happened during the past three years.
In 1957, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence introduced his Defence White Paper, "An Outline of Future Policy". It was supposed to be a revolutionary White Paper. It was a little delayed. The White Paper was based upon the theory of economy in conventional forces and resting our policy upon the deterrent. Looking back on it, I think the right hon. Gentleman himself would be prepared to say that the mainspring or driving force behind the White Paper—perhaps, even behind the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman—was the thesis that, at all costs, we must save money. So we embarked upon a policy which, the Government thought, would save men and would save cash.
There was not a great deal of argument about it. The 1957 Defence White Paper and the policy which flowed from it was readily accepted, I think, by both Front Benches. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence made that quite clear, and it was not disputed, when in beginning his winding-up speech at the end of the 1959 defence debate, he said, speaking of my right hon Friend:
I agree that there are disagreements, but basically on the use of the deterrent and a nuclear strategy there was the agreement to which I have referred. I did not wish to go into this, but, of course, if I am pressed, I shall pray in aid the defence debate of 1957 where the great thesis which then actuated my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), quite properly—it is a perfectly proper view to hold; I just happen to think it is nonsense, though I do not blame anyone for holding it—was the idea of the graduated deterrent.
The idea of the great deterrent was that three British battalions without support weapons would contain two Russian divisions and, when the inevitable happened, we would use tactical atomic weapons. There was a specific statement to that effect by my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper which I could quote. I will not weary the House with quotations, but, if hon. Members look up the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate of 27th February, 1958, they will see it all there. It was thought at that time that we had considerable conventional forces in Berlin. We had two battalions, with no support weapons of any kind, and no tactical atomic weapons, and we have not got any today. There are no tactical atomic weapons in Berlin. On this issue, I hasten to say how glad I am to see that a note of realism has crept into our thinking. On 8th July, 1959, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) turned down that policy. He said, quite rightly—I wish it had been said a year ago—that our forces in Berlin are wholly symbolic and we have no tactical atomic weapons. He went on to say, "For heaven's sake, who would suggest that we would use them? ".
Now, of course, in 1959 both parties are going a little slow and the Minister of Defence finds himself in difficulty. I will quote not from a Labour Party source but from the Daily Telegraph, which, speaking about the 1959 White Paper, said on 11th February this year:
In the third of his reports on the defence programme. Mr. Sandys does not invite argument about principles; he merely records facts and prospects with an air of reasonable self-satisfaction. So considerately are sleeping dogs left to lie that no reference is made even to the reorganisation of the higher direction of defence …
Of course, it suits people who have made a mistake to confuse the issue. I believe that we are reaching a point when the great mass of our fellow countrymen and countrywomen, not as the result of clear thinking or information about defence, are beginning to feel that something is wrong. As one who believes passionately in democracy and its processes, I was thrilled by what happened at the conference of the Transport and General Workers' Union in the Isle of Man, not because delegates there said things with which I agreed—indeed, they said many things with which I do
not agree and many things which I regard as nonsense—but because ordinary men at that conference went to the rostrum and, in the light of their daily experience, carried on a debate which this House would do well to follow. It was a very good example, not of knowing, the truth or putting something across, but of searching for the truth. This is what we should try to do. No one can be sure of what the answer can be. All one can say, after three White Papers on Defence by the Minister, is that the situation, to put it mildly, is not wholly satisfactory.
Before leaving the three Defence White Papers, I wish to point out what, in my view, is a major fallacy. Never, in all the things I have read on this subject, have I ever heard a greater piece of nonsense than is contained in the first paragraph of the 1958 Defence White Paper, "Britain's Contribution to Peace and Security." I would not turn to this except that I saw recently, in the columns of the Manchester Guardian, an article by a gentleman who obviously believed what the Minister said in paragraph I, namely,
The world today is poised between the hope of total peace and the fear of total war.
That is absolutely unadulterated nonsense. The fear of total war is certainly there. If we are fools enough, if we are mad enough, or evil enough, there will be cataclysmic oblivion and the end of civilised life as we know it. But what is absolutely certain is that the alternative to that, the alternative to the Minister's defence policy, is not total peace. Total peace means the Kingdom of Heaven, and we are certainly a long way from that. We have only to look around us to realise that.
It is a fallacy and, oddly, it comes from a Conservative Minister who believes that he understands the workings of human nature. The trouble with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence is that he had too much apprenticeship at Eton and not enough in the barrack-room. Otherwise, he would see the nonsense contained in those words. The truth is that, as long as men are what they are, with their capacity for evil, apathy and sloth, we must have the rule of law, and, behind the rule of law, there must be the sanction of force. I am not a pacificist and I do not think in those terms. I accept the rule of law, and the application of the law by the force of the brigade group or of the policeman has my support. That is very different from making, for purely political reasons, a juxtaposition between total annihilation, on the one hand, and total peace, on the other.
We have a nuclear deterrent. I do not think that it is very much. I do not think that by any standards it is a deterrent. It is not a deterrent because it is not credible. We cannot commit national suicide and call it a defence policy; it is not national defence policy; it is a matter of priorities. If the worst comes and it is total war and cataclysmic oblivion, it is the end for all of us, but if it does not come the well-being of the society in which we live, the standard of life which we have attained and our civilised way of life can be maintained only by the application of the rule of law, not only in this country, but in those parts of the world for which we are responsible.
It therefore seems to me that the top priority should not be the bomb or talks about tactical atomic weapons which we have not got and will never get, but the provision of those conventional forces which will maintain the viability of the sterling area, the rule of law and the honour and good name of Britain. I do not think it is an accident that we are concerned at the moment about what happened at Hola and in Nyasa-land. There we had the breakdown of the rule of law. What has happened there can be directly attributed to the defence policy of the right hon. Gentleman. If we had had a battalion there—not a battalion of Askaris, with whom I have had the honour to serve—British troops would never have behaved in a way to occasion some of the things stated in the Devlin Report.
What the right hon. Gentleman has set out to do is to save money at all costs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belper in a few weeks' time, when he is Minister of Defence, will come up against the same problem. It is not a cheap policy, whatever policy it may be. £1,500 million is not enough to sustain it. If the Government try to put across this policy with £1,500 million, we will face national disaster. We must either cut the policy or, if we believe in the rule of law, whether in terms of the police handling a criminal in London or handling the problems of Nyasaland, it is not enough to pay lip service to it. We must be prepared to pay for it. That is what both parties and the country have not faced up to. We are faced with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, but not enough of anything.
If I had more time I would go into detail, but let me turn to the problem which faces us with regard to our conventional forces. On previous occasions I have laid down what I believed to be the basic principles. I think I can put the argument best in terms of David and Goliath. David slew Goliath with a stone, but in order to land the stone he had to have a sling, and he had to have something at which to sling the stone. We must think not only in terms of missiles but of the means of delivery and the target. In our deliberations, we have spoken almost exclusively about the bomb and hardly ever about the means of delivery. I am glad to say that now we have reached the second stage, but we have not thought about the third stage, or if we have we have kept very quiet about it.
This is the most costly part of our defence policy. If we are to have the hydrogen bomb and propose to deliver it either by V-bombers or by missiles, the question of targets becomes very important. We must think not only about the targets which we propose to try to hit but about the targets which we will provide. For a nuclear strategy is a game which two can play. We must think of the Army in terms of rapid and complete dispersion on the one hand and rapid concentration on the other. That cannot be done by any accepted means. If we are thinking in terms of fall-out, of radiation and the like, then clearly the kind of methods which we have used in the past for transporting troops and equipment will not work any longer. Science has provided us with an easy method of tackling the problem, namely, the helicopter.
One of the things about which I have questioned the Secretary of State for War concerns helicopter policy. I do not dissent from the policy of the Government, which appears to be to leave the handling and maintenance of helicopters to the R.A.F., but it is a fundamental weakness if the cost of the helicopter has to come out of the R.A.F.'s Vote, because the R.A.F., rightly, is concerned with the R.A.F. and not with the mobility of the Army. I should like to hear the views of the Secretary of State on this point. I should like to know whether he is satisfied with the policy on helicopters in general and whether he is satisfied with what I would call the 4,000 lb. rule. If we are thinking in terms of rapid concentration and complete mobility, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the development of the helicopter inside the Army must be on terms which are wholly satisfactory to the Army. If for financial reasons it is left to a tug-of-war between the Army and the Royal Air Force, with the Minister of Defence presiding, we shall one day find ourselves in a difficult position.
It is implicit in the Government's White Papers that we should have a strategic reserve stationed in this country which could be rapidly equipped and conveyed to any troubled area on the basis of a strategic lift for men and equipment. In 1956 we were told about the order for the Britannia and were informed about the ordering of the Prestwick Pioneer. A great song and dance was made about the Prestwick Pioneers I and II. We have now been told that they are no longer in the reckoning. I am not in the least surprised. We have, however, the Britannia, which will convey the men and will give us the mobility which we require to lift the men, but what about the equipment? It is clear that even if we have the equipment the question of its rapid lift still leaves a lot to be desired.
We had a most astonishing performance from the Minister of Defence in February when he came to the House and made an announcement about the Britannic. Before I came to the House, when people did not agree with me, I tended to think that they were crooks. I thought that they were wicked. I no longer believe that, owing to the mellowing influence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell). I now believe they are stupid and are incapable of understanding. Therefore, that is what in all charity I say of the Minister of Defence. He came to the House and told us that the Britannic was being produced. He left the House with the clearest impression that the Britannic derived from the Britannia, but in fact the only derivation is the name. One is a low-winged aircraft, the other a high-winged aircraft. That same night—whether it was with the right hon. Gentleman's authority or not, I do not know—the aircraft company announced that the Britannic would be flying in April, 1961, and would be in production by the end of 1961 or early 1962. However, an order has not yet been placed for the aircraft. We have been told that the Government have not made up their mind about the specification. We have also been told by the Minister of Supply that it will not be in production until 1964. The right hon. Gentleman was dogmatic about the prospects of this aircraft in the civil market. I have already made one bet with him, and I will willingly make another. I say that not one of these aircraft will be sold, because by 1964 it will be hopelessly out of date.
What is to happen to our Strategic Reserve between now and 1964? Before the war, we had 128 battalions of the line. Now we have 49, and many of those are not up to establishment. By the time the right hon. Gentleman's manpower policy has had its full impact, there will be even less. Therefore, we must think in terms of the riot squad as something like—I thought it was a brilliant conception—using the 24th Independent Brigade, rapidly conveyed to deal with trouble as soon as it breaks out. A battalion in time is much better than a brigade group a fornight or three weeks too late.
As far as I can see, however, there is no prospect of our having a strategic airlift, because, as everybody knows, the order for the Britannic was placed for one reason only—to deal with the problem of unemployment in Northern Ireland. I do not in the least complain of that, but we cannot run our defence policy on the basis of a soup kitchen for Northern Ireland.
I have already stated in the House today that there have been inquiries from several overseas companies within the last two weeks concerning orders for the Britannic. Furthermore—and I am in close touch with the firm which is to produce it—there is no reason why the Britannic should not be flying by 1961 and ready for service by 1963 as long as the orders are placed soon.
If the hon. Member wants to argue, he should argue with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply, not with me. One of them has got his facts wrong, and I leave them to sort it out.
I turn again to the question of equipment. Certainly a great deal of re-equipment of the Army has taken place. I am sure that hon. Members who have had the opportunity and privilege of visiting Army units are impressed by it. I hasten to add, however, that I am not impressed, because I have a shrewd idea of what has happened. We are providing new equipment for the front line units, and this is an excellent thing to do—it badly needs doing—but if we are thinking in terms of possible trouble ahead, what matters are the war reserves. When faced with an operation like Suez or Jordan, there is the problem of the G.1098, with a quick build up, and the efficiency of the organisation plan and of the Royal Ordnance Corps is of paramount importance.
The first thing to note in that connection is the impact of the manpower policy of the Minister of Defence. I am sure that if I put down Questions on manpower on this subject I would not get an answer, so I shall give the House my figures. My estimate of the current total strength of the Royal Ordnance Corps, officers and other ranks, National Service and Regular, is of the order of 20,000. Its run-down target is about 10,000. In two years' time, by December, 1960, the total Regular content will be 6,000 and by December. 1962, 8,000. Again, I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman to admit this. I am simply telling him that it is true.
In fact, the War Office and the Minister of Defence are planning in this vital sector for a run-down which is 20 per cent. lower than the actual target, which itself they know to be an absolute minimum. I do not want to deal with secret matters. These are facts which any competent enemy agent would be able to find out.
Consider the position of the great central ammunition depots. It is to be based upon the central ammunition depots at Bramley, Kineton and Cosham, and the command ammunition depots will go, not for reasons of military efficiency, but purely because the defence budget of the Minister of Defence must be made to balance. The consequences of that are that, if ever we were engaged in major operations, we would provide an atomic target the like of which the Kremlin has never dreamed. The regimental transport of dozens of units would be milling around for several days on end around one central ammunition depot.
In other words, we have no mobilisation plans. We have no up-to-date war reserves, for one very simple reason. It is not the responsibility of the Secretary of State for War. The villain is the Minister of Defence, and behind him the ancient enemy of all the Services—the Treasury. No decision has been taken to provide the cash for war reserves. So when my right hon. Friend gets to the Ministry of Defence at the end of October or early in November he will have a very great shock awaiting him. My concern is that the public shall have an opportunity of understanding what are the facts now and not wait until a major emergency crops up.
Let us see how this works out. I put down some Questions the other day about the airlift into Jordan. Not only did we on this side of the House produce a pamphlet—my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) produced a pamphlet on missiles—but the Conservative Party produced one, too, "The Missile Years", written by Mr. Timothy Raison. Both authors have it in common that they are Etonians. Having read the paper, it looks to me as though there is a greater predilection at Eton for fiction than for fact.
Listen to this. The hon. Mr. Timothy Raison, on behalf of the Conservative Party, spoke about the Hastings, the Beverleys and the Britannics and said:
The effect of this on the mobility of the strategic reserve can easily be deduced, and with the aid of charter aircraft which the Government is able to use if the need arises (and which provided the whole of the long-range aircraft for the Jordan operation in 1958)…
I had a Question down to the Secretary of State for Air, in reply to which he admitted that between 22nd July and 10th August last year, 1,500 tons of
freight and fuel were flown into Jordan by American aircraft. And so we are able to assess the worth-whileness of the Conservative Party when it comes to doing propaganda and defence.
We need also to note this, however, and particularly those on both sides of the House who think of the hydrogen bomb in terms of prestige. What sort of prestige? Britain, the third strongest Power in the world, could not send two battalions into Jordan without American aid. The anti-tank weapon that went in was the American 106 mm. that we used in Suez, and we could not go in unless the American Lockheeds were there to take us.
I do not grumble about that. I entirely accept the principle of interdependence. I stood by my right hon Friend through the years in full support of N.A.T.O. To my mind, N.A.T.O means some degree of integration, some way beyond interdependence. I do not grumble in the least about the use of the Lockheeds or of the 106 mm. antitank weapon. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would order some Lockheeds instead of this nonsense from Northern Ireland with the Britannics. Do not let us turn round and say, "Well, of course, we must have the hydrogen bomb, because without it we should go naked into the conference chamber."We could not possibly talk to the Americans without a hydrogen bomb and then be wholly dependent upon them for an anti-tank weapon, on the one hand, and a freight aircraft, on the other hand.
I want to say a word about the bomb. Again, I shall not get answers, but I will give the House the facts. If we are to have the bomb, our capacity depends upon its delivery. It is gossip as to how many bombs we have, but there cannot be any doubt that, even if we kept them in the vaults under this House, the real test is our capacity to deliver. We can deliver either through the V bomber, through a rocket or through a standoff aircraft. It was the right hon. Gentleman and not me or those who think like me who, with the support of my right hon. Friend, said that no more supersonic bombers would be produced. What have we got of them? We ordered 100 Valiants. We have got 100. We ordered 100 Vulcans and we have got so far between 60 and 70. We ordered 100 Victors and between 35 and 40 have been delivered. We shall thus have 300 one day.
One of the things we have got wrong about these aircraft—and this applies not only to us but applies to the Russians as well, because they have their troubles, too, though we tend to forget it—is that these aircraft are not as lasting as we thought. Their capacity for a long life when flying through thick air is nothing like what we thought it was. We have to note that the life of the V-bombers will come to an end somewhere in the middle 'sixties. Then we shall have to depend on the rocket and we have the Bluestreak coming along.
I have not time to go into all the points now.
One of the difficulties about these rockets is that our opponents know where they are, and if they do not know they will not have much difficulty in finding out, because any visitor to East Anglia by night will very quickly see that what he takes to be a dog track is a circle of lights illuminating where the missiles are.
Now we have not got a missile. We are not even sure we shall get a missile, because it is a terribly expensive business. I will go further. I do not believe any country has a missile at the present moment.
What I think may happen is that in three or four years' time, if the country is prepared to put its hand in its pocket, we may be able to fire about twenty, of which some will not take off, three or four will fall down after a few minutes' flying and three or four will arrive. If one arrives, I suppose it is good enough for the argument.
What is absolutely certain is that our decision not to have a successor to the V-bomber was a fatal decision, and those of my hon. Friends who believe in unilateral disarmament should be wholly satisfied because we have unilateral disarmament in this field. I go further. I was inclined to think that the campaign for nuclear disarmament had been subsidised by Transport House and by the Conservative Party. [Laughter.] Oh, yes, I say in all seriousness that those people who marched to Aldermaston and back again have performed a very great public service—
I do not mean it in the sense my hon. Friend means it—not in that way. But for these campaigns, the meetings in Trafalgar Square, those marches, nobody in the world would believe we have an H-bomb. This is the position in which we find ourselves with an annual subscription rate of £1,500 million: we have not got a successor to the V bomber. If I am wrong on this I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell me. But do not let him talk about the missile. That is in the future.
No, he will not tell me.
What have the Americans got? What have the Russians got? Have they got a successor to their V bombers? Oh, yes. There is the B47. They are getting about 1,700 of them. They are roughly comparable to our V bombers. They have already got a considerable tanker force of the K97. I make out that they have 888 of them, which enables them to fly much farther than western Russia They have got the B52, which is one generation on from the B47, according to my reckoning. I say to hon. Gentlemen that a little diligent study of Congress reports reveals a lot of facts, even about the British defence effort. They ordered 715, and they have got 500. Beyond that, they have the B58, and they have the B70 and one generation farther on. So they have in all five generations of V bombers. They are, in fact, as the Russians are, still putting their money on the manned bomber, whereas we took a decision in 1957 to have no V bomber, and to my mind that was the decision that matters.
But there is another thing. The decision of the Minister not to have the bomber and not to have another generation of fighters means, of course, that he is dealing a blow to the British aircraft industry. A year ago I ventured the opinion that by the middle 'sixties the British aircraft industry would be on its last legs. I believe that to be true. I believe there is only one possible way out this, and that is for us to go to our N.A.T.O. allies—I am thinking of our European N.A.T.O. allies now—and discuss with them the building of a European aircraft with the assistance of America—probably taking American aircraft and producing them under licence in Europe. It seems to me certain that one of the by-products of the right hon. Gentleman's policy is that the British aircraft industry is on its last legs. Those who talk in terms of unilateral disarmament may find that welcome. I certainly do not find it welcome. I find it a matter of very great sorrow, because once we have reached this position the way back is very difficult.
I shall not keep the House two or three minutes more, but the more I think the more convinced I am that we have got to cut our losses in terms of the mistakes of the past and think in terms of the future. Our ordnance depots are cluttered up with equipment which is a survival from the last war and which is of no use except as junk. It is terribly costly to service and costly to store. We should get rid of the lot. The Royal Air Force is also stocked up with junk. The Minister of Defence is doing his best by ordering the Britannic to add to it.
If I had a slogan here it would be, "Invest in the future". The right hon. Gentleman is seeking to build up Regular forces. I have always wished him the best of luck, while having at the same time doubts about the short-term successes of this policy, but if we are to have forces of that kind they must be housed, equipped, transported and maintained in accordance with the needs of the age they are seeking to serve.
I sit down by once again saying we cannot possibly hope to have this policy for the Navy, the Air Force or the Army unless the British public are educated in the realities of the situation, and they have got to realise it is no good simply talking about the dignity of Britain and the survival of democracy, and that, even if it means sacrifice, the country has got to put its hand in its pocket and be prepared to pay for it.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett:
It will be within the recollection of a number of hon. Members here tonight that a few nights ago we were kept up to the small hours of the morning by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) protesting vigorously as we came to each Vote in turn about the practice of virement in the Fighting Services. Therefore, I feel tempted to make the point at the outset of my short remarks tonight that it is rather surprising that the Opposition should have allowed us to reach the Third Reading of this Appropriation Bill without taking the opportunity at an earlier stage to deal with Clause 4, because it is Clause 4 which permits the practice. I say this at the outset, because I hope we shall not again be troubled with late sittings on this matter.
Since the hon. and gallant Gentleman starts like that, perhaps he will allow me to make it clear to him what I was protesting about. Perhaps it was because it was so late at night that he did not get it clear. I was not protesting about the practice of virement as such. I was protesting because money which had been provided for the teeth of the Forces, that is, for their armour, their equipment, was being used for other purposes. I was saying that the money was being wrongly used because the Government had failed to use it for the right purposes.
Yes, but that is what the practice of virement prevents, as I understand it, and the right hon. Gentleman was inveighing against its not being in order for him to raise the points he wanted to. I am only making the point that this Bill we are debating now provides the one occasion in the year, as I understand it, when this position can be changed.
However, we have listened to an interesting, characteristic and, at times, very amusing speech by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). As he said at the beginning of his speech, it followed lines not dissimilar from those of the speech he made on the same occasion last year. He began with an appeal for clear thinking. I hope that he will not think me discourteous if I say that I thought that in certain parts of his speech the arguments were a little muddled and inconsistent. Furthermore, amusing though many of the passages were, there ran through his speech, as on previous occasions, what I believe to be the most regrettable denigration of British equipment and the output of British armament factories. I do not think that some of the criticisms which he made so freely and the prophecies of disaster that came so readily to his lips are justified now any more than they were justified in the past by events.
I do not think we have heard very much about Suez on this occasion from the hon. Member, but we have heard forecasts in the past about the impossibility of raising forces by voluntary enlistment. That particular argument was not stressed so strongly by the hon. Member today because the target which my right hon. Friend set himself is, as far as we can tell, on the way to being reached.
I did not mention those subjects because I was asked by my hon. Friends to sit down. I assure the hon. and gallant Member that I have quite a lot to say on them. The recruiting figures for the last two months entirely justify all the fears I expressed. We will leave them to events, anyway.
I think the hon. Member's hon. Friends did him a good service on this occasion.
The one theme that ran through the hon. Member's speech can be summed up by saying that it was a plea for a larger and conventional army. We on this side of the House were surprised that he carried his argument to such a length as to assert that the tragedy of Hola and the crisis in Nyasaland would not have arisen if we had had a larger army there. I shall wait with interest when we move on to those more contentious subjects to hear how many of his hon. Friends will adopt the same line.
My right hon. Friend's policy in 1957 was, of course, designed to some extent to save men and to save money, and it is none the worse for that. Paragraph 13 of the 1957 Defence White Paper showed very clearly how fundamentally the strength of any nation is its economic strength, and that any attempt to maintain fighting forces beyond that economic strength renders them sources of weakness rather than strength.
I put a Question to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour six months ago about the difference between the number of men then employed, directly or indirectly, on defence compared with the number when the Conservative Party took office. Speaking from memory. I believe that there was a reduction of about 500,000. I feel sure that that figure has grown greater by now. I rejoice in this economy in manpower and in the fact that we have a defence policy which has enabled us to contain the total Defence Vote notwithstanding the rise in costs since that policy was introduced.
The hon. Member for Dudley said very little, on the whole, about what is perhaps the greatest defence issue of the day, namely, the question of the nuclear deterrent. He said little, and I want to say a little more. He trotted out the rather misleading argument about the deterrent being no longer credible and about national suicide being something which one did not do. That is a very misleading argument. If the hon. Member really believes that the deterrent is incredible, I cannot see why he does not join the nuclear disarmers, because that is the logic of the argument. It is credible. It is the dominating factor. Even if arms were done away with, the knowledge of how to make the deterrent must make a tremendous impact on people contemplating aggression. To say that a small country which threatens to use a nuclear weapon as a last resort is threatening to commit suicide is misleading. It would be more accurate to say that it is selling its life dearly.
There is a considerable difference. We know of past occasions when a big bullying agressor has been deterred by the knowledge that a small man well armed is determined to use his arms.
The most surprising feature of the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley was that he made no reference whatsoever to the non-nuclear club. After all, the concept of this non-nuclear club represents the principal difference in defence policy between the Opposition Front Bench and the Government. Anyhow, it represents a very important difference and, what is more, it is comparatively new. Therefore, I would have expected the Opposition to have taken the opportunity today, the last occasion we have to debate these matters, to make some reference to it.
I wish to put a question to the Opposition, though not in great hopes of having a reply. In all sincerity, it seems to me that there is one very great fallacy in this theory of the non-nuclear club which, as far as I am aware, has not yet been mentioned in public at all. As I understand it, the major premise of the official Opposition policy is that the existing non-nuclear nations might be prepared to accept a position in which the Americans and the Russians were in a special position and possessed nuclear weapons if, in exchange, Great Britain would set an example by forgoing her own nuclear weapons and placing herself in a position of equality with the rest of the non-nuclear world. I understand that that is the basis of the argument. But even if we banned all future British tests, dismantled our research stations, destroyed our stocks of bombs and razed all the factories that make these nuclear weapons, we should still not be in a position of equality with the other non-nuclear nations. The great difference would remain that we knew how to make the bomb and they would not know. Indeed, in that vital respect we should be stabilising and perpetuating our position of advantage.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has said that he has information that it would take only six months, starting from scratch, to make a nuclear weapon. It seems, therefore, that a non-nuclear nation which was contemplating making a nuclear weapon, such as France or China, would ask in exchange for joining a non-nuclear club that we would disclose to it, down to the smallest particular, how these weapons are made. In all the circumstances, that would not be an unreasonable request to make. I am sure that the Opposition can foresee such an obvious eventuality. We should like to be told what the Opposition would do if it were faced with such a request. Other speakers wish to take part in this debate and therefore I will detain the House no longer.
Let me at once tell the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallet) that his speech is completely irrelevant to the subject of this debate. [Laughter.] If some hon. Members opposite do not like the language, I can use even stronger. We are not discussing foreign affairs, nor the policy of the Labour Party. We are discussing the content of defence. That was the subject which my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) raised, and although there may be hon. Members on both sides of the House who disagree with some of the points he made, I want to applaud his enterprise and his industry in this important matter.
The hon. and gallant Member almost threatened to give us the facts, but failed at the hurdle. He failed to jump the fences. That is our trouble. That is what disturbes us. Ever since the White Paper was produced by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence and his military colleagues, we have been completely in the dark about the content of our national defence. I challenge hon. Members on either side of the House to give us the facts about the content of our defence—about its strength. I challenge them, further, to say whether we are getting value for our money.
I may be told that the right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Treasury Bench know all about it, and that the facts have to be concealed in the interests of security. That is a common, familiar excuse. We have heard it over and over again, and occasionally, when hon. Gentlemen opposite have been asked on the subject of the content of our defence and whether we are getting value for our money, the response has been that when the Labour Government were in office we concealed the facts.
First of all, it is not true. We furnished a great deal of information to the House. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) failed to get the information he asked for, he never failed to disturb the House and the Government of the day. Indeed, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who are now the Government persistently day by day, whenever an opportunity presented itself, attacked the Labour Government on the strength of our defence and on what we were doing with the vast sums of money we spent. We never spent more than one-half that this Government have spent since they came to office in any one year. It is true that we prepared a three years' programme which involved an expenditure of £4,700 million, but we never spent a penny of that. It was left to the right hon. Gentleman opposite and we are entitled to ask—and I speak with the utmost seriousness—what is the strength of our defence? It is no use running away and indulging in pretexts and excuses about security—that is just an alibi.
I am surprised at the hon. Member, who is not only fair but, if I may say so without condescension, highly intelligent. When we speak about the content of defence—let us be quite clear about it—we speak of aircraft, cruisers and battleships, destroyers and frigates, minesweepers, battalions and equipment, and not necessarily about a hypothetical deterrent.
I want to come to that matter straightaway now that it has been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley was quite right. The Aldermaston marchers may have wasted their time. They have been protesting about the hydrogen bomb and about nuclear weapons. Have we got the hydrogen bomb? It would be very interesting to get an answer to that question. If we have the hydrogen bomb, how many hydrogen bombs have we got? I doubt very much whether this country is in possession of such a deterrent.
I meant no offence to the Aldermaston marchers. I meant it in the sense that, in point of fact, they were making accusations about the manufacture and use of the bomb, when I have very grave doubts whether this country is in possession of such a weapon. There has been a lot of talk about testing the bomb, and protests have been made about testing it. No doubt the Government have been testing some devices, but whether they have been testing the hydrogen bomb at Christmas Island or elsewhere, I have grave doubts. If I am wrong, let them tell us. I think that the country should know whether we are in possession of the deterrent or whether we are relying almost exclusively on the American deterrent.
My hon. Friend talked about the means of delivery. It is all very well talking about that, but we have to have something to deliver. When two years ago we discussed the subject of defence I said to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence: "Do not put all your eggs into the nuclear basket," by which I meant that we ought to build up our conventional forces for precisely the reasons which my hon. Friend gave. Perhaps we are more likely to use those conventional forces if a conflict should occur than we are likely to use the deterrent, even if we have it.
I come to the question of conventional forces. What is the position about conventional forces? I shall not touch on the question of Suez, whether we were ready or not and whether we had the proper equipment. I rely on General Keightley's dispatches, which have never been debated in this House. General Keightley gave the game away. Although at the time I held views rather contrary to those held by many of my colleagues on this side of the House, nevertheless I maintain that one of our indictments, if not the principal indictment, against the Government over Suez was that they were not ready to undertake an assault, not even to defend our interest in a military sense. I doubt even now, if some minor conflict occured in some part of the world over which we claim supervision, whether we should be in a position to deal with the problem effectively.
Take the example of Malaya. It took a long time to deal with the situation in Malaya. I maintained all along while we were dealing with the problem of Malaya that there was only a political solution of that problem, because we were quite incapable of providing a military solution. If I am wrong, let the right hon. Gentleman give us the facts.
Are we getting value for £1,500 million a year? Have we got the manpower strength, and have we got the equipment? I put this question directly to the Secretary of State for War. Are all our troops in possession of the modern rifle? Is that a fair question? After all, it is eight years now since the negotiations over rifle standardisation at Washington. I took part in them and I maintained that the British rifle was the best. That was overruled by the Tories when they came into office. Are our troops now in possession of the modern rifle? We ought to know. One could go on asking questions of this kind which, I think, are perfectly fair questions in the circumstances.
Let me digress for one moment to say this. I am an unrepentant believer in the need for measures of security. I have never deviated from that. Since 1945, I have always occupied that position. I know that these views are not acceptable to everyone. Some of my colleagues think that defence is unnecessary and that it would be ineffective, even if we were called upon to use measures of defence. Nevertheless, I believe it is not emotional, it is logical for citizens of this country, even if defence should be ineffective, to wish to have some measure of security. Just as we want police on our streets to protect us, we feel reassured if we have some measure of defence. Not only do we require defence in a national sense to give security, but also we require correlation with other countries. That is why I was in at the inception of N.A.T.O., and that is why all along, with my party—because it is Labour Party policy—I have supported the N.A.T.O. organisation.
Hardly any information is furnished to hon. Members on the subject of N.A.T.O. If they desire it, they have to talk to General Norstad, the Supreme Commander, as I have done, and incidentally at my own expense. [Laughter.] Yes, at my own expense. And why? Because I am anxious to know the position. I was briefed by the Supreme Commander, but I have grave doubts whether N.A.T.O. is as strong as General Norstad pretends, or as the Government pretend, and certainly I have grave doubts as to whether N.A.T.O. is as strong as it should be.
At Lisbon we were told that N.A.T.O. must have 50 active divisions and 50 reserve divisions, while I recall that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford talked about having 90 divisions up to strength. I doubt whether we have 22 divisions. If I am wrong, let the Minister of Defence correct me. We have a strategic tactical Air Force, but is it capable of dealing with an assault? I doubt it. Because I believe earnestly and intensely in the need for some measure of defence, I am worried about the situation and I think we are entitled to more than we receive.
Today I asked a supplementary question on the subject of the provision of some missiles for Western Germany. If there is one thing we ought to oppose it is the provision of anything in the nature of atomic weapons to Western Germany. I was told, however, that missiles were not atomic weapons. This is news to me. I have always thought that missiles, to be effective, must have atomic warheads Otherwise, what is the point of them? We might as well use orthodox artillery.
Some time ago, with some other hon. and right hon. Members, I paid a visit to Germany, and I was interested in what some of the Germans present said about defence. I gathered that they were anxious not only to build conventional forces but to gain possession of atomic weapons. As I indicated today in my supplementary question, this is the thin end of the wedge. Before long they will be more effectively armed than the United Kingdom, and in my opinion that is a very grave danger. I recognise the Russian menace. It is always there. We are apprehensive about it in spite of all the talk about peace, conciliation and compromise. Nevertheless, I say frankly that I would rather have the Russian position at the present time, with the possibility of a peaceful settlement, some day, than a Germany rearmed, a resurgence of German militarism.
I also visited East Germany. When I went there with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, we asked to see their defence organisation and we were allowed to do so without any prohibition. Incidentally, my hon. Friend engaged in a shooting competition with some of the volunteers—they are all volunteers in the East German Army— who were firing at a target, and he beat them to a frazzle. I looked on. I almost gasped with amazement at his facility, at his precision, and my chest was swollen with pride that one of my honourable colleagues could beat the East Germans in this contest.
At the same time we made inquiries about the military position in East Germany. We found that although it was stronger than we had been led to believe, it was far from being in a condition of overwhelming strength. I have come to the conclusion that there is one newspaper in this country, regarded as a very reputable organ, whose information on the subject of the military strength in other countries ought to be discredited, and that is the Manchester Guardian. I would not give twopence for it. [Laughter.] I mean for the information, not for the paper. It has a correspondent at Bonn who sends it information, and he is nearly always inaccurate. He is obviously a stooge for Western Germany.
That is not the way to promote peace. That is not the way to promote better relations and better understanding. I could say a lot about it. I have said a lot to the editor of the Manchester Guardian, although he had not the courage to print it. I am not worried about that, because there are lots of things one says which are not published. I have come to the conclusion, however, that we ought to know more about what is going on in the sphere of defence. The House is entitled to it, and if my hon Friend has raised this debate just before the beginning of the Recess, and possibly before the beginning of a new Parliament, all I can say is that it is just as important a topic as many of those other topics in which the House engages from time to time. I do not know what the answer will be, but I hazard a guess. We shall get no more information of a factual character from either the Minister of Defence or his colleague the Secretary of State for War than we have had in the past.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has always had a warm corner in my heart up to now, because I have always felt that in raising questions about the Army he has generally wanted to have a good Army, and I have great sympathy with him as we are both ex-Regular soldiers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), as he rightly said this afternoon, has always believed in a sound military defence.
What puzzles me, having listened to both of them, is to know what service they think they are rendering to the Services by what they have said today. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said earlier, it seems to me that some of the remarks, made by the hon. Member for Dudley in particular, will raise considerable doubt in the minds of those who have to use, and rely on, the various articles of equipment as to whether these are as good as they should be. It seems to me, therefore, that before we cast that idea about we should make certain that there are real grounds for doing so.
As far as I can understand it, careful thought has been given over a number of years to the type of equipment to be produced for the Armed Forces we shall set up under the 1957 White Paper. I cannot see how the hon. Member for Dudley or anybody else, inside or outside this House, can say truthfully that any of the equipment has been proved wanting. In fact, I should have said that it is only just coming into service.
As I think the right hon. Gentleman has heard. I too, have had a son in the Army fairly recently. Naturally I take an interest in what my offspring do and the circumstances in which they live. I should have been altogether blind and perhaps a little deaf as well, or even deafer than I am, if I had not managed to glean one or two pieces of information without in any way having been given access to official secrets which I should not have. There is certain equipment coming into service now which has been very carefully designed to fill a long-felt need, and it seems to me that before we start casting about the place the idea that the Army's equipment is efficient we ought to make certain that the new supplies are inefficient.
I take the point which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made,
and I hope he will accept it from me, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) and myself, that it is not our wish to denigrate the Army or its equipment. We want to see it have better equipment. But the hon. and gallant Gentleman is talking about equipment which is to come. What I have been dealing with is the equipment that exists now. Perhaps I might be allowed to read some words written by Lord Montgomery which I have never forgotten:
In September, 1939, the British Army"—
He and I were Regular soldiers.
was totally unfit to fight a first-class war on the continent of Europe. It must be said to our shame that we sent our Army into that most modern war with weapons and equipment which were quite inadequate and we only had ourselves to blame for the disasters which early overtook us in the field when fighting began in 1940.
That was the situation then. Since then we have had Suez and Jordan, and it is my view that the same thing will happen again.
The hon Gentleman can think that. I would certainly absolve him of something of which I would not absolve the rest of his party. During the 'thirties Labour hon. Members voted against the Service Estimates every year. I would agree with the hon. Member for Dudley to this extent, that, having been a Regular soldier during that time, I am as fed up as he is of waving flags in the air to represent machine guns and anti-tank guns. We do not want that sort of thing again. As long as that is the object of this exercise, it is legitimate.
What I understood the hon. Gentleman to say was that some of the equipment coming along, particularly transportation aircraft, was inadequate. My point is that two years ago a programme was decided upon which has now been stuck to and is progressing and what is coming out at the end is something of real value. I would say to the right hon. Member for Easington, without in any way, I hope, blaming him unfairly, that there was a time in the days of the Labour Government when there were nine changes in the order of battle of the British Army in three years. Whatever else the right hon. Gentleman may wish to say about it, the present Government decided on a plan two years ago and have stuck to it, and it seems to me that results are now coming forward.
It seems to me that in planning the defence of our country the most important thing is first of all to make up one's mind what one is planning. It seems to me that that was done two years ago, and the plan has been adhered to, and it seems to me that it is working out. If the right hon. Gentleman said that what he was anxious about was that we should not return to the practice of the ten-year rule which operated between the wars, I should agree with him 100 per cent.
I would also agree with the hon. Member for Dudley that a Government Department that we have to watch throughout this operation, and watch it like a lynx, is the Treasury. What I am about to say is somewhat critical, but I hope it will not be taken personally by the Secretary of State for War. I think there is an impression current—whether it is correct or not I do not know, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into it—that those who represent the Treasury inside the War Office do not speak up for the Army with the Treasury in the way that those who represent the Treasury in the Admiralty and to some extent in the Air Ministry do for their respective Services. It would seem to me to be a great pity if that is true. I have no proof that it is, but I am passing on what I am told by those who ought to know because they have previously worked in the War Office. It is very important that we should make certain that no delay in delivery is caused by parsimony on the part of the Treasury or anybody else which ought not to have existed; but I have no proof that this has been so.
The hon. Member for Dudley said something on a slightly different subject which is of extreme importance to the Army. He implied that the day of the V-bomber was numbered and that there would be no more aircraft after that. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the Minister of Defence on having listened to the many representations made to him over the years and having decided to ascertain whether, working with the N.A.T.O. Powers, we could develop an aircraft which would succeed the V-bomber—namely, the Swallow. The Minister of Supply told the House that arrangements had been made to ascertain whether that aircraft could be developed. I feel that it is by no means certain—the hon. Member for Dudley seemed very certain—that when the V-bomber comes to an end there will be no other aircraft to replace it.
The hon. Gentleman has had a good run today. I do not think he would ever accuse himself of having talked too little. I do not want to weary the House by continually giving way to interruptions.
It seems to me that the assumption which is being made is a very dangerous one. It is also, among other things, highly discouraging to some very keen airmen if we give the impression that the moment the last V-bomber has been delivered there will be no flying machines in the air at all.
The fact remains that it has been made clear repeatedly that research will go on. This brings us to perhaps the most important point which has come out of the debate, that if we are to be members of N.A.T.O., it presupposes that we must accept a measure of interdependence. One moment the hon. Member for Dudley makes a speech almost worthy of the Empire League of Loyalists, for complete independence of this nation militarily, and the next moment he says that he wants us to be as loyal a member of N.A.T.O. as anybody else. He cannot have it both ways. If we decide, as I am sure we are right in deciding, that we shall not be any stronger militarily if we overburden ourselves economically, we have to accept the fact, in view of the vast expenditure involved in modern weapons these days, that there must be a measure of interdependence.
If the hon. Gentleman for Dudley wants an example, I can give him one quoted by Sir Richard Gale when speaking to a meeting in London not long ago, and that is the difference between the cost of one round of conventional artillery ammunition in the last war and the cost of one round of atomic artillery ammunition. I believe the figures came from an absolutely irreproachable authority. I gather that one round of artillery ammunition in the last war cost between £25 and £30. Now one round of atomic artillery ammunition costs £250,000. If we have to face that sort of expenditure it is ridiculous to suppose that we can go it alone militarily, much as we should like to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I hear hon. Members opposite cheering that statement. I should certainly not have felt that that was the main point which the hon. Member for Dudley wished to convey in his speech. It really is a question of deciding what we can share.
If the hon. Member has in mind that we ought to let the Americans make all the atomic and nuclear materiel, I would just point out that if one proposes to form a club it is important that there should be more members than just oneself. It seems to me that a one-man club will end in a soliloquy unless the man has a split personality. I think that hon. Members opposite in desiring to form a non-nuclear club may find themselves to be the only members of the club, and the result will be that they will have an even more split personality on this matter than they have already. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman wishes to interrupt I will give way once more.