Two years ago I raised the subject of defence in the debate on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill and last year there was an official debate. I do not apologise for doing now what I did two years ago, because we are on the eve of departing for the Summer Recess and it is important that our fellow-citizens should know what we are thinking and doing about this subject.
There are talks of crisis in Berlin. We have troops committed in Kuwait. We have had important speeches from President Kennedy and Mr. Khrushchev. We are half way through the year and we are going away and there will be no opportunity until the debate on the Queen's Speech to deal with this subject unless we seize this opportunity. I am grateful, therefore, to the Under-Secretary of State for War and I apologise to him for taking up his time. I am grateful to him not only for attending to the debate tonight but for many personal kindnesses shown to me and to my constituents from the Army who have come to see me.
If I have some hard things to say they are not addressed to the hon. Gentleman. They are over his head. My prime purpose is not to say hard things but to tell the truth as I see it, and to give the House, and, through HANSARD, my fellow countrymen the benefit of a debate on this matter because I am interested in it. I also have to thank the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw) because I shall be able to make the same speech as I have made before. My conception of democracy does not arise from a belief in the sanctity of a majority decision but from my belief that there are only two ways of running human affairs, either by force or by persuasion. Because I believe in persuasion, I am by nature an educator and I want to elicit the facts.
There is a great lack of interest in this subject yet it seems to me to go right to the heart of our affairs. We have an economic crisis and yet during the lifetime of the present Administration £15,000 million have been spent on defence. If we now had only a fraction of that money all our economic difficulties would disappear. I believe that we cannot understand the controversy about the Common Market or the economic crisis unless we get to grips with two things. The first is the decision on German rearmament and the second the proposals in the 1957 White Paper.
My version of affairs in this connection runs something like this. Through the kindness of my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), I went to Washington and Brussels and sat in at the Defence Ministers' Conference when there had been a remit from the Foreign Ministers about acceptance of the principle of German rearmament. One the eve of that conference, M. Pleven came out with the Pleven Plan because France knew something about German militarism. The French came out with the preposterous suggestion of integration of German and French forces at unit level. It was a piece of nonsense which did not make any progress.
The French were frogmarched, as many in this House were frogmarched by ignorance of the facts, into acceptance of German rearmament on the basis of a pledge given by the Government, with the agreement of some of my hon. and right hon. Friends, in October, 1954, to maintain on the Continent of Euroep four divisions or their equivalent. I opposed it not because I am against the arming of Germans as such but because we knew from the start, on information about the military factors that we should welsh on that undertaking and because I believed that the consequences would be grave.
French opinion said, "Right. If we have to integrate with the Germans, let us tie our economies together". So we had the idea of the Common Market. The Foreign Office and the Treasury, true to form throughout my lifetime, managed to be wrong on every issue connected with it. Firstly, they did not believe that it would come off. Then they believed that if it did come off it would take a long time. Thirdly, they believed that if it did come off after a long time its effects would be limited. In fact, it has come quickly and it is overwhelmingly successful. The position now is that this country, "bust" economically and from the military point of view in a derisory situation, has to crawl on its belly into the Common Market because it is afraid of the consequences if it cannot fit itself in.
As for the four divisions, we cannot pay for them and we do not have them. The four divisions became over night 77,000 men. The 77,000 became 64,000. They became 55,000 and then they became 45,000. That was too much for the Council of N.A.T.O. and so we pay lip service to the 55,000 but have never had them there, though even today on the record they are 55,000. In fact, they are about 50,000 and from four divisions we have come down to less than three. It is nonsense to say that these are capable of fighting or holding an aggression. They could not fight for more than thirty days. They have no more than thirty days' supplies. They completely lack services and they are committed to fighting only one kind of war—an atomic war. We are told that we must arm to parley and must speak from strength. I believe that there is no way of getting this right except by getting the great mass of our fellow countrymen to understand to what they are committed. I reel off these figures but they are all available either in the White Paper or in Ministerial Answers. There are many other things about which there is ignorance on both sides of the House. As an example, I noticed in the Guardian of 20th July a report that my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd), with representatives of A.S.S.E.T., were launching a campaign for a British supersonic transport aircraft. This struck a chord in my memory, and I looked up the OFFICIAL REPORT of another place of 9th May, 1957, when another place was debating the 1957 White Paper. On that occasion Lord Tedder said:
I believe that"—
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) is not going to quote a speech made in another place by anybody other than a representative of the Government.
It was not only a previous Session, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but a previous Parliament. This took place several Parliaments back. I am quoting from a speech made on 9th May, 1957. I am sorry if you thought that I was seeking to breach the rules of order. I have consulted Erskine May on the subject.
On 9th May, 1957, the House of Lords was debating the 1957 White Paper. This is what Lord Tedder had to say on the subject of a British supersonic transport aircraft in relation to the White Paper:
I believe that no British supersonic manned bomber means, quite literally, no British supersonic civil aircraft."—,[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 9th May, 1957; Vol. 203, c. 588.]
Perhaps the greatest criticism of our civilisation is that we can renovate and keep up to date our basic industries only through preparation for war, and that as soon as we in the West start to think in terms of disarmament and the redeployment of our labour force through cutting down arms we get into an economic crisis. If it be true—here I accept the evidence of Lord Tedder—that there can be no supersonic civil transport aircraft because there is no bomber, it is a very grievous state of affairs. I mention it because that speech four years ago is now forgotten. In the course of what I have to say I want to relate, broadly speaking, the current happenings which interest me to the 1957 White Paper and what actually exists at present.
The next subject on which I want to touch is the operation in Kuwait. Again I have earned the strictures of the hon. Member for Stroud in commenting on it. He said he thought that I was unfair or was making much of the difficulties of the Army. I do not complain, but it seems to me to be a totalitarian argument. That is the reason why I refer to it now, not because I think it important but because every hon. Member, particularly on this side of the House, finds himself whenever he criticises the Armed Services exposed to the charge from the other side of in some way being disloyal. When I criticise the Armed Forces I am criticising the Minister—not those serving in the Army and not the Army. I would not appeal to the hon. Gentleman's generosity in asking him to believe that the last thing I would wish to do would be to harm the Army, but if he believes in our democracy really deep down, I ask him to refrain from that kind of argument, not because it hurts me—I can look after myself—but other hon. Members may find it a little difficult to meet his gibes and the gibes of his hon. Friends when they criticise the actions of the Service Departments.
Let us look in some detail at the Kuwait operation. The first and most remarkable thing about it is the similarity in treatment by my right hon. Friends between this issue and Suez and Jordan. As to the debâcle of Suez, we had the dispatches of General Keithley published in September, 1957. I tried unremittingly to get a debate on those dispatches, because they revealed, in General Keithley's words, a serious shortage of tank landing ships and transport aircraft. I was unsuccessful. Finally, I had to raise the subject on the Adjournment at the end of 1958.
In the case of Jordan the situation was precisely the same. We crawled into Jordan and were sustained there by American transport aircraft. We had gone into Suez with an American antitank weapon because our own was no good, and we went into Jordan with the 106 mm. gun.
Here we go into Kuwait in the early part of July, and, despite all the pressure—I raised the question on many occasions—again we had no debate. I should have thought that it was absolutely fundamental that when we were engaged in circumstances which might lead to war, to a conflagration on a very large scale, one of the first actions should be that the Government should be answerable not only to the House of Commons but to the public in general. This did not happen.
I have done some researches into this business, and I must confess that I am a little amazed. Let us deal with the start of the position itself. On 3rd July the Prime Minister came to the House and made a statement which was cordially received by my right hon. Friends. What he said was this:
On 29th and 30th June, evidence accumulated from a number of sources that reinforcements, especially reinforcements of armour, were moving towards Basra In these circumstances, the Ruler felt it his duty to make a formal urgent request for British assistance under the exchange of Notes. This he did on the morning of 30th June.
Later in his statement the Prime Minister came back again to this important date. He said:
What we had to do on Friday was to decide whether to take certain action which, I hope, will lead to the Government of Iraq having second thoughts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd July, 1961; Vol. 643, c. 1006–12.]
I invite the attention of the House to the first words used by the Prime Minister. He said that reinforcements of
armour were moving towards Basra. I should have thought that that meant—it certainly meant that to me at the time—that there was armour in the vicinity of Basra, that if it was moving towards Basra it was somewhere near there, and Basra would be the point of deployment if an attack was to be made upon Kuwait. If I am wrong about this, I invite hon. Gentleman on either side to interrupt me, but that is honestly what I thought it meant.
I then put down a Question to the Minister of Defence asking him for some more information about Kuwait, but I did not get it. Again I am not complaining about his treatment of me or the way in which it was done, but on 11th July, the Minister of Defence came to the House on what was not his day, and answered Question No. 69 at the end of Questions. We had four columns of supplementary questions and replies, and then the right hon. Gentleman said that he would be circulating the rest of it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
When I read it the next day the first thing that struck me was that the Minister's statement about General Kassem's statement on 28th June was wrong. Again, in my humility, I felt that perhaps he was right, and I made a prolonged search to find out what was said on 28th June, but I could not find anything.
I would draw attention to the words used by the Minister of Defence. He did not talk about reinforcements near Basra. He moved away from that. There is no definite statement at all. He said:
It was decided, in the light of indications that Iraqi forces in the Basra area"—
I emphasise those words—
were being reinforced with tanks … "[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1961; Vol. 644, c. 214.]
Again I assumed, as I had assumed from the Prime Minister's statement, that there was a reinforcement here which was threatening the Kuwait border.
I continued my researches. I got hold of a copy of the statement which was issued by the Kuwait delegation to the United Nations, an official document issued by the Kuwait authorities. This said:
The threat was manifest and menacing, leaving no shadow of doubt that an immediate and forceful annexation was intended.
That referred to General Kassem's statement of 25th June. It went on:
In the last week of June reports were received from many sources of preparations being made to move units and a tank regiment from Baghdad to Shaiba …"—
That is, over 500 miles—
… an area near to Basra, and Basra is only a few miles from the border of Kuwait.
A further piece of evidence came from Mr. Ian Colvin a distinguished correspondent whose reporting is first class. I have never met him. On Saturday, 22nd July, he said that he had been to Basra and wrote:
… for 20 miles at least behind the border there is nowhere that armour or motorised troops could be hidden or housed. Roads and all approaches to the front are bare and open.
Among the Britons in Basra I have not found one who has seen tank transporters in the past month.
So the story told by the Prime Minister begins to wear a little thin. Let us go on a bit. Of course, the Prime Minister always has a little bit of luck. I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) took up a point which I had made in the New Statesman a fortnight ago. How fortunate it was that H.M.S. "Bulwark" happened to be not in Singapore but in Karachi in the week during which all this happened. It is not widely known that "Bulwark" missed the tide, but she sailed on Thursday, before the events. Even then it would have been nine hours earlier had it not been for an odd happening.
That, again, is not the whole story however. I know little of technical things except for what I pick up. But I am certain that even the present Secretary of State for Air could not find a magic carpet to lift a "Centurion" tank by air. Yet on the morning of 1st July, as if by magic, "Centurions" were in Kuwait. Let me not rely here upon my own evidence. The Sunday Pictorial correspondent reported on 10th July that he had been told that some of the tanks were in Kuwait all the time, waiting for crews. That is not my information however. The "Centurions" came from a squadron of the Royal Armoured Corps in Aden, and I should have thought that the tanks were being pedalled backwards and forwards from Aden to Bahrain.
I think that two tank landing ships were involved—the "Empire Glow" and the "Striker". I am prepared to believe that, by a stroke of luck, there were tank landing ships in Bahrain, but here are reports which do not suggest that the Prime Minister was lucky. In this particular week not only were the ships there but lots of tanks as well. These are fortuitous happenings which, on investigation, do not stand up.
The matter is clear if one examines it. I learned my geography the hard way. I know the distance from Basra to Bagdad because I have walked it. I know that one cannot fly from Cyprus to Bahrain unless one over-flies Turkey and Iran. I was pretty sure that these Beverleys, with their very high payloads which fall sharply if one asks them for too much, did not fly round the corner but over Saudi Arabia. I put down a Question asking for the time and dare on which permission was given by the Iranian and Saudi Governments to fly over their territory.
In the case of Iran, I am quite prepared to believe that permission was given, because we are on close and cordial terms with the Iranians. But we have had no relations with Saudi Arabia since Suez. I believe, however, that the Beverleys over-flew Saudi territory. Again, this matter had a chequered history. My Question was passed to the Foreign Office. The Answer was "No". Yet I would have thought that, if everything had been straight and above board, the Government would not have been afraid to answer.
I also asked for the times and dates of sailing of the "Bulwark" from Karachi and of the Centurions from Aden. I was told that it would not be in the public interest to give that information about the Centurions, but the Government gave me the information about the "Bulwark"—because I could have got it from Lloyds, and they could not very well withhold it from me.
So much for the operation. I am mystified. I can have a guess about it, but I shall not guess because I am not sure. I can only recall the facts in this House and point out that something needs explaining. I should have thought that on such a matter—remembering that we are still committed—the Government would be only too anxious to give information. We have managed to drag out of them information about the cost. It was £1 million. I asked the Lord Privy Seal how much the Ruler of Kuwait, who has £400 million in London, contributed to the operation. The answer was that the right hon. Gentleman had nothing to add to his statement.
I suggested that the operation was not quite the success that the Press had made it out to be—and I rightly pay tribute here to the Prune Minister's public relations department, including his chief public relations officer, the Minister of Defence. Let us see what happened. Involved were 7,000 troops and 700 tons of stores. I want now to recall the American operation in the early part of this year, which I referred to during debate on the Air Estimates. It was called "Operation Big Slam". The Americans thought that it was a failure, and there were bitter complaints about it, because they could only lift 11,000 tons of stores. The reason why we could not lift stores in Kuwait or to anywhere else at that distance is because we have not got a long distance freighter. This is another by-product of the 1957 White Paper.
In "Operation Starlight" the amount we lifted by air was derisory. Yet we find the Minister of Defence claiming that everything in the garden is lovely. I do not think that it is. I happen to have a letter written by the Minister of Defence, not to me—he does not give information to me—but to one of his constituents. The right hon. Gentleman did not know to whom he was writing. I shall not reveal the name of the person concerned, but the letter is signed with the right hon. Gentleman's own fair name. He wrote:
If we had to mount a large operation today it could be done almost entirely by air.
Does any hon. Member, including the Minister himself, believe that statement? Does any hon. Member believe that we could mount a major operation today entirely by air? Of course not. Nor shall we be able to do so for many years. In May last year—again with only a handful of hon. Members present—I raised the question of the Britannia, which was "soaped" across the British public. To start with, the aircraft was called the Britannic because the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations—then the Minister responsible—regarding his fellow countrymen as "suckers", wanted to convey the impression that the derivation was from
the Britannia, although one was a low wing and the other a high wing aircraft. It did not get very far, but last year ten were ordered. None of them has flown. They will not fly until next year, and then only if they are lucky. Does the House know what the Royal Air Force already calls this plane? They call it the "Short Harland Saviour", because without it Short Harland would have gone bust. They will cost between £2¾ million and £3 million each. It is a turbo-prop aircraft. It is out of date today, before it ever takes off into the air. The project was only entered into because it suited the Government's political book to have a number of aircraft built as a kind of sop to Northern Ireland, regardless of the defence consequences to this country.
Basically what was revealed by Kuwait was that without something like the Belfast we can do nothing. The plane is now called the Belfast. That is presumably because it is hoped that we shall forget its earlier names. Until the Belfast comes along we can do nothing. It is not only a question of the shortage of transporter aircraft.
Before the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) leaves the topic of Kuwait, perhaps he will tell the House what his complaint is about it. Does he say that it was a success and he is angry about that, or does he say that it was a failure and he is angry about that? I have not followed what all these figures are leading up to.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not following me. I do not want to go all over this again. It should be plain, even to someone of his intelligence, that there is some doubt about all this, because on 3rd July the Prime Minister said that there were troop movements in Basra, whereas the Iraq delegate made no such claim and said that they were in Bagdad and the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph said that he had been down to Basra and nobody had seen a tank transporter.
I wanted to keep this friendly, but I will now deal with the Minister of Defence. He has got a record. On 2nd March last year when he made a mistake—or what he thought was a mistake—on German rearmament he altered the record. He had HANSARD altered. On this occasion he found a new technique: he circulated details in the OFFICIAL REPORT. He ascribed a date to General Kassem which had no validity and which he subsequently dismissed as a clerical error. I am not saying that it is either wrong or right. I have been very careful about that. I guess the reasons for this, but I do not know. I do not know what prompted the Government's action, but as the hon. Member for Stroud has pressed me I will say that perhaps the Ruler of Kuwait was getting a little "dicey" and was threatening to withdraw his sterling balance from London. That is a possible reason. The hon. Member for Stroud might care to ask the Treasury about that. We are a little short in the till at the moment, and the movement of £400 million at that time might have been awkward. Therefore, we might easily have put 7,000 troops into Kuwait. I am sure that it was for no military reason. I have already demonstrated that the Centurions could not be carried.
If anyone believes that the Ruler of Kuwait is a free agent in that sense, I will leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who has a copy of the letter written by the Ruler of Kuwait inviting us in. I was anxious not to speculate but to limit myself to what I know. Hon. Members have pressed me to give a possible reason. I do not know what the reason is. It is up to the Government to tell us. If the Government do not tell us, all I can do is to state the evidence. The hon. Member for Stroud wanted to know what my views are. First, there is the shortage of transporter aircraft. He does not need to rely on me for that. There is also the statement in the Daily Telegraph.
My hon. Friend has referred to the Answer given about the message from the Ruler of Kuwait. Can he explain this last passage in the message from the Ruler:
Please accept my best wishes. May God preserve you."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1961; Vol. 1961, c. 113.]
Was the Ruler thinking of the military situation or the financial crisis?
Again I do not know. I read that part of the letter. I want merely to deal with the facts. In answer to the two hon. Members who wanted to know what the situation was and how I regard it, I will turn to the Sunday Telegraph, which supports their cause and not mine. In its issue of 23rd July it said:
Inadequate R.A.F. air transport. It will take at least another two years before R.A.F. Transport Command is strong enough to meet any fierce flare-up of aggression abroad 'on a larger scale than Kuwait'. That is the serious lesson learned by military observers from the recent airlift of 7,000 men and 700 tons of stores to airfields on the Persian Gulf and Aden.
A correspondent of the Sunday Pictorial said this:
At one stage the Royal Engineers were laying dummy minefields with old tins.
I will leave it to hon. Members to say whether the operation was a military success.
By saying that, the hon. Member has invited comment. Dummy minefields are not laid with good mines. They are laid with pieces of tin. This is a matter of fact. On the Kuwait operation, does the hon. Member say that we should have taken a great many troops there but could not do it and that therefore the operation was a failure? Or does he say that 7,000 troops was the wrong number to take there? We took 7,000 troops there and got them there in good time. What is wrong with that?
If the hon. Member does not want to wait, he can go outside to the Library and read the newspapers of a fortnight ago, in one of which I stated reasons. He can then come back and question me on them.
I shall answer in my own time. I know that tin cans are laid in dummy minefields. So does the Sunday Pictorial, which says this:
This should fool an Iraqi with a mine detector for a time but only for a short time.
We will now consider what the basis of this planning was. The basis of the planning, which has been taken over by the Air Force, now is that the weapons must be streamlined to fit the aircraft. In effect, that means this. The Ministers who know the facts will correct me if I am wrong. The long-based Land Rover does not fit the aircraft, so it is given a slug on the mudguard with a 14 lb. hammer. It is then got in. That is the technique for making the weapons fit the aircraft.
The hon. Member for Stroud wants to know what I think about the numbers and the equipment which went in, without any anti-aircraft cover. If those who advise the Minister are pressed, they will say that this force would hit so hard and fast that it would not be necessary. The truth is that the Beverleys could not lift it. Therefore, the force did not have it. As the aircraft could not carry it, it is stated that the force did not need it.
The Iraqis have got a fair number of modern aircraft. They have the MiG 19, which is fairly formidable. I have recently been told by people who think they know that the Iraqis suffer from the same physiological disadvantage as the Japanese, in that they cannot fly high-speed aircraft. I do not know whether this is true. I am not a physiologist. British troops have served there for a long time, and some Iraqi pilots may have British blood in their veins. I should not like to risk an operation on this physiological defect, which seems to me to be conveniently adduced, just as it was conveniently adduced about the Japanese, because we had not got the equipment.
We switched two squadrons of Canberra B18s, which themselves are unimpressive, from Germany. They went in there to fight in conditions for which they were not in the least suited.
Yes. In the absence of interdicter aircraft, some marks of the Hunter (have been used for this purpose, but they have no speed. The Hunter is an obsolescent aircraft. If a squadron of MiG 19's got mixed up with a flight of Hunters, we all know what the answer would be. The hon. Gentleman knows that at present the only interdictor which the Armed Forces of the Crown has is the old NA 39 which the Royal Air Force rejected, which the Navy took over, and which the Air Force is now trying to get back again.
Let us go on from the Hunter. I notice that the hon. Gentleman did not mention the B.18. Some years ago we were promised a replacement for the Canberra. We still have not got one. When it comes to a supersonic strike aircraft, there is not one to be found.
The major difference between Suez and Kuwait is that now we have some Britannias and Comets. In other words, we can buy the boys air tickets, and that is what we did. We provided air transport for 7,000 men. We provided an unbalanced force to go into Kuwait and hoped that there would be a link up with the sea transport. I spoke to a senior Royal Air Force officer and asked what would have happened had there not been a link up. I asked whether the troops would be huffed. He said that he would not be huffed, but that the troops would be. It was hit or miss whether there was a link up. It was a spectacular show. We put 7,000 men into Kuwait in a short time, but they did not have the necessary equipment.
The hon. Gentleman can make his speech later. I do not know how many supersonic aircraft the Iraqis have. I know that they have the MiG 19, but whether they can fly it is another matter. In the planning of this operation one would have to take into account that if we ever got into difficulties we might find volunteers there. At this juncture of world affairs I would never bank on being sure that if the aircraft were there the pilots would not be there to fly them.
I think that the operation was a washout. The Americans know that it was a wash-out, and so do the Russians, and I think that our prestige in the Middle East has fallen considerably in consequence, because we demonstrated again, as we did at Suez, that we cannot stage an operation of this kind.
The hon. Gentleman said that part of one squadron of the 3rd Caribiniers normally stationed in Aden happened to be there. They were there because the reasons given by the Prime Minister on 3rd July were not true. If the hon. Gentleman gets any satisfaction out of that, he is welcome to it.
One point troubles me. So far as we know, there is no evidence that the Iraqis attempted any resistance. There is also scanty evidence about whether they threatened to commit an act of military aggression. Never mind what force we possessed. If the Iraqis had resisted the landing of our forces, what does my hon. Friend think would have happened?
I do not think that any armoured resistance is possible in that part of the world at this time of the year. This is the hottest time of the year. The temperature is so high that I do not think it would happen. The recent experience of the Americans supports that fact. This took place in Kuwait, the hottest part of the world.
Of course it is hot, but in that part of the world the humidity and temperature has to be experienced to be believed. I know what I am talking about because I spent three summers there—a year in Basra and two years in Bagdad. I happen to know the area fairly well.
Of course I am all right. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but that does not mean that some people were not affected. The graveyards of Hanaidi and Shaiba are full of those who did not come through. That is why I put a Question to the Secretary of State for War. I was rebuked by hon. Gentlemen opposite because I asked about the incidence of heat hyper-exia. I asked Professor Yudkin and he told me that in these days nobody ought to suffer the effects of heat because it was known how to deal with it. The War Office had not consulted their own consultants, for the simple reason that "A" and "Q" planning throughout the Armed Forces does not measure up to General Staff thinking. That is why one knocks the mudguards of the Land Rover and tailors the weapon to suit the aircraft. This is another example of the same point.
The hen. Gentleman and I have a fundamentally different approach to the problem. He is concerned with supporting the waning prestige of the Conservative Party. He is fighting a losing battle. I am making no party political points. I want to elicit the truth. If I am wrong, all that he has to do is to do as much homework as I have, and prove me wrong, instead of merely interrupting because he does not accept my conclusions. All I can do is to produce the facts. If I am wrong, the hon. Gentleman can demonstrate that I am wrong. He does not weaken my case or annoy me by his interruptions. He simply lengthens the time for which I will speak. I have waited several months for this opportunity, and I am going to take my fill.
I have a copy of a confidential aviation report which is circulated in aviation circles both inside and outside Great Britain. Under the heading, "R.A.F. self-delusion re. Kuwait", it says:
The R.A.F. are now going round like a dog witch 2 tails saying Kuwait is a complete vindication of their logistics policy. Is it? They took bodies in airliners of course. But how many APCs did they take? How many guns? How much ammo?
R.A.F. and Kuwait:
Appros the above, ironically Kuwait is vindication of critics who maintain the R.A.F. has not done its homework.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has something in common with the Royal Air Force.
I want now to turn from Kuwait to another aspect of our military affairs, namely, Germany. I was very interested to read in HANSARD this morning the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper. I congratulate him. He said:
I find it extremely difficult to visualise the circumstances in which a nuclear weapon, even the so-called tactical nuclear weapon, would help very much to maintain the freedom of the Berliners or our rights in Berlin."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st July, 1961; Vol. 645. c. 1053.]
That is an admirable statement, with which I wholly agree. But that was not the statement made by my right hon. Friend in 1958, nor was it the one made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey). I shall not forget that debate in a hurry. It took place on 27th February, 1958. What my right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West said then was:
if the Russians had raised their stakes up to that point, then, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brawn) said, we, too, must raise our stakes and we should be driven at that point to use tactical nuclear weapons."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 655.]
The great difference between 1958 and 1961 is that in 1958 we had no tactical atomic weapons, but in 1961 we have—so in 1958 we should have used them, and in 1961 we should not. This is called military planning.
Again I want to delve into the truth. In 1958 we were told that we had a considerable military force in Berlin, consisting of three battalions, that they would have to stand and fight the Russians irrespective of the strength brought against them and that, in due course, tactical atomic weapons would be brought into use. At present in Berlin we have three battalions, plus one squadron of the Royal Tank Regiment. It is on this point that I find myself against my own party's defence policy. I do not believe that this country now has any viable nuclear capacity. I shall always recall with affection the happenings of March, last year. We then had a debate on defence, in which I said that Blue Streak was a dead duck. I said that I would not vote. Unfortunately, some other people followed my action, and I was charged with organising resistance, which was not true. I got into great trouble.
We had a meeting, which was duly reported in all the newspapers the next morning, and there was a vote of 43 to 1—and I was the one who did not support our party's policy of believing that Blue Streak was viable. Within six weeks Blue Streak had gone. The independent British deterrent went out of the window almost, except for the V-bomber force, of which we are just forming our first squadron, of Mark II bombers.
I hope that hon. Members will have spent a little time, or will spend a little time, on a study of the reports of the Tushino air show in Moscow. The Russians hardly troubled to put on show any counterpart of our V-bomber. But they put on show one with a powered bomb, which we have not got. They have it, and they have four others as well which show signs of having had similar treatment. They also put on show an old-fashioned all-weather fighter, the Yak 25, together with four generations of all-weather fighter just to show us where the maimed bomber comes in.
In the 1957 Defence White Paper it was stated that there would not be a supersonic bomber nor a further fighter, and because of the action taken since we have no modern fighter today. The Minister does not want to talk about the P1 Lightning because of what we know about the speed of its weapon discharge. It is not yet over its teething troubles. When we dig into these problems we find that at every stage we produce our fighters to operate at speeds just a little slower than the bombers they are supposed to catch. The Americans had a very unfortunate experience recently, when a Sidewinder shot down a B52. This showed that they had to have a heck of a lot more speed, even with an air-to-air weapon, to be able to catch something that was just a little faster.
Yes, I am saying that without any hesitation at all. I am saying just that—that the P1 at present is like the Hunter in its early stages, it still has "bugs" in it. It has a speed limitation on its weapon discharge. I am saying just that. If the hon. Gentleman cares to deny what I am saying, that is up to him. There are other people who read this besides me and they will be able to judge between us.
The hon. Gentleman has the advantage in a debate such as this. He does not expect me to discuss speeds on this occasion, and I certainly have no intention of doing so.
I am discussing only what has been published in various organs of the Press. The American technical papers are full of this sort of information. I read these things. I "mug" them up and then I try to verify the statements. If the hon. Gentleman asks me a question he must not expect me to tell a lie. I give him an answer which I believe to be true—that the P1 at present is anything but an effective weapon.
I wish to say, particularly with relation to the situation in Germany and with regard to the bomb, that on many occasions we have been told by the Prime Minister or by the Leader of the Opposition that the reason why we have to have the bomb is so that we can count with the Americans. If the hon. Gentleman would like me to, I can quote from two occasions. One was when the Prime Minister said:
The fact that we were in a position to use it had great influence on the United States policy and made them pay greater regard to our point of view.
The Leader of the Opposition was interviewed on television on 3rd March, 1958, when he was asked by Mr. Mackenzie:
Do you think that Britain should hold the nuclear weapon in order to influence American policy?
The right hon. Gentleman said:
Yes, we certainly do feel that.
I wish now to put what I consider a rather important point. President Kennedy has just made a very important speech in the United States and he
has stepped up the draft. In the early months of this year the inductees were running, at the order of 6,000. In August the figure was stepped up to 13,000. I wish to ask those of my hon. Friends, and other hon. Members, who have made up their minds that it is important to influence American policy regarding the British contribution in the field of defence, how long they think that American opinion is going to wear the fact that we have an Army of 165,000, and no call-up while 13,000 of their young men will be called up every month? Hon. Members on either side of the House who use the argument that the possession of the bomb is absolutely essential—quite apart from military reasons—in order to influence American policy must face that fact squarely.
I got this information from the United States Army Attaché's office at the American Embassy, and I also made use of the admirable research facilities in our own Library in order to verify my facts because I wanted to be absolutely sure on the point. I have also managed to get hold of a copy—or at least a photostat—of the evidence given in June by General Norstad before the Congress Committee on Defence. These are extracts from what he said:
The danger of war will, therefore, be regulated in part by the value our posture compels the U.S.S.R. to place upon our ability to do whatever is needed. That ability, if it is to remain persuasive, must rest on adequate and balanced forces in being—air, land and sea—all highly trained and equipped, all properly deployed for a forward strategy and all unmistakably ready.
Later he said:
It is our view
he was talking about the defence of the West—
that if you drop them below the threshold of usefulness—a threshold of effectiveness, you are then left really with no choice, in case your policies are challenged or in case of attack, no choice of response between nothing and all-out thermo-nuclear war.
He also said when asked if more could be done:
I think more can be done. I frankly feel that much more can be done.
We live in dangerous times. If hon. Members think that in the terms of the situation in which we find ourselves the Forces that we have in the Rhine Army are balanced, effective and properly deployed, let me say, before I am asked
from the Treasury Front Bench, that I do not.
I have given the rundown in numbers, but the most vital thing of all is the misinformation on this subject. During discussion on the Visiting Forces Bill, one of my hon. Friends said, "You will be giving the hydrogen bomb to the Germans next"—as if the capacity to give the hydrogen bomb rested with us. These decisions have already been taken. I find it ironical—I will not say amusing because this subject cannot be amusing—that we had a hell of a row in our party when discussing the Visiting Forces Bill and the Germans coming to this country. The explanation is very simple. We tried to flog them the Centurion and the Germans were not having it, and we tried to flog them the Chieftain and they were not having it. Then we sold them the 105 mm. tank gun, which I think is the best in the world, but they are putting it in an American tank. It is part of the package deal that if they take the tank they take our gun and they want the opportunity to fire on our ranges. What is the protest about?
What is even more amusing is that at the same time there appeared in The Times of 27th June this statement:
Western Germany is to buy a number of Pershing medium-range missiles from the Martin Aircraft Company, it was reported in Baltimore today. The earlier order for Mace missiles was cancelled last April at the request, it is understood, of N.A.T.O. The initial order is for $120 million.
This statement did not arouse one single word of protest from my hon. Friends.
At the present time the Germans have, or have under order, the Mace, the Matador, Honest John, and Sergeant, and now they have ordered Pershing. We have got one regiment of Honest Johns, but it has the out-of-date M.31, and it is one stage off being old iron.
We have two guided weapon regiments, numbers 27 and 47, which have Corporals, both hopelessly out-of-date, and we have one mixed artillery regiment which is armed with atomic and conventional weapons. The Canberra is out of date; we have no supersonic fighter and no transport aircraft. We have spent £15,000 million and we say that we are arguing from a policy of strength and that we hope to make our words heard in the comity of nations.
It is an absurd argument which comes from one section of opinion which thinks that the power to control German rearmament or the arms that the Germans will have rests with this country. The other argument I read with great interest in speeches made at the Transport and General Worker's Union Conference. How often have the words of our dear friend Nye Bevan been used? We cannot go into the council chamber naked—as if possession or non-possession of a V-bomber force makes all this difference.
The first thing that we have to realise in a defence policy is the long-term business. If we take the decisions brought out in the 1957 White Paper and reverse the policy of going in for the supersonic bomber, look how long it takes. That is what is wrong with the Government. It is no reflection on British industry. That is what is wrong with the hon. Member for Stroud. The brains are in Britain and the research capacity and the engineering capacity are in Britain. What has been wrong was the incapacity to take right decisions at the right time. The TSR2 is a wonderful aircraft, miles in advance of anything the Americans had even dreamed of. What happened? We dillied and dallied. Now the Americans have got the A3J and the F4M, both of which are operational, and another generation is coming along. We are not even in the running. What is true of them is equally true of transport aircraft. Ages ago we could have got a transport aircraft if we had wanted to do so, but we preferred to pretend. It all comes back to the fact that we have been playing politics with this subject.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Stroud has now left the Chamber because I know that at this point he would sigh and grumble and say that he had heard it all before. That is absolutely true; there is nothing new to say about it. We have fought certainly on this side of the House, for the best of reasons. We thought that we could get rid of conscription, which was politically difficult to handle, and that we could fill the gap with atomic weapons. Hon. Members should read the debates. It is a very interesting and educative experience to read through the defence debates of the last ten years.
It comes out over and over again that all men are torn in their conscience and hate war and all it stands for, but the idea is that conscription and spending money on defence is essentially wasted, but, of course, it is not. If we do not spend it in the kind of society in which we live we may find that we have lost more than if we did spend it. We shall go to our party conferences and each side will make speeches. Then everyone will cheer, but when the votes have been counted and all the cheers have died away the defence realities will be there just the same. I do not know why Mr. Khrushchev has chosen to blow this up now. The one thing I am certain about is that this time next year we shall be weaker than we are now. I am absolutely certain that the Communist countries, with their different philosophy from our own, have a marked advantage in preparing for war. It means that their overall strength has grown and will continue to grow.
What came out in General Norstad's evidence was not that we are weaker. We have more in population and our standard of education greater. Our capacity to produce steel and our technological experience are greater. Standards of education over the mass of the population are far greater in the West than they are behind the Iron Curtain.
In technical education, yes. I am sure that the one thing missing in the West is the will. I am also sure that time is running out. I beg hon. Members who are interested in the facts to spend some time in the Library here and in the Library of the American Embassy, to study the Russian air displays which took place recently in Moscow and to see the force of the challenge which confronts us. I think it is a challenge which will last far beyond my lifetime and far beyond this century. Here are two conceptions. Pray God that they will not fight, because that would mean disaster for us all. But the struggle is there. In this country we have a philosophy which stems, basically, from our failure to tell the truth.
I began by saying that I was a democrat. My conception of democracy does not depend upon majorities. It depends upon the ordinary man understanding the facts of the problem with which he must deal. He is not told the truth. He has not been told the truth about Kuwait. In my judgment, about that we have had a "public relations" explanation. He has not been told the truth about Berlin. On the television last night I saw the "Panorama" programme. It was a complete distortion put over by honourable men who, I am sure, believed that they were doing the right thing.
My approach in thinking about the problem is to start by remembering that 40 million Russians in two world wars lost their lives as a result of German actions. The Russians will never permit that to happen again. All talk about German unification, the strengthening of the weapons I have referred to—the Corporal, the Matador or the Pershing—is just not on. Anyone who thinks that it is or who tries it will have a rude awakening. Let us recognise that fact and understand that we ought to find a modus vivendi. One hon. Gentleman who spoke from the back benches opposite last night told the truth. We ought to remember the simple fact that the line between East and West is now a bird sanctuary because nobody dares fire a shot.
We must move towards disarmament. I believe that disarmament is a technical problem. It is too serious for the politicians to handle. If we could have a political decision by Mr. Khrushchev and by Mr. Kennedy for the West to recognise East Germany, if the United States and the West could recognise China, if we had a nuclear-free zone in Europe and if we could then work out techniques for cutting down budgets or, at least, get as great an agreement as we could over as wide a field as possible, that would be the essential first step.
In the meantime, we must face the military realities not as we should wish them to be to suit our political views but as they are. It is very nice to think that one can get rid of conscription by having tactical nuclear weapons to do the job. That is the kind of sloppy approach one finds on all sides in this country. People believe that the hydrogen bomb has brought in a new era. It may have done. On the other hand, it may not. Peace is something for which we must strive. In my judgment, peace can be attained only through the maintenance of law and order, and for that to happen, despite the mission of the Royal Air Force, the main responsibility must continue to rest with the Army. It is for that reason that I do not apologise for keeping the House so long tonight.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), in his closing remarks, referred to the German problem and Berlin. During our very useful and interesting debate yesterday, which, I think, sent out a fairly clear message from the House, there were several references to the speech made last week by the President of the United States. Two thing said by President Kennedy in that speech have a very close bearing on our debate tonight. Speaking of the Berlin problem he said:
That isolated outpost is not an isolated problem. The threat is world-wide.
It is very important to have that clear. What we are dealing with is not a threat to one place or even to two places at one time; it is a world-wide threat. Just as we need a nuclear deterrent to meet the main nuclear threat from the Russians, so we need a conventional deterrent which is a deterrent in twenty places at once.
That brings me to the other significant thing which President Kennedy said. He stated:
We intend to have a wider choice than humiliation or all-out nuclear action.
Those two remarks in the President's speech show, first, an appreciation of the facts of the situation which other Governments might do well to emulate, and, secondly, how far the Government of the United States have moved, for instance, since the former Vice-President Nixon said:
Rather than let the Communists nibble us to death all over the world in little wars, we will rely on massive mobile retaliatory power.
I wish that I thought that Her Majesty's Government had moved as far in recent months and years as the Government of the United States.
It seems to me that Her Majesty's Government are still thinking in terms of streamlined nuclear forces, like they were in 1957. As the hon. Member for Dudley said in his closing remarks, they are still thinking that all we need to do is to have nuclear weapons and that they will do the job for us. They think, as Mr. Nixon used to think—I do not imagine that he thinks it now—that, to fight the cold war and to stop the Communists nibbling away in a hundred different places at once, as they are doing, all that we need is massive nuclear retaliation.
The other thing which the Government do not seem to have grasped is the fact that what we are fighting at the moment is a cold war and that we are not, in the words of the 1958 White Paper, poised between total war and total peace. That is not only a very erroneous but an extremely dangerous doctrine. What it means, in effect, is that, if we do not look out, we shall find ourselves poised between total nuclear war and total humiliation and the inability to do anything else.
August and September is the time of year when trouble is about to start. I do not think that this August will disappoint us. It certainly has not disappointed us so far. We have Kuwait on our hands. We have the Berlin crisis, as it is called. It would not surprise me to see fresh crises arise before the end of September in Singapore, Persia and possibly Africa. As I have said before, the Russians do not want a hot war, but they do want a cold war. They are making trouble for us wherever they can and stirring up trouble wherever possible.
How are we equipped to deal with this situation? The hon. Member for Dudley had a great deal to say about Kuwait. I do not wish to follow him in what he said, or to go into the thorny question of whether the operation was a success. It is certain that the 7,000 troops involved reached Kuwait quite quickly, quite a lot of them by air, which would not have bean possible some time ago. However, it was an unopposed landing in friendly territory, and that makes a great difference.
The hon. Member referred to the Suez operation, which, I should say, was a success, from a military point of view, under the political limitations which were imposed on it. From a mili- tary point of view and from the point of view of the Services, with the material they had, they did all right. What the Kuwait operation showed was that even an unopposed landing on friendly territory imposed a tremendous strain both on our resources of manpower and our material resources. It made far too heavy a demand on our reserves of both, and it seems fairly clear that if another emergency of the same kind had arisen at the same time, or, indeed, if the Kuwait operation had turned out not to be unopposed after all, things might have gone very wrong indeed.
In fact, another emergency has arisen, and I think that we might find other emergencies arising before the end of the summer. The emergency which has arisen over Berlin also shows us a picture which is very far from reassuring. Now that the spotlight is being turned on B.A.O.R., we find what some of us knew already if we have taken the trouble to think, namely, that our N.A.T.O. contribution is far under strength. We are not fulfilling our obligations under the Treaty.
We are not providing anything like four divisions. We are barely providing three divisions, and, what is more, the formations that are there, if we can believe the defence correspondent of The Times, and he is generally very well informed, are so under strength as not to be viable, and that making them up to strength and making them viable can only be done by so depleting the Strategic Reserve that that would not be viable either.
Of course, there is also the question of their equipment, and the question whether or not they are balanced forces and whether the units are balanced. All my information is that they are not balanced, that individual units are under strength and short of all kinds of important equipment. Again, according to the defence correspondent of The Times, it seems fairly clear that the war they are preparing to fight is not a conventional war, but a nuclear war. What will happen, with the strain imposed on us by Kuwait, and if we are to—which I do not know—make B.A.O.R. up to strength, if trouble started somewhere else? Where should we find the troops to deal with it?
Or the money.
At present, our allies, and indeed our adversaries, but I will deal only at the moment with our allies, are building up their forces and, in particular, their conventional forces. We have heard earlier of the stops that the United States Government are taking to increase the available manpower, and their object in doing that is to raise the nuclear threshold, to raise the threshold at which it is necessary to use the nuclear weapon. That, surely, is something which we should aim at doing, too; as President Kennedy put it, to provide ourselves with a wider Choice than humiliation, on the one hand, or all-out nuclear action, on the other.
We have to provide not only a nuclear deterrent, but a conventional deterrent, in twenty different places at once. That is what we are not capable of doing. Meanwhile, Her Majesty's Government, in spite of the warnings they have had, in spite of the entreaties of their allies—it is fairly clear what Mr. McNamara came over here to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence—and in spite of the practical example of the strain placed on their existing resources by even an operation like Kuwait, are deliberately not building up, but running down, their conventional forces as fast as they possibly can.
By their own admission, the decision which the Government took in 1957 to abolish conscription was a gamble. That was fairly clear from what was said in the 1957 White Paper. I may be old-fashioned, but I do not think that the security of this country is something with which we should gamble; but that is a matter of opinion. What is quite certain is that the Government's gamble has not come off, and the sooner they face that ugly fact the better. The sooner they realise that we are not picturesquely poised between total peace and total war, but that we are very much involved with our allies in the rough-and-tumble of the cold war, the better.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has said that the Army must manage with 165,000 men. The hon. Member for Dudley, who has studied these matters, has said that we will not get 165,000 men. He may well be right and we may end up with no more than 160,000 or 162,000 men.
The hon. Member need not rely only on what I say. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, when Secretary of State for War, over a year ago, and the present Secretary of State for War, have both said that we shall not get 165,000 men, the present Secretary of State saying that the deficiency would be about 1 per cent.
I have never seriously questioned within 2,000 or 3,000 one way or the other the figure of 165,000, because I was at the War Office when the Government actuaries calculated that that was the figure that we were likely to get with a little luck—which, possibly, the Government will not have—by voluntary recruiting. What I have never accepted is that that is the figure we need.
Naturally, I am out of date and I do not know what the figure is that we need. In those days, it was considered to be about 200,000 men. I very much suspect that if that figure of 200,000 men for the Army is out of date, it is out of date not because it is too big, but because it is too small, and that now, with the troubles and the problems which we face, we need more men than that.
What it comes to is that, as far as anything in life is certain, when the last conscript goes out of the Army at the end of next year—and that is not very far away—the Government will find themselves left without enough men to fulfil their commitments and to play their proper part in the Western Alliance.
That is leaving out of account any mishaps such as the possible failure of the Nepalese Government to go on providing us with the immensely valuable contribution which they make to our forces in the shape of the Gurkha brigades. I know nothing about the political situation in Nepal, but Nepal is in a very exposed position indeed. What, I wonder, would happen if so much pressure of one kind or another were brought to bear on the Nepalese Government that they came to the conclusion that it would not be compatible with their neutrality to go on providing us with the 12,000 of the best troops that we have got?
That would leave a very awkward hole in our defences indeed, and that is the sort of thing that is not out of the question. I sincerely hope that it will not happen. I personally have no reason to suppose that it will happen. All I say is that if it did happen it would be a disaster. Even assuming we are able to go on having the advantage of having those splendid soldiers in our Army, the Government, in my opinion, will not manage with 165,000, even if they get them. What are they to do?
I have seen it suggested—it has been hinted at by Ministers—that use might be made of the Territorial Army. If that is so, and if it is practicable, it would certainly be a splendid thing. It would enable the Territorial Army to return to the rôle which it fulfilled up to quite recently and which it fulfilled in the last war, and it would make other measures, possibly, unnecessary, but I do not myself see how it can be done. I do not know whether it is possible for the Government, for instance, to call up a Territorial brigade or a Territorial division and keep it called up for an indefinite period, because an indefinite period is what it has got to be called up for, because one of the features of the cold war is that we never know how long it is going on for, we never know when an emergency will arise.
Therefore, the Territorials will either have to be called up for an indefinite period, which might be a very long one indeed, and which would mean that the men involved would be taken away from their homes and from their work for that indefinite period, or, alternatively, we shall have to call up a brigade or a division at a time and then replace it by another brigade or another division.
I shall be interested to hear, when my hon. Friend replies to the debate, whether he has got any suggestion to make on that, because if use cannot be made for all these purposes of the Territorial Army, or of the reserves, then it seems to me that, much as it goes against the grain—and nobody likes it—the only way of getting the men we need is by conscription.
All that I am doing at the moment is to say that if the men we need cannot be got in any other way the only way I can think of getting them is by conscription.
There are various objections raised to conscription which I should like to deal with one by one. First, there is the objection that it does not work. Well, it has not worked all that badly in this country, it works fairly well in the United States and it works fairly well in every one of the other N.A.T.O. countries, except Canada. They all have it. The Soviet Union also has it, and I suggest to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) that he might talk to the Russians about why they have conscription.
I answered the hon. Gentleman in almost the same speech when we had a previous debate. If he will look it up he will see what my answer was then.
The other objection, and one which might also appeal to the hon. Member, is that it would be impossible politically. I think that it would have been very much easier if we had done what Lord Head pressed for so strongly at the time, and what Lord Montgomery is now supporting, namely, not taken the necessary Acts off the Statute Book. They could have been kept there for use in emergency and that would have made the political problem, such as it is, very much simpler. I have always thought, with the hon. Member for Dudley, that this ought to be a bipartisan mattes and that it is very important not to allow it to become a party political matter.
In my view, both the Government and the Opposition Front Bench have been pursuing a wrong defence policy. If they could follow a bipartisan policy in order to be wrong, surely they might equally have got a bipartisan policy and been right. If this issue had been put quite frankly and openly to the British people they would have understood the need for conscription and they would have faced it, as they have faced many other disagreeable things in the past.
Finally, there is the economic objection to which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has just referred. This is one which must carry a good deal of weight at present. My own feeling is that whatever else we economise on art this time, in the affluent society in which we are sometimes told we are living, we should not economise on conventional forces. If we are to economise on defence I would prefer to see us economise on the independent British nuclear deterrent, if it still exists.
I read somewhere in a book by the Institute for Strategic Studies that the Americans now provide 94 per cent. of the Western deterrent. If we were to chip off 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. of our contribution to it then, as long as we went on making a token contribution, it would not make all that difference. What makes the difference, as the hon. Member for Dudley has pointed out, is that we do not follow them in building up our conventional forces.
I repeat that in 1957 the Government took a gamble when they abolished conscription, a gamble which now, quite clearly, has not came off. I hope that they will face that fact without any more delay and draw the necessary conclusions from it before it is too late. And the way things are going, it will be too late very soon.
I do not want to say much about Kuwait. There are certain curious features of the operation on which no doubt more light will be thrown in due course. One of the most curious instances from my point of view was that four days after our troops landed I received a most courteous cable from the Iraqi Government inviting me to visit Iraq. I dare say that if I had gone I would have learned a good deal about the operation.
I hope that whoever replies to this debate on behalf of the Government will tell us something about two points. The first is the widespread suspicion that our troops have no adequate defence against attacks from the air if such attacks take place. Secondly, I should like to hear something about the armour. There seems to be one small but curious point here. The scout car which strayed across the frontier was apparently unarmed. We were told that the crew had side arms, but I understand that the vehicle itself had no arms. It may be that it is a type of vehicle which carries no arms. Otherwise, it seems rather strange that in a situation like that it should have been motoring about the frontier unarmed.
I also hope that the Government, although I do not expect any reply to this today, will, in the recesses of the Government machine, reconsider our commitments all up and down the Gulf. They were undertaken in totally different circumstances, to suppress piracy and to guard the route to India. Now our troops are kept there for quite different reasons, and, as far as I can see, they are there upon doubtful terms; but I will not pursue that any more.
The main theme of this short debate is that a few years ago the fashionable doctrine was that we relied upon massive nuclear deterrence. That had certain arguments for it. It no doubt made people think twice before they started any form of warlike behaviour. However, personally I never believed in it. Whether it is believable or not, there is no question now that it is not the basis of Western defence policy any longer. As has been said, the West are not prepared now, if they can possibly avoid it, to find themselves in a position in which they have to make a choice between total war or total surrender.
I have long been opposed to the independent British nuclear deterrent. All I want to say about that tonight is that every piece of information I get shows that it becomes less and less useful. I do not say that the V-bomber force is inefficient at all. All I say is that within the scheme of Western deterrence everything we read about the advances in ground-to-air missiles, about fighters and about what the Americans and the Russians are doing, must surely make us more and more doubtful about spending so much of our limited resources upon trying to keep up our independent strategic nuclear deterrent.
Surely the reason is quite simple. We have not the money or the men to compete with the Russians in developing weapons, so that if some are failures others will be coming up which may be effective. Our contribution, surely, must be to make sure that we are able to fulfil the obligations that we have undertaken under our alliances and that we are able to fulfil our commitments dotted about the world.
In particular, we are faced with the possibility of trouble in Germany and Berlin. What I feel the House ought to be assured of before we rise is that we are not becoming in Germany more and more dependent upon tactical nuclear and atomic weapons. I should like some assurance that our conventional forces, which we know are below strength, are not falling even further below strength in Germany. I should like some assurance that we are not trying to make this good by lowering the standards. I should also like the Government to deal with what we hope will not happen but is by no means an impossibility, that we might—here I am in agreement with what has been said already—have to send troops to the Far East and that we might find them involved all too easily in the Middle East, and not only on the Gulf but in Persia. We might have cause to send troops to Africa. At the same time, there might be trouble in Germany.
I know that Berlin itself is not defensible, whether by nuclear or by conventional weapons. The sort of situation we might have to face is one in which there is trouble in East Germany, possibly on the frontier, and I am in complete agreement with the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) that, in these circumstances, we do not want to be driven back instantly on nuclear threats. That is a danger which faces us.
The burden of the evidence given by General Norstad a few days ago to a Congressional committee is that the absence of conventional forces itself destroys the credibility of the nuclear deterrent, because the Russians will not believe that, in a limited sphere, the West will precipitate a nuclear war. If we have conventional forces, then the credibility of the nuclear deterrent is all the greater.
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, as I am so often. I agree with him. The credibility of the deterrent runs right through from the rifle to the strategic nuclear weapon. I would add that the Russians will not believe in the will of the West to resist unless they see that we are prepared to make an effort to supply the conventional forces as well as the nuclear forces.
We cannot expect the Government to tell us in detail what the position in Germany may be, but they will be undertaking a very heavy responsibility if they face this summer with no sufficient assurance that they will even be able to meet the very limited target they have set themselves, and with no assurance that they can make up our units in Germany to anything like their full strength. Whether this can be done by the Territorial Army or by conscription is a matter I do not want to go into now.
We should have from the Government a statement that we are in a position to fulfil our commitments to N.A.T.O. and our other commitments throughout the world without having at once to begin brandishing nuclear weapons of whatever size, because public opinion in this country would not, I think, support that—and, as has been said by the hon. Member for Dudley, so far from frightening our opponents it might frighten our allies and would probably encourage our enemies.
There was an air of great unreality during our debates early this year when we discussed the enormous sums of money which we were voting on the various Estimates, but there seems an even greater air of unreality about this debate. Yesterday, the House was crowded for a statement by the Prime Minister about the economic situation which was driving us into the Common Market. Tomorrow and Thursday the House will be crowded when we discuss the economic difficulties and financial crisis facing the country. In the middle, we are having a debate on the problems of defence, which implies consideration of defence expenditure.
The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) seems to be almost oblivious of the fact that we are in a financial crisis. He began by talking about a nuclear deterrent and then went on to talk about the conventional deterrent. He seemed to be almost oblivious of the fact that these demands will cost a vast sum of money.
They will cost more. One reason for the present financial crisis, according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is that we have been spending too much money and must cut down on our overseas expenditure. We are now in the middle of a financial crisis, a large part of which is due to the fact that early this year the House agreed to this vast expenditure of over £1,660 million, which the country is now told has helped to land it in this financial crisis.
If we add to that the burden of a conscript Army, which would have to be equipped with very expensive modern weapons, we should add expenditure to expenditure. The economic crisis would continue and the country would be faced with an insoluble problem. We are already warned that the consequence of the Chancellor's financial action will be a difficult economic situation, in which there will be strikes. This will mean industrial unrest and will add to the possibility of a stronger Communist movement in Britain.
The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire is in his usual dilemma. I do not think that the dilemma can be solved by putting his suggestions into practice. If there were a conscript Army, from what strata of industry would it be raised? Would it be from agriculture, mining, engineering, or from trades concerned in exporting?
It is not for me to defend the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire, but his point was perfectly fair on this occasion and when he made it in a previous debate. If my hon. Friend objects to some form of national service for this country, what has he to say about the three years' service done by the Russians and by every country behind the Iron Curtain? The Germans do it, and the period will probably be increased in Germany. The French do it. How does he think that we can go on enjoying all the benefits of an ordered life while making no contribution?
May I bring the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) back to his main line of argument? He asked me from what industry I would take conscripts. It is for the two Front Benches to work out the details of these schemes.
I will make one suggestion. I would do what is done in the United States. There, they exempt any industry or class of technician or hardship cases that they think they can. In this country, which does not need so many conscripts, it would be much easier to exempt, for example, agricultural workers, miners, and so on. That would no doubt also have the effect of encouraging recruiting for agriculture and the mines.
We are told that we want a highly skilled Army, trained in the very elaborate mechanism of modern tanks and possibly some kind of tactical nuclear weapons. Where would the hon. Member get the men from? The hon. Gentleman says it would be done by ballot.
The hon. Gentleman does not listen. I am not likely to be faced with the problem, but what I said I would do would be to exempt the industries or the types of workers who were most needed for the national economy. I would get my recruits from the other members of the community.
I was only trying to help the hon. Gentleman and make it easier for him. I was trying to say not only what I would do, but what the Government would do. We know what the Government would do. One has only to look at the 1957 White Paper, in which it is said that the ballot is the only way in which conscription can be reintroduced. That is the Government's attitude. I have expressed my private view.
Order. If the House will allow me to venture to make a suggestion, we have many speeches to hear between now and lunch time tomorrow, and we might make better progress if we have them one at a time.
Now he does not propose to take the engineers into his new Army. He does not propose to allow the agricultural workers or the miners to go into the ballot. He will, therefore, be left with hairdressers and tobacconists. When the hon. Gentleman's argument for conscription is reduced to its inevitable analysis, the result does not help one to understand either the military or the economic situation.
The House owes a debt to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for raising the question of Kuwait. It is interesting to know that this is the first opportunity which my hon. Friend has had of raising what I called at the time one of the most remarkable military adventures in recent history. We were told that it was urgent to rush this Army out. It was rushed out to Kuwait, but it did not find an enemy.
A constituent of mine, Brigadier Fergusson, wrote an interesting letter to The Times. He said that this was an unopposed operation. It was an unopposed operation, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley asked certain questions which demand answers. We are now told that the operation was a triumph for the organisation of the War Office. The War Office is to show similar powers of organisation by bringing these men back again. As I said before, it is the most wonderful military excursion since the days of the Grand Old Duke of York.
The noble Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men,
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
Now we are told that, once having landed soldiers in Kuwnit we axe to bring them back, presumably because the menace which we sent them to fight no longer exists—or does it? General Kassem is still there. The presumed threat to Kuwait is still there. We still have many British soldiers there, living in a temperature of 120 degrees in the shade.
The hon. Member for Dudley asked about the tanks of the Army of Iraq. He said that the troops could not operate in tanks because it was too hot. At the same time, however, he told us that Centurion tanks have been sent there for our troops. Presumably, British soldiers are to operate in Centurion tanks in weather which is too hot for them. All I can say is that when the Ruler of Kuwait ended his message by saying "May God preserve you" it would have been literally true if there had been any Army there to face us in the desert.
This was a remarkable military adventure, and the Government have still to tell us a little more about it. They still have to answer the searching questions of the hon. Member for Dudley and a few more. I want to ask a question which is always regarded as an indecent one in this House. What is this costing? I was told yesterday that our soldiers were operating there under the customary lavish hospitality of the Arab Ruler. What does that mean? Who is paying the Arab Ruler? Presumably he is getting his money from us. Nobody yet knows whether this operation is a military operation, or is meant to humour the Ruler, and make him keep his £400 million in the City of London.
At the time the Government embarked upon this operation they must have been aware of the problems to which the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire has drawn our attention. The must have known about Berlin, and about the possibility of trouble in other parts of the Middle East and also in Africa. When the hon. Member left the war Office he did not take its problems with him. They are still at the War Office. We want to know how the Government can possibly handle the situation. How cam they continue to spend these enormous sums of money in foreign lands and, at the same time, keep our economic and financial crisis under control? How can they possibly operate in all the different spheres which we were told earlier this year were absolutely necessary for them to operate in for the defence of this country? I stress now what I stressed them. If the machinery of this House was better adapted to make searching investigations of military expenditure in the early part of the year we should not have a financial crisis aft the end of it.
I now turn to the question of Berlin. Here again, we are told that we are faced with a formidable problem. I have little in common, ideologically, with Lord Montgomery, but in a recent article in the Sunday Times he drew our attention to the inescapable realities. Lord Montgomery argued that we could not possibly defend Berlin or Western Germany unless we were prepared to use nuclear weapons. Everybody knows that the use of nuclear weapons would mean suicide.
I have been to Berlin on many occasions since the war, and I have been in Western Berlin with the people who run the Fellowship of Reconciliation and other Quaker people in that part of the city. I have seen the developments. I remember Berlin just after the war, when the streets were masses of rubble and young women were wheeling bricks about in wheelbarrows and putting them into dumps for use in rebuilding the city. I was in Berlin during the time of the airlift and during the June rising.
Some times hon. Members accuse me of being too sympathetic to the Soviet Union. I remember being in Berlin during the rising and I tried to get into East Berlin. I passed the West German police and was then confronted with the Russian tanks, which were the final argument. I remember writing an article in the New Statesman in which I said that Russian tanks in Berlin were enough to make Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibnecht turn in their graves and I was denounced on Moscow Radio. But in Berlin to final reality is the Russian tanks. They are the final reality in the whole of Germany; the fact that the Germans are faced with the tremendous power of Russian military force which, in the ultimate resort, can be defeated only by a similar organisaton of the West, plus nuclear weapons.
I submit, therefore, that we are in an inescapable dilemma. We have to face the possibility of war, or nuclear war, or we must have an entirely new foreign policy. I want to see the Russians out of East Germany as much as anyone. I want to see them out of Hungary and Rumania and all the countries. I do not believe that an occupying army in any country is likely to help to persuade the population to believe in Communism, Socialism, or anything else, because the political thought is directed to getting rid of the occupying arm. I believe that Lord Montgomery was right and that we must have a five-year plan for the evacuation of the armed forces from East and from West Germany and from the Continent of Europe. The argument is powerful and I have seen no reasonable answer to it. If we are to avoid nuclear suicide we must be prepared to have a phased withdrawal of troops from all military bases in all occupied countries, and for that to take place by 1965.
I suggest that this is the right line of approach, from which there would be hope for Berlin and for East and West Germany, for the rest of Europe and for humanity generally. I certainly hope that Berlin will cease to be a city over which the shadows of destruction still loom. I hope that the time will come when we shall see Berlin the capital of a neutral, disarmed Germany, which would mean that our problem was beginning to be solved in a realistic manner.
The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire referred to the speech made by President Kennedy. It was an important and interesting speech and I read it very carefully. What interested me was the last two paragraphs. After talking about the need for spending a greater sum of money on the armed forces of America, President Kennedy proceeded to deal with the question of civil defence. He spoke of a very big programme with the enormous expenditure of 230 million dollars upon air raid shelters for America.
If we want to see that argument carried a little further, and what it implies, we have only to read the article by Mr. Alistair Cooke in today's issue of the Guardian, in which he points out that the plumbing vested interests and the cement vested interests are greatly interested in the policy of making increased profits out of the plumbing and cement which is proposed for air raid shelters. If air raid shelters are so very important for the preservation of the United States of America, are we not entitled to ask: what about the air raid shelter programme for this country?
The Leader of the House of Commons has not a programme—he has not the time. What President Kennedy thinks is so important for the. United States is regarded as something that the Leader of the House of Commons cannot give us half-an-hour to discuss. Surely, we are geographically a little nearer the rockets than the United States of America. I am as much interested in the preservation of our cities and in the preservation of Cambridge in this country as I am in the preservation of Cambridge in Massachusetts, and I am as interested in the survival of the historic civilisation of Britain as I am in the society of the United States of America.
We should be telling President Kennedy that if this kind of strategy, this kind of policy and this kind of war that he envisages means that a very large percentage of the American population is to go underground that is not the sort of policy that should commend itself to our people if we have not the air raid shelters and no defences of this kind at all.
So we have to be prepared to rethink our whole policy in regard to our commitments with the U.S.A. As long as we are content just to accept the ideas of Mr. McNamara and his band, the people who are in charge of American defence policy, and to follow that line of policy, the two things that we are faced with are the possibilities of getting involved in a nuclear war, or, if we escape that, of being involved in an economic crisis which is absolutely insoluble.
At present, we are thinking of realigning our whole foreign policy in order to go into Europe. There is to be an important conversation between President de Gaulle and the Prime Minister, and we are told that the Prime Minister will tell President de Gaulle that unless we can come to some agreement about the economic conditions of the Common Market we shall withdraw our military support from Europe.
What is that but unilateral action? It is a curious state of affairs that the Prime Minister should try to solve his military and economic difficulties by going to President de Gaulle and saying, "We are going to take unilateral action which will weaken N.A.T.O." It is quite natural that people of this country should ask questions which are not being answered and which I am trying to put to the Government tonight.
We are in the middle of an economic crisis which we shall not get out of in the conventional way. As we find the new measures of the Government cutting into the standards of working life, the Government will be met by revolt in every industry in the country. In leaving the House for the long Recess I am not at all happy at the thought of having such a long holiday while realising that the Government do not seem to have any capacity, plans and ideas, but are running away and going from one subterfuge to another. They have come to the end of the road in which a crisis is inescapable.
I disagree with one point made by the hon. Member for Dudley. He said that we are better educated than the Russians. When I asked if he thought we were better technically educated than the Russians, either for peace or war, he said that we were better technically educated. I ask him to think about that again. I know that he is open to statistical argument. I ask him to read the speech of the Minister for Science. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire, who knows a little about the Soviet Union, will agree with him. One of the inescapable things in our dealings with the Soviet Union is that there is a new technical generation there, thinking in terms of all the technicalities of a nuclear age. I do not see the slightest possibility—
I am not now talking of what is to happen in the future. My hon. Friend asked me whether I thought the technical efficiency of this country was equal to that of the Soviet Union and my answer is, "Yes" We introduced penicillin and Blue Streak. There was the work on T.S.R. 2. Work and technical efficiency here has been hampered because the House will not face realities. The efficiency of the British people, if given the chance, is still equal to that of the Russians.
I am not in the slightest detracting from the technical efficiency of the Russian people, or from the bravery of the gallant man who went into outer space. What I am saying is that this is a question of resources and priority. If sufficient resources and the right priority had been given, British industry would have done the same. The fault does not lie there, but with hon. Members opposite.
My hon. Friend has put his point of view and there is much in it. I urge on the House, as I have urged before, that we should realise that a new civilisation has come with the development of Communism in the U.S.S.R. Whether one likes Communism or not, we cannot ignore it. It is expressing itself technically in a way that no one can seriously argue that if the arms race goes on for a decade or twenty years we shall win it. So I say that hon. Members on both sides of the House would do well to watch carefully what is happening in the Soviet Union and in China.
The Soviet Union has a plan for twenty years. Her Majesty's Government have not got a plan for twenty minutes. For us to continue in the old way in these debates, talking about conventional weapons, using the same old platitudes, the same shibboleths, the old political nostrums, with a sham fight on defence between the two Front Benches, means very little. It is to ignore the realities of the situation.
When Mr. Khrushchev comes forward with a 20-year programme for Communism in the U.S.S.R, we may sneer and jeer at it and try to dispose of it as though it were nothing, but the fact remains that people all over the world will begin to wonder. Mr. Khrushchev will be able to say, "Forty years ago, or thirty years ago, you sneered at us and said that an agricultural country could not advance into the new industrial era". Nobody with any knowledge of the world situation today can but admit that it is a programme which will appeal to the imagination of thinking people throughout the world.
My hon. Friend will not deny that, ex hypothesi, it follows from what he is saying that, if we had a truly Socialist Britain, not the wishy-washy concept which is sometimes put forward, the British people, with their ability, could do every bit as well.
They have conscription; but it is not conscription which has brought about the technical advance of Russia. I have little doubt that there are schools of thought in Russia which take the view that conscription is a bad thing and want to get rid of it.
And so do we, but now that we have got rid of it the hon. Member wants to bring it back again.
I do not wish to delay the House, but this is a serious argument. We have to think in terms of planning this country for prosperity and for peace. We must use the brains, resources and character of the British people in the right way. If we do that and if we have a lead from the Government, we shall abandon the old ideas and traditional policies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, realising that we are in the atomic age. If this country is to survive and continue, with all its glorious traditions, into what I believe should be a glorious future, we must change our policies and have a new dynamic in politics and industry. I hope that some Government in this country will understand that before it is too late.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has given me a good deal of homework in one way and another during the past Session, or so it seems as I look back over the past few months, and it is not inappropriate, therefore, that I should have to undergo this final examination at his hands during the last week of term. The hon. Gentleman has always been extremely courteous and fair to me personally. Tonight's debate has been no exception. I thank him for giving me notice of many of the points he raised this evening. The hon. Gentleman said that he did not propose to direct his fire at me, but if I am to answer the debate as it deserves and as his contribution to it deserves, I shall, I fear, be obliged to direct some fire at him. I hope that he will not think me unchivalrous for so doing.
I shall come presently to what the hon. Member had to say about Kuwait. First, I wish to comment briefly on some of the points raised by him and by other hon. Members on both sides about matters outside the more restricted sphere of the Kuwait operation. The hon. Member for Dudley and my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean) referred to the level of our forces in Germany. I remind them of what I think they know very well already, namely, that any adjustments of our force levels in Germany have been made only after the fullest consultation with our allies in W.E.U. and with SACEUR. With regard to the future of the levels of our forces in Germany in relation to the present situation and contingency, I can only remind the House of what the Minister of Defence said on 26th July in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) to the effect that he and Mr. McNamara found themselves
in general agreement about the military measures which might become desirable, but only when the Foreign Secretaries have met and decided the general policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1961; Vol. 645, c. 411.]
I take that to mean that only after my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary has returned from the meeting of Foreign Secretaries will it be possible or desirable for Her Majesty's Government to decide on their attitude and the possibility of their action in the present situation.
I was in the House when the Minister of Defence gave that reply, but it begs the question. The Government are publicly committed to maintaining 55,000 troops in Germany. There are not 55,000 troops there; there are several thousand less than that. If I am wrong, will the hon. Gentleman put me right?
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that what I have said begs the question, but I am not prepared to go further than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence went in reply to the Question to which I have referred.
I take the point raised by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) to the effect that an increased level of conventional forces would present us with a degree of opportunity of manœuvre which seems to be desirable in a situation such as the present. He asked whether we are reducing our forces in Germany from their present level or whether we are considering any lowering of standard in the composition of those forces. I can tell him categorically that the answer to both questions is "No". I can give him the assurance for which he asks.
I thought that the hon. Member for Dudley rather decried the scale of our military effort in Germany and implied that our influence in the Alliance suffers in proportion. Without accepting his estimate of the effective scale of our effort or his estimate of the influence which we wield in the Alliance, I should like to point out, as I think I did during the debate on the Estimates earlier in the Session, that I believe that our influence is based as much on our deployment world wide—this is not particularly with reference to Germany—and on our ability to discharge operations like the operation in Kuwait successfully, and I believe that in reviewing the extent of our influence vis-à-vis our allies the hon. Gentleman this evening rather tended to underestimate this factor and to over-play the factor of Germany.
—raised a number of arguments which he has deployed before in connection with the projected numbers which we plan to have in the all-Regular Army. I do not think he will wish me to recapitulate past debates on this subject. He made his points again this evening, and made them emphatically. This is not new. We do not yet know for certain where we shall get to in point of numbers by the end of 1962, because we have not yet got a long enough basis on which to make a projection which is anywhere near accurate enough. When we can see better where we are likely to get to in the autumn, the Government will take the appropriate decision, following the undertakings given in the past to this House and repeated again by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at the time of the statement on recruiting last week.
My hon. Friend also asked me whether any change is contemplated in the rôle of the Territorial Army along the lines which he adumbrated. Any such alteration in the rôle of the Territorial Army would certainly require legislation.
I now come back to the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley and the main burden of his speech, which was a criticism of the Kuwait operation. Other hon. Members touched on this matter, too. With every respect for the hon. Member's profound knowledge of the Army and for the genuine desire which I know he has to make constructive criticism of the War Office, I believe that in his general attitude to the Kuwait operation he has succeeded in throwing a certain amount of dust in his own eyes. It will not do to try to make out, as he did this evening, that the whole operation was a put-up job—a public relations exercise, as he called it. I hope he will not mind me saying that it is somewhat mischievous—I use the word advisedly—in the context of a complex and difficult situation such as exists in the Middle East at the moment, to suggest that it could conceivably have been a put-up job.
The hon. Gentleman based this assertion partly on what certain journalists had heard or seen, or rather on what they had not seen, and he mentioned the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. Perhaps it is not surprising that journalists sometimes fail to see movements of this kind. I felt, as I listened to him, that coming from the hon. Gentleman, an argument of this kind was rather sur- prisingly unprofessional. Military intelligence would really be the kind of contradiction in terms which the wits are disposed to say it is if it were only capable of finding out the things which are susceptible of confirmation by journalists.
In this instance, and as a background to our obligation to the Ruler under the agreement, Her Majesty's Government acted in the light of professional advice. The hon. Gentleman himself is quite willing to call professional opinion to his support when it happens to coincide with the case he is arguing. I believe that he is himself, in view of his admittedly wide experience and knowledge of these matters, being a little unprofessional in basing his charges on the arguments which he has put forward tonight. He analysed the statements of my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence.
It seemed to me that when the hon. Member was doing that he could make a convincing case of his analysis only by starting from the assumption that the Kuwait operation was a put-up job to begin with. If one starts from that assumption, one can analyse Ministerial statements and make them mean almost what one wants. The hon. Member, however, is not entitled to make that assumption. Without it, I thought his arguments extremely unconvincing.
It has been said yesterday by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) and again tonight by the hon. Member for Dudley that it was a bit of luck for "Bulwark" to be where she was when she was and to get to where she did when she did. I have an idea that this kind of thing always has been said, and probably always will be said, whenever naval dispositions in advance of an event turn out to have been correctly made as the result of an accurate appreciation and sound strategy. When the ships are there and in a position to do their job, it is said that it is luck. If they are not there, it is said to be incompetence.
This is an old chestnut. I have not looked these things up—I have not had time—but it would not surprise me to find that when Nelson failed to catch the French fleet in the West Indies, the Opposition of the day moved a Motion of censure on the Government, and that when he caught the French off the Nile and beat them, the Opposition said that it was a bit of luck that he happened to be there at the time. That is the kind of thing that Oppositions always say, although I am surprised to find the hon. Member for Dudley, with his knowledge of these matters, in such company.
The same considerations apply to the armour which was on board the L.S.T.s in the Gulf and which arrived on the first day. As my right hon. Friends have already pointed out to the House, it is not really surprising that, When an operation of this importance is on the books, with forces marked for its execution if need should arise, those forces should be exercised in their projected rôle; and it is not surprising that these exercises should be planned with such a high degree of realism that, as happened in this instance, and as happened fortunately, the exercise could easily be turned into the real thing.
The hon. Member for Dudley said that he did not believe that there were enough tanks in Kuwait in time to have put up an effective defence. I can only assure him that this does not correspond with my awn information, which was confirmed by what I saw. There are Kuwaiti tanks; they are Centurions. I saw them exercising in close liaison with our infantry, to the evident satisfaction of our infantry. Their crews speak English, which obviously makes things easier. This is in addition to the seaborne armoured force which arrived and was in a position to fight by the evening of 1st July.
The force was in a position to take them on had need arisen.
The hon. Member makes play with the fact that there was no attack by an enemy and tries to make out that, for that reason, the expedition was in vain, like the manoeuvres of the Duke of York, to whom he referred. That is an easy argument to put. It is an argument which is bad luck on the soldier who has to go in fulfilment of his mission to where he is sent when he finds that nothing happens. One of the reasons why nothing happens may be that the soldier is there and in a position to do his duty. It is too facile altogether to assume that when nothing happens as a result of the presence of our soldiers the operation in which they have been engaged can be said to have been an unnecessary one.
I have digressed, provoked by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire. I want to touch on the question of anti-tank weapons. It is true and admitted that the only thing which can really make an infantryman feel happy in the presence of enemy armour is one of his own tanks close beside him in a hull-down position, but there are times in war—though, as I have explained, Kuwait was not one of them—when tanks cannot get up into the bridgehead, or, more likely in modern times, the airhead, and the infantry have to rely for a time on their own battalion anti-tank weapons. Having had a little experience of such a situation myself, and, in particular, after all the criticism I have heard from hon. Gentlemen opposite, of our present anti-tank infantry weapons, I took particular interest in how the Kings and Inniskillings were deployed for anti-tank defence.
They had the Mobet. It seemed to me there were enough of them and that the infantry had full confidence in them. Because of the somewhat gloomy views which have been expressed from the benches opposite of the capabilities of this weapon, I took particular interest in how it was proposed to use it and of what the men thought of it. Any static weapon like an anti-tank gun obviously has its tactical limitations. When it fires it is likely to give its position away. These limitations can be overcome to a great extent by siting in defilade, which is the responsibility of local commanders. From what I saw—I was particularly interested in this—it has been fully and responsibly discharged. The other thing and an obvous thing about an anti-tank gun is that it should be able to knock out a tank and not just bounce off.
There was no doubt that the troops to whom I spoke had full confidence in their gun being able to do what was required of it. I would conclude by saying that my own opinion is that the deficiencies, if any, of our modern battalion anti-tank weapons has been wildly exaggerated by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that if it were me I should be just as happy to confront a modern tank with this weapon as to rely on a 6-pounder in face of the kind of tanks which our infantry had to face during the last war.
The hon. Gentleman and others, particularly the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, asked me about anti-aircraft cover which was available to our force in Kuwait. It is true that we did not move in any anti-aircraft guns, though it is not true that this was done for lack of the ability to move them in existing air transports. It is untrue to suggest that the force in Kuwait was without adequate air defence. There was a squadron of Hunters in Kuwait from the first day and another in the area. There were Canberras as from the second day and a little later there were aircraft available from the "Victorious".
In addition to the Royal Air Force's own resources, naval radar was available to control and direct these forces. Bearing in mind their capability for both ground attack and air-to-air attack, these forces provided our troops in Kuwait with an adequate degree of air cover and protection. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air may have an opportunity later this evening of disposing in more detail of some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman about aircraft. I would only say that the fact is that with the aircraft which we have, and which he decried, we did this operation successfully.
The hon. Member has pointed out, quite clearly, that this has been a war in which certain usefulness may have been achieved because the troops were there and did not have to fight. Suppose this operation had developed into a large-scale war with the bombing of towns in Iraq and a general flare-up in the Middle East. Does he not think that with the remembrance of Suez the oil wells could have been destroyed and the pipelines would have been cut?
With respect, I am trying to answer a series of points put to me by the hon. Member for Dudley. I cannot see that the rather hypothetical question asked by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire has much connection with the arguments which I am trying to advance.
The hon. Member for Dudley mentioned mines, or the absence of mines. I can only tell him that I saw and walked beside some minefields. I did not go quarrying about with my umbrella to see whether they were mines or tin cans, but they seemed to be admirably sited and well covered by the fire of our troops. It is fair to rely on one's observations in relation to what the hon. Member said about its seeming to be impossible to fight in tanks in Kuwait in the temperatures prevailing there. As the hon. Member was the first to tell me before I went there, it gets quite cool at night and there are periods in the evenings and mornings when temperatures are not intolerable even in tanks. The troops whom I saw exercising disproved the hon. Member's point.
I am sorry if I misled the hon. Gentleman. I was trying to establish that the life of a Centurion tank if used extensively in temperatures of that kind is extremely limited. The hon. Gentleman will have the figures for British tanks, but I understand that even the Americans, taking special measures, find that the limit is incredibly low.
I apologise if I misunderstood the hon. Member on that point, which is, no doubt, more valid than the one which I thought he was making. It applies, of course, to tanks on whatever side.
The hon. Member said that among the deficiencies of the Beverley aircraft was its inability to carry a long wheel-based Land Rover. I simply cannot understand this allegation. It can carry a 30,000 lb. payload, and its doors are 10 ft. by 10 ft. The wheel base of a long wheel-based Land Rover is about 16 ft. and the Beverley is a great deal longer. Anyway, the Britannia strategic freighter can take five Land Rovers of the type to which the hon. Member referred. I simply cannot understand that the point which he made in this connection is in any way valid.
It was a great privilege to me to see some of those involved in this operation at first hand. One came away with a firm impression that it had been admirably conducted. I was in Germany in the first week of events in Kuwait, visiting B.A.O.R., and there is no mistaking the fact that our having discharged such an important commitment as this in such good time and with such efficiency gave a great fillip to morale there. The same is true of feeling in the country at large outside the Services. In any case, it puts the hon. Member for Dudley, who has been somewhat of a prophet of woe about our ability in this connection, in a difficult position. He has been saying for years that we were incapable of doing the very thing that we have done successfully. However, I think that in his heart of hearts the hon. Gentleman, who cherishes the efficiency of our fighting Services, is really pleased, too.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled, if he likes, to say that I am not much of a judge of such an operation, and, certainly, I have no title to claim the kind of military expertise that he has, but one does not need, I think, great expertise to tell the difference between a good show and a dud show. I can argue only from what I heard and saw, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that troops do not speak and bear themselves with the same confidence which I found in Kuwait unless they are satisfied with themselves and with their equipment and unless they have faith in their commanders.
That is a very valuable assessment, but it is not mine. One can, of course, say that the mere ability to transport a large number of men in a limited period is good, but the standard of judgment is what would have been the situation if we had been engaged in actual operations. Could they then have fought? That is the real test. What weight of equipment was lifted if one judges this, as one can judge it, against the American operation, Big Slam? In that operation they used 447 aircraft and lifted 11,000 tons, and yet the whole weight of technical opinion in their Service Press is that that operation was a failure. Then we come along and lift 700 tons. The hon. Gentleman himself gave the game away. He said "with the aircraft that we had available", With the aircraft that we had available this was a first-class staff exercise; but we could not have fought.
The aircraft that we had available and the troops and the equipment that we had available and which we produced to handle this operation were such as were adequate to discharge the operation and to have discharged it in the face of an enemy. I cannot see the relevance of any comparison with an American exercise under quite different conditions.
I do not want to labour the point. There is disagreement between myself and the hon. Gentleman. I want to get on and finish.
I have said something of the Army's part in the operation, somewhat naturally, because that is my prime responsibility, but I must end by saying how much I was struck by what a welcome example this operation presented of inter-Service co-operation at all levels. The rôle of "Bulwark" has been referred to and is well known, but there were many other things—the cavalry captain who landed up at the airfield at Kuwait and found himself doing an admirable job as adjutant to the Royal Air Force station commander; the skill of the ground control staff and the pilots in talking the transport aircraft in to an unfinished airfield in difficult conditions of visibility owing to the blowing sand; the rôle of naval radar in helping to control the air defence forces over Kuwait; forward observation officers with call on the Navy for defensive fire; and many other examples, all of which, as I have said, sent one homewards with the impression that within its limited scope here was an operation of which all concerned could justly be proud.
As I have said, I believe that the hon. Gentleman, on reflection—and, I hope, the more for the arguments which I have tried to advance tonight—will come to share that opinion, too. I have tried to answer point by point what he said. I believe my answers to have been right, and he has accepted many of them. To the extent that he has done so, I hope that they will carry some measure of conviction with him, because otherwise we shall begin to doubt his judgment on military affairs for which we have acquired some respect. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept the answers which I have given.