I beg to move,
That this House regrets that Her Majesty's Government have announced decisions in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1966 (Command Papers No. 2901 and 2902) which will impair the ability of our forces to carry out the duties required of them.
The debate this year upon the Defence Statement takes place in circumstances which are unusual to the point of being unique. It not only follows a long-heralded and long-protracted alleged review by the Government of our commitments and the means of meeting them, but it was preceded and accompanied by the resignation of the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy and of the First Sea Lord. It is, therefore, natural that the House and the country should approach it with special anxiety and with special scrutiny.
The Government have sought to represent that they found themselves confronted with a steep and ineluctable rise in the cost of defence, and that, finding this, they instituted a bold and comprehensive review which enabled them to reduce the prospective expenditure on defence to the figure of £2,000 million in the year 1969–70 at 1964 prices.
Every part of this picture which the Government have sought to put before the House and the country is without foundation.
I intend to show that both the suggestion that defence costs have been engaged on a runaway course, and the notion that they have been brought under control by decisions taken in consequence of a careful review of commitments, are mere mystification, and that the only reality was the financial panic into which the Government were plunged in the early days of their administration, whence the establishment by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in an endeavour to stem the loss of confidence in sterling, of certain prospective figures for future defence expenditure, and a whole series of unconnected decisions, taken very often long before even the alleged Defence Review could have made any substantial progress—decisions of which many will have the most damaging and lasting consequences for the defence and the security of this country.
Let us take, first, the allegation of the "runaway train". Just before the Defence White Paper appeared, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:
Defence spending was speeding ahead like a runaway train out of control. We had to fix a target.
The Foreign Secretary spoke of "the spiralling cost of defence" which "had to be halted". There is no foundation in fact or history for this picture.
The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to provide me with an indication of the course of the proportion which defence expenditure has borne to the national income over the last decade. I will read to the House the simple figures of the percentage of the national income which that expenditure has represented, year by year, during the last eight or nine years of Conservative administration. Beginning from the year 1957–58, they are as follows: 7·3; 7·1; 6·8; 6·9; 6·9; 6·9; 6·6, and 65. The last figure is for the year 1964–65—the year in which the General Election occurred. The estimate for the year just closing, as it happens, shows a slight increase again to 6·6, and a similar figure is estimated for the new year, 1966–67. If there is any talk of a runaway train, that train can have started to run away only under the administration of the party opposite. These figures show that, year by year, defence expenditure has been contained within a very stable but gradually falling proportion of a continually rising national income.
"But," say the party opposite, "we have made some projections and we find that if things did go on in the way that the Conservatives were running them the expenditure would have risen by £400 million by 1969–70, to the figure of £2,400 million in constant prices at that year." So the party opposite set up the bogy of a £400 million increase in defence expenditure which, in two statements—that of last July-August, and that contained in the Defence White Paper—it purports to have demolished and eliminated.
My first observation about this £400 million bogy is that even if defence expenditure were to increase by £400 million from the base year of 1964–65, that rate of increase would be no higher than the Government themselves have promised for the national income as a whole over that quinquennium. So even on their own figures they were not faced with anything more than a proportion of the national income to be spent on defence remaining constant at the lowest point which it had reached since the early years after the war.
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows very well, this is the oldest trick in the game—to put up the Aunt Sally of an alleged increase in expenditure which is to happen in some remote future year and then proceed to claim credit for cuts which are made in it, piece by piece.
Even if such a figure were genuine—even if the projection as seen in 1965–66 were real—it would, as always, only be a starting point for the serious studies which need to be made and are made, year by year, in the course of drawing up the defence budget as part of the total Budget. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence described £35 million worth of his total of £400 million of alleged savings as
the sort of thing that happens in any year", [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 1883.]
In July, last year, there was a recurrence, I think that it was the third recurrence, but I tend to lose count—of a loss of international confidence in the value of sterling, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer insisted that the Minister of Defence should, there and then, come forward and give a report not only to the House but to the country and the world of the progress that he was making in achieving the advertised £400 million worth of cuts.
Accordingly, first at a Press conference, and then in the House of Commons—a curious order, but never mind—on 4th and 5th August last year, the right hon. Gentleman announced savings, as at 1969–70, totalling £220 million. He gave the country and the House a detailed list of six specific items and one miscellaneous item—that to which I have already referred, namely, the £35 million—which added up exactly to the £220 million which he claimed to have saved. Having done that, he said:
Though some additional saving could be made by operating more aircraft on a joint R.A.F.—Navy basis, the only real hope of savings "—
beyond the £220 million—
lies in the possibility that commitments can be revised.
In the House the right hon. Gentleman was even more explicit in describing the source from which he sought his remaining £180 million of savings: on 5th August, he said:
I readily confess that to bridge the remaining nearly £200 million gap to the target will require redeployment of our forces and a smaller total of manpower in the Services."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August, 1965; Vol. 717, c. 1885.]
Now, in the Defence White Paper, we are told that the trick has been done. The gap has been closed; the further £180 million have been found and the Defence White Paper can forecast a Defence Budget, 1969–70, of £2,000 million precisely at 1964 prices.
What are these £180 million of further savings which the right hon. Gentleman has made, and how has he made them? We naturally looked with interest and eagerness to the White Paper for enlightenment, only to discover that there is no indication in it of how this remaining £180 million-worth of saving has been made up. True, the right hon. Gentleman, in his announcement to the House on 22nd February, indicated that only a quarter of the £400 million—say, about £100 million—had been achieved "by reductions in our military capability". But when I asked him if he would give the approximate value of each of the principal items with which he expects to close the gap of £180 million, his answer to me was the briefest possible answer which can be given:
No."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 300.]
So the right hon. Gentleman, who has been so anxiously candid, so desirous of coming forward before the House, the country and the world and explaining exactly how he got to £220 million of savings, suddenly becomes coy, clam-like and silent as to what is the make-up of the remaining £180 million, which is what the whole of the Defence Review is about, that is, the only things which we were waiting to know when the Defence Review was published.
Why is it that there is this extraordinary contrast between the forthcoming right hon. Gentleman on the 4th and 5th August last year and his extraordin ary tight-lipped silence in February and March of 1966?—[An HON. MEMBER: "The election."]—Yes, that is one reason; but I can see quite a number of reasons for this remarkable change.
For one thing, the right hon. Gentleman dare not give the items because that would disclose the undisclosed cuts which he is determined to conceal, at any rate until after the General Election. We know—we have for this the authority of one of his own late colleagues—that the cuts involved in the Defence Review and those involved in this saving of £180 million by the year 1969–70 have not been fully disclosed. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) drew the attention of the House to the fact that the cuts were not quantified in the Defence White Paper. Indeed they were not. The right hon. Gentleman does not want it known—yet—what the nature of those reductions is.
In the second place, he is afraid to do this because it would show that the carrier decision—the decision taken now that Britain shall not have a carrier capability beyond the early 1970s—turned on a very little, if any, net saving in the target year. Thirdly, it would show up the fact that very much of the further saving which he claims since last August is "phoney", that it has been achieved by mere juggling, such as the pushing forward of further expenditure beyond the target year, which is always possible when one has pinned oneself to a specific figure in a specific year. Finally, if he were to spell it out, it would show how little all this has to do with any review or reconsideration of our commitments.
In other words, if the right hon. Gentleman had done what he—understandably, in his position—refuses to do, it would have "blown the gaff". So I must myself undertake the painful duty of attempting to elicit some of the facts from the right hon. Gentleman and display something of what is involved in the right hon. Gentleman's attempt to extricate himself from the panic situation in which he and the Government were placed in the early months of their administration.
I come, first, to the Army. We find reference in the Defence White Paper to reductions of forces in Cyprus, Malta, British Guiana and Swaziland, adding up, perhaps, to three or four battalions. We find, too, of course, the decision to give up the Aden base in exchange for a minor redeployment in the Persian Gulf. This might well be worth between one and two brigades more. These are very substantial changes in the deployment of our forces, amounting to perhaps eight or nine battalions at the very least.
But this involves no saving at all in budgetary expenditure if those men are still to be maintained under arms. Certainly, if they are brought home, there may be some saving in foreign exchange; but if they are still kept under arms additional accommodation must be provided for them and new expenditure must be undertaken in the areas to which they are moved. So if any saving is involved here—this is one of the heads under which the right hon. Gentleman claims to have achieved his target—it can come about only through a reduction in the size of the standing Army. Indeed, we have had well-authenticated reports that the Department of Defence are thinking in terms of a reduction of the order of 16,000 men in the Regular Army by the target year of 1970.
The right hon. Gentleman ought to indicate what reduction in the Regular forces he contemplates by the year 1970. Does he envisage a reduction in the Regular Army? By how many battalions does he estimate that it will be reduced by the year 1970? This is where the importance of these decisions lies. It is hence that their practical consequences flow. This is what the country has the right to be told now—in the framework of the Defence White Paper.
In some of the details which we get from the Department of Defence by indirect means—[An HON. MEMBER: "The Press."]—Yes, via the Press—the right hon. Gentleman can deny any of this if he likes—I thought that there was a very remarkable item, a sentence in The Times defence correspondent's report of 24th February. Talking about the reductions in garrisons to which I have referred, he went on:
Much greater cuts in Britain's forces in Cyprus are being contemplated by the Government. The minor reductions mentioned in Tuesday's White Paper were kept unexceptionable for diplomatic reasons. The Government have been under pressure…not to disturb the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean by a premature disclosure that Britain will be moving out.
What strange irony for a Government who had committed the incredible folly, as well as the direct breach of faith, involved in announcing that they would be out of Aden by the year 1968.
There is no doubt what the commitments in respect to Aden were. They are set out in the White Paper of the conference report of July, 1964 (Cmd. 2414). It says that the delegates of the Federation had requested that
…Britain should convene a conference for the purposes of fixing a date for independence not later than 1968 and of concluding a defence agreement under which Britain would retain her military base in Aden for the defence of the Federation and the fulfilment of her world-wide responsibilities.
One can hardly imagine a more direct breach of the undertaking contained in the following words—
The Secretary of State announced the agreement of the British Government to this request"—
than for the Government now to come forward, at the beginning of 1966, and to announce that, whatever else happens, they will be out of the base by the year 1968.
I will deal with this point, of course, in my own speech, but I think that it would be helpful for the House if the right hon. Gentleman would answer on behalf of his party this question. Does he believe that the promise made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), in 1964, constitutes a binding commitment on any future British Government to keep a military base in Aden even if Britain has no requirement for one and the local population does not want one there?
The commitment which I have read to the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer—is a perfectly clear commitment as to what Her Majesty's Government promised to do. By the right hon. Gentleman's announcement he has broken that promise. We regard that promise in those terms, in the terms in which it was made by Her Majesty's Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—I am answering as precisely as such a question can be answered—we regard that commitment as being a binding commitment which the Government have broken and which, if we replace them as a result of the General Election, we shall regard as binding upon us.
But even if the right hon. Gentleman and the Government were determined that they would not carry out this commitment, even if they had taken that decision in petto, as it were, what incredible folly it was to publish it to the world so as to give the maximum comfort to our enemies and the maximum reinforcement to all the pressures which could be brought to bear upon us before or after 1968.
They were not slow to reap the consequences: those were very quick in coming. There may have been one day perhaps since 22nd February, there may have been just one day, on which there was not a new report of rising acts of violence in Aden. There has been a continuing crescendo ever since 22nd February of the rising, natural and inevitable pressures and violence following the statement. I do not think that it could have been commented upon more effectively than Colonel Nasser commented upon it. He said that the United Arab Republic would not be stopped from
staying one, two, three, or five years in Yemen in the cause of the Arab revolution.
He said that
one of the results of Egyptian intervention had been Britain's decision to leave Aden and South Arabia in 1968.
That only shows the kind of damage that can be done, the kind of dangers to which our own troops, our own people and our own friends can be subjected, the kind of humiliation which can be brought upon us, by the sheer stupidity of the Government announcing this decision "in clear," as it were, two or three years in advance of their own date for breaking their commitment.
The reduction of the Regular forces, which is the necessary implication of the economies expected from the evacuation of Aden and other points, will throw even greater weight and importance upon Britain's reserves. It was long before there could have been any conclusion to any real defence review, let alone the sham Defence Review which we are considering, that the Government came forward in August last in the context of the right hon. Gentleman's "shopping list" and announced an item of £20 million for the destruction of the Territorial Army.
They had decided that in future there was only one requirement for a citizen volunteer reserve. It was to be the reinforcement of the Regular Army in certain specific and narrowly defined circumstances, so narrowly defined that they could go down even to the smallest detail in the order of battle. They pooh-poohed and cast scorn upon any suggestion that there could be any other rôle in the future for a citizen volunteer reserve. Home defence was a byword with them: "Why," they said, "we take it as an axiom that there is no requirement for a military force for home defence in future." "That at least", they said, "we know without going any further in our defence review".
They were wrong and they admitted that they were wrong. Six months later they had to announce that they had decided that, after all, there was a need for a military force
to act generally in support of the civil authorities in the event of a general war.
What is more, the Minister of Defence for the Army, in enlarging upon the functions of this force, said that though
its primary rôle would be–to help the civil powers in the maintenance of law and order…it will also be used to engage enemy forces if they were in this country"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1966; Vol. 723, c. 1097–1101.]
a proposition which, only a few months earlier, the Government had treated with utter ridicule.
So we might suppose there had been some progress. They had recognised now that there was a need for home defence—not in any particular narrowly defined sense, but in a general sense—by a citizen volunteer reserve. At that point they might wisely have bethought them of their own phrase in the Defence White Paper about "the dangers of being over-dogmatic". But they were still determined that their original decision to destroy the Territorial Army should stand.
The trouble is that the right hon. Gentleman does not like the Territorial Army. He was determined to get rid of it and, even when he was driven into admitting one major additional function which required a citizen volunteer reserve, a military volunteer reserve, he was determined that it should have as little as possible to do with anything else in this field and that he would have as little as possible to do with it himself. Even so, I think that it was carrying it a little far that in the section on reserves in Part II of the Defence White Paper, there is not even a mention of the force for home defence. So determined is the right hon. Gentleman that it shall have nothing to do with the carrying forward of the tradition of a citizen volunteer army in this country. So determined is he that all the accumulated not merely tradition but voluntary spirit of the Territorial Army shall disappear so far as lies within his power.
He has decided that this military force for civil defence shall consist of battalions of 300 men each, scattered in companies of 100 men each, armed with rifles, and each will have one or two trucks. They will have nothing to do with the Army Volunteer Reserve. All the possibilities of mutual maintenance of morale and mutual aid in recruitment which lie in the Territorial Army framework as the party opposite found it, and as that framework might have been developed, are being destroyed. The work of destruction is going on before our eyes.
What is essential is that the Territorial Army should be the basis of the citizen volunteer reserve of the future not only for home defence, not only for the reinforcement of the Regular Army, but as a basis, if ever it should be necessary again, for the expansion of our Regular Army in emergency and in war, a requirement which is rendered all the more realistic and urgent if the economies of the right hon. Gentleman involve the reduction of the size of the standing Army.
I turn to the decisions which relate to the Royal Navy. Here, of course, the key decision is that this country is not to have a carrier force beyond the early's 'seventies. This was a decision taken once-for-all by the abandonment of the building of a new carrier. It is almost impossible to estimate how far-reaching are the consequences of that once-for-all decision. In their White Paper, the Government say that the function for which a carrier force is indispensable
…is the landing, or withdrawal, of troops against sophisticated opposition outside the range of land-based air cover.
It is as well at this stage to be quite clear about what, in this context, ought to be meant by
the range of land-based air cover".
We are not here talking about aircraft operating at extreme range. We are talking, if that statement has any validity, about close, intimate and unremitting air cover afforded to troops during all stages of the initial landing and battle. That cover can be given only at relatively short range and in such a way that the command of the amphibious forces is closely integrated with the command of the air forces supporting it. That is to say, for this purpose, "the range of land-based air cover" is a relatively short distance.
It follows, that we have deprived ourselves, by this decision, from the early seventies onward, of the power to carry out amphibious operations except across narrow waters, that is, unless we are integrated in the task force of an ally which provides carriers. This decision calls into question the whole future our amphibious forces. Only two paragraphs earlier than the words I have quoted, the Government say in their White Paper:
Our amphibious fleet—the commando ships and assault ships carrying Royal Marine commandos—will greatly strengthen our forces outside Europe.
It is as well for the House and the country to be clear that after the early 'seventies those amphibious forces in which, apparently, we all take so much pride, will only be able to operate, except across a short arm of the sea, as part of an Anglo-American task force. In other words, it is to provide a contingent for an American task force of the future, that we are maintaining and training our amphibious forces.
I think there is something even more serious and dangerous implicit in the decision that we shall not, after the early 'seventies, have a carrier force. The decision involves the turnover from one complete naval philosophy to an entirely different one. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) was quite right, when the right hon. Gentleman made his initial statement, to draw attention to the passage in part 2 of the Defence White Paper, which states:
The aircraft carrier is the most important element of the fleet for offensive action against an enemy at sea or ashore.
The offensive power of the Navy as we have hitherto conceived it lay with the aircraft carrier. The Government's decision means that a new philosophy has to supersede that on which the Navy has been trained and maintained during the last 20 years, and indeed many more. It means a change over to the missile philosophy, to the surface-to-surface missile. The Government would do well, in this context, to recollect their statement on page 4 of the White Paper:
…it takes at least ten years to develop and introduce a major new weapon system…".
We are today hardly in the very earliest stages of introducing that new weapon system which must supersede the power of the carrier, since the carrier is to go. We are taking this final decision on the mere hope and expectation of something which at present is in its early infancy.
I noted at the beginning of this month that the naval correspondent of The Times wrote:
No British ship today has a missile with a ship-to-ship capability.
He went on:
The Sea Slug has been frequently spoken of as likely to be employed in such a rôle, but nothing has emerged, at least in operational use…. The Sea Dart is described as having ' a reasonable anti-ship capability', but it will be some years before we shall see it in operation with the new guided missile ships.
He went on to refer to the Norwegian surface weapon and stated:
The Navy has been examining
but there has been no commitment to this or any other weapon.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman was right in saying that it requires at least 10 years to turn over to a new weapon system. What we are doing is throwing away, deciding that we shall dispossess ourselves of the present offensive power of the Royal Navy when we have as yet no knowledge of how the philosophy and the weapon systems which will succeed it are to develop. A decision of final import—a most final decision—has been taken merely on hopes and speculations; something which I will show presently is not unique in this White Paper.
The matter which I wish to bring to the right hon. Gentleman's attention is of
some relevance, because I want to find out how he reconciles what he has been saying today with the statement made in 1958 by the then Minister of Defence, the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), who said:
We have no aircraft carriers large enough to operate the long-range bombers which would be needed for an effective strike operation. We really could not contemplate building more and bigger carriers which, with their aircraft, would cost over £100 million each."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1958, Vol. 583, c. 388–9.]
How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that statement with his remarks today?
I can reconcile it very simply—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—in this way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer. It was a great mistake to have scrapped the aircraft carrier under construction. The Government should have gone on with the aircraft carrier on accordance—[Interruption.] Already £3½ million had been spent on it. The plans had been made and announced.
There is no serious dispute about the fact that an order for production was due to be placed, after major preparations, and expenditure of £3½ million, in the spring of this year, and that the Government's decision was not to proceed with it.
Of course, it was in March and April of this year that tenders, if this project was to be proceeded with, were due to be called for. The right hon. Gentleman took the wrong decision, and we should have taken the right decision—which was to go on with the carrier.
But we know very well that this is not the only decision to cut the Royal Navy that has been taken by the Government, and we are entitled to know what the further decisions are—we know this one—which the Government have taken which will cut the strength of the Royal Navy. The former Minister of Defence for the Navy said on 22nd February:
"…the White Paper does not specify the full range of cuts…in the Navy…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 260.]
We are entitled to know what is the "full range of cuts" upon which the Government have decided. We are entitled to be told of what they consist and how they have contributed to this figure of £180 million we have been told of. It is merely a figure: we have had no explanation. Once again, when my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) asked the right hon. Gentleman if he would specify what the cuts are which we know have been made, the right hon. Gentleman refused—OFFICIAI REPORT, 2nd March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 298
There is one respect in which I trust there will be no question of cuts, and that is in the development of the nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine force. The White Paper, Part I refers to four such submarines in service in 1970, and the second part of the White Paper refers to the order placed late last year for a fourth. It so happens that, by good fortune, my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) put down to the Minister of Defence for the Navy a Question for Written Answer [OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 397] and obtained an Answer at the end of last week, which disclosed the Government's intention to order a fifth nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine.
I must say that this is no way to treat the House. The Government purport to have produced a White Paper conveying the results of a profound study of the long-term future of Britain's armed forces, and they wait for a Written Question, 10 days after publication of that White Paper, to disclose, for the first time, that they intend to order a fifth submarine.
I say that this in itself is not sufficient. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say whether his budget for 1969–70—and he must have such a budget—includes anything for the construction in that year of follow-on nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines, for in the opinion of the Opposition there should here be a continuing programme up to a much larger total than that which has at present been envisaged. This is the only stance which is acceptable in the light of the rapid and continued increase in the strength of the Soviet Fleet in this most modern, and perhaps the most dangerous, of all instruments of naval power.
I come, finally, to the decisions which affect the Air Force. Here, of course, the key decision is to be found in paragraph 8, page 11, of the White Paper. That paragraph holds out what is apparently a clear-cut and simple sequence of events. The Canberra aircraft is to phase out about the year 1970. Thereafter, its functions will be taken over by the 50 F.111As purchased from the United States, supplemented by the V-bombers which will then have been relieved in their strategic nuclear function. But from 1975 onwards, the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft will come in and take over, in turn, from the F.111As and the V-bombers in the strike rôle. That is the picture which this paragraph of the White Paper seeks to establish.
All this arises out of cancellation of the TSR.2. The first observation I would make is that it represents the purchase of very expensive aircraft indeed. It has been a matter of some difficulty to extract from the Government any of the relevant figures about the expenditure—dollar or otherwise—on the F.111A, but if we take the total initial dollar cost, which the right hon. Gentleman told me is £150 million; if we add the sterling costs which, perhaps, are not very large; if we add the cancellation charges which have so far been incurred on the TSR.2—that is to say, expenditure incurred after the decision not to proceed with the TSR.2, but to cancel it—and if we add, further, the substantial interest charges, something like £40 million, which we have incurred because this is a dollar expenditure and because it has been carried forward, then the cost per aircraft of the F.111A works out at around £5 million—[Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman will be able to give his figures, but I am taking the total dollar costs at £150 million; I am adding something for the sterling costs; I am adding the £40 million referred to in a Written Answer of 28th February—cancellation charges so far; and I am adding the figure for interest charge which, on the basis of the answer that the right hon. Gentleman gave me, I estimate at about £40 million. That gives a total of between £230 and £250 million for 50 aircraft, which I make to be £5 million each. I have taken no account in this comparison of the £125 million abortive expenditure written off on the TSR.2, nor am I taking account of the further figures of dollar expenditure which will be incurred over the following ten years.
A figure of £5 million as the individual cost of this aircraft is certainly not out of comparison with the cost of the TSR.2 on which the Government took their decision to cancel that aircraft, and which they themselves announced to the House at the time of their decision—namely £5 million apiece if we bought 150, and £6 million apiece if we bought 100. This is a very expensive aircraft, indeed, and its cost per aircraft—the value we are getting for money, to put it another way round—is within range of the figure which the Government themselves quoted to the House when they were making the case against the TSR.2.
But this expenditure is dollar expenditure, and we have been given the most extraordinary assurance by the Government in relation to that dollar expenditure of about £200 million—initially; more to come—on the F.111A. The Government said in the White Paper:
We have taken steps to ensure that the foreign exchange cost…will be fully offset by sales of British equipment.
They may have taken steps, but they have not told the House about them, because there is nothing in the White Paper which "ensures" that the dollar cost of these aircraft will be "fully offset" by sales of British equipment.
All that we learn is that British firms are to be allowed to compete without discrimination and that the United States Government will extend to Britain the opportunity to tender. Let us get this quite clear: unless the Government can give firm evidence that the United States has undertaken to make additional purchases from this country—not just purchases which it was going to make anyhow, because that would be double counting—of equipment to the value of at least £200 million, then they are deceiving the country by suggesting that they have ensured that this dollar expenditure on the F.111A will be offset.
But there are much more serious matters even than the expenditure, both in absolute terms and in dollar terms. Let us look at the function of these aircraft, to which this key paragraph of the Defence White Paper refers. We are told in the second part of the Defence White Paper that the primary function of the Canberra aircraft which are to be replaced is
nuclear strike, but they can also use conventional weapons to meet national requirements outside the N.A.T.O. area.
What, then, are the characteristics of the F.111A which have resulted in its being chosen as a successor in this rôle to the Canberra aircraft? It has the ability to strike and to reconnoitre at a radius of action of 1,500 miles and upwards and to do so with an exceptionally high chance of penetration.
It is not denied that these aircraft are primarily for use outside Europe. When the right hon. Gentleman was debating the cancellation of the TSR. 2 on 13th April, he referred, as reported in column 1198, to our problems outside Europe and said:
…hon. Members…will realise that it is the knowledge that we could, if necessary, strike successfully at the enemy's main bases which is the best guarantee against the dangerous escalation of a local conflict into major war".
He went on with these words, which I particularly ask the House to note:
This is the case…for having as part of our total defence some aircraft with a
capacity for tactical strike and reconnaissance. In our view, it is an irrefutable one if Britain proposes to maintain any capacity for military action on her own in any part of the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1965; Vol. 710, c. 1198.]
So we have been told by the right hon. Gentleman what the purpose of these aircraft is. It is to reconnoitre and to strike at a depth of 1,500 miles and upwards "on our own" in any part of the world. I think that the right hon. Gentleman ought to explain to the House and to the country—and this, I think, will be a matter of interest on both sides of the House—what these operations are. He ought to explain in what circumstances he, who has deprived this country of the ability in the early 1970s to land even a battalion against opposition except across a short stretch of water or except as part of an Anglo-American task force, has decided that it is necessary for Britain far into the 1970s in any part of the world to be able "on her own" to strike at an enemy at 1,500 miles and more radius of action from our nearest base. We ought to be told more about the sort of operations and the sort of circumstances in which he regards this as essential.
Indeed, but hon. Members on this side of the House have not decided that they should deprive this country of any power of naval intervention whatever in the 1970s. They are not in the position of the Secretary of State.
I think that both sides of the House, and particularly hon. Members below the Gangway, will be interested in one aspect of the possible utilisation of these aircraft. On page 5 of the White Paper, Part I, the right hon. Gentleman refers to the nuclear deterrent and says that we "aim to internationalise our nuclear strategic forces"—apparently a complete disembarrassment by the Labour Party of the nuclear deterrent: the whole of the nuclear strategic force, the nuclear deterrent, is to be embodied, if he can manage it, in some international arrangement and removed from our control.
But when we look at the second part of the Defence White Paper, the part perhaps in which political considerations
have played less part and factual realities a little more, we find this on page 23:
Under our proposal for an Atlantic Nuclear Force, we have offered to internationalise the bulk of our nuclear strategic forces"—
hon. Members will note the words: we have offered to internationalise "the bulk of" our nuclear strategic forces—
including the entire Polaris submarine Fleet…".
There is thus something left over. There is a part of our independent nuclear deterrent which is not to be internationalised. There is a part which is to remain operational under our control outside Europe. Presumably, therefore, this is the key, or one of the keys, to the use which is to be made of these deep-striking deep-penetrating aircraft in the Far East far into the 1970s. I am sure that hon. Members opposite, above and below the Gangway, will be glad to know that this country is maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent for use outside Europe and providing itself with the means to deliver it far into the 1970s.
For this purpose the Government have bought the 50 F111As. The reason why the purchase has been limited to 50 is, in the terms of the White Paper, the expectation
that the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft should begin to take over this and other rôles
by the mid-1970s. I leave aside altogether the question of the adequacy of 50 aircraft, which even initially could give an operational capability at any one time of no more than 20 to 25 aircraft, to discharge these rôles over five years and more, and to do so at a time when our carrier capability will completely have phased out.
But the whole policy rests, and is admitted to rest, upon the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft which is to take over from the mid-1970s onwards. The "core of our long-term aircraft programme", the only thing which makes even tentative sense of all that is proposed in this vital sector of our defence preparations, is that the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft will be beginning by the middle of the 1970s to take over these and other rôles from the V-bombers and the F111As.
At present, this aircraft—the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft—does not exist, as someone in the aircraft industry put it to me, "even on the back of an envelope". But from all that has been known about it hitherto, from all that is known about the understanding between this country and the French, the idea that the Canberra, the V-bomber and the F111A could be replaced by the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft is an insult either to our intelligence or to our information.
First, it involves replacing an 80-ton aircraft by an aircraft which is envisaged as weighing only 15 or 16 tons and carrying a two-ton bombload. Secondly, this is an aircraft which the Government have hitherto envisaged as an interceptor, as a successor to the Lightning. As recently as 25th February, the Chief of the French Air Staff at a Press conference said:
The British are interested by the interception missions and the French by the strike missions. We have always been told that the variable geometry aircraft was to replace the Lightning in the R.A.F. interceptor squadrons.
Thirdly, this relatively light aircraft, with a much shorter range of action than the F111A, is acceptable and desirable to the French, among other reasons, because it can operate off a carrier as well as from land bases.
The same right hon. Gentleman, who has now produced this aircraft as the deus ex machina to take over in the middle of the 1970s from the F111A and the V-bomber, said this 15 months ago, in referring to this aircraft:
It is under consideration because it is likely to be a suitable replacement for some or possibly all of these aircraft";
and "these aircraft" were the Buccaneer the Lightning and the Phantom. It is not surprising that the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion went on to say that:
there is no relationship between the F111A problem and the variable geometry aircraft now under consideration with the French." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1965: Vol. 712, c. 1008.]
Neither is there. The whole thing is a structure of spoof, designed to cover up the mess into which the Government have got themselves by the cancellation of the TSR2 and the obligations that they have entered into to the United States.
While I am mentioning the United States, I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he asks in whatever authoritative quarters he likes whether they think that the Americans will sit idly by as the 1970s go on and wait for this swing-wing aircraft, in this entirely different rôle, to be produced without themselves going into production with something which will rival it. Does he really imagine that, come the late 1970s, even this aircraft will not have been anticipated by an American bid? What has happened is that the Government have bound themselves hand and foot to the Americans in this whole area of armament of our forces.
There is one country where the paragraph that I have been dissecting and the decisions of the Government have caused great satisfaction. That is in the United States. The editor of the journal Missiles and Rockets, commenting on the White Paper a few days ago, said:
Britain's decision to buy the F111 on credit and to phase out the Royal Navy's air arm is virtually a deathknell for that nation's once proud aircraft industry.
He ironically besought "no one in United States industry to trouble to complain at the short-run competition which this may provide on a few inconsequential contracts." (That, by the way, is how "ensuring that the full dollar cost is offset" looks from the other side of the Atlantic.) Why? Because
the net effect of the White Paper decision will be to put the finishing touches on an industry which once appeared as a potentially potent competitor.
No wonder that Mr McNamara kept back the announcement of his decision to increase the American carrier force until the sale of the F111A was in the bag.
So we are contemplating a series of decisions which will run down our conventional forces, which will render us the military dependants of the United States, and which will severely prejudice the future of our aircraft industry.
The right hon. Gentleman has been making a very powerful case against the Government's defence cuts. Could he reconcile that case with his own often repeated statements that our commitments east of Suez ought to be reduced drastically and more quickly? Where is the consistency?
I should be very obliged to the hon. Gentleman if he would do me the honour to draw my attention to the place and circumstances in which I have used either those words or anything like them.
The party which has thus damaged the capabilities of our aircraft industry, which has taken decisions which will reduce the strength of our conventional forces and which will render us for a whole range of our requirements the prisoners of the United States, is, to use the words of the Secretary of State for Defence a few days ago,
shortly to stand at an election".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 242.]
It is, therefore, worth while looking to see what it was that the Labour Party was holding out to the country when it last stood at a General Election. When the Labour Party last stood at a General Election—[Interruption.] I can quite understand hon. Members opposite not wishing to be reminded of what they said at the last election.
We are not prepared"—
they then said to the country—
any longer to waste the country's resources on endless duplication of strategic nuclear weapons.
So this Government have maintained them all, except the fifth Polaris submarine.
We shall propose the renegotiation of the Nassau agreement".
This they have not done. The Labour Party then went on to say:
Our stress will be on the strengthening of our conventional regular forces".
They have cut them—the complete reverse of what they said has actually happened during these last 15 months.
The Prime Minister, who, within months of the end of the last Parliament had promised that
we should renegotiate this Agreement to end the proposal to buy Polaris submarines from the United States…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 444.]
who had stated that "Aden must be held as an important base, both for communications and as a centre for peacekeeping operations, and whatever measures were necessary to this end must be taken", the same right hon. Gentleman went down to Plymouth a fortnight or a little more before the General Election. He treated his hearers to a long account of the movements of British carriers. At the end of this long disquisition on their movements he continued:
This is taking dangerous risks with our defences.
Now, we in the House know the Prime Minister pretty well. We know very well that frankness and candour of which he never ceases to remind us. Consequently, if we had been present in that hall at Plymouth and had heard him, after that long disquisition on carriers, conclude, "This is taking dangerous risks with our defences", we would have known that his intention was to scrap the carrier force altogether. But was it really fair or candid with the electorate of Plymouth and elsewhere to face them with that puzzle?
The right hon. Gentleman went on to
I believe we shall need an expanded naval shipbuilding programme. How are we going to pay for it? Out of the savings made through stopping wasteful expenditure on the politically-inspired nuclear programme.
That was the £15 million for stopping the fifth Polaris submarine. All the rest of the £400 million is taken out of our conventional forces, a considerable part of it representing cuts in our naval shipbuilding programme. Right hon. Gentlemen and a party who talk that way and who act this way are not fit to be trusted with the defence of this country.
I think that many of us on both sides of the House hoped that this debate would see the beginning of a major national argument about where we should go in defence and foreign policy. After all, the party opposite, like the party on this side of the House, is standing three weeks next Thursday in a General Election and it has chosen to make defence a major issue.
I think that many of us were equally waiting for the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in the hope that he would lift some of the veil on the Conservative Party's defence policy. We were hoping that we might find out who has won the battle which has been raging in the Conservative Party on defence since the Brighton conference. Is it those who want to spend less, or those who want to spend more? Is it those who, like the right hon. Gentleman, want Britain to abandon her military capability altogether outside Europe, or is it those who want to continue to play a rôle in supporting the Commonwealth overseas? Is it those who want to stay in Europe, who want a Gaullist policy, like the right hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) and the right hon. Gentleman himself, or is it those who want a Common Market policy?
We have got absolutely no clue from the right hon. Gentleman's speech what is the defence policy of the party opposite. From the opposite side all we got was soggy mishmash like the Conservatives' policy when they were in office. We got equivocation on every important issue in the hope of maintaining the façade of solidarity until the election is over.
I should like to ask the Leader of the Opposition: what about the dogs that are not barking in the night these next two days? There is not a single spokesman from the political side of the party opposite. Where are the shadow Foreign Secretary, or the shadow Commonwealth Secretary? Here is a major debate on defence and foreign policy, and neither of them chooses to speak. What about the cohorts of ex-defence Ministers on the other side of the House? Not one of them is planning to speak. I am not at all surprised. The fact is that the party opposite is hoping to ride away on a purely negative approach to this problem, and the right hon. Gentleman made quite a negative speech, but he also asked some important questions and I shall try to deal with them.
So far as I could understand it, the right hon. Gentleman's main criticism of the Government's policy—I agree that if he could sustain it and I could not answer it, it would be a very damaging criticism—was based on three main grounds: first, that we should not have fixed a target of £2,000 million for our defence expenditure in 1969—70, that we should have gone on spending 7 per cent. of the gross national product on defence. I was a little confused here because, first, the right hon. Gentleman argued that there was no gap to close, then he argued that we had not closed it, and then he argued that we had closed it, but that we had not told anybody how. I will deal with that part of his criticism in a moment.
So far as I could understand it, the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's complaint was that we should not have cut our military tasks in the way we planned to do, or at least that we should not have told anyone that we were going to cut them in that way, or rather that we should have told them a bit more than we have told them about how we are planning to cut them. In particular, he argued that we should not have decided now, and announced our decision, to withdraw from the Aden base after South Arabia becomes independent.
The third criticism—and the main weight of his attack lay on this—was that the forces and equipment with which we plan to carry out our remaining commitments are not adequate for the tasks involved. I propose to deal with each of these major criticisms in turn.
On the question of a target figure, the Conservative Party tried to do exactly the same. In its 1962 Defence White Paper, it said that there was a need for five-year forward budgets and that it hoped to avoid a significant increase in the 7 per cent. of the gross national product which it was then devoting to defence. In its White Paper on Public Expenditure, three years ago, it established forecasts for the growth of all major Government programmes up to the year 1967–68, four years ahead. The figure for the defence budget for that year was £2,200 million at 1964 prices. The 10-year forward costings which I found in my own Department when I took over 16 months ago involved an expenditure of £2,400 million for defence in 1969–70.
So far as I can understand, there is really no difference between the two sides of the House in principle on the need for a target on defence expenditure. Anyone with any experience of public planning knows that forward planning must be based on an estimated target. The only difference between the two sides of the House on this question is that the Conservatives fixed their target for defence expenditure higher than the country could afford, and even so they failed completely to stay within the limit which they had set themselves. Although, on the basis of the Conservative Party White Paper on Public Expenditure in 1963, the average annual growth in defence expenditure envisaged was only 3½ per cent., the following year's defence estimates showed an increase at constant prices of 5½ per cent., and the estimates we inherited in October, 1964, for the financial year 1965–66 showed an increase in expenditure of 5·1 per cent.
The fact is that they fixed the limit too high, and, even so, they did not keep inside it They sat back and watched defence expenditure rise and they did nothing about it—like a lump of jelly. The right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, and he knows what his responsibility was and he knows that he did not carry it out. This is what they call "tough, purposeful, abrasive Conservative planning". Or possibly that is what they mean when they say, "Conservative freedom works".
Would the right hon. Gentleman take account of the figures quoted this afternoon which show that the proportion of the gross national product devoted to defence was falling during the last years of the then Government?
The right hon. Gentleman tried to fix much of his argument on the fact that the hon. Members opposite, when they were in power, grossly overestimated the amount of money that they would be able to spend in a year on defence. The figures given by the right hon. Gentleman were not the estimates. They were the out-turn. What happened was that they failed to carry out the programme as fast as they wished, and they simply pushed the expenditure to the right, thereby incurring a tremendous bulge in defence expenditure during the last years of this decade. This was the position that we found when we came to office.
The real argument is whether the target that we have set ourselves—£2,000 million, which is £400 million less than the estimate we inherited—is too low. Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has given no indication whether he thinks it too low or not. If he believes that it is too low, he must answer the questions which follow. How will the Opposition find the additional money they believe to be necessary for defence in 1969–70? The £400 million which we have cut off the expenditure they planned for that year would be the equivalent of an increase in the standard rate of Income Tax of more than 1s. 6d. in the £. Is this how the Opposition would have found the money?
Would they, instead, have cut other items in public expenditure? Were they planning to cut productive investment in the nationalised industries? Were they planning to cut the social services? Let them tell us now. It is no good saying in principle that one is in favour of an increase in expenditure unless one shows where one is to get the money.
No—not at all. I have made it clear that I see us keeping defence expenditure steady while the national wealth rises, with the result that, in 1969–70, we shall be spending only 6 per cent. of our gross national product on defence instead of the 7 per cent. which the previous Government planned to spend.
It would have been quite wrong for Britain to plan on continuing to spend 7 per cent.—[Interruption.] I am talking about the estimate that we inherited from the party opposite and that estimate was 7 per cent. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition would listen.
I recall the estimate that we inherited from the Conservative Government. It provided for an expenditure in excess of 7 per cent. of the gross national product in 1969–70. Is anyone now suggesting that we should continue to spend this percentage of our expanding national product on defence when all our allies, including the United States, are trying to decrease the amount of national wealth they are spending on defence, and when all our major allies except the United States are already spending less than Britain?
There is nothing particularly revolutionary about this view. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who leads for the Opposition on defence, and the right hon. Member for Mon-mouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), my predecessor as Defence Secretary, both resigned from the Conservative Government in 1958. Why? On the ground that it would be impossible, without gravely weakening the British economy, to continue the level of defence expenditure they planned—
Then he is not here, is he? As he is not here, perhaps I should say that the issue of defence expenditure was not involved in the issue over which he and I resigned.
I will not withdraw. I will quote what the right hon. Member for Monmouth said on 23rd January, 1958, in justifying his resignation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition will listen to it. The right hon. Member for Monmouth said:
The point I want to put is the quite simple one that for twelve years we have been attempting to do more than our resources could manage, and in the process we have been gravely weakening ourselves. We have, in a sense, been trying to do two things at the same time. First, we have sought to be a nuclear power, matching missile with missile and anti-missile with anti-missile, and with large…conventional forces in the Far East, the Middle East and the Atlantic at the same time…. At the same time, we have sought to maintain a Welfare State at as high a level as—sometimes at an even higher level than—that of the United States of America…. The simple truth is that we have been spending more money than we should."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1958, Vol. 580, c. 1295–6.]
Let the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition get up if he wants to.
The Secretary of State should now withdraw. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] He has been making this erroneous statement for a long time. The fact is as stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)—defence expenditure was not the issue on which he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) resigned. It is quite clear from that extract of my right hon. Friend's speech in 1958 that the Secretary of State for Defence should withdraw.
I have quoted the speech of the right hon. Member for Monmouth. The House and the country can judge whether or not I have misrepresented what he said.
Even the United States—and this is a point not generally realised—is steadily cutting its percentage of gross national product on defence. It fell from 101 per cent. in 1962 to 8·2 per cent. in 1965. Germany has been cutting its defence percentage by ½ per cent. in each of the last three years. Next year, it is not likely to amount to more than 4½ per cent. of its gross national product. Does anyone outside the ranks of the Opposition really think that, in these circumstances, we should have continued to let our defence expenditure swell automatically from year to year as they are prepared to do?
In fact, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has made it clear that he wants to spend much more than £2,400 million in 1969–70. If I followed his speech correctly, he does not go back on anything he said in the debate on our reserve forces a few weeks ago. In that case he wants to spend two or three times more on defence than even his colleagues in the last Government. He wants us to be able to fight a long war in Europe with conventional weapons alone—and to be able to resist Soviet invasion as well. Since none of our allies shares his views, this would mean Britain alone mobilising another 30 divisions—a defence budget of £6,000 million a year and conscription.
At the same time, the right hon. Gentleman does not want to reduce our expenditure on atomic weapons to compensate. On the contrary, he wants, as he made it clear, to keep independent national control of our strategic deterrent forces. But I must say, judging by his previous argument, that it is not clear when he would propose to use them because he would not even use them in the situation which he envisaged—when the Territorial Army was defending our wives and families against the mass of the Red Army in Britain.
I do not know why he wants atomic weapons at all on the assumption of the arguments that he used in the reserve forces debate. The fact is that we had to cut the percentage of our national wealth that the previous Government planned to spend on defence.
I am glad that there is at least one right hon. Gentleman on the benches opposite who has the courage to say in this election what he thinks.
We were also deeply concerned to reduce the total amount of foreign exchange expenditure on defence and to reduce the over-stretch from which our forces have been suffering in recent years. Too many of our soldiers, sailors and airmen are having to spend far too long away from their families, are having to work far too hard in conditions which are too difficult.
If, as I believe we must, we aim to obtain by voluntary recruitment the men and women for our forces, it is essential to reduce this over-stretch, otherwise recruiting and re-engagement will fall, overstretch will increase—and so on, and so on, in a vicious circle.
By August last year, as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West pointed out, we had got more than half way to our target saving by changes in the equipment programme which would actually increase our capability for carrying out all our existing military tasks. We had not yet made any favourable impact on the foreign exchange costs of defence nor did these equipment savings reduce the strain on our forces. So, for the last six months we have concentrated on planning to reduce our military tasks, so that we were able to save foreign exchange, reduce over-stretch and make further savings in resources.
Our conclusions can be summarised as follows. We have cut the planned expenditure of the previous Government for 1969–70 by 16 per cent. Of that saving, three-quarters will be achieved without any loss in capability by getting better value for money. This is summed up in the phrase cost-effectiveness, which I see the party opposite has discovered and put into its manifesto, although it opposed every decision we took to get better cost-effectiveness applied in defence.
But, of course, we believe in action not words. Because we are getting value for money we will be cutting our military capability by only 4 per cent. On the other hand, and this answers one of the questions asked by the right hon. Gentleman, to reduce over-stretch we plan to reduce the number of troops we keep outside Europe by over 30 per cent., keeping a much higher proportion of our forces in a home station, in Britain or Germany.
This will save about one-quarter of our existing expenditure of foreign exchange in stationing costs. Contrary to what some critics-have claimed when we have fully carried out the changes in tasks and forces planned in the defence review we shall be in a much better position to fulfil the tasks which then remain than we are to fulfil existing tasks today.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that the redeployment will make a saving of one-quarter in foreign exchange costs. Can he say what saving it will make in budgetary costs?
I will come to that in a moment.
I pass to the second question. Have we cut the right tasks? Should we have cut more, or should we have cut less, or should we have done something different altogether? So far as I can tell, there has been no serious complaint on either side of the House about the cuts we plan in the N.A.T.O. area, about the removal of our forces from the Caribbean, and the Southern African territories, or about the cuts we plan to make in the Mediterranean—although the right hon. Gentleman said that we should be more specific about this, while saying that we were quite wrong to be specific about the cut we plan to make in Aden.
The argument has focused almost exclusively on the cuts we have planned to make East of Suez and in the Middle and Far East. I know that there are very important differences of opinion—
not only between the Government and Opposition, but also inside both parties.
I cannot help feeling that these differences, real though they are, tend to be exaggerated and inflamed by the emotional associations which are so easily attached to the phrase "east of Suez", with its echoes from the "road to Mandalay", and even to the phrase, "Britain's world rôle". The fact is that Britain has got to stay east of Suez in any case for many years. We have direct responsibility for the internal security and external defence of territories in the areas which are unlikely to become independent for some time yet.
Successive Governments have accepted treaty obligations in Asia, both bilateral, like those to Malaysia, and multilateral, like those to CENTO and S.E.A.T.O. Our commitment to defend Malaysia involves us at this moment in deploying over 50,000 military personnel in Southern Asia.
I am coming to that in a moment. If the hon. Gentleman will show a little patience I will answer all his questions.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, Southwest, who speaks for the Opposition on defence, believes that the presence of our forces in Borneo can be explained only by a state of national hallucination. But I have the impression that the Leader of the Opposition, like the Leader of the Liberal Party, who, I am sorry to say, is not present, agrees that this is a commitment from which we cannot consider attempting to withdraw so long as our Commonwealth partners remain under the existing threat from Indonesia.
Even if circumstances were to make it possible and desirable for us to negotiate an end to this commitment, our residual responsibilities would compel us to retain some forces in the Far East. The question is not whether we stay east of Suez, but in what strength and for what purpose and for how long.
The same is true of Britain's world rôle. There are few responsible politicians in any party who wish Britain to be without all influence outside the European continent, and to shrink into an exclusive pre-occupation with that part of humanity which is her immediate neighbour. In any case, we have important economic and political interests in every continent. Though the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and many of his party consider the Commonwealth to be just a gigantic farce, most of us on both sides of the House believe that the existence of the Commonwealth makes an indispensable contribution to world order and strengthens the international influence of all its members—including Britain.
The question, therefore, is not whether Britain has a world rôle or not—she must have one—but what part her military forces outside Europe can play at reasonable cost in supporting it. To ask this question is not to indulge in vain dreams of imperial nostalgia or world domination. Even the most powerful of the super States, like Russia and America, cannot today determine by themselves what shall happen throughout the world. One has only to look at Albania and Cuba to see that.
The question is whether, by her military presence outside Europe, Britain can, not rule the world, but make a useful contribution to peace and stability in areas which are in the throes of revolutionary change, and where, to quote from the Conservative Party statement at its Brighton conference,
…the main danger to peace now rests.
Her Majesty's Government believe that she can, but only if she accepts certain necessary limitations on her military rôle. We believe that we must take decisions ourselves about these limitations and take them now. That is the real difference between us and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. He thinks that we should cut our commitments but will not do anything about it. That is how he described his attitude on television the other night.
We have got commitments east of Suez, as it is commonly described, which I believe we ought to adhere to. Of course, we would like to see these commitments reduced and in the course of time I think this will come about. You cannot be certain when it is going to come about. And, therefore, in making provision for defence you cannot be dogmatic about it.
This is tough, purposeful, abrasive talk all right—wait for someone else to take the decisions for you.
No, I cannot be certain about everything but, I think that it is possible to take some decisions now and that a Government with any sense of responsibility to the British people must take those decisions which it is possible to take and not leave everything to be decided by foreigners. [Laughter.] Let us go into this.
The first of these limitations is that we should not seek to maintain military facilities in an independent country against its will. The second is that we should not accept commitments to give military support to a country unless that country provides us with the facilities we require to make our support effective in time. The third is that we should not attempt to maintain a capability for carrying out major military operations entirely alone and without allies.
I do not believe that, even if it were economically or militarily possible for us to avoid accepting these limitations, it would be politically wise for us to seek to do so. In particular, to seek to maintain military facilities in an independent country against its will can mean tying down so many troops in protecting one's base that one has none left to use from it. The base then becomes a heavy commitment in itself and loses all its military value.
So far as the ability to wage large-scale war on our own outside Europe is concerned, we have ceased to have this for many years and, even if we thought it worth while attempting to recover this ability, I cannot see how it could possibly make sense for Britain to engage in major military operations entirely on her own in Asia in the 1970s, if her neighbours and competitors in Western Europe are sitting back and raking in the money. I know that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West does not think so either, but he does not think it expedient to reveal his thoughts so soon before the General Election.
Certainly. I will say it very simply. If the capacity to engage in small-scale military operations can prevent large-scale disaster, as undoubtedly it did when we intervened under the previous Government in East Africa in 1964, it is well worth a people with any sense of international responsibility paying something to be able to do it.
If we honestly face the natural limitations which the facts impose on our foreign policy and military capability in the 1970s, then we can draw some practical conclusions. The first is that it would be a mistake to try to keep a base in Aden after independence in 1968, particularly when we do not need that base to carry out our commitments outside South Arabia. That is why the Government have decided that British forces should leave Aden when South Arabia becomes independent and that, meanwhile, we should make a small increase in our forces already stationed in the Persian Gulf so that we can carry out our commitments to support Kuwait and the other States in the Gulf to which we have obligations.
The right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) has tried to suggest that, in deciding to leave the Aden base in 1968, we are unilaterally abandoning a commitment. This is totally untrue. We have at present some treaty obligations to the South Arabia Federation, but these will automatically lapse when South Arabia becomes an independent State in its own right. In any case, none of them is appropriate in form to relations between independent States.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to maintain that the promise made by his right hon. Friend in July, 1964, to delegates from the Federation of South Arabia and Aden Colony in some way commits Britain to conclude a defence agreement with an independent South Arabia in 1968 under which she would retain her military base in Aden. This, also, is quite untrue. The promise which the right hon. Gentleman made was to convene a conference. The present Government attempted to convene such a conference last March—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, but it proved quite impossible to secure agreement between Adeni and Federal leaders on the composition of the conference; and by March the Aden Government had resigned to be replaced by a Government committed to the immediate withdrawal of the Aden base; and at no time since has it been possible to secure sufficient agreement between Adeni and Federal leaders to permit any of the proposals made in July, 1964, to be carried further.
In so far as the present Government had any commitment as a result of the right hon. Gentleman's promise before the last election, it has already been fully carried out. But, in any case, I do not see how any hon. or right hon. Member can maintain that Britain could ever have had any obligation to keep the base in Aden if she did not need it, and the local people did not want it, and then to conclude a defence agreement for which the purpose would be to ensure that she could retain that base. Her Majesty's Government have an obligation to protect the interests of the British people as well as those of foreigners.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was uncharacteristically evasive in pretending to answer the question which I put to him. I will ask him again: does the Conservative Party believe that we have a commitment to keep the Aden base whether we need it or not and whether the local people want us to have it or not? If it does not think that, everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said is simply a dishonest and shilly-shallying smokescreen. The point which he makes is totally irrelevant. The commitment we had was to call a conference. We tried to do this. It was the fault of the people to whom we made the promise that we could not hold to it. I do not think that even right hon. Members opposite would maintain that we have a commitment to maintain the base in Aden even if we do not want one and even if the local people do not want us to have one.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot wriggle out of firm commitments. He is just playing with words. He talks about the local people not wanting this base. He knows perfectly well that the request for a defence agreement came not from us—we did not ask for it—but from the Federal Government themselves. They asked that we should fix a date for independence and that we should conclude a defence agreement. Those two things were joined together because they knew that independence without protection was a farce. We gave the pledge that we would do both things—independence not later than 1968, and a defence agreement. That pledge clearly commits our successors—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] I must continue. The House should know that this pledge was subsequently confirmed on behalf of the present British Government by the British High Commissioner in Aden. That is an important fact. The right hon. Gentleman also knows—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] The right hon. Gentleman also knows that when he himself—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Hon. Members opposite do not like this. When the right hon. Gentleman—
I have just explained to the House that we fully carried out the promise which the right hon. Gentleman made. I wish that the Leader of the Opposition, even if the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has not the guts to do so, would answer the question which I put: does any member of the Opposition believe that we should adhere to the promise made by the right hon. Gentlemen to keep the base in Aden if we do not need it and the local people do not want it?
This is a very serious matter and I will answer the right hon. Gentleman. The question which he is putting is a false question. Surely he is not arguing that because the Colonial Secretary failed at his first attempt to get agreement about independence with the Federation and the then Government of Aden, that is the end of the matter. Of course not. He said that it is not. If there is to be a future conference, the undertaking of the British Government should be adhered to.
This is not the case at all. We have exactly the same right as the Government of Aden—which has changed since it was represented at the conference called by the right hon. Gentleman—to decide where our interests lie. The promise made by the right hon. Gentleman—I have checked this carefully in the White Paper—was made at a conference attended by many people. Some were representatives of the Federal Government. Some were representatives of the then Government of Aden Colony. Some were representatives of individual States.
I think that I have the right to make my speech in my own way and to be listened to with the same care and attention as we gave to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, Southwest.
No. The right hon. Gentleman has just intervened at great length, and I regret having given way to him to let him make a point which he should have made in a speech from the Opposition Front Bench. He made a large number of statements when he was Commonwealth Secretary, as he did when he was Secretary of State for Defence. He was a dogmatically dangerous Commonwealth Secretary, just as he was when he was Defence Secretary.
It is interesting that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West took a very different position from that of his right hon. Friends. So far as I could understand him, he did not argue about the wisdom of our decision to give up the Aden base in 1968. I do not see how he could have done so in the light of the speech which he made at the Conservative Party Conference at Brighton. Instead, he argued that we should not have announced our decision now.
With respect, I think that if he reflects for one moment, he will understand that we have no alternative. If we want our Forces to be out of Aden in 1968—which is only two years from now—we must start making the physical and practical arrangements right away. Our intention would thus become known on the spot, in any case, from the local actions which we took or ceased to take. More important still, I do not believe that it would have been honourable to attempt to conceal our intention from the local people and their leaders, as the right hon. Gentleman seems to have suggested that we should. Even if it had been physically possible to do so—which it is not—it would have been intolerable for the Government, having decided to leave the base in two years' time, to give no indication of their intentions to those with whom they must negotiate the form of independence.
Some hon. Members may feel that, if we are leaving Aden, we should leave the Gulf, too. But in the Gulf we have treaty obligations to States which are independent, such as Kuwait, which is a member of the United Nations. Moreover, the Gulf is an area of such vital importance, not only to the economy of Western Europe as a whole but also to world peace, that it would be totally irresponsible for us to withdraw our force from the area unless we were completely satisfied that peace and order would be maintained after our withdrawal.
The purpose of the small increase in forces which we plan to make over the next few years in the Gulf is to ensure that diplomacy has time to produce a stable situation in the area against the time, which will come some day, when peace in the Gulf need no longer depend on Britain's military power.
I pass to the most important question asked by the right hon. Gentleman. He asked whether, having reduced our military tasks in the world, as I have described, we shall be able to carry out the remaining tasks with the men and weapons provided for in the White Paper. I agree with him that the whole of our Defence Review would be a dangerous waste of effort if it resulted in leaving our forces with jobs to do which they had neither the numbers nor the arms to do effectively. I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) said in his personal statement—that no honourable man should continue to serve in a Government which left our Forces, in his opinion, in such a state.
But what are the facts? First of all, we do not plan to make any reduction in the size of our forces until confrontation with Indonesia is ended, and we are able to reduce our Far East deployment to the level once planned by the previous Government before confrontation began. The cuts which we make in our tasks in the Caribbean, the South Atlantic, the Southern African Territories, the Mediterranean and the Middle East will not by themselves lead to any reduction in the total of Army units or manpower. There will simply be more men to deal with fewer areas in which emergencies may arise and for which we remain responsible.
There is no authority whatsoever for those stories.
As our programme is implemented we shall be able to relax the strain on the fighting units of the Services and to reduce very substantially the requirement for Army units to go overseas on emergency tours. We shall keep some slack in hand for reducing over-stretch. In other words, as our commitments diminish according to our programme, our capability for carrying out our remaining military tasks will steadily improve. Just to give the right hon. Gentleman one example—because he raised the question—at the moment we have nine battalions overseas on emergency tours. These will all be able to return to Britain to accommodation which they left when they went overseas on emergency tours. In other words, they will be able to spend the time in Britain which they were led to expect when they were recruited—time which they expected to be able to spend in a home station.
The fact is that the major savings resulting from our Defence Review will arise almost entirely from changes in the equipment programme and not in manpower. Many of these changes will result in increased military capability. Where they involve reductions in capability, these will be in fields where we are satisfied that the reductions involve little risk.
The biggest single saving will be in the aircraft programme of the previous Government. Here we shall save £1,200 million altogether over the next ten years, partly through buying aircraft more cheaply from abroad, and partly through having a more cost-effective mix of aircraft for the tasks we envisage. Yet much of these savings will involve a very substantial increase in our capability in certain directions; for example, we shall be getting our C.130 or Hercules transport aircraft next year—five years earlier than we could have expected the HS.681 which we cancelled. Similarly, the Phantoms will come into service in 1968 and the P.1127 in 1969. We do not believe there was any chance of getting the P.1154 until 1972. In fact, if we had continued the programme of the previous Government, we should certainly have had to make extensive interim purchases of American aircraft to bridge the gap between the time when our existing transport and ground support aircraft had to be replaced and the earliest date at Which we could have expected their British successors.
Certainly, we have to pay dollars for the aircraft which we need, but the net additional cost of the whole of the programme outlined in the Defence Review is only £165 million spread over ten years. The dollar cost of the Conservative programme which we inherited was £410 million—two-and-a-half times higher. Incidentally, let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that what he said about the F.111A was absolutely ridiculous. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation will deal in detail when he winds up the debate with the points which the right hon. Gentleman made about that.
All I say about the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in this respect is as follows: as far as I could make it out, he does not believe in the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft and he wants many more F.111As. In fact, he poured the most dismal predictions over the whole prospect of co-operation between this country and France in the production of military aircraft, although this is one of the major items in the Manifesto which the Conservative Party published yesterday. We had the usual anti-American rigmarole from him, but he forgets that the carrier force which he wants to continue indefinitely would depend entirely on American aircraft bought for it by the previous Administration.
These are facts which nobody can dispute. So far as I can understand it, the right hon. Gentleman's argument that we shall have tasks in the 1970's which we cannot carry out depends exclusively on the assumption that we must have one new aircraft carrier coming into service in seven years' time, in 1973. He seems to argue that the absence of this single carrier will make all the difference between our ability to carry out all our conceivable military tasks outside Europe, entirely alone and without allies, and a sort of helpless satellite status.
I will not disguise from the House that the future of our carrier force was by far the most difficult problem I had to settle in the course of the Defence Review. Let me make it clear at the outset that the problem was not to decide whether, in principle, a carrier force would be a useful addition to our armoury, but whether the particular size and type of carrier force for which Britain could find the men and money was value for money—and whether it was a necessary addition to our total military strength.
I say "addition" because it has never been suggested in the course of our discussions of this issue, even by the most ardent supporters of carriers, that the building of CVA 01 would enable us to dispense with any other element in our planned forces, including the F.111A. There was never a conflict between the F.111A and the carrier force. The whole Admiralty Board completely supported the requirement for the purchase of F.111As. Therefore, we had to consider a carrier as a potential addition, not as a substitute for something else. If, like the United States, one can afford a force of 16 attack carriers, and, like the United States, one is engaged in a massive land campaign in Asia in which one's land airfields are liable to mortar attack by a powerful guerilla army, then there is no doubt that carriers are well worth while. But our situation is very different. I do not believe that it would ever make sense for us to engage in such a war, especially alone. In any case, the Admiralty Board has concluded that the Navy could not possibly man more than four carriers in all, and even then only at the expense of important elements in the rest of the Fleet.
The carrier plan we inherited from the previous Government envisaged in practice only three carriers available for operations east of Suez through the 1970s, once the Ark Royal and Victorious had been withdrawn from service. I think it is common ground that British carriers are not necessary for operations in the Atlantic, Mediterranean or Middle East. It is against the needs of possible operations in the Indian Ocean and the Far East that the case for carriers must stand or fall.
I must say that it comes oddly from the right hon. Member that he should lay such importance on getting out of the Far East and then lay such importance on a weapon whose only purpose is to increase capability in the Far East; but the fact is that, with the three-carrier force planned by the previous Government, only one ship would be permanently east of Suez and that ship would not always be in the right place at the right time. In fact it is not possible, even with our existing carrier force of four ships, to be wholly dependent on carriers in any of our contingency plans. We have to consider the possible presence of a carrier as a bonus.
It is true that a second carrier would, for nine or ten months of the year, be available at 15 days' notice to be moved east of Suez, but the single carrier which would be permanently in the area where it is needed would have only a very limited operational value. It would be capable of only four days of operation at intensive rates, though 30 days at sustained rates of operation, and one of the three carriers concerned, H.M.S. "Hermes", would be carrying only seven strike aircraft in addition to her 12 fighters. And yet the cost of this three-carrier force would be £1,400 million over a 10-year period, or an average of £140 million a year. Even if the strike aircraft on "Hermes" were a developed Buccaneer, the Buccaneer Two-Double Star, they would only have the capability of about three land-based F.111As, costing a tiny fraction of the cost of the carrier force.
I really do not believe that any hon. Member would regard this as good value for money. Indeed, broadly speaking, our studies have shown that the attributable cost of the Navy's front-line carrier-based aircraft tends to be between two and two and a half times higher than that of comparable aircraft based on land. I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) tried desperately to get these facts in front of the Cabinet when he was a Minister in the last Government, and I hope that, now I have got the facts in front of the Cabinet and the country, he will have the guts to support the decision I have taken, which is one he would have wished to take himself years ago.
Now, once the facts had become clear the question was whether there were any other means—
Yes, I will indeed. I will deal with this question in detail when I wind up tomorrow night, if I am lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
Once the facts had become clear, the only question which remained was whether there were any means of doing the carrier's essential jobs more cheaply. The previous Government rightly said in their 1962 White Paper that, while it was difficult to forecast with certainty what our requirements for aircraft carriers would be, 10 or 15 years ahead,
clearly any new generation of carriers would have to be designed primarily for the support of amphibious and land operations".
In fact, as I said when the right hon. Gentleman dealt with this point, there is only one type of land or amphibious operation for which carriers are particularly indispensable, and that is the landing or withdrawal of troops in enemy territory in the face of air attack and outside the range of our own land-based aircraft—in fact, the type of operation of which the previous Government made such a hash at Suez. I do not believe that any Government in their senses would undertake such operations outside the range of land-based aircraft, if the amount of protection we could provide for our troops would be only that available from the sort of carrier force I have just described.
If we were to take seriously the possibility of landing troops on a hostile shore, without allies, outside the range of our land-based aircraft, we would have to have a force of at least five or six carriers so as to be certain of having two premanently available, but such a force, besides costing very large sums far beyond our means, would be far beyond the capacity of the Royal Navy to man. We therefore decided not to keep the capability for such operations, and I regard this as a small sacrifice since we could not afford it anyway, and it is difficult to imagine circumstances in which it would be politically wise to use it.
I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member. I am coming precisely to that point. There is in fact only one rôle of the carrier which we consider necessary and which there is some difficulty in carrying out more cheaply by other means, and that is the protection of ships at sea, either merchant ships or naval vessels. We plan to replace this capability so far as it is necessary when carriers have gone, in part by the use of R.A.F. aircraft operating from land bases, in close co-operation with the Navy; and, in addition, we shall develop a small surface-to-surface guided weapon for use against missile-firing ships.
These developments will take time—of course, the right hon. Gentleman was right on that—and I am very anxious that in the meantime the Fleet shall not be deprived of the protection which only carriers at present can afford. That is why I believe it is essential to run our existing carrier force as long as possible into the 1970s, and in fact the target which I have set myself is 1975. I know that to keep the carrier force running till 1975 is a challenge which will tax the efforts of the Navy, but I can tell the House that the whole Admiralty Board is determined to meet it.
But on the assumption that we do continue to keep the carriers going for another 10 years, the programme I have outlined will save us £650 million compared with the programme envisaged by the previous Government. The additional cost of reproducing the carrier's capability by other means will be about £150 million, largely for the Royal Navy, but this would have had to be spent at some stage whenever carriers were phased out. So the net saving over the next 10 years is about £500 million, and that £500 million is the net cost of the Conservative Party's proposal to keep a carrier programme going, as it has expressed it in its manifesto for the last election. The saving in 1969–70, contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman said in his speech, will not be small; it will be £80 million by the adoption of the new carrier programme which I have outlined.
I really think that, if hon. and right hon. Members could wait for what I have to say, it would be easier for us all and save time. I do not intend to dodge any question, and I hope that I have foreseen most of the questions being put by right hon. and hon. Members opposite.
I know that the decision I have taken will be a bitter blow to many in the Navy, and above all to the Fleet Air Arm, and it has led to the premature retirement, at his own request, of a very great sailor, Admiral Sir David Luce. I know that the House will wish me to say how much we all regret that he should have felt it necessary to take this step. But those who are saying, for whatever reason, that the phasing out of the carrier force in up to 10 years' time means the end of the Royal Navy are doing the Fleet a grave disservice.
The fact is that the United States is the only country in the world which plans to maintain a viable carrier force round the world through the 1970s—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about France?"]—They are keeping a very small carrier force simply for use in one small part of the world. Neither the Soviet Union nor China has carriers or plans to have them, nor does any of the countries with whom our commitments might have engaged us in hostilities over the last 20 years.
Our decision to end the carrier force in 1975 rather than 1980—because, on the proposal by the party opposite for one new carrier, we should have had to end the carrier force five years later than we planned—does not mean the end of the Fleet Air Arm and still less of the Royal Navy. At least half the Fleet Air Arm at present is concerned with operating helicopters. Helicopters have a vital anti-submarine rôle and will be flown in increasing numbers from the cruisers, destroyers and frigates of the Fleet, and others will continue to operate in the tactical rôle from the commando ships.
In that way, the tradition of the Fleet Air Arm will be carried on even when the attack carrier has gone in 1975. But, for the next 10 years, the watchword for the Fleet Air Arm will be "Business as usual". I realise the very great importance, both to the nation and to the Navy, of the carrier force during the next 10 years while this difficult transition to the new arrangements is being made. In fact, I know that the whole Royal Navy will regard it as a challenge to be met, as they have met all other challenges in the past.
The Royal Navy in the 1970s will still be fulfilling a vital rôle in the defence of Britain. Its Polaris submarines will make a massive contribution to the deterrent power of our alliance.
The right hon. Gentleman did not think they were going to be thrown away, surely. But it is nice to see him back here. I only wish that he was speaking in the debate, perhaps to deal with some of the foreign affairs aspects.
The Navy's nuclear-powered hunter killer submarines and its Type 82 destroyers will be among the most modern fighting vessels in the world. It takes about four years to build a nuclear-powered hunter killer submarine, and the fifth one which we are planning to build will still be building in 1969–70. I think that that is the question that the right hon. Gentleman was going to ask me.
The amphibious forces of the Navy—commando ships, landing ships and Royal Marines—will make a valuable contribution to allied or United Nations operations outside Europe. Its surface ships will have new missiles, and its antisubmarine capability will be increased by new weapons and helicopters. It will remain a great Service with a future worthy of its past.
To get the right hon. Gentleman's point about nuclear-powered submarines quite clear, I take it that there is no allowance in his 1969–70 budget for the building at that time, at any stage of its building, of any nuclear-powered submarine?
Not in 1969–70, although the Navy is now engaged on producing a new programme to take account of its needs when the carriers have gone, and it may be that it will be decided that a further increased speed-up in the nuclear-powered programme is required. Incidentally, we are only able to build now a fifth nuclear-powered submarine because we have dropped the fifth Polaris. The previous Government did not plan to build one in the next five years.
This is not the first time that a British Government have cut defence expenditure. The previous Government did it in 1957, but it used a butcher's axe and made no attempt to analyse the problem. The right hon. Member for Streatham decided that there was no future for manned aircraft after only three months in office, but the present Government have spent 16 months in a most thorough review.
I know that many hon. Members on both sides have been impatient about the time that it has taken, but the Defence Review has not only occupied the major part of the time of senior officers and officials in the Ministry of Defence over the last 16 months. It has involved all the political and economic departments of the Government and the Government as well. Ministers on the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee of the Cabinet have held 30 meetings on the Defence Review. In addition, the most thorough consultations ever have been carried out with our allies and partners in the Commonwealth, the United States and Europe.
I have no doubt that it is one of the issues that we shall be debating in the General Election, but I believe that the effort has been worth it. We are getting value for money in our defence policy for the first time in many years. We have already made cost-effectiveness the acid test of policy and expenditure in the biggest spending department of them all. The major decisions are now taken, but the review will be a continuing process. From now on, it will be part of the normal machinery of government. We shall be constantly testing and revising our assumptions to make sure that what we are doing in defence is politically worthwhile and that we are doing it as cheaply as we can.
What the House is debating today is not just a plan for 1969–70, three years ahead. The fact is that the Government have already achieved tremendous savings. At constant prices, our actual expenditure last year was under £2,000 million. Our estimates for next year are under £2,000 million. It is not only that we are planning to cut £400 million off Conservative estimates for 1969–70. We have saved £300 million already on Tory plans for our first two years of office. That is money actually saved and available now for other purposes.
Yet every single decision which has led to these savings has been opposed by the Conservative Opposition. They opposed the changes in the aircraft programme, without which the R.A.F. would not have got the aircraft that it needs in time. They have opposed the reorganisation of our reserve forces, without which the Regular Army would remain short of reserves which it can use. They have opposed our decision on the aircraft carrier. The Liberal Party has also opposed all these savings, except the one on carriers.
The Conservatives have also opposed the biggest reduction that we plan to make in our commitments, in Aden—a reduction without which there would be no chance of saving our serving men and women from the overstrain imposed on them in recent years. If the Opposition had their way, our defence costs would continue spiralling upwards, and out forces would continue to be dangerously overstretched.
So far as I was able to discover from what the right hon. Member for Wolver-hampton, South-West said, the party opposite still believes that the soggy mess left by the right hon. Member for Monmouth represents the acme of perfection. Any attempt to improve on his dismal record, they describe as dogmatism. The tough, purposeful and abrasive Leader of the Opposition knows that we must cut the defence expenditure, but he has not the guts to do anything about it. This Government have. It is not a question of dogma. It is a question of decision. We have had the courage to look the facts in the face, to draw the right conclusions from them and then to act, however difficult, however unpopular, even if it means breaking with old friends. The will to take decisions is the final test of a party's fitness to govern. By this test, the party opposite is a discredited irrelevance. I believe that, when the opportunity comes in three weeks' time, the nation will choose the party which has the guts to govern.
I do not intend to speak for more than five or six minutes, but I think that it is important to make a few comments on what the right hon. Gentleman said. I shall be brief, and will comment on only four or five matters.
I suggest that this White Paper reveals the absolute inability by the right hon. Gentleman and his party to tell the nation the facts. This stands out specially in one way, namely, his failure to reveal how he got any firm agreement by which our enormous expenditure on American aircraft will be met. There is nothing that I know of except the U.S.A. possibly buying a few tugboats. There is nothing about the Americans buying sophisticated machinery to offset our purchases in the United States, except in one particular, and I have asked Questions to get this matter referred to the National Prices and Incomes Board. The First Secretary of State knows that in this country there is an American firm hiring British craftsmen—I hope that the Foreign Secretary will not leave the Chamber be cause I shall have something to say about him in a few minutes—at 30 per cent. above craftsmen's rates. They are working in this country on designs for the Lockheed Corporation. They are working on drawings which will then be exported for Lockheeds to manufacture. This is the only form of sophisticated export which I can trace.
Secondly, there is the right hon. Gentleman's complete failure to push on with the integration of his Department. We on these benches believe that our defence should have been further integrated. The outstanding example of this is the right hon. Gentleman's failure to reconcile the row which should be reconciled between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, and there has been no sign of this. When I had the honour to be Secretary of State for Air, this was my chief objective. I believe that it could be done, and there was an admirable letter from Sir Caspar John to The Times showing how it could be achieved. If it were to be done, it would make the whole question of the aircraft carrier and its importance irrelevant. Then the aircraft carrier would be regarded not as a capital ship but as a floating platform for joint air-sea operations of a unitary air power.
Next, there is the complete failure to rationalise our commitments. I thank the Foreign Secretary for staying, because I have two things to say to him, even though he is not involved in the betrayal of our friends in Aden, and endangering our friends in Bahrein. The Foreign Secretary's time would have been better used if, instead of going round South America, he had tried to meet a reorganisation of our commitments in South-East Asia.
With the situation as it is in Indonesia today with Sukarno in difficulties and danger, I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of American and British diplomacy to see that confrontation is brought to an end. I am prepared to support, and see that it is supported, some wider concept such as Maphilindo which would bring about the organisation of a second line in the area to combat the expansion of Communism.
Next, there has been the failure to provide adequate men and weapons to meet our commitments. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, there has been this failure, and it is growing in intensity. When I was at the Air Ministry there was a demand for 150 or more TSR2s to meet our commitments. How can the Government meet this with 50 F.111As? They know that there has been a demand by B.A.O.R. to provide adequate tactical weapons which were to be provided by the TSR2. Where is that now?
The reorganisation of the Territorial Army has been a clumsy operation. In fact, I can think of no clumsier one in the history of the Armed Forces. There was one plan, then there was a second one, followed by its withdrawal. As a result, recruitment and enthusiasm in the T.A. has diminished to almost nil. The strength of the force has dropped from 105,000 to under 90,000 in a few months.
Those are the results which we have seen as a result of Government policy. Their commitments abroad seem to be increasing daily. Endlessly the Prime Minister talks about a frontier on the Himalayas. Endlessly, he seems to prepare and work for further and worse trouble in Africa south of the Sahara. These are the people in office today. They have destroyed our interests abroad. They have weakened our forces. The right hon. Gentleman has done more than anyone else to destroy the volunteer spirit in this country, and surely now is the time for them to go.
I am grateful for the opportunity during my last speech in this House to explain why it will not be possible tomorrow night for me to vote either with the Government or with the Opposition.
When I came to this House, 20½ years ago, it was with a Labour Government who, within a space of three years, carried out a substantial internal social revolution. Then we had the word consolidation, uttered by Herbert Morrison. We stopped short, and external forces began to take over. The effect of the Anglo-American alliance entered into by Mr. Ernest Bevin, and the effect of the current balance of payments crises, resulted not only in the loss of our influence abroad for good, but also hit back on our internal policies and effectively brought to an end the social democratic experiments on which we were engaged. In 1950, we saw the consequences of this with the loss of effective power by the Labour Government, and the return of this country to the kind of policies which we had inherited from pre-war days and from the leaders of the wartime Coalition Government.
The logical consequence of the effects of the Korean War, and of what happened under the pressure of American interests at that time, was the return to power of the Conservative Party in October, 1951, and the policies which we have had during the past 15 years—13 years of Conservative rule, and, I regret to say, one and a half years of Labour responsibility in office without power—have been a continuation of the policies which were laid down during those decisive years of 1948–51.
It was during that time, under the influence of Sir Winston Churchill, that Mr. Ernest Bevin decided that we must call in the United States to offset the growing Communist challenge in Europe and, indeed, in the rest of the world. It was the decision of Labour Governments to accept the terms for internal economic policy laid down by international financiers and moneylenders, together with this new association with the United States, which led to a number of decisions in foreign and defence policy, the consequences of which we are now suffering.
In 1949, I spoke in opposition to the adding of this country's signature to the North Atlantic Treaty. I want to quote a short paragraph from my speech, because it is a rather strange and disturbing prediction of what has happened since that Treaty was signed. After referring to the likelihood that the signature of the Treaty would promote further and future dangers in Europe by the dividing of Germany between two rival power blocs, I said:
If we build up a polarisation, a power bloc around Washington—because that is what it is—then we are encouraging similar polarisation in the other part of the world. The fact that the core of the Western Power bloc is Anglo-Saxon, the fact that the core consists of those countries which are colonial or were formerly colonial countries, will drive large parts of Asia into the arms of the Soviet bloc. One inevitable consequence of this Treaty and of the building up of a power bloc based on Britain and United States is to lead to the building up of an
even vaster power bloc on the other side of the world. Then where is that overwhelming strength which is going to ensure the inevitable defeat of our opponents? It is an illusion. It is the old illusion of military alliances and balances of power, which is being repeated."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1949; Vol. 464, c. 2040.]
I am not at all happy that those predictions, made in 1949, should have been so closely fulfilled. I could have wished it to be otherwise, but it has turned out this way. What disturbs me today is that this course of development has led successively to the building-up of rival power blocs, to the intensification of the armed force held by each side, to the continuation and intensification of the cold war, and to a situation in which Britain now has to rely upon the military strength of the United States of America, combined with that of our former enemies, Germany and Japan, to protect us against the menace of world Communism. I find this situation alarming, and especially disturbing when it appears to be fully endorsed by my right hon. Friends.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence today attempted to justify the present course of the foreign and defence policies upon which this country is now set. He argued that we had military responsibilities in Asia which we might have to exercise far into the 1970s. Those responsibilities, like the commitments referred to in the White Paper and in speeches today are self-accepted responsibilities and commitments. They are not honourable commitments, entered into between equals. They are obligations which we have deliberately taken upon ourselves, not in the interests of the people in the areas in respect of which those commitments have been made but in the supposed interests of Britain, what remains of the British Empire, and our allies.
I do not see anything honourable in retaining those commitments. I see a great deal of dishonour in not seeking to break them as soon as we have the opportunity. My right hon. Friend did not find it difficult to wriggle out of one special commitment which the present Government find embarrassing—the commitment made by the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) and his colleagues. This commitment is as valid, in any strict sense, as the commitment made, also by the right hon. Member for Streatham, to protect the Malaysian Federation.
My right hon. Friend has found it possible and convenient, because there have been changes of Governments in this country and in Southern Arabia, to say that we propose to break this commitment. Why, then, cannot we apply the same principle to our supposed commitments in Malaysia and the Far East—commitments far more dishonourable and, indeed, immoral, than those into which we have entered in the Middle East? They were commitments to support a racialist policy in the Far East. They were commitments to support the Malays against the Chinese, because the sole reason for the formation of the Malayan Federation was that Tunku Abdul Rahman feared that the incorporation of Singapore with Malayasia without the addition of the territories of Sabah and Sarawak would lead to a too-strong representation of the Chinese. He said so publicly at the time.
The formation of the Federation was conditioned not by the voluntary and spontaneous demand of the people of the area, but by power, political, strategic, ideological and racial considerations—none of them honourable. Therefore, we have no honourable responsibilities and commitments in the Far East. What is left of the commitments is nothing more than an obligation—to which the American Government have tied us in return for their protection—to support the American policy of trying to contain Communism by military force.
What has this to do with the defence of the people of Britain, which is the prime responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence? The Minister of Defence is supposed to exist to defend the interests of Britain and the people of Britain. Then what are we doing risking the lives of some of our men, risking our scarce resources in sending weapons of war and fighting men thousands of miles across the sea to help the Americans carry out the policy which has already been discredited in practice and in theory?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) has said, with a kind of naive candour which no one can deny to be the truth, the British military presence east of Suez carried on into the 1970s is not an independent exercise of British power. I warn my right hon. and hon. Friends that what he said in his resignation statement is on the record, and cannot be swept under the carpet. I fully understand why my right hon and hon. Friend, left, right and centre, are temporarily united in wishing that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East had never said what he did. But he said it, although belatedly: he should have said it 18 months ago.
What he said was that, if we carry out this White Paper east of Suez policy, this military presence for Britain east of Suez, this means—as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said when he was in Australia getting the approval of the Australian Government for the defence White Paper, after he had, first of all, got the approval of the American Government for it—that Britain must continue to have a world rôle in a military sense. But Britain is shorn of its imperial rôle, out-numbered in fire power by the United States by 20 to 1 and by the Soviet Union by 10 to 1—[Interruption.] Did you? Well, you are wrong—
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but if the right hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) had risen to make his interjection, I should never have committed my indiscretion.
The fire power of this country is tiny in comparison with that of the super-Powers. Yet we are still to have a world rôle in a military sense—not just a European rôle, not just a North Atlantic rôle, a North Sea rôle, a West European rôle, a European rôle, a Middle East rôle, or an African rôle, but a Far Eastern rôle, a South African rôle, a Southern hemisphere rôle.
What an incredible delusion of grandeur is this, exploded completely by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East, when he put forward in clear and irrefutable terms the only condition on which Britain can have that kind of rôle in the overseas world of today. That is that we shall be acting not as a Power in our own right, but as an extension of United States power, not as allies, but as auxiliaries to the United States.
It comes to this. We have created, over the last 15 years, an alliance with the United States to which we have now become completely subordinate and to which all our basic military, political and economic policies are being subordinated and sacrificed. This is the outcome of 15 years of Conservative control of the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury—and that 15 years is not yet up.
The Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury have not passed for one moment out of Conservative control since 1951. The Ministers who are supposed to be responsible for policy are not carrying out and cannot carry out a Socialist policy, let alone a Labour policy, so long as they accept the basic pre-suppositions and premises laid down for them by their Tory predecessors at the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury.
As a result of this, what have we done? What is the situation in which Britain now finds itself? We are committed to a quasi-permanent military, political and financial alliance with the United States of America, global in present scope, cosmic in future perspective. This alliance involves the integration of strike weapons, of independence agencies, of political subversion agencies, of foreign policies and of financial policies.
We have done three things which we have never done before in British history. We have entered into a quasi-permanent alliance with a foreign Power. We have never done that before: we have never committed ourselves in that way before, with good reason. Secondly, disregarding the warning of Edmund Burke given in this House 150 years ago, we have tied ourselves to a giant ally, a colossus with twenty times our fire power, whose aims and interests must predominate over ours at every point of time and space. Thirdly, we have placed the lives and deaths of the British people in the hands of the President of the United States of America and his intimate advisers.
We have committed these three acts of folly, at a time when, as the White Paper itself admits, four-fifths of the human race is going through a process of political, social and economic revolution—revolutions which are so inimical to the interests of American private enterprise that the American Government is engaged in endeavouring to carry out a Metternichian counter-world revolution.
This time it will fail, because the political and social conditions throughout the world can no longer be held in check, even by the mightiest military and financial power that the United States and its allies are able to assemble, not even when the United States is able to add nuclear blackmail as the weapon of last resort with which to try to enforce its counter-revolutionary policy. Its counter-revolutionary policy is being actively waged by the United States throughout Asia, Latin America and now Africa, too. We, a Socialist Government, are tied to this policy of world counter-revolution. This is a most astonishing and most tragic development.
The only hope that I see is that this policy is becoming so recognised in this country and in the United States of America, as well as in most of the rest of the world, as a prescription for disaster, as a road the only course of which leads to the abyss, that men are beginning to turn back from this course now that they have come to the brink and now that they see where it is leading us.
We did not need to be told by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East, or by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in his Brighton speech, which was so different from his speech this afternoon that one wonders whether he, like others, has been compelled by the smell of power to change his mind. We now have the benefit of the verdict of no less a person than Mr. Dean Rusk on where these policies are leading, because, according to to-day's Daily Telegraph, he told us over the weekend that
America could face a far worse military ' confrontation' involving China and Russia, if she walked out of Vietnam…. Peking and Moscow would make decisions about the lack of will of the United States that would move us into a war that no one would want.
So now we know where American policy is leading the rest of the world and where American foreign and defence policy is leading its allies. And yet we choose, apparently, to continue in this subservience. I hope that we shall quickly break away from it into the kind of freedom to determine our own future, our own foreign policy and our own way of building up the world which has
been chosen by some other countries—by France, for example.
France has shown under de Gaulle that it is not necessary for a medium Power like Britain or France to become an auxiliary of one of the world's colossi, that it is possible to build up an independent and financial basis, that it is possible to make use of one's native technical skill and ability to build up one's strength, that it is possible without vast military power to make friends throughout the world and that it is possible to exercise influence on policies in various parts of the world in the direction of peace and not of war.
That is the kind of example that Britain might well follow. Why do we not join with France in creating a kind of world peace alliance? We could join with France in beginning to get a closer association of the European countries based on a union dés patries, not based on a subservience of one to another or to some bureaucratic central court or body.
We could enter into close and friendly relations not only with the great revolutionary emerging nations of Africa and Asia, but also with China as well as the Soviet Union. That is a policy which certain sensible Americans, like Senator Fulbright and Mr. Walter Lippmann, are now beginning to advocate even for the United States of America.
Are we to be left holding the Chinese baby when the Americans begin to have doubts about the wisdom of the policy of Mr. John Foster Dulles which they are now trying to apply to China? I hope that we will give a lead to our American friends. I hope that we will recognise that Britain's rôle in the world can be a rôle only for the promotion of peace.
We have great experience in the peaceful adjustment of disputes, in industry and in diplomacy. That is the contribution that Britain can, and should, make to the world. We can make no contribution by military power to the modern world. Let us realise it. By military power, we can help only towards the destruction of the modern world and not its peaceful building up.
Then, if we could begin to choose new friends and to break away from the allies who try to drag us back into the old world of imperialist power politics, we could make a start on the task which some of us thought to be the major task of this generation when we first entered Parliament in July, 1945. We might get back to what some of us said in our first speeches in this House, and to what I said in my first speech here, that the discovery of the terrifying, awsome power of atomic fission meant that we must move towards either world government or world destruction. There are two ways towards world government or a single world political authority.
I believe that it is possible to set a course in the right direction. We must, within the coming two or three decades, head for a single authority for the whole world. There are only two ways of achieving that. We can get it by having a super Power conquering all others and shaping a world empire, or by peaceful negotiation and agreement. The first way can only lead to disaster and probably the destruction of the human race. Only the second way lies open.
It is certainly fitting that the last big debate of this Parliament should be on the most important subject of defence. It is equally fitting that the Conservative Opposition should be moving this Motion on a Supply day.
The reason why the Government's Defence Review, coupled with the measures for the virtual disbandment of the Territorial Army, have received such a bad press, have given rise to resignations in high places and, in my view, have weakened our security and our standing in the world as a great Power stems from three facts. The first is that the Review has been conducted solely with a view to making an immediate reduction in the defence budget. The second is that it does not start by getting the fundamental facts of life straight and our objects clear and the third is that it is so limited in scope and much too narrow in outlook.
On the first point, if this country is no longer prepared to contribute something approaching 7 per cent. of its gross national product for our security and world peace, there must either be something very wrong with the gross national product or else the British people are getting their priorities wrong. I have said in the House on many occasions that we must watch the defence budget very carefully because it could easily escalate to £3,000 millions a year—and yet not give us the security we want. At the time of the Korean War the Labour Government had, quite rightly, to undertake urgent measures of rearmament which put the gross national product above 7 per cent. We supported them, but later, when we came to power, we had to take steps to reduce it again.
I thought the most telling part of the resignation speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), for whom I have always had a high regard, was what he said on this very point. He said, first, that we could not maintain a world rôle in the 'seventies, including a presence east of Suez, on £2,000 million a year—not without excessive strain on the forces or excessive dependence on the United States
The hon. Gentleman said, secondly, that we had to avoid the mistake which had been made so often in the past, and which we were making now, especially in the Navy, of asking our Servicemen to do too much with too little. He said, thirdly, that £2,000 million was an entirely arbitrary figure laid down before the Defence Review started and that it corresponded with no realistic foreign or defence policy. That opinion is widely held. The Defence Review says that its purpose is
…to shape a new defence posture for the 1970s.
The word "posture" was new to me in defence jargon, so I looked it up in my dictionary, where it is given as
…an attitude of body or mind…
My dictionary says that a posture-maker is either an acrobat or a contortionist. I realise what tremendous contortions
the Secretary of State must have gone through to get our forces and their commitments into the straitjacket of the White Paper. But will he ever be able to get them out of it? Part II of the Defence Review repeats that old cliche which is as true today as it always has been:
Defence must be the servant of foreign policy, not its master".
Having said that, it goes on to disregard that entirely. Defence and foreign policy are now so inextricably bound up together that it has become unreal to have a separate foreign affairs and a separate defence debate. I would like to have seen a big debate such as this opened by the Foreign Secretary on the first day and for the Defence Minister to have spoken at, say, the beginning of the second day so that he could have explained how the defence policy would implement the foreign policy laid down by the Foreign Secretary. Instead of that, defence has become the master and the unfortunate Foreign Secretary must go around afterwards picking up the bits and making excuses.
I come to the second point. I do not think that we want any horrific war game film to make us understand that a nuclear global war between Russia and the Western Powers would cause the utter devastation of our modern civilisation and would probably put it back several generations. Once such a war had started there would be no place for any conventional weapons. However, such a war could happen only as a result of our giving such provocation to Russia on a major issue which would appear to give her no alternative, or if the Western Powers so lowered their guard that it might become apparent to Russia that she would have an easy victory. I believe that there is no chance of either of those things happening.
Underneath the great nuclear deterrent umbrella we must be prepared to counter every sort of conventional secondary operation. The Secretary of State has been much too narrow in his appreciation of this. Any sort of sudden brush fire operation may crop up and must be tackled immediately if we are to put it out before it develops into something very much bigger. The powerful air strike and air landings which the Ameri cans are now carrying out in Vietnam have not been decisive there only because of the nature of the country, in which the guerrilla is more effective than the bomb.
I want to apply this thesis to the two very controversial matters of the Territorial Army and aircraft carriers. The Secretary of State made two references to my Territorial Army speech of 16th December about the rôle of the Territorial Army in civil defence and home defence. On the first, he said that both the N.A.T.O. Powers and Russia took it for granted that any war in Europe would be a nuclear war. He maintained, therefore, that there would not be any need for civil defence or home defence. I could not help recalling the passionate conviction with which the right hon. Gentleman and Labour spokesmen in defence debates had, for all the years preceding their coming to power, argued so vehemently that we must be prepared to fight a conventional war in Europe. They were constantly urging us to increase our defence budget; to increase our manpower in N.A.T.O. from 55,000 men to 80,000 men. Then, winding up on 16th December, the Minister, referring to my suggestion that there might be a possibility of a conventional air invasion of Britain, said:
…I ask hon. Members to follow me here…If N.A.T.O. has any meaning whatever, such a conventional invasion of this country could not happen except in one situation, and that would be after the Alliance as a whole had been defeated in a conventional war on the continent of Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1965; Vol. 722, c. 1591.]
He had said a little earlier that the next war would be a nuclear war. In the Defence Review, the right hon. Gentleman says that we are only to maintain our forces in Germany
…provided that some means is found for meeting the foreign exchange costs…
I therefore find that his statements on these subjects make rather a bundle of inconsistencies.
In my speech on the Territorial Army, I said that the wanton destruction of that force would be very unpopular in this country. I feel that I was right, and that the Government feel now that it is as unpopular as I then said it would be. At the moment, before the election, the Government are making rather bleating noises to the Territorial Army, to which the Territorial Army is replying in a most unsheeplike way.
I have always regarded the tactical nuclear weapon as a possible source of considerable danger. These weapons now have such immense destructive power that it would be almost impossible for the recipient to accept them as anything but the start of a nuclear war, and I suggest that it is only in such an unlikely eventuality that these nuclear tactical weapons should be used.
In a global war, the aircraft carrier—as, indeed, is the fixed air base—is very vulnerable, but in the small type of peacekeeping operation such as we are contemplating I think that they are quite invaluable. Indeed, the Royal Navy will be virtually emasculated without them. We must realise that as every year goes by the permanence of our fixed bases becomes very problematical. The rundown of the carrier force without replacement provides a very depressing future for the personnel of the Fleet Air Arm, and my information is that it will be very difficult, indeed—and I can well understand it—to get the best people to go on serving in a force that is being gradually run down to nothing.
The Defence Review states:
It is in the Far East and Southern Asia that the greatest danger to peace may lie in the next decade, and some of our partners in the Commonwealth may be directly threatened. We believe it is right that Britain should continue to maintain a military presence in this area. Its effectiveness will turn largely on the arrangements we can make with our Commonwealth partners and other allies in the coming years.
Those are very wise words, but does the right hon. Gentleman really give any idea that he intends to carry them out and follow them up by action?
Can our splendid Gurkha Brigade, which has borne the brunt of the fighting in Malaya, be quite happy that its future in the British Army is assured? This is very important, both to the Gurkhas themselves and to the Government of Nepal. I hope that before the end of this debate the right hon. Gentleman will give an assurance to the Gurkha Brigade—and the men are naturally nervous about this—that its future, after everything the Gurkhas have done for us, is assured within the British Army. As our own British recruiting is running down, I believe that matter to be very important.
The most unfortunate clash that has been taking place between India and Pakistan has weakened our overall defence power in that area very greatly. If British leadership could only resolve that antagonism and settle the Kashmir problem it would strengthen our position in the whole Indian Ocean area. The war that took place last year between India and Pakistan was the worst blow the Commonwealth has ever suffered. People coming back from those countries—including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—have stated that our relations with India and Pakistan—particularly, with India—are worse today than they have ever been since the transfer of power. We should direct our attention to strengthening the relations between India and Pakistan, in trying to bring the two countries together again, and using our own British leadership, coming at the end of the Tashkent conference, to resolve the situation in Kashmir
It is rather interesting to look back on my first Defence White Paper debate in this House on 16th March, 1950, and to see how some of the same problems were then cropping up which are exercising us so much today. The then Minister for Defence, the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), moving the Motion, spoke, as Mr. Churchill, as he then was, said when he followed him, in
…a strong spirit of self-restraint and of moderation…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 1280.]
I should like to stress that point because, in every defence debate now, the Secretary of State for Defence so antagonises the House in his opening speech that we really never get together again in terms of a national debate. The result of that opening speech in 1950 was that we had a most excellent debate, with no Division at the end of it. That was because it had been started off by the Minister on the right note.
The Minister at that time said that it was essential that the Navy should proceed with the conversion and modernisation of aircraft carriers, and Mr. Churchill most strongly agreed with him. I think that Mr. Churchill had in mind the great disaster which we suffered in Malaya in the sinking of the battleships, "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse". Although we have no battleships today, that incident holds a lesson for us in showing the weakness of any sort of naval force that has no carrier protection, compared with another force with carriers.
Quite briefly, the situation was that those two battleships were sent to Singapore. They arrived on 2nd December, 1941, but the aircraft carrier "Indomitable"—a new aircraft carrier earmarked for the Far East—which should have gone with them, ran aground in Kingston Harbour, Jamaica, and never got there. But still the battleships intended to try to counter the Japanese amphibious operation in landing on the coast of Malaya within the range of the fixed air bases which were all round Malaya; in fact, the whole defence of Malaya was based on air defence. It seemed to be well within what the right hon. Gentleman has been envisaging today, that we must operate only when we are in the close protection of land-based aircraft.
What happened five days later when the Japanese invaded? Within the first 48 hours they obtained complete air superiority over the mainland of Malaya. When Admiral Phillips took his battleships to counter the Japanese landing and asked for fighter protection there was not any. The Japanese had two carriers and some very fine pilots, the absolute cream of their fleet air arm on those carriers. They exchanged their bombs for torpedoes as soon as our ships had been spotted and on 10th December at 11.13 in the morning they attacked. The "Repulse" went to the bottom in 20 minutes and was very soon followed by the "Prince of Wales". The ships were entirely helpless with no aircraft carrier in the face of what the Japanese could bring against them.
In my maiden speech in that debate I said that I recommended that a Commonwealth Defence Secretariat should be set up in London and that our great Dominions should bear a bigger share of the manpower and defence expense than they were doing then, or, indeed, than they are doing now. I referred to the vacuum created by the loss of our Indian Army and said:
…we have a strong moral responsibility today to see that the tension"—
between India and Pakistan—
which exists over Kashmir does not result in one of those conflagrations which arise because it is nobody's business, and which might possibly lead the world into another war.
That was 16 years ago. We have had the conflagration and we must not allow it to happen again—because it is nobody's business. As the leading nation in the Commonwealth it is our business.
I shall quote my final words in that speech as they appertain to the Motion that we are now debating:
if we can make the ordinary soldier or airman who may be, perhaps, languishing in a swampy jungle in Malaya feel that he really matters,…that he is doing a top priority job and that in this year of grace, 1950, it is still a fine thing to be British…we shall have started to give the people of this country the defence force they deserve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1950; Vol. 472, cc. 1370–1372.]
It is because we do not believe that the Government's proposals in the White Paper under discussion give our forces the support they must have to carry out the tasks imposed upon them that we have put forward this Motion today.
I would very much like to follow some of the points submitted to the House by the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth), because he speaks with great sincerity. I know that he is greatly disturbed by the proposal to reorganise the Territorial Army, but it is well to remind ourselves that the reorganisation of the Territorial Army came out of a review of home defence expenditure which was running at the rate of £38 million a year and providing no home defence at all in this modern age.
The Territorial Army had declined very considerably from its peak force of well over 200,000 to below 100,000. There were five different auxiliary forces all limping behind the Army and it was obvious that any Government which wanted to get value for its defence expenditure had to do something about reorganising the Territorial Army.
In any case, we are living in an entirely different world from the world in which the Territorial Army was organised for the defence of this homeland. Napoleon managed to get complete control over Europe and was an able dictator, but he failed to land French soldiers in Britain. Hitler got complete control of Europe with the most highly mechanised fighting force that the world has ever seen, but he failed to land forces in this country. Surely it is obvious, in the light of these changed circumstances, that we had to cut back the £38 million a year which was going into the Territorial Army.
The right hon. and gallant Member thought that we could justify the expenditure of 7 per cent. of our national product on defence, but even with the recommendations embodied in the White Paper which aim to cut back the percentage from 7 per cent. to 6 per cent., we shall still be spending a greater percentage of our national product on defence than any other country in the Western world with the exception of the United States of America. Even with these cuts we shall still be spending twice as much as our allies in Europe and more than twice as much as Australia and New Zealand, two of the six richest countries in the world.
The percentage of the annual product of Australia spent on defence, although Australia is deep in the east of Suez area, is only 4·5 per cent. against our 7 per cent. and the Australians enjoy the second highest standard of living in the world. It is quite clear that the Government proposals to cut back our defence expenditure which today takes 7·2 per cent. of our national product to 6 per cent. and to have a continuous annual review of military expenditure is a very progressive move which should be applauded by intelligent people who are concerned about the rising cost of defence which is bedevilling social advance in this country and in every country in the world.
Before the hon. Member leaves the question of Australia, may I ask whether he realises that Australia, with a population of 11 million, simultaneously with defending itself is trying to develop a country the size of Europe?
I was considering the percentage of the national product, not the totality of defence expenditure. When we consider the percentage of the national product spent on defence we should take into consideration all these factors.
The Philippines, for example, which is in the heart of the east of Suez area, expends on defence only 1·9 per cent. of its national product. It is ridiculous that a country such as ours should have to accept this colossal burden. Defence expenditure in every country in the world is reaching the nth degree of human stupidity.
The last Government, in 10 years, spent £20,000 million of the people's money on defence. What defence have we today from intercontinenal ballistic missiles? No defence whatever. The last Government were increasing the percentage of the national product spent on defence all the time year by year.
In a debate of this nature we must consider some of the fundamental issues of the age in which we live. The Prime Minister suggested that there should be a great national debate on defence. I do not see how any evil consequences for the people can flow from there being a national debate on defence. Unfortunately, we cannot have a realistic debate, even in this House, on defence questions, because we do not know the facts. All the Parliaments of Western Europe have all-party defence committees, and those committees are supplied by the Government of the day with the facts.
We have no such committee. We have no means of discovering just what a base anywhere in the world costs. The White Paper is the first one to give the House and the people any kind of realistic information about defence costs. Now we can really talk about what our bases cost us. The Singapore base will cost us, even after the review, £223 million a year. Our expenditure in Malaysia this year is running at £260 million a year. The defence of the Persian Gulf is costing us £150 million a year.
I am very pleased indeed that the Government have decided to remove our base from Aden. If ever there was a death trap for British Service men, their wives and children, it is in the Port of Aden, where we have a base surrounded by a quarter of a million Arabs. Half of the work of our Service men is protecting the base and their own families from a hostile Arab population.
It has been suggested that we are under a very firm commitment to defend Aden and South Arabia and that we signed a firm agreement at the constitutional con ference held in London three years ago. I remember that conference very well indeed. First, the only elected representatives who appeared here in London walked out of the conference without signing anything. They were the elected representatives of the Legislative Council.
Secondly, the Chairman of the South Arabian Supreme Council walked out of the conference and went into voluntary exile in Cairo. The only people left to sign the agreement were a small group of sheiks, rulers and sultans who were accountable to no one. I do not know who they were signing for. They were not signing for their people, because they had never been elected and they represented nobody. So I hope that we shall hear no more nonsense about the agreement we are supposed to have signed pledging the protection of the sheiks, rulers and sultans, who have no future whatsoever in this vitally important oil area of South Arabia.
When we discuss defence expenditure we must consider what is happening in the world. We live in a world in which two revolutions are taking place. They are unfolding themselves simultaneously. The first is the revolution in weaponry. The second is the revolution in human rights. Both of these revolutions—we cannot halt them—fundamentally affect the whole of our defence policy; and they should do so. It is no use burying our heads in the sands and pretending that in this age we can police half the world. Dean Rusk, only the other week, said that America is not rich enough to be the gendarme of half the world. If it is true of America, it is more than true of ourselves: we are no longer in a position to be gendarme for half the world and for this area east of Suez.
Last year I was privileged to visit the United States of America, to study with a group of people who were interested the whole American space programme. We met people in the Pentagon. We were taken round the missile bases. We were told of—indeed, some of us saw for ourselves—the great revolution in weapons which is taking place in the world and which there has been a tendancy to overlook in this country, although the Labour Government are beginning to appreciate the needs of reorientating our policy in the light of this revolution.
In America, there are 1,000 Minute-men, Nos. 1 and 2, intercontinental rockets. These 1,000 rockets are operational 24 hours a day. They travel at the rate of 16,000 miles an hour. They can reach a target 10,000 miles away and arrive plomp on the target anywhere in the world. They are geared to hit any target they want in the Soviet Union. A general in the Pentagon boasted to me that when this missile explodes it has a potential of destroying 20 million human beings. I have not the slightest doubt that the Russians, too, have about 1,000 intercontinental missiles aimed at all the industrial centres of the United States of America and the Western world. No doubt they can arrive plomp on the target and nothing can stop them once the button is pressed.
A depressing feature of what is going on in these rocket bases is that, when the crew go on to the rocket site, they are each given a revolver. It is not given to them to defend the site, which is well protected. They are each given a revolver to shoot any one of the crew who might go mad and press the button and start the third world war. We have descended to low moral standards when this kind of thing has to go on. I have no doubt that the same thing happens in the missile bases in the Soviet Union.
In this kind of world, which has revolutionised the whole method of warfare and defence, what function have we to perform? What are we in the middle supposed to do—compete with this lot? Are we to bankrupt our country and bleed ourselves white? The mountain of wealth that goes in defence expenditure is sweated out of the toil and industrial intelligence of the people.
We have one function to fulfil in this kind of world, and that function is a peacekeeping one. I am very pleased to note that the White Paper stresses the peace-keeping rôle of Britain through the United Nations, because that is where we have got to keep the peace of the world. There must be no more military adventures by any separate country. We must proceed with the building up of an organisation which can keep peace in the world now and in the future.
I know that many other hon. Members want to speak and that I am inclined to let my thoughts flow and take up more time than I should in this important debate. I will close by hoping that the beginning which has been made by the Government in the publication of this White Paper will be continued, that we shall get a review every year, and that as we get each review there will be recommendations for cuts in defence expenditure. Already, there is a clear saving of £300 million a year. In social advance this represents 50,000 new houses a year, 10 new hospitals a year, and seven new universities a year. If we can make a similar cut next year, think of the great progress we can make in meeting the real social needs of our people.
I commend the Government's work and this White Paper. It is a mighty progressive move in the right direction that will be applauded by the people when they have the opportunity of voting at the General Election.
I think that I can follow the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) in one point which he made at the opening of his speech, when he referred to the limitations in this House upon a proper, informed debate on the subject of defence. They certainly exist. I might even hope that the hon. Gentleman saw the letter written by me in The Times on this subject.
There is, however, another limitation which is rather more serious. In the interchange between parties on defence, between Front Bench and Front Bench, there has grown up an underlying assumption—it is quite false, but it exists—that it is possible for any Government to create a perfect defence force with indestructible machines, permanent systems of communication, suffering almost from over-recruitment, prepared to go any moment to any quarter of the globe, from the Arctic to Africa. In fact, we all know that this is impossible. When one is creating a defence force, especially one like ours, when, obviously there is a limited amount of money which can be spent, one creates a defence force on a chance basis, a defence force which, it is hoped, will be adequate for a certain number of possibilities.
This is the situation today, and it is wrong for right hon. Gentlemen opposite to concentrate their criticisms, for instance, on my party when it was in office on the basis of weapons systems which never came to fruition and were never used, because I think right hon. Gentlemen opposite know perfectly well that weapons systems are created with possibly an opponent's weapon system in mind. They may become out-dated automatically, and this is no criticism of any Government. Inevitably, in this process large sums of money must be spent, and, of course, in defence there is no ascertainable tangible return for expenditure of money. This is seen to be obvious if one looks at the part that we have played in Europe. We have maintained the position there. I think that one can say that the N.A.T.O. Alliance has been effective in Europe against possible intrusion from the East, but there is very little that one can show to the public as a positive return from a great deal of money spent.
We live, I think, in an age of withdrawal for Britain. I am not regretting this. This is just a fact of life. For me to argue that this process should either be speeded up, or to suggest that there should be some easy way of achieving this result, would be to kick against an open door. This is about the one point that arose in the speech of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) on which I would agree with him.
We are, as I say, living in this period of withdrawal, and the Minister of Defence has set his target to consider, as he did in his speech, a period of, say, 10 years for which he has made certain decisions. This is perhaps the most difficult task he can set himself, to think what may be our defence needs by the 1970s, because none of us in this House, if we cast our minds back, would necessarily have thought that a revolt in Brunei would eventually result in a very large confrontation in North Borneo. None of us would have predicted a few years ago the situation that has now arisen, for instance, in Rhodesia. Those are two very different situations, but both of them have required the deployment of our Services.
We are in a period, also, where any demands that might be made on us would be in the sphere of limited war. Nuclear war, I think, is obviously out of the question and the demand that may be made on us is in this sphere of limited war where I think the aircraft carrier, the attack carrier, obviously has relevance at the moment. The right hon. Gentleman, in his argument, suggested that it will not have relevance at the end of the period which he has set himself. I would only put this to him, that we all know perfectly well the plain and simple military arguments about attack carriers and strike aircraft, the speed with which either can be deployed, and all the rest of it. We know perfectly well that the carrier in time of all-out warfare is a very vulnerable vessel indeed.
However, let me put these two points to the right hon. Gentleman. Is it not possible to say that the aircraft carrier is a more flexible instrument and a less provocative instrument of policy than the strike aircraft? In certain situations which might arise the presence of an aircraft carrier off a particular shore would not provoke a reaction in that country half as violent as the use, or the threat of use, of strike aircraft. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that in the Rhodesian situation the presence of H.M.S. "Eagle" off that shore was, no doubt, relevant. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will return to that point and say that aircraft were later available. But I cannot think that the presence of H.M.S. "Eagle" during that very short period was entirely irrelevant to that situation.
For any Minister of Defence to predict or hope to predict what will happen in the next 10 years is an impossible task. One hears, for instance, bandied about by both parties the sort of wishful sentiment that confrontation will be bound to come to an end in Malaysia. This suggests the rather curious situation—I think that Philip Guedella was the first person to point out this attitude of mind—that in 1755 politicians and military commanders got together and one of their spokesmen said "Tomorrow, gentlemen, we shall begin the Seven Years' War."
That is an impossibility for a Minister of Defence, and my fear is that perhaps—I only say "perhaps"—the decision that has been made over the carrier may place us in a position at a time of withdrawal where we are in the danger of having to make an unpleasant decision, whether to reply to some form of aggression or whether to submit to it. This period of withdrawal for us is perhaps the most crucial period in our history, and to deprive ourselves in that period of the assistance of the force that a carrier can provide is a dangerous course.
I want to turn now to the problem in Europe. We are up against the paradox that, in Europe, we have large numbers of Service men deployed who are basically inactive. They are effective, but inactive. Outside Europe, we have large numbers of Service men deployed who are active, fighting in a small scale war.
Outside Europe, inevitably, our defence deployments tend to come under the shadow of the United States. The House has heard the phrase that the British position is that of auxiliaries rather than allies of the United States. But our position in Europe is slightly different. I do not suggest that the presence of British forces there provides an easy ticket into the E.E.C.—that argument disappeared some time ago. Nevertheless, they have a negative value.
If our forces were withdrawn from Europe—and I think that there is perhaps a little more than merely a suggestion in the White Paper that this should happen—I have no doubt that our friends in Europe would say, "The British are taking their forces from Europe because they have to pay for them themselves, yet outside Europe Britain, with perhaps ineffective strength, follows the lead of the United States".
If such a situation arose, I would argue that, by then, we would be getting the worst of both worlds. The hon. Member for Bilston said that the Defence Secretary had to do something and I think that is true. There was an understanding that defence expenditure would be cut on the basis of cost effectiveness. My argument is aimed against the effectiveness. I am certain that our forces will be effective in future.
I do think that the right hon. Gentleman had to do something. He took a choice and decided not to build the new aircraft carrier. I believe that was a wrong choice and, despite the resignations of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) and of a senior naval officer, I believe that the Government took it because it was the easiest choice. It is for these reasons that I regard it more especially as the wrong choice.
In his brilliant speech, my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary asked that there should be in the country a major debate on the defence rôle of the United Kingdom, especially on the question of our continuing commitments east of Suez. On that theme, I stated my main ideas in a foreign affairs debate some months ago and I do not want to repeat what I said then.
I have just returned from a visit to one part of the world where we have commitments also. I was there just after the Defence White Paper was published and I saw the problems which emerged as a result of the White Paper. My right hon. Friend said that, in considering the question of commitments east of Suez, it was really a matter of degree. I agree with him. But I would add that those of us who feel that the degree should be somewhat less than perhaps he wishes had better continue to pull on our ropes.
Nevertheless, I am glad to see what the Government have done to cut defence expenditure, especially the cost in foreign exchange—a matter that is particularly important at the moment. However, it remains true that our foreign exchange expenditure on defence in the next financial year will be £293 million. That is far too high for this country to bear if we are to recover from our present economic difficulties and I look forward to the realisation of the further cuts which my right hon. Friend promises.
I have just been to the Persian Gulf—or, as they call it in that part of the Persian Gulf I visited, the Arabian Gulf. I did not visit Kuwait but I did visit some of the nine other States which we have the duty to protect. This was not my first visit to the Middle East but it was the first to the Gulf and I must, therefore, beware of becoming an expert on the area too rapidly. However, I formed certain impressions.
If we have to have forces in the Gulf, we should do a great deal more to see that the conditions of the Services in the area are made more tolerable. Better accommodation is needed by our forces, especially in Bahrein and especially for the Royal Air Force. More families should be accommodated with the troops in that area. Indeed, one question put to me by a member of the Government of Bahrein was why we were putting a limit on the number of families which could be accommodated with our troops in Bahrein.
According to my impressions after speaking to officers and men there, Bahrein is not a popular station. It is not a station in which, as a result of service, people are likely to re-engage. This is not the fault of the people of Bahrein but the result of conditions of service in the island. I hope that we shall not continue to put the sort of burden on our troops in the area which arises simply from unsatisfactory conditions of life.
The problems arising from the general question of our commitments in the area are an illustration of the enormous difficulties that arise when one tries to withdraw from empire. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Walder) said that we were in a period of withdrawal. My right hon. Friend went so far as to suggest that one day—when, he could not say—we would withdraw even from the Gulf. But there are serious problems.
We are in a curious and anomalous position in the Gulf, we protect the States in the area but are not legally responsible for their internal affairs because they are not colonies but independent States and therefore we have no right to say what the conditions of life or the types of political and economic development within them should be, although we may, of course, influence them. We maintain the peace in the area—and it is an area where there are many territorial claims. With these claims go riches in the form of oil which are beyond the dreams of avarice.
As a result of these claims, it is fair to say that, if we suddenly abandoned our commitments in the area, chaos might, at any rate temporarily, follow. I believe that a great debate is beginning in the Gulf about our position there and that that debate arises not entirely but in part from the decision that the Government—correctly, in my view—have made to leave Aden. There is no doubt that the decision is causing considerable concern for reasons which are sufficiently obvious.
People in the Gulf States, especially those whose position is protected by us and may be, indeed, dependent upon us, are asking themselves, "If Britain withdraws from Aden, for what duration of time can we place any reliance on British defence?" People in the Gulf States who might be friendly to us and attach their political future to Britain have a fear of being suddenly let down. It would seem from my discussions in the Gulf States, following publication of the Defence White Paper, that those fears have been in no way relieved by the short sentence in the White Paper which says that we propose to build up our forces to a small extent in the Gulf States. This is because it is thought that if we leave Aden we can leave the Gulf. But no one knows when. The implications of the withdrawal from Aden are fairly clear for the Gulf. The whole weight of Nasserite propaganda, the nature of which I shall not comment upon here, will turn the position in the Gulf. The second thing that will happen, and is already happening, is that the Rulers in the Gulf States will become more difficult. I discovered, in my discussions in Bahrein, that demands are already been made on the Government for the payment of higher rents for the areas we occupy in Bahrein to accommodate our troops.
We are told that it is an embarrassment to the Ruler that we should be in Bahrein and that this embarrassment might, to a certain extent, be relieved if we paid a more significant sum for the areas occupied. I suspect that a great many people might be much more embarrassed by our absence than they are by our presence. Undoubtedly, people in the area will start looking around for friends they consider more reliable, and internal opposition to our presence will grow. There is a further question which has been raised in discussions, and that is how far, if at all, we are capable of carrying out our commitments in the Gulf without the Aden base.
Unfortunately we are a very easy target for political propaganda in that area. To begin with, no one believes that we are not responsible for the internal affairs of the States. Our treaties give us jurisdiction only over their external affairs but I have found it difficult to find anyone who would accept that as the real position. I think that this is an attitude for which some justification can be found. There was a recent incident with the Ruler of Sharjar as a result of which he disappeared. There was an earlier incident some years ago in which, with the assistance of a British battleship outside Doha, the Ruler of Qatar abdicated. This is one reason for these doubts about whether we are responsible or how far we are responsible for what goes on in the Gulf States.
As a result of this feeling we carry a great deal of the blame for the conditions in the area. We are blamed for the forms of government and for the insignificant elements of representative government. Although I realise the difficulties of withdrawing from the area, and saying that we will no longer accept responsibility, I do not feel at all happy about our position as defenders of the forms of Government there. We are held responsible for the fact that large proportions of oil revenue are going into private pockets and not being spent productively. There are cases of this among the Trucial States. One has a fabulous quantity of oil, six have none at all. The people of the six are demanding, and it seems a reasonable demand, that they should share significantly in the oil revenue.
We are blamed for every little disagreement between these petty principalities, whether relating to boundaries or currencies. At the moment there is considerable worry in the Trucial States as to whether the Indian rupee, their medium of exchange, will be devalued. I was told by a ruler that if it was devalued Britain would be responsible. As a result of all this it cannot be difficult to cause trouble in this area if that is the object—and I believe it will be, of people who wish more rapidly to remove Britain's influence from the Middle East. Do we have an answer to this problem? I agree with and support the decision of the Government to withdraw from the Aden base. In any case the sort of pressures I have mentioned, although they will be exacerbated by the decision to withdraw from the base, already existed. These pressures are in the nature of the situation which we are defending. We will have to work out the implications for our position in the Gulf of the withdrawal from the Aden base.
Would the hon. Gentleman accept that the onset of terrorist pressure in Aden, followed by our decision to evacuate in 1968, may encourage precisely this form of pressure in Bahrein with a similar objective in view?
I am saying that there are pressures in the area which can lead to trouble and to social unrest. I suspect that these pressures will be encouraged by our withdrawal from Aden. These pressures would exist in any event, but I feel that they may be exacerbated by the decision to withdraw, although I entirely accept that decision. The implications for the Gulf States must be thought through, difficult though it will be, to find any adequate answer.
Everyone is now discussing what sort of stability can be established in the Persian Gulf, if Britain withdraws. Can we conceive of the possibility of a peaceful withdrawal from these States? One reads in the papers, and this might have been a conclusion drawn from some of the comments of my right hon. Friend this after-noon, that certain hopes are based on Saudi Arabia and the rôle which it could play in this area. That, if it were possible, would be preferable to the present situation, but I am rather afraid that these hopes are insubstantial, and I feel sceptical about them. The Arabian Peninsula cannot be insulated from external ideas, and the Saudi-Arabian solution is posited on the principle that it can be insulated from external ideas. Ideas are moving very fast in the Arab world, encouraged by the existence of vast oil revenue and the demands for development following from that. On any consideration of this problem we must remember that the estimated population of the whole Arabian Peninsula is only 10 million, and that of Saudi Arabia 3 million, whereas the population of Egypt is 30 million. This has important consequences for the kind of influence which will be dominant throughout the Arab world.
I have tried to indicate the problem as I see it. I should now provide the answer. I have no easy answer to the problem, not even the easy one of saying that we should get out quickly. I accept that, if we did, a great deal of trouble might follow. All I can say is that we must investigate every possibility of alternative sources of stability in the area. Secondly, and this is of major importance, we must use our influence in the protected States more determinedly than before in favour of political and economic development. The squabbles that go on among these States are rather like the squabbles that went on in the Italian city states at the time of the Renaissance—they are fascinating but they are not important. In dealing with them we need from Britain more of the quality of the administrator and less that of the diplomatist. We must negotiate less and do more. What we aim to protect in the Gulf must be politically defensible.
Looking to the future, I do not believe that we will be militarily present in the Gulf 10 years from now. But I suspect that unfortunately we will find it a great deal more difficult to get out and leave peace behind than it was to get in in the first place.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) will forgive me if I do not follow his detailsd consideration of the position in the Persian Gulf. However, while listening to him, I could not help reflecting on a passage in the remarkable speech made by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) at the Conservative Party conference, which impressed me a great deal more than his contribution today. In a passage dealing with countervailing forces—I quote from the hand-out of his speech—he said:
We have to reckon with the harsh tact that the attainment of this eventual equilibrium of forces may at some point be delayed rather than hastened by Western military presence.
That may be very true of the situation in the Gulf.
In my contribution, I hope to challenge some of the assumptions made on both sides of the House in the course of this debate. There is no sphere in which the Labour Party has broken as many promises as in defence. I have in my hand a booklet published in 1964, before the last election, entitled "Defence policy talking points". Under the heading "What is Labour policy?" five points are set out. They are the only five points set out as Labour policy. Each of them has been broken; none of them has been fulfilled.
The first point is that
Britain should cease the attempt to remain an independent nuclear power, since this neither strengthens the alliance nor is it a sensible use of our resources.
That has been completely broken by the Government.
The second point is in the form of a quotation from a speech made by the Prime Minister in January, 1964, when he said:
We shall keep the V-bombers for the rest of their limited life—and we shall keep them unequivocally assigned to N.A.TO.
As we know, part of them is now stationed in the East in what is thought to be a nuclear rôle. Certainly, they are not assigned to N.A.T.O.
Of course they are. The hon. and learned Gentleman should not make these absurd statements without doing his homework. All the V-bombers are assigned to N.A.T.O. Much of the Fleet in the Far East is assigned to N.A.T.O. The hon. and learned Gentleman should try to find out the meaning of words before he says this sort of thing.
With great respect, what was commonly understood by the term "unequivocally assigned to N.A.T.O." was that the V-bombers would be assigned to the N.A.T.O. sphere and not to the Far East. Everybody knows that the Government have those bombers in an independent nuclear rôle in the East.
The third point is a quotation from the same speech by the Prime Minister:
We shall renegotiate this agreement to end the proposal to buy Polaris submarines from the United States.
That has been broken.
The fourth point refers to the TSR2 and again is a quotation from the same speech praising the TSR2 to the skies. The Government did away with the TSR2, and my party supported them on that.
The right hon. Gentleman must do his homework before he lectures me. My party did not.
The fifth point was that the Labour Party would
use the enhanced increased influence that we should get by very good conventional forces, far better equipped than we have today
by making savings in the nuclear arm. This, too, has been unfulfilled. I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East—[HON. MEMBERS: "Wolverhampton, South-West."] I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman. At least he is consistent about his constituency, if not about his policy. I was amazed that he castigated the Government so much. He should be congratulating himself that he has got them to follow Tory defence policy, with slight trimmings.
The truth is that we are over-extended militarily and economically. What we have not sufficiently realised in this country is that the British Empire really has ceased to exist. We are living in a kind of nostalgic twilight in which the modes of thought engendered by the Empire still remain, and in no one's mind do they operate more acutely than in that of the Secretary of Stale for Defence. I often think that, with his undoubted ability, he would have been an ideal Defence Minister in the Palmerstonian era. He would have loved to send his little gunboats all over the world to maintain peace, thinking that we had a great rôle to play in maintaining the Pax Britannica. Unfortunately, for him, that attitude is to disregard the harsh facts of life.
Pitt laid down the axiom that the arm of Britain should not be extended any further than it could be maintained. That was a very wise axiom. The truth is that the arm of Britain is extended to many parts of the world where, if we were under pressure, it would be impossible to maintain it. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, knows this perfectly well. Although he did not say so today, he certainly implied it in his speech at Brighton.
I challenge the assumption that to exert a great influence in the world it is necessary for us to be a world military power. This assumption is contrary to our true interests. In fact, it leads to a policy that is weakening us. Can anyone in the House say that France has less influence in the world than we do?
The right hon. Gentleman obviously thinks that that is so, but very few people outside think so. By being an effective European Power France has at least as much influence in the world as we have by being an ineffective world power.
I was amazed to read in The Guardian on 3rd February, 1966, that in Australia the right hon. Gentleman—and no doubt he will correct me if the quotation is wrong—said:
The most important conclusion we have come to is that we do intend to remain, in the military sense, a world power.
It is impossible for us, on our resources, to be a world Power in the military sense independently of the United States. The more we try to be a world power in the military sense the more we inevitably become an auxiliary of the United States.
It is interesting that when the Labour Party was in opposition it often chided the Tory Government for buying war materials from the United States and thereby becoming more and more dependent on the United States. One remembers the Nassau Agreement and the debate upon it, and the chiding from the party opposite that this country was becoming so dependent upon the United States. But, this is inevitable, whichever Government are in power, as long as we think that our rôle is a world military rôle.
A world rôle in the military sense is impossible for us save as an auxiliary of the United States. If it is the country's choice that we become more and more an auxiliary of the United States, that is a perfectly feasible rôle for us to fulfil in world affairs. All I need say is that I do not want that rôle. The future for this country lies in Europe. Certainly, let us have an alliance with the United States, and be a good ally but do not let us be its auxiliary.
We must face the reality of our circumstances. Our resources are not such as to enable us to play this world military rôle. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence would have liked to have carriers if the truth be known so that he would be in a position to provide our Servicemen with the kind of additional support that carriers can certainly give in certain circumstances, but he had to cut his coat according to his cloth. We simply are unable to fulfil our commitments in the world on our present defence budget. That is the truth of the matter, as the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) said in his resignation speech. We should cut our commitments, and cut them quickly.
It has been said that we are living in an era of withdrawal. We certainly are, but we are not withdrawing fast enough. We are not recasting our position. We are not alive to the change in our circumstances. We want drastic reductions in our commitments.
Certainly, but I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would withdraw his defence policy with him.
We hear a great deal about our commitments. What exactly does the term "commitment" mean? For example, we have a commitment, undertaken by Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was, to have five divisions stationed under N.A.T.O. command in Europe. That commitment has never been fulfilled. So much for a commitment. We have other commitments of various kinds. But are they to continue for ever? Is there no Statute of Limitation on commitments that were entered into, for example, in the last century?
The Government are absolutely right to withdraw from Aden. They should also withdraw from Bahrein. Except in one instance, there is no obligation upon us to defend the Trucial States. We are holding back what the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West described as the countervailing forces, sometimes nationalistic in character. I agree with him that they often are held back by the very presence of Western troops.
We hear a good deal about Malaysia. Much could be done by this country in taking a diplomatic initiative in South-East Asia. We must remember the way in which Malaysia was born. I understand that Australia opposed the formation of Malaysia and that the views of the Australian Government at the time were not heeded. Is it not right to say that Borneo was included in Malaysia to counterbalance the Singapore Chinese? Singapore has now withdrawn from the Federation. We should be taking a great diplomatic initiative to find means to end this confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia.
The hon. and learned Member proposes a diplomatic initiative in South-East Asia, presumably with Indonesia. Is he aware that the British Embassy in Jakarta was burned down two years ago and that the British Ambassador has not been able to see President Sukarno for nearly a year? How, therefore, does the hon. and learned Member expect to make friends with people who are in this frame of mind?
The Government are never short of ideas in diplomatic initiatives when it comes to sending somebody to North Vietnam. We do not have to follow the traditional form of diplomatic initiative. Questions were asked in the House last week on this very point of increasing our diplomatic representation in Indonesia.
I do not think that we have a real rôle to play in the Far East in the 1970s. One cannot put an exact date on this, and I agree that we must fulfil our existing obligation to Malaysia, but Malaysia is more the concern of countries like Australia and New Zealand who are in the area. I would certainly support a policy of helping those countries to fulfil their obligations. I am not opposed to a linking alliance between an alliance in the Western Hemisphere and one in the East, but I do not think that we have an independent rôle to play east of Suez in the 1970s. In this debate, after all, we are considering matters which will affect defence policy in the 1970s and not now.
I agree entirely with the point made earlier in the debate that we should take steps to strengthen the United Nations. We could do much more to ensure that the United Nations has a really effective rôle too in such areas of the world as we have been engaged in a so-called peacekeeping rôle.
It follows from what I have been saying that I challenge certain fundamental assumptions on which our defence policies have been based. It is my view that the future of Britain is that of a European Power, and that we should have a defence policy compatible with our future, and not compatible with our past.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, East, in his resignation speech, said that he estimated that if we truly withdrew, and were a European Power, we would have a very effective defence policy for less than £1,800 million per annum. I had a separate estimate made by a very distinguished military expert who thought that we could be a really fully effective European Power for a defence budget of about £1,700 million per annum.
This means that it is possible for this country to save about £500 million per annum on defence, and a great deal of this would be in foreign exchange. This would have a most important effect on our economic affairs, because I think it is right to say that we could probably enormously improve, if not completely solve—though one must be very careful not to be dogmatic about this—our balance of payments problem by this means.
What I do think is that at this moment we are in world affairs at an in-between stage where we are in the process of transition from a great imperial Power. This we have now ceased to be; and we should be in the process of becoming a truly effective European Power. Our world influence would be greater if we were bold enough to recognise that this is our rôle. At the moment the truth is that we are wasting hundreds of millions of pounds per annum on an ineffective world rôle in order to satisfy the nostalgic yearnings of people like the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence, who is living in the past.
If I am wrong in my view of the rôle of Britain in the world, and if the Secretary of State for Defence is right in his view that we have a world rôle as a military power policing various parts of the world, then I think his defence policy entirely muddled. I am convinced that, if this is our rôle—and I do not accept it—there is an overwhelming case for the carrier—and for carriers generally. It seems to me that there is no defence in a nuclear war: it is only a nuclear deterrent, it cannot be nuclear defence; and if we have this rôle to fulfill in world affairs, dealing with "bush fires", conventional wars of a small nature here and there, I would have thought carriers essential for it.
Assuming that I am wrong and that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of Defence is right in the basic assessment, then I would have thought the Government's case has certainly not been made. I would agree again with the right hon. Member for Woolwich, East that, if we have these obligations, if we have these commitments, then we need carriers. I should like to know whether, on this matter, the Government have considered, for example, small carriers for a type of aircraft like Jaguars, and further, whether if there was any attempt to interest the Australians and the New Zealanders in sharing these carrier costs in the Far East—because it is assumed that it is in the Far East such carriers would operate.
Having said that, I do not shift in any way from my assumption. I think that this country is dangerously delaying the proper reassessment of its rôle in the world, and it is spending far too much money on defence. We simply cannot afford to spend this money. A great deal of it has been wasted. There is still a large scope for saving expenditure, even in this country. Is it necessary, for example, to spend £½ million on stabling in the new Knightsbridge barracks, to take only one small point
In the sphere of defence, the Government have broken every promise that they have made. I have read the five talking points published before the last election, and not one of them has been fulfilled. It is small wonder that the country still finds itself in great economic difficulty.
I agreed with a great deal of what the spokesman for the Liberal Party, the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), has said in his very interesting speech. I have been saying the same things for the last 20 years in the House, and I hope that next Easter we shall see the hon. and learned Gentleman join us in the Aldermaston march.
The main talking point in the debate has been the aircraft carrier, and in many ways it symbolises the whole of the argument on defence. I am very glad that the question has been raised at this time, because it means that the whole subject of expenditure upon defence will become one of the great issues for debate in the General Election.
If it had been proceeded with, I understand that the aircraft carrier would have cost £170 million and would not have been finished for another 10 years, by which time it would have been obsolete. During that time, a very large amount of skilled labour which should have been devoted to building up industry would have been devoted to something which is economically useless and irrelevant from a defence point of view.
Just imagine the large number of skilled workers who would have been employed building an aircraft carrier. There are electricians, shipbuilders, and other skilled workers such as shipwrights, a large percentage of whom could be engaged in the building industry. At the same time, we need skilled workers of all kinds to build up new factories on which the future economy of the country depends. From that point of view alone, the Government are perfectly justified in stopping the aircraft carrier, and my only regret is that they have not gone far enough in making greater cuts in our defence expenditure, especially in the Royal Navy.
I was rather disappointed to hear the Minister of Defence talk about the glorious rôle that the Royal Navy would play in 10 years' time. I wonder whether he reads anything about developments in the modern world. I do not believe that aircraft carriers are going to play any part in the next 10 years. In that time, we shall see tremendous developments in rockets. The Russians can hit the moon, and they are even talking of having hit Venus. Developments in the science of rockets are advancing at a tremendous pace.
I can foresee the time, in 10 years, when the whole idea of modern warfare will have changed. If the Opposition had their way, in that time we should have gone on using British brains and the energies of British workers in building up something which by then would be completely obsolete. I hope that the Government will continue to reduce expenditure, because I would rather see all these workers engaged in building advance factories in the mining areas and in building up a real economy which will maintain the standard of life of the British people.
Although there have been cuts in defence, there have not been nearly enough for me. I agree with the basic assumptions of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. We have to shed our imperial delusions in the same way Spain did two centuries ago. It is useless to persist with useless expenditure at a time when we need to spend so much money on building schools, factories, hospitals and all the other things which we need, and a Motion of censure on the Government when they are making a start in cutting expenditure will not receive support in the country.
I was rather disappointed to hear my right hon. Friend talk about the Polaris submarines. Apparently he has resigned himself to the idea that they will play an important rôle in the 'seventies. From all that I have read on the subject, I believe that these submarines, at any rate those which will go to Gareloch, will be obsolete long before 1970. I remember the debate when Polaris submarines were first mentioned in this House. It was Mr. Macmillan who came home from Nassau with the idea of having them.
The right hon. Member for Wolver-hampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) talked about the Government being bound hand and foot to the Americans. The decision on the Polaris submarines was taken long before this Government came into power. It was taken when we agreed to the Nassau Agreement. It was taken when we agreed to the American base at the Holy Loch, and the policy has been continued with the resultant large expenditure which is now taking place at Gareloch.
I have visited Gareloch. By 1968, £45 million will have been spent there. In the West of Scotland we need houses, schools, and all the buildings which are necessary to increase our educational facilities. We need hospitals, and we need new factories, yet it is proposed to spend £45 million on a base which, when it is completed in 1968, will be such that the Government will not know what to do about it.
I wish that in looking at the future of the Navy, and at aircraft carriers in particular, we had gone further and faced the fact that in the 'sixties and 'seventies naval expenditure is obsolete and should be dispensed with.
I do not know how far the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West agrees with the American Alliance, but, as I see it, it has tremendous dangers. If, for example, America decided to go to war with China, presumably in a very short time we would be drawn into the whirlpool. I believe that one reason why we are so close to America is that we are linked with her in Far Eastern policy. I would like to see the end of our Far Eastern policy. I would like to see the right hon. Gentleman develop his "east of Suez" ideas, which orignated either with Karl Marx or Norman Angell, and apply them to a "west of Suez" or "north of Suez" concept. Why should we talk about changing military strategy east of Suez, drawing an imaginary geographical line and failing to carry the argument any further?
My point is that the pacifist argument is the right one and that, sooner or later, the Government will have to listen to this argument. After the next election I hope that many more young members of the Labour Party will come into the House—men who will challenge all the old conceptions on which the Labour Party has built its defence policy for years. I agree that there are many contradictions in this, but there is only one alternative to the policy of the arms race and international tension, and that is the pacifist policy.
We must dispense with the idea that we can defend ourselves in a nuclear war, because we cannot. One person pressing a button either in the United States or Russia would start a chain reaction which could obliterate this country. Therefore, we should take risks when those risks mean a complete change in our foreign policy and in our attitude towards America. We should take a more individual line towards America.
A fortnight ago I was interested to read that there had been a slump on the New York Stock Exchange as a result of a rumour that a peace feeler had been extended from Ho Chi Minh, through Delhi. There was a tremendous slump in arms shares. People who had their money invested in poison gas, napalm bombs and all the other fiendish instruments of war which are now being used in Vietnam, were hit by the slump. But then, an hour or so afterwards, the news came that this was only a rumour, after which those shares rose in value once more.
My argument is that we are too closely allied to the United States. One of the reasons for United States foreign policy—which is so dangerous to the world—is the fact that such an enormous part of her wealth is invested in armaments. As long as we are regarded throughout the world as a sort of satellite of the United States our influence will be negligible. We shall be regarded in much the same way as Herr Ulbricht and East Germany are regarded in terms of the international outlook of Europe.
I support the Government because this is a first step—only a very small one—towards getting rid of the huge naval armaments. The Government did well to end the TSR2 project. They did well in leaving Aden. I wish that they would leave Cyprus and Singapore, and all the other world bases on which an enormous amount of money is now being spent. We need money for the Highlands of Scotland. The £12 million that has been spent on Cyprus could well be spent on Scotland. The enormous sums of money spent overseas could be used in developing our economic life. This would give us real influence in the world.
I hope that this debate will go on throughout the General Election. We must challenge all the old conceptions that huge armaments bring peace or defence in any sense of the word. I welcome the debate and I hope that it will be carried on in the country—[An HON. MEMBER: "Broken promises."] I have not broken any promises during the last 10 years—
No. I want to conclude by saying—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I am not giving way.
I hope that the debate will be continued during the election, that members of the Labour Party will say to the leaders of the Labour Party, "You have begun well. You have to turn your backs completely on the old traditional ideas of foreign policy, which have failed us." I hope that, in the next Parliament, we shall have enough hon. Members who take this point of view to compel the Government completely to change their defence and foreign policy.
The hon. Member said that he is prepared to take risks. Does he mean risks with the security of the country? He said that that was what he was prepared to do. I think that this is an extraordinary thing to suggest. Will he answer?
I do not want to take too long, as the debate is reaching its conclusion, but there are a few points which I want to make. Listening to the Secretary of State and many other speakers on the other side of the House, I was particularly impressed by the way in which they kept on coming back to the fact that we were spending or had been spending 7 per cent. of our gross national product on defence and that we should have to reduce this.
The right hon. Gentleman even referred to what other countries were spending, as though he sought to cry in aid the fact that, because other countries were spending less than 7 per cent. of their gross national product, we should do the same. There was no attempt—nor was there one in the Defence White Paper for which we waited so long—to analyse what this country's commitments are throughout the world and what its needs to protect its interests are.
I suggest that defence must come first. The great social services of this country—and everything on which we depend—depend themselves on our ability to protect ourselves, but there was no analysis in the White Paper of the needs of this country over the next 10 or 15 years to protect our interests throughout the world. It is completely false and artificial to say that we must spend some arbitrary sum unrelated to the commit ments of this country, such as 5 or 6 per cent. of the gross national product, and then fit everything in with that.
Therefore, I cannot follow what the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has said. I say with great feeling, although he is an older man than I, that I am sure that, in the 1930s, many hon. Members on the other side of the House got up and said, "Give in to any form of aggression. Unless we give in to aggression, we shall have a world war." We discovered in the last war and we might well discover in future that if one gives in to minor aggression, it only escalates and the final catastrophe is not averted.
Britain must play her part along with the United States and the other great countries in the world to stand up to aggression wherever we might find it, whether in Europe or the Far East—
I should like to pursue this further, but I feel that the House has taken the point.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) spoke of Aden and Bahrein. I had the privilege, with four of my colleagues, of visiting our bases in Aden and Bahrein last summer and I can endorse all that he said about the conditions in Bahrein. In fact, they were so bad that, on returning from Bahrein I wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Defence which I sent round and which was signed by all of my colleagues. I am still waiting for a reply, which I am sure I will get in due course.
This letter pointed out that the conditions, particularly for the R.A.F., were pretty well intolerable. They needed not only more married quarters but swimming pools, because they were living in high humidity and very high temperature and in those circumstances, particularly in midsummer, they need better conditions.
Aden is not a paradise, as most hon. Members know, but conditions there are much better than in Bahrein. If we give up the Aden base how can we maintain our presence in the Persian Gulf in such conditions as I have described? Perhaps the Government are being a little rash in deciding to give up the base in Aden so quickly, when we have excellent installations there. I have written to the right hon. Gentleman about the very bad smell arising from the sewers emptying into the sea at the Kormaksar naval base near the canteen and sleeping quarters. With that exception the conditions in Aden are tolerable and Aden is a far better centre for our troops than Bahrein. From there we look after our commitments throughout the Middle East and it is the headquarters of Middle East Command. If we withdraw from Aden in two years that is too short a time to provide a suitable alternative base in the Persian Gulf.
I have very strong feelings about the decision to scrap the aircraft carrier programme, which is not surprising as more carriers for the British Navy have come from the shipyards of Harland and Wolff than from any other yard in the country. But this is not the main reason for my saying that the Government are mistaken in cancelling the carrier programme. If the carrier programme is to be changed, the Government should consider the possibility of having new and smaller ships equioped with vertical take-off aircraft which could provide cover for troops in local operations which they may be called on to support.
I call attention to the effect of the Government's defence policy on areas such as mine in Northern Ireland, where the decision to buy American aircraft has caused a great deal of damage to the interests of ordinary people who have been working in our shipyards and aircraft factories and who are now very uncertain about their future. I mention the Sydenham naval aircraft station where so much work mentioned in the White Paper is carried out, such as the maintenance of fleet aircraft. It is difficult for people who lose work there to find other work in the area because of their remoteness from the markets. I hope that before the Session closes the right hon. Gentleman will make a firm statement about the future of firms such as Short Bros, and about the naval aircraft station at Sydenham. I hope that the Minister of Aviation will say a few words about it when he winds up the debate.
The first day of what has been called this great national debate has been marked by two valedictory addresses, one from the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey), who has never allowed the realities of international power to shake his conviction in the rightness of his own views, and the other from my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth), who will be greatly missed by all hon. Members. My right hon. and gallant Friend spoke, as he has done on previous occasions, on behalf of the Brigade of Gurkhas, that magnificent fighting force. He asked pointedly for a firm guarantee as to their future in the British Army. I hope that when the Secretary of State winds up the debate tomorrow he will make a special reference to the position of the Gurkhas in future.
The debate was also marked by a most distinguished and searching opening speech from these benches. But it was marred by the performance of the Secretary of State, who reduced this important discussion to the level of the nursery. Perhaps he thought that it was good stuff for the hustings. In that case he clearly does not reserve his arrogance for this House alone.
Before considering the White Papers before us it is worth looking back to last year's Command Paper 2592, which was a sort of trailer to the full feature which we now have before the House. Last year's White Paper began by claiming that our forces were seriously overstretched and under-equipped. It stated:
The equipment programme…fails to satisfy either our military or economic needs, particularly in the field of aircraft.
So the Government took immediate steps to remedy that grave state of affairs. How did they do it? By cancelling the three most advanced projects which were then under development. That was the first step, taken before the so-called review had been concluded.
Now, in Command Paper 2901, we see the next stages in the Labour Government's attempt to match political commitments to resources and to relate resources to economic circumstances. How do they propose to go about it? They intend to do it by ratting on our obligations to South Arabia and, as for other political commitments, by deciding which we must give up and which we could discharge on a more limited scale of operations. I always thought that "commitment" implied an obligation that was binding in honour and could not be broken unilaterally.
How do the Government propose to relate resources to economic circumstances? Apparently by spending £1,000 million on aircraft designed and produced in America. It is clear that long before this over-dressed review had begun, the principal decisions had already been taken, if not by the Secretary of State then by those curious bedfellows of his, the Prime Minister and the Paymaster-General. However, it is not altogether one-sided, for even the Paymaster-General must have rubbed his eyes when he read Chapter IV of Cmd. 2902—the admirably clear explanation about the rôle of Britain's nuclear strategic forces. This is the most complete vindication of the policies of previous Conservative Governments.
The paragraphs in the White Paper on the V-bombers are of especial importance, and I am sorry that some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from below the Gangway opposite who took part in the debate earlier are not here—[Interruption.]—because in this part of the document we have set out for all to see the essential features that make Britain's independent deterrent a most important factor for peace in the world—V-bombers capable of high or low level attack, equipped with free-fall weapons or with Blue Steel stand-off bombs which are virtually immune to interception; the electronic counter-measures which enhance their ability to penetrate deep into enemy territory; and now coming into service, a new nuclear weapon which can be effectively and accurately delivered from a very low level.
I am certain that some hon. Gentlemen opposite will have been particularly interested in this and also to read the statement in the second paragraph of Chapter IV, where it says that the V-bomber force
…will in due course be augmented by the Polaris Fleet of the Royal Navy…
If "augment" means anything, it means to increase, enlarge and it does not mean to replace.
This is of even greater consequence when one turns to the now notorious opening paragraph of the section headed "Canberra Aircraft Replacement", because there we are told that the V-bombers will cease to form part of our contribution to the strategic forces of the alliance when the Polaris submarines come into service. The important words there are "of the alliance". What is the consequence of those words? Is this the Government's way of telling the country that even though the V-bombers will not be assigned to N.A.T.O., they will still maintain their use as an independent deterrent for use on their own anywhere? Is this the Government's way of announcing a complete reversal of their previous policies? At one time it was "scrap the nuclear, and build up the conventional", but now they tell us that increasing reliance on nuclear devastation is the proper policy for this country.
Where in all this does the American F.111A come in? We are told that it is to bridge a gap—but who created the gap? The gap was created by the right hon. Gentleman when he cancelled the TSR2. It is for him, therefore, to justify the purchase of this aircraft; and to justify the fact that only 50 have been bought. It is well known that the Air Staff wanted many more even than the 110 TSR2s, which was the minimum they were to get. What are they to do with 50 of these American aircraft? How exactly are they to be used? In what rôle—reconnaissance, or strike, or both? Is it for Europe, the Far East or world wide?
Then we are told that the F.111A is, in due course—in 1975—to be supplemented by the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft in the strike rôle. As my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, the Anglo-French V.G. aircraft was originally intended as a Lightning, not a Canberra, replacement. It was also intended that it would be a joint Royal Air Force-Royal Navy aircraft. Now, apparently, it is to have the wholly different rôle of taking over from the V-bombers as a conventional and tactical nuclear strike aircraft, and it is to be the core of our long-term aircraft programme.
If the Government are really serious about this aircraft, they must get on with it. They must put some urgency into the matter. They must bring the project forward earlier than 1975. I am told that it is practically possible for them to do so. They must, at any rate, get the O.R. written. How many are they likely to want to buy? If they are only to buy 50 F.111As and this new aircraft in 1975 is to supplement the F.111A, presumably well over 100 of the Anglo-French V.G. aircraft will be needed. To be fair, in all this talk about cost of cancellations and cost of purchase, when considering the cost of the F.111A we ought also to bring into consideration the cost in the future of the Anglo-French variable-geometry aircraft.
Let me say a word about cost. Costs should not be measured in a case like this in terms of the unit ceiling price per copy alone. The Government seem to be unaware of the widespread beneficial effects throughout British industry and the economy which follow the injection of funds to finance the development of advanced projects. It is this aspect which the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have much more in mind. It is not sufficient just to assess notional savings in cash terms, because against the credit side in the equation must be set the immense debit reflected in the net loss to the whole spectrum of British design skill and advanced technology which arises from the decision to purchase American to such a large extent as the Government have decided to do. The Labour Government have required us not only to pay for U.S. aircraft, but to pay for U.S. development as well.
They have been quick to make up their minds about ordering from America; the United Kingdom industry is still mainly without firm production orders. The Government have talked about sales of British equipment as being guaranteed, but where is the guarantee? Nothing we heard from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon amounted to anything like a guarantee that Mr. Henry J. Kuss, Jnr., would purchase equipment from this country. I ask again the question asked by my right hon. Friend: is this meant to imply that the sale of this British equipment will be over and above what is in any case to be sold? Why was no special bargain struck at the time when the right hon. Gentleman was negotiating as a prospective purchaser? That was the time to have a guarantee written into the contract, at that time before he cancelled the advance project on which our own industry was engaged and before he concluded a deal to purchase from the United States.
This Government, ever since just before the last election, have made a habit of speaking in glowing terms about modernising Britain with the new technology of the new scientific age. If this is their line of argument there must be clear evidence that they intend to translate those words into action by giving effective support to the key leader industries of this country. The new aerospace developments form the spur to technological advance and unless that spur is maintained as sharp as possible we shall not be able to achieve the tremendous advances which our electronics industries can bring us towards modernisation throughout our industry.
Much of British industry is still living on a hand-to-mouth basis. There is one sphere in which this is particularly so, the sphere in which we used to have a clear lead, in v.t.o.l. technology. The Americans are about to break through in v.t.o.l., having benefited from the experience gained in the lead which we had. Are the Government really serious about the Kestrel? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned this this afternoon. If the Government are determined that it shall come into service as rapidly as possible, why is the Pegasus engine still only on a development contract? The original contract expired in December. Since then it has been renewed for one month at a time. The present contract will be expiring on polling day. This is not the way to go full speed ahead with an important project and a piece of military equipment urgently needed for which our forces are waiting.
I turn to the question of balanced forces. The last Government in all their policies ensured that we would have balanced forces. As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, the previous Conservative Government had planned that the equipment of our forces and the disposition of our forces should largely be governed by the new techniques of vertical take-off and short take-off and landing, which would mean that we needed no permanent airfields and the machines would be able to operate in any part of the world. We had plans for carrier-borne strike aircraft and heli copters to give close support. These were supplemented by long-range strategic bombers, the whole complex providing a great degree of mobility which would have led progressively to less and less; dependence on fixed bases.
This was becoming, and in fact at that time had a guarantee of staying in the future, a formidable force of great flexibility. Now we have a complete turnabout as a result of the Government's policies. They have cancelled the supersonic v.t.o.l. fighter and cancelled the s.t.o.l. transport which was the necessary result of such a weapon. They have purchased aircraft requiring permanent airfields and long runways. They hardly said a word about helicopters, at least in the White Paper, and they have cancelled the new aircraft carrier. To describe this Part 1 of the Review as a new defence posture is the under-statement of the century.
The decisions which the Government have announced cannot fail to reduce the flexibility and mobility of our forces. This is at a time when, according to their own White Paper, events in the Middle East, the Far East and Africa have made it necessary in the past year for us to send reinforcements from this country to all our main overseas territories. They condemned us for being dogmatic about weapons. Nothing could be more dogmatic than the assumption on which the Government's entire policy is now based. What is to replace the carrier, described on page 27 of Cmnd. 2902 as
the most important element of the Fleet"?
How are the Government planning to defend our seaborne forces in the 1970s? If there is to be no carrier, how are they going to guarantee to our ground forces the local air superiority and offensive support which they may require?
The Secretary of State told us this afternoon. He said that the Royal Air Force will co-operate with the Royal Navy and that the Royal Navy will be supplied with surface-to-surface guided weapons to use against missile-carrying ships. Surely the experience in Vietnam has a lesson for us here, where the Americans have found the need for really close support to their operations and where they have found increasing difficulties arising from having to go many thousands of miles away to bring up their strategic aircraft.
But if this is to be the policy of the future, an increasing dependence upon long-range aircraft, surely we must be certain that, without a carrier, we shall have a chain of bases. Without these bases the decision to purchase the F.111 makes little sense. The policy to ensure a chain of new bases, such as the island base strategy, to which very little reference is made in the White Paper, would inevitably lead to further reliance upon American equipment.
The Royal Air Force will need more transport aircraft. Where are these aircraft to come from? Are they to buy more C.130s? Are they going to buy the even larger C.5? The bases themselves will be equipped with American ground and communications equipment. The right hon. Gentleman should at least give the House tomorrow more information about what his intentions are as regards bases. When he talks about co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, he must recognise that this implies a chain of bases across the Indian Ocean, and he should give us more information about that.
The Secretary of State may tell us that we are going to find the necessary facilities in Bahrein. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell), who made a most interesting speech and who has just been out there, told us something of the difficulties and fears of the Bahreinis in regard to our decision. More importantly, if the right hon. Gentleman intends to leave Aden, where there is a most important stockpile, is he going to replace that by putting it at Bahrein? Is the headquarters of the Middle East Command also to move to Bahrein? I do not follow the right hon. Gentleman in being so certain about the pattern of events in the future, particularly in this part of the world, where they tend to change from one day to the next. As the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) said on 2nd February:
The future defence requirements of the area are extremely difficult to foresee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1966: Vol. 723, c. 1066.]
The Secretary of State by his decision to run out of Aden, has in fact made it more difficult to forecast what is likely
to happen in that part or the world. Nasser has already leaped in with a few well chosen words. His broadcasts are already beaming on to the other Arabian countries. He has begun to boast that he has defeated the British in Aden and Arabia. The right hon. Gentleman bears a heavy responsibility indeed for the situation he has created in that part of the world, and this at a time when Nasser was virtually beaten to his knees in the Yemen. The Secretary of State could not have chosen a more unfortunate moment to have announced this decision and to have taken it unilaterally in this way.
What is the point of this move in fact? Was it just to fit in with the right hon. Gentleman's arithmetic, with his need to find the necessary savings? Or is this the prelude to further withdrawal elsewhere? If our troops outside Europe are to be cut by 30,000 to 40,000, which is what the right hon. Gentleman told us, where are they to come from? Thirty thousand to 40,000 troops are going to come from where? The right hon. Gentleman has a duty to be more frank to the House than he has been so far.
So far the Defence White Paper has shown up some very clear weaknesses in the Government's thinking. The major weakness is the fact that they arbitrarily selected a figure in advance of making their positive review. The right hon. Gentleman claims that he has had the courage to look the facts in the face and draw the right conclusions from them. He has, in fact, done nothing of the kind. If he had genuinely faced the facts and if, as he asserts, defence in his hands is the servant and not the master of foreign policy, then he would certainly not have cut into our military capability. The uncertainties in the world today would have required that he should maintain the effectiveness and mobility of our forces at the greatest possible state of readiness. He has not faced the facts. What he has done is to present them with the conclusions that he himself invented to fit the figure which he himself has chosen.
This has been not so much a review—more a way of retreat. Before the party opposite have a chance to do any further damage, the country will welcome the opportunity it now has to get them out.
I should like to join the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) in referring to the valedictory addresses by two of our colleagues who are not seeking re-election—my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Warbey) and the right hon and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) who, in rather different ways, have made many contributions to our defence debates over the years. I know from my experience as Minister of Defence for the Army that in the retirement of the right hon. and Gallant Member for Norwood the Brigade of Gurkhas will lose a very powerful advocate in this House.
When I read the Motion that the Opposition have put down for debate I was surprised to find such a modest Motion on the eve of a General Election. But then I recalled the situation of our defences when we took office 15 months ago, and I realised that the Opposition had a great deal to be modest about.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has made clear, not only this year but in the debates on the White Paper a year ago, we found our defence forces extremely stretched. We found, in fact, that no real decisions about defence had been taken for the previous year or even longer, and my right hon. Friend had the job of trying to put our defence policy in order. When I found the manifesto of the Conservative Party called "Action not words", I thought that particularly in the defence context this was the supreme impertinence. No action was shown in trying to get the right balance of forces and provide the necessary money for them without placing a burden on our economy.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) read out a lot of figures of the actual percentage of the gross national product that had been consumed by defence expenditure over the years. The figure in the last year of the Conservative Government was 6·5 per cent. But this figure conceals a great deal. It conceals the fact that in respect of all the equipment that had been ordered for all three Services in the years just before the last election the bills were left to my right hon. Friend to pay. In every single Service, whether it be equipment for the Army, the Navy or more particularly the Air Force, right down to the Phantoms, the first American aircraft ordered by this country—ordered, in fact, by the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft)—and the helicopters that he ordered just before the election, it was all left for us to pay. That is why it is misleading to suggest that had they gone on they would have been able to maintain defence expenditure at 6·5 per cent. of the gross national product.
I cannot think what the right hon. Gentleman is complaining about. All the American aircraft the Government have ordered are to be paid for over a time scale reaching to 1977.
Although I doubt whether the right hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery) will be with us, I assure him that in that year there will still be a Labour Government. We are not seeking to postpone any payments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I think that that is a very good answer.
The Conservative programme would have involved an expenditure of £400 million a year beyond the figure that my right hon. Friend has taken as his target. As he said, if we achieve the target, as we intend to, it will be 6 per cent. of the gross national product—not 6·5 per cent. or 7 per cent. as it would have been if the party opposite had remained in power.
The other surprising aspect of the debate is the complaint from the Opposition that we have not given enough information. Any hon. Member who has followed defence debates over these last years will realise that, through the Defence White Paper and in other debates, we have given more information over the whole range of defence activity than has been given by any Defence Minister before. Here, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and to all the military and civilian officials in the Ministry who have been so heavily engaged in the review and in providing for the House and public opinion a fuller picture of our defence situation than has ever been provided before.
In the same speech in which he complained about not being told enough, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West also complained that we should not have told the House that we have decided to leave the Aden base in 1968. He cannot have it both ways. The Opposition say that my right hon. Friend should have come to a view about the future of the Aden base, but concealed it from the House and the public. I think that that would have been quite improper. However, the Opposition cannot take that point of view and still complain that the Government have not given enough information.
In studying the Motion, I was particularly struck by the last few words:
…will impair the ability of our forces to carry out the duties required of them.
I suppose that it is a matter of argument whether the policy and the disposition of forces that my right hon. Friend has presented will be subject to this criticism, but what is beyond doubt is that if my right hon. Friend had followed the programme that he inherited, certainly the Royal Air Force would have been quite incapable of carrying out the duties imposed upon it.
Plane after plane was becoming obsolete and the procrastination—in contrast to the action that the Opposition now talk about—in placing orders meant that the Royal Air Force would not have had the strike aircraft, fighter aircraft or transport aircraft that it needs in the time scale and within the cost that it wants them.
We inherited an aircraft programme that was over ambitious and hopelessly overloaded. It made no kind of sense and would have led to an increase in defence expenditure not only in absolute terms, but also as a proportion of the national income. I agree that the programme contained highly sophisticated projects in the P1154 and the TSR2, but these were absorbing a disproportionate share of the country's resources, both financial and manpower—skilled manpower badly needed to revitalise other industries.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth, West criticised the fact that we cancelled the programme of the P.1154 and the HS.681. These could not have been provided in time to replace the existing aircraft which the R.A.F. urgently needed. In the case of the TSR2 we found that the whole costs of the programme were completely out of control. In the light of what has recently been said about the need for interdependent arrangements, particularly arrangements with our allies in Europe, it is important to stress that in none of these three projects had there been any attempt to interest or involve other European countries. Equally, it must be said that the export prospects of all these planes were extremely poor.
Quite clearly, what was necessary was a searching review of the place of the aircraft industry in the country's economy. It was for that reason that my right hon. Friend decided to appoint the Plowden Committee. The situation on the military programme was so serious that, quite properly, we could not await the Plowden Report, although the action taken has proved to be in line with the recommendations made by the Committee. We cancelled the P.1154, the HS.681 and TSR.2. We recognised that these decisions would not be popular, but we thought it necessary to take them in order that there should be a healthy aircraft industry and that the R.A.F. should get the planes in the time scale and at a cost which the country could afford.
I think that a moment or two ago the right hon. Gentleman indicated that the Plowden Committee expressed the view that it was right to cancel all these planes. My feeling is that the Plowden Committee undertook its review in the context of the planes having been cancelled.
I did not say that the Plowden Committee had endorsed the cancellations. That was not a matter before it. What I did indicate was that the conclusions of Plowden were completely in line with the decisions taken, in particular, that it condemned the idea of going forward independently with aircraft of a highly sophisticated character, which is what the TSR2, the P.1154 and the HS.681 were. It stressed that we should go in for European collaboration in these projects, and it also made it quite clear that we could not afford to go in for an expensive development project unless there were good prospects for exports, and the possibility of spreading the development costs over a much bigger range of aircraft than our industry could expect to sell to the Government.
We decided to replace these aircraft with more Phantoms. The original Phantoms had been ordered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mon-mouth. We also decided to develop an operational version of the P.1127 in place of the P.1154 and to purchase the Hercules C.130 in place of the HS.681. The most difficult decision, and one upon which the Government pondered deeply was the choice of the aircraft to replace the Canberra. We decided to purchase the American F.111A, which will meet the strike reconnaisance requirement until the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft comes along in the mid-1970s. The tests we had to apply for the aircraft to replace the Canberra was not only that of cost, but that of time. We have to have aircraft in service by 1970 because the Canberras which have served us so very well are getting extremely old.
In addition, we did not wish to buy or to develop aircraft of sufficient number which would have made it impossible in the mid-1970s to go in for a substantial purchase, as the hon. Gentleman indicated we should, of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft. The tactical strike gap which would otherwise have existed because we bought the minimum number of F111s can be filled by the V-bombers, which will have completed their strategic bombing rôle with the coming of the Polaris submarine and will be available in the tactical strike rôle thereafter.
As the House has been told in a number of debates, and as has been set out in the White Paper, we seriously considered a number of alternatives, particularly the alternative purchase of the Buccaneer 2 Double Star, a developed version of the Buccaneer which has done such good service in the Royal Navy, and the Spey/Mirage which, I should stress, is an aircraft which does not exist but was a project for converting the French Mirage IV by completely changing its rôle and installing the Rolls-Royce Spey engine. In neither case would there have been any substantial saving in money. In both cases there would have been great difficulty in time. We could not have got either plane ready by 1970 or perhaps even by 1971.
Each of these alternatives would have had not only a much inferior performance in terms of range and load-carrying capacity to the F111, but would have been inferior to the TSR2 which had been cancelled. We therefore thought that, particularly in the reconnaissance rôle, the only choice was the American F111A.
It would be helpful to the House to establish this fact. The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about the disadvantages of the Buccaneer 2 Double Star and the Spey/Mirage and particularly mentioned the range as being inferior to that of the F111. Surely the range of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft, since it will be only half the weight of the F111, will also be inferior. How then can it be a replacement?
If the right hon. Gentleman had listened to his hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West, he would have understood that there is no question of the Anglo-French variable geometry plane replacing the F111. It is complementary or supplementary to it. Clearly, we shall not buy these American aircraft and expect to have them in service for only four or five years. The intention clearly in the mid-1970s will be to get the new Anglo-French geometry planes to replace the ageing V-bombers, and they will be used alongside the F111s.
What, then, is the meaning of the sentence in the Defence White Paper, which states:
Until the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft is available the F.111A will be supplemented by the V-bombers."?
Does this mean that the 50 F111A aircraft will go on performing this rôle beyond 1975 and on towards 1980?
I hesitate to give the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, advice in this field, because I think that he held a Chair in English language at one time. But the fact is that the supplementation which is to be performed by the V-bombers will be replaced by supplementation by Anglo-French variable geometry planes in the mid-1970s. It would clearly be an act of lunacy to contemplate buying aircraft, the final ones to be delivered in 1970, and expect them to be obsolete by 1974. It is usual for aircraft to be in R.A.F. service for 10 years or more. In fact, our present problems are due to the fact that the Canberra and Hunter have been in service for very much longer than that. By 1970, the Canberras will be 17 or 18 years old. This is the whole problem that we have tried over the last year to get inside the heads of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but, clearly, we have failed, otherwise they could not have put down a Motion in such terms as they have done today.
A good deal has been said about cost. When talking about mystification, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West probably had more in mind the letters to The Times written by some of his right hon. Friends than any statements that my right hon. Friend had made. I should, however, try to clear up the question of the cost of the F111 in comparison with what might have been the cost had we proceeded with the TSR2 programme.
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that in his calculation he had included a figure of £150 million for basic purchase, an additional £20 million for sterling costs in this connection, £40 million—which I confirm—as the amount of cancellation charges paid since the cancellation was actually made, and £40 million for interest, making a grand total of between £230 million and £250 million, on the basis of which the right hon. Gentleman calculated the per capita cost of the F.111A for the purpose of his argument as being about £5 million.
The unit cost of the F.111 is expected to be about £2½ million, making a total of £125 million for the 50 aircraft. The sterling element of about £10 million is included in this figure.
Interest on the price of the aircraft will amount to about £25 million, which, added to the figure of £125 million, totals £150 million. If we add the £40 million for the cancellation charges, which is the one figure given by the right hon. Gentleman which I agree, we arrive at a figure of £190 million, as compared with the right hon. Gentleman's £230 million to £250 million. Therefore, the cost on the basis chosen by the right hon. Gentleman is less than £4 million rather than the £5 million which he suggested.
I agree that there are additional cancellation charges to be paid, but I was dealing with the basis of comparison with the figures given by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who asked me to confirm or correct them. If the hon. Member has complaints, he must make them to his right hon. Friend.
By contrast, the cost of 50 TSR2s would have amounted to well over £450 million, including—
I shall finish these figures first.
The right hon. Gentleman should know about the TSR2. The cost of 50 TSR2s would, by contrast, have amounted to well over £450 million, including research and development, and this is a conservative estimates in both senses of the word. Of this figure, only £125 million had been spent at the time of the cancellation. Therefore, on the basis of £450 million for 50 TSR2s, the comparable figure would have been over £9 million per aircraft, as against £2½ million each for the F.111, or £4 million on the basis of comparison chosen by the right hon. Gentleman.
Furthermore, these figures show that the difference in unit costs, when the support and running costs are added on, between the force of 50 F.111s and 50 TRS2s approaches £300 million. If the comparison is carried a stage further, and the cost of the present purchase of 50 F.111s is compared with that of the last Administration's TSR2 programme of over 150 aircraft, the difference is more than twice as much again, providing a substantial part of the total £1,200 million saved by my right hon. Friend's revised aircraft programme.
I only wanted to take up the right hon. Gentleman on this fairly small point. He has said that the unit cost of the modified F.111 for the R.A.F. would be about £2½ million. I understand that, in fact, it is £2·8 million, which is more than two-thirds more. Would it not be more accurate to say so?
My right hon. Friend, who has done a magnificent job in these negotiations, assures me, as he did the House, that it is £2·5 million. The right hon. Gentleman must tell us where he gets his information from.
I know, but in an Answer the other day it was stated that the F.111A would cost a total of £280 million, of which £240 million would be in dollars. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the cost of the TSR2 would have been in comparable circumstances—on the 10-year basis?
On the 10-year basis, £570 million, including the running costs and after allowing for cancellation costs which were involved as well.
However hon. Gentlemen opposite juggle with the figures they cannot escape the brutal fact that having the TSR2 on the most favourable assumptions of their choosing would have cost the nation £300 million more than purchasing the F.111s.
The other point I want to deal with at some length is the question of the dollar expenditure involved. The choice of the F.111A has been criticised because of the substantial dollar expenditure, but we have, in fact, taken steps to ensure that the whole dollar expenditure costs of the purchase of this aircraft, including spares, over the whole period of its life will be fully offset by sales of British equipment to the United States from any co-operative arrangements—
I think that I ought to get on. I have not much time. This is a very important point.
The total dollar cost over the period has been stated as being £260 million over a 10-year period amounting in dollar terms to 725 million dollars, and we have the agreement of the United States that it will over the period buy directly British equipment to the value of 325 million dollars, and that it will co-operate with us in sales to third countries, at least of a kind similar to that we have recently arranged with Saudi Arabia, to the value of 400 million dollars—covering the whole dollar cost of the purchase of these aircraft over the 10 years. If anyone queries the practicability of these proposals he must either, on the one hand, say he has no faith in the word of the American Government, or, on the other, say that he has no faith in the competitive power of British industry to sell against American firms when there is no tariff or other barrier.
The arrangement was very skilfully negotiated by my right hon. Friend. I can assure the House that it was not an easy deal to arrange. The essence of it was that there will be no buy-American 50 per cent. preference. There will be no 6 or 12 per cent. tariff. Our firms will be competing equally against their American competitors for the whole range of defence equipment and subsidiary equipment like office machinery and so forth which is bought by the American Defence Department. I have complete faith in my right hon. Friend and in British industry that over the years we shall be able to achieve this target to cover completely the cost that we incurred on the F.111A.
I want to deal with the very serious criticism that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West made about the project for the VG aircraft. If anyone was making a case for buying more than 50 F.111As and for trying to put an end to the very fruitful co-operation with France that the Government have tried to develop, his speech was well calculated in both directions. I want to stress that the VG aircraft is complementary to the F.111A and is in no sense a replacement. We are going ahead with it precisely to avoid buying a large number of those expensive aircraft.
From its inception, the VG has been a multi-rôle aircraft—a strike interceptor—and the emphasis both for us and for the French is on its strike capability. Joint engine project studies are in hand now by S.N.E.C.M.A. and Bristol Siddeley Engines and will be completed by the end of this month. Separate feasibility studies of air frames have been undertaken by B.A.C. and Dassault and are being evaluated prior to the placing of project study contracts, probably in May.
Our intention is to use the VG aircraft to replace the Phantom in the strike rôle, releasing the Phantom from that rôle in order to replace the Lightning. Later, some VG aircraft will be used in an interceptor rôle instead of Phantoms. I should say that, as soon as can be arranged after the election, it is the intention of my right hon. Friend and myself to have talks with Monsieur Messmer, the French Minister of Defence, to survey the progress of the project and take all steps possible so that it should go on as fast as possible.
The final word that I want to say is about how our reshaped military programme fits in with the Plowden recommendations and the needs of the aircraft industry. During the next few weeks there will no doubt be great distortions about the damage that it is alleged the Government have done to the aircraft industry. As the White Paper makes absolutely clear, we have provided a balanced programme of military aircraft work for the industry over the next years and, above everything else, we have provided the industry with the stability that it has been seeking for so long in the programme that we have announced for the next five years.
I am convinced that when our programme is put to the test of public discussion outside not only will my right hon. Friend's Defence Review be endorsed by the people, but, also, that the industry will accept that we have laid the foundation for a healthy aircraft industry and provided it with the stimulus by which it will save itself by its own exertions.
I do not want to continue with the debate on aircraft. I should like to talk about aircraft carriers. The Government have made a very poor show today on the aircraft carrier programme.
Continuing on the same theme, I feel that people in Portsmouth Dockyard, the Navy and those concerned for the safety of the whole country have been let down by the Labour Government today, and I should like to suggest that if we had had a proper—