Naval Policy

Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th March 1968.

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Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 11th March 1968

Before the House enters upon the business of Supply, I would like to refer to the Amendment to Vote A of the Defence (Navy) Estimates in the name of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I cannot, of course, forecast whether the hon. Member will be successful in catching the eye of the Chair during the debate on Vote A, but if he is he will have an opportunity to move his Amendment.

4.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

Before I move the Motion which appears on the Order Paper, it would, I think, be appropriate that I should refer to the tragic death of the Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces and give expression to the regret which, I am sure, will very widely be felt at the passing of this distinguished soldier.

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

I beg to move, That this House views with anxiety Her Majesty's Government's failure to produce a coherent policy for the protection of Great Britain's vital sea communications in the future. Our debate this afternoon takes place against the background of a remarkable change in strategic thinking. It is a change which has been taking place gradually, both in this country and elsewhere, during the last three years but which has crystallised with great rapidity in recent months. It is even reflected, if tardily and timidly, in the annual Defence Statement of Her Majesty's Government.

It is a change which profoundly affects the outlook of all our Armed Forces. Perhaps it does so most of all for the Royal Navy. Indeed, it could eventually give meaning and credibility once again to the assertion in the current recruiting advertisement for that Service that the Navy will be in the front line of our defence, the guarantee that we and our friends shall control the Northern seas, the Atlantic approaches and the Mediterranean. In 1965, the policy portion of the Defence Statement contained no reference whatever to the rôle of our maritime forces. En 1966, the only mention under the heading of N.A.T.O. and the Defence of Europe was this one bleak sentence: We hope to make some reduction in the level of our naval forces…declared to N.A.T.O. The Statement of 1967, however, was more prolix. Under the heading: Revision of N.A.T.O. strategy it offered the "political assessment" that no rational Government…would reckon to achieve by the use of force…any political objective whose value would be remotely commensurate with the appalling risks". It further ruled out what it called large-scale attack as a result of accident miscalculation". From this, it proceeded to deduce the following rôle for the maritime forces. N.A.T.O. must be ready at sea, as well as on land, to demonstrate its will and its ability to respond appropriately to any act of aggression. But it is no longer realistic for the Alliance to attempt to provide maritime forces for conducting a prolonged war at sea after a strategic nuclear exchange. Deterrence must be the first purpose of N.A.T.O.'s naval forces too. The remarkable words there were after a strategic nuclear exchange". A prolonged war at sea, either before or without a strategic nuclear exchange, was not even considered worth mentioning. In brief, war at sea on any substantial scale of intensity or duration had sunk below the horizon of official thinking.

This year, however—1968—a new note has been heard. However much the Secretary of State for Defence has sought to mute it and play it down, it is new. The Statement repeats from previous years the familiar three contentions: that the political intentions of a potential opponent must be taken into account; that there will be warning of a change in those political intentions; and that the forces which the nations are prepared to provide should be the basis of their strategy.

Now, however, a fourth is added in these terms: It is also agreed that within the total resources available to N.A.T.O., adjustments should be made, particularly within the air forces, with the object of extending the conventional phase of hostilities, should war break out; this would give more time in which any decision to use nuclear weapons "— Note that: it is not just "strategic nuclear weapons", but "any nuclear weapons"— could be taken. Certainly the point that too many of the air forces in N.A.T.O. are tied down to the nuclear rôle is not new. It was made two years ago and has been given fresh potency, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned last week, by the incident of the Pueblo. What is new and far-reaching in its implications is the objective assigned to conventional Forces: to extend the conventional phase of hostilities, should war break out and the words which follow: to give more time in which decision— it should be noticed that the decision might be negative— to use nuclear weapons could be taken. This scenario is already appreciably removed from that of the Defence Review, Cmnd. 2901, of two years ago, when it ran: N.A.T.O. must maintain enough conventional forces to deal with small-scale conflicts in the European theatre without automatic resort to nuclear weapons, when the origin of the conflict may be uncertain and the intentions of the enemy obscure. But the cautious words of the British Defence Statement belong to a far larger context. They barely lift the hem of the veil from a far-reaching reappraisal which has been taking place. Others have not been so prudish. In reply to a Written Question last week inquiring what estimate he had made of the approximate comparative strength of armed forces deployed in Europe by N.A.T.O. and by the Warsaw Pact, the right hon. Gentleman replied that: Security considerations preclude my making available the detailed information requested."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 65.] The right hon. Gentleman need not have been so shy. They have not precluded the American Secretary of Defence from telling Congress last month his answer to that precise question. It is perhaps worth while for the House to be reminded of what Congress has been told. Mr. McNamara said: In all regions except Norway, the N.A.T.O. and Warsaw Pact forces are about equal in manpower. N.A.T.O. has about 900,000 troops deployed in all regions of continental Europe, compared to 960,000 troops for the Warsaw Pact. While manpower comparisons alone are not conclusive measures of military strength, I believe that they are reasonable first approximations of relative ground force capabilities. He continued: In the case of air forces our relative capability is far greater than a simple comparison of numbers would indicate. By almost every measure—range, payload, ordnance effectiveness, loiter time, crew training—N.A.T.O. air forces are better than the Pact's for non-nuclear war. As a result of these advantages, which continue to move in our favour every day, we estimate that the N.A.T.O. M-day forces employed in Central Europe would have significantly more offensive capability than the Pact forces. The American Secretary of Defence continued: If either side chose, the ready land forces could be greatly reinforced before any fighting began. Assuming a simultaneous mobilisation, within 30 days the Pact could probably gain a manpower advantage on the central front and a somewhat greater advantage in overall ground combat capability. This gap would then begin to narrow with the arrival of more U.S. forces. N.A.T.O. tactical aircraft reinforcements would about equal the Pact's in the early stages of mobilisation, after which we could add considerably more aircraft than the Pact. Our main advantage in this area, however, stems from the great superiority of our aircraft, pilots and weapons. If this is the American appreciation, and bearing in mind the proposition, however impossible it is to quantify it specifically, that successful offence requires a considerable preponderance of force over the defence, small wonder that the object of N.A.T.O. non-nuclear forces is now, in the right hon. Gentleman's own words, prolonging to the maximum the period of conventional resistance. That maximum no longer has any necessary limit.

I will not trouble the House again with the inherent difficulties of accepting at any point the preferability of self-destruction to surrender. I deployed them at some length last year in the debate on the Army Estimates. It is amply sufficient for my present purpose that the Government, like our Allies, now accept it to be desirable to go on fighting, to go on resisting, to endeavour to win and thus to escape that dreadful choice, which the right hon. Gentleman himself so movingly described last week, between surrender and the well-nigh inconceivable.

Anyone who studies the right hon. Gentleman's words as well as the official appreciation of our principal ally, will know that the right hon. Gentleman is simply playing for time when he puts up his hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration, as he did last Wednesday, to say that the extension in question must be measured "only in days"—"from one to five days". [Interruption.] I will prove this.

If resistance is to be prolonged in any normal and natural meaning of the word, then war at sea becomes again a reality to be reckoned with. It is no chance hut a necessary consequence of the rest, that the same statement to Congress on which I have drawn already takes the war at sea for granted. I draw the attention of the House to the following paragraphs, which follow not long after those that I have already quoted: In addition to providing naval support for regional contingencies— reported the American Secretary for Defence— we also want to have a capability for successfully concluding a war at sea. Soviet—and, to a lesser extent, Red Chinese—attack and cruise missile submarine forces are the main threat to our ability to win a war at sea. He continued: Recent studies have reaffirmed the probability that in an all-out war at sea we would be able to destroy a very large proportion of the Soviet submarine force in a matter of a few months, while losing only a relatively small part of the Free World merchant fleet. There is no talk here, it will be observed, of a nuclear Armageddon after five days. An all-out war at sea is a war to be won by conventional means. It is a war which, in the opinion of the United States Administration, can and should be so won.

Linked with this re-emergence of the war at sea is a changed understanding of the maritime potential of a continental power. We have been reminded in the last two or three years of something which an island nation ought never to have allowed itself to forget. Perhaps the lapse of 60 years and more since Admiral Rozhdest-vensky blundered his way half round the world to meet his doom in the Straits of Tsushima might excuse our lapse of memory where Russia was concerned. Yet not once but twice in the intervening years has Germany, the continental military power par excellence, come within an ace of strangling this country into submission through the sea.

The truth we have forgotten is that an island nation and economy are specially vulnerable to a continental opponent. Immune or virtually immune himself from maritime interference with his own vitals, he can concentrate with impunity upon the offensive at sea. That Russia is exploring these potentialities with a new determination, the right hon. Gentleman has recognised in terms with which I cannot quarrel. Last week he said: …the Soviet Navy has become a power in its own right."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 65.] There is no mistaking the changed nature of the strategic environment in which Britain has to live henceforward. So far we have been able to tell ourselves the comfortable tale that the war at sea could not happen, certainly that it could not be an all-out war involving our very existence, let alone our ability to be of the slightest comfort and assistance to friends and allies in any quarter of the globe. Such a war, so the doctrine used to run, could only be part of a prolonged general war, and that, by definition, was impossible. Moreover, if operations at sea threatened to be decisive, they must surely go nuclear.

Today all this is stripped away. Our principal ally—the very ally on whom we rely upon to go nuclear immediately the pace gets warm—is openly preparing and expecting to be able to fight and win an all-out war at sea, and the behaviour of the second greatest naval power in the world is only explicable on the assumption that it, too, holds the same view.

We in this House therefore have to ask with what maritime forces Britain in future will be prepared if need be to help fight and win an all-out war at sea, bearing in mind two things. The first is that we have no right to assume that our American allies, irrespective of any commitments or operations elsewhere, will be able, however willing, always and unconditionally to fight Britain's share in that war as well as their own. The second is that for an island and a great maritime and commercial nation to resign from this capability of all capabilities would be the ultimate betrayal.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East

The right hon. Gentleman's statement about the importance of sea power in Europe will be widely accepted but will he explain why, therefore, the Opposition policy for the 1970s is to keep large parts of the British Fleet in Singapore and the Persian Gulf, away from Europe?

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

I intend to survey that area of the subject as well before I sit down.

There is no real doubt or question about what, up to two years ago, was the principal arm around which the Royal Navy was built and upon which its philosophy rested. It was the aircraft carrier. The 1966 White Paper stated: The aircraft carrier is the most important element of the Fleet for offensive action against an enemy at sea or ashore… The capability and importance thus described were perfectly general. I stress this because after their latest spasm, which brought the demise of the carriers forward from the mid-1970s to 1971, the Government have tried to laugh the whole thing off.

Last Monday, the Secretary of State pretended that this was just an East of Suez capability which the Government have now rendered superfluous by the same stroke of the pen which overturned so many of their other assertions and assurances. Not so. Not only is the 1966 White Paper perfectly clear but anyone who reads the debate of 7th March, 1966, will be in no doubt of what was really meant. In that debate, the right hon. Gentleman had been dealing with the functions of a carrier fleet East of Suez and he was interrupted by Commander Courtney, who said that this was not the only operation for which the carrier was indispensable, adding: The carrier is a protection for ships anywhere, as well as support for forces outside Europe. The right hon. Gentleman replied: 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… and, in addition, we shall develop a small surface-to-surface guided weapon for use against missile-firing ships.These developments will take time…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…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 1793] A year later, in 1967, there was still no doubt about the generality of the need for the carrier capability which had to be replaced. The White Paper said: New ships which the Royal Navy will need for its future tasks are being planned;— but— until these are ready in about the middle 1970's, the carrier force will continue to be a component of the highest importance. If the right hon. Gentleman still maintains that the carrier capability was relevant only east of Suez then, on his own showing, he must mean that these new ships which were to re-provide it are not now to be proceeded with. If so, he should get up and say so.

While I am referring to the right hon. Gentleman's habit of re-writing his own as well as other people's speeches, perhaps this is the point at which to put straight the record which, I think inadvertently, the right hon. Gentleman falsified last week and to which I told him I would advert today. He interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing), who was referring to the Anglo-Malaysian Agreement, and alleged that I had given my view of our commitments under that Treaty and under the S.E.A.T.O. treaty as …meaning everything or nothing according to the view one takes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 683] The speech in question was delivered by me at Blackpool in October, 1966, and I said there: Under the C.E.N.T.O. and S.E.A.T.O. Treaties the only formal obligation of the parties is to consult together and their members are free to interpret, and have in fact interpreted, what is required of them in widely differing senses varying from zero upwards. That was no more than a plain statement of the facts. I added, On the other hand, we do have an explicit commitment to Malaysia. It is difficult to imagine a more direct misrepresentation than that of which the right hon. Gentleman, I have no doubt unintentionally but nevertheless recklessly, was guilty.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

The right hon. Gentleman is well aware of what I am about to say. When I used the words I used, I was using his own words, not those of 1966, but those in an article in the Spectator of 3rd February, 1967. I am sure that he will agree that I should read them to the House. What the right hon. Gentleman wrote was: Commitments, certainly the commitments which Britain has East of Suez, mean what you take them to mean, ranging from nothing to everything. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now withdraw the suggestion that my remarks were not fully justified by his own statement.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

On the contrary. I have pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman, as I have pointed out to the House, that I have specifically and formally distinguished our obligation under the Treaty to Malaysia from our obligation under S.E.A.T.O. It is no answer for the right hon. Gentleman to refer to some general phrase in some other place when I have specifically, formally and publicly made that distinction. However the record has now been put right.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman is invariably ungracious in admitting it when he has misrepresented, as he frequently does, other hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

I have quoted to the House the right hon. Gentleman's words, which were exactly the words which I attributed to him in the debate last week. They are words which he uttered after the earlier speech to which he has just referred. If the right hon. Gentleman made a mistake and misrepresented himself on 3rd February, 1967, he should have the courage to admit it now.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

I have made it perfectly clear that I have distinguished the Malaysian commitment from the other commitments the generality of which was referred to in the passage which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted. As a matter of fact, I communicated with the right hon. Gentleman last Friday and asked him to rifer me to the passage which he had in mind. It is interesting that he has given me no opportunity of being aware of it in advance.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

I have no idea whether the right hon. Gentleman has yet read the letter in which I gave him the precise reference to which I referred, but I sent it to him this morning.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman on Friday and my secretary was in communication with his secretary in the middle of Friday morning.

In his statement of last July the right hon. Gentleman was still saying: Air power will be as indispensable for the Fleet of tomorrow as it is today. Those are the right hon. Gentleman's own words. Yet the philosophy of the Fleet's air power in the future has never yet been made clear, probably because no clear conception of it has in fact ever been reached amid the shifting quicksands of the Government's changes of purpose.

For the helicopter element, with its rôle against the submarine and as a means of broadening the horizon for missile strike, provision is being made; but as regards reconnaissance and strike at longer range, when the Government last July wrote The Royal Navy, like the Army, will rely on R.A.F. land-based aircraft to support it", the false analogy implicit in the words "like the Army" disclosed the gap in their thinking.

The Army will have its support, both for reconnaissance and strike, in the Harriers and the Phantoms. A year ago the maritime air strike was to be entrusted, so the right hon. Gentleman himself said on 28th February, 1967, to the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft—and we know what has happened to that—and to the F111, which only last week the Under-Secretary of Defence for the Royal Air Force was wistfully describing as having had a maritime rôle—and we all know what has happened to the F111. This leaves us with the shore-based Phantoms and the Nimrod. But can we be so certain that no part of the war at sea will have to be fought beyond their range from land, from land unconditionally available for us in time of war? This is one of the great unresolved questions which hangs over the future of our maritime defence.

Just as serious—if possible, more serious still—is the question mark over submarine and anti-submarine warfare. By last July the Government seemed at last to have adopted firmly a new central point—I will not be so unkind to the right hon. Gentleman as to describe it as a new "core"—for the structure of our maritime forces in future. From the middle 1970s"— the Supplementary Statement declared— the main striking power of the Royal Navy will be provided by the growing force of Fleet submarines. In short, the carrier philosophy was to be succeeded by a submarine philosophy.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

I have been following very intently, but I am not clear how many carriers the right hon. Gentleman would have in service. Can we know what is his idea of the number of carriers that we should have in service?

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

I have not the slightest intention of answering such a question. My object and my purpose and my duty is to point out that there is an uncovered requirement the means of fulfilling which is unexplained by the Administration. That is my business and that is my function. If the right hon. Gentleman and the Administration want to be told what to do, if they admit that they have themselves failed to provide a consistent and intelligible naval policy, then the action for them is simple: it is to resign from office and hand over to those from whom they now seek advice after having reduced to ruins all that my party had planned and done.

The 1967 White Paper represented a shift from a carrier philosophy to a submarine philosophy. It seems no exaggeration to say that the nuclear-powered submarine has worked a revolution in maritime warfare comparable with the supersession of sail by steam. The nuclear-powered submarine is, or is about to be—quite apart from range and endurance—faster by a large margin than anything else which moves in the water and to possess a versatility in fighting of which the pre-nuclear submarine could not dream.

No doubt there will be phases, as in all other fields of warfare, when the submarine and counter measures against the submarine alternately gain the mastery for a time; but, one way or the other, decision in the war at sea is likely to revolve around the submarine, as decision in the war on land has revolved for a generation now around the armoured fighting vehicle, tank and antitank warfare. The era has arrived of which more than 20 years ago Air Marshal Kingston-McCloughry, in a book on which I had the honour to collaborate with him, wrote: Intensification and further development of submarine and counter-submarine warfare is to be envisaged as the efficacy of attack and defence of surface vessels from the air increases. Thus the battle for command of the sea is likely to be fought by two categories of forces: on the one hand, air support and counter-support…and on the other hand, submarine and counter-submarine. Maritime warfare appears destined to be fought eventually by forces utilizing the third dimension above and below the surface. Having learnt, then, that for the Government the nuclear-powered submarine is to be "the main striking power of the Royal Navy", let us see what are the practical intentions of this consistent, farsighted, planning Government. We could hardly believe our ears when, in January, we heard the Prime Minister single out the nuclear-powered submarine programme for retrenchment. He said: There will also be reductions in the rate of new naval construction, for example in the nuclear-powered hunter/killer submarines."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th January, 1968; Vol. 756, c. 1583.] Having been told that, the country had a right to be told at once what it meant, since it concerned "the main striking power of the Royal Navy". But Ministers do not, or will not, or cannot, tell the country what it means.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Can the right hon. Gentleman?

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

"Ministers", I said. I inquired on 14th February what rate of construction had been intended before the Government's latest decision and what now intended after it. The Minister of Defence for Equipment replied vaguely: I think that the statement…will be made much clearer"— certainly it could hardly be made much more obscure— when my right hon. Friend makes his statement later this year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1968; Vol. 758, c. 1327.] When I repeated the simple question last week and asked, even if the Government did not yet know the future programme and rate of construction, whether they would at least tell us what had been the previous intentions, the same right hon. Gentleman lost his temper, and displayed all the symptoms of a person caught cheating. He said that the rate of construction up to the present was the rate of construction up to the present. He said that the eighth hunter/killer submarine was more than likely to go ahead. Finally, he said: …we are now determining how many fleet submarines…are required for the future fleet."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 165.] So the Government do not know how many they were intending to build or how fast, and they do not know how many they are now intending to build or how fast. But they know that the rate is to be cut and they know that, of all naval construction, this programme will be cut.

There is only one explanation which makes sense of that. The right hon. Gentleman has put the Royal Navy in pawn to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has been made to promise that, whatever the outcome of his studies, fewer nuclear powered submarines, if any, shall be built and at longer intervals. This is the Minister of Defence in the Government of a Prime Minister who promised a stronger and more effective navy and 'an expanded naval shipbuilding programme and who went on specifically to refer to the hunter killer submarine programme". But that, of course, was before the Election. The right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend make a fine pair.

The rest of our naval thinking and naval planning is in similar confusion. In 1966, the two substantive announcements were a new type of ship to succeed the cruisers "Blake", "Lion" and "Tiger", and a new class of guided missile ships "— the Type 82 destroyer. Then, in 1967, while the new class of cruisers to succeed "Tiger" still rated a mention, the Type 82 was no longer "a new class". It had shrunk to one ship.

By the way, recruiting literature for the "Go Ahead Navy" has not yet caught up with that. So far in these debates, we have had apologies for the Army and the R.A.F. recruiting advertisements. Perhaps we could have one for the Royal Navy as well, to make up the set.

The Type 82 was to remain unique—a one-off. Instead, there was to be 'a new class of smaller destroyers as well as new 'small frigates". What has the responsible Minister to say about all this now? Last week, the right hon. Gentleman said: The Late of building of the new small frigates and then of the new Seadart destroyers will depend on the eventual size of the destroyer and frigate fleet in the light of the new strategy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 165.] But the Government do not know what "the new strategy" is to be. They are still studying it. Therefore, they cannot know the eventual size of the…fleet". All that they know for certain is that it is to be reduced, because the Prime Minister said so. Can one wonder that the naval planners are reduced to distraction and the Royal Navy to a state of bewilderment and apprehension?

The Motion which we place before the House tonight is about the country's vital sea communications. Too often, we think of those worldwide communications as if they were something formerly implicit in an Imperial rôle but have now lost their importance in this post-Imperial age. There could be no more dangerous delusion. "Rule Britannia" is not, as many people imagine, the theme song of late nineteenth century Imperialism. In fact, it dates from 1740, from long before the very beginning of that Empire. The protection of our sea routes was then, as it is now and always will be, the fundamental requirement of our continued existence as a nation.

The time has arrived when the Government no longer can take refuge from that requirement either in asserting that it has ceased to exist in the nuclear age or in simply refusing to answer any of the basic questions about how the requirement henceforward is to be met. The Government must show tonight that they can answer those questions, or else stand condemned for failure in the most crucial of all the responsibilities of a British Government.

4.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

In opening the debate, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) referred to the tragic death of the Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces. He and the whole House will wish to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has sent a telegram to the French Minister of Defence on behalf of Her Majesty's Government expressing our condolences.

Coming to the Motion before us, the first point which one should make is that the right hon. Gentleman has not spent a great deal of time in devoting himself to the words of it. In the last paragraph of what presumably was his peroration, he referred to our vital sea communications. One would have thought that when the Opposition put down a Motion of this kind they would at least speak to it.

I listened with great care to what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I do not think that we heard anything new. As always, his comments had this curious combination of qualities in that they were pointed without being sharp. Indeed, they were only sharp when turned against himself, when compared with what he has professed so notoriously in the past.

There are two quite elementary and basic flaws in the whole sub-structure of his argument: one of defence philosophy or attitudes, and the other relating to his appraisal of the strength and flexibility of the Royal Navy, both now and in the future. In spite of his sustained and exhausting eloquence, these flaws lead him to a position and an argument on the basis of which I would not wish to gain credence, even with my worst enemy, and, in the context of a defence debate, especially with my worst enemy.

No one in the House doubts that we must do all in our power to protect our sea routes and ensure that our merchant ships can ply their trade all over the world without hindrance. But we must also surely recognise that today it is not possible for us—and I would go so far as to say that it is not possible for any nation—to guarantee the security of our economic interests abroad by military force. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman himself would refuse to accept this. Indeed, in many contexts he has said it himself. In his speech at the Conservative Party conference in 1965, referring to the growth of Russian and Chinese Communism and the growth of nationalism in Asia and Africa, he said: We have to reckon with the harsh fact that the attainment of this eventual equilibrium in forces may at some point be delayed rather than hastened by Western military presence. I make no apology for repeating what he said. It is true, and it is worth repeating. The days of Pax Britannica have gone, and probably the right hon. Gentleman believes this, but he has still a great job to do to convince many of his right hon. and hon. Friends of it.

There can be no question of the Royal Navy attempting to control vast overseas maritime areas single-handed. As the Prime Minister recently said in the House, we will have a naval capability available for deploying overseas, if necessary, but the task of guaranteeing a right of free passage through international waterways and on the high seas is not one which can be carried out by any single country. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs reminded the House on 28th February of this year, it is for the international community itself to see that this is done, and it is Her Majesty's Government's policy to work through the United Nations in this respect.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

Does the hon. Gentleman really think that the United Nations would keep open the seaways of the world if Russia went to war with the West?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

One might ask whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that we would. He is talking about a hypothetical situation. We are talking about the realities of the moment and of the next few years.

In so far as one accepts, which I do, and which my right hon. and hon. Friends do, that we cannot separate the protection of the sea routes from our approach to the remainder of our defence interests, we cannot label one part of our Navy "for the defence of sea routes" and treat it in isolation from other aspects of defence and maritime policy. Our defence commitments, our defence capabilities, and our plans to match one with the other with economy and flexibility must be viewed as a whole, and not as separate parts which can be looked at, judged, and appraised in complete isolation.

That leads me to refer to the present and future rôle of the Navy west of Suez. The right hon. Gentleman referred at some length to a so-called new philosophy in relation to maritime defence. At one stage I felt that he was getting very close to contradicting the philosophy as expounded by his right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) who only last July was evolving a philosophy of the trip wire, the trips. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be going completely away from this. We do not expect, west of Suez, to meet any maritime threat, or to protect our sea lines of communication alone, but rather as part of an alliance. Moreover, our planning and that of our allies is moving away from the concept of a prolonged guerre de course at sea, and towards greater concentration on the deterrence of maritime aggression which could lead to an all-out war. The concept of "shield forces" at sea is parallel to that on land, in an era of mutual strategic nuclear deterrence—

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to complete this part of my argument—and since maritime aggression is far more difficult to identify, and the apparent risks are less, N.A.T.O. must be constantly on the alert, with strong conventional naval forces, to identify aggression when it occurs, and to prevent it from developing into a more serious conflict.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

Do the Government accept the concept of an all-out war at sea as expounded by the United States Defence Secretary?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

I am not responsible for quotations from the United States Defence Secretary. All I can say is that we have not accepted, and we do not accept, the concept of an all-out war at sea.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

A few moments ago the hon. Gentleman underlined the importance of not doing things on our own, but only as part of an alliance. If the American alliance visualises all-out war at sea, and Her Majesty's Government do not, how can the two be other than in conflict?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

I think the answer is clear in what I have referred to in terms of our philosophy being the philosophy of N.A.T.O. We are part of the N.A.T.O. alliance. The N.A.T.O. alliance subscribes to the trip-wire notion. We are talking about the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and Europe. If the United States has greater responsibilities, and wants to develop a further philosophy in terms of its own personal responsibility she is clearly entitled to do so.

With regard to our position west of Suez, our withdrawal from overseas will enable us to increase the number of ships at immediate readiness for N.A.T.O.'s shield forces, and so enable us to continue to play a leading part among the European navies in the N.A.T.O. maritime alliance. The right hon. Gentleman referred—and it was also referred to last week—to the growth in Soviet maritime strength. This has underlined the importance of the shield forces, especially in relation to the flanks of Europe, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, where the increase in the Soviet naval presence has been most evident.

In that context, perhaps I might remind the House that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence referred last week to the setting up of the first multi-national N.A.T.O. Standing Naval Force he was greeted with laughs and sniggers from the benches opposite. To my mind this reaction was clear evidence of the lack of positive knowledge, indeed one might even say crass ignorance, of many hon. Gentlemen opposite on naval matters. I am sure that those who have been concerned with naval affairs over many years will appreciate this significant step forward. Such an integrated force, in addition to providing a constant reminder of the unity and solidarity of the alliance, will give a unique experience in tactics, in seamanship, and in weaponry to all who take part.

It is our belief that this multi-national force will lead to other similar arrangements which will enable us to develop our N.A.T.O. maritime operational planning on even more closely integrated lines, and combine the naval forces of the alliance into a more effective counter to the growing Soviet presence. This concept will be an important step in the development of our plans following our withdrawal from the Gulf and the Far East.

With regard to our rôle east of Suez, criticism has been centred on the importance of the sea lanes east of Suez. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were a little more realistic. The fact is that since the end of World War II this country has not been in a position by itself to guarantee access to these areas by all maritime ships whatever flags they fly. I am not aware that any British Government since the war have aimed to deploy so many warships in the Far East that all parts of it were fully patrolled by Royal Navy ships, yet merchant ships have not had to fear harassment in these areas in peacetime. The number of ships deployed east of Suez during the height of confrontation was more than twice as many as in 1955, and the number was considerably in excess of that in 1960. Throughout the whole of this period our warships were heavily engaged on local tasks, in operations and exercises in particular areas, and have not been, nor have they ever been called upon to be, in a position constantly to patrol the sea lanes in these areas.

One can appreciate the concern of commercial ship owners at our withdrawal from Singapore and the Gulf, but they, too, must see this position in perspective. As I have said, over the last ten years Royal Navy ships have not been on constant patrol over the whole of the area. The fact is that trade, to a large extent, protects itself by mutual profitability. France knows this. Japan knows this, as do most other trading nations. In 1967 we had about 21½million tons of commercial shipping; France had over 5½ million tons; Japan neary 17 million tons, and Greece about 7½ million tons. One does not see their national navies guaranteeing maritime protection in all parts of the world.

When one comes to the question of withdrawing from east of Suez one would like to ask just what is the latest and collective view of the Tory Party.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

The hon. Gentleman's argument is that in time of peace, in the Indian Ocean, for example, a merchant ship is quite safe. From that he seems to be leading on to say that no naval forces are necessary. Does he extend that argument over the sea routes throughout the world, in time of peace?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

I did not say that therefore no naval forces were necessary. Later in my speech I shall come to the specific points with which the shipping industry is concerned.

I want now to try to get at the grass roots of Tory Party policy on the question of our position east of Suez. On 17th January in this House the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod) said that he supported the maintaining of the Far East presence in this area to the mid-'seventies, but only if this were practical and helpful. This statement was amplified by the Leader of the Opposition on 18th January when he said: …we shall ignore the time phasing laid down by the Prime Minister and his Government for the Far East and Middle East. We shall support our country's friends and allies…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th January, 1968; Vol. 756, c. 1971.] On 5th March, in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration, the Leader of the Opposition said: So long as our friends want us to remain there it is possible for us to maintain a presence there."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 257.] So it could be, depending on whose view one took, the mid-'seventies or the late 'seventies. The position is even more ludicrous when we consider the previously declared views of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, published in an article in the Sunday Times of 23rd April, 1967. Commenting on the Russian submarine threat, he stated that while both Russia and America are two-ocean powers, Britain enjoys the advantages of concentration. being vulnerable only in one hemisphere. Is that what he still believes? If so, presumably he is the last person who should move the Motion that we are discussing today.

Accepting, however, the views of only the Leader of the Opposition and disregarding all the others, I still find it difficult to understand them. I suggest that if they think about this they, too, will realise that they are in even greater difficulty. Their argument for withdrawal from the Far East, they tell us, is essentially one of conditions and timing. How can they pretend this great concern for the United Kingdom's single-handed protection of all the sea routes east of Suez at the same time that they conditionally accept, in principle, an eventual withdrawal from our bases there?

Earlier in his speech the right hon. Gentleman referred to the Fleet. In opening I said that his arguments were based on two misconceptions, the second being about the strength and flexibility of the Royal Navy both now and in the future. The strength is there for all to see. It is obscured only in the minds of hon. Members opposite. In terms of manpower, ships and striking power, our naval forces today are much stronger than those of any of our European N.A.T.O. allies.

Looking to the future, our Royal Navy's new construction and re-equipment programme will ensure that Britain remains second to none among her European allies in her contribution to the naval forces of N.A.T.O.

Theh right hon. Member was rather coy. First he deployed an argument in favour of carriers and then, when we asked how many, he was not willing to state. Further on he deployed the argument about nuclear submarines. At least on this subject he has not been so coy as on previous matters. In the article to which I have referred, in the Sunday Times, again referring to the Soviet submarine menace, he went on to say: Fortune has favoured us again by vesting the key of our Naval defence in a weapon which lie; within the scope of our manpower and our economy to develop and maintain on a par with any potential enemy. Further on he said: It is time that Britain made up her mind to regain mastery below the waves. He is asking for a rate of building of nuclear submarines so that we can have a fleet "on a par with any potential enemy". Earlier on he spelled out how many submarines, nuclear and ballistic, the Russians have. He is asking for a similar number from us—"on a par with any potential enemy". That means that he is asking for at least an extra 30 nuclear-powered submarines. He may have put a price on the carriers. He is asking for about £800 million or £1,000 million in this one statement.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

Will the hon. Gentleman give the House particulars of the Government's naval construction programme?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

The right hon. Gentleman must be patient. He was told last week that if lie had done his homework he would have found out how many nuclear-powered submarines we have. He complained that this information had not been given and he was told by my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment that he should do his homework. There were Press announcements when the keels of submarines were laid down and when submarines were launched. There is a statement in the Estimates every year of the cost of ships taken into commission in the Royal Navy. Clearly, if he had done his homework he would know how many there were and what was the policy of construction.

Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , Wolverhampton South West

There is no question about the present number in existence or under construction. The question with which the House is concerned—and the Motion is also concerned with it—is what is the proposed future programme? The hon. Member has boasted about the effects of the Government's naval building programme. We want to be told what it is. All that we have been told is that it will be cut.

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

The right hon. Gentleman had better contain himself and wait until the announcement is made later in the year.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

On top of the nuclear submarines and carriers that the party opposite wants, what has become of the South Atlantic Force, described to us by the Leader of the Opposition? How much would that cost?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

I have not costed that one. I doubt whether the Opposition have.

I want to refer to the present position in terms of the Navy and its future development. We already have a force of nuclear fleet submarines in service to provide our main anti-surface ships and anti-submarine capability, and we will be the only European—or, indeed, world navy—other than the American and Russian navies—to operate these very powerful warships in significant numbers.

H.M.S. "Bristol", to be launched in 1971, will introduce into the fleet our new advanced area anti-aircraft and antimissile weapons system, Sea Dart, which will be as good as any in the world, and more of these weapons systems will be deployed in the new class of Sea Dart destroyers, announced in July. We are also ahead of other European navies in deploying the latest quick reaction anti submarine weapons. Ikara, specially developed to counter fast submarines, will be at sea in H.M.S. "Bristol" in 1972. We plan to fit it into a number of Leander frigates. This weapon will diversify and increase N.A.T.O.'s antisubmarine preparedness. Our antiaircraft, anti-missile and anti-submarine defences will be further increased by the introduction of the Leander replacement frigates, by the Sea King helicopter to be carried in the converted Tiger class cruisers now, and, from the mid-1970s. in the new class of cruisers announced in July. Backing this capability from bases in Europe will be advanced shore-based aircraft, the Phantoms, Buccaneers and Nimrods which the R.A.F. will operate in the maritime air defence, strike, reconnaissance and antisubmarine rôles—

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

The hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the Tiger replacement, the new cruisers referred to in the White Paper, and they were not mentioned last week either. What has happened to them? Have they been sunk?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

The hon. Gentleman was so busy preparing his question that he did not realise that I had just mentioned that. I just referred to the new cruisers to replace the Tiger class cruisers. If he is so busy preparing his questions that he cannot listen to what I am saying, I will not give way again—

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

Will they be like the converted Tiger class? Will they carry large numbers of helicopters? May we hear more about them?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

The hon. Gentleman will hear more about them in the future. I was about to refer to the surface-to-surface missiles, but this might possibly be taken up by my hon. Friend, who is to reply.

I should say something about a matter which is likely to arise, the problem of what happens to support for ships if we give up bases and in what areas the Navy can operate. The Fleet Auxiliary Service which provisions and maintains the Fleet, has in the last few years done a very good job and has been expanded considerably. We have always placed great emphasis on afloat support, which means that the Navy depends less on land-based facilities. The recent withdrawal from South Arabia provides an excellent example of this. For the months covering the withdrawal, a large naval force was assembled off Aden and was serviced and provisioned from Fleet Auxiliary vessels.

Another subject is the Beira Patrol. I cannot resist assuring the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who is so keen on this subject, that I am proud to say that the Royal Navy is carrying out this arduous and completely effective patrol and will continue to do so. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Patrol is de jure and I am happy to assure him that it is equally de facto

Photo of Mr Simon Digby Mr Simon Digby , West Dorset

Would the hon. Gentleman deny that afloat support is the most expensive form of support? When the Navy is short of funds, is it not a bad moment to increase it?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

I would not question that it is a vital use of scarce manpower and financial resources, but if the Navy has a job to do, it must be given the means to do it—and this is precisely what is happening.

I now turn to an issue which is certainly likely to be raised—the question of what happens to the Cape route and the subject of Simonstown. I was interested to see that the hon. Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) referred in the defence debate to our firm and powerful base facilities in Simonstown and that, in a somewhat similar vein, the Leader of the Opposition, in the debate on 19th December on arms for South Africa, referred to the renegotiation of the Simonstown Agreement.

What are the facts? The Opposition, then the Government, handed over the base to the South African Government in 1957. Was this, in itself, an acknowledgment that Britain could no longer be responsible for protecting the Cape sea route? Was this—not in my terms but in theirs—an abrogation of their responsibilities? What has happened since? Arising from the Defence Review of 1966, we decided to reduce a number of our naval commitments in different parts of the world. In this context, early in January 1967, we indicated our intention to withdraw the frigate station at Simonstown and the Flag Officer based there. This was, despite what the Opposition have frequently said, part of the continuing process initiated by them in giving up the base in 1957.

There has been no renegotiation of the Simonstown Agreement, as my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State said in the debate on 19th December last year. The question of arms for South Africa was fully debated then and there is nothing new to say, save perhaps to recognise that, on the subject of principles and moral obligations stemming from the U.N. resolution, I am glad that in this respect the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South West did not introduce the subject, because his own comments on race relations in this country have shown me his total insensitivity on this, perhaps the most momentous problem facing the world today.

As for his hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice, who will be winding up, the less he says on this subject the better, since he has earned, by his fanatical support for the Smith regime and his outburst in the Commons last week, the public condemnation of many hon. Members. We are still waiting for the Leader of the Opposition to join in this condemnation—

Photo of Mr James Ramsden Mr James Ramsden , Harrogate

What has that to do with this debate?

Photo of Mr Maurice Foley Mr Maurice Foley , West Bromwich

The right hon. Member may ask what it has to do with this debate, but I imagine that, shortly, we will hear from hon. Members opposite a whole series of complaints that the abandonment of Simonstown is a fatal flaw and a dangerous act in the light of our sea communications. It is thus in this context that I must refer to the matter.

My final point relates to the Shipping Defence Advisory Committee. The House will know that the Ministry of Defence has a Standing Committee which plans for the safety and protection of the British Merchant Navy in time of war and keeps the whole of the Merchant Navy defence policy under review. It deals with a variety of subjects and is the forum for war planning for the Merchant fleet. There are plans, too, for dispersal and evacuation and for convoy systems in time of war.

I know, through this Committee, that some of the British merchant shipping community are worried lest the recent defence, announcement leaves them more exposed to piracy, a subject which has been mentioned, and leads to less naval help when merchant ships are in distress. I appreciate their anxieties, but coastal piracy poses no immediate threat on any scale to British shipping and, as I have explained, for many years now the Royal Navy has not been able to patrol continuously all the sea lanes east of Suez.

There is, however, an anxiety about the future, which I appreciate. Piracy—or, rather, potential piracy—is, however, primarily a problem for the commercial shipping community as a whole. Hon. Members will know that now—this will be so increasingly in future—countries in the area have some naval capability of their own for patrolling their own coastal waters. Not even the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, I am sure, would argue that the possibility of an increase in piracy is a strong enough argument in itself for retaining our bases east of Suez. That would indeed be an expensive and debilitating insurance policy for a potential eventuality which may or may not happen and which, if it does, will affect not only British commercial ships but those of all the trading nations of the world.

Aid to merchant shipping in distress is a duty which the Royal Navy has always accepted and will continue to accept. It is important, however, not to get a false impression of the demands which this makes on the Royal Navy. Over the last five years, the Royal Navy has assisted merchant ships on 36 occasions. None of these was an instance of piracy. All involved towing, fire-fighting or rescues and only nine involved British ships. Over the 12 months ending September 1967, medical assistance was given by the Royal Navy to nine merchant ships, five of which were British. The Navy will go on rendering this kind of assistance wherever and whenever possible. The White Ensign will not disappear from the oceans of the world after the Navy withdraws from the Gulf and Singapore and concentrates itself in the European and Atlantic areas. Apart from the naval forces which may be available elsewhere from this general capability as in our judgment circumstances demand, there will continue to be opportunities for visits and exercises outside what we may call these two home theatres.

The Motion which we are debating is unreal, dishonest and emotional. It is unreal because no country in the world today can by itself protect all its sea communications. It is dishonest because right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite are prepared at some stage and in some conditions to abandon the naval rôle east of Suez regardless of all the consequential implications. And it is emotional because it ignores the logic of facts. It is an emotional hankering after an imperial past.

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West wrapped up his speech in a great deal of synthetic indignation. That has been so with the three Motions on the Defence Estimates which we have debated. I can only hope that, in the speeches which follow, hon. Members opposite will abstain from the use of this dubious attitude. For the reasons which I have given, I ask the House decisively to reject the Motion.

5.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

We all listened to the Under-Secretary of State with interest. I noted particularly that he asked that we should keep emotion out of the debate. He had just referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in very emotional terms as a supporter of anti-colour policies and apartheid. If emotion were to be introduced, he was surely then in danger of introducing it.

I have never been to South Africa and cannot therefore be accused of being pro-apartheid. Perhaps I could therefore take up the cudgels on Simonstown. The present state of the world is such that much of the free world's shipping, raw materials and food has to go round South Africa, and it is surprising that we have not agreed to supply arms for their own self-defence. I agree that arms should not be provided which could uphold the apartheid policy—that was the policy when the Conservative Party were in power. At the same time, the Simonstown Agreement originally guaranteed that we should provide four frigates in exchange for these facilities—frigates built in this country. For the Government not to follow that and to sell more frigates when they needed renewal, and not to provide the maritime aircraft, the Nimrod, which the South Africans wanted, or even to sell the Buccaneer aircraft, of which ten are partly made, which could easily have been supplied, seems a strange morality on their part.

On 8th February last year, referring to the Simonstown Agreement, the hon. Member said, …the proposal is that the Chief of the South African Navy will take greater responsibility for the South African area in times of war. The maintenance of the Simonstown Agreement means that the Royal Navy will have continued use of the facilities in South Africa hitherto enjoyed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1967; Vol. 740, c. 1619.] It seems strange morality that we should fling responsibility to someone else for a vital maritime route and then deny him the means of defending that route. It is not our function in a debate of this sort to explain the Opposition's defence policy. Most hon. Members will agree with that. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am quoting the words of the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) when he was in opposition. They are not my words. This was on 4th March, 1963. I am surprised that some of the old hands on the benches opposite fell for that. Anyone who has been in the House for some time knows that the Government press the Opposition to state their defence policy and the Opposition rightly—and these were the words of a greatly respected Minister—refuse to do so because they are not in a position to state exactly what they would do.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

As I was in the House when my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) made that statement—and disagreed with it—may I ask the hon. Member whether he does not agree that, although they cannot be exact in their criticism, on major financial issues involving hundreds of millions of pounds, there is some moral obligation on the Opposition to state what what they will do, otherwise the debate is held in a vacuum?

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

I am interested in the hon. Member's views. The quotation from the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park continued: This is essentially a time when we want to have from the Government a statement of their defence policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 146.] We have been trying all day to get that, but we have been told that we must wait until summer for more details of where the cuts will fall. I am prepared to reply to the hon. Gentleman to the extent of saying that we have been consistent in stating that we believe that we should be able to spend about 61 per cent. or even 7 per cent. of our gross national product on defence. If the economy were managed aright, that would be a tolerable contribution to the defence of the free world.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

My hon. Friend is probably aware that the Prime Minister, speaking at Chatham just before the last election, promised that 6 per cent. of the national income would be spent on defence.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

The difference is that with the present Government economy is managed in such a way that it is 6 per cent. or 6½ per cent. of apretty static economy. The economy was growing at over 4 per cent. during the last six years of the Conservative Administration. Even the Labour Party's National Plan called for only 3·8 per cent. growth, and the performance was much less than that. That is one of the reasons why the National Plan has gone. I repeat that 6½ per cent. of the gross national product on defence is tolerable. We are told that it will not be more than 6 per cent. this year without a supplementary estimate.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

Many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and I ought not to give way again.

I want to use a quotation from my right hon. Friend in his opening speech. Everyone is beginning to realise the growth in the Russian maritime strength. In a Navy Day speech in 1962 the Chief of the Soviet Naval Staff said: Now there is not a single area of the world's oceans where the aggressors' "— that meals the free world— ships could operate in wartime without exposing themselves to destruction. That is the stated intention of the Chief of Soviet Naval Staff. I used that quotation in the last of the five Navy Estimates debates which I piloted through the House. I used it today to show that this growth is worrying. What I said five years' ago is much more true today. Their strength has grown. That is a presence in the oceans of the world which is much more in evidence than ever before.

One section of the Navy which has not been much discussed is the minesweepers. Sir Winston Churchill helped to persuade the then Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, to launch the original minesweeper programme. He convinced him that this was a menace which could stop the supply of food and raw materials to our ports and that we had to have emergency ports and large numbers of minesweepers. This was part of the very brave rearmament programme of £4,700 million in 3 years, launched at the time of Korea.

Those minesweepers built in the 1950s are 18 years old and they are beginning to run out. But the menace of mining has not disappeared. It may even have increased, because the ingenuity of the mines is use is greater today than it was in the early 1950s. From the White Paper I see that we are converting six of that generation of minesweeper to mine hunting. I am sure that that is right. We are extremely good in this country at developing mine hunting equipment, and our under-water divers have a unique reputation. But I wonder whether we are not nibbling at the problem and whether we are facing the fact that, at no risk to an aggressive power, mining could cause considerable agony and, in extremis, even starvation to a nation like ours.

It would be wrong if, while building up other sides of our naval forces, we neglected to meet the minesweeper problem, and particularly, to build more modern minesweepers. Many of those minesweepers have done a very useful job in the cold war. They were useful in the Indonesian confrontation. It is not as though they are necessarily taken throughout their lives for minesweeping and for the protection of our shores and ports. They may be very useful in a cold war, and they give very good value for money. They are also popular because they give a ship's command to young progressive characters very early in their naval career.

This problem is growing rather than diminishing. If we believe that the Pueblo incident was a philosophy of the Communist world which might be called "teasing without tears"—tweeking the tail of one's opponent without risking a full-scale war—then it is possible that mining could be troublesome in the coming two decades. I trust that the Government will consider this matter.

The Minister of Defence said that he saw a menace growing to the two flanks of N.A.T.O. I hoped that he would go on to say that, as a result of that, we would be deploying more of our ships in the Mediterranean as a contribution to N.A.T.O. He mentioned Norway to the North and the Mediterranean in the South as being the two flanks, but he did not follow what I thought to be the logical result and say that we would, therefore, be reconsidering the evacuation of Malta.

My hon. Friends and I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman about pulling out of the Far East so early, but as a result of the latest Government policy we will have at our disposal more ships than we would otherwise have had, had we kept to the July, 1967, policy. It would be wise, therefore, to deploy some of these available forces at Malta. Malta is not a good training station for the Army, unless our soldiers train in Libya. However, it is a good training station for our anti-submarine forces and it is useful as a flying training station for the R.A.F. It is, therefore, good for the R.A.F. and the Navy, and both Services can exercise together, which is an in creasingly important factor. For antisubmarine practice it is valuable because the waters of the Mediterranean are deep and, with their heat layers, provide special anti-submarine problems which do not exist in the same way in the Atlantic.

I urge this course, not just because Malta is in an important position, is the Southern flank of N.A.T.O., is tactically 1,000 miles from Cyprus and 1,000 miles from Gibraltar—and not even because the Russian fleet is now deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean and moving along the North African coast—but because, if we are not there to provide economic help, someone else will be—and the Government of Malta will be looking for people who can provide employment and help in that country's dockyard and industry. It is crazy to think that while Malta is a popular and useful station, we should continue with its evacuation and then be giving liberal grants on a per capita basis to that country by way of aid. There are modern barracks, airfields, control systems, radar and hospitals all ready there—facilities which will stand empty if we leave—and it seems unwise that we should be taking this step, particularly with the movement of Russian ships into the Mediterranean.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, I still believe that the carrier fleet should have been carried on well into the 'seventies—certainly until, to follow the Government's line, its task could be replaced by other ships. At present they cannot be replaced. We do not yet have a surface-to-surface missile and in the absence of that and any alternative means, I see no better, cheaper, or more effective way to safeguard our future maritime forces than by retaining the carrier force.

The Government have spent £31½ million so far, about £13 million on reconditioning and modernising "Ark Royal", £4 million on "Eagle", £4 million on "Victorious" and £9½ million on "Hermes". We are now told that only "Ark Royal", which is not to be "phantomised", will continue, and I understand that it will be suitable for Buccaneers and Sea Vixens. [Interruption.] We must be realistic about this. "Eagle" will carry on as well. "Ark Royal" will finish her refit and will carry Phantoms. "Eagle" will carry on, too, and I understand that she is suitable for Buccaneers and Sea Vixens.

It still seems that the Government are following a mistaken policy in this matter, and I wonder why they are so anxious to break up "Victorious". My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) suggested earlier last week that "Victorious" could be sold to the Australians, and I hope that his suggestion will be considered. This is still a useful ship. A great deal of money has been spent on her to make her suitable for Buccaneers. The Australian Navy still has the "Melbourne", and since Australia is anxious to remain flexible in naval defence, it might be interested in the "Victorious" and perhaps also the "Hermes".

Australia's present Prime Minister was once a naval Minister and might be sympathetic to an approach on our part along these lines. I hope that Mr. Ray Brown will be on an aeroplane tomorrow morning to see if the Australians are interested in these ships. After all, we are talking about big money. Apart from that, these vessels could be useful to the Commonwealth alliance because they are good ships and would fit in with our carriers for the remaining years they are in service.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said, it is disappointing that, under the Labour Government, change has followed change, one new plan has followed another, and that we should have had two White Papers almost every year. It is unfortunate for our future that the Defence Votes should always be those singled out for the biggest cuts. It is as a result of this turmoil that the recruiting and re-engagement figures are so disappointing. All hon. Members who are dedicated to the task of getting recruits have been disappointed by the recruiting figures.

When I occupied the position now occupied by the Under-Secretary the re-engagement figures for men averaged 60 per cent. I well recall the debates prior to 1963, when I left office, in which we were glad to announce that the re-engagement figure remained at about 60 per cent. Today it is 25 per cent., a considerable change, and I believe that it exposes one of the arguments which the Minister of Defence is constantly adducing; that one reason why he has agreed to cut the Services is because they were over-stretched.

A man who is doing a job and is kept busy is happier than a man who is not certain about his future and is underemployed. The fact that we managed to keep a 60 per cent. re-engagement rate, whereas now it is less than half that rate, exposes the fallacy of the argument which is constantly used by the Minister of Defence about the Services being grossly overstretched when the Labour Party came to power in 1964. They were not overstretched. They were well-equipped and the men were happy and contented.

I hope that the Government, when they decide exactly what the shape and size of the Navy is to be—I hope that their announcement about this will be made in June so that we will have ample time in which to consider and debate the matter—will bear in mind the fact that nobody has been absolutely wise in forecasting the exact shape of the forces which would be needed in the future. I admit that we were not perfectly wise in 1950 when we forecast what would be required in 1960. But perhaps the present Government are being a little intellectually arrogant in thinking that they can exactly foresee the positions and tasks which our forces will need to fulfil in the late 'seventies.

The Government are now designing ships for that period. Therefore, when they are considering those plans will they please leave open all the possible options? Will they leave our bases in Singapore on a care and maintenance basis? Things may change, and the bases they have evacuated we may need to reoccupy in defence of the free world.

5.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East

I have made a genuine attempt to understand the defence and naval policy of the Opposition. If they make these strong attacks on the Government, one is entitled to ask where they themselves stand. It is confusing and difficult to decide exactly when they intend.

We know from the recent statement of the Leader of the Opposition that they propose a presence in the 'seventies in Singapore and the Persian Gulf. This is a great surprise to some of us. After all, the Government's decisions have had political effects in South-East Asia and the Persian Gulf which justify the hope of those who have been asking for this policy for some years past. At the same time, no one can say that the country's present financial state is better able to bear the burden of 7 per cent. of the gross national product which the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) suggested should be the proper amount of our future defence budget. Nevertheless, the Leader of the Opposition has committed himself to this view.

But this afternoon, having heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) outlining the Opposition's naval policy which is to fit into their world defence rôle, we get a totally different picture, and a naval policy outlined which is appropriate in no respect whatever to the world rôle which the Leader of the Opposition has set out.

The right hon. Member did not refer at all to the presence east of Suez. He hardly spoke at all, except in his peroration, about the whole question of the safety of shipping at sea and the sea lanes. He made two major points: first, that we must be strong navally in Europe; secondly, that this strength must include aircraft carrier support. But if we want a strong British naval presence in Europe, and on this I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, why disperse the Navy over the world to Singapore and the Persian Gulf?

The great trouble with our naval presence in Europe in these recent years has been that our ships, though assigned to N.A.T.O. hardly saw Europe at all—they were in Singapore and in the Persian Gulf. It is, therefore, a total inconsisency of the Opposition to argue that we must have a strong naval force in Europe and maintain a strong naval force in Singapore and the Persian Gulf as well—

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

The hon. Member could not have occupied the post of Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy, as he did, without appreciating that the essential value of naval forces is that they are flexible, and can be applied where they are needed.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East

I quite agree, and judging from the twists and turns of the Opposition's policy I imagine that if they came to power we should have the Navy constantly steaming to and fro between Singapore and Europe. On the other hand, it does not make for the kind of naval presence in Europe which the right hon. Gentleman was outlining.

It is quite unreatlistic to suppose that even with the 7 per cent. of gross national product which the hon. Member for Hendon North mentioned, we can expect to keep a strong naval presence in Singapore and the Persian Gulf and Europe in the 'seventies—

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

I must correct the hon. Gentleman. I said 6½ per cent., and added that it might, in extremis, be 7 per cent.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East

The hon. Gentleman has not listened to his right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. Does he really think that he can build 30 nuclear fleet submarines and a carrier for 6½ per cent.? My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked the pertinent question whether the Opposition think that we should have a new carrier. There are two reasons why that question more or less answers itself. First of all, the policy outlined—indeed, the statement made—was that a strong naval presence in Europe requires a carrier. The right hon. Gentleman spent a good deal of his speech arguing that; and since he also asks that we must have a strong naval presence in Europe it follows automatically that his policy requires an aircraft carrier.

The second reason why my hon. Friend's question, though pertinent, was academic, is that it is not practical to revive the project for a new carrier. Suppose we could find the money now, and could persuade the shipbuilding indutry to tender, in spite of all the uncertainties, the fact is that we could not get the vessel until 1975 at the very earliest. In these crucial years when the Opposition propose a presence in Singapore, and defence commitments in the Gulf and in Singapore, a carrier would be required and one of the reasons why their policy is so irresponsible and incomprehensible is that they do not understand that they are not providing the resources they need for the policy they outline.

I have been fairly critical of the Government in recent years about their defence policy. But at least they have learned from experience. They have at last cut down their commitments to their capabilities. But the Opposition are now plunging into precisely the errors the Government themselves were making a year or two ago by giving to the forces tasks far in advance of their capabilities—

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Would my hon. Friend, with his experience inside the Ministry of Defence which most of us do not have, think it reasonable to say that the Opposition put forward a programme over a seven or eight year period of the order of £2,000 million above what the Government already intend? Is that roughly accurate?

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East

I once costed the Opposition's defence policy at £500 million a year more. It was an under-estimate, compared with that made by the Secretary of State for Defence. What the Opposition are outlining requires not only a bigger fleet than we have but a bigger fleet than we have time to build during the period for which it is needed.

We could not get the fleet carrier in time. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) has often spoken about mini-carriers. This project has often been considered by the Navy Department, and has often been turned down for good technical reasons. But let us assume that it was operationally sensible and technically possible, and that we had the money for it. We would not get the new design, the development and research and the production of the vessel in time to carry out the policies that the Opposition have in mind. Floating an idea in the House of Commons is a much quicker business than floating the vessel itself, which takes six or seven years—

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

I have never, here or elsewhere, proposed a mini-carrier. What I want is a simple carrier—a flat-topped ship; and a flat-topped ship is very easy and quick to build.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East

That sounds all right but—and I shall not go into details now—it still needs 3-D radar, anti-submarine protection, and all the rest of it. I assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that it is not as easy as that, and that it does not make as much sense as it might seem to make at first sight.

It is not only the carrier or the mini-carrier that the Opposition policy needs. We would need more Type 82s, as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said. If we adopt their policy, we must have more than one Type 82 escort, and more fleet submarines. not only for normal purposes but for fleet protection. We would need more manpower and more resources of all kinds.

As I see it, the Opposition are now falling into the same very serious error for which they rightly attacked the Government last year and the year before. They then quite rightly made the most penetrating attacks on the Government—and I shared in the attacks—for accepting defence commitments beyond their capability. But now that the Government have at last learned from experience and have produced a defence policy which I consider to be viable, we get the Opposition falling into the same pitfalls into which the Government at one time fell.

I was disappointed that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West did not develop the thinking of his Motion on the question of protection of shipping. The threat to shipping and the problem of countering it has been totally transformed in the last two decades. The greatest threat to our shipping now is the closure of the Suez Canal, and that is not a naval problem at all. The old problems of piracy are not the kind of problems they were. The old conception of on-the-spot naval protection of shipping does not stand up today. Above all, the weakness of the Opposition about protection of shipping is that they do not tell us where this should be done. They cannot tell us seriously that we should protect shipping in every part of the world.

What the Opposition do not understand is that to the extent to which they would commit us to a presence east of Suez they would diminish our presence in the Mediterranean, in the South Atlantic, at Simonstown, and the Icelandic Fisheries. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as if before the Government came in, and before the new defence policy, we kept a great fleet in the Mediterranean and at Simonstown, but the reality was that precisely because we had the kind of policy which the Opposition now have there were times when there was hardly a frigate in the Mediterranean and nothing at Simonstown.

The new policy of the Opposition of a world rôle would diminish our capacity to have a naval presence in the Mediterranean and to have ships to protect shipping in the admittedly more limited areas of the world. Of course this is true. I wish the Opposition would learn that if we tried to do everything everywhere we would end by doing nothing anywhere.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

The hon. Member says that it is impossible to protect our shipping everywhere. He has said that if we tried to do everything everywhere we would do nothing anywhere. I agree, but we do not try to protect shipping everywhere. Even in war-time we cannot do that, but we protect it where it is threatened.

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East

We have not been given a clear account of what type of threat the Opposition intend to counter and by what means they intend to do it. The threat to our shipping is in the Suez Canal. Old-fashioned conceptions of shipping protection suggested by the Opposition do not seem relevant to our modern problem.

I wish very much that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West had spent a little more time in considering of what value and importance the Navy will be in the 'seventies and the 'eighties when we have left Singapore and the Persian Gulf. This is the question which is in all our minds. It is raised by the White Paper; I agree, without being answered. At first sight the new defence policy and withdrawal from east of Suez appeared to be a great blow to the Navy. There is a certain amount of gloom in the Navy itself. As the hon. Member for Hendon, North pointed out, recruiting has fallen. In this country we have so often tended to associate the Navy with the Empire that we tend to assume that as the Empire goes the Navy goes too. This is profoundly mistaken. I believe that sea power is of increasing importance. I believe that in the 'seventies sea power might prove as important in Europe, almost as important, as land power.

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

As the hon. Member has asked us about how we see the threat, will he say what he thinks the threat would be?

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East

I shall be delighted to do so and perhaps afterwards someone in the Opposition will say what threat the Opposition see to shipping lines east of Suez. I do not share the conception of an all-out prolonged war at sea to which the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West referred. That is not N.A.T.O. strategy—certainly it was not when I was in office; on the contrary. The threat is a different one, but it may be a real threat.

Fortunately, the danger of fighting breaking out today between the Warsaw Pact countries and N.A.T.O. is a highly remote one, but if fighting does break out it is more likely to break out at sea than on land. Fighting at sea causes fewer civilian casualties, if any. It is harder to identify, it causes less damage, and escalation can be controlled with greater ease. Thus, if the Russians wished to exert military pressure on the West, they might begin by doing it at sea rather than on land, starting perhaps with interference with marine radio aids, submarine cables, fishing gear perhaps, and escalating, it might be, to stopping and searching N.A.T.O. merchant ships and perhaps after that—I agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, North—laying mines in the estuary of the Rhine or of the Thames.

Conversely the N.A.T.O. Powers, if they were faced with a renewal of the Berlin blockade, rather than start shooting in the Corridor, which would escalate uncontrollably and very quickly into mutual annihilation, might prefer to blockade the Baltic or the Dardanelles. If one goes into the detail of these fortunately remote threats, it looks likelier that they would come at sea than on land. I hope that I have now satisfied the hon. Member and I hope that someone in the Opposition will do the same for me.

These are real threats and they undertone the importance of our naval contribution. The Government's new defence policy at last enables us to make a major contribution in this matter. Most of our ships are already assigned to N.A.T.O., declared to N.A.T.O. but Europe seldom if ever sees them. Here as in many things, our commitment on paper has been a great deal more than our commitment in practice. But now at last, over the next three years, as destroyers, frigates, minesweepers, and submarines return from east of Suez they can fly the flag at the major ports of Europe from Spitzbergen, Leningrad—as they have done before—to Split and the Aegean.

We can make an impressive contribution to N.A.T.O. in the Mediterranean. I would not mind seeing the White Ensign replacing or supplementing the Stars and Stripes of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. Showing the flag is as valuable politically, diplomatically and economically as ever. The Russians have shown that in the Mediterranean. This could make a contribution to our new European Policy.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Will my hon. Friend amplify what he has said? Why should we show the British flag at Leningrad. As a friendly gesture, or what?

Photo of Mr Christopher Mayhew Mr Christopher Mayhew , Woolwich East

I am extremely disappointed to conflict with my hon. Friend on this. Surely he knows that one of the great events of Leningrad's recent history was a visit there by the Royal Navy? I thought he was a student of Soviet politics and knew about this. It was a great success. Many Soviet citizens went on board.

This is one feature, one part, of the new and vital rôle which the Navy can play, but there are of course minor aspects which are of great importance, such as naval training in Europe. Here we can play a considerable rôle. After its brilliant success in Indonesia, the Navy has a reputation second to none among our European allies. I hope that the Government will take this up and will vastly extend naval training facilities in Europe.

The Navy can make another, more controversial, contribution to our new European policies. Surely by the 1970s it will be clear that there will be great advantages to be gained, with American good will and without provoking the Communist countries, by the closest collaboration within N.A.T.O. between the missile submarine fleets of Britain and post-Gaullist France. At present, there are five independent nuclear deterrents in the world. This initiative would reduce the number to four. Surely this is worth considering. Surely it would be a practical act of anti-proliferation. Why should riot, indeed, the W.E.U. countries share responsibility for the new European submarine fleet, just as the Nuclear Committee of N.A.T.O. to some extent shares a responsibility for the Western nuclear deterrent? These are some of the reasons why I believe that the Navy will play a vital and distinguished part in our new European policy in the 1970s and 1980s.

I end on this point of difference with the Government—fortunately a minor issue. Are we really conceiving of the Navy only in European waters in the 1970s and 1980s? The Government themselves acknowledge that we shall still have some minor residual defence commitments east of Suez in the 1970s and 1980s. It cannot be escaped. We shall have responsibility for law and order in our remaining colonial dependencies. We shall have a moral responsibility to assist in the defence of the territories of Austrailia and New Zealand if they are attacked. I think we all agree with that.

Finally, we have a responsibility, in my view. to contribute to any United Nations peace-keeping force that is set up east of Suez. It is common ground between both sides that we shall still have those remaining defence responsibilities east of Suez in the 1970s. And even the most hardened critics of the Government's east of Suez rôle have always recognised this.

In the motion which we put to the Labour Party conference in October, 1966, which was approved, and in which we asked for withdrawal from Singapore and the Persian Gulf by 1970, the costings we gave—we mentioned the figure of £1,750 million a year—made allowance for £30 million for a very small residual military presence in Australia to cover these three remaining military commitments. Some of my hon. Friends laughed the other day when I suggested that this should be done, because it suggested that the Government had gone too far. But I think that when the Government talk about their "general capability" for sarrying out these commitments they are on very weak ground indeed. These three commitments cannot be fulfilled from Salisbury Plain or from Devonport. I regret the fact that the Government are making, in miniature, a repetition of their old error—of talking in general about defence commitments without raising the capability to fulfil them.

Fortunately, this is not an urgent question. Fortunately, there is no need for the Government to make up their mind now finally. We still shall have ships and battalions out there for two or three years to come. When the Government have reviewed this problem, they may well come to the conclusion that we should leave one or two frigates stationed in Australia after we withdraw from Singapore.

I have tried as hard as I can to keep in line with the Government. I think that this fifth Defence White Paper gives a good chance of making sense of our defence policy at last. It will end the Services' ten-year nightmare of muddle. I think that that is coming to an end now. When the smoke has cleared, we shall see the Navy still firmly afloat, without its carriers, which it will not then need, but with the resources it will need to make another big contribution to British history as the spearhead of our new European policies.

6.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Simon Digby Mr Simon Digby , West Dorset

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) spoke a great deal about the length of time it takes to build a new aircraft carrier. That is one of the points which is in our minds. The hon. Gentleman went on to fire our imagination with all the things which might happen in an attack at sea. There are many of us who would agree with him. The difficulty about the next war, or the next threat, always is that we are never quite sure where it is coming from.

I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman move on to the Mediterranean and speak of the possibility of some reinforcement there. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy started as though he would talk about some movement of ships to the Mediterranean, but, like the Secretary of State last week, the hon. Gentleman suddenly stopped when he got near the point. I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman recognise the imposibility of moving to the assistance of people east of Suez without bases of one kind or another. The Under-Secretary, when I challenged him, could not deny that the idea of an adequate Fleet Train to do that when we have withdrawn from the Far East would be a terribly expensive proposition and, I should have thought, quite out of the question unless we are prepared to spend very much more on the Royal Navy than at present.

My main purpose in rising is to talk again about the Merchant Navy and to urge its importance on the Government. Hon. Members opposite have spoken as though our concern for the Merchant Navy had something to do with a nostalgia for the Empire. It is nothing of the kind. We must remember the tremendous rôle which the Merchant Navy played in the last war. It is surely conceivable that the same thing could happen again. This is a simple question of economics, of imports and exports. Whether we like it or not, we are a world trading nation on a very large scale indeed. We know from our talks about the balance of payments that we want our world trade to be larger and not smaller.

From common prudence we must consider all these ships of ours that ply the world. We are concerned, too, with foreign ships having free access to the seas, because the strange thing is that. despite a merchant fleet of 21 million tons, only about half of our imports and exports go in our own ships. We are dependent on foreign ships for the other imports and exports. In time of peace, in time of war, and in something between the two, Britain is vitally dependent on the food and raw materials it gets from abroad. This fact cannot be blinked. I am surprised that so many hon. Members have spoken as that no longer mattered very much.

During this debate already there has been some comparison with France. I remind the House that France is more or less self-sufficient compared to Britain. As we have been told, France has a merchant fleet of only 5½; million tons; not much more than one-quarter of our own; yet France considers it necessary to have very considerable naval forces. It has four aircraft carriers, against four of our own in active service. Two of hers were laid down far later than anything we have. France has two cruisers, whereas we have none. France has 48 oceangoing escorts against 71 of our own, only 27 of which have helicopters. France has 21 submarines against our 33.

It will be seen that for very much less foreign trade France has a comparatively larger fleet. I have been surprised at the constant repetition in the defence debate and again today of that fact that we still have superior naval forces to those of any of our allies in Europe. It seems a far cry from the days of the "two-power Navy".

Tributes have been paid to General Ailleret, whose death we all learned with much regret at the weekend. It seems relevant that it is a worldwide nuclear capability that he was so instrumental in organising. I deduce from those facts that, whether we like it or not, our merchant fleet remains of importance. The Chamber of Shipping is worried by the Government's announcements. Our balance of payments position aggravates the difficulties. The Board of Trade Journal last weekend showed that, on a basis of volume, 1961 being taken as 100, our imports have risen to 157 and our exports to 140. Happily, our trade is increasing.

It has been argued in this debate that a nuclear war would be too short for the protection of our shipping lanes to matter very much. That is the Government's argument, as I understand it. Second, they argue that in a conventional war the Soviet Union could be relied on not to use its large fleet of submarines; third, that in a local war no one would be likely to molest British shipping; and fourth, that in peace there is no question of piracy or anything approaching piracy in the modern world. None the less, I am convinced that the presence of ships of the Royal Navy is of enormous importance.

In that connection, I regard the recruiting advertisement published only the other day as somewhat misleading. It tells us: Three-quarters of the world's surface is covered with salt water and at any one time some 2,000 British merchant ships are sailing tile high seas. And the Royal Navy will be there too". I understood the Government's announcements to mean that the Royal Navy will no longer be there.

We have only 71 escort vessels to protect British merchant ships in peace or in war. The United States has a force of no fewer than 330. We must consider at the same time what our potential enemies possess. The Russians still have 20 cruisers and no fewer than 335 submarines. The question has often been asked in Navy debates, How would the British Fleet deal with "Sverdlovsk" class cruisers, which are very powerful vessels? Up to now, the answer has always been that we should deal with them by aircraft, aircraft flown from a carrier or flown from the shore. It seems to me that this will be impossible in the future, and I should like to know how it will be possible to deal with these cruisers. We remember what happened in the last war and the problems created by raids upon our commerce. How would it be possible to deal with them in the future without aircraft carriers and without adequate aircraft flying from land bases to them?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

How many aircraft carriers do the Russians have?

Photo of Mr Simon Digby Mr Simon Digby , West Dorset

It is true that the Russians have no aircraft carriers at present, so far as one knows, but it is sensible to assume that they are not building all their submarines and cruisers for no purpose. They are building their vessels for a strategic purpose. It is up to us, therefore, to say how we would deal with those cruisers, very powerful vessels, and how we would deal with that very large number of submarines.

We have not been told the future balance of the Fleet after the disappearance of the aircraft carrier. It is well known that the Fleet was built round the carrier in the old days, but that conception has gone. The support vessels for the aircraft carrier are still there. What is the real purpose?

That brings me to the situation east of Suez, about which so much has been said already. At any one time, no fewer than 650 merchant ships are in that area and about £2,000 million worth of our trade is conducted there. Is it conceivable that help could be brought to the area in a hurry once we have moved our bases? We have facilities at Simonstown, but in the old days support for east of Suez was based on a long chain of naval bases where major repairs could be done—Gibraltar, Malta, Bombay and Singapore. In the future, however, there will be nothing between Gibraltar—and, perhaps, Simonstown—and Sydney. That is a long distance to cover. In time of war, it would be a very long distance for any damaged ship to sail to somewhere where proper repairs could be carried out. Although major repairs can now be carried out at Singapore, it is doubtful whether major repairs could be done to the larger ships at Simonstown.

We are, therefore, putting ourselves in a position in which we shall not be able to implement the obligations which we have. Admittedly, our obligations to India now are very nebulous, but the other obligations remain, to Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore, and to CENTO and S.E.A.T.O. The only alternative for us is either to renounce those obligations or make it possible for us to fulfil them. I do not believe that they can be fulfilled in a hurry by a fleet train. Without bases, it will be virtually impossible to do it.

When these matters were first talked about, we were told that aircraft would fly from new airfields to meet these needs. Since then, the situation has deteriorated. Quite apart from the supply of the necessary aircraft, there will be very few airfields which could be used for such eventualities. I suppose that there will be only Ascension Island and the use of South African airfields. We cannot talk of bringing swift assistance to areas east of Suez unless we have the wherewithal, some form of base or some form of mobile support. With the complications of over-flying nowadays, it is difficult to see how even light forces could be brought rapidly to any area and be of real assistance.

By their present policy, therefore, which they have been very cagey in spelling out, the Government are putting Britain into a position in which it will be extremely difficult for us to fulfil the obligations to which we are committed, and the British merchant fleet, together with the foreign merchant fleets on which we rely for imports, will be put at hazard in peace and in war.

6.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

The whole House will join the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) in the tribute which he paid to the Merchant Service and the work which it did in the past and is doing today. The hon. Gentleman went on to link his tribute to the Merchant Service and the size of the task it was undertaking today to our naval ability to protect it, and he noted that France, for example, with a much smaller number of merchantmen to protect appeared to have many more ships than we have been able to provide. I ask him to remember that we took a decision to build Polaris submarines. If one decides to spend £300 million in one direction, one cannot spend it on something else.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

My hon. Friend says that the figure is £350 million. The fact remains that that choice was made by the party opposite when in Government. When they made the decision, they must have had in mind that it would prevent their providing other things which the Navy needed. I remember the debates at that time. I took part, probably, in as many Navy debates as any hon. Member did—perhaps even more—and it was one of the grounds of our objection to the programme at that time that, precisely because of the decision to build Polaris submarines, one could not maintain what might be called the more conventional arms of the Service. There never was a reply to that objection.

I am rather pleased that the present Government are at last trying to build a naval structure which is in accordance with our ability to maintain it financially and to man it, and to limit the obligations which that force has to those which it can meet.

What was the position when the party opposite were in Government? There was hardly an incident during the 10 years prior to the Labour Party becoming the Government in which either the Navy was not on the spot at the time because it did not have the forces or, if it was on the spot at the time, it was because of an accident that an aircraft carrier or a commando vessel happened to be either on its way to a station or returning from it.

I gave the whole history of this—I have just looked it up—in the debate on 2nd March, 1964. Anyone who examines the events which took place then in Borneo, Kuwait, East Africa or Cyprus will find that that is true.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

I was in the Navy at the time to which the right hon. Gentleman is referring and my recollection is the exact opposite of what he is saying.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I will tell the hon. and gallant Member of some of the incidents which occurred. At the time of the Kuwait incident, which was probably one of the most important, one aircraft carrier was in British waters and the other was at Singapore. It took nine days for an aircraft carrier to get to Kuwait at the time of that incident. Fortunately, "Bulwark" was proceeding out to the Far East. It was entirely fortuitous that at the time of the Kuwait incident "Bulwark" had got as far as the Persian Gulf. Had aircraft been used against us, we would have been in a pretty sorry position. We had no aircraft carrier anywhere near the place. I could give chapter and verse of all the other incidents.

In the circumstances, the Navy did a very good job. Nobody admires the Navy more than I do. I spent a considerable time in it and I have been associated with its ratings ever since. I have a great admiration for it. When the party opposite were the Government, however, they placed the Navy in an impossible position.

In all those cases, we did not have the ships available. They were not there. When the trouble broke out in Borneo, we did not have aircraft carriers there. We did not even have the smaller ships which were needed. We made long speeches about this at the time. We on this side argued that it was because the Government had made a decision, whatever may be thought of it, to proceed with the Polaris submarine which took away, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has reminded me, £350 million.

Photo of Mr James Ramsden Mr James Ramsden , Harrogate

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should check his facts. I may be wrong, but I was sent out to look at the time of the Kuwait operation and "Bulwark" was there, certainly not by accident. The right hon. Gentleman had better check whether "Victorious" was not there, too. My recollection is that she was.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

Let me refer to what I said on 2nd March, 1964, when I had all the facts with me. I said: I propose, therefore, to look at this question rather fully. I was referring to our being over-stretched. For some time now it has been generally accepted that our naval forces are too thinly scattered over too wide an area. The results of this have been seen in most of the incidents in the past two or three years. At Kuwait, when the trouble arose, 'Bulwark', fortunately, was at Karachi, but the two nearest aircraft carriers were at Gibraltar"— I was wrong just now when I said that one was in British waters— and Hong Kong. The 'Victorious', which was approaching Hong Kong, had to turn round and steam about 5,000 miles to Kuwait."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd March, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 950.] That was something like eight or nine days' steaming. Anyone who has been in the Service knows this.

Photo of Miss Joan Vickers Miss Joan Vickers , Plymouth, Devonport

Tae right hon. Member has forgotten that "Centaur" was already there.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

It was not there. There was no aircraft carrier there. If aircraft had been used against us in that opera- tion, had it been possible for aircraft to be brought against us, we would have had a difficult task. There is a similar story of a number of other incidents which I have quoted before but with which I do not want to weary the House again.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Chigwell

For the air protection of the Kuwait forces, has the right hon. Member taken into account any Royal Air Force units that were in the area at the time?

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I do not think that there were any which could have provided the type of support that would have been necessary had we been attacked from the air.

Photo of Mr James Ramsden Mr James Ramsden , Harrogate

The right hon. Member must not go on saying these things which are not true. There were fully adequate numbers of Hunters there in support of the Army.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I will leave it at that. I have had my say and made my point. I am talking about the Navy and I know that that was the position in most of the incidents at that time. Not only were we grossly over-stretched, but in many cases we could not man the ships that we had. We had too few ships for our commitments and we could not man the ships. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) is no longer present, because he knows that I followed this up every year and during the year regularly with him—the question of shortage of skilled men in the Navy, including artificers. They were the key personnel on the technical side.

In the debate on 2nd March, 1964, I gave the figures which had been given to me in an Answer. Nine ships were without their full complements of chief electrical artificers and chief electrical mechanicians. Forty-six other ships carried first and second-class electrical artificers and mechanicians instead of chiefs. That was the position at that time. We were over-stretched and we could not man the ships that we had got.

I argued at the time that Polaris would worsen the position—

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

—because each Polaris submarine would require two crews, practically all of whom are skilled ratings.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

As the right hon. Gentleman and I know something about this, I should like to pay tribute to the vital work that the artificer branch in the Navy does. The fact is, however, that people joined the artificer branch under the conditions which the hon. Member is describing in those days much more freely than they are joining now.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

There were other branches, too. We could not get officers for the Fleet Air Arm at that time. That was another branch which had acute shortages. I do not know whether the position is better now.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

But it was very bad then, two or three years ago.

Clearly, in these circumstances, we have to consider the position and ask ourselves what are the alternatives. One was to spend far more than we were spending. Even then, we had no guarantee that we would get the men that we required to man the ships. The other alternative was to try to bring our commitments into relation with what we could afford. That is what the Government have been trying to do and are doing. That is a thoroughly desirable thing to have done rather than to contemplate incurring some of the expenditures which have been mentioned this afternoon from the benches opposite. What do the Opposition want? They want aircraft carriers. But they cost more than £100 million apiece. That was the figure given in the House many years ago. They probably cost far more than that now. The Opposition also want us to reactivate Malta and do more at Simonstown.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

They also want more Polaris submarines at £50 million each.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

The hon. Gentleman opposite also wants 30 nuclear submarines. I do not suppose that the Opposition would have cut down on the Polaris programme, even the one that we have cut. What would have been the total cost of all this?

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

Hon. Gentlemen opposite are always telling us that we must cut public expenditure, such as charging people for going to school if they can afford to pay for their children to go. That affects a few million £s. But here we are dealing with hundreds of millions of £s. It is time hon. Gentlemen opposite faced up to this. We cannot afford it.

The hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) told us that we must keep the sea lanes open. We can no longer keep them open throughout the world. This is a conception based upon conditions existing at the end of the last century when we were the main naval power. Germany was then building up. At the beginning of this century no other nation, including the United States of America, had any navy worth anything. Therefore, the burden fell on us and I think we carried it out very well. Incidentally, most of the overseas trade was being done by us in any case at that time.

That is not the position today. We are down in the trading figures. Other nations have caught up with us. It is impossible for every nation which has trade via the sea routes to maintain a fleet to keep its sea lanes open. What would be the position in the Mediterranean? We should have half a dozen different fleets operating there. I cannot think of anything that would be more futile.

I have taken the view—I have said it from the Opposition benches—that we can no longer attend by ourselves to these aspects of international trade and our own security. We can secure ourselves and protect the trade of the world only by alliances, and preferably through some international organisation such as the United Nations. This is what the Government are trying to feel their way towards. This is the future. It is misleading for us to discuss Estimates and our policies in terms of defending ourselves and our sea routes.

The hon. Gentleman opposite said that sea support was far more expensive than having bases. He overlooks the important question of the political cost of bases. Our history since the war has been to leave one base and go to another and then go to another because of political pressures. We lost tens of millions of £s because of that. So I do not think that is on. Cooperation between nations is the only way by which we secure this. If we secure it through alliances or through the United Nations, we solve our problem of bases because we have allies from whose territory we can operate. No matter how one examines the problem, this is the only way in which in the future we can expect to provide the security that the merchant fleets have a right to expect and at the same time the security necessary for ourselves.

6.35 p.m.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

There was one point made by the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) with which I agree. He said that the Polaris programme cost £350 million and as a result of that the Royal Navy lacks other things. I well remember making this point from the Government side of the House some years ago and saying that if the Navy was to take over the deterrent rôle it must be reflected in the Estimates because a Polaris submarine is very different from any other naval vessel in that cannot fulfil any other rôle. I think that a perfectly fair point.

Whenever right hon. Gentlemen opposite assume the supreme post of Minister for the Royal Navy they seem to say the most staggering things. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East was not in charge of the Navy, but I seem to remember him speaking from the Dispatch Box on the Opposition side of the House.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

They were very good speeches.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) when he suggested that we could not possibly protect our shipping all over the world. The present Minister also made a similar remark, that no country in the world can protect all its sea communications and that the Royal Navy cannot patrol seaways everywhere. But no one is suggesting that the Royal Navy should do that. I do not know whether the present Minister realises that in, for example, the Indian Ocean alone there may be 5,000 shipping lanes that our shipping can follow and probably would follow at different times in a war. That happens all over the world. No one would suggest for a moment that the Royal Navy could patrol all those seaways.

I suppose it might surprise the Minister if I said that the shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean, the South Atlantic or the Pacific might well be protected by hunter-killer submarines operating close to enemy ports in Europe or Northern Russia. They may be protected very efficiently by that means. As to his idea of comparatively small forces of our naval shipping scattered all over the globe, for Ministers to put up that sort of thinking is absurd. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East and the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East seemed to think it surprising that we on this side of the House should send naval ships steaming to and fro. But that is precisely what they are for. It is one of the great advantages of the Navy that it should be able to do that. To say that there is something odd in ordering that seems incomprehensible to me.

We have heard a good deal in the last few weeks about our world rôle and the desire of hon. and right hon. Members, particularly on the Government side, to throw it away. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield-Digby) in drawing attention to the fact that we get our food and raw materials from all over the world. We cannot throw that world rôle away. We have heard about cutting commitments so as to match our capability. The Prime Minister said in his Statement on Public Expenditure: We are determined that our commitments, and the capacity of our forces to undertake them, should match and balance each other. We depend massively on our seaborne imports; 90 per cent. in volume at least come by sea. As long as we have 50 million-80 million people in these islands we cannot cut that commitment. Have we the defence capability to match it? That is what we are discussing today.

The Prime Minister said in paragraph 11 of his statement: while recognising that our security lies fundamentally in Europe".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th January, 1968 Vol. 756, c. 1580–2.] I want to consider other things which are fundamental. I believe one of them is that these islands are surrounded by water and that if our seaborne supplies do not reach us then our industry and people die. Paragraph 8 of the White Paper refers to a "new strategic concept" by N.A.T.O. and this "reflects our views". The 1967 White Paper said, in paragraph 14: N.A.T.O.'s strategy must take account of the nature and duration of military operations in Europe, if deterrence should fail. Paragraph 15 said: N.A.T.O. must be ready at sea, as well as on land, to demonstrate its will and its ability to respond appropriately to any act of aggression…Deterrence must be the first purpose of N.A.T.O.'s naval force too. From all that consideration, both in Cabinet here and with N.A.T.O., it is apparent that the Government have given long and serious thought to this new strategic conception and I suppose we can take it that the White Paper this year represents a considered view. Paragraph 12 shows us what the mountain has brought forth. It says: This multi-national force of five or six frigates, to which the United Kingdom contributes one… I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here because I would ask him if he was joking in putting forward this figure. Is this the trip wire at sea which is supposed to stop 400 or 500 Russian submarines?

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

Four hundred or five hundred.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

The total has gone up by 200 since Eastbourne.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

I have seen figures mentioned of the Russian submarine fleet going up to 400 or 500.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Why not just make it 1,000?

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

Is this trip wire of six frigates to stop this vast submarine fleet? Are these five or six frigates all that N.A.T.O. can contribute to buttressing the deterrent? This is of supreme importance to us above all other nations, so why are we only providing one frigate? Why are we not playing the major part in this? It is no good saying that great oaks from little acorns grow, as the right hon. Gentleman said the other day, because, as my right hon. Friend has pointed out, we have announced a cut back in that vital anti-submarine weapon—the nuclear hunter/killer submarine.

In dealing with the new strategic concept mentioned in the White Paper, once again the Government have failed to provide Britain with the vital defence she needs and once again the country is left in an exposed and dangerous position. In the 1967 White Paper, the Government said that deterrence was the first purpose of the N.A.T.O. naval forces. I am not certain that this was not a misprint. I did not know that naval forces in themselves deterred. The way it has always been put before is that naval forces must support and buttress the nuclear deterrent. That applies particularly to the N.A.T.O. anti-submarine forces.

They destroy enemy missile firing submarines and so protect our land based nuclear strike forces. They support the deterrent by anti-submarine operations designed to protect the Western missile firing submarines. They provide the shield at sea comparable with the shield forces in Europe. Is the right hon. Gentleman really telling us that this is going to be done by five or six frigates?

Paragraph 8 of the White Paper considers an extension of the conventional phase of hostilities. This is wise. We should consider it. Is that extension a real possibility? Will it get longer and longer? Will world statesmen get more and more reluctant to incinerate the world? Is it possible that a major war could take place without unleashing nuclear weapons particularly at sea? I believe that it is possible and an increasing number of hon. Members on both sides are beginning to take that view.

If this is so, then anti-submarine forces become even more important to this country. We are faced by a vast, potentially hostile submarine fleet. Technically, the submarine has made great strides since the last war—far greater than those made by anti-submarine forces, whether air or sea forces. The numbers of our anti-submarine forces on the sea, under it or in the air, are puny compared with our need.

We were told in past years that this country would never fight a war alone. As a result of that, our forces including our reserve forces were very greatly reduced. That was a reasonable thing to do. In the 1967 White Paper was a statement that it was unrealistic to expect our N.A.T.O. allies to keep maritime forces in being.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that what we have is puny in relation to our need. What, in his opinion, is our need? Can he give figures?

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

I am not prepared to give figures now. I will give a comparison later on which will indicate the state we are in.

There is no doubt that the Secretary of State and the nation must face the fact that, for the first time in hundreds of years, the Royal Navy cannot guarantee the security of our seaborne supplies. I do not believe that it can be done even with our allies with the forces we are told they have at the moment. The withdrawal from east of Suez raises new dangers because it exposes one of our main supply arteries to attack and we have no means to defend it. In paragraph 16 of the White Paper the Government say: We shall continue to discuss the implications of our withdrawal with our friends and allies in these areas. I hope in due course to be able to question the right hon. Gentleman about what alternative arrangements he has agreed with our Allies about these vital routes.

The defence of our lines of communication at sea is not a matter only for naval and air forces. It is a matter for all arms. The battle is fought not only at sea. The great battles fought in the Middle East during the last war were basically to preserve our lines of communication. In peace we defend them by our system of alliances, by preserving stability in the areas through which our shipping moves and by our presence in the areas. This has been done in recent years by stopping war from starting, by our brush-fire policy, by supporting our friends and allies all over the world. It is done not to keep dreams of empire, or to continue the Kipling tradition, but for our own self-interest and that of our Western allies.

Are the Government turning their backs on this policy? Is it to be left entirely to Russia and the United States? If so, the results may be very different from those for which we hope. How can we continue to give some protection in the light of the Government's intention to abandon our positions east of Suez? It can be done only by a decisive turn by this country to a maritime strategy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) stressed the expense of providing the replenishment vessels which would be needed. It is very expensive, but, over all, at any time maritime strategy is the most economical means of employing what forces we have. In effect, it means the ability to place a seaborne force of all arms in an area which we choose. It means that that force is available to concentrate and operate in any area where ships can float.

The composition is ail in the book—it has been done before—Commando vessel, Royal Artillery. aircraft carrier, assault ship or amphibious squadron, supporting cruiser, frigates, possibly submarines, and replenishment ships. Expensive, yes, but cheaper and politically much more secure than providing large bases in different parts of the world. Perhaps we could afford only one of these groups, or perhaps two, and if we could afford only one, in periods of danger we could increase it to two.

It would mean—and this is desirable—closer integration of the services and joint training of the R.A.F. and the Fleet Air Arm, common aircraft and common land or sea bases. The Army would need to train with the Royal Marine Commandos if it was to engage in a mobile defence strategy. In the end, if there were to be a decisive turn that way, we would be able to provide a reasonable defence within our means.

Maritime strategy undoubtedly needs secure rear bases. This country is one of them. Gibraltar and Malta are important links and Simonstown and Australia are two safe and well-situated rear bases that will not need much expenditure of money by us to keep them in a proper state. The distances and areas to be covered are vast, but not so vast if we develop this concept of a mobile base to the full and provide the ships and equipment for it. I maintain that this strategy is within our ability to pay and that it will give us a measure of security and a coherent defence policy.

In view of the Government's declaration, however, is all this an idle pipe dream? Are we to turn our backs on the world? After hundreds of years of pushing out to the end of the earth, are we to retire to Fortress Britain, or Fortress Europe, leaving the great issues of war and peace and political development to be decided by others, and others less fitted than we are to decide them? If that is what we are to do, in the end it will give us neither safety nor prosperity.

Ministers seem to be utterly unaware of the dangers facing the country and of the naval dispositions and forces needed to meet them. They have no coherent thought about our naval or maritime strategy. After three and a half years of reviews and research, there emerge into the light five or six N.A.T.O. frigates of which Britain is to have one.

We only just survived in the last war, against a much smaller menace, with nearly 900 anti-submarine vessels. This is the reply to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I cannot say how much money we can produce in order to provide an adequate number of these vessels, with our allies. The other day I asked the Minister a question about the numbers. He said that we had 71 with anti-submarine capability and he kindly sent me by letter a breakdown of that figure. I shall not divulge what he said. I do not know whether it is common knowledge, but in my view those which would be efficient anti-submarine vessels were a fraction of that 71. There is not a shadow of doubt that what we now have is grossly inadequate.

We have a Navy rapidly becoming unbalanced as it is shorn of its air cover. Savage blows have been dealt at its morale by successive changes of policy. For the first time for hundreds of years we cannot guarantee seaborne supplies to this country, for whatever reason that may be. That is the measure of the Government's failure. If they can destroy the Royal Navy, they can destroy anything. The Navy and the country have no confidence in them, and they should go.

6.59 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

I was greatly arrested by one remark of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot). He started deriding those who believe, as I do, in Fortress Britain, and then he went on to say that if we took that view, others would decide the great issues in the world. I must say frankly that this attitude displays a degree of self-importance—to think that, in this world of the 1960s, we are better fitted than others, as of right, heredity or any other criterion, to decide these issues. There is a fundamental philosophical division between us on this kind of issue, because, by nature, the hon. and gallant Gentleman is a meddler. He thinks that, in some sense, the British are qualified to intervene in affairs that are not directly their own in order to produce some kind of Pax Britannica. In many ways, that is basic Tory philosophy, and it is with that idea that I disagree.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

While I do not admit that we have any kind of superiority in these matters compared with other nations, will the hon. Gentleman not agree that this country, probably more than any other, has done more to civilise and bridge the gap between all sorts of nations? Therefore, just as we have had a contribution to make in the past, certainly we have character enough to make a contribution in the future.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

I am all for making a contribution, but let it be a technical one in terms of world development rather than meddling in military issues which perhaps lead us and our friends into all sorts of difficulties. One example of that would be the way in which we have led Malaya up the garden path by giving a number of undertakings which in my view we had no right to give, and could never honour. As a result, the Malaysians have been led into actions which otherwise they would not have dreamed of taking, and that is one of the reasons why they are angry with us. The opinions of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite not only show a degree of self-importance which I cannot accept, but are extremely dangerous.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

I am astonished by the hon. Gentleman's remark. He has referred to Malaysia, but he will remember Lord Avon, as he now is, and his valuable work in Laos and the peace treaty. Is he seriously saying that he hopes that we have no rôle in bringing about peace in Vietnam, for example?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Yes, I am, and I am prepared to go right through the argument, because I have no wish for this country to be a permanent rather than a rotating member of the Security Council.

The hon. Gentleman has just referred to Laos. I do not think that the West as a whole can be very proud of its contribution in Indo-China in the last 20 years. If the West had not meddled, Vietnam would be much better off today.

That brings me to the arguments of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). He and the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton really bring Parliament and politicians into disrepute when they say that we should have so many extra carriers, so many extra hunter killer submarines, so many extra commitments in the Indian Ocean, protecting sea lanes, and so on. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition wanted a protection force in the South Atlantic. Nothing was heard of that on Monday, so it may be that that potential commitment has been dropped. However, if they believe all these things, that is fair enough, and I respect their beliefs. But then to say that they are under no obligation to cost it seems to be sheer drivel and hypocrisy from the party which says that taxation should be lowered. If Members of Parliament go on wanting to have their cake and eat it, politicians will be brought into disrepute, and rightly so.

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said that the Government were putting the Navy in pawn to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That is a fine debating point, but it comes ill from a man who has put forward all sorts of proposals which he is quite unwilling to cost. In the coming months, without wishing to put the Defence Ministry to too much unnecessary trouble, I hope that some costing will be made of the proposals which have been put forward from the Front Bench opposite in the last few days—never mind (hose from the back benches. I know that many of these matters are complicated and that key civil servants in the Department are overworked at this time of flux. Nevertheless, some costing is essential. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) will agree, but, by my calculation, the proposals put forward from the Opposition Front Bench come to something between £3,500 and £4,000 million on defence expenditure. That is practically double that of the present Administration.

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West argued that, in a continuing war at sea, we should be beside the United States. As other Opposition speakers have throughout these defence debates, he implied that somehow or other the Government and, more particularly hon. Members like me, were for shirking the mutual defence burden of the West. Somehow, we wanted to shelter under American naval power and the American nuclear umbrella. I think that that has been the argument. But, far from it. There are many of us who accept that the West has a common financial burden. However, it is a financial and not a military burden.

In Washington or anywhere else or, more properly, to my constituents, I am prepared to defend considerable expenditures by British taxpayers to do the jobs which are mutual to us and the United States. As I have said before, I remember being berated by Walter Rostow in his office in Washington because Britain did not take part in the capital development of South America. He argued that it was unhealthy that that development should be left to United States capital rather than that of the whole Western world. However, it is impossible to do both, and this is the kind of argument which is vital when we are discussing the vast expenditures which are before the House at the moment.

I come back to the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy. I hope that he will take it from me that, from my standpoint, in tone and content it was the most satisfactory of the defence speeches which we have heard in the last few days. I agree passionately when he says that we cannot protect our economic interests abroad by military force, that the days of the Pax Britannica have gone, and that trade protects itself. Yes, trade protects itself. I hope that a ringing message will go out through the Press that this is the Government's fundamental belief.

I now come to the intervention of the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles). It appeared that he was in favour of a simple flat-top carrier. Surely he would be the last man who would wish to send ill-equipped Servicemen into an enemy situation. If we are to have equipment at all, it must be of the best. I do not want to insinuate that he is not concerned about Servicemen, because I am sure that he is as much concerned as anyone. But to one who has some background in shipping, though not in the Navy, it seems dangerous to argue in terms of simple equipment when any unsophisticated enemy would probably have bought fairly sophisticated equipment. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will answer that point when he comes to speak, unless he wishes me to give way now.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

I am very reluctant to see Servicemen sent into action without the weapons that they need. That is why I do not like to contemplate a situation where they face the threats that they do without any air cover.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

That brings me to one of my central arguments. I agree that we must give those who fight for us the best possible equipment and, from a Fortress Britain point of view, that is what I would wish to do. If we must have Phantoms, let them be British-based, giving air support from our island where necessary

I should like to know a little more about the multi-national force, and in particular the base at La Spezia. On 21st February I asked my right hon. Friend if he would give details of the British contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Underwater Research Establishment at La Spezia. The reply was: The United Kingdom contributes to the cost of running the Centre through N.A.T.O. common funding arrangements. It also lends suitably qualified personnel to work at the Centre, and provides representation on the Committees associated with it. There is in addition a constant flow of information to and from the Centre through the United Kingdom National Liaison Officer.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1968; Vol. 759, c. 142.] I should like to know some of the arrangements to which we are committed on the issue of the N.A.T.O. multinational force.

Photo of Mr Bill Baker Mr Bill Baker , Banffshire

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us the range of the Phantom aircraft?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

I am open to correction, because I think that it depends on the difficulties of sorting out the Rolls-Royce Spey engine and the airframe, and the consequent difficulties about the amount of fuel, but it is about 1,500 to 1,800 miles, round flight.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is here, because, taking a Fortress Britain point of view, I should like to explain to him why, although I agree with him on many points, I do not accept his thesis on Polaris. I should like to register the fact that I backed the Government's decision to go ahead with the Polaris programme once it had got as far as it had done in 1964–65.

Those who are not pacifists have to explain how they would have some kind of a deterrent. I believe that the Polaris is a formidable deterrent, and a credible one. I would, however, say to the Government that I hope they will not get involved in buying the next stage to Polaris, Poseidon, or whatever one likes to call it, because Polaris is really an ultimate, and no rational Government—we will have to leave irrationality out of it—would attack a nation which possessed Polaris, simply because the risk of error would be so great if anything went wrong, and the destruction so formidable, that it would not be worth the risk. I therefore say that in the next 10 to 15 years we have a satisfactory deterrent to which we as a nation need not add, and that the penalty of error in terms of destruction would always be too great.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Does my hon. Friend think that the Polaris will last for 10 to 15 years?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

I think that is a reasonable life span. This might be contradicted by the Front Bench, but that is my understanding of the position.

I wish to come back for a moment to these shore-based Phantoms, and to ask how many we need, particularly bearing in mind that the price of the Phantom is a matter of some dispute. My hon. Friend must in some way be concerned with the problem of fitting British engines into American Phantoms. If in future we are to save money, or try to save it, across the exchanges by rightly putting British equipment into equipment bought abroad, airframes, and so on, can we be certain that there will be synchronisation of equipment. Perhaps my hon. Friend will tell my right hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate that he should take the opportunity to clear up what could be a misunderstanding about the Phantom adaptation problem, and the question of the Rolls-Royce Spey engine.

Getting back to bases, it seems to me that either we have a large force capable of playing a major rôle abroad, or we do not have a force at all, other than to protect our own shores, and that small forces linked to not very specific commitments are extremely dangerous. Either a country has the whole panoply of power, or it has very little, and sufficient only to protect itself.

That brings me to the question of the frigates. What are the frigates supposed to do? On 5th March I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence what joint development is being done with the Australian Government on frigates", and the reply was: We are examining the possibility of developing a hull design for a new frigate which could also meet the possible requirements of the R.A.N. in the 1970s. The design contract, which has been let with Messrs. Yarrow/ Vosper, is intended to provide the R.N. with a more advanced frigate than the 'Leanders', which may, if successful, also be developed, when the new close-range surface-to-air guided missile to follow 'Sea Cat' is available, into the 'Leander' successor mentioned in Command 3357. The project is still at an early stage and there is no commitment at present on either side."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 104–5.] Before a commitment is entered into, may the House be told precisely what is the purpose of this frigate programme? May we be given a clear understanding of the relevance of the frigate programme, and the wider strategic issues? Unless one follows the bizarre concepts of the Leader of the Opposition into the South Atlantic Force, these frigates are superfluous to our needs.

The House has been patient with me during the defence debates, but before I conclude my speech I wish to return to the theme of the civil uses to which the forces can be put. During the debate on the Army Estimates I argued at some length at the Government's plans for helping the land forces fulfil civilian tasks were realistic and good. Equally, I think that the Navy has a rôle to play outside a purely strategic defensive rôle.

On Saturday I sent a telegram to the Secretary of State for Defence saying: Urge you send naval expertise to Bahamas disaster. Hope you will give account of action during Monday debate. Perhaps when my right hon. Friend replies he will say something about the many instances in which the Navy could use the expertise which it gained during its entirely creditable operations in helping with the Torrey Canyon disaster. Many disasters occur every year somewhere in the world from which the Navy could gain valuable experience. If the Fortress Britain thesis is not accepted, I hope that the Government will at least take every opportunity to use the Navy for civilian situations.

I think that some kind of costing comparisons have to be made with equivalent outlay spent in civil uses. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East said he was glad that the Department had been able to arrange a naval visit to Leningrad. I am not disputing that perhaps this had some marginally good effect, but I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that the more spectacular success in Leningrad was that achieved by the visit of thousands of British schoolchildren on the civilian British India ship schools. The real impression that was made on the Russians was not by the arrival of the naval force up the Neva, but by the arrival of thousands of children—constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, and others—as a result of a scheme in which troopers were converted to ship schools.

I am not naïve enough to suggest that the Navy should change its carriers and other ships into school ships overnight, but I should have thought that at this stage in our history there was a case for a systematic inquiry into the way in which the Navy and naval establishments could be used to educational purposes. I refer to naval establishments because I have been asking a number of Parliamentary Questions on precisely this subject. I want to refresh the Minister's memory on a question I put on 4th March, when I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, if he will give details of the potential research fellowships available at defence re- search establishments; and approximately how many vacant places there are. The reply from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Equipment was: Up to 20 a year for the Naval establishments; up to 12 a year for Army establishments."[OFFICIAL REPORT. 4th March, 1968; Vol. 760, c. 30.] I am sure that this number could be dramatically increased. This would be a considerable contribution towards solving our technological problems.

On 21st February I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence: what initiatives he is taking to encourage the sponsorship of post-graduate students"—

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. The Motion is concerned with the protection of Great Britain's vital sea communications in the future. The hon. Member is getting a little wide of the Motion.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is merely that having made critical comments which are in order, I have the obligation to explain how the Navy should be run down and to put forward a clear idea—

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. The Chair has the obligation to maintain order according to the rules. The hon. Member is out of order.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

In that case, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I end by making a comment which may irritate many of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite. It concerns the visit of my right hon. Friend to Cambridge. I am totally opposed to violence of any kind towards Ministers or other guests at universities. I deplore—

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

Order. I find it even more difficult to associate the hon. Member's present remarks with the Motion.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

In general terms of defence policy, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and in terms of all the money that we are concerned with at present, there is a considerable malaise—a general feeling that our spending on the Services is out of all relation to that on other urgent tasks that we should be carrying out. The Government should take notice of this extremely widespread feeling, which is not confined to the student population. The Government should turn their attention to the question of how total spending can be orientated, as I would have wished to argue, on civil tasks, not only at home but more particularly in developing countries—

Photo of Mr Sydney Irving Mr Sydney Irving , Dartford

The hon. Member's argument is getting even wider than a general defence debate at the moment. He must confine himself to the terms of the Motion.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

I respect your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I end with a plea to the Government to look at the way in which the Navy can be used for the marine science programme, details of which I shall not go into but which I raised in an Adjournment debate on 11th December and which have also been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser). This is the direction in which my hon. Friend's Department should be turning its mind.

7.24 p.m.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

I hope that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will understand it if I do not follow him in all the ramifications of his speech. I once enjoyed his company on a visit to the Far East, and although his sincerity was not in doubt I reached almost diametrically opposite conclusions on most of the points that were raised there. I want to take up one point that he made—the message that will go out from this House that "Trade protects itself". I ask the hon. Gentleman to speak to anybody in any of the Services who took part in the battle of the Atlantic, and ask him whether trade protects itself.

On Tuesday last my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made an important speech in the defence debate, outlining the principle of Conservative policy. His keynote was that the Government are failing to maintain national security, and today's Motion sterns from that theme. My right hon. Friend emphasised three points—first, that it is our job to do what we can to maintain stability in the Far East; secondly, that vast British commercial interests are at risk in the Gulf and, thirdly, that the sea routes round the Cape are essential to ourselves, to Western Europe and to the North Atlantic.

Today, I want to relate the risks which we face in this and other areas to the capability of the Royal Navy as proposed after the cuts inflicted by the latest White Paper. I classified in the defence debate the threats which arise as falling under four main headings. First, there was the nuclear threat. I congratulate the Government on going ahead with the Polaris programme. It is a valid deterrent, because of the difficulty of finding a submarine if one does not know even where to start looking for it. Polaris thus has a unique second-strike capability, and nothing that has happened or is in sight, technically, so far invalidates this. I do not want to attack the Government about their pre-election statements on nuclear policy because I am content that they have retained the Polaris programme.

The second threat to which I referred in the debate is the threat of conventional war in Europe. The statistics of worldwide merchant shipping in peacetime are astonishing. Two thousand British merchant ships are at sea at any one time on any one day, including 650 east of Suez, and in the Mediteranean alone on any one day there are 1,500 merchant ships of all nationalities, 1,200 of which belong to allied or N.A.T.O. nations.

The Mediterranean is an extremely important flank of N.A.T.O. and Malta is the key to the Mediterranean—and, incidentally, the most cost-effective training area for N.A.T.O. navies and air forces. As for the business of a threat at sea—overall, the Soviet Navy now has in commisstion 20 cruisers, 80 destroyers, many with surface-to-surface missiles and 140 ocean-going escorts. It has 400 fast patrol boats, many of which carry the Komar surface-to-surface missile, and there are 370-plus conventional submarines and about 40 nuclear-powered submarines in the Soviet fleet. At least 40 of these carry ballistic missiles: And the Russians are now building carriers to carry helicopters.

By 1970, the Soviet mercantile marine will consist of 13 million tons of shipping. It all adds up to the fact that the Soviet Admiral Gerschkov is building up an expansionist maritime policy which is quite a new phenomenon in Russian history. Nobody can say politically what Soviet intentions are, and we must hope that they will not be aggressive. But a valid defence policy must take account of possible military risks and military threats. We must ask ourselves why, if Soviet intentions are peaceful, they impose upon themselves the economic strain of building up such enormous Naval forces. They cannot be building these ships with no intention of ever using them, which seems to be the Government's premise. Of course, one can make oneself shake in one's shoes and it is difficult to envisage in what circumstances Britain would have to oppose this huge Soviet fleet single-handed. But a prime object of British policy should be to keep our alliances in good repair, which cannot be done if we blatantly fail to make our proper contribution to those alliances—be they naval, land or air forces.

The third classification of threat is that of conventional war at sea, which is a valid concept, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West made clear today. There is a wide scenario of possibilities—a gradual escalation from isolated instances of unexplained explosions to all-out war at sea. We must remember that all Russian ships, submarines and aircraft can lay mines. Sweeping mines is extremely difficult, as anyone who has done it knows. A vast field of sweep is required. Mines can be detonated by acoustic, pressure or magnetic means or a combination of all three and there is a battle of wits between the mine designer and the sweeper. There is a device also called "ship count", by which forces, even all the forces in the world, could sweep a channel a dozen times and a ship would go up on the thirteenth, or whatever number the designer had set—

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has painted a picture of an enormous Russian fleet with all kinds of vessels. Is this not a magnificent achievement of Communism?

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

It may be, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to emulate any of the other achievements of Communism, and perhaps not even this one.

I was on the subject of mining. The vital point is that some of these mines are completely unsweepable. One mine at a time could be laid in a place used by shipping and the one explosion which sank a ship would be inexplicable because there was no evidence left.

One could envisage a "Pueblo" type of incident. It is difficult to say that this could not happen when four excellent British merchant ships have been locked up in the Suez Canal since last June. That is something which we tend to forget. This type of threat could escalate to a blockade of the mouth of the Gulf, which could be easily done, then to full-scale war at sea.

I was amazed to hear the Under-Secretary, prompted by a nudge in the ribs from his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, say, "We do not visualise an all-out war at sea." But the Americans do see it as a distinct possibility and are prepared accordingly. How can the Government base their whole defence policy on such a total misunderstanding of the policies of their most important N.A.T.O. ally? That is one of the most fantastic things which a Government spokesman has said in the House for many months.

The fourth threat, which concerns me greatly because it is not distant and remote but is happening today as we sit here, and has been for some years, is the threat of, to use President Kennedy's expression, "Being nibbled to death in conditions of nuclear stalemate." This is the most real and urgent threat and, until last July, the Government recognised it. Exactly two years ago, in Edinburgh, the Prime Minister said: The focal point of danger over the past ten years has been moving away from Europe to areas in Africa and Asia where the dangers we face are more sophisticated and require a more up-to-date type of reply…we shall not be able to deal with these new dangers or to take advantage of the new and existing opportunities this changing world presents unless we base our defence policy and deployment on realism. There are those who would have us abdicate from any position of influence outside Europe…Let me warn you against dangerous talk of this kind. Last week, when I put this theory to the Secretary of State and asked what had happened since last July, when the Government held those views, he said that confrontation had come to an end. What a fantastic thing to say. That is a prime example of the sort of threat to the free world east of Suez and of what the forces have been doing, can do and undoubtedly will have to do in future.

In the absence of bases, the best way of meeting this type of threat, which is difficult to pinpoint and describe, is by mobile task forces whose function must be to support our alliance and treaty partners, to give credible evidence of our intention and ability to safeguard our investments and seaborne trade—that is what this debate is primarily about—to help to provide stability and confidence in those areas and constructively to help to provide freedom from fear as a corollary to freedom from want. It cannot too often be said that one is no good without the other, and fear exists in a real form in those areas east of Suez.

What sort of Navy do we need to provide a reasonable response to these threats on our behalf and on behalf of our allies? I agree that it is wrong for the Opposition to suggest numbers and exact types of ships, but we can define certain principles which the Navy should fulfil. First, it should be able to operate anywhere in the world if necessary. Air support from the shore will be inadequate for this purpose.

When cancelling the carriers, the Government said that the Army, like the Navy, would have to rely on the support of aircraft from shore bases. The Prime Minister was explicit; he said about the 50 F111 aircraft: Everyone involved in the discussion has agreed that the aircraft are needed on any assumption, unless we are going out of the defence business altogether. Now the Government have evacuated the bases and cancelled the aircraft. There must be aircraft from any naval force for surveillance, to avoid incidents as well as for self-defence. The former is absolutely fundamental.

In this sort of scenario, an emergency below the threshold of war, a terrible command decision will have to be taken by some commanding officer who sees a little flashing flicker of light on his radar screen which could menace him and which he cannot positively identify. He has to take a decision whether to fire a missile at it without knowing exactly what it is. On the other hand, if he has an aircraft he can send it off when the contact is still out of the danger range and can positively identify the contact, thus avoiding turning what might be a dangerous situation into an emergency. This capability of surveillance is fundamental to anyone who has to take such a command decision.

In last year's debate on the subject I asked the Secretary of State to give the House a reason why he was so adament in turning down what we called the Harrier carriers or the Healey carriers. I have heard from members of the naval staff that when they were producing the shape of the future force, he flicked through the pages of their document, saw the words "aircraft carrier" and threw the document back at them for them to do their homework again. [Laughter.] The Minister may laugh, but the House must be told why he is so adamant in his opposition to these simplified aircraft carriers.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) spoke of mini-carriers. I do not agree with the "mini" aspect. We want simple straightforward vessels on merchant ship lines which will operate vertical-take-off aircraft. We all know that they would not be as capable of dealing with a first-class enemy as would a sophisticated aircraft carrier, but anyone with a naval background will testify that these vessels would be better than no air cover at all. They would be able to cope with long-range aircraft with stand-off weapons, which otherwise would menace our task forces or merchant convoys, and they would be able to deal with the relatively sophisticated aircraft of minor nations and to give a great deal of security against surface-surface missiles.

The concept which the Government have dredged up—I can use no other term—of helicopters armed with the AS12 weapon is laughable. Perhaps in his reply the Minister will tell us the comparative speeds of these helicopters and of the Swordfish aircraft which went out to try to sink the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau in 1942.

Next, the Navy of the future must be able to deal with the U-boat threat. All hon. Members who have spoken have emphasised the great potential threat of the U-boat to our lifeline in war and to our trade in conditions below the threshold of war. There are today ten times more U-boats than the number with which Hitler started World War II. The Royal Navy are very advanced in their training and development of equipment for anti-submarine purposes and potentially can make a great contribution to the Western Alliance in this respect. I was at sea in the U.S. "Constellation" last summer off Haiphong watching the bombing raids on Haiphong from that gigantic carrier. She had very little antisubmarine protection deployed. I should like to see us helping to keep the peace in that way, for it would be a valuable contribution in present circumstances. I have never been happy with the policy of sitting on the fence about Vietnam, which is the posture adopted by the Government, especially when the Prime Minister moralises and pontificates, in the way that he does, about what American policy should be.

Thirdly, the Navy must be long-legged and able to operate for extended periods away from the support of shore bases. This involves tankers and supply ships in a balanced naval force. Many of those functions could be undertaken by relatively unsophisticated ships. We need to continue standardisation with N.A.T.O. as an urgent matter, and we need overseas facilities for shore training of any troops who might be embarked in ships such as the "Intrepid" and the "Fearless", which offer a useful pattern for the future. In the context of a long-legged Navy we must have close relations politically with friendly navies, and in this context the Australian, New Zealand and particularly the South African navies are of the utmost importance.

Fourthly, the Navy must consist of a balanced force. We must have built-in flexibility. We cannot hack away surgically and say, "We can get rid of this and the Navy will not miss it". The Secretary of State is a great enthusiast for cost-effectiveness. A mobile maritime task force is the most cost-effective way of deployment, because it can be used wherever it is wanted. There is nothing inconsistent in our suggestion that such forces should be available east of Suez, for they can be deployed back in the Atlantic at very short notice if the threat began to appear there.

Reference has been made in the debate to great oaks growing from little acorns. Our ancestors were very wise. Whenever there was a famous naval victory at sea they planted oaks, so that trees could grow and their sons and their sons' sons could build ships for the future. We should now be wise if we built strong forces not to fight another war—but strong enough to prevent it.

7.48 p.m.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

The Motion before the House reads: That this House views with anxiety Her Majesty's Government's failure to produce a coherent policy for the protection of Great Britain's vital sea communications in the future. I am not particularly enamoured either of the Government's policy or of the Opposition's criticism, because neither of them is coherent. Both disregard the facts about modern war. The Opposition's Motion is based on a series of delusions which have been current since the early part of the century. I recall a very interesting book by Norman Angell in which he analysed the theory that if one had a great Navy one necessarily had commercial prosperity. His arguments still hold good. If hon. Members look around the world and see the kind of navies which other countries have, and their state of commercial prosperity, I think they will agree that the argument cannot be sustained that if we spend more on the Navy we are more likely to retain or to protect our commercial interests throughout the world. For example, we have far and away the largest navy in Europe if we regard Russia as being outside Europe.

Countries like Norway, Sweden, Holland, Italy, France and Spain do a considerable amount of trade with other nations. They are not building strong navies. They are not adding to their national budgets by indulging in expenditure of this sort. Meanwhile, we are in the strange position of borrowing money from countries which have small or no navies to build ourselves a large navy. We are borrowing money from West Germany, France and other nations which have not gone in for this type of defence in a big way, and while they have all this money to spare, we are now spending £630 million to build a large navy. I challenge the whole theory that this expenditure is necessary in the interests of Britain.

I have referred to Japan in previous debates. I recall the time when Japan was a great naval Power. At one time that country had not only a great navy but many aircraft carriers, cruisers, submarines and pre-war spent enormous sums on building up its navy. We did a lot to encourage them and I remember how a Japanese mission on the Clyde learned a great deal from us about how to build a great navy.

Some hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that we can afford to spend 7 per cent. of our national wealth on defence. Western Germany spends only 4 per cent. and the average expenditure of our competitors in the E.E.C. and N.A.T.O. is 3 per cent. less than ours. As a result of this tremendous expenditure on our part, we are practically broke. The £ is in danger, and it is impossible for the Royal Navy to protect it. Our gold is disappearing and demands are being made on us as our economy declines, but our navy is unable to help. I therefore challenge the fundamental assumption underlying the argument that we should have a strong navy.

In any event, what is the Royal Navy for? I am glad to know that the Government have at last decided to reduce the nation's expenditure on it by whittling down our commitments east of Suez. It has taken the Government a long time to reach this decision. Hon. Gentlemen opposite frequently argue that the Government have surrendered to the Left of the Labour Party—to the lunatic fringe, the fellow-travellers or whatever adjective may suffice to bolster up a ridiculous argument—but I do not pride myself on having been able to sway the Government. They have been persuaded to make these cuts by the economic circumstances, by the march of events, in the sense that no longer can we afford to spend so much on the Royal Navy.

The Government say that they are justified in making these reductions because we can no longer support a large navy economically, and they are right. I will, therefore, support them in the Lobby against the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and hon. Gentlemen opposite because if their policy were implemented we should be committed to vast sums of expenditure on the Navy.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that Socialist economic policies have made us so bankrupt that we cannot afford to defend ourselves adequately?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

No. I remember my history as well as my economics. I remember how the last Conservative Government left us with a deficit of £800 million. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West gave the impression that if the Conservative Party were returned to power they would implement a huge defence programme. I do not believe that. If, for economic reasons, they had to choose between the City of London and the Royal Navy, they would sacrifice the Royal Navy. They have done it before. I am old enough to remember the economic cuts of 1931. The national or coalition Government of that time cut down naval expenditure to save money. They overdid it, and we had the Invergordon mutiny.

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West would be far too wise, if he were Minister, to precipitate another economic crisis by introducing a big defence budget which would make the gnomes of Zurich wonder if perhaps they would have been better off under a Labour Government. It is in this connection that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence argues on a false point when he says that if the Tories had been returned to power they would have spent £500 million more than we are spending on defence, so that we are saving that amount. I do not believe that even a Conservative Government would undertake that expenditure and have to face the economic consequences.

We have heard a lot about Russian submarines. This argument has been paraded in defence debates for the last 22 years. Perhaps the first time we heard about a horde of Russian submarines—I think the figure given at the time was 300—was when my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) introduced a Defence White Paper some years ago. Since then a picture of a growing number of Russian submarines has been painted in each defence debate.

Whatever the number, the Russians are building too many submarines. Indeed, every nation is. I am looking forward to the time when Britain, Russia, the United States and every other nation will reach agreement to reduce their naval and other defence budgets. Some hon. Members have argued that, because of the number of submarines possessed by the Russians, we need hunter/killer submarines to chase away their submarines. If that is so, when our Polaris fleet, such as it is, goes into the oceans of the world, our Russian counterparts will say, "Britain has deployed four Polaris submarines. We need more killer submarines to counter theirs." So this mad race will continue, impoverishing every nation and, what concerns me, impoverishing especially this nation.

Exactly 11 years ago this week I had an opportunity to visit the Soviet Union. I was a fellow traveller with Mr. Harold Macmillan and his mission. The party included the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) who was then Mr. Macmillan's P.P.S.—he has risen in the world since then. We visited Leningrad, and one of the establishments we visited there was Frunze Naval School where Russian naval personnel were being trained.

I always remember that day. The ice was breaking on the Neva, and it was a very interesting spectacle. But to me the most interesting spectacle was Mr. Macmillan reviewing the sailors of the Red Fleet. I stood there in admiration, shivering in the cold, as Russian sailors—some of whom were presumably to sail in the Russian submarines—shouldered arms while Mr. Macmillan reviewed them and said how glad he was to see them.

I had never before been in a naval academy. I watched with interest all the V.I.P.s—I was only a rank-and-file journalist. Mr. Macmillan and his staff went through this academy and talked, presumably affectionately, about the respective merits of the Russian Navy and the British Navy. If no one believes me, I can show a photograph of Mr. Macmillan in his Russian fur cap—

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

Everyone will believe it, but it is difficult to relate what the hon. Member is saying to the Motion before the House.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

The argument has been that the Russians are the enemy; that we need this enormous naval expenditure in order to protect ourselves against the Russians.

I will leave out the picturesque details, but in a speech of welcome Admiral Bodenko said that the Russians had a navy before Nelson. Then I have a quotation which is relevant to my argument, from the speech made by Mr. Macmillan. He said: To us islanders the Royal Navy is a sacred and cherished tradition. The friendship between the British and Russian Fleets is of long standing. The long record of co-operation between the British and Russian Navies was cemented during the last war. I bring greetings to you—from the British people and from the British Navy. That was 11 years ago, but apparently no progress has been made. Russian sailors are going to sea in their submarines and our sailors are doing the same, and so the thing goes on and on, and will until the people of the world get tired of it—

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Woolwich West

Will my hon. Friend tell me why Russian naval ships are keeping observation on and shadowing the ships of Her Majesty's Navy?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

The answer is very obvious. If each side has Polaris submarines and a vast number of other naval craft, each will shadow the other. That is the obvious strategy of the different naval Powers—

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Woolwich West

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. Does he, then, assert that Soviet ships are doing this out of friendship?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

No, they are doing it out of fear, and so are we. I have discussed this matter with Russian sailors, who frequently come to the South Ayrshire ports during the winter months. I have asked them, "What do you mean by having all these submarines, and the rest?" Their argument—I do not support it, but present it—is, "The Russian people at the time of the Revolution saw a British fleet in the Baltic and fleets in the Black Sea. Therefore, we need these ships for our defence."

That argument is used on both sides, but I believe that the Russians and ourselves would save an enormous amount of money if we acted in the spirit of the meeting of Mr. Macmillan with Admiral Bodenko. I see no reason, except the stupidity of our foreign policy, why Russia and this country should not unite in a foreign policy that would stop the naval armaments race.

I have been very critical of the whole Polaris submarine policy. We took over that policy from the party opposite. When the "Thunderbolt" project broke down, Mr. Macmillan returned from America and said. "The Americans have given us five Polaris submarines. We are going in for a programme of Polaris submarines." From the other side of the Chamber I criticised that policy very strongly, but what have a Labour Government done?

When Labour was in Opposition, the argument of the present Prime Minister was that any contribution we could make by means of Polaris submarines and the nuclear deterrent would be irrelevant because the Americans and the Russians already had so much nuclear power that anything we could contribute would not affect the strategical situation. That was the argument. We won the argument at the General Election. But what did the Government do when they got into power. They looked at the Polaris submarine programme and said, "Oh, well, we will have four of them instead of five." That made neither strategical nor political sense, and it does not make financial and economic sense.

The result is that we are now to spend £350 million on the Polaris programme. I should like an explanation of the following fact. Last year and until recently the Navy pamphlets said that the total cost of the Polaris submarines would be £370 million. I persistently asked about this figure, and then suddenly received an Answer that surprised me. I was told that the total cost would not be £370 million but £350 million. Someone had made an error of £20 million in the Polaris submarine programme. I am very glad that I asked those Questions; I shall go on asking Questions until, perhaps, the total cost comes down by another £20 million.

I should like my hon. Friend to answer another question: were the Government justified three weeks ago in sending the Polaris submarine "Resolution" to undergo trials and conduct a demonstration off the coast of Florida? I asked the cost and I was amazed to find that the cost of firing two missiles from Polaris submarines was £1,500,000. That is an immense sum of money to spend, especially when we are in financial difficulties.

I asked, what did each Polaris missile cost? I received the answer that that could not be given because that was classified information. I have no desire to get hold of classified information. The other information is sufficient for my argument. I read in the Glasgow Herald—which, if it is not an authority on submarines, knows a bit about money, coming from where it does—that one missile alone costs £416,000. If we are to have submarines of this kind and they are to cost this enormous amount of money, I forecast that in years to come we shall have a considerable increase in the cost of the Polaris programme which, when the Labour Party was in Opposition, it said was irrelevant and which it criticised and opposed.

A picturesque incident took place. They sent a piper from the Scots Greys to perform in Florida. I was curious about how this piper got to the test off the coast of Florida. I received the amazing reply that he went in the Polaris submarine. I asked the Minister, was that fair to the crew of the submarine? I like to hear the pipes—at a safe distance; on a hillside hundreds of yards away. Think of that piper playing in the submarine from which the crew could not escape! If ever there was cruelty in the history of submarine warfare this was torture added to cruelty.

This is how they throw our money about. Each Polaris submarine, when it is in operation, will cost £100,000 a week to run. The base will cost £45 million when completed. The details of this expenditure were not told to the House at the time. There is to be a school which is to cost £10 million and a storage depôt for missiles, a gigantic hole carved into the earth by Coalport and Faslane. This expenditure is mounting. We are doing something which cannot help us defensively because we are never going alone into a war with the Soviet Union, and if we go in with the Americans they have enough of the deterrents. They have 41 of these things.

We are told in the literature issued by the Admiralty that one of these missiles can destroy and devastate whole cities. One enthusiastic admiral said one Polaris missile, one city. The Russians will do something of the same kind. The result will be that either we shall continue a ruinous arms race or, if some accident occurs, we shall both be blown up. I do not understand how hon. Members apposite can agree to this policy in view of what a former Conservative Minister said over the television in the Soviet Union. When hon. Gentlemen speak over the television in the Soviet Union they become transformed. They make speeches which Communists here would think moderate. I remember Mr. Macmillan's speech in Moscow Embassy during that famous visit when he talked about seeing the promised land in the Ural Mountains.

The previous Leader of the Conservative Party, the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) made a speech over the television in Moscow. I have a text of it. He said that we must not only coexist; we must co-operate, and we shall not gain anything if we try to destroy each other. That, I think, is common sense. The argument of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West will not hold water. Small nations without navies are getting the trade of the world. Japan is getting the trade of the Eastern world and is penetrating into the West simply because it is not spending money, resources, manpower and ability on armaments and weapons which it thinks are obsolete.

I have seen Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I have seen the shipyards there sending out tankers and ships which are needed in that part of the world at a time when our shipbuilding industry is in very difficult straits. I do not believe that the sum mentioned in these Estimates is likely to increase our ability to compete in trade. I do not think the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West is serious. I think he is too intelligent to believe in traditional Tory blue-water imperialism. On that ground we are not justified in carrying on as we are. The other ground, that this is in any way relevant to the protection of this country and making this country any more secure, I also challenge.

It is time that this House took a new and harder look at the British Navy. I remember Sir Winston Churchill in this House ridiculing the Admiralty. He said that they sit in their office chairs making jobs for themselves and for their successors. He knew because he knew the Admiralty. At present the same procedure is being followed. There should be a notice in the Navy Department of the Ministry of Defence saying, "You must change your jobs". They are gifted, able men. I want to see their ability and their knowledge exercised in a different and less futile way. So I hope there will be an increasingly critical view of these Estimates and of the whole policy before the House at present.

8.17 p.m.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

I am sure the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow fully in what he said, but I wish to pose one question about which I have been wondering for a long time. The hon. Member spoke very sincerely about this country not spending money on weapons and armaments. I cannot help wondering whether he felt precisely the same when Hitler came to power in Germany, and whether at that time he was preaching that this country should do away with armaments. If he was I think most of us would disagree with him, probably even more strongly than we do today.

There was one other rather extraordinary speech from the benches opposite this afternoon. The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) left the Government because he could not under any circumstances agree with their defence policy. Indeed, the difference was so great between them at that time that the Government welcomed his leaving them. It is extraordinary that this afternoon the hon. Member said that they have come very close together. This can mean only that the Government have changed their minds very considerably in a very short time.

The memorandum accompanying the 1963–64 Navy Estimates says: …it continues to be necessary for Britain to have a convincing ability to bring conventional military force to bear wherever required…so long as this country may need to engage in military operations overseas the Navy must continue to contribute to the combined seaborne/airborne forces on which these operations depend…no matter what the future may hold, the oceans of the world must always be kept free for the passage of our merchant shipping…It has always been, and will continue to be a primary rôle of the Royal Navy to safeguard our own merchant fleet and to contribute to worldwide trade by deterring and frustrating interference with the peaceful movement of merchant shipping. Whatever right hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Members opposite may argue, if there is a prolonged and conventional naval war—certainly the Americans view the possibility of that—that must still be the main aim of the Royal Navy. The 1964–65 edition of "Jane's Fighting Ships" says: After the Nassau Agreement the Royal Navy has moved with a remarkable alacrity that has perhaps never been seen before in modern times in peace, not since the days of Lord Fisher as First Sea Lord and the hustle of building the revolutionary all big gun battleships. I believe that no one will disagree broadly with the statement of the rôle of the Navy declared in the 1963–64 Navy Estimates, and I think that the statement in "Jane's Fighting Ships" illustrates clearly that the Conservative Government had shown a very quick grasp of the new conditions that had come about as a result of nuclear weapons and nuclear propulsion in naval vessels.

The strongest evidence of support from the Labour Party for the general concept as laid down in the 1963–64 Naval Estimates, and also for the concept that Britain must have a strong and vital Navy, came from none other than the present Prime Minister. I was fully aware of this, because he made a very important speech on the Royal Navy and its future at Chatham on 29th September, 1964, when he stressed the ever-increasing rôle the Royal Navy would play under a Labour Government. He made what the local Press described as a blistering attack on the policy of the Conservative Party regarding that branch of the Service: Labour believed, he said, that in present conditions of the world Britain needed a stronger and more effective Navy. He complained that the commitment to spend hundreds of millions more on our all American independent British deterrent, the Polaris programme, had pushed back for five years the important programme of nuclear powered Hunter Killer submarines. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire referred to this. The present Prime Minister went even further at Chatham and other places and said that the Nassau Agreement must be renegotiated and the Polaris programme scrapped. He laid particular stress upon Britain's need to have hunter-killer submarines—not one or two, but in numbers. The Prime Minister went even further, and this was a few days before the 1964 General Election, when he was fully aware of the balance of payments position. The Press reported him as saying: The Royal Navy was not adequate for our needs in the 1960s. It had been run down by the Conservatives to a dangerous extent. The right hon. Gentleman went on to give some figures: there were 101 ships in commission, but we had plently of admirals. One knows how well the Prime Minister gives the slight and the sneer when he wants to. There being 85 admirals, the admiral/warship co-efficient, said the present Prime Minister, was 0·851. He went on to say: I wish the world were such that I did not have to say this, but I believe we shall need an expanded naval shipbuilding programme. He stated that the number of ships under construction, including those launched and those not launched, had fallen from 24 in 1962 to 16 in 1964. This was pretty powerful stuff, and it was stuff that the Navy, the dockyard towns and all those with naval traditions were longing to hear. This was the stuff on which the votes were won from those who had an interest in and hope for the future of Britain's defence and the Royal Navy.

There was no word of condemnation from any of those present. The Press said that Mr. Wilson received a standing ovation—a tumultuous ovation—from about 1,600 people. I wonder if he would receive the same sort of reception there today. It is interesting and enlightening to recall what the Prime Minister then said. Let us consider whether even then his figures were quite accurate, although the relationship between the number of admirals and the number of ships in commission made a very good story. As we all know, the present Prime Minister is rather fond of putting over good stories on television and in other places, but we do not see him quite so often now.

The Statement on Defence, 1964, Cmnd 2270, says that the fleet comprised 145 operational ships, not 101 as the Prime Minister had stated at Chatham, and that there were 93 fleet support ships, 49 trials and training ships, and 226 vessels of various categories undergoing long refit, modernisation, or in reserve. The coefficient, even if one takes only the 145 operational ships and disregards all the others which were part of the Navy, works out, not, as the Prime Minister said on that occasion, at 0·851, but at 1·7059.

Since then, we have had three and a half years with the party opposite in power. The Labour Government have had an opportunity to expand the Navy and to reduce the number of admirals, which the Prime Minister implied was so much out of balance. There has indeed been a dramatic reduction in the number of admirals on the general list—from 85 to 82. But what of the Fleet, the Fleet which was to be greatly expanded? It would have made much better arithmetic if the size of the Navy had been increased, in view of the Prime Minister's strictures on the number of admirals engaged on naval duties.

The present Defence White Paper, Cmnd. 3540, shows that the number of operational units has fallen to 140, and five of those are still under construction. The number of trials and training ships has fallen to 26, and instead of 222 ships undergoing long refit or in reserve there are now only 60. The Government are reluctant to tell us how many fleet support ships there are or what is the future of the fleet support ship, but it is interesting to note that none is mentioned this year. In 1964 there were 93.

Taking like categories of ships noted in the Statement on Defence in 1964, Cmnd. 2270, and comparing them with the totals in Cmnd. 3540, we find that there has been a reduction from 420 ships in the former to 221 in the latter. So we now have three fewer admirals but about half as many ships. What a way to expand the naval shipbuilding programme and create a stronger and more effective Navy! I wonder what sarcastic references the Prime Minister now has to make to the admiral-ship coefficient in the Navy.

The position is even worse in relation to the Prime Minister's declaration about the need for the British Navy and his slamming of the Conservative programme. The current Defence Estimates show that of the 10 ships which have been launched but not accepted into the Service three fleet ballistic missile submarines, two guided missile destroyers and four of the six frigates were authorised by the last Conservative Government; and of the six shins which have been or are expected to be accepted into service during the financial year ending 31st March, 1968, all were authorised and some of the keels laid before the Labour Party came to power. The only positive contribution so far made by this Government comprises two fleet submarines, one guided missile destroyer and three frigates, all with the exception of one of the frigates having been laid down in 1967, and the one frigate this month.

The footnote to Annex I to Cmnd. 3540, the Strength of the Fleet, tells us that two more fleet submarines are on order but not yet laid down. Shall we ever get them?

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

The Under-Secretary of State says "Yes", but there has been a constant chopping and changing in declared Navy policy. With cut-back after cut-back, there is no certainty that what we are promised today will be on the cards tomorrow. This ghastly record makes utter nonsense of the criticisms levelled against the Tory Party by the Prime Minister at Chatham.

Last year, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy said that we must have a fleet capability to preserve our position in the Far East, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. We were told that our maritime forces can provide a particularly flexible element in the British military presence overseas, and our ability to possess a local deterrent and to contribute to peace-keeping operations will be considerably enhanced by a capability to hold commandos ready for action by means of amphibious forces. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the importance of air support for sea power.

I ask the Government to be realistic. We are told that the Navy still depends upon air power to support the Fleet, but from land-based aircraft, and we are told that the Phantoms will play a considerable rôle in this. Do the Government realise that if our naval forces have to rely upon land-based aircraft for their protection and support, the land bases must be consistently within quick flying time of the naval forces or they will be too far stretched and will arrive, in many instances, far too late to give the immediate support that is necessary?

Air support cannot be undertaken over a wide area without la bases in countries distant from our islands and along the whole area in which our Fleet might have to operate. The only alternative is to have aircraft carriers. If it is necessary, as right hon. and hon. Members opposite have said, for the Fleet to have air support, they must automatically accept that the British Fleet cannot be sent anywhere in the world unless that air support is available. This, again, considerably restricts the power of the Royal Navy. Unless it receives the necessary air support, it is placed in extreme jeopardy.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy knows that I have considerable admiration for him, but I feel very sorry that much of what he said a year ago has been thrown completely overboard. That is not surprising, however, because most of the things that have been said not only by his Department, but by every Defence Department and every Department of the present Government, a year ago have been thrown over a year later. That is why many of us are cynical about the promises which are made by the Government, even today, regarding the future defence of the country.

The hon. Gentleman came to the Dispatch Box a year ago and gave a promise that there was sufficient work in the Royal Dockyards, then and in the foreseeable future, to keep them fully employed. A year later, we are told that there are to be reductions in the overall work in the yards, which means a cutback in the Fleet and redundancies in the yards. The reductions may be so considerable that some yards are in danger of being closed down.

If there is need for a British presence on the oceans of the world, it is necessary that we have the right backing for it. The dockyard at Chatham—I want to be parochial for a moment because I believe that it can play an important part—is almost, if not completely, fully equipped to take in nuclear submarines for refit and repair. It has expertise in gas turbine propulsion. Another such yard for the repair and refit of nuclear submarines has been created on the Forth. I hope that these two yards will be kept fully employed. I also hope that the Government will give consideration to the possibility of building hunter-killers in them, and particularly in Chatham, where there is such wonderful expertise about submarine construction, and the knowledge of nuclear propulsion and the handling of nuclear submarines there should help considerably.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is remembering that it was his own Government who decided that nuclear work would not be done at Chatham and that it was the present Government who put the nuclear submarine work at Chatham.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

If the right hon. Gentleman has made his point, perhaps he will allow me to reply. The announcement that Chatham Dockyard was to be used as a nuclear repair dockyard was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) when he was the Civil Lord of the Admiralty. He made the announcement early in September, 1964.

That apart, I think the situation is that the Royal Dockyards, because of the cutback, are threatened. The Defence Estimates for 1969 make provision for a cut-back in dockyard manpower of about 800 in this financial year. This is causing very considerable apprehension among those who work in the dockyards.

I conclude as I began, by referring right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to the statement made in the 1965–66 Navy Estimates which set out very clearly the role of the Royal Navy. So far as I can see, nothing has changed since then. I hope that, however the situation may be regarding the availability of immediate money, it will be realised by all right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that, this being an island nation, we are particularly vulnerable to attack from the sea. I use this expression to illustrate that, as everybody in the House realises, we can, above all, be readily starved of raw materials and food. It is all very well for the right hon. and hon Gentlemen opposite to say that we must depend upon America for our defence. In the final issue our defence will be very largely in our own hands, and even if we have to depend to some extent on others, they will be influenced very greatly in thinking of what they can do to help us if we show that we ate alive to what we must do to help ourselves.

8.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) delivered some hard blows in his criticism of the Government's naval policy. I should like to take up some of his points a little later.

I think that there may be a measure of agreement between the hon. Gentleman and myself on the question of admirals. They are rather cluttering up the programme, and I think we might get them out of the way. Reference has been made to the fact that we have so many admirals per ship at the moment. I think that the idea that one can relate the number of admirals employed in the Navy to the number of ships is completely erroneous. But this has been said on both sides, and it is reported in "Parkinson's Law". I am not concerned about who said it before. However, in my view this is erroneous.

To give some figures, in 1939 we had one admiral for every 1,460 other ranks. This is the important point. Today we have one admiral for every 1,329 other ranks. In Nelson's day, the power and glory of the "wooden walls", there was one admiral for every 770 other ranks. In 1805 we had 161 admirals; in 1966 we had 73. So some progress has been made.

I came here with both interest and anticipation. There are but two other ex-members of the Merchant Navy in the House at this time, and my interest in sea communications has not altered from the time I was a merchant seaman. I also came to the debate with some trepidation because it seemed to me that the Opposition had cornered the market in admirals and in retired captains, R.N. They could bring up their guns and we had to defend ourselves as we went along. They have big guns and lots of powder and I expected to have to sit here absorbing shot and shell, occasionally sending off a rocket or putting a shot across their bows in return. But it has not been as bad as I feared. I find that I have had no need for the concern that I though I would have.

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), interesting and fascinating as was his exposition, was completely unrelated to the Motion, except in the latter part of his speech. I get a little seasick in the exchange of reminiscences and garbled versions of speeches between right hon. and hon. Members opposite and my right hon. and hon. Friends. More important is what we are saying now. That is a criticism of my Front Bench as well as of the Opposition. Quarrelling about different versions of speeches or about statements taken out of context does not help this debate or the House.

However, we did get back to what I thought was the subject of the debate—sea communications and the use of naval power—in the speeches of the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) and my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew). The hon. Member for Dorset, West said that British and foreign merchant ships have been put at hazard in peace and war by the policy of the Government. The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton said that, for the first time in hundreds of years, we cannot guarantee the security of supplies to this country.

We never have been able to guarantee the security of supplies to this country. I am not a great expert in history but I am told that Alfred the Great, who founded the Royal Navy as an off-shoot of the merchant navy of the time, could not guarantee the security of supplies. Drake and Elizabeth I, when sweeping the seas, could not guarantee the safety of our supplies. Charles II—and, after all, he selected Britannia—could not guarantee the safety of the Thames, let alone the security of our supplies. Nelson was victorious at Trafalgar and we read a great deal about that, but we seldom hear about the havoc which the French Navy created among our merchant fleet between Trafalgar and the end of the Napoleonic War.

Photo of Captain Walter Elliot Captain Walter Elliot , Carshalton

Obviously we suffered losses in getting supplies to this country. The question is, did we get enough delivered under such protection as we could give? The answer is, "Yes".

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

That is not quite the same thing as claiming that we could not guarantee the security and delivery of supplies. Certainly we have not done so in the past—as shown by the havoc wrought by French privateers and naval vessels both in the Napoleonic War and in the War of Jenkin's Ear and later by John Paul Jones. Fisher, with his huge pre-1914 Navy and the convoy system in the First World War could not guarantee our supplies. In the last war it was not until the latter part of 1944 that we achieved relative security at sea in time of war.

Photo of Mr William Hamling Mr William Hamling , Woolwich West

Would not my hon. Friend agree that then it was only with the help of the Americans that we did it?

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

Yes. I was grateful for help from any side in the Atlantic in 1944. But I do not think that the Americans would complain if I added that security achieved in the North Atlantic was just as much achieved by air attacks on the European yards building German submarines and the bases supplying them as by the increased efficiency of the allied Navies at sea.

Much has been said about a prolonged war at sea. Some may expect that we could carry on with the convoy system as perfected in the latter stages of the war. The convoy system as we knew it last time, effective as it was then, is now no longer of any practical use. A convoy would be attacked not only by torpedoes, but by surface-to-surface missiles and nuclear tactical missiles, and the relative importance of convoys and their operation as we knew them have been fast overtaken. I much prefer investment, in both peace and war, in fast, independent merchant ships. With dispersal, fast independent merchant ships would be much better than the introduction of the old convoy system.

As other hon. Members have said, we have a widespread merchant fleet and we cannot protect all the ships all the time in all places, but we can lessen the odds. We could consider in what areas shipping would converge, instead of trying to cover 5,000 ways across the Indian Ocean. For instance, we could cover the routes via Perth, Australia, or Trincomalee in Southern Ceylon, or through the Straits of Singapore, or the Channel, or Panama, or the Straits of Gibraltar, or the Cape route from Singapore and Hong Kong and Perth, Australia—I say "Perth, Australia" so that we do not get mixed up with Perth and Kinross—where we have British or allied or Commonwealth bases already in existence.

If, as I believe and hope, we intend to keep a limited commitment east of Suez and west of Suez in certain areas, it would be reasonable in the new arrangements to be made between now and 1971 for some or each or all of these places to be converted into inter-allied or Commonwealth bases, or into S.E.A.T.O. or CENTO bases. In other words, the responsibility would be shared and our share could well be in the form of naval investment making our naval forces more effective and more efficient. While meeting defence commitments, that would also give economic help, particularly to Singapore. Simonstown might be one of the first to be converted into a Commonwealth or an inter-allied base.

I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) is not here. It always seems a little ironic that a retired admiral should be a champion of carriers when his predecessors were those who opposed the introduction of carriers and favoured battleships. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is much more enlightened than some of his predecessors. I am sorry that he is not here, because I wanted to ask him about the suggestion that we should sell our surplus carriers to Australia. I wanted to know whether he had read the report that the Australian Government had said that it could not fill the gap left by our withdrawal from east of Suez. If it cannot do that for economic reasons, it may be reluctant to buy our surplus or obsolete carriers in order to fill the gap. The hon. and gallant Gentleman may have other information about the willingness of the Australians to purchase our surplus carriers.

Carriers have been used effectively durilng the last ten years, but not always as a matter of chance. Naval intelligence should be given a little credit for having ships in certain places at the right time. Carriers have been used to transport men, but they have not been used as strike or weapon carriers. A carrier force is certainly very vulnerable. However, I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that we have not heard any detailed reply to the call for mini-carriers, especially comparing vertical take-off aircraft with helicopters which, although useful in their way, are very vulnerable and certainly not a substitute for v.t.o.1. strike aircraft which could be used from small, cheap, non-sophisticated carriers. After all, primarily the Royal Navy is a means of transporting high explosives in one form or another from point A to point B and, as our guns and missiles become more effective and less in size, they will be carried on smaller vessels. Smaller vessels have smaller hulls and it must be borne in mind that the range of a ship is limited by the size of its hull. That may be the dilemma confronting the Admiralty in the design of missile-carrying launches. One must consider how far one wants to be able to carry a missile. I hope that we shall have a clear indication of the Government's intentions in terms of missile-carrying launches or fast frigates in my right hon. Friend's programme.

Coming nearer home, I must say that I do not like the present division of responsibility between a Secretary of State for Defence, a Minister of Defence for Administration, a Minister of Defence for Equipment, and Under-Secretaries of State for Defence for the three Services. The position of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy is neither parallel nor subordinate to his colleagues. There is no straight chain of command. I have never heard of any precise relationships between them, and the position is not understood in the Navy, either. Furthermore, a modern Navy cannot be administered from the Ministry of Defence or from the old Admiralty building which, though charming, is rather "tatty" and inefficient.

Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have claimed that it is not their duty to say what they would do if they were in office. I am sorry they adopt that attitude. If they had not, I might have been persuaded to vote with them. Once a year I vote against the Government, to establish the principle and keep it in reserve. The Opposition say that the maintenance of our sea communications is important, and I agree, but they should have said how they would protect them. If their charge is true and the Government have failed to do all that they can to secure our sea communications, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should at least have put down a Motion condemning my right hon. and hon. Friends and made it a three-line Whip. As it is, their charge has not been made out, and I cannot support it.

8.58 p.m.

Photo of Miss Joan Vickers Miss Joan Vickers , Plymouth, Devonport

First, I want to congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), on some of his remarks. Obviously, he speaks from experience. I would suggest that consideration might be given to having a conference of the maritime nations about the protection of these all-important sea lanes. In this country, both at Dartmouth and Manadon, we have trained many people from many different countries, and there should be far more co-operation between the nations of the world to carry out what the hon. Gentleman has been advocating. At the moment, a tremendous amount of power is wasted.

In the few minutes at my disposal, I want to talk about the abolition of the Plymouth Command. Tribute should be paid to the tremendous part that the Command has played over a great number of years. Our latest admiral is the 68th, and, as far as we know, the Command has existed since before 1774. We are anxious that, in the future, Plymouth shall be able to play the part that it has in the past in not only sending our people overseas but in receiving the navies of other countries at Plymouth itself, including the N.A.T.O. exercises in which we have been privileged to take part.

It is a pity that matters are to be centralised on Portsmouth which, although nearer London, is already overcrowded. I thought that the Government intended to decentralise, and I would have thought that Plymouth would have been a better place at which to do it. The Government have recently built large offices on to the commander-in-chief's house. We had expected this to increase the Command's status, not to decrease it, and this proposal has therefore come as a great disappointment.

I hope that the Government will tell us something about the rôle of the Royal Navy, and particularly that of the Royal Marines. Nothing much has been said about the Royal Marines during the debate, and they are the ones who need air support. I understand that the amphibious forces are not very expensive to keep, and they should be retained in the Indian Ocean, because they require the minimum both by ways of bases and overseas spending, so I hope that the Minister will give us his views on this matter.

The Royal Navy will have to face a number of difficulties. Men will have to spend some periods overseas, and longer periods without their families, and if they are not quite certain about their careers, this will make a great deal of difference to recruiting. Furthermore, the present-day ships are not as healthy as ships were in the past. Men have to work in an air-conditioned atmosphere, and many hardly ever go on deck. They have to apply themselves to tending the mechanical instruments in the ships, and it is therefore all the more necessary that facilities should be available for them to go ashore. I hope that the Minister wilt tell us whether it is intended to keep some, and the shore bases it is intended to retain on a care and maintenance basis. I know that H.M.S. "Terror" provides an excellent barracks at Singapore, and perhaps the Government will retain buildings in the Caribbean, and Hong Kong, where sailors can go on shore leave.

There is, then, the question of repair ships. I know that victualling has been carried out excellently from Devonport recently during difficulties created by the situation in the Middle East. It was necessary to carry out one of the biggest victualling operations ever, and people had to work at weekends, and also work overtime.

What number of support ships have we? On page 29 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates we read that three large tankers have been chartered from trade. We need proper ships for victualling, but we also need ships which can take staff to do repairs on board if such repairs cannot be done by the ship's crew.

Dealing with equipment, the Statement says that the submarine programme is now being examined in relation to the reduced commitments which are a consequence of our withdrawals. The eventual rate at which we can build the three new classes of ship announced in the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy, 1967 (Cmnd. 3357) will be one of the matters to be considered in this review. When will a final decision be made on this?

Finally, I come to the question of the small missile equipped ships, which I believe could be useful. They have been used off Indonesia, and we must remember that the Israeli destroyer "Eliat" was hit by a Russian-built missile. I gather that these small ships are built by Vospers, and these might be better than the expensive Leander type frigates. They are more mobile, they are cheaper, and they seem to be extremely efficient. These have not been mentioned during the debate, and I hone that the Minister will give us his views on this issue.

Time is running short, but I hope to take part in the debate on Vote A.

9.5 p.m

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Much as I should like to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), particularly when she referred to the Royal Marines, I must resist that temptation—although many of the points that she made in her short but penetrating speech will come up during my own.

The last Conservative Defence White Paper was published four years ago this month. It described the basic objectives of Britain's defence policy as follows, first, to maintain the security of this country"— in other words, the protection of our home base and of our sea communications; secondly to carry out our obligations for protection of British territories overseas and those to whom we owe a special duty… I am sure that hon. Members opposite would agree with this, because I see that their election manifesto for the 1966 election, on page 22, says: Britain has made clear, particularly in the confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia, her willingness to assist the new Commonwealth Nations when faced with external aggression "— although it is perhaps less true than it was two years ago. I am sure, however, that we would agree that we should immediately react to any threat to either Australia or New Zealand.

The third objective of our defence policy was to make our contribution to the defence of the free world"— in other words, to honour our alliances—. although who can deny that N.A.T.O., CENTO and S.E.A.T.O. are weaker than they were four years ago? Our challenge to the Government tonight is that they have failed to produce a coherent policy to enable these objectives to be carried out or, to put it in much simpler terms, they have forgotten that Great Britain is an island.

This mistake has been made before in our long history, and always with disastrous results. I suggest that the Government have forgotten that over 1,000 British ships are at sea every day, and that a great percentage of our food is carried in ships. The wheels of industry cannot turn without imported oil, and as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) pointed out, 90 per cent., by volume, of our imports arrive in these islands by sea.

It is commonplace to say that our 55 million people could not survive if our sea communications were cut. The current answer is that if this happened it would lead to nuclear war and, as a nuclear Power, we have a finger on the button. But would it? I suggest that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) has today made it clear that conventional war is possible, especially at sea. To our cost we know that even with our allies—and many hon. Members opposite seem to suggest that we have never fought before with allies—in the last two world wars we were within an ace of defeat by a force that possessed about one-eighth of the submarines that today comprise the Soviet fleet.

It is possible that I have been too kind to the right hon. Gentleman in suggesting that he has merely forgotten that we live on an island, but perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say that the Government have deliberately disregarded this fact to appease their Left wing and pander to doctrinaire Socialism, which voted against rearmament up to the brink of war in the 1930s and is always opposed to the Services. I am sorry to see that there are not more of them here today. In fact I cannot see any in the Chamber at the moment. I exonerate the right hon. Member from holding any such views, but he has failed to deter his colleagues, and during this series of defence debates he has admitted that risks are being taken.

The excuse is that we cannot afford an adequate defence. But we should have been able to afford adequate forces if the Government had not so mismanaged the economy and been forced into devaluation.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) have pointed out, we cannot afford to take risks with our sea communications. Hon. Members opposite are always talking about cash and the cost of providing forces, but let them and the House remember that the 1965 earnings from British shipping totalled £912 million. Its contribution to our balance of payments was £136 million and it saved us spending some £350 million on foreign charters, and this is what a potential enemy will try to deny us in time of war.

What is the threat, to our home base, to N.A.T.O., to N.A.T.O.'s flanks and to our sea communications? I suggest that the immediate threat to our home base comes mainly from the nuclear arsenals of the U.S.S.R. N.A.T.O. and the nuclear deterrent have so far neutralised this threat and our contribution, now that the TSR2 has been cancelled, is our four Polaris submarines. It has been hitherto assumed that a conventional war in Europe would probably lead to nuclear escalation, but this does not necessarily apply either to N.A.T.O.'s flanks or to the Atlantic.

Let us consider the flanks—first, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The House should remember that 400 British ships are in the Mediterranean any day of the week and that three-quarters of our oil comes from the Gulf. Yet it was this Government who withdrew the British C.-in-C., Mediterranean, after 250 years—

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

How many ships would you have?

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

How many ships would the right hon. Gentleman's party have? This year, they plan to withdraw the last two frigates and four minesweepers stationed in Malta. Yet today the Soviet Fleet has 50 warships in the Mediterranean, including surface-to-surface missiles, submarines and amphibious forces—

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

How many have the Americans?

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Approximately the same, and I hope that they will be able to keep their fleet larger than the Soviet fleet, but, of course, in view of the trouble which they are having in South-East Asia, one does not know how long this will be possible.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

How many ships did the Tory Government have in the Mediterranean in 1964?

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

When I visited Malta that year, I saw four frigates, two destroyers and a commando carrier in the harbour. But I may have gone there at just the right moment: I do not say that they were there permanently.

It is surely agreed by both sides that, today, for the first time for many years, the Soviets are actively interested in the Mediterranean, and also in the Red Sea and Aden. Is it not possible that, when British warships are withdrawn, Soviet warships will be found in the Gulf? The House should remember that, for decades, the traditional Russian policy under both Czar and commissar has been to find an outlet to warm waters, in the Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

But why? Russia is a great land power with access to the Baltic and the Pacific. Why should they particularly want access to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean?

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Why this assumption that the Mediterranean should be an English lake? Why should not Russia be just as interested in the Mediterranean as anyone else? It is, after all, nearer.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman always wants to stick up for Russia—quite rightly, from his point of view—but N.A.T.O. is interested in the Mediterranean and that is the Alliance to which we belong. And I suggest that N.A.T.O.'s flanks are more threatened than in recent years—since, perhaps, the end of the Second World War. That is surely a matter of concern, not only to our defence staffs but to all right hon. and hon. Gentlemen.

What is the Government's policy on the flanks and the Mediterranean? Are we to have more warships in the Mediterranean? Are we to use Malta as a training ground as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) suggested? Are our amphibious forces to be deployed in the Mediterranean or the Middle East, on the flanks of N.A.T.O.'? Can we guarantee their air support now that most of the North African coast is potentially hostile? This is a factor which anyone planning our future defence must bear strongly in mind.

Many hon. Gentlemen have mentioned the southern flank of N.A.T.O. in the Mediterranean, but few have mentioned the northern flank. If we are to have amphibious forces operating on the northern flank, it is a rôle, as the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers) would agree, which the Royal Marines are especially trained and fitted to perform. Does not that imply that we must have at least local command of the sea in that area?

Enough of the flanks. What about the Atlantic itself? The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) said that sea power was flexible and added that its exercise could be concealed. I would add that even tactical nuclear weapons might be used at sea without much risk of escalation and certainly with far less risk than if used on land. If a nuclear war is out, surely a conventional war at sea is in. It is certainly a possibility for which we have to plan.

The U.S.S.R. has a fleet of over 400 submarines. Why? The U.S.S.R. also has modern surface warships with supersonic surface to surface missiles with ranges said to be up to 300 miles. It is true, as hon. Members opposite have said throughout the debate, that we have our allies in N.A.T.O., but the Royal Navy is the second largest navy in N.A.T.O. and the Americans may have many other threats with which to contend. It is surely arguable that our main effort in N.A.T.O. should be maritime. That is a rôle for which our history seems to fit us.

What are our needs? First, I suggest—and here I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester—that we must have air early warning. It was only last year that the Shackleton squadron, which provided that warning, was withdrawn from Gibraltar. Later we will have Nimrod. I asked the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force how many Nimrods we are to have, and he was not able to give an answer. It is a very important question. I fully agree with him that they are fine aircraft. He will recognise that search is one of the most important functions which a maritime nation needs. I only hope that we shall have enough Nimrods when they come into service.

What happens when our carriers are phased out and the Gannets, which operate from the carriers, no longer have a deck from which to operate? Air early warning can also be carried in the new Sea King helicopters, but I understand that only they and the Wessex are capable of carrying airborne antisubmarine sonar. The Tigers will carry four Sea Kings and the guided missile destroyers carry one Wessex. I suggest that we may be very thin in air early warning and airborne radar, because not very many ships are fitted to carry the helicopters which themselves carry the sets which provide air early warning and airborne sonar.

We have of course the Leander frigates, the main purpose of which is antisubmarine work. They are excellent ships which lead the world and are wanted by many other countries. They carry a Wasp helicopter with two anti-submarine weapons. Here, too, we shall be a little thin if there are any enemy aircraft around. We hope that there will not be such aircraft around. One of the points which has worried me and some of my hon. Friends is the vulnerability of the helicopters on which we count so much if there are any enemy aircraft present in the area.

We are told, quite rightly, that in these days we fight a submarine with another submarine and that hunter/killers or the fleet submarines are the answer. I do not dispute that. Seven are built or ordered. But, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West pointed out, this was the very vessel which the Prime Minister singled out in his speech to be cut. The number to be built is to be reduced in the coming years.

Apart from the question of numbers, I have one or two other questions to ask the right hon. Gentleman. First, are these fleet submarines, these hunter/ killers, still armed with a development of the old Mark VIII torpedo which was first produced in 1934? In the White Paper there is a reference to the Mark XXXI torpedo. Is this the new torpedo which will be fitted into the fleet submarines? If so, and if the answer is not confidential, may we be told when it is likely to be in service.

I suggest that if we are talking in terms of a conventional or limited war, mining becomes an important factor. This was graphically pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester. Have we developed any new mines in recent years? How many of our ships and aircraft are fitted to perform mine-laying duties? A large number of mines were laid in the last war by the R.A.F. and I suggest that if the Minister discovers the answer to these questions he may get something of a shock.

Mine sweeping is equally important. Most Soviet warships, certainly the smaller ones, and Soviet aircraft, are fitted with mine-laying equipment. The 1966 White Paper pointed out that mine counter-measures were now needed. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester said, mines can now be produced which cannot be swept, thus necessitating the need for mine counter measure ships. According to the Estimates, we were to have eight of these in service, and six are to be built. We are therefore to have two less than we were promised in the earlier White Paper in 1967.

We have first-class frigates and submarines. Let us assume that they are successful in a conventional war in the Atlantic. What happens after that? I suggest that we will see a repeat of the experience of the last war, when enemy submarines moved outwards to other key areas. There would be a movement to the east American seaboard, to the Cape of Good Hope, to the Indian Ocean and the Gulf. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in the defence debate: There are vital British and Commonwealth interests in Malaysia and Singapore. There are vital British and European interests in the Gulf. There are vital British, European and North American interests, to say nothing of the interests of so many developing countries, in the sea routes round the Cape. All these interests remain, but the Government no longer declare them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1968; Vol 760, c. 237.] That, I fear, is very true. The Government tell us that we are to have a general capability based on the United Kingdom. But how, for example, would we support a Communist-inspired revolution in, say Mauritius?

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

We would not wish to.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

At least the Mauritius Government now know where they stand.

Photo of Mr Denis Healey Mr Denis Healey , Leeds East

The hon. Gentleman asked how we would support a Communist-inspired revolution in Mauritius.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I phrased my question badly. If such a revolution occurred, presumably we would have to take action. Some days ago my hon. Friends asked the Government whether or not we will have a defence agreement with Mauritius, as we indicated in the independence White Paper. We have not had a clear answer to that question, presumably because the discussions are still going on. Assuming that we have a defence commitment there and there was an attempted Communist take-over in Mauritius, how would we fulfil our obligations in coming to the aid of the Government of the island?

Many hon. Members are particularly concerned about Australia and New Zealand. Australia draws 60 per cent. of its oil from the Gulf and 46 per cent. of its imports and 56 per cent. of its exports cross the Indian Ocean. That country is, therefore, vitally interested in this great oceanic area. Local conflicts can escalate if they are not settled quickly and, as the hon. Member for Woolwich, East pointed out, agression at sea is not easily identified.

How would the 600 British ships which are now every day east of Suez, or a fraction of them in wartime, be protected against an enemy? It is true that we have a flexible deterrent in Polaris, but we have no bases or airfields. It is true that we have allies, but they have their own priorities and those priorities might not coincide with ours. Naval forces are needed, but no air cover is available. Those of us who are old enough to do so, remember only too well what happened to "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse" when they had no air cover. Incidentally, I referred to those of us who are old enough to remember when referring to the disaster to some students the other day, and they looked at me with a completely blank expression. The R.A.F. have Phantoms and Buccaneers, but perhaps we can be told from what bases those Phantoms and Buccaneers will operate.

Paragraph 2 in page 7 of the Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy last year states: The Navy…will be able to perform, for as far ahead as can be foreseen, a valuable peacekeeping function outside Europe by the unobtrusive and flexible exercise of maritime power. For these rôles our naval forces must be able to fight and survive in the environment of the guided-missile and nuclear-powered submarine… I want to discuss the environment of the guided missile and the nuclear-powered submarine.

The Soviet Union in its latest destroyers is said to have surface-to-surface missiles with up to 300 miles range, said to be sub-supersonic, and ship or air controlled. The Royal Navy in future is not to have any seaborne air cover and no surface-to-surface missiles—that is, as far as I know. Certain missiles have that capability, but there is no missile designed for surface-to-surface purposes.

How then do we match the Soviet destroyers—with a "Wasp" and AS 12 with a range of 8,000 yards or, perhaps, the Sea Dart and the new ships promised in page 28 of this year's White Paper? I do not know whether the Minister can disclose the information, but has Sea Dart any comparable range with the Soviet missile I have named?

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy had some fun at my expense about these proposed new cruisers that are due to replace the "Tigers", but he did not say more than a sentence. I confess that I did not even catch that sentence, so he certainly did not embellish his remarks. What is their role? How much will they cost? How will they be armed? What will they carry in the shape of helicopters? That brings us back to the original question: what is their rôle? At the moment, I find it very difficult to think of a rôle.

According to the White Paper, our new destroyers are also to be armed with Sea Dart. Will they have a capability of engaging more than one target at a time? That will depend on the number of guidance radars with which they are equipped, and I think that I am right in saying that the "Devonshires" have only one. I understand that the new frigates that have been mentioned are of Vosper-Thorneycroft design. I read in Navy, a magazine which is a mine of information on these matters, that these ships are likely to have a speed of 50 knots and that they will be armed with French S.12 missiles with a 3·7 mile range. I do not know whether this information is true. If it is true, the speed is excellent, but the range mentioned is considerably less than the Soviet missiles in their "Ossa" class F.P.B.s which are now in the hands of many smaller navies.

Both the United States Navy and the Royal Navy have failed to develop good surface-to-surface missiles, and the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will probably support me when I say that the Soviet Union has caught us short. As far as I know, it has developed a very good surface-to-surface missile. What can be done? The Americans need not worry very much about this because they will have a vast preponderance in carriers and fixed-wing aircraft, but what are we to do? I am talking now about the surface-to-surface missiles we are planning for the future.

In today's Daily Express, Mr. Chapman Pincher, who is usually well-informed on these subjects, talks of a British guided missile for submarine-to-surface. I understand that on breaking the surface the missile flies through the air and submerges again before hitting the target. This seems to be a much more sophisticated weapon than Ikara the Australian A/S missile to be fitted to H.M.S. "Bristol". It contrasts with the "Cresta" class destroyers, but much will depend on its range. I do not know whether we can have any information on this subject—I am quoting the Daily Express and the Minister may not want to confirm this report.

I also want to ask about guns. The Americans still have a fairly large number of guns in their ships, and so do we; most of them are 4·5 inch guns. The Americans, I am told, are developing rocket-assisted shells to be fired from existing guns. These r.a.p. 5-inch shells are said to cost only 120 dollars each and they increase the range by 30 per cent. This seems a good and cheap way of increasing the value of the gun? Are we doing anything in this respect?

I turn to an even more important question. What experiments are the Royal Navy carrying out to provide air cover at sea, by the R.A.F. if necessary? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester and the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) spoke about flat tops. I accept that the C.A.V.O.I. priced itself out. This is what the Government are telling us continuously and we are bound to accept that it is so. I notice that the estimates given by the Government vary very much, from £50 million to £80 million.

Photo of Mr Roy Mason Mr Roy Mason , Barnsley

Seventy million pounds.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

That is a compromise. It would obviously have been difficult to have had a number of those ships. I am not in a position to say how necessary these ships will prove in future, but I hope that the Front Bench opposite is right and that we will not need them. I am discussing an entirely different question. I am talking about flat tops, what we jokingly called the "Healey Carriers". I should like to know the Government estimate of the cost of these ships. They could be unsophisticated, built on a tanker or a cargo-carrying hull. They could carry Wessex or Sea Kings with early warning equipment and Harriers or anti-submarine helicopters. It is suggested that the cost of such a ship is from £5 million to £10 million. A similar ship might carry short take-off and landing Harriers with R.A.T.O.G. to improve carrying capacity for anti-ship strikes. This might cost a little more. A similar ship could take over from the existing commando carriers and carry a commando plus their helicopters.

It may be that a standard ship could become interchangeable for anti-submarine, anti-ship, amphibious operations or command ship as required. The same hull might be used for all these purposes. We should like to know more about this. We should like to know what experiments have been carried out and the Government's estimate of the cost of such a ship. We should like to know the Government's mind about this type of unsophisticated ship, which looks as though it might provide a reasonable answer to the problem. Is it possible that these ships could be ready, say, in five years? Could they not be more useful and cheaper than the cruisers to replace the Tigers?

As an aside, in talking about the cost, I see that France is building 22 frigates and destroyers and 22 submarines for countries formerly supplied by us.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

The hon. Member is not afraid of them?

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I am not afraid of them, but I would rather that we were building for old Commonwealth members such as India and Pakistan. I am sorry when these orders go to America and France or to the Soviet Union, when they used to come to us.

The 1966 Defence White Paper referred to the need of a military capability outside Europe. I quote from page 8: It is in the Far East and Southern Asia that the greatest danger to peace may lie in the next decade". In 1967 the Government assured us: We cannot assume that…we shall never again have to use our forces in the Far East.…We are therefore planning to maintain a military capability…in the area. Why the sudden change in 1968? Is the Soviet or the Chinese threat any less? Is the Middle East or South-East Asia any less settled? Is not conventional war now more possible outside Europe, certainly at sea?

I made my maiden speech on the Navy Estimates 14 years ago. I have spoken in every debate on the Navy Estimates since then. I believe that one of the main differences over the years between the Conservative Government and the Labour Government is that Conservative Ministers tried to answer questions, and, if they could not do so because of the time factor, they invariably wrote to hon. Gentlemen giving them the answers in writing.

I want to summarise the more important parts of what I have been saying and conclude by asking the Minister of Defence for Administration four specific questions. First, how will convoys of British ships be protected in a conventional war? By what, and from where? [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, "Good God". I hope that the hon. Gentleman has the answer. God will be good if he has, I assure the hon. Gentleman.

Secondly, is it cheaper to develop a long-range surface-to-surface missile or a flat-top on the lines I have been discussing? Will not some form of maritime strike and maritime air defence have to be provided in the future? Thirdly, how many fleet submarines are being planned every year? What are the total numbers required in the future? Is it to be 10 or 20 or, as one hon. Gentleman talked about, 30? [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can have 100 if he likes. I want to know what the Government are planning on. They always talk about cost effectiveness, and so on. How many fleet submarines do they expect the Fleet of the future to have? When will the new torpedoes be ready and in operational service 'or these submarines? Fourthly and lastly, how will we free our ports from enemy mines, and how do we propose to lay our own mines in order to interrupt the sea communications of any potentional enemy?

If the Minister has the answers, he should tell us. If not, I think that it is clear and becomes even more apparent that the Government have no coherent policy to protect our vital sea communications and that they have wantonly disregarded the fact that we are an island people who live through the use of the sea in both peace and war.

9.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gerald Reynolds Mr Gerald Reynolds , Islington North

The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) finished by asking me four questions. He asked, first, what would protect the convoys. I can only tell him that that job would be done mainly by the frigates. They usually do that sort of work, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In reply to his second question, I can tell him now categorically that a "flat-top" would not be cheaper. He asked, thirdly, whether I would announce how many fleet submarines we would build every year. I can only say to him that, when the Conservatives were in power, they refused to announce the actual figure every year, as I well remember, and I have no intention of announcing it now. To get the answer to his fourth question about sweeping mines, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman speaks to his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles), who said that it was impossible, anyway.

This is the fifth out of six days of defence debates. This is the last of the Service days, on which in previous years we normally dealt with Vote A for each Service. This year, in each of these Service debates, we have debated a Motion tabled by the Opposition, on which there has been a vote at the end of each day. I think that the experiment of having these Motions was well worth trying, because we had rather got into a rut with our debates on Vote A every year, except that we did not have one in 1966, because the General Election intervened.

Nevertheless, I am not convinced that this series of Motions has been the overwhelming success that I am certain right hon. Members opposite hoped that it would be and which many of us also hoped that it would be; because at present we spend six days discussing defence in a fortnight of each year. I am pleased that we have tried this method of improving the position, although I am not myself convinced that it has worked. I think that as a House we must have another look at the matter to see if we cannot evolve some way of spending the same amount of time discussing defence. This would enable the Government to get their Estimates through in due time, whilst by some means or other spreading that time a little more over the year, so that we do not spend six days in one fortnight dealing with something which is a bit wearisome for those who are not actually concerned with it. I think it makes those in the House who are not particularly interested in these problems absolutely fed up with the sound of the word "defence".

Photo of Mr Ian Orr-Ewing Mr Ian Orr-Ewing , Hendon North

The hon. Gentleman will agree that the period has been rather unnecessarily telescoped this year. This would not be normal.

Photo of Mr Gerald Reynolds Mr Gerald Reynolds , Islington North

Yes, it is usually spread a little more, perhaps running into a second week. However, it is not my responsibility, and I am just suggesting that we might try to improve matters in the future. They are Supply days, of course, mainly a question for right hon. and hon. Members opposite, and also a matter in which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is concerned. I think that there is something to be said for looking at the question again. As has been said, we shall have a new Vote structure from 1970 onwards, though it will not affect some of the matters which we now have before us. However, it is my own view that we should look forward and see whether we can make an improvement next year, on the 1969–70 Estimates.

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire

Could there not be a specialist Committee on defence?

Photo of Mr Gerald Reynolds Mr Gerald Reynolds , Islington North

I had better not try to answer that on this Motion, which deals with a somewhat different matter. My views on Select Committees of that kind differ rather according to whether one is in opposition or in Government, as happens with a good many subjects—although, I hasten to say, my views may well be contrary to what people might imagine from that remark.

It should not be forgotten that Britain is in a defence alliance. I got the impression that most hon. Members speaking from the benches opposite today, apart from the hon. Member for Haltemprice, tended to forget that, save when the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said that we should not expect the United States to fight all our battles. I completely agree there. We cannot expect the United States to fight all our battles. But we must remember, at the same time, that we are in an alliance. Because we are in that alliance; because we are so inter-connected in N.A.T.O. and the Western Alliance, we cannot look just at our own Navy, Army and Air Force in isolation and think that we must have forces big enough to carry out major operations, particularly in the European theatre, entirely by ourselves. Realisation of this fact seemed to be missing from a good many speeches today.

I emphasise, as my right hon. Friend did in the defence debate, that, once the rundown, which was announced in the July White Paper last year, the January statement this year, and the current White Paper has been carried out, we shall still be making as large a contribution to N.A.T.O. forces as any other European Power in the alliance—in fact more than most, and more than any of them in the various fields of defence with which we are here concerned.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

The hon. Gentleman accused other hon. Members of not remembering that we are in an alliance. I asked specifically whether the Government agreed with their American allies, our principal partners in the alliance, that an all-out war at sea was possible. I asked for an answer to that question in the winding-up speech.

Photo of Mr Gerald Reynolds Mr Gerald Reynolds , Islington North

The Americans have some world-wide responsibilities, out of which we are gradually moving. I do not believe that a long conventional sea war is possible in the North Atlantic sense, but I shall come back to that later.

In a way, this debate, like the other three, has been a mixed debate turning both on the Motion and on Vote A, enabling hon. Members to ask a lot of questions which they hoped to have answered. I shall try now to deal with the questions which were put. The main point made by the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) was on the general protection of our shipping in general war, in limited war, and against piracy.

As regards general war, in addition to actual direct protection by the Royal Navy—which depends on a number of factors—there are plans, as the hon. Gentleman knows, for diverting ships from threatened areas. Plans exist also to clear ports for shipping and to get ships clear of dangerous waters by means of convoys. These plans are discussed from time to time with representatives of the shipping interests, who are well aware of them, and they will be carried out by the Naval Control of Shipping organisation, which is exercised regularly. People hold dormant posts ready to go into action at any time.

We are also carrying on the provision of degaussing equipment to be fitted in merchant ships in order to enable them to operate against mines. We are trying to improve the effectiveness of that equipment. In part, that is an answer to the last question put by the hon. Member for Haltemprice.

That is the position as regards general war. As regards limited war, convoys will be provided to escort merchant ships which have to be in the particular area concerned. I am here speaking only of limited war affecting one small part of the globe. The rest of the ships would be advised, in their own interests—and I am sure that they would accept this advice—to keep out of that area and would go there only if they had to, in which case convoys would be provided.

Piracy is still a possibility in certain parts of the world and cannot be completely ruled out. We discussed this earlier in the present series of debates. It is not, however, an exclusive threat to United Kingdom shipping. If piracy happened, it would happen to the shipping of other nations, too, and we would expect other nations to take part in dealing with it.

I admit, however, that in the past the Navy has done a large proportion of that policing in various parts of the world where piracy was a possibility. But in places which we are leaving—the Gulf, for example—the Iranian Navy and Saudi Arabian forces are being gradually built up. We are helping to train Iranian cadets and others and we are trying to provide them with equipment. There would, therefore, be national forces in that area which would have an interest in preventing piracy. The same applies in Malaysia and Singapore, where their own forces are being built up.

Things have changed over the last 60 years. Every nation is dependent to a greater or lesser extent on trade with other nations. Therefore, all nations have a desire to ensure that piracy does not take place. We would be able to take part in such action with other nations and get their assistance from time to time. With or without the base at Singapore, it would be possible for the Navy to deal with attempts at piracy. We do not need a base at Singapore to deal with piracy anywhere in the world. One needs a base there only for fighting a war in that area with a sophisticated Power. We are giving up that particular capacity.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Is it the hon. Gentleman's view that we will never again fight even a small conventional war or be engaged in one east of Suez or in the area of the Indies, for example, in which the Navy might have to take part?

Photo of Mr Gerald Reynolds Mr Gerald Reynolds , Islington North

We said as long ago as 1966 that the sort of operation which we would not expect to undertake would be against a sophisticated Power unless it was done with allies, the United Nations or an organisation of that nature. There has been no change in the Government's policy on that matter in the last two years. It was brought out clearly at that time. It might take longer to get to an area to deal with an outbreak of piracy than when we had bases spread out all over the world.

The hon. Member for Haltemprice asked about the Nimrods. Two prototypes are flying. I understand that they are flying well and good progress is being made with the testing and other work at this stage. The production order has not yet been placed, but things are proceeding well for the Nimrod.

The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) asked about coastal minesweepers and what provision was being made to replace them. There is no immediate need to replace the basic coastal minesweepers, many of which were built at the time of Korea and, therefore, still have a good few years of useful life ahead of them. Some are being converted to mine hunters and are better equipped as a result of conversion; they are thus better able to carry out their task.

We are planning a new class of minesweeper for the late 1970s. We would not expect these vessels to come into operation until well on in the 1970s. They are planned for the late 1970s. No production order will be required until that time. As, however, the hon. Member knows, many of the coastal minesweepers have been used for patrol work at Singapore and elsewhere. We are testing the BA7 hovercraft to ascertain whether it is suitable for patrol work. I mention this in connection with minesweepers because they have been used for that work as well as the tasks for which they were originally designed.

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) referred rather sarcastically to the fact that we have one frigate participating in Stanavforlant, which, I understand, is the Standing Naval Force Atlantic. It is true that we have only one frigate in it. We also at present provide the squadron commander. The other frigates come from Norway, one from Holland and one from the United States; and I understand that later in the year they will be joined by one each from the German and Canadian navies. This force has recently been set up.

We recently had a force called "Matchmaker" for a few months each year to take part in exercises. As a result of experience in that direction, we have now set up the standing force. We have shown our willingness to participate in this operation by being in on the force from the beginning, and by providing a contribution to the force of the same size as all the other nations from N.A.T.O. which have come into it. We have also provided a squadron commander.

If there are other proposals in the N.A.T.O. area, we will be willing to consider them and play our part in them. The military commanders have to decide whether this force is required. It is not a decision merely for Her Majesty's Government but a decision by the N.A.T.O. organisation as a whole whether or not we should have the force. We have shown our willingness to play a part and are prepared to consider any other proposals for similar forces or an expansion of this one. My hon. Friend asked who paid for it. Each nation bears the cost for the provision of its own frigate.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester asked about the mini-carrier and the various facilities that come from it. The way in which that carrier could be used was dealt with by the Minister of Defence for Equipment in an Adjournment debate a short time ago, and I do not want to continue with that tonight. We have decided to go for helicopters on all ships with the missiles rather than make any provision of mini-carriers.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked what had been done about providing assistance for the Bahamas in connection with the tanker there which contains a large amount of oil. I am not prepared to try to pronounce the name of the ship. The Commonwealth Office has been in touch with the Governor of the Bahamas who says that he does not want any Royal Navy assistance at the moment. Detergents have been flown to the area, and we are prepared to give any other advice and assistance in our power when requested to do so.

The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) asked about the position of the Royal Marines and our amphibious force of Royal Marine Commandos and supporting arms in H.M.S. "Bulwark" and H.M.S. "Victorious" and also H.M.S. "Intrepid" and H.M.S. "Fearless". They are an important part of our capability. We are examining their future rôle in a predominantly N.A.T.O. setting in our force level study. They can contribute to the protection of N.A.T.O.'s southern flank and to N.A.T.O.'s maritime presence in the Mediterranean. I think that that answers the hon. Member for Haltemprice, whose interest in the Corps we are aware of. This examination has been started; nothing more than that.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian also asked whether we were acquiring the Poseidon. We have no plans to acquire that missile. We are satisfied with the capability of the Polaris throughout the 1970s. It must be remembered that we are a member of an alliance. It is not just the question of our having to have a missile which can penetrate the necessary defences. We are a member of an alliance and are satisfied with the position.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester and the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) asked about the Styx missile and what action is being taken in that field. This point has been answered more than once before by the Minister of Defence for Equipment. It seems easier to ask the question than to listen to the answer. The question is simply: How can the Royal Navy protect itself from the Styx missile in an incident like that of the "Eilat"?

We are providing surface protection helicopters and so on, but we are not planning to provide the fleet with any surface-to-surface guided weapon in the sense of a missile fired directly from a ship. We are putting them into helicopters. This is because they will extend the missile capability without reliance on land-based aircraft for target identification. These missiles have a range far exceeding that of the Styx missile or any other missile likely to be developed for fast patrol boats of the Komar type. They provide flexibility of operation. From the point of view of the enemy, it does not matter whether one is hit by the equivalent of a 6 in. shell coming from a ship or a helicopter. The result is equally unpleasant.

It may be that the next generation of helicopter-launched weapons will have a further capability, which will give helicopters immunity from the anti-aircraft weapons carried in patrol boats. The helicopters will be operating under the defensive umbrella of other surface-to-air missiles, including the Sea Dart, which will deal with marauding enemy fighters at an adequate distance, and they will also be able to rely on fighter cover from friendly airfields.

That is not the whole story. The second line of defence of our ships against missile attack will be provided in every one of our new service classes by a new surface-to-air weapon; since both the Sea Cat and the Sea Dart, as well as the the Sea Slug, will have a considerable anti-missile capability which the Eilat lacked.

Then there is the question of dealing with frigates and larger ships. We shall have the Fleet submarines for this. In the European area and some other places we shall have land-based aircraft. It is generally accepted that these are available, both in the Fleet Air Arm and in the Royal Air Force, for a maritime rôle in the European theatre and home waters. We are making a study of submarine-launched anti-ship missiles. It will be some time before weapons of this sort will be required and the carriers will be available for some time yet.

The question of selling the "Victorious" to Australia or New Zealand has been raised. Naturally we are prepared to consider offers for her—my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has said so. But prospective buyers will know that she is more than 30 years old and that large amounts of money would have to be spent on her to prepare her a further period of use. The "Victorious" was to be the first of the carriers to be phased out under the plans announced some time ago. [Interruption.] Prospective buyers do not have to read about it. They know that the "Victorious" is 30 years old. I do not want to influence anyone. They surely know what a hull is like after all that time and what would have to be spent on her.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there had been a remarkable change in strategic thinking over the last three years—implying that this had taken place under the present Government—and added that, apparently, the concept of a war at sea had sunk below the horizon. Perhaps he was quoting some one else in this, for it is difficult to know in his speeches nowadays whether he is expressing his own views or those of someone else. Today he quoted a large number of speeches. At least those quotations have been consistent insofar as he has been trying to use them to say that there will be a longer period of conventional war, obviously on land and at sea.

I do not move from the view I took up in the debate on the Territorial Army. When we in the Government and in N.A.T.O. talk about this, we are talking of a land war in Europe with a few days' extra delay in the conventional stage. I accept that, if incidents happened at sea, there would probably be a slightly longer delay. We could not afford to sit back if our shipping in the Atlantic were being shot up.

The right hon. Gentleman has accused us of making big changes in the last three years. May I point out again that changes have been taking place over the last 20 years? In the last three years, we have had inevitable changes in the pattern of our overseas bases, in our military position overseas and in the size of our Services. It ill behoves the Opposition to try and condemn us for cutting down the Fleet in three years, however. They should look back on their own record.

In 1951, the Labour Government handed over to the incoming Tory Government 20 aircraft carriers which were active, in reserve or building. In 1964, five were handed over to us. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) said—I am glad he is back in Navy debates, because we had some good times together in Navy debates in Opposition—the Conservative Government talked about building aircraft carriers before 1964 but did nothing about them. If the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester wants to see the case against smaller carriers, he should read the Vote A debates of 1963 and 1964, when we on this side argued against CVA01 and for small carriers. We were told that these were no good.

In 1951, we handed over 286 frigates and in 1964 the Navy had 120. The really

big run-down in the size of the Royal Navy took place not in the last three years, during which there has only been a slight run-down, but during the 13 years right hon. Members opposite were responsible. I think that this run-down was right because our position in the world was changing. It is still changing. They were right to run down the size of the Navy but they should not condemn us for carrying on what they were doing.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 137, Noes 221.

Division No. 87.]AYES[10.0 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)Grant-Ferris, R.Onslow, Cranley
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Gurden, HaroldOrr-Ewing, Sir Ian
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)Hall, John (Wycombe)Osborn, John (Hallam)
Baker, W. H. K.Hall-Davis, A. G. F.Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Balniel, LordHamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Peel, John
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)Harvey, Sir Arthur VerePeyton, John
Boardman, TomHastings, StephenPike, Miss Mervyn
Bossom, Sir CliveHeseltine, MichaelPink, R. Bonner
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. JohnHiley, JosephPowell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir EdwardHill, J. E. B.Prior, J. M. L.
Braine, BernardHirst, GeoffreyPym, Francis
Brewis, JohnHolland, PhilipRamsden, Rt. Hn. James
Brinton, Sir TattonHordern, PeterRidley, Hn. Nicholas
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir WalterHornby, RichardRidsdale, Julian
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Howell, David (Guildford)Robson Brown, Sir William
Buck, Anthony (Colchester)Hunt, JohnRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Burden, F. A.Hutchison, Michael ClarkRoyle, Anthony
Campbell, GordonIremonger, T. L.Russell, Sir Ronald
Clark, HenryIrvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Scott, Nicholas
Cooke, RobertKershaw, AnthonyScott-Hopkins, James
Cooper-Key, Sir NeillKing, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Sharples, Richard
Costain, A. P.Kitson, TimothyShaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir OliverKnight, Mrs. JillSinclair, Sir George
Currie, G. B. H.Lane, DavidSmith, John
Dalkeith, Earl ofLangford-Holt, Sir JohnStoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Dance, JamesLegge-Bourke, Sir HarryTapsell, Peter
d'Avigdor-Goldemid, Sir HenryLoveys, W. H.Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)McAdden, Sir StephenTaylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Dodds-Parker, DouglasMacArthur, IanTemple, John M.
Doughty, CharlesMaclean, Sir FitzroyThatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)McMaster, StanleyTilney, John
Emery, PeterMaddan, MartinVickers, Dame Joan
Errington, Sir EricMarten, NeilWalker, Peter (Worcester)
Eyre, ReginaldMaude, AngusWall, Patrick
Farr, JohnMawby, RayWard, Dame Irene
Fisher, NigelMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Webster, David
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMaydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Foster, Sir JohnMills, Peter (Torrington)Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh(St'fford & Stone)Miscampbell, NormanWood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Galbraith, Hon. T. G.Monro, HectorWoodnutt, Mark
Giles, Rear-Adm. MorganMontgomery, FergusWorsley, Marcus
Glyn, Sir RichardMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Wylie, N. R.
Goodhart, PhilipMott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Goodhew, VictorMunro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir HughTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gower, RaymondNabarro, Sir GeraldMr. Jasper More and
Grant, AnthonyNoble, Rt. Hn. MichaelMr. Bernard Weatherill.
Albu, AustenBidwell, SydneyBrown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Binns, JohnBrown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)
Allen, ScholefieldBlackburn, F.Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)
Armstrong, ErnestBoardman, H. (Leigh)Buchan, Norman
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Booth, AlbertButler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)Boyden, JamesButler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. AliceBraddock, Mrs. E. M.Carmichael, Neil
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Bray, Dr. JeremyCarter-Jones, Lewis
Baxter, WilliamBrooks, EdwinCastle, Rt. Hn. Barbara
Beaney, AlanBrown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper)Chapman, Donald
Coe, DenisHowarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)Oswald, Thomas
Coleman, DonaldHowie, W.Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)Huckfield, LesliePadley, Walter
Crawshaw, RichardHughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Cronin, JohnHughes, Roy (Newport)Paget, R. T.
Crossman, Rt. Hn. RichardHunter, AdamPanned, Rt. Hn. Charles
Cullen, Mrs. AliceHynd, JohnPark, Trevor
Dalyell, TamIrvine, Sir ArthurParker. John (Dagenham)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)Pavitt, Laurence
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)Pentland, Norman
Davies, Harold (Leek)Janner, Sir BarnettPerry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Delargy, HushJones, Dan (Burnley)Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Dell, EdmundJones, Rt. Hn. SirElwyn (W. Ham, S.)Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Dempsey, JamesJones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Diamond, Rt. Hn. JohnJudd, FrankProbert, Arthur
Dickens, JamesKelley, RichardRankin, John
Dobson, RayKenyon, CliffordRees, Merlyn
Doig, PeterKerr, Russell (Feltham)Reynolds, G. W.
Dunn, James A.Lawson, GeorgeRhodes, Geoffrey
Dunnett, JackLeadbitter, TedRoberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)Ledger, RonRobinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Eadie, AlexLee, John (Reading)Roebuck, Roy
Edelman, MauriceLestor, Miss JoanRoss, Rt. Hn. William
Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Lever, Harold (Cheetham)Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Ellis, JohnLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Ryan, John
English, MichaelLomas, KennethShaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Ennals, DavidLoughlin, CharlesSheldon, Robert
Ensor, DavidLuard, EvanShort, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)Lubbock, EricSilkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)Lyon, Alexander W. (York)Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Faulds, AndrewLyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)Skeffington, Arthur
Fernyhough, E.McBride, NeilSlater, Joseph
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McCann, JohnSmall, William
Foley, MauriceMacDermot, NiallSnow, Julian
Ford, BenMcGuire, MichaelSpriggs, Leslie
Fowler, GerryMackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Fraser, John (Norwood)Mackintosh, John P.Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Freeson, ReginaldMaclennan, RobertSwingler, Stephen
Gardner, TonyMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Garrett, W. E.McNamara, J. KevinThomson, Rt. Hn. George
Ginsburg, DavidMacPherson, MalcolmTinn, James
Gourlay, HarryMahon, Peter (Preston, S.)Tomney, Frank
Gregory, ArnoldMahon, Simon (Bootle)Urwin, T. W.
Grey, Charles (Durham)Mallalieu, E. L, (Brigg)Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)Manuel, ArchieWalden, Brian (All Saints)
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)Marks, KennethWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Griffiths, Will (Exchange)Mason, RoyWallace, George
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Mayhew, ChristopherWatkins, David (Consett)
Hamling, WilliamMellish. Rt. Hn. RobertWeitzman, David
Hannan, WilliamMillan, BruceWellbeloved, James
Harper, JosephMiller, Dr. M. S.Whitaker, Ben
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Milne, Edward (Blyth)Whitlock, William
Hart, Mrs. JudithMitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)Wilkins, W. A.
Haseldine, NormanMorgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Hattersley, RoyMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Hazell, BertMorris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Healey, Rt. Hn. DenisMurray, AlbertWillis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Heffer, Eric S.Neal, HaroldWoodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Henig, StanleyNoel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)Woof, Robert
Herbison, Rt. Hn. MargaretNorwood, ChristopherYates, Victor
Hooley, FrankOakes, Gordon
Hooson, EmlynOgden, EricTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Horner, JohnO'Malley, BrianMr. Eric G. Varley and
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasOrme, StanleyMr. Alan Fitch.