Before the debate begins, I wish to make two observations.
First, of the two Amendments on the Order Paper I have selected the first, standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the names of his right hon. Friends, to leave out from 'House' to end and add—
'deplores the policies of Her Majesty's Government which involve a continuing reduction in the effectiveness of our defence forces to the detriment of national security, interests and commitments'.
but not the second, standing in the name of the hon. Member for Barrow in Furness (Mr. Booth) and the names of some of his hon. Friends, to leave out from 'House' to end and add—
'whilst welcoming the Government's decision to withdraw military bases from east of Suez and the consequent reduction in military expenditure thus obtained, is completely opposed to the proposals in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1970 for the initial use of nuclear weapons by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces'.
Secondly, 47 right hon. and hon. Members have notified me of their wish to speak in this two-day debate. I have worked out that everybody could be called if each spoke for 10 minutes.
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Statement on Defence, 1970, contained in Command Paper No. 4290.
This year's Defence White Paper contains no big changes in defence policy. The decisions which Her Majesty's Government took in January, 1968, set a stable pattern for the 1970s and we have since made smooth and steady progress towards reaching the objectives it established. But the prospects on the international scene look somewhat different today from how they appeared two years ago. Evidence is accumulating that we are indeed entering on an era of negotiation, as President Nixon predicted. The talks between Russia and the United States on the limitation of strategic armaments have already begun, while N.A.T.O. as a whole is trying to engage the Warsaw Powers in similar negotiations on mutual reductions of forces in Europe.
Inside the North Atlantic Alliance itself, some readjustment of the defence burden as between North America and Western Europe is inevitable during the new decade. President Nixon has asserted in the firmest terms that America cannot and will not disengage from Western Europe and that there will be no reductions in American forces at least before the middle of next year. But if the European members of the alliance are to provide the United States with an equal partner, as President Nixon has invited them to do, they will have to become somewhat more self-reliant for their defence than they are today.
I intend to spend most of my time in this speech in exploring the implications for British defence policy of these changes in the international scene, but since the Opposition have once again put down a Motion of censure against the Government's defence policy, and this may be an election year, I hope that the House will forgive me if I also explore the nature of the choice of defence policies with which the people will be confronted at the forthcoming General Election.
Let me, first, however, say something about the progress which has been made during the last 12 months towards the goal we set ourselves in 1968. This year's Defence Estimates show a reduction of £128 million below the Estimates for 1969–70 at last year's prices. As the White Paper predicted, however, the improvements in pay which I announced to the House last Wednesday will absorb the £68 million gap between current estimates and the figure of £2,211 million given in the White Paper on Public Expenditure last December at comparable prices.
The additional cost of the improvements beyond this £68 million, since it is what the Services could have expected to get under the out-moded Grigg system, count as a normal pay and price increase for public expenditure purposes, as did all the Grigg increases in the past under both Governments. At comparable prices, the reduction on last year's Estimates will amount in the end to £60 million, a reduction of 3 per cent.
In sum, the Estimates for 1970–71, including the additional cost of military salary, bring the total savings made by the Government since 1964, compared with the costings made by the Conservative Government of their own plans, to over £3,000 million. Further savings of over £2,000 million will follow in the next two years, provided that the electorate has the sense to return a Labour Government again.
This massive reduction in defence expenditure in 1972 means that we shall have cut one-third off the expenditure planned by the Conservative Government and this has been achieved in part by getting better value for money on defence equipment. Though the budget is being cut by one-third, the size of our forces when the rundown is complete will have been reduced by only 75,000, a little over one-sixth of the 1964 total. But our commitments in terms of forces stationed outside the United Kingdom are being cut by about one-half. As a result, we have been able substantially to improve our contribution to N.A.T.O. and to reduce the over-stretch from which our forces suffered in 1964.
Although they have tried, commentators have been unable to fault the opening paragraph of the White Paper, namely, that
Britain enters the Seventies with an overall military capability which no other West European power can surpass.
It has been suggested that that is not a relevant comparison, but I hope that no one suggests that we should plan in Britain to fight the whole strength of the Warsaw Powers on our own. We plan to prevent a war, as does the North Atlantic Alliance, and our contribution to its military strength is unsurpassed by any other West European members of the alliance. As the White Paper says, our Armed Forces are the most highly trained in the alliance and they have already in service or in immediate prospect a range of new equipment that is second to none.
Next, I turn to the changes in the international setting of our defence policy which will be the main subject of my speech. The whole House will hope that this will prove to be an era of negotiations. Throughout the world, Governments are coming to recognise that security could better he achieved through co-operation in the limitation and control of armed forces than through unending competition in an arms race whose dangers are more obvious every day. An essential key to progress in this field is the talks between America and Russia on the limitation of strategic armaments, which have already started in Helsinki and will be resumed next month in Vienna.
America and Russia between them account for about 70 per cent. of the world's defence expenditure. I believe that every country in the world has a direct and powerful interest in the success of these talks between the super-Powers. If they were to fail, it would be a sombre outlook for mankind, because, to the risks presented by the new possibilities which weapons technology creates, we must add the fact that the economic costs of the new technological weapons options might produce changes in the pattern of military spending by the super-Powers which could dislocate the alliances to which they now belong.
Moreover, the worldwide discussion about the Non-Proliferation Treaty has shown that all the smaller Powers cannot be expected to observe restraint themselves unless the super Powers show equal restraint by limiting their arms race with one another. So humanity has an immense stake in the success of the S.A.L.T. talks. No one who has studied the issues they involve, even through public sources like records of hearings in the United States Congress, can imagine that formal agreements on major problems will be easy to reach.
But what we can reasonably hope is that America and Russia may in their discussions develop a degree of mutual understanding and confidence which leads them to renounce some of the more dangerous and expensive options even before written agreements are finally secured. We European Powers have an accute and urgent interest both in the success of the talks and in the nature of any agreements in which they result.
For us in Europe, however, there is another field of negotiation of even more direct concern. Nearly two years ago, at Reykjavik, the North Atlantic Council invited the Soviet Union and its allies to join in talks about mutual reductions in forces balanced in scope and timing. So far, there has been no response. The Communist Governments have, it is true, made a proposal for what they call an "all-European security conference", but they do not yet seem prepared to discuss at such a conference the real problems of European security. In fact, so far they have excluded discussion of mutual force reductions. Nevertheless, I believe that a way must be found by which we can get real talks on European security going; and this is one of the several issues on which I am totally at one with those of my hon. Friends who have put down a critical unofficial Amendment.
I would agree that something might be gained if the States concerned could exchange declarations against the use of military force to secure political Objectives outside their national frontiers, provided, of course, they cover such actions as the recent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia no less than the more familiar types of agression. Surely, if none of the European countries really intends to use military agression as an instrument of policy, there is obviously an overwhelming case for both sides seeking to maintain security in Europe with a lower level of forces and at lower cost.
I do not deny that, like the talks on strategic arms limitation, negotiations about mutual force reductions in Europe face some difficult problems, because of differences in the structure of the opposing forces, differences in their size, differences in their geographical situation, and even differences in their political rôle. That is why N.A.T.O. is now working so hard to develop an approach to mutual arms reductions which will guarantee both sides at least as much security as they enjoy today.
I hope that the Warsaw Powers will work no less hard to the same end, for we look forward to the Atlantic Council renewing its invitation to talks on mutual force reductions in even more pressing terms when it meets in Rome next May. Two years have already passed since Reykjavik, and time is not necessarily on the side of peace. On this, again, I completely agree with those of my hon. Friends who have put down a critical Amendment.
The starting point for any such negotiations, as, indeed, for the development of the appropriate strategy in the existing situation, is to determine what are at present the relative military capabilities of the opposing sides. I explained to the House two years ago that there were then some disagreements on this question even inside the North Atlantic Alliance, but I am glad to say that the work done during the last 12 months has greatly narrowed the area of these disagreements and has confirmed what I then suspected to be the case—and I said this to the House—namely, that neither a crude count of divisions on each side nor a crude comparison of total military manpower give a useful approximation of real military capability. When geography and weaponry are taken into account the truth is seen to lie somewhere between these two extremes.
But no one in the Atlantic Alliance now doubts that the effective superiority of the Warsaw Powers in conventional military strength in Europe rules out a purely conventional defence of Western Europe against an all-out conventional attack by the Warsaw Powers.
There is nothing new about this situation; it has existed ever since N.A.T.O. was set up in 1949. Because N.A.T.O. strategy has always been founded on the nuclear deterrent against a major Soviet attack, Western Europe has known total peace for two decades during which the Middle East, Asia, and Africa have known many wars.
Some people have always rejected this strategy, although it has prevented the appalling human suffering that is bound to attend a third world war. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean), are two examples, but they at least have always had the courage to admit that the strategy that they prefer could not be carried out unless Britain reintroduced conscription. But it is worth reminding the House that even when this country had conscription, before 1957, N.A.T.O. was no more able to renounce dependence on a nuclear strategy against all-out agression than it is today.
Indeed, during the three years during which the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire—whom I am glad to see in his place—was himself an Army Minister, the N.A.T.O. strategy that he served was one of immediate and massive retaliation with strategic nuclear weapons. For Western Europe to provide itself with the sort of defence that he and Lord Wigg are asking for would require not only Britain but all her allies to introduce conscription on the Soviet model, with a two- or three-year term of service and very few exemptions.
In recent weeks, in the newspapers and on television, there has been a lot of discussion among distinguished military figures on the question of N.A.T.O. strategy. I do not think that there has ever been a time in world history when all military men have agreed on military strategy. As the recent correspondence in The Times has shown, professional soldiers tend to have as many views on military strategy as professional economists on budgetary strategy. The job of a civilian Defence Minister is to decide between the differing views of his professional advisers in the light of the total political, economic and military situation as he sees it as a member of a civilian Government.
In my opinion, the best advice that I ever received as Secretary of State for Defence—and perhaps I felt this because it so clearly corresponded with the views with which I entered office—can be summarised as follows. First, I was told that the only final answer to a deliberate major attack was strategic nuclear retaliation and that this was both effective and credible as a deterrent. The rôle of the N.A.T.O. Powers in Europe—I was told—was not to wage a general war, still less to fight a broken-backed war after the nuclear exchange; it was to contribute to the overall deterrent by being able to stop small-scale attacks and force the enemy to mount a major invasion if he wanted to move Westwards at all.
But to deter a minor incursion—I was told—N.A.T.O. Powers needed sufficient tactical nuclear weapons to make the risks of escalation a real one. I was told that provided they were properly armed with tactical nuclear as well as with conventional weapons, the existing level of N.A.T.O. forces was sufficient, and was likely to remain sufficient in the future. And I was told very strongly that tactical nuclear weapons could not be used to fight and win a war or to defend an area—in the classical sense—like a sort of superior artillery; their rôle was, rather, to strengthen the credibility of the deterrent.
The author of the advice that I have summarised in these words was that great public servant and outstanding military leader, the noble Lord, Earl Mountbatten—then Chief of Defence Staff in the Ministry of Defence. As the House would expect, he was always consistent in his views, and both loud and clear in presenting them, whether to me or to his colleagues on the N.A.T.O. Military Committee. I have no doubt that he put the same views to my predecessors over the nine years when he served as a Chief of Staff under them. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite can perhaps confirm this by consulting anyone who was in the mournful, struggling camel train of Defence Ministers during the previous Conservative Administration—nine in 13 years, although I dare say that some were not in office long enough even to learn Earl Mountbatten's name, still less his views.
On every one of these points of Lord Mountbatten I agreed with him in 1965; indeed. I argued them myself in opposition. Whether the Conservative Administration agreed with him, I do not know. Certainly, they did not succeed in getting N.A.T.O. to do anything about his views, especially his views on the proper rôle of nuclear weapons in N.A.T.O. strategy.
The present Government have both tried and succeeded. During the last five years they have played a leading part in changing the N.A.T.O. doctrine on the tactical use of nuclear weapons to meet Lord Mountbatten's criticism. The new guidelines from the Nuclear Planning Group, which were approved by the N.A.T.O. Council last December, give them a very different rôle from that which they had in the old strategy and a much more rational rôle, in keeping with Lord Mountbatten's views. It is obviously impossible for N.A.T.O. to publish the guidelines on which it has recently agreed without grave damage to the security of the alliance.
Is it not rather unusual to quote the advice that Service Chiefs of Staff give to Ministers during the course of their service?
I reflected very carefully on that problem, but having seen the gross misinterpretation of Lord Mount-batten's views which arose from the publication of his letter to The Times, which purported to give an account of the views which, as Chief of Defence Staff, he gave to the Military Committee of N.A.T.O., I thought it in his interest as well as that of Her Majesty's Government—and, I suggest, of the previous Conservative Government—to make clear that the interpretation given to his views—particularly in The Times, was totally unfounded.
Mr. Leonard Beaton's article in The Times on 25th February gave a good picture of the purpose of the new guidelines developed and accepted by the Atlantic Council. On the other hand, the various and self-contradictory statements made by The Times defence correspondent both today and on earlier occasions are not only grossly inaccurate, but are, in some respects, the opposite of the truth. This applies in particular, as I made clear at Question Time, to the statement today about the delegation of authority to military commanders and about the concept of using low-yield atomic weapons as if they were conventional artillery.
We have also helped to promote a significant major change in N.A.T.O. strategy. Instead of the immediate and automatic use of nuclear weapons in case of a major attack, N.A.T.O. has shifted to a more flexible strategy which maximises the conventional capability to give Governments as much time as possible to decide whether the use of nuclear weapons is justified and, if so, how to use them.
To illustrate the reality and importance of this shift in strategy, I will give an example of what it means in practice. Since the tripwire strategy assumed the immediate use of nuclear weapons in case of an all-out attack, N.A.T.O. strike aircraft at that time were intended for nuclear attack and had little or no conventional capability. Moreover, little or no attempt was made to protect them at their airfields since it was assumed that they would have left the ground on their one and only nuclear mission by the time that the first Soviet attacking planes or missiles arrived.
Under the new strategy, N.A.T.O. strike aircraft will, as far as possible, have a dual capability and will be ready for conventional as well as nuclear operations, so that the bulk of them can be used initially in the conventional rôle to support ground forces in maximising the period of conventional response. This is why, as the White Paper explains, in Chapter 1 (27), we are sending Bloodhound and light anti-aircraft squadrons to our airfields in Germany this year and why we are beginning a programme for the construction of aircraft shelters, since we envisage a period of conventional war in which aircraft must be protected while on the ground.
But it remains as true today as it was in 1965, when Lord Mountbatten spoke, that the only final answer to a deliberate major attack would be nuclear retaliation by the strategic forces. However, under the new strategy it would be possible to delay this ultimate response so that, at successive stages, the enemy could be given time and opportunity to cease his aggression, rather than to provoke escalation to the use of more destructive weapons on a larger scale.
This is what is new in N.A.T.O. strategy since Her Majesty's Government under Labour took office, and however much some of my hon. Friends may dislike the nuclear strategy I hope that they will agree that this modification of it is something that they can welcome.
While I can see that there is something new in the sense of there being a reduction in the risk, would not my right hon. Friend agree that it would have the same effect? In other words, would not the dropping of a tactical bomb in East Europe or in Soviet Russia lead to retaliation in kind, or even to escalation to the use of hydrogen bombs, since if the converse were true, and such a bomb were dropped on this country or in Western Europe, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would be able to resist retaliation or even escalation.
That is precisely the type of question which we have been considering in the Nuclear Planning Group of N.A.T.O. during the last few years. We believe that we have developed guidelines for the initial use of tactical nuclear weapons which, while presenting the credibility of further nuclear escalation if the enemy does not stop, does not maximise the risk of automatic escalation if he wishes to stop. I believe that the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) who is familiar with this type of problem, may conceive of the type of thing about which I am talking.
These are difficult questions and I would not for a moment pretend that the strategy we have developed is a no-risk one. Unfortunately, with the existence of nuclear weapons in the world there is no way of having a no-risk strategy without mutual arms control under mutual inspection. However, I believe that this constitutes a real improvement; and this is the unanimous view of the Atlantic Alliance.
I would make a simple point to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) and those who have signed the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow (Mr. Booth). I share their hopes for mutual force reductions, as I have made clear, and we are working hard to get them. However, if we cannot get such reductions on both sides, then N.A.T.O's dependence on nuclear deterrence is not a matter of political choice but of military arithmetic. Thanks in part to the increased contribution of conventional forces made by the United Kingdom, N.A.T.O. would not now have to use nuclear weapons against anything but a major deliberate invasion by the Red Army—[Interruption.]
Some of my hon. Friends evidently believe that such an invasion is out of the question. I hope that they are right. In that case, N.A.T.O. will never have to use nuclear weapons at all and, thus, their concern about the implications of N.A.T.O.'s strategy is quite unnecessary.
My right hon. Friend says that this nuclear strategy represents a step forward. Does it not also represent a serious step backward when one reflects that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 5th December, 1967, that the Labour Government, like their predecessors, would never be the first to use nuclear weapons in time of war?
I cannot recall that particular remark. I think that my hon. Friend may have taken it out of context. However, I will look it up later.
What I say is the case; that N.A.T.O. has always depended on nuclear deterrence in the event of a major attack. Because of these new changes in N.A.T.O. strategy, we are less dependent on a nuclear response now than we were in the past. If N.A.T.O. has to start using nuclear weapons because there has been a major Soviet invasion, there is now a much greater chance of stopping the invasion at that point, without automatic escalation to strategic nuclear war, than there was in the past. God knows, we all dislike depending on this strategy, but the trouble is that there is no way of getting away from it without an increase in military expenditure and the reintroduction of conscription in Britain, a point which I will develop later.
My right hon. Friend suggested to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) that those who had signed the unofficial Amendment thought that there could never be an invasion by the Red Army. I wish to dispel that view. That is not the position. We recognise that in certain circumstances there could be an invasion by the Red Army. However, we say that the use of nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise, must inevitably lead to retaliation by the other side. This is the point that we are making. We are not referring to the possibility of a Red Army invasion.
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will make that point if he is fortunate to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
My only reply is that military arithmetic dictates that if there were a major invasion by the Red Army, which my hon. Friend does not exclude, Western Europe would either have to surrender without a fight or use nuclear weapons. There is only one third way out, and that is a vast increase in expenditure and a reintroduction of conscription in an attempt to provide an all-conventional defence against such an attack, but no doubt my hon. Friend will have ample opportunities of developing this point.
None of us likes this dependence on a nuclear strategy, and I do not claim that the new strategy guarantees security for Western Europe into the indefinite future. Nothing but a satisfactory system of arms control under mutual inspection will do that; but the new strategy does make it easier to avoid the use of nuclear weapons so long as there is any alternative whatever to that course, and consequently, I believe, is both more morally acceptable and more credible than the old one.
On the other hand, if the forces now available to N.A.T.O. were significantly reduced—and this is what my hon. Friends are asking for—to make a smaller conventional contribution to defence in Germany without a similar reduction of forces by the Warsaw Pact—and similar does not necessarily mean proportional—the flexible strategy would have to be replaced either by a lowering of the nuclear threshold and a move back towards the trip-wire strategy which none of the allies could lightly contemplate or by greater dependence on a mobile defence in depth involving the abandonment of the forward defence of Western Germany.
I believe that either of these alternatives would be undesirable and, moreover, could provoke divisive and dangerous arguments inside the Western Alliance with consequences which it does not take much imagination to predict.
Over the last few years N.A.T.O. has had to cope with two such threats to the existing balance of forces in Europe. First, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia which left a number of Soviet divisions facing N.A.T.O. in Czechoslovakia where none had previously been stationed, and second, the decision of the Canadian Government to reduce their contribution to the defence of Europe on the ground and to change its nature.
The Czech crisis led to some significant strengthening in the N.A.T.O.'s military capability. As the then American Ambassador to N.A.T.O. has pointed out, 80 to 90 per cent. of this improvement was made by the European members of the alliance, a large part by the United Kingdom. These improvements were described in last year's Defence White Paper.
This year, we face the withdrawal of the Canadian mechanised brigade group from its key position in Northern Army Group as part of the First British Corps which is due to take place later this year. I am glad to tell the House that the problems this creates are also being met by the effort of the European Powers and that, once again, Britain is playing a leading rôle.
In brief, the British 6 Brigade will move into the position left vacant by the Canadian Brigade this autumn and the present rôle of 6 Brigade as a crisis reinforcement for Northern Army Group will be taken over by a newly-formed German brigade. And 36 Heavy Air Defence Regiment and 18 Wessex Squadron, R.A.F., will also return to Germany this autumn. The Government are grateful to the German Government for the help they are giving towards meeting the foreign exchange costs of the return of 6 Brigade to Germany. The German Government have agreed to buy British military equipment to offset exchange costs of keeping 6 Brigade in Germany and have undertaken to meet up to 13 million Deutsche Marks worth of the costs of settling 6 Brigade into its new position.
I think the whole House will agree that this is an excellent example of Anglo-German co-operation. I believe that this is the type of mutual self-help by the European members of N.A.T.O. and is a valuable precedent for the future. It is a further step towards creating that European identity in defence which the Government have been seeking to develop these past two years and which President Nixon eloquently welcomed in his impressive statement the other day.
Europe as a whole has already derived great benefit from the decision of Her Majesty's Government, two years ago, to concentrate Britain's defence efforts in the N.A.T.O. area during the 1970s. As a result of the withdrawal from our bases overseas, which began after the end of confrontation, the total strength of our forces in B.A.O.R. in Germany will be more than 3,500 higher at the end of 1970 than it was in 1964. We have also been able to make major increases in our commitment to the mobile formations like 3 Division and to strengthen our contribution by both sea and air in the Mediterannean.
The case for this change in Britain's defence policy looks like being stronger still in the years ahead, for the central problem facing N.A.T.O. in the immediate future is the substantial pressure in the United States for a reduction in America's contribution to the alliance in Europe.
We must all have welcomed President Nixon's firm assurance in his recent statement that America can no more disengage from Europe than she can disengage from Alaska, and that she will make no significant reduction in her forces in Europe at least before the middle of 1971. I hope that we Europeans also take note of his warning that a clear demonstration of Europe's determination to take its defence seriously is the best possible argument against the critics of America's present contribution to the alliance.
I hope too, that Europe can answer his appeal to it to provide America with a partner in defence as well as other fields which will enable America to assume a more equal relationship with her allies during this decade than in the last quarter of a century. Her Majesty's Government will do all in their power to help in creating such a European partner in defence no less than in the fields of foreign policy and economics. A solid foundation has already been laid in the efforts by the European members of N.A.T.O. over the last 18 months to meet the problems created by the Czech invasion and the Canadian reductions. The agreement between Germany, Italy and Britain to start on the project for a multi-rôle combat aircraft sets an impressive example in the field of defence procurement. I hope that in the coming year we may be able to build on that foundation. I believe, too, that Europe as a whole should develop a coherent and helpful posture in connection with the American-Soviet talks on strategic arms limitation.
Unfortunately, the picture is not quite complete. Just as it is now universally recognised that the European Economic Community cannot be complete till Britain and the other applicants are inside it, so the security of Europe and an effective and equal partnership between Europe and the United States requires the full participation of France in European defence. Perhaps it is not too much to hope that we shall also see in the coming year a move by our great neighbour across the Channel into a closer military relationship with her allies which will enable her to play a full part in the collective defence of Europe.
I now pass to the Opposition's Amendment—a good deal more curiously and cautiously worded than the Amendment they put down last year.
We have listened with great interest to the argument the right hon. Gentleman put forward about the use of nuclear weapons, and so on. He said at the beginning of his speech that he would deal with the relative capacities of the two blocs and he went on to give a further judgment on the capacity in conventional weapons. Will he now tell us what is the agreed judgment of the nuclear capacity?
I cannot give details. All I can say is that N.A.T.O. is satisfied that its nuclear capability, both strategic and tactical, is fully adequate to play its part in the strategy which I have described to the House. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would expect me to go further than that, certainly not the figures of nuclear weapons available to the alliance or to describe their types.
The Leader of the Opposition, according to The Times, intends to attack the Government's support for the current N.A.T.O. strategy and to demand less reliance on nuclear weapons. No one has ever signalled his punches quite so clearly—if punch is the right word: it usually feels more like a slap on the wrist. But if he really disagrees with the present N.A.T.O. strategy and thereby rejects even more decisively the tripwire strategy supported by all Conservative Governments since the war, then he has the right and duty to tell us so; but he has also the duty to tell us what he will make the country pay in men and money for the strategy he prefers.
The plain fact is that there is no way whatever for N.A.T.O. to escape from its present dependence on tactical and strategic nuclear weapons without a massive increase in military manpower, which will certainly require Britain to introduce conscription.
This is not just my view; it is the view of all those with whose critiques of current N.A.T.O. strategy the right hon. Gentleman has allied himself.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), who shouted "Hear, hear" just now, was so overcome by emotion when I made the same point on Sunday that he said that to suggest such a thing was to be a pathological liar.
May I say that if it were not contrary to the rules of order I would repeat it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made a characteristic remark which the House will judge as it judges such remarks.
The view which I expressed on Sunday is the view of Lord Wigg and of the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire, as he made clear in his letter to The Times.
Does the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham think that they are pathological liars? Even General Hackett, who does not ask N.A.T.O. to renounce dependence on nuclear retaliation, but wants simply to prolong the period of conventional resistance further, asks for seven extra divisions. They could not be obtained without conscription in Britain.
Is he a pathological liar? Are the Yorkshire Post and the Evening Standard written by pathological liars because they accept conscription as the necessary condition of carrying out the right hon. and learned Gentleman's policy? Even those who have written today's leaders in The Times and the Daily Telegraph admit that conscription might be necessary to carry out the right hon. and learned Gentleman's policy.
Let me carry the argument a little nearer home. I believe that the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) is to wind up the debate for the Opposition. He is a good deal more knowledgeable and more moderate in these affairs than some of his right hon. Friends. He stated the crucial fact quite fairly when he said in his lecture to the R.U.S.I. on 11th February this year:
even if the reduced force levels proposed by the present Government are to be satisfactorily manned, we shall need to succeed in attracting a greater proportion than ever before of the young men in the 15 to 20 age group, because the age group itself is smaller".
I believe that, with the help of the Military Salary which the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham and some of his "patriotic" friends in the Press have done their best to denigrate, we can do it.
The right hon. Member for Harrogate has pointed out that this will mean doing better than any Conservative Government did in the past, but the present Conservative Opposition have committed themselves to policies which require much bigger forces than Her Majesty's Government now plan. They have attacked us in every defence debate in the last five and a half years for every cut which we have made in the size of the forces. They have said that these cuts threaten the security and interests of this country. They have committed themselves to a big increase in our forces for their presence in the Far East. If they intend, as well, an increase in our forces in Europe sufficient to remove our present dependence on tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, I defy them to show any means of obtaining these extra men except by conscription.
This is perhaps the right moment to turn to the situation outside Europe. The withdrawal of our forces from Malaysia and Singapore is proceeding smoothly, as planned, and will be completed by the end of next year. The magnitude of this task and the savings in manpower and money which it makes possible are not always recognised. At the end of confrontation in 1966, there were over 90,000 people working in or for the Services in the area. By 1st April this year, this number will have been reduced by more than half, to 43,500, and all but a handful will be gone during the following 21 months. The reduction of uniformed personnel is from about 55,000 at the end of confrontation to about 24,000 at the beginning of this year, and a handful, perhaps 100, at the end of 1971.
At the same time, the local defence expenditure on our overseas forces outside Germany has been cut from £180 million in 1964 to £124 million today and, at today's prices, it will be down to about £60 million in 1972. But the major impact of our withdrawal east of Suez is, of course, on the defence budget. Since the budgetary costs of a presence east of Suez seem likely to be a matter of some controversy outside as well as inside this House during the next 12 months, this deserves a careful analysis. It is fairly easy to quantify the cost of the Conservative east of Suez policy as we inherited it in October, 1964, when it had landed us in large-scale fighting both in Southern Arabia and in South-East Asia. Forty per cent. of the—
The Secretary of State must explain what he means by the phrase "landed us in large-scale fighting in Southern Arabia and South-East Asia". Is he talking about confrontation, and suggesting that he would have opposed the action which we took at that time?
What I am suggesting is that I would have opposed, and, in fact, did oppose, as the Commonwealth spokesman in the Opposition Shadow Cabinet before 1964, the policy in South Arabia which led to the confrontation which was involving our forces on such a large scale. I also made it clear at that time that the way in which the right hon. Member for Streatham—and he will no doubt recall our arguments on this question—brought about the creation of Malaysia without proper consultation with the other Governments in the area was likely to involve us in a serious problem, and so it proved.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman remember that even the United Nations had an inquiry before the union of Malaysia and pronounced that the peoples of the countries concerned wished it? Did he want us to act contrary to the wishes of the peoples of the countries concerned?
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is not the the point I am making. The point I am making is that there was no proper consultation at that time with the Governments of Indonesia and of the Phillipines which were known to have a real interest in what was happening. It was partly as a result of this that the situation developed and so escalated from 1963 onwards.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is giving way to neither. If the right hon. Gentleman does not give way, the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen must sit down.
Order. The right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) must contain himself.
Forty per cent. of the British forces then stationed outside the United Kingdom were in parts of the Middle East or Asia from which we shall have withdrawn, by the end of 1971, 65,000 out of 165,000. Of the 240,000 stationed in the United Kingdom, a substantial number were required to rotate with our forces east of Suez. In fact, we have never had enough to cover our two overseas commitments. That is why we had to withdraw two battalions from Germany in 1965.
Another large part of our home base was also needed to train, equip and maintain our forces east of Suez. So I do not think there is any risk of exaggeration in the estimate, often made at the time, that about a quarter of our total defence expenditure, or £500 million out of roughly £2,000 million in 1964, was attributable directly or indirectly to commitments in the Middle East or South-East Asia which will have disappeared in two years' time under the present Government's defence policy. In other words, the Tory east of Suez policy in 1964 was costing about £500 million a year.
It may be, right hon. Gentlemen may say, but the Opposition do not plan to provide forces on anything like that scale in South-East Asia and the Gulf if they get back to power in the 1970s. All right, so let us look at the new model east of Suez policy which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is hoping to sell to the people at the next General Election. It is an elusive creature, like the Cheshire Cat in "Alice in Wonderland". I often wonder if some day it will disappear entirely, leaving nothing behind but that enormous plastic grin. Whenever he is pushed up against the facts, the right hon. Gentleman takes refuge in equivocation. "We cannot decide what we will keep until we have talked to the Commonwealth Governments", he says. But if he does not know what forces he will keep there, how does he know what they will cost? Fortunately we can get some clue to his intentions partly by examining the £100 million figure which he himself has endorsed and partly by examining what he and his right hon. Friends have said about the rôle of the forces concerned.
There are many views expressed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite about the rôle of this east of Suez presence. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) emphasised the maritime ô of the forces in an interesting speech in Canberra on 24th February of this year. According to The Times report, he thinks that the big problem is to build up a naval and an air presence in the Indian Ocean, with the help from South Africa and Japan, to counter the Russian Navy in the Indian Ocean. That is an interesting idea which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has discussed in detail with the rest of the Shadow Cabinet, and I hope that we shall hear more of it in the next two days.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) seem to envisage the task of the forces as primarily to give assistance to the local forces against infiltration and subversion. That is a job entirely for the Army. At least I hope that the right hon. Gentlemen are planning to do this job with the Army and not with the naval and air presence which is needed for another purpose defined by the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire. What is clear is that the rôles envisaged by hon. Gentlemen opposite require substantial forces of all three Services if they are to mean anything at all.
The Leader of the Opposition seems to have gone even further. In an interview broadcast by Radio Television Singapore on 8th January of this year, he said:
The main purpose of the forces must be to prevent the stability being interfered with from outside.
What the secondary purpose of the force was he did not say on that occasion, but on 9th January Reuters reported reliable sources as saying that Mr. Heath had stressed that under the Conservative Government British troops could be counted on to help fight even internal rebellion—which the Labour Party refuses to countenance. If it is not true, the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt say that the Reuters report was wrong. Even the Conservative Government in 1963 carefully limited Britain's obligation to defence against external aggression. If the Reuters report is accurate, it is a prescription for a new Vietnam—and even half a million men are not enough in Vietnam.
With great respect, the right hon. Gentleman astounds me if he thinks that the Anglo-Malaysian Defence Agreement commits us to assistance against internal trouble.
Yes, but not internal. What worries me most about the right hon. Gentleman's slap-happy approach to these problems is his extraordinarily frivolous attitude to the nature of the potential commitments to which he intends to tie himself. Under the present Government's plans our commitments east of Suez are being cut progressively as the troops leave. We have already arranged for the termination of our commitment to Kuwait and reducing our Force Declarations to S.E.A.T.O. They will have ended completely when our forces are all gone. Before the end of 1971 we shall have terminated our treaty obligations for the defence of the States of the Lower Gulf and have reached a new understanding on the Anglo-Malaysian Defence Agreement. So far as I know, the Opposition plan to keep all these commitments; that is what they appear to refer to in their Amendment. If they do not intend to keep these commitments, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether they intend to cut all the ones which we intend to cut.
The question of commitments is the key to defence costs, because once Britain is committed automatically to military action on behalf of another country there is thereafter no sure way of limiting the call that this may make on our resources. When the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) made his defence agreement with Malaysia, I doubt whether it ever entered his mind that we would have to intervene within a year in Borneo—still less that we would have to tie up more than 50,000 men for three years.
I agree that we honoured this commitment, and it was under the Governments of both parties that we brought confrontation to a successful end. But it would have been better if we had conducted our diplomacy in such a way at an earlier stage so that it would not have been necessary.
No. Here is the Leader of the Opposition not only accepting the continuation of this commitment in its present form, but apparently accepting—and I will certainly withdraw it if he is able to convince me that he does not—new and open-ended commitments for internal security operations.
What about the cost of the policy? The nearest we have to a figure from him was £100 million a year, give or take 10 per cent. I am not clear whether this is just a local cost or the total functional cost of the forces stationed in South-East Asia. Let us assume that it is the total functional cost and covers not only the Army, but the men of all three Services who would be permanently based east of Suez under his plan. Does he plan to have them there with their families, with all the paraphernalia of schools and hospitals and servants; or unaccompanied? This matters; it affects not only the cost but also the problems of relief and rotation. He could not for this purpose use forces which it is already planned to keep in the United Kingdom since these forces are required to maintain Army Strategic Command at the strength required to meet our commitments to N.A.T.O. and elsewhere, including Northern Ireland.
But this is only the beginning, because once one undertakes a commitment one cannot tell what calls the commitment will make upon one's resources. If the right hon. Gentleman plans to keep a given number of units permanently on station in the Far East, he must be able to reinforce them if the security situation requires an increase of forces either in order to fulfil a commitment or to protect the men already there. Otherwise he is exposing British soldiers to intolerable risks.
In several of his statements, the right hon. Gentleman has accepted the possible need for reinforcement for his presence in the Far East. In that case, the Conservatives will have to increase their global force levels not only by the number of units maintained permanently on station in South-East Asia, but also by the reinforcement capability that is necessary if the commitment is to have any meaning. Otherwise they can only meet their Far Eastern commitment if they are prepared to make large-scale withdrawals from forces committed to N.A.T.O.—and I assume that they would maintain all our N.A.T.O. commitments. Indeed, they are offering to increase them. These additional reinforcement units would certainly help them to meet the practical problems to which I have referred and which would confront them, in the same way as all previous administrations, of rotating forces in the Far East with forces in the United Kingdom.
These additional forces for reinforcement and relief together with the home based support and additional overheads bring the bill for the right hon. Gentleman's presence east of Suez up to an absolute minimum of £200 million. This assumes that we would never again have to face an emergency as demanding as confrontation. How we can safely make that assumption, I do not know, since the Government of the day did not foresee confrontation even six months before it started.
We have a two day debate and I have given way many times. The hon. Member for Hendon, North will no doubt have an opportunity to make his contribution in the normal way if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The right hon. Gentleman also offered to establish a permanent military presence in the Persian Gulf if the local rulers ask for it. It is true that he has also said that he would like them to pay the foreign exchange costs of such troops. The hon. Member for Hendon, North has put these at about £11 million a year. But the cost in resources of a battalion stationed abroad is at least three times the foreign exchange cost and here we have another £30 million to £40 million.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely one is entitled to reply if words which one has not spoken are put into one's mouth?
It is still for the right hon. Gentleman to decide whether he gives way. The hon. Member may get an opportunity to take part in the debate.
Finally, we have the right hon. Gentleman's position on the aircraft carriers. For the last five and a half years the right hon. Gentleman and his party have been screaming their heads off that we were exposing our forces to catastrophic risks by cancelling the construction of a big new carrier.
The right hon. Gentleman has now retired on to a rather different position. He has left open the question whether to build new carriers, and so boost the total cast of a carrier force to about £170 million a year, but he has committed himself to run on the existing carriers so long as this is possible. It would be possible, at least through this decade, but, if we were to run the existing carriers on through the 'seventies, an enormous number of new bills would come in on top of the present running costs of £13 million a year shown in the White Paper, and even this covers the ships alone without their aircraft.
Each of the three existing carriers would need at least one more major refit during the 'seventies, and a number of minor refits. We would have to provide additional supply ships and tankers to support the carriers, and also buy new aircraft to replace those which are about to be handed over to the Royal Air Force for N.A.T.O. We would also need a bigger dockyard organisation, and a bigger organisation for flying training and logistic support to keep their aircraft operational.
The best estimate that I can make for running on the existing carrier force during this decade is about £70 million a year for all three existing carriers—and all there are needed if there is always to be one available east of Suez—and £60 million a year if only the "Eagle" and the "Ark Royal" are retained. We also need 8,000 additional uniformed personnel. I have gone into this carefully with my officials.
The right hon. Gentleman has been quoting Lord Mountbatten. What advice did the right hon. Gentleman get from Lord Mountbatten about aircraft carriers?
I have already been criticised for exposing what Lord Mountbatten quoted in the letter to The Times, and I should not be forgiven by hon. Gentlemen opposite if I went into the area which he has not already exposed.
We finally arrive at a total figure for the presence which the Opposition plan to maintain east of Suez after 1971 of £300 million, give or take £10 million. And this assumes that they succeed in limiting their commitments so that we never require again to provide forces on the scale needed in 1965 for confrontation in the Far East, and South Arabia in the Middle East.
The Opposition have a right to make these proposals. Indeed, they have a duty to make them and to carry them out if they believe that Britain's interests required it. What they have not the right to do is to pretend that the sort of forces which they propose will make only a marginal impact on the number of men the Services need, or on the total size of the defence budget. Still less have they the right to pretend that the real increase in expenditure involved is compatible with an Election programme of tax reductions.
That is not all the additional defence expenditure to which they are committed. There is £60 million for a fifth Polaris submarine. There is the increase in our reserves. There is the increase in our conventional contribution to N.A.T.O. so that we are less dependent upon nuclear weapons.
The country faces a clear choice. On the one hand there is a defence policy which is within the nation's means, which gives us better value for money than we have ever had before, which concentrates our effort in that part of the world where the need is greatest, where our political future lies and where our survival is at stake—a defence policy which enables us to make a more formidable contribution to the security of Europe than any other of our European allies.
On the other hand, there is a policy which is slipshod in aim and execution, in part irrelevant to our needs, in part directly contrary to them—a policy which would face the Services with strains and dangers they have not known for many years, a policy which would require the imposition of conscription on our young men, which would impose new burdens on the taxpayer for which he would receive no compensating benefit, a policy which is totally incompatible with the whole of the party opposite's pretention to cut Government expenditure.
I ask the House to choose between those policies and so to set the example for the nation's choice.
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
'deplores the policies of Her Majesty's Government which involve a continuing reduction in the effectiveness of our defence forces to the detriment of national security, interests and commitments'.
The Secretary of State has treated us to a characteristically lucid, even formidable speech, but, in the final analysis, one utterly lacking in conviction. The truth is that the convulsions of Government defence policy during their lifetime and the various unfulfilled assurances about which the Secretary of State says so little cannot easily be brushed away, and we in this country still have to face the full consequences of the right hon. Gentleman's tenure of office.
The same considerations apply to this year's White Paper. It is like the Secretary of State. It is confident, even arrogant, and well packaged, but the gloss is wearing thinner every year, and what is not said in the White Paper is even more significant than ever before. What is said is prefaced by a presentation on a statistical basis which is to say the least, misleading.
First, although this year's Estimates are higher than for last year, we heard the Secretary of State this afternoon make an effort to show a reduction in real terms on the basis of last year's prices. All that he has really proved is how fast prices rise under a Labour Government.
Secondly, the assertion is made in the White Paper that this year's Estimates
will represent about 5½ per cent. of the Gross National Product compared with about 7 per cent. in the Estimates for the years up to 1965.
In fact, if one has regard to the items which are legitimately chargeable to defence, both in the defence budget and outside it, defence expenditure represented 6·7 per cent. of the gross national product in 1964–65 and 6·3 per cent. in 1968–69 when the Secretary of State was speaking of a reduction to under 6 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but we have had the figures from the Minister of State for Administration. Against that background, and bearing in mind the current and projected reduction of our forces, the claim in the White Paper that the nation is getting better value for the money it spends on defence simply does not bear close scrutiny.
At least the White Paper itself—because I cannot believe that any official would allow himself to be associated with it in any way—spares us some of the more extravagantly absurd statistical nonsense to which the Secretary of State regularly treats us on these occasions. In his extravaganza last year to the Royal United Services Institution the right hon. Gentleman went so far as to claim total savings over Conservative estimates of £5,000 million since 1964. This compared with £2,000 million about which he spoke during the defence debate last March. Now he has broken it down into two figures—£3,000 million already saved, £2,000 million to be saved.
Only last week the Secretary of State alleged to the House and the country that
the total savings in 1972–73, on the Conservatives costings which I inherited, will be £1,200 million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1970; Vol. 796, c. 1203.]
He repeats that figure twice in a short article today in the Financial Times. This is a completely mythical statistic which involves projecting forward ad infinitum a forward costing exercise based on the continuance of confrontation in Indonesia, about which he thinks we did not sufficiently consult the Chinese Government, and the other factors existing at that time. [Interruption.] Well, we did consult the
Indonesian Government and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) said, they had an observer present.
This forward costing exercise is based on the state of affairs in mid-1964 at the time of confrontation and on the basis of the percentage of G.N.P. then devoted to defence. The Secretary of State's statistics about Opposition costings are just as meaningful as if before the General Election of 1964 we had costed Socialist defence policy on the basis of 1951 and the Korean War, and a 9 per cent. figure of G.N.P.
It is a statistic which the Secretary of State regularly quotes, but which takes no account of any political or military changes since 1964, or of the fact that in practice the Conservative Government regularly reduced defence expenditure in terms of G.N.P. It takes no account of devaluation or of the relevant fact that under a Socialist Administration the G.N.P. has risen only half as fast as it did in the days of Tory prosperity.—[Interruption.] I am sorry that we have to spend so much time dismissing these irrelevancies by the Secretary of State who ought to know better than to bring this rubbish before the House of Commons.
What we want to do in this two-day debate is to consider our defence policy in the context of the current international situation, in terms of current costs and capabilities, and in the light of future requirements as far as we can judge them. That is a rather more humble exercise than the Secretary of State is accustomed to try to achieve.
In view of the recent public discussion about N.A.T.O. strategy and the circumstances in which the nuclear weapon would be used, it is well to stress the degree of common ground between the two sides of the House. The Secretary of State today has tried to imply a greater difference than he knows really exists. We have discussed this matter in the House on a number of occasions. I have no doubt that he is right in his view that in present circumstances nuclear escalation is the only alternative to surrender in Europe in the face of an all-out attack. I am sure that he is also right in what he had to say in general terms that we must all hope that this deterrence will lead to detente and that there will be mutual force reductions. All that is part of the general discussion taking place within the alliance and is part and parcel of what President Nixon said in his recent report to Congress.
Nor do we quarrel with the strategy of the alliance as expounded in the White Paper. We devoted a large part of last year's debate to a discussion about this matter. The only difference between us is how far we are succeeding in making a reality of the doctrine of flexible response. It is not at present a reality.
I do not want to go into what the Secretary of State said about the advice which had been given to him by his Chief of Defence Staff. I think in what he had to say he raised a rather dangerous precedent. But whatever the N.A.T.O. Nuclear Planning Group may do to lay down guide lines—the Secretary of Stare says that it would be a breach of security to say what they are, and of course I accept that for the tactical use of nuclear weapons, we will have to recognise the fact that the United States no longer possesses an overwhelming nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union. As President Nixon said in his report to Congress on 18th February, this fundamental change in the strategic balance raises important question about the relative rôle of strategic nuclear forces, conventional forces and tactical nuclear forces. Therefore, on whatever side of the House we find ourselves, we have to do a lot more thinking about what is a realistic assessment of the military threats to Western Europe, for how long could N.A.T.O. sustain a conventional forward defence against a determined Warsaw Pact attack, or how it should—or could—react in various military or political situations?
The Secretary of State sometimes gives the impression that a great step forward was automatically taken when the doctrine of "flexible response" was enunciated in 1967. But even when N.A.T.O.'s official strategy was based on massive retaliation, conventional forces were maintained which were substantially larger than would have been needed for a trip-wire interpretation of the strategy. It is no good making great play of having changed the strategy from trip-wire to flexible response "if the end result in either case is an inability to put up a successful conventional defence for more than a few days.
At present the level of conventional forces in Europe, according to the White Paper, is just sufficient to allow time for negotiations to end the conflict and for consultations among the allies to allow for the initial use of nuclear weapons if negotiations should fail. That is a narrow margin between safety and suicide. It is particularly the case when the White Paper itself records that the military strength of the Warsaw Pact countries continues to increase.
We may be grateful for President Nixon's pledge to the Secretary of State that the present level of United States forces in Europe, about 310,000, will be maintained at least until mid-1971. But the Secretary of State has made the point that some adjustment of the defence burden between the United States and Europe may have to be contemplated. I am sure that there will be no unilateral abandonment of commitments by the United States, but they may well ask themselves why should 250 million prosperous West Europeans depend so heavily on 200 million Americans for their defence? Why should the United States spend 10 per cent. of its G.N.P. on defence when we are proposing a cut-back in our forces and in our reserves?
It was against this background that we had a debate last December in the Assembly of Western European Union. This showed a general recognition that we must have a co-ordinated European defence policy which will lead to the creation in N.A.T.O. of what should be the European pillar of the alliance, possibly with a nuclear as well as a conventional basis. N.A.T.O. itself cannot remain a static organisation.
Recently I took part in a broadcast with Senator Javits of the United States in which we discussed this issue. I have a copy of the transcript and I will quote what he then said:
I believe that our country here is interested in another pillar of defence and I think we would like to see it have its own nuclear deterrent.
He went on to explain that the future relationship between the United States and Europe turned not so much on questions of cost or the deployment of forces, but on the need to share responsibility.
At present we have our own nuclear independent deterrent which we can commit to the alliance as we wish or as the alliance wishes. It is independent in the sense that the Secretary of State explained to the House on 4th February:
I have said many times in the House, and it is still the case, that of course we retain the right to use it "—
that is, the Polaris force—
independently if we wish to do so, but I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which we should so wish."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1970; Vol. 795, c. 410.]
That is a fair enough statement. The fact is that there are two sets of targetting tapes and we have the right to use it if we so wish.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. I think he will agree that we have integrated our forces into the alliance by putting them under the command of non-British commanders accepting the targetting proposals made by SACEUR and SACLANT. We have accepted integration in precisely the sense in which the French Government refused to accept integration. That is why they left N.A.T.O. Therefore, the distinction which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposiiton was seeking to draw between the posititon as I have described it and that as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has described it is non-existent.
I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's considerable embarrassment on this point. I accept the assurance which he gave to the House that our deterrent is independent in the sense in which he says that it is independent, in so far as we have control over its use at any time we so choose and in so far as there are independent targetting tapes available which can be switched in a matter of minutes.
Having provided this Polaris force at a cost of £350 million, clearly it is in our interests and that of the alliance to maintain it effectively. I gather that we have had a firm assurance today at Question Time that this is the Government's policy.
We do not ask him to deal with matters involving security in detail. We have to accept his firm assurance that the Government are taking whatever steps are necessary to preserve the effectiveness of this force. That is the only option which we on this side keep open, and it is the one that we kept open about the fifth Polaris submarine. We can only judge that in office because, about the guidelines of nuclear strategy and the effectiveness of the nuclear deterrent, the Secretary of State pleads the need for security. Last year, I said that we wanted to keep that option open, and the Secretary of State must keep it open if he thinks that it is necessary for the effectiveness of the force. Last year, the Secretary of State said that the cost of the fifth submarine would be £35 million capital and £4 million a year. Now he talks about £60 million. He is wholly unreliable in what he tells us.
Considering the future level of conventional forces, the White Paper says that they are "just sufficient" in Europe, but that there is a need for improvement in quality and equipment. A flexible response is impossible unless there is that improvement in quality and equipment which the Government say in the White Paper is necessary, better anti-tank defences, more mobility and more front line aircraft.
Many of these points are matters for the alliance as a whole. Our job is to consider how we are to produce the effective forces and the reserves that we have promised. We welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement today about the return of the Sixth Brigade to N.A.T.O. That makes more sense of one of his statistics, because he has claimed for months that there are 3,000 more people committed to B.A.O.R. than there were in 1964, by including those who were in the United Kingdom who ought not to be there.
That, of course, was at the time of confrontation, when there were something like 90,000 east of Suez and about 60,000 in Malaysia and Singapore. But the Government will not be able to say that we do not need any forces at all east of Suez. The Government are retaining a general capability. From what forces is the general capability to come? It will have to come from the total forces available to this country. The margin is very narrow. We saw that over Northern Ireland, and we would see it again if there were any requirement to fulfil our commitments which exist, though the capacity to meet them has been reduced, in other parts of the world.
We do not dissent from the view that our major defence contribution must be to the Western Alliance, Europe and N.A.T.O. But we have attacked and will continue to attack the Government's defence policy for running down our professional forces to the point where we cannot adequately defend our national security or maintain our interests and commitments in the rest of the world.
We have condemned the deliberate nature of the rundown of the professional forces, the reduction of the reserves to a level where they are barely adequate to bring B.A.O.R. up to wartime strength, the disbandment of the Territorial Army in its old form, and the abandonment of any form of home defence.
The Territorial Army is half its 1964 size, and the Civil Defence and A.F.S. are on what is known as a care and maintenance basis. Altogether, something like 100,000 volunteers willing to give the limited time required to their responsibilities in TAVR III, in the Civil Defence and the A.F.S. have all been told that they are no longer wanted. We on this side of the House want those volunteers back. It will be the purpose of a Conservative Government to restore the voluntary spirit and to provide once again for an adequate level of reserves for the proper defence of these islands. We will restore the T.A. to its proper rôle in the defence of our country. We will provide the adequate voluntary emergency services which are necessary in peace and in war. We will secure by these means the spare military capacity for unforeseen situations of the kind which history shows Governments do not always foresee.
So far from wanting conscription, we are condemning the Government for deliberately weakening the existing professional forces and the voluntary forces which would have been at their disposal. Our purpose is to secure well-paid professional forces with good career prospects. To that extent we must welcome the Government's proposals for increasing pay as an essential part of that policy. As the Secretary of State has said, it has been a complex exercise, and there are anxieties about how it works out in individual cases. We may have to go into those details. Generally, we welcome the proposals in so far as they will encourage recruitment, which is still lagging sadly behind the needs of the services, and re-engagement. My right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) will have more to say on that if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye.
Higher pay alone is not enough. Much of the damage has been done because of the shifts and changes in Government defence policy, the cut-backs and the fears in the forces that they will have a diminishing rôle in the years ahead in protecting the interests and security of their country at home and abroad.
Apart from the reductions in the numerical size of the forces, we are gravely concerned about their future equipment and deployment. We must have not merely trained men, but the ships, planes and weapons for them to fight with. A great deal of re-equipping has taken place. Of course, we planned it, and it has been carried forward. But serious gaps are now growing in our defences, and they grow worse the further away that the Government get from the sensible programmes that they inherited.
In regard to B.A.O.R., the White Paper is silent, and the Minister was silent today on the question of the replacement of Honest John, which is the present nuclear weapon for the Rhine Army but which is extremely bulky and not very mobile. This is a matter which the Secretary of State says that he has had under consideration for two years. We are told that it is still under consideration and that there is no alternative. The German forces have Lance, which is regarded as superior, and we ought to know whether the Government have made any provision for that or any other weapon in their forward defence costings—
I am sorry. I meant Sergeant.
In regard to the R.A.F., the White Paper has had to announce the extension of the life of the Canberra until it can be finally replaced by the new Phantom and Buccaneer aircraft. The Government's saga of procurement for the R.A.F.
has proved a sad one. After the deplorable cancellation of the TSR2, about which I shall say more today, they said of the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft that
… both operationally and industrially, this aircraft is the core of our long-term aircraft programme.
That was in 1966. It has been cancelled.
Then the F111K was to be brought in to fill the gap between the departure of the Canberra, of which it was said
… this aircraft cannot safely continue after 1970 ",
and the arrival of the A.F.V.G. This was stated to be essential
… if the Royal Air Force is not to be lacking in the most critical part of its capability for some five years.
It was cancelled.
Now we have to wait for the M.R.C.A. and other joint development projects about the prospects of which the White Paper and the Secretary of State have both said very little. We must all support the concept of European co-operation in arms procurement, but it has to be recognised that, in the absence of closer integration, co-operation in production has proved easier than in development. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the R.A.F. is seriously weaker than repeated Government assurances have given the country reason to expect.
But perhaps the gravest gap in our defences is now represented by what the Government have done in regard to the Royal Navy. It will be recalled that the Prime Minister, who does not spend much time with us in defence debates these days, said at Plymouth during the 1964 election campaign:
The Royal Navy is not adequate for our needs in the 1960s. I believe we shall need an expanded naval ship-building programme.
In 1964, the number of ships which were operational was 181; now, it is 143. In 1964, there were 170 in reserve or undergoing a long refit or conversion; in 1970, the figure is 38.
Here again—this is relevant to the terms of our Motion—it is the effectiveness of the Fleet as much as its numbers which has been so steadily undermined. We were told, for example, that, from the middle 'seventies, the main striking power of the Navy will be provided by the growing force of fleet submarines Then, in January, 1968, the Prime Minister announced reductions in the rate of new naval construction—for example, in the nuclear powered hunter-killer submarines.
We have undertaken to restore the hunter-killer submarine programme—the Secretary of State said last year that this was £10 million a year—but a new factor has now entered this situation. The Government have announced that the £50 million programme for the development of the Mark 24 torpedo has nil into serious difficulties and the introduction of the weapon into service will be considerably delayed. This is a serious blow, and makes nonsense of the assurance of the Secretary of State when the decision was made to phase out the carriers and their use for fixed-wing aircraft. The assurance which he gave was that the Navy would be provided with a substitute weapons system before that happened.
Unfortunately—this is relevant to the future of the carriers—there is no substitute weapon available. The White Paper makes a casual reference on page 49 to the fact that studies are in hand of naval anti-ship guided missile systems and an advanced anti-submarine torpedo, but that is all. Yet the House will recall that the Secretary of State said—he will be glad to be reminded of this—on 22nd February 1966:
We plan to phase the carriers out by the mid-1970s and to provide the Navy with surface-to-surface weapons which are not now in programme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 250.]
What has happened in the intervening four years? Is this still the plan? What provision has been made in the Estimates or the forward costings?
What has happened in the previous four years is that we decided to leave the Far East in 1972 instead of the mid-'seventies.
So now the right hon. Gentleman is telling us that there is no need for the hunter-killer submarines which were to be the core of our naval striking power, to have either the Mark 24 torpedo or the Navy the surface-to-surface weapons. If it is no longer necessary because we are going to withdraw from the Far East, why does the White Paper say that we are studying how to provide an anti-ship guided missile system? The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. I know that he will twist as long as he can, but this is all on the record.
There has been another suggestion in the Press—again from that distinguished correspondent Mr. Chapman Pincher—that the Government are now interested in purchasing a French missile. Perhaps the Secretary of State or one of his Minsters could say whether that is true, and, if so, what provision has been made in the Estimates or the forward-costings.
The White Paper refers to the cut-back in total r. & d. expenditure and then dismisses rather cursorily the recent Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, although it concedes that it contains a number of far-reaching recommendations. There is a widespread feeling, not just on this side, that this is a subject of such importance that it requires a separate debate.
But meanwhile, we must face the fact that our fleet, faced with what the White Paper describes as
… an expanding Russian maritime presence not only in the Mediterranean but further afield …
is less protected than ever before. Even if, as we must hope, V.T.O.L. Harriers can operate from a new generation of ships, this is a gap in our defences which cannot be bridged for several years, if the carriers are withdrawn from their fixed-wing flying rôle by the end of 1971.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that, while the Conservative concept of a five-Power force in South-East Asia does not depend on aircraft carriers, a Conservative Government would prolong the life of the existing carrier force and so get value for the large sums of money spent on refitting. These sums are immense. In the 'sixties, we have spent £11 million on refitting H.M.S. "Hermes", £30 million on modernising and refitting H.M.S. "Eagle" and about the same sum on H.M.S. "Ark Royal", just recommissioned, and on which we spent no less than £23 million in the last two years, according to the figures given only at the beginning of this month.
The Secretary of State has begun to hedge over this a little in his non-attributable briefings which we are not supposed to know about, and has told us that no final decision has been taken on the future of the carriers after they are withdrawn from fixed-wing flying. So, much of what he said this afternoon is irrelevant, because he has gone out of his way to tell the House that neither he nor the Government intend to make any decision about the future rôle of the carriers—or need to do so—until the three years have passed—
Yes, he said the end of 1972 was the time by when the decision has to be taken. We want these options kept fully open and we do not want them to continue to be undermined by deliberate reductions in trained personnel. That is one of the problems.
Here again, we must deal with the Secretary of State's claim, which he repeated this afternoon—although the figures vary a little from time to time—that the functional cost of maintaining one carrier on station east of Suez would be £170 million a year in the next decade. This assumes a force of three and a calculation which is known as slice-costing, which means that one throws in a share of the cost of everything remotely attributable to the carrier—a proportion of the costs of the Secretary of State's salary, the Ministry of Public Building and Works, the chaplains' service, old Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.
By contrast, the defence White Paper last year gave the cost of the three carriers as £18 million and this year the figure on page 40 is £13 million. This covers "Eagle" and "Ark Royal" but not "Hermes", which is changing its rôle during the year. As we can see from the White Paper on joining the Common Market, we must become accustomed to Government statistics which offer a wide range, from the reasonable right up to the inconceivable maximum.
Finally, I wish to say something about the Conservative policy on maintaining a significant and visible presence east of Suez. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made it clear where we stand. We have opposed from the outset the Government's unilateral announcement of the withdrawal of our forces from the Gulf, Malaysia and Singapore by the end of 1971. The Government have not, in fact, halved our commitments—only our ability to meet them.
The treaty commitments in the Gulf, in Malaysia and in Singapore to a large extent remain, and under S.E.A.T.O., and the Government accept this by the "general capability" which they profess to maintain. What we say is that we are prepared to honour these agreements and obligations to the extent which is required, in consultation with our allies.
What my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has proposed is a five-Power force consisting of Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Britain. Neither they nor we envisage maintaining forces at the level that they were at the time of confrontation, or even today. He said that we do not envisage Britain maintaining the preponderant contribution. We envisage the provision of maritime air support and the sophisticated technical assistance which they cannot provide for themselves. This was the Government's policy also up to 1968. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend answered that. It was external defence and that is what the commitments relate to.
We are not dealing with the situation at the time of confrontation, or when we had responsibility for Malaysia. What we are saying is what the Prime Minister said in that remarkable speech to a private meeting of the Labour Party in 1966, which he released to the Press so that there would not be any leaks. And it should be remembered, because the Government got it wrong, last year, that this was after the end of confrontation, because the treaty was signed between Malaysia and Indonesia on 1st June, 1966.
The Times headline on 16th June, 1966, was:
50 Abstain on East of Suez Policy: Prime Minister crushes the Critics.
He crushed them by saying how important it was, for political and psychological as well as military reasons, to remain east of Suez: of withdrawal he said:
If this is the policy, the result will not only be our inability to intervene, whether in the United Nations or Commonwealth context, to stop a small conflagration becoming a big one. It will mean this as well: that you will be leaving Asia to three main powers, China, the United States and the Soviet Union, with
a small peripheral influence exerted by Australia and New Zealand—but Japan coming up fast on the rails. Is it really said that we have nothing to contribute except speeches that no one will listen to?
It is curious—sometimes the Secretary of State suffers from this—that it is the Left-wing critics of defence expenditure who are most adamant about maintaining Kiplingesque attitudes and most determined that we should be able to intervene all over the world—in Rhodesia, Beira, and by force, if necessary—in the internal affairs of other peaceful and friendly countries.
We are prepared to make a contribution to a Commonwealth Brigade, and we will seek to review and arrest the rundown of the Gurkhas. I think that it will be generally agreed that this country owes a tremendous debt to the Gurkhas—about the most cost-effective troops that this country has ever had. I am sure that we would all like to see that, whatever happens, these particular ex-Service men, who served us so well in two world wars, in Europe as well as east of Suez, are treated generously in retirement. At present there is a good deal of evidence that many are suffering hardship and poverty. This is not a party issue. I know that the late Mr. Gerry Reynolds, whom we all miss, was much concerned and took a great deal of trouble about this matter. I am sure that the House will wish every success to the Gurkha Welfare Fund Appeal, of which the Secretary of State himself is a patron.
After that, I hope, welcome aside, I return to a more controversial matter: the cost of keeping a presence east of Suez. It is obvious that it is impossible for the Opposition to give any precise figure in advance of consultations which we are pledged to have with leaders in the Gulf and in the Far East. But what is absolutely certain is that the figure bandied about by the Government of what the Opposition policy will cost is mischievous and misleading. The Minister of Defence for Administration, speaking the other day at a university, mentioned £250 million to £300 million. The Prime Minister escalated it to £300 million at Swansea, so the Secretary of State had to do the same today. The first point to notice in relation to cuts in taxation is that this £250 million to £300 million is not on top of the current defence budget; it is on top of a hypothetically reduced Socialist budget, which we shall never have.
The position is that on 1st January there were over 51,000 troops east of Suez—44,750 on land and 6,510 of the Royal Navy at sea. The current cost is estimated to be about £240 million a year. The Government are a bit cagey about it. They dropped presenting figures after 1968, and they refused to give them to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing). As I say, the current cost has been estimated at about £240 million a year. Even the Government do not propose complete withdrawal East of Suez. because they will retain Gan and Masira, responsibility for the defence of Fiji and other dependencies, and Hong Kong is to be reinforced. They also retain the general capability to intervene, presumably from the forces that they have earmarked to N.A.T.O., from total forces much lower than they inherited from us.
It is, therefore, obvious that it is deliberately misleading to cost Conservative policy on the basis of the position today with over 50,000 troops deployed and, by comparison, with the assumption of no presence at all under a Socialist Government. There is no conceivable way for them to make up the figure of £300 million a year.
I believe that this country has come to a sorry pass when the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State consider it their prime duty to mislead the House of Commons and the people of this country about the purposes, the cost, and the consequences of defence policy. We, on this side of the House, remain determined to honour our obligations and to maintain our national defence forces at a level adequate to sustain our security, interests and commitments. That is what we charge the Government with having failed to do.
There is one thing in the speech of the right hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) with which I think all my hon. Friends would agree, namely, his reference to the Gurkhas. In what I have to say I shall not command quite the same measure of agreement among some of my hon. Friends, because I share to the full the concern which has been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman about the state of our defences. But the point needs to be made that the fault does not lie only with the present Government.
It is quite clear that the debate will turn largely on the words in the White Paper,
… the initial tactical use of nuclear weapons by N.A.T.O. forces".
Indeed, some of my hon. Friends have put down an Amendment referring to those words.
This is nothing new. It has been the basis of N.A.T.O. strategy since 1957. It was in that year, when the Conservative Party was in power and the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) was the responsible Minister, that we went over to a nuclear strategy. At that time the Government produced an estimated figure of 375,000 as our total manpower requirement. That was a highly suspect figure. I recommend any hon. Members who are interested in this aspect of the matter to re-read one of the most damning speeches that I have ever heard in this House, a speech made in the debate on the Address on 7th November, 1957, by Brigadier Anthony Head, now Lord Head. He pointed out that it was a singular, indeed an unbelievable, coincidence that that figure of 375,000, which was described as being exactly what we needed to carry out our commitments, was precisely the same figure which had been arrived at by the Service advisers as the maximum which could be obtained by voluntary recruitment. It was then that we abandoned conscription.
As Lord Wigg has pointed out—and I agree with him—there is a heavy responsibility resting on the Opposition for the present state of our defences. They, too, in their time, sought defence on the cheap and they, too, were largely moved by electoral considerations.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also bear in mind that Lord Wigg predicted that we would never get more than 130,000 volunteers to our Army, but that the number built up to 198,000 in 1966? So we were able to recruit, on a voluntary basis, a highly professional Army for which the Secretary of State took credit today.
I appreciate that the rate of recruitment was higher than Lord Wigg anticipated at the time. But that does not invalidate my point about the coincidence of the two figures—a point which has brought to the attention of this House by a former Conservative Secretary of State for War.
I turn now to the White Paper. It is a deplorable document. In the second paragraph, on page 1, it states:
Britain's military rôle has been transformed over the last five years by the historic decision to withdraw our forces from their bases East of Suez and to concentrate them in Europe.
I call attention to the words "historic decision", set out as if this were a great and courageous act. It was nothing of the kind. It was not the result of any strategic reassessment, it was not that Members of the Cabinet had changed their views—I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister still believed that our frontier was at the Himalayas—it was due simply to the fact that the Ministry of Defence was compelled to surrender to the Treasury. It is nearly always a disaster when that happens.
We have recently had published a fresh biography of Stanley Baldwin and a great deal of light has been thrown on the events of the 'thirties, when we were faced with the growing menace of Nazi Germany and when, as everyone would now concede, rearmament lagged badly. It now appears that Mr. Balwin himself was in favour of more extensive and rapid rearmament but was blocked at every stage by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is perfectly true that in the end we were on the winning side. We managed to survive those difficulties, but only by a series of miracles. We cannot be certain that Providence will be so kind to us again.
I will come, if I may, to the position east of Suez. As has been pointed out, it is quite clear that we are not withdrawing from east of Suez altogether. The following words in page 3 of the White Paper have already been cited:
By participating in the major Commonwealth exercise Bersatu Padu to be held in Malaysia later this year, we shall demonstrate our capacity rapidly to deploy forces to the Far East from our general capability based in the United Kingdom.
I invite the House to note the words "general capability". We are still assuming the obligation we have with
S.E.A.T.O. and, by our agreements, with Malaysia and Singapore. That obligation is just as heavy as it ever was. The question which must be asked is: are we certain, or have we any assurance, that we can fulfil it? I ask, because what is, I think, the most important question in the debate is: where are our forces to come from?
In page 6 of the White Paper we find the following reference to the forces in Europe:
At present the level of these conventional forces is just sufficient for this purpose, though there is a need for improvements in quality and equipment.
So we have forces which are just sufficient for the purpose of which they may be required in Europe. But let us suppose, as might very easily happen, that we have a threatening situation in Europe; and that then, perhaps thrown in for good value, we had further disturbances in Northern Ireland to cause a further strain on Army manpower and material; and that on top of that there is an attack on Malaysia. How, in those circumstances, can the general capability be carried out? We are in grave danger of committing the worst blunder of all, which is to enter into obligations which we cannot fulfil. That is what we did in 1939: we ought not to make the same mistake again.
With what I now have to say I know that some of my hon. Friends will not agree—
We are confronted with this question of manpower. Again, speaking for myself and for no one else, I do not think that we ought to dismiss as out of the question any return to national service. I dislike conscription just as much as does any hon. Member, but I do not think that either side in the discussion ought to take up a dogmatic attitude and say that never need we return to any form of national service.
I am one of the very few survivors in the House of the 'thirties. I was here in April or May of 1939 when the Government of the day introduced conscription. I voted against the Government. I did so because I had given a pledge, as had a great many other hon. Members, that I would never countenance conscription in time of peace, and as the country was not then at war, I held myself bound by that pledge. Looking back, I must say that that is the one vote in my parliamentary life that I really regret.
I want to refer to the situation east of Suez because, let us make no mistake about it, as we move out, other people will move in. In the last few months I have paid several visits to Malaysia, which, of course, in May of last year was torn by racial convulsions. The scars still remain. There is still a very tense situation. The Russians are doing everything they can to exploit that situation. I can give a small example. The Russians are in Malaysia and are offering scholarships and tours to Moscow, but all the offers are made to Malays and not to the Chinese or Indian minorities. They are playing simply on the situation existing there.
In addition, we have the presence of the Russian Fleet in the Indian Ocean. I do not want to go over what I have said before in the House, but I have always taken the view that we in this country are not so much concerned with the Red Army as we are with the Red Fleet, which is far more formidable, especially in submarines, than the German Navy ever was.
There is also the question of the Gulf. Have we any assurance that, if we move out of the Gulf, the sheikdoms are in a position to defend themselves? Can we have any information about how far their negotiations have got? If we had a situation in which the Russians decided that in one way or the other they would move against the West, it is extremely unlikely that they would move in Europe. They might very well move somewhere else, and the obvious place is the Persian—or, as I prefer to call it, the Arabian—Gulf, which supplies the free world with the greater part of its oil supplies. It is an obvious target.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State drew a distinction—and rather twitted the Leader of the Opposition—between external and internal aggression. We might not have external aggression, in the sense of warships sailing into ports of invasion by an organised army, but we might have another form of external aggression, such as that which occured in Zanzibar a month after that country had gained its independence. Men with guns came in from outside and were able to overthrow the legitimate, elected Government of Zanzibar. The story of Zanzibar since then has been one of sustained horror—one of the most horrible stories in modern times.
The point I want to make is one which I have made before, but it needs making again. It is that the same thing could happen, as it very nearly did happen, in Kenya and Tanganyika. It was averted only because British troops were brought in in very quick time. I always regretted that the party opposite, when in power, did not do the same thing in Zanzibar, but that is another question. In such a case, one has an invasion by a small body of armed men, who, if there is not sufficient force opposed to them, may take over the Government even though there is not an armed invasion in the usually accepted sense.
When the Leader of the Opposition went to the Gulf and the Far East last year, he gave certain assurances. He said that the Conservative Party, if it came to office, would retain a military presence east of Suez—I am not concerned now with the size of the military presence—and a presence in the Gulf. It seems to me an extremely unfortunate position when the Governments and the peoples concerned have to wait until the next election in this country in order to know what degree of support and assistance they may expect. I am not putting blame on either side: I say that it is a most unfortunate situation.
I followed the right hon. Gentleman to Kuwait a few days after he had been there. I do not, of course, intend to repeat here what was said to me then, but two questions inevitably presented them-serves to the people in the Gulf. The first was whether the Conservative Party was likely to win the election—[An HON. MEMBER: "That is most unlikely."] I told them that, of course. I discouraged any hope that they might have had in that direction.
The second question in the minds of those with whom I spoke was, if the Conservatives did win the next election, would they give priority to the need to rebuild our defences and resume our rôle east of Suez, or give priority to their other priorities about reducing taxation? This is an extremely important point. I am not arguing just a party point. It is extremely important in the context of what I have been discussing.
I listened to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham, but may I remind him of what he said in the debate last year on 4th March? He said then:
We do not pretend to think that we can provide adequate defence on the cheap. We are prepared to pay the price to secure our interests and fulfil our commitments. What that price will be must depend on the situation we find when we get into office. What we will say … is that we will indicate those areas in which we think more needs to be done, and those options which we think the Government should keep open."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1969; Vol. 779, c. 249–50.]
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that I said that even the Government's estimates of Conservative Party costings relate not to this year's or next year's, but to a hypothetical budget? Will he also accept that if we had no more local government employees or civil servants than we had in 1964, on Prices and Incomes Boards and all the rest of it, that would save £300 million, and if we had the same growth rate as we had under the Conservative Government we would save £1,000 million?
I rather regret that intervention, because I was seeking to make a serious point. When we are dealing with defence costs, it is not just a question of paying troops. We are dealing with the constantly escalating cost of weapons which has been going on through our lifetime. In the first war the bill was much less than the cost of the weapons, but in the second war it was the other way round and that has gone on. The party opposite has not only said that it is to resume our rôle east of Suez one way or another, but has also referred to other aspects of defence. We do not know whether they would reactivate TSR 2 or whatever it may be. The point arises, which has priority? Are they to give priority to their promises about defence or priority to reducing taxes? The two things are wholly incompatible.
I want to say something about defence in general. My memory goes back to the experience of the thirties which not many hon. Members present share with me. I have always felt that every hon. Member has a personal responsibility in relation to defence. I do not believe in consensus politics. We should maintain our separate outlooks. Disraeli was right when he said that the power and influence of Parliament itself and the integrity of public men depended on keeping the line of demarcation between the parties. That is essential in our parliamentary life, but when it comes to defence wholly different considerations ought to prevail. Each of us has an individual responsibility, but it is extremely difficult for hon. Members, certainly back-bench Members, to discharge it.
Here are these great issues which we debate for a couple of days. Whoever follows me in this debate will probably discuss something quite different, and the time for discussion of these matters is wholly inadequate. There are various matters which are of very great consequence with which the House must be concerned. A report appeared in the Daily Express the other day. For all I know it may have been entirely unfounded. It said that Russian defences had reached such a point that missiles of our Polaris submarines could no longer find their targets. If that is so it is a very serious matter indeed. It means that the whole of our expenditure on Polaris is being thrown away.
Another question of great consequence, which involves a degree of technical knowledge which we do not all possess, is whether it is right that aircraft carriers should be phased out as is now envisaged. These are not things we can cover in a two-day debate. So I go back to the suggestion already made to the Government that we ought to have a Select Committee, a very strong Select Committee on National Defence. This is a matter of urgency. We have committees on all sorts of other things. I see in his place the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale). He raised this matter in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill nearly a year ago. He put forward a suggesttion with which I think we would all agree, that such a committee should be set up forthwith. An undertaking was given on that occasion that it would be considered and seriously considered, but nearly 12 months have elapsed and we still do not have that committee. I press on my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench that this is a very serious and urgent matter.
The right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot) has been very candid with the House about the past, not only of this party but of his own. I believe he was right in that. I intend to follow him in the same spirit, because I believe that in defence debates if we are not ruthless towards the past then we cannot discharge our responsibilities towards the future. We dare not be tied to propositions or to positions which have been taken up even by our own party or by ourselves if those propositions no longer stand up to the test of reason.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman covered briefly a large area. I want to restrict myself to one subject only, although I suspect it will prove to be the central subject of this two-day debate. I refer to the propositions put forward by the Government in the White Paper in regard to the nuclear strategy of N.A.T.O., and in particular to the sentence which says:
Political guidelines for the initial tactical use of nuclear weapons in the defence of the N.A.T.O. area have been agreed and procedures for consultation on the possible use of nuclear weapons have been refined.
The White Paper goes on to refer to these as "achievements". If they are achievements at all, they are achievements in the refinement of an absurdity; for the whole theory of the tactical nuclear weapon, or the tactical use of nuclear weapons, is an unmitigated absurdity. It always has been, it is and it always will be.
There is a dilemma here, on which the tactical theory of the nuclear weapon irremediably founders. One possibility is that the tactical nuclear weapon is a kind of artillery—only rather more powerful than conventional artillery—and that therefore no decisive moment occurs when it is thrown into the battle. I was glad to notice that the Secretary of State did not accept that horn of the dilemma; for indeed it is untenable. If our forces are under the pressure of superior enemy forces, it is no use saying we will throw additional high-powered artillery at them; for they have if anything more of it, and its committal would do nothing to alter the course of the battle. The argument, the only argument—and it is the right hon. Gentleman's—for the use of the tactical nuclear weapon, or the tactical use of the nuclear weapon, is that it signals the readiness and the intention, if need be, to proceed to the strategic nuclear exchange, to proceed to that exchange which I believe is universally agreed to be tantamount for practical purposes to mutual suicide.
It is in that light that we must consider the proposition of the use of tactical nuclear weapons in the defence of the N.A.T.O. area. Since that is to be the function of the weapon in that context, we are referred immediately to the question, which the right hon. Gentleman takes great credit for providing the nations and their political leaders with more time to consider—the question as between, in blunt terms, going on fighting with however little or great chance of ultimate victory, and committing suicide. We have to decide what likelihood there is that in that situation there would be political agreement in favour of suicide, or that an enemy would suppose that there was the intention of suicide. My answer is that it is, if not quite inconceivable, remotely improbable that any group of nations or any alliance, particularly an alliance on both sides of the Atlantic, at the stage of a continental war which is envisaged, would decide upon general and mutual suicide.
This is something that this party has been urging throughout these debates for the last four or five years. I remember how in the very first debate in which the right hon. Gentleman and I exchanged fire across the Floor of the House—it was the debate on the Government's proposals to do away with the Territorial Army—that was the proposal at the time—I told the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of this party that the prospect of a protracted war in which our forces would need to be expanded and expanded again was not the least but the most probable contingency, and that the prospect that we would opt for suicide, whether in two days or five days or ten days, was not the least but the most remote contingency.
This has been said over and over again—in the Army debate in 1967, in the Navy debate in 1968, and again by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) in the defence debate last year. But untilrecently the voices of those who were thus arguing might seem to have been rather solitary. Indeed, we were arguing not only against what was the professed doctrine of the N.A.T.O. Alliance, but against that theory upon which both parties had conducted, or purported to conduct, their defence policy for a matter of ten years.
However, there has been a marked change in the last year or two. Two years ago there was the epoch-making declaration of Robert McNamara to the Congress of the United States which centred round his statement that
the threat of an incredible act is not an effective deterrent".
Those were not accidental words. They were not a footnote. They were inherent in a defence policy for the United States which envisaged, amongst other things, a full-scale, long war at sea between major opponents and which, whatever may be the appreciations now current in N.A.T.O., envisaged a relative balance of forces, and a war fought between relatively balanced forces, upon the continent of Europe.
Now, in the last few days, we have had some remarkable revelations as to what is the present frame of mind—I use my words advisedly—of some of the principal military thinkers in this country. I shall not enter—I think there is a certain unseemliness about entering—into speculation about advice which was tendered in private on this or that occasion by the military advisers of the Government. Still, at least we know what the noble Lord Earl Mountbatten now believes. He has set it out quite clearly in his letter to The Times. He believes in
saying loud and clear, that the actual use of tactical nuclear weapons could only end in escalation to total global nuclear destruction and that, for that reason, no one in their senses would contemplate their use "—
or, in McNamara's words,
the threat of an incredible act is not an effective deterrent".
Again, we have been told by one of the finest military thinkers that this country has had in this generation—Sir John Hackett, a man who has borne responsi
bility in our own Army and in N.A.T.O.—that—
the likelihood of their introduction "—
that is, of nuclear weapons—
is low. The highest common interest on either side of the Iron Curtain is in survival. A strategic nuclear exchange would have a catastrophic effect upon both.
Whether we like it or not, we have to be prepared to face the remote improbability that in a battle or a war on the continent of Europe, after two days or five days or ten days, or after six months or twelve months, there would be any question on one side or any belief on the other of mutual suicide being resolved upon. We are faced in the future, as in the past, if there is war at all, with waging that war to the end with what means we have and with what hope of victory we may expect.
"But then", we are told—the right hon. Gentleman put the point once again in this debate—"in view of the great disparity between the forces of the Warsaw Pact and of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, if you say that, if you follow your reasoning thus far, you must go on to argue for conscription. You must go on to argue for a tremendous expansion in the forces of N.A.T.O. and, amongst them, the forces of this country ".
I do not happen to believe that that deduction follows; but, even if that deduction did follow, it would not alter the facts. It would not alter the reasoning. We are not entitled to say, when we find that our own reasoning leads us to an uncomfortable conclusion, "We must have been wrong. We must go back and do our sums again". Indeed, I am afraid it is more likely that the sums will be right if they lead us to an uncomfortable conclusion.
However, I do not believe, if we recognise, as I think we should, the complete unreality of this notion of the nuclear weapon preventing hostilities on the continent of Europe or bringing them to a speedy end, that therefore we have to engage in a sort of Gadarene rush into conscription and unlimited military expansion.
What is evident to Lord Mountbatten, what is evident to Sir John Hackett, what is evident to a number of humbler minds on both sides of the House and elsewhere, is not hidden from the nations on
the continent of Europe. Whatever guidelines may be laid down at N.A.T.O., however many months and years N.A.T.O. and its headquarters goes on thrashing out this nonsense of a nuclear theory, this higher nuclear theology, the nations themselves are not fooled. Sir John Hackett has said this. He writes:
In North Western Europe nuclear weapons are unusable, and whatever is said officially, this is almost certainly recognised on both sides.
Of course it is recognised on both sides, and for good reason. The minds of our continental neighbours are much sharper than our own. After all, we are an insular nation, with a lovely anti-tank ditch and a history of immunity. That is not their history. Theirs is a history of being invaded, of being devastated; they know war on the ground, whereas we know it only from the air or from the sea. They are not likely to have lightly deceived themselves and gone to sleep under the imaginary shelter of this nuclear umbrella. They face the realities, whether they have said so officially or not.
So we cannot burke this question: Why is it, then, that the continental nations—France, Germany and the rest—are spending today a somewhat lower proportion of their gross national products upon defence than we are? The question has to be asked and answered; I believe the answer is that they do not believe their security calls at present and in present circumstances for a higher effort, that they are not imminently or foreseeably in genuine fear of an invasion which they would need to repel by massive larger forces.
Of course, it may be—probably will be—as time goes on and we witness the inevitable withdrawal in physical terms of the United States from the continent of Europe that the nations of the Continent, without any theorising and any argument, will see the balance of their interest and their necessity to be tilting. Still if today the continental nations, perceiving the reality, do not feel themselves under any immediate pressure for a great escalation in their military forces, I do not see why this country should do so either. We are not living in the ten years before 1914; we are not living in the five years before 1939. But we are not living in the dawn of perpetual peace either. What this reasoning directs us to do is to plan the defence and the defence forces of this country upon the basis of the lasting, inherent characteristics and requirements of the defence of these islands—not to do so in a panic, not to do so under the immediate impression of circumstances which are anyhow bound to be transitory, but to do so with the clearest vision and the sharpest foresight we can command.
I believe that, in any such policy, there will be two essential elements—elements both of which have been dangerously neglected under the influence of that nuclear theology which I venture to hope is now evaporating and disappearing into limbo. The first element is that this country must have a continental army in being, of high quality in armament, in training and in philosophy, and that behind it there must be the means of expansion in war—expansion not only upon a professional basis but expansion upon a voluntary basis. It must have reserves behind it in every sense of the term "reserves", from those immediately recallable to the colours to those citizens who acquire some military training in their spare time which could fit them to take their place more readily in expanded forces in war. So, an army in being, with reserves behind it, with the purpose of expansion and the capability of expansion—that is one pillar of British defence.
The other pillar is the maritime defence of these islands, by air and sea, which for so long during these last 25 years we have been able to pretend, by means of the nuclear nonsense, was something that could be forgotten. We have in consequence neglected it so much that the key weapons of maritime defence by sea and air have been allowed to fall to a dangerously low level both in quality and in numbers. Indeed, I doubt—and I doubt this after living through five years of defence debates and hearing every one of them—whether there is a philosophy at all for the maritime defence of these islands.
The fault of the Government, the most severe indictment against them is that, because they have allowed their policy to be rested upon the nuclear falsehood, therefore they have neglected for year after year, and will bequeath to us in a state of neglect, the two undying permanent essentials of the defence of this Kingdom.
It is a privilege to be called in a major debate after the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). When one is so called, one meets a stimulated House because, whether one agrees with him or not—and I often agree with him—I love the way in which he puts things, and it is an even greater privilege when the one point one wishes to deal with is the point he has dealt with.
But I think that, in his analysis, the right hon. Gentleman has ignored the political realities of the N.A.T.O. Alliance. It is not the purpose of N.A.T.O. to defeat a Russian invasion; N.A.T.O. has not planned and has not posted its troops to defeat a Russian invasion, and this has been a deliberate decision. I do not believe that it has been a decision which has been imposed because the forces available to defeat a Russian invasion were not available. I think that they probably were available.
Sir Basil Liddell Hart, whose death I feel sure we all regret and whose views on these matters commanded very great respect—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] —always used to say that a defending army was adequate for its purpose, provided it was properly posted and trained, if it were only one-third the size of the attacking army, such is the advantage of a defender, properly handled. N.A.T.O. could certainly muster that level of forces. But, of course, "properly trained" is the first thing. If one is going to defend with inferior numbers, they must be trained, they must be co-ordinated, they must be mobile, they must know their task. But, more important still, they must be properly posted—and properly posted means behind the Rhine.
That kind of real defence means a picket line on the frontiers to identify the thrust, and then the manœuvres of the counter attack poised behind the Rhine, and in such circumstances then tactical nuclear weapons could be a reality. Where one has identified a thrust, the use of a tactical nuclear weapon to break its bottleneck of supplies as one's counter attack goes in might be a realisable and conceivable strategy.
But it is not much use talking about this, because it simply does not exist. This policy was not rejected because it was impossible or because troops were not available, but because it was not acceptable to Germany. This was so for very understandable reasons. Germany did not wish to be ground that was conceded to an invader in order to reinvade. Two things could happen to Germany. It might be that a cease-fire line was drawn up that happened to be on the other side of Germany; or it might he that a cease-fire line was not drawn up and Germany was fought over twice. Possibly the second alternative was more horrible than the first. In these circumstances, a realistic defence simply was not available for political reasons. Instead of a defence, we accepted what my right hon. Friend described as "ground forces to add to the credibility of the deterrent."
Let us realise what this involves. It has meant the posting of the British Army in positions from which it could not fight and in which it would be further from its deployment position—in terms of time, about 12 hours further—than the Russians. With forces accountable by manoeuvre in the northern area, the Russians could occupy our deployment positions before we could even get to them.
On one occasion Sir Basil Liddell Hart and I tried to work out a war game to see what would happen. Neither Weser nor Elbe have been fortified and there are no minefields. There is not so much as a strand of barbed wire. We reckoned that if the Russians began at the start of a long winter's night when the North German plain is frozen they could have two divisions on the Rhine by first light with three divisions following up around our flank; then within two days they would be down the Rhine near the Swiss frontier with such N.A.T.O. forces as still existed trying to escape through Austria and the Brenner Pass.
These are the sort of positions in which the N.A.T.O. armies are posted, and deliberately posted, because they are designed to deter. To suggest that our Army would be more effective in these positions if its numbers were doubled by having conscription here is unreal. Whatever forces are there, are posted substantially as a forfeit.
Why is it that to deploy forces in a position which offers victory to the enemy is probably the most effective way of deterring that enemy? The answer is simple. One is saying, in effect, "If you attack these positions you will unleash the dogs of war and you cannot say where it will end". From the other point of view, the enemy is likely to say, "We could not expect the enemy to take a defeat of that size".
If our armies merely retreated and took up new positions, then the Russians might think that there would be a cease fire with a limited object obtained, but this could not happen if their victory was too big. Such humiliation would be created that a continuation of the war would be inevitable. The Russians must feel this. They must know that, to begin with, the chips are so arranged that it would be a war that could not be stopped.
What, then, is the rôle of tactical nuclear weapons? They could not possibly be used by any European Power on the present postings. I entirely concede this. In the tactical war game which Sir Basil and I worked out our conclusion was that the attacking forces could so manoeuvre on each occasion that they never offered a nuclear target, while forcing the defenders to do so.
In any event, no European Power could threaten with nuclear weapons in a credible way. As MacNamara put it,
A threat that is incredible is not a deterrent".
For us to threaten with nuclear weapons is ridiculous when it is well known that practically with the press of a button the Russians could kill half our population and leave our cities in ruin. The French are equally vulnerable. For anybody in Europe to say that a nuclear threat exists within the control of Europe is to suggest something incredible.
Such a threat from Europe is effectively deterred by Russia's capacity to reply. The same cannot be said of America. The reality of N.A.T.O's tactical nuclear weapons is that they are American. There is no point in going in for all this nonsense of committees in Europe controlling all these things, all by N.A.T.O. agreement. The credibility of anything in Europe from the nuclear point of view exists only because it is American.
Let us look at this through the eyes of the Russian chief of staff. As he must advise his Government, he would no doubt say, "You need not worry about the Europeans. We can effectively deter them. There may be some risk, but it is totally incredible to think that any of them could, in any conceivable circumstances, choose to use nuclear weapons." He could not say the same about the Americans. They might use these weapons simply to serve notice that they could deter the reply, for the credibility of nuclear weapons today depends on one's capacity to deter the reply. The Americans have that capacity, while we in Europe do not.
The Americans could put nuclear weapons at points of concentration. If Turkey were attacked, the Americans could use nuclear devices at Odessa knowing that the Russians would not dare reply; that is, unless they had gone completely mad, since the Americans have the power to deter the reply.
If there is any justification for N.A.T.O. nuclear weapons, it is simply that they make the American nuclear involvement rather more credible than it would otherwise be. Thus, there are two reasons for N.A.T.O. forces. The first is to commit the Western world to all-out war if that frontier were violated. That is an enormous deterrent with which I do not believe any sane Russian Government would become involved. The second is to serve as an international army to stabilise what has always been a most dangerous part of Europe. This arrangement has given Europe the most secure quarter-of-a-century that it has enjoyed in its history.
I am a wholehearted supporter of the Warsaw Pact, as I am of N.A.T.O. I did not even criticise the Russians over Czechoslovakia, if they thought that that was necessary to keep the Warsaw Pact secure. While those two alliances are secure, Europe is secure. From our point of view, particularly if the Americans draw back a little, we should be there in real force, the sort of force which would take real force to combat. We must keep the international nature of this army and so keep this sense of security in central Europe.
I wholeheartedly support what the Government have done east of Suez, first because I do not believe that we can any longer support our interests in this
area by military means. I was impressed by a speech made by the Foreign Secretary of Indonesia in which he said that in these new emergent countries, if they are to become countries the forces within them must resolve themselves. He said:
We have resolved those forces and, as a result, we are more stable and less likely to go Communist than elsewhere in our part of the world. But when the military presence of an outside Power backs one of those internal forces, the result is the distortion of the natural balance and instability.
He therefore urged that not a military presence but economic assistance was required.
As my right hon. and learned Friend said, it is true that some troops in Kenya and Tanganyika—as it was—were very useful. But that was about 10 years ago. That argument does not apply today. That kind of policy is not workable now. Even if it were, I do not think that we have either the power or the will to carry it out, and if we have neither the power nor the will a display of force will merely bring humiliation upon us.
I am unimpressed by the idea that the Russians may take the Middle Eastern oil. The world is discovering new reserves of oil at such a pace that we are getting a glut of it, and if the Russians had Middle Eastern oil they would be as anxious to sell it as anybody else, and they would probably sell it a good deal cheaper than would the Americans. That argument has no reality.
But if we cut out of an east of Suez policy, let us be consistent about it. Do not let us say that we shall have an east of Suez policy if we are annoyed by the ideologies of one of the countries concerned. The blockade of Beira is the utmost absurdity. We were told today that it has cost £400,000 a year. On what basis of costing has that figure been arrived at? If a company had a contract to blockade Beira it would have to charge the wages of the people involved; it would have to charge the expense of maintaining the equipment; it would have to charge for depreciation of equipment, and it would have to make a charge for a proportion of the overheads. That would not come out at £400,000 or £4 million—or £40 million. It would come out at a good deal more. I suppose that what is really being said here is that it is £400,000 a year more expensive than if we were doing some hypothetical other thing. How can we work upon that hypothesis?
Again, we were told that it was effective, and that not a tanker has got into Beira. A man may say, "I have a very effective lock on my front door", but would he be interested in the lock on the front door if he knows that burglars are using the back door to their heart's content, and that there is no lock on that? If I am asked to spend even £400,000 a year on maintaining the front door lock when I know that the back door—in the form of Lourenco Marques and other ports—is open, and that petrol, even outside the ration, is a lot cheaper in Rhodesia than it is here, I regard it as the height of absurdity. We are told that this is the cost of the United Nations resolution. I rebelled at the folly of handing this job to the United Nations because we could not deal with it—
Order. The hon. and learned Member must link what he is saying with the defence debate.
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I shall end in one word. I merely say that however silly we may have been to hand this to the United Nations we did not involve ourselves in a United Nations commitment to maintain this blockade. That is something that we are doing on our own, and it is a folly that should cease.
I agree very much with what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has said about the Beira blockade. I shall have something to say shortly about his remarks on the position east of Suez. First, however, I want to traverse some of the ground that he and my right hon. Friend traversed in connection with the tactical and strategic nuclear deterrents. The argument between the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, and the Secretary of State for Defence seems a singularly fruitless one. The discussion of a nuclear threshold must be counterproductive. Any attempt to define a threshold in terms of days or miles is an invitation to the potential aggressor to take what he can. If we say, "We shall not react with nuclear weapons unless you come more than 100 miles into Germany," it is tantamount to an invitation to him to come 100 miles into Germany. The whole credibility of the deterrent depends upon its being shrouded in uncertainty, and upon the potential enemy not being sure in his own mind when or how or by whom it will be used.
Just as the hon. and learned Member said, with some force, that American tactical nuclear weapons would be more likely to impress the Russians than would European tactical nuclear weapons, I believe that if it came to a question of the strategic deterrent and making a conventional advance in Europe the Soviets might be more afraid of European strategic weapons than American ones. The argument seems to be balanced between us.
The Amendment put down by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite seems to me, as the Secretary of State for Defence said, to add up to a choice between conscription and capitulation. We must either have a sufficient number of conventional forces to resist the Warsaw Pact countries or say to them, "If you attack we are not prepared to use nuclear weapons first we shall capitulate". That is the argument of fellow travellers, and the advice of the consul who told the nurses in Libya, "Better rape than resistance".
I found the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) a little difficult to follow. He seemed to argue that the whole of what we called "nuclear theology" was ill-founded, and I deduced that he did not wish us to involve ourselves in any great expenditure on nuclear weapons. I may be wrong, but if that were the case and we built up the naval and air forces that he talked about to defend this island, what would be the position if the potential aggressor possessed nuclear weapons and we did not?
I have always regarded the possession of the nuclear capability as a protection against nuclear blackmail. It is a protection against being threatened with nuclear weapons. What it is not a protection against is war.
I am very glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that. We now come much closer together. We regard it as a protection against nuclear blackmail. I ask my right hon. Friend to come one step further with me. In 1940 Mr. Churchill, as he then was, made his famous speech about fighting on the beaches, and never surrendering. When he said that he meant that the people of this country would be prepared to commit national suicide rather than submit to the Nazis.
I agree that the central issue before the North Atlantic Alliance is the defence of central Europe. That is a fundamental. But in this sector matters have been static since the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Where there has been movement has been on the southern flank of N.A.T.O. It is there that a new threat has been developing. That is an area where Britain, because of her responsibilities in Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus, is closely involved and can, with fairly small forces, make quite an important contribution. The threat arises from the increasing presence of the Soviet fleet and air force and of Soviet military advisers in Mediterranean countries. The Secretary of State told us not long ago—I have no doubt that he was right—that the N.A.T.O. fleet in the Mediterranean could blow the Red fleet in the Mediterranean out of the water in a matter of minutes. But to my knowledge he said nothing—and the White Paper says nothing—about the political influence which may be exercised by Soviet military advisers in the Mediterranean.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to be unfair. Both in my interview for Der Spiegel—to which he referred—and on other occasions I have said a good deal about the political influence of the Soviet military advisers. I have said that the real function of the Soviet in the Mediterranean is political and not military.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has removed the misapprehension that I was under. But he cannot separate the military from the political. This is a defence debate. The influence exercised by the Soviet advisers in Egypt and Syria, the presence of the Soviet fleet in the Mediterranean, the presence of Soviet aircraft in Syria and in Egypt, could have military consequences very far-reaching for N.A.T.O. and for this country. Gunboat diplomacy has often been called out of date, but the Soviet are practising it on a pretty big scale.
The south-eastern flank of N.A.T.O. is guarded by Greece and Turkey. Greece and Turkey for long have had Communist neighbours on their northern borders. Turkey now has a virtually Russian dependency in the shape of Syria on her southern flank and there is growing Soviet influence in Iraq. We have a double commitment to the Turks—in N.A.T.O. and in CENTO.
The White Paper says very little about CENTO. What is the position about our CENTO commitments? When I was at the Air Ministry the commitment was clearly defined. We were prepared to give nuclear support to our CENTO allies if they were attacked from the Caucasus. Does this commitment stand? If so, how do we fulfil it? We were to have fulfilled it with the TSR2. I suppose that the V-bombers in the low-level rôle are still just capable of fulfilling it, but for how much longer? Will the M.R.C.A. have the range or the payload to meet it? Polaris, we are told, is committed to N.A.T.O. Is it to be available for CENTO purposes, too? Perhaps the Secretary of State could say something about that when he winds up the debate.
It is not only Greece and Turkey who are concerned with the threat to the southern flank. France and Italy are directly concerned as Mediterranean Powers. The United States are concerned through their Sixth Fleet. We are ourselves, because of our presence in Gibraltar, Malta and Cyprus.
The Soviet presence was already substantial in Egypt before the six-day war in 1967. Since then it has become almost as formidable as the British presence used to be in Egypt before the war, and I would have thought that the Soviet ambassador in Cairo occupies a position very close to that of the British High Commissioner in the old days.
In paragraph 19 of the White Paper we are given a pretty detailed breakdown of the armed forces of the Warsaw Pact. Can the Secretary of State give us some breakdown of the Soviet presence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, in Egypt, in Syria and, as far as he can, in Iraq? What facilities have been made available to the Red navy and the air force in Egypt and in Syria? I understand they are substantial. How many advisers and technicians are there? What is the extent of the war material which could presumably be manned by Soviet "volunteers" if that was Moscow's wish?
Until last summer the Soviet influence in the Mediterranean was confined to Egypt and Syria, but it is now extending into Libya, a country with a minute population but a vast area, a long coastline, and immense oil resources. When the Libyan rebellion took place we were given to understand that the new revolutionary Government were good Libyan nationalists. At any rate, that was the hope expressed from the Front Bench opposite. It now seems that they are much less interested in Libya and much more concerned with promoting the most fanatical brand of pan-Arabism as a first step in bringing about a federation of Egypt, the Sudan and Libya. They are providing money for Nasser and the Palestine liberation organisation, and they are reducing Nasser's financial dependence on the moderating forces of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
There are persistent reports about the presence of Egyptian troops in Libya—not just advisers, but actual Egyptian units—and that with them are some hundreds of Soviet advisers. We are also told that there are Libyan troops training in Egypt under Soviet instructors. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that this is so, and estimate the numbers involved?
I hope I may be wrong, but if this is the case, if Libya has passed under Egyptian and, therefore, Soviet, influence, this means that hostile forces have been brought right up to the borders of Tunisia and Algeria.
We have played an active part in promoting this by the unconditional abrogation of the Anglo-Libyan Treaty. The right hon. Gentleman presided over a substantial physical presence of Britain in Libya. We had unassailable legal rights to remain there till 1973. By 1973 much might have happened in the Middle East.
What does the right hon. Gentleman suggest the British Government could have done about it? There was talk during Question Time about a débacle. What does the right hon. Gentleman wish to do?
If the hon. Gentleman had waited he would have heard my view. I was going on to say that, as I understand the situation, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues surrendered rights which we had in Libya. It was not even a sell out; there was no bargain. It was a give away. The other day in a public speech the Prime Minister took our party to task for, as he alleged, giving away a negotiating position in relation to the Common Market in advance of negotiations. What are we to say of negotiators who give away the strongest cards that they had without seeking to obtain any safeguards in return? We had unassailable rights; we had a physical presence. I should have thought if the Libyans wanted us to withdraw we could have insisted on certain safeguards.
I cannot say in detail what negotiation might have obtained. All I am saying is that we had strong cards in our hands and that we did not use them.
What remains of the treaty? Have we still training rights? Have we still got overflying rights? If we have not, how do we go to the aid, if we should be asked to, with that capability of conventional forces of which the right hon. Gentleman talks, of the Commonwealth countries in East Africa? If they should be in trouble, how do we go to the aid of Kenya or Tanzania or Uganda? Through South Africa or Rhodesia, I suppose.
The extent of the Egyptian-Soviet presence in Libya has a good deal of bearing on the question of the supply of arms to that country. If Libya is to federate with Egypt the sale of arms to Libya will be the sale of arms to Egypt. This raises the question of the sale of British Chieftain tanks and the view of the Government about what our French friends and allies are doing with the sale of Mirages. When King Idris was in power, I could conceive that he needed arms for defence against Egypt, but what do the present Libyan Government want the weapons for? I am all for business. As a former Minister of Aviation I am all for promoting the sale of arms overseas, but surely we ought to look further ahead. We are dealing here with very large figures of tanks and aircraft.
The Secretary of State has not out into the White Paper the exact front line strength of the Royal Air Force, but I would have thought that 150 more attack fighters added to our own front line would have made a substantial difference even to us. Of course, it can be argued that it will take time to deliver these weapons and that there will be strings attached to them. But will we dare to pull the strings if the Libyans decide to send the weapons systems to Egypt and threaten us with cutting off our oil supplies if we make trouble?
Chieftain tanks and Mirages in Libya could be used in two directions, either against Israel or against Tunisia. The Government should be well aware of the anxiety of Tunisia about what has happened in Libya, and even more at the prospect of seeing Libya armed on the scale proposed. These anxieties are shared by Morocco and, to an increasing extent, by Algeria. Colonel Boumedienne seems to have found that Soviet advisers are not all that easy to get on with and, no doubt, resents Nasser's penetration of Libya with Russian support.
I understand that the three Maghrev countries are coming together to defend themselves against Nasser's infiltration. France and Italy are giving them active encouragement in this. Are we associated with this move? Can we help in any way? Given our presence in the Mediterranean it would seem very much in our interests to do so.
But the more immediate danger, of course, is that weapons sold to Libya would be sent to the Suez Canal front. For the time being, Egypt, despite the presence of Soviet advisers and Soviet equipment, seems to be quite unable to prevent the Israeli retaliation against Egypt for Egyptian breaches of the cease fire.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make this clear to me? I accept the relevance of what he said, among other considerations, to the question of what weapons Britain might provide to the Libyan Government, but he is not attempting to suggest in any way that Britain is providing Libya with aircraft? This is a decision which has already been taken by the French Government, whose policy towards Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia he has just applauded.
Of course I could not conceivably hold the right hon. Gentleman responsible for what the French do by way of the sale of arms, but any arms sold by the French to Libya may have a bearing on any tanks with which we supply Libya. Since the right hon. Gentleman has, I understand, good relations with the French Government, surely we have a say in preparing the general strategy of the alliance, for France is still in the North Atlantic Alliance, even if it is not in the Organisation. We have every reason for expressing our views in Paris on what it is wise to sell the Libyans and what it is not.
The more immediate danger is that weapons systems sold to Libya would go to the Suez Canal zone. It is true that at the moment the Egyptians are in great difficulty and are quite unable to resist Israeli retaliation for their own breaches of the cease-fire. Nasser has been made the laughing stock of the Arab world. Israeli aircraft fly with impugnity over Cairo, and Israeli commandos capture Nasser's sophisticated machinery, dismantle it and take it home to Israel. But it is not only Nasser who has been deflated. There must be pretty red faces among the Red leaders in the Kremlin. I hope Moscow has learned the lesson that it has overplayed its hand and will persuade its Egyptian clients to return to the cease-fire. Certainly there is no reason why we should pull the Soviet chestnuts out of the fire which is of their own making.
There is a risk of escalation, a risk that the Russians might try to double the stakes on a losing game. May we be assured that our staffs are in consultation with the United States about what we should do if the Soviets were to send "volunteers" in any sizeable strength to Egypt? I do not ask for details, but I think it would be a help to the House, it might even have a helpful effect on the Middle East, if the Secretary of State in winding up could say that Her Majesty's Government associate themselves with President Nixon's declaration that we could not accept that the Soviet Union should obtain a dominant position in the Middle East.
May I turn to the situation east of Suez? Here I pay tribute to the moving speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot) which will find its place in the records of history, and may perhaps one day be regarded as having made a contribution to saving the soul of the Labour Party in this matter. The House knows that I have always been wholly opposed to the withdrawal from South-East Asia. By withdrawing our forces from Singapore and Malaysia we may well bring about morale and material consequences which will break down the whole structure of stability in the area. But if I compare what is described in paragraphs 12 to 14 of the White Paper with the blunt statement about our withdrawal from the Persian Gulf, the withdrawal from South-East Asia at least bears the aspect of a fairly orderly retreat. There is no immediate threat to Malaysia. There are potential threats in plenty, but no immediate threats. There is still a big American force in Vietnam and Thailand. Australia and New Zealand have accepted a commitment even after we go, and there is the commitment, though to me unconvincing, which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State to reinforce the area if need should arise.
A very different situation presents itself in the Gulf. There is no American presence there, and no local defence structure to ensure stability in the area. There is no residual British commitment that I know of to come to the assistance of our friends if they should be in trouble, and there are potential and very immediate threats at both ends of the Gulf. As I understand it, it is proposed that we should withdraw our protection from the nine States by the end of 1971. None of those States is a member of the United Nations, so they do not even have that minimal protection. There is a proposal to federate them, but little progress has been made towards it. There are great difficulties arising both out of the rivalries of the different rulers and out of the conflicting interests of their neighbours. Persia has claims on Bahrain and two of the islands. Saudi Arabia on Buraimi. Both Persia and Saudi Arabia are our friends. Given time and a continuing British presence, I believe that the said difficulties would be resolved. But unfortunately Persia and Saudi Arabia are not the only military powers in the Gulf. There is also Iraq and, to an increasing extent, South Yemen, formerly Aden.
In Iraq there is substantial Soviet influence; there are several hundred Soviet advisers; there is Soviet equipment, including bombers. In 1961 when the Conservative Party was in office and I was a Service Minister, I remember well that we only just succeeded in preventing Iraq from grabbing Kuwait. Baghdad is the headquarters of the main subversive movement leading into the Persian Gulf The agents of the League for the Liberation of the Gulf Peoples do a regular milk run from Bahrain downwards. What is even more sinister, I am advised—and perhaps the Secretary of State will confirm this—that the Soviets already have small but definite onshore facilities at Omul Ghasr near Basra at the head of the Gulf.
To the south, since our incontinent scuttle from Aden, an extreme régime has come into power. Again, there are several hundred Soviet advisers in Aden. I am told that there are two squadrons of Migs with Soviet pilots and ground crews at Khormaksar. The Red Fleet has access to the first-class port facilities of Aden. The extremist Aden Government have already been engaged on two fronts. They have had one scrap with the Saudis, and I am glad to say they were thrown back. They have also organised, equipped and trained the Dhofar rebels, referred to in the White Paper, who have actually mortared Salalah where there is an R.A.F. field.
I have no doubt that if we had gone and if the Iraqis and South Yemenis tried to take advantage of the situation, the Persians and the Saudis would do their best to stand up against them. But the Persians have the Russians on their northern border; the Saudis are very preoccupied in the south. With the British presence withdrawn, subversive movements launched into the Gulf States from Iraq and Yemen and backed by Soviet gunboat diplomacy would be well set to come out on top. How do the Govern ment view these dangers to our friends, the rulers, with whom we have had long association, and to our interests? I understand that we are to stay in Masira; will we maintain the R.A.F. airfield at Salalah? Shall we continue with the secondment of officers to the Muscat Army? I took part in negotiating the treaty, and as far as I can recall all its clauses were interdependent. Do we seek to maintain staging facilities at Bahrain and Sharjah? How would we make sure of the security of the airfields? How important are they to our capability to reinforce the Far East? What would be the risk, if the Gulf States came into hostile hands, of an air barrier being set up across the Persian Gulf?
Then there are the Trucial Oman Scouts who are at the moment responsible to the British Resident in Bahrain. To whom will they be responsible when we go? Will they still come under an embassy? Shall we still second officers to them? Will they become the army of the federation, if there is a federation, and what happens to them if there is not? What is our intention if we are asked to help? The right hon. Gentleman has spoken and written of his capability to reinforce South-East Asia. Do we plan to reinforce the Gulf if we are asked to by our CENTO allies or by the countries we now protect?
It seems to me that the decision to withdraw by the end of 1971 is at best a recipe for chaos and more likely for a Soviet take-over. I should not be thought alarmist in saying that. It has happened in Aden. It is happening in Libya. The dateline is grotesque and the right hon. Gentleman knows it and has said so, I have no doubt, to his colleagues in the Cabinet just as the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown) has said it in a published interview with the Sunday Times. This dateline should be abandoned. What we should do is press on with the federation, letting those who want to come together federate. Once they have federated we should transform our treaties of protection into a treaty of defence such as the one which we have had with Kuwait. Beyond that we should seek an understanding with both Saudi Arabia and Persia and seek to associate them with the federation and ourselves for the defence of the area. The Saudis have been good friends to us and It would have been better if the Government had listened to King Feisal in 1967 when he advised us against withdrawal from Aden. The Saudis need us, and here I would pay a tribute to the right hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) for his efforts to get the Lightnings sold to Saudi Arabia when he was concerned with aviation. The Saudis have good reason to be grateful for their Lightnings which enabled them to see off the South Yemenis the other day.
Above all, we should work closely with the Persians. They have not only a great history but a great future if they continue developing as they are now. They have been loyal allies and the Shah has been a consistently wise counsellor to us.
The need, in short, is to create a structure in the Gulf to meet the new dangers developing from Iraq and Aden; a structure which will enable us to continue to honour our obligations to our friends and enable us to associate Persia and Saudi Arabia in the attempt to preserve stability in the area. We have immeasurable interests at stake in the area, but there is more than that to it. We have a long and honourable connection with it; and now, with the discovery of oil, its people have a chance for the first time in 2,000 years to move forward as Persia is doing today. It would be a tragedy if this opportunity was lost because of a decision which the Secretary of State knows in his heart to be wrong, which saves us no money and may lose us much and which has only been adopted in a defeatist attempt to placate elements in the party opposite who are not primarily concerned with this country's honour or its interests.
I remind the House that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak.
It is a pleasure to support this workmanlike and impressive document which we are considering today. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is to be congratulated on continuing the mammoth task since 1964 of trying to salvage the hotchpotch defence policy which he inherited and of welding it into a cost effective defence force which makes sense in the 1970s.
It is interesting to note that this is the first defence debate in the new decade. Like other hon. Members I have had the privilege of attending the last five or six debates and look forward to attending an equal number in future. Whether my right hon. Friend would wish to have the same privilege of leading in those debates is another matter, because one would hope that his talents might be used in other equally important fields.
We now have first-class professional fighting forces which, as my right hon. Friend described, are without parallel in Europe. It is rather interesting to note that this challenge was not taken up by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). In his picking on peripheral questions he completely ignored this fine achievement for the obvious reason that it is unchallengeable that our Air Force, Navy and Army are the strongest of the forces of Western European nations.
The debate has on this occasion centred, as it should, on the question of European security and the vital importance of N.A.T.O. I shall make a few comments on what I believe are likely to be the changes in the problems facing N.A.T.O. in the next few years.
We have already had some discussions on the effects of the Candian withdrawal from N.A.T.O., and some are more confident than I am that we have a reasonable length of time before the Americans withdraw from Europe. The undertaking given by President Nixon, important as it is, only takes us another 15 months from now. This ought to be recognised. I think that without doubt, come the middle of next year, President Nixon will have to take further steps, due to domestic pressure, to reduce the American land forces military commitment in Europe. I have no reasons to doubt that the cover from the United States strategic air force and from new Polaris submarines will remain, but I would not expect that by the middle of this decade to see large numbers of American troops in Europe—and why should there be?
This brings us new challenges, and in this connection I should like to comment on the rather tortuous logic of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who suggested that we should emulate the policy of some of our continental partners and not take some of the steps outlined in this White Paper. The answer to the right hon. Gentleman is that those countries can afford to do this precisely because they are under an American strategic nuclear umbrella. But if the Americans were to withdraw it—and I do not think they would—the whole of Western Europe would be faced with a new situation. Why the right hon. Gentleman was able to deduce from that—and I noticed with interest the answer he gave to one of his hon. Friends when challenged on it—that in some way we can step back from nuclear problems, I do not know. I think he is wrong.
I should like to have heard more from my right hon. Friend on how he sees the rôle of France in Western Europe. This is a worrying aspect of N.A.T.O.'s role. Many of us had hoped that with the passing of de Gaulle from power France might re-enter in full the arrangements for the defence of Western Europe. There is not much doubt that the security of France is inextricably linked with the rest of Western Europe and one would hope that very soon, particularly in view of an impending American withdrawal, she will realise this and make an important and equal contribution to the N.A.T.O. defence arrangements.
My right hon. Friend also mentioned the Federal Republic of Germany, and he might have pointed out that this is a particularly apt time, with a friendly Federal Chancellor addressing both Houses of Parliament this week, to comment on the Federal Republic of Germany taking an important and major share in the defence of Western Europe. One looks forward to further close cooperation between our country and the Federal Republic of Germany.
I am encouraged to hear of the continuing progress of M.R.C.A. It would be a very serious and shattering blow if the design and development of this aircraft were not to proceed, because by the time we come to the end of this decade, unless we have this multi-rôle combat aircraft, the Royal Air Force and the whole of the N.A.T.O. air force will be pretty well dependent on American military aircraft. I hope that either during this debate, or during the debate on the Air Estimates, we shall get firm assurances that this project will go ahead. I know that an important stage will be reached at the beginning of May, and those who are interested in this subject must be viewing that date with, I hope, enthusiasm if the news is good.
I should like to comment on the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and on the point made by some of my hon. Friends in their Amendment. To suggest that in some way my right hon. Friend has changed our strategy with regard to the use of nuclear weapons is, I think, wrong. My right hon. Friend's explanation is reasonable, and it makes me wonder whether some of my hon. Friends have read thoroughly the appropriate paragraphs in the White Paper, particularly paragraphs 18 to 28, which spell out in language which we should all be able to understand what my right hon. Friend has attempted to do, and how far he has succeeded.
I accept, which some hon. Members do not, the difference between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. As I understand it, there are considerable differences. Some of the tactical nuclear weapons are relatively—one has to use that term—quite small nuclear weapons.—[Interruption.]—I had to say "relatively", but one can imagine them being used in the way described by my hon. Friend in the war game that he had with Liddell Hart. As I understand it, they are purely to give us time to have consultations, to establish a brief stalemate, to prevent us from being overrun, but certainly to give us time to decide whether we are to escalate the conflict if the danger is serious enough.
I should make clear what I have said on previous occasions. There is no very clear distinction between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. The distinction is between targets. There is a wide range of difference of yield in the weapons, and there is some difference in the degree of fall-out which they are liable to cause. The only important distinction is that between the targets on which they might be used and the effect of hitting a target with a nuclear weapon on the enemy's likely response. The House should be under no illusion that The Times Correspondent is right this morning in suggesting that low-yield nuclear weapons are not very different from conventional weapons. This is very far from being the truth, and it would be a tragic error to base policy on that assumption.
I appreciate the assistance given by my right hon. Friend, and I have several times stressed the word "relatively" in my argument about the difference between the two.
What I feel we should also take into account is the estimate of those who are well known for their study of these problems. I have in mind the article which has been written by Leonard Beaton in The Times of 25th February in which, in commenting on the argument which has been going on for some months, he summarised what I believe my right hon. Friend has been trying to do. He said:
It is here that the achievement of Mr. Healey is most remarkable. In taking the initiative in the development of the N.A.T.O. guidelines, and in doing this jointly with the west Germans, he has done as much to build the political context for unity in a crisis as any man
I believe that that is what my right hon. Friend has been trying to do. When he took over responsibility for organising the defence of this nation he found that that was not the case, that it was likely that decisions might have been made by the American President without consultation with either the British Government or the other West European Governments, which in effect might have faced us with surrender or suicide. My right hon. Friend has managed to achieve a system of control, of guidelines, which at least might give us several days, I hope, in which to assess what the next steps should be.
I go on to comment on the question of the southern flank of N.A.T.O., which was not really dealt with at any length, either by my right hon. Friend, or by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham. This was an omission, because the southern flank of N.A.T.O. is vital, and it is, unfortunately, an area of great instability. I looked up the debate of a year ago, and I found that a number of hon. Members expressed foreboding about the development there. For the information of hon. Gentlemen opposite, perhaps I might tell them that in that debate I quoted figures from the annual statement of the Institute of Strategic Studies. Its estimate of the equipment which had been sent by Russia to three Arab countries alone, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, was that there had been massive deliveries of aircraft and ground weapons, and some naval vessels, which I said would not help the situation in the Middle East but would obviously worsen it.
Unfortunately, this debate is taking place against the background of a very serious situation on the southern flank of N.A.T.O. This is something with which I feel one of my right hon. Friend's should deal in some detail, either today, or in winding up the debate tomorrow night. The situation is one which we cannot ignore, and it is worsening almost week by week. I wish that I had a solution to offer. I am afraid that I have not, but it only reinforces the faith that I have in the defence arrangements in Western Europe, which I hope will enable us to play a part both in protecting ourselves and in trying to influence events in that area towards a peaceful solution.
I now deal with what really is the major issue between the two parties, and which I suspect will more and more come to the fore as we move into the General Election period. I am referring to the difference between the parties about our rôle east of Suez. I find it incredible that, in 1970, a major British political party should still be arguing that in some way we can be a world policeman in parts of the world 10,000 miles away.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), in talking about the Gulf—not quite 10,000 miles away, I admit—expressed his worry about the situation in cataclysmic terms. Even if his worst fears were realised, and the kind of régimes to which he referred were installed in the countries of the Gulf, the result would not be certain. We have seen in Europe and in the Far East that even Communist countries do not form a monolithic bloc. They are not capable of resolving their essential differences to such an extent that they together represent a threat either to Western Europe or to the United States. In fact, the dispute between the Soviet Union and China is likely to represent more of a threat to those countries than to any third Power. I do not believe that we could continue beyond the period laid down by the Government effectively to intervene in the Gulf, and in areas such as that which are essentially unstable, and this applies to the Far East. The Americans, surely, have proved this. With their great military might, with the presence of nearly 600,000 armed forces, they are not able to direct events in a small country in South-East Asia in the direction they want them to go. How do we with forces and power much less than possessed by the United States think that we can intercede either in the Gulf or in the Far East fundamentally to alter inevitable changes?
Having had the privilege, with a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House, of visiting the Far East my views were not changed by what I saw. In fact they were reinforced.
The hon. Gentleman and I both took part in that visit. Does he support his own party in having a presence in Hong Kong and indeed in building up on it?
Hong Kong is rather different since it is still a British colony. The set-up in Hong Kong is rather remarkable. I suspect that the British Government will eventually have to look at the situation in that base. If China is prepared to let the lease run out in its proper time it may well not have to be looked at for many years, but so long as it is a British Colony we must try to defend it. My understanding of the rôle of British troops in Hong Kong is not that we believe that we could possibly defend it against a major Chinese assault, but primarily to maintain the border, to prevent the influx of a large number of refugees from Red China and also to help the police maintain internal order if there is a danger of riots or other trouble.
I was about to turn to the situation both in the Gulf and in the Far East. Having had the opportunity to visit our bases in the Far East, in Singapore and in Malaysia and Hong Kong, I feel that we cannot pretend, as we could decades ago, to be the prime influence in that area. It is only wise and in keeping with our new European rôle that we should withdraw. Apart from our special re sponsibility in coming to the aid of Australia and New Zealand, if those countries are threatened, I personally do not believe that we have a commitment in that area or see no reason why we should undertake one. This view goes against long traditions, but I believe that the choice that has been made by the Government is widely supported by a large number of people.
Those of us who have had the privilege of making one of these Service visits have the highest praise for the arrangements made by the Services. We have found them extremely helpful, frank and open. They have been prepared to talk to us and to show us anything we have asked to see. Our trip was very useful and no doubt the House will be hearing other accounts of it from other hon. Members who took part.
It was the first time that I had seen such great bases as Singapore. I have never seen anything like them before. It takes one back to another age. They represented a great investment in the past by the British taxpayer. These bases are extremely comfortable. I imagine that there is no more popular posting than Singapore for a Serviceman and his family. But this does not alter my view in any way. Having met some of the politicians in Singapore and Malaysia, I feel that these nations basically must seek out their own solution to problems. One wonders what is the future of this unique area of Singapore, which is an island State containing two and a quarter million overseas Chinese, surrounded by a great Muslim area. I am sure that many changes and movements will take place in the area before a stable pattern finally emerges.
I wish that we could have had more details from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, or any of his right hon. Friends, about Conservative policy on these defence matters. A year ago the right hon. Gentleman might have been forgiven for not knowing exactly the Opposition policy on defence, but surely over the past twelve months, when we are told that the right hon. Gentleman has been working very hard in spelling out alternative policies to put to the electorate, whenever the General Election comes, we might well have had more details. It is all very well to knock the estimates of my right hon. Friend, which I admit are likely to be on the high side, one cannot deny that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Yes, but equally, we suspect the figure put forward by the Leader of the Opposition of £100 million, which is rather on the low side.
The right hon. Member for Hexham spoke about our presence east of Suez, and either he or one of his hon. Friends mentioned that we could give air cover to Commonwealth forces in that area. This would face the party opposite, if given the opportunity, with the decision as to whether we should build a new aircraft carrier. As I understand the situation, we could not contemplate going through the whole of the '70s with the present three-carrier force that exists at the moment. They are, to say the least, rather old vessels; each refit becomes considerably more expensive. If the Opposition are planning to introduce new types of aircraft on to these carriers, they will be faced with the decision whether or not to build a new carrier. We have nothing from the right hon. Gentleman about that. Surely if such an expensive item of equipment for the Royal Navy is to be undertaken it will add to the sums of both the Opposition and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
I noted what has been said about the building of a fifth Polaris submarine and other fleet submarines. If one adds on the cost of building those major naval vessels, then again the sums which have been worked out by my right hon. Friend would probably be nearer the mark than those made by the Leader of the Opposition.
It is incumbent on the Opposition to come clean and to say frankly what they believe our commitments should be. They should say what this means in terms of forces and equipment, and above all they must tell us the cost. On that basis, when the time comes, the electorate will have the opportunity of making a fair and free choice.
The hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth), in a most interesting speech, made the most pregnant remark that this was election year. He will be aware that the number of information officers in the Ministry of Defence has gone up from 76 to 103 in the last five years, which will be helpful to his case.
I turn to the background of the debate. The Minister of Defence in opening the debate said that there were hopes of a strategic détente at the present level as a result of the talks in Helsinki. One hopes that there may be such a détente and that the talks will succeed. When one remembers that this is probably to be election year, there are three facts to be remembered. First, military expenditure by the Soviet Union is still rising. Secondly, the balance of deterrence is no longer absolutely inviolably on the side of the United States. Thirdly, it is the clear wish of the people of the United States to make some sort of withdrawal from Europe in the not too distant future. That is the background to this debate. Whether or not there will be an election is comparatively unimportant when considering how this country is to be properly defended.
I want now to move into two specific areas which have not been mentioned. The first of them is the Royal Navy. I must confess that I have always been with the right hon. Gentleman about not building a new generation of carriers. When I was a Minister in the late Government, I fought a fierce and satisfactory battle to see that these carriers were not built. I believed that this was right and that we should go for a powerful air force. We could not afford to have both a powerful air force and an enormous fleet built round the aircraft carrier. I believed that that was not in the best interests of economy or effectiveness.
That may have been a purely speculative point of view on my part, as I was an air Minister. It was a struggle in which I engaged and which to some extent I won. But the point was that the reason in the background was to see that, when this happened, the Navy was properly equipped to defend itself. It was to have been properly equipped to defend itself by giving it surface-to-surface missiles, VTOL aircraft and the new submarine which was then coming in.
This is where the whole of the Government's present posture falls into total imbalance and disrepute. I quite agree that, once this decision has been taken, the aircraft carrier is no longer a feasible weapon, because of the attendant fleets which have to service it. That is a perfectly legitimate point of view. But, in return for that, I hoped that there would be two tremendous improvements. I hoped, first, that there would be a powerful air force. Owing to cancellations, there is no air force to speak of today at all.
My second hope concerned the fleet. Instead, what have we? It is true that there has been enormous progress in the new sonar, which has a 15-mile all-round range, in the Valiant submarine and in forms of communication which can be operated without revealing one's presence to the enemy. However, there is nothing with which the fleet can defend itself. The surface-to-surface weapons which are required do not exist.
Against that, the Soviet Union has very large and growing fleets which are equipped with cruise-type missiles that can be directed for 200 miles from an old-fashioned Bison aircraft. For the Government to talk about a balanced programme is like the old Chinese general who puts out more flags because he has nothing else. There is no balance in the Navy, and I am sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends will put it right when we are returned to office.
Then, as regards the deterent, it strikes me that, with a situation developing in Europe where there may be an American withdrawal, it is important for us to make sure that our Polaris fleet is up to scratch. That means that the Minister must look harder at the question of penetrations through the A.B.M. systems which the Soviet Union may be building. If he is unsuccessful—and I am glad that he made an oblique reference to Chapman Pincher's article on the subject—we have to go for the fifth Polaris. It must be remembered that if we have only four, no more than one can be on station at a time. That means 16 tubes, and, if they do not get through, it means that the Government have to look very seriously at any necessary further expenditure.
To return to the main intellectual issue in this debate, it is one which the hon. Member for Bolton, East found crystal clear. He must have a very clear brain. I have to confess that paragraph 23 is totally obscure to me and to most other people. It talks about this new wonderful guideline system which has been set up by the right hon. Gentleman in agreement with the German and other Governments. But let us think for a moment what this new guideline system means. I know that it is much easier to do things alone, but how powerful will this great committee be and what decisions will it take?
There is an awful danger of the right hon. Gentleman going round rattling other people's rockets. That is what he does when he talks about blowing the Russian fleet out of the Mediterranean. However, there is not a single tactical weapon in Europe which is not under American lock and key. We are told what a fine thing it is that the Germans and British should talk together, that we should decide how these matters should be done, and, though it is not possible to reveal what agreement has been entered into, we know what we will do. There is only one man who knows what will be done, and that is the President of the United States. The sooner that hon. Members get that into their heads, the happier I will be.
There are 7,000 nuclear weapons in Europe today. When I was a Minister, they were controlled by what was known as the "two key" system. I had one key, and an American Air Force officer sat at a base with another key. That was not a very satisfactory arrangement, because it was just conceivable that someone might get hold of the second key. I am glad to say that that is no longer possible. These matters are controlled electronically by satellite and other means from the Pentagon. That is where the decisions will be made.
Does anyone seriously think that that button will be pressed for the use of tactical nuclear weapons when the Americans admit that they have lost their overall superiority in the rocket race? To think that is to live in cloud-cuckooland, and the sooner that both Front Benches disabuse themselves of that idea, the happier I and most of Europe will be.
These are the simple facts. This is an entirely American weapon, and the man whose finger is on the button far more than our Minister of Defence and the German Minister of Defence is the Mayor of New York—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because the Mayor of New York has 9 million people living there and, if I were living in the United States, I would pay more attention to the Mayor of New York than to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. That is a fact of political life.
In the circumstances, we have to take a more realistic view about force levels in Europe. I know that, when speaking officially for the Labour Party some years back, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the necessity of having 80,000 British soldiers in the Army of the Rhine. That may be so, but what we have to be certain about doing is, first, to build up our reserves of troops and, secondly, to see that our stocks of conventional ammunition and so on are up to scratch.
As for the building up of our reserves, the most alarming fact to emerge from the recruiting figures is that we have gone back to a three-year engagement. This is the kiss of death. It never works, yet our figures of recruitment are pushed up by 1,000 men by this means. We should get the men by building up a proper Territorial force. We must get the men so as to raise the reserves to some sort of reasonable level, which they are not at the moment. That has to be done by attraction and finance and by new plans for the Territorials, but we must also be prepared to fight a rather longer war than is contemplated at the moment.
This may be where some of the economies—the "anything you can do, I can do cheaper" line taken by the right hon. Gentleman—come from: it is the running down of stock. When I had the honour to be one of Her Majesty's Ministers, we ran down the war planning from a 90-day war to a 30-day war, and over a number of years this throws up hundreds of millions of £s. I suspect that we have now run down our stocks of conventional weapons far too low.
This year, I see that there is a Supplementary Estimate on the Royal Ordnance factories. We should debate this and know what is going on; we should know about these Libyan tanks. The Foreign Secretary is one of the most misguiding—not "misguided"—people in the House. He assured me when we debated this matter eight months ago that there was no shortage of Chieftain tanks, but we know that there is because there is no reserve of them in Europe. Between 40 million and 60 million rounds of small arms ammunition were sold last year to Nigeria. Have we replaced it? Do we have the stocks? These things should be investigated. That is what the House of Commons is for. One thing which needs to be probed is the Royal Ordance factories, which are increasing their Estimates this year.
To talk of our forces being balanced is totally untrue if our Navy is ill-equipped, as it is today, to meet any emergency. To base our strategy on tactical nuclear weapons when those weapons, all 7,000 of them, are totally controlled by the United States of America, is the height of folly. It is basing a plan on a mirage. When it comes to disarmament, one initiative which should be taken by whichever party is in office is to bring down this fantastic number of tactical nuclear weapons possessed by both sides. They are weapons which will never be used, they are weapons which build illusion and they are certainly weapons which should be done away with. The first thing I would do—I hope that the Foreign Secretary does something about this—is approach the Warsaw Pact to lower the whole level of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. That could be done tomorrow.
The Amendment tabled by me and some of my hon. Friends, for reasons which we understand, has not been called, contains references to the two main themes of this debate—withdrawal from east of Suez and the use of tactical nuclear weapons. On the first, the Government are to be congratulated for outlining in the White Paper a continuation of the policy of withdrawal. This has helped our balance of payments. It has enabled Great Britain to start to develop a new and better relationship with the newly independent nations. The Conservative opposition, on the Front Bench and the back benches, to a policy of withdrawal, shows a failure to grasp the fundamental change in Great Britain's security requirements which is implicit in the change from Empire to Commonwealth.
They, having left the country with a ruinously high military budget in 1964, seriously handicapping our trading position, now oppose, year by year, and seek to obstruct, every effort made by a Labour Government to correct this situation. The high public cost of carrying out the Opposition's defence policy would preclude many of the social policies which the people of this country are rightly demanding. Although there have been cuts in Britain's defences in fields other than east of Suez, these have been so small as to leave Great Britain with a higher military capability than any other country in Western Europe.
In pursuance of the maintenance of this very high military capability, the White Paper proposes a further 28 major military research and development projects, at a cost of £222 million. This is far too high a military R. & D. budget, for a number of reasons. I would question, as a matter of fact, why no reference is made in the R. & D. section to the multiple individually targettable re-entry vehicles. I listened with tremendous interest at Question Time today to the Secretary of State saying that provision had been made for this. Surely this is important enough a matter to be included in our R. & D. costs. The total cost of our nuclear force as outlined in the White Paper does not make sense if it does not contain a reference to the provision which the Government are making in this respect.
This enormous research and development expenditure is wasteful of precious highly-skilled manpower, and of research and development facilities which are needed in this country to expand our new science-based industries, on which our future economic position may well depend. The cost to this country of carrying on, year after year, with this enormously high level of military R. & D. expenditure can best be illustrated in the cost of cancellation of military projects. In aero-space activities alone, the cost of projects cancelled in 1952 was "only"—we can use that word in the defence sphere—£9 million. In 1954, it was £13 million, in 1955, £33 million, in 1960, £90 million, and in 1965, we hit the peak, up to now, of £240 million. If we go on trying to seek more and more sophisticated weapons through this great multiplicity of military R. & D. projects, we can break the economic back of the country, or strain its capacity to tackle the important research and development rôle which it should be filling.
I would give one further illustration of this over-concentration on our military R. & D. In 1966–67, 81 per cent. of our total shipbuilding and marine engineering research and development was Admiralty work, leaving the balance for marine shipbuilding. Is it any surprise to us, then, that Japan takes half the world's shipbuilding market away from us? There should be a cut in the R. & D. devoted to military purposes, to a figure of not higher than £150 million a year.
I turn now to the aspect of the debate which has worried many hon. Members—namely, the use of tactical nuclear weapons within N.A.T.O. strategy. It is clear now that, despite the failure of the N.A.T.O.-Warsaw Pact set-up to provide a basis for agreement on the scaling down of force levels in Europe, the Government intend to go on, as Government after Government in this country have gone on through the 1950s, 1960s and now apparently into the 1970s, with the view that the only way that we can respond to this situation is to pile more effort into N.A.T.O. and to build still higher its military capacity. This shows a failure to realise that we must turn away from the idea that the only security in Europe is a security which comes from power blocs. This is a fallacious theory.
The Estimates for 1970–71 propose 54,700 B.A.O.R. troops at a cost of £205 million, plus 30,000 civilians. This is an increase from 51,000 in 1965. What is more worrying is the reliance that N.A.T.O. has come to place on tactical nuclear weapons. The policy of initial use of tactical nuclear weapons is terrifying. To begin with, it assumes the possible failure of our whole nuclear armoury to deter the Russians from even a conventional attack. That assumption must be implicit.
What is worse for us, as democratically elected politicians, is that it poses the idea that there can be a democratic political control of nuclear escalation. Is this put to us seriously, or is it some way of insulting our intelligence? With the development of the anti-ballistic missile systems by Russia and the United States, it surely is no longer even probable that they will submit to a democratic control, under whatever guidelines the Secretary of State cares to put in a defence statement, of their huge nuclear armouries in the defence of individual European countries.
When we were faced with the crude proposition of a total deterrent nuclear force or none at all, there may just have been some conceivable situation where this choice was open to us. That is not the choice before us now. We can now see emerging a situation in which both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. will use antiballistic missiles not only to defend the hard core bases of their own intercontinental ballistic missile sites, but also to defend their own civilian populations.
Assuming that they do this—and I think that it is a reasonable assumption—and we then try to apply this strategy of initial use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, what will happen? Presumably, to examine the matter logically, if there were a conventional attack by Warsaw Pact forces, then the N.A.T.O. guidelines could be used to determine at what point we should use tactical nuclear missiles. Once they are fired off, what will happen? Can anyone imagine those guidelines containing within their formulation the first strike against Moscow? If there is an equivalent Warsaw Pact body laying down guidelines can anyone imagine them proposing that the first strike will be fired against Washington? Of course not. The guidelines will hold good only while European cities are being blasted out of existence.
They could hold good while London and Barrow-in-Furness go. But when the time comes to decide whether a major nuclear attack is to be made on either Washington or Moscow, only then is it conceivable that the two great powers will get together and decide to let the battle stop at the point where it is not worth risking their own homelands. That is the only conceivable situation in which I can see the slightest chance of escalation stopping once the nuclear conflict has started. Therefore, I say that this idea is a bankrupt strategy which will not work.
The answer to the situation is not to go on increasing the nuclear armouries of either the Warsaw Pact countries or the N.A.T.O. countries. Nor is the answer to introduce conscription. The answer is to negotiate. We must call for a European Security Conference. Obviously we would want high on the agenda of the conference the question of mutual force reductions. But I see no reason, now that the U.S.S.R. has declared its willingness to have a European Security Conference, why we should not thrash it out at the conference table—not thrash out what should appear on the agenda.
We should make clear that we will not continue indefinitely to maintain either B.A.O.R. or our nuclear commitment to N.A.T.O. In calling for a European Security Pact Conference, I believe that we should, as a firm indication of our intention to turn from N.A.T.O. to a broader basis of security arrangement, give notice of a reduction in B.A.O.R. and the end of the British nuclear commitment to N.A.T.O. as a prelude to total renunciation of nuclear weapons by Great Britain. To do this and to target our thinking on security to a future where there can be a peaceful world, we must envisage the reality of a United Nations security force of a permament nature. The size of a country's armed forces should be related to the length and the vulnerability of its frontiers. The change from Empire to Commonwealth has drastically reduced both the length and the vulnerability of our frontiers. We should now, therefore, make a proportionate reduction in British Armed Forces and set up smaller, better-equipped, conventional forces.
A number of hon. Members have from time to time indicated that the concept of a United Nations permanent security force was highly idealistic, to say the least. The reality of the situation, however, is that on the last two major occasions when the United Nations asked for force contributions for peace-keeping operations, it was embarrassed by the size of the response. It could pick and choose the nations which came forward. I have a list here, which I will not read, of some 20 nations involved in two recent United Nations peace-keeping projects. I suggest that discussions should be commenced by Great Britain with these other nations with a view to tabling a resolution in which we, with these nations, guarantee the commitment of men and equipment for the creation of a permanent security force. In this way we can hold out the prospect not only of a peace which makes sense, which does not rely on balances of terror, but also of a peace which would enable us and other nations to make a serious contribution to some of the other underlying problems of this planet—for example, world hunger.
Peace can never be guaranteed by military power blocs. Power blocs have never guaranteed the maintenance of democratic government within themselves, as evidenced by Greece; neither have they guaranteed the independence of individual nations, as evidenced by Czechoslovakia. World peace can only be secured by the willingness of great nations to enhance the strength and authority of the United Nations by placing their forces at its disposal. A Labour Government, having reversed the outdated imperial defence posture of the Tories, should now respond to this greater challenge.
The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) will forgive me if I do not follow him, though with much of what he said I agree. I want to dwell on the two main topics of recruitment and of our European commitment and flexible response, but I first want to congratulate the Government on the presentation of the Statement on the Defence Estimates. It is very easy to read and to absorb. At the same time, I read it with some envy, having at one time been employed by the Director of Naval Intelligence and remembering with what great difficulty we extracted any information at all about any potential enemy's forces. To see the whole thing presented for anyone who wishes to know fills me with not a little envy. I suppose that it is the right way to do it, but it seems to me that we make things very easy for our potential enemies.
As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, the greater information we have given in recent years about our defence affairs has been given after continual insistence by Liberal spokesmen in the House.
I accept that, but the right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised at these feelings of envy I may feel at times.
I had the opportunity last week to give a very warm welcome to the new pay scales, and to express the hope that they would result in improved recruitment—and, obviously, they can hardly do otherwise. But I add the hope that they will do away with the necessity to go on recruiting children to the Services. This is something about which I feel very strongly. It is with some regret that I read in the White Paper that the recruitment of junior soldiers has continued to increase in the last year. These are children of 15 years of age, or thereabouts, who go into the forces with the obscurest of motives and for the strangest of reasons. I hope that the high pay scales will mean that it will be unnecessary to continue this type of recruitment indefinitely. Can we be told when the Donaldson Committee Report can be expected? I know that it is awaited by many of us with considerable interest.
The Secretary of State will have found the recruitment figures disappointing, particularly that for the engineering and technical branches of all the Services. A number of very important factors other than pay and conditions must be considered if we are to improve recruitment. One that I cannot remember being touched upon in recent defence debates or referred to in answer to defence Questions is that of qualifications held by Service men when they leave the Service. The Government should consider it an obligation that a Service man, whether officer or other rank, should be able to leave the Service with a qualification that is recognisable by civilian employers, by institutes, professional bodies or trade unions. This is absolutely essential.
I believe that if men who consider entering the Services were certain that in addition to improved pay while serving they would have a recognisable qualification on their return to civilian life, their willingness to consider a Service life would be vastly increased. To give an example, non-specialist officers could be given the opportunity to take a personnel management qualification recognised by the Institute of Personnel Management. The same sort of thing could apply to every category of Service men.
I know that the question of contracts is under consideration, but I believe that another attraction to men considering Service life would be the knowledge that in their contract of service there would be definite prearranged breaks of which they could take advantage as they wished. The break might be at three years, four years or more. They would know that if they enjoyed Service life they could stay on with the certainty of having a recognised qualification when they left, and that the law of contract applied to them just as much as to civilians. If that were done, I am sure that the Secretary of State would get an influx of people of high calibre who would be prepared to give Service life a fair trial, knowing that they could, if they did not like the life, take advantage of the contract's break clause.
It could be said that the days of enlistment only for the sake of Queen, country, and the regimental band, have gone, particularly in respect of the younger Service men. That motive may be important, but they are not enough. Men want the assurance of good pay and good conditions, and the equal assurance that when they go back into civilian life they will not be at a disadvantage in comparison with colleagues of a similar age. I suggest that there could be a penalty system if contracts were broken for any reason before the break provision fell due.
Before passing from the subject of recruitment, I want to ask the Secretary of State one or two questions. Is he satisfied with last year's recruitment figures for the T. & A.V.R.? According to the White Paper, excluding transfers from Category III, only about 3,400 men were recruited. What is the target? Is the right hon. Gentleman anywhere near being satisfied with last year's recruitment figure, and what figure does he hope to achieve for the T.A.V.R. in the coming year?
Entries to the Britannia Royal Naval College were well below the required level. This also applies to a slightly less extent to other officer entries, and it is a matter of considerable importance. What is the ratio of applicants to acceptances? Does the fact that the level required was well below what was desirable mean that there has had to be a lowering of standards, or have the standards been maintained even though that meant the entry being at a low level?
Do the Government intend to encourage expansion of the graduate entry to commissioned rank? I am sure that this is the right trend, and it is a trend which has been followed in countries like Sweden, Canada, and so on. I am certain that this is where our future source of officer entry lies.
What has been the financial saving resulting from the reorganisation of the reserves and the dismantling of the civil and home defence forces? Does the Secretary of State think that he has been wise in his decisions in this respect?
The question that has occupied a very large proportion of this debate so far is that of our European commitment and the flexible response. I believe that the Government have been absolutely correct in putting the main emphasis of the disposition of our conventional forces on Europe. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has been equally correct in deciding to withdraw by stages from east of Suez, but I do not think that it has been done as well as it might have been done. In some cases, and Singapore is a notable instance, more warning might have been given. It is, perhaps, surprising to see the withdrawal described in the White Paper as an "historic decision", when the Secretary of State knows that it was a decision taken under economic duress, in many cases against the national feelings of himself and his colleagues.
I was extremely surprised to find myself in agreement with quite a lot of what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I agreed completely with what he said about the fallacy of tactical nuclear weapons. I agreed with him about the need for strengthening the reserves and for strengthening our maritime forces. I disagreed with him fundamentally on the implication of his final argument which, if I understood it correctly, was that we should be prepared to sit behind our natural ditch and let all the rest of Europe -go by default.
If I am wrong I should like to give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to explain his position to those of us who perhaps did not quite follow his very academic arguments.
The hon. Member will find nothing in my speech which would lead to that conclusion. It is perfectly true that this country has a natural antitank ditch. That is a fact which cannot be wished out of existence, but as long as I have been in this House I have advocated the importance of a European alliance and of our contribution and loyalty to it.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation, but it is not an anti-missile ditch. I question how long we could survive by withdrawing behind it, particularly as the Soviet Union has a submarine fleet of over 400 vessels. This could pose a tremendous threat to us.
My colleagues and I are extremely uneasy about the whole doctrine of a flexible response and the use of tactical nuclear weapons. I have read the Secretary of State's argument carefully, particularly in paragraphs 20 to 24 of the White Paper, but I am still not convinced. The right hon. Gentleman was at great pains to indicate that it was a matter of targets, not of the size and explosive power of particular weapons, where the line is drawn between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. What about range? Is it purely a question of the target? At what level or rank will the decision be taken to use tactical nuclear weapons? He has assured us that it will not be taken in the field. Will it be taken only by Ministers of Cabinet rank?
I am glad to have that assurance, because it is not quite clear from the White Paper. Surely once the principle of the use of tactical nuclear weapons has been translated into practice, on however small a scale, all inhibitions are overcome, natural reluctance crumbles, retaliation becomes inevitable and we are on the slippery slope to ultimate disaster. I believe the who1e concept of the restricted use of nuclear weapons is rather like a game of Russian roulette, but played with five out of six of the chambers full instead of just one out of the six.
I can understand, although I cannot agree with the concept of nuclear strategy. I do not believe that this country should possess independent nuclear weapons. The real answer is a European conventional defence force jointly guaranteed by the two super-Powers. I believe this will come. We might get some way towards it out of a European nuclear conference, but it may be a long way ahead.
If the hon. Member is unconvinced about the Secretary of State's view, does he think that there has to be an increase in what he calls a British contribution to a European defence force? If so, what size should it be?
I do not think it would be necessary. In the long term what is contemplated is a co-ordinated European defence force to defend the external frontiers against infringement and also to look after internal European security with that European security jointly guaranteed by the two super-Powers. This is not a new concept but one which my party has put forward for two or three years now as a result of deep thinking. There will be those in this House who cannot conceive of this as a possibility. I do not see it as a possibility in the near future, but in the long term I think that it is possibly the only answer.
I do not think the hon. Member answered the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). We would all accept this as a long-term objective and even for short-term negotiation, but, as the hon. Member said, this would not be achieved quickly. If he is not prepared to rely on a nuclear response to attack by vast Soviet forces, would he accept the other option of an increase in conventional European forces, which certainly would imply conscription in this country?
I accept facts as they are, which are that we are under the American defence umbrella. I accept the Secretary of State's aim of 350,000 conventional forces as correct, but I should like negotiations to be started with a view to a European agreement reaching the sort of conclusions I have outlined. I have noted with great interest the figures in paragraphs 18 and 19 of the White Paper showing increases in the Warsaw Pact forces. One necessarily asks what is the reason for this increase? Is it to take up unemployment in the Warsaw Pact countries? Is it to use Europe as a training ground for perhaps the eventual use of these increased forces against China? It is merely to force the West into competition which they think will eventually break our backs economically? Or is it to pose a continuing and rising threat to us in the West?
I do not know the answer, but all these are possibilities. There is no question in my mind that in the sphere of nuclear strategy the advantage lies with the country which is more numerous but better dispersed both in terms of population and terms of industry. I have asked myself, as no doubt many hon. Members have asked themselves, whether the Russians would start something. Would they start something if they thought the probable cost was low enough, if they thought the gains were high enough, and if they thought the excuse they could present to their own people was sufficiently convincing to their own people? It need not be convincing to the outside world. This was underlined by their action in Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
I am tempted to say in those circumstances that the answer is, yes, the Russians might attempt something. Suppose, for example, that the United States had withdrawn their forces from Europe and there was a nuclear European defence force. Suppose the prize as the Soviet Union saw it was a United Europe under Soviet control, and suppose the excuse they put to their own people was a West German threat to East Germany? I believe that in such circumstances there is a possibility of the Russians doing something which we certainly would regret and they might themselves regret later. I do not think it likely, but I think it possible. The only answer is the sort of European security agreement I have outlined and a non-nuclear European defence force guaranteed by the super-Powers.
I will make my speech somewhat shorter than the average in this debate and conclude by asking two or three questions. The questions which I address to the Secretary of State are quite ordinary and detailed. One concerns our armour capability and B.A.O.R. mobility in Europe. Is the right hon. Gentleman now satisfied that with the increase in the number of Chieftain tanks and the introduction of the Stalwart we are now in a position to deploy our forces to the best effect in the event of a limited attack? I believe there was some doubt about this a year or two ago. We were very much under-armoured by comparison with the Warsaw Pact forces. Is the Stalwart adaptable for personnel or only for carrying stores?
The second matter concerns the patrol submarines. The White Paper informs us that we have 27 submarines. We also have about 50 frigates, some specialised anti-submarine frigates and other general-purpose frigates which presumably could be used for anti-submarine purposes. That is a total force of 50 frigates at present, and perhaps 27 submarines. Are these hunter-killer submarines? I am not including the Polaris submarines. Is it the Government's intention to increase our potential for anti-submarine operations? I would think that this force is quite insufficient for the known deployment of 250 Soviet submarines in the West European and Atlantic theatre.
My final two questions are addressed to the Front Bench of the official opposition party. We all think that a General Election is likely in the autumn. It may be a little later. It may be a little sooner. Coming out of today's debate, one or two points seem to have clarified themselves in Conservative defence policy. The Conservatives are, I take it from what the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) said, in favour of conscription. I think that the country should be told this. The electorate should know that the Tories are for conscription. Perhaps I misunderstood the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but this seemed to be what he was saying.
The hon. Gentleman did misunderstand my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon).
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said "Yes" and nodded his head several times, so I think that at least we deserve to hear a clarification of Tory policy on the question of conscription.
Secondly, we know very well—the Tories have said so over and over again—that they intend to reduce taxation. I was delighted to hear that the Secretary of State had arrived at the same figure that the Liberal Party arrived at a year or more ago of £300 million for the cost of Tory policies—disposal of forces in the Far East, re-establishment of bases east of Suez, and so on.
This may be because I gave the Secretary of State a copy of our leaflet showing these calculations.
That is as may be. It must be obvious to the Conservative Front Bench that the argument of reduced taxation, on the one hand, and a force east of Suez and conscription, on the other hand, are totally incompatible. Let us have an explanation of this. The Front Bench spokesman on the Conservative side definitely nodded and agreed that conscription was on the cards. The House and the country at large needs to know precisely what the Tories mean by this.
Finally, do those on the Conservative Front Bench visualise—this was put by their Leader not so long ago—a European defence force with an independent nuclear capability? The Conservatives will have the opportunity to answer this question in the debate. If they do visualise a European defence force with an independent nuclear capability, what will such a force be armed with? Do they intend to enter into the new generation of strategic nuclear missiles, or do they intend to go along with the possibly obsolescent Polaris? If they intend to enter into the new generation of strategic nuclear missiles, who will pay? Is this again, compatible with a reduction in taxation? These are questions that the Conservatives will have to answer on the hustings at a General Election. It might be convenient to the House to hear the answers in advance.
I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson) will not think it ungracious if I suggest that he was more clear in his attack upon the fuzziness of the Opposition's policy than he was in describing what the Liberal Party's own policy would be.
Not at the beginning of my speech, before I have developed the point. The hon. Gentleman failed to provide the House with a timetable for the introduction of the conventional force on which Europe is to rely and admitted, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intervened, that we should be dependent for some time to come upon the strategic nuclear force in Europe.
On one minor point, however, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That was when he was specific about the recruitment of young people into the armed services. As a member of the Latey Committee on the Age of Majority, which recommended that young people recruited to the Services under the age of 18 should be given the option to leave the Services when they reach their 18th birthday, I entirely assent with what the hon. Gentleman said. However, I thought that his general performance was characteristic of the Liberal Party in shying away from the main issues of the debate.
The debate has rightly centred upon the question of the nuclear deterrent. It is upon that that I wish to concentrate my remarks. As a newcomer to defence debate, I look for some clarification of the views of the Opposition on an occasion such as this. It is not that the Opposition do not repeat, with almost monotonous regularity, the same form of words to describe their policies. It is that they fail to fill out this formula and to make it comprehensible.
In that context we must first look at what has been said about the Opposition's policy east of Suez. What the Opposition have absolutely failed to do—they will be taken to task in the country if they continue to so to fail—is to say what precisely is the purpose of the presence of the troops east of Suez to which they propose to commit Britain. They have denied—the denials have been made by their official spokesmen—that the purpose is based upon any imperial notions drawn from the past. They have also denied that it is because of Britain's dependence upon trade with the area. The right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) has specifically denied this.
What I think is rather sinister about the Opposition's policy is that they appear to suggest that the British presence to which they would commit us is to be maintained because of a threat to stability in the area. This is an open-ended commitment which they have not costed, which they are not prepared to cost, and which simply cannot be costed.
The speech delivered by the right hon. Member for Bexley as recently as 16th January in Bristol, was, perhaps, the most sinister speech which has been presented to us for some time on the Conservative east of Suez policy. The right hon. Gentleman sought to explain what the Opposition proposed, in terms of that threat to stability and to describe how that threat might arise. He said:
There the threat comes not only from domestic strife but from subvention inspired and supported from outside, well known to those in the area.
Subversion is what is always claimed by régimes throughout the world when they seek to bolster up their own position. It is the argument about subversion which has involved the United States in an unending commitment in South Vietnam. Are we to be presented with similar arguments if instability of a régime occurs in other countries in South-East Asia? This is a most important question, on which the Opposition have been less than frank. The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), however, has glossed over this and has sought to suggest, in an article in the Financial Times today, that there are
… areas of the world in which Britain has, as a result of past history, a valuable part to play in maintaining stability in order to allow newly independent states, particularly those who have relied on her military presence and support in the past, to develop peacefully and to build up their own security.
I think that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman may wish to modify what he was saying just now. Is he saying that when Mr. Lee Kuan Yew makes it plain to the future Conservative Government that he would like a continuance of the British presence, his motives about the future conduct of his country and his régime are suspect to the hon. Gentleman? On reflection he may wish to modify that.
It is not the motives of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew which are in doubt but the motives of the Leader of the Opposition in committing this country to open ended involvement based, if we are to believe the right hon. And learned Member for Hexham, upon the results of past history. Is this the posture in which we are to enter the 1970's—defending the alleged interests of stability of all these countries east of Suez or elsewhere, for that matter—because the principle surely holds good in a wider context even than east of Suez—where it is thought that stability is threatened? This is plain nonsense and, what is more, the British public will recognise it as such. However, I do not propose to expend much time on that subject, although the points made by my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary today about the cost of this folly have to be taken very seriously by the Conservative Party and answered more cogently than they have been so far.
In that the Opposition have been less than specific about east of Suez, it is only characteristic of their policy as a whole. The policy of the Opposition with regard to nuclear strategy is equally obscure in its motivation and also calls for some comment. Here also I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West, that we have not yet had in this debate—and there are plenty of opportunities ahead of us—an explanation from right hon. Members opposite of what they mean by
… a distinct European defence capability—nuclear and conventional—that can and should be an integral part of the defence of the free world but which gives an independent influence to Europe.
This argument smacks of the old "top table" argument—that the reason for maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent was to give us some diplomatic influence in the world. These words have been used by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham not merely this morning in the Financial Times but almost a year ago, in April last year. They have become a sort of ritual incantation and they need explanation. What is meant by this form of defence which is to give an independent influence to Europe? Is it seriously suggested that the defence of Europe is independent of that of the United States and that troop withdrawals by America from Europe would lead to our being independent in this way?
On another matter of fundamental importance the Opposition have again dodged the issue. What do they propose to do about the Polaris deterrent? Would we have a fifth Polaris submarine or not? What criteria do they apply to considering the question? Of course, one cannot expect the Opposition to spell out their detailed defence policy precisely before they receive a mandate—which heaven forfend—from the public to carry it out, but we are entitled to know something about the criteria on which these matters are decided, and so far we have had none.
Apparently, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham is less anxious to spell out the Opposition's policy on a European nuclear deterrent to this House than he is in various councils in Europe—for example, the Western European Union Assembly—perhaps because he thinks that there it might fall on more fertile ground. If it is their view that we should build up an Anglo-French nuclear deterrent, it is one which strategists in this country at least regard with considerable scepticism. I quote the view of M. Francois Duchene, of the Institute of Strategic Studies, who says that this joint development with France is an overrated alternative. Indeed it is.
The right hon. and learned Member claims that he has detected that the concept has gained support in parts of Europe. I should be interested to know in what parts of Europe it has gained support. It has not commanded the support of the West German Government and I know of no evidence to suggest that the new French Government have shown any official reaction to the suggestion. I do not know what company the right hon. and learned Member keeps on the Continent. Perhaps he is referring to Herr Strauss of Bavaria, with whom he may have much in common, but it would be pushing the matter hard to suggest that this view has achieved any general acceptance on the Continent. Indeed, the notion of an Anglo-French nuclear deterrent is not one that is even likely to appeal to Herr Strauss himself.
The main objection to any such concept is not only political but also on grounds of cost. The British and French, as has been rightly said, can offer each other considerable assistance in developing technology today, but they cannot embark upon new nuclear military technology together without the help of the United States. Consequently I believe that to embark upon a new generation of nuclear deterrents would be beyond the realms of possibility for our two countries.
The right hon. and learned Member referred to a distinct European defence capability and said that it should be integral. He also said that it should be independent. There is a certain muddle headedness about that approach. It behoves the official Opposition to explain exactly what it means.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have had little to say about the central kernal of the White Paper, which the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser) described as the intellectual heart of the debate. Two points stand out on this issue. The first concerns the new guide lines that have been worked out for the initial tactical use of nuclear weapons in a defensive way and, secondly, the political control of N.A.T.O.'s strategy of flexible response.
Although the right hon. Member for Stafford and Stone refused to give way to me when I attempted to intervene on this issue, he seemed to entirely overlook the fact that this is N.A.T.O.'s strategy and not the strategy of the United States, Britain, Germany or any other one country. It is the combined strategy developed by N.A.T.O. This strategy, and the place of nuclear weapons in it which the new guide lines help to refine, is less likely than the strategy it replaced to lead to the dire consequences which have been forecast by a number of hon. Members, and particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth).
Nobody can judge precisely the form which aggression in Europe might take, the scale on which it might be launched or the intention behind the attack. N.A.T.O.'s responses must be varied and flexible to meet the attack, without risking the immediate possibility of a catastrophic degree of nuclear destruction. This is the new element which my right hon. Friend emphasised in his explanation of N.A.T.O.'s flexible response.
It is, of course, impossible to spell out precisely what the targets are or the chain of command. Anyone with the slightest understanding of strategic problems would not expect that, but to cast doubt on the credibility of this strategy by saying that there is no evidence in the White Paper of what the chain of command is or what the targets are is to be disingenuous, and that quality characterised the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell).
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the whole theory of the use of tactical nuclear weapons was an absurdity because the enemy had them, too. Of course it has. Indeed, the enemy not only has tactical nuclear weapons but strategic ones as well. However, the theory of deterrence rests not on the actual use of these weapons but on the possibility that they might be used. That possibility is a reality and it is not, as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West suggested, an incredible deterrent.
The need for the flexible response strategy which N.A.T.O. adopted two years ago is as valid today as it was than. I am glad to learn from my right hon. Friend that the refining of it is being continued with seriousness by the whole of N.A.T.O. This demonstrates the necessary and continuing vitality of the alliance.
Several attempts have been made to portray my right hon. Friend as personally responsible for what has been described as a new and destructive stage in N.A.T.O. thinking. Indeed, The Times described it as "Healey policy". This is plain nonsense. N.A.T.O. as a whole, acting in concert, has undertaken this development of its strategy. The Government are right to take credit for having played a leading rôle in that work, which can only have the result of making more effective the deterrent policy on which N.A.T.O. as a defensive alliance is based. This leading rôle serves to demonstrate convincingly the Government's commitment to Europe and this country's deep involvement in the problems of Europe.
In the background to these problems are three areas which present difficulties for the alliance; the strategic arms limitation talks, the possibility of a European security conference, and the possibility of troop withdrawals from Western Europe by the United States. What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to the possibility of an agreement being reached between the Soviet Union and the United States to limit their intercontinental ballistic missiles, leaving Western Europe as naked target areas which might be attacked by the medium-range missiles of the Soviet Union?
On the question of balanced force reductions, I would ask my right hon. Friend for his reaction to the somewhat alarmist statements made by the German Defence Secretary, Herr Helmut Schmidt, in his recent interview in Die Welt. Does he agree that a serious threat is posed to European security by the possibility that balanced force reductions, although proportional as between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, might leave Western Europe in a somewhat naked condition?
Finally, can my right hon. Friend give us his estimate of the level of the United States commitment, in terms of conventional forces, which is necessary in order to maintain the credibility of a United States commitment to the defence of Western Europe?
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) seems to have made a much closer study of the utterances of the Opposition Front Bench than of those of his own Front Bench. I appreciate that he may find that more rewarding, but I recommend him also to study what the leaders of his own party have said on defence matters.
The hon. Member cited a number of quite sensible statements made by Conservative spokesmen, justifying our decision to return east of Suez and then talked about what he called an open-ended commitment. If he will read the relevant reports he will find that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that our frontier was on the Himalayas. The Secretary of State has also said many things on the same lines, in support of his leader. How is that for an open-ended commitment? The main difference between the two sides is that we do not go back on our commitments.
Will the hon. Gentleman state when that statement was made?
Two or three years ago. Two or three years is not all that long; the Secretary of State was talking about things said in the 1950s.
The White Paper states that the main function of British forces in the future will be to help guarantee peace and security for Europe through the North Atlantic Alliance. I do not quarrel with that definition of Britain's future defence rôle. We may have other functions to perform, but that will certainly be the main one. I want briefly to examine the White Paper in the light of this statement of purpose and to consider how likely we are to be able to fulfil it.
The first thing to get clear is that N.A.T.O. is now facing a serious crisis. Those who, like myself, are members of the North Atlantic Assembly, are particularly aware of this. France's withdrawal was a severe blow. Since then Canada has followed suit, and various other members of the alliance often seem a good deal less keen than they might he. This sort of thing is contagious. By far the most disturbing development in the last year or so has been the growing evidence—to which the Secretary of State referred—that the United States, in their turn, are beginning to reconsider their position in relation to the alliance, and the question whether to cut down on this as well as on their other overseas commitments. I know that the President has made reassuring noises. Of course, he was bound to. But a trend is a trend, and no one can tell how far it will go.
I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that for the past 20 years N.A.T.O.'s chief function has been as a vehicle for the American contribution to the defence of Europe. It was the American presence which gave it its credibility, and if this presence is to be reduced to a marked extent, then, clearly, the whole future of the alliance will be in question; there is a danger that the whole thing may unravel like an old sock.
I say "clearly" but, of course, there is no real reason why this should be so, except the inertia of the Europeans, including ourselves. In reality, there is no reason whatever why 250 million Western Europeans should not be able to defend themselves effectively against 200 million Russians, handicapped as the latter are by the Chinese breathing down their necks and by a collection of ill-assorted and unreliable allies. But in practice it just does not work like that. We show no sign of doing more than the minimum that we are doing already, and neither do our European allies.
In fact, to say, as the right hon. Gentleman does, that we possess an overall military capacity which no other Western European Power can surpass is saying precious little. Let him also remember that, thanks to conscription, our allies at least do not have the manpower problem which so bedevil our own forces. What it comes to is that we have all been sheltering for far too long under the American nuclear and conventional umbrella, and now that there are signs of the umbrella being withdrawn we find that we are far less able to defend ourselves and to form a cohesive defence grouping than we ought to be.
In the circumstances I have described, what contribution can Great Britain at present make to European peace and security if this were seriously threatened? Of course, the American nuclear deterrent would still be in existence, and we should still, no doubt, all try to shelter under it, but would it necessarily, in all circumstances and for all purposes, still deter? For our purposes, in particular? How certain could we be that it would be used on our behalf, to save part of Europe from being overrun, once those 250,000 Americans were no longer there? Would the Americans really risk New York to save a few square miles of Europe? One hopes so, of course, but can one really be sure of it?
We all know that the Secretary of State for Defence can blow the Soviet Mediterranean fleet out of the water " in minutes"—presumably with that independent nuclear deterrent we were always arguing about at one time and which, at long last, under a Labour Government, really does seem to exist. But the thought, if he takes thought, of what might happen to him and to all of us if he actually carried out his threat, could, conceivably, have a deterrent effect on him, too.
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me just to correct him on this? I have made this clear on many occasions, but perhaps he was not able to be present on those occasions. I have never suggested that we should use the nuclear weapon against the Soviet fleet even in general war in Europe. Nor would we need to do so. There is overwhelming superiority of the N.A.T.O. fleets in the Mediterranean. Moreover, there is an absolutely crushing superiority in N.A.T.O. aircraft. Given this, and given the views which the party opposite has, and given that maritime protection against air attacks, he will know that the Soviet fleet in the Mediterranean, in a general war, is as insecure as a British squadron would be in the Gulf of Finland.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I hope he is equally happy about the relative numbers of submarines. The Russians have an awful lot of them, and they would have an important part to play in the sort of situation he is describing. Then, of course, as he himself has pointed out, there is the political significance of the Soviet fleet to be taken into account. And if he has to do the job with conventional weapons, he is being rather optimistic if he thinks that it can be done "in minutes". I am glad to hear that he does not propose to use his independent nuclear deterrent for that purpose, because I do not think it would work.
The Secretary of State and others have talked a great deal about tactical nuclear weapons. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) pointed out in a most remarkable speech, it surely is not realistic to try to distinguish between tactical nuclear weapons and the strategic variety, especially in the end result. The Secretary of State recalled that, in the mid-1950s when I was a War Office Minister, N.A.T.O. strategy was already dependent on the nuclear deterrent. Of course it was, but in those days before the 1957 White Paper, we had proportionately much stronger conventional forces, and so the nuclear threshold, for all the talk of a trip wire, was proportionately higher.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but he will recall that at that time the Soviet forces were very much higher than they are today. The relative position of conventional forces is very much more favourable to N.A.T.O. now than it was in the early 1950s. It was not until after the death of Stalin and some time after Mr. Khrushchev became Soviet leader that there was a substantial reduction, a reduction of nearly 1 million, in the total power of the Soviet Union. He must recall this, as he was Minister at the time for three years.
It is also true to say that the relative nuclear preponderance of the Western Alliance was at that time much higher—
It is a kindred point. That meant that in those days the deterrent was much more likely to be a deterrent, and also a one-way deterrent instead of a two-way deterrent. There was not the same balance of terror then as there is now.
We had then much bigger conventional forces, and certainly a much bigger army, in this country and we had the power to expand those forces if we wanted to which, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree, we do not have now. It is slightly unfair of him to try to claim paternity for the doctrine of the flexible response. In fact, in those days, although there was talk of a trip wire, our response was a good deal more flexible than his response could be now.
What has frightened me since 1957 and frightens me today, with the Secretary of State following in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), is the danger that the nuclear threshold may become so low that in an emergency we shall be left with no option except what the late President Kennedy once called "humiliation or all-out nuclear action". And that is why, when it comes to the point, it is conventional forces that are likely to prove decisive as they proved decisive in the Cuba confrontation of 1963, when it was the fact that the Americans had conventional preponderance on the spot that in the end decided the issue. Our conventional forces and those of our allies will be needed to act as a deterrent, to win time and, above all, to raise the nuclear threshold and so furnish us with what is still hopefully called a flexible response. When we talk of a flexible response—as the right hon. Gentleman often does—let us remember that in war, as in peace, it is usually the unexpected that happens.
It is often said that a full-scale Soviet invasion of Europe is very unlikely and that therefore we can leave it out of account. That is perfectly true, but something else is always liable to happen which takes us completely by surprise. The trouble is that already at this moment—and I am sure that the Minister will not deny this—N.A.T.O.'s conventional forces in Europe even with the American contingent at its relatively high present strength—are outnumbered in the ratio of 2 or 3 to 1 by those of the Warsaw Pact. My guess is that if there were any further reduction their credibility as a deterrent would begin to crumble and we shall soon find ourselves with no flexibility and no option other than suicide or surrender, to borrow the Minister's own phrase. Because the one thing which the nuclear weapon is quite certainly not is flexible.
Nor, quite frankly, do I see very much prospect at the moment of anything effective being done to remedy this situation. The Secretary of State has boasted that our armed forces are the pick of the bunch. But what sort of state are our armed forces in? It will doubtless be said that a private citizen cannot really know about this. We shall be told that this is a matter for the experts and that the experts do not tell. But it is perfectly possible for a private citizen to find out first the numerical strength of the forces and, secondly, their recruiting prospects. Nor would this mythical private citizen have any difficulty at all in determining the extent of our reserves in so far as we have any. Finally, if he takes a bit of trouble and talks to people who know, he can form a pretty good idea of the state of our forces, armament and equipment.
In spite of what I thought was a rather ungenerous attack made on him by the Secretary of State, I do not think there are many private citizens who are better informed on this subject or who have better contacts than The Times defence correspondent. This is what he said:
Our real defence situation is not something which can be proved or disproved".
That, of course, is perfectly true and is something which is very convenient for Service Ministers—
But on the basis of sources who have proved their reliability over the years, and whose disclosures are not motivated by personal disagreement with Mr. Healey's policies or with those of his party—but who think both parties equally to blame—I can only state nevertheless that the picture presented is one of almost wanton neglect of any real provision for defence.
If an emergency now overtook us, we should have little or no spare supplies of ammunition, of vehicles, of tanks or guns, of medical stocks or any other defence equipment. Our present military capability is more or less a confidence trick based on the bluff of a nuclear weapon which politicians say they would use but know that they could not do so.
This is not a proper defence policy but an alibi for a defence policy and nothing more than the convenient cant of a self-satisfied and short-sighted leadership".
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman again, but it became clear a few days after The Times defence correspondent published that article that the source on which he was relying was the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. It the hon. Gentleman wants an unbiased account by a much greater expert than The Times defence correspondent, whose inaccuracies I have had to refer to and castigate several times this afternoon, he might read what General Hackett, who has retired as Commander-in-Chief, Germany, had to say. He said that our forces were by far the best in the whole of Germany in terms of quality equipment and training.
I have great respect for General Hackett. I read his article, and also the letter that he wrote to The Times. I think that what he said should have made the Secretary of State a bit uneasy, too. He did not seem particularly happy about the present state of affairs, and he was writing from an essentially non-party point of view. As for Lord Wigg, he has often turned out to know quite a lot about these matters.
Lord Wigg and the hon. Gentleman were consistently wrong in attacking the Conservative Government's estimate of the number of men they could recruit by voluntary means. As the whole of their attack on N.A.T.O. policy was based on that false assumption, I do not think that either the hon. Gentleman or his noble Friend in another place can take great credit for their percipience.
Lord Wigg is certainly a friend of mine and I think that the right hon. Gentleman ought to accept him as a friend, too. After all, it is not so long since they served together in the same Government. But I must challenge the right hon. Gentleman when he says that we attacked the then Conservative Government on the grounds that they would not get the figure at which they were aiming. The right hon. Gentleman may be correct about what Lord Wigg said, but he is doing me an injustice. I always said that the Conservative Government would get the figure at which they were aiming, but I added that that figure was nothing like high enough. Indeed. I think that I had a certain amount of support from the right hon. Gentleman in those days, as I certainly had from the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). Moreover, I consider that I was completely justified in what I said then, as I am justified in what I am saying now.
Personally I think that we can make a pretty good guess at the state of the arms and equipment of our Armed Forces, and I have no doubt that in the course of the debate many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will come up with some fairly disquieting information on this subject, because I happen to know that they possess it. And that, combined with our known shortage of manpower, and the known lack of reserves, presents a most disturbing picture. If, as the Secretary of State suggests, our European allies are in even worse trim, surely the outlook for N.A.T.O. is black.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite may say—and some of them have said it already—.-"But what is all the fuss about? There is no longer any threat from the Soviet Union. We can relax". To that I reply that I should be more inclined to accept their point of view if the Russians were not still so obviously in an expansionist mood, if they did not keep on increasing the scale and the scope of their armament—Khrushchev may have lowered the strength of his forces, but his successors have put them up again, and are continuing to do so—if they were not so active militarily and politically in the Middle East and the Mediterranean and if their invasion of Czechoslovakia had not been carried out with quite such expert streamlined speed and skill. What they have done once they can do again. And, so long as the Russians act that way, it is difficult to dismiss them as no longer a danger. Even if one assumes, as one day perhaps we all shall, that N.A.T.O.'s chief purpose is to reach agreement with the Warsaw Pact Powers rather than to withstand and contain them, we are far more likely to succeed in our object if we are strong, than if we are weak and disunited.
In short, in present circumstances there can be no possible justification for the smug, self-satisfied tone of the defence White Paper and of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. What this Government or their successors will have to do, if we are to play the part that is proclaimed in the White Paper, is greatly to strengthen our conventional forces and to use their best endeavours to get our allies to do the same.
In conclusion, I wish to say something nice about the Secretary of State for Defence. This will be his ninth, and also of course his last, Defence White Paper. To my mind the best thing about it is that in it, by chance or design, he leaves a certain number of options open to his Conservative successor who, I sincerely hope, will take full advantage of them.
First of all, he hands on to his successor a genuine, copper-bottomed independent British nuclear deterrent which, whether usable or not, is something that all or almost all hon. Members on both sides of the House know how to value. Secondly, by retaining the right to train and exercise British forces in the Far East, he has kept a foothold for us east of Suez. Thirdly, by preserving even tiny territorial cadres, he has made possible the eventual revival and re-expansion of our reserve forces. This is perhaps the most urgent need of all and I was glad to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) reaffirm our determination in this matter.
What the Secretary of State has not done of course is to face up to the problem of how the forces, and in particular the Army, are to get the men they need But in an election year this is a matter that neither Government nor Opposition are very likely to face.
The Secretary of State for Defence recently sought to pin on my right hon. Friends the intention of reintroducing conscription, but my right hon. Friends were too quick for him. They issued a denial almost before the accusation had been made, proudly recalling that it was a Conservative Government that did away with conscription in the first place.
My right hon. Friend has confirmed this undertaking during this debate.
Which is exactly the reason why the right hon. Gentleman threw the accusation at him. This backand-forth well illustrates what I am trying to get at.
I sometimes wonder whether this is quite the right way to handle a problem of such importance. I was struck by the remarkable speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot). He said that right hon. Gentlemen on both sides should not be too dogmatic about a matter of this kind. They should remember that this is a problem which some day may have to be faced by one Government or another, whether they like it or not. It should not be used as a plaything of party politics. But I sometimes wonder whether in fact it is the political poison that we politicians imagine it to be.
The Secretary of State mentioned my own views on conscription. I speak only for myself, and I want to make that abundantly clear. I personally would be in favour of reintroducing conscription if we could not get the men that we needed in any other way. The White Paper says that the present level of N.A.T.O.'s conventional forces is "just sufficient". Supposing that, for one reason or another, they ceased to be sufficient and we had to increase our contribution. What other means than conscription would we have of getting the men that we needed?
Some weeks ago, I attended an interesting seminar on the subject organised by the Royal United Service Institution. According to the White Paper, the Institution exists
… to foster public interest in defence problems,
and, despite the prevailing conspiracy of silence, apparently considers this problem worthy of attention. But what interested me most was the account given by the Army's new Director of Public Relations of an investigation in depth which he had undertaken into the present state of public opinion on the subject. Hon. Members may be interested to learn that it showed that no less than 86 per cent. of those questioned were in favour of the reintroduction of some form of National Service and, by the laws of probability, they cannot all have been the parents of teenage children.
Even so, with a General Election pending, it is probably asking too much of any political party to face the problem. But it is a problem which, if the manpower situation gets any worse, may have to be faced one day. And I would like to conclude with a plea that, when the General Election is over, the next Government will make an effort to lift this question right out of party politics and consider jointly with the Opposition, which I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will grace, whether there might not be social as well as military advantages in a system of National Service which, in addition to the relatively small numbers required for the armed forces, would provide our young people with an opportunity to serve the community for a time in one field or another, whether it be social, industrial or agricultural.
I have listened with great interest to the hon. and gallant Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean). I remember attempting in last year's debate to convince him that we were likely before long to be discussing our defence policies in an atmosphere of impending American troop withdrawals from Western Europe. Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman had a much longer and more courageous and experienced career in the Armed Forces than I did, I am in the position of having to say to him, "I told you so". This year, he has accepted that we are talking against that background in our defence debate.
The hon. Gentleman will recall that I followed him on that occasion and that I agreed with his every word on the subject.
I am overwhelmed with joy to hear that, because I got the contrary impression about 12 months ago. I am glad that I made a convert on that occasion.
One of the features of this debate which is different from previous debates is that, for the first time, we have the pale shades of an Opposition defence policy beginning to emerge through the gloom. It is worth while, therefore, since we have spent several debates over the years criticising my right hon. Friend's defence policy, that once every so often we should at least take the opportunity to discuss the policy of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
There are one or two follies in which they are engaged at the moment which my right hon. Friend was decent enough to forbear from mentioning. The first that right hon. and hon. Members opposite declare is that, if they are ever returned to power, they will set about creating an Anglo-French nuclear deterrent in Europe. I wonder if they have thought through the implications of this proposal. They are going about the European conference circuit peddling this policy in the hope of winning friends and influencing people, but do they suppose that the British independent nuclear deterrent could be combined with a French independent nuclear deterrent to provide a European deterrent when the French are outside N.A.T.O.? Will the deterrent be half inside the organisation and half outside? This will be at least an interesting military experience, if nothing else.
At the moment, all Europe and all the world are hoping for considerable dividends over a period from S.A.L.T. At present, this is a bilateral negotiation, but the obvious inference is that, if British and French nuclear deterrents were combined into an independent European one, the negotiation would become a triangular one. Anyone who has conducted any negotiations knows the triangular negotiation is infinitely more complicated and less productive of results than a bilateral one.
As I understand it, the French are still wedded, much more than my right hon. Friends, to the idea of a massive retaliation if they are ever threatened. How do we combine an independent European deterrent half inside N.A.T.O. and half outside with a different concept of how those deterrents should be used? This is the first point on which we should take up hon. Members opposite.
The second is this. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), who has just returned, made a thoughtful contribution. One of his endearing characteristics and a great element in his charm is his optimism. He made so bold as to ask the Opposition Front Bench to state their attitude to conscription. He will be lucky to get it out of them. They are not doing what Jimmy Maxton did, and that is riding two horses at once in the circus: they are riding three at the same time.
First, they are trying to conceal from the country the strategic doctrine on which their defence policy was based, which was a thin line of troops to register a Russian movement westward. That having happened, there would be a massive nuclear retaliation. Their second horse is that they are trying to criticise my right hon. Friend and—the third horse they are riding is that at the same time they are trying to conceal from the country the implications of their defence policy in Central Europe, in the use of nuclear weapons and so on.
Is the hon. Gentleman accusing us of relying more or relying less on nuclear weapons?
I am trying to find out from right hon. Gentlemen opposite what they are up to. I will say this for them, that the other Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) was quite clear about what he wanted. We have yet to find out from the Opposition Front Bench what they want. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has, over the past couple of years, begun to develop a considerable reputation in this country for demolishing other people's absurdities, and dangerous absurdities. But in doing so, he and all our allies in Western Europe begin to mobilise conventional forces in Central Europe as he advocates, we stand in the considerable danger of giving rise to the feeling that a conventional war can be fought in Central Europe.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider, first, whether that is a desirable state to reach. A conventional war in Central Europe can be appallingly damaging, as the attack on Dresden by American and British bombers towards the end of the last war clearly showed. He may say that, if it is so appalling, that in itself will be a deterrent and a much less dangerous one than the one to which my right hon. Friend is wedded. All I can say is that he may be right—no one can know, and I will not he dogmatic—but once in my lifetime, and twice in the lifetime of many hon. Members, the prospects of a gruesome conventional warfare have been insufficient to deter the outbreak of war in Europe. I think that this is the absurdity to which he is wedded.
The hon. Gentleman talks about a thin red line. Does he recall that in the first White Paper on Defence published by the Labour Government in 1965, paragraph 15 showed that there were 62,000 troops serving in B.A.O.R. and in Berlin. The equivalent paragraph in this year's White Paper shows that they are down to 57,000. If it was a thin red line then, it is much thinner now.
On the contrary, I think that the hon. Gentleman will discover that the infantry in the British Army of the Rhine is now far more mobile and armoured than it was when the figures about which he is talking were published.
The position of hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen oposite is clear. Having handed over this nuclear strategy to my right hon. Friend, they are critical of the attitude that he is taking. I understand that we are committed to fight a battle in Central Europe, should war ever break out, with conventional voluntarily recruited forces for as long as those forces can carry it out. If we get to the end of that stage—I have the authority of no less a person than Sir John Hackett that this might be seven or 10 days—then the question of using nuclear weapons arises. It is possible to criticise my right hon. Friend for saying that that seven to 10 days' conventional pause is too short. But if hon. Gentlemen opposite say that it is too short, then indeed they must say where they will get the additional conventional forces from—
I do not know how much time I have, but time is short. I have already given way twice.
If hon. Gentlemen are to provide more conventional forces, how and from where will they get them? Will they provide extra money yet again to bump up forces' pay to such astronomical levels that they will be able to obtain huge voluntarily recruited forces? If they are not prepared to advocate that solution—and I do not think it is practicable—the only alternative is the introduction of conscription to provide those forces. It is no use right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite saying that they think my right hon. Friend's policy is wrong because it provides an insufficient pause for the exercise of diplomacy if they cannot provide an alternative solution to conscription.
I now come to the other solution: first, that we must try to persuade the French forces to return to N.A.T.O. and, secondly—a proposal which my right hon. Friend is beginning to implement—that forces like the Sixth Brigade should be returned to Germany. I say this with far more enthusiasm than I ever thought would be possible. I understand that my right hon. Friend has achieved a fundamental amount of good will from the Americans and the Germans by returning the Sixth Brigade to Europe at a cost of no more than about £250,000 a year in foreign exchange to this country. If so, this is a remarkable achievement, because he has got substantially for £250,000 a year what many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are prepared to buy at the expense of about £500 million a year on our balance of payments. This would be a remarkable achievement on my right hon. Friend's part.
Another aspect of defence upon which there is a party division is east of Suez. One point which is no longer mentioned by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite is the suggestion a couple of years ago of the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) that he was going to hold British forces east of Suez in trust for the Europeans. It makes me wonder what contact with the political realities of the Continent the right hon. Gentleman has had. If we look at his speech in the defence debate of two years ago we find that that was his hope. He put it no higher than a hope. But, if he put it even as a hope, one wonders what his awareness of political reality is. My experience of the Europeans is that they are not particularly interested in Europe north of Copenhagen or the Western approaches to the Suez Canal, let alone the area east of Suez. Their minds are fixed, regrettably I think, on the gap between the Alps and the Baltic, and it is difficult to get them to think of any area of defence other than that narrow passage.
The right hon. Gentleman has moved away from that concept and now tries to mobilise the Commonwealth to assist him in his desire to stay east of Suez. We have had much talk of the right hon. Gentleman's trip round the far eastern part of the world, and newspaper reports of consultations with one person and another, but one consultation which the right hon. Gentleman should have had but did not have was in respect of the southern part of Thailand, where there is a band of 600 hard-core Malaysian Communist guerrillas—for unless he has fixed up with them to contain them within the £100 million cost of east of Suez which he claims, with their well-known unsporting characteristics, they may embark on a course of action which cannot be contained within that figure.
The right hon. Gentleman is now asking us to meet that particular commitment but there is no allowance within that £100 million figure of which he talks for anything other than peaceful acquiescence by the Communist guerrillas in southern Thailand. That is something we must bear in mind in considering the right hon. Gentleman's approach to defence.
That approach has only one advantage; it has the advantage for him that it is vague, and can therefore be guaranteed to keep quiet the pressure group of old soldiers who sit behind him until, possibly, he wins an election, when he will have three of four third parties whom he can blame for the non-implementation of the policy of which he vaguely speaks now. What policy he would adopt, I do not know and, fortunately, the country will never have the chance of finding out.
The debate has so far dealt with the overall picture of nuclear warfare, but I want to return to the subject of conventional forces. The Minister has outlined our commitments, and it is clear that the balance of conventional forces is extremely delicate. One of the most disturbing factors of the White Paper is that it shows that our Armed Forces have fallen by no fewer than 75,000 in the ten years 1964–74. The safety of the country depends on men and material. Material nowadays can be produced relatively quickly, but it takes a long time to train men, and as equipment gets more complex that training takes longer and longer. We need to train men to man our equipment, and also to train other men to use that equipment, and the new equipment that will come forward. This is entirely the responsibility of the Government, and the Government have run the numbers down to such an extent as to bring us below the safety limit. They are not facing the responsibility they have to ensure national safety.
I want to speak particularly about the situation in the Royal Navy. In terms of recruitment the Royal Navy has done badly. Not long ago it could get all the recruits it needed. In 1966 it had 6,572 recruits, but in 1969, three years later, it had only 4,219–2,350 down. Even more disturbing is the fact that it is a reduction of over one-third.
We are told that re-engagements continued to rise in 1969 and that is satisfactory as far as it goes, but what were the figures for 1966 and 1967? We are given recruiting figures for those years—why not the figures of re-engagement? Even so, an increase of 2 per cent, and 6 per cent.—from 31 per cent. to 53 per cent. and from 51 per cent. to 57 per cent.—for the nine- and twelve-year points is a move in the right direction.
There are, I think, two main reasons for poor recruiting. The first is pay and conditions and the second a future career. The new pay increases are most welcome. They bring the Services more into line with industry. No doubt this is a very material factor in the improvement in re-engagements at present. Can we be sure that potential recruits believe that there is a worth while career ahead of them? Do they think that the country appreciates their services? Present and past pension schemes cause a great deal of dissatisfaction which must affect recruiting.
The run-down in the Navy is a serious matter which must affect the whole defence situation. Naval strength is to drop by no less than 6,400 in the next two years. That is a serious matter, but the Government appear complacent. It represents the crews of 14 destroyers and frigates and more than one-third of present strength.
Another discouraging factor is the closing of five or six training establishments in the near future. What is the expected result of closing old and famous establishments such as H.M.S. "Vernon"? Will the young men believe that there is a worth-while career for them in the Navy? I do not think they will. This is the cause of poor recruiting figures. The Government will have to do more than put up the rates of pay.
Can the Secretary of State give an assurance on the future of the Royal Marines? The figures are included with those of the Royal Navy. Can he separate them for active strengths? This is a matter of considerable concern in my constituency, which has the largest and most important Royal Marine establishment at Eastney. I hope that the Minister can assure me that there will be no reduction in that establishment.
My second concern is about the ships themselves. The Government have made two most important policy decisions which I welcome. The first is to build a mine-hunter in reinforced plastic. This is a comparatively new material with many properties not enjoyed by other materials. It has had extended trials and I congratulate the Admiralty on its enterprise.
The second important decision was to place an order to design and build a new frigate with Vospers and Yarrows. Yarrows is a firm which has been well known for many years as important designers and builders of destroyers, as was Thorneycroft's which is now a part of Vospers. Vospers is a firm of important designers and builders, in fact leaders in building small very high-speed craft. This combination of skill and experience is of inestimable value to the Navy.
I am pleased to see that a new class of cruisers is to replace the Tigers. These cruisers are to have through deck and to be capable of operating vertical take-off aircraft as well as helicopters. This most important development means that even if large aircraft carriers are phased out we shall still have in effect small carriers capable of operating simple and unsophisticated aircraft of a type suitable for traditional police duties of the Navy.
This brings me to the large carriers. I ask the Government to have yet another look at them before the point of no return is reached. The Secretary of State said today that the present carriers could go on for the 'seventies. In view of the Government's decision to withdraw from east of Suez but the obligations remain, are we to have no insurance in case of need? Anyway the political difficulties and cost of maintaining R.A.F. stations overseas are very considerable. The two large carriers will cost £6½, million each in the next year and they need 2,150 men each, a total of £13 million and 4,300 men. Although the Secretary of State spoke of £60 million or £70 million that does not agree with the White Paper figures.
The figures are in the White Paper—£6½ million each and 2,150 men each, a total of £13 million and 4,300 men. On the other hand, the figures in the White Paper for the R.A.F. give a total of £61 million for overseas headquarter and stations, together with general support of radar communications and other base facilities, with 17,000 servicemen and just under 10,000 civilians. The number of these stations and their locations is not given, but what is their capital cost and the total cost of transporting personnel? How many carriers would be needed to replace these stations east of Suez.
I am sure that, if this matter were properly investigated, the Minister would find that the carriers would be a far more economical and effective way of providing a presence there, if necessary as an insurance after withdrawal, if we do withdraw, than the present situation.
This has been a most interesting and wide-ranging debate. As it is a two-day debate, the House will forgive me if I do not follow up every point which has been raised. What I hope to do, in virtue of my office, is to add to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on equipment generally and particularly to try to deal with some of the points which have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members.
In carrying out my job under the Secretary of State of ensuring that the three Services are equipped with the best equipment we can provide in quantities and on dates which are within our budgetary capabilities, there are basically three choices open to me.
First, we can go it alone and develop equipment to be produced substantially by British industry; at every stage in this situation we take full account of the possibility of overseas sales. Secondly, we can enter into collaborative arrangements with one or more other countries. Where a similar operational requirement can be hammered out, there are obvious attractions in sharing the R. and D. expenditure and benefiting from the lower unit costs flowing from longer production runs. On the other hand the necessary joint administrative organisation and the marrying of differing requirements may well add to the total bill. This is the other side of the balance-sheet when decisions have to be taken.
The third choice is to buy off the shelf from abroad. This course has its attractions—it saves R. and D. effort and in some cases it may be cheaper, but against this there are obvious balance of payments arguments and the consequences for British industry.
From time to time each of the three choices I have described are made in providing our forces with the equipment they need. There is a limit to what we can spend on R. and D. and so we cannot be self-sufficient. We just cannot do everything ourselves. More and more at the earliest possible stage in weapon conception, our operational requirements staffs seek to hammer out mutually acceptable requirements with potential partners among our European neighbours. We have done everything we can to encourage this: indeed, I take a great interest in operational requirements from the earliest stages. I hope that the great commercial firms who produce the equipment for us and also for our European neighbours will match the keenness of the military staffs in their understanding of and catering for each other's problems and will get equally close to one another in the course of collaboration.
My responsibility for equipment extends right across all three Services. In the two years I have had this responsibility I could not be unaware of the enormous complexity and difficulty of the defence equipment field; I have undoubtedly also been forcibly struck by the commonality of the problems of the three Services. The gestation period for new equipment is so long—10 years or even longer is frequently the case—and my predecessors and I, I am sure, have experienced the difficulties of taking decisions and making choices for what inevitably must be situations some years ahead in a very rapidly changing environment. The internal decision-making structures in the Ministry of Defence have been described on previous occasions, and I will not repeat what has already been said. Suffice it to say that I believe that we now have a system for the evaluation and control of defence research and development projects that enables us to exercise choice and control in a systematic and rational way.
Despite my confidence in the machinery at my disposal for conceiving, developing and producing a required weapon system, there are, of course, occasions when the best laid plans go astray. The very nature of the problem, seeking to achieve something in a way that has not been done before, frequently on the frontiers of knowledge, conditions the slippages in time and the escalation of costs and, as a last resort, the abandonment of a particular system which may be necessary from time to time. What I seek to do by being closely involved with my advisers in every stage of weapon development is to try and guard against these eventualities. I hope to touch on some of the difficulties as well as on some of our successes tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) was concerned with the level of research and development expenditure. I believe that we are succeeding in our policy of making more economical use of research and development resources for defence and releasing as much as possible for civil purposes. The figures for estimated defence research and development expenditure in the last few White Papers show a decline from £275 million in 1966 to £222 million in 1970. At current prices, the 1966 figure would be about £325 million so that the real reduction has been about £100 million or about 30 per cent. We cannot, of course, continue this process of reduction indefinitely, and there will be fluctuations from time to time depending on the phasing of projects. Nevertheless, taking one year with another, I would expect research and development expenditure to continue to take not more than about 10 or 11 per cent. of the defence budget. I think the economies we have made are visible proof of the close system of control of the programmes that we have developed over the last few years and to which I referred in my opening remarks.
May I, at this juncture, compliment the Select Committee on Science and Technology on its valuable report. It constitutes a very thorough analysis of the problems of control of research and development and makes a major contribution to the public understanding of these difficult issues. As the Government reply to the report shows, we do not see eye-to-eye with the Committee on the practical application of some of its proposals but we are at one with it on the basic objectives.
I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said about the Select Committee and I know that the Chairman would greatly welcome it too if he were here. Would the hon. Gentleman at least accept, however, in relation to future research and development expenditure, that there may well be instances where we have to spend more on certain efforts even if it means spending less on some others?
In my earlier remarks I indicated where the position lies. One cannot continue a series of cuts indefinitely. Depending upon phasing of particular projects, there may be variations from year to year.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Robert Howarth) raised the question of the M.R.C.A. project, and I would also like to comment on two other highlights of collaboration—the helicopter arrangements with France and the artillery development with Germany.
First, the M.R.C.A. Politically, economically and militarily this venture is of great significance in the context of our relations with our European allies. From the military point of view, it offers the prospect of optimising resources not only by rationalising the requirements of different nations, but also for the R.A.F. of rationalising aircraft types by the use of a single basic type of aircraft in a number of rôles. The intention is that the M.R.C.A. should, first of all, be a successor to the Vulcans and Buccaneers in the overland strike/reconnaissance role; later it should replace the Phantom for air defence in the United Kingdom, Germany and Cyprus; and, finally, we hope it may replace the Buccaneer for maritime strike tasks.
The past year has seen a number of important steps in the collaborative programme. In May, the United Kingdom, West Germany and Italy signed a Joint Memorandum of Understanding providing for a project definition study and international consortia have been formed to carry out the work. As hon. Members will know, British firms are playing a full part. The British Aircraft Corporation is a member of Panavia, the airframe company, and Rolls-Royce, whose RB.199 engine has been selected for the project, is a member of Turbo Union, the consortium responsible for engine development.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the rumour which is circulating to the effect that the engines are now to be made entirely in this country and that, as a result, all the equipment such as electronics and avionics may be made by European contributors? Is there any truth in the rumour?
I am not aware of the rumour, but I was about to refer to the question of avionics.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have expressed concern on this issue on many occasions. They are concerned that British industry should not lose out in the important avionics field. This is a point which we have very clearly in mind. As I have explained, our industry is already playing a full part in the project definition stage. We are confident that major British participation in this important field will continue as the project passes in due course into the development and production phases.
The House will appreciate that I cannot anticipate the detailed decisions which may be taken when the results of project definition have been fully evaluated. But I can say that selection of equipments will be made in accordance with internationally agreed procedures, and the capability of the British avionics industry will be taken fully into account.
Good progress has been made so far and it is expected that within a matter of weeks work will have been completed both on the project definition study and on the evaluation needed as a basis for further decisions. As I have told the House on previous occasions, the M.R.C.A. programme is divided into clearly identifiable parts, so that stock may be taken at each critical stage before embarking on the next.
The House has heard on several occasions about the Anglo-French helicopter programme, but as the first of these helicopters is expected to enter service during the present year, the House may be interested to have a further progress report from me.
As hon. Members will recall, the three types of helicopters encompassed in this joint programme with the French are the Puma, the Gazelle and the WG.13. It is the Puma support helicopter which is expected to enter service with the R.A.F. during 1970. This helicopter has been designed by the French, but about 20 per cent. of the total production is being shared by Westland and Rolls-Royce; export orders for 35 aircraft have already been obtained and there are good prospects for more.
The Gazelle, which will be used by all three Services in different rôles, ran into certain technical difficulties, but these have now been overcome, and agreement has been reached with the French Government on arrangements for production. Again, export prospects are promising.
The utility version of the WG.13 will be used by all three Services and there is also to be a Naval version. This helicopter is designed by Westlands and has a Rolls-Royce engine. Budgetary difficulties caused the French to cancel their plans for an attaque version for their Army, but they have retained the naval version and revised arrangements have been negotiated. Development is proceeding satisfactorily and is likely to lead to the start of production in 1972.
Both Governments are convinced that these arrangements represent the best way of meeting their future helicopter requirements and the programme represents an important increase in the total industrial capability within Europe for helicopter development.
We have reached agreement with the French Government on arrangements for the production of the Gazelle, but I cannot carry the matter further tonight.
Before leaving the question of international collaboration, I wish to comment briefly on the Anglo-German artillery programme, which is making good progress.
Has a decision been taken, as reported in the Press, again to order the Chinook? If so, is it a fact that the cancellation charges have already been paid on the previous order?
I cannot deal with the question of cancellation charges, but I can give the right hon. Gentleman an assurance that no order has been placed for the Chinook. I cannot forecast what might happen in the future, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is not a current issue.
We have a joint requirement with the F.R.G. for a new medium gun—155mm.—for the mid-seventies. We envisage both a towed version to replace the existing 5·5 in. gun and also a self-propelled version. Development costs of the towed version are shared equally between the two countries, and we have also reached agreement on production-sharing arrangements, under which we shall manufacture in the United Kingdom some of the German requirement for the weapon as well as our own. Development is proceeding well.
British industry, who are, of course, our main suppliers of defence equipment, has over the years expressed its desire to be more closely involved with defence thinking. "If only you had told us earlier, or told us more, perhaps we could have helped", was the substance of its anxieties. To help bridge the gap between defence and industry we have set up the National Defence Industries Council. The Council, made up of representatives of the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Technology and top industrialists, chaired by the Secretary of State, has got off to to a good start. It has already had a useful and wide-ranging discussion on the Ministry of Defence's equipment procurement policies and programmes, and it has identified a number of subjects for further study before it meets again in June. We are confident that the Council will prove to be an extremely valuable instrument for promoting mutual confidence between Government and industry.
We are seeking to ensure that this kind of consultation is improved right down to detailed discussion about Service requirements. Only last month, for instance, I had the pleasure of opening Armed Minerva—a two-day presentation of the Army's long-term equipment policy given to leaders of British industry in the defence field. The presentation covered the main equipment likely to be needed by the Army into the 'eighties. This was much appreciated by industry, in that we were taking it into our confidence at such an early stage in our thinking.
Later this month I am meeting senior representatives of the warshipbuilders to discuss informally with them our likely future naval construction programme and its implications for the industry.
In the course of the year I took over Ministerial responsibility for the Royal Naval Dockyards.
I was seeking to deal principally with collaboration and the arrangements to have closer consultation with British industry. I shall return to deal with each Service in turn. In the course of the year I took over Ministerial responsibility for the Royal Naval Dockyards. Naturally, my first priority was to go to each of the home dockyards to see for myself what resources were at their disposal, what tasks they had, and what their problems were. Their tasks were simply to see how best they could serve the Royal Navy. To ensure that this rôle is fulfilled it is imperative that the dockyards have the best possible management and organisational structure. We have over the past year given much thought to this.
Mr. Leslie Norfolk, lately of I.C.I., was appointed Chief Executive of the dockyards in September 1969 and since assuming office has undertaken, in association with the senior staff in the Dockyards Department, a review in depth of the changes that need to be made if overall efficiency is to be improved. I hope to receive the results of all this work in the near future.
Meanwhile, we have decided that it would be right to establish a Dockyard Board of which, in the first instance, I would be Chairman. The Dockyard Board would include in its membership high level representation from outside the Ministry, as well as senior officers, both naval and civilian, who are concerned with dockyard problems.
When these reports are available, shall we have an opportunity of debating them in the House? They are of great importance.
I am sure that in the course of our annual report to the House we shall refer to any significant steps that have been taken in the course of the previous year. As for internal reports, they are matters for the Ministry lo consider and act upon, and I would then tell the House in turn. The Dockyard Board follows the general precedent of the R.O.F. Board which has operated successfully for many years. It would be our hope that with the help of the board to which I have referred it will be possible to increase substantially the amount of authority which can be delegated to senior management of the dockyards.
In addition to collaborative ventures which I have dwelt upon I should like to mention some other equipment which is coming forward. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham seemed to enjoy himself hugely when making party points and trying to put flesh on the skelton of his party's Far East policy, but he was, I sensed, less happy when he dealt with the hardware. He mentioned the issue of torpedoes. He sensed that he had hooked a fish, but he did not know what kind of fish, and he did not know how to land it.
The line he seemed to be playing was that we were seeking to make up for the withdrawal of carriers by having the Mark 24 torpedo, and indeed, we had difficulties with the Mark 24 torpedo, and our anti-ship capability is seriously weakened.
I am very glad the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirms my impression of what he said. Unfortunately for him—if he would only listen—having confirmed my impression—the Mark 24 torpedo is not an anti-ship weapon. It is an anti-submarine torpedo, and the torpedo which it is to replace, the Mark 23, was introduced as recently as 1964. The torpedo is of very recent experience, which illustrates well the great weight of uncertainties encountered in developing a highly sophisticated weapons system. With all the skill and will in the world there will always be occasions when difficulties like this occur. I can assure the House, having gone into this problem into detail, that I am satisfied that every step is being taken to ensure the completion of this very important torpedo. A project executive, of the type which proved so successful in the developement of Polaris, has been set up, and we have sought wider assistance from industry for the programme. In spite of the inevitable set-back, we are confident that the Mark 24 torpedo will compare favourably in its performance with any contemporary weapon. It is, perhaps, worth reminding the House that torpedoes of this degree of sophistication are essentially guided missiles, operating in an underwater environment.
One of the unfortunate by-products of the Mark 24 difficulties has been that we have had to announce the closure of the Royal Naval torpedo factory at Alexandria. I have stressed before that our difficulties are no reflection on Alexandria. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Thomas Steele) has worked very hard in making representations on this to my right hon. Friend and myself. I understand the shock which the labour force suffered at our decision. The trade union leadership has acted in a statesmanlike way to ensure that the outstanding work is completed. Now every effort is being made to bring to the notice of every possible industrial user details of the facilities and skilled labour force which will be available at Alexandria when torpedo production comes to an end.
Time is pressing on me, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be quiet I will try to deal with a very pertinent point which he has put to me. He raised the point earlier. We are always very interested in weaponry being introduced by our friends, as well as our enemies. When this is completed we shall get the basic information with which to back any decision necessary on this particular project.
On the Mark 23 torpedo and the Mark 8 torpedo, perhaps, again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman may well have misunderstood some newspaper comments on this, but the Mark 8 is an anti-ship torpedo, while the Mark 23 is an anti-submarine torpedo. Both are equally important in the rôle of submarine weapons, but the loading of the submarine is irrelevant. What is relevant is the way they are fired. One is fired in single shots, the other in salvoes. If firing is in salvoes there is a larger requirement in the submarine. As regards the submarine rôle, both types of torpedo are equally important. I hope that that may dispose of some of the difficulties of the right hon. and learned Gentleman perhaps drawn from badly informed newspaper reports.
On the point about the torpedo factory at Alexandria, I thought that my hon. Friend, before he was interrupted, was about to say something much more interesting.
All I can say at the moment, although my hon. Friend is pressing me very hard on this, is that every effort must be made, and is being made, I can assure him, he having made a number of representations to me to find a suitable buyer for this factory. What is attractive to private industry, which has already made inquiries for this factory, is the highly skilled labour which is available in this area of Scotland which finds it so difficult to attract employment. The Secretary of State will take every possible step in that direction.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham also made a great deal of fuss about Honest John being replaced. He wanted Lance. The picture he painted was of our failure to choose Lance when the Germans had it. When corrected, he changed it to Serjeant. The replacement for Honest John may be Lance; it certainly is not Serjeant. Lance is not yet fully developed and it may be some time before it is. This perhaps deals with some questions which have been raised by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) from time to time. The Americans, never mind the Germans, have not got it in service yet. At the appropriate time in the development cycle, we shall take a decision whether or not to buy it. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not wish us to take the decision before it is necessary.
I come now to the shipbuilding programme of the Royal Navy. The White Paper gives some details about the design of the new cruiser which will succeed the converted ships in the "Tiger" class of the Royal Navy. Together with the new destroyers to carry the Seadart surface-to-air missiles and the new frigates to succeed the Leanders, the new cruiser will form one of the three major new classes of ship to join the Royal Navy in the 1970s. Much preparatory work has been done in the past year on the new cruiser, and, as a next step, we shall be placing design assistance contracts with the ship building industry during this year. As hon. Members know, the construction of the cruiser would provide the option of operating V./S.T.O.L. aircraft. I underline the point made in the White Paper that a great deal of further work will have to be done before any decision can be taken about whether the advantages of taking up this option would justify the substantial cost involved. We shall have to balance cost and effectiveness very carefully before reaching any conclusions. All we have done at this stage is to ensure that the option remains open to us if, when the time comes, we decide to take it up.
Of the other two main classes to be introduced in the 1970s, the first of the new type 42 destroyers to carry Seadart was ordered in November, 1968, and is under construction at Vickers. We hope to order four more ships of this class during the year. In March, 1969, we ordered the first of the new type 21 frigate mentioned by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink). That is now being built by Vosper-Thorney-croft from a Yarrow-Vosper design, and we shall shortly be placing orders for the construction of three more ships of this class.
Three nuclear fleet submarines are already in service; the fourth will be accepted into service later this year; the fifth was launched in August, 1969; three more are under construction, and we expect an order for the ninth to be placed shortly.
In the time available to me I cannot deal with all the points which have been raised on equipment. May I briefly touch on the Army's equipment programme, and perhaps during the Army Estimates debate we can return to a more detailed consideration of any points that may worry hon. Members. No speech on the British Army's equipment would be complete without a mention of the Chieftain tank. In reply to the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. James Davidson), re-equipment of the Royal Armoured Corps with Chieftains is two-thirds complete. We have recently carried out a development programme to improve this excellent tank.
As regards the Royal Air Force, there is no time to mention the Phantom. That has now been fully delivered, and the first squadron has been formed. The first squadron of Harriers has been formed in this country with Air Suppor Command. The Royal Air Force is the only air force in the world with V.T.O.L. close support capability. I also mention, in passing, Buccaneers.
I have dealt briefly with many features of equipment. I commend the White Paper to the House.