Before I call the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) may I tell the House that I have the names of about 30 right hon. and hon. Members who want to speak in this debate. With reasonable co-operation from Front and back bench speakers I shall be able to call most of them.
Any person who has occupied the position of Secretary of State for the Environment or Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and has, therefore, seen the need for considerable expenditure in those spheres obviously joins hon. Members on all sides in deploring the necessity to spend a substantial amount upon the defence of the country. There is no Minister who has ever occupied a position in a major spending Department outside defence who cannot see many more possibilities of increasing expenditure for the good of the country and therefore, regrets the amount spent on defence.
I hope that the House will agree that, although, alas, the money devoted to defence cannot be devoted to objectives which would be immediately more beneficial to the quality of life, it is vital that we maintain the secure defence of this country above all else.
One of the tragedies is that all Labour Governments in recent times have commenced their terms of office with a major review of defence and not a review to decide needs and, therefore, to decide what is required for a sensible defence policy. It has always been a review aimed at reducing defence expenditure irrespective of needs. The Secretary of State frequently refers to the need to reduce defence expenditure as a result of a static economy. But anybody who has studied Labour Party policy development in this field will recognise that the requirement substantially to reduce defence expenditure would have been a requirement of the Labour Party irrespective of the condition of the economy, because the requirement of the Labour Party is positively to shift expenditure from defence to other, doubtless worthy, objectives irrespective of the economic position. If that is not so, we shall welcome a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence that, should the economic position of the country, in his view and that of the Government, improve, this would enoble them to increase defence expenditure in the future to the degree to which they have cut it, to their regret, at the present time.
But I do not believe that that is the position. If one studies for example, the previous Labour Party conference debate on this issue, in which there was a clear-cut demand for a reduction of £1,000 million in defence expenditure, one sees that the arguments in that debate and the reasoning of that conference was not the economic necessity to do so but a belief that there was a genuine wastage of expenditure on defence purposes and that defence expenditure should be substantially slashed.
After the Labour Party conference, 113 Labour Members of Parliament signed a motion urging a reduction of more than £1,000 million—indeed, giving a specific figure by which they wished our defence expenditure to be reduced, £1,083 million. The disturbing fact about that motion is that no fewer than 26 Cabinet Ministers in the present Government were signatories to it. Presumably, if the present Secretary of State feels that it is not his task to meet those wishes, there might be opportunities for back benchers to fill some of the vacant posts.
Next we had the Foreign Secretary in the election campaign reducing that figure to £500 million. More recently, we have had the Secretary of Defence referring to "several hundred million". It was understandable, when one or two of his colleagues pressed him today on what IT meant by "several hundred million pounds", that he in no way defined the term but, I thought rather frighteningly, started to accept the percentage-of-GNP argument which, if he meant to reduce expenditure to the average level of all the European powers, would reduce it by more than the £1,000 million required by the motion put down by members of his party.
The Secretary for Defence could obtain quite a substantial drop in his budget by dealing with payments for education, the health services and other social services in the Armed Forces in a way very different from the way in which they have been dealt with in the past. There are arguments both for and against doing so, and perhaps as much as "several hundred million pounds"—the amount he mentioned—could be obtained by that type of transfer to the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Social Security. Obviously, if such a measure were to be taken the House would wish to consider all its implications. But it is sad that when people talk of the total defence budget they include in the figure the considerable expenditure on education and hospital services which would not normally be included in similar figures for other operations in Government activities.
If the transfer or reduction of several hundred million pounds is achieved in that way no harm will be done to the defence of the country. We are, of course, concerned that the cuts which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned will not be made in such a way as to diminish and damage the security of our country. He seemed at Question Time this afternoon to argue that months of delay in completing the review are not in themselves damaging. We on this side of the House consider that the delay is very damaging. It causes uncertainty and a great deal of concern and dismay. It is bad for the morale of the Armed Forces. It is bad for investment and planning in those industries from which we shall have to procure equipment in the future and bad for the potential of the exports of British defence equipment, because many countries abroad will be wondering whether equipment which they purchase will, as a result of the cuts, go out of production.
The four-months delay which is to take place—the Secretary for Defence is implying that the White Paper review will not be completed until the autumn—is therefore a matter of very real concern. I suggested this afternoon that the right hon. Gentleman would decide his views in principle by the end of July or the beginning of August and then would be consulting our allies upon them. Certainly one would like to know at the earliest opportunity what his views are, fully understanding that, having expressed his views perhaps at the end of July or the beginning of August, those views would be subject to any international consultations he then wished to pursue. Otherwise. I think we shall have a situation in which he will have reached certain conclusions subject to those consultations, those conclusions certainly will leak at various discussions, including talks abroad, and through August and September there will be considerable, unnecessary uncertainty as to the Government's views on this subject.
When the right hon. Gentleman refers to the autumn, I wonder whether autumn will be a little late this year and whether, if there are to be substantial cuts, in fact the announcement that there are to be such cuts will be made after any General Election. There will be many aircraft firms and naval dockyards very interested in the conclusions of the review.
What disturbed us was, first of all, the remarks this afternoon implying that the right hon. Gentleman had accepted the case for substantial cuts in our commitment to NATO, to some extent implying that a figure of around £1,000 million was not out of the question. A cut of such an amount would mean a cut of between 25 and 30 per cent. of our defence expenditure—and 90 per cent. of our defence expenditure is already connected with our activities in NATO. Such a reduction would mean a very substantial cut in our contribution to NATO.
If the objective of the right hon. Gentleman's review is to measure the needs of defence at the present time and to see that this country meets its responsibilities in this field, I do not see that he can be very complacent about cutting our contribution to NATO at this time. Indeed, I recall his first speech to the House in the last debate on defence. Hon. Members, certainly on this side of the House, were very impressed by the second half of that speech, in which he outlined with some emphasis what he considered to be the very real potential danger, and his recognition of the considerable build-up by the Soviet Union of their armed forces over recent years. That speech, certainly the last half of it, made us feel rather more satisfied that he would not be a party to making substantial cuts in our contribution to NATO.
I hope that those who advocate very substantial cuts in our defence expenditure will recognise the degree to which the forces of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries have been built up over recent years. It is a frightening story. I wonder how far some hon. Members opposite who advocate massive cuts in our defence expenditure are satisfied in their own minds about the objectives and purposes of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries in building up their forces to such a magnitude.
Over the last few years 200,000 more men have been recruited to the already very substantial armed services of the Soviet Union. Year after year there are increases in weapons such as cruise missile submarines. In the last four years they have added 16 more army divisions and 500 more aircraft. When one looks at the relative forces deployed in northern and central Europe between the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries, there cannot be any complacency about the need to keep NATO strong.
For every division of NATO there are now nearly three divisions of the Warsaw Pact countries. The Warsaw Pact countries have 50 per cent. more men under arms. They have nearly three times as many tanks and nearly double the number of aircraft. When I look at the way in which the Soviet Union has been pouring money into research and development, at an increasing rate of 10 per cent. a year, and then see close at home minor incidents such as a Soviet trawler coming close to our rigs in the North Sea, and taking photographs, against all safety-at-sea regulations, I do not understand how in all these circumstances any hon. Member can be complacent about the need for Britain and the NATO Powers to remain strongly armed. The Labour Party has been well aware of these facts during its period in opposition. It has now been over four months in government and I should have thought that in reality, although he may be unwilling to tell us today—I hope that he will not be—the Secretary of State must have come to some major and important conclusions after that time.
This is not the first time that the Opposition Front Bench has put forward the threat of Soviet forces, the existence of which I like no more than does the right hon. Gentleman. But he must be aware that the American forces have not been exactly unchanged either but have been increasing their technique and strength. Indeed, the American Navy is twice the size of the navies of the Warsaw Pact. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman asks what is the purpose of the Russian build-up. I should have thought that it was for the same purpose as the American build-up. Both sides argue, "Our forces are purely to defend ourselves against the other side". They are both making the same mistake and the Secretary of State is prepared to take the same dangerous road, which may land the world in disaster.
I do not believe that there is any comparison between a group of democratically-elected Governments deciding to remain secure and a decision by a Government which is anything but democratically elected. Examples such as Czechoslovakia are, I hope, a constant reminder to us all. I am shocked that any hon. Member who has witnessed the growing disparity between the Warsaw Pact countries' power and that of NATO should be other than concerned.
I hope also that the hon. Member will notice with some concern the manner in which, during the talks now taking place in Vienna, the Soviet Union objective has been in no way to obtain parity between the two sides. Its intention has been to maintain the disparities which are to its advantage—hardly typical of a nation which desperately wishes to obtain some parity and quick reductions.
The first major decision that the Government have to make concerns the retention of the nuclear deterrent. We approved of the decision of the Government to proceed with the recent test in Nevada, although we found slightly strange the reason given by the Prime Minister—that it was a decision not to retain the deterrent but to keep the option open. One would have presumed that, with the defence review going on, the option could have been kept open without having the test at that moment and that, in a couple of months, if it were decided to proceed with the deterrent, the test could have taken place then.
Whatever the reason, we think that the decision was right. It was, of course, the decision of the previous Government to have a test, but there has been plenty of time for this Government to review it. We are pleased that, having reviewed it, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, and presumably the Cabinet approved of the decision. We admired to some extent the way in which the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Social Services, who in the past have held different views on this topic, have remained members of a Cabinet which decided to hold this test and that on this occasion they have put country before party. In fairness to the Government, they have a mandate to do this. In their manifesto they said nothing about reducing the British nuclear deterrent force.
Does the Secretary of State now have information whether the test was successful? If it were not, and further testing is required, will he assure the House that further tests will take place should they be necessary?
I presume that when the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State approved this test, they had particular objectives in mind and agreed that it was necessary, so that the deterrent could be retained in an up-to-date and useful form, that the test should take place. Otherwise, they would not have approved it. The Prime Minister himself told the House that the results of the test were not then known. I am asking whether they are yet known, whether, in view of the purposes of the test, which the Prime Minister approved, it was successful and whether any further tests will take place.
There was an implication in the Prime Minister's statement that one of the reasons that they were able to take this sensible and rational decision was that the Labour Party Conference had not passed with a two-thirds majority a demand that we should scrap our nuclear weapons. Since then, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Boardman), I think, has written to the Prime Minister asking for an assurance that this would not mean that a future Labour Party Conference resolution which had a two-thirds majority would influence our defence policy in this way.
I am afraid that the Prime Minister has responded by refusing to reply, saying that the question was hypothetical and not giving that assurance. But the country would like to know that a basic decision on retaining the most effective deterrent weapon we possess will not be taken upon the basis of a two-thirds majority at a Labour Party Conference, with the block votes having the effect they have.
On this side of the House, we should appreciate some information, because the tests have taken place and it is obvious that the Government will have taken their decision whether to continue with a nuclear deterrent. In terms of our relationships with our allies in NATO and throughout the world, it is important that they make this clear as soon as possible.
I was encouraged this afternoon by the various pronouncements on the MRCA. This aircraft is vital to the RAF and to NATO. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that a major point is that if, on a basis of improving international collaboration, one made a decision that caused ill-feeling, that could be detrimental to the considerable savings which could be achieved by greater rationalisation of the procurement programmes throughout NATO and Europe generally.
It would be disastrous if the Government decided to scrap this aircraft. When the Secretary of State referred to the Germans supporting this approach with the same enthusiasm as he had, we were encouraged that at least on that issue the right hon. Gentleman has seemingly come to the decision—the right decision—to keep that aircraft.
Another sphere in which there is considerable uncertainty in the country, certainly in particular parts of the country—this will be of particular interest to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Judd)—is the future of the dockyards. He will understand that when his post in the last Labour Government was held by a Plymouth Member, there was some contentment in Plymouth that things might be all right for Plymouth even if they were bad for the Portsmouth dockyard. Now that a Portsmouth Member holds this post, he will understand that there is considerable concern in Plymouth that if any dockyard goes it will not be Portsmouth but is likely to be Plymouth.
Throughout, there has been considerable concern in Chatham, which has not had a Labour Navy Minister either in previous Governments or this one, that its dockyard might be selected if there are to be substantial cuts. Fortunately, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) is active in his representation of Chatham's needs.
I hope that the Secretary of State recognises—I know that the Under-Secretary will have recognised from his constituents—the real anxiety and concern in all these dockyards during the months in which the Government have talked about cutting hundreds of millions of pounds from our defence expenditure. The sooner these fears are removed the better. In view of the massive increase in Soviet sea might and particularly the threats at sea which are taking place, some assurance should be given.
On our general strategy at sea, could the Secretary of State say something about the present position of the Simonstown base? There is genuine uncertainty here. A Government spokesman in another place implied that, due to this Government's attitude to certain happenings in South Africa, we were renegotiating the agreement. The South African Government have implied that, due to their concern about some activities of this Government, they are, reviewing the agreement. The House would like to know who is reviewing the agreement, if anyone. What is the object of the review, if one is taking place? The Opposition consider the protection of the route round the Cape to be of increasing, and not diminishing, importance, and we believe that Simonstown is essential to the proper defence of that route.
In the terms of our sea strategy, we should be interested to hear how the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun)—if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—explains the massive increase in the activities of the Soviet Union in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. The Soviet Union now has naval forces in the Indian Ocean three times greater than those of the United States. Recently considerable additional submarine forces have been attached to the Soviet fleet in the Indian Ocean and a new 45,000-ton aircraft carrier has been sent there. With the opening of the Suez Canal, the Black Sea will be much closer in navigational terms to the Indian Ocean. The protection of trade routes is a real problem for the western world. We must recognise that in any future confrontation—which we all pray will never happen—if there is no adequate defence of the vital strategic routes used for bringing our basic raw materials and energy supplies our whole security will be swiftly undermined.
That brings me to the question of overseas bases. Once again, there is uncertainty whilst the review is being undertaken. Has the Secretary of State reached a conclusion about the vital base in Cyprus? Cyprus is vital to our air communications and to surveillance of the Mediterranean. It is important in terms of our relationship with Iran, and it makes a vital contribution to the United Nations peacekeeping force there. These alone would be good and sufficient reasons for keeping our Cyprus base. Although this is not of itself a reason for keeping a force in Cyprus, I think the Secretary of State will agree that in terms of recruitment to the Armed Services the existence of the Cyprus base has proved to be of considerable importance.
Judging by the pronouncements made by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on the importance of maintaining the independence of Hong Kong, a decision on Hong Kong has already been made. Anyone who knows the problems in Hong Kong would consider it inconceivable that a garrison should not remain there, especially in view of the importance of maintaining internal security in Hong Kong. May we have an assurance that the Government have no intention of dismantling the Gurkha Brigade?
I presume that talks have taken place with the Prime Minister of Singapore, and we should like to know the result of them. Did the Prime Minister of Singapore request any withdrawal of forces? If not, I hope that the Secretary of State, in considering the base, will take into account its importance for communications and its considerable commercial value to Singapore in the years ahead. Singapore has become an immense centre of commercial activity which offers great opportunities for this country. In that context, I hope that the Secretary of State will bear in mind the relatively small amount we spend on maintaining our forces there.
It is the duty of any Secretary of State for Defence to review defence expenditure for the purpose of making useful savings. One sphere in which my hon. Friends and I consider savings can be made is in making far swifter progress towards European rationalisation of weapon production. NATO Powers produce a wide range of products. For example, there are 13 competing projects for anti-tank missiles, 36 fire control radar systems, 40 producers of heavy naval guns and 23 different types of aircraft. This type of diversity of project, involving as it does diversity of research resources is a waste both for us and for our allies. Any progress that the Secretary of State can make there will be welcomed on both sides of the House.
I come now to the men in the Armed Services. We are, naturally, pleased that the forces recently received a pay award which was back-dated to 1st April, but they will be anxious to know the Government's attitude on their future. I well remember, at the time of the miners' dispute, that the right hon. Gentleman—perfectly understandably, as he represents a mining constituency—was eloquent upon the question of differentials and relativities between miners and those in other occupations, and he particularly stressed the danger of mining as an occupation. Now that the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the Armed Forces, what will be his approach to pay in the Armed Services during a period in which we are suffering from severe inflation?
We all pay tribute to the manner in which the Armed Services carried out their incredibly difficult and dangerous task in Northern Ireland. In considering the pay and conditions of men in the Armed Services who are serving in Northern Ireland compared with those in other occupations which are far less hazardous and arduous, one can understand that there may be a feeling of anxiety in the Armed Services. Many workers are protected from inflation by threshold agreements. If inflation continues as it has done over the last three months, what will be the Government's attitude to future pay awards, and will the general principle of threshold agreements be extended to the Services?
Will the Secretary of State consider carefully, if he has not already done so, whether a new initiative can be taken to provide housing for Service men at the time they are demobilised? We all know from constituency experience that many men who have served their country well for many years discover when they are on the point of being demobilised that it is quite impossible to obtain accommodation. Having been parted from his Army accommodation, a demobilised Service man has to wait sometimes 12 or 18 months before accommodation can be provided because of the system of allocation applied by local authorities.
Here is an opportunity for a unique initiative. We have just created 300 new district authorities with responsibility for housing. If the Secretary of State could arrange with the local authorities for Service men's names to be added to the waiting list some time before they are demobilised, they could be housed immediately on demobilisation, and this would remove a great deal of the personal anxiety and unnecessary hardship which results from the system operated by local authorities.
In the first four months in which the right hon. Gentleman has occupied his present position he has made several speeches which have made us feel that he understands the potential dangers to the country. He has made a decision on the nuclear test which we welcome, because it shows that he recognises the importance of this deterrent weapon. He has, however—I am sure without wishing to do so—caused an immense amount of anxiety that his review is being undertaken not on the basis of the future security of the country but on the basis of the necessity to satisfy a section of his party which wants £1,000 million to be cut from our defence expenditure irrespective of the country's defence needs.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that his review is an objective one which will take into account the security of our nation and not the motions carried or views expressed by any political party or any group in a political party. At a time when, potentially, we could in future be confronted with real international dangers throughout the world it is vital that this country should be able to make its fullest contribution to the security of the Western world.
First, may I congratulate the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) on becoming Shadow Secretary of State for Defence. He presented to the House a very good and responsible picture of the defence problems which face me, as Secretary of State, and, indeed, the nation.
The right hon. Gentleman began by saying that he felt that one of the priorities should be to maintain the secure defence of this country. I do not disagree that that will be our goal. But the right hon. Gentleman knows that, because of economic pressures, had the Conservatives won the General Election a Conservative Government would have been bound to take the same path as that which we are traversing at the moment. The Conservative Government indicated as much by cutting back £250 million defence expenditure in 1973 alone—and the economic circumstances, especially the impact of the escalation of oil costs, had net then hit the nation. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not shirk some responsibility for our having to examine the whole of the nation's defence expenditure.
The right hon. Gentleman then entered into some interesting aspects of the defence budget. I agree that it would be a good thing if the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Social Security were to accept as part of their budgets the fact that the defence budget has to bear a large share of the cost of educating schoolchildren and nursing patients. The defence budget undoubtedly bears that burden and it is borne by no other Department. It would have been a good move if the right hon. Gentleman, when in government, had pioneered some of these ideas. As the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the right hon. Gentleman was in a fine position to do so.
There are occasions when we would like to have a certain piece of equipment for our Services—for example, an aircraft, submarine or special project which might be too expensive. But what better could happen than that other navies, armies or air forces could say to us, "We will buy your piece of equipment if you are prepared to buy it yourselves". On that understanding—in other words that exports were in prospect and jobs and trade were available—then the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had the finest opportunity when in office to take just that line. My Department would regard that course most sympathetically in considering how best, on the basis of exports, jobs and trade, it might be prepared to lessen the defence burden.
Would it not have been a good thing if the Conservative Party, supported by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, had made a decision on the maritime Harrier? But they did not. All the Navy says about that piece of equipment is that it would be an added operational capability, but the Conservative Government refused to take a decision.
But is not the difference between the Labour administration and the Conservative administrations the fact that the Labour Government now have orders or potential orders—I refer to Iran, Spain, the United States and India—for the Sea Harrier, if only the Government recognise the ability of the aircraft and order it for the Royal Navy?
There is the possibility—I put it no higher than that—of orders. The Navy says that it would have been welcome, but it is in any case just an added operational capability.
I return to the point I was making to the right hon. Member for Worcester, namely, that if there is a prospect of large orders abroad for this aircraft, is it not worth developing so that our Navy could have that added operational capability—but who will pay for it? It would be a good thing occasionally if Departments and Governments did not take the very strong posture of resisting giving anything to defence which might be to the benefit of jobs, trade, industry and exports—in other words, if they were prepared to unfreeze. However, I throw that suggestion into the debate as something about which we can all think. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to have that matter in his mind today, although not four months ago when his colleagues were in office.
The question of housing for Service men is certainly under study. I shall ask my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate, to deal with that matter and also the point which was made about Cyprus and other overseas places.
I am flattered that the Opposition have chosen to debate defence only seven weeks after the last occasion, although I am not so naïve as to be misled as to why this has come about. My Department and I are always prepared to listen to constructive proposals. Nobody has a monopoly of such proposals and in that way we welcome this debate.
I should like to tell the House what has happened since our last defence debate. I have had meetings with the United States' Secretary of Defence, Mr. Schlesinger, and the West German Defence Minister, Mr. Leber. I have also attended my first round of NATO ministerial meetings, the Nuclear Planning Group in Bergen, and immediately afterwards in Brussels the Eurogroup of Defence Ministers and NATO's Defence Planning Committee. I have seen the Prime Ministers of Singapore and Malta on their recent visits to the United Kingdom and the ambassadors of a number of our allies and friends have called on me in London. These have all been opportunities for me to judge at first hand the importance attached by our allies to our present contributions to collective defence and to deepen my understanding of the collective security problems which we face.
My meetings with NATO colleagues have also enabled me to stress the importance given by the Government to our NATO commitments and of our awareness of the difficult times that lie ahead for the Alliance as a whole in the pursuit now intensified in a range of negotiations, of means of relaxing tension between East and West while at the same time keeping up our defences. I have also encountered wide recognition of the economic problems facing Britain and the bearing which these must have on the size of our defence effort.
My meetings with fellow defence Ministers in NATO have brought home to me how many problems we have in common. I should like to be permitted to philosophise a little at this stage because it is interesting to see how the defence Ministers of Western Europe, in our open societies in Western democracy, have to consider defence matters much more seriously than do the countries of Eastern Europe.
In Western European countries we see a generation rising to positions of power—a generation to whom the last war is only a distant memory, if they remember it at all. As conflict and war in which we were involved recede into the mists of time, young people are not so moved to be fully appreciative of collective security and defence. Many of them even regard the apparatus of military alliances as a legacy of the cold war which no longer has any justification. Secondly, defence Ministers all face escalating costs of manpower and equipment, now rising faster than rates of economic growth and of inflation, because of the constantly increasing complexity of modern weapons.
Thirdly, those countries which have opted for professional as opposed to conscript forces have to bear on their defence budgets an even heavier burden of individual manpower costs. The Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries depend to the extent of 70 per cent. upon conscription. In NATO—excluding ourselves, Luxembourg, Canada and the United States, who are moving over to an all-volunteer force—62 per cent. of ground forces are conscripts. Consequently it is much cheaper individually to support them. We have to pay, and are prepared to pay, for professionalism.
Defence Ministers of the Western democracies are confronted with pressure groups among the opposition in their own parties—I am not immune to that—and in the public at large. Contrast that with the peaceful life of a defence minister in a totalitarian state.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a dividend for countries which have to raise their armed forces by conscription because it involves the ordinary citizen? It is difficult to put across the needs of defence in this country because we have a professional army which is separate from the people. We face this problem probably more than other countries with different systems.
I did not follow the point that the hon. Gentleman was endeavouring to make. Certainly countries which conscript their forces have an interplay between their communities and forces. However, it cannot be said that that does not take place in this country. Because this is a small, densely populated island there is interplay all the time. I am proud of our professional force. The British Army of the Rhine playing its part in NATO is the most professionally trained and highly efficient unit in the whole of the NATO Alliance. We pay for professionalism and in that respect it pays off.
In varying degrees my colleagues are all subject to economic pressures—balance of payments problems, particularly the escalation of oil costs, demands for the diversion of resources away from defence to other outlets, including economic growth and investments, and to other areas of public expenditure and cutbacks in public spending as a whole.
Even if in this uncongenial climate they manage to get their defence budgets together, they must look foward to the close scrutiny of their proposals by their Parliaments. Since 1971 my Ministry has presented to the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of this House no fewer than 140 memoranda and very many supplementary letters. There have been about 360 appearances by Ministry of Defence witnesses—Ministers and officials—before the Committee, at West-minister and in Commands and Defence Establishments at home and abroad. That is quite an effort by any "open society" standards.
I would not like the House to gain the impression that I spent my time in NATO in mutual commiseration with my colleagues. The greater part of our time was spent in constructive discussions about how to overcome the problems of maintaining adequate defences in conditions of general financial stringency. But we cannot ignore the present tendencies in the Western European democracies to rape their defence Ministers and their budgets whilst the Soviet and the Warsaw Pact Ministers enjoy exclusive virginity.
From my talks in Europe, I brought back with me two main impressions. The first of these was that there was a need for a major new effort in collaborative procurement. I was pleased that the right hon. Gentleman went out of his way to highlight this matter in his speech. We have seen in the past far too many cases of the needless development of rival projects by the members of the Alliance. I hope that through the Eurogroup of European Defence Ministers and in other ways we shall make substantial progress towards improving this situation.
One way of using resources more efficiently is to collaborate on procurement. This would be facilitated by greater harmonisaton of tactical concepts, and it should lead to greater standardisation with its direct military advantages and the scope it should offer for economy in supporting logistics. The Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries—based on Soviet training and equipment and consequential standardisation and interoperability—are well ahead of NATO in this respect.
My second impression was that it will take continuing Ministerial effort, because the political will is needed, to overcome the obstacles in the way of increased cooperation. It calls for the will in all the NATO countries to overcome military reserve and caution which tends to opt for its own particular brand of arms. I feel that the Eurogroup is a successful going concern and we are determined to keep up its momentum. This is particularly true of armaments collaboration where we have identified the problems involved.
Through the Eurogroup I think that we have found one of the keys to greater defence collaboration in Europe, though it will take determined political will and a readiness by all member countries to give and take in order to open the door.
While it might be argued that at least in the development phase collaborative projects cost more in total, we avoid duplication, share the cost among the participating nations and, in the longer term, build up the European research and development base, lessen dependence on outside sources and, in the end, promote standardisation of equipment and greater military efficiency. It is of the first importance, therefore, that we increase substantially the extent and depth of European collaboration.
At the last meeting of the Eurogroup, I opened a substantive discussion on these issues and posed the following questions. First, I asked whether we could reach an agreed Eurogroup view on broad areas of equipment—those areas include the future main battle tank, helicopters, field guns, rifles and ammunition—in which we should encourage European capabilities for development and production and, if so, how we can also involve the French.
Secondly, I asked whether we could agree tactical concepts sufficiently far in advance to ensure that collaboration was undertaken before national viewpoints were frozen and entrenched positions taken up.
Lastly, I asked whether all the European members of the Alliance, in the interests of their own defence industrial development, could agree on the need to devise practical means of rationalisation, on co-ordinating their policy on the extent of European procurement, and on the extent to which they should buy American. The past point is particularly important.
I accept that the strength of the Alliance depends in large measure on American equipment and technology, and it clearly makes neither military nor economic sense for the Europeans to cut themselves off from these. We in Europe have neither the financial nor the technological resources to be completely self-sufficient. There will always be cases in which it will be sensible to adopt United States designs either by direct purchase or by manufacture under licence. But on the other hand, we must convince the United States that healthy European defence industries are essential if the European members of the Alliance are to play their proper part within it. I expressed the hope that it could be recognised that there must be types of equipment where all the Allies, including the Americans, need to buy European. I hope, therefore, that we shall see the United States buying more European equipment.
These are questions that we shall be pursuing in the Eurogroup and in further Alliance-wide discussions. So much then for my report on Europe and NATO.
You will remember that when I last spoke to the House I gave a pledge that the morale and well-being of the Services would be my prime concern. I announced then the immediate introduction of a range of measures designed to improve the lot of those serving in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister subsequently announced the Government's decisions on the Report of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body.
In reaching these decisions we had to take into account the constraints of the Pay Code, but we felt able to go a little further in some respects. A particular feature, and one that I know was widely accepted by the whole House, was the introduction of an extra special payment of £3·50 per week for those serving in Northern Ireland. This was in addition to the increase in the "X"-factor, which is designed to take account of the balance of advantages and disadvantages in Service compared with civilian life, from 5 per cent. to 10 per cent. for men and from 1 per cent. to 5 per cent. for women, who, incidentally, will receive equal pay with men next year.
This, taken together with the earlier package of improvements, demonstrates very clearly the Government's concern for those who are performing such a crucial task—the vast majority separated from their wives and families and living and working, uncomplainingly, in arduous and uncomfortable conditions. We shall continue to do all we can.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about thresholds. Yes, all ranks will be eligible for the threshold payments as well. I hope that the new rates of pay will help to boost recruitment into the three Services. We have made no secret of the fact that recruiting has recently not been as good as we should have liked, but the House will be glad to learn that there are signs that Service recruiting is beginning to pick up again. This is encouraging and I am hopeful that the trend will be sustained.
Since our last debate the Services have continued to acquit themselves with the greatest credit in the difficult circumstances of Northern Ireland. All of us are in some danger of forgetting just how difficult these circumstances are and what conditions our troops in Northern Ireland have to face. The bombings and the shootings, by their very repetition, tend to have a diminishing impact on the people of this country. Events that used to attract banner headlines and to be given lead coverage on the television screen are now treated as run-of-the-mill, as part of the normal way of life. It is quite unacceptable that this level of violence should persist in a part of the United Kingdom, and I once again emphasise that our Armed Forces will continue to play their part in striving to maintain law and order in the Province so long as their presence is required.
So far our Armed Forces have coped magnificently, and I know tha
We have never pretended that this will be an easy, let alone a swift, task; but the Government are determined to bring home to all those of evil intent that their methods will not succeed, and that our aim remains to bring about a situation where ordinary people in Northern Ireland can live their lives without fear, and where the maintenance of law and order is once again the responsibility of the police, backed by the community as a whole.
I do not wish in any way to diminish what my right hon. Friend has said regarding the Army's achievements, which he itemised in some detail, but will he tell the House when he considers that the military operation will have been successfully completed in Northern Ireland?
That will be only when we have been able to establish a larger force in the Royal Ulster Constabulary and been able to build up the Ulster Defence Regiment so that between them they can help to maintain law and order and relative peace. When those conditions are achieved the forces will, hopefully, be able to say that they have done a good job and withdrawal might be considered—
No date can be put on that.
I make no apology for not yet being in a position to inform the House about the outcome of our defence review. As I said on 13th May, we are engaged in the most comprehensive examination of our future defence rôle and commitments ever mounted in peace time. It is really a deep and thorough study of the best way of meeting our essential defence needs.
Already the preliminary views of some of our partners have been sought. My hon. Friend the Minister of State at the end of May visited the capitals of the other countries involved in the five-Power defence arrangements. He went to listen to their views, not to put cut-and-dried proposals to them. His report, together with the results of consultations which we shall be having with our other allies at the appropriate time, will be taken fully into account before final decisions are taken.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that it is very important for the Services to end the present uncertainty which the Services feel, but this is to be somewhat prolonged because of the period which will be taken to consult the Allies. Would the right hon. Gentleman take up the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and publish something now, perhaps a Green Paper rather than a White Paper, so that we know of the position, and can be consulted?
I have taken that point on board. I do not agree that this matter affects the morale in the forces. I think that the forces have accepted that it is worth while having a comprehensive review instead of suffering periodic short-term cuts. However, I shall consider what has been said in this regard and if the review starts to slip I will consider whether it is necessary to say anything further before the House rises for the recess.
I have previously explained to the House the background to the review—on the one hand, the economic situation which the Government inherited on resuming office and, on the other, the continuing and growing threat posed to Western security by the massive military might of the Soviet Union and its allies. However, I must do that again today, to bring the position up to date. It may give joy and succour to the more narrow-minded Opposition Members, while causing concern and upset in the minds of some of my hon. Friends, but it is essential for the House, for Parliament and for the nation for the Secretary of State for Defence to let the House know how he sees the threat, especially when we are considering how best we can reduce defence expenditure. Therefore, we must all the time have in the forefront of our minds the stark realities of our economic inheritance, which have become even clearer to the nation since we last debated defence. They have further reinforced the need, in the interests of Britain's economic well-being, to reduce the planned level of our defence expenditure. The Labour Party in its manifesto pledged to do this by several hundred million pounds a year over a period. I must stress to the House that that pledge will be honoured.
Our aim will be to strike the right balance between, on the one hand, the level of forces needed to assure Britain's essential security and to maintain the credibility of our contribution to collective defence, and, on the other, the maximum release of resources from defence to industries which directly boost our exports and economic growth.
I shall come in a moment to what I believe my hon. Friend has in mind.
In drawing attention to the threat I am not making a political assessment about the actions which the Warsaw Pact might take in the years ahead, nor do I wish to denigrate in any way the importance of the negotiations on security matters now taking place. There is, as the House well knows, a sensitive backcloth against which our own defence review is being considered. There is the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe at Geneva, the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks between the United States and the Soviet Union and the multi-lateral talks on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions in Vienna. Everyone who takes an active interest in defence knows that the British Government are playing a full and active part in both the CSCE and MBFR negotiations, and the United States keeps in close consultation with its allies on SALT. We are also trying, in the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva, to make further progress on a variety of disarmament questions. That was the committee that pioneered the non-proliferation treaty.
The Government also give their full support to the tireless efforts of President Nixon and his Secretary of State, Dr. Kissinger, to promote the cause of peace and greater understanding between nations.
Therefore, a lot is going on, and many negotiators and nations are genuinely trying to exercise détente. However, I must warn the House that we must be on our guard against becoming too starry-eyed about all those negotiations. In all of them the going is tough, concessions and agreement from the other side have to be hard won and quick results are seldom obtainable. The Western negotiators must be constantly aware at the conference table of the realities of the situation.
I repeat one or two sentences which I have previously uttered in order to lead to what is probably the nuclear parity between us and the West. In Central Europe the Warsaw Pact has 20 per cent. more soldiers than NATO; 30 to 40 per cent. more soldiers in fighting units; two and-a-half times the number of tanks; and twice as many guns and aircraft.
The build-up of the Soviet fleet at sea is now well known. The Soviet Union is fast emerging as a maritime super-Power with a large modern ocean-going fleet of cruisers, destroyers and aircraft, some 350 operational submarines—at least 100 nuclear-powered—and a force of over 1,000 naval aircraft. The threat posed to NATO by this massive Soviet capability at sea is obvious. In the Eastern Atlantic, for example—an area of special concern to Britain—NATO's ready maritime forces are already heavily outnumbered. In 1962—to give merely one example—there were only 10 major Soviet warships deployed away from the Soviet Union at any one time, worldwide. In 1973 that figure had reached 100–10 times as many in 10 years—and this notwithstanding the Soviet Union's small dependence on the sea as a trading route.
Overall, the Warsaw Pact countries are modernising and replacing their weapons and equipment at a much faster rate than NATO. The Soviet Union, with a gross national product approximately half that of the United States, produces a military effort which is just about the same. The obvious corollary is the much smaller spending in other sectors of the economy. The Soviet Government adopt a policy of self-denial and a lower standard of material prosperity which would be unacceptable in the West. The Soviet defence industries are, by and large, technically more advanced and better managed than those contributing to the remainder of the economy, and are correspondingly more cost-effective.
By Western standards this is a sacrifice of some magnitude, made over many years. If nothing else, it points to the reliance which the Russians place on military strength. This point is worth bearing in mind when one is considering the potential threat to British and Western interests in terms of force levels, quality of equipment, production rates, and research and development.
Naval construction, as well, continues at a high rate. Nuclear ballistic missile and attack submarines, missile cruisers, destroyers and, now, an aircraft carrier are among the ships under construction in the Soviet Union. There is now a capacity for as many as 12 ballistic missile submarines to be under construction at any one time.
The Soviet aircraft industry is second in importance to that of the United States at present, but it is continuing to expand, with the emphasis on the production of military aircraft. The Soviet industry is now building at least 700 fighters a year, including some very advanced types such as the Foxbat interceptor and the variable geometry fighter, the Flogger, which compares with our MRCA. Flogger entered service in 1971 and several hundred have been produced. In addition, the Russians now have a new advanced supersonic strategic swing-wing bomber, called Backfire, for which there is at present no equivalent in production in the West.
It is also interesting to note that one-third of defence spending in the Soviet Union goes into research and development. Because of this, I warn the House that there is on its way a new generation of sophisticated advanced weaponry coming from the Soviet Union. As a particular example, the tactical air forces of the Soviet Union are now undergoing a significant modernisation programme, and this is presumably to overcome the longstanding qualitative advantage held by some NATO tactical air forces in the ground attack rôle. The Soviet Union already has major quantitative and some qualitative advantages in the air-superiority role. The Mig 25 Foxbat all-weather interceptor, capable of Mach 3 and carrying a new air-to-air missile, has recently been introduced to enhance this capability.
In the strategic arms field we watch as Russia proceeds with development of four new types of inter-continental ballistic missiles, multiple re-entry vehicles, super-hardened silos within her borders and the Delta class submarines carrying the new 4,200 nautical-mile missile which, with this range, can strike the United States and all parts of Western Europe without the submarines leaving home waters.
The increased strength of both the nuclear and conventional forces of Russia and her Warsaw Pact allies, backed by the massive Soviet industrial endeavour that I have just described, make it all the more necessary for NATO as a whole to sustain a credible deterrent policy. And deterrence must be valid against the whole range of possible threats, on land, at sea and in the air. It must include an ability to deter the use of military force as a political instrument. NATO, therefore, has no alternative but to maintain a range of options which must include nuclear weapons as well as strong conventional forces. Neither constitutes a credible deterrent on its own. Each supplements and buttresses the other.
Will my right hon. Friend say whether the British Government are prepared to support the development of a new, second generation of nuclear missiles? This is one of the things that the Labour Party spoke about in its manifesto.
I shall be coming to that matter in a little more detail. I can tell my hon. Friend, however, that the whole of our nuclear capability is now being subjected to the defence review. When the review is complete, all of the nuclear capabilities—not just conventional capabilities—will be subjected to debates in the House.
The United States provides the main strategic deterrents for the West and the great bulk of the tactical nuclear weapons available to NATO. But we have thought it right, in the interests of the Alliance, that this nuclear responsibility should not be carried by the United States alone, Britain, accordingly, makes a contribution of nuclear weapons to NATO, in support of the current strategy of the Alliance and in the interests of common defence. The whole of our nuclear capability—unlike that of the French—is committed to NATO. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reminded the House on 24th June, if NATO should collapse—if there should be no NATO—we should have to take our own decisions, and we should be able to do so. But so long as NATO exists, these weapons will be committed to the Alliance; and, whilst so committed, all our weapons remain subject to political control through Alliance consultation procedures and could in no circumstances he used without the consent of British Ministers.
As the Prime Minister explained, the arrangements for a test necessary to maintain the option of preserving the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent were initiated by the previous Government, and we allowed the test to go ahead. The experiment was conducted underground and fully in accordance with our treaty obligations. It was also fully in accordance with the policy of the previous Labour Government and with the policy in the Labour Party manifesto, based on multilateral disarmament, and did not involve any breach of our party programme as laid down in successive party conferences over the last three years.
As the Prime Minister reaffirmed, expenditure on Britain's nuclear forces is under scrutiny as part of our all-embracing defence review. But, as shown in the last Defence White Paper, the annual cost of maintaining the Polaris force amounted to £39 million. That is a little over 1 per cent. of defence expenditure.
Now that we have arrived at the point of discussing the nuclear test, will the right hon. Gentleman answer the point that has been made to him? If our nuclear weapons are to be subject to a defence review and if we are looking at them seriously in the process of that review, why was the test not postponed until the review had been completed? Why was it necessary to go ahead prior to the review?
It was because the arrangements made under the previous administration were advanced. The agreement had been reached for the test. The slot into the Nevada chamber had been agreed. If we had decided positively not to go ahead, we would have closed one of the options open to the Government. Therefore, we thought it right to go ahead as planned. When the review is complete the House can determine to what extent it is necessary to do more about nuclear weapons.
However, I do not think that there is a case for singling out the nuclear side for rushed or arbitrary decisions. Our test was designed to keep all our nuclear options open while the review is in progress. In considering this aspect of our capabilities, we also have to bear in mind the considerations in NATO strategy which I have already outlined.
Let me give some further facts about nuclear testing which I hope will help to put our test into proper perspective. Since August 1963, when the Partial Test Ban Treaty came into force, until the end of 1973, the Russians have carried out underground tests which run into three figures. The rate of testing in 1974 is much the same. Over the same period, the United States Government have announced that they conducted 265 underground tests. In the same period the French announced nine underground tests and have conducted 34 tests in the atmosphere. The Chinese have conducted 15 tests in the atmosphere and one underground. The United Kingdom, in the period from August 1963 to date—nearly 11 years—has conducted only four nuclear device tests, all of them, underground. Two were in 1964—the second of these was a failure—one in 1965, and the recent one a few weeks ago. Our latest nuclear test breached no nuclear treaty and broke no manifesto pledge.
The Prime Minister has already stated that the practice is that until the evaluation of the results of tests are complete no statement is made in the House. It is not the general practice of other countries to advertise tests in advance. The results of our recent test have not yet been fully evaluated, but the indications are that it was successful, and it was well below any likely threshold agreement for underground nuclear tests. I can now emphasise—and re-assure all those who feel concerned—that no further British tests are due to take place in the near future, and certainly not before the defence review is completed, and a report made to the House. All will be considered in the review—and there will be ample opportunity for debate before decisions are taken.
I would have thought that the whole House would recognise that succeeding British Governments have tried, by backing the Partial Test Ban Treaty and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to stop nuclear arms proliferation. This is our desire and our earnest aim, but as everyone knows it is proving difficult. Meanwhile, it is the duty of all of us who have over the years become nuclear powers, and are constantly being reminded of the horror of this generation of weaponry, to endeavour to work much harder toward the goal of total abolition of these weapons by multilateral and international agreement. In that connection I sincerely hope that President Nixon and Mr. Breshnev will produce an agreement this week that will take us another step towards that worthwhile and internationally-required objective.
It was with some trepidation that I prepared to take part in my first defence debate. My trepidation was increased by the fact that I do not pretend to any expertise in the subject. That trepidation began to vanish, however, when I felt increasing sympathy for the position of the Secretary of State for Defence. It seems that he is being ground between an upper and a nether millstone. On the one hand, there is the party commitment to a reduction of expenditure of several hundred million pounds, with certain elements of the right hon. Gentleman's party demanding far more, and on the other hand is his realistic assessment of the growing power of the Warsaw Pact and the horrifying catalogue of increased strength of the Soviet Union and its satellites.
The logical conclusion to be drawn from the right hon. Gentleman's speech is not that we need to cut expenditure but that, on the contrary, our defences need strengthening. I believe that defence is of the first importance and it cannot be regarded, as I fear some Labour Members regard it, as some kind of optional extra which can be discarded at will in favour of some other more desirable objective or means of spending money. I have been strengthened in my resolve on that point by the Secretary of State's speech. Servicemen have told me in Plymouth that our defence is an insurance policy and that we should not begrudge paying the premium; that we shall only get the kind of defence we are prepared to pay for.
The main threat to our security comes from the Soviet Union. That has been made quite clear by the Secretary of State, but I noticed earlier today that some of his hon. Friends had doubts about that. The great difference between Russia and other repressive régimes—I noticed mutterings about Chile and Greece—is that it is infinitely larger and more powerful. That is one practical difference. Secondly, the Soviet Union is activated by a Communist philosophy which seeks, as best it can, world domination. That is one major difference between the Soviet Union and the other regimes. We see the truth of that in its activities. I have seen no signs of Russia's drawing back from East European countries. On the contrary, whenever one of those countries has moved towards independence it has been ruthlessly snuffed out. Russia's treatment of its own nations is no source of comfort. One has only to see the revelations of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the treatment of the Panovs, the Jews, the Christians and any dissidents within the regime to see what style and type of Government it is.
Furthermore, Russia seems anxious to infiltrate. It will infiltrate into the African countries. We have heard from the Secretary of State about its infiltration into the various seas. We know, for example, that it is building up in the Indian Ocean, and I have seen figures which suggest that it is likely that it spent about 8,000 ship-days there, in contrast with the Royal Navy's 1,000 ship-days in the year up to last April. We know that the Russian Navy is bristling in the Mediterranean and, worse still from our point of view, the Russian presence is increasingly obvious off our shores. The Secretary of State did not deal at length with the most recent example, where a ship—a trawler, so called—sailed very close to our oil rigs. As we develop our offshore installations our vulnerability will ever and ever increase. We must therefore make absolutely certain that we have a sufficiently strong Royal Navy to defend ourselves against what is very much a national rather than an international interest. I do not see how we can expect our NATO allies to put that at the forefront of their work. It is something that we must do for ourselves.
I am not happy, either, about the presence of Russian fishing trawlers bristling with equipment. They seem to move around our shores far too easily for my taste. The Secretary of State will recall that I asked whether he would forbid them to use the Millbay Docks, and at the time he made bland remarks saying that he felt they were no danger to our security. I would have thought this latest incident near the oil rigs would cause him to pause for thought. We know that the Russian crews are interchangeable between Russia's trawlers and its navy. There is no distinction between Russia's merchant service and its naval service. This also gives me cause for concern. It is clear that we need to strengthen our Navy in this respect rather than weaken it.
The Russians will also make mischief in small ways. For example, I recently went over the survey ship "Hecate" when she was in Plymouth. I was told of the important work done by those on the ship. As I indicated at Question Time today, it necessitates the ship's going along straight paths—not deviating—in order to carry out the survey work. That means that other ships in the vicinity have to get out of the way. I gather that although most ships are very good about that the Russians will often, apparently deliberately, not get out of the way. It is a small point, but it is indicative of their state of mind.
I am naturally concerned about the impact on my constituency of any defence cuts, but if I felt that there was a good case for cutting defence expenditure I would not simply argue against it on employment grounds. However, we have real cause to keep our Navy strong, added to which is the possible impact of a cut in the Navy on a dockyard such as that in Plymouth. The effect would be alarming. There are 12,000 people directly employed in the dockyard, which means that, with their families, a vast number of people are directly dependent on it.
There are also the members of the defence police. Presumably, if there were a shrinking of the dockyard, there would also be a shrinking of the defence police.
The amount of money paid out in wages and salaries is very high. One must consider the effect of any reduction. I asked for the information in recent Written Questions and was given the following figures: wages and salaries of civilian employees in the dockyard amount to just under £30,500,000 a year. In addition, wages of £620,000 a year are paid to the defence police. The impact of any cut in those sums would be terrifying. It would completely disorient the economy of Plymouth and the area around it.
We have been given assurances that it the cuts were made there would be redeployment. That is very important, but I should like to quote the Secretary of
State's own words on this question. He said on 24th April:
Cuts in defence expenditure sound simple enough. The after-effects are much more daunting. You can have a good night out on the prospects of the morrow, but if tomorrow's realisation reveals you are unemployed you won't then be so keen. This is the reality of massive defence cuts—job losses. As these get under way the Ministers for Industry will have a new dimension added to their portfolio and that is finding alternative work for the unemployed of the defence industries—as well as for cancelled defence export orders.
I fully subscribe to those words.
It is all very well to suggest that redeployment will be possible, but one looks to those areas where for other reasons the major industries have been in decline, and one notices that despite all the help that has been given to them their unemployment figures are still higher than in other parts of the country. That does not give much cause for optimism, especially at a time of economic difficulties. Indeed, the Secretary of State kept emphasising our economic difficulties as a reason for making defence cuts. How, then, does he propose that we should get all this new industry going at a time of what looks like increasing depression? I am extremely alarmed about this aspect. I only hope that the Secretary of State will resist the blandishments of his Left Wing, who want him to make massive cuts.
I noticed with interest the argument in the right hon. Gentleman's speech that because the Conservative Government had made a cut of £250 million they were bound to go further down the same road. I see no logic in that argument. I believe the contrary to be true—that, those cuts having been made, there is now less room for manoeuvre than there was before. Therefore, I trust that when we finally have the defence review it will not be the alarming thing that we fear.
I also very much question the Secretary of State's assumption that the situation is not causing concern and loss of morale in the Armed Forces. I do not know to whom the right hon. Gentleman speaks. They are obviously not the same people as I speak to. I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree that there is continuing concern about the effect. Let us hope that the Secretary of State will remember the old adage that the shoe should fit the horse, and not the horse the shoe.
I had not intended to be particularly controversial, but I must refute the implication of what the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) said about Russian trawlers, and what the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who opened for the Opposition, said about Russians ships. Would the hon. Lady sink the Russian trawlers?
That is precisely what the Opposition are doing. They are taking the view that we are in a state of war—that Russian ships are a menace wherever they are, and that the logic of that is to sink them.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has built up a picture of Soviet might. Certainly their aircraft and their military forces on land look very daunting to us. But what do our fleets look like to them? As a rapporteur for WEU, I had an interview about two years ago with the Commander-in-Chief of the Sixth Fleet, who assured me—this was borne out by a leading member of the former Labour Government, now Chancellor of the Exchequer—that the Sixth Fleet could dispose of all the Russian missile ships and helicopter carriers in a matter of minutes rather than hours. Whether or not that is absolutely true, that is how the situation looks to the Russians from the naval point of view.
I would correct the right hon. Gentleman on aircraft carriers. The Russians have none. They have helicopter carriers with very limited range, and one aircraft carrier being built. We, the NATO forces, have very considerable aircraft carriers. I do not state this as a particularly important item in the balance of power, except to say, God help us if we do not get détente! It does not serve the purposes of détente to exaggerate the particular aspect of development that is going on in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.
It does not assist détente to exaggerate the Soviet presence; equally it does not assist to minimise it by kicking it under the carpet and pretending that it does not exist.
There may have been some exaggeration on the part of my right hon. Friend, but there has been little attempt to put the matter in balance so that we can get round the table and achieve agreement.
I now turn to less controversial matters. I consider it my duty as Chairman of the Expenditure Committee to refer to the contributions that the Expenditure Committee and, particularly, the Defence Committee have made, and I hope will make, to better-informed discussion in the House and better ministerial action. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the Defence Committee has made a very successful visit to Gibraltar in the past few days which we hope will lead to the Minister of State taking some action.
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye will explain the situation. I shall merely say that the Expenditure Committee visited Gibraltar 18 months ago and drew attention to the extremely unsatisfactory state of the building of married quarters. Despite the 360 papers and the many witnesses from the Ministry of Defence, nothing very much has happened. However, the Defence Committee was in Gibraltar last week, and yesterday the hon. and gallant Member for Eye and myself saw the Minister of State, and it is to be hoped that some action will now result. I leave it to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to explain the matter in detail. The visit to Gibraltar of the Defence Committee is a small but important example of how the Expenditure Committee can have influence, and how it can encourage the Ministry of Defence to take action. Of course, the Committee always seeks to assure witnesses that it is not just looking for cuts but for the best sort of expenditure. Sometimes increased expenditure or punctual expenditure is more effective than, or as effective as, cuts.
I shall concentrate on a subject that the Defence Committee has spent some time considering—with not very satisfactory results—and on which I have been making speeches for some time again without satisfactory results. I refer to economies in training which could be achieved painlessly either by one Service training for another or by integrated training where there could be a joint pool of effort. On the whole, the Services prefer to have one Service doing something for the other Services, but both methods of dealing with training need to be energetically considered by Ministers.
Training is an extremely large part of the defence budget. Indeed, it has been going up. In 1972–73 the amount spent on training was £308 million. It represented over 10 per cent. of the defence budget. There was an increase of 2 per cent. since the first days when I was at the Ministry of Defence. There are considerable economies to be made. I suggest that some economies might be made from following up what the Defence Committee has been probing into.
I come to the nub of my case. A few days ago the committee went over this subject with the directors of training for the Services. I was surprised to find that in this context there are four Services—the fourth Service being the Royal Marines. Each Service has its own separate training and each is very resistant to ideas of mutuality, a common front, integration or one-Service training, call it what one will.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I did not ask him to do so, but as he has given way I shall proceed. Surely the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the Royal Marines and at least one of the other Services have not been integrated throughout their long lives?
The major point is that there must be waste and overlapping and considerable scope for economy. I do not say this in a destructive way. I shall offer some constructive suggestions on how steps could be taken which would enable economies to be made and a better form of training to be developed.
First, there is not adequate drive in the Ministry of Defence. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to apply his mind to that. I am sure that if he does so he will get quite quick results. Secondly, within the Ministry of Defence the machinery for the co-ordination which I have suggested does not exist. The Defene Committee saw a major-general from the central staff which co-ordinates training. When asked how much time he devoted to the effort of getting common training he had to confess that it was very limited.
I have no criticism of the heads of training in the different Services. They are devoted to their jobs but their attitude—and quite rightly—is to maintain the morale of those being trained, to produce the most efficient training system and not to look to their colleagues to see whether they can collaborate, merge and lose portions of their training sections.
There must be some central focus in the Ministry of Defence. There must be some important person—for example, a major-general or an air vice-marshal—with a supporting staff, perhaps appointed temporarily for a year or 18 months, to consider the problem from the point of view that I have been putting to the House and to ascertain where amalgamations and economies can be made. The directors of training took the view that if they undertook the task themselves they would undermine recruiting, but training recruits is only a small part of training. A large amount of training relates, for example, to conversion to different trades, promotion and refreshers There are hundreds of courses.
The second provision that is required to support a central co-ordinator is a survey of those parts of training courses that could be satisfactorily approached from a common point of view. The Engineering Training Board has a successful record of working out modules of training for a whole range of apprenticeships and industrial training. There is probably that sort of expertise within the Ministry of Defence. I suspect that education directorates have staff that could cope with such matters. Be that as it may, people must be found who can analyse a training course, take out certain bits and pieces and put the whole thing together so that the matters to which I have referred can be transposed and studied.
There are a great variety of training matters which are common—for example, cooks, drivers, clerks, some forms of gunnery, accounting and nursing. The Jarrett Committee considered the medical service of the Armed Forces and made some recommendations about various aspects of training. Those recommendations are being dealt with very slowly by the Ministry of Defence. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to take the dust off the Jarrett Report.
There needs to be a technical analysis of the length of courses, the cost per student, the contents of the syllabuses and a thorough review of all the elements that make up the courses. In addition, there needs to be central direction in conjunction with the Service directors of training. I am not trying to suggest an imposed solution; the Services work much better when they are consulted and when they come to an agreement. Very often they are reluctant to take the sort of steps that I am suggesting, but when they start they come to a mutually agreed conclusion. If there is a force in the centre and if that force is conducting discussions in the way that I suggest, I am sure that there will be ample scope for considerable savings.
In the process, there could be two by-products, which strengthen my argument. One is that some of the procedures themselves will need looking at. In clerical processes throughout the three Services, for example, there must be room for greater simplification and more coming together. In rationalising the clerical processes, economies could be made in needs for training.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been pushing very hard in the Eurogroup of NATO for collaborative efforts on the production of arms and, incidentally, for getting even simple matters like linkages of petrol flows into aircraft, common rearming facilities on NATO airfields, and so on, the need for which would not arise if we started from scratch. If my right hon. Friend applied the same energy to training, he would make some startling economies. However, he will make substantial ones which will be useful and will strengthen the operational efficiency of the services if he remembers that the bigger the tail—and there is no doubt that training is a large tail—the less scope there is on the operational side. It will also simplify a part of the Ministry of Defence, which in itself would be useful. So not only from the point of view of the money but also from that of operational effectiveness and the by-products coming from it, I commend to my right hon. Friend this practically uncontroversial subject.
Debates like this always seem to show that the bulk of hon. Members are committed to two contradictory positions. First, they are anxious to see this country have the most effective defence system that it can. Second, they wish to pay as little for it as possible.
It is equally true that it is very difficult for Parliament to exercise any really effective control over defence expenditure and defence policy. I do not say that as a criticism of the excellent work of the Defence Committee. However, this is an area where it is difficult to exercise political influence over the Executive.
In the brief time at my disposal I want first to bring to the attention of the Secretary of State, engaged as he is in the defence review, the basic Liberal position on defence. Thereafter, I shall dwell upon two elements within that position.
The basis of our defence policy must be détente. I think that that is agreed in all parts of the House. The Secretary of State dealt with it very effectively. Although it is true that the Soviet threat seems extremely remote, and although it has probably diminished to the point where the likelihood of any Soviet military attack upon the West is most unlikely, nevertheless the importance of NATO as a means of safeguarding our freedom and, paradoxically, as a means of creating a realistic basis for disengagement, disarmament and détente cannot be exaggerated.
In a sense, although we get defence on the cheap from NATO—certainly more cheaply than if we attempted to do it all by ourselves—that does not detract from further arguments about procurement, and I shall return to that subject later.
Secondly, we must complete the phased withdrawal of British forces from the Middle East and South-East Asia, although there are not many forces left there, and replace them with technical and training assistance.
Thirdly, we do not think that the realistic future for Britain is to maintain bases throughout the world, although we believe that we should maintain a mobile strategic reserve to enable us both to offer assistance to our friends as necessary and to play our part in what I hope will be an increasing function of the United Nations, namely, its peace-keeping rôle. There is no doubt that we must do that.
Fourthly, we believe, that Polaris should be phased out and that we should not embark upon a further generation of strategic nuclear weapons. I shall return to that in a moment.
Fifthly, we believe that, within NATO, we should work towards the creation of a non-nuclear European defence community as part of the general process of the development of some kind of West European entity, whatever form it may take. We recognise that the development of such a posture is possible only in the context of the American nuclear guarantee. But, as the Secretary of State said, the opportunities in Europe for improved co-ordination of conventional capacities in terms of control and procurement are considerable.
Sixthly, it is clear that all this very necessary effort must be undertaken against the background of sustained political pressure to pursue disarmament, which means pressing hard in the SALT negotiations, in Geneva and so on. It also mean developing an attitude, a
I now wish to comment a little more fully on two of the matters which I have itemised. The first is the nuclear deterrent and the second is weapon procurement in Europe.
The Liberal policy on nuclear weapons is clear. We see no future for British strategic nuclear weapons. As a country, we misguidedly spent a great deal of money on Polaris. I am not proposing that we tow it out into the Atlantic and sink it. The Secretary of State pointed out that the cost of operating Polaris is very small. But we say that when Polaris becomes obsolescent, it should be phased out, and no attempt should be made to spend more money seeking to improve it and prolong its life. Certainly we should not contemplate turning to the next generation of missiles which will be necessary if we are to sustain any kind of race with the Soviet Union and the United States.
The purpose of the recent test puzzles me greatly. In his charming fashion, the Secretary of State made it clear that it was in line with practically all the Ten Commandants and that really no one could criticise it in any way. It seemed to me that there were some political contradictions, and that it was especially contridictory to protest to the French and the Indians about what they did only to go ahead and do it ourselves. I do not deny what the Secretary of State said about the number of tests undertaken by the Soviet Union and China—they are to be condemned—but that argument in itself is no defence of the action approved by the Secretary of State.
I come, then, to the practical question. If the Secretary of State argues that the test was undertaken to keep the options open, to my mind it implies that the Government regard the maintenance of our independent nuclear deterrent as a practical alternative option which could be pursued. It is that which I question. I do not think that it is. I do not believe that our nuclear contribution to NATO is relevant. What is relevant in NATO is our conventional capacity.
Both Front Bench spokesmen referred to the need to rationalise weapon procurement in Europe—a matter for which the Liberal Party has been pressing for a number of years. This represents a realistic area for reducing rising expenditure. We kid ourselves if we talk about reducing total expenditure in an inflationary situation. It also makes, for me at least, absolute political sense if the Community is to evolve into any kind of effective political union.
Progress so far in the area of weapon procurement has been very slow. It was in some ways surprising that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman on defence dwelt some time on this. We have just had four years or so of Conservative government when not much advance was made in this field. The Minister is very much seized with this question. What does the Minister think the Eurogroup has achieved so far? Does he agree that it will not have much success unless it receives general directives from some kind of joint governmental authority in Europe, for example the Defence Ministers? What is the view held by the French? That is again crucial. The French have been opposed to the concept for long enough. Has M. Giscard-d'Estaing made up his mind whether he will commit himself to WEU, as has been the view before, and reject any Eurogroup solution? If that will be the French view, what are the Government proposing to do in such a situation?
There are many things one could speak about in this debate, but many Members wish to speak. I therefore conclude by wishing the Minister well in his defence review, which I hope will be proceeded with expeditiously and decisively.
It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). He made some points which surprised me. He suggested that the recent test in Nevada of the British nuclear weapon was comparable with those of India and France. The important distinction is that that test was held underground and completely in conformity with the Partial Test Ban Treaty. The other tests, held in the atmosphere, were obviously harmful to some extent and contrary to the Partial Test Ban Treaty. The important thing about this test, which has caused so much real heat, is that it is purely a test to maintain the efficiency of our nuclear deterrent.
I understand the viewpoint of hon. Gentlemen who consider it important to dispense with nuclear weapons. That is a point of view I do not share. I sympathise with it.
I do not share the point of view of the hon. Gentleman who thinks that there is some purpose in having inefficient nuclear weapons, because then one has the worst of all worlds. One still has the nuclear weapons but they are inefficient. One is surely wasting money. The Government are behaving with admirable good sense in holding the nuclear test.
One of the points made by the hon. Member for Inverness was that all the proposals of the Liberal Party for getting rid of nuclear weapons are made within the context of the United States nuclear umbrella, which presumably is intended to cover Europe. Is there a credible United States nuclear umbrella covering Europe? Can one visualise the United States using its nuclear weapons and inviting a massive attack against its own cities on account of some aggression on the part of the Soviet Union towards Europe? It is highly improbable. Can one visualise the United States using its nuclear weapons in reply to some nuclear threat or nuclear aggression on the part of the Soviet Union? That is hardly probable. That would invite massive retaliation against their own cities. I would have thought that in terms of retaining a nuclear deterrent as a counter to some form of nuclear blackmail by the Soviet Union, Europe must stand alone. One cannot expect United States help in that situation.
Britain has a particular responsibility with regard to nuclear tests and nuclear weapons because the United Kingdom is the strongest nuclear Power after the United States and the Soviet Union. Admittedly our nuclear power is very small. We are one of the two nuclear Powers in Europe, and we are by far the stronger. We have a special responsibility to decide what we shall do about our nuclear weapons.
The Secretary of State for Defence made his usual gracious and well-informed speech. He drove home the point that we must keep our options open. There is nought to be gained by destroying some of our options. Nuclear weapons are an insurance against a total divergence between the United States and Europe. Such weapons have the effect of increasing our influence at the conference table in any attempts to reduce the scope of nuclear weapons, to reduce their proliferation, and to reduce the threshold of tests. I would have thought they formed at least a bargaining counter.
The hon. Gentleman is being simplistic in his attitude. We are represented through the usual diplomatic channels.
I appreciate the point of view expressed by some of my hon. Friends. We are unanimous in agreeing that these are horrible weapons. We would all like to see them got rid of.
What would we gain by complete unilateral abstention from the possession of nuclear weapons? Surely if there is one system of nuclear weapons in the world which is least dangerous to the interest of the United Kingdom it must be the nuclear weapons owned by this country. On those arguments I would have thought a strong case existed for at least temporarily retaining our nuclear capability.
I turn to the question of the defence review. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said he was thinking in terms of reductions of hundreds of millions of pounds in the defence review. The right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) drew attention to the Labour Party conference, when a motion was discussed to the effect that defence expenditure would be cut by £1,000 million.
It is interesting, in that context, that the last Conservative Government fell in with the wishes of that Labour Party Conference motion and cut defence expenditure by a quarter of that sum—£250 million. It is interesting to find that the last Conservative Government was to some extent carrying out the wishes of a large proportion of the Labour Party Conference membership. Perhaps they are unduly concerned about the future.
I am anxious that any cuts in defence expenditure which my right hon. Friend has in mind should not jeopardise the security of this country, which is most unlikely to accede to that. It should be put to the Secretary of State that this fear exists in people's minds. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is under severe pressure. That pressure is natural and understandable. There is a strong pacifist tradition in the Labour Party. Very strong feelings exist about reducing defence expenditure.
I am seriously worried about the situation with regard to our only possible adversaries—the Warsaw Pact forces. We have heard from the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members about the enormous increase in Soviet expenditure upon missiles and upon its navy in the Indian Ocean and such places. I am much more concerned about the situation in Central Europe. The defence of Europe is the defence of Britain. There is no question that if Europe were overrun by Soviet forces it would be the end of Britain as a free country. We should go down like a ninepin, following the rest.
I have particularly in mind here a few figures published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies. In Central Europe the NATO countries have eight armoured divisions, while the Warsaw Pact countries have a total of 26, deployed opposite ours. Why is that? If the Warsaw Pact countries are really worried about their own defence, do they need 26 armoured divisions as opposed to our eight?
I cannot give the reason why Soviet forces are building up their armour in this extraordinary manner. The Secretary of State for Defence and the Government must be prepared for all eventualities. It would be most unwise to assume that the Soviet forces have these overwhelming numbers for the purpose of training them or for other reasons not relevant to future aggression.
In Central Europe, NATO has 6,755 main battle tanks; the Warsaw Pact forces have 13,800. NATO forces have 1,720 tactical aircraft; the Warsaw Pact forces have 2,770. We must bear in mind that the Warsaw Pact forces deployed in Central Europe can be overwhelmingly reinforced from Soviet territory. The picture is of the NATO forces in Central Europe being faced by overwhelmingly superior forces in terms of numbers, equipment and sophistication of weaponry.
In those circumstances it would be unwise to think of any reduction in the strength of NATO forces. At present, such forces are largely dependent upon contributions from the United States. I do not know what the figures are, but I would have thought that the contribution of the United States must be 70 per cent. at least. Can we rely on United States forces always being available to Europe? We know that relations between the United States have been strained recently by the Middle East war.
We know that there is constant Congressional pressure on the President to cut down forces in Europe. We know, too, that the United States has a chronic balance of payments problem, like ourselves, which could be greatly alleviated by cutting down in Europe. President Nixon has spoken strongly in favour of keeping American forces in Europe. But does one really regard President Nixon as a strong political figure? This seems to be doubtful. What would be the situation in NATO if there was a substantial withdrawal of United States forces?
Under these circumstances it is important that Europe should combine to the maximum extent for its defence. It would be most undesirable for there to be any weakening of NATO forces. Any large defence cuts would have that effect. I ask the House to consider the effect of such cuts. A large proportion of British defence expenditure goes on salaries and wages for the Armed Forces. They total 361,500 people, and with their families must come to about 1 million people. They must be very much concerned in these cuts. If we look at the defence budget, of £3,365 million a year, we see the extent to which British industry is involved in defence cuts of a substantial nature.
I suggest that there is a danger of serious unemployment if such cuts were carried out to any large extent. The Secretary of State pointed out that there could be substantial economies. There is obviously room for transferring some of the medical and educational services to the appropriate Departments. There is also considerable room for ensuring that the Department of Trade carries some of the costs of defence projects which have a large export potential.
Something which the Secretary of State did not mention and which might interest some of my hon. Friends is the question of the nationalisation of armament firms. I would have thought that there was a strong case for taking into public ownership a substantial number of these firms. The profits which accrued could certainly be used to offset defence expenditure to some extent. I am not suggesting that there should be interference in the running of these firms. If the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) would listen to me before he laughed he might agree with what I have to say.
There is a strong case for buying a lot of the equity of these firms. There is no reason why the Defence Department should not hold equity in such firms, just as any private individual may hold it. The Secretary of State talked about the greater harmonisation of NATO and of tactical concepts, and of greater standardisation. This would also bring about considerable economies, for which there is certainly room. There is no room for enormous defence cuts, such as have been suggested at the last Labour Party conference without jeopardising the security of this country.
My right hon. Friend is a firm and courageous person. He needs no prompting from me. He must realise that the first consideration of any Government must be the security of the people of the country. There is no way out of this. I am sure he will fulfill the trust which reposes in him to the maximum of his ability.
I hope that the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) will forgive me if I do not take up a point which he made at the beginning of his speech. I will refer to it later.
After one of these defence debates a few years ago the Political Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, reporting the debate, said that the Tory defence experts, while an amiable lot, were not exactly the "light cavalry of debate".!
Speaking from, I hope, the amiable section of these benches, I would start by saying that I believe we heard extremely refreshing speeches from both Front Benches today. Certainly the Secretary of State seems to understand reality. But I must admit that personally I am very sorry for him, because he surely is in the cross-fire. I thought he made an extremely interesting point about the philosophy of his job—that we have a duty to inform the electorate about the threat that faces us, as well as just to listen to the electorate. This is true in all democracies and possibly we as parliamentarians fall down on it. We seem to be not sufficiently ready to inform our constituents about the very unpleasant realities of the present defence situation. The Secretary of State, however, cannot be accused of failing to do that job today in his most robust speech.
I do not complain about the Government having a defence review. These come every so often and I have seen a great many—from both sides of the footlights! But my bamboo wireless tells me that as far as the Services are concerned, this Defence Review is virtually complete: they have said all they have to say. It is now for the Government to announce their decisions. I would assure the right hon. Gentleman, who smiles, that my bamboo wireless is not entirely switched off yet.
Many hon. Members have spoken this afternoon of the massive ambiguities which still remain about what the Government intend to do on defence following the defence review. I would make to the Secretary of State the point that military people are accustomed to firm decisions, clear orders and straight dealing. Obscurantist political policies are resented and despised by the forces. I agree with my hon. and fair Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) that the present massive threat of cuts and the uncertainty over them cannot fail to affect the morale of the Armed Forces because, as the Secretary of State for Defence said, these men are professionals and they want to know that they are going to have the tools for the job, the necessary equipment to do their extremely professional—a job to which we all pay tribute.
Clearly, the shilly-shallying about arms exports dismays forces personnel, because they see that this shilly-shallying may deprive them of the opportunities to get the equipment which they need, and which they know they need, to do their job properly. If the Government will make up their mind and say, "Right: we are going to export this material", whether or not they like the ideologies of the countries seeking to place orders, that would be enormously helpful to our forces.
When one puts the telescope to one's eye the wrong way round, as to some extent one has to do after one has been for some years out of the forces, one begins to see personnel and strategic problems still clearly but equipment problems less clearly, especially in this very technical age. Therefore, I shall refer very briefly to a few personnel and strategic problems.
First and foremost is the pay of the troops. To sum it up, the pay of the troops has fallen grotesquely behind the industrial level. If one compares what a miner gets in Durham, if he stays there and goes on being a miner, with what his brother would get if, for instance, he went into the Durham Light Infantry, one must say that the forces are not being fairly treated. I do not think my own Government have been blameless on this. There has been a forces pay review, but in my estimation its award falls very far short of what the forces deserve. I am bound to admit that the forces are not agitating for more. It is quite remarkable, I feel, that they do not do so. I do not want to say anything, now or ever, which would detract from or spoil the morale of the forces in any way. But we as parliamentarians, and particularly hon. Gentlement on the Front Bench opposite, who are always on about social justice, special cases and so on, must look at this again as a special case. If they do so with unclouded eyes they will see that the forces are not now getting a square deal on pay.
A great flourish was made about a 50p-a-day extra allowance for troops serving in Northern Ireland. How much work can one get out of a cleaning woman in London for 50p? How long will she work for that amount? Less than an hour. I do not know how much overtime a miner will work for 50p but some of the troops in Northern Ireland are working over 100 hours a week and sometimes as many as 112 or even 120 hours a week and we in this House have a very great responsibility to see that they are properly and adequately paid at a time of enormously spiralling wage increases.
To be fair to him, the Secretary of State in a speech on 29th March said:
My first consideration will be the wellbeing and morale of the Armed Forces. This means among other things they must not feel they are being unfairly treated on the question of their pay.
Is the Secretary of State in agreement? I hope he will take this point on board and do something extra and additional on this, and will not fall back on the formula, "We have just had a pay review."
I was very glad to hear the Secretary of State say that recruitment is turning up a bit, but I feel that the Government tend to be a little complacent about a continuing shortfall. One of the suggestions I would put to him is that he should look again at a suggestion which my own Minister turned down, the recruitment of 15-year-olds for the forces. A great deal could be done here—and this links with the Private Member's Bill from the Liberal benches today. If boys could go into the forces at 15, certainly for the Royal Navy and to a large extent the Army as they have in the past, everybody should be pleased. The boys would get a good career and would not have to stay an extra year in school, which many of them do not want to do. The Secretary of State for Education and Science would not have to pay for them and would not have them disrupting the classes as they may if they are tough boys who want to get out of school to do something active. The forces would get a source of recruitment, and if they cannot put their thumb-print on the minds of those boys at that impressionable age, they will never do so. No one could say that we would be dooming young men to a life in the forces before they knew what they were taking on, because under the Donaldson scheme, if they did not like it in the Services, they could get out at 18.
A second point linked with recruiting which I should like to put to the Secretary of State arises from the case of Corporal Foxford of the Royal Hampshire Regiment. I am delighted to say that he has now been acquitted on appeal, as the Secretary of State will know, of the charge against him. I was not able to refer to this while the case was sub judice. I will not go into details. But here was a very young corporal on patrol on what amounted to active service conditions. He then found himself under trial in a civil court for an incident arising from that patrol. For all that Corporal Foxford knew, the judge sitting in a wig trying him might never have heard a shot fired in his life, though I am not saying that the judge in this case had not done so.
There is in the Army a feeling that incidents arising from active service conditions should be tried by a military tribunal of some kind—a court martial, perhaps—why not?—open to the public, perfectly open, just as any other court of justice is open. At least the military men involved would feel that they were being tried by military people who understood what it is to be shot at. This is important in the context of Northern Ireland, where instant decisions of life and death have to be taken by young and relatively inexperienced men. This is different from past wars in which experienced brigadiers and naval captains took the decisions. This is a "corporals' war". My constituent was only 20 years old.
I praise the hon. and gallant Gentleman's initiative in using this opportunity to raise the case of Corporal Foxford. I had it on my conscience, as no doubt did the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and everybody who understood the case probably felt the same way. I am very pleased and happy for his family and for the lad himself that in the end he was acquitted. He has gone back to his unit now and he has got rid of the whole weight of that burden from his mind and shoulders. That is a good thing. I appreciate the second point that the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised, about the possibility of a military tribunal. I certainly have that well in mind and I hope that Lord Gardiner's Committee will be able to take this on board and help us in due course.
I am very grateful for what the Secretary of State said. He has taken the point, too, that this young man was under threat of trial for a long time.
Linked with recruiting is the question of Service pensions. In Service life, continuity in a regiment for one family often runs like a golden thread through our military history. The fathers and uncles of the young men whom we are seeking to recruit must feel that they have a square deal from a Service in which they have spent so much of their lives. The older Service pensioners in particular, and especially their widows, feel that they are falling very much behind because of inflation.
Surveillance of the trade routes is a matter on which I begin to disagree with the hon. Member for Loughborough. He thought that the important point was that central Europe should be defended, that if we were short of money we should concentrate on what mattered most. But the other point of view is that if he or I—or, more probably, some of his colleagues!—were in the Kremlin, we would not decide to go left, right, left, right, into the plains of Europe, knowing that we would start World War Three. We should, instead, look for where the West was weakest and we would see that by graduated pressure we could exert a stranglehold on the trade routes, especially the oil trade routes around the Cape.
I am obliged. The surveillance of trade routes is a much-neglected issue and is linked with the whole trauma in the Labour Party about the east of Suez question; with the essential Simonstown Agreement; and with Diego Garcia, which it is grotesque to represent as a possible offensive base. Diego Garcia could be used only for surveillance and would be useless as an offensive base. It is surveillance of our trade routes to prevent war—I emphasise "prevent"—rather than to fight it that I am on about.
To bring the trade route business up to date, the Secretary of State did not give a satisfactory answer to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) about the oil rigs. It is all very well to say that this is being considered, but the threat to the oil rigs has been represented in the House for some time, and the Secretary of State should give a more satisfactory answer, about what he intends to do. Potentially hostile ships on blatant intelligence activities are endangering the rigs and something must be done.
I would put it to the Secretary of State who seems in a receptive frame of mind today, that the naval Harrier is absolutely fundamental in our effective surveilance of the trade routes. It is God's gift to naval aviation. An hon. Member asked who would pay for it. The exports would pay for all the R and D involved. We should have an enormous export potential, to the great good of our country both militarily and industrially.
Finally, so much in defence matters is stimulated by what the public are thinking about it, and I believe that the public have an uneasy feeling that there is not adequate home defence. The reserves at home are inadequate. The best assistance that the Armed Forces could have in this respect is a vigorous recruiting drive for the police—not for the Forces themselves at all. I have left this point to the last in case it was out of order, for I know that it is basically a Home Office matter, but will the Minister undertake to speak to the Home Secretary about the police, whose numbers are down and whose pay is as inadequate as that of the Forces? In the home defence rôle we want a massive increase in police manpower.
It will hardly surprise the House to learn that I disagree with almost everything said by the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles). I wish to show that this summer the danger of a nuclear war has grown alarmingly; that the fatal weapons are about to spread; and that the best way in which Britain can prevent it is to set an example to other Governments who are considering making atom bombs.
The alternative is to take part in the nuclear arms race, which sooner or later will lead to the final disaster—the extinction of mankind. In any case, we cannot possibly keep up with America and Russia. Nor can we prevent nuclear missiles, if fired, from landing on our crowded island. Far from being starry-eyed idealists, those who are for reducing conventional and nuclear weapons are the real realists.
Mankind's chance of avoiding a nuclear war worsened in several ways in the last month. India's atomic explosion, on the palpably weak excuse that it was for non-military purposes, has encouraged, I hope not irretrievably, the proliferation of atom and hydrogen bombs beyond the five existing nuclear powers. This has clearly increased the danger of war by accident. It also means that sooner or later such weapons will fall into the hands of a dictator who is prepared to use them even if he knows that it means suicide. Hitler was willing to commit suicide in the bunkers of Berlin and would have brought Germany and the world down in ruins if he and other Governments had possessed the bomb.
Equally serious is the American provision of nuclear resources, allegedly for civil ends, to Egypt and Israel. I am referring to the nuclear reactors. There will be a tremendous temptation both for Arabs and for Israelis to divert those developments secretly to the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The mutual distrust is so great that each country will justify its action by saying, "If we do not, they will."
America's defence for this provision is that her nuclear aid in the Middle East will be monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency—a weak safeguard, unfortunately; it may be circumvented. Nor should it be forgotten that India had previously given to Canada an undertaking about the use to which nuclear aid would be put.
Hydrogen bomb tests in the atmosphere by China and France not only increase the fall-out of strontium 90 throughout the world, they also accelerate the nuclear arms race. Ten other countries are already capable of making a bomb fairly quickly, and that could be a serious threat to the lives of our children and grandchildren.
Coming nearer home, at the Ottawa Conference encouragement has been given to France under its new President to rejoin NATO. Some of us suspect that behind this persuasion is the objective of creating the Anglo-French nuclear force advocated by Lord Carrington and others. If this were agreed to, the West German generals would insist on having a finger on the nuclear trigger, and that is what Russia with her 20 million war dead would never accept. It would mean the end of our hopes for East-West détente and peace.
Britain has held an underground nuclear test explosion in Nevada and is spending £100 million on "improving the Polaris missiles. That could not have been done at a worst time. America and Russia may shortly sign an agreement to stop underground test explosions and our action will not improve those prospects.
The nuclear bomb is a suicide weapon. Once fired, by design or accident, our people will be wiped out in instant retaliation. There is a terrible danger of the weapons spreading to more and more countries. The British Government should, by her example, give a lead in ending this lunacy by ending all nuclear bases on British soil or in British waters, and by ending all nuclear test explosions in future.
There is also a moral issue involved. Would any hon. Member be prepared to press the button which he knew would lead instantly to the death of millions of men, women and children in another country? Further, would any hon. Member be prepared to press that button if he knew that there would be retaliation and the incineration of millions of our men, women and children? Few decent men would be prepared to do that. If we are not prepared to do it ourselves, we have no right to instruct a Service man to do it for us.
At Question Time this afternoon reference was made to the accident to the Polaris submarine in the Clyde. 'Chat same submarine, HMS "Renown", under a different captain—and I am not blaming him—was previously involved in an accident in the Clyde. Because of an electronic mistake the submarine surfaced under a coaster with which it collided. Can we be confident that one day by a similar electronic accident the wrong button will not be pressed, launching a missile and the third world war? It is not an impossibility.
"Labour's Programme 1973" was carried without dissent at the party conference—there was no question of a two to one majority. As a member of the National Executive Committee, the Prime Minister took part in drafting it. It reads:
The Conservative Government seems to be thinking in terms of maintaining Britain's independent nuclear forces and moving into a new generation of strategic weapons. Labour has already renounced this course.
Yet defence experts seem to be united in believing that Britain's recent test explosion in Nevada was not just to see that the existing bombs had not "gone stale", but was to develop the capacity of the existing Polaris missiles and warheads. We have had no denial of that. Surely, that is conflict with the Labour Party programme. Will the Minister who is to wind up give an assurance that the test was not for a new generation of weapons?
Similar vital debates on arms spending are also taking place inside the Governments in Washington and Moscow. There is a struggle between the hawks, who can never have enough weapons, and the doves, who would prefer to spend the money on raising the standard of living of the people. The hawks, such as Marshal Grechko and Mr. Schlesinger, help one another. Acceleration of the arms race by one side encourages those who are pressing for it on the other. I hope that the British Labour Government will come down firmly on the side of the doves.
The concluding words of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) struck me as being particularly significant and apposite. He said that there is a question of degree of emphasis in every Government as to how much they should devote to defence. No one would disagree with that proposition. It must depend upon the circumstances. Where I disagree most emphatically with the hon. Gentleman is in drawing the distinction which he sought to draw between nuclear and other weapons.
Nomenclature has played its part. There was a time when we talked about conventional weapons and nuclear weapons; but, as the hon. Gentleman said, the know-how is now spread so widely throughout the world that there is likely to be a considerable proliferation of nuclear weapons. For us to take a "holier than thou" attitude towards Pandit Nehru's daughter is to take a dinosaur approach in the modern world. The conventional nuclear line is now blurred.
If the hon. Gentleman will think about it carefully and rationally, he will accept that if there is a proliferation of nuclear weapons the best chance we have of protecting our people against the risk of incineration is by having the ability to deter attack by offering to give as good as we get.
The line taken by the hon. Gentleman corresponded to the old slogan, "Better red than dead", but we should not forget that those who have fought and won the battle of freedom have usually campaigned under the banner, "Death or Liberty".
The right hon. Gentleman said that we must have these weapons and stronger forces to deter attack. Is not that the argument put forward by the gentlemen inside the Kremlin? The same argument takes place there. If the right hon. Gentleman read Victor Zorza in The Guardian this morning he will see that precisely this argument is taking place in the Kremlin and the Pentagon.
I have no doubt it is. I said that I did not disagree with the hon. Gentleman that there could be an argument as to the amount of energy devoted to defence by any given country. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman at the point when he seeks to draw what I regard as an artificial line between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons.
I thought that the attack by the hon. Member for Salford, East on his own Government on the question of nuclear tests was ill-advised. In the modern world, where the United States, Russia, China, France. Britain and now India and possibly other countries are involved in nuclear matters, there will be a mix of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons. This may be disagreeable but we have to face that situation. If we are to protect our own people, deterrence now becomes just as essential—as a policeman is still, alas essential in our own society.
The implication of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks seems to be that we should abandon the idea of stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons to second and third-class Powers. Is that what he means?
It is a fair point. Let us hope that we can prevent proliferation, but I do not think that we in this country, with the relatively small weight we now carry in international affairs, would be justified in sacrificing our ability to defend British people in the hope that our moral example will persuade other people not to embark on a course on which they are likely to embark anyway. The hon. Gentleman raised other points of a more practical and strategic character, with which I should like to deal a little later in my remarks.
But first, I should like to say how glad I am to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker)—whose experience in economic and financial matters we all recognise and whose personal energies I have personally experienced, having had meetings with him at 9 o'clock in the morning over a period of 2½ years in the Department of the Environment—now devoting his energies to the most important task which any Conservative, I should say any British public figure can take on. I refer to his shadow responsibilities in defence matters. I very much welcome his appearance at the Dispatch Box in that most important rôle.
I should also like to say how greatly I admired the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence, both for its realism and for the abundance of information he gave the House. I hope that these even-handed tributes will not embarrass either my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester or the Secretary of State. It is extremely unlikely that I shall have much to do with the distribution of portfolios in a government of national unity, if and when it comes.
I understand that my right hon. Friend took the Secretary of State to task for the delay in bringing forward a defence review. Having returned recently from Teheran, I know that there is consider able anxiety that orders for the through deck cruiser and the Harrier could be jeopardised by any delay. Nevertheless, I ventured to make the point at Question Time that I would rather see indecision than wrong decisions, and in my view the decisions we have had so far have been wrong. I refer, for example, to the decisions about the sale of arms to Chile and South Africa.
I hope that ideological consideration will lead the Government to review the long established policy of British Governments about the sale of arms to Portugal, bearing in mind the importance of the Cape Verde Islands to our own communications. In talking about indecisions—wrong decisions—I shall refrain from taking an attitude of "I told you so"—I think I am justified in drawing attention to the sad consequences that flowed from the hurried cancellation of the TSR2 and the P11/54. The TSR2 would have been in service before 1970 and would have been able to do almost everything the MRCA is able to do, and I suspect it would have sold like hot cakes. The P11/54, which was a super some version of the Harrier, would no doubt have been in operation by 1972 at the latest and would have been able to do almost everything that the super Harrier could have done. Some say we are likely now to contract out of Concorde.
I hesitated to intervene in this debate, but since the lifetime of this Parliament may not be long I shall say one or two further things on this topic of defence. Lord Wigg used to refer to Lord Haldane's statement that we must start from first principles. I think it will be generally accepted that one does not have to be a Marxist to realise that defence and foreign policy are the other side of economic and financial policy. The object of defence is to maintain the security of our territory and our interests. Where Britain is concerned, our interests and territory are more closely connected than perhaps in most countries, because 50 per cent. of our people earn their living either by working up raw materials imported from abroad or by producing goods to sell abroad.
We can now see this point to be true more clearly today than at any time in the past. In the past I often talked about the importance of defending our oil interests in the Gulf and people used to say, "It is so far away, why should the military be involved?" But I think the whole House is agreed today that our Armed Forces should be concerned in defending our interests in the North Sea, although they are not strictly within the British Isles. My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester probed the Secretary of State on how those interests should be defended. If it is right to defend the livelihood of our people in respect of oil coming from the North Sea, I suspect that it is also right with regard to other essential raw materials, including oil from the Gulf.
Here, I should like to say a word or two about Oman and Muscat and perhaps express a hope or two. A total of seven hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Salford, East, recently signed a letter calling for the withdrawal of British military advisers and personnel from Oman. Oman is the key to the Gulf, both in its geographical position and the number of Omanis who work in the Gulf. If Oman were to fall into hostile hands, I suspect that the whole of the Gulf would be in some danger—perhaps in imminent peril. The rebellion in Dhofar is not a national insurrection but is an invasion dominated from outside by Communist forces in Aden. It has been kept at bay, largely thanks to the efforts of British and Iranian advisers.
The Sultanate of Oman is trying to bring the country out of its mediaeval situation, thanks to its oil revenues. I hope that the Government will not be influenced by the doubts expressed by the hon. Member for Salford, East and his co-signatories of the letter to which I have referred.
Perhaps I may intervene since I am a signatory to the letter to which reference has been made. Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that in the case of Oman we are defending democracy, or does he agree that for many years British influence was devoted to defending and upholding a mediaeval despotism which is absolutely abhorrent to Members on both sides of the House?
The hon. Gentleman should study the situation a little more carefully before he seeks to pronounce so definitely on the subject. The present Sultanate of Oman is now going forward progressively, thanks to the revenues from oil, with the building of hospitals, schools and other developments. The forces which are attacking the present Sultanate of Oman comprise the most barbarous dictatorial elements in the whole of South Arabia. They have killed political prisoners, imprisoned political opponents, suppressed the Press completely and also reduced the trade union movement, such as it is, to an arm of Government. In euphemistic terms it is called a people's democracy, but it is about as agreeable as Albania or Latvia at this time. Compared with them, the Sultanate of Oman is a liberal country. I can say that from personal experience.
The British forces in the Gulf are there not only to defend democracy, but to defend British interests, which are the interests of our democracy represented in this House.
It is important for us to maintain our commitment in Cyprus, because of the contribution that we can not only make to CENTO, which has an indirect effect on the Gulf, again because of our alliance with Iran, but also because of its relevance to peace-keeping in the context of the Arab-Israeli problem. The United Nations force which is now interposed between the Israelis and the Egyptians in Sinai was drawn from Cyprus and still relies on it.
By the same token, I do not think that we should ignore the claims of South-East Asia. Mr. Lee Kwan Yew has been here recently. I have not been privy to his conversations with the Government. However, I understand from what he has said in public that he would like us to stay somewhat longer in Singapore. He believes that, given time, he and his neighbours could constitute an effective defence force, but that the withdrawal of British forces now would be a stab in the back to the hopes that he has of building stability.
South-East Asia is tranquilised to some extent—though only relatively considering the situation in Vietnam—thanks to the preoccupation of China with her own development and for the time being having no expansionist aspirations.
Would it not be a good thing if, by a small expenditure in South-East Asia —in Oman there is none—we were able to contribute to the building of stability in an area in which this country has important interests which contribute to the maintenance of our prosperity and free society?
I pay tribute to what the Secretary of State for Defence said about the build-up of the Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean. The Soviet forces have been exercising in the area by sea, by air and, in Somalia, by land. The trade routes round the Cape are of great significance to us. Their defence is a matter on which we ought to be co-operating with our American friends. Indeed, I think that we should lead them to assume greater responsibilities in the Indian Ocean than hitherto.
This is not without importance to our European commitment. As Europe grows towards greater unity—I think that it will—so its wealth will increase, and it will become more dependent on raw materials and markets overseas. Therefore, Europe has a great interest in the stability of the whole area round the Indian Ocean.
I agree with the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) that, important as the Indian Ocean, the Gulf and South-East Asia are, the key to our security from attack as distinct from our security from siege and starvation lies on the continent of Europe. It would be wrong to think that the preoccupation of many hon. Members on both sides of the House with that idea is a legacy of the cold war.
I do not want to waste the time of the House in speculation. We cannot claim to know what Soviet intentions are. Sir Winston Churchill called them a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. However, we know what their dispositions are. We know that their forces in Central Europe have been steadily increasing, as the Secretary of State explained, right up to the present and that at the same time they have increased their forces on the Chinese border without taking a single unit away from the West.
I am not suggesting that they are proposing to attack us tomorrow. However, we would be naïve not to conclude that they want to keep open the option of using force, or the threat of force, at a later time if it suits them. Keeping open the option is something with which the Labour Party should be familiar and it is perhaps a point that Mr. Brezhnev and the Prime Minister have in common.
Looking at the dispostion of Soviet forces in Central Europe, we must conclude that they are far stronger than anything that is needed to deter attack. Indeed, they are far stronger than anything that is needed to subjugate the satellites against the kind of revolt that they faced in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Therefore, they must be there for some serious purpose. That serious purpose could only be to keep open the option of using force.
Our defence against this Soviet preponderance and power in Central Europe is, to say the least, uncertain. So far as it exists, it rests on the following propositions. We must face the fact that, as the hon. Member for Loughborough openly said and I agree, the American strategic deterrent is not the shield that it was for the defence of bits of Western Europe. The Americans are not likely to endanger their homeland by protecting this or that country or province in Western Europe. The defence of Western Europe rests upon the combination of American tactical nuclear power and of our conventional forces, 80 per cent. of which are European. The certainty that that tactical nuclear power would be used—
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is placing too much reliance on American tactical nuclear weapons. Heavily industrialised and populated countries, such as Germany, would suffer from tactical nuclear weapons more than the mainly agricultural countries of Eastern Europe.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point. The distinction between tactical and nuclear is not so much one of megaton or kiloton of delivery as where it is dropped. As long as it is not dropped on the territory of one of the two super-Powers it remains tactical. That is the realistic definition and that is where the distinction lies. The fact that there are American tactical nuclear weapons and six American divisions involved makes it likely that, if there were an attack, those tactical nuclear weapons would be used.
We have the assurance of President Nixon that the Americans will maintain their forces in Europe as long as the Europeans continue to make the necessary effort. I believe that that is an assurance on which we can count. There is also a great deal in the French logic that the Americans will keep their forces in Europe because it is in their interests to do so.
Yet, during our time in office, we had repeated warnings from the American administration that, unless we did this or that, the pressure of American public opinion could lead to a withdrawal of American troops. The American Opposition to the present administration have also said that publicly time and again. I hope that it is not true and that it will not happen. But it is the responsiblity of Governments to prepare for the worst. We dare not ignore these warnings, because in modern times defence takes a long time to organise. We ought to be thinking now—I want to take the debate a little wider than the Secretary of State did—of the ways in which Europeans should prepare to organise Europe's defence.
The Secretary of State produced an argument about volunteer forces being more expensive than conscription but I am not sure that that is true. My experience at the War Office in time of conscription suggests that it is the other way round, and one of the reasons we abolished conscription was that we thought it more expensive. But however that argument may lie, it is perfectly within the power of the European countries of the Atlantic Alliance to provide another six divisions if the American divisions were to be, unfortunately, withdrawn. It is perfectly within our power to develop the necessary tactical nuclear defence systems, hopefully in co-operation with America, but in France and Britain we have the know-how for most of this and most of the capital expenditure required has already been expended.
There is no great technical problem here but there are what the hon. Member for Salford, East drew attention to—great political problems. There is the problem of Germany. It is a sensitive problem. Germany is in a special position because it is divided and because of Berlin. But I draw a different conclusion from that of the hon. Member for Salford, East. If I am not mistaken he was a signatory to a letter in The Times this morning attacking the more pro-European approach that we have had from the Government in the past few weeks. However, it is only if progress is made towards Europe and a genuine European union that Germany's neighbours to the East will be persuaded that the German danger is no longer the old danger that they have feared and that perhaps they still fear today. So if it is the German problem which worries the hon. Gentleman, as indeed it worries many people in Eastern Europe, and perhaps some in Western Europe, then it is by progress to European defence and political unification that the danger can best be exorcised.
We cannot have second-class allies in the Alliance and therefore the swifter we move towards European defence and political unification, the easier it will be to assuage the fears of those who are afraid of the consequences of nuclear European defence in European hands.
There is also the all-important problem of France's rôle in this matter. There has been much talk in the Press and elsewhere about the asperity of M. Jobert, when Foreign Minister, in his verbal duels with Dr. Kissinger. But M. Jobert made three important speeches suggesting that France should play a more positive and European rôle in defence and none of those speeches received an answer from any of the other eight members of the European Community. I hope that the new French Government carry still further the ideas which M. Jobert put forward and that we all do all we can to press on with the movement towards European union. From this point of view "renegotiation" is only a method of delaying progresss just as "reviewing" has been a method of delaying progress.
Some people fear that to plan European defence is to ensure a withdrawal of the Americans. I do not agree at all. The Americans want to see a valid partner in Europe. Looking ahead, we ought to extend the Atlantic Alliance to become a global alliance between Europe and the United States as a basis for genuine détente.
We shall judge the Secretary of State by his defence review when it comes, but like many of my right hon. and hon. Friends I was much encouraged by his speech. It seemed to suggest that there is still a consensus in the House on the basic requirements of national security.
It might seem strange but I am bound to say that I agreed with the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) in the latter minutes of his speech. I have for a long time been a pro-European. I believe that we must co-operate with the Germans and the French, and the rest of them in Western Europe, and ultimately in the East of Europe as well, in defence no less than in other matters.
However, as I listened to the rest of the right hon. Gentleman's speech I got the impression—I might have been wrong—that he was opposed to any cuts whatsoever, on the basis that the threat from the Soviet Union is too great, too blatant and too obvious, and that we simply cannot ignore it and lower our defences anywhere in the world—East of Suez, in Singapore or in the Gulf. I felt a bit alarmed when the right hon. Gentleman said that we needed forces in the Gulf to protect our oil. I am not aware that it has been all that well protected. The Arabs can do what they like. If we sent all the British forces we could muster from all over the world to the Middle East the Arabs could, or perhaps could not, deprive us of our oil—
I would not wish the hon. Gentleman to misinterpret or misunderstand me. I was not suggesting the return of British forces to the Gulf. I was criticising a letter signed by a number of the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends calling for withdrawal of military advisers now in Oman. That is a different story.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has cleared that up. We must understand that the presence of military forces does not itself protect the presence of any British economic interests.
The origin of the debate is in some ways to be deplored. It was a juvenile exercise by the Opposition to exploit the well-known and well-publicised differences inside the Labour Party on defence matters. I am not ashamed of those differences, and I would not attempt to hide them. We in the Labour Party are not ashamed of the emotions and anxieties which arise when we discuss defence matters. I am perhaps unique in that I started the war as a conscientious objector and ended up by having His Majesty's Commission—and that in a nutshell, is a dilemma which many of my hon. Friends, and I suspect my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench face.
We are inspired by a mixture of pacifism and, if I dare use the word, Christianity. We do not believe that in the modern world we can solve questions between nations by the use of mere force, but it may be—as in the case of Ulster—that until a solution is found the Army or Armed Forces, has to hold the ring. That is how I see the Armed Forces of this country.
There has always been, and I hope there always will be, in my party a pacifist idealism which has been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun). He believes passionately and sincerely that if we unilaterally renounce our nuclear weapon it will set an example to the rest of the world and that Mr. Brezhnev will say, "Britain has set an example and we must do the same." That is a supremely naïve argument which I cannot accept. We are living in a far-from-idealistic world, and it is a world in which neither the Russians nor the Americans respect weakness.
The question is what contribution can we in Britain make to the Western defence system? It could be argued that if we withdraw the nuclear bases from Britain and stop completely our nuclear contribution to NATO it would make no difference at all. That may be the case-in fact I think it is the case that the Americans and the Russians separately, and still more so collectively, have a massive overkill in terms of nuclear weapons. Each could separately destroy the whole world, and from that basis it may be argued that there is no point in our going even a small way along the nuclear road.
I cannot, however, see the morality of that situation, or of saying that in order to save £X million for the British taxpayer we should get rid of our independent British deterrent, albeit it is associated and linked with NATO, and rely, presumably—because the Labour Party is still committed to NATO—and increasingly on the American weapon. Shall we say, "We wash our hands of it but, please, Mr. Nixon"—it will not be Mr. Nixon, but whoever occupies the White House—" we ask you on our behalf to blast Russia off the face of the earth"? That is not a posture I should like to adopt. Moreover, it would make us even more dependent on the Americans for our foreign policy as well as our defence policy if we got into that situation.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State received, for his speech opening the debate, a brief from his civil servants. An identical brief would have been supplied to a Tory Minister. I do not say that with any criticism of my right hon. Friend, but his brief was based on a realistic assessment of the situation in the world as it is and not as we would wish it to be. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves what the likely possibilities of military development will be in the foreseeable future.
We also have to look at this matter in terms of what we can afford. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) talked about increasing public expenditure on the Navy. Other hon. Members have talked about increasing expenditure. The right wing of the Tory Party has been calling for reduced public expenditure. If hon. Members are asking for increased public expenditure on defence, the onus is on them to say where they would cut expenditure in other fields to take account of that.
I want to devote my few remarks to the question of the nuclear test. I suspect that the debate originated with the furore in the Labour Party over the Press leak—for that is what it was. It was forced out of the Government that we had engaged in a nuclear test a few weeks ago. The Prime Minister argued that it did not offend against any of our treaty obligations, or infringe upon the Labour Party manifesto, and that, anyway, it was an underground test—all of which, to some extent, was true.
The partial test ban treaty of 1963 sought to ban all tests, except underground tests where the danger of fall-out is nil. Similarly, the non-proliferation treaty of 1968 was designed to stop the further spread of nuclear weapons, by whatever means. As it happened, only three of the then five nuclear States signed that treaty, but 90 or so non-nuclear States signed it. The 1968 treaty sought to prevent the spread of nuclear explosive technology. It admitted of no distinction between nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes or for military purposes, and it allowed for access by non-nuclear states to benefits arising from nuclear technology. All along, therefore, under successive Governments, Britain has sought to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons.
We have exploded the bomb in Nevada presumably to make credible the weapon that we have already within the aegis of NATO. None of my hon. Friends has said that we should get out of NATO, nor does the Labour Party say that in our election manifesto. Our manifesto said that we should disband NATO if there were also a disbandment of the Warsaw Pact—in other words, we should not be unilateral. The Labour Party has never taken a unilateral posture in this respect as a party.
We protested against the atmospheric tests by the French and the Chinese and the underground tests by India. This was all consistent with our anxiety to maintain and extend the partial test ban treaty and the non-proliferation treaty of 1968, which was not signed by and has not been signed by India.
I think that the view that I take is shared by most members of the Labour Party. We must strive, first, to fashion our defence expenditure to our economic situation—an extremely dangerous situation. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) is now one of the protagonists of a Government of national unity—whatever that means. He is so precisely because of an extremely critical economic situation. That situation being so, we cannot refrain from looking at all forms of public expenditure, not excluding defence. That is what the Secretary of State is engaged in doing. We want international progress in disarmament. In Russia, America, Britain and the rest of Europe, and now obviously India, the overstretching of resources in defence and military matters is jeopardising national economic futures.
If we are to have peace through a balance of terror—that is what we have and have had since 1945—and if peace can be obtained only through that, frightening though it may be, that is infi nitely less horrific than the prospect of temptation being dangled before a would-be aggressor by the collective weakness of the West. That is the critical point. That is where the Labour Party stands. I hope that the whole House can unite on that principle.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) referred to a visit to Gibraltar last week by the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on becoming a very accepted chairman of the Expenditure Committee. We were very glad about that, as he was a very valuable member of the sub-committee. In his new capacity he accompanied us to Gibraltar.
This was primarily a naval visit, but we took the opportunity last Wednesday morning to look at what had happened in the docks since we were there 18 months ago and what had happened to what is called the Europa scheme for building extra married quarters. I am sorry to have to tell the House that we found that the condition of married quarters on this visit was worse than it was 18 months ago. The reason is that the first part of the Europa scheme has not yet been started. Rents have risen in Gibraltar for the private accommodation which we hire, and that has become scarcer. Only a week before our visit 18 houses, which were on a month's contract, had been withdrawn from the Services.
Why has not the Europa No. 1 scheme been started'? As I understand the situation, there seems to be no blame to be attached to one particular section. There were difficulties about obtaining contractors and getting out tenders. I understand, however, that a tender has been approved but that no starting time has been fixed. This situation is so serious for our Services in Gibraltar that the Governor told me that he had sent a specific cable to the Ministry of Defence in London. The Army has done everything possible to prepare the site for these new houses, building a new road, an underpass and so on. We could not understand why, since the contract had the approval of the Ministry of Defence, it was being held up. I suspect that the delay has been caused by the Treasury. I suspect also that the delay is connected with the building of the new NAAFI which will cost about £400,000, but which is vitally necessary. Nevertheless, that could be taken out of contract for the moment and left to be sorted out in 10 or 12 weeks' time.
It is vital that these quarters should be built. Single Service men in Gibraltar are far better off than married Service men. Their quarters are less crowded than they used to be, with perhaps three men to a room instead of five or six. The situation in married quarters is deplorable. I hope that the Minister of State will give me an assurance about the starting date for the scheme and that the scheme has been accepted.
We would do well to bear in mind the conditions in which our Service men live in Gibraltar, cut off completely from Spain as they are by a wire fence. These people live in a small enclosure and it is like being on a tiny island. It takes about half a day to get to Tangiers and perhaps a whole day to get some part of Spain. There is no slipping out to a cinema for our men. They are confined to the areas of the Rock.
This is one of the few stations where naval personnel can have their wives out with them, but many naval personnel are having to wait more than a year before their families join them. I am sure that the House wishes our Service men to be housed in the best conditions possible. I am sure I speak for the whole Committee in saying that wherever we have visited, whether Cyprus, Germany or anywhere else, we have never seen worse conditions. I am sure that hon. Members could find no worse conditions of shortage in their own constituencies.
We owe it to the Services to get these houses built. The scheme provides housing for about 30 officers and 101 other ranks, but I warn the House that even when the houses are built we shall be 400 married quarters short. Of course, there is always the Europa No. 2 scheme, but the first scheme is at least a start. If the houses are built it will give our people increased hope and improve their morale. If the scheme does not go ahead it will be depressing for them. With the current rate of inflation if the contract is left for six months it will cost us a great deal more, and we may even have difficulty in getting a contractor to take it on.
As an old Territorial I was pleased to hear that detachments of the TA were going out and helping to level the site as part of their training. The men were glad to go out. There is good will everywhere over the scheme. We want the Minister of State to secure full consent from the Treasury. This is not an issue of party politics. The scheme would have advantages even if in the future we vacated the Rock. It is to be built out on Europa Point away from the densely populated parts of Gibraltar, and no doubt the Gibraltarians would gratefully accept the houses from us, but that is looking a long way ahead.
Our visit was basically a naval visit. We went aboard HMS "Blake", which is a cruiser, and we saw a helicopter exercise in searching out submarines. The exercise was well done, but I came to the conclusion that HMS "Blake" was an old ship. It has been recommissioned and has good modern equipment on an old hull, but it is an inconvenient vessel. It is expensive to run both in terms of manpower and in finance, and if ever I needed to be converted in favour of the through-deck cruiser to replace "Blake" that visit was enough to convert me. Perhaps that is why the Navy invited the Committee out. The House must see that we get value for money in our defence spending and that we save money by seeing that manpower is not used wastefully. When the time comes it will be appropriate to replace this vessel.
In opening the debate my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) drew attention to Press reports about changes in the defence budget. He suggested that perhaps we should take all the hospitals and education out of that budget. Our Committee has advocated that course to previous Secretaries of State, and we have been turned down. It was pleasing to hear that the matter is being considered now. My right hon. Friend suggested this might save hundreds of millions of pounds, but I doubt whether it will save more than £100 million.
The Secretary of State paid tribute to the large number of men on active service and in the Ministry of Defence who have given evidence before various commissions. Many of those people have appeared before our Committee, and we are grateful for their help. We are grateful, too. for the help we have received on visits to various establishments abroad and in Britain. When people are on their home ground they are more outspoken than when they appear to give evidence in a Committee room upstairs.
I was pleased to hear what the Secretary of State said about rationalisation and standardisation. I believe that every Secretary of State has tried to achieve this over the years, but with disappointing results. If, with his robust spirit, the right hon. Gentleman can carry it through with our allies in NATO, he will be doing a magnificent job for the defence of the West. My hon. Friends and I wish him the best of luck in all that he is doing to achieve rationalisation of weaponry. It is a very difficult job.
I totally disagree with what the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston), the sole Liberal representative present today, said about being unable to support a nuclear Polaris submarine programme. He seemed to think that it was very expensive. The Secretary of State told us what it cost. I believe that the nuclear submarine with Polaris missiles has been one of the cheapest weapons for safeguarding this country we have ever had. I profoundly disagree with the Liberal view that it should be phased out.
The hon. Gentleman may be right. Anyway, I did not agree with the policy enunciated by the hon. Member for Inverness today. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the policy he is carrying out. I hope that the Minister of State will give the House a satisfactory answer on Europa Point tonight, or very soon.
I shall not take up what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). Except for his last remarks, what he said was uncontroversial and helpful, and most hon. Members will have agreed with him.
There has been a depressing unreality about the rest of the debate. I want to illustrate that in two ways. I have listened to all the speeches in the debate and, with about two exceptions, to all the speeches in the other defence debates we have had this Session. In all that time there has been only one speech—that of my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Mallalieu)—which referred not to a potential danger from any foreign Power, a matter which has obsessed hon. Members on both sides of the House in this debate, but to the question of internal subversion.
It is extraordinary that we can spend thousands of millions of pounds on what is called defence yet could not cope with a situation of internal subversion if it arose. I am not saying a word about the merits or demerits of the various forces at work in the world. I sympathise with the aims of some of them. But it is extraordinary that in a world which has nuclear Powers the United States Ambassador to the Sudan can be murdered and his country can do nothing about it. Aircraft can be hijacked all over the world, and the countries concerned stand helplessly by. People can be held hostage, hijacked or kidnapped in one way or another, and the military forces can do nothing about it. Not all the nuclear weapons in the world have the slightest relevance to that present military situation.
I am not suggesting for a moment that it would be morally right, anyway, but nobody could use nuclear weapons to stop Irish or Arab terrorists or any other group of people. The nature of warfare is changing so much that the weapons upon which we have been spending so much of our money over the past 25 years are totally inapplicable to it.
The second feature of the unreality was the rather cautious way in which hon. Member after hon. Member referred, no doubt quite accurately, to the disparity between the military forces possessed by the NATO Alliance and the greater military forces possessed by the Warsaw Pact. When anybody tried to cost what it would need to bring them into balance, every hon. Member who supports the defence policy shied away from that question. The reason is obvious: it would involve so enormous an increase in military expenditure as to enfeeble the economy of every country that subscribes to NATO, without the guarantee that, in the end, there would be an adequate form of defence.
The fact is that, like it or not, in terms of world nuclear strategy or a tactical nuclear situation, this country is as indefensible now as Denmark was in 1940, when faced with the Nazi blitzkrieg. We might just as well face that fact.
That does not mean that there is nothing we can do. I wish to make myself perfectly clear. I am not a pacifist, and, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), I never have been. I have advocated on the Floor of the House in defence debates before now a system of flying commandos, with the ability to go into other countries in retaliation in a military situation, to kidnap and kill military and political leaders of other nations. One could not be more unpacifist than that. At least it is a military policy that would not cost very much, and it has some bearing on reality. It cannot be said to be more morally reprehensible than the kind of military strategy that envisages the possibility that we would indulge in nuclear action that everyone knows would result in the total annihilation of this country, possibly in only a matter of hours, and perhaps less.
The hon. Gentleman derives a certain amount of comfort from that. But the trouble is that the nuclear bluff—for that is what he means—has already been twice exposed to be a bluff, in 1956 over Hungary and in 1968 over Czechoslovakia. It is true that in 1956 the British Prime Minister of the day went mad and sent his gun boats to Suez instead of his tanks to Budapest. But in 1968 there was a casus belli if ever there was one. I do not accept the NATO concept, but the hon. Gentleman does, and my hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) and Fife, Central obviously do. We have already been found out. Everyone knows that we would never dare use nuclear weapons.
It might be argued as a countervailing argument that the Governments of Imre Nagy and Dubcek were not the kind of sleazy banana-republic Governments that the United States Government and most British Governments regard as being Western democracy, but were Communist countries trying to become democratic, and therefore still stank in the nostrils of the Pentagon. That argument does not destroy the fact that in each case there was an act of aggression which, if NATO stood for anything realistic, would have resulted in a nuclear situation. Therefore, we must accept—and the Russians know this perfectly well—that NATO strategy, as well as nuclear weapon strategy, is as dead as the dodo. In his long speech my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred, amongst other things, to consultations with our NATO allies. Does that include the Turks and the Greeks? If so, which of them? It cannot involve both, because they are at loggerheads. Unhappily, the long-standing hostility between those two countries is not getting better. With the growing rivalry about the distribution of the Aegean under-sea rights, that rivalry is likely to be exacerbated.
If at any time anything happens to Archbishop Makarios—and there have been several attempts to see that something does happen to him—we may suddenly find two of our NATO allies at war with each other. That situation would be rather similar to that which faced the German High Command in the last war, when it had to keep the Hungarians and the Romanians at different parts of the Eastern Front for fear that they would be fighting each other instead of fighting the common enemy, which in that case was the Russians.
In the situation which I have postulated would it be the Turks who would be jettisoned, with their Middle East land frontiers, or would the Greeks be jettisoned, with their NATO base in Cyprus, which excites so many Conservative hon. Members who are so concerned with the Russian Fleet?
It is rather odd that within the context of a NATO defence policy there has not been a word of encouragement by either Front Bench spokesman for the new Portuguese Government. For several hundred years we have had the Portuguese as our oldest ally, and our least effective, to judge by their performance in both world wars. Now that the Portuguese have something like a reputable Government I would have thought that the Secretary of State would have had the grace to say something about their having a supportive rôle in the free world. Are we to understand that now Portugal has become a free country it no longer qualifies to be regarded as part of what is often regarded as the free world in defence mythology?
The oddest thing about the world military situation is probably the factor about which we shall never be called upon to show concern. It is obvious that a dangerous situation for the locality will arise when Mao Tse-tung departs from the scene. Will that be the occasion when the Russians decide to take over China? Obviously the Chinese are apprehensive. That is certainly not something to which we can make any contribution.
It is more likely that the enormous expenditure upon naval armaments in which the Russians have indulged over the past few years is at least as likely to be relevant to the Far East situation vis-à-vis the Chinese as it is to our problems. We can never be sure, of course, about the outcome of such situations.
It is extraordinary that a Labour Government who face what we have been told ad infinitum and ad nauseam is the gravest economic peacetime crisis should wish to continue adding gratuitously to their difficulties by spending hundreds of millions of pounds on weapons which we cannot use. I can understand Conservative hon. Members doing so. It is understandable, if disreputable, that they should wish a Labour Government to enfeeble themselves unnecessarily. What is so extraordinary and totally inexcusable is that some of my hon. Friends should connive in assisting in that absurd charade. I am sorry, in a way, that this is not a debate that will end in a Division. I have no confidence in defence policy. I can assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that if the defence review is not a drastic measure resulting in substantial savings there will be one hell of a row, and I shall be in the middle of it.
Order. I remind the House that my predecessor in the Chair asked for short speeches. I realise that no speech seems as long to the hon. Mem ber who delivers it as it does to those hon. Members who are waiting to speak, but it will be a good thing if everyone is brief.
For some three-quarters of the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Mr. Lee) I was confused about precisely what he was advocating for the defence world. Only at the end of his speech did the implication of his words suggest that he believed that we should disband all our nuclear defence in the Western world, if not our conventional forces as well. He seems to have learned nothing from the lessons of centuries of history. He does not seem to appreciate the stark reality of the need for a balance of power. Human nature does not change overnight, as some people like to think. If the Secretary of State were to follow the policies of the hon. Member for Handsworth we would not even have a free democratic Chamber in which to carry out this sort of debate.
The heartening principal features of this debate have been the robust speeches of the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). The debate has taken place at a critical time. There is strong pressure from the left-wing of the Labour Party to cut our defence expenditure by nothing less than a third. That pressure conies when Europe remembers the 25th anniversary of NATO. In a way that is sad when NATO is in a high state of disarray and when the Secretary of State has described the growing Soviet naval penetration.
We need to be on our guard. One of the lessons we all should have learned from the 1930s is the need for politicians not to try to hide or run away from defence. We should warn the public when we feel that our defences are inadequate or when they are being weakened. It seems unbelievable that we have fought two world wars and that we should still have not learned those lessons. The young generation need to be constantly reminded, first, of what the previous generations did for us in two world wars and, secondly, that human nature and the behaviour of countries has not changed and that it does not change just like that. For those reasons we must be on our guard.
It is no good discussing all the matters that most hon. Members wish to discuss—for example, the reform of education and the health services—unless we have adequate defence. A commandant of a Soviet academy in the 1930s once said that the rôle of the Red Army was to stand ready to shake the tree when the rotten fruit was ripe to fall. That rotten fruit to which he referred was partly the democracies of the Western world. He believed that those democracies would decline and fall of their own volition and, consequential upon that, he felt that with the decline and fall of those democracies their defences would weaken and disappear. Our task is to ensure that that fruit does not start to rot.
One of the great dangers today is that we have disunity in Europe. With severe inflation in the Western world, we have a real challenge to our democratic fabric in all the countries of the West, and in military terms we have seen many figures thrown about in the debate today about the growing and grave disparity between the relative strengths of the Warsaw Pact Powers and of the NATO Powers.
We know that the Warsaw Pact Powers have 20 per cent. more troops than the NATO Powers. We know that there is a 2½ to 1 balance in favour of the Warsaw Pact in terms of battle tanks. We know that it has a 2 to 1 preponderance in terms of tactical aircraft and field guns—
We are really discussing whether defence expenditure should be reduced even further, and I am suggesting that the evidence from those figures is that it would be disastrous if we were to prune our defence expenditure any further.
In addition to that, we have one really serious problem to which little reference has been made in the debate so far. It is the danger that the United States will begin to withdraw still further its defence support in Western Europe. I recall last summer talking to one or two senators in Washington who said that if there was a vote on the commitment of Congress to Europe, they would vote for a cut of at least 50 per cent. in that commitment. It is against that background that we have to consider the situation.
The Secretary of State described vividly the danger of Soviet naval penetration of all the oceans of the world and the way in which the Soviet Union is spreading its tentacles ready to strangle our trade routes from the North Atlantic to the South Atlantic, from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, and to the Far East. What is more, with the possible opening of the Suez Canal this year, the distance from the Black Sea to the Indian Ocean, which is an important route for the Soviet Navy, will be shortened by no less than 11,000 miles. This will make a substantial difference to the strength of the Soviet Navy in the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) about the growing Soviet strength in the Indian Ocean. She gave figures of 2,000 ship days in 1968, and 8,000 ship days in 1974. In this connection I quote the words of Marshall Grechco who said to the Russian Navy, "Get to sea, and stay there". That is precisely what has happened.
It is against this background that we need to examine our defence posture, accepting that with our modified political rôle in the world we must also have a modified defence rôle. There are only three courses of action open to us: to cut manpower, to cut our equipment, or to cut our commitments. The three are interrelated, and I submit that to do one or any of the three would be very dangerous.
In earlier debates, it has been argued by a number of hon. Members that our expenditure on defence should be commensurate with our gross national product. That is a perfectly legitimate argument and one that we should consider and in my view rebut. About 5½ per cent. of our GNP is taken up in defence, whereas the average for the other NATO powers is a little over 4 per cent. The proportion of the gross national products of Germany and France taken up in defence is also a little over 4 per cent. However, in absolute terms the size of the German and French forces is a good deal larger than ours. The reason is that their gross national products are a good deal larger than our own. It cannot be argued that, because our NATO allies devote a smaller proportion of their gross national products to defence, we should cut our own defence expenditure. Our objective must be to increase our wealth at the same speed as other European powers seem able to do. Only then can we consider the prospect of reducing the proportion of our GNP which is spent on defence.
I turn, then, to our commitments. I think that most hon. Members will agree that NATO is the keystone if we are to retain a flexible response and, therefore, a high level of conventional strength. We should not forget the military strength of the Russians. They have about 30 divisions in Europe, and within only a few days they could mobilise another 70 divisions of reserves. This is an enormous strength.
As for the Mediterranean, I have no doubt that pressure is building up for pulling out of Cyprus, Malta and possibly even Gibraltar. Our commitment in the Mediterranean costs us about £60 million, and it is a commitment to NATO. I remind hon. Members that that sum is roughly equivalent to the bread subsidy which the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection introduced two or three months ago. It is peanuts in terms of our defence contribution, and it is commitments of this kind that we have to consider seriously.
Then, as regards the Indian Ocean, I am prepared to listen to any convincing argument about the need to pull out of Singapore. If Lee Kuan Yew says that he no longer feels it necessary for Britain to contribute forces to Singapore and he makes out a case that he has strengthened his nation and his forces to such an extent that a British contribution is no longer necessary, we ought to consider it seriously. I believe that Lee Kuan Yew has said the very opposite. Looking at the Far East, I believe that we should consider a gradual phasing down of our strength in proportion to the growth in the strength of our allies in that part of the world.
Turning to the Gulf, there is no doubt that Iran is playing a growing rôle in the Gulf and in the Indian Ocean generally. In the Far East, Singapore and Malaysia are doing the same.
Our last commitment is to Ireland. I was pleased to head the tribute which the Secretary of State paid to our soldiers in Northern Ireland. The situation there eats like cancer into the body of our nation. Irrespective of political arguments—and there is no value in rehearsing them in this debate—we need to remind ourselves that the stability of Ireland, north and south, is a matter of profound British interest. We owe a great deal to our forces for their contribution towards stability in the north.
Looking at all these commitments, it is clear that there is very little room for manoeuvre, especially when we take into account the rôle of the military in aid of the civil power. We see troops surrounding Heathrow Airport. We see reports of the alleged presence of a Russian trawler near an oil rig off Scotland. It is becoming more and more probable that the military will have to play an increasing rôle in coming to the aid of the civil power.
If our commitments are more or less correct, then our Services must have the equipment to back them, if they are to fulfil their rôle. If, for example, the through-deck cruiser is essential to enable the Navy to fulfil its commitments, then we must have those through-deck cruisers. If, similarly, the maritime Harrier is essential for the Navy to fulfil its rôle, then we must have the maritime Harrier. If the MRCA is essential to enable the RAF to fulfil its rôle, then we must have the MRCA. There is virtually no room for manoeuvre. One would welcome as much pruning and rationalisation in the procurement of arms as is possible. We should go on seeking ways in which we can cut down our defence expenditure.
We should congratulate most warmly the Government on not giving ground to the left-wing pressure on nuclear tests. The nuclear contribution represents only 1 per cent. of our total defence budget. It does not seem unreasonable after nine years without tests to hold one at Nevada in order to maintain the credibility of our nuclear deterrent.
I condemn the Government for creating a high degree of uncertainty in the field of defence, at a time when we need to make it certain that we are anxious to maintain a strong defence force, and for their policy of putting in jeopardy certain defence orders and the stopping of the export of arms which puts in jeopardy the jobs of people in this country, which contribute to the wealth of this nation.
We cannot afford to forget that in our rôle as part of NATO we should deter aggression and maintain freedom. We must be ready all the time to counter Soviet naval penetration. Only on that basis can we sensibly talk about pursuing détente on a multi-lateral basis through the MBFR talks, the conference on security and co-operation, and the discussions about the non-proliferation of nuclear tests.
If we value our freedom then we have to maintain adequate defence forces. With that in mind I hope the Secretary of State, after he has published his White Paper, will ensure that Parliament has every opportunity to debate the subject very fully.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams:
It is inevitable at this time of night that some of the speeches should become a little repetitive. I am not being disrespectful about the contribution made just now by the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce). In line with your appeal from the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall cut out from my speech points that have been adequately touched upon by previous speakers and try to bring in some fresh material in the hope that hon. Members may be prepared to follow suit.
Following the December 1970 meeting of the Ministers of the Atlantic Council a statement called "AD 70" was produced by NATO. As a result of that, the Euro-Group reviewed the progress of the European Defence Improvements Programme. It was agreed to increase by 1 billion dollars the expenditure on improvements in the current programme and to institute a further 1 billion dollar-a-year programme a year later. We have now reached the middle of this year, having survived an energy crisis, but with the members of the Alliance still prepared to talk in terms of defence improvements. I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether he could answer this question when he winds up the debate: can he report to the House the progress made in this direction?
Inevitably the background to this debate has been the fear of large American withdrawals from Europe, and indeed concern about the Nixon nuclear arrangements. That was reflected in the rather good answer I received at Question Time about the strategy of which some Americans are now talking in terms of counter-force as opposed to counter-city strategy. My right hon. Friend gave an answer to the effect that he felt that the European element of the Alliance and its interests were not being overlooked. I was grateful for that reassurance. Nevertheless all those factors add up to crisis proportions.
This clearly heightens the interest, and indeed the importance, of the conference on mutual balanced force reductions. The negotiations, as expected, have proved protracted and exceedingly difficult. So far there has been little movement towards finding common ground between the two sides. The main difference is that the Warsaw Pact countries insist on retaining the status quo with existing force ratios and disparities in Central Europe, whereas NATO seeks to improve security and stability in Europe by entertaining an outcome of balance and equality. It is unlikely that there will be any break-through during the current session of these talks, which I understand will end during the middle of this month. One can perhaps be cautiously optimistic that a satisfactory result will be achieved.
I should like to turn to Britain's contribution in the field of defence procurement. This is an exceedingly important area. I should like to say to my right hon. Friend that he has the benefit of the excellent work done by his predecessor who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer and who, when he was Defence Secretary, worked out a system of project control which would prevent the taxpayers suffering the losses experienced in the past.
Much valuable experience was gained concerning the development of complex weapons systems. The experience gained with the TSR 2, in particular, will be relevant in the development of the multi-role combat aircraft, which is being developed obviously on a multi-national basis.
This time last year the House of Commons Expenditure Committee published a report whose thesis implies the acceptance of Britain's nuclear status and its maintenance essentially unimpaired. It is questionable to assume that the present Polaris force was large enough strategically to maintain a credible second strike deterrent posture. We have the four Polaris submarines in service. This represents a disquietingly small force.
The latest round of nuclear tests in Nevada were aimed at keeping the weapons system operative and to save Britain the expense of succeeding generations of weapons. Some of my hon. Friends are to debate these matters in Committee tomorrow. What they have to accept is that if it proves impossible to extend the life of the present Polaris force we might be faced with having to take the awkward decision of going for the succeeding generation of nuclear weapons if we are to remain within the context of the nuclear deterrent. If my hon. Friends look at that as a proposition, they will discover that it would be infinitely more costly.
I see the testing of our nuclear devices in Nevada as an attempt to extend the life of the Polaris submarine force into the 1980s. In present circumstances I do not advocate a fifth Polaris submarine. I call for greater realism on this nuclear question. The Russians have about 750 medium-range missiles targeted on about 75 major cities in Europe. We must dissuade the Russians from temptation and we can do that only by a massive deterrent force. As a famous French general said—and it was not General de Gaulle—the essence of deterrence is uncertainty. Deterrence depends on the threat to use the unthinkable and unusable weapons. Defence, on the other hand, relies on the use of usable weapons.
A weapons system that cannot conceivably be used does not deter. NATO, with a policy of deterrence, hoping that it would never be challenged, would have no real defence at all. On no account do I underestimate the gravity of my words. In my view, to keep the nuclear deterrent viable it may become necessary for NATO to consider more clearly the rôle of tactical nuclear weapons. I do not underestimate the gravity of ever using these weapons, particularly in the European theatre.
We are now faced with some hard decisions in this area of nuclear deterrence. In the end the only hope is that the conferences on mutual balanced force reductions and European security will succeed. Ultimately that is the great hope. It would be an exceedingly costly mistake if my hon. Friends lost their nerve now. We are now moving into a much more dynamic situation in which there are the possibilities of success provided that we see this business through. After 25 years of keeping the peace this is no time to throw in the sponge.
I very much support the line taken by my right hon. Friend in a robust and brilliant speech. It was a read tour de force and it was honestly stated. There is more understanding on these benches and in the constituency Labour parties on this subject than is generally supposed. Everyone knows that we live in an exceedingly dangerous world.
Mr. Ian Cow:
I must first declare an interest in that I am still a member of the T & AVR and expect to become a soldier again for a fortnight next month. In the defence debate on 13th May the Secretary of State said that the current defence review would be the most comprehensive examination of our future defence rôle and of our commitments ever mounted in peacetime. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that there was no reason why that should not be done and that it was about time it was undertaken.
I have no quarrel with that nor do I disagree with the proposition that defence spending must be related to our national resources. This point was conceded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber), as Chancellor, when on 17th December 1973 he announced substantial cuts in public expenditure, including a cut of £178 million in the current year. But where perhaps I can differ from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite is that I believe that the first duty of any Government is to defend the territorial integrity of these Islands—and I doubt very much whether it is possible to make any further reductions in defence spending which are consistent with that duty. It would be wrong to regard the reduction of £178 million announced by my right hon. Friend last December as being a precedent for further cuts. Indeed, I would draw the opposite conclusion and say that just because my right hon. Friend announced those cuts last December, there cannot be room for further cuts and indeed there is less room.
We need as a nation to concentrate our defence on the land mass of North-West Europe and the sea routes which link North-West Europe to the rest of the world. It is because I believe that we need to concentrate our own defence in Western Europe that I particularly regret the commitment in the manifesto of the Labour Party dealing with the American Polaris bases. It said:
We will seek to remove all the American Polaris bases from Great Britain".
I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate tonight he will tell the House that the Government have had second thoughts about implementing that undertaking, because I do not see how the removal of American Polaris bases from the United Kingdom can in any way strengthen our capacity to defend ourselves or contribute to the security of Western Europe.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would not consider that to many people who live right beside it the Polaris base is not an object of defence but a way of making us Target No. 1? It is an American nuclear device, and it may suit America, but it certainly does not suit the people of Scotland.
To the extent that this country maintains forces outside Europe it means inevitably that the strength of our forces within Europe is weakened. Therefore, with that in mind we might look at the commitments which this country has at present outside Europe. I certainly support the need for Britain to maintain very limited troops in Hong Kong, primarily in aid of the civil power there. But so far as Singapore, Cyprus and Malta are concerned, I for my part would accept the argument that it would be right to reduce our commitments there if there were a corresponding strengthening of our commitment to the NATO Alliance.
As for Gibraltar, clearly as long as that remains a Colony it is essential that we maintain limited forces there, again in support of a civil power, and it is relevant within the NATO Alliance to assert that a substantial part of the responsibility for the defence of the Mediterranean area ought to rest with those members of NATO which are, in fact, Mediterranean powers and have a sea frontier there, namely, Italy and France.
There is one other matter with which I hope the Minister will deal in his reply tonight. Between 1972 and 1973 the number in the T & AVR rose from 56,000 to 59,000. Between 1973 and the present year the figure fell from 59,000 to 54,000. The prospect that we shall need our reserve forces is more serious today than at any time in the last 20 years. I hope that the Minister will say what his policy is, even in the interim, towards our reserve forces, pending the publication of the White Paper promised for the autumn.
I want to say something about the rôle of the Army in Ulster, and particularly to try to give the reasons, which have not been stated sufficiently vigorously in the House, that the Army should remain there. I take as my text the speech of the Secretary of State at Newcastle-under-Lyme on 24th April, in which he said:
Pressure is mounting on the mainland to pull out the troops.
I believe that his diagnosis was right. What was wrong is that he did not go on explicitly to assert the overwhelming reasons that the Army must remain.
There are four reasons. First, those who in Ulster have abandoned the ballot box and resorted to bullet and bomb must not be allowed to succeed. Second, the people of Belfast and Derry are just as entitled as the people of Eastbourne, Barnsley, Salford or Fife to the protection of the police and ultimately of the Army. Third, the rule of law is under attack not just in this country but elsewhere, and nowhere is it more overtly challenged than in the Six Counties of Ulster. If we are to reflect the determination of our Government and people to uphold the rule of law, the Army must remain in Ulster.
Last, we need to consider the effect on those most closely involved if the Army were withdrawn from Ulster. We can imagine the effect that it would have on the overwhelming majority of the 1½ million of the Queen's subjects who live there. They look to the Army for protection and their looking to the Army for protection has received a magnificent response from the Army. But we need to consider also the result of withdrawal on the men of violence. It is not a bad guide when deciding future policy to think how one's potential enemies would react. Nothing would give greater encouragement to the extremists and men of violence on both sides than the withdrawal of British forces.
When the Government are considering the preparation of their White Paper, I hope that they will remember that it is their over-riding duty to secure the defence of these islands. If that needs to be done by a reduction of some commitments in the island bases I have mentioned, that is something which I would support, provided that there was a corresponding strengthening of NATO and of our forces in Western Europe.
There seems to have been some doubt among previous speakers, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about your definition of "reasonably brief", but I shall try to follow your suggestion as best I can. May I say, as someone who has sat here since 4 p.m., how delightful it is to be able to inflict a further speech on some of those who have tormented me in that time?
I propose to confine my remarks to the nuclear test announced last week, I make no excuse for returning to the topic because it is the first test that Britain has carried out in the past decade—or at least, the first which has been leaked to us by the Daily Express. As such, it must have significant implications for our nuclear policy. It is a matter for regret that there has been no debate on the test itself.
Other hon. Members have discussed whether the test was in line with my party's policy. I do not propose to go over that ground again because I have never found debates which turn on the interpretation of sacred texts to be very illuminating. But however much it is reconciled with our party policy, it is clearly in conflict with many United Nations resolutions. I will refer only to Resolution No. 2934, passed in November 1973. The resolution:
Calls on all nuclear weapon states to suspend nuclear weapon tests in all environments.
That resolution was passed, only four nations voting against it, and 105 nations voting for it, including the United Kingdom. It is difficult to acquit us of the charge of hypocrisy when we voted for that resolution knowing full well that we intended to break it. That charge of hypocrisy must rest heavily on the Opposition Front Bench, whose representative voted for the resolution at the time when the Government were embarking on developments which led to the test.
Why did we have the test? Some of my colleagues seem to think that it is necessary to test an atomb bomb to find out whether it still works. It is not. A test is made only to carry out a development of the bomb. I ask my Front Bench colleagues, what was the development which was tested recently?
That development must be a matter for speculation, because we have been given no information. There has been informed speculation, which has not been denied, that the development is associated with the fitting of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles for the Polaris missile. If so, it is dishonest of the Government to pretend otherwise. The MIRV-ing of a warhead marks a qualitative change in policy so radical that it implies a new nuclear policy, which means a new escalation in the arms race and leads us one step nearer to the inevitability of nuclear war.
The whole point of MIRV-ing a warhead is to achieve pinpoint accuracy. Pinpoint accuracy is not needed if the missile is aimed at whole cities, which is where one aims missiles if one wants to achieve a deterrent against attack. MIRV-ing has a point only if the missile is aimed at enemy missiles before those missiles are fired. A MIRV warhead is a first-strike and not a second-strike weapon. It does not improve our deterrent capacity; in fact, it achieves less deterrence, because it is useless after the enemy has fired his weapons.
The effect of such a weapon on world tension is enormous. In any crisis either side will know that the opposing side has a weapon of crippling power, and that will put colossal pressure on both sides to be the side to fire first. That is not just the view of a few Left-wing eccentrics. It is shared by the Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Frank Barnaby, who has described it as "highly dangerous". Ian Smart, the Deputy Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies, said:
the effect has been to resurrect some of the fears of 15 years ago that the balance of terror could become dangerously delicate.
The Pentagon may have been embarrassed in the last two years to find that events had pushed it to the left of the American Presidency, but it is still not a crypto-Communist organisation. Three years ago it was said by the Pentagon:
The United States should not develop a weapons system whose deployment could reasonably be construed by the Soviet Union as having a first-strike capacity.
In the three years since then America has gone far down the road towards MIRV-ing its weapons. It has not just produced MIRV; it has retargeted as well. It is most disturbing that we should appear to be going along with that policy on the coat-tails of the Americans.
A first-strike capacity for the British deterrent makes sense only in the context of American strategy. It is nonsense to imagine that we could ever have a first-strike weapon which could cripple the Russians. If we are developing a first-strike weapon it is as a limb of American policy.
Last year the Expenditure Committee looked closely at our nuclear weapons and came to the conclusion that we had a highly effective system. On the nuclear weapon programme, the Committee said:
On the limited information available to us we recommend that the Government should maintain the existing Polaris fleet and not
increase its numbers or MIRV the missiles and should certainly not convert it to Poseidon.
Some development is obviously taking place. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may be right to reject the advice given to him by that Expenditure Committee. He may have reasons for so doing, and he may possess better information. But if that is the case, then the House of Commons should be told. We have not had the statement which should have been made before the test went off, and we are entitled to an answer at the end of the debate.
I have dealt with this point in some depth and have tried to explain that the development which the test represents can be rejected even within the context of nuclear strategy. I would not wish it to be thought that I accept that strategy. I reject the whole concept. So long as we keep a nuclear deterrent, we shall constantly face new technological developments, which will always appear as a logical extension to the last development. Those developments will always appear to be convincing if they are accepted as being necessary to maintain the credibility of a nuclear deterrent.
I wish briefly to examine the limited effect of the test on the international community. One of the saddest things about the present situation is that the test was announced just before the Nixon-Kosygin talks. A major concern of those talks is to try to achieve a further test-ban treaty. It has long been apparent that the two major Powers are backing away from a comprehensive test ban treaty and nudging towards a threshold test-ban treaty. This is in line with the hypocrisy which marked all previous attempts to achieve a test ban. We know that when the major Powers agreed an atmospheric ban in 1963 they did so because they did not want to carry out further atmospheric tests. They can get adequate information from underground tests—and, indeed, the number of tests has increased since the 1963 agreement.
Now MIRV weapons have greater accuracy and therefore require smaller warheads. It is impossible to carry out such tests within a smaller threshold. It saddens me to see the Labour Front Bench both last Monday and today taking advantage of this organised hypocrisy by saying that our test was below this threshold. Of course it was, since no advanced nuclear Power need exceed it. The present immediate effect of the British test is that the Nixon-Kosygin talks are to be carried on against a background that the United Kingdom, accepts the threshold principle—indeed is eager to accept it to legitimise nuclear tests. We have thrown away whatever moral pressure we may have exerted on those talks towards a more effective and comprehensive treaty.
The old unilateral case for disarmament did not rest on the argument that we should disarm for its own sake, but on the basis that by so doing we would set a moral example and give a lead which might be followed by other countries. That case has now been restored to the centre of the political arena by the new development. If we set our face against MIRV missiles and refuse to carry out any tests, it is possible that this will have an effect on major Powers and also on other Powers now indulging in dangerous proliferation of nuclear weapons. It is only a possibility, but the alternative of a nuclear holocaust is so terrifying that I believe it is just possible enough to be worth trying.
I should like to take the opportunity of making one specific point which was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) when he opened the debate. The Seebohm Report on naval warfare points out two major difficulties suffered by naval families. The first is separation—and it is difficult to do anything about that—and the second is housing, about which it is possible to do something.
Housing is a major cause for concern in all the Services. The situation throughout a man's service is one problem, but I want to deal with the problem of the Service family when the husband leaves the Service.
Some Service men may have bought houses whilst they were in the Services, but it is not easy for them to do so in a peripatetic existence. A large number of Service men leaving the Services will wish, indeed will need, to have council accommodation, but they will not have the period of residence in the area in which they wish to have a council house to back up their claim for council accommodation.
The attitudes of councils vary. In this connection I am obliged to my hon. neighbour—I might almost call him my hon. Friend—the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy who has been in correspondence with and given me some useful information.
The situation is as follows:
the Department of the Environment, in consultation with the Ministry of Defence, can and does advise local authorities on the allocation policies they ought to operate for ex-Service men and a circular, issued in 1965, commends the principle that an application from a Service man 'should be considered exclusively on the basis of his housing needs, without any regard whatsoever for the length of his residence in the locality'.
Local councils have difficult and, indeed, distressing decisions to make on the relevant priorities in housing allocation. But I urge that a sailor, soldier or airman, the very nature of whose work takes him away from the locality, should not suffer by his non-residence in the local authority area of his choice.
What currently happens under the present regulations? A Service man ends his service career and seeks council accommodation. But such is the interpretation placed upon the regulations by many local authorities that the Service man cannot obtain council accommodation unless he first receives an eviction order from his local council which will show that he has a housing need. Surely there must be a more dignified way to end a service career and to achieve the transition to civilian life.
I should like to quote one example. It is not particularly extreme, but it is a typical example which came in a letter to me this morning. The gentleman concerned is a senior non-commissioned officer who has been decorated. He lived in council accommodation in Gosport for seven years after his marriage until he joined the Services. Since leaving council accommodation in Gosport he has consistently, since 1958, sought to retain his status on the council housing list. He has now been informed by the council as follows:
your length of residence in Gosport (other than married quarters) is insufficient within the terms of my committee's policy.
The gentleman concerned wrote to me saying:
At one stage I was informed that I would be considered once I was given notice to vacate a married quarter. It was pointed out that the Army did not give notice to vacate a quarter, but that Queen's Regulations for the Army stated that occupants of married quarters are required to vacate on or before the date of posting or discharge. I asked the council if they were suggesting I should go before a civil court for an eviction order to be made against me—this question was not answered.
This case is not unusual. It must be wrong for a Service man to be given no housing priority by some councils. I do not wish this case to be held up as an extreme example, nor do I wish my local authority in Gosport to be taken as an extreme case of a council which is adopting a wrong attitude. I am not suggesting that it is. I am attempting to show that the situation is such that councils can exercise discretion in this way and that I feel it is wrong.
I should like a change in the rules generally. I ask the Government to arrange forthwith a reinforced circular, as mentioned in the Under-Secretary's letter to me, to councils to disregard residence qualifications for those who have been serving in the Armed Forces.
I should like to mention two matters which have concerned hon. Members in the debate. One is the defence review and the other is the recent nuclear test.
Regarding the defence review, we have heard, by and large, a difference of opinion between hon. Gentlemen opposite, who do not agree with any cuts in or adjustment of our defence responsibilities, and hon. Members on this side of the House who suggest that we should cut our defence cloth to meet our current economic situation. I think the latter proposition must be indisputable. The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) said that instead of cutting our defence responsibilities to the proportion of gross national products which other countries in Western Europe adopt, we ought to create more wealth, but there is little prospect in any country in Western Europe, let alone in ours, of creating more wealth in the next two or three years. It would be intolerable to make reductions of expenditure in social ser vices without seriously considering whether we can have some economies in defence.
There are the hawks who think that no cuts should be made and the doves who want to make cuts for the sake of cuts. I do not know what species of bird is halfway between a hawk and a dove, but I fancy the posture of that bird. We have to take our defence responsibilities seriously, but, on the other hand, we must have regard for our economic situation. That is the approach on which the Government have embarked, and they are right to make a long-term sensible survey of the matter rather than short-term, piecemeal cuts which disrupt programmes and upset defence policy.
I refer to the question of nuclear tests. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) advanced a number of arguments against the recent tests. He argued on the basis of a speculation which he developed and then attempted to demolish. I do not know whether the nuclear test is an attempt to make the Polaris missile into a MIRV and whether it is a test or a development. My hon. Friend was very much attracted to the possibility that it was a matter of turning it into a MIRV, but I rather suspect that he would object if it were merely a testing device because in the closing part of his speech he advanced the argument of unilateral disarmament that has exercised us on this side of the House for a long time. But the experience of international life argues very much against that. I do not believe that nuclear disarmament by Britain would enhance our security or lead others to follow suit. I do not believe that the Russians or Americans would disarm, except by mutual agreement, and it is clear that the Chinese will not disarm in the present situation, and there is not much chance of France being likely to disarm following our example.
Whatever the arguments about the timing of the recent test, it is clear that there were differences between that test and those carried out by India, France and China. I understand the objection to a nuclear test which centres on pollution of the atmosphere. I particularly appreciate that tests by France, especially in the area in which they are carried out, can cause a hazard to neighbouring countries, particularly Commonwealth countries. We were right to protest against atmospheric tests. It is to be regretted that France is not a party to the treaty prohibiting atmospheric tests.
China has also been a great offender in this regard and the matter is grave so far as India is concerned, because it involves a spread of nuclear weapons. But I do not believe that the Indian Government would move one way or the other if Britain went in for unilateral nuclear disarmament. There is no evidence that unilateral nuclear disarmament by this country would affect the policies of other countries. If there were such evidence many people would no doubt march to Aldermaston, or to its modern equivalent.
However, if we have nuclear weapons, and they are part of our defence system, they must be kept in working order. There is not much point in having them if we do not test them, develop them and keep them in a credible state of readiness. We would have the worst of both worlds if we did not test them and keep them in a state of readiness. If we did not do that it would be better to give them up altogether. It would be a hopeless situation to have nuclear weapons but not to test them. I would not, in those circumstances, criticise the Government over our recent nuclear test.
War has been with mankind from the beginning of recorded history and will probably be with us when hon. Members now sitting in the House are safely dead and no longer worried about war. Yet to me there is something terribly obscene about spending so much of the time and effort of every nation in teaching young men to kill other young men or to burn their women and children to a crisp, whoever "they" happen to be at that particular time.
Coming from Northern Ireland, I think that I can speak for many people there who have seen a modem form of war—guerrilla war—for five years. This is the second period of my life in which I have seen that type of war in my Province. In the first part of it, I served as a member of the Ulster Special Constabulary against the guerrilla forces. I think that I can speak with authority about how the guerrilla works and operates in a modern Western society, how guerrillas manage to mingle with the population, and how, as the Communists say, they become fish in the water.
While the time that I can take up in the debate is short, I want to suggest that the only reasonable way to deal with fish in water is to put other fish into the same water to try to poison it against those who already occupy it. This means that a guerrilla war can be won only by the local people. It cannot be won, as the Americans discovered in Vietnam and as the British Army has found out in many parts of the world, by outside forces. Outside forces are always resented, and a military force is resented more than most.
A guerrilla force can be defeated only by a police force or a gendarmerie that is locally based, or by a "home guard", which lives among the general population, can see the situation at first hand and can mingle with the terrorists daily. The terrorist, after all, does not walk around with the word "terrorist" blazoned across his back. The whole security and strength of the terrorist is to remain unknown within the population.
It is very wrong to consider that the irregular is a coward, for he is not. He is a fanatic. Many of them know no fear, because they have a cause in which they believe, for which they are prepared to die and for which many of them have died. They can be defeated only by a similar body of men who mingle with the population day by day and who fight the guerrillas day by day, wherever they may be found.
There is much more that I should like to say, but time passes on. I am glad to have had this opportunity to comment on the situation as I have seen it on the ground, and as a politician. The only reason that will keep a guerrilla force fighting is hope—hope of ultimate victory. When that hope is destroyed, that force will wither and die, because its support in the community will go, and when that support goes the guerrilla will follow it swiftly and surely.
There is always a rôle for the major forces of the Crown in any such situation, but I believe that they should be primarily concerned with the defence of the frontiers, on land, on sea and in the air, to stop the flow of weapons and to stop those who come in from outside; to try to seal within the boundaries of any nation, or any area of that nation, those who would commit murder and destruction.
We shall see more of irregular war across the world, possibly even in our own countries. As time passes there will always be divisions which can and will be exploited by evil men for their own purposes. I ask hon. Members to keep their eyes open in their constituencies and, indeed, everywhere they go, for the first evidence of murder and subversion, because one should always be extremely suspicious of those who create reasons for civil disorder against the liberties that we enjoy.
I am well aware that a large number of my hon. Friends would very much have liked to speak, and I hope that it has not passed unnoticed that the Minister of State and I have both most willingly accepted a shorter period in which to conclude, so that more hon. Members could speak in this extremely important debate. The debate has totally justified the choice of subject by the Opposition for a Supply Day.
In its first objective the debate seems to have failed somewhat. In spite of the penetrating, questioning and roving speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), which has been widely acclaimed on both sides of the House, there still hangs over our discussions an uncertainty which we had hoped would be resolved. We had hoped it might have been possible for the Secretary of State to use this occasion to clear up some of the doubts which arise in such a wide range of our defence policy. Unfortunately, he felt unable to assist us with information about the wide-ranging inquiry that he is conducting at the moment.
We remain uncertain about the future, but there were encouraging signs. It was encouraging that the Secretary of State agreed to examine the idea put forward by my right hon. Friend of a Green Paper in advance of the White Paper in the event that his timetable should slip, but if he believes that there is no uncertainty and doubt in the Services, let him, for example, speak to those who are engaged in the difficult task of attracting young men of the right calibre into Sandhurst, Cranwell and Dartmouth. Let him talk to those who are in active contact with recruits into the commissioned ranks—although the non-commissioned recruits are equally important—and he will find uncertainties in the Services which are damaging morale.
We also had the penetrating evidence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) from his recent visit to Teheran, which showed, if we had not realised it already, what the uncertainty was bringing in its train.
It is inevitable, in a debate like this, that the discussion will range very widely. I want to begin on a lower plane and take up a very interesting point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce). He felt that there had been insufficient discussion in our debate, and generally, of the problems which arise from bringing the Armed Forces to the aid of the civil powers in England, Scotland and Wales. In recent days we have had a very good illustration of the sort of problems which can arise and which may arise on our doorstep.
Troops have been deployed for a second time in and around London Airport. That happened because distinguished persons were arriving. We welcome the distinguished Prime Minister of Israel, for example. I am bound to say, in parenthesis, that I wish he had been coming to something more useful than a meeting of the Socialist International, but I suppose there will always be supporters of lost causes, and we hope he had an agreeable weekend. He is a distinguished and welcome visitor to this country, and I hope and think that he had useful talks.
My point is that one needs only to be a reader of newspapers to appreciate that the SAM missile, with its ease of transportation and terrifying effect upon an aircraft, poses grave problems for the civil power in this country, as elsewhere. Therefore I ask whether, in the deployment of troops in Great Britain—not even in Northern Ireland—they are subject to the same yellow card procedure—to use the shorthand—with which we are familiar in Northern Ireland? I say "with which we are familiar", for I think that the House knows that I served for 17 months in Northern Ireland and have some small knowledge of the military operation over there. If the troops are not subject to that procedure, is it not necessary for their protection that we should outline most carefully and clearly the terms upon which they should intervene, if it should ever be necessary?
I suspect that other hon. Members were right to make the point that at a time when we are talking about great strategic problems this new form of warfare is something with which we shall have to live uncomfortably for far longer than we may have supposed. If this is one of the new forms of warfare—if there is going to be a form of banditry of that nature—it is necessary that we should learn from the mistakes we have made and draw upon the experience which, unhappily, we have in Northern Ireland, where we have been through almost precisely the same kind of problem.
In the past—I emphasise "in the past"—there was a division of command between the military force and the police force. One of the reasons for retaining the Royal Ulster Constabulary under Westminster control is to try to make sure that that does not happen again. But the merest thought shows us that with a variegated police command, as we have in this country, the problem of co-ordination between the military and the police forces is much more difficult than it is on the other side of the water.
That can be illustrated very well by thinking of the situation at London Airport. I know that the House is considering changes in the police organisation there. The airport is situated in the Thames Valley area of another police force. The RAF is concerned, in part, with the Army, and therefore the problems of command in a situation which could be one of great difficulty, totally novel to us in this country, require close study.
With my second question we again draw upon past experience. All this has been put right in Northern Ireland, but in the past it was not possible, there, to communicate between the police and the Army. Is it possible for the Army and the police to communicate quickly here? I am not now talking about the bamboo wireless with which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) entertained us earlier. My hon. and gallant Friend has explained why, being on duty elsewhere, he cannot be here for the concluding speeches.
The question I am asking is: are the Army and police literally on net? I do not want to be given any details; no one requests that these things be made public. But the public generally should be assured that in the new era into which we have moved in which the Government clearly had to anticipate a shoot-out at London airport, for the safety of individuals and the clear direction of soldiers the chain of command and the methods of communication should be as good and as clear as human beings can make them.
We come straight up against the problem which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester has particularly been associated with and in respect of which the Secretary of State made an interesting intervention in my hon. and gallant Friend's speech. I know that my hon. and gallant Friend and other of my hon. Friends have been deeply concerned—if I may put it in shorthand—that soldiers on active service conditions in Northern Ireland should be subject to civil law. I had to carry through the House the Bill that was concerned with such matters. I can only say in reply that I am sure it is right for Lord Gardiner's Committee to examine the situation. I think that the Secretary of State must accept, if he is to make such a change in the law in Northern Ireland, that he may well find himself saddled with a similar change over here in Great Britain.
There could be a situation in which soldiers on duty at London Airport would be subject to some of the same pressures and stresses. We can all visualise a situation in which it would be necessary for there to be disciplinary procedures. The Secretary of State may find that if he wants to adopt the idea of a court-martial—I gather from his intervention that that is how his mind is working—he may have to introduce the same approach for the whole of the United Kingdom and not only for Northern Ireland.
I have argued this problem and discussed it in sweaty barrack-room after sweaty barrack-room late at night in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere. I have generally found the British troops, to whom I pay, with everyone else in the House, the warmest of tributes, to have the understanding that in a civilised world and a civilised country it is a strength and not a weakness to ensure that we operate our forces within the civil law of the country and do not attempt to introduce for our Armed Forces a law that is different from that which applies to others. I know that these matters can be argued in two ways, and I know that there is a lot of deep feeling in the Army. I respect the Secretary of State for fighting in the Army's corner, but the situation is not quite as easy as it may appear, and it may well have ramifications much wider than just Northern Ireland.
In the Northern Ireland context we talk frequently of the work of the Army. We are right to talk and praise its work, but let us remember the work of the Royal Air Force in Northern Ireland. It does gallant work under great pressure in moving people to and fro. No Minister could conceivably run the Northern Ireland Office—as well I know—without its support. Let us also remember the work of the Royal Air Force Regiment. It goes about its work quietly and in an unassuming fashion. I gather that it is one of the bodies that the Secretary of State has in mind for one of his possible economies. So be it. We shall consider those matters in detail when the right hon. Gentleman comes to the House.
I do not propose to describe the rôle that the Royal Air Force Regiment plays in Northern Ireland. It is sufficient to say that in modern warfare, when there may be a need to establish an air force base swiftly and to support and protect it, the work carried out by the regiment is of the greatest importance.
Equally, I hope that the Minister of State will feel able to say a word about the Royal Military Police operation in Northern Ireland. A matter that I had not appreciated is that civilian policemen in this country have a great respect for the expertise of the Royal Military Police. There is anxiety—the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will know this as well as anyone else—lest it is intended that the Royal Military Police should take over entirely from the RUC. That was rejected totally by the previous Government. I have every reason to suppose that that will also be rejected by the present Government, but it may be that the Royal Military Police should be represented.
Finally, in Northern Ireland terms I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will occasionally examine the source of the propaganda to which they are subjected when it comes to allegations of brutality, and the rest, against our military forces in the Province. Like every other set of young, well-trained, fit and vigorous young men, they are liable to make mistakes. But, taken in the round, I do not believe that there is any other force of men in the world which would have shown the forbearance that they have.
As sufficient time has passed for me to be able to talk of it, I recall my own experience with one battalion of the Parachute Regiment in the Ardoyne—not exactly a savoury area of Belfast—when, initially, there was so much criticism of those troops. I found these young men very resentful of the idea that they were boors, uncivilised, and the rest. When their tour of duty ended, I was the recipient of requests from the minority community and from priests of that community that they should have their tour extended because they had brought peace to that part of Belfast, and it was peace that mattered to people. One of the reasons that there was peace was that many of the evil men were in Long Kesh.
When I hear hon. Members talking about Long Kesh as if it were a concentration camp I sometimes wish that they would go to talk to ordinary people, Protestant and Catholic, in Belfast, Derry and elsewhere, to find out how they feel now that men of evil intent are safely locked away in that place.
That is the internal rôle. Equally, we find it abroad. We find it in Hong Kong. I was hoping that the Ministers would have resolved the uncertainties of their White Paper at least in respect of Hong Kong. The Foreign Secretary has come very close to doing so. Do the Government not appreciate the extent to which our words are read and listened to in that vibrant and pulsating colony? Do they not appreciate how our military intentions have their effect commercially in that astonishing colony?
I take a paternal interest in Hong Kong because it was my forebear who carved from the mainland and just took that part which we own as freehold. I have always been sad that he did not take a small stake as personal van Straubenzee property. If he had done so, I should be sunning myself in the Bahamas today.
We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion of the effect of the uncertainties about our overseas bases. We have the uncertainty in Oman. We heard from my right hon. Friend the question overhanging us about what advice Mr. Lee Kuan Yew gave in terms of Singapore. Again, it is not possible to visit Singapore without coming rapidly to understand the interlocking rôle of our commercial interests and our defence interests.
Then we had an impressive contribution backed by massive experience from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) about Gibraltar. He raised one question which the Minister must answer about the married quarter situation there. In Gibraltar we have yet another delightful place with a very effective military presence, which we hope will be maintained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) was right to ask about the uncertainty overhanging the dockyards. At Question Time today, the Secretary of State seemed to suggest that Rosyth was safe. But that still leaves questions hanging over Plymouth and its 12,000 employees, for which my hon. Friend has been fighting, and Chatham and Portsmouth.
We shall hope and think that all proper decisions will be made in these cases. But there is uncertainty. One of the features of the speech of the Secretary of State which caught the imagination of the House was his passage on the standardisation of equipment, his report on the Eurogroup and his wish to increase the extent and depth of co operation. I ask the Minister, if he should touch on this matter, what is his report of the attitude of the new French Government to all this? My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion made a very important intervention here, drawing attention to the recent speeches of M. Joubert. We all know the past, in relation to the French, in military matters. I do not think much is gained by going over it. What, in fact, does the Minister now find? Can he report to the House an increasing interest and an increasing wish to co-operate in military matters? Certainly that would be very welcome indeed to all sides of the House.
There was then a curious intervention about the problems of our own offshore installations and their protection. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden), whom I generally follow with great interest, and who has service with the Ministry of Defence behind him, made a curious intervention when he sought to suggest that if one was seeking to protect one's oil rigs and offshore installations one must move instantly to the principle and to the proposition that one would sink the trawlers that came immediately nearby. That was not the concept we adopted when we had problems in protecting our trawlers in Icelandic waters.
We did not instantly move from the harassment of the trawlers on the one hand to sinking Icelandic boats on the other. In an ultimate situation of confrontation, such, I suppose, might be the case. But what has happened during recent weeks? This is surely very important. At a time when the economic strategy of successive Governments will clearly be based, in part at least, upon our self-sufficiency in oil, we have begun to appreciate—or the amateur like myself has begun to appreciate—that the installations upon which we depend are themselves vulnerable to surveillance and attack and we should naturally expect precautions to be taken.
I want also, perhaps not in sequence, to speak in support and to express the hope that the Minister will find it possible to say something about a very human matter, which I know touches the hearts of those on both sides of the House, about housing for Servicemen when they are on the point of retirement. My right hon. Friend raised that matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), in an impressive speech, with his great constituency experience, reinforced that. We all understand the great housing difficulties facing local authorities, but we are at a new chapter, a new beginning, in terms of local government reorganisation. This entitles us to raise the question anew. I hope it will have a response of some kind from the Minister when he comes to reply.
The hon. Gentleman has not been present from the beginning of the debate. He has no right to interrupt.
Last, I shall say something about the retention of the nuclear deterrent. I thought the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) was very impressive indeed, in an earlier speech, when he made the point that so many of his own party appeared to want to have the nuclear weapon yet not carry out the tests to keep it credible.
I understand the deeply felt feelings of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun). It is not for me to lecture him on moral matters—least of all, me—but I put it to him like this: to me, at any rate, what is offensive morally is the aggressive use of force. That is the offence. All that he is talking about—and it is a fearful thing—is the scale of the force. He would fear its aggressive use.
The hon. Member posed the question whether any hon. Member would say that he would press the button if necessary. I put the question to him in a different way. Does he consider that it would be within the duty of any Minister entrusted with the fearful responsibility of the defence of this nation publicly to go on record and say that in no circumstances would he press the button in defence of the British people? That decision is hideous and fearful, but so is force. A mere fist can be fearful. We are talking about another scale and dimension of force which is part of the defence of our nation and which it is entrusted to the Government to care for.
We have heard today an impressive and sombre speech from the Secretary of State, bringing us sharply up against the realities of the balance of power. He leaves overhanging so much of our defences and uncertainty which it will be our continuing duty to resolve.
This debate has turned out rather better than I, for one, had hoped. Last week the Opposition clearly saw this as an opportunity for mischief-making. As this was the first speech of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) in a defence debate, I rather looked forward to the experience of being gently mauled by a paper tiger. On the contrary, he purred his way through most of his speech.
His hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) described it variously as roving and penetrating. I would prefer to call it roving. It was none the less good for that. We had a speech from the hon. Member for Wokingham which, when not sober, was sepulchral. But I make no complaints about either speech. Both were valuable contributions to what I think has been a thoughtful debate.
The hon. Member for Wokingham made some pertinent remarks about recent events at Heathrow. He drew on his experience in Northern Ireland. I think that the whole House respects what he tried to do there. The hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) raised the wider question of military aid for the civil power. I do not think that I can reply to detailed points this evening. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Home Secretary was particularly responsible for events at Heathrow. I will write to him on any particular matter he has mentioned. I am sure that the Home Secretary would welcome, as I do, discussions on these important matters.
I join in the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Wokingham to the Service units in Northern Ireland. Others have joined in this tribute during the debate. The hon. Member asked whether there was any intention that the Royal Military Police would take over entirely from the RUC. I can confirm that there is no intention whatsoever that this should happen.
Of course there are differences of opinion on this side of the House about aspects of defence policy. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) referred to the upper and nether millstones. I think she will recognise that neither my right hon. Friend nor I have felt ground down today. If there are differences on this side of the House they mirror differences of opinion on the Conservative side, too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) said that he was not ashamed of emotions being aroused by some defence issues on this side of the House. That is my view, too. It is also true that while some Tory Members appear to want more spending rather than less, those who were responsible for the policy of the previous Government will recognise that from time to time it is right to want less spending rather than more.
In other words, if there are differences of opinion and differences of emphasis on this side, there are on the other side of the House doveish hawks and hawkish doves. In all these matters it is a question of balance, of maintaining an adequate defence. That is the purpose of the defence review. It was very well spelled out by my right hon. Friend today, as it was in the debate we had seven weeks ago.
Our object certainly is to reduce expenditure but certainly not to do so irrespective of the needs of the country. The hon. Member for Wokingham ended by saying there was uncertainty. I agree with him. It is inevitable. We cannot have a defence review without uncertainty, but, equally, if the defence review had been brief its consequences and outcome would not have related to the real needs of this country over the coming years. That it should be lengthy is inevitable if at the same time we want it done well.
In my speech on 13th May I mentioned the successive stages of the defence review. I should like to make one further comment on it. I then said that we were beginning to match the resources likely to be available to the commitments that we shall choose to continue and that this was a complex process involving the examination of various options in terms of both future forecasts for the growth of GNP and alternative proportions that might be devoted to defence. But I can add that it also requires the closest examination of the capability that will be necessary to fulfil those commitments when we have placed them in order of priority.
There is no simple answer here and no single outcome. It is not sufficient to decide on savings that affect the three Services on the basis of equal misery, a basis familiar to hon. Gentlemen on both sides, although, as the House can guess, this is instinctively the easier course. In due course we shall have what seems to be the optimum solution and the process of full consultation with our partners and allies will get under way. May I add, as the House knows and as my right hon. Friend mentioned this afternoon, that we thought it right to consult our partners in the five-power defence arrangements at a particularly early stage. Accordingly, just after the last debate, I visited Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Wellington and Canberra, meeting the Prime Ministers and Defence Ministers in each of the four capitals.
The House will understand that it would be wrong for me to spell out the details of what were confidential discussions, but I have in mind the remarks of, among others, the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). I can say that it had been assumed in advance that I was to bring news of decisions to all intents and purposes already made, and there was a warm response to the discovery that this was simply not the case. All four Governments have made it clear publicly that they would prefer us to remain, if only with a reduced presence and for a shortish period of time. But the process of consultation was welcomed for itself, especially as Commonwealth Governments were involved, and there was complete understanding of the scope and necessity for the review. We can count on much good will, and we on our part will take full and sympathetic account of all that was said to me. There will, of course, be further consultations before any decisions are made.
While I am talking of consultations, the right hon. Gentleman referred, in passing, to Simonstown. As the House knows, we are continuing a review of our policy towards South Africa and we shall take careful note of all relevant considerations in the review, including the value we derive from and the obligations we incur under the Simonstown Agreement. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the South African Government were themselves to review Simonstown. I can only reply, as he will understand, that this is a matter for the South African Government.
I could not deal with all points raised this evening even if I were to gallop through the time between now and 10 o'clock. But I want to deal with a number, and I will start with a question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) about the married-quarter project at Europa Point, Gibraltar, because this illustrates very clearly one of the problems that has been raised during the course of the defence debate.
I have not denied, any more than my right hon. Friend has denied, that difficult decisions arise, even in the interim period. We are faced with deciding the course of action to follow on projects which are already under way but have some distance to go to completion, and the future of which could be affected by the outcome of the defence review. Since, as we have said, nothing is excluded from the review and, in particular all our overseas commitments are being examined, the number of projects in this category is large.
The principle that we have followed with current projects is that we should take no decision which would close any options that should properly be left open until the review is concluded. On the works programme, we have been concerned not to let new contracts where there was any possibility of nugatory expenditure.
At the same time, we have been disposed, wherever improvements to conditions of service were involved, to lean in the direction of allowing projects to continue, or indeed to start, if at all possible, since we attach the highest importance to such improvements. We have, for example, decided that building a new school in Cyprus should continue, and we are going ahead with a NAAFI shop and cinema complex in Belize, where our troops do not enjoy much in the way of amenity, as hon. Members who have been there will know.
As for Gibraltar, I am aware of the difficult housing situation there, and I know of the visit of the sub-committee 18 months ago and again recently. Our forces have appreciated the continuing interest in and sympathy for their problems by the Select Committee. I am glad to say that we have decided that the project for 105 other ranks' married quarters and 31 officers' married quarters, known as Europa 1, should go ahead now. I hope that the contract will be let in the next few days and that work will shortly begin. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Eye that there must be no further delay.
The right hon. Member for Worcester mentioned the difficulties of Service men in finding suitable housing, particularly council housing, when they are discharged, and suggested that the time was ripe for an initiative. We are in fact very conscious of this problem and we are currently considering with the Department of the Environment—I have been in touch with the Minister for Housing and Construction—revising and reissuing the circular of advice to local authorities on how we suggest they should deal with the particular problems of Service men.
The authorities have problems of their own, as we know. There is insufficient housing for rent, for reasons which we also know. But one of the proposals which we shall be considering is that local authorities should allow Service men to put their names on a housing list at any time during their service and that if, before they conclude their service, their names reach the top, they should then be frozen in that position. This is something on which we hope to be able to make progress.
I cannot deny, as some hon. Members have said, that uncertainty can arise in the dockyards, but it would be irresponsible for any hon. Member to increase that uncertainty or to play upon the reasonable anxieties of those involved. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy has visited the three English dockyards and will soon visit Rosyth. Representing, as he has for eight years, part of Portsmouth, he has practical experience of the problems of the dockyards, which I know he is using to great effect in discharging his responsibilities to the workers in all four yards.
In all his visits, my hon. Friend has made it plain that the yards as a whole are fully loaded with naval work. But supposing—just supposing—that there was ever a reduction in defence work—a lot of work is out on contract which could be taken into the yards—an examination is already in hand on an interdepartmental basis into alternative work which could absorb the human and capital resources thus released.
I listened very carefully indeed to what my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) said about joint training and I am looking forward to the Report of the Select Committee. Some of the things he said came fresh to me. I undertake to look personally into this and to see whether in this area also there is a new initiative which we could usefully take, since we are anxious to make savings, particularly when they can be achieved with no loss of effectiveness.
The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) spoke about pay comparisons and pensions. These matters are of general concern to the House, and I shall endeavour to answer his questions and help the House at an appropriate time. Both he and the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake raised the question of the security of oil and gas installations off our shores. They were prompted by the incident of 25th June, when a Russian trawler came within 30 feet of a gas production platform. I share their concern, as we all must. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has drawn the attention of the Soviet authorities to this incident and sought assurances that similar incidents will not happen again.
Responsibility for offshore installations rests with their owners, the police, other civil authorities and the armed forces. Measures for protecting them which may involve the armed Services are kept under very close review in the Departments that have statutory and other responsibilities. Protection from external attack is being studied both as part of our national defence plans and within NATO. I appreciate the concern which has been expressed, I share it and I assure the House that there is no lack of urgency in our examination of these important matters.
Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to make a statement to the House when conclusions have been drawn? There was a general impression originally that the police tended to have a great deal of responsibility here, whereas there is no rôle they can play in defending these installations.
Yes, certainly I give that undertaking. There will be a statement at the appropriate time. If there is any uncertainty, we will do our best to relieve it beforehand.
I turn now to the nuclear test, which is the occasion for today's debate. In doing so I apologise for having to leave unanswered some questions which were asked by right hon. and hon. Members. We shall take note of them and act upon them or write, as necessary.
We all know that the Opposition's motive last week when they were contemplating today was to exploit the genuine anxiety shown by hon. Members on the Government benches at the film; of the Prime Minister's announcement of 24th June. What to them may have seemed good clean fun, all in a day's work, with an election in the offing is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central said, juvenile. It is far better to try to understand the misgivings about the test than to play upon sincere differences of opinion.
I do not dispute that. The motive for choosing this debate at this time, as revealed by the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Worcester and the hon. Member for Wokingham, falls a little short of what the hon. Gentleman suggests was the serious purpose of the occasion. I should be worried if there were no anxieties in the House about the test. I find it a great deal easier to share the hesitations of some of my hon. Friends than to share the assumption that sophisticated nuclear capability, like business success, is the touchstone of achievement and the outward and visible measure of status. It is not.
Nuclear capability is ugly and horrific and we should recognise it as such. But, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said again today, the recent test in Nevada was fully consistent with our adherence to the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the non-proliferation treaty of 1970.
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), we are not committed to a new course. The test does not close any option or pre-empt those decisions on the nuclear programme which must be taken as part of the examination of all aspects of our total capability during the defence review. I ask my hon. Friends to recognise that this is so, whatever views they may take about the proper long-term future of the nuclear deterrent.
But that does not answer the question whether the test was connected with a new generation of strategic weapons. If it was, it was contrary to the programme of the Labour Party which was carried unanimously at its conference, not just by two to one, and was a contravention of it.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made clear—and I thought that I was helping my hon. Friend—the test does not commit us to a new course. No decision will be taken until the issues have been debated in the House. I would have thought that that assurance might be helpful to my hon. Friend.
I would refer to the thoughtful remarks made on this topic by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) and I personally would welcome more discussion of these questions. What surprises me is that the excellent 12th Report of the Expenditure Committee, published less than a year ago, has not received more attention in the House. The sub-committee referred to their interest in
stimulating informed parliamentary and public debate",
and produced a clear statement of the background to policy decisions about the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent. The sub-committee also published a paper from the International Institute of
Strategic Studies and took evidence from the then Secretary of State for Defence.
However, the House has not found time to debate that report, and indeed the hon. and gallant Member for Eye, who was the chairman of that sub-committee, was the only speaker to refer significantly to it in the general debate on defence held in the House last December, and similarly, in the defence debate only seven weeks ago, the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) made brief references to the nuclear programme.
I have never been, and am not now, a unilateral disarmer, either in the nuclear or conventional field. I cannot see that throwing away the means to Britain's defence would either increase the chance of peace or stem the tide of the arms race. I say this not because I believe there is the threat to this country of a war either by design or accident in the foreseeable future. The issue is much more complex and subtle. It may be that the West can co-exist peacefully with the Soviet Union and its allies for many years and that the wish to do so is felt strongly on both sides. But we must look ahead to ensure that the balance is never upset in such a way as to enable those who do not share our values to dictate the terms of their relationship with us.
This is one of the problems of defence planning. As the time scale for the development of sophisticated weapons lengthens, we are obliged to relate decisions made today to the conditions and relationships which we anticipate in 10, 15 or 20 years' time. There are risks in underestimating the possible threat to our security as there are risks of over-providing against it, given the legitimate claims on the nation's resources. We shall aim to get the balance right while playing our fullest part in seeking to achieve such international agreement as will allow arms expenditure world wide to be diverted to peaceful and constructive purposes.