Royal Navy

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th July 1975.

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3.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

We come to the fourth and last, for the moment, of our debates following the introduction of the Government's White Paper some months ago. This is the last of the three Service debates. We have already covered the Army and the Air Force, and in those debates the Opposition produced strong criticisms of the cuts which the Government have proposed. Today the House is being asked to approve the Navy Estimates, as a result of the White Paper, which the Opposition can only ask the House to look at with very great disapproval indeed.

These Estimates, in the face of the facts and figures spelled out so clearly in the White Paper, propose to cut by one-seventh the strength of the frigates and the mine counter-measure vessels, by a quarter the conventional submarines, and by a staggering one-third the fleet support vessels. The Opposition resist these cuts, and I propose to spell out as briefly as I can why we do so.

Many of my hon. Friends wish to speak in this debate. I cannot attempt myself to cover the whole field and the many interesting things shown in the Navy Estimates, but I want to concentrate on where I believe the real threat lies to the future defence of this country.

The cuts proposed for the Navy are by a long way the most damaging in the White Paper, and they are being proposed in the face of every piece of evidence that has been produced and spelled out in the White Paper, everything that has been produced by naval and military opinion since, and by all our NATO allies without exception. They contain in them the most clear and specific warnings to this country.

The history of military affairs has been scattered with warnings right through the centuries—warnings heeded and warnings unheeded. We need not look back any further than the memories of our fathers of the warnings which were given before the attack on Pearl Harbour, and of the copious warnings given to Stalin in 1941 that he was likely to face an attack from the Germans, to which he totally refused to pay attention.

If some more up-to-date evidence is required, there was a television programme a few weeks ago, in which Lord Chalfont took part, and in that programme if was shown rather graphically that the Israel Government now clearly recognise, as their Prime Minister has said, that in 1973 they, too, had the clearest warnings of the attack that was coming and failed to take note of them.

It would be easy for the House of Commons and this country to ignore the warnings before us now, but if these warnings are ignored it will not be the fault of this Opposition. We wish to spell this out as clearly as we can.

It seems to me that it would be fair to approach this debate against the Government's own background. The Government have said that it is our top priority in defence to make our proper contribution to NATO. I accept that entirely for this argument, and I propose to demonstrate and, I hope, prove to the House that it is on the Government's own chosen ground that the proposals to cut the Royal Navy fall so far short of what the Government themselves say is necessary.

I do not suggest that we should go back to some pre-war or Imperial rôle. I do not suggest that we can any longer expect the Royal Navy to police the seas of the world, and I hope that we shall hear none of that from Government supporters, because that is not what I am suggesting.

When we consider what we need in naval defence, whether it is NATO or the United Kingdom, we have to give some account of the nature of the conflict that we might be called upon to face. In this, there is always uncertainty. No war is ever like the previous war. No enemy lets us know before hand what means he will employ to attack us. Therefore, in any sensible scheme an allowance to cope with the unexpected is essential.

It could be that a future conflict—which is a horrifying thought in any event —took the form of a very short and sharp exchange of the most terrifying weapons available. We hope and pray that that will never happen, and obviously we shall do all that we can to avoid it. But that is the sort of conflict which could happen. However, we cannot rely on that, and that alone, being the only military problem that we have to face. We have to allow for the fact that many potential enemies may shrink from such a conflict, as we should ourselves. Therefore, we have to provide for a lesser level of interference or attack upon us. We have to provide for some element of reply to a normal conventional attack, possibly on a small scale, but possibly on a larger scale more difficult to cope with.

Although I am glad that the Government have carried on our Polaris submarine force and our co-operation with the Americans in providing that deterrent, that is not and cannot be the main and only leg upon which our defence rests. Therefore, we have to address ourselves to the problems that this country would face if we had a conflict which was longer than a few hours or a few days.

It seems to me to stand out clearly that, here, it is the maritime side of our defences which are not only important from the point of view of Britain but are the most natural and useful contribution that we can make to the NATO Alliance, which is the only forum in which we can hope to defend ourselves against any major attack. If nothing else, is clear that we in this country depend every bit as much today as we ever did in the past on the keeping open of our sea routes which our trading ships use and over which the raw materials which keep us going are brought in.

In any conflict, even on a small scale, which lasted more than a few weeks or even possibly a few days, we should have to allow for the fact that we needed forces to keep open our sea routes. Some people say that this is now out of date. They imply that no longer do we depend, as in the past, on sea routes being kept open. But I ask anyone who says that to produce evidence to suggest that we are less dependent today on our sea routes than in the past. Is there any evidence that we are less reliant on shipping for bringing in our imports and taking out our exports? Do we rely less today than we did in the past on raw materials? Of course not. We rely on them as much as we did in the past.

Every 24 hours, there are 120 oceangoing ships arriving at North-West European ports with vital materials. They bring into North-Western Europe a staggering 700 million tons annually of vital supplies of one sort or another. Two-thirds of that is oil, which itself provides more than half the energy of North-Western Europe, and there is no country in Western Europe at present which has more than two to three months of stockpiles of oil, and for practical and tactical reasons it is very difficult to envisage this being raised by any substantial amount by means of increased storage capacity.

In case this is thought fanciful, we saw in 1973 what happened to the economy and to the jobs of people in this country when vital supplies of oil were interrupted. Within two to three weeks of the interruption, there was rationing of oil for industry, and factories had to think of methods of going on short time to deal with the shortages which arose.

It is fanciful to imagine that we can ignore these facts and provide defence arrangements which do not allow for the adequate defence of our sea routes. It is not only in matters such as oil. There are vital supplies of metals, iron ore, foodstuffs, timber and all sorts of other commodities without which our economy would fall by the wayside.

What is more, it is not only a question of trade, because in any possible international tension where NATO might be preparing to do battle with an aggressor, we have to remember that the whole NATO strategy is based upon the principle that, within the last few days or weeks when tension is building up, there is a massive reinforcement of the forces at present in Central Europe from this country and from across the Atlantic. Here again, the need for sea routes is clear and vital.

What is the threat to this which is posed today? It is all in the White Paper. The Secretary of State has spelt it out in all its clear detail in the White Paper. For those who do not wish to know the details, there is a chart or plan on page 6 of the White Paper to show the disparity.

Perhaps I can make it clearer by concentrating for a moment on the naval side alone. The new factor in the last five years is that the Russian Navy, from being a comparatively small and inward-looking naval force able to look after Russian interests, has become a powerful, aggressive, ocean-going, outward-looking force. It is a large and powerful force. It has very modern equipment, weapons and ships, and it is scattering itself all over the world. If we are in doubt about that, we have only to see the bases which the Russians are building in all the oceans to ensure that if they go forth from the normal waters round their homeland, they have supplies to keep them going.

It is this powerful new element, clearly designed for aggressive intent against anyone—we do not know with any clarity against whom—which NATO cannot ignore.

I could go into some detail about many of the sea routes with which we have to deal. I cannot do that because of the time available. But I must mention the longer-distance routes outside our home waters. We still depend massively upon oil imported from the Middle East. There is no sense in pretending that that is not so. At the moment and at every moment there are 200 tankers at sea in the Indian Ocean bringing oil from the Middle East to Western Europe. In the face of that, the blindness of the Government in disregarding and breaking the Simonstown Agreement without taking the trouble to make alternative arrangements for this vital trade route seems incredible. If I had been in the shoes of the Secretary of State at this stage, I should never have done anything like that. But we have to face the fact the right hon. Gentleman and his Government have done it and that there is no going back on it. We cannot recreate an agreement broken in this way.

Therefore, it is all the more essential that the British Government should now take a lead in persuading our NATO allies to take a positive view of planning and of taking notice of the vital interests of NATO in keeping open these sea routes south of the Tropic of Cancer. I hope that the Government will take a lead in trying to get their NATO allies to take this step.

The southern flank of NATO is causing much concern to our allies, yet the Government have announced the withdrawal of our permanent naval force from the Mediterranean. I hope that the Secretary of State will understand that it is not the physical presence of particular ships that is so important; it is the political importance of a British naval presence which makes it so much easier for our allies, who provide the main body of the naval force there and always will provide it. The Secretary of State has said, under pressure from our NATO allies, that he will arrange for British ships to take part in exercises in the Mediterranean. I hope that he will do that and that the navy will play a full and enthusiastic part in any further exercises there.

But it is the northern flank of NATO which is by far the most important from our point of view and it is here that the disparity is greatest. We have all read or heard of the submarine battles in the last war that nearly succeeded in bringing our economy and our defence effort to a halt. At the height of the Germans' submarine power, they had a maximum of 200 submarines to deploy against us and we had 400 anti-submarine escort vessels to deal with the threat. We know how near we came to failing to counter that threat. It is agreed by all naval experts that even today a superiority of six to one between anti-submarine vessels and submarines is necessary to be sure of being able to cope with any threat.

The Soviet submarine fleet, which is by far the largest the world has ever known, totals more than 385—excluding those fitted with inter-continental ballistic missiles. Let us suppose that only half of them—and that is quite a supposition—were pitted against us and the northern flank of NATO. What anti-submarine vessels do we have in NATO to deal with that? There are 58 in the United Kingdom, 24 in the Netherlands, perhaps half the French fleet, which would total 21, seven from Norway and two from Denmark—a total of 112 anti-submarine vessels to deal with, at a conservative estimate, 200 submarines.

Against that background and military opinion that a superiority of six to one is needed to cope with a submarine threat, any Government ought to think hard about allowing such a situation to continue. I have not even mentioned the fact that the whole North Sea area has assumed a new importance because, in a year or two, we shall be largely dependent on it for half our supplies of oil.

I do not have the time to talk about the drastic reduction of about half in our amphibious force, disapproval of which has been clearly stated by our NATO allies, and also no time to talk about the effects on our construction yards of the cuts in the naval building programme which must follow the severe reduction in the number of our ships at sea.

I hope that these facts, and the rapid survey which I have carried out of the disparity between the forces at our command and the forces likely to be put against us in the vital business of keeping open our sea routes, will be enough to make any Government think twice. I hope that the Government will agree that the military case which I have made is reasonable. They may then ask where the money is to come from to avoid these cuts.

It is not a question, even under this Government, of no money being available. The Government wish to spend it on other things and they must defend their actions in so doing. It is a question of priorities. The Community Land Bill, which is going through Parliament, is expected to cost between £300 million and £400 million in its first year of operation. Does the Secretary of State think that that Bill is more important than having a Navy which can keep open our sea routes? That is the question which he must answer. The White Paper states that the savings in 1975–76 will be about £300 million. Contrast that with the proposal to spend £300 million or £400 million on a Bill that at least half the country, probably more, does not even want.

In the following year, savings are expected to be about £270 million. We are spending £530 million a year on food subsidies. Is it more important to spend this amount on food subsidies than to have an adequate Navy to keep open our trade routes? I would find it very strange if the Secretary of State made a statement that it was.

It is not a question whether the Government have the money. The Government do have the money, but they are spending it fast on many other things. The Navy Estimates are the result of a review by the Government which took more than a year. It is not a question of it being a rush job or of the Government not having time properly to carry out the review. These Estimates are the product of all the careful assessments of which the Government are capable. It is an assessment which the Opposition considers to be fatally misconceived.

The White Paper proves that the threat facing NATO is strong and increasing every week. It emphasises that Britain's main rôle in defence is our contribution to NATO and that our defence must be seen as part of the defence of Western Europe by NATO. The White Paper flies in the face of its own logic and responds to this situation by announcing major cuts in our naval contribution.

All this has been condemned in polite but devastating terms by all our NATO allies, by virtually all expert military opinion and by a vast majority of Press and public opinion. The ink was not even dry on the White Paper when the Government without rhyme or reason, coolly announced further cuts of £110 million. We still do not know the precise details of these cuts.

It would be easy for the Opposition in the face of the truly dreadful economic mess into which the Government have plunged us to let these Estimates pass as an inevitable result of an incompetent Socialist Government that is running out of money, but we cannot ignore what every one of our allies in Western Europe recognises. Unless NATO and its member nations wake up to the threat that is now so glaringly obvious, we may lose our ability to defend our nation from a slow death by the strangulation of the nation's trade.

This is a question of priorities. We Conservatives put our national defence at a much higher priority than does the Labour Party. It is appropriate to leave that old protagonist of mine, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), to put his finger, as he so often does, right on the spot. He said last month, It is my view and the view of most people that the health service is as important to the defence of this country as is the Army, the Navy or the Air Force."—[Official Report, 17th June 1975; Vol. 893, c. 1249.] Perhaps the best answer to this can be given in the words of Somerset Maugham when he said When a nation values anything more than freedom it will lose its freedom—and the irony of it is that, if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose them too. I therefore ask my hon. Friends this evening to vote against these estimates in which the Government are weakening the vital defence of this country.

4.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

It is always a pleasure to follow a speech by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) because, in spite of the illogicalities and imperfections in his case, nobody could question his sincerity and his commitment to the nation's wellbeing. We may differ deeply on how we can best serve that well-being, but his sincerity is not in doubt. I shall develop my answers to the points he has made in the course of my speech, but I must make a couple of observations before his words disappear into the ether.

I begin by accusing the hon. Member of being guilty of that old game of the Opposition—humbug. I have listened carefully to the suggestions which he has made for cuts in public expenditure, and even if I were to accept that his suggestions were candidates for cuts—which I do not—the total of the sums he mentioned was only £930 million at the outside. The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) has gone on record as saying that the nation's difficulties can be solved only if we make cuts in public expenditure at the level of £4,500 million. The Government would like to know, and have never been told by the Opposition, precisely how the gap between the £930 million and the £4,500 million would be bridged.

In substantiating my claim of humbug it is worth pointing out that the Conservatives were still in office in 1973 shortly before the General Election and faced economic difficulties which were not so severe as those confronting the country when the full pressure of the oil crisis was upon us. Even so, they initiated cuts of £291 million at 1974 prices. Is the right hon. Gentleman really asking us to believe that the Conservatives, if they had been returned to office, would not, confronted with the kind of crisis we had to face of maintaining essential oil supplies, have continued in defence terms along the road of cuts that they had already begun?

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

Surely the Under-Secretary will agree that the previous Government provided three and a half years of stability in defence expenditure which was of great value to the forces. There is a great difference between a cut at the end of three and a half years and drastic cuts such as the Government are making.

The Minister's mathematics are not all that good in adding up the figures I gave. I believe he is confusing totals with yearly totals, and I hope that when he reads Hansard he will look more carefuly at the suggestions I have made.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

I am delighted that we are going to have a debate about mathematics. The hon. Member has still failed to tell us how he will meet the sums stipulated by the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East. His intervention has only served to underline my observations about humbug.

I have one other general observation to make. It is extraordinary that the Opposition, who are committed to the principle of the membership of NATO and a defence strategy within the context of NATO, still talk about our problems as though we would be operating on our own. The whole point of the Government's defence policy is that there must be a sensible division of responsibility within the NATO alliance.

The hon. Member underlined the issue of the southern flank and the Mediterranean. It is interesting that since we have announced our new policy towards the southern flank and the Mediterranean, the Italians have come forward with the most substantial expansion for years in their contribution to the maritime strategies of the NATO alliance. This makes the point about how we cannot be expected in our financial situation to carry the burden of the whole alliance and how other allies must be prepared to do their fair share. The indications are that when we make a stand they are willing to take a fair share of the burden, and they have already begun to do so.

In view of what the hon. Member for Ayr said, it seems wise briefly to remind the House of our principal reductions in the Royal Navy following the defence review.

There will be a reduction in our amphibious forces involving premature disposal of HMS "Bulwark" and her helicopter squadron, and 41 Commando of the Royal Marines will be phased out as we prepare to leave Malta at the end of the present agreement in 1979. We shall not be proceeding with the construction of two new purpose-built commando ships.

As a result of the decision no longer to earmark ships for assignment to NATO in the Mediterranean in war and to withdraw our forces stationed in Singapore, there will be reductions in the planned numbers of destroyers, frigates and mine counter measure vessels. These reductions will involve premature disposal of some existing ships. The number of conventional submarines will also be reduced because of our decision to specialise increasingly in nuclear-powered vessels.

There will be a consequential slimming in afloat support. We plan the premature disposal of three Royal Fleet Auxiliary tankers and five other vessels. There will also be deletions from certain planned future orders.

The House will remember that the defence review set a target of reduced manpower strength in the Navy amounting to some 5,000. The defence White Paper published in March stated that the consequent redundancies amongst the United Kingdom Royal Naval and Royal Marine personnel would be fewer than 1,000 officers and men. Total strength would be reduced from 79,000 to 74,000. Since then we have undertaken a thorough analysis of the Navy's manpower requirements up to 1979 and of the most appropriate means of achieving the target for reduction.

I am pleased to be able to say that redundancies are now expected to be even smaller than originally predicted. By cutting back on entries and by reductions in the extensions of service, estimates based on current plans are that it will not be necessary to make any junior officers or United Kingdom ratings of other ranks redundant. As far as more senior officers are concerned, a small redundancy programme will be necessary, probably involving fewer than 50 officers of the rank of commander and above. In the first instance it is envisaged that some 12 officers will be made redundant by the end of 1977. All those in the specialisations and age bands involved will be approached on a personal basis to seek their attitude towards voluntary redundancy. Whenever possible, those selected for redundancy will be volunteers, but some non-volunteers may have to be included in the programme. All will receive the redundancy terms set out in the defence White Paper.

I recognise that a number of hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite, even if the hon. Member for Ayr does not include himself in their number, are deeply anxious about the statistics which I have just underlined, but in their—in many cases—nostalgic preoccupations they should not overlook the very positive benefits derived from the defence review. It has given the Government, Parliament and the nation an opportunity to think through our British defence rôle, analysing what we can do and how best to do it. This was an exercise long overdue.

We have had too many White Papers which have amounted to little more than an inventory of the inherited patchwork of capabilities and responsibilities, at best outlining certain limited adjustments. The reality is that we are no longer the centre of a great empire with all the consequent implications for defence and foreign policy of that position. Nor are we a dominating economic world Power in the sense in which we once were.

As we all recognise—whatever our position on the recent referendum—our future will inevitably be far more orientated towards the Continent of Europe than in the past. We can no longer afford to police large areas of the world alone, as the hon. Gentleman was gracious enough to observe. We have, therefore, to establish what are the fundamental priorities in defence terms and, having decided, determine to fulfil those priorities convincingly. In this context we believe that the only sane strategy for Britain lies within the overall NATO defence structure.

Of course, it may be tempting to wish that we could still shepherd our merchant ships around the seas all over the world, but, in all honesty, this is just no longer a practical proposition, and the sooner we understand this the better. Nothing could be more foolish and irresponsible in defence terms than posturing in attitudes and situations which cannot be sustained. We would deceive nobody but ourselves.

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

Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House and this country that for the first time in centuries this Government have altogether abrogated any attempt to be able to defend our overseas trade?

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

The hon. and gallant Gentleman's impatience on defence matters is well recognised in this House and is in many senses respected. If he can bear with me a little longer, I hope to deal in some depth with the kind of anxieties he has in his mind.

Having said this, nobody in my position could for one moment overlook the dramatic story since 1962 of rapidly growing Soviet maritime strength way beyond any level dictated by a purely defensive preoccupation. This story of Soviet naval expansion has been impressive in terms of both the quantity and the quality of its equipment. The fact that it is on average launching one new nuclear-powered submarine a month is a daunting prospect by any standard. The recent world-wide Russian naval exercise—OKEAN 75—held in April was the biggest in its naval history. The significance and scope of its deployments in that exercise are, indeed, a sobering matter for reflection.

The Soviet Minister of Defence, Marshal Grechko, has himself summarised this growth in Russian naval capability as follows: The Russian Navy has undergone a qualitative change and its rôle in the defence of the country has been changed. Its basis is nuclear submarines, naval missile-carrying and anti-submarine aircraft and various kinds of missile and anti-submarine surface ships. Our navy has left coastal waters and land-locked seas for the expanses of the world's oceans. Should the pressure ever be exerted, we shall have to concentrate on the most essential priorities, and the House should be in no doubt that it will be within the NATO area that our most basic interests lie. It is, therefore, to this area that we have primarily dedicated ourselves in defence terms.

It is against this background that we should assess the future rôle of the Royal Navy. The defence review concluded that we should concentrate British effort in those areas where we could make the most significant contribution to collective defence. For the Navy this must mean the Eastern Atlantic, the Channel, the North Sea and our other home waters, as well as custodianship of Polaris as part of the NATO nuclear deterrent.

It is not always completely understood that the maritime element is not a separate compartment of defence policy. On the contrary, it is part of the basic foundation—a cornerstone—of the whole of NATO's strategy. It has to be recognised that without the maritime task of keeping open the supply routes from the United States to Europe in any time of developing tension, the strategy on land would prove little more than a hollow facade.

Furthermore, the maritime environment provides for any potential enemy an excellent opportunity to deploy political pressure without the same degree of risk of self-defeating escalation to a nuclear holocaust which would be present in any military confrontation on land.

The House will forgive me if I turn to the thoughts of the architect of Soviet naval expansion, Admiral Gorshkov. He has said—again I quote:— While representing a formidable force in war a navy has always been an instrument of policy of the imperialist states as an important support for diplomacy in peacetime, owing to its inherent qualities which permit it to a greater degree than other branches of the armed forces to exert pressure on potential enemies without the direct employment of weaponry. This quotation suggests to me that this lesson has not been lost on the Russians when one considers the vast and rapid expansion of the Russian Navy.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman more than is necessary, but is he about to add, after that spine-chilling quotation, that therefore we must reduce our own NATO naval contribution very substantially?

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to set a standard which he did not set himself by giving way, but he would do well to sit patiently, as we did to hear what he was endeavouring to say.

The credibility of NATO's policy of deterrence lies in the capability to deploy sufficient forces so as to meet and contain aggression at whatever level. It depends upon the concept of flexibility, generating uncertainty in the mind of potential aggressors about the precise manner in which the alliance would respond, and the precise timing and circumstances in which the alliance might escalate conflict to a higher level. The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force play a vital part in this flexibility. In the Eastern Atlantic they provide the bulk of NATO's ready maritime forces, demonstrating to both the Warsaw Pact countries and our NATO allies alike that the Soviets could not count on a quick victory on land by isolating Europe from America in a time of tension or war. If the Warsaw Pact possessed an unchallenged capability—which it does not at present—to dominate the Atlantic and cut these vital lines of communication, the effect on allied confidence—even if no shots were ever fired—would be profound, as would be the effect on the Russians' calculation of the outcome of any act of aggression which they might be tempted to commit.

When we came to office we discovered that the series of arbitrary cuts imposed by the Conservative Government on defence had inevitably created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Nowhere was this better illustrated than by the vast question-mark overhanging the future of naval aviation. I am delighted to see on the Conservative Front Bench the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who used to urge his own Government to overcome their timid indecisiveness about naval aviation.

For years a decision had been anxiously awaited on the maritime Harrier. The House will have noticed that within days of announcing the final form of our defence review we were able to make a positive statement about the future of this versatile aircraft with the Fleet. This illustrates my point. What was needed above all was a thorough review of commitments and capabilities. This we have completed, and, as this example illustrates, we are now involved in the task of moulding a modern Navy matched to future and present needs as well as to available resources, a Navy well aware of the task expected of it.

The shape of the Fleet will be that required to play the part which NATO expects of us in the forward sea areas of the Eastern Atlantic and Channel. Here the main threat is the formidable Soviet submarine force, which—in fairness, the hon. Member for Ayr said this—already outnumbers that of NATO by over two to one, and which is backed by a very powerful anti-surface ship missile capability residing in surface ships and aircraft, as well as in the submarines themselves.

We have, therefore, decided to put our main emphasis on anti-submarine warfare and are going ahead with the anti-submarine cruiser programme. The effect of these ships will be maximised by our decision to develop the maritime Harrier. The air cover which these aircraft will provide—primarily in intercepting the reconnaissance and target-indicating aircraft on which the Soviet long-range missile forces depend—will enable these ships to operate further afield than would otherwise have been possible.

We also plan to counter the Soviet missile threat by continuing the programme of new destroyers and frigates, including the Type 42 destroyer with the Sea Dart missile able to provide air defence cover for groups of ships, and the Type 22 frigate armed with the Sea Wolf anti-missile system and with Exocet.

Our other main naval anti-submarine weapon system is the nuclear-powered submarine. We shall continue to give high priority to this programme, and we are planning to arm our submarines with a missile which will also give them a much more formidable anit-surface ship capability.

We also must recognise the substantial mining threat. In this context we have placed the order for the first dual rôle hunter/sweeper/mine countermeasure vessel. In addition, we have in prospect new missiles and other weapons systems and we are studying whether hydrofoils and hovercraft have a place in our defence plans.

At this point I should like to turn to the Royal Marines. The House does not need to be reminded of the profound impression which their proficiency and commitment have made upon me as their Service Minister. I make no apology for repeating what I have previously said in this House. They are in every sense an élite corps. We shall be retaining the Royal Marines brigade headquarters and 3 Commandos with their associated Wessex helicopters. All these are, of course, declared to NATO. One of the commando groups which I was able to see for myself in training in the Arctic Circle last winter is specially equipped for arctic warfare. They are constantly available for deployment to Northern Norway. The Royal Marines as a whole have undertaken other major duties during the past year, including their work in Northern Ireland and their service with the United Nations Forces in Cyprus.

I was speaking of our fleet developments to meet our NATO tasks. But we also have our new important national priorities in the protection of our interests in the North Sea. With the greatly increased significance of the resources of the sea and the seabed—not least the prospect of self-sufficiency in oil supplies from the North Sea—the Navy, together with the Royal Air Force, clearly has a significant part to play on what has become known as offshore tapestry.

In some ways closely related to this offshore tapestry responsibility is the work of the Royal Naval Hydrographic Service. It is certainly no exaggeration to say that in this sphere during its distinguished history it has set perhaps the highest standards in the world. This service is still of immense importance for the Navy, but it has increasing civilian significance as well, particularly in the context of the use of resources of the sea and seabed. As I have already reported to the House, a special hydrographic study group has completed its work. Its report is under careful consideration by the Government, and I hope to be in a position to make a statement before very long.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol North East

Is the Department paying attention to the practical suggestions made by the Select Committee on Science and Technology in this respect?

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

I assure my hon. Friend that we have always paid the closest attention to the observations of Select Committees. We find it constructive in the best sense and stimulating of more thought on how we can best do our job.

What must, however, in the meantime be appreciated is that, whatever civil contribution this Service makes, the defence budget on its new limited basis can cover only that part of the hydrographic task which is relevant to military priorities.

So far I have been concentrating on the main responsibilities of the Navy, but there are, of course, still some wider commitments which have been spelt out in the defence review. For example, there is the Gibraltar guard ship, the contingent of Royal Marines in the Falkland Islands, and the small naval force at Hong Kong. In the case of the last, we are, as the House knows, considering, together with the Hong Kong administration, its appropriate future size.

The United States Government are now in the process of steering through the legislation proceedings for their future in Diego Garcia, and a new formal agreement is to be signed in due course. The expanded facilities there will offer useful support for refuelling, re-supply and minor maintenance of British naval ships as well as those of the United States.

However, we do not believe that this modest expansion, which, with the evidence of Russian military and naval developments in Somalia, is fully justified, will undermine the objective and the search for realistic arms limitation agreements. I emphasise that we share the desire of the littoral States for peace and stability in the Indian Ocean and we fully support the proposal by the Australian Government for mutual restraint by the United States and the Soviet Union. We, therefore, deeply regret that, despite our representations, the Russian Government have proceeded with their decision to build up a military presence at Berbera.

As far as CENTO, SEATO and the Five-Power defence arrangements are concerned, we shall, of course, remain members and continue with our respective consultative commitments.

As the House knows, after careful objective consideration, my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence have explained that the disadvantages of continuing to subscribe to the Simonstown Agreement by far outweigh any positive advantages. The agreement has, therefore, been terminated, and we have no continuing special relationship with the South African navy. But the facilities at Simonstown will remain available to us—as they are to other navies—on a customer basis if we should ever need to use them. The termination of this agreement in no way prevents the Royal Navy operating in the Indian Ocean, where facilities in a number of other places are available.

The Royal Navy will also benefit from the increased flexibility of deployment provided by the reopening of the Suez Canal. We hope that the first Royal Naval group consisting of five frigates and supporting Royal Fleet auxiliaries led by the destroyer HMS "Glamorgan" will pass through the canal next month on its way to the Indian Ocean and the Far East.

The Royal Navy, with its special conditions of service involving such extended periods of time away at sea and consequent separation, has special welfare problems. I am, therefore, delighted to inform the House that we are making good progress with the establishment of the Naval Social Service envisaged in the Seebohm Report. The head of the service, Miss Baker, has already prepared her first report, which is being studied within the Department. Our first social work students are already undertaking courses in social administration at various centres of higher education, and I hope that it may prove possible to proceed to the appointment of regional heads of the service before the end of the year.

A special tribute should be paid to the existing staff of the former Naval Welfare Services who are making an important contribution towards the success of the new service. We have also recognised the special housing problems for Service men, and have introduced improvements in our home purchase arrangements.

As the House knows, the Department of the Environment has also recently issued a revised guidance circular drawing the attention of local authorities to the special problems which face Service men and their families in finding accommodation when they leave the Services. This is a welcme move, to which we hope local authorities all over the country will respond by recognising their collective responsibility towards those who have manned our national defence Services.

The WRNS continues to make an indispensable contribution to the efficient work of the Navy. Its rôle and organisation have recently been thoroughly reviewed. It has been decided that it should in future be more closely integrated into the naval Service, so sharing both the greater opportunities and the fuller obligations of such Service. We are actively considering what new jobs it could undertake, and we shall lay before Parliament proposals to bring it and the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service—with all its fine traditions—within the ambit of the Naval Discipline Act. I believe this to be a logical and timely step which will bring the WRNS into line with the women of the two other Services.

We have also considered the future rôle and structure of the Volunteer Naval Reserves. The decisions which we have made about their future, which we are promulgating to the Fleet and the Reserves this afternoon, will involve reductions in ships and manpower but will ensure that they are tailored to meet their war-time task and are more integrated with the mainstream of the Royal Navy as a whole. The Reserves will continue to have a vital sea-going rôle primarily in the field of mine countermeasures warfare, and they will operate the new, more sophisticated mine counter-measures vessel which will be allocated to them in due course. There will also be changes in the command and control arrangements. We are convinced that these measures will result in a taut, effective structure for the Volunteer Reserves, providing a worth while and rewarding experience for all concerned.

No fighting Service can be effective without efficient support, but cuts in the front line inevitably bring reductions in the demands upon the support organisation. Studies are, therefore, being undertaken into the future needs, including the management review of headquarters and rationalisation studies.

All four naval dockyards are being retained and will continue to be fully committed. Their work, as always, remains indispensable to the deployment of the Fleet. It is intended that any future marginal capacity that may become available should be used to undertake work for United Kingdom warship builders, foreign Governments and appropriate civil customers. Always remembering the industrial and employment consideration elsewhere, we would also hope to take back into the yards work which in the past we have been forced to put out to contract. New machinery has been established at the headquarters in Bath for handling dockyard assistance to other Government Departments and outside industry. It is worth noting that the value of such repayment work in the current financial year is estimated at £5 million.

The Royal Dockyard Policy Board has continued to give invaluable advice on the operation of the dockyards. We have recently taken a look at its terms of reference and have redefined these to bring it still closer into contact with the operation of the individual yards as well as the dockyard headquarters at Bath. During the past year the board has been joined by Lord Feather and John Garnett, Director of the Industrial Society. Richard O'Brien has also continued his highly valued service on the board. After several years of outstanding work on the board, Sir Henry Benson has left it, and I would like to take this opportunity of expressing my deep personal appreciation for the tremendous assistance which he has given.

During the past year a great deal has been done to introduce new management and accounting procedures into the dockyards. Next year we shall be introducing a separate Vote for the yards, which will certainly assist in establishing clear accountability to Parliament and in providing an added stimulus to efficiency. The presentation of these accounts will allow for comparison of performance between individual yards. In the light of experience of the working of this Vote, it will in due course be decided whether or not to proceed to a trading fund. In the meantime, alongside these management changes a great deal of time and effort is being put into the improvement of industrial relations within the yards, in the Royal Naval supply and transport service and elsewhere.

The recent industrial Civil Service pay settlement has obviously covered the civilian workers in many naval establish- ments. It has included the principle of equal pay for women and special arrangements for participation in efficiency bonus schemes by employees not currently covered by existing schemes.

At Chatham dockyard we have initiated an experiment for a trial year of tidying up the complex structure of various incentive schemes and, we hope, improving efficiency and job satisfaction by the introduction of a new wages structure. If this proves successful it will be extended to all four dockyards.

During the 16 months since I took over this ministerial post from my predecessor, the hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) who made a distinguished and important contribution as Minister—I am glad to see him in the House today—I have made it my business to see as much of the sharp end of our activities as possible.

If one thing has impressed me more than any other in the visits I have been able to make, it is the calibre, professionalism and loyalty of the men and women, both Service and civilian, upon whom we count for the effective implementation of our naval policy.

We should never be tempted in an age of, at times, almost literally incredible technology and sophistication to believe that this panoply of scientific achievement can somehow be a substitute for human qualities; it can never be better than the standards, motivation and application of the men and women behind it.

I therefore pay the warmest possible tribute, in which I know hon. Members on all sides of the House will wish to join, to all the Service men and women of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, WRNS and nursing service, remembering, apart from their continuing regular service and vigilance, their part in operations like the evacuation of Cyprus last year, the courageous acts of heroism in search and rescue at sea, demanding patrols day after day, night after night in the streets and waters of Northern Ireland and the clearing of the Suez Canal. I should also like to put on record the Government's appreciation for the steadily reliable service given by the Naval and Marine Reserves.

In the Navy Department we have traditionally a particularly large number of civilians in the essential support services, and again I know that hon. Members in all parts of the House will wish to record their gratitude to the Royal Navy Supply and Transport Service in its 10th anniversary year, to the ships' companies of the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries with their outstandingly high level of competence, to the thousands of civilians in our naval dockyards, naval aircraft yards, other fleet establishments and, not least, all headquarters staff.

This whole debate takes place against the backcloth of the grave economic difficulties with which the country is confronted. In these circumstances it would be absurd to dismiss the genuine anxieties about defence expenditure of a number of hon. Members on this side of the House. But I put two points to some of my hon. Friends with all the seriousness at my command.

First, I always have had, and continue to have, great respect for the genuine pacifist position, but those of us who have forgone that position face an entirely different situation. We forgo the pacifist position because we believe there is a threat which we must meet. This means that we must not shirk the task of analysing exactly the character of that threat and of ensuring that, together with our allies, we are in a position to meet it. We cannot afford to spend more on defence than is absolutely essential, but, equally, it would be criminally wasteful of public resources to spend a great deal of national wealth on providing a defence system which was insufficient to meet the challenge.

My second point is that, as our party has repeatedly made plain in its election manifestos, we see the NATO alliance as an instrument of détente as much as of defence. It is because I believe that we must achieve a greater level of understanding between East and West and because I believe that we cannot look our children in the face if we ever slacken in our commitment to achieving genuine disarmament that I believe fragmentation or disintegration within the alliance would at this juncture prove disastrous. The devastation which could be brought about in the holocaust of modern warfare is so horrific and grave that we must discipline ourselves into avoiding the temptations of negotiations by gesture.

The road to a sane world will be hard, demanding the most painstaking and intellectually testing negotiations. We owe it to future generations that any agreements made will be unequivocal and guaranteed. This means that we must be able to negotiate in confidence within the framework of credible collective strength. The Navy stands ready to play its part within that essential framework.

4.38 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

The question posed in this debate is whether the judgment is right in the cuts now being made in the Royal Navy and to what extent they alter or weaken our defensive position.

A logical and cool assessment of the kind of threat which we face must take into account a number of factors. The first factor is obvious—the strength of a possible aggressor, his tactics and his strategy. As we heard this afternoon, the Russian navy has been vastly expanded. It is interesting to see the areas in which the expansion has taken place in the past five years. First, there has been an increase of 150 per cent. in its ballistic submarine fleet. There has been an increase of 35 per cent. in its nuclear powered submarine fleet. The number of Soviet frigates has gone up by 125 per cent., its amphibious vessels by 40 per cent. and its aircraft by 20 per cent. This is not a flag waving fleet. It is a fleet which means business. It is a fleet which tips the balance of power.

The second factor which we must work into our assessment is the strength of the Western, or NATO, alliance. We should not underestimate our rôle in NATO, the importance of NATO to us and our importance to NATO. Our counsel and our decisions are a vitally important influence on the work and strength of NATO. We cannot afford to sit back, cut our forces and expect other countries in NATO not to take account of that and not to consider their position and whether they can afford to make the same cuts. We cannot forget that inflation has eaten into the budgets of our partners in NATO just as much as it has into ours. Alas, in our case it is somewhat worse.

A third factor in our assessment has to be considered, namely, that of political changes on the international and European scene and, more especially, within NATO. If we take into account the upheaval and changes in Portugal, and the difficulties between Turkey and Greece, our job becomes all the more important in ensuring that we, with NATO, have sufficient forces to exclude a Russian presence from areas where we would face a great danger. In this respect I single out Portugal as one of our partners which is closest to us. We should find ourselves in a different position from that which we are in today if Portugal left NATO or changed its political allegiance. This all forms part of the inescapable assessment.

It is extraordinary that the Minister can stand at the Dispatch Box and, on the one hand, talk about the build-up and growth of Russian forces and the threat that that poses to this country and, on the other hand, talk about the cuts which are being made. It is humbug to talk in those terms.

It is a hard fact that, however difficult our economic problems are, our priority must be to maintain the safety catch on the balance of military forces. The question that arises in today's debate is whether the cuts that are being made in the Navy take that balance to breaking point. I believe that we are at that breaking point. When we consider our strength it is important to examine the long-term effects of these cuts. For example, of the number of frigates that we have in service, 27 came into service between 1956 and 1963, 13 came into service between 1964 and 1970 and seven have come into service since 1970. Happily, there are three more Type 21s due in service this year. As can be deduced from these figures, the over riding majority of frigates in our Fleet are in the age bracket of 15 to 20 years. Of our 10 guided-missile destroyers, four are more than 12 years old but we have five under construction, which will help to reduce the ageing effect in the number of guided-missile destroyers.

However, the situation that the review will bring about, due to the number of destroyers and frigates being reduced by nine in this 10-year period, becomes all the more serious if we take into account the age of the ships that we have at present.

The Russians are building a new Navy. We are watching our Navy get older and more decrepit. In the unhappy possibility of a conventional war occurring, the important need is for us to detect that threat at the earliest opportunity. Our detection must be centred—and the Minister is in agreement with this—against a surprise submarine underwater attack. The emphasise should be on early detection and the quick kill, and then we must have the protection methods at our disposal.

The Minister was extraordinarily wise to hold on to the building programme of HMS "Invincible" and to the through-deck cruiser programme. He was even wiser when he placed the order for the Maritime Harrier. This is a most remarkable aircraft and will be of the greatest benefit in enabling us to land on small through-deck cruisers in the future. The Harrier can take off from a small area of deck and also land on a similar size of deck and, therefore, we can use our depot and maintenance ships in the rearguard in order to keep the number of ships at our disposal above the maximum that the through-deck cruiser can accommodate. The rôle of repair and maintenance ships in the fleet's disposition, with which the through-deck cruiser presents us, is worthy of the deepest examination.

In a period of inflation such as the present the aim is to get the best value for money. The obvious answer is standardisation. Much lip service is paid to standardisation. However, a great deal of work has to be done on it. It is important that this work is carried out. We spend nearly £500 million on research and development, and much of this could be offset if we agreed with some of our NATO partners on research and development programmes which we could jointly undertake. Of course, such joint programmes have been undertaken—for example, MRCA—but a great deal more has to be done in the near future. It is not the time to talk about standardisation without achieving concrete results.

One of the cries in the Royal Navy is always about the burden of paperwork that falls on the officers and staff who man the ships. I hope that in the management review of the Ministry of Defence—which is being carried out in conjunction with the Civil Service and which is aimed at adjusting the size and shape of the departments—a serious effort will be made to cut out unnecessary paperwork within the Fleet where-ever possible. If the Minister has the figures available this afternoon, I hope that he will tell us the proportion of people working in the Ministry to the proportion of people in service in the Fleet.

One of the best values that money can give as an insurance for our protection in the event of a conventional war is in the rôle which the Royal Naval Reserve can play. There is a note in the Defence Estimates on this subject and I should like to draw attention to the aim as defined in the review. It is to achieve a reserve which will provide trained volunteers for manning and supporting minesweeping forces, for manning maritime headquarters and for linguists". I speak as one who has served in the Royal Naval Reserve. Only recently much to my dismay I had to give up that service. The attraction of the Royal Naval Reserve is to give those people who are members on opportunity of going to sea in the Fleet. The problem that I have found with the reserve in the past 10 years has been the change of emphasis towards keeping the reserves in their divisions in this country without an interchange of reserves going into the Fleet to see the latest ideas and ways in which the Fleet is operating. The possibility of reservists doing their training commitment within the Fleet is one of the attractions which draws people into the Royal Naval Reserve.

This is an area which should be expanded. The figures have been reasonably consistent, but the costs of running the reserve are so small in relation to the men and women who will be available in time of war that the expenditure is well worth while. There are only 2,600 officers in the Royal Naval Reserve and 4,400 men. The ratio is wrong. There should be more men and fewer officers. I very much hope that the Minister will look at ways in which the Royal Naval Reserve can be made more attractive and also give it more publicity. In this current year only £14,000 is being provided for advertising the reserves.

The important element is mine-sweeping, but I would extend that to watch, keeping administration and supply duties, and navigation, which can be undertaken within the Fleet. The argument has always been that the Navy is becoming a technological Navy and that the machinery is becoming too complicated for the reserves to be able to master in the short period of training which they have every year. But the simple fact is that many of the computers, machines and equipment now incorporated in our ships make the task of the watch-keeper of the gun-layer, or whoever it is, very much easier and simpler. Therefore, we can afford to have our reserves ready to go into the Fleet if a war situation arises.

Photo of Mr Antony Buck Mr Antony Buck , Colchester

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is also a definite place for the Royal Naval Reserve to deploy its activities relative to the offshire oil rigs, where they could be particularly useful?

Photo of Mr Robert Banks Mr Robert Banks , Harrogate

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I was coming to that point. Patrol vessels is the one area in which the RNR can be of immense value, and never more so than in the areas of the oil rigs.

People are very pleased to do this. They want to join and to have the opportunity of going to sea and doing a worthwhile job. That is the key. They must be given the chance of doing a worthwhile job.

In all this debate the simple question comes down to whether we shall be up to the challenge when it may come. I believe that we shall look back on this period and say that we were blind to the obvious factors of the growth of the Russian Fleet and the declining strength of NATO that has begun in the cuts we are making. We shall have to come to the inevitable conclusion that this review lost us the peace for which we fought.

4.53 p.m.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I start from a different standpoint to the majority of hon. Members present today because I start from the principle that I do not believe that the cuts are sufficient. I and many of my hon. Friends have made our position clear over a long period since we have been Members of this House. In this debate I do not want to go over that ground. I want to concentrate my brief remarks on one particular facet of the Defence Estimates, and that concerns the question of Polaris.

In his closing words my hon. Friend the Minister talked about Britain having a "credibility". I agree with him. We must have a credibility. That is why I want to put some questions to him about Polaris.

The Defence White Paper is not particularly specific on the matter. Indeed, one could say that the references in the White Paper to Polaris are rather sketchy, to say the least. Considering that the White Paper says that Polaris provides a unique European contribution to NATO's strategic nuclear capability out of all proportion to the small fraction of our defence budget which it costs to maintain", I should have thought that Polaris would have rated more than a total of 28 lines in the whole defence review.

It is true that the amount of money which is to be spent in 1975–76, according to the Estimates, to maintain Polaris is low—if one can call £58 million low. It is low in comparison with some other projects. However, it is certainly the most important single weapons system in the Armed Forces. That being so, I believe that we ought to have more information about it, and certainly at least some more justification of its value to British security.

Considering that Polaris is far and away the best known weapons system to the general public, and considering that it has produced all sorts of emotions and demonstrations, I should have thought that the Government would have considered that this weapons system would have rated a great deal more explanation than it has. I hope that the Minister will forgive me, therefore, if I put a few questions to him.

At Chapter I, paragraph 25(d), the White Paper says of Polaris We shall maintain its effectiveness. That, I presume, means normal maintenance and a commitment to complete the long refit which is due next year, I believe, for the first submarine. But it could probably also mean work on the warhead. In the debate on 7th May the Secretary of State for Defence took great care not to rule out further nuclear tests. But these would be necessary only if there is work going ahead on the warheads, either to "MIRV" them or to miniaturise the present multiple re-entry vehicles. I can find no mention of such work in Chapter VII of the White Paper, which deals with research and development. Therefore, I should like to know whether there is any clear costing of research and development, and, if so, what it is and why it is not in the White Paper.

In referring back to what the Secretary of State said about nuclear tests, perhaps I may say in passing that although he did not rule out the possibility that there may be another, which I would deplore, I only hope that there has been none in between—because it took Chapman Pincher to inform the country that we had had one which we might not have known about. However, that is a more general point.

My second question relates to Chapter I of the White Paper, paragraph 25(d), which says categorically that We do not intend to move to a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons. On the face of it, that should mean that "MIRVing" the Polaris missiles or buying Poseidon missiles and developing British MIRV warheads for them are options which the Secretary of State has totally ruled out. But I should like to hear from the Minister whether that is, in fact, so or whether the Government have a different concept or a different definition of the words "a new generation".

I hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that the Government are against the multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles— if one can get one's mouth around these long words—and I should like to hear his view about them.

That same statement, saying We do not intend to move to a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons means, if it means anything, that there will be no developments of a completely new strategic weapons system. The defence review covers a 10-year period, so this non-development commitment presumably goes for the same period.

The original estimate of the life of a Polaris submarine was 20 to 25 years. Varying periods have been given, but it is roughly that. In other words, the earliest date necessary for replacement is 1986, and the latest is 1995. I take those dates from the Twelfth Report of the Expenditure Committee for 1972–73. On that basis the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee recommended that a decision on a replacement for Polaris would have to come by 1977 to allow for the eight to 12 years which apparently is necessary for the development of major new weapon systems.

My third question is whether it is true that the Government have now revised their estimate of the life of the four submarines. If so, on what is that revision based? Have some improvements been made? If not, is the Secretary of State's Department proposing or planning improvements? If improvements have been made, when were they made, and why have we not been told about them? Most important, what is the cost?

Those are the questions which I should like my hon. Friend to answer when he replies. I believe that the House is entitled to those answers. That is why I return to my original point. The references in the White Paper to Polaris are so skimpy as to cause suspicion in the minds of hon. Members and in the minds of the public. That lack of information, which I hope the Minister will remedy, gives rise to the view that perhaps the Government are wrong about Polaris or are consciously planning not to have a replacement. If the latter posssibility is correct, it seems that we shall do the opposite of what the Government seem to want to do and slip out of the membership of the nuclear club without taking advantage of having been a member of it in the first place. If that is what we are doing, either through having come to the wrong conclusions or through having conciously planned not to have replacements, in my opinion we are not being very clever.

A decision to give up nuclear weapons could help to prevent nuclear proliferation or could aid the process of détente, to which the Minister has referred and in which he has said NATO plays a particular rôle. In his opening statement, the Minister, when speaking about general defence expenditure and the rôle of defence in the present-day world, may have been speaking to me or to certain of my hon. Friends. Let me make it clear that I am not a pacifist. I have never been a Pacifist.

I happen to believe that Britain's possession of nuclear weapons, with all the understandable anxiety which arises from having possession of deadly weapons which are also possessed by other countries, and notably the Soviet Union, bearing in mind our geographical position and our size, sets us on a suicide course. If we did not have nuclear weapons not only would we be in a much safer position but we would be enabled to make a better contribution to the cause of world peace. I believe that there are many things in this world that are worth defending even by fighting for them. I do not happen to believe that the possession of nuclear weapons helps in that way. That is why I and some of my hon. Friends take a certain position.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

My hon. Friend has said that one feature of the Polaris missile is the relative cheapness of maintaining it. I understand that my hon. Friend and certain of her hon. Friends are committed to substantial cuts in defence expenditure. That seems to be a totally different point.

Photo of Ms Jo Richardson Ms Jo Richardson , Barking

I do not quite understand what my hon. Friend means. I said at the beginning of my remarks—in fact, I was quoting from the White Paper—that the Polaris missile is a relatively cheap missile. What I am trying to say is that relatively cheap it may be but inefficient it may also be, and, therefore, a waste of money. As regards the position which I and my hon. Friends take on cuts, our position on the size of the cuts does not rest merely with Polaris.

I return to my final point. I am not a pacifist and I do not take the pacifist's attitude. However, I would prefer out defences, if we have to have them, not to be based on a nuclear strategy, which I happen to believe makes us a target. When we talk about the grave economic situation in which we find ourselves, when we hear the Opposition begging for cuts in public expenditure and when we hear the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) asking why we have to have defence expenditure reduced when we could be using the money which the Community Land Bill will cost and which subsidies already cost, I know well what is in the minds of Conservative Members—namely, cuts in education, social expenditure, housing and so on.

That is expenditure for life but we are talking about expenditure for death. That is why I believe we should concentrate our cuts on the weapons of death rather than the expenditure for life.

5.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion

I think that it would be inappropriate for me to intervene between the questions that the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) has asked and the answers that she will no doubt receive from the Minister. All I would say is that we must realise that in the world in which we are living proliferation of nuclear weapons is already taking place on an increasing scale. For Britain to believe that in abandoning such weapons we would have any influence on the course of events today beyond making us more liable to death and destruction than we are—protected as we now are by our own nuclear weapon—is an illusion.

The Minister's speech filled me with foreboding about the general direction in which our defence thinking is going. The hon. Gentleman gave what my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) rightly called a spine-chilling account of the growth of the Soviet Navy. He gave an account not only of its growth but of the purposes for which it might be used, as suggested by such a high authority as Admiral Gorshkov—namely, a kind of modern gunboat diplomacy for exercising power and influence throughout the world.

But the conclusions which the Minister drew from his analysis were entirely opposite to those which I would have expected. If the hon. Gentleman had said, "In the light of what we know about the growth of the Russian Navy or the views expressed by its leaders, we must make a bigger effort than we have planned, or even a bigger effort than the Conservative Party made", I would have applauded him. If he had said "We cannot for financial reasons make a bigger effort but we shall try to mobilise our allies to join with us in resisting this development, and we shall at least maintain and preserve the assets that we have in, for example, Singapore, Gan and Simonstown, and our Mediterranean presence", I would have supported him wholeheartedly. However, the hon. Gentleman's response seems to be to look at the danger and to run away from it, to retreat into a limited area without making any effort to strengthen our defences or the will-power of those with whom we work.

One of the retreats that we are undertaking is the abrogation of the Simonstown Agreement. It is to that matter that I wish to devote my remarks. A few years ago the abrogation of the Simonstown Agreement would have led to at least a complete day's debate in the House. But as our concern with our overseas interests has shrunk so far below their continuing importance, debates such as this provide the only opportunity to discuss these matters.

The Western Alliance is essentially an oceanic alliance. It is an alliance on the one side between the United States and Europe and on the other side between the United States and Japan. The United States and Europe are linked together by the Atlantic Ocean in terms of defence and trade. The United States and Japan are linked by the Pacific Ocean. But all three industrial power centres—Japan, United States and Europe—depend for their livelihood on access to raw materials and to the market, where they can pay for what they buy. Many of these raw materials are purchased from a great range of countries which lie around the Indian Ocean—New Zealand, Australia, South-East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Persian Gulf and the East Coast of Africa down to South Africa. If we were denied access to those sources of raw materials and to those markets, our economies would be in mortal danger.

We are all conscious of the importance of oil, and, indeed, in the last 18 months we have hardly spoken of much else. However, it is not only oil that is at stake. We must also remember the importance of copper, gold, uranium and a whole variety of metals that are essential to our metallurgical processes and that they stem largely from these areas. Access to those items is vital to all our economies and, above all, to the hard-pressed British economy. The blow that would be struck at us if we were cut off from those materials, or if their price were to be greatly increased, would far outweigh any economies that the Government may make in defence.

In talking of the importance of these matters to all Western countries, particularly to Britain, we must remember that in regard to access to the Indian Ocean, and thereby to raw materials, the Cape route is vital. It is true that the reopening of the Suez Canal means that a good proportion of the trade which has gone round the Cape will now be able to go through the canal. But the Minister misled the House—I am sure unintentionally—by suggesting that the Cape route was no longer essential and that the Suez Canal was an alternative. It is not for me to pronounce on the views of future Governments in Egypt, but we know that the southward openings of the Red Sea are in the hands of countries dominated by the Soviet Union. I refer to Aden—South Yemen—and the Republic of Somalia. The passage of the Suez Canal is itself of only slight importance, as all British Imperial strategists of the last century knew well, if the openings to the Red Sea are in the hands of the other side.

Apart from the precariousness of the Suez Canal-Red Sea route, the large tankers will have to go on using the Cape route, as will a great deal of other shipping concerned with Australia or the East Coast of Africa. Therefore, the Simonstown Agreement remains the key to the security of the Cape route and to much of our trade in the Indian Ocean area—and to all of it if the canal or Red Sea route should be closed again. We are concerned not just with the particular place known as Simonstown but with all the South African ports, with our co-operation with the South African Navy, with the communications centre and with the repair facilities. They provide the essential facilities—and, indeed, the only facilities—between Britain and Singapore on which, to the best of my knowledge, we can rely. I am sure that the Minister on reflection will agree that he misled the House when he said that there are alternatives. There are no clear alternatives.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

The right hon. Gentleman put his view moderately, but I totally disagree with his conclusions. Is he aware that recently one of the biggest groups which we have deployed for years to the Far East returned round the Cape without having to call at Simonstown at all?

Photo of Mr Julian Amery Mr Julian Amery , Brighton, Pavilion

I do not think that in any way proves the hon. Gentleman's point. It was able to go that way round the Cape because the Cape route was in safe hands. Secondly, had there been any problems, all the facilities were at its disposal. They may be at its disposal in future on commercial terms or they may not. Who can be sure? What is more, under the Simonstown Agreement those facilities were available to us for use as back-up even in a dispute in which the South African Republic was not itself involved.

Ten years ago the Indian Ocean was still a British lake. Today the Soviet fleet predominates in the Indian Ocean. With the opening of the canal and our withdrawal from Singapore, Gan and Simonstown, this predominance will become a Soviet paramountcy dwarfing the two United States frigates based at Bahrein or the modest improvement in the faciliites at Diego Garcia, even if they are approved by the Senate and Congress.

As we sit here in this House this afternoon, our access to the raw materials and markets of the Indian Ocean is already at the mercy of the Red Fleet. Some may say, "What is the threat? What am I worried about? Is there really cause for concern?". I thought that the Minister gave a good deal of cause for concern in his own analysis. There is concern about Soviet gunboat diplomacy. Admiral Gorshkov referred to this matter in a recent article in the Morski Zbornik, the Red Fleet's newspaper, when he spoke of the increasingly important peace-time rôle of the Soviet Navy and of the political influence it can exercise by a tacit demonstration of superior force. That is gunboat diplomacy in the old Victorian style. It means that the newly-fledged, weak independent countries around the Indian Ocean could be influenced in their policies by the arrival of the Red Fleet. It may even determine the character of their regimes and, therefore, their relations with Britain and with the Western Alliance as a whole. We must not think in purely national terms but in terms of the Alliance of which we are a part.

We know from repeated pronouncements from Moscow that it is a basic strategy of the Soviet Union to deny us access to raw materials and markets as a way to destroying what they call imperialism. There are other threats, too—for example, the possibility of a blockade by proxy. We know that the Soviets are generous in providing arms to potential allies. We have seen lavish supplies of Soviet arms go to Egypt, Syria and Somalia. We might find such arms being sent to the People's Republic of Mozambique. It is not altogether fanciful to believe that they might make available some of the older submarines which, although still fully effective, are surplus to Soviet requirements. We could find in local conflicts between, say, Somalia and Kenya, or Mozambique and South Africa, those submarines being deployed to intercept our shipping with those countries and setting up a blockade.

This type of thing has happened before. Older Members will remember that during the Spanish Civil War, when Franco had no submarines, British ships trading with the Spanish Republic were frequently sunk by submarines alleged to be Franco's submarines but which in fact were Mussolini's submarines. This could be done again. The Russians could provide submarines ostensibly to some African country in conflict with another.

However, much the most important threat is the essence of naval power itself as a means of exerting political pressure. Perhaps the best way that I can illustrate this point is by drawing attention to what the White Paper says about the threat in central Europe. There is a very eloquent passage in the White Paper which explains how the preponderance of Soviet forces in central Europe—tanks, troops, aircraft and so on—while they do not necessarily presage open aggression, could be used as a means of political blackmail in a crisis.

The same is true of the sea. All of us agree that we must maintain adequate forces—comparable forces if possible—in central Europe so as to have a measure of flexible response to a Soviet threat.

We do not like the trip-wire conception which gives us no choice between capitulation or catastrophe. At present we are not even adopting a trip-wire philosophy in the Indian Ocean. We are leaving nothing to protect our shipping routes and our trade supplies—not only Britain's but those of Europe, America and Japan—against an increasing Soviet presence.

The Secretary of State has said, and the Minister reiterated this afternoon, that we must concentrate our defence effort on NATO, on Europe and on the North Atlantic. Unfortunately, we cannot so concentrate on our economic effort. I wish we could. With the advent of North Sea oil it will be easier, but we cannot do so at present. Indeed, we shall never be able to do so wholly, nor will America, Europe or Japan. We shall always be dependent on the supplies that come from around the Indian Ocean. Who will protect those supplies? The Americans? It would be marvellous if they would. There was a time when the Americans thought that they could undertake everything outside NATO by themselves. Since Vietnam they think very differently.

It is just possible that if we, the French, the Dutch and the South Africans were to maintain some sort of presence in the Indian Ocean, necessarily based upon Simonstown and Singapore, because there is nowhere else, the Americans would join us and contribute to the common effort and produce a force comparable to the Soviet. But unless we do so my bet is that they will not.

We must face the fact that the NATO Alliance is not in itself enough. We can no longer go on with a Western Alliance limited by the Tropic of Cancer. We need a global alliance of the free nations, the main pillars of which will have to be the European Community, the United States and Japan. For this alliance the Simonstown Agreement and the facilities at the Cape are vital. This Government have not sold them down the river—they have thrown them away. No price has been paid to us in exchange. No alternative facility has been offered at Dar-es-Salaam or Mombasa. I cannot see the reason for doing it. There is no saving in manpower or money that can be even measured within the margin of error. There was no pressure from the African countries. Only a few weeks ago my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) asked the Foreign Secretary what representations had been made to him by African countries to withdraw from Simonstown. My hon. Friend received the answer "None".

There is no good will to be gained from this operation—absolutely none. Our presence has been known since the end of the 18th century. It was unobtrusive and the reasons for it were well understood. This withdrawal has been done for one reason, and one reason only, namely, to appease the opinion of certain sections of the Government party below the Gangway who have pressed for this withdrawal when the African States have not. Those sections of the Labour Party have pressed for it and, consciously or unconsciously, they have done so at the behest of Soviet inspirations.

The Soviets know what they are doing, because they are not concerned about the welfare of the African population. They are concerned with denying us raw materials and the strategic positions which we have had in the South Atlantic for so long. It will be very difficult to re-create something which existed and which was no problem. It is much harder to create than to destroy. I can only hope that the West will face up to the danger in time and in some form repair and regain the use of an asset which this Government have so incontinently thrown away.

5.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Harry Selby Mr Harry Selby , Glasgow Govan

I come from an area which has built many famed battleships. It ill becomes me to say that I should like to see no more battleships built in the Clyde. I say that because we can build other kinds of ships of much greater value than warships of any kind.

I have listened to various speeches and wondered whether I should speak. The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) talked about sea lanes. When I think of sea lanes I think of the Victorian era. The hon. Gentleman spoke about defending ourselves against attacks. Who in these days will attack sea lanes?

We have heard talk of conventional wars. There has never been a conventional war. Have we ever known a war to start and finish with the same type of weapon? When one reads the history of the last war, one discovers that Germany was experimenting with a weapon called the V4 during the 1930s. It ultimately became the VI and then the V2. There was nothing conventional about it. While we were still playing around with the traditional methods of defence, the Germans were proceeding quite differently.

Have we examined our NATO allies? We have discussed the Army and the Air Force and we are now discussing the Navy. What does NATO mean in terms of politics today? We have two major powers: the USA, which has encircled the whole of the USSR with devices, and the USSR, which has en-circled the whole of the USA with devices. Those devices are not there for fun. Does anyone believe that if war breaks out the forces that we have in Europe and any big ships or sophisticated submarines fitted with the most modern and up-to-date missiles—I have seen some of them—will be able to stop war breaking out? In my view, the whole of the NATO strategy is completely futile.

Moreover, who says that the waters south of the Mediterranean, south of Simonstown or near Australia belong to anyone? The fact that we were in those waters first does not make them ours. I am not pro-Soviet. If we are entitled to have battleships, submarines and other vessels of war there so too is every other country.

When I hear debates like this, I go back to before 1914 and think of some people who ultimately became known as "Jingoists". They developed the slogan: We want eight—we won't wait. In other words, if the Russians have 1,000 Polaris submarines we must have parity, if not superiority. I sometimes wonder whether we are living in 1975 or 1905.

If war breaks out, can it possibly be a conventional war? It might start as a conventional war. We are living during a time of liberation movements, revolutions and struggles for independence. This is an era of revolution. Time will not stand still just because we want it to do so. It is time we took cognisance of the fact that we have invented weapons of war which will be used.

When President Kennedy said to Mr. Khrushchev "You will remove those missiles from Cuba or else," he may or may not have been bluffing. Perhaps he would have used his weapons. We know that once atomic weapons of any kind are used there is holacaust. Who knows who would survive? Possibly the only people who would survive would be those in Holy Loch. They are well protected.

The Minister is proposing to reduce the Estimates. I wish that he would reduce them even more. In all seriousness, I wish that we could entirely eliminate all weapons of war. We in Govan could still build ships that could carry the goods of the earth to every part of the earth.

5.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Brotherton Mr Michael Brotherton , Louth Borough

I am sure that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Selby) will forgive me if I do not follow too closely his interesting historical and contemporary analysis of the strategy of war. I can assure him that there will be no more battleships built in Govan.

It is right that the third of our debates on the three Armed Forces should take place this week, when the Chancellor is to announce his measures to try to combat inflation. There may be cuts, freezes or squeezes, but we should recall that a Government have only two primary tasks in a free country. Those tasks are to defend and to feed the people. If a Government cannot provide the conditions under which the people can feed and defend themselves, anything else is quite useless. Houses, hospitals, schools, roads and social security benefits are all as nothing if we cannot perform those two primary tasks.

I am delighted to be able to start by congratulating the Government upon not one facet but three facets of their naval policy. I would like to say how delighted I was when, last month, they followed a suggestion I made in my maiden speech last November to the effect that the Beira Patrol should cease to operate. The patrol has wasted millions of pounds and man hours. It has meant that tens of thousands of men in the Royal Navy have been bored to death as they patrolled up and down a useless patrol line. We all know that goods were got into Rhodesia by other means. I congratulate the Government on making this sensible decision. I congratulate them, at long last, in heeding the calls that we made and that other people made to the former Conservative Government to proceed with the maritime Harrier.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

Is it not an extraordinary fact that the very Labour Members who dominated the action against Rhodesia and supported the Beira Patrol are the same people who are now saying that we must reduce our defence spending to nothing?

Photo of Mr Michael Brotherton Mr Michael Brotherton , Louth Borough

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out how inconsistent the Labour Party is in its inconsistencies.

The decision to proceed with the maritime Harrier means that we are opening up the possibility of an enormous export market. There are numerous nations who wish to buy this most advanced aircraft. We are at the same stage with vertical-take-off aircraft as our aviation industry reached with the Comet before the Elba disaster. It would have been a criminal shame had we decided not to proceed with the project. The decision also means that fixed-wing flying will continue in the Royal Navy.

Thirdly, I congratulate the Government on their continuing decision to retain the Polaris fleet. Ever since the 1964 election the Labour Party has managed to be consistent in going against its manifesto pledge, not renegotiating any agreement and keeping the Polaris fleet. My only regret is that we have not built a fifth Polaris vessel. That would have meant that we would have made the deterrent completely credible and watertight because there would always have been two vessels on station and not one, as occasionally happens.

Having congratulated the Government on those points I must now refer, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), to the question of Simonstown. The Soviet maritime threat throughout the world grows month by month. The Soviets are now moving into fixed-wing flying. They are commissioning their first aircraft carrier. The more we cut back our maritime forces, the more the Russians develop theirs. Now we have thrown away the Simonstown Agreement.

I am reminded of what happened in the 1930s when the Government of Neville Chamberlain abrogated the arrangement whereby we could use the ports of Southern Ireland. We know how many tens of thousands of British lives were lost during the 1939–45 war because we had cast away that agreement for no good reason. The Minister says that there are alternative arrangements to Simonstown. I would like to know where they are. Can they be in Beira, controlled by the Marxist Frelimo? Let us proceed north in our steamer. Do we go into Somalia or do we cross to Aden and ask the Government of the Southern Yemen whether we may use the facilities of that port?

We have already heard that the Singapore arrangements are being brought to a close. What about something in that country? I refer to paragraph 38, Chapter I of the White Paper, which says: We plan to withdraw from the staging post on Gan by April 1976 and from the naval communications station on Mauritius. If there is any requirement for facilities in the Indian Ocean area in the future, we shall be able to use Diego Garcia where we have agreed to a modest expansion of facilities by the USA. In effect the Minister is saying that, apart from Simonstown, there is nothing. Charges of humbug come well from the Minister, who has demonstrated, by the fact that there are no alternative arrangements, that he is an expert on the question of humbug.

Let us move further north to the southern flank of NATO. For the first time for hundreds of years we are to withdraw our forces in the Mediterranean. This is at a time when Greece and Turkey are at loggerheads, virtually fighting one another over the issue of Cyprus. It is at that point that we say we shall not contribute anything more to what NATO can provide in the Mediterranean.

The "Hermes" went to Cyprus at the time of the disturbances. It was only because we had a ship in the area that we were able to evacuate a large number of British families in the northern area of Cyprus. The "Hermes" is part of our amphibious fleet. What is to happen to that? "Bulwark" is to be withdrawn from service next year. "Hermes" is to be primarily an antisubmarine carrier. Of "Fearless" and "Intrepid", only one is to remain in service at any particular time. The Royal Marine Commandos are to be reduced by 25 per cent. Yet the Minister says that we are allocating amphibious forces to NATO.

What is the amphibious force? It has been decimated and emasculated by the policy of the Government. The Government must realise that one of the great things required by any fleet if it is to be credible in size. We cannot reduce the number of our anti-submarine frigates dramatically and at the same time say that we recognise the gravity of the threat posed by the Soviet submarine fleet.

Does not the Minister realise that frigates and patrol boats can indulge in other activities in time of peace? I refer particuarly, from a constituency point of view, to fishery protection. The fishery industry is at the moment being shamefully neglected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and now it would seem that the number of ships available to help look after our fishermen is also to be reduced.

Anti-submarine vessels and other small ships of this kind, if they are available, can help defend the oil rigs. We must concentrate on defending the offshore oil. It is no good right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite telling us that ail will be well because in 1980 the oilman cometh when, first, they are mortgaging the oil to the extent that there will be little or no money left and, secondly, if they succeed in keeping any of it there is no method of defending the oil.

Finally, we have a Government who have failed not only in their duty to the nation but also in their duty to NATO. Grave concern has been expressed by many senior NATO officers about the running down of our forces and the cutting back of our Navy.

I remind the House of the words first written in the reign of Charles II, and now the preamble to the Articles of War: It is upon the navy … that the safety, honour and welfare of this realm do chiefly attend. Times change and circumstances change, but the philosophy behind that statement is as true today as it was in the reign of Charles II. It is because of the shameful way in which the Government and the Minister have betrayed the country and the Navy that I shall vote against them tonight.

5.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Fletcher Mr Edward Fletcher , Darlington

I have sat through many defence debates during the last 10 years but this is the first occasion when I have made a contribution to the deliberations of the House. I do not claim to be a specialist on the subject of defence, but having listened to many debates I think there is a common sense point of view that should be put to the House against the points of view of those who claim to have some knowledge of military matters.

Many of us on the Government side are reinforced by resolutions passed at Labour Party conferences and by the TUC in particular asking us to close the Polaris bases and to get rid of the Americans who are using those bases. Therefore, I want to concentrate my contribution on this particular subject and to reinforce some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson).

It is in this context that I want to discuss the 1975 White Paper, which I think is quite evasive when it discusses the future of Polaris. I hope that when the Secretary of State replies he will go into some detail concerning the future of our Polaris submarines. The White Paper says that the Government will maintain the effectiveness of Polaris without moving to a new generation of strategic nuclear weapons. In other words, it seems to many of us on the Government side that the Government are prepared to allow these weapons to go into obsolescence, to rust and to wear themselves out, although on a past occasion the Secretary of State has said that these weapons would be credible right into the 1990s. If that is the attitude of the Government, and if they are not to evolve a new generation of weapons, it would be politically advisable for them to make a statement here and now—the sooner the better—that it is their intention to scrap the Polaris missile.

We have some obligations under the non-proliferation treaty under Article 6 of that treaty we have agreed that it will be our objective to phase out our nuclear weapons. It seems to me that there is no reason why the Government should not, instead of waiting for a few years until this weapon becomes obsolete, take a political initiative—and an economic initiative, in our present economic crisis, because we should save money—to help in particular the discussions now beng held to outlaw nuclear weapons.

It seems to me that we always discuss the subject of defence on the basis of theories that have emerged since the previous war—in fact, from many wars previously, if one listens to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). His speech might well have been made in the days of Palmerston when he talked about a global strategy and how to deploy our warships in the Indian Ocean, in the Mediterranean and throughout the world. Those days have gone, and in fact the generals have often been accused of fighting the next war with the theories of the last. It would seem that some of the admirals fight their wars with the theories of the war before last.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

The point that the hon. Member makes about the lessons of earlier wars is perfectly valid, but as long as this island remains a nation of 55 million people dependent on the outside world for its food and its industrial supplies it is necessary to protect the routes by which those resources come into the country. Surely no lessons from previous wars are required in order to hammer this home.

Photo of Mr Edward Fletcher Mr Edward Fletcher , Darlington

I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is necessary to defend our country and to protect our ability to get food to this country. This is a problem that every country in the world has to solve, and it is certainly not unique to this country. I imagine that most countries would face very serious economic difficulties if they could not import raw materials from abroad. This is a global problem. It is not a peculiarly British problem. If every country in the world said that in order to solve this problem it needed to deploy its naval strength throughout the oceans of the world, there would be some tremendous complications.

We can no longer act as we did in the imperialist past by sending battleships to areas of the world to put down the natives. We have to think of what the nature of a future war is likely to be. Everyone agrees that it will be a nuclear war. The Soviet Union is now capable of sending a rocket to the moon and of aiming that rocket to reach the moon within a square mile of the target. With that technique the Soviet Union can from its own land surface blow out of the water any surface ship in the world. It is quite easy to find out where these ships are by means of photographs taken from outer space. Techniques exist today for this to happen. This is why Polaris submarines have been developed. Under the surface of the sea they are not as vulnerable as surface ships. But the generals and the admirals do not seem to have accepted this conception of what a future war might be like.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that his philosophy that there must inevitably be a nuclear war, with nuclear weapons used, is as false as was the philosophy that gas was bound to be used in the last war? It was not used because of the retaliatory measures that would have been taken. The same thing could happen with nuclear weapons. There is a great danger that there would be war with traditional weapons as we know them rather than with the nuclear weapons to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Photo of Mr Edward Fletcher Mr Edward Fletcher , Darlington

I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point. As he rightly says, the nuclear weapon has been shown by those people who agree with it to be a great deterrent. It was argued that if countries had a nuclear weapon no one would dare use it and that countries have said "We do not intend to use this weapon unless we are attacked with the weapon by another country". This was a deterrent. As a consequence, there may have been substance in the argument that it would never be used.

But there have been subsequent developments, and the hon. Gentleman, with his great interest in military matters, has probably heard of the Schlesinger theory which says that not all limited nuclear engagements reach holocaust level. He suggests that nuclear weapons should be used at battlefield level and that they should be deployed in what is regarded as conventional warfare. But no one knows how limited a nuclear engagement is. The Russians might take a different view of what is a limited engagement.

We have got away from the old belief that the nuclear weapon is a deterrent which will stop others attacking this country. The theory now being put abroad is that the nuclear weapon is a conventional weapon which can be used at battlefield level.

In reply to a Question a week ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that it was not our intention to accept that theory and that we still regarded the nuclear weapon as a deterrent. I ask my right hon. Friends, however, whether any talks have been held at NATO level. Our forces are pledged to NATO. Have there been talks about this new method of using nuclear bombs? I think it is time that the Government considered seriously the position in which they might find themselves.

My only purpose in intervening in the debate is to suggest that defence is a political question and that the solutions can be found only on a political level. It is not a matter of saying that the world can be divided into goodies and baddies and that, if the baddies are rearming, our only answer is to arm ourselves to an even greater extent than they are. We have to find political solutions, and they are being found, slowly but surely. Détente is the order of the day. In a few days' time American and Russian astronauts will be shaking hands in outer space. We are making some progress on the non-proliferation treaty. We have the strategic arms limitation talks. We are now considering seriously the fact that it is economic suicide in the world today that we should spend $100,000 million a year on armaments when half the world is starving. People are coming to their senses. They are putting the military strategists in their place and telling them to get back in the queue.

I am not a pacifist. I want to see the country defended. But it must be done in the context of the larger political problems. I suggest that the Government could make a contribution to a political solution. Backed by the realisation that the Polaris submarines are now obsolete and are being phased out, if the Government were to take a political initiative and say "We intend to abolish the Polaris weapon as our contribution to non-proliferation", I believe that this would evoke a response, especially in countries poorer than ours, such as India or even China, where a great proportion of the national wealth is devoted to nuclear research and to manufacturing the bomb.

It is time for someone to break the vicious circle and to take an initiative by saying "We are taking a tentative step, anyway, to get rid of the nuclear weapon." I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will take this very seriously. We have been given a pledge—at least, I take it that it is a pledge—that they do not intend to produce more sophisticated nuclear weapons or to update our present nuclear weapons. If that is the situation, let them take the next step. Let them pledge themselves to abolish the Polaris missiles so that people in Scotland can sleep a little safer in their beds. If the Government do this, I believe that they will have the backing not only of their colleagues in the Labour Party and the trade unions but of the overwhelming mass of the people.

5.55 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I share with the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) one of the views that he expressed. It is the concern which I am sure every right hon. and hon. Member has about the increasing levels of expenditure which countries incur on arms. We all want to see a reduction in arms expenditure. However, when I hear the views of people such as the hon. Member for Darlington and some of his colleagues I find it extraordinary that they do not appear to have learned the lessons of history about the balance of power.

We should know by now that if we do not secure a balance of power against our potential enemies, we endanger and imperil our freedom. I wonder when the day will come when a certain section of the Labour Party learns the lessons of generations, if not centuries, of history about the balance of power.

The facts are that it is not just Great Britain but the Western European nations which are lulling themselves into a false sense of security. As my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) said in an extremely powerful speech, the primary duty of any British Government is to secure our own defences and to ensure that we are defended adequately against our potential enemies.

As I see it, the purpose of today's debate is to discuss one major peril threatening not only us but the Western world. It is the growing strength of the Soviet navy. There is no need for me to recite all the figures. They are set out adequately in the White Paper. They have been recited adequately by the Secretary of State for Defence and his junior Ministers in successive debates. They have been recited adequately by my right hon. and hon. Friends. We see the increase in submarines, the increase in frigates, the increase in amphibious forces and the increase in Soviet aircraft. Now we see the construction of Soviet aircraft carriers. There is no need for me to recite all the figures.

The extraordinary feature which my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) brought out so well is that the Government are brilliant at analysing the threat but rotten at finding the right prescription. We see the Soviet navy spreading its tentacles throughout the oceans of the world—not just in the East Atlantic but in the South Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. We hear the instruction of Admiral Gorshkov to his navy, "Go out to sea and stay there." We hear other statements by the admiral, such as "All the modern great Powers are maritime States." Those are the words of a naval leader in an imperialist nation. For that reason, we should ask ourselves what are the Soviet objectives in this dramatic expansion, especially bearing in mind that the Soviet Union does not need a vast Red fleet to protect its own supply lines.

I suppose that it could be argued that one of the objectives is a defensive one, because the Russians wish to counter the strategic delivery system of the Western sea Powers. That is a not unreasonable argument. However, anyone looking at the size of the Soviet navy could argue forcefully that it is an arm of Soviet foreign policy. Its objective is a political one. It is to influence, to exert pressure, to exercise threats and to intimidate in various parts of the globe.

It would be reasonable to assume that the Soviet navy is not just defensive. It has the ability to strangle the supply lines of Britain and Western Europe, and so must be assumed to have an offensive capability.

Sometimes I wonder whether some Labour Members realise the facts of life for Britain and Western Europe. The size of the sea mass of the Western world has not changed, nor has Britain's dependence on the oceans for our trade. Ports in Western Europe handle 50 per cent. by value and 30 per cent. by volume of the world's international trade. Oil is the biggest single commodity moved by sea. In terms of tonnage carried by merchant ships, Britain and Western Europe are far larger than Russia, Japan and other great Powers. A total of 32 per cent. of our gross national product is involved in maritime trade. For the United States, the figure is only 8 per cent. We must ask, against the background of these facts, what the Government are doing about the growing threat of the Soviet navy. The Government are cutting by one-seventh the number of destroyers and frigates, by one-quarter the planned number of conventional submarines, by one-quarter the amphibious force, which will weaken the northern flank, and by one-quarter the Nimrod force, which has an essential role to play in surveillance.

It would be churlish not to congratulate the Government on the order for maritime Harriers and on deciding to go ahead with the through-deck cruiser. This has justified the stand taken by naval chiefs in the early part of 1966, when they insisted that there was a need to continue the carrier force or to have a substitute for it.

The northern flank has been badly weakened by Government decisions. The Mediterranean, with serious problems in the Middle East, Italy and Portugal and between Greece and Turkey, is the most politically unstable area of NATO, yet the Government have decided to withdraw from the area. The Soviet navy is exercising a pincer and encircling move on Scandinavia and threatening to throttle the world trade routes and our supply lines. It is in a position to control, block or interrupt our military and civilian supplies which come by sea.

How can we respond? The Government have been keen to talk about cuts in public expenditure. We want to see these cuts, and we should be looking for ways of economising in defence services. The obvious ways to make savings are in arms procurement and standardisation. The NATO navies have a hundred different types of ships of destroyer size or larger. Mr. Schlesinger said in January this year: Within NATO, the combat effectiveness of existing forces could be improved by one-third, with no increase in forces, if we were able to obtain greater standardisation. So we could economise by a common attack within NATO on procurement and standardisation.

We must also get a common view within NATO on the right way of interpreting statistics about defence budgets. We should not be talking about proportions of gross national product. We should be considering the per capita contribution, and the absolute contribution of each nation, and, above all, we should be considering the strength of our potential enemies. That is our most important criteria.

As a maritime Power, we should be taking a lead in ensuring the stability of the northern flank of NATO and the Mediterranean. We are the largest Navy in the European part of NATO, and we should be taking the lead in its maritime strategy. I would go some way in agreeing with the Under-Secretary that there is an argument for specialisation between different countries—one nation may be better able to play a particular role in defence rather than another—although there are dangers in taking this argument too far until we have a really united Europe. We are strong and experienced on the naval side, and if we lose that strength NATO loses a vital aspect of its defence. It is essential that we should ensure that NATO has an adequate naval strength to counteract any Soviet political or military threat.

When one realises the reliance of NATO Powers on the trade routes of the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean, it seems wrong that their area of responsibility should stop at the Tropic of Cancer. For many generations Britain has been carrying the burden of maritime defence for many other Western European nations. It is time that NATO became more outward-looking and adopted a proper maritime strategy. Look at the Gulf and the Soviet position in Somalia and West Africa. It is essential that NATO should become more outward-looking, and Britain is the only nation that can take a lead in this development.

6.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol North East

I do not often speak in defence debates but I have followed the subject from a distance for some years. Recently the Select Committee on Science and Technology, of which I have the privilege to be Chairman, has been looking, perhaps rather obliquely, at an aspect of defence—some of the strategic problems posed by the North Sea oil installations.

My interest in defence has been brought up to date recently. With colleagues of the Labour defence group, I spent an interesting day at NATO. In the short time I was there I found a genuine understanding of Britain's economic problems. Our friends on the Continent have too much good sense to be compassionate about Britain—they know we would resent it—but they understand that there is a direct link between defence commitment and economic capacity. That is true of all industrial societies.

If a country takes its defence effort beyond its industrial capacity to sustain its commitments, this could easily be disastrous, as has been demonstrated in the last 100 years in the history of European wars. Nevertheless—and here I differ in approach from some of my hon. Friends—the United Kingdom cannot expect to shelter under the protection of the NATO umbrella without at the same time making a fair and effective contribution to collective defence.

British naval strength is of the greatest importance, for we have a long naval tradition and vast sea experience. Present circumstances dictate that we must commit that naval capacity to northern waters and to what are generally known as the Atlantic approaches. I have always opposed my grander party colleagues, even those in the leadership, who thought that the Royal Navy should be used as a kind of world police force to put out "bush fires". I can remember an eminent leader of my party using that description of the Navy's role. I think that is a certain prescription for our getting involved unnecessarily in every petty war that is going. My instincts were against it, and I am glad that the Labour Party has now seen sense in that respect.

It was absolutely right in my view for us to withdraw from our Far East com- mitments, including Singapore, and leave the Pacific to the Americans, the Australians and their new Pacific allies. I agree with quite a lot of what was said by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) about the problem of the Indian Ocean, but I do not believe that the United Kingdom can do it alone or should attempt to do so. It is no good saying that if we begin, others will follow. That is the kind of thing one says when trying to fill a gap in one's thoughts, but it does not represent objective reality.

However, there is a stronger case for a kind of extra NATO where that alliance would take on a wider collective global rôle to fill in the gaps which the Americans are incapable of filling and should not be expected to fill. There is in the United States the same public concern about overstretching national economic resources for defence as exists in this country. With our obligation, then, to concentrate on Europe and the Atlantic approaches, the fast expansion of the Soviet Navy is to us of the greatest importance and interest.

The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) said that the objectives of the Soviets were political. Of course they are. That is true of all countries. War is a continuation of politics by other means. That was the saying of a great German military strategist, and it is a fact of life. War and politics are inescapably linked, so one must not complain if the Soviets see naval expansion as a way of extending their political influence. It is our business to note it and react correctly to it; to do less would be to neglect our duty.

If I were to attempt to give an explanation for this new Russian interest in naval strength I would put it under three heads. The first is historical. The Russians have a great sense of inferiority about their past naval achievement. It has not been outstanding, unlike their great history and glory as a military power on land. I need not dwell on their experiences at the beginning of this century with the Japanese or their disastrous failure in the First World War. They made hardly any naval contribution during the Second World War. Therefore, their leaders and their admirals—who, like all admirals, are ambitious men—wish to further their reputation and their careers and to make up for their country in the present what it failed to do in the past.

The second reason is the power relationship. I think the Soviets resent—and it is understandable—the way in which the Americans have come from the other side of the world to fill the vacuum in naval strength, particularly in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, which has been left by the withdrawal of the French and the British. I think that the Soviets expected to fill that vacuum as the Czar would have expected to do so before them.

Thirdly, I think the nature of Soviet society is stern, and we in the Labour Party, particularly, have to face that fact. In many ways Communist Russia is a modern Sparta where the military virtues are greatly extolled. I was in Portugal last summer and had some political conversations. I do not think that it is any accident that there is a curious alliance between many military, naval and air force personnel in Portugal and the Portuguese Communiss. A Communist society offers many opportunities for promotion of military men.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

Is it not in that respect greatly similar to a Fascist society?

Photo of Mr Arthur Palmer Mr Arthur Palmer , Bristol North East

I do no know about that, but would say that Soviet society has one obvious advantage in history over Fascist societies in that it tends militarily to be more efficient because it organises the masses. We should, therefore, not be surprised about Russian naval ambitions. That would be idle. Our business in life is to protect our own country and its allies. The pace and freedom of the world depends on the free nations reacting correctly and objectively to that situation now we have recognised it.

I am a Social Democrat, and I do not use the term in the way that The Times uses it, as a kind of Liberal who has strayed out of true. I use it in the Socialist historical sense, which is certainly well understood on the Continent if not in Printing House Square. As a Social Democrat I had hoped that the Soviet Union, without losing the Socialist economic character of its society, would develop in a more pluralist way and give more individual freedom to its people. So far my hope has been disappointed. Nevertheless, we must strive for disarmament by mutual agreement, and this Government, like their predecessors, are striving in that direction. Discussions have been going on for months in Geneva and Vienna in an attempt to get controlled and agreed disarmament. We must continue with that and never stop trying, for the burden of arms weighs us all down.

I come finally to the extent of defence. Frankly, I believe that the percentage-cut approach is absurd. We really cannot do it in that way. We need effective defence in relation to commitments—no more, no less. That is largely a technical question and hard to judge. I am afraid that effective defence must include nuclear weapons, because they are, regrettably, the way the science of war has gone. Mass death and destruction is always horrible whether caused by nuclear weapons or by weapons of any other kind.

I respect my hon. Friends who have spoken for their doubts and worries, and certainly I do not ignore what my party has said in conference on these matters, either. But if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and others have said, they are not pacifists—and I accept it—I believe the logic of their argument is really neutralism and that Britain should withdraw from NATO, although that is not said as often today as it was in the past. We shall perhaps then become a Sweden or a Switzerland, and there is nothing dishonourable about that. But if we were to do so it would not help to save money on defence, because the percentage of public money committed to defence in Sweden and Switzerland is greater than in this country or generally in Western Europe, for the obvious reason that if a country has to defend itself individually it will cost more than doing it collectively with allies.

The defence cuts that have been made so far were financially inevitable. Had the Conservative Party continued in office, probably it would have reached roughly the same financial conclusions as the Government have reached. That is my own objective view. I do not mind the Conservatives arguing or criticising, for that is the business of an Opposition, but I feel that we have now reached the limit and that that is the opinion held by the British public, in spite of our economic difficulties and irrespective of party.

There are many millions of our fellow citizens who have lived through two world wars. I am one of them, though I was very young—in my early childhood —in the first world war. Like so many others, I lived through those wars and all the trials and tribulations that went with them. There are many millions in this country who have that memory, and in view of those experiences, I do not think they would lightly forgive any British Government who might be tempted to neglect the effective defence of Britain. I do not believe that we have such a Government. I have every confidence that my right hon. and hon. Friends will care for the effective defence of their country and will do so with prudence and economy.

6.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Antony Buck Mr Antony Buck , Colchester

It had always been my resolve to start my speech on a harmonious and uncontroversial note. That resolve has been made easier by the speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer). I do not think there was a word he said with which I disagree. I agree with almost everything he said, just as I profoundly disagree with almost every word of the speeches we have heard from the hon. Members for Barking (Miss Richardson), Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Selby) and Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) and probably shall disagree with the speech we shall hear from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Edinburgh Central

I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will bear in mind that I may be in the position of following him in this debate, and I hope that he will allow me to make the same pleasant opening to my speech as he himself has made to his.

Photo of Mr Antony Buck Mr Antony Buck , Colchester

I doubt very much whether the hon. Gentleman will be able to say that he agrees with everything that I shall say unless he has a profound conversion "on the road to Damascus" within the next few moments. One can only hope for the best.

The speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East was a distinguished one. I will continue on a harmonious note by offering to the Minister who opened the debate my wholehearted congratulations about one matter relative to defence, the decision by the Government to order the maritime Harrier. It may well be known that during the time I had the privilege of being Minister for the Royal Navy I strove hard to get a decision made on those lines. I was not successful. Treasury Ministers are very powerful in any administration, as everybody in the House knows, and a decision was deferred, and was deferred again. At least we did not make the decision not to go for it. Had we done so, I would have resigned.

My resolution relative to the Harrier that we should eventually have the Government arriving at a right decision was made the stronger after I had made a flight in this revolutionary aircraft. Through the courtesy of Hawker Siddeley I flew in it, and shall always retain the memory of doing so; and I would like to repeat the performance. We took off vertically, and then accelerated almost as though the aircraft was being ejected from the barrel of a gun. It was a wholly remarkable experience. I was very grateful to Mr. John Farley the test pilot, who took me up in the aircraft.

I saw on the horizon what looked like a warship and spoke over the intercom asking whether it was. The reply was "You are the Minister, so we will find out." We zoomed down, and stopped in mid-air as near to the captain on the bridge of H.M.S. "Torquay" as I am to you Mr. Deputy Speaker. He was a little surprised, in the middle of a navigation exercise 200 miles off the coast, at finding his Minister peering at him as he stood on the bridge. When I got back to the office now occupied by the Minister who opened the debate I made haste to dispatch a fleet signal sending greetings to H.M.S. "Torquay" before we could receive a fleet signal from that ship complaining about being "mobbed up" by a Hawker Siddeley Harrier It is indeed a truly remarkable aircraft. The fact that there are more than 100 of them flying in the United States, with the American Marines, clearly establishes it as a remarkable aircraft that can jump everything, including national barriers and national prejudices. The Government are wholly right to go for the maritime version with its extended range, more powerful radar and all-weather capacity. It will make H.M.S. "Invincible" and the ships that follow of the same class much more powerful weapons in the hands of the Royal Navy.

I have no doubt that the decision to go for this aircraft will be justified also on the ground of the exports that we shall be able to achieve, a very important matter. Many navies will be interested in acquiring this aircraft, navies which would not have taken the plunge of purchasing an aircraft of this character from this country had it not first been ordered for the Royal Navy. I congratulate Hawker Siddeley on this fantastic development, and I have little doubt that there will be considerable overseas sales arising in the future.

I only hope and pray that the great firm of Hawker Siddeley will be spared nationalisation. From now on it will be necessary for me to become less harmonious in what I have to say. The Minister was asking my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) to indicate what further savings we should seek. Here is a saving which springs to mind at once, a saving which could be effective. Let Hawker Siddeley continue to operate efficiently and well under its present management and save the money that it would cost to nationalise it.

Precisely the same applies to the savings which could be effected by dropping plans to nationalise our warship building firms. It would cost the taxpayer many millions if the great firm of Vickers were nationalised. The same applies to the highly efficient firm Vospers, which does so magnificently in the export market, and the Scottish firm of Yarrow. Sir Eric Yarrow has done supremely well in establishing a place in export markets and building ships for navies throughout the world. We can suggest straight away savings of many millions simply by not nationalising those firms.

From the gloom, mist and chaos created by the Government relative to defence matters, there is, then, one ray of light, which is the good decision to go for the maritime Harrier. The general position, however, is that, first, we had the so-called long-term review. This took a long time in preparation, and I do not quarrel with that. I know how hard the Department was working in preparing the review. That review was designed to set the pattern, so we were told, for at least 10 years or so. The ink was hardly dry—I cannot say on the print because the review was not printed at first because there was a strike. The typescript was hardly smooth on the paper before there was another £110 million cut.

It was said to be not an "arbitrary" defence review, but, of course, it was arbitrary. The instruction laid down was that there should be a review which would effect a cut in defence expenditure to bring us into line with our less defence-conscious allies in the proportion of GNP spent on defence. Indeed, the White Paper so indicates. Almost at once a further cut of £110 million was announced. We have not yet heard how this further £110 million cut in expenditure will affect the Royal Navy, and I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity of telling us tonight.

Perhaps the Minister will assure us also that the White Paper to be produced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer erelong will not contain yet further defence cuts. The White Paper is not like a Budget, so perhaps there might be a little leak and the Minister might assure us that the White Paper will not include yet another defence cut. Perhaps the Minister will be able to assure his constituents in the dockyard that they will not be affected by what the Chancellor of the Exchequer announces in his White Paper.

That is the situation of the so-called long-term review, from which another £110 million was cut, and we understand that things are yet again in the melting pot.

One of the most serious effects of the review was to cut back the shipbuilding programme so that some 14 planned ships are not to be part of the Navy. What a conclusion to draw after what has happened in maritime affairs, as the Minister pointed out. Ever since Cuba there has been a truly massive maritime build-up by the Russians under Admiral Gorshkov, who has been able to sell the whole idea of maritime strategy to the Politburo so that forces have been built up at a fantastic rate. Yet the Government decided on one substantial cut which was followed by another cut. I only hope that there is not to be a yet further cut.

Photo of Sir Frederick Burden Sir Frederick Burden , Gillingham

Is it not extraordinary that the Government always pronounce on the Russian threat but, having pronounced on it and said how great it is, they cut expenditure right down until we have no defences left?

Photo of Mr Antony Buck Mr Antony Buck , Colchester

I agree with my hon. Friend. A substantial element of schizophrenia is shown by the Labour Government in relation to this matter. One has the brilliant deployment of the maritime threat, which is nearly as good as the "Know your Navy" team in action —it is probably written by the same people—followed by the answer that we must have a unilateral cut. It ties in with the theme put forward by Government supporters that the cuts are an instrument for détente. Again the same sort of schizophrenia comes through—we are all dedicated to force reductions, but we want them to be balanced force reductions. To say that we are assisting détente by a unilateral cut involves an element of intellectual gymnasticism bordering on the schizophrenic. The conclusion of all that is that I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) said in his intervention.

One of the most distressing aspects of the White Paper concerns the withdrawal of our presence on a permanent basis from the Mediterranean. What has happened to that sea over the last year and more surely illustrates how important it is that we should play our part in maintaining stability there. When our NATO allies are in semi-conflict, or in actual conflict as were Greece and Turkey, when other nations close to the Mediterranean—Portugal and Spain—are showing signs of instability, it is a great shame that we should withdraw our NATO presence, particularly as we were one of the leaders in setting up the Standing Force for the Mediterranean.

I take no particular satisfaction from the fact that the Italians have decided to increase their contribution to replace us. I am delighted that they are increasing their contribution. But I had hoped that those forces would have been deployed side by side with the modest British presence in the Mediterranean. All the political events show the need for that deployment, and the withdrawal is particularly ill-advised, as, indeed, is the cutting down of the shipbuilding programme. When there is a submarine threat so vast as is the Russian threat, to decide to cut down the number of frigates and destroyers to be built is totally wrong.

The Minister and I share a devotion to the Royal Marine commandos. He and I paid a visit to HMS "Bulwark". We both enjoyed that visit immensely, and it increased the admiration we share for the Royal Marines. It is an odd way of showing one's admiration to cut out one whole marine commando unit. They are superb troops with a maritime tradition and with the tremendously useful capacity of amphibiosity—just the sort of capability we need—especially when one sees what the Russians are doing with the Alligator class ships, which are capable of a very big lift of amphibian-borne troops. The Russians are building up and we are cutting down, and I am very sorry to see that gap growing.

I bitterly regret these cuts, the more particularly because they follow cuts which the Conservative Government had reluctantly made. The fact that we made cuts renders the cuts made by the Labour Government less defensible, not more so. Of course, from time to time we have to make defence cuts—the sky is not the limit—but the fact that we made cuts makes these further cuts, which go into the flesh and muscle of our forces, less easy to defend.

I tabled a Question to the Secretary of State with a view to suggesting one way of helping the defence budget; that is, by extending the amount of assistance we give to foreign nations relative to training over here but charging for it. There are no fewer than 71 nations, which are listed in yesterday's Official Report for my benefit, which have forces training over here. I suspect that we are not charging those nations an economic rate for the job. The Government should carry out an exercise to discover whether money is being made from this. If there is any liability, that sum should not come out of the defence Vote. Otherwise there would be further artificiality in the GNP argument.

The previous administration set up an investigation into the rôle of the Royal Naval Reserves. The Government have received its report. The Minister referred to the reserves in opening. Will lie publish the results of the study group which was set up by the Conservative administration? At least, will he issue what might be described in security terms as a "sanitised" version of it, so that we can know what is the departmental thinking about the reserves. The Royal Naval Reserves have a considerable rôle to play in the defence of off-shore oil rigs. Here is a duty which the Royal Navy Reserves can perform and on which they should concentrate. They would be willing to do so. I made sure that this consideration was inserted in the terms of reference of the investigation.

I had a splendid time as Minister with responsibility for the Navy. I know that the Minister is enjoying himself immensely. He values the naval tradition. The fact that he has a dockyard constituency perhaps has nothing to do with that. He inherited as Minister the finest Navy in the world. It is still that. It is also the third most powerful Navy in the world. I hope that the Government cuts will not force it to cease to be the third most powerful Navy. I trust that the Government will allocate sufficient funds so that our Navy remains the best Navy in the world, although inevitably not the biggest.

6.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Bonner Pink Mr Bonner Pink , Portsmouth South

I am happy to follow my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), as I agree with so much of what he said.

I join in my hon. and learned Friend's references to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer). I agree with much that he said. For instance, he said that NATO must fill the gap left by the Americans. I agree. The Western world must fill that gap. That supports the opinion of the Opposition that we need larger, not smaller, defence forces. I agree that defence expenditure must not exceed our capacity to pay. It is not a question of whether we can afford the money which is spent on defence; it is a matter of how we spend it. The Opposition have already indicated how, by stopping the nationalisation plans, money can be found to increase our expenditure on defence. The effective defence of the United Kingdom must depend not on the money supply situation. It must depend on our commitments. I am sorry that more Government supporters do not appreciate that. It is a sad reflection to see how few Government supporters are present for this important debate.

I join the tribute paid by the Under-Secretary of State to the Navy, to the men and women who man the ships and establishments, for their highly professional attitude, their great efficiency and their great heart. I pay my tribute to the people who man our Fleet.

However, I join issue with the Minister when he says that we are moulding a Navy matched to modern needs. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) referred to the Minister's spine-chilling recitation of the build up of the Russian fleet. How can that build-up be matched by the reductions proposed by the Government. The Minister said it was essential that we should maintain the Atlantic link. He said that we are capable of maintaining that link now. The Russians are building one nuclear submarine every month. We must bear in mind the situation with which we were faced at the beginning of both world wars, when the enemy had only a handful of submarines. Bearing those facts in mind, how can he say that our Atlantic link is safe when even one year's production of Russian nuclear submarines could shatter it.

It was said that we are putting our main effort into anti-submarine capability. Why are the cuts to affect the Nimrods? If we are to destroy enemy submarines we must first find them. The Nimrod is the finest instrument for finding submarines. Why is the number of frigates to be cut? We cannot say that our effort is being put into anti-submarine capability when cuts are being made in our vital resources.

Hong Kong was mentioned. I hope that the Government will consider changing the type of ship stationed there. The Government have decided to withdraw from Simonstown, from Gan and from Singapore. Hong Kong is, therefore, left out on a limb. That is a vulnerable situation for any major warship. I suggest that we employ a small, fast patrol boat, strongly armed with missiles. I refer to the type of small patrol boat which Vosper has built successfully for so many foreign navies.

I add my annual plea for one more Polaris submarine. This matter has already been referred to. An addition of one Polaris submarine to our fleet of four would double the effective strength of that force at sea. Every year it becomes more important that we should build an extra Polaris submarine as a future replacement for our ageing fleet of submarines.

The Minister glossed over the comparatively new commitment of the Navy to look after the North Sea oil rigs. We were told that our needs will be met from North Sea oil by 1980. As our dependence on North Sea oil becomes greater, so the need to protect those wells increases. Those installations are vulnerable. They could easily be damaged by collision, hostile action and sabotage. They are difficult to protect. Their numbers are growing and they are widely dispersed. The Daily Telegraph of 3rd July reported that the Navy had ordered five off-shore patrol vessels, each vessel being 200 ft. long and of about 1,250 tons displacement. Will the Minister give us more details about these vessels, such as their speed, their endurance and how they will be manned, whether they will be armed, and whether they will be manned by the Navy, or—following the practice of the United States coastguards —by Royal Naval Fleet Auxiliaries?

I should like to have more information about those vessels and also information on what other steps the Government are taking to protect the oil rigs. Are the oil rigs to have, for example, helicopter coverage? Are they to have radar protection—the modern equivalent to the anti-submarine loop? I know that the Russians would like to know these things, as we would, because I understand that their radar trawlers have been snooping around for a long time, and that a cruiser had a look at the oil rigs not long ago.

There could well be a case for comparatively small, fast patrol boats of long endurance—in other words, boats similar to the weather ships stationed in the North Atlantic—that can stay at sea for a comparatively long time, and for a back-up of major warships at strategic positions.

This is probably the most vital issue which we have to examine in the immediate future. We have only between four and five years in which to obtain an effective defence for these oil rigs, without which all our planning—the Government's planning, and economic planning—which depends on our need for oil being met from the North Sea, will disappear.

I hope that the Minister will inform us of his plans. Obviously, he cannot give us much detailed information, but how is he proposing effectively to protect the North Sea oil rigs?

6.51 p.m.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Edinburgh Central

I apologise to the House for having missed half an hour of the debate earlier in the evening, but, unfortunately, I was recalled to the Committee on the Community Land Bill where the usual channels had not made their calculations with their customary precision. As I am a member of that Committee it would be unusual if I were to go into the gravamen of my argument without commenting on the quite extraordinary remarks made by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) in relation to the Community Land Bill.

In passing I should like to place on record my extreme surprise at the fact that an Opposition Front Bench spokesman should not have been prepared to allow at least one intervention during his speech from the Dispatch Box. I hope that that will not become a precedent.

The hon. Member for Ayr said that the Community Land Bill in a full year will cost the nation £300 million. It would be dishonest of him to let it go at that and not admit, as I am sure he would if he were present, that the very sentence from which he lifted that remark in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum on the Bill goes on to say that in the same full year disposal of land will come to £800 million or £900 million and that the net effect of the Community Land Bill will be a saving to the Exchequer and to local authorities of some £550 million in a full year. It is quite remarkable to criticise the Government for wishing to spend public money by referring to one of the Bills they have introduced with the purpose of saving money to the public authorities, both local and central.

Moreover—and this is another point which we must get fixed in our minds if we are to make sense of this debate and the general argument on defence cuts—it is confusing the issue to relate expenditure of public funds for purchase of ownership such as land, with expenditure of public funds on, for example, defence, which not only is a burden on public expenditure but also has a real resource cost to the economy. This is why many Labour Members wish expenditure to be kept as low as is reasonably possible so that the burden of the resource cost to the economy is kept as low as possible.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

Will the hon. Gentleman not accept that the running losses of one nationalised industry after another are a very heavy burden on the economy? Is he so hopeful as to imagine that profits might be earned in future by the nationalised industries?

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Edinburgh Central

The hon. Gentleman has taken me into a much wider area than the present debate. He will be aware that the reason why nationalised industries make losses on returns on accountants' losses at the end of the year is that successive Governments of both colours—I do not wish to make party points—held down the prices below that which the market could bear and that which was needed to cover investments.

I should like to take up the point made by a number of Conservative Members about the Russian navy. I did not intend to do so but points have been raised to which I should like to attempt a reply. All Conservative Members who have spoken have referred to a massive and modern Russian naval build-up. I recognise that their remarks reflect quite a number of Press reports which, over the past two years, have dealt with precisely this subject.

However, it is remarkable, when one starts to study this area, how very little authoritative study has been given to the alleged claim that there has been a massive Soviet naval build-up. The most recent authoritative report is the one that was published by the Brookings Institution 18 months ago. I assure hon. Members that the Tribune Group has no share or financial interest in the Brookings Institution. Indeed, we do not normally find much comfort in its publications.

In its publication 18 months ago on the Soviet naval strength it came to the interesting conclusion that between 1958 and 1973 there was no increase in the number of surface vessels in the Soviet navy. It stated that the number of persons employed in the Soviet navy over that same period declined from 750,000 to 500,000 and that the period of conscription in the Soviet navy was reduced from four years to three years. This meant that not only did the Russians have fewer men but those men spent less of their time on operations. Moreover, there was little evidence that a higher proportion of ships had been built in recent times. In 1958, three-quarters of the Soviet surface fleet had been built within the previous eight years. In 1973 only one-quarter had been built in the preceding eight years.

I appreciate that these figures are two years old. I am only a layman and I have access only to published information. It is possible that the Minister has carried out more recent and deeper research into this subject and he may have other figures available. If so, I hope he will take the opportunity, when he replies to the debate, to make these figures available to the House. It is extraordinary, if we continue to postulate an increasing and accelerating Soviet build-up, that the figures are not available. In so far as information is published, it would not appear to support the quite wide and extraordinary allegations that have been made.

The difference is that the Soviet navy is being deployed in a way that it was not in 1958.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I think the hon. Gentleman will find the answer if he studies "Jane's Fighting Ships". He will find that in fact the number of Soviet ships has increased. What is more important is that where a conventional submarine has been scrapped it has been replaced by a nuclear submarine; where a Soviet destroyer has been scrapped it has been replaced by a Kara class cruiser, which is probably the most powerful warship in the world.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Edinburgh Central

The hon. Gentleman is correct. I would not attempt to disagree that the Soviets are going in for nuclear-powered submarines. At present the nuclear-powered submarines available to the NATO forces greatly exceed those of the Soviet fleet.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

No. That is absolutely wrong.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Edinburgh Central

We can take up the actual figures later. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I can clarify this matter behind Mr. Speaker's Chair.

On the matter of deployment, the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) dealt at length with the Indian Ocean. He referred to the specific Russian fleet as having a predominance in that ocean. I have with me the statements that were made to the Senate hearing only last month by the American Chief of Staff. General George Brown, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Russian presence in the Indian Ocean had hardened into a cruiser, two destroyer escorts, two minesweepers, two amphibious ships and a submarine. The Secretary of State for the Defence Department, Mr. Schlesinger, said that the American presence in the Indian Ocean consisted of a carrier command ship and two destroyers. We are aware, of course, that it is American naval practice to have a nuclear-powered submarine in attendance on a carrier. Therefore, the difference is not so striking. It is not such as to give the Russian presence a predominance.

However, to the American presence must be added the further observations made by Mr. Schlesinger that over the past 18 months there have been seven deployments in the area in augmentation of their permanent presence including five visits by a carrier, again with two destroyers and a submarine. This accounts for over one-third of that 18 months. In other words, for a third of the previous 18 months the American presence in the Indian Ocean had been greater than that of the Russian.

Of course, if one is a Russian and sitting in the Kremlin looking at the map and worried about the question of balance, one looks not simply at the American and Russian presence but also at the fleets of France and Britain. If one looks at the Indian Ocean balance and the ships present there, one finds that in March 1974—again I apologise because these figures are necessarily a year old; I can rely only on published information, and I should be grateful if the Minister would correct me later if that is necessary—the surface combat vessels of Britain, France and the United States in the Indian Ocean totalled 16. In the same month there were only eight surface combat vessels of the Russian navy present in the Indian Ocean.

That hardly indicates the kind of predominance which the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion would have us believe was occurring in the Indian Ocean. Certainly this deployment by the Russian Navy is new and serious, and it is certanly regrettable, but it is not the convincing argument for a British naval build-up which some Opposition Members are asking us to entertain.

Particularly, it is not a convincing argument for expansion of the base at Diego Garcia. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary referred to the expansion of the base at Diego Garcia, I could not help noticing that there were murmurs of general approval from the Opposition. When he referred to the Russian expansion of the base at Berbera there were also murmurs, but of disapproval and contempt.

However, I ask the Minister to say how he sees these two developments as being so very different. Looking again at the statements to the Senate hearings only last month I notice that Mr. Schlesinger says that the Russians at Berbera are building a runway of three miles. Therefore, we at Diego Garcia must have a modest expansion of the runway to 12,000 ft. If my calculations are right, there is certainly a difference between three miles and 12,000 ft.—but a difference of about 25 per cent., a moderate difference, and certainly not the difference between a threatening and damaging military expansion and a merely modest expansion on that island.

It is a fact that the Americans are proposing to spend over $100 million in expanding Diego Garcia and that their Chief of Air Staffs has said that they will from time to time station F111 bombers on the island. I am deeply disturbed by what appears to be known about Diego Garcia expansion. I am particularly saddened when I remember that at the Senate hearings last year, 1974, William Colby, the Director of the CIA—again, not a card-carrying member of the Tribune Group—said that if there were an expansion of the American naval presence in the Indian Ocean it would be matched by an expansion of the Soviet naval presence. That is exactly what we have seen happen over the past 12 months. This saddens me. I remember also last year that Senator Henry Jackson —again, no, member of the Tribune group—said: From time to time opportunities for regional restraint present themselves; and in my judgment the region is the Indian Ocean and the opportunity is now. I am afraid that the events of last year have been that we on the Western side have sacrificed that opportunity and that there now is little opportunity for restraint in that area.

I ask the House to consider this question. What is really our self-interest in this area? The Minister said that we respect the views of the littoral States around the Indian Ocean, but he will be aware that many of them have expressed grave disquiet over the expansion and development at Diego Garcia. I should have thought that even those who are worried about the trade routes, their protection and their strategic importance, must recognise that it cannot be in our interest to affront the good will and the stated intention and desires of the littoral States that surround those trade routes. I find it deeply patronising that we seem to think that we can protect our trade routes in areas of the world far distant from our shores only by having our own naval or military presence there.

The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said that once upon a time the Indian Ocean was a British lake, but that it now no longer is. Of course not—rightly and properly so. The idea of the Indian Ocean being a British lake was a patronising affront to those States that surround that ocean. I do not find it much of an improvement—nor would their Governments probably—to try to turn that ocean into a European or Anglo-American lake, or, indeed, even, with the Soviets, a Caucasian lake. Obviously, the littoral States want us to avoid an arms race in that area, and it would be to our advantage to assist in that objective and thus, by protecting the good will of those States, to protect our trade routes.

Lastly, I am seriously concerned about the very large number of references in this debate to the need to get south of the Tropic of Cancer. Over the last two or three months the significance of the Tropic of Cancer has taken on the same importance in strategic debates as east of Suez did in the 1960s. I find this a rather serious development. Diego Garcia is part of the drive to get NATO to commit itself south of the Tropic of Cancer.

I rather fear that our termination of the formal agreement with South Africa over Simonstown may mask a growing involvement in that area. It is extraordinary that, at a time when we are ostensibly cancelling that agreement, the South Africans are spending 10 million rand on expanding the harbour facilities. I should have thought it unlikely that they would do that if they were sure that there would be any less usage of the port by foreign States.

I am also gravely disturbed by some information that has come to light over the last few months regarding the communications falicitics at Silvermine, immediately adjacent to the port of Simonstown. We are all aware of the Press reports showing that these facilities were built with equipment purchased using NATO codes on NATO forms. It has been claimed that this is standard commercial practice, and that it merely assisted South Africa in obtaining the commercial contract which it otherwise would not have obtained. What has not received the same Press attention and is much more disturbing has been the suggestion, particularly from Denmark and Holland, that NATO is getting information based on these communications facilities and that we are giving them our IFF codes for cancelling out British and NATO ships and aeroplanes and are, in return, receiving information about other ship movements in the area. This is very serious and disturbing.

I am worried that we are seeing a drift south of the Tropic of Cancer, but not one being done openly on the basis of open debate, but covertly, behind closed doors. If there is a compulsion to move south of the Tropic of Cancer let us debate it openly. But I can see, against it all the weighty arguments used against the British presence east of Suez. I remind hon. Members that this takes us back to the general question of Britain's rôle at the end of the Twentieth century. That rôle must be related to our economic stature, and our position in the league of nations.

I should like to refer to one or two remarks made by hon. Members on the relative lack of presence on the Government side of the Chamber. I ask hon. Members to appreciate, as I am sure they do, that there are many other demands on the time of Members. However, I remind them that last night I and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) were here for a debate on arms sales on a motion put down by the official Opposition, and indeed, we found the position reversed. There were fewer speakers on the Opposition side then than there are now, but the Government side was able to maintain its presence to the end.

The point made repeatedly in that debate, which links in with the general concern as to the defence review in this debate, was that by going in for arms sales Britain is being enabled to keep up a military pretension and an arms industry which it could not otherwise afford. The tragedy of tonight's debate has been that it has shown us how many Opposition Members have still failed to realise that we are carrying on military commitments beyond our shores which we do not have the capacity to fulfil. I should very must regret it if, as this lesson is being learned by more and more members of the public though not by hon. Members, we were to go in for a maritime strategy far ranging and far beyond those shores.

7.10 p.m.

Photo of Sir Harwood Harrison Sir Harwood Harrison , Eye

First, I answer two of the points that have been made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow he will see that his figures were a little out as regards the American runway on Diego Garcia. The American runway will be shorter than that built by the Russians. Of course, the Americans are part of NATO and are our allies; the Russians are not.

Secondly, it is always easy to cast aspersions on how many Members are present on one side of the House or the other. However, I think it will generally be agreed that today the Liberals have been conspicuously absent. I have been sitting behind their empty bench throughout the debate.

I did not try to speak, as I normally do, on the Army Estimates or on the Air Estimates because I knew that I had been invited to a naval conference in Annapolis by the Supreme Commander of SEALANT. I was accompanied by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). I am sad to see that my hon. Friend has deserted the back benches, but I congratulate him today on occupying our Front Bench. We were not able to run too wild at the conference because we were accompanied by the Under-Secretary of State. We are glad that the hon. Gentleman was present as well as one of his Government colleagues.

The value of such conferences does not lie only in the formal speeches that are made, excellent though they always are. There is also much value to be gained from the talks that one has with, for example, admirals of the other NATO countries and with the politicians. It gave me much satisfaction to talk to admirals from Denmark, Norway, West Germany and other countries and to get their points of view. It is in those personal talks that we gain so much.

In the White Paper the Secretary of State said that we would not weaken the central front in Germany. I appreciate that I am turning to Army matters, but when I was in Germany it was clear that that policy had been carried out with the exception of the movement of spare parts. The position of the Royal Navy is not clear. Perhaps it has been left out of matters too much owing to its tradition as the Silent Service, although the Minister has been speaking for it today.

It seems that we have been allocated the task of defending the Eastern Atlantic. In those terms we think of the Channel, the North Sea and the outlet off the Shetlands Isles. It may be that if war breaks out—no one wants war, but by talking about it I am sure that we are more likely to keep the peace—we shall be quickly engaged on the naval side in dealing with the Russian submarines. I am sure that that will happen more quickly than action on the land involving the Army. It is the Navy which safeguards the Channel and ensures that reserves and supplies reach the Army.

I was a little alarmed by what the Minister said about the Navy Reserves. We are an island race and we have been sea-loving people throughout the ages. Young boys enter the reserve as naval cadets although they may be unable to join the Royal Navy for certain personal reasons. However, the love of the sea is in them, and that love is answered by being a member of the reserve. Is the Minister to publish a paper on the Naval Reserves? I understand that there is to be a reduction in the number of men in the reserve at the end of the day. It may be that we cannot maintain training centres and that a reduction will produce a more efficient force, but I would like to see a paper published on the subject. Any reductions that are made cannot be because of lack of money. The reserves provide the cheapest form of capable and disciplined manpower in the event of hostilities.

I welcome the confirmation that the three through-deck cruisers are planned with a Harrier package. This matter particularly interests me as it has been studied by my Defence Committee. As I have said, I believe that in the event of hostilities one of the main threats will be the Russian submarines. The through-deck cruisers, with their capacity for helicopters, will provide the main attack on the submarines. They might well be vital. Will they be on time or shall we have to use the services of HMS "Blake" and HMS "Tiger"? I have been on board HMS "Blake", and it is not ideal. Both vessels are due to be phased out altogether. It seems that this is a crucial rôle, and it is clear that we shall have to move quickly if there is an opening of hostilities.

As I understand it, the Russians would be capable of laying a large number of mines. We know what mines can do. They can be laid by air, by surface ships or by submarines. That is an area in which the naval reserves could play their part. I hope that we shall be adequately protected in that respect.

Next, I turn to discuss the dockyards. My Committee and I have always striven to ensure that matters which do not relate to defence do not appear as defence costs. Clearly, there are now fewer ships, and fewer refits are required. We have a good dockyard at Gibraltar. Is it essential that all dockyards in this country are kept open from a defence point of view? The fact that there are large work forces engaged at the yards should not be the main consideration. You may say that each dockyard specialises and that they must all be kept open. I think you said that you were going out to get other work—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. The hon. and gallant Member must address the Chair.

Photo of Sir Harwood Harrison Sir Harwood Harrison , Eye

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker; I beg your pardon very much.

Is the Minister satisfied that he will receive payment for certain works that he has said will be carried out? Will these works be properly costed? Whenever I have visited the dockyards I have been anxious to see the accountancy systems. So far I have not managed to understand them. I have always asked how many ex-chartered and cost accountants are engaged upon the accountancy. Only in one dockyard—it is a yard in the area which the Minister represents—did I find a man who said of his own volition that he had obtained qualifications as a cost accountant. It may be that the Navy keeps its records in a special way, but a civilian qualification in accountancy cannot be to the detriment of any man.

I should like to say a few words about Sea Dart and Sea Wolf, which have had development difficulties. When I was on a private visit to Gibraltar in January, the admiral took me round the dockyard and showed me a target at which they had fired Exocet. That target had been smashed up good and proper. A vessel hit by a missile of that nature would have been put out of action, if not at the bottom of the sea. The dockyard team which had to repair the target ready for another exercise was pretty browned off at the amount of work it had to do because the weapon had caused a tremendous amount of damage. The Exocet project contains a good deal of French expertise and British equipment, and the United Kingdom Service personnel take a great interest in Exocet. So far as I could see, it was a most excellent missile.

I visited Turkey some months ago and met some of our personnel there, and also personnel from other NATO countries, particularly those stationed at Izmir. That visit brought home to me what was meant by the withdrawal of the British presence in the Mediterranean. This is a political matter rather than a point dealing with strengths and weaknesses of various navies, but we must remember that Britain has always had a presence in the Mediterranean. We have had great successes in the Mediterranean area, as can be judged from history. I welcomed the Minister's comments about the exercises which are to take place in that area so that it cannot be said that our presence is being entirely removed from that sphere of influence.

We are most dependent on our sea routes for our oil supplies and for all the goods we need in time of war. NATO is responsible for the Atlantic and will do a great deal to ensure that goods are properly convoyed across the Atlantic.

I appreciate that there are one or two small naval vessels engaged in work connected with oil rigs. Protection of that nature is aimed more at countering possible hijackers than at gaining war-time experience. We all know that oil rigs suffer in rough sea conditions and accidents happen, but in war time the rigs will become possible targets for destruction. The enemy could inflict a great deal of damage on their shore installations. These installations will be important to us in times of war, and we should consider them in our main defence strategy.

At present I have got the message from conversations with Service personel that we can contain the Russians, although the balance may be tilted a little their way. We can contain them and, we hope, defeat them, but the Russians in respect of both their navy and their army are continuing to rearm, and obviously this affects the balance. If the democratic nations do not do more to keep up their hardware and to give well-trained professional troops the means to keep up their level of com- bat-readiness, we shall fall back. That is where the threat may lie. It appears that the Russians are striving not to reach parity with our forces but to obtain vast superiority. This is what the democracies must seek to avoid.

I do not know who are the right people to sound these warnings. Is it the job of Service personnel or of politicians? Who is to warn our nation that we must keep up our arms strength if we are to survive? It is our job to protect our people. These things must be said. I do not know whether these things are better said by the admirals, the generals, or the air marshals, and perhaps it should be the retired Service men who should be giving these warnings throughout the country. If I speak, Labour constituents will not believe me and vice versa.

I hope the Minister will reassure the House that the United Kingdom is not dropping behind in the battle. Unfortunately, today it is those who shout loudest who seem to get away with it. We have a great tradition in our Navy, and I am sure that the Minister will see that that tradition is maintained in the future.

7.26 p.m.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George , Walsall South

Most of the speakers in the debate so far are regular contributors to naval discussions in this House. It is the first time I have spoken on defence matters, and I warn the House in advance that this will not be an original contribution to strategic theory or a speech of Clausewitzian proportions.

It cannot be said that I have any constituency interest in this debate. It is well known that Walsall is land-locked, and its Members of Parliament have not traditionally expressed any great interest in naval matters, although in the past one or two have travelled and, indeed, gone to sea. We have no industry that is directly related to armaments. I was fortunate not to have been called up, and I have no vivid memories of the Second World War. At time goes on, increasingly more and more Members of Parliament will have a perspective of war that differs from the view that many other hon. Members may take because of the age factor.

I wish to take part in the debate on this vital subject because I seek information on the rôle to be played by our Navy in the thermo-nuclear age. I also wish to discuss the ships that are best suited to discharge this new rôle.

The Minister has an unenviable task today, as other Labour Defence Ministers in the past have done. On one side of the fence he is faced by those who claim that our defence review has left Britain's defences denuded and who believe that if there are any further cuts in defence expenditure, Admiral Gorshkov will be landing at Westminster Pier in a few months' time. On the other hand, the Minister is faced by those who argue that if we spend more and more on defence, other vital areas of expenditure will have to suffer. They say that a balance must be struck.

Against these arguments the defence review has analysed our commitments and needs over the next 10 years and our capacity to fulfil those needs. I believe that we can provide an efficient and well-equipped military presence with the new level of expenditure, but I believe that expenditure on defence is now swiftly reaching a position at which any further large cuts would be totally undesirable.

I suggest, to those who are committed Europeans, that if Europe is aspiring to great things politically, European nations should make a more significant contribution to Western defence than they are doing at present. I believe that in the past our expenditure on defence has been too high. We have now reached what I consider to be an adequate level, but any further cuts would be militarily disastrous.

Economic circumstances have forced us to make a reappraisal of our military role, in the same way as our departure east of Suez was precipitated less by ideological considerations than by economic considerations. We have been forced by circumstances to re-examine our military rôle.

I should like to re-emphasise that, although the Governments of all Western nations are experiencing great pressures from within their communities to cut expenditure, we are aware that pressures are not all that apparent on the Governments of Eastern European nations. However, with the demands by Eastern European nations for a greater range of consumer products, the time is swiftly coming when the Soviet Union will be obliged to re-assess the balance between its defence and other expenditures.

Despite the pressure for cuts in expenditure, all Western Governments are still experiencing an international arms race that shows few signs of abating. We have heard a great deal about the continuing pressure on, and increasing expenditure of, Eastern European nations, but there are many examples of Western countries where expenditure is rising.

Although there has been some progress towards disarmament, regrettably far too much time has been spent on talking. There is far too little evidence of any action being taken by various Governments to reduce their defence expenditure. Hope for disarmament appears to be progressing slowly. Most people who urge disarmament, or at least a reduction in armament, are regarded as being Utopian.

The history of disarmament has shown almost total lack of success. We have had advice from various sources. I remember vividly a quotation from the Old Testament. Isaiah expressed the hope that people would: beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks". So far his advice has gone unheeded, and this further advice: nation shall not lift up sword against nation has remained unfulfilled.

I should like more evidence of real progress before I am prepared to accept that history is repeating itself and that disarmament negotiations are nothing more than a sham or a public relations exercise for one's own domestic public. Otherwise, disarmament on a large scale will be impossible.

I welcome the commencement of the SALT negotiations, and I understand that some limited progress has been made. However, I believe that more progress must be made to stop people believing that those negotiations are nothing more than a charade.

One must welcome not only attempts to talk about arms control and disarmament, but also the improved relationships between the East and the West. One welcomes détente, but, as has been said on previous occasions, one of the successes of détente surely has been some sort of balance of forces. One should not be lulled into any sense of complacency. There are many people who say that as there has been no major confrontation for decades, we should minimise our guard. One of the successes of the nation has been to minimise the risk of war. I hope that the public do not become too complacent and too insistent that defence expenditure—in which it is difficult to see any immediate advantage—should be cut further.

We have heard talk about arms races. I express concern at arms races taking place in naval spheres. Earlier speakers have spoken of the arms race that preceded the First World War. I believe that we are witnessing in many parts of the world—not just in the advanced areas and certainly in the Middle East, naval build-ups which would make the previous arms races in the naval sphere insignificant.

A new awareness of the potentiality of the sea for military purposes has developed. After the Second World War it was probably only America that emerged with any degree of superiority in naval strength. Its supremacy was short-lived and reminds me of the couplet of Hilaire Belloc, who, describing the superiority of the white armies over the natives, said ultimately, Whatever happens, we have gotThe Gatling gun and they have not. Certainly the technological superiority enjoyed over the USSR by America after the Second World War was short-lived as more and more political and military leaders realised the importance of the sea in a thermo-nuclear age.

If we examine the 1957 Defence White Paper, even then there was some ambivalence or confusion about the future of the Navy. It says: The rôle of naval forces in war is some-what uncertain. Events since 1957 have resulted in people having a clear review of the rôle of modern infantry in contemporary strategic thinking.

We have heard a great deal about the build-up of Soviet forces. Unless prompt steps are taken to defuse this naval buildup, clearly confrontation must be anticipated. I recently read a book on gunboat diplomacy. Perhaps one of the reasons why the amount of gunboat diplomacy has not been excessive vis-à-vis America and the Soviet Union has been the inability, so far, of the Soviet Union to match the United States. However, now the enormous superiority of the Americans has subsided. Now the Soviet Union has increased its naval presence to such a level that, I am sure, many Americans consider that their supremacy is about to be overtaken. Because the gap is being narrowed there is every indication that confrontation should, or will, take place. I hope that some sanity can be restored to this situation and that the enormous expenditure on naval armaments, and armaments in general, can be brought under some degree of control.

It may be Utopian to assume that arms will be laid down, but we can hope that there will be some degree of parity, and, as a result of this parity, that some readjustment downwards will be brought into being.

I shall not dwell any longer on naval armaments or armaments in general. I shall briefly discuss the British response to these changed circumstances. Many Labour Members have readjusted to Britain's changed rôle in the world. We are finally abandoning any pretence we might have had to being able to project our military power into far-off lands or shores. It was inevitable that a post-Imperial Britain, suffering from acute economic difficulties, would throw off any vestiges of Imperial pretensions.

If we believe that we have any great world-wide rôle, logically our naval rôle will be devised accordingly. At present we are concentrating our defence on Europe and on the NATO area, and, quite clearly, the rôle of the Navy must be thus adjusted. Anyone who believes that we should maintain a level of naval armament most appropriate to the previous era is, in my view deluding himself.

Professor Martin, a specialist on naval matters, said not too long ago: We are stuck with a Navy which has grown up out of an obsolete concept of what navies ought to do. As a result of this defence review, brought about by a situation forced on the Government, we have been obliged to examine the rôle of our Navy and devise a policy which is more appropriate to our current economic situation.

We were told a few moments ago, with great pride, that Britain is the third nation in the world in naval terms. There are only four nations whose navies perform a world rôle. Ours is about fourth in that category. If we are the third naval power, I do not know what our position is in the industrial league. It seems paradoxical that we should occupy such a high position in the naval league, yet such a low position in the industrial league.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that our industrial power depends on our imports? We have to import 50 per cent. of our food and most of our raw materials. Those imports must be protected in times of threat. That is why we need naval power in conjunction with NATO.

Photo of Bruce George Bruce George , Walsall South

Obviously, our naval power must be seen in the context of NATO. I do not believe that at this stage, with our severe economic difficulties, we can be expected to patrol and control the sea lanes of the world. We do not have the capacity. The hon. Gentleman and I are not completely at variance. I do not see myself as someone who wishes to see the total elimination of our Navy. As we are committed to NATO, we must play our rôle within its overall framework.

Ideally, and speaking with a limited knowledge of strategic matters, I would have thought that NATO should divide its responsibilities equitably. We should see NATO as an interdependent entity, where one nation because of its economic strength and geographic location performs a specific function. It is rather silly to assume that each of the nations within this defence organisation should have an all-purpose navy. This cannot be done.

We are wedded to NATO and will be for some time in the future. Ultimately, I hope that such military alliances will be rendered superfluous. Until then we are linked to NATO, and I hope that NATO can organise itself in such a way as to produce a greater military presence with perhaps a diminished military expenditure. It is being said that one of NATO's problems lies in the difficulties of standardisation. We belong to NATO and have our allotted responsibilities. I would like to think that greater thought had been given at NATO level to an allocation of responsibilities based on geography and an ability to sustain this military and naval presence.

Coming even more into our own backyard than I have done so far, I repeat what has been said earlier about the defence of our oil. I understand that a Conference on the Sea has outlined proposals for the future and that we are to have a 12-mile limit with a further 200-mile limit, which will be called an exclusive economic zone. We must give a great deal of thought to this problem of policing our oil installations. Some thought has been given to it, but not enough.

I can remember the débâcle at the time of the cod war. One of the lessons to be learned from that was that our naval resources were not adequate, even to deal with that limited situation. If we now face a situation in which the Navy must perform this constabulary role more effectively, I wonder whether we have the resources. One academic has calculated that adequately to police this 200-mile limit and to maintain a credible defence of our oil resources would mean an enormous increase in a certain type of naval vessel. The Minister has spoken of the thought being given to the use of the hydrofoil so that we can speed to a troubled area.

We are witnessing a difficult period in strategic and military thought. We are being forced to look at our defence commitments in view of our rapidly declining economic fortunes. This has forced us into a situation which we ought to have reached previously. We are now no longer a first-rate Power. We need to fight hard to remain a second-rate Power. We need to have strong defences, and they can be found at this stage only within NATO. I continue to support NATO. I hope that the Government will continue to review our defence commitments so that ultimately we shall move towards a situation when there is an integrated NATO defence policy in keeping with our limited financial resources.

7.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Cyril Townsend Mr Cyril Townsend , Bexley Bexleyheath

I take to heart a comment by one of your distinguished predecessors, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that speeches, to be immortal, need not be eternal. It gives me pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George). I am glad he managed to take time off from dealing with the correspondence of no fewer than two constituencies. I believe that he deserves the pay of two Members of Parliament! I was particularly pleased to hear the hon. Member, since he in turn followed his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), whose contribution was rather cold and sinister.

I do not claim that I go along with all that the hon. Member for Wallsall, South has said, but I very much preferred his approach to the problems of defence to that of his hon. Friend. How right the hon. Member for Walsall, South was to say that we should continuously re-examine the deployment of our forces. It was once said that the Empress Catherine put a sentry over a snowdrop and 200 years later there was still a guard posted at that site. Listening to recent defence debates, we are forced to ask whether Britain has forgotten the lesson of the events that led to the Second World War.

Slowly but surely mankind's inherent foolishness appears to be taking us round again to the attitudes of the 1930s. Then, as now, because the outside threat to peace and freedom was not blindingly obvious, many shades of political opinion were in favour of massive defence cuts and big reduction in Service manpower.

Admiral Gorshkov has made crystal-clear the importance to Russia of sea power, not only to fight wars but also to achieve political aims in peace time. The Soviet Union has recently produced maritime forces that give the appearance of being designed to deny use of the sea to others rather than to preserve that use for Russia. The emphasis on submarines and missiles—armed units of all kinds—is marked. The Russians' sudden enthusiasm for attack-carriers is highly significant. After all, for 20 years they took no interest in this naval weapon. Why are they suddenly going in for it now?

In Britain, an island nation, with interests at sea proportionally much greater than any of its allies, we announce reductions in the number of destroyers, frigates and MCMVs and reductions in the strength of our amphibious forces, along with all the other cuts we have discussed. Do we ignore NATO's acute shortage of anti-submarine and mine warfare ships? Do we turn a blind eye to the obvious vulnerability of NATO's northern flank?

I do not wish to retrace all the ground that I marked out in the Adjournment debate on 23rd May on the subject of defending our North Sea oil and gas installations. I will summarise what I feel the Government should be doing. The problem must be seen in a NATO context. A serious threat by the Russians to our economic resources in the North Sea would require an American carrier force to move into the area. I think that NATO has been slow to consider all the present and planned installations bordering the North Sea. Flag Officer Scotland should be given overall responsibility for the security of our own installations. By chance, they fit neatly into the boundaries of his command and are covered by his NATO obligations. A senior police officer should serve alongside him and a joint operations room should be set up. I remind the House that a number of chief constables at present share responsibility towards these installations.

This command centre should take on responsibility for such matters in the area as fishery protection, the co-ordination of search and air-sea rescue, navigation and pollution threats. It would pay particular attention to the risk of accidental damage to installations by drifting vessels or by storms.

Many of the problems that would arise would be passed on to the civilian organisations, but this command centre would be able to supply the necessary control, communications and, above all, a 24-hour service, which does not happen at present.

Without doubt, naval helicopters should operate in the area. I was pleased that the Minister said that a review was being undertaken of the potential of the hydrofoil, and I hope it may have a particular rôle in this area. I should like to see a small helicopter-borne force of Royal Marine commandos ready to fly out to deal with any major incident. There is at present, I understand, a commando unit in Scotland which could easily be given the task of finding this force.

I accept that terrorist attacks are unlikely, but the growth of international terrorism should not allow the Under-Secretary to be too complacent. After all, we have a very well equipped terrorist organisation in the British Isles at the present time. Just imagine the propaganda effect of a tiny incident involving the IRA and a North Sea platform!

It is not too late for this buffeted and bewildered Government to come forward with more realistic proposals on the lines I have suggested. By any reckoning, the protection of our offshore energy resources must be given top priority.

Turning to warmer waters, a number of speakers from both sides have emphasised the growing Soviet sea power in the Indian Ocean and the importance to Western Europe of the Cape route—one of the seven focal points of maritime activity in the world. For historical reasons, the United Kingdom has a higher stake in this part of the world than her allies.

I am convinced that the West must maintain a naval presence in the Indian Ocean, whereas the Soviet Navy has no need to—unless it wishes to threaten the vital seaborne trade of other countries. Bearing in mind the political complexions of many of the northern NATO countries, I am well aware that NATO will not be quickly persuaded, as a first step, to carry out major maritime exercises in the Indian Ocean, but they must be pressed by the British Government.

Much military planning and money went into the construction of the Maginot Line. Much military planning and money goes today towards the close defence of Western Europe. Flanks are frequently more vulnerable than the centre itself.

Concerning the Government's decision to tear up the Simonstown Agreement. Simonstown is useful in peace time as a place of rest and repair. The dry dock has an obvious important importance. However, the Government tell us now that Britain can use these facilities on a straight commercial basis. I hope the Minister will confirm that he will allow British sailors ashore for rest and recreation when their ships pass the Cape.

What we have clearly lost for NATO is the naval surveillance and military intelligence that existed through Anglo-South African co-operation. I supported the Simonstown Agreement, but I am bound to say that to some of us the balance of the arguments had become extremely close. Britain and South Africa could not police the Cape sea routes in times of trouble. To pretend otherwise is extremely dangerous. Britain's naval force in the Indian Ocean is down to the odd frigate. Gone are the days when we had carrier forces off Singapore.

South Africa is increasing her defence forces, but in today's terms they are small. Her navy has only two destroyers, six frigates and two submarines. She will become increasingly vulnerable to external sanctions, especially with regard to aircraft, heavy armour and warships. She will become more and more concerned with the threat of conventional or guerrilla activity on her northern borders. At present at least 80 per cent. of her defence programme is allocated to the landward threat. It would be a mistake for Britain to regard her as a sound and secure ally, however well she has performed in the past.

In addition, we must squarely face the fact that our military links with South Africa have been misunderstood and resented in the United Nations and particularly in the Third World. They have tended to diminish our influence with Black Africa, whose friendship and natural resources are becoming increasingly important to Europe. There is no basic disagreement between Europe, America and the African countries on the nature of the South African régime. There has been a danger that Britain might lose out in diplomatic terms without gaining a compensating military advantage.

After a cool appraisal of the likely political and military trends in South Africa, I personally accept that a good case could be made out for ending Britain's formal military links with South Africa, but I regret that the Government have been so hasty. Would they not have been wiser to wait until NATO could have been persuaded to show more interest in the Indian Ocean? Would they not have been wiser to wait until the European Community had reached a common position on the sale of arms to South Africa? Would they not have been wiser to wait until more North Sea oil was coming ashore? Would they not have been wiser first to get Iran, which has a strong and growing navy, to take more interest in the area?

In conclusion, I come back to the main theme of our debate. Western European ports handle 50 per cent. by value and 30 per cent. by volume of all the world's international trade. Oil is by far the biggest single commodity moved by sea. Britain's merchant tonnage is 30 million, NATO Europe's over 100 million, and the Soviet Union's 17 million. Faced with the historic expansion of the Soviet navy and its new interest in the Indian Ocean, the Government reply with their phoney White Paper telling our forces yet again that they must squeeze more out of less.

Over the centuries Britain has excelled in the use of sea power. We should be the first to appreciate the danger of overwhelming sea power in the hands of others. Over the centuries the Royal Navy has proved to be our particular and appropriate champion and defender. That remains true in the nuclear age. Indeed, it is truer than ever before in the nuclear age. There is a saying that only those deserve freedom who are prepared to defend it.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

The hon. Member for Bexley-heath (Mr. Townsend) recalled the saying of a previous occupant of the Chair that a speech, to be immortal, need not be eternal. I remind hon. Members that the most famous speech of all was made at Gettysburg and lasted only six minutes. There are still six speakers anxious to contribute to the debate in the hour that remains before the winding-up speeches. If the speakers were to limit themselves to four minutes longer than the Gettysburg speech I could accommodate all those who are anxious to take part.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams:

I did not intend to speak in this debate, and I shall bear in mind your strictures from the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, rather like Oscar Wilde in a very different context, I cannot resist the temptation to say a few words.

When he opened the debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy gave a very good account of himself. He has my con- fidence. I think that he is running the Royal Navy very well, and I see from the fact that so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are not present that they, too, must be entirely satisfied with his stewardship.

My hon. Friend began his speech in a very serious-minded mood, and that has been matched in the speeches that we have heard from both sides of the House. However, a number of my hon. Friends are rather puzzled to know why the Opposition intend to divide the House tonight. The reason has not emerged very clearly in the course of the debate so far. They divided the House against the Defence White Paper, and it became clear as our debates wore on, Service by Service, that an argument would be erected substantial enough to justify a Division on a matter of this magnitude. But it is no light matter to divide the House on naval affairs. It is likely to be widely misunderstood and, in some quarters, resented. I hope that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) will make crystal clear the reason why the Opposition are dividing the House in this matter.

The two main arguments used by the Opposition so far have centred round the Polaris weapon and the Harrier jump jet. In the case of the Harrier, most hon. Members have been content to congratulate the Government, and rightly so, because, although the Conservative Government, perhaps, were not contemplating not going ahead with it, they did not reach a decision in favour of it.

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

I can understand why the the hon. Gentleman does not appreciaet our reason for dividing the House tonight. He has heard only a small part of the debate if he believes that the Opposition have concentrated mainly on the Polaris and the Harrier. He appears to have missed about 90 per cent. of the arguments that we have advanced. I hope that he will address himself to those arguments.

Mr. Williams:

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken if he thinks that I have missed 90 per cent. of the debate. I admit that I missed his own contribution, which, I understand, was a very poor one, but I listened to the remainder of the debate with great attention.

It is not so puzzling that there should be this difference between the two sides of the House, however, because Opposition Members have been keen to point out that the Government's analysis of the situation in respect of the Russian naval build-up has not been followed by some action. That is the burden of the Opposition's attack. However, it is as well to get the analysis right, because that is an essential part of reaching the right decisions. I welcome the analysis made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. It is as well to know that the Russians are building up in the way that they are, but it follows that we should analyse why they are doing that and what response is appropriate in the circumstances. Again, I should welcome contributions from the Opposition in that respect.

Most people will agree, I think, that this is a relatively new problem. Following the disastrous events of 1962 as a result of the Cuban missile crisis, when Khrushchev had to write a couple of humiliating letters to President Kennedy, the Russians were determined that they would never be put in that position again. They felt that the only way of avoiding it was to have some kind of maritime presence.

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) and one or two of his hon. Friends used the word "maritime". It is important to be clear about whether we are discussing a naval presence or a maritime presence. There is a very serious difference. It seems to me that the Russians first decided to go for a naval presence but that they are now broadening that to a maritime presence. The implication is that they wish to provide themselves with bases because they realise that, having extended themselves into so-called warm waters, they are very vulnerable from the air. It does not follow from that that they have completely closed their minds to the possibility of building up allies and having permanent bases, but they are making the first tentative moves towards a policy of that kind, and, if that is true, it is most serious.

The argument which attracts many of my hon. Friends—and I do not dismiss it lightly—is that the Russians are doing this principally for political purposes. If that is so, all that they require is a naval presence rather than a maritime one. It can show the flag when a situation develops and which can exert political pressure when it counts. However, we are seeing the Soviet Union behaving like a traditional great Power believing that it has rights and interests to protect. As a result, it is building up a maritime presence.

As we all know, the only answer—and it is this that brings an element of hypocrisy into the debate on the part of the Opposition—is a NATO response—

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr

We have been saying that.

Mr. Williams:

If the Opposition have been saying that they have said it so softly that it has missed most people outside this House, but, if that is so, I should like to hear more about the studies which NATO is conducting into the possibility of a naval presence south of the Tropic of Cancer.

This can be done, although, perhaps, not in a formal NATO framework. There are difficulties about that, but it can be done outside NATO by getting those Powers which share the concern to build up some kind of marking naval presence. I think that that is a reasonable proposition to debate. It did not require the Opposition to divide the House tonight and to blame my right hon. Friend for the present state of affairs. They themselves carry a heavy share of the responsibility. For that reason I should have preferred the Opposition to take this debate out of this narrow context of petty party advantage and to debate it in the broad context which the subject rightly demands.

8.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alan Clark Mr Alan Clark , Plymouth, Sutton

I feel, and I hope that I can say it without disrespect to the House, that the defence debates which we have with such commendable frequency have a singularly repetitive character. Sitting below the Gangway on the Government side of the House there are a number of hon. Members who argue, with a greater or lesser degree of articulacy, that we should have virtually no defences, that they are a provocation and that we should dismantle them as an inducement to detente. That is an argument that, as a traditionalist, I anticipate hearing with pleasure but not uncertainty from the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer), who, I see, has just come into the Chamber. From the Opposition benches, we have my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) emphasising—and being echoed by the Treasury Bench—the very serious perils to which we are open because of the decline in the relative strength and standing of our forces compared with those of the Soviet Union. The net result of the virtual consensus of rational agreement is nil.

We have these debates at two-monthly or three-monthly intervals, and we see no change in the posture of the Government, their attitude to our forces and the expenditure on them—with one exception. That exception is the adoption of the maritime Harrier. I should like to think that that was due to the reasoned arguments put forward in this House, but I fear that a factor which influenced the Government considerably was all those delegates and shop stewards from Hawker Siddeley to whom we spoke in the Lobby.

The Under-Secretary said the defence review was a careful thinking through of our strategic posture for the next 10 years. I suggest it was a careful thinking through of how any credible defence structure could he retained in the light of the Draconian cuts imposed by the Treasury. This thinking through was faulty in relation to the strategic reality of the situation.

The most significant fault was the failure to appreciate the cosmic alteration in the strategic balance at sea. It has been a feature of the last two or three years and is likely to accelerate in momentum over the next 10 years. This alteration demands a change in our spending, deployment, and balance between different types of vessels, and also, for the long term, changes in naval architecture. These changes will need years to take effect and they should have been started years ago. I am sure my hon. Friends would compel any new Government to put these into effect. and it would be greatly to the credit of the present Government if they took action now.

We know that Admiral Gorshkov is a disciple of Mahan, the great philosopher-historian who wrote the guiding thesis on naval power, "The Influence of Sea Power on the French Revolution and Empire". The tenor of his argument was that the France of Napoleon, an immensely powerful land power, should have been able to dominate the world, but was prevented from doing so by Britain's sea power, economically, but critically, exercised at certain key points. It is clear that Admiral Gorshkov has absorbed this idea and has convinced the Kremlin that it is useless for a nation to be a land power unless it has complementary sea power as well. Through the exercise of sea power one can apply pressure and derive strategic advantage with a greater degree of economy and lesser degree of risk.

I do not recommend a return to gunboat diplomacy, much as a certain part of my make-up may wish for it, but the United Kingdom and NATO should be in a position to resist gunboat diplomacy. If our present naval inferiority in numbers and quality persists it is only too likely that we shall find ourselves vulnerable to gunboat diplomacy and face the greatest difficulty in resisting it. We have already had a foretaste of this in the cod war, and I do not think the Admiralty would sanction a powerful response to pressures of this kind in the Indian Ocean any more than, in 1938, it was keen on resisting the Italian submarines that were torpedoing vessels going to Spain. There is a very serious risk that, unless we upgrade in quality and numbers the naval strength of ourselves and NATO and extend the boundaries of NATO we shall be faced with a position where gunboat diplomacy is applied and our capacity to respond is so impeded that we are restrained by various political considerations from properly responding to this pressure, and our economic and military posture may be very seriously threatened.

We need a different emphasis on expenditure between the three Services. I do not agree with the Under-Secretary who said the Services were relatively indivisible in terms of expenditure. The strategic situation has so altered that expenditure on the Navy should be given priority over spending on the other two Services.

There is, effectively, a kind of stalemate in Central Europe where, although we are outnumbered, the effect of a military action would be so gross and dangerous that it is unlikely ever to occur, and we are most likely to face economic pressure, which would not directly affect civilians or large cities, but our sea trading routes. This is where we should be most diligent and be prepared, even if it involves sacrifices elsewhere, to increase expenditure and alter the bias of naval strength.

We need an increased convoy capability, a taskforce flexibility, an independent nuclear-powered submarine force and an airborne capability which, I am glad to say, we seem to be getting. We also need changes in naval architecture and cheaper, faster, more flexible vessels. We shall need vessels with a dual-purpose function to match in missile and hitting capability the ships of the Soviet navy.

In looking at naval architecture, we must consider whether the crew facilities and the dimensions of ships, which were, perhaps, dictated by recruiting considerations in the 1950s, are now obsolete. I know from constituents in the Navy that they would prefer, in visiting foreign ports, to be in really impressive vessels, well armed, up-to-date and competitive with vessels of other foreign Powers. After enjoying themselves on shore leave, they would rather return to a fierce ship with real teeth than to a vessel with squash courts and shower baths but deficient in missile and gun hitting power.

There is a change in the naval situation comparable only with that when the Kaiser was rebuilding the Imperial German navy before the First World War. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Selby) quoted that famous slogan We want eight and we won't wait". That was the cry of the lobby campaigning for an increase in the number of dreadnoughts. The hon. Member quoted the slogan with derision, but if that lobby had not been successful we would have lost the Battle of Jutland.

The Government should not be guided by the popular mood. Responsible, thoughtful Ministers should be able to see far enough ahead to realise that changes in strategic methods are occurring. The situation of the Navy and NATO's maritime strength is comparable to that of Fighter Command in 1936. Fortunately, we realised then what was happening, and expanded Fighter Command. We were just in time. Today we are looking at this in a stilted, conventional manner, in which we feel that cuts have to be made in all three Services in more or less a degree of uniformity, and the Ministers and their advisers have totally failed to see this altered strategic emphasis.

There are three possibilities the Minister could announce. He could tell us that he will leave things as they are, which would be unsatisfactory and would lead us ultimately into serious difficulties necessitating urgent and drastic changes. He could say, as many of my friends are dreading, that there may be yet further cuts. Or he could give us some indication, some possible ray of hope, to believe that he sees the corollary of all the data he has laid before the House of Soviet strength and intentions, that he sees the altered situation, and the necessity for changing the emphasis on the maritime sector and the Royal Navy. In so doing he would earn the respect of the House and, in future, the gratitude of the country.

8.22 p.m.

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

At this late hour in the debate most of the points have been made and I shall try to be brief

If we concentrate too much on the central front in Europe there is a danger that we shall be adopting the Maginot Line philosophy which was such a disaster in 1939. We cannot win and survive without the ability to control the sea lines of communication. Without this ability all is lost. Yet there is real doubt whether at present our strength is enough to ensure that we can control those lines of communication.

There has been a dramatic change in the naval balance over the last few years. Twenty years ago NATO dominated the seas, but that is no longer the case. Nor can we rely on the comfortable assumption that we can leave it all to the United States. The United States found itself a few years ago with an enormous, though old, fleet. It has since scrapped half its ships but, in spite of this, the average age of the rest is still about 18 years. The only way in which it could afford to modernise was to cut down its numbers by half.

We must ask why the Soviet Union is building up its naval strength. Its geography and history make it a land Power. It is self-sufficient in food and raw materials, and it has not vital sea lines of communication to protect. Unlike us, it does not need to be able to control the sea routes. I can understand that it wishes to impress people round the world by the visits of its warships, but the submarine fleet, which is the most sinister aspect of the build-up, is not impressive to the Third World countries. Its nuclear submarines do not go visiting with large red flags flying from their conning towers. Instead, they lie sinisterly below the surface of the sea. They pose a most serious threat, and their aim is to cut our very life lines. If we are not careful, the situation can arise in which the Russians will be able decisively to affect the future of this country.

It is possible to see a situation in which by use of naval power they can win and avoid the Armageddon which would come as a result of operations in central Europe, where it can be expected that all-out nuclear war would result should the tanks start rolling. But at sea they could have their way and exert their will over us without a single tank having to roll.

It is accepted that in general on land the odds tend to favour the defenders, but that is not the case at sea. We can accept numerical inferiority on land, but that is not so at sea. Much larger forces are needed for the control of the sea routes than they are for denial of the sea routes. That fact presents a great difficulty for NATO and Britain to overcome.

Admiral Gorshkov has been quoted frequently in the debate, but I shall quote from Admiral Zumwalt. until a year ago the Chief of Staff of the United States navy. His net assessment based on fleet exercises and the judgment of his admirals is that today the odds are that they would be unable to succeed in keeping open the sea lines of communication, and he added that if we were to fail we would lose Central Europe". That is a terrifying assessment from a man who is in a position to arrive at a fairly accurate idea of what could happen. There is no room for complacency, therefore, about the strength of the Royal Navy.

The Government have told us in the past that they were working on the assumption that there will be no conflict. Let us hope that they are right. Nevertheless, the Soviet navy has the capability, and we cannot rely on it not being used. Instability and change are the hallmarks of the international scene these days. Those who fail to see the danger are naïve and those who see it but ignore it can only be reckless or wrongly motivated.

Over the last 10 years the Soviet navy has expanded by 10 times the number of ships it has at sea outside its own waters. It has reached the situation where it has been able to exercise more ships simultaneously in the North-East Atlantic than has NATO. During the recent Arab-Israeli war no fewer than 96 Russian ships were present in the Mediterranean, including 24 submarines. In spite of that, we are to withdraw the Nimrod squadron from Malta at a saving of just over £4 million a year. That squadron is of vital concern to NATO's southern flank. It has been responsible for spotting and identifying a substantial proportion of all the Russian submarines operating in the Mediterranean. While this Russian build-up has been going on, the strength of the Royal Navy has been whittled away, first in the Healey review, then subsequently in the Mason review and now presumably under the proposed £110 million cut, although here the Government still refuse to say what they will cut.

I must, however, congratulate the Minister on the fact that he was able to persuade the Treasury to go ahead with the naval Harrier. I should also like to take the opportunity to congratulate him on the co-operation he and his Department have shown to hon. Members who are interested in the Navy, even if in my case that interest has been expressed in the form of a large number of Parliamentary Questions. Ten years ago the Royal Navy had 190 major vessels. It is now down to 109, and that number is falling fast.

I should like to ask the Minister—

Photo of Mr Neville Trotter Mr Neville Trotter , Tynemouth

I am sorry that the Minister who is standing in appears to be so lonely on the Government Front Bench. I hope that he will point out to his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that he failed in his very well-deserved praise for the Royal Marines to say how on earth they are going to get ashore in future operations without any amphibious ships. I suggest that the Army Minister might ask his hon. Friend the Navy Minister whether he has up his sleeve yet another superannuated tug of the kind he keeps pulling out to solve all kinds of problems.

Like many other Members, I was disquieted to hear so little said about the Royal Naval Reserve. From what the Minister mentioned, it seemed that it, too, was for the "chop"—that in future it was not to be in the same form, or presumably in the same strength in terms of ships as it is today. I hope that if that is not correct the Minister will put me right when he comes to wind up.

The Under-Secretary seemed to be offering as justification for his cuts the very curious excuse that they could be justified in that they would encourage our allies to do more. That is a very strange form of encouragement. There are plenty of other "normal" excuses; for example, that the quality of our new equipment is better than the old. That is true, but so also is the quality of Russian equipment. The Russians have quantity as well, and in the very important field of surface-to-surface missiles they have established a technological lead with which the allies have not yet caught up.

Secondly, there is the argument that our European allies do not have large navies. This is true; but they are predominantly land-based and have much larger armies than us, while we are traditionally a sea power. I very much agree with my learned Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), that it is in this direction that we should concentrate as much as possible for the future. The main excuse, however, is always that we cannot afford a large Navy to defend ourselves. Yet we are spending a lower percentage of the national income on defence than at any time since before the last war. In 1954 of every £1 of public spending in this country 24p went on defence. Now it is down to 10p in the pound. What a contrast with the situation in the Soviet Union, where the percentage of public spending on defence is rising all the time! The fact is that this Government are cutting our essential defences so that we as a country can live beyond our means.

May I remind hon. Members opposite that if we cannot control the sea lines of communication there will be no food to be subsidised? There is no point in subsidies if the food cannot be landed in this country. The task for the Navy has never been more important. The threat at sea has never been greater, and at the same time the strength of the Navy has never been weaker. I do not know whether the Navy Minister appreciates the fact but my research reveals that he proposes to reduce the manpower of the Navy to its lowest level for nearly a century. The year 1895, as far as I can see, was the last year when the Royal Navy was at the level to which this Government intend to reduce it.

This is the time to be building up the strength of the Royal Navy. Through no fault of their own shipyards are short of civil orders and they should now be used to build more vessels for the Royal Navy. I hope that yards like Swan Hunter and Scott Lithgow, which for the time being have been phased out of the Navy ordering programme, will be allowed to come in again in the not too distant future. Surely, money is better spent building more destroyers and frigates than subsidising losses in those yards after taking them into State ownership.

Britain still has the strength to defend herself. I believe that the British people have the common sense to accept the need for that defence, and to accept that this calls for sacrifice. They accept that it is a price worth paying to maintain our peace and freedom. The trouble is not lack of strength or lack of public common sense but lack of Government will. It is for that reason that we are, quite rightly, to divide the House tonight.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

If we can have seven-minute speeches, every hon. Member who wishes to take part in the debate can be accommodated.

8.32 p.m.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams), who, unfortunately, seems to have left the Chamber, inquired somewhat peevishly why we felt it necessary to divide the House tonight. I hesitate to speak for my own Front Bench as a very inexpert back bencher on these matters, but, as far as I am concerned personally, the reason we are dividing the House is that fundamentally we disapprove of the Defence White Paper. We believe it is making cuts which are dangerous to our security. We want no part of it, and dividing the House is the only way we can effectively show our disapproval.

We see in the White Paper and the Minister's speech this afternoon a most frightening analysis of the build-up of Soviet power, and yet there is a complete "ducking" and escaping from the implications of that. It springs in large measure from a fundamental misconception in the White Paper itself that we should base expenditure on a comparison with the percentage of gross national product spent by our allies. If we are to use this kind of mathematical formula, surely it would be infinitely more sensible to look at the gross national product spent by our potential enemies, not by our friends and allies.

I believe this approach is sheer folly and leads us to all kinds of wrong conclusions. I, for one, want no part of the approach that has been put forward by the Government. What is more, there are further weaknesses in this approach which are not apparent at first sight. It fails to recognise that our gross national product is very much smaller than that of many of our allies, and they may still he spending more than we are in total.

Furthermore, the difference in computation as to what constitutes defence expenditure can completely distort our view. If the Government would be prepared to undertake it, I should like to see a comparison of like with like. I suspect that that would give a very different and much truer result. I do not think that the Government will be keen to pursue that idea, because I doubt whether the result would support their arguments. It is worth repeating that the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee for 1974–75 stated that an unqualified comparison of this kind was misleading. That should be noted tonight in no uncertain terms.

The great dread of the Opposition is that, these cuts having been made—cuts which we consider are too great—further cuts may be in the pipeline. I sincerely hope that that is not so, but I would not like to rule it out.

We have put forward various suggestions for cuts in other areas of public expenditure. I notice that they did not seem very popular with the Government side but I hope that they will be carefully considered. The expenditure saved by halving the food subsidies would make a sizeable contribution. What is more, we could successfully cut out nationalisation plans, whether they be those envisaged in the Community Land Bill, for North Sea oil or for any other projects which the National Enterprise Board might undertake. Those are examples of worthwhile cuts, without going for defence expenditure.

There are those on the Government side of the House who would like to make even greater cuts. Indeed, I get the impression that they would be happiest if there was no defence expenditure whatsoever. I find the arguments put forward by this group to be so muddled and so inconsistent that they are impossible to understand. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that, unlike the Opposition, those hon. Members do not see Soviet strength as a potential threat but rather regard Russia as a potential ally. Only in that light do their arguments become comprehensible.

The Opposition are apprehensive about Soviet intentions. Russia has a long imperialist tradition going right back to the eighteenth century. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) referred to the Tzarina of Russia, the Empress Catherine. At that time the Russians had naval pretensions. One of the features of their foreign policy was to try to get across to the Mediterranean. So far as I can see, their motives have not changed, whatever may have been the changes in their political activities. There is no possible defensive reason for the build-up of their strength. It is horrifying to realise that their submarines have been increased by 30 per cent., their frigates by about 175 per cent. and their amphibious craft by about 60 per cent.

In the face of that, the Government are proposing the cuts set out in the defence White Paper. What is more, many Russian fishing trawlers bristle with equipment which no fishing trawler could possibly want. I understand that the fishing trawler crews are completely interchangeable with Soviet naval personnel.

I accept that our main effort must be concentrated on the northern flank of NATO, but even there I strongly suspect that we are underestimating the strength of the Soviet navy which is operating in these waters, and that we might find it difficult in an emergency to make certain that our merchant ships could come through without hindrance.

That is to leave aside the problem of our oil rigs. When we consider the hopes built around the development of our oil industry, it is frightening that there should be comparatively little effective attention paid to the defence of the oil rigs. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath put forward a number of interesting proposals for strengthening our defences there. I hope that his suggestions will be answered and that the Government will produce practical ideas for the defence of the oil rigs, which at present are highly vulnerable.

It is not only the northern flank of NATO which is important. I emphasise the fact that we rely heavily on food, raw materials and, above all, oil from other parts of the world. It is not a scrap of use saying that as we no longer have an empire we no longer have a world commitment. As long as merchant ships and tankers bring food, raw materials and oil from the furthermost parts of the world, we have a vital world interest. It is no use making sure that the northern flank of NATO is well within our control if the ships never get through from distant parts of the world.

I understand that about 80 per cent. of our oil at present goes round the Cape. Yet we allow the build up of the Soviet presence in the Indian Ocean apparently without the Government batting an eyelid. I believe that the Minister said that we cannot hope to shepherd our merchant ships around the world. However, I suggest that we must do that, especially as we must use the Cape route and the Suez Canal. However, I cannot see that many super-tankers will pass through the Suez Canal. They must perforce use the Cape route.

There was one ray of hope in what the Minister said. I refer to the decision to order maritime Harriers. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) suggested that it was not the cogent reasoning expressed by Members of Parliament but that it was the pressure of trade unionists which brought that about. I strongly suspect that we must thank the Shah of Persia. It was unlikely that the Shah would have made any purchases if he had not seen the Government making purchases first. I warmly welcome this project. I visited the Royal Navy engineering college on the day that the decision was announced. There was a noticeable improvement in morale.

Photo of Mr Robert Brown Mr Robert Brown , Newcastle upon Tyne West

That was because the hon. Lady was there.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

The hon. Gentleman is kind. I suspect that their morale was boosted not by my presence but by the possibility of this excellent addition to our Naval services.

One point was not developed in the debate. I refer to the effect on morale of continuous cuts. I do not see how we can expect the best from the Services or from our recruitment drives if there is constant chopping and changing over our defence policy. We can never be certain how long we shall continue to play an effective role. However, as we rely on a comparatively small number of men and women, who are professionals and not conscripts, it is of the utmost importance that they should be assured of a secure future so that they feel that they are usefully playing a role in the defence of their country. My great fear is that, as a result of these cuts and the threats of further cuts, morale will be dangerously undermined.

8.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Myer Galpern Mr Myer Galpern , Glasgow Shettleston

We have 15 minutes for three speeches—all from the Opposition benches.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

I shall be brief because most of the arguments I wish to make have already been deployed, mainly from the Conservative benches and some from the Labour benches.

Basically, the theme I wish to pursue, and would have pursued at greater length had the time, is that the White Paper and these Estimates for the Royal Navy are just not good enough and are placing the country's defences in jeopardy. I shall give two or three examples to illustrate what I have in mind in the short time I have available to me.

In the White Paper it is stated that there are plans for us to withdraw our naval presence entirely from the Mediterranean in 1976. This announcement has been made in a year when the Suez Canal has been opened after being closed for many years and in a year when there has been the conflict between the Turks and Greeks over Cyprus, of whose constitution we are guarantors. It makes one wonder what further foolishness the Government can enter into.

Further on in the White Paper we read of the Government's plan to withdraw the Royal Navy from the West Indies. However, the West Indies and islands adjacent to them have in many cases placed upon this country the responsibility for defence. It would be difficult to indicate that we intended to do something about their defence if the presence of the Royal Navy were withdrawn entirely from the area.

Later in the document we read the same dreary story about Britain withdrawing from Mauritius and closing down HMS "Mauritius" in the Indian Ocean. I was in Mauritius about a year ago and I visited the signal station in HMS "Mauritius". I was most impressed, not only by the effective communications work being done by the Navy there, but also by the attachment, the affection and the respect in which the station and Royal Navy personnel were held by the Mauritian Government and people. When the Minister replies, will he tell the House how this heavy and vital signal traffic will be handled in the future if the plans go ahead and HMS "Mauritius" is closed down, together with the Gan staging post?

In this disappointing and dreary document there is a reference to the Royal Naval Reserve. I share the concern which has already been expressed by many Conservative Members about the future of the Royal Naval Reserve and the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. I confess that I have an interest here in as much as I am still training with RNVR. I hope that the Minister takes careful account of the excellent suggestions put forward by Conservative Members that the reserve should be involved a little more in the defence of our North Sea oil installations quite apart from the essential work which, as the Minister knows, the reserve already does, especially in merchant shipping deployments in the event of an emergency.

What is almost entirely lacking in this White Paper, as it was in the last one, is any mention of hovercraft. Certainly there is a line which says that the possibility of hovercraft detachment and their operations within the Fleet in the future are still under consideration. Does the Minister not recognise that it is about time that this consideration blossomed into action? Does he realise that, for instance, the French are now engaged on the construction of a new generation of hovercraft which will carry 400 passengers? It is twice as big as anything we have. Although plans have been on the drawing board at the British Hovercraft Corporation at Southampton for nine months we still do not have the Government's authority and backing to go ahead. There is a great future, in a defence use, of hovercraft. Other world navies have already found it of vital help. I do hope that the Minister will at least interest himself in the situation of British hovercraft, where plans exist but are held up simply because of the lack, which has been made apparent, of Government financial backing.

8.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

The theory is that the Government's defence policy is based on deterrence—deterrence of an outright attack, deterrence of any military adventures, deterrence of efforts to put pressure on other countries, ourselves or our allies, for political changes by the use of Soviet military forces, but there is a danger—I have in mind especially the Government's naval cuts—that it is ceasing to be a policy of deterrence and is becoming a policy of provocation—provocation by weakness and by continuous cuts.

By the demonstration of lack of political will to maintain our military defences we may be getting into a situation in which the Soviet Union may be tempted to chance its arm in the hope of a quick gain. I believe that the greatest danger to peace in the world at present lies in the weakness of the West and the failure of the West as a whole—I am thinking particularly of our present Government —to show the necessary political will. Both matter equally.

It is valuable to ask ourselves from time to time how we must look to the Soviet Union. I believe that if the Soviet Ambassador were reporting to Mr. Gromyko he would make three points relevant to our defence posture. First he would make the point that Britain is led by a Prime Minister who is unable to take any other course than to seek the soft option. The ambassador could cite the right hon. Gentleman's behaviour in 1969, when he abandoned his policies in the face of trade union and Left-wing pressure; his behaviour over the Common Market; his change of policy over the referendum; and his surrender to the pressure from the Left wing in connection with the percentage of our gross national product that we spend on military purposes—the arguments from the Left wing which is plainly fatuous to anyone who has studied what happened in the 1930s.

The second point that the ambassador would make would be that it is very difficult indeed to find any thread of consistency in our defence policy. We have a defence review which is meant to be definitive for 10 years. We follow it a few weeks later with £110 million of further cuts. We acquire an asset in the North Sea of immense value, the oil rigs and so on, for which we fail to provide any adequate defence.

At a time when the Soviet Union is making vast increases in its naval strength we are cutting our naval strength. When the Soviet Union is establishing shore facilities in Conakry, Somalia and Aden and is extending its Indian Ocean fleet, we are giving up Gan, Mauritius and Simonstown. We are making no effort to extend NATO cooperation to the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean. At a time when things in the Mediterranean are looking extremely good from a point of view of the Soviet Union, Britain is pulling out of the Mediterranean itself.

The third point that the ambassador would make would be that although our present Government call themselves Socialists they show no sign that they are aware or take account of Soviet long-term aims. They show no sign that they have studied what Lenin said about the importance, from the point of view of the Soviet Union, of depriving the West of its sources of raw materials. The ambassador would say that we had forgotten that Khrushchev said that the Russians were going to bury us, and that we appeared to be entirely deceived by what the Soviet Union means by détente. He would say that astonishingly, we failed to pay any attention to what Solzhenitsyn has said about the motives of the Soviet Union and the success which the Soviet Union has already achieved.

I think that he would wind up with these recommendations to Mr. Gromyko on future Soviet action. First, he would say "Comrade Gromyko, continue to talk loudly about détente because as it is now practised it is a sleeping draught for the West".

Secondly, he would say "As Britain is one of our softest targets, step up your efforts within the British trade union movement. As I have continually pointed out to you, the trade unions control the Labour Party. Intensify your contacts with the Left-wing of the Labour Party, which have borne such tremendous fruit so far. Resist any effort to make progress with the MBFR talks. You do not need to make any progress. Britain is disarming itself unilaterally. Let us stall and preserve our strength. Let us continue at full speed to build up our naval forces. Very soon it will be true, if it is not true already, that the West will not be able to defend its merchant shipping. When we arrive at that situation many options will be open to us. For example, in the northern part of the Indian Ocean it will be possible to block the progress of oil tankers carrying oil to the West. We shall be able to say that we shall let the tankers travel through only if the West will make concessions to us in Berlin. If the Labour Party is in power in Britain at that time it will be interesting to see its reaction. My guess"—and I am speaking as the Russian Ambassador—"is that a Labour Government would be inclined to make concessions."

I believe that is a fair analysis of what the Soviet Ambassador would report to his Government at present. If the Minister disagrees, I hope he will explain why.

8.57 p.m.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

The debate has been on the Royal Navy and its deployment and strategy, but in the minute or two remaining I wish to say a word or two about the men of the Navy and their families.

The Seebohm Report referred to separation and housing difficulties as being the distinctive problems of the Royal Navy. It is clear that separation goes automatically with the job, but housing can be tackled. Housing presents a problem which the Minister will understand. I trust that he is assiduous a reader of the local papers as I am, and that he will have seen the Rowner Estate described as "HMS 'Heartbreak', the problem town". The estate contains 3,000 houses in the town of Gosport. I am aware that the Navy is concerned about the particular difficulties of having such a large estate, but I would like to be assured that the lessons of building such large estates have been learnt.

I suggest that it would be helpful to have a dialogue on naval housing between those who are concerned with the problem in the Ministry of Defence on the one hand, and, on the other the local authorities and Members of Parliament who have learnt by their various experiences of the nature of the problem. It is right that people with experience in the Royal Navy, whose tradition has been one of service in the Navy, should be tight-lipped about certain problems, but I believe that their lips could be allowed to relax slightly to talk about housing. It is not a military problem and presents no security problems.

My second point is a specific and difficult matter which I have raised before in the House—namely, the housing of ex-Service families. The background is that families in the Services have no residential qualifications in any local authority area. Some people in the Services are able to make provision for themselves, but not all can do so. That applies particularly to ex-Service fami- lies where there has been a divorce, where a wife has been deserted or where a husband has been invalided out or has had to leave the Service prematurely.

When Service families cannot obtain accommodation—and the situation is made more difficult by the fact that privately rented accommodation has disappeared from the market—they stay put. I mentioned the large estate at Rowner. There is a total of 4,000 naval accommodation units in Gosport. There are difficulties in my constituency for ex-Service families, but this is a problem which is experienced generally in garrison towns. When families cannot obtain accommodation in the towns from which they come, they sit tight where they are. If it is a naval hiring, eventually the Ministry of Defence is forced to serve an eviction order on the family. That family then becomes homeless and that creates a problem for the local authority in whose area they are then living. This means that the garrison towns face immense problems in dealing with large numbers of people who seek accommodation.

We have for a long time been awaiting publication of a Department of the Environment circular on housing for ex-Service men. It has at last come to light. It is Circular No. 54/75, dated 9th June 1975, and it has been greeted with dismay. It gives no firm guidance to the local authority but leaves matters in the air. In brief, the circular states that Service men should be given consideration, by their local authority origin, but the result is that, although they are given sympathy, they are not usually accorded housing accommodation.

Most authorities are sympathetic. I have had conversations and have entered into correspondence with a number of authorities outside my constituency. They are helpful once they have seen the problem, but surely the Minister can use some of his charm on his colleagues in the Department of the Environment to make sure that firmer guidance is given. The situation cannot be left as it is.

9.3 p.m.

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

When one has spent thirty years in the Services it concentrates the mind wonderfully to be told that one has three minutes in which to make one's contribution to a debate. However, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who is to speak for the Opposition, for giving me this opportunity.

I hope the House will acquit me of wishing to speak with a single-Service voice when I say that priority needs to be given by Britain within NATO to a maritime strategy. The one aspect of this strategy to which I wish to refer is that of anti-submarine warfare. The Minister pointed to the importance of anti-submarine warfare, but he appears to be unable to provide the wherewithal.

On the subject of anti-submarine warfare, comparisons with previous world wars are invalid. The advent of nuclear propulsion creates an entirely new dimension. No country has revealed how fast its nuclear propelled submarines can go, but it is a well-known fact that they can far outstrip any Service escort vessel. The only way to hold and track a nuclear submarine is to use a helicopter. I say with great satisfaction that Britain is in the forefront in all the techniques of anti-submarine warfare, and particularly in our possession of Sea King.

There is not much on which to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy but I certainly wish to congratulate him on keeping the through-deck cruisers, which will be able to deploy the Sea King. In anti-submarine matters, it is vital that there is full co-operation between sea and air defences.

Our biggest contribution to NATO is to develop and continue the lead which we have emphasised in our maritime strategy rather than to keep our large standing army in Europe. We understand the political importance of BAOR, but we must seek to build up our task forces at sea to meet this vital anti-submarine problem.

9.05 p.m.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

This is the last of the current series of debates on Her Majesty's Forces, and many Opposition Members feel that in some respects it is the most important. The reasons for this view are given in a leading article in today's Daily Telegraph, where it is pointed out that there is no longer cer- tainty that we can protect convoys across the Atlantic in time of war. That is quite apart from the question of protecting oil.

The article says that: There is now no longer reasonable certainty that NATO could keep the sea-lanes, and especially the crucial Atlantic life-line, open". It goes on to say that: The NATO countries have the resources to meet it if only they have the will. That is the stick with which we will beat the Government. We believe that they could have the resources if only they had the will to provide them.

There are certain fundamental differences between the two parties. I hope that if anything has been gained by this series of debates on defence, it is that the Secretary of State will now realise what these fundamental differences are. First, there is the question of priority. Secondly, there is the assessment of the threat and how we should react to it.

I shall deal first with the question of priority. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton), in a powerful and welt-directed speech, pointed out that it is any Government's first duty to protect the security of the State. We agree that any defence budget must be linked with the strength of the country's economy. I remind hon. Members who always put forward the argument that if we spend more money on defence we have got to cut education, health or whatever, that there would be no health service and no education facilities if we were beaten or had to surrender in war. There is no freedom under Marxism.

The Conservatives, when in office, have cut defence expenditure, but when the economy has recovered we have expanded our defence forces. The Government can claim to be spending more money on defence, but they are certainly not expanding—they are cutting our defence forces.

Conservatives believe that, unfortunately, defence has been, and still is today, the Aunt Sally of the Socialist Party. I must advance some facts supporting those allegations. I shall not go back to the 1930s and the continual voting by he Labour Party against rearmament, but I shall come to modern times.

Between 1964 and 1966 there was a defence review which was 18 months in gestation. It was the review to end all reviews. It was to set the pattern and target for the Services for the next 10 years. When it emerged it led to the cancellation of all the advanced aircraft projects of the RAF. It ended fixed-wing flying in the Fleet Air Arm. It led to our withdrawal from Aden. It was followed in July 1966 by a further cut of £100 million. In February of the following year the withdrawal from Malta was announced. In July there was the withdrawal from South-East Asia. In November there was a cut of £100 million. In January 1968 there was the withdrawal from the Persian Gulf, followed by another cut of £100 million. That is what I mean when I say that defence is the Aunt Sally of the Labour Party. Conservatives believe that defence should be given a much higher priority.

I turn to the threat. Provided NATO keeps up its guard, I believe that there is little danger of war in Central Europe. Why? Because major war would escalate almost inevitably into a nuclear confrontation. Thus we have the policy of détente which is based in essence on the nuclear stalemate that exists at present in Central Europe.

I shall in my speech endeavour to show why we believe that the real danger at present lies not in Central Europe but in the flanks. I accept that the Government are facing the historic difficulty faced by all Governments in this country for centuries, namely, that of getting the correct balance between a continental and a maritime strategy. We believe that the Government have not got the correct balance. Perhaps it is not important for me to stand at this Dispatch Box and say that. I therefore quote, not an admiral but a general—General Steinhoff, the late Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, who said only last year: The growing Soviet strength at sea is probably the most important military-political development of the second half of this century. Yet the Government are maintaining the position in the centre and cutting back on the flanks. Why? I suggest that there are at least two reasons for this.

The first is that they are bound by the Brussels Treaty to keep a certain number of forces in Central Europe. They know that if they cut those forces they will have a major political row with their allies. The Brussels Treaty did not cover the flanks, and, therefore, there will be no row with the allies if the Government cut forces on the flanks. Second, such a move lessens the prospects of a row, notably with the Tribune Group and the Left wing of the Labour Party, who seem to us to be out to destroy our defence forces.

Hence we have this White Paper, in which, again, there are cuts and a withdrawal, this time, as pointed out by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), from the Mediterranean. This White Paper was to set the course of the Forces for the next generation and had been "carefully thought through" as the Minister said today. It was nearly a year in gestation. Yet it was followed only a few days later by more cuts, with probably even more to come.

We believe that this system of arbitrarily cutting defence forces is highly dangerous to the security of the State and to the morale of the Forces. I was glad to hear the hon. Members for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) and Walsall, South (Mr. George) from the Labour Benches agree that this approach of defence by cuts was wrong. I think that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East said that we had now reached the limit in defence cuts that would be tolerated by the British public. I hope the Chancellor will beat that in mind during the next few days or hours.

There is one other point the House should note on this question of the White Paper, and that is that, as in 1964–68, these cuts are to take place on the flanks of NATO where we believe the major threat lies. On the central front NATO is outnumbered, especially in tanks and aircraft by about 2½:1. The position can be held thanks to the nuclear deterrent. There is stalemate. There is no danger of immediate war because there is the policy of détente.

We should remember that the MBFR talks are concentrating wholly on the central front of NATO and do not affect the flanks. That is significant. The Soviets have taken the obvious course of exploiting the flanks by maritime power, which has been referred to by every Conservative speaker.

I turn now to the flanks. The northern flank has been ably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). The disparity in land forces in Northern Norway is in the region of four Soviet divisions with four in reserve against one NATO brigade group. Due to the policy of the Norwegian and Danish Governments in refusing to have foreign troops on their soil or tactical nuclear weapons in times of peace, the need is for rapid reinforcement.

For rapid reinforcement we need commandos, amphibious shipping, and aircraft carriers for close support. Yet the Government have cut the commandos, our amphibious forces and our carriers. The danger lies largely on the southern front because of the political setbacks suffered by NATO in recent months. There is the quarrel between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and the position of Yugoslavia when Marshal Tito dies. There is the problem of the large Communist Party in Italy and the future of Portugal. On the other side of the Mediterranean lies North Africa, from which the soft underbelly of the Axis was assaulted in the last war. Then it was wholly on our side. Now, at best, it is neutral, at the worst possibly hostile. I know that Soviet aircraft have been withdrawn from Egypt but there is still a Soviet naval base in Alexandria and at Mersa Matruh.

I understand that a new treaty is being signed with Libya, where there are already 400 Russian technicians. It may well be that Soviet aircraft will have the right to operate from Libyan bases, which would give them command of the central and western Mediterranean, where they cannot operate at present. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) pointed out that for the first time the Russians are building assault aircraft carriers. The first one, "Kiev" is likely soon to come through the Dardanelles from the Black Sea and is unlikely to be stopped by the terms of the Montreux Convention. Also the Suez Canal is now open and the Soviet Union can switch its Black Sea fleet to the Mediterranean or to the Indian Ocean at will.

Concerning the Mediterranean and the proposal to withdraw, it should be remembered that 75 per cent. of all Italy's requirements have to be imported by sea and that in time of war Italy, Greece and Turkey need to be re-supplied after 30 days. What, therefore, is the need? It is for anti-submarine ships, maritime aircraft and an amphibious lift to reinforce the flanks. These are exactly the components of the Forces that the Government are now cutting.

To sum up my remarks on the Southern Flank, I quote from Admiral Johnson, Commander Allied Forces South, who is responsible for NATO in the whole region. Talking recently about the British defence cuts, he said: The United Kingdom's current proposal would greatly reduce her traditional rôle as a Mediterranean power. Further, it would seriously lessen our already limited conventional capabilities, our vital external reinforcements and our technical nuclear operations. I believe the results would far exceed those of her earlier withdrawals from East of Suez and would ultimately deal a heavy blow to our deterrent posture as well as eliminating an important stabilising influence in the region. In other words, the withdrawal of the Royal Navy from the Mediterranean, after many centuries, is making nuclear war more rather than less likely. But, of course, it is to the wider oceans that we really should be directing our thoughts, and that has been done by almost every speaker on the Opposition side, particularly my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), with his great experience.

I believe that the table on page 6 of the White Paper gives a false or at least a totally inadequate picture. It shows the relationship between surface ship and surface ship, between submarine and submarine, and between combat aircraft and combat aircraft. The Minister knows very well that the key problem in the Atlantic is not the relationship between surface ship and surface ship but the relationship between submarines and antisubmarine vessels, and the relationship between the Soviet submarine fleet and the merchant ships required by Western Europe.

As pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth (Mr. Trotter), 90 per cent. of the world's trade is still carried by sea. On any one day there are well over 3,350 ships in the Atlantic, 100 ships in the Mediterranean, 600 ships in port in the United States and Canada, and well over 1,800 in port in Europe. That is a total of well over 5,000 ships, and this explains why the Russians are spending so much money on their maritime expansion. It is because they realise that this country has twice been brought to its knees by submarine warfare. Now the target is not this country but the whole of the NATO alliance and the West. By 1980 the Soviet navy will have 275 modern submarines, including 170 nuclear-powered submarines—a figure far larger than the combined NATO fleets.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Edinburgh Central

The hon. Gentleman went over this when I was addressing the House and referred to "Jane's Fighting Ships". I have since consulted "Jane's" and find that the figures are the following. The Soviet Union at present has 84 nuclear-powered submarines, the United States 102, the United Kingdom 14 and France five. On those figures the West has an advantage of 50 per cent. over the Soviet Union. Those are the figures in "Jane's".

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

The hon. Member must have looked at a different copy of "Jane's", because the figures I have given are those that have been quoted at the various NATO conferences I have attended. It has been quite clear that the Soviet nuclear submarines outnumber those of the combined NATO fleets. It is possible that we are at cross-purposes. I am talking about ballistic missile nuclear submarines and the hon. Gentleman is probably talking about purely nuclear-propelled hunter-killer submarines. I should have thought that the ballistic missile submarines were the main offensive vessels with which we ought to be much concerned.

I also remind the House and the hon. Gentleman that the Soviet Union will have over 20 of her new D class submarines, with missile ranges of 4,200 miles, in service before the first American equivalent, the Trident submarine, is even built. This shows the immense tonnage and power of the Soviet navy.

I think that the Minister will agree that the important issue is the balance of submarine to anti-submarine forces. In World War I it was one German submarine to 5·9—say, six—allied antisubmarine vessels. NATO has now just under 500 anti-submarine vessels built or building, and the balance of Soviet submarines to NATO anti-submarine vessels, therefore, is of the order of 1 to 2.

But it is even worse, because NATO, as a defensive organisation, has to spread its anti-submarine vessels all over the seas of the world to protect its trade. What is more, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said, we are now dealing with true submarines and not the conventional ones which had to surface at night to recharge their batteries. Yet this is exactly where the Government are cutting. They are cutting our anti-submarine forces, and this we find inexcusable. They are cutting them by one-seventh, and they are cutting our maritime aircraft, which complement them, by no less than a quarter.

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the cuts announced in the White Paper mean that two Type 42 destroyers, four Type 22 frigates and six mine countermeasures vessels which were planned to be built are not now to be built? That is a major slice of our modern anti-submarine forces.

I have not mentioned the Indian Ocean. It has to be mentioned because something like 60 per cent. of our oil supplies passes through the Indian Ocean and will continue to do so until the North Sea is fully productive in seven, eight or perhaps 10 years' time. What is more, 25 per cent. of our food and 15 per cent. of our mineral requirements pass the Cape of Good Hope. It is estimated that there are 200 tankers at sea at any one time in the Indian Ocean and about 100 other ships carrying food and essential minerals.

We heard a Soviet apologia from the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook), but we must remember that Soviet warships and auxiliaries in the Indian Ocean have increased threefold in the past three years, and that their presence in the Indian Ocean is permanent. The American presence is only temporary. The permanent American presence there consists of two destroyers based at Bahrein.

How are these 200 tankers and 100 other ships to be protected? Perhaps by air. But now the Government are withdrawing from Gan, from Mauritius and from Singapore, with the result that there will be few airfields left from which aircraft can operate.

The Government have also renounced the Simonstown Agreement. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) made a powerful speech about the value of the Simonstown Agreement and the Government's stupidity in renouncing it. It was also referred to by others of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes).

Of all the agreements that the British Government ever signed, the Simonstown Agreement was the most one-sided. It gave us all the advantages. All that we had to do was to re-equip the South African navy 10 to 15 years ago. We had port facilities in Simonstown. We had the use of all South African ports in time of war even if South Africa was not involved in the war. We had command and control of the area, and the cost to us was precisely nil.

Not long ago I asked the Foreign Secretary how many African countries had objected to our maintaining the Simonstown Agreement. The answer was that none had. We know that this was a party political manoeuvre and that the Government renounced the Simonstown Agreement to please the Tribune Group and to try to heal some of the divides in the Labour Party.

It is no good anyone saying that we have an alternative in Diego Garcia. Simonstown, Durban and the use of South African ports mean something in war because any base needs an industrial hinterland. An island like Diego Garcia could be eliminated by a nuclear bomb. It is not a base. It is merely an anchorage and an airfield. I heard the Minister use this argument about Malta. The same applies to Diego Garcia.

We believe—and I am glad that it was repeated by the hon. Member for Bristol, North East, my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham and others—that NATO must take some responsibility for the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, because 57 per cent. of the ships passing through both waters belong to NATO nations. There is no possibility of changing the southern boundary of NATO. That would be politically impossible at present. But I believe that SACLANT should be authorised to plan in this area and that the deep-water nations, if I may so describe them, which are members of the alliance should provide the communications, training and exercise which would make this contingency planning effective. Furthermore, we in this country should give the lead.

As I see it, the danger is that the balance in maritime strategy has shifted so far in peace time that one day we shall wake up to find that we cannot protect our shipping and that we are then faced with the choice between surrender or starvation. That could happen sooner than most people think.

We on this side are always accused of wanting to spend more money on defence, it is our policy to give a higher priority to defence than do the present Government, but I can make two suggestions for saving money. The key lies in standardisation. NATO as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) has 100 different types of ships of destroyer size and above, 36 types of radar, 20 types of surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and 40 types of guns of 30 mm and above. We must make a positive start, and I think we should begin with naval missiles. There is less vested interest in this modern technology than in tanks or airframes.

The Committee of National Armament Directors has agreed to harmonise requirements for the next generation of surface-to-surface missiles, but at the moment that is just a pious hope. Having visited most of the firms in Europe that produce missiles, I believe the real problem is the definition of operational requirement and the basic design studies. We shall not get standardisation as long as studies are done by the various nations. They must be done by an international organisation, and what better organisation than NATO?

NATO needs funding for the production of basic design studies for missiles, and I would suggest that every member State should give say two per cent. of its research and development funds to NATO for this purpose. This would be a most cost-effective course of action. There is a precedent in the NATO infrastructure programme, which has been an immense success, and owed its birth to my noble Friend Lord Carrington, who did so much for the defence forces.

The second suggestion is that we should also attach more importance to the use of missiles in small craft. I have been struck by the effectiveness of many surface-to-surface missiles of the present generation, including some which will continue into the next generation. They include Exocet, MM40 and Otomat.

Before the Second World War, we led the world in the production of fast patrol boats. Unfortunately, our Navy does not now favour them and we have only five, three unarmed and two in reserve. I believe these craft are needed and could be used for the protection of fishery limits, particularly when they are extended to 200 miles, the protection of North Sea oil rigs—a subject on which I have not time to dwell but received the suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath—and in air-sea rescue, as well as for a number of other peace-time purposes. They could become a valuable weapon for the Navy in a war, and could carry two or four of the missiles I have mentioned.

There is only one anti-missile missile which can deal with these missiles—the British Sea Wolf—and I hope the Government will do all they can to see that this world-beating weapon has a real export potential.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central, speaking on behalf of the Tribune Group, suggested that there was no real threat. To answer him, I can do no better than quote Pravda, the official organ of the Soviet Union, which said recently: Peaceful co-existence does not spell an end to the struggle between the two world social systems. The struggle will continue between the proletariat and the bourgeousie, between world socialism and imperialism, up to the complete and final victory of Communism on a world scale". That is the threat we face. I believe the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary realise this, and I believe they had done their very best to combat it. Their winning of the long-fought battle for the naval Harrier is an illustration of what I mean. It is not them I am getting at, but I fear that they have failed to persuade their Cabinet colleagues to give defence the correct priority. We believe that the Left wing will always exert a major influence on defence policy with a Labour Government. The Government's previous record has shown that they were prepared to sacrifice security for party political purposes. We believe that they are continuing this policy, and in so doing they have physically weakened the NATO alliance and psychologically dealt it severe blows where NATO is weakest—on its sea flanks.

For all those reasons we cannot trust the Government's defence policy, which in the past led us to the beaches of Dunkirk, and which since then has continuously neglected our maritime forces. We shall, therefore, vote against these Estimates in order to show the country and our allies that we on this side of the House are prepared as a party to pay the price needed to achieve any Government's major duty, namely, to provide an adequate defence for the security of the realm.

9.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

With the leave of the House I shall speak again. I am sure that I speak for a lot of people when I welcome the lion. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) to the Opposition Front Bench. He has a great deal of knowledge and energy to contribute to defence debates. However, his history is a little shaky and he should reflect on who it was who lead this country to the beaches of Dunkirk.

This has been a good debate and there has been a lot of interesting comment. With the co-operation of hon. Members on both sides of the House I hope to deal with as many points as possible. If I do not do justice to what Members have said I hope to write to them more fully within the next few weeks.

Conservative Members seem to have been complaining this afternoon about our concentration on NATO commitments at the expense of other areas outside the alliance. Sooner rather than later they must choose. This country can no longer afford to spend such vast amounts of money on defence that they demand in Opposition but could not live up to in Government. The last Conservative Government were beginning to realise this when they lost the General Election. They imposed arbitrary short-term defence cuts of more than £290 million at 1974 prices. Their foreign defence policies had been overtaken by economic realities. I am at a loss to understand how, against this background, even they are prepared to divide the House tonight.

We therefore had to sort out the muddle and uncertainty they left behind. They had no clear idea about what Britain with the Royal Navy could realistically contribute to NATO's maritime strategy. The mere fact that they keep harping on about protecting our trade interests everywhere without regard to the realities of the situation indicates that their defence thinking continues to be based on outdated precepts which, when it came to the crunch, could not be sustained. The hon. Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) should appreciate that the people of this country and our allies recognise that we in Government have the courage, which the Opposition when in office lacked, to recognise that we can no longer hope to be everywhere at once. We at least have faced up to this fact. Our most basic and vital interests in any future conflict would inevitably be in the NATO area. We do not intend as an administration to undermine this by overextending ourselves in a sentimental and positively dangerous way.

The hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) and others asked about the additional cuts of £110 million. It is too early to say how the Navy will be affected by this reduction, but I am prepared to say that the cuts will be made in a way that will do least damage to the defence programme as a whole. We are determined to make these savings without jeopardising our defence capabilities, and it is likely that the bulk of them will be found from deferments in the equipment and works programmes.

As to further cuts in later years, to which some hon. Members have referred, including the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer) in a most interesting and reflective speech, I cannot comment or speculate about any reduction in public expenditure. Obviously, no public expenditure programme can be guaranteed irrespective of the state of the economy; but I can assure the House that our plans continue to be based firmly on the broad level of capability decided on in the defence review.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and others suggested that we should persuade NATO to take a more positive view in keeping open the sea routes outside the immediate NATO region. NATO's responsibilities do not, of course, extend beyond the immediate NATO region, but this is not to say NATO members do not share a common interest in protecting their shipping in time of war outside the NATO area. Of course, the security of oil and other supplies is a collective interest, which we share with our Allies and we shall be able to play our part. The Royal Navy will retain its ability to deploy world wide. SACLANT is studying the problems involved.

The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) and the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) seemed doubtful of our ability to make use of naval facilities to support deployments in the Indian Ocean following the termination of the Simonstown Agreement; and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) asked for more information about deployment south of the Tropic of Cancer. We would expect to be allowed to use ports in a number of Indian Ocean countries on a commercial basis. Facilities exist in Singapore under the Five Power defence arrangements; and facilities exist and will exist at Diego Garcia; and we are confident that in appropriate circumstances Australia and New Zealand would help.

Apart from the wider political considerations which are not to be ignored it is clear that the strategic importance of Simonstown, a port at one extremity of the Indian Ocean, has been over-estimated by some hon. Gentlemen, but those in this House who over-estimate it should bring themselves up to date with the most recent professional thinking. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) said the proposal to extend Diego Garcia would result in an increased Soviet build-up in the area. The Soviets have already built up their forces there. The Soviet naval presence in the Indian Ocean has increased steadily in quantity and quality over the last five years and is larger than that of Western countries. The modest expansion of the facilities at Diego Garcia is fully justified by the United States, British and Western interest in the security of the vital oil supply shipping routes in the area.

We do not believe that this expansion would hamper progress towards the search for realistic arms limitation arrangements in the area. Such arrangements would depend for their success on the co-operation of both super Powers, and we for our part are determined to go on pressing for this as hard as ever.

I would like to thank the hon. Member for Louth for what he said on the decision to discontinue the Beira Patrol which, for more than nine years, has been successful in preventing the pumping of oil to the pipeline from Beira to Southern Rhodesia; and I congratulate hon. Gentlemen opposite on the full maintenance by the Conservative Government of that patrol. Having visited it myself in tough conditions I would like to pay tribute to the many men of the Royal Navy for maintaining that patrol, against sometimes very uncomfortable personal conditions. We are happy that with the independence of Mozambique such patrolling is, of course, no longer necessary to achieve that purpose.

The hon. Member for Louth also mentioned Greece and Turkey. Obviously, this dispute is a worrying one for NATO. We very much hope that a reconciliation can be achieved. We also naturally regret the Greek decision to withdraw from NATO's integrated military structure. There are obviously a number of detailed problems to be discussed, and these discussions cannot be rushed. We hope that the outcome will be to retain as much Greek co-operation as possible within NATO.

While on the question of the Mediterranean I would remind the House, and particularly the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, that, following consultations with our allies, we shall be participating in maritime exercises in the Mediterranean and in the NATO naval on-call force in the Mediterranean and continuing reinforcement operations for the southern region. The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) and the hon. Member for Haltemprice will, no doubt, be pleased to know that an important NATO exercise is planned in the Mediterranean this autumn in which United Kingdom forces, including the Royal Marines, will play a full part.

My hon. Friends the Members for Darlington (Mr. Fletcher) and Barking (Miss Richardson) asked several questions about our Polaris missiles. Whilst I cannot, as we have explained in the past, make known the research and the development costs of our nuclear programme or state explicitly how we intend to maintain the effectiveness of our deterrent, since disclosure of this information would not be in the interests of national security, I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Barking that when we said that we had no intention of MIRVing Polaris or moving to a new generation of strategic nuclear missiles we meant precisely what we said.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said on 24th June 1974 we look forward to the day when these obscene weapons will disappear. Till that day, towards which we work by multi-national negotiation and agreement, we do not consider that a unilateral gesture would influence any country's decision. That is why, although I sympathise with the objective behind the proposal of my hon. Friends the Members for Darlington and Barking, they should not advocate measures that would diminish Western European security without enhancing that of the world.

I listened with great interest to the thesis put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Selby) and Darlington that any future war would inevitably involve the use of nuclear weapons. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington that the answer to war is a political one, that our basic aim should be détente, but I remind him that the whole purpose of having a mixture of capabilities, including adequate conventional forces, is to make clear that NATO would respond in an effective but unpredictable way. The aim here is to deter aggression at any level, but if an adversary were to attempt a military adventure we should also have the means to contain the situation while a political solution is found.

The hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) referred to the development of the Soviet navy over the past five years and the importance of keeping down the age of our own destroyer-frigate force. The reduction in planned numbers of destroyers and frigates as a result of the defence review will be achieved by balanced reductions in both older ships and new orders, and the average age of the force will not be significantly affected. The average age of the force may indeed fall in the short term with the earlier disposal of older ships, The new construction programme will be maintained, and further orders will be placed to add to the 13 ships of the Type 21, Type 22 and Type 42 classes already under construction. The first ships of the new Type 21 and Type 42 classes have, of course, recently entered service.

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) and the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) without whose presence no defence debate would be a defence debate, expressed concern about the reductions in our anti-submarine warfare forces.

Hon. Members referred especially to frigates and Nimrods. In general, the reductions we have had to make have been designed not to affect our anti-submarine contribution in the priority area of the Eastern Atlantic and Channel. In considering this hon. Members must remember, too, that our total anti-submarine warfare capability is provided by a number of complementary capabilities. Thus, our frigates and Nimrods, important as these are, are only part of our planned package of capability. They will operate with the new anti-submarine cruisers and our growing force of nuclear submarines. We decided in the defence review to maintain these two programmes precisely because we recognised the central importance of dealing with the submarine threat.

I am, of course, deeply grateful to all the Opposition Members who have expressed pleasure at the Goverment's decision to go ahead with the maritime Harrier. May I particularly thank the hon. and learned Member for Colchester—although I disagree with everything he said on the subject of nationalisation—for his vivid description of the aircraft's performance from his personal experience? Having heard that, I am glad that we were able to make his decision for him.

The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) referred to standardisation. Collaboration already exists—for example in the Lynx helicopter and in marine gas turbines which are being adopted by a number of European navies, but I would not claim that more should not be done in this field, and we are actively working to this end. The Eurogroup, under the current chairmanship of the Secretary of State, is already doing some very promising work on tactical doctrines and concepts. Agreement here—and there is agreement already in some areas—should make it easier to align operational requirements and should greatly facilitate co-operation.

The hon. Member for Louth referred to the number of different types of destroyers and frigates in service and the need for standardisation in ship designs. I do not pretend that early progress is likely here. In the case of destroyers and frigates we and other NATO navies are already committed to designs to meet our requirements in the next decade or so. But for all requirements beyond that period we have been exploring, and will continue to explore, the possibilities for standardisation with our alliance partners.

I noted that the hon. Member for Louth also referred to reductions in our amphibious forces. HMS "Hermes" is in future to be deployed primarily in the antisubmarine rôle, reflecting the importance which we, no less than the Opposition, attach to countering the Soviet submarine threat. But she will retain a secondary rôle as a commando ship. The two LPDs will also remain in service for a number of years to come.

We are considering the most appropriate means of transporting the Royal Marines in the longer term. Flexibility in that respect is vital. I think that these measures hardly justify the hon. Member's assertion that the force—is to be emasculated—

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

I cannot give way as I wish to do justice to the other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate.

The hon. Member for Louth, the hon. and gallant Member for Eye, the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) and the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South asked questions about offshore tapestry. In defining the rôle of the Armed Services in offshore tapestry it is essential to distinguish between threats from external aggression and peace-time threats from malicious or accidental damage. External aggression is the res- ponsibility of NATO, and the maritime planning of the alliance fully takes that into account.

The rôle the Navy plays in its peacetime tasks is a completely different matter. Here the Royal Navy is acting to provide aid to the civil power and assistance of various kinds to the civil authorities. The civil authorities concerned in offshore matters include the Department of Trade, the Fisheries Departments, the Department of Energy and the Department of the Environment.

As the Prime Minister announced on 6th November 1974, the Government are giving the highest priority to the coordination of activity in the North Sea area. The Lord Privy Seal has special responsibility for overall supervision. Arrangements have been made for liaison between Departments, the police, oil companies and the Ministry of Defence, and for Ministers to take control of the more serious incidents. All that machinery is constantly being reviewed with the objective of improving techniques.

I assure the House that there is never any complacency in this sphere. The function of the defence services is the ability to respond dynamically and flexibly to whatever situation may arise. That is why we have earmarked the combined resources of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force to make whatever contribution is necessary. Obviously, exercises are an essential feature of testing this responsive capability. The House will be interested to learn that one such valuable exercise has recently been completed. We are analysing the lessons to be learnt from it for the future.

But prevention—as I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree—is always better than cure. That precept has led to the creation of what I have described as our "panda car" patrol force in the North Sea. There will be five specially built vessels available for this and other patrol work and four Royal Air Force aircraft are to be adapted to join them. The Minister of State has been into this in some detail in recent months. In the meantime HMS "Jura" and HMS "Reward" are already on patrol. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force also regularly send warships and aircraft to the area. I must emphasise again that these measures relate to peace-time tasks. The Armed Services as a whole are there to deal with overall defence from external attacks by a major world Power.

The hon. Member for Bexleyheath, and the hon. Member for Haltemprice, in winding up and the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South asked about less conventional craft. Close interest is taken in the possible advantages of introducing unconventional craft into the future fleet mixes—hovercraft, hydrofoils and fast patrol boats. Our approach in evaluating these craft is to take fully into account the dangers both of complacency and of sticking to tried solutions because they are familiar, and of change for change's sake. The test that we are applying is whether these craft are relevant to our concept of operations in the Eastern Atlantic, the Channel areas and home waters, and whether they can do the job more cost-effectively than existing solutions. Our studies on these lines will take time, and I make no apology for this. It is better to examine the options properly than to take precipitate decisions which may give the Royal Navy the wrong ships and waste money.

The hon. and gallant Member for Eye asked about the justification for maintaining four Royal dockyards. It is true that there will be some reduction in requirements for refitting surface ships and conventional submarines and that this will release some marginal capacity mainly from 1977–78 onwards. However, the proportion of dockyard capacity occupied by nuclear refitting work will be increasing progressively as more nuclear Fleet submarines enter service. Overall, the dockyard's load of warship refitting and repair work will not be greatly reduced. What is certain is that the reduction will not begin to approach the level at which the Royal Navy could do without any of the United Kingdom dockyards. The use of Gibraltar Dockyard will also continue.

It is intended, as I have said, that any spare capacity which should arise will be put to other productive use on defence work or other national priorities.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

I am sorry but I cannot give way.

The hon. and learned Member for Colchester raised the question of charges for foreign training in this country. I confirm that the level of charges is regularly reviewed and that adjustments are made as necessary. Much of this training, as he will appreciate, is connected with the sale of defence equipment in which the training forms part of the contractual arrangements.

The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), while talking about personnel matters, suggested a meeting of the Members of Parliament primarily concerned and Ministers to discuss Service housing problems. I am sure that we shall willingly examine this suggestion.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. and gallant Member for Eye, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) and the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), have mentioned and asked about the Naval Reserves. I explained to the House this afternoon that the rôle and structure of the Volunteer Naval Reserves had been reviewed. The decisions that we have made about their future have been reached in the light of a stringent search for economies in all areas of the naval Service following the defence review.

The Government value most highly the enthusiasm, unselfishness and professionalism which are associated with the Naval Reserves. Their future rôle will be tailored to what we see as the wartime tasks of the Reserves. In this way we shall combine cost-effectiveness with an important and clearly defined objective for all the men and women involved. We shall move toward greater integration of the Reserves with the Royal Navy as a whole.

The reserves will continue, as I have already said, to have a sea-going rôle primarily in the sphere of mine countermeasures warfare. We are confident that they will rise to the challenge of proving that they can operate the new, more complicated mine countermeasures vessel which they will be allocated in due course. The number of mine countermeasure vessels allocated to the reserves will be reduced by the end of 1976 to six, to be shared between 11 divisions. The overall size of the sea-going Reserves will be reduced to a level appropriate for providing 18 mine countermeasure vessel crews—two crews for each of their own vessels and six crews to back up the main Royal Navy crews, plus a proportion of officers and ratings required to man ships taken up from trade.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and the hon. and learned Member for Colchester asked about offshore tasks for the reserves. The Royal Naval Reserve already provides valuable assistance to the Royal Navy in various offshore tasks; for example, in the surveillance of Soviet warships, traffic separation schemes and patrols, including those of offshore installations. The possibility of increasing the RNR's involvement in offshore tasks is currently and actively being studied. All this will entail reducing the numbers in the sea training centres.

The rôle of the Reserves and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service in supplementing the war and peace organisation offshore headquarters remains basically unchanged. However, communication training centres which cannot recruit and retrain sufficient numbers will be closed. A number of Royal Naval Auxiliary Service craft—

An Hon. Member:

It is a shame.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

It is a shame in many ways.

A number of Royal naval auxiliary craft will be paid off early and a study has been set in hand with a view to reducing the manning bill for port headquarters.

The admiral commanding Reserves and the reserve forces will come under the command and control of the Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command by mid-1976. The area flag officers will then assume more responsibility for the Reserves, and in due course it is planned to transfer to the Commander-in-Chief and his staff the functions carried out at present by the Admiral Commanding Reserves.—[Interruption.] I heard an hon. Member of the Opposition, from a sedentary position, say "Disgraceful."

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

However, I was most impressed this afternoon by a contribution from an hon. Member, not in a sedentary position, who said that in his Royal Naval Reserve experience what was important was to integrate more closely the work of the Reserves and the work of the mainstructure of the Royal Navy.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth North

The Royal Marine Reserve will retain its challenging war and peacetime rôle as at present, but its future strength is currently under study.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) expressed his disappointment at the progress so far achieved in negotiations aimed at détente. It is true that progress at the MBFR talks has so far been slow, but the atmosphere has been constructive and businesslike, and we remain confident that, given good will on both sides, a successful outcome can be achieved. Nevertheless, the negotiations are complex and likely to be protracted.

We and our allies have made various suggestions designed to meet Warsaw Pact concerns. We believe these offer a basis for progress, and we hope that they will be carefully considered.

On the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, I am happy to say that substantial progress has recently been made in Geneva. The indications are that it will soon be possible to settle all outstanding points at the second stage so that the final stage of the conference can be held soon at summit level.

None of us in the House this evening—or, more importantly perhaps, those who do not come to defence debates and do not interest themselves in defence—should be deluded into thinking that defence is a matter which can best be left to the professionals, the military, the academics or even the specialist politicians. In a changing, open society, the quality of external defence is inevitability

interwoven with the quality of the internal social and political structure. It is therefore, something which directly concerns every one of us in Britain. In my view, therefore, the more public debate that is stimulated on this subject, the better.

Any weakening or compromise in our respect for the basic principles of freedom, justice and democracy, so clearly spelt out as the aim of the North Atlantic Treaty, any unjustifiable marriage of convenience anywhere in the world conveniently sweeping these principles under the carpet, will in the end militate against the effectiveness of widespread public understanding of our defence objectives.

In brief, we constantly have to ask ourselves whether or not we still stand by the purposes of the North Atlantic Treaty itself, so clearly spelt out, without prevarication, in the preamble to the articles of that treaty. I should like to quote from the treaty. As I do so, let us remember the conditions in which the treaty was formed. It was signed, I am proud to say, largely by a Labour Government deeply committed to defending what they believed was valid in Western society: The Parties of this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments. They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.

It is, in the end, by the degree to which we stand by those principles that the effectiveness of the alliance will stand or fall in the long run.

Question put, That this House do now adjourn:—

The House divided: Ayes 117, Noes 165.

Division No. 281.]AYES[10.00 p.m.
Arnold, TomClegg, WalterGoodhew, Victor
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Cockcroft, JohnGow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Awdry, DanielCope, JohnGower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Banks, RobertCordle, John H.Gray, Hamish
Benyon,W.Costain, A. P.Grist, Ian
Biggs-Davison, JohnCrowder, F. P.Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Boscawen, Hon RobertDean, Paul (N Somerset)Hampson, Dr Keith
Bottomley, PeterDodsworth, GeoffreyHannam, John
Brotherton, MichaelEmery, PeterHarrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)Fairgrieve, RussellHarvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss
Buck, AntonyFarr, JohnHavers, Sir Michael
Budgen, NickFisher, Sir NigelHawkins, Paul
Carlisle, MarkFletcher-Cooke, CharlesHeseltine, Michael
Chalker, Mrs LyndaFookes, Miss JanetHiggins, Terence L.
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)Holland, Philip
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Goodhart, PhilipHowe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hurd, DouglasMoate, RogerSinclair, Sir George
Hutchison, Michael ClarkMonro, HectorSkeet, T. H. H.
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Montgomery, FergusSproat, Iain
James, DavidMorgan, GeraintStainton, Keith
Knight, Mrs JillMorgan-Giles, Rear-AdmiralStanbrook, Ivor
Knox, DavidMorris, Michael (Northampton S)Stanley, John
Lane, DavidMorrison, Hon Peter (Chester)Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Langford-Holt, Sir JohnNewton, TonyStradling Thomas, J.
Latham, Michael (Melton)Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)Tapsell, Peter
Lawrence, IvanParkinson, CecilTaylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Lawson, NigelPattie, GeoffreyTemple-Morris, Peter
Lester, Jim (Beeston)Pink, R. BonnerThomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
McAdden, Sir StephenPrior, Rt Hon JamesTownsend, Cyril D.
McCrindle, RobertRathbone, TimTrotter, Neville
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham)Rees-Davies, W. R.Viggers, Peter
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)Wall, Patrick
Madel, DavidRidsdale, JulianWiggin, Jerry
Marten, NeilRoberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)Winterton, Nicholas
Mates, MichaelRoberts, Wyn (Conway)Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Mather, CarolRodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)Younger, Hon George
Maudling, Rt Hon ReginaldRossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinShaw, Giles (Pudsey)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Meyer, Sir AnthonyShepherd, ColinMr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Miscampbell, NormanSilvester, FredMr. Richard Luce.
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Sims, Roger
NOES
Allaun, FrankGeorge, BruceNoble, Mike
Archer, PeterGould, BryanOakes, Gordon
Armstrong, ErnestGrant, George (Morpeth)Ogden, Eric
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)Grant, John (Islington C)O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian
Atkinson, NormanGrocott, BruceOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Hardy, PeterOvenden, John
Bates, AlfHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Pardoe, John
Bean, R. E.Hatton, FrankPark, George
Beith, A. J.Hayman, Mrs HeleneParker, John
Blenkinsop, ArthurHeffer, Eric S.Pavitt, Laurie
Boardman, H.Hooley, FrankPeart, Rt Hon Fred
Booth, AlbertHooson, EmlynPendry, Tom
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Penhaligon, David
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Huckfield, LesPhipps, Dr Colin
Buchanan, RichardHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)Richardson, Miss Jo
Campbell, IanJanner, GrevilleRodgers, George (Chorley)
Cartwright, JohnJay, Rt Hon DouglasRodgers, William (Stockton)
Clemitson, IvorJohnson, James (Hull West)Rooker, J. W.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)Johnson, Walter (Derby S)Roper, John
Cohen, StanleyJones, Alec (Rhondda)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Coleman, DonaldJones, Dan (Burnley)Sandelson, Neville
Conlan, BernardJudd, FrankSedgemore, Brian
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)Kaufman, GeraldSelby, Harry
Corbett, RobinKerr, RussellShaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Kilroy-Silk, RobertSillars, James
Crawshaw, RichardLeadbitter, TedSilverman, Julius
Cryer, BobLee, JohnSkinner, Dennis
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Small, William
Deakins, EricLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Lipton, MarcusSmith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Delargy, HughMabon, Dr J. DicksonSnape, Peter
Dell, Rt Hon EdmundMcElhone, FrankSpearing, Nigel
Doig, PeterMacFarquhar, RoderickSpriggs, Leslie
Dormand, J. D.Mackintosh, John P.Stallard, A. W.
Douglas-Mann, BruceMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)Stoddart, David
Duffy, A. E. P.McNamara, KevinStott, Roger
Edge, GeoffMadden, MaxTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)Marks, KennethThomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Tierney, Sydney
Ewing, Harry (Stirling)Mason, Rt Hon RoyTorney, Tom
Faulds, AndrewMaynard, Miss JoanTuck, Raphael
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.Mendelson, JohnVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Flannery, MartinMikardo, IanWainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)Millan, BruceWainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMolloy, WilliamWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)Moon man, EricWalker, Terry (Kingswood)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Newens, StanleyWard, Michael
Watkins, DavidWilliams, Alan (Swansea W)Young, David (Bolton E)
Watkinson, JohnWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Wellbeloved, JamesWise, Mrs AudreyTELLERS FOR THE NOES
White, Frank R. (Bury)Woof, RobertMr. James Hamilton and
White, James (Pollok)Wrigglesworth, IanMr. Joseph Harper.
Whitehead, Phillip

Question accordingly negatived.