Orders of the Day — Defence

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th December 1976.

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10.3 p.m.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Modern history seems to show that the advent of a Labour Government automatically leads to two things: first, an economic crisis; secondly, defence cuts. Of course, there is a relationship between those two, but I believe that there is some instinct in the Labour Party which is opposed to defence. I am not for a moment suggesting that the Labour Party is unpatriotic or anything like that. However, I am saying that there is a strain in the Labour Party ranging from the professional pacifist to the fellow traveller. This was well illustrated in an article in The Times of this morning by Lord Chalfont, entitled By the left, quick march to suicide or surrender". The predecessors of the present Labour Party opposed rearmanent in the 1930s, and today the Labour Party advocates defence cuts and opposes any form of rearmament. In the 1930s the Labour Party took no notice of the threat from Germany. Today it takes no notice of the threat from the USSR. Today we even have Ministers who preach Marxism and a Trotskyite in charge of the Labour youth. It seems that the Tribune Group on the Government side of the House is self-confessed anti-NATO, anti-nuclear and anti-American, which are the three sure safeguards the country has at present. Obviously no one from the most extreme pacifist to the most extreme militarist on either side of the House wants to spend a penny more on defence than necessary. But surely in deciding what defence expenditure should be we must estimate what the threat is, because defence is obviously a reaction against a threat and a safeguard for the State against any possible threat from outside.

It seems to me that when we are arguing, as we did in the debate last week on the Estimates, no one on the Government side considers the threats. Government supporters either ignore them or feel that they do not exist and dismiss them out of hand. Yet, an article in The Times earlier this year said: The Soviet Union spent more than 50,000 million roubles"— that is, £31,000 million— on defence last year. … Previous official estimates of Russian military spending put it at 7 per cent. of the country's gross national product. But the Ministry now believes it is between 11 and 12 per cent. and that spending has been increasing at an annual rate of 4 per cent. Other sources put Soviet military expenditure between 15 per cent. and 19 per cent. of the GNP—these are largely American sources. Be that as it may, the former Secretary of State for Defence—now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—put out a paper to all hon. Members last summer. I quote from the first paragraph: During 1976 the Soviet Union will bring into service over 200 new generation intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM); a variety of other missiles; 1,000 combat aircraft, mostly swing-wing types; over 700 helicopters; over 3,000 tanks; 4,000 armoured personnel carriers; up to ten nuclear submarines—of which six will each carry 12–16 ballistic missiles of 4,800 miles range; and major surface ships, including a 40,000 ton aircraft carrier. Yet, at about the same time as that statement was put out by the right hon. Gentleman, the National Executive of the Labour Party demanded a further £1,000 million cuts in defence suggesting that they could be achieved by scrapping the AW cruiser programme or the MRCA, or by cutting the BAOR in half, thus violating the Brussels Treaty.

I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentleman who is to reply to this debate is implicated in this, but it should be said that members of the Labour Party who are putting forward this proposal are either stupid or subversive.

What is the threat? I suggest that today the threat is both direct and indirect. It is direct in Central Europe where the NATO forces are outnumbered by two or three to one. It is indirect in the subversion of our industries at home. It is direct on the Northern flank, as the Norwegians or Danes will tell us. Only the other day Danish parliamentarians were saying that Soviet exercises at sea and in the air were coming closer and closer to the Danish frontier and air space. It is indirect in the Mediterranean with an alliance with Libya and later with Mintoff's Malta. There is a threat to Yugoslavia when the president dies, and later to Italy.

It is direct on the southern flank with the takeover of Angola and Mozambique, with Rhodesia and Namibia to come, and then an indirect attack on Southern Africa. Why? Certainly not to abolish apartheid—the Soviet Union could not care anything about that—but to control 60 per cent. to 90 per cent. of the world's key minerals. This threat has developed and increased, as the Government have admitted in White Paper after White Paper since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, particularly at sea.

What have the Labour Government done in response? I want briefly to consider the cuts that have been made in defence since 1962. Labour Governments were in office from 1964 to 1970. In 1966 there was a defence review that was to end all defence reviews and stabilise the Forces for at least one generation. That led to a cut of 16 per cent. in the defence budget. It stabilised at £2,000 million in that year of crisis. That was in February. In July there was another cut of £100 million, followed the next year by another cut of £100 million, and in 1968 by yet another cut, this time of £110 million.

History repeats itself. When the Labour Government came to power in 1974, we again had a defence review to end all defence reviews, which was to stabilise the position of the Services£Navy, Army and Royal Air Force£for the next generation. There was to be a cut of £7,208 million at today's prices off the projected programme for the Services over the next 10 years. That was to stabilise everything. This time the Government did not wait for three or four months. They cut another £168 million off at today's prices within one month, and that was followed by three cuts this year: in February a cut of £626 million; in July a cut of £100 million; and last week a cut of £300 million; making a total at today's prices of £8,402 million. That is an enormous sum which, if carried out during the next few years, will successfully emasculate our defence forces and render them non-credible.

As the House knows, defence expenditure can be cut today but the results may not be seen for another five to 10 years. I suggest that the lessons of history today and a study of political geography will show that in about three or five years' time the Soviet Union will take over Southern Africa and affect our key communications at sea and in the air, we shall then feel the effect of the savage cuts that have been inflicted on the defence forces in the past two years.

I want to consider briefly four effects of the cuts. We talk about figures, and say "cuts of £100 million", but that does not mean anything to the man in the street. What do defence cuts mean in terms of manpower or effort? First, let me consider anti-submarine warfare, and here I hope that I carry the Minister for the Navy with me.

This is probably the greatest threat faced by the Western alliance. Soviet nuclear submarines outnumber those of all the Western Powers put together. The Soviet Union will have 24 of its new Delta class submarines at sea before the first American equivalent, Trident, gets to sea. lit was said by the Minister in the passage that I quoted that these vessels have missiles with a range of 4,800 miles. Therefore, they can cover the whole of Europe, China or America from the Barents Sea. They are formidable weapons.

What have we to counter this vast submarine fleet? I do not mean just this country, because we cannot do it, but NATO as a whole. In anti-submarine vessels compared with Soviet submarines it is about two to one, yet in the last war allied anti-submarine vessels compared with German U-boats were six to one.

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we have considerably more helicopters than the Soviet Union has? An effective helicopter is as good as a frigate these days in anti-submarine warfare.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I agree that we have many more helicopters than we had in the last war, because then we did not have any. I do not agree that we have more than the Soviet Union.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I said that that was the situation in the last war. As I understood the hon. Gentleman's case, it was that we now have powerful anti-submarine helicopters, and the Sea King is worth a frigate. I was comparing our situation during the last war. I said that then we had no helicopters, but that today we have, and so does the Soviet Union. That country also has missiles to shoot down our helicopters. On the other hand, the hon. Gentleman must give me this, in the last war the German U-boats had to surface at night, and that is when the Royal Air Force got them. Today, the nuclear submarine does not have to surface at all.

Although I accept that we have helicopters as well as anti-submarine vessels, we have a far more difficult target. No one knows—and I hope that we shall never have to know—exactly which will prove the most powerful weapon, the nuclear submarine or the anti-submarine helicopter. But the disparity in forces is two to one. Those are the figures given by Admiral Kidd, Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, who says that he has two anti-submarine vessels to every Soviet submarine.

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House. He is suggesting that by including helicopters one makes the position worse. That is not the case. He went from a proportion of two to one to four to one. I am sure that that is not what he intended to say. By including helicopters we are improving the balance in favour of the West. Let us get the figures straight.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Either I am getting confused, or the hon. Gentleman is. In the Second World War, the ratio was six anti-submarine vessels to each German U-boat. Today, the ratio is two NATO anti-submarine vessels to each Soviet submarine. We have also helicopters, but the Soviet submarines are true submarines and may well prove virtually undetect- able. Therefore, the threat is far more serious today than it was in either of the world wars, when submarines very nearly brought Britain and the allies to their knees. I hope that I have got that point over. I am dealing with antisubmarine vessels.

What are the problems? We have to get reinforcements from the Americas to Europe; our oil supplies come round the Cape, as do our minerals. What have we to contribute to NATO? I exclude the County and Bristol classes as light cruisers. We then have only two destroyers with four building; we have 39 general purpose frigates and 15 antisubmarine frigates, with four building. It is an appallingly low total. It means that the Royal Navy has a smaller number of ships at sea than at any time since 1875. That is our awe full position in facing this great Soviet threat.

When translated into hard facts, the cuts mean that nine frigates or destroyers which would have been used for antisubmarine purposes will not now be built. That is my understanding of the situation. The effects of the cuts will mean that over the next few years we shall have nine fewer frigates or destroyers than we would have had otherwise. The situation is shown in its full seriousness when we remember that it took six frigates to maintain the unlamented Beira blockade.

The Nimrod aircraft are another very powerful anti-submarine weapon. I believe that there are 43 of them. Does the cut of 5 per cent. mean that 10 of them are now to go. Or has the cut to be reversed in their case? Stories have been floating around that the Government have decided to maintain all the Nimrods, and I hope that the Minister will be able to assure me that that is so. I know that he, too, acknowledges the value of the Nimrods, and I am sure that he wants them maintained in service, because they are the finest anti-submarine aircraft in the world.

Not only do we have to watch the threat of Soviet submarines. We have the requirement to exercise suveillance over the growing Soviet surface fleet as well as over the new 200-mile fishery limits. Four Nimrods are to be allocated to watch those limits, so they will be heavily employed in that duty. I am convinced that there is no case for cutting the number of Nimrods.

The immediate reinforcements for NATO's northern flank are three Royal Marine commando groups and a Canadian battalion. Norway has in the north one Norwegian or NATO brigade. The Soviet Union has four front-line divisions there, with four in reserve and 400 front-line aircraft available. How are we to get reinforcements to Norway? In the past, they would have been covered by an aircraft carrier in support and have been carried in two commando carriers operating helicopters and so giving maximum mobility. Heavy stores would have been landed by assault ships.

These cuts mean that there is only one carrier left, the "Ark Royal", and she is in dockyard at the moment. The two commando carriers have also gone. I think that "Hermes" has a secondary role, but she is much more likely to be employed in anti-submarine warfare. One of the assault ships is in mothballs and one is used for training, and the Royal Marines have their helicopter lift cut by 50 per cent. In the recent exercise, to reinforce the northern flank we had to hire British Rail train ferries at a cost of £500,000, which would have been much better spent on maintaining some of the ships to which I have referred.

My third point relates to a subject which always excites some Labour Members below the Gangway£that of Rhodesia. They would love to send forces out there to do something about Mr. Smith. Let us consider what we could do, what mobility our forces have. Under these cuts, the United Kingdom mobile force has been cut by 66 per cent. The Belfast fleet, the only aircraft capable of carrying the Abbot or a light tank, have been scrapped. We only have Hercules left. I am not sure how many Hercules we have, but it was about 75. Can the Minister confirm that the number is to be cut to 55?

When UDI was declared, HMS "Eagle", an aircraft carrier, was sent to the Indian Ocean, I think with the idea of protecting Zambia, which we were supplying with petrol. There is no aircraft carrier left to do that and the Fleet train is being cut by 30 per cent. so the mobility of afloat support that we could offer has been seriously reduced.

These are the facts. We talk about a cost of millions of pounds. This is what it means today—and the picture will be much worse in a few year's time.

One other example is BAOR. Everyone is very proud of BAOR and says that it is the best army in the world. I think it is, but it is beginning to get a bit rusty. With 7,000 tanks, the NATO forces in Germany are facing Soviet tanks which have grown in number from 13,650 to 19,000 over the last two years. We claim to have the best tank in the world, the Chieftain, yet its engine sometimes gives trouble. I understand that the Chieftains are being re-engined, which will make them again the finest in the world. The only trouble is that all the re-engined Chieftains are going to Iran. We have also produced some new armour, which also is the best in the world, but it is also going to Iran. That is what cuts mean to soldiers in the field.

I turn to anti-tank weapons. We are told that we are going to replace our semi-obsolete weapon with Milan. Will Milan he postponed now, or shall we buy that Franco-German weapon? How long will our helicopters or what is left of them be equipped with the SS11, which is the thoroughly obsolete French weapon? When shall we get something like Tow or Hot?

NATO radio communications in BAOR are not good, because one army, the British, cannot talk to the Americans or the Germans without special arrangements being made. Communications need overhauling. Will these cuts mean that the new NATO communications, which should have been operational in the 1990s, will be postponed till the next century?

I turn to tactical nuclear weapons. Honest John, which we have used for many years, is now completely obsolete and Lance will replace it. Do these cuts mean that Lance will be postponed, or shall we get it in the field next year? The Institute of Strategic Studies tells us that we have 420 front-line aircraft in Germany. How long will they last—a week?

These are the practical effects of these continual defence cuts, year by year. I have not mentioned things like stockpiling and reserves. We are supposed to be preparing to fight a 30-day war. I should be very surprised if we have 30 days' stores. These cuts must also have an effect on training. If things go wrong, the cuts will have to be paid for in blood —and that has happened before in the history of this islands.

The blame must lie with the Government because they have the full knowledge of the threat. This year's White Paper said on Page 5: Nor can the West ignore the fact that during the past year the military capability of the Warsaw Pact has increased in numbers and in quantity. It also says that there has been a steady improvement in the conventional forces of the Warsaw Pact countries, that the Soviet Union has a strong and effective naval air force, that the capability of the ground forces of the Warsaw Pact countries continues to increase, that the Warsaw Pact air forces and missile systems are being improved and so on.

The Government know the threat. The Secretary of State said that cuts on the scale advocated by some of his hon. Friends would entail a policy of, at best, neutrality and, at worst, surrender.

The Government can no longer pretend that these cuts are not affecting NATO. General Haig, the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, Admiral Kidd, the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, and Admiral Hill-Lawton, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, all say that the balance is shifting against NATO. All our NATO Allies, even countries such as Denmark and Norway are spending more on defence, yet we are cutting down.

The old argument that we spend more than anyone else is becoming less and less valid. It never was really valid because our gross national product was considerably less than those of France and Germany and the figures did not tally.

The fact that the Chiefs of Staff chose to go to Downing Street and exercise their prerogative for the first time for a long time shows how serious this matter is. It is serious not just because it weakens NATO, but because it weakens NATO's resolve. If other countries see us cutting, they will want to cut. Why should the Americans have divisions and forces in Europe when they see that the Europeans are not defending themselves? We are the key for America because we are closest to the Americans. If we cut, we shall weaken the will of the Americans to stay in Europe and we shall weaken the fabric and structure of NATO.

An hon. Member opposite said recently that if the Chiefs of Staff felt so strongly about this matter, they should resign. The Secretary of State said that this would be a matter for the Chiefs of Staff. It would not. It would be a matter for him. He is the political head of the Services and if things are so serious, he should take the advice of my right hon. Friend the Shadow defence spokesman and resign. If the right hon. Gentleman does not think the situation is serious enough to do that, I have no doubt that he will realise the seriousness of it in the next few months and, unless the Government go first, I believe that the Secretary of State will have to go.

The real blame lies on the shoulders of someone else—the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He came into office as a Minister of Defence welcomed by the Services. It was said that he talked their language and understood their problems, yet he cut and cut again. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, with five or six years' experience as Minister of Defence, he knows the threat, yet he still cuts and cuts again and is backed by the Government for party political purposes.

That is the indictment of the Government. They know the threat and the danger to the State, yet they cut defence for party-political purposes. I am only sorry that the old-fashioned penalty of impeachment can no longer apply to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

10.29 p.m.

Photo of Mr Victor Goodhew Mr Victor Goodhew , St Albans

I intervene briefly to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on having raised this subject and giving us the opportunity to consider it once more. Perhaps the more often we put the facts to the Government, the more likely we are to get the message through.

One would not have expected it to be necessary for us to keep spelling this out to the Government. Every time they publish a defence review or White Paper, they become more explicit in their explanation of how NATO countries are slipping behind the Warsaw Pact Powers. The Government keep on spelling out this military threat, but, having spelt it out and having illustrated it with figures, models and drawings of ships and aircraft to make absolutely sure that we know what the threat is, they come back each time and cut our forces.

It is an extraordinary state of double-mindedness. I was in Rhodesia a while ago and happened to pick up a Gideons' Bible which was beside my bed. As there were great decisions to be made, I turned to the section marked "great decisions" and was referred to the Book of James, chapter one, verse eight, which read: A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. I wonder what is happening to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government side who spell out the threat and then assure us that it is all right to cut back still further.

We all know that there is great danger in complacency when we are facing the Russians. I do not trust the Russians, whatever conference is going on. We all know that on the central front there are regular offensive exercises which rush up to the Iron Curtain and then stop. We always assume that they will stop when they reach that point. No one seems to realise that one day they could roll straight on. We are told in the White Papers that we must differentiate between the political threat and the military threat—that the political threat is one thing and the military threat is another—and that we are going through a period of detente and would have ample time for reinforcement because there would be a time of rising political tension.

The time we need for reinforcements is immense, since the Russian troops are on the ground and have only to roll across friendly countries to cross the border, whereas the Americans have to fly large quantities of men and materials across the Atlantic and we have to use train ferries or whatever it is that we have adapted for our latest movements.

We are told that there will be time for reinforcement because the political threat does not exist while we are talking about detente. I warn the Government that if I were a member of the Soviet Government I would not start to increase political tension if I intended to make a rush to the Channel ports or beyond. I would have a conference on security and co-operation in Europe. I would have a Helsinki accord, in which I would agree to make great advances in humanitarian fields, and I would keep talking about detente until everyone in the NATO countries was lulled into a false sense of security. Having done so, when the moment came I would strike, and I would know perfectly well that I would be through to the Channel ports before real reinforcements were available. These are the facts, and that is why the complacency on the Government Benches is not only incredible but positively dangerous and could be disastrous.

I appeal to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government side to remember that we depend on the credibility of NATO for the security of these islands. When it comes to the credibility of the whole operation and the morale of NATO forces, it is wrong to continue in this complacent way, spelling out how much the threat against us is getting greater and greater while continuing to cut further and further to the bone. Any Secretary of State for Defence who allowed the situation to continue to the extent that it has done, in the light of warnings he has given or that have been given by his predecessors, should resign.

I hope that the Minister tonight will carry back to the Secretary of State for Defence the message that, if he allows this to happen in the light of what the Chiefs of State have said, the only course is to resign.

10.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Rees Mr Peter Rees , Dover and Deal

I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this debate, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for providing the occasion. For reasons which will emerge, we will have a special interest in the subject which I wish to raise.

The general tenor of the debate is directed to the level of defence expenditure, and I shall not touch on the general considerations, which have been so adequately and eloquently covered by my hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew), though I must observe in passing that in all the Chancellor's eight or nine Budgets we have always been told that defence must bear its fair share of cuts. The concept of "fair share" is highly subjective, and I should have thought that in comparison with other parts of public expenditure, defence has by now borne more than its fair share.

Without dragging personalities into the debate, I can only assume that the Secretary of State for Defence—I wish that he were here to contribute to the discussion—was chosen, after his experiences with such great subjects as the Channel Tunnel and Tameside, for his general pliability in the Cabinet and the likelihood of his being bruatalised with apparent ease by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I wish, however, to narrow the debate a little to the local consequences of the defence cuts and to focus the attention of the House on the impact on the town of Deal in my constituency. I believe that there is a risk that the depot of the Royal Marines, including the Royal Marine School of Music, may soon be phased out. I see but few hon. Members present on the Government side, which is some indication of their interest in and attachment to defence questions, but for those of my hon. Friends who are here perhaps I may be permitted to remind the House that Deal, like so many other parts of my constituency, has a great martial past.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) is soon to speak from the Dispatch Box, I think it not inappropriate to say that the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports has his seat at Walmer Castle. Moreover, Deal Castle has its Captain, and the present Captain is a distinguished ex-Royal Marine. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) for reviving that old and honourable office few years ago. Although there is no one now living in Deal who can personally recall the fleet lying at anchor off the Downs, such memories are cherished by the residents of Deal.

More important even that those factors, important though they are, for over 150 years now the Royal Marines have maintained a distinguished and notable presence in Deal. Although this has latterly been confined to the training of recruits and the Royal Marine School of Music, neither of those functions, notwithstanding anything that General Brown may have said in an unguarded moment in Washington during the past year, is an unimportant facet of our defence capability.

The connection which has been built up between the town of Deal and the Royal Marines is not just a sentimental connection, though I remind the House that it was from Dover, but a few miles away, that on St. George's Day the Royal Marines set off to assault the mole at Zeebrugge, in what I believe to have been a shorter and sharper engagement than that experienced by any other arm of the British Armed Forces. I did not myself have the privilege of serving in the Royal Marines, although I like to think that I served in as glorious a unit, but I recall that on that occasion the Royal Marines won more VCs and suffered more casualties than perhaps any other unit has ever done in a comparable engagement. We rememember that incident with great pride, and I have been privileged to take part in their services on 11th November in their own chapel at Deal.

In a more mundane fashion, however, the Royal Marines have contributed and still contribute greatly to the social and economic life of Deal. The economic life of Deal is, perhaps, a little narrowly based, but the Marines make a great contribution to the town's shops and hotels, and they provide a range of jobs which would not be open to residents of Deal if they were not there.

With the contraction of the Armed Forces, the contraction of the Royal Marines and the contraction of their amphibious role, there have for some years been ugly rumours about the closure of their depot. We have noticed that recruit training has taken place at other Royal Marine centres, and we have watched with alarm possible developments.

The Under-Secretary's predecessor was good enough to receive a delegation that I brought up from the town to emphasise the long connection of the corps with Deal and the grave effect there would be on the life of the town if the depot were closed. Now, only a fortnight ago, the blow has fallen. It must have been one of the first and least attractive duties of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) as Under-Secretary to write to inform me and the commanding officer that the depot would be phased out between now and 1981.

I do not say that we had reconciled ourselves to the possibility, but there may have been certain military grounds for concentrating recruit training elsewhere. However, we had at least nourished the hope that we should be able to retain the Royal Marine School of Music. Apparently, this is not to be. There is the probability that the school will be transferred to the barracks at Eastney. The Under-Secretary told me in his letter that certain capital expenditure would have to be incurred there. Has he yet been able to ascertain in any detail just what it would cost to convert the barracks at Eastney compared with the cost of renovating and converting the depot at Deal? I believe that, making judicious allowance for the optimism of planners, it will be found that there are no real savings in hard cash if the move is made.

Minutes cannot adequately reproduce the vigour and feeling that we managed to convey to the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, so I emphasise to the Under-Secretary the damaging effect that such a move would have on the life of Deal and the surrounding district. I refer not only to the impact on the commercial, hotel and cultural life but to the loss of jobs. In a difficult period, between 100 and 200 jobs may be lost. It would appear that the social contract is designed to save jobs, but not defence jobs. I would like to feel that it at least covered the welfare and livelihood of those who serve in the Armed Forces and those who minister to their needs.

We recognise that in a period of financial stringency the Armed Forces must be as cost effective as possible. I have indicated one matter which I do not believe has yet been adequately explored and on which I and the residents of Deal will require reassurance. But there are wider considerations, which I urge those who speak from the Front Bench tonight and on other occasions to bear in mind. We want to see our Armed Forces as effectively deployed and well armed as possible, but there is also the crucial question of maintaining the interest and pride of the country as a whole in the Armed Forces, particularly in what we may describe as a prolonged period of peace.

In saying that, I am fully conscious of the forces' rôle in Northern Ireland and other parts of the world. It is par- ticularly important that there should be a visible presence, however small, in all the great martial areas of the country which have been used to providing the bulk of recruits and welcoming in their midst the Forces of the Crown, whether the Army, the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines.

I like to count the constituency which I am privileged to represent as one of those areas. We have always been very proud of our martial connections. It would be very damaging to the long-term future of the Armed Services, and the support which they rightly derive in full measure from the civilian parts of the country, if everything were concentrated in Portsmouth or on Salisbury Plain. There may be the best possible strategic reasons, but there are wider considerations. I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will show that he is sensitive to them.

I hope the Minister will show that on this occasion he is capable of rising above the rather ugly wrangles that have obviously taken place inside the Cabinet Room. I hope he will demonstrate that he still preserves an open mind on these issues and will hold out the possibility at least that, when the sums have been done and all the wider factors that I have canvassed tonight have been taken into account, we shall retain a Royal Marine presence in Deal.

10.45 p.m.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) has made an important speech upon the effect that the cuts may well have upon a distinguished corps and upon a distinguished part of these islands that has sustained the corps for several centuries. In a brief intervention, I shall add my expression of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for giving the House the early opportunity to comment upon the effects upon our defence forces and upon our defence as a whole of the cuts announced last Wednesday and to speak on a slightly broader canvas than that of my hon. and learned Friend.

Four cuts ago, in December 1974, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence—the right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers)—said that the cuts represented a cool and considered judgment of what the country needed to spend to secure its safety. I make no apology for reminding Labour Members yet again of those words. I do not flatter myself that the occasions when I have reminded them of them before are fresh or, indeed, present in their memories. It needs to be said time and time again that four cuts ago the Government's then judgment, which was said to be a cool and considered one, was that the defence budget was what was considered necessary to be spent by the country to secure our safety.

If I might ask a rhetorical question at this time of night, is it thought that the threat since then has receded? Is it thought that the threat has diminished'? Is it thought that the right hon. Gentleman's judgment was in some way not cool enough, that it was in some way ill considered and that it is not now found necessary to spend as much to secure our safety? What is the explanation?

I am certain that we shall hear tonight the phrase that is to be found in every Defence Minister's brief—no doubt it is to be found in the Under-Secretary of State's brief—that "Defence must piay its part".

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Royal Tunbridge Wells

What meaning does that phrase have? Defence has no part unless the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government choose to give it one. Unless the hon. Gentleman is prepared to supply a meaning for that phrase that is so often produced, I hope he will have the courage to delete it from the brief so sedulously prepared for him by those whose task it is to reinforce a policy so dangerous to the country.

No reinforcement is needed by the Eastern bloc forces that confront our Army in Western Germany. The reinforcement that we have always relied upon in the past to enable the Eastern bloc to achieve a full-strength surprise attack—namely, a nine-day warning of the reinforcement build-up—would no longer be necessary now that the preponderance of the Warsaw Pact forces is so great that the knockout blow could be delivered without that period of build-up.

Is this the time to cut again? There is insufficient transport, as I believe, to support our forces for more than a couple of days in the event of a sudden attack. There is insufficient ammunition to support them for more than a couple of days. There are insufficient reserves of men to provide a rest for front-line troops who will have to bear the brunt. To continue to talk of a 30-day capability is sheer nonsense, and the awful thing is that it is known to be nonsense by those upon whom we rely to bear that brunt with their own bodies. I ask the Government to bear in mind the effect upon the morale of our troops, who see this as the third cut this year when they know that already they are down to the bone, as Sir Michael Carver said when the last cuts were imposed.

That is the third and last question I ask the Under-Secretary. What are the Government to say to the troops in view of what they have said before? I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here. I am sorry for him, because it is clear that he has been put into his present job to be a push-over for the Chancellor. It is absolutely clear that he was put into the job to offer no resistance and to be a push-over to the Chancellor, who was Secretary of State for Defence for five years and who is known to be an infinitely tougher character.

What is to be said to sustain the morale of the troops? How can the Government square their present action with what they have said to the troops before? What are they to say about the capacity now to meet a sudden push by the Eastern bloc forces without a need for reinforcements?

10.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth

I, too, am grateful to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for having given us the opportunity to have this debate on this important matter tonight. Some of us thought that we would intervene in tomorrow's debate, but it is probably better that we have had a chance to raise these important points tonight.

I join issue with the remarks made by the hon. and learned Members for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) and for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew). Those who have known my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence over the years know that he is a considerable authority on defence matters. He was for a number of years the chairman of the Defence Committee of Western European Union and he prepared a number of important reports on defence. It is unfair to suggest that he is not well-informed on these matters and that he will not do his best to ensure that the defence of Britain receives the resources that it deserves.

I apologise if I misunderstood the statistics of the hon. Member for Haltemprice when I intervened during his speech. I thought that he was comparing the present relative numbers of our forces and those of the Soviets rather than drawing the historical parallel. He will know that to discuss these matters and draw comparisons between likely anti-submarine warfare in these times and anti-submarine warfare in the last war we are not comparing like with like. We are restricted in what we say about the techniques available—not merely helicopters but other developments in comparison with ASDIC sets and frigates which were used in the last war to locate submarines. In NATO we are developing effective anti-submarine capabilities.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman absolutely—I, too, recall the remarks of Admiral Kidd—in what he said about maritime patrol aircraft. I am confident that the Nimrods have a continuing important role to play. I wish to see us co-operating much more closely with our allies in Western Europe and in NATO in operating Nimrods. Recently there has been an imaginative suggestion by the Dutch that they will place a squadron or perhaps two squadrons of Nimrods in Scotland to work alongside the RAF Nimrods there in exactly the same way as the Dutch marines are operating effectively in Arbroath alongside British marines. These are the practical ways in which we can co-operate in a period in which all Western countries face problems as a result of inflation, and get a better buy for the pounds and guilders that are available for defence.

I share a great deal of the concern that has been expressed tonight about the cuts. I am particularly concerned about ad hoc cuts. Inevitably defence has to take its share in any particular cut. If we must have cuts, we have to look at our resources and say what is available, and this must be part of an appraisal of our commitments. I am particularly concerned that we might be spreading resources even more thinly over the same number of our commitments.

If we have to look again at the resources available, we should look at the commitments. We should look at Cyprus, a subject to which I shall return later, and at our contribution to the strategic deterrent of the alliance. But at the moment, when we are talking of the conventional forces, we must surely be concerned because of the contribution we are making to NATO.

This is an extremely serious matter. If we reduce our contribution to the conventional forces in NATO on the central front, other people will follow us. The net result will be that the nuclear threshold will be lowered. Initially we might have to use tactical nuclear weapons, and then perhaps strategic nuclear weapons sooner if there were no adequate conventional forces in the central front in Europe. Therefore, we must look extremely carefully at the savings we are seeking to make.

In listening to the hon. Member for Haltemprice I had the impression that it was only Labour Ministers who ever made cuts in our contributions to the central front or, indeed, to our contributions as promised under the Brussels Treaty. The hon. Member may have noticed that I left the Chamber. It was, indeed, to get hold of the Defence White Papers of 1957 and 1958, because it was in those two Defence White Papers that we really began, under a Conservative Administration—when Lord DuncanSandys was Secretary of State for Defence—to sell the pass in regard to our commitment to the central front and to Western European Union.

The hon. Member will know that the commitment in the revised Brussels Treaty is to four divisions and to one tactical air force. There are no figures in the document, although the figure quoted at the time was 77,000 men. It was the Secretary of State for Defence who in the Defence White Paper of 1957 cut that commitment from 77,000 to 64,000. In the following year he cut it again from 64,000 to 55,000. Those were the serious cuts in our contribution to the central front.

It was Lord Duncan-Sandys who in his White Paper of 1957 said that we had to cut the size of the tactical air force in Germany by a half. That was in one White Paper. Those were cuts of much greater severity, in regard to the British contribution to the conventional forces of NATO, than anything that my right hon. Friend may have done in the last six months.

In view of the criticism made about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

At that time, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate we had forces throughout the world—in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and so on—which we do not have today.

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth

We had 100,000 men in the Far East and the Middle East at that time.

But the most interesting passage in the Defence White Paper of 1958—particularly in view of the remarks made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative side about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—is contained in paragraph 43. After having said that we were reducing the commitment to 55,000, the paragraph goes on to say: In this connection, the Government have, in accordance with the revised Brussels Treaty, asked the North Atlantic Council to consider the financial problem involved in maintaining these forces in Germany. It goes on: The Government are most anxious to continue to make a substantial contribution to the NATO shield. But they have been obliged to state clearly that, in the event of adequate financial assistance not being forthcoming they will have to reconsider reluctantly the British land and air forces they can afford to retain on the continent. That is the Conservative Government of 1958 in their own defence White Paper, and that after reducing the contribution to the central front from 77,000 to 55,000 in two years. Then they have the nerve to suggest that it is only Labour Governments which threaten our contribution to the central front, and make cuts.

Also it was the Government of that time who fell for the nuclear fallacy. They were more concerned about status than security. They were more concerned about being able to pretend to maintain the position of a great Power than about maintaining the security of this country with adequate forces on the continent of Europe. I hope that my right hon. Friends and hon. Friends will not suffer from the same illusion.

While the whole of the £100 million for the coming year, or the £200 million for the following year, cannot be taken from the Polaris programme or the research and development programmes for modernising and developing strategic forces, when the Government look at where the cuts must be made—if, reluctantly, there must be cuts—they should look at areas where we may be duplicating forces which are adequately provided by the United States rather than cutting the conventional forces which we contribute to the central front, and which, I believe, are vital for the continued security of this country and the alliance as a whole.

11.3 p.m.

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

I cannot tell a lie—I came here to speak about motorway inquiries. But I listened to siren voices, and I did so not least because motorway inquiries is a topic which is very low on the list and may not be reached. Secondly, I was absolutely outraged by the remarks of the Secretary of State for Defence the other afternoon, when he was replying to questions on Defence. I am sorry that he is not here tonight. I wanted to put a skewer into him about this subject.

In answering an extremely difficult question, the Secretary of State said, in a throw-away line, that the Chiefs of Staff "could speak for themselves". They cannot speak for themselves, and the Secretary of State knows it. The two squirming Ministers on the Government Front Bench know it, too. They should be thoroughly ashamed of what their political boss has said. It is grossly unfair to the Chiefs of Staff to suggest such a thing, and to take refuge behind their skirts in such a way.

All they can do is go to the Prime Minister as a body and represent their professional judgment of the facts. That is a very rare event, and that is what they have done. It is not too strong to say that it was despicable for the Secretary of State to suggest otherwise.

Having got that off my chest, I want to say that since the cuts we have, of course, inadequate forces for waging war. We also have inadequate forces for preventing war. One of the troubles with discussing defence is that we so often escalate it into a declared war in which we are all shooting each other and rushing around sinking submarines. I was unimpressed, by the way, by the suggestion by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) that life was becoming easier for anti-submarines. As an old anti-sub-mariner, I assure him that if one is chasing a nuclear submarine, it is 10 times more difficult, not the other way sound.

I expect I am bound to be thought of as a crusty old—I almost said an unparliamentary word there—admiral, who wants squadrons of battleships sailing the seas, and hordes of aircraft flying through the skies. I admit it, I do! But, joking apart, I want to prevent war. Those who have seen a war at the sharp end are those most likely to want to prevent another. If a country is too weak in its conventional defence, a potential enemy may be tempted to exercise blackmail by the use of its greater strength.

Several hon. Members have spoken of the adverse effect on NATO of these ad hoc cuts. That is a strong argument because of the downward spiral in NATO which could be induced by our cuts. Members of NATO look up to Britain. They look up to our forces because they are professional—I think that they are the best. If we spiral downwards, others in NATO will do the same.

As in our own national defence, one of the greatest inadequacies in NATO is prevention. I fear that the arrangements within NATO for crisis control, for handling a situation before war is declared and for the prevention of war are inadequate. General Alexander Haig, the Supreme Commander of NATO, told me at a recent North Atlantic Assembly meeting in open session that he was dissatisfied with the security of his communications in time of crisis. He said that he had no adequate means of securely communicating with subordinate commanders in NATO. If that is so, it is a deplorable weakness which should cause the Government to think again about the cuts: the money that they are cutting could surely be used to remedy that weakness.

Another inadequacy is in our Home Defence reserves. Our reserves consist of good people with a vital role to play. They experience interesting training and I am not dissatisfied with the quality of the reserves, but we have virtually no reserves for home defence, and the Government in previous incarnation cut civil defence.

I talk of prevention and crisis control, not of war itself. We all remember the Orsen Welles broadcast about men from Mars landing on our planet and the way people screamed out of town in a panic. There could be a panic situation without a bomb being dropped or a rocket being fired if blackmail were brought to bear against this country. Just the threat of rocket attack could cause tremendous panic among civilians, but there will be no one to stand at the end of the street and say "Go back home: everything will be all right".

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth

I would not dare to contradict the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) about submarines, but is it not the case that in addition to the Territorials, eight or ten, or more, battalions earmarked for the British Army of the Rhine will be made available for home defence? If that is so I do not know what he means by saying that no one will be available for this purpose.

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

As I understand it, all the reserves, of the Army and certainly the other Services, have war stations to which to go. There are not specific reserves for specific local areas with no other functions than that. That is what there should be.

A further point about the prevention of war is that we must have vastly improved arrangements for protecting our trade routes. It is at sea that an escalation of incidents, below the threshold of declared war can very easily be imagined. There are innumerable scenarios in which our merchant ships, going about the seas on their perfectly lawful occasions—as the old naval prayer has it—could be prevented, interrupted and harassed. In this short debate I need not say what an enormous increase we see year by year and month by month in the Soviet navy. Yes, month by month, because one additional nuclear submarine is launched for the Soviet navy every month.

This subject is world wide. The Cape route is perhaps one of our most vulnerable areas. Here I am totally dissatisfied with the Government's policy regarding Simonstown. Admittedly, navies may have longer legs these days. They can remain at sea longer. Sailors do not like it, but navies can do that. They can refuel at sea, and so on. However, what we cannot do without is the intelligence that the South African authorities have. I am talking about matters at sea, which have nothing to do with apartheid or the internal policies of South Africa, whatever one may think of them.

As I hope the Minister knows, there is a combined operational headquarters at the back of Simonstown called Silvermine, which I have visited. I have seen the secret shipping plot there, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill). That intelligence is vital to us for the prevention of war. But, as I understand it, we now have no contact with the South African authorities, no means of getting that Intelligence and no secure communications to enable us to do so. If that is the case, it is deplorable that just blind ideological prejudice prevents the Government from doing this, because very little money is involved.

Finally, at Christmas, which is a time for family gathering, it would be appropriate to pay tribute to those who will not be able to be with their families this Christmas. I refer, of course, to the troops in Northern Ireland. It is these men, together with the members throughout the United Kingdom. who are the defenders of our freedom under the law. And freedom under the law is our most precious heritage.

11.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

Last Tuesday, during a short debate on the Estimates, the Minister of State for Defence, speaking just 24 hours before the Chancellor of the Exchequer rose to announce spending cuts, said, We all wish that we could spend less on defence". He went on to say—and I want to emphasise these words: but it would be irresponsible of any Government to make any major reductions in our defence spending outside the context of the mutual and balanced force reductions". He concluded, in this passage of his speech: This is the environment in which we must take our decisions."—[Official Report, 14th December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1241.] Those of us who heard the Minister of State give that undertaking listened with incredulity 24 hours later to the words of the Chancellor. This is how the Chancellor put it to the House: Despite the big cuts which we have already made in defence expenditure, we cannot achieve the necessary reductions in public expenditure and the PSBR without a contribution from the defence budget. We are looking to defence for further savings of £100 million in 1977–78 and £200 million in 1978–79".—[Official Report, 15th December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1529.] Thus it is that we may put in marked contrast the words of the Minister of State on Tuesday with those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Wednesday.

We are entitled to ask the Minister for the Air Force, who I think is to wind up this debate, whether between Tuesday and Wednesday there really was that mutual and balanced force reduction which the Minister of State said was a precondition for a reduction in defence expenditure. Was there that mutual and balanced force reduction in the 24 hours that elapsed between that undertaking to the House of Commons and the announcement by the Chancellor? Of course there was not.

We are entitled to point out that there seems to us to have been no co-operation, no discussion, between the five Ministers in the Defence Department and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Indeed, it is clear to us on this side of the House that the Government have betrayed their first duty to the country, because overriding every other consideration is the duty of the Government to provide, in so far as they can, for the safety of these islands. When the Minister of State tells us that there could be no further cuts except in the context of mutual and balanced force reductions and the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes to the House 24 hours later and announces those cuts without the mutual reductions, the House and the country are entitled to ask "Why?".

We are entitled to ask the two Ministers who bear this heavy responsibility what battles they fought in their Department. What battles did they or the Secretary of State fight in the Cabinet? My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) gave the House the answer; that the former Secretary of State for Education and Science, the supposed victor of Tameside, was put into the position of Secretary of State for Defence because he was and is, and is shown to be, a push-over.

The charge that we level against the Government and against the two Ministers who sit opposite us tonight on the Government Front Bench, almost in lonely splendour, is very serious, because we are asserting that the cuts in defence expenditure have been made not at all on any grounds of national security but solely to gain the approval of this total package from the hon. Gentlemen who sometimes sit, but are not now sitting, below the Gangway on the Government side.

The question of Britain's contribution to NATO is the supreme contribution that this country now makes to defence. I am one of those—perhaps a minority on this side of the House—who look without bitterness and without regret at the concentration of Britain's Armed Forces in Europe. Our world-wide rôle has gone. It was without a tear on my part that we abandoned our rôle east of Suez. I know that I shall not carry my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) with me when I make that observation.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

I believe that we need to concentrate our defence capacity exclusively in Europe, apart from the residual legacy that we have in Hong Kong, Cyprus and Belize. We need to formulate and frame our defence policy on the basis of defending these islands against an assault from the only quarter from which an assault is apprehended—namely, from the Soviet Union. For me, the supreme task therefore is to prevent an enemy from gaining control of the land mass that is adjacent to these islands in North-West Europe. That and the sea routes around these islands are for me the crucial element of our defence.

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

My hon. Friend and I will not differ seriously, but why only the sea routes around these islands? Where does the "Red Duster" go?

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

If my hon. and gallant Friend has leave of the House, no doubt he will be able to develop his case at greater length. I shall make my speech in my own way.

I was asserting that the overriding duty of the Government in defence relates to the task of preventing the land mass of North-West Europe and the sea routes around these islands from falling into enemy hands, and I believe that the further cuts over and above the other very extensive cuts we have had so far—£100 million next year and £200 million in the following year—cannot be carried out without a significant and meaningful reduction in the contribution that this country makes to NATO.

It is that reduction in our defensive capacity at the very moment when the Soviet Union and the other Warsaw Pact countries are increasing their own military capacity which, I believe, is the ultimate in irresponsibility on the part of the Government. We are entitled to look to the alternative means of saving £100 million next year and £200 million in the following year, because public expenditure is a matter of priorities.

I believe that if the Secretary of State and his four ministerial colleagues had joined with the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff and the three Chiefs of Staff—five Ministers and four of the most senior officers in the Armed Forces—in saying to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor "We cannot fulfil our overriding duty to the country, the Armed Forces and to the people by allowing these cuts to go through", they would have carried the day. They would have done something more. If they had stood up to the Chancellor and the Cabinet, they would not only have fulfilled a duty to themselves, to the Armed Forces and to the country but their stand would have marked a turning point for the revival of the sense of national success, the sense of national priorities and the sense of national pride which their past conduct has done so much to undermine.

The two Ministers present—the Under-Secretaries of State for Defence for the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force—are patriotic, diligent and honest men. How much they would have added to their reputation and to the morale of the Armed Forces if they had done what, I suspect, in their hearts they know they should have done—that is, refused to accept these further cuts in our defence expenditure, this further humiliation being heaped upon the Service men for whom they bear ministerial responsibility.

There is today a real crisis of morale in our Armed Forces, a growing sense of disillusionment that their political heads are no longer prepared to fight the political battles which should be fought in the Cabinet. This is a serious charge, but Ministers must know as they go about the air stations and warships that such a crisis exists. If evidence is required, not from the senior NCO's or even the officers, would the Ministers dare to tell us what the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff and the three Chiefs of Staff said to the Prime Minister in the presence of the Secretary of State? It would be wrong to ask in detail what went on at that meeting, but the Ministers must know that the Chiefs of Staff said that these further cuts would be gravely damaging not only to our defence capacity but to the prospects of morale and recruitment in all three Armed Forces.

We hope to have some explanation of the grievous events of the past fortnight, the unprecedented meeting of the four most senior officers in the Armed Forces and the Prime Minister, and the contrast between what the Minister of State said on Tuesday last week and what the Chancellor said on Wednesday. Unless we have a convincing answer, the country will draw the only possible conclusion: that all five Ministers in the Ministry of Defence have betrayed the high trust which, temporarily at any rate, is placed in them.

11.27 p.m.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford

It is a refreshing experience to be able to take part in a defence debate which is taking place between democrats, when we are all united in our desire to maintain the freedoms and the peace of this country which it has been the privilege of our people to enjoy for more than a generation. On both sides, we share a recognition of the need for a stronger British defence within the concept of NATO as a prerequisite for the maintenance of our freedom and of peace.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on his excellent speech and, above all, on having given us all the opportunity of debating his subject at a time when our defences are uppermost in the minds of our fellow countrymen, who are deeply concerned at what has been happening for some months but particularly in recent days. They share the concern expressed by several of my hon. Friends, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), that something must be gravely wrong with our defences for the Chiefs of Staff to take the step unprecedented in peacetime—unprecedented since 1921, I understand—of seeking a person interview with the Prime Minister to express their grave concern.

My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice has drawn attention to the Jekyll and Hyde approach of the Government—their schizophrenia towards defence. They recognise the threat; I am sure that none of the Ministers here tonight or the former Secretary of State, who had no doubt about the gravity of the situation, would seek to talk down the seriousness of what is facing us.

This is not a static threat—it is growing. It has been well set out in successive White Papers. In the face of mounting Soviet build-up on land, under the sea and in the air, however, the Government's only action is to cut, cut and cut again.

The latest cut, the fifth in two years, brings the total of cuts under this Administration to £8,402 million. This level of cuts must eat deeply into our defences. The level of troops must be affected. Even before this year's round of three cuts, it was proposed in the last defence review—which was supposed to be the review to end of reviews—that 30,000 should be lopped off Service manpower. Now we have hon. Members such as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) voicing concern, which I share, over the future of the Royal Marine Commando.

Defence industries have also been affected. In its January report, the Expenditure Committee estimated that 200,000 job opportunities in defence industries and the Services would be lost because of the cuts proposed up to that time. The Government are allegedly concerned about unemployment. They have set up a job creation programme, but, despite the millions of pounds of taxpayers money and the great effort being put into that programme, it is as nothing when compared with the Government's job destruction programme in the defence industries.

Equipment is also affected. The introduction of new equipment will be postponed. We know that equipment programmes will be pushed back, but perhaps the Minister who replies will explain how this is to be done. Equipment and training cut-backs are among the few ways in which the £200 million savings for next year—proposed between the Chancellor's July and December measures—can be made.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice pointed out, there are already many deficiencies. We have great deficiencies in respect of airlift capability. That has been the major casualty of the Labour Government's cuts in this round. It has reached the point where we have to charter Fred Olsen ferries to get our troops to exercises in Norway. More seriously, it means—I do not expect the Minister to confirm this at the Dispatch Box—that we are unable to reinforce BAOR as we would wish and as we are under an obligation to do in time of crisis.

There is a great lack of deployment of anti-tank missiles. My hon. Friends have pointed out that the new communications systems are not to be introduced and that our equipment is not compatible with that of many of our allies. It is intolerable that this situation should not only exist today but should be allowed to continue into the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) also drew attention to the fact that we are under an obligation to our NATO allies to maintain in Europe a fighting capability of 30 days' stocks. I want to put a question to the Minister who is to wind up the debate. When do Her Majesty's Government intend to get BAOR and RAF stocks in Germany up to even half the fighting days' capacity that we are under an obligation to maintain?

My hon. Friends have draw attention to the danger of surprise attack. No longer can we rely on the 30 days' tension period which characterised the planning on which many of our arrangements have been based. The Yom Kippur War was a salutary shock not only to the Israelis but to some of us in Europe, because we saw how, with, on one side of the border—or, in that case, on one side of the canal—a large standing army that requires no reinforcement to move on to a footing of aggression, and, on the other, armies that depend on reinforcements from civilian sources, surprise attack can come about today.

There is no denying that Soviet units in Eastern Europe are deployed in an attack formation and that they are in sufficient strength to cross the border into Western Europe and make deep inroads towards the Channel without any reinforcement whatsoever. We can now rely on no more than 72 hours' advance notice of any such movement. This must be a matter of deep concern to all of us.

What is the significance of the latest cuts in defence? It is not in their size—£330 million. What is that compared with what the Services have suffered before? Nor is it even the fact that these £330 million worth of cuts come on top of an £8,000 million cut. The true significance of these cuts, and the reason for the unprecedented protest by the Chiefs of Staff to the Prime Minister, is something different. It is that for the first time the United Kingdom is cutting into its commitment and its capability within NATO. This has never happened before in the case of any previous cuts. I challenge the Minister to deny that none of our capabilities and commitments is to be cut in the next two or three years.

What is the reason for these cuts? I am sure the Minister will admit that they are certainly not for defence reasons at a time when the Russians are spending more on defence and are deploying more and more equipment. The cuts are not for defence reasons and not for economic reasons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne made clear, there are many other areas of expenditure where the burden could have been borne.

If the Government had dropped even a part of a single nationalisation measure, we would have been able to maintain our commitment in NATO and would not have had to cut the capability of our forces. To put that in terms which our citizens will perhaps appreciate more easily, the cuts in defence expenditure that we are being asked to make in the coming two years could be accounted for in terms of one bottle of whisky per family per year. I am sure that every one of our citizens would willingly make that sacrifice in order to ensure that our troops have the equipment they need and that we live up to our commitment in NATO.

The reason for the cuts is not defence or economics. The reason is politics, pure and simple. It is an appeasement by the Government of the extreme Left within their own party. It is always at times of economic crisis that the extreme Left gets its pound of flesh, or in this case, one could say, its £8 billion of flesh. In 1965 it was the TSR2. In 1967, in the wake of that year's November devaluation, it was the commitment of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his then capacity, to pull out all our forces from east of Suez, even though in the months before he and the then Prime Minister had been saying how vitally important it was to maintain our posture in the Gulf and Singapore. Now we have the greatest cuts that have ever been made to the defence budget.

I share the deep concern expressed by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), my Manchester neighbour across the Ship Canal, that the nuclear threshold in Europe is being lowered by a policy of unilateral disarmament at a time when the Soviet Union is boosting not only its strategic capability but also its conventional capability at an alarming rate. Ten years ago we hoped that we were moving out of the "trip-wire" philosophy towards a balanced response, but now we are cutting the ground from beneath that capability.

Finally, I share the determination of my hon. and gentleman Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) when he says that the single most important issue for Members in the Chamber tonight, and for our people, is the maintenance of peace. The word must go out that the threshold of peace is now being consciously and deliberately lowered by the present Government.

11.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

I congratulate the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) on his success in winning a place in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, and I rejoice that his position in the Ballot has been No.3, thus enabling us all to retire to our beds at what is, for the House of Commons, a relatively early hour.

I welcome the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) on his first appearance to speak at the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Opposition. I am sure that we shall hear a lot more from him in the years ahead as he continues to occupy, as I hope he will, a position on the Opposition Front Bench. But I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he will not enhance his reputation if he poses questions which could be very damaging to our security and the morale of our Armed Forces, posing them in the sure knowledge—or, at least, what ought to be the sure knowledge—that no responsible Minister could from this Box give him the answers which he requires.

The hon. Gentleman did that at one point tonight when he asked me about weapon stocks in Germany. No Minister in any Administration would give him or any other hon. Member that sort of information, since it could only be of assistance to those whose job it is to seek out our secrets if we were to respond to questions of that kind.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford

But will not the Minister agree that the only reason for that question put him in some embarrassment and an inability to answer, is that in this respect we are falling down on our commitments. If we had our proper requirement for 30 day's stock, he would be able to say that we were fully up to our commitments to NATO.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

The hon. Gentleman is repeating his offence. Let me now turn to the other point which the hon. Gentleman made about the capability of reinforcement of British Army of the Rhine.

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

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles rose

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

In a moment. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will have his opportunity, because I shall have something to say about his speech.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

I would rather get on with the debate. Otherwise, we shall be up and down like yo-yos all evening, thus defeating the good fortune of being in third place, on which I congratulated the hon. Member for Haltemprice.

The hon. Member for Stretford asked me about reinforcement of our Army on the Rhine. There is no problem whatever in this respect. The planned capability is there, and we can meet the NATO timetable requirement. There need, therefore, be no problems or anxiety in the hon. Gentleman's mind or in the minds of our allies or our soldiers in Germany about our capability to meet our requirements in that respect.

I turn now to the main burden of the debate. I recognise the concern which has been expressed in the House about the reductions in defence expenditure announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week. Unlike some of my hon. Friends, I do not welcome these cuts, let alone wish that they had been larger. I take the view that anyone who feels that the cuts are not enough is either seriously misinformed or has deliberately set his face against some very hard facts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) does not welcome cuts in defence expenditure. Neither do I. I must add that, like my hon. Friend, I regret just as much the cuts which have been made in overseas aid, in housing, in roads and in education. But I believe that they are a regrettable necessity.

There is no need for me to go over those considerations of our economic performance and foreign confidence in our future which have led to the cuts in expenditure as part of the Government's overall strategy for economic recovery. It is widely accepted that the share of the national product which is accounted for by the public sector has grown too quickly, is now too large, and must be reduced if British industry is to regain the cutting edge which is crucial to our future well-being and indeed survival as a humane, tolerant society able to safeguard the interests of all its citizens.

I say to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) that that is a responsibility that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I fully accept. It is a responsibility to ensure that public expenditure is brought within bounds which are sustainable by the country's economy. The Government's strategy should be to embark upon a period of recovery so that we can discharge all our responsibilities—our domestic responsibilities to our citizens and our responsibilities in Europe to our NATO allies.

The hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) said that he expected me to use certain words, and I do not intend to disappoint him. It is the Government's judgment that defence must play its part, because it is inextricably bound up in the community which pays for it. When other sectors of the community are being asked to draw in their horns, it would be wrong to exempt defence. But we must acknowledge that the defence budget is not an inexhaustable fund—at least not if we are to continue to be a credible member of NATO and to make a meaningful contribution to the mutual protection of our society which it affords.

When this Government came into office, the money we spent on defence and the world-wide commitments we still held were out of all proportion to what we could afford and, as a medium-sized European Power, could be expected to afford, especially in relation to the defence effort of our partners. The Defence Review was a sensible slimming down of the resources we commit to our Armed Forces, which are now almost wholly committed to NATO. It is in NATO that our future lies and where we can do most good.

Subsequent cuts in expenditure, which have admittedly been made for budgetary reasons, have so far been found from the support area and not the front line. I hope that we can repeat this in implementing these latest cuts, although there is obviously a limit to the extent to which the tail can be cut without the teeth being affected.

Some hon. Members argue not only that the defence cuts which have been imposed since the Defence Review are wrong but that spending in this field should have been increased. But it is the Government's duty to distribute the available resources fairly and according to the needs and wishes of the people they govern. It must be true that, within a given overall level of Government spending, if one spends more on defence one must spend less on schools, hospitals, roads, assistance to industry, university places and so on.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

The hon, Gentleman must assist his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench to spell out just how much they would cut from the expenditure on all those other things.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Will the hon. Gentleman direct his attention to the remark made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), that the first priority of any Government is to guarantee the security of the State against external aggression? Many people who know a great deal about European defence have stated time and again in the past two years that our defences have been cut below what is acceptable. Will the hon. Gentleman now direct his remarks to that point, and perhaps say that if there are any further defence cuts he will do the proper thing and resign, as he should have done already?

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

The first responsibility of any Government is to ensure that the economic base upon which the whole strength of a nation depends is such that it can meet not only its military security requirements but its domestic requirements, which include all the matters I have mentioned. If our citizens cannot have adequate treatment for their illnesses, if their children cannot be educated in reasonable buildings and in acceptably sized classes, if our pensioners cannot be given enough money—as a right and not as charity—to make their retirement anything more than a struggle, are they not entitled to ask, and would they not ask, whether the Government have their priorities wrong? There is no God-given level—

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

I should like to press on. I wish to respond to many points which were made seriously. If Opposition Members will contain themselves, I shall get down to the nitty gritty in a few moments.

There is no God-given level of defence spending, and we must allocate our resources as best we can according to the judgment that we make in the light of the nation's available funds.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

I take some comfort from the fact that some say we spend too little while others say that we spend too much. Given that the Government are now following a strategy that is to bring about our economic recovery, our defence expenditure will be playing an important role in allowing us to achieve our economic objectives so that we may meet our military requirements.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

I shall not give way as I want to press on and try to deal with the points that have been made.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) described himself as a crusty old admiral. I must say that I do not share that view of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. We have had many exchanges in the House and joined in many debates on naval affairs, and I have never found him a crusty old admiral. I can recall discussing the rum ration for the Royal Navy on one occasion when we almost came to accord.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman, as well as other hon. Members referred to the visit by the Chiefs of Staff to the Prime Minister. The Chiefs of Staff saw the Prime Minister 10 days ago and the Opposition—I do not hold it against them as Oppositions will take advantage of whatever opportunities they can seize—have made great play of their visit. They have used it to mount what I can only describe as a somewhat illogical demand for the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. No doubt this highly party-politically motivated demand will be rehashed again and again by some Opposition Members.

The matter is quite simple. The Chiefs of Staff were exercising their undisputed right—and their duty, as they saw it—to represent their views to the Prime Minister on the effect of the cuts in expenditure and to convey to him their concern about the build-up in the forces of the Warsaw Pact. They did what was for them the right and honourable thing, since the Chiefs of Staff are the Government's professional advisers on defence matters and it must be appropriate for them to offer their views on these cuts.

The fact that the Prime Minister, having heard their views, felt obliged to confirm that cuts in defence spending would still have to be imposed does not reflect badly on either the Government or the Chiefs of Staff. When cuts are being considered it would be unwise for the Cabinet to formulate its package without the benefit of advice, solicited or otherwise. Having received advice, it is the Government's ultimate responsibility to take the measures they consider most appropriate.

The Chiefs of Staff must of necessity look to the defence field and to that alone, since it is part of our way of conducting public affairs that their influence does not extend beyond this. The Government, on the other hand, must direct the activities of the nation across the whole spectrum, of which defence is only a part, albeit a very important—indeed, a vital—part. As I have already said, it is the Government's firm belief that defence should bear a share, but not a disproportionate share, of the burden of spending cuts which demand sacrifices of the whole community of which the Armed Forces rightly wish to be considered a part.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford

But is it not the duty of the Secretary of State to represent in Cabinet the views of a Department? Does not this incident show a clear lack of confidence on the part of the Chiefs of Staff in that they took this unprecedented step in peace time to approach the Prime Minister?

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

There the hon. Gentleman goes again. Neither of us was party to the discussions that take place in Cabinet. We may make assumptions, unwisely, based upon reports that have appeared in the Press, but none of us, except those who are present at a Cabinet meeting, knows precisely what goes on.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accompanied the Chiefs of Staff on their visit to the Prime Minister. I have no doubt from my knowledge of my right hon. Friend, of the discussions that I have had with him and of the knowledge and understanding that I have of his views, that in those places where it is his responsibility to take and express a view to his colleagues he took a line that made quite clear the state of the threat and the state of the requirements of the Armed Forces. However, my right hon. Friend, like every member of a Government, must look at the situation in its totality as it affects the nation. It is sometimes necessary to give as much weight to other factors as to those which are of a particular departmental interest.

Photo of Mr Peter Rees Mr Peter Rees , Dover and Deal

The Under-Secretary cannot have it both ways. He cannot tell us half the story and then say "But I was not at the meeting and my right hon. Friend was". If he purports to speak from the Front Bench, representing the interests of that great Department of State, he cannot leave it there.

The question I am putting to him is a very simple one susceptible of a fairly simple answer. Are we to infer from as much as he was condescended to tell the House this evening that it was the considered professional view of the Chief's of Staff, given to the Prime Minister—it was their perfect constitutional right to do so, as the hon. Gentleman has admitted—that the cuts proposed and to be debated in Cabinet, presumably, were likely to bring the defence capabilities of this country below an acceptable level?

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

The hon. and learned Gentleman is asking me to make a quite impossible statement. The Chiefs of Staff visited the Prime Minister. They expressed to the Prime Minister their concern about the effects of the cuts and their impact upon our defence posture. I have gone on to explain a number of other issues. I do not believe that I should be asked to go further.

In what is a highly political debate in which the lines are drawn clearly and sometimes stridently, I believe it is right for me to pay tribute to the Service men and the civilians of the Ministry of Defence who have worked to put into effect the very substantial economies that have already been called for. This task has not been an easy one, and it does not get any easier with practice. Some difficult decisions have had to be, and will have to be, made. But they have carried out their duties with a dedication and enthusiasm that sets an example to the rest of the country. I believe that the great majority have, without applauding the cuts, recognised the need for and the purpose of them. Morale, a fickle and intangible quality which can react unpredictably, has held up well.

Without wishing to offer too many hostages to fortune, I hope that we can now look forward to a period of greater stability in defence. If our forecasts are right, the cuts in public expenditure just announced should, together with other measures the Government are taking, put the economy on the right course.

We all realise that the next year is going to be tough going, but, as British industry moves forward, stimulated, I hope, by a general upturn in the world economy, and as North Sea oil comes ashore in ever greater quantities, the rate of economic growth should climb. This will allow our national wealth to grow enough to pay off our external borrowing, reduce unemployment whilst keeping inflation in check, and hold the level of public expenditure, including defence, steady. I hope that this scenario will prove to be realistic, because I earnestly believe that the Armed Forces need a period of stability to adjust to their new size and roles and to digest the economies they have had to make.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

I should not wish the House to gain the impression that the defence horizon is one of unrelieved gloom and that the Services are at best standing still and more likely irretrievably regressing. We have heard a lot about the effects of cuts on the Armed Forces, and I would not pretend that the Services are not smaller than they were a few years ago, or that we have not lost some items of equipment, either in-Service or on order, which the Services would have liked to have.

But it is important to acknowledge the improvements which have been made recently. For example, orders placed by the Royal Navy since the Defence Review announcements were made last year include the second ASW cruiser, HMS "Illustrious", a Fleet submarine, two Type 42 destroyers and two Type 22 frigates. These orders represent a major contribution to the workload of the shipbuilding industry and to the maintenance of the Royal Navy as the major European member of NATO.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there any protection for hon. Members when a Minister is simultaneously struck with a twin affliction of blindness and deafness?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

The hon. Gentleman can only hope that it is the season of peace on earth and good will towards all men.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

The hon. Member for Eastbourne should take note that throughout the whole course of his eloquent but none the less party-politically biased speech, nobody from the Government side sought to intervene. I hope that while I am not delivering a biased party-political speech I shall receive even greater courtesy from the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

I would rather press on, because I have not yet got to the many points raised, and I owe the hon. Member for Haltemprice some replies to the very serious points he addressed to me during the course of the debate.

A radical restructuring of BAOR is in progress. We shall be able, without increasing the overall size, to increase the number of company size combat teams by over a quarter. Instead of the present three divisions and supporting formations, there will be four new-styled armoured divisions, an artillery division, and a new style formation to be known as the 5th Field Force.

We hear quite a lot about the growing potential of the Soviet Union to reach the United Kingdom with its bombers and reconnaissance aircraft such as the Bear and the Foxbat, but we hear very little about the improvements we are making in the Royal Air Force's air defence capability. We have nine air defence squadrons, seven in the United Kingdom and two in Germany.

With the transfer of Phantoms to this role and the running-on of some of the existing Lightning squadrons, I believe that we shall have greater strength in air defence than we have had for some time. And, of course, now that full development has been approved, we have the air defence variant of the Tornado to look forward to.

Aircraft are, of course, only the most visible part of our air defence system, and I should refer very briefly to the developments in other fields such as the deployment of Bloodhound and Rapier missiles, the major improvements proposed for our ground-based early warning system, the hardened aircraft shelter programme, and the impending decision on a successor to the Shackleton AEW aircraft.

The hon. Member for Haltemprice raised the subject of Milan. On 22nd October we signed a memorandum of understanding with the French and German Governments on the purchase of the Milan guided missile for the British Army. This will provide a really important additional anti-tank capability. After an initial purchase to ensure that the system is in service as soon as possible, production will be under licence in the United Kingdom and will create employment for about 2,000 people. We also agreed to collaborate on studies for future anti-tank guided weapons systems. I cannot give the assurance the hon. Member sought that we shall not seek to rephase expenditure on the Milan in 1977–78, and 1978–79, but I can say that we have no intention of cancelling this important weapon.

The hon. Member referred to the Lance nuclear weapon which the alliance has procured from the United States. It is being introduced into service with BAOR. It is not an expensive project, but it is an important one. Other NATO countries are buying it, so it is unlikely to appear in the list of savings.

He also referred to anti-tank weapons for helicopters. Having considered the priorities of the defence budget, we find that by accepting some deferment, provision can be made for a helicopter antitank guided weapons system to be mounted on Lynx helicopters. An evaluation of suitable systems, including the Franco-German HOT and the American TOW is now under way, and it is expected that a decision will be made next year.

The hon. Member for Haltemprice also asked about the RAF Transport Force. This Force was reduced by 50 per cent. as a result of the defence review—the Comets and Britannias were phased out, and reductions made in the numbers of Andovers, VC10s, and Hercules. Following the 1975 public expenditure survey, there were further changes in the Transport Force. The Belfast squadron was withdrawn, and the numbers of VC10s and Hercules were increase above the earlier level, so that we now have 11 VC10s and 45 Hercules.

These decisions mean the more economic overall use of the Transport Force, and also yield useful economies without detriment to our reinforcement plans. I want to emphasise that last point. Although it is true that we have lost a little of our flexibility by disbanding the Belfast squadron, the resources we have are sufficient to carry out our military air transport commitments to NATO and our main overseas non-NATO commiments. While I cannot give a cast-iron guarantee that there will be no reductions in the Transport Force, and in particular the number of Hercules, it is highly unlikely that we should reduce it in the absence of a reduction in our commitments.

The hon. Member asked a number of questions about off-shore protection. The Defence Under-Secretary for the Royal Navy only last week visited Rosyth, went aboard HMS "Jersey", one of the new Island class ships, and reported to my right hon. Friend on the state of play in that area. I know that the hon. Member for Haltemprice has taken the view in the past that the Ministry of Defence has not given sufficient priority to off-shore protection of fisheries and oil rigs, but I can give the assurance that we are fully aware of our responsibilities in this direction.

The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force will commit as much of their resources as is considered necessary. So when we talk about the level of forces, in terms of ships and aircraft, whose prime task is offshore protection it is important to bear in mind that these operate as an integral part of the Royal Navy and RAF and that the response to any situation which demands action beyond the normal surveillance and patrolling will come from the total resources of the Armed Forces.

There have been criticisms not only of the resources we are committing to offshore protection but the capabilities of those forces. I take the Nimrod aircraft first, since I am more familiar with it in my everyday job as RAF Minister. This aircraft, which has a long-term future in the Air Force as our long-range maritime aircraft, was chosen as the best military solution.

Its endurance, range, and specialised surveillance equipment all make it an entirely suitable vehicle for the task it must undertake. It is certainly superior to any other aircraft in terms of performance and cost-effectiveness in the RAF's inventory for this job. Four Nimrods will be added to the existing squadrons at Kinloss and St Mawgan and will begin operations on 1st January. We reckon that 180 hours' flying a month should be sufficient but we shall natuurally keep a very close watch on events and we are ready to increase the flying effort if we consider this necessary.

As far as the Royal Navy is concerned, the offshore protection force will consist not only of the five ships of the Island class which will be in service by the end of 1977, but seven or eight mine counter measures vessels, a fast patrol boat, two ships of the Bird class as well as the resources of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland. While there has been criticism of the Island class ships because of their supposed lack of speed the characteristics required for a small ship designed specifically for the peacetime protection role are primarily good sea keeping and endurance and the five new ships will have both. Neither high speed nor extravagant armament is required since, as in the case of the RAF, if the need arises support will be avail. able readily and rapidly and at the right level to meet the situation.

I have been asked about the ASW capability. The Government recognise that aspect of the Soviet threat and decided in the defence review to maintain the core of the Royal Navy's anti-submarine forces—the new class of antisubmarine cruisers and the nuclear powered fleet submarines. The ASW cruisers will take the effective, large Sea King anti-submarine helicopter to sea in increasing numbers.

Hon. Members will recall that we have ordered two of these cruisers. We have nine nuclear powered fleet submarines in service and more are being built. The Royal Navy is the only European NATO navy which operates these vessels.

The hon. Member also asked about the number of Nimrod aircraft. The four additional aircraft to be used in offshore protection are composed of part of the eight additional Nimrods ordered as part of the measures to maintain employment at the manufacturers, Hawker Siddeley Aviation. The remaining four are still in the course of delivery. In 1977 we shall have four squadrons of Nimrod based in the United Kingdom and one in Malta. For obvious reasons it has never been the practice to reveal the detailed numbers of front-line aircraft.

The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester referred to the security of communications between SACEUR and his major subordinate commanders. This is of course a collective NATO responsibility rather than a matter for this or any other country. The hon. Member will be pleased to hear that a new and improved NATO integrated communications system is being introduced, funded collectively from NATO infrastructure funds, to connect NATO headquarters with capitals and with the headquarters of the principal NATO commanders.

The hon. and learned Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees) raised an important constituency matter which causes concern to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Navy and myself. The hon. Member has had discussions about the matter with the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development when he was Under-Secretary for Defence for the Royal Navy. My hon. Friend the present Under-Secretary has corresponded with him. He has taken note of what the hon. and learned Member said. My hon. Friend will contact the hon. and learned Member. He is prepared to discuss the matter and to go to Dover to see the situation at first hand. I hope that the hon. and learned Member will regard that answer to his problem as fair and reasonable.

Photo of Mr Peter Rees Mr Peter Rees , Dover and Deal

I am grateful for the offer of the Minister's hon. Friend to come and discuss the matter again. He appreciates that this matter is of intense local concern. The point on which we should like particular reassurance—I realise that this may be a little Premature—is that if turns out that the cost of converting the barracks at Eastleigh for the Royal Marines School of Music is roughly equivalent to the cost of keeping the school at Deal, the school will be kept at Deal.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy made a specific note of that point. He will give consideration to that aspect and any others which come to the fore when he gets down to taking the final view on this matter.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne made great play with the statement made in the House by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. If anyone studies the Hansard report of my hon. Friend's speech. I think that we will observe that my hon. Friend was speaking in the context of a great number of points made—and replying to them—by some of his hon. Friends below the Gangway. It think that it is fair for me to say, therefore, that the Minister of State's comments and statement must be seen in the context of that debate.

I share the conviction of the hon. Member for Eastbourne that we must concentrate our defence capacity in Europe. The hon. Gentleman has taken a very courageous line in his own party in putting that point of view forward quite consistently for some time. I pay tribute to him. However, our policy must be based on our economic ability, because we cannot defend these islands unless we have that economic ability to sustain a military capacity. Therefore, if we are to concentrate—as we are—in NATO and in Europe and to be able to defend these islands, we must have the economic ability.

I know of no hon. Member who would wish to see this country surrender to a threat posed against it. Hon. Members have differing views as to what is required to meet that threat, but I do not think that it can be a charge against any hon. Member that he does not wish to preserve the freedom and independence of this country.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

Does the Minister agree that there are some of his hon. Friends who wish that the United Kingdom would withdraw from NATO? Secondly, does he agree that our defence policy is really in the nature of an insurance policy? When the threat to this country is increasing, does the Minister think it wise to diminish the insurance policy?

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

I have several insurances on my life, as a private citizen, to protect the future of my family. One of the things that I have observed in life is that if I wish to ensure that those insurances shall pay out upon my death, I have to maintain the premium, and I have to maintain that premium by an ability to earn money, to create the resources for my family that can pay for that insurance premium. That is precisely what the Government are seeking to do in respect of our premium for security by our membership of NATO and by our defence expenditure and to ensure that we have the economic ability to pay the premium. I believe that that would be more readily achieved if the Governments policy were more wholeheartedly supported in all its aspects by a larger number of hon. Members.

I turn to the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth. He brings to bear on our defence debates a wealth of experience. He is a distinguished member of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Expenditure. He raised several interesting points. I shall consider them all and draw to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department those which are more appropriate to them.

My hon. Friend was right to remind us of what has gone before in terms of defence expenditure and policies. I am particularly grateful to him for bringing out into the open the White Papers of 1957 and 1958—particularly paragraph 43. I assure Opposition Members that they will hear more about paragraph 43 if they initiate further debates on defence affairs.

I am also reminded by my hon. Friend in his reference to those two Defence White Papers that it was the same Government who virtually stripped this country of an air defence capability. When I hear Conservative Members talking about what this Government have done and about the responsibilities of the Government I ask them to recall that it has been Governments since 1964 who have replaced the capacity of this country to put up an air defence of these islands.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) looks a little bewildered. I think that he would do well to spend a little time in the Library with the Defence White Papers of his own party in those years—

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

I do not live in the past.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

The hon. Gentleman says that he does not live in the past. It is of little use coming to a debate as this and having all sorts of emotional—[Interruption.] I am sorry if I am keeping hon. Gentlemen opposite up. Many emotional speeches have been made and we are entitled to try to set the matter in some perspective. I do not take kindly to people who in the past have put this country and its defence at grave risk and who now come along and make the sort of emotional claptrappy speeches that some of them have chosen to make during the debate.

I know that the House would not expect me, and even if it did I should not be prepared to do so, to tell hon. Members at this stage how the cuts will be shared out among the Services, or how the savings will be found. No. doubt the defence White Paper will have more information, and this can be discussed more fully in the debates which will follow.

Once potential savings have been identified, and obviously we cannot drag our feet on this, NATO will be fully informed and invited to offer its views on how the alliance as a whole sees the savings being found. I hope that our allies will understand the reasons for the cuts and accept that in difficult times we are making strenuous efforts to maintain our contribution to the alliance. I am sure they will appreciate that ad- justing the defence budget at this time will help put Britain on the road to recovery and that only in this way can we guarantee that the part we play in the alliance will be based upon an economy that can sustain that commitment. A short-term defence establishment of disproportionate size which helps to bankrupt us is certainly not in the interests of our partners or of our security.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Stretford

Can the hon. Gentleman give the House the categoric assurance that I requested—namely, that these cuts will not result in any cut in Britain's commitment to our capability in NATO?

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

The statement that I have made it clear. The details of the cuts have not been fully considered by—

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

The details of the cuts have not been fully worked out as to the precise areas on which they will fall. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend and my colleagues in the Department to give the most careful scrutiny to this matter, and when we have made our final—

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

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles rose

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Bexley Erith and Crayford

No. When we have completed our studies, those facts will be put to NATO in the normal consultative process.

I hope that I have answered all the points raised by the hon. Member for Haltemprice. I hope, too, that the next time we have a defence debate it will be conducted at an earlier hour and with the same amount of good will as we have experienced on this occasion.