I beg to move,
That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1977 (Command Paper No. 6735); and endorses Her Majesty's Government's policy of basing Briitsh security on collective effort to deter aggression, while seeking every opportunity to reduce tension through international agreements on arms control and disarmament.
We have already had this year a valuable and stimulating debate on the Government's defence programme. As I have said on many occasions, defence is an important subject which deserves wide public understanding and discussion, and I look forward today and next week to a serious and wide-ranging debate.
The Statement on the Defence Estimates reaffirms the Government's determination to make a substantial defence contribution to NATO and deploy our forces where they can have the most significant effect on the security of the Alliance as a whole. It also reaffirms our determination, in conjunction with our allies, to seek reductions in the level of armaments, both nuclear and conventional, by international agreement.
The central security problem which the North Atlantic Alliance faces in 1977 is the fact that the military confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact has not been reduced, despite the important political advances which détente has brought in recent years. There is now, or there soon will be, strategic nuclear parity between the two sides. Some observers believe, however, that the balance of conventional forces is tilting in favour of the Warsaw Pact and that if this imbalance is allowed to develop further, it could seriously undermine NATO's strategy of deterrence.
Nevertheless, the increases in Soviet capability, which I have set out in some detail in the White Paper, are not of themselves evidence that the leadership of the Soviet Union takes a different view than before about the risks involved in military action against the West. NATO's policy of deterrence is still working, and there is no imminent risk of aggression by the Warsaw Pact. This assessment has been made also in recent weeks by Secretary Brown and by the Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Peter Hill-Norton.
The policy of deterrence does not require that NATO matches the conventional strength of the Warsaw Pact, either globally or in particular areas. It does require that NATO maintains sufficient forces to deter aggression—that is to say, to make it clear to the other side that no easy victories can be won, and that any attempt to bring military pressure to bear involves incalculable risks.
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, whatever may be said about that, the lower the level of the NATO conventional forces as compared with the Warsaw Pact forces, the lower the nuclear threshold? One cannot dismiss it as lightly as the right hon. Gentleman is doing.
I have a note on that very point in my next paragraph. Perhaps I had better develop the argument.
The essential point is not that increases in Soviet forces require exactly matching increases in NATO's forces but that the balance between the forces on either side should not become such that the risks involved in aggression are diminished or that the nuclear threshold is significantly lowered.
In this context, we must bring home to the Soviet Union and her allies the necessity of complementing with reductions in military forces the lessening of political tension which has already been achieved. We welcome the efforts of the new United States Administration to reach a new SALT agreement, to achieve a comprehensive test ban treaty, and to give a new impetus to the negotiations on the mutual and balanced reduction of forces in Central Europe. The aim should be to achieve greater stability at a lower level of forces deployed by both sides, and in particular to remove the possibility of a surprise attack.
In our last debate, we naturally devoted a good deal of our time to discussing the cuts in the defence budget which the Government had just announced.
As I have said before, I am not able to answer on behalf of the Soviet Union, any more than was the hon. Gentleman when he was in Government. I dealt with this matter at some length in the White Paper. The importance of getting an agreement is underlined by the increasing growth of the Warsaw Pact capability.
I turn now to the question of defence costs. The relative burden which each member of the Alliance bears for the common defence should not and cannot be immutable. In my view, it is inescapable that defence, like all other public expenditure, must be considered in the context of our general economic situation. This is why the Government have given overwhelming priority to the tasks of industrial regeneration and fighting inflation, on which our future depends. I believe, further, that only this Government can achieve these objectives in present circumstances.
The fluctuation of exchange rates in recent years has made comparisons of relative burdens misleading, and there are good grounds for believing that the fall in the value of sterling in 1975 and 1976 resulted in our defence effort being undervalued relative to those of our allies, on a basis of purchasing power parity.
Let me also make clear the distinction between the defence review cuts and the cuts that have been made since. The defence review was a reappraisal of our commitments, and the savings in the budget reflected the reduction in our commitments which we were able to make.
The reductions made since affect mainly the immediate future, the two years 1977–78 and 1978–79. We have been able to achieve the reductions in 1977–78 without having to accept any reduction in our commitments to NATO. We are still looking at how to achieve the cuts in 1978–79, and we shall do this in close consultation with NATO. It is too early to say whether any reduction in our capabilities will be necessary, but my aim is to keep to a minimum the effect on our front-line contribution to NATO.
I have read with interest the report of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, published last week, on this very matter. The Government are studying the Sub-Committee's views carefully, as we always do, and we shall be making a considered reply to them in the usual way.
Meanwhile, the point I wish to stress is that if cuts of the size we have had to accept since the defence review are made over a long period of years, then of course, there are bound to be, in the long run, effects on the teeth. The tail is not so long that it can be continually trimmed, but equally, to maintain that no trimming is possible in a programme of more than £6 billion is ridiculous. There are economies which I am making which I would wish to have made even if I had unlimited funds at my disposal. I shall, therefore, continue to search for economies wherever they can be found.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman feel it justified to agree to cuts in expenditure in 1978–79 in advance of knowing exactly where and how those cuts could be provided?
In all matters of public expenditure forecasting over a long period, one does not get down to the very last items of detail. In any event, under the NATO rules, we have to consult NATO before we can make any announcement. Clearly, one has in mind what particular sums of money are likely to mean in individual votes, but one cannot give, three years ahead, the detailed revision of items in every account.
The White Paper says that the savings of £200 million in 1977–78 will be found in three broad areas. First, about £75 million will be found from the equipment programme. Here, the only significant cancellations we have made are, first, work on an improved version of the Ikara antisubmarine weapon system which was under joint development with the Australians. The improved version would have carried the new lightweight torpedo which we are developing and would have given some extra range but the existing version, which will remain in service, is still adequate to meet the threat and will continue to provide a quick reaction capability.
The only other cancellation is the new Mark 29 cupola for the Chieftain tank. This cancellation is the result of technological developments which enables us to rely on an improved version of the existing cupola, and it has no operational significance.
Further savings on equipment have been found by postponing financial provision for the procurement of medium lift helicopters. Finally, the delay in NATO on a decision on an airborne early warning aircraft has resulted in planned expenditure next year being less than we had expected. I shall deal with that difficult issue later.
The second area of savings is in works and accommodation, which we have reduced by £64 million. In that the Services are sharing in the general cut-back in capital works expenditure applying to the whole of the public sector, though projects affecting operational capability and those linked with restructuring of the Services will be given priority for the reduced funds available. I much regret the need for this measure, since we had hoped to press ahead with our programme of improvements in accommodation for Service men in Germany and elsewhere. But we have decided that our present economic circumstances do not allow us to make up for this neglect at the moment.
The balance of the £200 million savings comes from a variety of small cuts and from the normal process of Estimates scrutiny which takes place just before the start of the financial year. No cuts will be made in Armed Forces training or in ammunition.
Not as a result of this economy. I am advised that there was a cut in the scales for economic reasons in 1972 and, of course, we shall be seeking to put that right.
I have given the House details of proposed Government expenditure. Since they do not command the support of the Opposition we should be told what their policy is. So far we have been told only that they would strengthen our defence and that they would exempt defence from public expenditure cuts. Does that mean that they would restore the cuts that we have been obliged to make from future planned expenditure and, if so, to what extent. Would they abandon the conclusions of the 1975 defence review or not? Or do they intend only to exempt defence from future public expenditure cuts that they have in mind to make? If so, what are those cuts and where would they fall?
It has been suggested they have a further £5 billion cuts in public expenditure in mind and to that of course must be added any additional defence expenditure. The House and the country are entitled to know their policies since the consequences for the level of our public services, social services and employment would be catastrophic.
On the other hand, if I might repeat the Prime Minister's quotation of what Aneurin Bevan said,
Why peer into the crystal ball when we can read the book.
There should be no need for me to spell out to the House or the country the contrast between pre-election Tory promises and post-election Tory performances. We have all learnt from bitter experience. For the record I must point out that, as set out in the Public Expenditure White Paper—Command 6721, Vol. II, page 2—defence expenditure actually fell every year from 1971–72 to 1973–74.
Why does the right hon Gentleman start his calculations in 1971–72 instead of from when the Conservative Government came in? The reason is that he knows that defence expenditure went up.
That is not the case. The financial year 1970–71 was already settled when the Conservative Government took office. I am using the first full year for which the Conservative Government had a responsibility. I should like the House to focus on the year 1973–74 because I want to be fair to the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) and since that was the Conservatives' last year in power. The picture for that year is even more astonishing in the light of their protestations now. Before leaving office the Labour Government had planned to spend in the year 1973–74 £2,230 million on defence at 1970 survey prices. On coming to power the Conservatives announced a £60 million increase. This was followed by two further increases for the same year, 1973–74. But at the end of the day, after allowing for intervening price changes, the Conservatives actually spent less in real terms than had been planned by the Labour Government four years earlier. As I said in the previous debate, in 1973 the then Government, in three cuts in one year, cut £439 million at 1976 survey prices from their estimates for 1974–75.
Sir Winston Churchill once said, in relation to the intentions of the Soviet Union:
they are a riddle, wrapped in mystery, inside an enigma".
That may well be applied to Conservative defence policy—indeed to Tory policy generally. I only hope that the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham will unveil a little of the mystery this afternoon.
Although we have had to reduce planned expenditure, we are still making a substantial contribution to the Alliance and re-equiping our forces with some good equipment. It is our aim to increase the proportion of the defence budget devoted to equipment. In the coming year we expect to spend £2,350 million on equipment, or 37 per cent. of the total budget. That is as high a share as we have achieved for many years and, as a NATO study has shown, the proportion of British defence expenditure devoted to the purchase of new equipment is the highest of the 11 members of the Alliance that were surveyed.
The figures reflect the Government's determination to see that Britain's forces continue to have modern and up-to-date equipment to deal with the increased sophistication of Warsaw Pact forces. But I am concerned not to allow the proportion of our equipment expenditure devoted to research and development to increase at the expense of that devoted to production.
As a medium sized power, Britain can no longer expect to develop herself the whole range of equipment required by her forces. That would place far too heavy a burden on our research and development resources and lead to the cost of new equipment becoming prohibitively high. Our policy must, therefore, be to keep our research and development expenditure to a manageable level by collaboration with our allies and by selective purchases abroad.
The reason for collaborating with our allies in the design, development and production of new weapon systems is not only to reduce their cost but also to provide our forces with weapons that are capable of operating with those of our allies. The Alliance cannot afford to operate with a great diversity of weapons or to duplicate research and development resources wastefully.
The search for standardisation and inter-operability is not easy. There have been a number of successes in this area, of which the Tornado and Jaguar aircraft, the Lynx, Puma and Gazelle helicopters and the two medium howitzers—FH 70 and SP 70—are good examples. But in other areas the problems of the different national priorities between individual members of the Alliance have resulted in potential collaborative projects not coming to fruition.
We have now completed the studies with Germany of our ideas for a future main battle tank. Their purpose was to establish whether there was a sufficient identity of views to justify a joint collaborative project. A large measure of agreement has been reached on the characteristics of a future tank but the replacement timetables of the two countries have gradually diverged to such a degree that in the view of both Governments collaboration on a project is no longer practicable at this time.
For our part we consider it essential to start replacing Chieftain in the late 1980s and we propose to maintain the excellent contacts we have made with Germany and to make use of our long established liaison with the United States to explore, in the interests of NATO standardisation, the possibilities of harmonising components in the tank forces of the three countries.
Will the right hon. Gentleman let us know why it is that this divergence has grown? Is it because we are putting off and off and off the date for our next main battle tank?
On the contrary, it is because we have re-equipped all our forces with up-to-date Chieftains while the Germans are still having to replace older tanks and are anxious to go into Leopard 2 production in the next year. We have already got Chieftain completely in service and the Germans have a priority to replace some of their tanks now, so their next replacements would be in the 1990s, beyond the date that we feel would be right for the Chieftain.
Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, following the discussions between the German Minister of Defence and the American Secretary of Defence last week, the gun competition is still open and that a British gun will be tested at the end of this year with the German and American rivals, so that we have a chance of getting this very important piece of equipment into the NATO forces?
I give the assurance that, as I understand the matter—and it is a Congressional decision and not only an administrative decision—the Americans have said that they will not choose the gun until the end of this year. I cannot give any guarantee about which gun they or the Germans will choose.
Another important question on which the Alliance has not yet been able to reach a collective decision is on airborne early warning, about which we had same exchanges at Question Time. The provision of new airborne early warning aircraft is a programme to which we attach very high priority. As the House knows very well from the large number of questions I have dealt with both today and on previous occasions, and from the correspondence that Members have had with me and my ministerial colleagues, there are two ways in which this requirement could at present be met. The Government's preference has been for a truly collective NATO solution to what is a NATO-wide problem of air defence, based on the Boeing E3A AWACS aircraft. Agreeing to provide this support was not an easy decision in the first place because a British project was available to satisfy our national requirements for AEW and, by so doing, to contribute to the Alliance's defensive capability. But we took the decision in the first place in May 1975, and have stuck to it since, in the wider interests of the Alliance—which are, after all, our wider interests as well.
Later this week there is to be a further meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, the third in a series at which AEW has been fully discussed, beginning with the meeting of Ministers last June and continuing with that in December. At each of these two earlier meetings it had been our hope that a position could be reached on the strength of which we could take a clear-cut decision whether or not to proceed with Nimrod. This did not prove possible; but the Government were prepared to accept two postponements, given the importance of the issue to NATO and therefore to our own security. At the December meeting, however, I made it clear to our allies that I did not think we could afford further delay beyond the early part of this year. That remains my position.
If it proves impossible, even with the extra time we have agreed to make available, to arrive at a firm and fully worked-out decision in favour of the collective NATO force, then I do not at this stage see any alternative to our reconsidering our position. I cannot, of course, anticipate the outcome of Friday's meeting. However, if it should happen that we go ahead with Nimrod it would be on the basis that it would contribute to NATO's required airborne early warning capability and could be made compatible with whatever additional AEW capability our allies decided to procure.
May I press my right hon. Friend further on a matter that was raised at Question Time? That was the question of one of our allies not in NATO, the French, being interested in buying into the American AWAC system. Surely my right hon. Friend must have attempted to satisfy himself that if the Germans pull out, the French would not suddenly come in and thus keep us committed to this system, in which we have so much at stake in Nimrod.
It has been hoped from the beginning that the French would contribute to a collective system, if for no other reasons than their geographical importance and the fact that they are in the ground-based early warning systems. The condition that we have maintained throughout is that it is possible to have a collective position only if all the major NATO countries take part. This problem is a good example of the area in which the Alliance clearly has to concentrate—namely, conventional forces—and in particular what General Haig has called the three "R"s of readiness, rationalisation and reinforcement. There is a good deal that can be done in these areas without massive increases in expenditure, as I have seen on visits to both the central region and the northern flank of NATO. British forces—in all three Services have measured up well in SACEUR's readiness tests and we welcome General Haig's concentration on these priorities.
If they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my ministerial colleagues will deal in more detail with these matters and the effectiveness of our contribution to the Alliance.
Our allies have shown understanding at our need to reduce our defence expenditure plans. They understand the Government's firm commitment to NATO and our firm determination to play as full a part in its defence as our economy allows. They would not thank us if we strove to contribute defence forces to the Alliance at the expense of our long-term economic strength.
No survey of defence policy would be complete without reference to the men and women who make it all possible. Times of economic difficulty and cutbacks in expenditure plans are not the easiest for those who are affected by them. Some redundancies in the Services and their civilian support are inevitable, though my aim is to keep these to a minimum.
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about readiness and the speed with which our front line forces could be mobilised. Surely there is nothing wonderful in that, as they are now small and getting smaller and smaller. Therefore, it should be possible to mobilise them that much more quickly. However, if they become smaller and smaller, there will be no support after the first impact.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has taken on board the essence of what the Supreme Allied Com- mander is after. He is wanting response in terms of reaction times. He wants to know how long it takes to get all the aircraft off an airfield, and the turnround time for an aircraft after one mission before it can take the next. In NATO there are competitions, on very strict terms, for these purposes, and our boys are doing jolly well. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman. We have not cut back in the size of the forces as a result of any recent measures. They were considered judgments of the defence review in the light of our concentrating defence effort on NATO and reducing commitments outside the NATO area.
I return to the real problem of the numbers that will have to be made redundant in the three Services. We estimate that the total will be in the region of 10,000 in the period up to 1979–80. By 31st December 1976, somewhat over 2,000 had left the Services on redundancy terms, mainly from the Royal Air Force. In 1977–78, the next financial year, we plan to reduce total civilian numbers by a further 8,000. Compulsory redundancies will be kept to a minimum and we shall continue to maintain close consultation with the staff associations and trade unions on the rundown of civilian staff.
On this point I am obliged to the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and other hon. Members for their patience. I should like to make clear how we propose to deal with the difficult problem raised at Question Time, namely, the effect of the 1973 and 1975 pensions legislation as it affects gratuities for short-service air-crew. These officers were recruited on unique terms. I should add that this method of recruitment—which offered a pensionable career with the option to leave at eight or 12 years with the gratuities applicable to a non-pensionable officer—has now been abandoned, so that we are dealing with a declining number of officers. Only 450 or so remain who have the option to leave with a gratuity after April 1978. Those who leave before that date are being given the option of a gratuity or of a preserved Armed Forces pension.
The difficulty over these 450 officers is that, with the coming into effect of the 1975 Social Security (Pensions) Act, service after 6th April 1978 must give rise to a preserved pension, either under the Armed Forces scheme or the State superannuation scheme, whatever terminal benefits are paid.
These preserved benefits are, of course, a wholly uncovenanted benefit for the officers and, although they are deferred and do not represent immediate cash in hand, they are of considerable value. If a proper relationship with the conditions of service of other categories of officers is to be preserved, we must set a limit to the total value of the terminal benefits which these officers receive.
After very careful consideration, the Government have decided that the right course is for these officers to remain in the Armed Forces Pension Scheme after 6th April 1978. If, after that date, any of them exercises his option to leave at the eight or 12-year break point, he will be entitled to a preserved Armed Forces pension and terminal grant payable at the age of 60.
He may choose to take full advantage of this new benefit by forgoing his gratuity. Or he may choose to combine a preserved pension and terminal grant with a gratuity, but in that case only his service after 6th April 1978 will count towards his preserved pension, and the amount of gratuity will not exceed whatever rate is current before April 1978.
In this way, no officer who wishes to have it will be denied the gratuity which he was promised when he entered the Service. At the same time, those officers who attach greater importance to their superannuation provision for old age will not be denied the full benefits of the new pensions legislation. The Government believe that this solution will be fair to all the officers concerned, and will also be seen to be fair by their colleagues in other categories of the Service.
There has also been speculation about the gratuities payable to other officers who were recruited on normal short-service commissions with no entitlement to an Armed Forces pension. I wish to make it clear that these gratuities will continue as an essential recruitment and resettlement feature of the short-service career.
It is my intention to ask the Armed Forces Pay Review Body to include these gratuities in its 1978 review. Meanwhile, I can assure the House that officers in post prior to April 1978, when the Review Body's report would be due, will receive at least the rates of gratuity current before that date.
This has taken a long time to explain, but in essence it is answering the question asked by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake earlier today. The answer to her question is "Yes". I thought that it was right to go into this in detail, because unfortunate speculation and unfair, unhelpful allegations have caused a great deal of disturbance within the Services. I wanted to put on record quite clearly what the situation was. Of course, the effective decision is still more than 12 months away.
Since I have a number of Service people in my constituency who are caught in this matter, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? Will the Secretary of State put out as quickly as possible a simplified version of the fairly complex statement that he has just made, so that the relevant air crew and their wives may know what the position is? Secondly, is he aware that he has gone a long way towards doing the decent thing, and should never have contemplated doing otherwise?
I shall see what we can do to make a simple statement. What I have tried to avoid is forcing officers to make an immediate decision in the next year. Everyone who wants it will get the gratuity. Everyone will get some element of preserved pension. If they go out shortly after April 1978 they can be credited with 12 years' preserved pension rights. That is a very substantial amount. In no case will an officer not be substantially better off, taking the whole package, than he could have been when he signed this unique contract.
Despite the reductions in numbers, I am pleased to say that recruiting to all three Services remains buoyant. We have, therefore been able to maintain high entry standards, and there is every sign that the high professional standards which now exist in all three Services will continue in the years ahead.
Whatever other differences we may have, I am sure I speak for all hon. Members in expressing our admiration and appreciation of the contributions of members of the Armed Services, and the civilians who support them, to our security, and of the high standard of efficiency they have maintained during the year.
I am sure the whole House will join me in paying particular tribute to the work of the men and women of the Armed Forces engaged in support of the civil power in Northern Ireland. They continue to carry out their difficult tasks with resourcefulness and courage. Last year members of the forces earned 45 awards for gallantry in Northern Ireland and 29 soldiers gave their lives. Fifteen of those killed were members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, and I should like to make particular mention of the UDR, which is taking over from the Regular Army some of the task of providing immediate military support to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
I apologise in advance if I am raising something to which the Secretary of State will be referring later. I hope that, before he concludes his remarks on the Armed Forces generally, he will say something about the Territorial Army, which, although it is much fewer in numbers, still makes a valuable contribution and feels rather neglected in this kind of review.
I had in mind to pay a general compliment to the voluntary contribution that the Territorial Army Volunteer Reserve makes, but my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army, who is to reply to the debate, intends to devote a substantial part of his remarks to that aspect of our defence services. I would like to endorse what the hon. Member for Torbay (Sir F. Bennett) has said about the work of our Reserve forces, not only in the Army but in other Services, too.
Finally, I would stress again that the purpose of the very significant contribution which we still make, and should make, to the collective defence of the West is to deter aggression. If fighting starts our policy has failed. Western defence is indivisible. We do not meet the Warsaw Pact threat alone but as part of an Alliance whose cohesion must be our first concern. NATO's strength is greater than the sum of its military manpower and equipment because of its collective will and purpose.
I do not consider that there is evidence for great alarm that our security is immediately threatened by the increasing capability of the Warsaw Pact forces facing us, but we cannot afford to be complacent. We must work to reduce the military confrontation between East and West. I fully endorse Secretary Brown's recent statement:
Real security lies in strategic arms negotiations to produce a lower level of armament and corresponding negotiations with respect to conventional arms".
We must also ensure that our deterrent posture remains credible. This requires a continuing effort from all members of the Alliance. I am determined to see that Britain's contribution remains a substantial one.
There is certainly one thing to welcome in the Secretary of State's speech and one thing at least on which to sympathise with him. The thing to welcome is his belated surrender on the question of gratuities for serving officers. This matter was first raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Chippenham (Mr. Awdry) and Woking (Mr. Onslow) last November. If the arrogant and ill-considered remarks of the Minister of State at Question Time had any justification at all it would have been possible for the Ministry of Defence to say then "Whatever the difficulties, we shall not renege on our agreement." That was the one thing that we were never told in all the correspondence.
As I said at Question Time, I wrote to the Secretary of State nearly three weeks ago. He did not bother to answer. The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, had rather more courtesy and made the subject less complicated than the Secretary of State made it appear this afternoon. We understand that he wanted to have something good to say today, and we welcome it. However, it would have been much better for the integrity of the Ministry of Defence and for the morale of our forces if this surrender had been made much earlier.
What I want to sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman about is the motion which the Lord President, with his traditional incompetence and trickiness, got on to the Order Paper only last night. Apparently, even the Government do not approve of this White Paper. The motion asks the House only to "take note". I understand that that is the first time since 1950 that those words have been used in such a motion. We all understand that the Government have their difficulties, but surely they should be able to summon up a majority to approve their White Paper. Apparently not.
The motion talks about reducing tension
… through international agreements .. on disarmament".
That, one would have thought, scarcely fits in with the Government's policy of unilateral disarmament. The only part of the motion which makes sense is that which talks about basing British policy on "collective effort", by which of course is meant the effort of our allies rather than that of our own country.
In general, the motion that has finally gone down is unsatisfactory to us on the Opposition Benches but thoroughly appropriate to the White Paper. Again, we do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for not talking much about his White Paper today. He talked about a number of other things of varying relevance, although he was much more spirited than he had been the other day. We certainly welcome that. Indeed, if the right hon. Gentleman had been a racehorse and his running today had been compared with previous running, there would have been a stewards' inquiry and a saliva test to see whether he had been doped.
As the right hon. Gentleman, by his silence, seems to have appreciated, this White Paper is a thoroughly arid document—predictably so. The only unpredictable thing, the only surprise, about it is that it tries to play the same trick as was played last year. If the trick last year had worked one would understand the right hon. Gentleman doing it again, but since it completely failed last year, to go through the same old routine surely shows some poverty of imagination.
The same old trick is the pretence that although the Labour Government go on cutting our defence, in some mystical way they do not hurt our defence capa-
bility That was said last year, and even then it was untrue. Since then, they have cut twice more, yet the right hon. Gentleman had the effrontery to say at his Press conference that his latest cuts would
trim the tail but not blunt the teeth.
That, of course, is even less true this year than it was last year.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it is a little unfair and a little tiresome to go on talking continually about these cuts in Government spending on arms when he knows as well as any man in the House that in real terms there has been a £200 million increase in the last two years?
No, I think that I have made the point. I know that the hon. Gentleman is saying that defence spending is more than it was last year—but it is £1,000 million less than it should be.
I suppose that we cannot expect the Government to tell the truth about defence, but since they do not it is relevant just to put on record what this Government have done. I cannot remember what adjective the right hon. Gentleman used today, but on previous occasions we have heard an orgy of self-praise in the following terms:
the most extensive and thorough defence review ever undertaken … the most severe examination … the most comprehensive examination … we analysed every aspect of our defence policy
and so on and so on.
As a result of that exercise, as the House knows, the Government have cut, or plan to cut, over £7,000 million at 1974 prices. Shortly after the defence review, the Government's chief adviser said
We have been through a long searching examination … not just by the Ministry of Defence but on an inter-departmental basis, and as a result of that we have already made a very large contribution to the
reduction of public expenditure. We have been through the examination and we should not be put through the examination again.
Nevertheless, since the "most comprehensive review" in history, the Government have cut defence no fewer than four times. Admittedly, they have not put defence through the examination again, because, as we know from the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice), there was no proper examination last time; they merely cut without the examination. They just cut. The total cuts now made total about £8,500 million.
But according to the Government, so monumentally incompetent was the defence review and so disastrously inadequate was their "analysis of every aspect" of our defence policy that they have been able to make four further cuts without affecting the front line. They claim that the defence review cut the front line—it drilled away at the teeth—but entirely forgot to cut the tail. This is an extraordinary admission, but a gross libel on the very able men who carried out the defence review in the Ministry of Defence.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, on published figures, which I am sure his hon. Friends will not challenge, expenditure this year on defence is higher than in 1972–73, 1973–74, 1974–75, and 1975–76? By what twisted semantics can the right hon. Gentleman describe that situation as a cut?
The hon. Gentleman should read his Secretary of State's speech at Munich—not that it was very good, but he would learn something from it. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the cost of equipment was going up continually and that therefore if one keeps defence at constant prices, one is reducing one's defence capability. [Interruption.] That is obvious, and I refer the Minister of State to the Secretary of State's speech. It would have been courteous of him if he had read that a little earlier.
I turn now to the damage that has been done by this Government to our NATO commitment. The right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors pretend that the defence review somehow merely cuts our commitment outside NATO and does not cut our NATO commitments. That is quite untrue. They cut it in three important areas. First, they decided to weaken our effort on the flanks by cutting naval, air and amphibious forces. Secondly, they reduced our reserves earmarked for NATO by cutting the land element of the United Kingdom mobile force by two-thirds, with the result that, according to the Vice-Chief of the General Staff, we have the smallest number of units in this country ever. He said that there would be no uncommitted reserves as a result of which it is much more difficult to react to unforeseen national requirements. All of the 47 to 50 shooting operations undertaken by the United Kingdom since the 1945 war virtually come into that category, including most conspicuously those in Northern Ireland. Thirdly, the Government have made dangerous reductions in the capability of our air force. There is a reduction of 25 per cent. in helicopters and in the Nimrod force and 50 per cent. in fixed-wing transport.
Since the defence review the Government have tried to conceal the effect of their cuts by leaving the front line at the same nominal strength. But that strength has been greatly reduced by cuts in ammunition, fuel, spares, stores of all sort, training and equipment. The facade is still very impressive, but in the rest of the building the furniture has been taken out, and the foundations have been sapped. The only good thing that can be said about what the Government have done is that it is not irrevocable; the front line can be restored to its proper strength. The only way in which any sort of sense can be made of the Government's policy is the assumption that there will soon be a Conservative Government, who will rectify the position and give our troops what they need. On any other assumption, what the Government have done is not merely wrong but plain crazy.
The House does not have to take my word for this. Last week we had the report of the all-party Defence Sub-Committee, which does some very valuable work for this House. We are grateful to its members for the work they have done.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend can tell us whether the British half-speed Navy will be speeded up when doing exercises with the other NATO fleets or whether the other NATO fleets will be forced to become also half-speed.
I am afraid that that question must be answered by Ministers.
The report is a damning indictment of the Government and the Secretary of State. It says
In our view, the point has now been reached where our forces are being seriously deprived of modern equipment necessary to maintain, with the other members of the Alliance, sufficient conventional capability to deter the Warsaw Pact from acts of aggression, to sustain an effective fighting force in the event of actual hostilities, and thereby to avoid early recourse to nuclear weapons.
A little earlier the report says
We are bound to report to the House that we have come to the conclusion that the cumulative effect of the cuts has been and is likely to be increasingly felt not only by the services' support structure, itself important, but also by the front-line forces.
It therefore shoots to pieces the Secretary of State's teeth-tail argument and, much worse, it shows that the Government have been trying to deceive the nation about the true effect of the cuts inflicted on our forces.
In January, I pointed out that it was the Secretary of State's duty to resign. That is still the position. It was his proper course in January because he had lost the confidence of his professional advisers and our allies. That is still true. The Committee's Report provides even more compelling reasons for his resignation. First, it conclusively demonstrates the damage he and his Government have done to our defences and second it demonstrates that he and his predecessor have been trying to conceal from the nation the damage they have been doing.
I am sorry to hit the right hon. Gentleman when he is down, but as he is invariably down I never have a chance to hit him when he is up.
The right hon. Gentleman presided over three cuts in one year, of a total exceeding those which I presided over for the two years at a lower level. That was at a time when every- one in Intelligence knew that the Warsaw Pact countries, as General Haig made clear, were producing this equipment. If he had set the example by resigning I could have considered following him.
I do not think that anything will make the hon. Gentleman resign. He does me greater honour than I deserve. I was not presiding. It is untrue to say that the threat was as great in 1973 as it is now. The right hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well—[Interruption.] If Ministers cannot be bothered to read the Secretary of State's speech they ought at least to read the pronouncements of his predecessor. They should remember that it was the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor who pointed out that it was only within the last two years that it became known that the Soviet Union was spending about 50 per cent. more on arms than we thought it spent. It is quite wrong to think that the threat was the same in 1973 as it is now. If the right hon. Gentleman were less a member of the Labour National Executive Council and more a Secretary of State he would not make that sort of remark.
Although I have been unable to set the Secretary of State an example, because I am no longer in office, the fact is that the Secretary of State should know that he now has a chance to make a dignified exit shortly before the rest of his Government. He should certainly take that chance.
Before I leave the Expenditure Committee Report, I should like to mention one other passage in paragraph 7, which refers to the demands made on our forces by frequent, arduous and dangerous spells of duty in Northern Ireland. I echo what the Secretary of State said about our troops in Northern Ireland. They certainly deserve all the support that we can give them. Together with the police, they have borne the strains and frustrations of the last strife-ridden few years. It is due to them that the murder and bloodshed has not degenerated into a holocaust. I think that nearly everyone in the House salutes their magnificent achievement and offers them our unswerving support for all they do and all they and their families have to endure.
Returning to the White Paper—I apologise to the Secretary of State for this, but we are supposed to be debating the White Paper—it is the same old story; the Government go on cutting our defence while the Soviet military machine has been becoming much more powerful. It is the same old story. If the Government did not mishandle our affairs, I should be delighted to say something different. But as the same things have been done, I have to continue in the same way.
As last year, the White Paper suffers from an advanced state of schizophrenia. Parts of it relate the Soviet threat fairly and even starkly, but there are some passages of inspired idiocy, presumably contributed by the Secretary of State or other Ministers. Admittedly, the Secretary of State did not repeat in the White Paper his remark in the defence debate that Soviet armed forces were designed to defeat an attack on them from the West. But immediately after saying that the Government have made further unilateral cuts in our defences, the White Paper says, in paragraphs 108 and 110 that progress in the negotiations on the mutual and balanced force reductions has been "disappointing slow". Whoever has the right to be disappointed, it is certainly not the Government. Why on earth should the Soviet Union disarm when the Government do their work for them by disarming unilaterally?
Paragraph 112 says:
The Government has no intention, in advance of mutual and balanced force reductions, of reducing the forces which are maintained on the mainland of Europe in accordance with its Brussels Treaty obligations."—
schizophrenia, indeed! If the MBFR negotiations are supposed to determine the Government's actions, why have they unilaterally cut our defence spending five times? Why did the Prime Minister threaten on television last year to bring our troops back from Germany if the IMF and our allies did not lend him enough money? Why have the Government weakened our forces while maintaining their numbers? Whoever wrote that sentence is oblivious to what has been happening to our defences.
But the collector's piece is in paragraph 107, which says:
There is no evidence to suggest that NATO's policy of deterrence is failing and that the Warsaw Pact is contemplating aggression against NATO.
Will the Secretary of State plase tell the House what he means by "evidence" in
this connection? Does he expect to receive a little note from Mr. Brezhnev saying "Dear Fred, I am contemplating aggression. Yours sincerely, Leonid Brezhnev". I believe that if he did receive such a note ne would pay no attention and would go on cutting.
The right hon. Gentleman's own White Paper points out, in paragraph 119, that
over the last three years … the military expenditure of the Soviet Union has grown by some 5 per cent. a year in real terms.
Paragraph 120 draws attention to the increase in the Soviet fleet's offensive capability. Paragraph 121 says that
A substantial helicopter assault capability is now available in Eastern Europe".
Paragraph 122 refers to a major advance in the ability of the Russian tactical air force
to engage in conventional offensive air operations instead of the earlier concept of air defence over, and direct support of, the Soviet Army. Their already formidable tactical nuclear capability is also being considerably increased.
Paragraph 123 admits that
In the nuclear missile field, the Soviet Union is about to deploy the new SS-X-20 intermediate-range ballistic missiles … capable of reaching any major target in Europe.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to increases in Soviet military force, which may be true. [Interruption.] I have plenty of time. The debate continues until 10 o'clock. Opposition Members know my view about military increases anywhere. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that there have been no military increases on the American side, that the Americans are pacifists? Does he suggest that inside the Kremlin there are not hawks, like him, pointing to the increase in the American and NATO forces, just as he is pointing to increases in the Soviet forces? It is the hawks on this side who help the hawks in the Kremlin, and vice versa.
In fact—and this bears out my remarks rather than those of the Secretary of State—the Americans reduced their defence expenditure considerably in the early 1970s, thus agreeing with me rather than the Secretary of State about the threat. The Morning Star, like the hon. Gentleman, talks about "alleged increases" in Russian arms. This plainly shows that the Morning Star is as servile to Moscow now as it was in 1939–41, when it refused to support the war against Hitler and the Nazis. There is no doubt about the Soviet increases, which have been considerable. The balance has been tilting against us. The hon. Gentleman should take off his ideological spectacles for a moment and look at reality.
Is the Secretary of State really telling the House and the country that the vast military explosion I have described adds up to no evidence that the Soviets have aggressive intentions? If he really believes that, will he explain why the Russians are devoting all that effort to bring about that explosion in their offensive capabilities?
I have said this to the right hon. Gentleman and I say it to the hon. Gentleman: the Russians have a strong superiority in tanks and aeroplanes on the central front. NATO has a superiority in anti-tank guns. It is easy to invade with tanks and aeroplanes but very difficult to invade anywhere with anti-tank guns. It is obvious to anybody who cares to look that the West not only does not have the capability to attack the East but has not the remotest intention of doing so. Whatever the hon. Gentleman or the Morning Star think, the Secretary of State knows very well that the Russian build-up has taken place. He even admits in paragraph 107 that
political intentions can change rapidly, whereas military capability can only be altered over a long period.
Obviously, capabilities are largely determined by intentions. The Soviet Union has been turned into an arsenal by the conscious intention of its rulers. But intentions are also affected by capabilities, and the stronger the Warsaw Pact becomes relative to the West, the greater become the appetites and ambitions of its dictators.
My right hon. Friend will perhaps remember the expression "Why peer in the crystal ball when we can read the book?" which has been used twice today already. Perhaps that is what we should do. There are no American forces in Western European countries that do not have freely-elected Governments that have invited the Americans there. The aggressive Russian forces are sprawled across a number of countries in Eastern Europe, whose inhabitants have rebelled and tried to get rid of them and have been put down by force. Is not that the answer to the hon. Gentleman?
My hon. Friend is right. In intention, capability and behaviour, there is no comparison between the East and the West. But the British Government fail to recognise the obvious truth about capabilities and intentions.
The Government also fail to recognise that, as Dr. Brown pointed out in January, Russian intentions are affected by what the West does. But the Government must ignore that fact, too. Otherwise, their policy of weakening this country while the Russians grow ever stronger would look even more negligent than it does. It is blatantly wrong for the right hon. Gentleman to carry on as he does while the Russians are strengthening themselves. That is why he must make the sort of mindless remark that I have quoted about Russian intentions.
The NATO communiqué in December reaffirmed that
the close relationship between the Alliance's twin objectives of maintaining an effective defensive and deterrent posture and of seeking a relaxation between East and West".
That is very true, but we shall not achieve the second objective if we neglect the first, and that is unfortunately what the Government have consistently done.
The major objective of our policy is peace, and we on this side of the House, just like those on the Labour Benches, would be relieved if peace could be assured at a lower level of armaments. Naturally, we are all in favour of detente, provided it is mutual. But one-sided detente, which is what we have been getting so far, helps only the Russians, and one-sided disarmament endangers peace. It does not safeguard it.
Admittedly, foreign policy and defence have never been the Prime Minister's strong point, but even he should realise that the right way to persuade the Russians to disarm is by agreement, and that the wrong way is by unilateral disarmament and then in a feckless way just to hope that the Russians will follow suit. They have not, and they will not.
Luckily, the Government's approach is not shared by our allies. We should all be very grateful to the present American Administration and their predecessors, because the United States is making a real increase in its defence expenditure of 5 per cent. this year. The Americans do not conceal from themselves, as this Government tries to do, that there has been, in the words of General Haig,
A fundamental transformation in the nature of Soviet military power
That transformation may mean that NATO strategy is now inadequate and out of date. There is remarkably little about strategy in this White Paper and what there is is highly uninformative. But there is one key sentence in the White Paper in paragraph 135 which reads:
Although Nato needs powerful ready forces in situ to deter and defend against a sudden attack, it is probable that a period of warning would be available".
Of course, Russia has long possessed the capacity to launch a limited attack without warning but now she has the capacity to launch an all-out attack without warning, and the White Paper admits that this is now a possibility.
It would be very hard to exaggerate the importance of that. The whole of NATO strategy has been based on the calculation that a Russian attack would be preceded by a period of tension during which the vital American and British reinforcements would cross the Atlantic and the Channel to take up positions in the front line. The NATO order of battle depends for credibility on the presence of those reinforcements and reserves. If there is a possibility that there will be no time for those troops to arrive, NA M strategy will have to be reviewed and different dispositions will have to be made. That strategy has always had risks, but the risk now becomes very much greater. This subject is well discussed in the report by Senators Nunn and 3artlett on NATO and the Soviet threat.
This real world is miles away from the dream world of the Labour Government's complacency, and their incessant cutting of defence not on defence grounds but merely because they want to appease their left wing, which is just about the most anti-West and anti-NATO body of people in Western Europe not excluding the Italian Communist Party. The defence of this country and of the West is a vital
matter, which should be dealt with on its merits and not as a matter of bargaining between different factions of the Labour Party. The Sub-Committee also said:
We ask, however, whether it is now the Government's policy that defence spending should be treated on the same footing as that of any other department regardless of the effect on the operational capability of the forces, or whether the defence budget ought to be assessed in the light of the perceived threat to national and NATO security".
We know the Government's answer to that. The Secretary of State gave it with the utmost complacency in the speech at the Wehrkunde Conference in Munich, when he said that he did not believe that Governments could give a higher priority to defence. We Conservatives give the other answer to the Sub-Committee's question and we believe that
the defence budget ought to be assessed in the light of the perceived threat to national and NATO security.
The Sub-Committee also said:
Nevertheless, we believe that this combination of reductions and delays in equipment programmes and in manpower levels will, if corrective action is not taken, involve a significant impairment of the front-line capability of our forces as the effects of the cuts become progressively felt in the next few years".
Obviously this Government would not take corrective action even if they were still in power next year. But the Conservative Party will take corrective action. The Conservative Government will restore defence to its rightful place, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, as the prime task of Government. But while we shall strengthen our defences we have, as I have told the House before, no intention of making detailed commitments as to exactly where and in what proportion we shall strengthen them. There are so many prime candidates. There is the inadequacy of our air defence; there is the need to protect our sea lanes. As General Haig has said, the West cannot
any longer afford to apply artificially restrictive criteria to the definition of North Atlantic interests".
There is the shortage of uncommitted reserves; there is the need to preserve the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent. Those are only some examples. But defence is such a complex and long-term business, as the Secretary of State pointed out in his speech, that anyone who knows anything about defence realises that it
would be folly for an Opposition to commit itself to a detailed defence policy. Only those who have an excessively high opinion of their abilities as amateur armchair strategists can seriously believe that detailed and costed commitments should be entered into in Opposition.
Our priorities, and the final shape of our defence policy, can only be determined after we come into office in consultation with our allies, our military and civil advisers and British industry.
We understand that the right hon. Gentleman would not be able to give a precise indication of where he would like more money to be spent. But if events take a particular course people are entitled to know in broad terms how much additional expenditure would be put to defence. Will the Conservative Party go back, for example, on the 1975 review or do they accept that? Many figures of the reductions quoted, like the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee itself, do not accept the decisions taken in 1975. Going back would be extremely costly. Indeed, if the Opposition are to cut public expenditure elsewhere, in addition to spending billions of pounds extra on defence, the British people need to know where the money will come from and which sectors of public expenditure it will come from.
We shall not return to places from which the Labour Government have withdrawn. We regret the withdrawals in many cases but we cannot have our forces going backwards and forwards. But as the Government have been concealing from the House and the country the exact extent of the damage they have done, how can we possibly know exactly where we shall repair it? If the Government had been more honest, and told us exactly where the damage was, we would be able to be more specific.
Government supporters go on about cuts in Government expenditure and they have always said that it is impossible to cut until they have to do it. They have had to do it because they have been dictated to by the IMF but they have done it in the wrong places. We shall not be dictated to by the IMF, and we shall do it much more sensibly than they did.
There is one overriding priority for us which is obvious and inescapable, and it has been demanded by the actions of the Labour Government. That is to restore the proper fighting capability of our front-line soldiers, sailors and airmen. The facade has got to be made real. Our forces must have sufficient ammunition to train with and to fight with. They must have sufficient fuel, sufficient spares, sufficient servicing equipment and sufficient training. Above all, they must not be starved of essential weaponry and armaments because of continual stoppages in delivery owing to Governmental cuts.
That must be our first priority not only on material grounds but also on grounds of morale. There could be no greater demonstration of the high calibre of our armed services than the fact that the Labour Government's attitude to them has not wrecked their morale. Morale has been lowered in some places, but in Northern Ireland and elsewhere it has remained much better than might have been expected. Our forces have shrugged off this Government. They manage to ignore the damage they have done and they get on with the job. But one thing they cannot ignore is the decline in operational capability. In repairing the damage done to our forces by the Labour Government that will be our highest priority.
The Government's pretence that they have not weakened the teeth may deceive some people but it does not deceive any of the people who matter. It certainly does not deceive the Russians, who well know what troops need if they are to be in a position to fight for any length of time. It certainly does not deceive our allies, who were gravely concerned even before the last three rounds of cuts. Above all, it does not deceive our own forces. They know the truth and they merely despise people who try to conceal it.
For Britain to play its proper part in defending itself and the West our forces have to be fully credible to three sets of people—to the Russians, to our allies and to themselves. It will be a prime objective of the Conservative Government to make them fully credible to all three. After the mess made by this Government that will be a big task but I have no doubt at all that we shall achieve it.
The hon. Gentleman says that he cannot quantify expenditure because he does not know where he may have to make repairs. Apparently he is not aware of any defects in our present system. On the other hand, he makes sweeping allegations—which can only be calculated to encourage the Russians while demoralising our troops—none of which is supported by factual evidence.
That is a remarkably foolish intervention. In fact, I had finished speaking. But I pointed out that the Government have been trying to deceive the people by what they have done and, therefore, we cannot know exactly the true state until we get there. We know the patient is ill, but we do not know the exact medicine to give until we have actually had a chance of examining the patient.
As to the Secretary of State's absurd idea that we demoralise our forces by pointing out that they are not sufficiently equipped, he ought to realise that what has demoralised the forces is the fact that the Government go on cutting their equipment, thereby showing that they have not given defence a sufficient priority and that they are more concerned to keep their party intact than they are concerned with the defence of the country.
We are discussing one of the most serious aspects which come before us in the parliamentary year; that is, the adequate defence of our island. It is no good comparing defence with housing, education or roads, all of which may be very desirable in themselves. Defence is an essential first priority. It is no good having a lovely house if there is not the means in the country with which to defend it. It is in that spirit that I wish to speak today.
The Sub-Committee of which I have the honour to be Chairman has produced a Second Report for the Expenditure Committee in this Session in which we have dealt with expenditure and the defence cuts which have taken place over recent years. The Secretary of State was good enough to say that he would let us have his Department's comments in due course. We never expected them earlier than "in due course". The only occasion on which we objected was when the Department took more than half a year to let us have its comments. Presumably, we can expect them in some weeks.
Our report got a lot of publicity in the national Press last Friday. I think that the reason was that the report was a unanimous one of the whole Sub-Committee which had been worded factually on what had occurred, and it is possible that many people did not realise how much the cumulative effect of these cuts amounted to. The report was written before the White Paper was published. However, I do not think that there is anything in the White Paper which would have made us alter our minds.
It must be said at the outset that our relations with the Ministry of Defence remain excellent. We are intensely grateful for the papers which are supplied by it, and we are also especially grateful to the Secretary of State for coming to give evidence to the Sub-Committee. Therefore, anything that I say is in no way meant as a personal attack on any defence Minister but as a statement of the facts as I see them.
We have been active as a Committee and recently we paid a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. We also went to Norway following a trip last June to Canada and the United States. In NATO, it was interesting to find the great respect with which, I am glad to say, we are still regarded by our allies. It was also gratifying to find in various league tables which were produced for us that we stood relatively high in what we contributed to NATO.
One matter which caused us some concern about the defence cuts during our recent visit was the communiqué issued by NATO Defence Ministers after their meetings on 7th and 8th December of last year to which Her Majesty's Government were a signatory. We attached so much importance to this statement by NATO Ministers that we thought it right to append the full text of the communiqué to our report.
In their statement, the Defence Ministers expressed their serious concern about the relentless growth of the strength of the Warsaw Pact forces in which an increasing emphasis is being placed on offensive weapons. The Ministers further recognised that the achievement of these objectives would call for real annual increases in defence expenditure by the Allied Governments, and that increased emphasis should be placed in defence budgets on the allocations to major re-equipment and modernisation programmes. It is, therefore, all the more to be deplored that, shortly after the Secretary of State signed that communiqué on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and endorsed the need for real increases in defence spending, this House was told of further real cuts for 1977–78 and 1978–79.
This action was disturbing for two reasons. First, it further weakened the capability of our forces at a time when the very reverse was being strongly advocated by the NATO Alliance of which this country is a principal member. Secondly, and in some ways even more regrettably, the discrepancy between the words of the Secretary of State and his subsequent actions is bound to undermine the confidence in the strength of the commitments of Her Majesty's Government to the NATO Alliance and to cast doubt on the good faith of British Ministers generally.
I should like to put one question to the Secretary of State. Does he consider that he has acted honourably in this White Paper compared with what he signed at Brussels? Can he say how he will maintain and improve our contributions and whether this White Paper contains improvements, or can we be accused again by our allies possibly of being "perfidious Albion"?
I now digress on to a more pleasant subject and say a few words about the visit of the Sub-Committee to Norway, where we saw our troops with 45 Commando at their training. We were very struck by the enthusiasm displayed by these men and by how well they got on with their Norwegian hosts. If war came and they had to go back, to them it would feel almost like going to a second home, because they know the whole area.
There were two points which struck me. Any troops that we might have to send to Norway would, owing to the geography of the country, have to land during a period of tension. We also found the morale excellent among the high- ranking Norwegian officers. We did not see the troops, of course. We have to remember that a very high percentage of them are on the Norwegian Reserve and in civilian life. But they are all capable of bearing arms to defend their country.
One factor alarmed me. We British have to go across the North Sea in civilian transports. Our soldiers do not know whether they will get the ones that they have used before. I am sure that this is an aspect on which there could be good co-operation. These Commando men who come from Plymouth should know the boats which will have to take them and something of their civilian crews.
I know the difficulty about Norway having said that she will not have a standing army of a foreign country on her soil in peace time. I feel that a period of tension can hardly be peace. Perhaps we can get this matter sorted out with them.
Another trip which I wish to mention is one which the Committee made in this country. We spent two days in Edinburgh. There, in the afternoon, we saw static displays given by the various TAVR regiments, and, in the evening, we visited some of them in their drill halls. All I can tell the House is that the spirit and enthusiasm of these men and women—I stress "and women" because this is a new aspect to me—was very marked and gratifying to an old Territorial like myself. The Territorial Army is the cheapest way—if one is concerned about cost—of getting a body of trained, disciplined troops and the Territorials have twice served this country well this century.
There was one minor matter up in Edinburgh that we thought was a disadvantage. The Commander-in-Chief had no helicopter under his control. If he wanted one he had to apply for it and get it sent up from the South of England. It is very costly to send a helicopter up to Edinburgh and back. Considering the Commander-in-Chief's wide and extensive command, this is something that should be looked at.
In the period of bringing the central front up to full fighting strength, certain TAVR units have been earmarked for action in the front line. This demand has never been placed on them immediately in war before. It is a sobering thought. Although some of their vehicles are, to say the least, rather on the elderly side, as far as I can ascertain, the equipment going to TAVR, particularly the units for BAOR, is vastly superior to that which we were getting in 1939. I remember the woefully short conditions under which we went to war.
I am glad that the Minister says Hear, hear". We will not allocate blame for that to anyone.
As a Sub-Committee we have been studying the best ways of getting reinforcements to the central front and other theatres on time in a time of tension. In all the evidence given to us, it was thought that the period of tension was likely to be shorter rather than longer. We visited the port of Marchwood, near Southampton, a place that will have a very big part to play, remembering that it is not a question of taking troops straight to France. They have to go via Holland and Belgium, which means a longer time at sea.
I realise that up till now I have spoken only of the Army, but we are an island race which has always relied heavily on the Royal Navy, and in more recent years, the Royal Air Force. We looked closely at these two aspects when we were in Canada and the United States in June last year. We visited the wide training area at Suffield, the use of which has been granted by the Canadian Government. I am sure that the troops who go there will be very glad of the opportunity. We also visited Omaha, the centre of the Strategic Air Force, where we were very well instructed. We visited the naval base, at Norfolk, as well. These two countries like ourselves, have the extra difficulties to solve over other allies in NATO because we all have to send our troops overseas.
While I was in Canada and the United States I was particularly anxious to impress upon all the groups of officers—we met mostly officers, although we did meet some other ranks as well—the high professional quality of all ranks in the British Services, and I stressed that if called upon they would give a very good account of themselves.
I find the change of form in the White Paper rather disturbing. Perhaps the growth of the threat against us does not come out as clearly as it did last year. We do show the amount spent on new equipment but we really do have to measure it against what the Russians are building, and we must not put our well-trained men at a grave disadvantage. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that if we were engaged in a long-term war—and the last two wars were both long—on the central front we could continue to get men across, as well as equipment and spares in the quantities required?
We are particularly interested in antisubmarine warfare which is being developed and the use of guided weapons. We have followed very closely the development of the Tornado for the RAF. We are glad that this aircraft is being produced in co-operation with West Germany and Italy, because we are certain that the more we combine as allies in the production of equipment and its Command usage, the more efficient we shall be.
Only last week, sadly, we had to go to Westminster Abbey for a moving service to the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sir Andrew Humphrey. This country has suffered a grave loss as a result of his early and sudden death. I am afraid that we shall miss his brains and his talents and the guidance he could give in this top job that he was starting.
I wish to establish the operational impact of successive cuts in equipment and manpower levels. Are the force levels, equipment programmes and provisions of stocks of ammunition, spares, petrol, oil and lubricants being affected by any recent reassessment of the threat to members of NATO severally and collectively and, if so, can examples be given?
As far as operational stocks are concerned, I wonder whether financial considerations inhibit in any way the provision of a full-scale of operational ammunition and other warlike stores to the wastage rates currently agreed within NATO, and for the number of days required by NATO.
Will the Minister tell us the approximate date when it is planned that the issue of the Milan anti-tank weapon will be complete to the first of the divisions in BAOR to get the system, and to the last, and to United Kingdom battalions earmarked for BAOR? What were the original target dates, and what plans are there for re-equipment with longer range anti-tank guided weapons and helicopter-borne anti-tank guided weapons?
On air defence, is the air defence coverage of I Corps area in BAOR now complete? Do the systems at present in service have Blindfire? If not, what are the plans for introducing this? Will Rapier be mounted on armoured personnel carriers as in the case with the systems supplied to Iran which are on the American M-113 chassis, instead of being towed by Land Rover? Would this not give much increased protection to vital weapons?
I turn to the subject of the RS80. What area weapon system is there to be now that the RS80 project has been cancelled as a result of the Defence Review in December 1974? What is the rate of introduction into service of the programme of helicopters for the Royal Air Force? How much is involved in the purpose of the heavy-lift helicopter as requested by the Royal Air Force in BAOR? As a matter of interest, what amount of money would be involved in completing SAM protection of airfields and headquarters?
On the subject of Army manpower, it has been necessary to draw on BAOR units to maintain an adequate garrison in Northern Ireland, resulting in a lowering of formation and specialist training standards there and a weakening of ready peace-time strength in defence. Even with that movement of units from BAOR, the frequency with which units serve in Northern Ireland is an indication of a shortage of combat manpower and a strain on the men concerned and their families. Why then was Army manpower reduced in the defence review? We are hoping to visit Northern Ireland later this week provided that visit will still take place following tomorrow's events in the Division Lobbies.
I should like to turn to EXOCET which is being widely fitted in guided missile destroyers and other surface warships. For how many ships was the equipment planned in 1974, and what was the approximate time scale for fitting? How many missiles was it intended to pur- chase hese plans been amended and, if so, can the House be told to what extent the changes have been dictated by financial considerations? When on a private visit to Gibraltar a few years ago, I called on the Admiral in the port and he took me to see an old target ship that had been hit by EXOCET. I am certain that not one man would have lived in that ship if that missile had been launched in war conditions. I was most impressed by how destructive that guided weapon could be.
On the subject of naval manpower, may I ask to what extent financial considerations have affected the availability of manpower on naval vessels and other vessels at such notice that they can be brought forward for service in an acceptable timetable?
I have been fortunate in having paid a number of visits to our troops in various parts of the world, and I am satisfied that they are doing a very good job. With their readiness and ability to fight, they are a deterrent. I humbly ask Members of this House who see Service men in their constituencies to say "Well done, thank you very much for what you are doing. You are showing a great willingness to fight and to help to keep the peace of the world." I am convinced that it is only by showing the Russians that we are ready that we can keep the peace of the world. I go further and say that if the Russians think that they will get a bloodier nose by attacking us, they will not do so.
I hope that all hon. Members realise the serious threat posed by the Russians, who are the dynamic power in the Warsaw Pact. It is our responsibility as Government and Parliament to defend our people. We must do our duty by our Allies.
I was glad to be present in January when my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) said that a future Conservative Government would restore the defence cuts and see that the right amount is spent on defence in light of the dangers that may present themselves.
I am happy to serve under my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. She has shown herself resolute in exposing the threat involved in Russian actions. Peace is very nice and enjoyable for us all, but, by God, one has to fight for it.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams:
I wish to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) on the manner in which he delivered his speech and also on the way in which he chaired the Select Committee. The Committee's report is a most important document and draws attention to certain dangers in the cuts in our weapon systems. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends in Government will bear those matters firmly in mind.
I did not plan to speak in this debate, and I am surprised to find so little competition from the Labour Benches. I had hoped to make my speech on Monday. Obviously many of my hon. Friends are absent today following the change in business, and some vote or other that is to be taken tomorrow obviously has affected attendance in this debate!
One of the great concerns I have always expressed in successive defence debates relates to the danger of piecemeal defence cuts. I am thoroughly unhappy with the way in which savings in defence are made not only by the present Labour Government but by former Conservative Governments. The fundamental review instituted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), when he was Secretary of State for Defence, was a workmanlike review and a considered statement. The point made in that review—and it was a point which I made at the time—was that if we were to have a fundamental reassessment of defence, it must follow strategic consideration. In other words, it must seek to assess the threat which this country, in conjunction with its NATO allies, faces. It should not be carried out solely on the basis of taking equal shares of the cuts in respect of other Government economies. The defence of the realm has always been a matter of such importance that it must by its essence have a higher degree of priority and consideration in expenditure terms.
Nevertheless, I realise that we do not live in a perfect world, and it is difficult to explain to the country that one must make cuts in the sensitive social areas about which most of us care if we are not to make cuts in defence. Nevertheless, that must be done bearing in mind the wider considerations.
It cannot be denied—I do not think my right hon. and hon. Friends would attempt to do so that the world situation in terms of the massive Russian build-up is most worrying for the West. When we consider the way in which the Russians have expanded their armaments in the past five to seven years we are tempted to ask the question that cannot be easily answered—namely, "Why are they doing it?" In these circumstances the last thing we must do is to give them any temptation. I have always profoundly believed that the only way in which we can resist the Russians is to show determination and strength.
I find this a difficult speech to make. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made an admirable speech which was reasonably buoyant. Of course, my right hon. Friend is under great pressure within the Cabinet and within the Government. I understand why he has had to announce a series of cuts. Nevertheless, the report of the Select Committee is a highly damaging assessment of our present defence capability. It would be wrong for me not to say that from the Labour Benches. However, I have sufficient confidence in my Government to believe that as soon as the economic climate improves they will have the determination to do what is necessary to ensure that the British contribution to NATO is maintained. It is upon that basis that the defence of the free world can be maintained.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams), the sole occupant of the Labour Back Benches, upon his informed and thoughtful speech. We have had an interesting and valuable report from the Select Committee chaired by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison). It is relevant to point out that the committee has presented a unanimous report. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir Ian Gilmour)) has repeated unequivocally that defence spending will be increased by a Conservative Government.
In these debates we tend to escalate discussion about defence subjects into a supposed situation of declared war in Europe while all the time we seem to pay little or no heed to military events taking place outside Europe, especially in Africa. The Defence White Paper does not mention the word "Africa" and it is that part of the world that I wish to talk about. The illustrative maps of deployment of the Armed Forces show pathetic little outposts dotted around the world like measle spots but there are no spots in Africa.
I believe that the Soviet Union is trying to keep the West guessing by a large build-up in Europe while mounting a deadly politico-military offensive in Africa against the interests of the West. The map that should have been incorporated in the White Paper shows the situation throughout the African Continent. In Somalia there are Cuban troops with Russian supplied arms and equipment. There is a Russian naval base at Djibouti. In Tanzania there are Cuban advisers and technicians and training and sanctuary for terrorists. In Mozambique there are more Cuban advisers and technicians, plus Tanzanian troops supporting Frelimo. Four large deep-water harbours have been made available for the Soviet Union. There are raids over the border into Rhodesia. In the course of those raids farmers are murdered and there is the ham-stringing of cattle. There is the terrorising of mission schools and the indiscriminate murdering of black and white Rhodesians, including, most recently and most horribly, priests and nuns.
In Angola, Cuban and Nigerian troops backing the MPLA are believed to total about 14,000. There are Cuban forces, including an armoured regiment with 120 Russian-built tanks. There is an armoured car regiment with 70 Soviet-made vehicles. There are five regiments equipped with multi-barrelled rocket launchers—namely, the dreaded "Stalin Organs". All in all, that is not a bad build-up for a Caribbean sugar-cane republic with a population of only 8 million.
Added to that there is the ever-increasing Soviet naval build-up in the Indian Ocean. This very week there are visits by Fidel Castro and President Podgorny. Even if the West has closed its eyes to events in Africa, clearly the Soviet Union and its satellites have not.
I turn briefly to the action that we see from the Labour Government. Britain has vital interests in the freedom of shipping, especially the carrying of oil around the Cape. That can be illustrated by any schoolboy atlas. Secondly, we have interests in minerals in Rhodesia, South Africa and other countries such as Zambia and Angola.
The oil and the minerals are essential for British industry both in peace and war. Without them the high-technology industry of Britain and the West as a whole would wither and perish.
What action do we see from the Labour Government? We see nothing, or worse than nothing. If the Government were doing nothing, we might hope to see them wake up in time and realise what is happening. But instead, successive Labour Ministers have supported policies based on ideological obsessions, including an absurd failure to understand the real situation and the real state of affairs within Africa.
Astonishingly the new Foreign Secretary is the author of a book published in 1972 that highlights some of the obsessions of Labour Ministers. I refer to his book entitled "The politics of defence". In that book the right hon. Gentleman, the present Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, lets the cat out of the bag. I shall give a few examples. The first quotation states:
It is not too fanciful to imagine a situation where a Russian presence could be used to ensure that South Africa did not invade an African country which was harbouring and encouraging guerrilla action.
In my second example the right hon. Gentleman asserts:
The Russian build-up in the South Atlantic poses no dangerous new military threat to the Cape route.
Thirdly, when referring to Rhodesia the right hon. Gentleman suggests that Britain
should have seriously considered threatening a maritime blockade of any country which connived at sanction-breaking.
The right hon. Gentleman also argued for an international maritime blockade of the whole South African coastline. In another fascinating extract the right hon. Gentleman, when discussing what should have
been done at the time when sanctions were put on Rhodesia, states:
To have landed troops would have necessitated first destroying the Rhodesian air force, and this would have meant extensive bombing of airfields close to civilian housing, and inevitably leading to loss of life.
In talking like that the right hon. Gentleman might well join the erstwhile Leader of the Liberal Party!
I am not criticising the right hon. Gentleman personally. I am bound to say that I have always regarded him as a sensible man. I considered his appointment by the Prime Minister as an imaginative one.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams:
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that the overall thrust of the booklet to which he refers, which was written by my right hon. Friend a number of years ago, is to call for a greatly strengthened NATO?
Yes, that is right, but what sticks in my gullet are the extraordinary obsessions buried in it. Either the present Foreign Secretary regrets many of the things that he wrote, or this is the sort of cloudcuckoo-land rubbish that one has to have on the record to climb up the ladder in the Labour Party, which the right hon. Gentleman has certainly done. However, lie is a big boy now and must come to grips with the real world as it is. I suggest that he can no longer afford the fantasies of Fabian youth. As Foreign Secretary he must understand that he has responsibility, first and foremost, for defending British interests wherever they may be. To do that requires a complete reappraisal on certain lines. First, to cease cold-shouldering and ostracising the Government of South Africa. In any case ostracism is the least likely way to achieve results with the South Africans, knowing the kind of people that they are.
Secondly, the Government should resume supplies of maritime arms and equipment to South Africa forthwith. It is a cynical absurdity to pretend that frigates or anti-submarine aircraft can be used in any internal security situation.
Thirdly, we should stop moralising about apartheid. It must be realised that policies within the Republic of South Africa are internal affairs. We may or may not like them.
With respect, I am trying to point out that there is an urgent military situation in the southern part of Africa and that it is linked with the matters that I am discussing. I should like to continue, but I pay heed to what you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
It may be that some liberals in South Africa do not like what has to be done by British security forces in Northern Ireland, but it is not their business to say so. We would be annoyed if they started telling us what to do in Northern Ireland.
We should drop the absurd argument that, by aligning ourselves with what the author of this book calls "racist regimes",
is to drive black Africa into the hands of the Soviet.
In any case, black Africa is coming under Soviet domination at a most alarming rate, as I have tried to show. We need a major diplomatic effort to explain to the black African States that their newfound freedom and independence, which they value so much and which everybody agrees they should have, is at risk from Soviet imperialism: and that their freedom and economic prosperity depend on unfettered use of the sea routes round the continent of Africa.
The next change in policy is to ask the South African Government to restore the Simonstown Agreement. There is every advantage for Britain and the West as a whole in a continuation of the Simonstown Agreement. It was absurd to abolish it. It is particularly valuable for the intelligence material which would be available under it. Of that I shall not speak further.
We should stop immediately any subsidies or financial aid to African countries which supply, arm, train or harbour guerrillas. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Judd), who is not present, but who is a Minister of State at the Foreign Office, declared in this Chamber that he saw no objection to the supply of funds to what he likes to call "freedom fighters", but which I prefer to call terrorist murderers.
As regards Rhodesia, an agreed solution must be found by Rhodesians of all races. It must not be imposed from outside by a vindictive Labour Government acting through the so-called Front Line Presidents, or by terrorist gangs working to Soviet orders with Russian automatic rifles in their bloodstained hands. Mr. Smith has said that he will turn over Rhodesia to Africans but not to anarchy, and that must be realised. Why does not the Foreign Secretary go to Rhodesia during his forthcoming tour of Africa and see conditions for himself?
Next, I believe that sanctions should stop forthwith.
I entirely take your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, defence policy is the handmaiden of foreign affairs. My whole point is to get away from the sterile discussion of the number of tanks on one side and the number of guns on the other side and to look at the part of the world where military operations are actually in progress. I am doing my very best to keep within order.
If the Government claim continued British responsibility for the constitution in Rhodesia, the logic is that they have a continuing responsibility for the defence of a British colony.
The rôle of the Armed Forces is to prevent war. The rôle of the Government is to protect British interests. The continent of Africa is now the cockpit of the world. I say that the Government must turn and face it and no longer pretend that it does not exist.
My hon. and gallant Friend for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) entered the House 12 years ago. Since then he and I have taken part in virtually every defence debate in this Chamber. If 12 years ago one of us had suggested that within 12 years Cuba would be a more important military power on the continent of Africa than Britain, one of the Whips would have quietly moved round to the Bench behind, there would have been a short, sharp prick, a sedative would have entered one's bloodstream, one would have fallen back, been led out of the House, and medical treatment would have been provided quickly and no doubt adequately. But that which would have appeared lunatic 12 years ago is the reality today. Cuba matters a great deal on the continent of Africa and we matter not at all militarily.
I should like to pay tribute to another veteran of defence debates, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), who has chaired the Select Committee for many years and produced so many valuable reports. The Committee, under his leadership, has tended to ask the right questions, even if it has not always received the right replies. It is a great tribute to his chairmanship that the reports should have been unanimous.
In opening for the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) went through the series of defence cuts imposed by this Government during the last two years. I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Defence has re-entered the Chamber, thus swelling the strength of Labour Members by almost 25 per cent. I suggest that the situation is even worse than my right hon. Friend indicated. Apart from the various cuts which have been announced, I understand that cash limits have been imposed by the Treasury on the Ministry of Defence. If I stray from the truth, I should be delighted if the Secretary of State would contradict me. I understand that the Treasury has imposed 11 per cent. cash limits on the Ministry of Defence for the forthcoming financial year.
Anybody who thinks that inflation is now running at 11 per cent. must have been mesmerised by the speeches that the Chancellor made before the last election. Inflation is a good deal higher than 11 per cent.—probably 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. higher. The imposition of cash limits by the Treasury at a much lower rate than the current inflation level means that there will be further substantial cuts of our defences. That has been hidden from the public and the House.
I want to talk mainly about the Army and the choices that now face it. One choice is that considerable additional financial resources may be made available to keep the fighting strength of the Army intact or, indeed, to improve it. That is unlikely to happen under this Government, but it will, I trust, happen under the Government that will be elected in a few weeks' time.
Another choice that faces the Army is to have a sharp reduction in either the size or number of units and to have some improvement in equipment. That is difficult, given our treaty commitments to NATO and our standing commitment—that I feel will continue for some considerable time—of providing almost 14,000 men in Northern Ireland. Of course, one could try to build up the indigenous defence forces in Northern Ireland. Indeed, that is the stated policy of the Government, and the IRA response to this has been the stepping-up, in the last few weeks, of the murders of members of the RUC and the Ulster Defence Regiment. We on this side of the House call for an increase of not just a couple of hundred in the full-strength of the Ulster Defence Regiment but for something four or five times larger than that. Indeed, there could be a need for an even larger increase still. Given the continuing violence in Northern Ireland, one must allow the people of Northern Ireland to play their full part in putting down terrorism and violence.
I suspect that the Government will try to muddle on to the end of their days—which may be short. Even if the Government continue in office for a few months more, they will try to get by with letting the Army quietly and slowly run down. During the last fortnight I have heard of numerous examples of the way in which the Army is quietly and slowly running down. I have heard of exercises, planned weeks ahead, being cancelled two days beforehand because of the lack of transport. In order to save money, staff officers at Aldershot are not now allowed to use the public telephone system before 1 p.m. As for the training of mortar groups—
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) says that they are not allowed to shoot. I understand that they are allowed to shoot one live round in five months and that soldiers who have been trained in that way are then sent off to Northern Ireland. The IRA may have better practice field firing facilities for certain arms than the British Army.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) is right because he has great knowledge of this subject, but I know of at least one unit of Royal Marines, which has served in Northern Ireland, and which contained a number of soldiers who had never fired the heavy machine gun or the mortar. Yet those soldiers were sent to Northern Ireland to face IRA thugs who had regularly fired similar weapons more often than they had.
My hon. Friend has underlined with characteristic understatement the case that I was trying to put.
The morale of our forces is being slowly but surely undermined. One can now find units that have been sent back to Northern Ireland seven times. It is not the danger that has affected such units—that is a stimulus and provides valuable training for junior leaders—but the discovery that there has been so little improvement on each occasion that they have returned.
The Government are trying to run the Army not so much on a shoestring as on a broken bootlace. The Army cannot continue in such a way for long. The situation is worsening.
General Brown, who is a rather outspoken gentleman in the United States of America, has suggested that the Armed Forces of this country now consist of generals, admirals and bands. I share the enthusiasm of the Under-Secretary of State for the Army for bands. I know that the basic musical course at Kneller Hall—which is the best school for military music in the world—still lasts for eight months, but one month of the course is spent on cooking fatigues because the civilian staff there has been sacked.
There is one figure in the report of the Select Committee on Expenditure with which I quarrel. It is the figure for 1977–78 in Appendix A which says that the cost of civilian staff is likely to be reduced in the coming year by only 0·3 per cent. over this last year. I understand the situation to be quite different. The opening bid that has been made in negotiations by the Ministry of Defence means that the take-home pay of the industrial civilians employed by the Army will be reduced by no less than 25 per cent. This can be achieved either by eliminating overtime—and a lot of overtime has been eliminated already—or by sacking people. It is not possible to get rid of the jobs. We can get rid of the range wardens but not of the need for ranges. The result will be that soldiers will have to do the jobs that the sacked civilians used to do. Once again, the Army will be even more stretched than it is now.
In the past week, we have seen what maladministration can do to the morale and fighting qualities of the Parliamentary Labour Party. I hope that the maladministration that the Government are forcing on our Services does not have the same catastrophic effect on them.
When a constituent tells me that he has been sitting in the Gallery and has been horrified to see the small attendance in the Chamber, I have a customary reply that is used, no doubt, by other hon. Members. I say that Parliament is an iceberg and the real things happen below the surface. Looking round the Chamber today and noting the absence of all minority parties, one could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps things are indeed happening elsewhere.
I have taken part in a number of defence debates and I find that they have got progressively worse—and that is not entirely cause and effect. This White Paper reaches a nadir, because we are asked only to take note of it and not even to approve it, but in the last three White Papers there has been an incredible dichotomy. They start with a statement of the threat, set out as clearly as anyone could wish, but what follows appears to have no relation to the problems posed in the first part.
I accept that it is impossible, in discussing defence matters, to set absolute standards and say that there should be so many men, or that we should spend a certain percentage of our GNP on defence. The White Paper supports this view when it says that GNP is not an absolute standard. It is not entirely money, or men, or weapons.
So we sometimes engage in rather fruitless arguments on defence, but the Secretary of State engaged in a particularly fruitless one with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) when he kept asking precisely what a Conservative Government would spend on defence. If there is any justification for the Secretary of State's occupancy of his office, he must know that that is an absurd and meaningless question.
In considering the size of our Armed Forces, we have to take into account the state of our economy. It would be absurd to spend so much on defence that we wrecked our economy. There was talk in quite responsible journals a few years ago that such a policy was being adopted by the United States against the USSR in the hope of breaking the Soviet Unions economy. I accept that there is an economic argument and that we cannot prepare for all emergencies, but we must prepare for some.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) spoke about predictions of what has happened to Cuba. Who would have predicted, a few years ago, that we would have an emergency in Northern Ireland? The Secretary of State for Defence has to think of the unthinkable and the unforeseeable.
We live in a deterrent age. The object of the maintenance of our forces is the prevention of war, but below the nuclear threshold, a great deal happens, has happened in the last decade and could happen in the next decade. All this will affect our options and NATO's options and may circumscribe our freedom and strength as a nation and the freedom and strength of NATO as an Alliance.
Perfection is impossible, but our Armed Forces have received a number of blows from the Government which are most important in terms of the Services' morale and pride in themselves. I am sure that the fear in the forces now is about what will happen next.
The Government's reassurance is set out in the White Paper. I have said that these documents seem to have been set on a decline, but the latest is just about the worst that I have ever seen. There is one passage with which I agree. It says that
There is no evidence to suggest that NATO's policy of deterrence is failing and
that the Warsaw Pact is contemplating aggression against NATO. But political intentions can change rapidly, whereas military capability can only be altered over a long period.
Looking at the analysis in the White Paper, one must ask how we can match the increased military capability of the Warsaw Pact with the peaceful statements and motives that we are prepared to attribute to their participation in MBFR and the like. How do we square that with their massive build up of weaponry? Does that go together nicely as a piece of logic and represent a cohesive policy or can we be forgiven in the West for looking at it with some suspicion?
The answer was provided today by what I call "Mulley's theorem" which says that "the strength of NATO is greater than the sum of its parts" because—apparently—of the secret ingredient, cohesion. I should not care to count the number of times that those of us with the interests of NATO at heart have sat in this Chamber or in defence Committees and, without being overcritical, pointed to the lack of cohesion in the Alliance and the political difficulties of keeping together democracies and free nations as opposed to the monolithic alliance on the other side of the Iron Curtain.
The Secretary of State's remark was totally illogical, and, with the addition that he provided, it was just about the silliest statement on defence that I have ever heard in the House.
We have to balance a White Paper that has no real form or argument against the practical observations made by the Expenditure Committee. The Committee is made up of all parties, and it reached a unanimous conclusion and said:
We hope, therefore, that by setting out the facts we may make some contribution to a more informed debate in the House on this year's Defence White Paper as well as on defence matters generally.
That is an admirable objective, but unfortunately the defence White Paper falls well below that standard, and the Secretary of State today told us that he would be replying to the Committee "in the usual way"—whether by word or gesture I do not know.
I am afraid that one can only come to the conclusion that a Labour Government, ignoring observations made by ex- perts, them drawn from their own party, and purely, I imagine, to keep their left wing happy, have decided, through either weakness or blindness—I cannot tell—that in this necessary field they can cut expenditure but meanwhile maintain luxuries that no doubt they think will attract votes.
It is a curious thing that when there is discussion about a future Conservative Government the first response that we have from Labour spokesmen is "What about confrontation?"—referring to internal confrontation in Britain. Yet, quite seriously, by their defence cuts the Labour Party seems—some members willingly, perhaps some unwillingly—to have brought international confrontation nearer.
Like Alice in Wonderland, defence debates get curiouser and curiouser. For a start, for a long time we were not even given the motion that we were to debate, and all the proddings that we put forward could not persuade the Leader of the House to give us that information. It seemed to be shrouded in mystery. When at last we see it, we begin to understand why, because it appears that the Government do not even have the courage to suggest that we should approve the White Paper and the Defence Estimates. We are asked only to take note of them. Indeed, the Government Back Benches are not only sparse in attendance; they seem strangely muted. Perhaps they, too, are depressed by the White Paper, and even more by the speech that we heard from the Secretary of State this afternoon.
Certainly the Secretary of State commands no confidence on the Opposition side of the House, and one can only presume that he gets very little confidence on the Government side. He treated us to what I would only describe as bleatings about Conservative defence cuts, as though that in some way enabled him to make cuts with impunity.
For a start, I do not accept that any cuts made when we were in Government were anything like the order of magnitude of those that are being undertaken by the present Government. Even if one conceded that argument, surely it means that there would be even less room for manoeuvre than there is. One cannot go on cutting and cutting and still have sufficient left at the end of it.
What is more, Labour Members are always very keen indeed to compare what we spend with what is spent by our allies, in terms of a proportion of gross national product. That always seems a quite pointless exercise. It seems to me that if any comparison is to be undertaken it should be a comparison with what is spent as a proportion of gross national product by our potential adversaries, and on those grounds there is every reason for concern.
The White Paper admits that, so far as we can tell, the Soviet Union is spending between 11 per cent. and 12 per cent. of its GNP on defence, and that this is a very marked increase over recent years. So the threat is undoubtedly becoming very much greater than it was previously.
The White Paper says that it is a 5 per cent. increase over the last few years. Without looking at the White Paper, I cannot say exactly where that statement is, but it is certainly there. I give that assurance.
Moreover, we should also bear in mind the amount that we spend on pay and allowances and on pensions for our troops. I make no quarrel about that. Our troops deserve the best that we can give them. However, when one is making a comparison with the Soviet Union it is important to remember that the pay of their ordinary Service men is very poor indeed, and that their conditions of service are also very poor. This means that the Soviet Union is able to spend very much more on equipment than we are. I do not know what the proportion is in the Soviet Union. It would be interesting if the Minister would tell us. However, from the White Paper it appears that we spend no less than 45 per cent. of the defence budget on pay, pensions and allowances. I should be prepared to bet, although I am not a gambling woman, that the proportion is considerably smaller in the Soviet Union.
However, we had one small crumb of comfort this afternoon concerning our own forces. That was the assurance by the Government that short-term Service men will not lose their gratuities. That was the fear. But of course, that assurance, though welcome, was rather marred by the delay in its coming. I noticed that even this afternoon, in response to a direct Question that I put on the subject, the Minister was remarkably coy about giving us much information. Now we have had it, and we are thankful. However, we are left with the sneaking feeling that if a great deal of fuss had not been made in the intervening period the Government would have gone ahead and ratted on their responsibilities.
There is one further potential crumb of comfort, namely, the possibility that we may after all get the airborne early warning system based on the British Nimrod rather than on the American Boeing. When the Secretary of State meets his colleagues later in the week. I hope that he will pursue this point with great vigour and determination—rather more vigour and determination than we customarily expect from him.
Perhaps that is why we are delaying the second day of the defence debate.
It is a mystery to me how the Government got themselves impaled on this particular hook of accepting the American system. We are told that it was in order to play along with NATO requirements, but I have the feeling that had we been more persistent we might have got our own Nimrod accepted for the whole of NATO. Surely, at least, it was worth a good try.
I have had the pleasure and the instruction of a briefing, in common with other hon. Members, from Hawker Siddeley and Elliot Automation, which are responsible for the work on the Nimrod, and I am quite sure that Nimrod satisfies our requirement, largely in a maritime role. But more important still, the company is quite certain that if it were given the brief to do so Nimrod could quite easily be adapted for use over land, which would make it more suited to other NATO allies' requirements. I take it very ill that apparently representatives of the American firms are going around saying that in no circumstances could our system be adapted for use over land, when that is not so. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it his business to refute that very firmly.
I should make it clear that, with the full support of the Government, the Nimrod Marconi system was one of those examined by the NATO Military Committee, and every facility was given for that comparison to be made. It was after tests that the military committee came to a judgment that the Boeing AWACS solution was to be preferred.
The Americans are known for their hard sell, and I suspect that it was a hard sell on this occasion.
I also understand that the Hawker Siddeley and Elliott Automation system is entirely interoperable with other NATO forces. Even if we continued with the project on our own, as now seems probable, the system would still fit in with NATO requirements at a later date. On a military basis there seems no reason why we should not have the Nimrod. I press the Secretary of State to do his utmost to see that we have Nimrod, and have it quickly. We have already dillydallied for a year or more and I do not think that the RAF can expect to be kept waiting. Certainly the Russians will not wait.
Adopting the British system would give as a number of perks which have nothing to do with the immediate military advantages. First there is the question of jobs. Hawker Siddeley estimates that about 7,000 jobs would become available, in contrast to the very small number of jobs that would accrue if we adopted the American system. Secondly, many of these jobs would be highly skilled, where- as the jobs provided by the American system would be of a fairly low grade.
Adopting the British system would enable us to keep in being highly-skilled technological teams that have worked together for a considerable time. They should have the opportunity of going on and completing this project. This is important not just for this project; the skilled expertise that has been built up also acts as the seed corn for future developments. This is of the utmost importance for the high technology in which we are second to none when we are given full opportunities. Finally, there is the perk of the export potential. Clearly, nobody will buy this system if the British Government do not back it.
There is a curious contrast between Government spending on civilian projects and spending on military projects. If a civilian project is involved the Government try to provide jobs even if only for a short duration, as in some of the job creation schemes. They pour money into a firm even if it is plagued by serious industrial disputes. It is still OK to pour in public money. Even if there is not a cat's chance in hell of the firm making good and making a profit. The Government still pour money into it.
But if it is a military project the Government take a different attitude. They let competitors talk it down. They do not hit back. They do not hit hard enough. They say that if jobs are lost, that is too bad, and if skilled teams are broken up that is a pity, but we cannot afford to keep them. I am sorry to see this difference in outlook.
I hope that the Nimrod scheme will not go the way of so many other military projects and that we will make a real attempt to put it on the map. If that happens, at least something good will have come from an otherwise depressing debate.
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on her point about statistics, but there is a substantive point here that I should like to develop.
It is true that the most recent CIA estimates quoted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in the White Paper have shown an uprating in the share of Soviet GNP allocated to defence. It is now between 11 per cent. and 13 per cent., whereas on an earlier calculation it was much smaller, but if we go back to the original CIA figures, examining the percentage of Soviet GNP devoted to defence, we see that the 5 per cent. growth referred to in the White Paper broadly represents the rate of growth of the Soviet economy over recent years. Obviously the figures are serious, and 11 per cent. to 13 per cent. of a country's GNP is a substantial amount, but it is wrong to double the seriousness by suggesting that there has been a rapid growth in the share of Soviet GNP devoted to defence. The Soviet Union has a large GNP, and the amount devoted to defence increases as the Soviet Union's GNP expands. We should not over-dramatise the threat, otherwise we might terrify people into thinking that the Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact were nine feet tall.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake said about AWACS. A difficult choice has to be made here, and I want to return to this subject later.
First I wish to comment on a remark made by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Walder), who rather derided something that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said today about the importance of NATO cohesion and the fact that NATO as a whole was worth more than the individual forces of each of the individual countries separately. I believe that my right hon. Friend is right. The Soviet Union knows that if it attacks any member of NATO the whole Alliance will retaliate. This gives a dimension of synergy to the situation. This relationship means that the Alliance, in spite of the differences of opinion that one finds between 15 democratic Governments, has a greater strength than the oppressive, monolithic strength of the Warsaw Pact. How certain are we of the reliability of the forces of the Warsaw Pact countries, other than the Soviet Union? I am not sure that monolith has the strength that the hon. Member for Clitheroe suggests.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in his speech and in the White Paper, has had a doubly difficult task. I suspect that any Labour Minister of Defence has a difficult task, but at a time when public expenditure has to be cut he has the doubly difficult task to ensure that the share of resources going to defence is maintained. Although I regret the cuts that have had to be made it is particularly encouraging that we are now spending a larger amount of our total resources on equipment than any of the other NATO countries, which goes some way to answering the point made by the hon. Member for Clitheroe.
Surely the hon. Member realises that the reason for the high share of resources devoted to equipment is that spending on the MRCA, now called the Tornado, and the through-deck cruisers, now called the AW cruisers, has reached its peak. That is why we are spending more money on equipment, and these programmes started a long time ago.
If we look at the proportion of our expenditure that is devoted to equipment we see that we have been top of the league in NATO for a long time. On a NATO basis, which is different from the basis in the White Paper, our share of expenditure last year was 18 per cent. and this year is 19 per cent. to 20 per cent. The fact that at the moment a substantial part of our expenditure is on those two projects is, in a sense, inevitable. because they are the two major pieces of re-equipment at this time.
One might argue whether, in the case of the through-deck cruiser, that it is necessarily the most effective use of our resources, but the fact that we have two major projects taking up the bulk of the share of resources going to equipment does not seem to invalidate the fact that in our long-term costings over a long period, we have allocated sufficient funds to equipment.
That is why I believe that it is easier for my right hon. Friend to come to a decision on the airborne early warning project than it is for some of his colleagues in NATO. We in this country, by our long-term costing procedure, provide for our new defence projects. That is why we have already in our Estimates provisions for the years to come for the airborne early warning aircraft, whether the Nimrod or the Boeing AWACS aircraft. That makes all our decision making much easier than that of some other countries, which have to work things out from year to year.
I should like to turn now to our problems in NATO—not merely on the central front, which is of major importance, and where we make our major contribution, but on the southern and northern flanks. One of the things about which the Select Committee on Defence and External Affairs has been concerned in recent years is the effect of defence cuts on the flanks as well as on the central front.
On the southern front, irrespective of the present British contribution, the position of NATO is far fom satisfactory because of continuing difficulties and disagreements between the Greeks and the Turks. One hopes that the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues in the EEC will be able to take early action to use their good offices, particularly now that the Greek Government are requesting membership of the Community, to solve the problems of the Eastern Mediterranean, so that those two NATO partners can play their full rôle again.
At the western end of the southern flank things are more encouraging than they were a year ago when we last discussed defence. First, the movement towards democratic government in Spain means that we may be moving to a situation in which Spain can become a member of NATO after a democratic Government have been elected. That, I believe, would strengthen our defence capabilities on the southern flank. Second, the fact that Portugal, rather like Britain, is now concentrating her defence effort in Europe means that she will be able to contribute a brigade, if not two, to the mobile reserve of SACEUR. That is another addition to the strength of NATO on the southern flank. Thus, when we say that there are many problems on the southern flank, we should sometimes remember that there are things which are improving alongside those which are becoming more serious.
On the northern flank, the Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Defence and External Affairs was fortunate enough earlier this year to be able to go to see 45 Royal Marine Commando carrying out its annual "Clockwork" training in North Norway. While we were there we appreciated the considerable importance, when one sends troops into that sort of country, of proper training and equipment. Certainly, in the 45 Royal Marine Commando we have the equivalent of a battalion which is ski-trained and splendidly equipped to serve in that area. This is very much appreciated by the Norwegians.
However, what is still a matter of concern, I suspect, in many parts of the House is our ability to get this unit to North Norway. Although the roll-on/roll-off ferries have some advantages—obviously they are much more economic than maintaining our own capabilities—there are, unfortunately, only a limited number of places in North Norway where they can usefully go ashore. That is one of the decisions which must be re-examined because of the importance, if that unit is to be equipped for that task, of being able to get it ashore in the places where it may need to be. Therefore, when the Government consider this matter I hope that they will look again at this difficult problem.
Turning to the central front, there has been in recent months a great deal of over-dramatic hysteria about possible Soviet southern attacks on the central front. There was the book by the Belgian General Close, which was summarised by Lord Chalfont in The Times and reported elsewhere—a magnificent piece of military fiction, but considerably overstated.
None the less, that book and the report by the two American Senators Nunn and Bartlett, who recently visited NATO, questioned whether the assumptions previously made about the amount of warning time available for reinforcement on the central front were valid. Although I have tried to look at this matter and I have now concluded that the assumptions are not invalid, it seems certainly possible that the Warsaw Pact, if it wished, could mount a limited but perhaps dangerous onslaught into the central front at shorter notice than is generally assumed.
We should then have the problem described in General Close's book and elsewhere of using theatre nuclear weapons in West Germany. Clearly, with the high density of civilian population, there are considerable dilemmas—moral and military—about using such weapons in such an area.
Given those two problems, I am obviously concerned that any reduction in the effectiveness of our conventional forces on the central front—coupled with the fact that the Belgians are withdawing one of their divisions from Germany, and the fact that the Dutch forces are not at the moment based in Germany, although theoretically they should be—might lower the nuclear threshold on the central front. Those of us who are concerned about the use of nuclear weapons in Central Europe, on the other side of the argument must be concerned to ensure that we maintain an effective conventional deterrent on the central front. It is very much for that reason that the members of the Select Committee were concerned that, if not immediately at least cumulatively, cuts in equipment might affect the conventional deterrent capability of our forces on the central front.
The table in Figure 2 on page 7 of the White Paper shows that there has been only a 20 per cent. increase in the number of Soviet tactical aircraft between 1968 and 1976, but this is one of those statistics which is somewhat misleading. Paragraph 122 of the White Paper gives details not merely of the quantitative improvement in the size of Warsaw Pact air forces on the central front over the last six years but, and much more important, the increase in the quality of those aircraft:
The introduction of three new types of swing-wing tactical aircraft, which can deliver both conventional and nuclear weapons, is particularly significant. The weapon loads of these aircraft are double those of their predecessors and their greater operating range enables the TAF to reach targets much deeper into NATO territory than hitherto, including parts of the United Kingdom.
We should always consider the qualitative improvement alongside the quantitative statistics. Certainly the Warsaw Pact tactical airforce has significantly increased.
This matter of course leads to the argument about airborne early warning systems. NATO must make an early decision upon a system to deal not only with the threat over the central front and the considerable build-up of the tactical air force, but also—just as important—the threat over the North Sea, and the Back- fire a bomber flying not necessarily in its anti-ground rôle but in its anti-ship role.
One of the threats of the Backfire bomber would be to NATO shipping in the North Atlantic. Certain analysts have suggested that the Backfire bomber could be as serious a threat to the maintenance of communications between North America and Europe in time of war, as the Soviet anti-submarine threat. The introduction of the Backfire bomber and the possible missiles which could be fired from it pose a serious threat to allied communications across the Atlantic.
In this situation, quite clearly, the need for airborne early warning equipment, with the longest possible range, operating over the North Sea, is essential. This is where we come to this terribly difficult decision facing my right hon. Friend over the choice of airborne early warning aircraft.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake put extremely clearly and cogently, the strong national case for choosing the Nimrod aircraft. There is a case the other way; a case to which my right hon. Friend has also to give appropriate weight. In part this is in terms of the performance, of the definition and of the target differentiation over land, and in part it is a question of range, but as much as any of this, to go back to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in his speech, it is the importance of NATO cohesion. If it were possible for NATO to come to a common agreement to buy the same aircraft, right across the board, and to fly it as a NATO aircraft, that would not merely be more effective militarily, but would also have considerable symbolic value, as NATO would have its own aircraft in the air.
My right hon. Friend is faced with a dilemma between the strong arguments put so eloquently by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake for British aircraft, the argument which I passed on to him from trade unionists and others in my own constituency, the other military arguments made after detailed assessment of both aircraft, and also the arguments of general NATO cohesion.
In the debate on the Air Estimates a year ago I said that I hoped it would be possible to find a NATO solution to this, but, if it was not possible, I hoped that we would go ahead and buy Nimrod and sell it to as many as possible of our European partners. I hope that that still will be possible and I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues at the meeting on Friday will be able to find an answer to this problem. We cannot put off the decision any longer. NATO urgently needs this equipment and quite clearly Britain cannot afford to continue funding the Nimrod project without a decision. Therefore, it is essential that the other countries make up their minds and we make a decision one way or the other at the end of the week.
The arguments which occur over Nimrod, the arguments of the natural interest of one country against the advantages of standardisation, takes one into the more general problems of standardisation within the Community and of interoperability. All NATO countries, not merely Britain, will be facing in the next decade the effects of inflation and of the much higher cost of technologically advanced equipment, and will thus have great dilemmas in their military procurement programmes. If we are unable to reach disarmament agreements, and we need to maintain effective armed forces, the only way in which we shall be able to deal with this is if we can find a basis of common procurement.
That is why I believe that one of the most important developments of the past 12 months has been the creation in Europe of the European Procurement Group to work out among its European members of NATO, including France, a common basis for the procurement of weapons where possible. This will not only have a value purely as a European Procurement Group effort but it also will have a value in developing one of the pillars for an effective two-way street across the Atlantic. Unless within Europe we can agree on our requirements and unless we can develop an effective common armament industry, we shall not have a basis for an effective dialogue with the United States, and we shall continue in the situation, which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake suggested arose over Nimrod, that we on this side of the Atlantic are dominated by the greater size of American technology.
This need not be the case. On the eastern side of the Atlantic we have sufficient resources to build up our own industry, but that means that we must work it out together rather than competing, one country against another. It is only if we can achieve a common effort and common industry, research and development on this side of the Atlantic that we shall be able to have an effective dialogue with the United States. It is only in that way that we shall be able to have an effective two-way street with the United States and that we shall be able to ensure that the United States buys weapons on this side of the Atlantic, as well as our buying weapons on the other side of the Atlantic.
At the moment there is a risk that unless we can achieve that two-way street, Europe will end up as the sub-contractors to the American armaments industry with all the loss that implies, not merely in the armaments area but in other areas of industrial development. If one studies the post-war economic history of this country or the United States, it is clear that the implications for research and development initially were in the armaments industry but with significant effects in other industries as well.
Although there are many things which, perhaps, have not gone as well as they might in recent years, these initiatives taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his predecessor, to ensure a better basis for co-operation between European countries and also between European countries and North America, in the field of arms procurement, constitute one of the most encouraging things for the future.
We would all agree that the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) made a thoughtful, articulate and penetrating speeches. He has shown the enormous nature of the defence effort that is necessary. No matter how much he may desire to do so, he must find it difficult in some ways to agree with the attitude of his right hon. Friend. I think that he was probably more in sympathy with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who recently vacated the office of Secretary of State for Defence. Now we are faced with a Defence Minister who is prepared to cut and cut and cut. He has brought us to a situation in which our forces overall are being reduced.
What is perhaps more significant in the present situation is the fact that the ships in the Royal Navy have to operate at a reduced speed to conserve fuel, that there is not enough ammunition—
That has been stated. In many cases there is not enough ammunition for troops on the ground I presume the same applies to ships at sea--to carry out what is thought to be essential training exercises.
At the end of the debate, I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to give an undertaking that no instructions whatsoever have been given to cut back fuel to the Royal Navy or to the other Armed Forces, that there is adequate training, by enabling troops to undergo conditions that they may experience on active service, and that weapons and live ammunition are not denied to them on training exercises. If the Minister can unequivocally say that such instructions have not been given and that on every occasion adequate provision is made for training and exercises, it will go at least some way to convince many right hon. and hon. Members that things are not quite as bad as we had thought.
The Labour Party's attitude to defence follows the same pattern through the ages. Before the last war, until the Germans went into Austria every attempt to increase and improve our Armed Forces was opposed in the Lobbies by Labour Members. There is no argument about that. I remember it only too well. The same attitude prevails today. Before the war Labour Members said that Germany would not go to war, that Hitler was a clown, and the Russians would never allow Germany to go to war if she wanted to. They said that Germany was no danger, but Germany did go to war and the Russians helped her to do so.
It was not possible to fight the Germans alone, without weapons. If the Tory Party had suggested it, members of the Labour Party would have declared that the Conservatives were the party of war and that theirs was the party of peace through disarmament. The country and the world would have suffered as a result.
It is a tragedy that even now many Labour Members do not realise that there is a danger from Russia. One has only to look at the situation, as admittedly some Labour Members do. The hon. Member for Farnworth obviously recognises that there is a danger, but many Labour Members can see no danger from Russia. They seem to fail to realise that Russia has been a deliberate aggressor in some countries that are now members of the Warsaw Pact. They were not invited in, but were forced to join. Why should Russia stop now or at any other time if they think that they can roll Communism forward, as they have rolled their interests forward in Eastern Europe?
Before the hon. Gentleman develops this theme any further, will he tell us what action of any effect NATO took to help the Hungarians in 1956 or the Czechs in 1968?
If so, surely the how Gentleman agrees that there is every reason for this country to take part in a defence structure that will help to resist Russian operations further west, which would involve this country and the other NATO countries.
What we on the Conservative Benches object to is the fact that our country, sadly, appears to lack sufficient weapons and, above all, sufficient determination by the Government to counter the threat. Germany was a danger which many of us saw, though Labour Members, alas, saw it far too late.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be adopting a peculiar attitude to the history of the 1930s. He knows perfectly well that his party sold out to the Fascist Governments of Europe. The Labour Party always advocated a collective security system under the League of Nations and active co-operation with the Soviet Union, which the Tories then in power repudiated.
—and Italy. What stopped the hon. Gentleman fighting on the side of what he considered to be democracy, if he felt so strongly about it? The point is that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to involve this country in all these matters, and even to go to war if it suits his political purposes, but many Labour Members are not even prepared to ensure that the country has weapons and power to defend itself if it is attacked. That is where I part company with him.
There is no doubt a very grave danger from Russia. Does anyone in the House or in the country suggest that the Western nations have designs on Russia, that we would embark upon a war against Russia, that we would start a war against Russia or the other Warsaw Pact countries? I put the question "Why, then, has Russia constantly increased her forces and arms considerably? Who is she scared off? Who does she believe will attack her—the other Warsaw Pact countries?" No one has the remotest intention of attacking the Soviet Union. History shows that this country should have forces with which it can defend itself and with which it can make a proper contribution to the NATO defence Alliance.
I should like briefly now to come down to rather more mundane matters and to raise the question of morale in our forces. We hear from the Government a great deal about the need for morale in our industry, in private industry in particular. We hear that there seems to be a lack of association and understanding between the shop floor and management. If ever there were an example of lack of understanding between what may be called the shop floor and the Government it was evidenced in recent weeks in the question of the payment to short-service men of the gratuities to which they were entitled for joining the forces.
Of course, we are grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement today, but it was two weeks ago that I put down a motion on the subject, signed by more than 130 right hon. and hon. Members. I asked the right hon. Gentleman to make clear the position regarding payment of the gratuities. Last Thursday and the previous Thursday the Leader of the House said that his right hon. Friend would make a statement in this debate. When I told the Leader of the House that the matter was causing a great deal of unrest in the forces, and great harm to the morale of not only the men involved but others, he said:
I have nothing to add to what I said to the hon. Gentleman and others on this subject at an earlier stage. A statement will be made soon."—[Official Report, 17th March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 625.]
One hon. Member shook his head when I said earlier that our motion had raised the matter, but it was admitted by the Leader of the House that it was under consideration, and the Government should have made a statement at the time to clarify the situation, as it has been clarified today. Over two weeks have passed during which time we have been pressing for information. That is an indication that but for the pressure brought upon the Government we would probably have had a very different answer from the one that we received today.
It was rubbish even to suggest that something should be done without making it clear in the first instance that the rights of the men concerned would not be abrogated by the Government. That is where members of the forces will see the rubbish to be.
I wish to refer to a subject that is very close to my own constituency, namely, Chatham Dockyard. I should like to know the Government's absolute intention with regard to that establishment. How many staff will be there? What work will be there in future? Will the nuclear submarines continue to be repaired and refitted there, irrespective of what happens at Devonport when the two streams are constructed there? What will happen to the repair and refit of frigates and conventional submarines in Chatham Dockyard? What is the difference between the number of employees today and the number a year ago, and what will be the situation in another year's time?
I draw the Minister's attention to a report produced by the Admiralty for Members of Parliament for the Royal Dockyards on 21st May 1976, which said about Chatham:
Broad aims. An overall dockyard development plan has been produced in draft form and will shortly be submitted to the Admiralty Board for consideration.
May we know what that means and what it offers and promises for the future of Chatham Dockyard? That is very important to my constituents. I believe that it is also important to the country. I happen to believe that if we constantly cut back what is called the tail—the support services—in the Royal dockyards and elsewhere we shall without doubt impair the sharpness of the teeth of our front line defence forces.
Tempting though it is, I shall resist the temptation to wander back into the question of who was responsible for what during the 1930s, although I am sure that I would be able to stand up against any suggestions as to the allocation of blame.
I should like to come a little more up to date and deal with an intervention during the last speech with regard to what NATO was able to do to help Hungary and Czechoslovakia. That intervention was rather illuminating, because the whole purpose of NATO is that its members bind themselves to come to the aid of other members and not to spread elsewhere their responsibilities under that treaty.
Under no circumstances could the NATO treaty have been invoked with regard to either Czechoslovakia or Hungary. If anything, quite different steps would have been taken. We do not want to accredit to NATO functions and responsibilities that it has not got.
It is, of course, for that very reason that a number of countries would very much like to come under that umbrella if they could. It is noticeable that even the Communist Party of Italy, if one can believe it, wishes to stay within the NATO umbrella. That is a rather significant fact, because that party, which has been very close with its Muscovite friends, does not want to leave the NATO shelter, if one takes it at face value.
I should again like to ask a question that I put to the Secretary of State during Question Time. I hope that I can get an answer from the Minister, because it is a grave question. I pointed to the fact that present Soviet defence expenditure was between 12 per cent. and 14 per cent. of GDP. I asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could say what was the per capita amount and whether he could give the total amount spent either for the Warsaw Pact or the Soviet Union.
I was told that it was very difficult to get these figures, but I would point out that if the Soviet Union is spending 12 per cent. of its GDP, it must be 12 per cent. of something. That something cannot be "X". Ministers must therefore have had in their minds what the total figure of GDP was if they say that 12 per cent. was spent on defence.
It is not very difficult to divide that total figure by the total population of the Soviet Union and at least come to a per capita figure. I hope that on reflection the Minister will try to give more information. I do not mean this in a controversial way, but I do not think that the man in the street, when considering the danger that faces us, really understands what we mean when we talk about 12 per cent of "X". It would help Ministers themselves, in setting out the position, if they could give some kind of figure.
I was absolutely delighted when my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilrnour), in opening the debate, said quite unequivocally what some of us, including myself, have pressed for for years, irrespective of which party was in power. I do not want any jibes about the cuts that the Tories made. Some of us have been consistent in saying for many years that the criteria for defence expenditure have to be set against the extent and the scope of the threat that faces us. That is the only way that one can make a realistic calculation. It is impossible to talk in terms of sharing out resources unless one takes into account the need to provide security. That figure may be anything at any given time, because obviously the threat that faces us can be totally different.
If the Soviet Union were suddenly to change its form of government and its ambitions and become a peace-loving power, it is quite clear that the threat that faced us would diminish and our need to spend more on armaments would correspondingly diminish. We must start off not with a series of figures, but by asking "How much would you spend?" I shall answer that. I would get together with the Chiefs of Staff and ask "How much do you need to provide security for the responsibilities that we have undertaken?" If that is so damned funny, I remind hon. Members that that is exactly what the Israelis do and have done in the past. They take into account what is essential for their own protection. So do the Turks and the Pakistanis, and any others who feel that they are facing a real threat.
We need to protect ourselves against an existing and living threat. I would be more impressed if the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) made his own contribution instead of merely interrupting hon. Members on the Opposition Benches.
I did not say anything of the sort. I said that a future Conservative Government would engage an amount of defence expenditure to provide the capability to defend ourselves against whatever the threat is. I am sorry, but I assumed the hon. Gentleman was not going to speak. He can hardly blame me, because he is in rather rare company in rising to his feet to make a speech this afternoon. However, I shall leave Hansard to speak for itself tomorrow.
I turn now to the Report of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee, of which I was a member. I point out again that it had as many Labour members as it had Conservatives, and it produced a unanimous Report. What is more, I believe that it had only one or two critics within the main Expenditure Committee itself. In no way can it be said to be an undermining attack on the Government. Indeed, those hon. Members who have spoken have paid tribute to the objectivity of the Report and, judging by the tributes that have been paid to it, it appears that Ministers themselves have valued their study of it.
Various suggestions have been made that if these cuts continue they will have serious effects on the morale of our troops, if they are not doing so already. However, "morale" is a very tricky word to use. No one means by that accusation that our troops would lose the will to fight or their desire to do the best possible job. I do not believe that any cuts that we imposed would prevent British soldiers, sailors and airmen doing the very best with the equipment that they had. However, there is another stage below that of morale—self-respect. I believe that the point has been reached where our soldiers, sailors and airmen are beginning to regard themselves as poor relations when they see the care which the Government expend upon their well-being and equipment.
I give two or three examples. After Dunkirk, I can remember that when we came back there was a period when ammunition for the old ·303 rifle was so scarce that we used to have sleeves made in the workshop so that we could fire ·22 bullets out of our ·303 rifles. That was when we were in extremis after Dunkirk. I ask hon. Members to imagine how shocked I was to find that in Germany today some of our forces were actually using sleeves fitted into rifles of precisely the same sort that we had had to use in the dark days after Dunkirk. They were having to shoot on the ranges with ·22 ammunition, which happened to be cheaper and which on some occasions even regimental funds were used to buy in order to give the soldiers the bare minimum. Does anyone believe that that is the way to give a soldier a sense of genuine self-esteem?
I also remember going to one barracks which was built by the late Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s to house some of his Blackshirts or Brownshirts—I forget which. Our troops were still living in those barracks, which were unchanged since those days. Sometimes I wonder what would be the criticism of Government supporters if those engaged in industry were made to live in anything like the conditions inflicted on our troops.
I might add that on one occasion I discovered that our soldiers were so tired of successive cuts preventing the erection of new buildings for them that they indented for paint so that they could paint their own buildings and live reasonably decently. After a certain amount of paint had been provided, they were told that they had spent all that could be afforded and that they must stop their work in the evenings painting their barracks. The result was that half the barracks were done and the other half was not, for lack of paint. Does that make Government supporters proud of the way that we treat our forces?
The third illustration that I give concerns the restrictions on fuel, which actually interfere with training programmes. When our troops are alongside Dutch, German, French and Americans and training is being carried out, our troops are told that they cannot have as much training as they should have and that they can have it only until they have gone through so many gallons of fuel. Does that make Ministers feel proud of what we are inflicting on our troops?
But the cuts are not only affecting the self-respect of our forces. They are also affecting the esteem in which the British Army is held by our allies. Any Minister meeting his counterparts in the other NATO allies must appreciate that they, too, are beginning to feel the emotions which I should least like, namely, pity and sympathy for British troops. I can produce concrete evidence to that effect.
I give one example. Does anyone think that it has not escaped the notice of our allies that our troops are using little metal sleeves in their weapons and firing 22 ammunition? Do Ministers believe that that is likely to win the admiration of the other NATO forces, when they can have the ammunition that they need? If Ministers believe that, they are living in a dream world.
I conclude my remarks by reading a few sentences from one of the appendices to the Second Report of the Expenditure Committee. At first, I was surprised that this document had not been attached to the White Paper itself. Then, on the reflection, I readily understood why it had not been. I refer, of course, to the communique which was issued by NATO Ministers, including the British, after their meeting on 7th and 8th December 1976. I have no desire to quote them out of context. I limit myself to only a few sentences.
In paragraph 5, we read that
Ministers expressed their serious concern at the relentless growth in the strength of the Warsaw Pact forces in which an increasing emphasis is being placed on offensive capabilities.
If a British Minister put his signature to that communique, I do not know how the Secretary of State can say that he sees no evidence of the Warsaw Pact having offensive intentions. A British Minister signed this saying that the offensive side of the Warsaw Pact armament was building up.
We read in paragraph 6 that
Ministers discussed the implications for NATO of this continuing build-up of Warsaw Pact military strength in Europe.
Paragraph 8 reads:
Ministers concluded that the improvements noted in NATO forces, though uneven, are significant, but that there is a need for all of the Allies to undertake further measures if the Alliance is to reverse effectively the adverse trends in the NATO-Warsaw Pact conventional military balance.
In paragraph 9, we read that
Ministers recognised that the achievement of these objectives"—
that is to say, the objectives of regaining our secure position—
would call for a real annual increase in defence expenditure by Allied governments".
Is there really a Minister on the Treasury Bench who suggests that that final undertaking has not been broken? Can we really say that a further substantial round of immediate and future cuts can possibly be reconciled with what the Minister put his signature to on 8th December? If it is suggested that we can, I should like to find the use of English which would enable anyone to explain satisfactorily how a Minister can sign a solemn pledge to the effect that real increases are necessary and then indulge in a further round of cuts. Our allies do not think like that. Even little Norway is stepping up its real percentage. Denmark, which is even smaller, is stepping up its
real percentage, and so are France, Germany, the United States and Canada. Britain alone among the signatories of that document is flying directly in the face of her pledged word to her allies and her partners in the world back in December of last year.
First of all I must comment on the cant and humbug we have heard from the Benches opposite about cuts in defence expenditure. We have heard a continual series of speeches claiming that the Labour Government are imperilling this country's defences, recklessly cutting public expenditure on defence and generally behaving in an irresponsible manner. The implication is that the Conservatives would spend hundreds, if not thousands of millions of pounds more on the Armed Forces.
It is proper that the record should be put straight. In 1972–73 when the Conservatives had an overall majority of 30 or 40 Members in this House—an absolute majority that could not be challenged by the then Opposition—they reduced expenditure on defence at constant prices by £162 million. In 1973–74 they reduced it again by another £40 million. I do not quarrel with them. I am pleased that they showed a glimmer of common sense when they were in power and that they behaved quite contrary to the way they behave in Opposition. However, we have had a lot of cant and humbug tonight because the record shows that the Conservatives were compelled by economic circumstances to cut defence expenditure when they had the complete power to increase it.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, the opposite has occurred since then. In 1975–76 the Labour Government actually increased defence expenditure at constant prices by just under £300 million. That was the biggest jump over a five-year period. In the current financial year we have increased it again, although not by such a large amount.
The figure in the current financial year is the biggest figure of expenditure at constant prices for the past five years. I regret that, and it gives me no pleasure that expenditure in real terms by a Labour Government has increased, whereas under the previous Conservative Government it was cut and cut again. It will not do for the Conservatives to flaunt around the hundreds of millions of pounds that they will spend on defence and talk about the irresponsibility of the Labour Government when the record hows—depressingly—that there has been a pretty broad consensus on the level of expenditure over the past seven or eight years.
I hope that before the hon. Gentleman leaves that argument he will cover the point that I raised—that the level of expenditure which any Government have to take into account should correspond with the size of the threat. It has been the common belief among Ministers in three White Papers that the threat has increased and is still increasing.
The threat must be measured in political terms, and over the past two years we have seen a very serious effort by the United States, the Soviet Union and Western Europe to develop a policy of détente. This has been expressed in the extremely important Helsinki Agreement. Whatever one says about the implementation of that agreement, there is no doubt that it was a serious effort by 35 nations to bring about a feeling of greater stability and a more relaxed attitude between East and West. If in the light of that Conservatives claim that the threat has increased, they are being politically naïve.
The sad fact is that in strict terms of public expenditure at constant prices over the past seven years, there has been some fluctuation downwards during the period of Conservative Government and this unfortunately has been restored upwards by the Labour Government in the past couple of years. I hope that the figures for 1977–78 will show a reduction, though, alas, it is always next year that we shall see the reduction and it will be £180 million less than the current figures when we see the final result. I am not terribly optimistic about this, but I think it is important that the general record of the figures should be put right.
My main concern this year, as it was last year, is with the service of the Hydrographer to the Royal Navy. I spoke on this at some length last year but I think that it is important to raise the matter again because we do not seem to
have had much progress from the Ministry of Defence on this important issue. I quote from the section dealing with the Hydrographer on page 22 of the White Paper:
The basis of the operation of the Hydro-graphic Fleet beyond 1977–78 is being reviewed with the aim of ensuring that in the long term, and having regard to its commercial potential, the fleet will continue to be able to carry out a full programme of surveying in support of all national requirements.
There is no need for a review. As far back as 1975, a very thorough, exhaustive and responsible study was made of hydrography by a special working group. It examined the needs of this country for an adequate fleet to carry out hydrographic work and its recommendations are there to be studied. They have never been carried into effect, and on this subject I received a rather depressing Answer to a Parliamentary Question that I put down. Only yesterday the Minister concerned said:
As I announced in a reply to my hon. Friend on 12th October 1976, it has been decided that the Hydrographic Fleet will remain at its present size for the time being."—[Official Report, 21st March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 434.]
Since we last debated this matter all we have had is a decision to leave the fleet as it is and a suggestion in the present White Paper that some time in the far distance after 1977–78 there may be a review to see what the Hydrographer needs in terms of vessels to carry out his very important duties. All the Ministry of Defence has done is a certain amount of financial fiddling in managing to scrounge £500,000 from the overseas aid Vote and an undisclosed sum from the Department of Energy for work done in relation to the safety and of installation of oil rigs in the North Sea.
The need is not for such financial fiddling but for extra ships to enable the Hydrographer to carry out his extremely important and highly skilled work of surveying and charting the seas around our coasts and in many other parts of the world. There is an urgent need for at least four coastal survey vessels to enable him to get on with the job properly. It is ironic that we should be complaining bitterly about the state of the shipbuilding industry, the lack of orders and the general running down of that industry at a time when there is an urgent need for survey vessels for this country. Britain has a great international reputation, yet money cannot be found to provide the extra ships necessary.
It is not only a question of surveying the seas around our own coast. In response to another question which I addressed to the Ministry of Overseas Development, I was told that requests for aid in respect of the hydrographic service had been received recently from Governments as varied as Bangladesh, Cyprus, Ghana, Guyana, Malta, New Hebrides, Philip, pines, Oman, St. Helena, Thailand and other countries. It is well known that the work of the Hydrographer and the charts he produces have an extremely high reputation, and I believe that that work should be expanded and developed.
The matter is urgent and important since a few months ago we passed legislation that extended our coastal limits to 200 miles, and many other countries are contemplating the same course. The United Nations Law of the Sea Conference is grinding on slowly, but it seems clear that a 200-mile economic zone will be the consensus of opinion at that conference. That will increase the need for surveying and expert charting of waters which may not have been greatly studied in the past. Therefore, there will be a most important international market involving the services of the British Hydrographer.
Also arising from the extension to 200 miles involving our jurisdiction for economic purposes over coastal waters will be a need for faster smaller patrol craft to replace the highly expensive frigates now in use for surveillance and patrol of fishing areas round our coasts. I have no quarrel with the efficiency of the men on the frigates or of the ships, but they are highly sophisticated war vessels which are expensive to operate. There is a strong case for building a new type of craft that will undertake the task with speed and efficiency and, if necessary, take over from the much more expensive and high powered vessel that is now used.
The Royal Navy now has in train five orders in the Island class. Two have been delivered and three are on the way. I am not sure that that will be enough to cover the much greater load involving surveillance and the checking of fishing activities in our waters, because subsequently there may be other things to watch as well. We must remember that there are oil rigs and pipelines to be surveyed. I believe that we have a need for a new class of ship to undertake this work, and some constructors have already drawn my attention to the type of ship which they are prepared to produce. There could be an enormous world market for this kind of vessel, and the British shipbuilding industry would be extremely remiss if it went to sleep on the possibilities because of haggling over whether these matters should be charged to the Defence Estimates or to some other area of Government activity.
I should also like to comment on the appalling charge on the balance of payments imposed by our defence expenditure. The figure shown in the current White Paper is £769 million. The previous year's figure was £780 million, and I have no doubt that similar figures apply in earlier years. It was said at Question Time this afternoon that three years of such expenditure adds up to the money which we have recently borrowed from the IMF to cover our international payments situation. I do not understand how we can go on year after year spending sums up to £800 million in foreign exchange in observing overseas commitments, some of which are out of date and indefensible.
The subject of offset arrangements in regard to West Germany is specialised and I shall not enter into that matter now, but I wish to draw attention to the fact that we are still spending money in maintaining troops in Hong Kong. That is a totally ludicrous defence posture. That colony, if attacked, could not be defended. Our troops are wasting their time there, and we are spending valuable taxpayers' money that could be diverted for use by the Hydrographer where that money would be put to a more useful purpose. I believe that there is no military case for maintaining four battalions of infantry in Hong Kong. If the Hong Kong Government say that they require those troops to be kept there for internal security purposes, surely that Government should raise their own local militia and pay for it themselves. I am aware that under a recent agreement the scandalous waste of taxpayers' money in maintaining troops in that part of the world has been somewhat reduced, but there is still a total of £21 million provided in the Estimates for that purpose. I believe that money is totally wasted.
I was glad to see that we had disengaged from our squalid activity in the civil war in Oman.
Whether we have won it or not, it is a pretty squalid exercise. I hope that we shall have some guarantee from the Secretary of State for Defence that we shall not be involved again in military operations in that part of the world.
On a slightly more cheerful note, I was glad to see in the White Paper mention of the valuable support given by British forces to the United Nations force in Cyprus. That is welcome and constructive work, and I am sure that the British contribution is regarded as valuable and is appreciated.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why it is squalid for British forces to contribute to peacekeeping in Oman and not squalid to contribute to peacekeeping in Cyprus?
There is all the difference in the world between peacekeeping operations that are authorised by an international body, such as the United Nations, and a unilateral commitment between two Governments in respect of a feudal régime. That is a totally different exercise. If the hon. Gentleman does not accept that, he is being a little naive. I am glad to see that British forces are making a valuable contribution to international peacekeeping in Cyprus and I hope that we shall continue that contribution for as long as the international force is needed there.
I turn to the subject of arms sales. It is probably not unreasonable within the Western Alliance and between allies that there should be some mutual traffic in defence equipment, and so far as this is balanced one against the other it is a fairly normal transaction. However, I and others are dismayed by the growing deliberate effort of this country to become a major arms salesman in the world. We now rank No. 3 after the United States and France in this sphere.
It is unsatisfactory that we are making a determined effort to pour arms into an unstable part of the world, such as the Middle East, and that we are selling arms to régimes of which hardly any hon. Member approves. It is becoming an international problem of great seriousness. There is a strong case for some form of international registration or control of the traffic in arms, and I hope that in future a Labour Government, far from allowing the figure of arms sales to rise, will express concern about where those weapons are directed and will inquire into the purposes for which they will be used in future.
I hope that I shall have some comments from the Front Bench either tonight or next week on the points that I have made relating to the Hydrographer, overseas expenditure and the deliberate promotion of arms sales.
What an interesting speech we have just heard from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley). The hon. Gentleman ranged far and wide. For once I shall not apologise for not taking up what he has said, because I shall, indeed, try to respond to some of his points. I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said about the work of the Hydrographer. It is time that decisions were made about the future refurbishment of the ships that provide the Hydrographic service. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments in that respect.
The hon. Gentleman's remarks about patrol craft were interesting. I have a certain sympathy with his views. Although it would not be right for us to cut the frigate building programme to provide patrol craft, it is true that a case can be established for suggesting that the Royal Navy has neglected the small patrol craft side of our equipment. We have, I think, only four patrol craft, three of which are unarmed. I shall try to recall their names from the days that I was the Navy Minister. I recall the names of HMS "Sabre" and "Scimitar" but the third name escapes me. These three unarmed vessels are used for training our naval forces on the South Coast. The other patrol craft is HMS "Tenacity", which is used for fishery patrol work. That craft is armed only with machine guns.
One of the lessons from the six-day war was that small patrol craft can now pack a punch that is effective in a fullscale war. With their speed, manoeuvrability and sea-going capacity they can also have a rôle in fishery protection, as HMS "Tenacity" has at the moment, although she has no war-time rôle assigned to her. If I may say so, I have a certain sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's comments about fast patrol craft.
I have no sympathy, however, with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about Hong Kong. It is necessary that we keep forces in Hong Kong to prevent a takeover as a result of Chinese-organised riots and internal disruption, which is something that they have tried before. The presence of our forces means that the Chinese would have to go for an all-out war to take Hong Kong. For that deterrent reason it is necessary for our troops to be present.
I am sorry that the naval forces in Hong Kong have been somewhat reduced. As I understand it, we have only MCMVs in the area, some of the patrol craft that the hon. Gentleman was talking about earlier could well be deployed in those waters. No doubt they would be helpful in controlling the illegal narcotics trade that I fear continues in and out of Hong Kong.
I regret to say that the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong in his attitude towards defence cuts. No doubt it will be a pleasure to him, although it is a bitter disappointment to me, to be reminded that his Government have gone in for massive defence cuts. The hon. Gentleman will find that the cuts have been set out paragraph by paragraph in earlier White Papers. For example, in paragraph 76 of the 1975 White Paper there is set out an estimated cutting of £4,700 million over the review period instigated by the Government. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be pleased about that.
Year by year we have these depressing White Papers put before us. Each year they are more and more depressing. The menace or the "threat" is admirably set out with the assistance of superb diagrams, namely, the mounting threat from the Warsaw Pact countries. Although these matters are put succinctly before us each year the response seems to be along the lines of saying "The power of the Warsaw Pact countries grows, therefore we must cut unilaterally and decrease our forces."
I find that response depressing. The retort that is thrown at us by Labour Members is that the previous Conservative Government made some defence cuts. That is true, we did. The fact that we made some defence cuts makes it even less excusable that there should now be further cuts. I accept some element of criticism from the Labour Benches about the defence cuts that we made. At that time I was the Navy Minister. We all know of the struggles that takes place to retain certain items in programmes when there are Departments competing for resources. We made cuts, and perhaps made them almost to a dangerous level. If we did so, a fortiori, it is wrong for the present Administration to go further and to start cutting into the real muscle of our Armed Forces, as I suggest is now happening.
My first remark of a general character is that it is depressing to find year by year that our Government's response to the growing Warsaw Pact menace is to cut unilaterally. As many of us have pointed out over the years, such an attitude can only undermine the possibility of achieving mutual balanced force reductions. Why should the Warsaw Pact countries go in for balanced force reductions if we are going for unilateral force reductions?
The situation is even worse than that set out in the White Paper. Over the last year and more I have travelled through various parts of the world. That travelling has been undertaken largely under the auspices of the Western European Union. I am grateful for its sponsorship as it has assisted me and others in keeping abreast of defence matters.
At Kolsas, in Norway, we find the northern flank balance to be truly alarming. I have checked that the briefing from which I am about to quote can be made public and that I am not in contravention of the Official Secrets Act. By means of the briefing I am able to make public the balance of power on the northern flank at Kolsas. The briefing paper sets out the formidable level of Soviet Union forces maintained in the Kola Peninsula. It states that they are
highly trained and well equipped. The briefing then sets out what is not in the White Paper—namely:
By comparison, our own forces in North Norway are small in number. Even after mobilisation and transfer of forces from South to North Norway, the ratio of strength is approximately one to four in land forces, one to seven in naval units and one to five in air forces.
The imbalance is increased when we consider the numbers of tanks, artillery pieces, all-weather aircraft, and highly mobile naval coastal vessels available to the Soviet forces.
This is something that is not set out in detail in the White Paper or in any other White Paper but it can be made public. The briefing paper indicates that there is an imbalance of a remarkable character. The imbalance is so considerable that it is possible that if the "hawks" were to take over in the Politburo they could arrive at the view that they could "snatch" Northern Norway as their forces are so overwhelming compared with those available to the NATO forces. The "hawks" could well take the view that they could snatch Northern Norway before there could be a reaction from the NATO forces. That could happen on the basis of the official figures. Perhaps they are slightly out of date—that is, out of date by a few months—but they indicate an imbalance of a remarkable character on one of the NATO flanks.
I am afraid that the Labour Government have made one of the decisions with which I have quarrelled most over the years, namely, to abolish one complete Royal Marine Commando unit. It is true that one unit is still deployed for reinforcement purposes on the northern flank, but it was the Government's decision to abolish a full Commando unit.
Let us consider a practical improvement. After all, we do not want to be destructive on these occasions when we can see a possible improvement that may be made at either no cost or little cost.
The reinforcement of the northern flank, where the balance is so desperately against us, is to come from our one Royal Marine Commando unit and from the Canadians. The Canadian reinforcements are to be flown in, but their equipment is to come by sea. If it ever gets there! I say that because of the time factor and the preponderance of Russian strength relative to submarines in the Atlantic. Let us have a concerted effort to persuade the Canadians to keep their heavy equipment in Norway.
I have carried out some soundings at what might be described as "middle management" level. I understand that the Canadians would wish to keep some equipment in Norway but the cost is a deterrent to them. I have talked to the Norwegians and I understand that there would be no objection to Canadian heavy equipment being kept in Norway.
On the northern flank we have a worse situation relative to the balance of power than is deployed in the White Paper. Certain things can be done about that. One thing would, as I say, be to persuade the Canadians to keep their heavy equipment there or—perhaps at extra cost but not a cost which is so considerable—a duplicate set of equipment. That would make a great difference to NATO's flank position there.
We find the depressing scene of White Papers year by year deploying the menace. But when one investigates it closely, one finds that it is even worse than is often revealed in outline in the White Papers.
I turn to the other flank of NATO. I wrote a report for WEV on the balance of power in the Mediterranean. I shall not weary the House at this hour with what is in that report. It is sufficient to say that it is a shame that we have pulled out of the Mediterranean.
I am worried about the situation in Malta, with our Commandos leaving the island. The strategic importance of Malta is not what it was, but it is still of great significance. If the Russians were to take it over, especially in the conext of their having their first aircraft carrier, the "Kiev", deploying itself in the Mediterranean, the situation could be serious.
The recommendation in my report, made before the Maltese election, was that Malta should be offered membership of NATO. If the election had resulted differently, I understand that interest would have been shown in that idea. Alternatively, we must find another NATO nation with an interest there. I understand that Italy has shown interest. I should be interested to hear the Government's views on Malta.
There is a depressing situation in Gibraltar. We command the Straits there. But we have no minelaying or minesweeping capability deployed in Gibraltar. That seems ludicrous. We could send such a capability to Gibraltar in due course. However, not to have a mine-laying and minesweeping capability there seems ridiculous. At relatively small cost, that situation could be rectified.
There are neither guns nor missiles owned or possessed by us dominating the Straits of Gibraltar. It would be an easy matter to put a static Exocet on the Rock to ensure our command of the Straits. I asked Sir Joshua Hassan, the Premier of Gibraltar, whether there would be any objection politically to the installation of anything of that type in Gibraltar and he said not. The last of the old, almost Victorian cannons has gone out of service. Of course, we could send forces to Gibraltar, but we have nothing there that readily commands the Straits. I ask the Government to consider whether, even with the limitations of the present budget, something can be done at relatively low cost to strengthen our military position in Gibraltar.
It seems wholly ludicrous, year after year, to have the menace deployed and the response to be a unilateral cut in our defence forces.
I am glad to see the Secretary of State for Defence in his place. Of course, one reads with attention what he may say about Service matters. I have had the pleasure of hearing him talk to semiprivate gatherings. Therefore, I read with interest what he said to the Select Committee, but one finds some signs of schizophrenia about Service matters. The right hon. Gentleman said that he shared the Committee's views about
the importance of the conventional rôle and, as Mr. Roper mentioned, of getting the nuclear threshold as high as possible.
Of course we want to do that, but we can raise the nuclear threshold only if we increase our conventional capacity.
I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said to the Committee, but it is a strange response to an expressed desire to raise the nuclear threshold to find a personnel rundown of the character anticipated by the succession of White Papers with which the Government have confronted us.
The Government appear to be on target relative to their force reductions. I am worried about that. I was hoping that it would be one of the targets that might be missed. However, I shall not be snide on this occasion and talk about missed targets. That would be inappropriate. We want to talk about defence matters without party rancour as far as possible. However, the Government have reduced our forces to a considerable extent and regrettably appear to be on target.
Representing a garrison town, I am particularly worried about the position of those who serve in Northern Ireland. As has been mentioned, some units are on their fifth or sixth tours of duty in the Province. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army is to reply to the debate. I should like some indication of the effect that the proposed manpower rundown is likely to have on the frequency with which units will have to serve in Northern Ireland. This matter is of considerable importance relative to the morale of our forces and the long-term prospects for recruiting, and so on.
Obviously it is not good for morale if the Service pattern is to be Northern Ireland with an occasional visit to Germany and the rest of the time spent at Colchester, Aldershot, or elsewhere. It is not an attractive pattern if the unaccompanied tours to Northern Ireland become ever more frequent.
One part of the White Paper which has not had any attention paid to it so far is page 53, paragraph 517—"Family welfare". This matter is, partly, within the ambit of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Army.
Two points strike me as being of concern to the House. The first concerns family support for the Royal Navy. That support was set up during my tenure of office as a result of the admirable Seebohm Report. Apparently the proposed full expansion of the welfare service is not to go ahead. That is a great pity. I realise that there may be room for legitimate cuts in that area, but naturally I feel disappointed, and so will Lord Seebohm, that the projected plans are not to go ahead.
The second paragraph, which is more serious in a sense because the Seebohm plan has gone some way towards being implemented, concerns the Army Welfare Inquiry Committee under Professor Spencer. Again, that is not to be implemented. As far as I am aware, it has not been published. I shall be grateful if the Minister, in his winding-up speech, will deal with the question whether it will be published—to use Service jargon—in a sanitised version, if need be, if security matters are involved, because of course one would expect such matters to be excluded. Otherwise, I should expect to see the Spencer Report, because it concerns a matter dear to my heart—the morale of our troops serving in Northern Ireland.
I want to refer to a constituency matter that ties in with my last point, because it is relevant to the morale of troops in Northern Ireland. The Under-Secretary for Defence for the Army is persistent in his avowed intention to close the military hospital in Colchester. I appeal to the Secretary of State to look at this again. Up to a few weeks ago the Government were still spending money on the hospital and hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on it during the last 18 months or so.
This hospital closure is bound to affect the morale of troops in Northern Ireland, especially those who have to leave their families in Colchester. If a soldier feels that his young wife, pregnant, say, with her first child, will not have first-class medical attention in Colchester, that will not help his morale when serving in Northern Ireland. I have talked about this to many troops. I hope that, even at this late stage, in response to the representations that I have made on more than one occasion in the House and in response to a petition that I presented to the House on 28th January this year—signed by 50,000 people living in North-East Essex appealing for the hospital to be kept open—there will be an alteration in the determination to close the hospital. If it is closed, another £80,000 to £100,000 will have to be spent in order to build another medical unit by the barracks.
The Army has been too generous in providing medical facilities for us in North-East Essex. There should be a charge from the DHSS Vote to the Defence Vote when civilian work is done. We pay lip service in the House to the admiration that we feel for the way that our troops and Royal Marines operate in Northern Ireland. None but British forces could have operated in the Northern Ireland situation in that way—with restraint and discipline. But we must match the lip service that we pay to the troops with actions. This is the action that should be taken to support them—they should be given absolutely first-class medical services for their families at home and the finest conditions of service.
I hope that I have made practical suggestions about the ways in which our defences can be strengthened at relatively small cost. Conservatives do not have the monopoly of patriotism or concern for the Armed Forces, but I hope that we shall soon have a return of a Government that has at the forefront of their thinking their duty to protect the nation from external aggression and internal subversion.
We certainly live in a dangerous world. The curious aspect of the Opposition's view is that they have a rigid and static concept about what constitutes danger. A world in which enough weapons are stored to kill us all several times over is bound to be dangerous and unstable, but the Opposition's view that there are two hostile camps facing each other, and that that is the world, is artificial and untrue.
There are far more causes of danger than are admitted by the Opposition. The situation is infinitely more complex than the way that they see it. I suggest, for example, that a world in which so many people suffer severe physical privations and constant hunger while so many others are struggling to diet because they are too fat is bound to be dangerous and unstable. Such inequality is bound to lead to tensions.
If there are many causes of danger it is bound to follow that there are many kinds of defence. In their speeches the Opposition have not established any justification for the view that we should spend on defence a far greater proportion of our gross national product than our allies do. They did not establish any reason for this and they wilfully neglect to see the danger of the situation.
I am not arguing a case for disarmament, but there is a self-evident case for the reduction of our arms spending at least to a level that would be in proportion to our total resources and to the spending of our main allies. If this were done it would help us to find the means of defending ourselves in other ways from the real dangers that face us.
For example, our real economic problems would be greatly eased by such a reduction. Since I am not arguing a disarmament case—I readily admit that there will be armaments expenditure and that some of that expenditure will be on military hardware—I should like to make a plea on behalf of both management and workers in some sections of our industry that such defence expenditure should be on goods manufactured in our own country. I and other hon. Members have received representations from workers in the aircraft industry, for example. These representations were in agreement with the management of Rolls-Royce and Lucas Aerospace that it would be far better for us to devote resources to Nimrod rather than to the Boeing AWACS. No valid answer has been given to the workers on this point.
Such expenditure as we feel it is incumbent upon us to make on military hardware should certainly be used to maintain employment in this country and should be used here rather than drained off abroad. Workers here have a valid case. However, the workers themselves, especially in the aerospace industry, are extremely conscious of the fact that something more than this is needed. For instance, the National Aerospace Shop Stewards Liaison Committee—some members of which were lobbying Members of Parliament a week or so ago—has worked out a charter of action points in relation to their industry, which is now heavily engaged in defence. The charter makes the point specifically that it is necessary
to explore diversification to the application of technology to socially useful commodities such as medicine, medical appliances, energy, motive power, etc.
This is an initiative and view to which the Government should respond favourably.
The Opposition are fond of raising fears about employment in defence industries but they show no interest in working out constructive alternative strategies. The motion shows why such strategies are necessary. Regardless of any controversy between us, it must surely be agreed that the Government are right to draw attention to the need to seek every opportunity to reduce tension through international agreement on arms control and disarmament.
If that is our objective, even though some hon. Members may regard it as a long-term objective, we must consider the industrial implications and consequences of such a policy. It is essential that the Government and workers, and managements, if they are willing, should look at the problem together. The greater our economic dependence on arms production, the more difficult we shall find it to respond to genuine initiatives on controlled disarmament.
One of the most encouraging initiatives has been that of the Lucas Aerospace workers. It has been drawn to the attention of Ministers on a number of occasions, but so far they have said that they would prefer a response to the workers' plans to come from the management. I earnestly request my right hon. Friend and his colleagues to think again. If we are ever to move towards controlled disarmament we shall have to look at alternative sources of employment for our people. The Lucas workers took into account their skills and resources and worked out concrete alternatives. It is in the interests of any Government, but particularly a Labour Government, to extend a helping hand to those workers.
The initiative of the Lucas Aerospace workers was based on their knowledge of their capabilities. Their corporate plan has isolated six areas of work in which they think that their skills and the capacity of their company enable them to make a special contribution. The areas are oceanics, remote control machines, transport systems, braking systems, alternative energy sources, and medical equipment. These are important areas, because they have other implications that can contribute to our defence in the different ways that I suggested at the start of my speech, would be necessary.
For example, within oceanics the workers have been considering the problems of marine farming. In a world in which tension and danger are, at least partly, caused through the extreme poverty of some nations and peoples, it is surely important that we should look carefully at all means of increasing food supplies. The use of high technology in this area is not a move away from defending ourselves but a move towards a different and constructive kind of defence. In advocating that they should be involved in products for marine agriculture, the Lucas workers are seeking to help to defend Great Britain.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley) mentioned our fearsome dependence on arms exports. I think that everyone who is interested in maintaining peace and in securing a more truly peaceful world, with a lessening of tension, must be concerned about arms exports. It is surely extremely dangerous for us to contribute to the following through of conflicts in which we ourselves are not engaged. It is surely extremely dangerous for the jobs of our workers to depend to the enormous extent that they do on the exporting of arms to other countries, thereby, in effect, taking part in other conflicts in which we may not have any sympathies.
I submit also that there is the danger that these selfsame exports may one day be turned against us. Once we export armaments there can never be any guarantee that, at some stage, by some route or other, they will not be used against our own forces. Surely everyone in this House must be afraid of that kind of development.
So we need not only new products; we need new products that would be useful both domestically and for export in order to replace the dependence we now have on exports of arms. Here again, the proposals of the Lucas aerospace workers are particularly interesting.
One of the causes of instability in the world surely relates to energy—the shortage and imbalance of control of the sources of energy. It is the cause of a great present and potential danger. So, if we here could develop different forms of energy and discover ways to harness the forces of nature in order to provide ourselves with warmth and power, that in itself would surely be a contribution to our defence. If, as I believe, other countries also have these requirements, surely it is in our interests to develop such exports.
The hon. and learned Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) finished his speech with a reference to internal subversion, but nothing is more dangerous to our internal security than shortages and deprivation in our own country. One of the shortages that we have is in housing, and linked with that is the problem of providing heating and energy in our housing. The Lucas Aerospace workers have turned their minds to this problem. They have proposals for making components for housing which would bring about low energy housing. This is one of the most constructive suggestions which could possibly be made for our economic welfare, our internal stability, and our general contribution to supplying more of man's needs in the world at large and thereby the means of reducing tension.
The view of the Opposition in this matter is curiously one-dimensional and artificial, absolutely outdated and highly dangerous. They seem to see the world in terms of toy soldiers. To me and to many others that is a useless view to take of how to defend ourselves.
In drawing the attention of the Government to the part of the motion that I have quoted, relating to the need for international disarmament, I hope that they will also take my point about the need, therefore, to develop viable and useful alternatives to the destructive products that we and others build up, to the ever-increasing danger of the whole human race. No one suggests there can be miracles in this or anything else, but we must start moving in the direction of providing an example of constructive attitudes to the world's future, and I hope that I can ask the Government to give a more positive and forthcoming response to the initiative of the Lucas Aerospace workers and any other workers who look at this kind of problem, because these workers are helping us to do the job that a Labour Government will have to do, and the sooner the better.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise), so widely divergent are our views. I have never heard matched the sheer hypocrisy that she revealed in the first part of her contribution to the debate. The hon. Lady has constantly opposed her Government's defence policy and has constantly called for more cuts in defence expenditure, but now she has turned round and bleated about her constituents who might be affected. That sticks in one's gullet.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has been sniping at our troops in Ulster. For him to bleat about Nimrod, the contract for which his constituents' jobs depend on, is beyond any condemnation.
There is no hypocrisy in saying that whatever we spend on armaments should be spent in this country. It is the worst of all worlds to spend too much and to spend too much of it abroad. There is nothing hypocritical in that. The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) should weigh his words with more care.
I weigh my words with care, and I shall repeat them. The hon. Lady bleats about jobs in her constituency as if she has just discovered that along with mine workers and car workers, soldiers and Servicemen are as much affected by cuts as is anyone else.
How refreshing it was, by comparison, to hear the contribution made by the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper). I hazard a guess that those who sit on the Government Front Bench wish that they had more hon. Members behind them to give such penetrating, critical analyses of the defence problems.
I shall make one comment on the hon. Member's speech. He said that a surprise attack by Warsaw Pact forces could be ruled out. That is a very dangerous assumption indeed. I remind him and the House of what happened on 13th August 1961, when 14 Warsaw Pact armoured divisions were mobilised overnight. I have a vivid recollection of that event, because it was the day after my son was born. I was sent to Helmstedt and faced some of the armoured troops deployed along the East-West border. I ask hon. Members to recall the lack of warning of the major adventure by Russian forces in Czechoslovakia in 1968. It would be foolish for any Government to pretend that an attack cannot come without warning, because we know from experience that it can.
I repeat the words of the Expenditure Committee in its Second Report. The Committee said:
Nor do we believe that the defence of our national security can be founded on arbitrary comparisons with Allies whose interests and resources may wholly differ from our own.
That is such a fundamental point in assessing how one is to make a defence contribution that I should have liked to ask the Minister, who has been absent from the Chamber for the last hour, about it. How he can make a substantial reply is difficult to see. Presumably, he is in purdah rehearsing the words that have been decided for him already. But this is at the heart of the decisions that have to be taken by a Government, and so far we have not had the answer from the present set of Ministers.
Is it their policy—and can they justify their policy if it so is—to base their contribution to NATO on that of their allies, regardless of the fact, stated so often by my hon. Friends, and indeed, stated by the Government in successive White Papers, that the threat is increasing year on year? If they are going to maintain that that is the basis upon which they are assessing their contribution, in all fairness to the country they must justify it.
I should like to make one more comment on the Secretary of State's opening remarks and try to dispel the myth of the word "deferment". That is something trotted out by successive Labour Ministers as a panacea to try to lessen the effects of cuts which they keep on successively announcing. I want to make it quite clear that when they are talking about deferment, when they are trying to allege that that is a better thing than a cut, that may be so in the long term but in the short term a deferment is a cut. If a programme is put back three years and the equipment for which that programme has been designed and introduced is suddenly called upon because we need to deter, it simply is not there. It is no use anyone bleating "It was only deferred." It is missing.
Too much is made of the view "We can stretch this. We can put it back another couple of years. It does not make any difference." All the time that these deferments are rolling on they are making a signficant difference and can be regarded in the short term as no better than cuts.
Again, the Secretary of State has been seeking to reassure and to soothe those who are genuinely worried with his remarks as to teeth and tail. He has been asked to define them and to say by what definition he classes those parts of our forces as teeth or as tail. There may be at the extremes of both ends of this mythical animal some small items that can truly be classified as coming from the teeth or the tail. What no mention is ever made of is what must be in between those two extremities in any creature so far known to this universe—that is muscle, sinew, blood and bone. That is where the Secretary of State is cutting, time after time, when he assures us that all that he is cutting is the tail.
Let me give one example of a classic misuse of this phrase. When the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor—to be fair—tried to justify the reduction of the brigade headquarters of the BAOR a year ago, it was said that that would not affect the fighting troops. Of course it affects the fighting troops if the communications are not available to them and if the flexibility is not available to commanders to deploy an ever more stretched force across the entire central front and concentrate that force where and when the necessity arises.
Since that brigade headquarters has gone and since the reorganisation of the divisions forced upon the Army in Germany by the cuts and by the need to maintain a man-to-weapon ratio, what has happened? We have lost flexibility. We have lost tactical manoeuvrability. We have lost the well-tried formations that have served us—although they were constantly adjusted within the techniques and adjustments of modern warfare—for certainly all of my lifetime and experience in the Services.
This is not a mere cutting of tail, and anyone who tries to delude himself or others that it is is doing a grave disservice to the country.
There is one more point on which I wish to comment about the Secretary of State's opening remarks, and, indeed, about something that he said to me when I interrupted him. It concerns the equipment programme. Once again we come back to the myth of deferment. When I was asking the Secretary of State about the new main battle tank for the British Army he took it that I was referring to the Chieftain, but I was not. I was referring to the Chieftain's successor. The Secretary of State tries to soothe us by telling us not to worry, that we shall be all right and that this tank will see us through to the late 1980s, and he tries further to justify that by saying that the Germans would need a new tank at a different time from us.
In my 20 years of service in an armoured regiment I spanned the life of the dead and dying Centurion tank. I was in at the birth pains of the Chieftain tank and saw all the delays before it came into service, which went on year after year. I can tell the Minister, from my small experience, that if we have decided only in the last few weeks that we cannot plan for the new generation of tanks in concert with the Germans, and that as a result we have to start it ourselves, then, if we need a replacement in the late 1980s we are already behind schedule.
If a new British tank is not on the drawing board, if the specifications are not being collected together, and if the time-scale of production has not been worked out, there is no way in which the new tank can be in service by the 1980s. That is a dangerous myth that the Secretary of State continues to repeat when he tries to assure us that the cuts have no detrimental effect on our front-line troops.
I turn now to what is perhaps a point of difficulty between the Service Ministers and the Northern Ireland Ministers. I am not trying to drive a wedge between them because it would be dangerous to do so, but I hope that we can hear some reassurance from the Minister tonight—or if not tonight, certainly on Monday—that under no circumstances will the Minister of Defence give his approval to soldiers, when operating in aid of the civil power in Northern Ireland, being anything other than fully operational, and that he would never allow the Army to be restrained for political reasons from carrying out its task as an aid to the civil power within the law as it exists in Northern Ireland today.
It has been made clear that the Army has been under such political constraint in the past, but I do not know whether it has been at the instigation of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or whether it was with the approval of the Minister of Defence. It must form no part of any Government's policy that, when a political decision has been made committing troops in aid of the civil power, political restraint should be used, or that the forces should be used as a regulator. We often hear the words high profile and low profile being tossed about in reference to the Army's operations. This is debilitating for the Army and ought to be totally unacceptable to anyone in the House.
The decision to commit troops in aid of the civil power is unpleasant anywhere in the world, but it is doubly unpleasant when it happens in the United Kingdom. However, once that unpleasant decision is taken, it is everyone's duty to make absolutely certain that the troops are given every facility and that, when they are carrying out their duty under the law in aid of the civil power, they should not be fettered by Ministers seeking to negotiate this or that with this faction or that faction.
In conclusion, I wish to make a constructive suggestion, although it is difficult to be constructive when in opposition. One point that struck me when I was looking through the White Paper and the Select Committee's Report was the way in which time after time, because we seek to get the best of all worlds, we ask too much of new equipment. We make the equipment too sophisticated and, as a result, we are lumbered with problems which may be out of all proportion to the otherwise excellence of the equipment. A quick example that springs to mind is the Chieftain engine. Did it have to be multi-fuel? Yes, some boffin said, it had to be because of the possibility of breakdown of oil supplies in a future conflict. That decision has produced its penalty in engine wear and unreliability which has marred the performance of what is still the best tank in the world but which otherwise would have been superlative.
On support equipment, could we not go on to the civilian market much more than we do, adapting its products which have been tried and tested under commercial conditions? Did we not perhaps err in trying to ask too much of our last load carrier? Did it have to be able to swim and do all the things that we built into the Stalwart, when for a fraction of the cost we could have picked up a tried and tested workhorse from the civilian market and adapted it?
The classic example of what not to do was the Champ, which some hon. Members may remember, of 10 or 15 years ago. The classic example of what to do was what was done with the Land Rover. I hope that Ministers will in future look to the commercial market, where there is excellence and where products have to compete commercially. If they can do that, nine times out of 10 they are good enough for our forces.
I want to put one question to the Minister and he will be scarcely surprised to learn what it is. When shall we have a fuller statement of information from the Ministry of Defence on precisely what would be meant by a separate Scottish Army, a separate Scottish Navy and a separate Scottish Air Force?
I have spent the last 48 hours composing a draft and wholly precautionary election address, which probably well not be used. In that draft, among other things, I ask my electorate whether they want a separate Scottish Army, Navy and Air Force. It would be greatly helpful if some Minister in the near future will spell out the technical facts involved. I should like to know more about such details as how one maintains Nimrod squadrons based at Lossiemouth to protect North Sea oil and about the mechanics of keeping a tartan navy afloat.
Like other hon. Members, during last year I went as a guest lecturer to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and spent a very interesting day. After the lecture—senior officers at Sandhurst will bear this out—a number of the young men asked me precisely what would happen to them if there were separate Scottish forces. A number of them who were born and bred in Scotland hope to receive or have received Her Majesty's Commission, but servicing in a separate Scottish Army would be a very different matter.
On these issues, I should like some statement at the Minister's early convenience.
First of all, I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that short-service officers are to receive the gratuities to which they are entitled. I am sure that that will give comfort and help morale in the constituency.
Apart from that, however, there is little comfort to be obtained from the right hon. Gentleman's speech or from the White Paper. Hon. Members opposite seem to put considerable emphasis on the percentage of the gross national product which can be spared for defence by comparison with our NATO Allies. The trouble is that our GNP is far too low—and the present Government are to blame for that.
As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said, Russian influence outside Europe is rapidly expanding. Russia is getting stronger and we are getting weaker. I am particularly worried about the situation in the Navy, because I wonder whether we are getting the best value we could. I am particularly concerned with the slow replacement of ships, the ever-lengthening building time and the inevitable increase in cost. This is largely due to the continual introduction of modifications. Why can we not build as planned, and modify during a refit? Hon. Members should compare the building time for Vosper Thornycroft Ltd. for the Royal Navy with that for foreign navies, where the original design is kept.
My second criticism is about the size of ships in relation to armaments. I appreciate that size is of importance in providing a stable platform, but given the size, why do we not fit more armament into our ships? We are still designing for a world-wide rôle. If we are to accept that we no longer have a commitment east of Suez, the accommodation for the crew is excessive.
At sea, the crew is divided into three watches. Therefore, one-third of the crew is always on watch, so accommodation is necessary only for two-thirds of the crew. I recently went over HMS "Antrim" and the Russian cruiser which recently visited Portsmouth. No doubt our accommodation is unduly luxurious by comparison. The remedy is, as we are now to have only local commitments, to put the crew ashore when the ship is in harbour. It might be worth-while considering having two crews for each ship so that the seamen can have more sea time.
My other criticism is over the design of the new patrol vessels. Last week we saw the shocking spectacle of a minesweeper engaged on fishery protection being unable to catch a French fishing boat which made off with its boarding party. I understand that the new patrol boats are little, if any, faster.
That brings me to the increasing problem of fishery protection and the protection of North Sea oil and gas installations. The number of oil rigs and gas rigs is increasing. The size of our commitment with the new 200-mile limit is vastly bigger. That enormous area has to be patrolled. At the moment we are using frigates and Nimrods. Both are extremely expensive and sophisticated weapons and a complete misuse of our limited resources.
Should not the Navy examine this commitment urgently? I am sure that an extremely good case could be made out for a new civilian force, similar to the United States Coastguard. New types of ships would be required, small, fast ships with good sea-keeping qualities and possibly with a provision for operating helicopters.
New types of aircraft would be required but they also could be simpler and cheaper -- possibly current commercial types. Such a civilian force would be backed by the Navy. All these suggestions could result in reduced naval commitments and could provide more money for other duties.
As has already been mentioned, other matters could be removed from the Defence Estimates. The Hydrographer has been mentioned, but the charting of the seas is not strictly a defence matter. There are other matters such as education and fishery protection which are rightly and properly the province of other Ministries.
These services have grown up over the years, but the expenditure should be put where it belongs and not on the Defence Estimates. We no longer have commitments east of Suez, but in spite of this our defence expenditure is still far short of our needs and far from meeting the dangers that face us. I condemn the Government.
As usual, we have had a very wide-ranging debate and, as usual, there have been two themes. The first came from the Government Benches, when they maintained that although cuts had been made and had affected the forces they were not enough to undermine our defence posture. The Secretary of State's predecessor said that after the Defence White Paper in 1975 and again six weeks later when the Government made cuts in April 1975. The same was said in February, July and December last year. If it was true at the beginning we cannot believe that it is true today. The cumulative effect of the cuts must seriously impair and undermine our defence posture.
The theme from the Opposition has also been the traditional one, that cuts gravely impair and undermine our defence forces and put in jeopardy our position in the North Atlantic Alliance. If this sort of thing goes on we shall have to give up many of our senior NATO commands, because our allies in NATO who make a bigger contribution are bound to ask to take over some of the senior posts that we now hold. That would be very unfortunate. It is a danger to which we must have some regard.
There is normally a third theme, which has been missing today—the theme of the Tribune Group, whose members voted against their own Government in the last defence debates. They have been notably absent today. We have not had the professional pacifism from the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), who was here at the beginning of the debate but went away. We have not had the rather more informed criticism of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). We have heard the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise), but the House will agree that the less said about her speech the better. We know why members of the Tribune Group have not been here in force. We shall leave the matter at that.
The defence debate concerns strategy, and I should like to examine the Government's strategy in response to the Soviet threat, which the Government themselves take seriously. They take from page 4 to page 15 of the White Paper to set out the dangers of the Soviet threat and they are right. I should like to quote a passage from Pravda which underlines the aim of the Soviets:
Peaceful co-existence does not spell an end to the struggle between the two world social systems. The struggle will continue between the proletariat and the bourgeoise, between world socialism and imperialism, up to the complete and final victory of communism on a world scale.
That is the Soviet strategy—the complete and final victory of Communism on a world scale.
The Russians' first aim has nothing directly to do with defence. It is to soften up the Western will to resist. They do that through national Communist parties, front organisations and fellow travellers. Only last year the Communist Party of Great Britain said in its pamphlet "Strategy for the Socialist Revolution"—and when Communists use the word "Socialist" they mean "Communist":
Socialism can only be won on the basis of Labour-Communist unity.
I hope that the country will ponder those words in the next few weeks.
This erosion of will covers all fields—erosion of moral values, the mocking of respect for authority, be it of the State or the Church, the undermining of a sense of purpose. The House would do well to remember that the United States owed its defeat in Vietnam not to defeat on the battlefield but to defeat in the USA through the media, through the television set. That is a lesson the House should learn.
Once the will to resist is sufficiently undermined, the USSR has two alternative courses—a sudden attack in the North and on the central front or the more long-term and far less dangerous rolling up of NATO's flanks and the cutting off of its access to raw materials.
I take those two alternatives in turn, beginning with the central front. What is the threat? My colleague on the North Atlantic Assembly, Senator Nunn, now regarded as one of the main defence experts in the Senate, presented a paper to Congress at the end of last year, to-
gether with a colleague, Senator Culver. Those two senators had been to look at the United States force in Europe. I should like to quote certain sentences from their report. Senator Nunn said:
I believe that the survival of Western Europe is vital to the United States of America.
I am glad to hear, as the whole House will be that America still considers that her front line of defence is beyond the Rhine. He goes on, and this is germane to the debate that we are having now:
We can and should insist that our allies pull their own weight in NATO, although in my opinion this is not the case today.
I submit that that is directed largely at the Government. Talking about the central front proper, Senator Nunn says:
The numerical inferiority of NATO forces in the Central Region; their protracted war bias; and the great difficulties that would be encountered, once hostilities commence, of lifting sufficient US reinforcements across the North Atlantic have, for several years, correctly been cited as the principal weakness of NATO's conventional force posture in the Centre.
He goes on:
The apparent aim of Soviet strategy is simple—to preclude NATO from bringing to bear in Europe its ultimately greater but typically less ready and more dispersed forces. To accomplish this, the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies have prepared to wage a short war of singular violence, preceded by little warning, and characterised by a massive blitzkrieg which seems aimed at overwhelming NATO forces deployed in the Centre before they can be augmented from outside the European theatre.
I believe that the whole posture of the Soviet forces in Central Europe now bears out Senator Nunn's statement. We should remember that since the Helsinki Conference Soviet forces have been reinforced by about 1,000 modern aircraft, 700 helicopters, 3,000 tanks and 4,000 APCs. The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) mentioned this problem in an excellent speech but he did seem to characterise the whole concept of blitzkreig as being hysteria. The hon. Gentleman talked atbout General Close's and Lord Chalfont's article in The Times. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the imbalance of numbers between NATO and the Warsaw Pact has been there for a long time, but I hope that he will agree when I say that what has happened in the last 18 months is a change in the Soviet air and armed forces from a defensive posture to an offensive posture.
Perhaps more important still, those forces are now kept in a state of readiness and can launch an attack at 24 hours' notice. This emphasises the importance of warning time, which has been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It used to be that NATO could probably expect to get one to three weeks' warning of any attack in Central Europe. Now I believe that one to three days is far more likely.
I do not think that actually follows. I accept that they would want to co-ordinate an armoured attack with a naval presence in the Atlantic. I shall come to the wider aspects of the flanks, which is what the hon. Gentleman is talking about, in a moment.
If the warning time is to get less it means that we parliamentarians have a very great responsibility to be prepared to reinforce when tension starts and not when the balloon finally goes up. As General Haig has said, and as the Secretary of State has quoted "readiness, reinforcement and rationality". Briefly, on readiness, many of our troops in NATO are not at their battle stations. We have the equivalent of about 14 battalions in Ulster and they have to be brought over in time. Reinforcements will therefore have to come by air. Have we sufficient aircraft? After all, over the past few years the Government have cut RAF transport aircraft by 50 per cent. What are they doing about taking up civilian aircraft? Have they made sure that civilian aircraft, such as VC10s, have sufficiently large doors to take the equipment needed for the infantry? These are issues on which we should be prepared, and the Government should be taking action now.
I am sure the House would agree that the main danger on the central front is from armour and air. What is the Government's response? Let us take antitank guns. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison) pointed out that Milan has been deferred. My hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) spelt out very impressively the fact that the deferment was not just a panacea but meant that our forces would be denied that weapon for some time to come. There is an even worse story with regard to TOW and HOT, the anti-tank missiles carried by helicopters. These were first tested by the Government in 1969. They have not yet been ordered. Again, the decision has been deferred. So our helicopters are armed with the SS11, which is a French wire-guided weapon of the 1960s. Recently, in The Economist it was described as being "hopelessly out of date".
Let us turn to the air and consider the lessons of the Yom Kippur war. The use of surface-to-air missiles and cannon shells was enormous in the first few days of that war. Have we enough reserves and ammunition to use up anything like the amount of ammunition used then? Here again, we find deferment. The blind-fire Rapier has been deferred, and, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye pointed out, apparently the tracked Rapier has now been put off altogether. We have no modern guns to deal with low-flying aircraft, and the suggestion in the Committe's Report is that the Army will have to take over exnaval Oerlikon 20 mm. guns which are relics of the Second World War. That is not exactly helpful in trying to deal with a massive Russian air threat.
What about tanks? I agree that the Chieftain is probably the best tank in the world. We now have this marvellous invention, the Chobham armour, which is not to be fitted to our tanks. It is going to Iran, but not to BAOR.
While I am on the subject of tanks, what about track mileage? I hope that we shall be told whether there are serious limits on track mileage and how that has affected armoured exercises in Germany. Perhaps we shall be told also how many divisional exercises have taken place in BAOR in the last two years—[An hon. Member: "None".] That is probably right, but I should like to have it confirmed by the Minister.
That brings up the whole question of training, which was referred to eloquently by my hon. Friends the Members for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) and Torbay (Sir F. Bennett). My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham talked about there being one live mortar bomb in five months for training. I am also told that some troops have only 100 rounds of ·303 ammunition, or whatever ammunition is used, for a year's training. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham also talked about bands, and about Kneller Hall. One of my colleagues whispered to me that the Government appeared to be more interested in bassoons than in bazookas.
Moving from the ground to the air, we are told in the White Paper that a squadron of Jaguars has been cancelled. That does not sound too bad, until we see in the White Paper that only five squadrons are allocated to RAF Germany, which means that the cancellation represents one-sixth of the total. Tornado delivery has again been slowed. As for the problem of mobility, which is so vital these days, especially on the central front and on the flanks, we find that deliveries of Gazelle and Lynx helicopters have been cut and that medium-lift helicopters have disappeared altogether. I remind the House that it was the Labour Party, when last in power, which cancelled the HS681 in 1965, heavy or medium-lift helicopters in 1967, again in 1974, and again now in 1977. That is a prettty good record!
Why do we need these helicopters? In the old days, they were needed to lift forward field artillery. Today, they are needed above all to supply the Harriers. The whole essence of the Harrier is mobility. That can be achieved in a front line position, but only if there is mobility for its supplies. If it has to rely on lorries or tracked vehicles to bring in those supplies, the result is to negative half the advantage conferred by the mobility of the Harrier.
I suggest that all these cuts and deferments represent a reduction in our contribution to RAF Germany and BAOR and, therefore, to NATO as a whole. What is more, they lower the nuclear threshold and therefore, make more likely the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
I am one of those who believe that the Soviet Union is not likely to initiate a war in central Europe because it runs the risk of nuclear retaliation. I believe that it has a longer-term and much safer alternative, which is to roll up NATO's flanks. That being so, I want briefly to deal with the flanks.
On the question of the northern flank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye talked about the Royal Marine Commandos. I say in passing how proud the Royal Marines are that for the first time one of their generals—General Whiteley—has been given a senior NATO command as C-in-C AFNORTH. My hon. Friend also illustrated the importance of getting reinforcements to Norway in a time of tension. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) also pointed out the dangers of imbalance in the situation on the northern flank today. Reinforcement of the northern flank is primarily a British responsibility. In the past the Government have cut the carrier replacement programme, which could have given support, and they then removed the Commando carriers and have taken out the amphibious warfare vessels. Occasionally one of these is made available, but they are not permanently committed. The Government have also cut the number of Royal Marine helicopters—in fact, Government strategy now depends on British Rail ferries. Yet this is one of our primary NATO responsibilities!
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams), who is chairman of his party's defence committee, said that the Expenditure Committee Report was highly damaging to his own Government. I fully agree with him. The Report has this to say about the southern flank.
There is now a tendency to overlook the full extent of the Mediterranean withdrawal, which includes not only the Naval amphibious force (a commando group, commando ships and assault ship) destroyer/frigates and MCMVs but also the RAF's Canberras and long range maritime patrol Nimrods.
In other words, after more than 200 years and in the face of a Soviet build-up the British have completely withdrawn from the Mediterranean, and that is clearly extremely damaging to NATO. The Secretary of State knows that, and he has been told about it by the NATO Commanders in that part of the world. It can he said that we have forgotten the "soft under-belly of Europe".
There is something even more important—the sea flanks. I quote Admiral
Gorshkov, who is perhaps the greatest Russian seaman of modern times and the creator of the Soviet navy. He said, in 1967:
The disruption of the ocean lines of communication, the special arteries that feed the military and economic potentials of the West has continued to be one of the fleet's missions.
That was said a long time ago, and it is much more true today. Recently we saw the Russians in Exercise Okean making exercise attacks on ocean convoys. We can draw our own conclusions from that.
The arteries to which Admiral Gorshkov referred are in the Atlantic, and they run from north to south and from east to west. Fifty per cent. of our oil—probably more—and 25 per cent. of our food pass around the Cape to come north to Western Europe. The Soviet Union has the world's largest nuclear submarine force supported by surface vessels with guided missiles. As pointed out by the hon. Member for Farnworth, it also has the Backfire bomber, operating over the waters of the Atlantic. We have only the counter of 20 Sea Harriers, which we hope one day to operate from HMS "Invincible".
The Government have cut the building programme by nine frigates, and scrapped the advance Ikara despite all the money already spent developing it, very little more being needed to give it extra range. They have deferred Sea Skua, the weapon needed to deal with surface ships. The major weapon that we have not yet bought, is the Sub Harpoon, which will be the only effective weapon for our nine Fleet submarines. As a previous Labour Government once said, these submarines are the capital ships of the future, but the fact is that they have no modern weapon except the Sub Harpoon. When is it expected that these weapon systems will be operational in the Royal Navy?
The Government have abrogated the Simonstown Agreement at a time when the Soviet satellites have occupied Angola. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) made his characteristic, forceful speech about the importance of the southern flank to this country, to Europe and to the United States. Yet at a time when the Soviet Union has control over Mozambique and Angola and has assisted in installing Marxist-Leninist presidents in those countries, we have abrogated Simonstown. If the Soviet Union obtains the same control over South-West Africa—Namibia—Rhodesia and South Africa itself—as it has in Angola and Mozambique it will control not only the Cape oil route but 60 to 90 per cent. of some of the key minerals of the world.
That is a fact at which Western Europe cannot blink. These minerals include uranium, manganese, chrome, vanadium, platinum, gold, industrial diamonds, and so on. If the Soviets obtain control of those minerals, they will have a stranglehold over the Western economy. That matter is of vital importance to this nation and to Europe as a whole. But the Government appear to be completely oblivious to these dangers.
So much for the North-South communications. I now turn to the East-West situation. Our reinforcements must come largely from the United States. The men will come by air, but the hardware and supplies must still come by sea. At a recent meeting of the North Atlantic Assembly in Williamsburg last November, Admiral Kidd, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, said:
There is a tendency to believe our considerable airlift capacity"—
he was referring to American rather than British capacity—
can solve the reinforcement and resupply problem. This is a terribly misleading concept. On the contrary, the great bulk of the equipment, weapons, ammunition and other initial supplies—plus the resupply pipeline—must be delivered on the surface of the sea.
If I may quote figures that I have given on other occasions, the ratio of anti-submarine forces to German submarines in World War II was 6:1. The ratio of NATO's anti-submarine force to the Soviet submarine force today is 2: 1. That is the ratio in this nuclear age, when nuclear submarines can traverse the world under water without coming to the surface.
What do the Government do about that situation? They cut our anti-submarine forces. HMS "Invincible" will probably be two years overdue before she is launched, and it looks as though "Ark Royal" may have to be retired because of old age before "Invincible" becomes operational. Incidentally, I hope that we shall treat like with like. It is incorrect to call "Invincible" a cruiser when she is an aircraft carrier. The Russians have called the "Kiev" a helicopter carrier. Should we not call "Invincible" the same? She is certainly not a cruiser.
Have the Government made any special arrangements for the conversion of tanker ships or tankers which could be converted into helicopter carriers for anti- submarine purposes? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) and I have been plugging away at that matter for years. However, nothing has been done about the situation. We must have re- serve helicopters and helicopter pilots, but I understand that there are now no such reserves. I understand—I should be happy to be told that I am wrong—that there are even no plans to train helicopter pilots in an emergency. That appears to be utter lunacy. Our shipping will depend on those helicopter pilots and their craft, and there must be an adequate reserve for emergencies.
The Government have dismissed the whole of our vital sea communications in one paragraph of the White Paper—namely, paragraph 145, headed "Commitments outside NATO". They have done this at a time when NATO is becoming increasingly concerned about areas outside the NATO boundaries. SACLANT is making contingency plans for the protection of NATO shipping in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans, but the Government apparently have dismissed as irrelevent the part of the world from which comes our food, our oil and our minerals.
The threat is now as grave as it was in the 1930s, if not graver. I believe that the Government agree with this view because they virtually say so in their White Paper. We believe that defence should be measured against that threat and not against the efforts of our allies in NATO. I am sure that the House, in its heart of hearts—and this must be the view of Members on both sides—accepts this view. Yet what do the Government do about the situation? They cut our already attenuated forces. They cut the logistical tail and research and development, which is the life blood of the future. In this they are mortgaging future gene- rations and that is perhaps the most serious cut of all.
They say nothing about the weapons of the future—for example, Cruise missiles, Smart artillery shells, which may be of great importance in future and much cheaper than aircraft, and other precision-guided missiles. They cut the teeth of our forces. There are to be fewer anti-submarine vessels, fewer maritime aircraft, fewer helicopters, fewer transport aircraft, and slower deliveries of vital anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air weapons and strike aircraft. There will be smaller reserves of men, munitions and fuel. In page 19 the Estimates Committee states:
The Government should make clear the basis on which they make choices as between defence and other spending programmes.
The Government are spending millions of pounds on nationalisation, yet they are cutting defence. Why do they maintain a giant bureaucracy to supervise handouts not only to those in need but right across the board, yet risk our ultimate security? I suggest that one of the reasons is to appease the Tribune Group, whose members voted against their Government on the occasion of the previous defence debate. They have been, remarkably silent today. I see that one or two of them have just entered the Chamber. I am delighted that they have come to listen to these words.
I have no doubt that many Members expected to hear much more from them today, as in the previous defence debate, when, as I say again, they voted against their own Government. However, we have all noticed that they have been remarkably silent, and we wonder why. I suggest that the risk of defeat tomorrow makes them swallow their principles today.
The Government, to maintain the unity of the Socialist Party, have put at risk the security of the State. Clearly they have thus failed in their primary duty. I hope that the whole nation will remember the pledge of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that Conservatives will give the defence of the realm top priority. There is a clear choice, which will be made in the very near future, if not tomorrow. The Government have failed. They have failed the defence forces and they have failed the nation. There can be only one verdict; they must go.
Much has been said today in criticism of the Government's defence policy and of the capability of our Armed Forces. I shall redress the balance by selecting two areas that I believe illustrate the general and continuing high quality of our Armed Forces.
First, I pay a sincere tribute to the work performed by our forces in Northern Ireland. As the House knows, the Government's security policy is to achieve the development and increasing acceptance of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as the major instrument for the detection, arrest and charging of terrorists and other criminals to be brought before the courts. The rôle of the forces is to remain as the essential buttress of this policy for as long and in such force as is necessary. The Army's rôle requires restraint, determination and skill, qualities which experience has shown us our soldiers possess in greater measure than any other army in the world.
I visited the Province only last Wednesday and I saw for myself, as I do on every occasion I visit the Province, just how high the morale of our forces is in Northern Ireland. One regiment that I visited normally combines two rôles—namely, public duties in London and an armoured rôle with Chieftains in the British Army of the Rhine. To those rôles it has added a third—namely, an infantry rôle in Northern Ireland. It has taken to it with vigour and success almost like a duck to water. I mention this performance not because it is rare but because it characterises the achievement of our modern Army in Northern Ireland.
Later in the day I witnessed the splendid work of our security forces in the border area. As I arrived in the area just as an operation was being mounted I was able to see for myself the smartness of the reaction that our security forces can produce. This was at a little outstation under the command of a second lieutenant. It did the heart good to see how our forces reacted to an emergency situation on the border. I also saw the excellent co-operation that exists across the border between the RUC and the Garda.
I should like to say something about the Ulster Defence Regiment. This mainly part-time force does an excellent job of work and makes a most valuable contribution to security in Northern Ireland. Despite the manifest dangers that the regiment's members face, morale remains extremely high. I assure the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who raised this point, that the participation of the UDR in security operations is being increased and it now provides the first line of military support to the RUC in six police divisions. Moreover, as the House knows, the full-time permanent cadre of the regiment is being strengthened to give it a greater operational capability, particularly during the day. Recruiting for the initial increase of 200, which has been announced as the first step in this expansion, is well in hand and some of the new recruits are already being used on operational tasks.
It has become something of a tradition in these debates for us to mark our appreciation of the work of the Armed Forces in Northern Ireland, but our appreciation is none the less genuine for that, and I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing our gratitude.
Secondly, I turn to an area which I believe illustrates the success of the Government's policy of seeking the most efficient and cost effective use of the resources which can be allocated to defence at a time when my Department must bear its share in those economies in Government spending which are essential in securing the country's economic future and upon which, incidentally, our ability to assure our long-term security must be based.
The Reserve forces, in accordance with the policy stemming from the defence review, are being much more closely integrated with the Regular forces. An example of this can be seen in the new type of Army formation that we have created, to be known as Field Forces. The first two of these, the 5th and 8th Field Forces, come into existence on 1st April this year. Each will contain—as, indeed, will the remainder—two TAVR infantry battalions and supporting units as an integral part of it.
Nor should it be thought that these TAVR units will in any way be poor relations. Under the "one Army" concept, TAVR units are now similarly equipped to regular units with a comparable rôle. That has meant that in some cases they have received, or are planned to receive, equipment, such as the Fox armoured car, the Milan anti-tank missile system, and the Blowpipe man portable anti-aircraft missile system in advance of parts of the Regular Army. In addition, those units of the TAVR that are committed to NATO—we have recently re-roled an additional three TAVR infantry battalions from a general reserve to a NATO rôle—train regularly in Germany and their commanding officers are in regular contact with their superior formation commander in Germany. Every year over 16,000 volunteers are sent across to train.
Without a doubt, the TAVR is a first-rate element of the forces that we have available, both for NATO and for home defence, being well trained, well equipped and highly motivated. It is also extremely cost effective, consuming only 1 per cent. of the annual defence budget, and therefore is a clear example of the way in which we are making the best possible use of resources.
The hon. Gentleman knows well enough that it is not customary to give details of dispositions, but I can say that the 55,000 strength of BAOR would be increased to about 120,000 on mobilisation.
We are making the best possible use of resources and I saw the truth of this for myself recently, when I participated in a major TAVR exercise in the North-East on 5th to 6th March. The men to whom I talked were keen and professional, and the units involved were well up to strength. In fact, the TAVR has just launched a new nation-wide recruiting campaign to improve this still further. In its first two weeks, this has brought in more than 2,000 inquiries to the Ministry of Defence, and many more at a local level. I am sure the House will be pleased to hear the success story that is the present TAVR.
The hon. Gentleman must be asking that question with his tongue in his cheek because he knows that it would not be right for me to go into such detail. I can say only that I am confident that our mobilisation procedures will meet the needs of Supreme Allied Command Europe.
I now turn to the remarks of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) who asked about training and track mileage. There is a lengthy piece on track mileage on page 3 of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee proceedings and the minutes of evidence of the Committee of 1st February that answers the question. As for divisional exercises, the answer is "Yes". There have been divisional exercises in BAOR during the last two years culminating in corps exercises.
I said divisional exercises culminating in corps exercises. The hon. Member knows that.
Hon. Members have referred to, and I have read with interest, the Expenditure Committee's Report on the cumulative effect of cuts in defence expenditure, and I welcome it as a valuable and timely contribution to our debate. The Government will, of course, be presenting its formal observations to the House in due course.
I am not a betting man, but that is one bet that I should like to take.
There is much common ground between the Committee's approach and the policy of the Government as set out in the White Paper, and if some of its comments are critical, they are criticisms that the Government note with attention and respect.
Nevertheless there are important features of the Committee's analysis that I find difficult to accept. The Committee's main conclusion is expressed in the form of a question:
We ask, however, whether it is now the Government's policy that defence spending should be treated on the same footing as that of any other department regardless of the effect on the operational capability of the forces or whether the defence budget ought to be assessed in the light of the perceived threat to national and NATO security.
I do not find that a distinction. Of course the defence budget will be assessed in the light of the perceived threat to security. The Government would not be spending over £6 billion on defence next year if we did not perceive a very clear military threat, in face of which appropriate defensive preparations must be made.
At the same time the defence budget, important though it is—indeed, precisely because it is so large and important—must also be viewed in its broader context and must respond where necessary to wider economic constraints. The Government have found it necessary to reduce public expenditure generally in order to bring down the level of public sector borrowing and free resources for industry—objectives which our critics opposite no doubt share. It is unrealistic to suppose that any Government, faced with the need for public expenditure cuts, would say of the defence budget—which represents over 10 per cent. of public spending, "This must remain sacrosanct come what may; however pressing our need for financial savings, we shall not even consider whether it could be trimmed at the edges."
No Government could afford to take this view, unless the country were faced with imminent attack and its immediate survival was threatened—which, I am glad to say, is not our position, disturbing though the increases in Soviet capability are. Certainly there is nothing in the Conservatives' past record to suggest that they would have given the defence budget absolute protection in similar circumstances—whatever they may say today.
To say that the defence budget must be reviewed along with other programmes is not to say, as the Committee have implied, that this should be done:
regardless of the effect on the operational capability of the forces".
On the contrary, our concern has been, and is, to keep to an absolute minimum the effect on our front-line forces. This is made clear in the White Paper and we have said it on many occasions.
The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) asked for an assurance that the forces in Northern Ireland would have the operational capacity and freedom to render aid to the civil power under the law. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that this is precisely the position at present and we have no intention of altering it.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked when he would get a full statement of the cost of separate Scottish armed forces. I have some sympathy with the point that he was making and if Scotland becoms independent and has to organise independent armed forces, it will cost a great deal more than it currently costs Scotland as an integral part of the United Kingdom. That is fairly obvious. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall look at his request and if we can get some facts and figures, I shall let him have them.
In 15 defence debates I hope that I have never asked the Ministry to do unreasonable work for no good purpose, but this matter is now a major issue. The House has spent all this time on Scottish affairs and it would be worth while if the Ministry confronted Scottish people with the precise cost of such a proposition.
It may be topical, but I am sure that my hon. Friend, as a reasonable man, would agree that there are many more important issues with which we have to deal.
The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) asked about the Army Welfare Inquiry Committee Report by Professor Spencer and said that it had not been published. He is wrong again.
The hon. Gentleman was not here. I asked whether the report had been published and used some unsalubrious defence jargon to ask whether, if it could not be published in full, we could have a sanitised version. If the Minister really has so much concern about the troops in Northern Ireland, perhaps he could also take this opportunity of dealing with the closure of the military hospital in Colchester—
I unreservedly apologise to the hon. Member for Colchester. I misread a note that a colleague took for me. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the report had been published. I can tell him that it was published last year and is referred to in paragraph 518 of the White Paper.
The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) also raised the matter of the call for real increases in defence expenditure in the DPC communique. Her Majesty's Government recognise that, in the face of the continuing build-up of Warsaw Pact military strength, the North Atlantic Alliance is the best guarantee of our continued security. We intend to continue to make an effective military contribution to the collective security of the Alliance, commensurate with our economic situation. At this point, I want to quote from Hansard;
We have pursued a definite policy of giving a somewhat higher measure of priority to the materials needed for exports. The grave financial crisis under which we are labouring supplies more than sufficient explanation for this decision. We depend upon exports to purchase the imports of food and raw materials without which we can neither re-arm nor live as a solvent economic society.
I accept the responsibility only for doing all that was possible, having regard to the state of our defences and the economic position"—[Official Report, 5th March 1952; Vol. 497, c. 433.]
Those were the words that Mr. Winston Churchill used, when he was Prime Minister, in presenting the statement on the Defence Estimates on 5th March 1952. I think that what he said bears some resemblance to our present situation.
The hon. and gallant Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), as Chairman of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee, has done a first-class job which I am sure the House would wish me to acknowledge, since I understand that he will not be with us in another Parliament. I am hopeful that he will be with us for another year or two. He raised a number of detailed points in connection with the report of the Expenditure Committee. These points were raised by the Committee in its defence cuts questionnaire, and the Ministry of Defence submitted a memorandum to the Committee answering them.
However, I would like to mention the point about the reduction in Army manpower. The primary aim of the Army restructuring plan was to make savings by reducing manpower while preserving the front-line capability of the Army, and by this means savings were to be made in the total manpower allocated to the combat arms.
The resulting order of battle was fully justified in terms of Britain's primary defence commitments as established in the defence review. It was accepted that, as a consequence of this policy, continuing requirements, like the Northern Ireland emergency, would have to be met, as they were before the defence review, by the use of both units and manpower established primarily for other purposes.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the tragic loss which the whole country has suffered in the death of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Andrew Humphrey. This was indeed a tragedy, and I know that the whole House echoes those sentiments. There has also been the untimely passing of General Sharp, and I am sure that the whole House would equally wish to record our sadness at the passing of such an excellent servant.
The hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) asked for assurances about fuel and ammunition for training. Since the fuel crisis, we have naturally had to watch fuel consumption in all three Services very carefully. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy will deal with the question of naval fuel separately, but I can give the assurance that, in the reductions we were obliged to make for 1977–78, the purchase of fuel has been unaffected.
As far as ammunition is concerned, we have only recently emerged from a period of great industrial disruption, stemming from the fuel crisis and the three-day week—and that was certainly not the fault of this Administration.
The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) may say that but hon. Members should believe me—although some may prefer not to—when I say that we are only now coming out of the problems that were created by that period of industrial confrontation under the last Tory Government. As a direct result of the three-day week there was a rationing of certain natures of ammunition. The impact of that rationing has been substantially reduced. The present situation has been caused by industrial difficulties and not by cuts.
The hon. Member for Gillingham also suggested that had it not been for pressures on the Government in the House the answer given about short-service gratuities by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech would have been different. The Government never had any intention of abrogating the rights of Service men. The men involved were worried about Press reports which wrongly gave the impression that a decision had been taken. Our responsibility as a good employer to the Servicemen—in the face of premature Press reports—was fully discharged, first, by keeping the men involved informed about discussions and, secondly, by the outcome that was announced by the Secretary of State. The attempt by the Opposition to make capital out of inaccurate Press reports is unworthy.
I shall not give way since I have only three minutes left.
I welcome the support that my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) gave to the work of the European Programme Group. Although my hon. Friend will be dealing with that subject in greater detail on Monday, I can say that I share my hon. Friend's concern that the countries on this side of the Atlantic should play their full part in developing and producing the military equipment that they require. My hon. Friend will realise, however, that the task that the group has set itself is lengthy and difficult. It involves finding the best balance between the military, financial and industrial interests of member countries. We cannot expect dramatic results overnight. There is now a will among, the member nations of the EPG to work together to produce the equipment that they need in the interests both of efficiency and economy and of the standardisation of equipment among the forces of the Alliance.
I also agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of establishing a two-way-street with the United States in equipment purchasing. We welcome the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Reciprocal Purchasing. I am glad to say that British industry is taking advantage of the new opportunities that the memorandum presents. Although success with the United States market brings valuable rewards—as the experience with the Harrier has shown, for instance—it is a very competitive market indeed and British industry will have to put in substantial effort, sustained over a long period of time, if the opportunities that now exist are to bear fruit.
Having dealt with all those points—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I must apologise for not having time to cover all the important and valuable matters that have been raised. I shall finish with one thought. No one is more conscious than the Government of the threat to which we must address ourselves. We shall be unremitting in our effort to ensure Britain's security as a member of the NATO alliance which is the linchpin of our policy.
Britain's security is better assured by the present Government's policy of careful, cost-effective and considered policies to achieve the best possible use of resources and the minimisation of waste than by the fantastic, reckless and unfinanceable programme—