§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call on the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence, it may be convenient that I should indicate that there will be selected the Amendment in the names of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and other right hon. and hon. Members, and no other.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)
I beg to move,That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1965, contained in Command Paper No. 2592.I should like to start with a remark which, I hope, will not be controversial. I do not think that I can let the occasion of presenting my first White Paper on the Defence Estimates pass without paying a tribute to the calibre of the military and civilian personnel who serve the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence. I think that the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) will agree that for experience, intelligence, dedication and hard work they form a team which has no equal in Britain or in the world.
I should like to say a special word on behalf of the Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten of Burma, who, Members will know, is retiring this summer. I am sure that we will all agree that he adds to his other qualities a special distinction of imagination and thrusting energy which mark him out as one of the really great Englishmen of our time, and I very much hope that when he leaves the Ministry of Defence he will continue to put his exceptional gifts at the service of the nation in another capacity for many years to come.
A Minister who has such men to serve him must feel a certain humility, or even awe. But there is still a job for him to do, and it is a job that can only be done by an elected representative of the people, who is responsible to Parliament. The Minister has the job of seeing that this whole tremendous operation of defence, involving an expenditure of £2,000 million a year and 800,000 people, both civilian and military, operating all over the world, makes sense in terms of the nation's needs, that it serves the objectives of our foreign policy, and that it is 1328 compatible with the needs of our economy. If the Minister does not do it nobody can, and, unless he is willing and able to exercise this responsibility, it is almost certain that the operation will get out of control. In fact, it has repeatedly got out of control in recent years.
The first job of every new Defence Minister over the last 10 years has been to cancel a major project of his predecessor. The right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) cancelled certain military aircraft projects. Lord Watkinson cancelled Blue Streak. The right hon. Member for Monmouth, when he first came in, cancelled Blue Water. I had to cancel the HS681 and the P1154. In one respect I was more fortunate than my predecessors, because the reorganisation of the central headquarters carried out by the right hon. Gentleman on the advice of Earl Mountbatten has enormously improved the machinery for the control of policy.
But I must tell the House that the right hon. Gentleman did not use this machinery, and the result was that taking over responsibility for Britain's defence policy last October was like being pitchforked into the cab of a runaway train. There have been times, for example, when we have had no battalions of the Strategic Reserve in Britain which could be sent abroad without exceeding the amount of family separation which is a normal part of Service conditions. If we exceed this amount of separation we have very little chance of getting and keeping voluntary recruits.
I found when I took office that the Royal Navy had had to put some weapons in mothballs in its ships for want of technical ratings to man them. It is well-known to both sides of the House that the previous Government's aircraft programme compelled us to go abroad to get the R.A.F. planes that were needed at the time we needed them. The problem was not only a problem of deficiencies in the Services. In vital respects our defence policy was in open contradiction to our foreign policy. In particular, the previous Government's obsession with the myth of an independent nuclear deterrent was working against their own declared aims, both in relation to the solidarity of the 1329 Western Alliance and in stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.
At the same time, defence costs were rising at a rate completely incompatible with our economic growth. Even so, the Government were failing to get value for the colossal sums of money that they were spending. I confess that this year's Defence White Paper is simply the first engagement in a long campaign to re-establish control of the nation's defence and to take a firm grip both on policy and on expenditure.
I am as disappointed as anybody on either side of the House that I have not been able to do more in the first four months. I find myself, astonishingly, agreeing with the Amendment on the Order Paper put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), at the end of the Motion to add:congratulates Her Majesty's Government on its decision to review its commitments, to renounce its independent nuclear role, to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, progressively and drastically to reduce expenditure on armaments and to work devotedly and realistically for international disarmament, but would welcome greatly accelerated progress in the reduction of Great Britain's overseas commitments, towards the abandonment of pretensions of national nuclear independence, and in the establishment of a world security system, free from reliance on nuclear weapons".I never expected that to happen to me in a defence debate, but I agree with my hon. Friend, although I feel that he probably exaggerates the simplicity of the problem which I face and also underestimates what we have already done, to which I will come later.
The plain fact is that we cannot do all of this at one blow. I can only remember one occasion when a Minister of Defence did that, and that was the right hon. Member for Streatham, in 1957, when he decided to cancel our military aircraft projects because there was no future for supersonic military aircraft. It was to be done by a missile called, I think, Blue Streak. Later, the right hon. Gentleman dismissed the Polaris submarine as a weapon which would be obsolete by 1965. These were very dramatic decisions, but, unfortunately, they were all wrong. The right hon. Gentleman had not done his homework before he took them. The result was that by the time he found out he was wrong we were further back than 1330 when we started, with results in the field of military aircraft which we are only just beginning to overcome.
If one simply jams on the brakes hard, the train is liable to leave the rails and it is at best a slow and precarious operation to get it under control again. The 400,000 men in our Armed Forces are working all out all over the world at the jobs which the nation has given them. We cannot simply walk out of existing commitments without respect to the views of our allies, or to the consequences of our withdrawal. We cannot tell our soldiers, sailors and airmen to fall out and hang about and wait until we have decided what the new policies will be. But if we do not stop everything at once then we must let the pipeline continue to provide our forces with the equipment which is at this time in 1965 long overdue. In fact, the whole of this year's increase in defence expenditure is accounted for by improvements in equipment for the Air Force, the Navy and the Army.
During the last four months, therefore, all we have been doing, and I frankly admit it, is to take a grip on the problem and take the most urgent steps that are absolutely necessary. The most important decision that we have taken is that Britain cannot go it alone in a nuclear age. Military, political and economic facts alike rule out atomic jingoism as a basis for our national defence policy. Until disarmament can be achieved, Britain's survival and our national security must depend on the strength and solidarity of her alliance with the United States and Western Europe. We have, therefore, used our existing and programmed nuclear forces not to try to sustain the dangerous delusion that Britain could take on the whole weight of Soviet Russia's thermo-nuclear power alone. We have offered to pool them in a collective allied force in which those of our allies who do not have nuclear weapons of their own will have complete equality with us. We believe that by doing so we shall succeed in discouraging and not provoking the spread of national nuclear weapons.
The proposals which we have made for an Atlantic Nuclear Force, which the House accepted last December despite the most vigorous opposition from the party opposite, have already saved the Western Alliance from what threatened to be a 1331 catastrophic crisis over the M.L.F. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is the case. Anybody who reads the speeches made by right hon. Members opposite and the article, for example, by the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod), which was published on election day, must know that the various allies were threatened with a catastrophe in allied co-operation in the autumn of 1964, if ever that proposal continued to be the subject under discussion in the way then planned.
Now our proposals are the basis of all discussion inside the Atlantic Alliance about the central problem of atomic sharing which has tormented it for so many years. The basis is the British Government's proposals for an Atlantic Nuclear Force designed to meet the legitimate anxieties of our allies who do not have nuclear weapons of their own without promoting the spread of nuclear weapons under national control.
These are proposals which have no analogy whatever in the policy of the previous Government. The United States Government welcomed these proposals when we put them to them in Washington last December. The response of Federal Germany has been a helpful one and raises no issues which cannot be resolved in negotiation. We hope here to move shortly from bilateral to multilateral discussion of our proposals.
We have done very well in the diplomatic field on this, but what struck me, in reading the Order Paper yesterday, was that we have made a lot of progress also with the party opposite, because in their Amendment they are congratulating us on the policy which we have adopted for dealing with our nuclear weapons. They attacked them like fury a few months ago as a unilateral abnegation of the British deterrent. These really were the words of the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft). Now they are regarding these same proposals as a way of keeping an independent British deterrent.
We know the right hon. Member for Monmouth well. We love him as a performer. He is a versatile fellow, for in 1958 he resigned from the Government because he opposed the British atomic programme altogether. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. In 1964, the right hon.
1332 Gentleman fought the election on the myth of a purely independent national deterrent. Only last December he spoke violently, and so did the Leader of the Opposition, against our proposals for an Atlantic Nuclear Force because they meant pooling our forces with our allies. Now, apparently, the right hon. Gentleman is welcoming the White Paper for saying again in the same words exactly what right hon. Gentlemen opposite attacked us for saying last December.
We know the right hon. Gentleman. He will put this new case in person this afternoon with the same synthetic passion as he put in the last one, rolling his eyes, slapping the Dispatch Box, stepping back and looking round for approval.
§ Mr. Healey
The question which we shall be asking ourselves when the right hon. Gentleman rolls out these fancy phrases, and which I ask him to answer when he stands up later, is whether this is a sincere conversion to the Government's policy or an elaborate plot, elaborated with oriental cunning, to try to split the Government? I must say that the right hon. Gentleman's parliamentary tactics are as tortously inscrutable as a piece of transparent plastic.
I shall be interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman exactly what it is on which he congratulates us. Is he congratulating us on saying in the White Paper exactly what we said last December. He then described it as though it was almost treason against the nation. What precisely is it? In fact, of course, the right hon. Gentleman knows in his heart that these proposals are the only possible lines along which we can hope that N.A.T.O. will be able to solve its most serious problem, the problem which has been dividing it for the last 10 or 12 years.
The other major problem facing N.A.T.O. is to reach agreement on a strategy for the defence of Western Europe which makes sense in terms of the political, military and economic realities of 1965. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me at least in this, that the strategic concept under which the N.A.T.O. commanders have to work at present is many years out of date. It is absurd to expect that 1333 N.A.T.O. could fight, even more win, a general war in Europe lasting for several months after the nuclear exchange had started It just is not "on".
President Johnson told the American people last September that in the first nuclear exchange 100 million Americans and more than 100 million Russians would all be dead. In any so-called tactical nuclear battle in Europe the damage and casualties would be no less catastrophic. Organised society would cease to exist. In such circumstances, even the idea of organised warfare is a blasphemous mockery.
The Russian leaders know this as well as we do. They know what would happen if they took steps which led to a nuclear exchange in Europe. It is hardly conceivable that they would deliberately initiate any action which would be likely to lead to such an exchange. They must know that there is no objective which they could hope to gain in Europe which would be worth the devastating price which they would be paying in the attempt to gain it. But if this is so—and I think that this view is taken on both sides of the House today—we can, surely, dismiss from our military calculations the idea of an all-out premeditated attack and concentrate instead on organising the forces capable of deterring the kind of attack which might conceivably arise either through pure accident or through political or military misunderstanding, in other words, a war by mistake.
This is the only real problem we face in Europe at present, and even this kind of attack must, by definition, be limited both in scale and in area. Anything larger than a local incursion could not rationally be regarded as a mistake. If we concentrate on dealing with this type of contingency, the war by mistake, then we can make far better use of what forces we have in N.A.T.O. to ensure that nuclear exchange does not take place at all.
We know perfectly well that none of the allied Governments will make a major increase in the resources which they now devote to the defence of Western Europe. At the Military Council of N.A.T.O. last December I asked the Finance Ministers who were sitting round the table whether those who were prepared to offer additional resources to 1334 N.A.T.O. defence would put up their hands. None did so. We know that it will not happen. Western Germany, the country which, after all, is most directly threatened here, has actually cut its defence budget this year.
So let us concentrate on making the best use we can of our existing forces to deal with the sort of dangers which are likely, not those which are inconceivable.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
In the Labour Party's election manifesto it was specifically said:Our stress will be on the strengthening of our conventional regular forces so that we can contribute our share to NATO defence …Do I now understand that the right hon. Gentleman has turned a somersault and proposes to weaken it?
§ Mr. Healey
If the hon. Gentleman will listen carefully to what I say, he will realise that that is precisely what I am not saying.
If we concentrate on using the forces we have for the danger which we think is likely, we shall find it possible to reduce our reliance on nuclear warfare by using these forces in a conventional rôle. For example, we would not, as at present, tie up a high proportion of N.A.T.O.'s total tactical air striking forces for widespread and sustained nuclear attack on targets far behind the battle area, because such attacks could not take place without escalation to general war, and then they would be superfluous.
But if the same aircraft were available for the support of our forces in conventional warfare, the need for a nuclear exchange might never arise. This is the point I make, and I think that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) will agree that it is totally in conformity with the line we have always taken in the House and in our election manifesto.
I believe that it would be useful if the N.A.T.O. defence Ministers could discuss these problems at a special meeting before long. My impression, after talking to the Defence Ministers of the major N.A.T.O. allies in the last few months, is that, provided we avoid "theology" in our discusions, provided we stop talking about the level of the threshold, the trip-wire, the plate-glass window, vitrification, and the rest, and concentrate on 1335 discussing what we can do with what we have got to meet the dangers which we all believe are the only likely ones, we can make real progress. I am very hopeful that, in the next few months, we shall see a real advance towards revising N.A.T.O.'s strategy in this sense.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Preston, North)
Does the right hon. Gentleman's comment about targets deep behind the enemy lines imply that there is no need for a Canberra replacement of the TSR2 type?
§ Mr. Healey
No, but I do not believe that the need for a Canberra replacement depends on having nuclear strike aircraft. We have made this clear already. I made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman in our discussions 18 months ago. The case for a TSR2 or TFX, a Canberra replacement, rests primarily on its potential rôle in conventional warfare, and also on its rôle in warfare outside the European theatre. The right hon. Gentleman may well disagree with me about that, but he must at least admit that I am quite consistent. I said this in opposition, and I say it again now.
But this question—this also bears on the point which the hon. Member for Hendon, North raised when he intervened—of what is the best use we can make of the forces which N.A.T.O. has in Europe, is quite distinct from the problem discussed in paragraph 17 of the White Paper, which is what particular level of forces Britain herself should maintain in Western Germany. I shall now say a few words about that.
Under the Brussels Treaty as revised, the previous Government undertook to maintain 55,000 men on the mainland of Europe, assigned to SACEUR, and not to withdraw them against the wishes of the majority of the co-signatories of the Treaty. This undertaking does not bind us in the event of acute overseas emergency; and also, if maintenance of our forces in Europe throws too great a strain on our external finances, on our balance of payments, we may make a review of the financial conditions on which they are maintained. The present Government, of course, accept this commitment. We do not believe in unilateral abrogation of agreements made by the previous Government.
1336 It is well known that Britain's inability so far to reach the target which the previous Government set, and which they never reached, has been justified by the serious emergencies facing us overseas, particularly, in recent months, in Malaysia. I am glad to say that our allies inside N.A.T.O. have never failed to show understanding when we have had to ask them to let us withdraw units temporarily from B.A.O.R. to the Far East. But I believe that the strain of this commitment on our balance of payments must be taken very seriously indeed.
Three years ago, it cost us the equivalent in Deutschmarks of about £68 million to keep our forces in Germany, but the Federal Government at that time reduced the strain on our resources of foreign currency by buying nearly £54 million worth of equipment in Britain. They met something like three-quarters of the total cost in foreign currency. This year, the cost of B.A.O.R. has risen to the equivalent in Deutschmarks of £85 million, and we have no assurance that German purchases in Britain this year will rise above £25 million in value; and this at a time when the British defence budget has risen yet again, but the Federal German Government have found it possible to make major cuts in their defence expenditure, an expenditure which, I remind the House, involves no burden whatever on the German balance of payments.
I think that, with the best will in the world, it will be difficult to persuade the average Englishman to carry the economic burden of maintaining the present level of forces in Germany at a time of exceptional strain on our balance of payments, when West Germany seems able to do so little to relieve that strain and particularly when the total British defence budget is one-third greater than that of West Germany. I am sure that this is an issue which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be taking up during his visit to Germany in the next few days.
Britain's defence responsibilities are not limited to Western Europe. We are the only country actually contributing forces to all three of the regional alliances. We are at present the only Western Power covering any substantial military responsibilities between Suez 1337 and Singapore. North of Singapore, only the United States stands with us.
I do not blame anyone for wondering —and I know that this applies to some hon. Members on the Liberal benches, many of my hon. Friends and no doubt some hon. Members opposite—whether it is really necessary for us to carry this unique burden overseas in an age when our old imperial responsibilities have passed away. But the fact is—and I do ask hon. Members to recognise this —that if we simply abdicated the responsibilities we now carry, without making any arrangements to share them or to hand them over to anybody, there is a grave risk that some parts of this great area would dissolve into violence and chaos, for we must face the fact that the main danger of war today lies outside Europe and not inside it.
We have seen war going on outside Europe again and again in the last few years. If we had not been in a position to respond, as we did a year ago—and I pay the last Government due credit for this—to the requests of our Commonwealth partners, Tanganyika, Kenya and Uganda, for immediate military help, it is possible—I believe even likely—that the whole of East Africa might have returned by now to the tragic primeval chaos into which the withdrawal of United Nations force plunged much of the Congo.
Nothing is more certain than that, if we had failed to meet our treaty obligations to the newly independent Government of Malaysia, there would be large-scale fighting over much of Southern Asia. Our contribution to the defence of Malaysia so far has been essentially a deterrent to war and not to fight a war. Total British casualties, including Gurkhas, so far in the last 18 months have been just over 100. But the presence of our forces there—forces which are known to be able to deal with possible contingencies—has, I am convinced, prevented major warfare in that part of the world and the sort of agonising suffering by human beings with which other parts of that area have been afflicted in the last few years.
I would point out that the justification of our military presence east of Suez is not the building of a wall against Communism. Nor is it for the protection of 1338 selfish British economic interests. It is essentially the maintenance of peace and stability in parts of the world where the sudden withdrawal of colonial rule has too often left the local peoples unable to maintain stability without some sort of external aid.
I ask hon. Members to recognise that the newly independent peoples of these areas—many of them lately British Colonies and now independent partners in the Commonwealth—have just as much right to peaceful progress as any of us in the West. Of course, it would be best if we could reach a peaceful solution of their problems and I know that the whole House will hope that the absurdity of confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia may be brought to an end by negotiation as soon as possible. But we must recognise that aggression and imperialism are no monopoly of people with white skins and that Asian peoples have just as much right as European peoples to protection against the threat of aggression if they feel they face it.
Britain can, as it happens, make a contribution towards meeting their needs in these respects. It is a contribution we should be proud to make. But we cannot do it indefinitely on our own. We cannot be the permanent policeman for the whole of Africa and Asia. Whatever might have been possible in the nineteenth century, the days of pax Britannica are over. We must share our responsibilities with our friends and allies.
I know that this is the view of the Liberal Party, as expressed in its Amendment, but I ask right hon. and hon. Members of the Liberal Party to recognise that we shall only persuade other countries to share this burden if we can convince them of our own reliability in the long term and that we intend to carry our share, even though only a share, in these responsibilities. It is because the Government have succeeded in persuading Australia and New Zealand of our long-term intention to play a rôle in this respect that their Governments have found it possible, in the last few weeks, to agree to making very substantial new contributions alongside Britain towards the defence of Malaysia. I think that all hon. Members on both sides of the House will deeply welcome this, but let us recognise, in doing so, that these friendly Commonwealth 1339 Governments have not previously agreed to make these contributions, and would not have done so today had they not been satisfied that we were prepared to continue bearing our share, and a fair share, of any burden.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to deal with the presence of H-bombs in the Far East and indicate for what purpose the V-bombers carrying H-bombs are stationed there?
§ Mr. Healey
I shall say a word about that, but there is no evidence as far as I know that any V-bombers carrying H-bombs are stationed in the Far East. But, as the Leader of the Opposition has said, it has never been the custom of British Governments to give that sort of information and I hope that it never will be. There is no occasion for it whatever.
The other point I would like to make about the burden is that the whole of Western Europe benefits from our contribution to stability in the Middle East. Nearly all Western European countries get their oil from that area if they are not prepared to contribute to this burden—and I understand very well if they are not prepared to make a direct contribution—then I hope that they will take account of what we are doing in the Middle East when we discuss how to share our common burden in Europe. I do not think that that is too much to ask.
It must, however, remain our main aim to enable the United Nations to take these responsibilities over from individual Western Governments or combinations of Governments. A major element in the foreign and defence policies of the Government is to ensure that responsibility for peace-keeping outside Europe falls increasingly on the United Nations. But that is obviously a long and difficult road, especially at the present time. As a token of our faith in and support for the United Nations we have, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary announced last week, made an offer of British forces and equipment for use in United Nations peace-keeping operations.
We are already providing a wide range of services for the United Nations operation in Cyprus. These include what might be described as "front-line" 1340 troops, but I think that we all know that the occasion will not often arise when the Security Council will be prepared to allow a great power to supply front-line combat troops for U.N. operations. That is why our present offer is confined to logistic support, on the assumption that the United Nations will find infantry from other countries, and we believe that we should be prepared, on request and subject to our own commitments to other countries, to provide logistic backing for up to six battalions.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations has been informed of our offer in general terms and we hope soon to discuss it with him in detail. If this seems desirable, earmarking arrangements will be made to facilitate the speedy selection and deployment of units, as available, for United Nations purposes. I am sorry that the Leader of the Opposition was so cold in his response to my right hon. Friend's announcement last week. I ask him to recognise that the offer by Britain of military support for United Nations peace keeping is not a diversion from our national defences, but is, in this age, the only way of making national defences really effective in the long run.
So far, I have said something about how we are ensuring that our defence policy serves the objectives of our foreign policy. I want now to say a word about its impact on our economy. The fact is that we in Britain are still spending too much on defence. The total bill is higher than it was last year, although at least it represents a smaller proportion of our national income and we have cut the increase proposed by the previous Government by £55 million, which is more than half in real terms.
The British people are now spending on their security twice what they spend on betting, but they are still spending 25 per cent. less than they are spending on drink and tobacco. It is as well that we should get all these things into perspective, and perhaps we can get them into better perspective if I give a few facts about what other countries are doing in this respect.
Much has been made of the fact that America and Russia have brought down their defence bills during the last 12 months, but, of course, they brought them down from very much higher levels. 1341 America is still spending 9 per cent. of her national wealth on defence, as against 6.8 per cent. in Britain, and the cuts which Mr. McNamara has made this year have simply brought the expenditure in the United States down from £98 to £96 per head. That compares with a current level of £39 per head in Britain, less than half.
Russia has brought its defence budget down, but is still spending nearly 12 per cent. of its national wealth on defence. This works out at about £50 a head, nearly twice what we are spending—£11,000 million on its total defence budget Many countries have increased their defence budgets in the last year far more than we have. Poland's defence budget has gone up by 5 per cent., Roumania's by more than 10 per cent. and Yugoslavia's by more than 20 per cent.; but Yugoslavia is a neutral country, of course, and neutrality can be a very expensive business in the modern world.
The fact remains that we are still spending a higher proportion of our national wealth on our defence forces than any other country of our size, than any of our main competitors in world trade, and this expenditure bears particularly heavily on our balance of payments and on the type of resources, both in manpower and in manufacturing capacity, which we need most of all to get our economic situation right.
We have made a start this year, a small one but a start. We have saved £55 million compared with the plans of the party opposite. The House may be interested in some of the details about how this saving is made up. By far the biggest single item comes from the changes in the aircraft and submarine programmes which I have already announced, and both these changes give us better fighting efficiency at lower cost. The next biggest item of saving arises from the cancellation of certain expenditures on nuclear weapons.
At the other end of the scale, we have dropped many smaller items, including one which I was staggered to find there—£300,000 which was to have been spent on ceremonial dress. The changes in the aircraft and submarine programmes alone, although they will not save as much next year, will save us £350 million altogether over the next 10 years. I believe that 1342 it will be possible to make further savings by further changes in the equipment programme during the coming year.
However, I must warn the House that there is a limit to the degree to which the problem of defence expenditure can be solved by savings on equipment. Nearly half of our defence budget goes on pay, allowances, housing, movement, and so on, of the men and women in our forces. That degree of expenditure is liable to go up year by year at least as fast as our national wealth, because if we need all-Regular forces we must be prepared to provide them with pay and conditions which rise in parallel with those of their civilian brothers. This means that the manpower costs, which represent nearly half of our defence budget, tend to rise automatically at least as fast as our national wealth.
Nearly all the other half of our expenditure goes on equipment and, as the White Paper points out, the cost of equipment tends to rise very much faster than the national wealth.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Kinross and West Perthshire)
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that the ceremonial dress mentioned is the ordinary walking-out dress for soldiers?
§ Mr. Healey
No. In this case it was ceremonial dress for the R.A.F. It was certainly expenditure which we did not regard as justified in the present economic circumstancese of the nation. I would be surprised if, looking at it again, the right hon. Gentleman would find it to be justified, but perhaps he will answer that question when he makes his speech.
The cost of equipment rises very much faster than our national wealth and so, if we try to hold the defence budget firm over a long period simply by reducing expenditure on new equipment for a constant number of men, we are liable to finish up with the best-fed, best-dressed, best-looking and worst equipped Army in the world, because in the end manpower costs will swallow up all the money originally available for equipment. This is the basic problem which we face, and in the long run the surest way of achieving major reductions in our defence budget and then keeping the budget constant is to reduce the number of men and women in the forces, because then 1343 both manpower and equipment expenditure will fall proportionately.
Incidentally, it is no good simply closing foreign bases unless the men who serve in them are demobilised, because otherwise the overall defence expenditure will have to be increased in order to provide new accommodation and facilities for them somewhere else.
But the number of men in the Services cannot be cut unless the jobs they have to do are cut. One of the great tragedies of our defence forces in recent years has been a tendency to cut the manpower, but to leave the jobs they have to do untouched, and that is why our forces have been so overstretched in recent years. That is why the Government are now engaged in a far-reaching review of all the jobs done by our Armed Forces, both at home and abroad, in order to measure their overall costs against their value to the nation. We then propose to determine the best mix of forces and equipment to do the jobs which really make sense.
This review will take several months yet. Meanwhile, we have opened a sustained offensive to get value for money across the whole range of our existing defence expenditure. That means, first, deciding the most economic and efficient means of administering our total defence effort. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for the Army will be dealing in some detail with that this evening.
The other major front in the offensive in getting value for money is the fight against the sort of waste which has characterised so many of our equipment programmes over the last 13 years. We all know of the £300 million down the drain on aircraft and missile projects which were cancelled before they could be completed. The basic problem is to choose the weapon system which is best and cheapest for the job in hand and then to ensure that it is produced at the time and at the price required.
This means avoiding the sort of duplication between the Services which gave us three separate ground-to-air missiles in the last 10 years. It means aiming at the maximum interoperability of weapons and equipment. This was one of the factors which led us to choose the Phantom aircraft, because it can 1344 operate off carriers as well as from land bases.
Above all, it means avoiding unnecessary sophistication. There has too often been a tendency in the past, when any item of equipment was being considered, to go for the maximum in sophistication which the state of the art would allow, irrespective of whether it was required to meet the need. It is because we were prepared to take a hard-headed look at the real needs of the job in prospect that we decided to choose the C13OE as a Hastings-Beverley replacement in place of the more sophisticated HS681. When we looked at the problem concretely, on the map, we found that there were adequate airstrips in the various parts of the world where we were likely to operate which would enable the C13OE to operate within 100 nautical miles of the scene of any likely ground operations.
The additional capability of the HS681 —the capability offered by a slightly shorter take- off—was very marginal compared with the fact that it cost three times as much. [An HON. MEMBER: "The take-off is much shorter."] It is not much shorter. The C130E can take off, depending on the distance it has to fly, in a maximum of 3,400 ft. and a minimum of 3,000 ft. The HS681 was planned to take off from a 1,700 ft. runway. There is a difference in order of magnitude, but it is not great. It is not important in terms of the concrete places where we expect to use the aircraft.
The point which I must make to hon. Members opposite, which they never took in when they were in opposition, is that it is no good going for James Bond's Aston Martin if a jeep will do, particularly if we cannot afford the Aston Martin and, anyway, will not get it when we need it. This is the basic problem which we face.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we had not had an aircraft of the quality of the Spitfire we should have been in a very bad position? Will he answer a question about the C130E? Is not the speed of the HS681 very much greater than that of the C130E?
§ Mr. Healey
The speed of the HS681 is about 20 per cent. greater, but speed is not the important factor when we 1345 are dealing with transport aircraft. The Spitfire was a completely different problem. The Spitfire problem was the one we faced with the P1154. The previous Government were asking the R.A.F. to fly subsonic Hunters for another seven years until their total operational life was extended to 15 or 20 years against possible opponents who already had supersonic MiG 21s. That is where the hon. Gentleman's point comes in.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
Why was the C130E picked instead of the Belfast, which has a larger carrying capacity and which could have been built in this country, saving dollars?
§ Mr. Healey
The reason was very simple. I know and sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's special interest in the Belfast. The Belfast as now built is a very expensive strategic transport. A tactical transport with the capability we require could have been developed on the basis of the Belfast, but it would have cost as much as the HS681 and would have been inferior to the HS681 in performance and would not have been available in time. We looked at this most carefully. Obviously, if we could have got a British aircraft to do the job, we would have taken it. But this was not the case with the Belfast. Probably, if it had been, the right hon. Member for Monmouth would not have gone for the HS681; he would have gone for the Belfast improvement instead.
Once a project has been selected—and we propose to use very stringent tests of real operational requirements on the map—the next problem is to secure development and production at the time and cost required. I will not weary the House with details of the appalling escalation in cost and slippage in time from which so many projects of the previous Government suffered, but I would emphasise again a problem which is certain to bear ever more heavily on any British Government in the years ahead.
I believe that I will carry the whole House with me here. Research and development costs for sophisticated modern weapons may be as large as the production costs for the number of 1346 weapons which Britain herself can afford. That means that unless we are to become entirely dependent on foreign countries for our arms—I know that the whole House wants to avoid that—we must seek either to share research and development costs with foreign Governments or secure additional foreign markets for our products, and this may mean being ready to adjust a purely national requirement to meet the requirements of a potential foreign customer.
During the last debate on defence the Minister of Aviation and myself gave the House some details of the aircraft projects on which we hope to work with foreign Governments. I should like to give the House a few more details following the visit which he and I paid to Paris last Saturday, because we made very substantial progress on this particular issue in our talks with the French Defence Minister, M. Messmer. I hope to be able to inform the House during the next few weeks of a firm agreement between the French and British Governments for co-operation in the production of a joint strike trainer, and in studying a longer term project employing variable geometry, which is one of the most exciting of the new developments in aeronautics. When technical studies are further advanced, we shall also be discussing with the French Government again later this year how we might best collaborate on a common helicopter and a common aircraft for airborne early warning.
Although we are only at an early stage in these developments, our talks with the French show what can be achieved by friendly Governments in a determined attempt to co-operate in finding common solutions for common problems. I shall hope to pursue similar objectives with our other allies in the next few months.
From the brief sketch which I have given of the economic problems we face in defence one thing stands out: Provided that we co-operate even more closely with our friends, we may be able to solve our defence problems, or at least survive them, over the next 10 years or so. After that, the problem will be insoluble unless we can co-operate with our political opponents on some form of arms control and disarmament.
The problem is not just the terrifying rate at which the arms race between the 1347 great Powers is still proceeding, and the totally unacceptable costs involved for Powers like Britain in seeking to keep up with powers like Russia or the United States. More fearsome still is the fact that the most modern weapons are now available for sale to any country which thinks it can afford to buy them—perhaps at only a nominal price if the supplying country sees political or economic advantage in disposing of them in this way. So even a country like Indonesia, if it is prepared to buy abroad, is able to possess today a supersonic fighter better than anything which Britain could have produced under the previous Government's programme in the next seven years.
For too long in the past foreign policy, defence policy and disarmament have been kept in separate compartments. We believe that they are inseparable aspects of the same problem. We must always be ready to see arms control as a possible answer even to our narrow problems of defence. In Europe, for example, where both sides are at last coming to recognise that the costs of using force for political gain are out of all proportion to what they can hope to gain, there is everything to be said for trying to solve the problem of security by co-operation between opposing camps on arms control instead of continuing an arms race which neither side can expect to win.
Cannot we reach agreement on protection against surprise attack by mutual inspection of the arms and forces on both sides of the Iron Curtain? This is not a controversial or Bolshevik view; it is a view that was strongly held by General Eisenhower and General Norstad. Cannot we reach agreement on freezing the existing levels and then reducing them—that was the view held by Lord Avon and Mr. Dulles—always provided that the balance of security is maintained and we reach agreement inside the Alliance on what we propose to do?
Outside Europe the need for active initiatives on arms control is even more apparent. If nothing is done to discourage the new nations from entering a new arms race among themselves, the results may be disastrous for all their hopes of economic advance and peace. There is already a gentlemen's agreement among the great Powers to refrain from passing nuclear weapons on to countries which do not now possess them. Could we not seek 1348 to extend this agreement to cover the more sophisticated conventional weapons as well?
Above all, there are the sombre implications for peace in Asia and the world of the Chinese nuclear explosion, which may be repeated in the next few days. If those countries which may feel themselves threatened by China's possession of such weapons decide to seek security by producing similar weapons for themselves, we may see a rapid chain reaction which will not be confined to Asia, and which will finally dispose of any immediate hope of stopping the spread of atomic weapons. It must be the urgent desire of all who value peace to find other ways of meeting this problem.
As I said before, the best answer to this problem would be a guarantee from all existing nuclear Powers to all non-nuclear ones. We must work for this. Anything less raises daunting problems, especially for countries with a policy of non-alignment. But worst of all would be the spread of independent national deterrents. It would mean an appalling waste of resources which are desperately needed for human welfare and a very substantial increase in the danger of war.
My quarrel with the Liberal Amendment is that it seems to suggest that there is an easy answer to this problem. There is not. I cannot give an answer to the problem—no single nation can—but I know that every pound that we spend on defence in the modern world will increase our insecurity, and not our security, unless it is calculated to create the conditions in which the nations can agree upon disarmament.
It is under 20 years since the first atomic bomb exploded in the desert of New Mexico. That is not a long time for mankind to come to terms with a revolution which has upset many of the basic principles of international politics painfully elaborated during the last 3,000 years. But Her Majesty's Government have learned at least one lesson, of which many of us on this side of the House were deeply conscious long before atomic power was thought of. That is, that the only possible security is collective security. Chauvinism and isolationism, atomic or conventional, are a sure road to catastrophe.
The only form of collective security which will work in the end is one which 1349 will bring us together, not only with our political friends, but also with those who disagree politically with us. That is the principle on which the White Paper rests and that is the spirit in which I ask the House to approve it.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:while deploring the unjustified and misleading party political statement in the opening paragraph of the White Paper on Defence and the absence of any clear account of Her Majesty's Government's proposals for maintaining the strength of the Armed Forces at a level consistent with the roles undertaken, nevertheless welcomes the recognition by Her Majesty's Government of the importance of a powerful nuclear capability".We are at the outset of a two-day debate which it is traditional to have upon the broad aspects of defence. It is the Government, in their opening paragraph of the White Paper, who have decided to highlight the party differences. That is their choice and not ours. It is not necessary, however, to spend the whole of a defence debate stressing the differences between the Opposition and the Government. Indeed, it may on occasion be more embarrassing to indicate the points on which they agree. That this thought has not occurred solely to me is illustrated a little by the thought-provoking Amendment, which is not being called, which has been put down by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman).
If I might congratulate the Secretary of State for Defence upon one thing, if nothing else, it would be upon the remarkable and anatomical performance of making his speech, or three-quarters of it, to the benches behind him. He said that I would spend my time turning round and looking for applause. The right hon. Gentleman turned round quite a lot. [An HON. MEMBER: "He did not get any applause."] Do not let us exaggerate. I saw the expression. It was frigid, but not wholly unfriendly. I do not want to disconcert the right hon. Gentleman.
I want to start on some of the things about which we agree. I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State pay his tribute to Lord Mountbatten. I was privileged to serve with Lord Mountbatten and I think that anyone who has served with 1350 him would say that it was an exhilarating and very good experience for any man in that position. Certainly, I welcomed the years I spent with him and the right hon. Gentleman is right in paying tribute to the immense contribution which Lord Mountbatten has made in so many fields to public life in Britain.
I should also like to say a few words about the form of the White Paper. I do not criticise it, because it is in the form, although the contents are not entirely the same, in which I left it in the Ministry of Defence. In particular, the Defence White Paper this time is not a loose confederation of Service views. It makes an attempt to state a defence view. It lays emphasis upon the functional approach and the introduction of functional costings announced two or three months before the end of the last Parliament.
I welcome the account in paragraph 184 of the development of the new Ministry of Defence. Its formation was a revolutionary change and, I think, the House will agree that the steps which are recounted are sensible. In particular, I draw attention to paragraph 35, about the establishment at Byfleet of a headquarters for defence operational analysis. I believe this to be the key to a great deal of the problems which confront us. It is essential in the world in which we live that defence problems should be treated to proper scientific analysis, not on a single Service basis, but on a defence basis, otherwise all the hopes that the right hon. Gentleman has about making sensible savings for the future will be disappointed.
I accept what is said in the White Paper about the centralisation of communications, lands, airfield construction, logistic procedures and supply services. All these are important and far-reaching, but we need to go further.
Something has been done about the unification of overseas headquarters, but the Secretary of State needs to have a very close look at the headquarters at Singapore. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say a word or two about this later. I am far from happy that that headquarters is yet unified in the sense that any of us who have studied the problem would wish it to be. Some overseas headquarters have reached the limit in unification which they can 1351 achieve until there is greater unification in the headquarters here where the right hon. Gentleman does his work every day.
I note and applaud the establishment of the committee on the rationalisation of air power and I wish it well. The adoption of the Phantom will help in this in having the same aircraft for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. Whatever other arguments there may be, let us seize that opportunity and make the most of it and try to get rationalisation of aircraft. Nor do I in that way underestimate the importance of the P1127. Many hard things have been said about it in an overseas rôle. I do not go out of my way to slander British projects; plenty of that goes on. The B.B.C. can say what it likes about computers and the rest, but let us in the House of Commons pay tribute to our technicians. The P1127, certainly in a European context, is a magnificent aircraft and I very much hope that it will be developed and stretched. Europe would do well to take a considerable interest in it. I have always felt that. It has been my consistent view.
I accept, also, that the across-the-board responsibility of the Defence Ministers follows closely the lines that I laid down. What one looks for, however, is something more. Virtually all this was in train when the right hon. Gentleman took over. One searches for an assurance that the impetus is really being carried forward.
We are really at a cross-roads in defence organisation. Either we move forward to a functional approach or we will slip back into a rather loose federation of Service chiefs struggling expensively for their Service empires. That is the choice and that is the decision which must be made, and will be made sometime during the next 12 months.
The instructions that I had given—I do not mind disclosing this—as I left the Ministry were these. The words I used were that the issue was not whether a functional approach should be adopted, but when and how. That is the right approach. I am not seeking to be overcritical, but when I read the White Paper on this aspect I am a little nervous about whether my instructions have been properly carried out under the present 1352 Government. I read in paragraph 48 on the question of the unified headquarters:The creation of unified headquarters over-seas and the progress of rationalisation must inevitably blur the line of single-Service management and create an automatic impetus towards new organisational arrangements.If the Secretary of State thinks there is anything automatic in the Civil Service approach to unified control I beg him to thing again. There is nothing automatic about this. Nothing will happen if he just sits there. It needs a great deal of drive to achieve it. Then we get this phrase from the right hon. Gentleman:The question is not whether further changes take place, but what changes, in what direction and at what pace.What an amazing glimpse of the obvious. We have read in the paper that the right hon. Gentleman has written this White Paper himself. I must say that I cannot congratulate him on his prose style.
§ Mr. Healey
It may be for the convenience of the House if I tell the right hon. Gentleman what happened about his ideas. We carried out a study in the last three months to investigate the idea of functional organisation. We discovered that the right hon. Gentleman had left no ideas behind as to what a functional organisation should be. We had to devise a model and then test it, and we found that there was no basis, on the test we were able to apply in the Ministry, which would enable us to judge whether it would in any way assist or hinder the troops in carrying out their day-to-day jobs. That is why we had another look at it. We are looking at the problem as it ought to be looked at, not as an abstract problem, but as one of immediate economy and efficiency, and as a problem from the point of view of the men in the field.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I can well understand this. My suspicions are justified. The rats did get at it.
Let us take each case on its merits. Let us look at it, and we find that all the drive, impetus, absolute determination to see that we go forward to a functional approach has in fact been lost. It is indeed a disappointment.
There is something else that is missing. I had given instructions that much fuller information should be given about future plans. One could take many illustrations, but I take this one as typical. Let us 1353 take the subject of helicopters. I think it is one which is of interest to the whole House.
Let us look at paragraph 27. It says that we are short of them and ought to have more. It says:British forces still suffer from a serious shortage of helicopters, and the reliability of some of those currently available has been unreasonably low.I think that a lot of people who have been in Sarawak and Borneo would generally support his view and know that the Belvedere had a number of teething problems and so forth. But then, going on with the White Paper, we see what really happened.
We read that in the South Arabian Federation:Helicopters and light aircraft of the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and the Army gave continuous support to the ground forces and moved troops as well as large quantities of food, water and ammunition.We go to the Far East and read:Throughout the year, Whirlwind, Wessex I and Belvedere helicopters of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy have been based on Sabah and Sarawak and increased the mobility of the Army and the Royal Marines.I'll say they did! It takes about five days to go 10 miles in that area without them, and without them these operations would have been impossible.
We go to Tanganyika:Throughout the operation Wessex helicopters from the squadrons on board the carriers acted in support and R.A.F. Belvedere helicopters assisted in the landings.We go to British Guiana and we find once again that—this is the right hon. Gentleman's own White Paper—helicopters of all three Services made possible the rapid deployment of patrols to troubled areas; a combined force of Army and R.A.F. helicopters has been established to help in operations.We come to fishery protection and we find as we go on that, by heavens, they are working there as well.
I am prepared to accept that any final perfection is indeed difficult to attain, but certainly what was done we can see from the examples has been magnificent. Nevertheless, one does move on avidly and eagerly to see what the right hon. Gentleman is going to do about it. I had to read a long way before I came to that, at paragraph 154. 1354 I shall not read it all. Broadly, summarised, it says, we must do the best with what we have got. That is what it says. There is no radical, dramatic approach. One felt little sense of that, and then one came to paragraph 155:The introduction of the Wessex Mark 2 twin-engined troop-lift helicopter into Royal Air Force service during 1964 has added considerably to the capability of the front line.Indeed it did. Then it says:More helicopters of this type are to follow.I am sure. It says:The Royal Navy is receiving further Wessex Mark 5 helicopters for troop-carrying and will also be acquiring Sioux helicopters …".This was known before. It is nearly a year ago we announced it. We also announced:The Army, too, is to have a substantial number of Sioux helicopters for support duties with combat units; and deliveries of the Scout helicopter will continue.All this was announced months before. It says:New deliveries will continue to increase significantly the size and capability of our helicopter forces over the next few years.Of course they will. They could hardly fail to do so.
What we want to know is what the right hon. Gentleman is going to do about it. I could give many other illustrations, but let us take this one illustration of what bothers me about this. There is not the slightest indication of any real determination to grapple with any of the problems—and there are problems—with regard to equipment.
With helicopters there are, broadly, two types. There is the troop carrying helicopter. Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to increase them for troop lift, or not? Perhaps someone could explain this during the debate—
§ Mr. Healey rose—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Let me finish.
Then there is the reconnaissance helicopter, the Bell, now commissioned for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. It may be that new orders have been placed over and above what had been placed before, or plans laid.
There are problems about numbers of pilots who can be trained; there were problems, even, at the higher level of 1355 costings, as to what other sacrifices may have to be made to balance certain increases. There is a limit to them.
Could not we be told about that? Really, I think an important principle is involved here. I put this to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not see why information on the broad levels of future plans with regard to equipment could not be disclosed to the House of Commons and to the Press. We already announce in total what future costings are going to be. I frankly believe that we might give a great deal more information to the House on helicopter proposals, for instance, in which hon. Members on both sides of the House are interested. I should imagine that most of the information is probably already known to all our enemies anyway, and I cannot conceive that it would do any harm to tell the House of Commons about it. I cannot see why the instructions I left were not carried out by the Secretary of State. I think, again, that he would have done much better to have struck to the instructions I left.
§ Mr. Healeyrose—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I will give way in a minute.
This is the sort of information which could be given. It would not do any harm. I will give way in a minute. I know the right hon. Gentleman may be in a difficulty at this moment about some of these things. He may not know the answers. That is quite possible. I do not blame him for not knowing all the answers all the time. But he is studying a great range of equipment problems, and in the summer he is going to be ready, and I think the House ought to have another White Paper in the summer, when he has got clear what his ideas are. At that time—I am not being too critical now, but at that time—I would ask him to ensure that it is a very much more informative White Paper. I would ask him not to throw over this idea. There are enormous security precautions about telling the House of Commons anything, and there are great staffs employed keeping secret from the House of Commons and the Press things which most countries in the world already know, I imagine, and 1356 on which there may be appearing comments in the American magazines. When he gets these decisions made, and when he issues the White Paper, which I hope he will say we can have in the summer, I hope that we shall be given a great deal more information about these subjects.
§ Mr. Healey
I appreciate the points made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not particularly appreciate the patronising way in which he made them. He produced two White Papers without giving any of this information. Each time he indicated a desire to do better next time, but he did not succeed.
The basic problem, as the right hon. Gentleman must know, is that we are dealing with forces which are seriously under-equipped and under-manned. By giving more information, we are revealing not strength, but weakness, and I had to consider this when deciding how much to put into the White Paper at this time. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that when we next produce a White Paper—and I will not say now when it will be—we shall try to give more information within the limits—and they are serious limits—of not damaging either our security or weakening the morale of our forces. These were the central problems which I faced this year.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
That is an extraordinary intervention, when one realises that the White Paper starts by announcing to the world that our forces are seriously over-stretched and dangerously undermanned. It seems extraordinary to suggest that that can be announced to the world, and yet it would be dangerous to give an indication that we had changed from six-company lift for troop carrying helicopters to eight-company lift. It seems a proposition which I am sure even the right hon. Gentleman's back benchers find difficult to accept.
The right hon. Gentleman told us how dangerous it was to give anybody the impression that our forces were weaker than they were. I deplore the fact that he opened on that note. It was a transparent piece of political slapstick. The comfort which it gave to the enemies of this country was much greater than any satisfaction it gave to anybody on either side of the House. I say that to give credit to hon. Gentlemen opposite. Nor 1357 is that particular sneer at the ability of British forces very well borne out by the account of their brilliant achievements during the last 12 months. They were the admiration, and, indeed, in many respects the envy, of the world. There is not one Western Power whose military authorities are not open in their praise for the organisation, the equipment, and the manner in which these things were carried out. We would do far better to cut out a little of this political slapstick and spend a little more time on praising, and rightly praising, the men who discharge these functions.
If they are over-stretched, what should we do? We must either reduce the rôles, or increase the numbers, but one reads in vain through this White Paper to find the slightest indication of either course. If someone is to make a charge of that kind, it is vital that he should be specific as to the solution that he puts forward, otherwise it is better not to make the charge. If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about them being under-equipped, it seems odd that the Government, dangerously as we think, have downgraded the operational requirements of two important aircraft. If the right hon. Gentleman considers that the national contribution which is made to the Armed Services is too small, it is a little odd to read in the same paragraph that the Government propose to make a continually smaller proportion of the national effort available to the Armed Forces.
The White Paper opens with this rather synthetic party roar, but it ends with a whimper as the realities of the situation begin to strike home to the right hon. Gentleman. I think that he would do far better to study the problem—and by heavens it is a real one—not in party, but in national terms.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
With all his forensic eloquence, the right hon. Gentleman is talking about what should be increased. Does he recollect his famous resignation speech, when he said that the country was going from crisis to crisis, and that we could not go on expanding in the manner in which we were expanding if we were ever to gain economic rehabilitation. Those are your words. Do you still stand by them or not?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. I have heard "you" being used a lot this afternoon and only sometimes correctly. I am dizzy at the way in which earlier the right hon. Gentleman took me round the world. If the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) wants to address a remark to another hon. Member, it must be done through the Chair.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I am always against controversy. I deeply appreciate the hon. Gentleman's vivid recollection of any speech of mine. I only hope that he will recall this one with the same clarity that he recalls that speech six years ago.
The problem which confronts the right hon. Gentleman, as much as it confronted his predecessors, and will confront his successors, can be fairly simply stated. It is how to reconcile the rôles and the resources. The rôles are not laid down by the Secretary of State. They are laid down by the Cabinet, by the Prime Minister, and by the Foreign Secretary, and as they are laid down today they include—if the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne will permit me to say so—a powerful nuclear rôle, a European rôle, and a wider rôle in the world outside, imposed on us by treaty obligations.
I must warn the right hon. Gentleman. Whatever faith he may have in the costings shown to him, whether by the Minister of Aviation or by Mr. McNamara, I hope that he will not lean too heavily on the prices immediately given, or stake his reputation on them. Nor do I think that computers will help him much. They will merely turn human errors into gigantic ones. The right hon. Gentleman will find the carrying out of these three rôles, in any form, extremely costly, and increasingly costly, for the reasons which are set out very well in paragraph 6 of the White Paper, because it costs so much more to have an interdiction bomber, or a regiment of artillery, or tactical nuclear weapons, or what one will.
If, therefore, the rôles are maintained while costs rise, and one aims—and the right hon. Gentleman's aim is to hold the budget at about £2,000 million—at constant prices, one reduces the proportion of the national effort to meet the increasingly costly rôles. The result is that someone will suffer, and that someone will be the British Service man. 1359 It would have been better if the taunts about over-stretching and under-equipment had been left until after the right hon. Gentleman had got a little further with a real study of the grimness of the problem which confronts us.
It must be for the Government of the day to determine the tasks, but the tendency is always to increase the demands made upon our forces. The other day the Foreign Secretary announced that logistic support was to be offered to six battalions to be earmarked for the United Nations. I am not criticising that as a proposal. I did not agree with what he said about earmarking. It was rather foolish if he was really suggesting the earmarking of actual units. But I am not quarrelling with the question of logistic support. I am talking about it as a military problem. If it meant anything, it meant some form of increased commitment, and that increased commitment would be reflected in contingency planning, in increased costs, and in studies within the Ministry of Defence.
I know the machine which I left behind. The right hon. Gentleman paid tribute to it. I know that before that statement was made, that proposal was costed in the machine which I left behind. I know that it was costed in terms of men, material, money and transport aircraft. Will someone tell us, in terms of men, money and transport aircraft, what that proposal means?
It is not a great matter, but it is an illustration of the way in which commitments grow. Unless the provision to meet them grows, someone suffers. However good the ideas which are drawn up by the Foreign Secretary—and I am not criticising them—if they are to be matched by a decline in the funds available we are on the highway to military disaster.
As to the particular rôles—I leave the nuclear rôle for a moment—I assume that the rôle in Malaysia and the Gulf, for reasons beyond our control will remain. My hon. Friend will ask about that, but I assume that there is little we can do to cut back there at the moment.
The remaining rôle is Europe. What should be the strategic concept in Europe, and what should be our contri- 1360 bution? When I first began to study these matters, the strategic concept in Europe was massive nuclear retaliation by the United States of America. That was at a time when they had massive nuclear superiority. Two years ago it swung back to something much nearer prolonged conventional war. It was my privilege to listen to the Americans trying to persuade a great audience of rather cynical Europeans of the virtue of prolonged conventional war.
The French were consistent throughout; they believed in a small force—the "trip wire"—and that any calculated or premeditated attack should be met immediately by a massive nuclear strike. Twelve months later a sort of compromise was reached, called "variable options"—all these concepts have names —in which there would be substantial conventional forces; there would be defence in depth; there would be a 90-day reserve, and resources would be available, especially in Britain, in terms of the Territorial Army, and so forth. Studies are going on at the moment in N.A.T.O. on that basis, and it will undoubtedly come up with bigger requirements. It will ask for more forces than it has at the moment. It always does.
I thought it right to give the House a history of the matter. It is against that background that one reads with fascination the Government's contribution to this enormous problem. It is dealt with in 20 lines, in paragraphs 17 and 18 of the White Paper. Paragraph 17 says:Our forces in Germany impose a heavy burden on our balance of payments.Indeed they do.Within the framework of our Brussels Treaty commitment they must always be subject to review in the light not only of our obligations to our N.A.T.O. partners but of our total defence burden and of the nature of the military threats in Europe and in other parts of the world where we have responsibilities.That is quite true, and the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly made some comments on it and expanded it a little. Do the Government intend to institute a review? I take it that they do. It is important to know this. If troops are to be withdrawn—which would save money in terms of our balance of payments—will they be demobilised? The Minister of Defence for the Army is specifically 1361 responsible for this problem, and he is to reply to the debate. Unless they are demobilised the cost, in terms of the Budget, will probably be greater rather than less. They will be removed from existing barracks to new barracks which will have to be provided over here.
What are the implications in respect of the men or, if there is none, what are the implications in respect of reserves—say, the Territorial Army? Is it planned that under this type of review the future of the Territorial Army will be brought into question? If we are to have fewer troops, and if it is right that the strategic concept will be altered, what about the weapons?
Does the order for the 155 gun stand, or does it go? What about heavy armour? Will the same quantities be required? What about tactical nuclear weapons? These questions must be answered if these reviews are to be instituted. These are the questions which present themselves to hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I would like a firm indication of what is in the Government's mind.
Paragraph 18 says:At present all N.A.T.O. forces in Germany, including our own, are deployed in accordance with a strategic concept which in our view now requires revision.These are fighting words. It is quite a big thing to review the whole strategic concept upon which N.A.T.O. is based. The House must not dismiss the importance of that sentence. The paragraph continues:In recent years the United States has developed an overwhelming nuclear strike force which is committed to the direct support of Western Europe in case of war.These words must be like music to the ears of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne.Its purpose to deter aggression."—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I am much obliged for the compliments which the right hon. Gentleman continues to pay me by dragging me at intervals into his argument. Will he bear in mind the fact that so far I have not contributed a single word to the debate?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The hon. Member has tabled a fascinating Amendment, 1362 and I hope that he will catch the eye of the Chair if not today, then tomorrow.
Paragraph 18 goes on to say:In the unlikely event that it should fail, its use would cause such destruction that it is impossible to conceive of a land campaign in Europe lasting for many days. It is therefore pointless to tie up resources against the risk of a prolonged war in Europe following the nuclear exchange. The principal military purposes of allied forces in Europe"—and I ask the House to note this—should be to deter miscalculated incursions and to suppress any ambiguous and unpremeditated local conflicts first and foremost by conventional forces, before they can escalate into major war.I agree that "broken-back" warfare is not a very viable proposition, but what kind of conventional war will precede—not follow—a nuclear strike? Will there be defence in depth? If the principal purpose of conventional forces is to deal with what is miscalculated, ambiguous and unpremeditated, what is the rôle for what is unambiguous, calculated and premeditated? This question must be answered. It goes to the very root of this strategic concept.
All these strategic concepts, and all that is written about them, can be resolved into simple elements, namely, how many men are required, and how soon is one to use nuclear weapons? Those are the real questions to be faced in this matter. The views expressed in paragraphs 17 and 18 are easily recognisable to anybody familiar with this field, as I have become familiar with it. They approximate closely to the views of General Ailleret. They pin the conventional rôle to what is ambiguous, unprepared and miscalculated. This strategy is Gaullist in its approach. I do not say that it is necessarily wrong. I am not criticising the right hon. Gentleman; I am stating the factual rôle. It may come from a surprising quarter.
But I ask the Government not to be ambiguous themselves in a matter like this. I ask the Prime Minister or the Minister of Defence for the Army, to talk to us freely and frankly, so that we can understand what kind of strategic concept they want. It is not enough to say that it is to be changed. They must say what kind of concept they have in mind.
Then, as to the nuclear concept. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on 1363 taking such full advantage of the Nassau Agreement, with V-bombers not only in Europe but in the Far East. The Times talks about theimperceptible glide into nuclear strategy.Glide yes, but "imperceptible" I am a little more doubtful about. The Government wrapped it up a little, but they do not seem to have wrapped it up altogether from some of their friends. I do not want to unwrap it. I do not want to tear away the curtain—better it should be veiled a little—from the right hon. Gentleman's nuclear pretensions. But I must say a word about the Atlantic nuclear force. It appears most extraordinary that Paragraph 13 should start:The threat to Britain's survival can be met only by the strength of the N.A.T.O. Alliance …when the A.N.F. is almost the only thing which would split N.A.T.O. from top to bottom.
I find that sentence a remarkable piece of humbug, even from the right hon. Gentleman. His military advisers will explain to him that this new nuclear force with a United States veto would be a complete waste of time and money. It would be far better to spend the cash either on conventionals, or, if he wants, on roads and hospitals, for all the contribution it would ever make. His advisers would also explain to him, if he asked them, that such a force, smothered within the organisation, with safety catches, is an utterly incredible deterrent, so it will have no military effect whatever. If he wishes to refer to it, will he say why there is no mention of its cost, or of the suggested subscriptions people ought to pay, or of who pays what and to whom, or whether the new M.L.F. is going inside it, or what command structure it will have? It appears to be outside N.A.T.O., so that in future we have SACEUR in charge of N.A.T.O., wih the Strategic Air Command behind and this extraordinary misbegotten creature, bristling with safety catches, waiting unhappily on the wing. I think that the House is entitled to some exposition of this remarkable proposal.
I must, however, tell the right hon. Gentleman—perhaps I ought to disclose this to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, if I may again refer to him, to whose important speech we are looking 1364 forward—that this will never happen. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne knows it, the Secretary of State knows it. The only engagement which this nuclear force has ever been in was to sink the M.L.F. and that was apparently successful. That was its only battle honour. I do not know that President Johnson would have liked to have heard that that was the outcome of the serious talks which he had with the Prime Minister in Washington, but it did succeed in that engagement. Too many people in too many countries know that its sole purpose is to get the Prime Minister off the hook. To imagine that they will pay large sums of money for that purpose—however well deserved and interesting—is an illusion. The impression left on me by this White Paper is that it leaves unresolved and in part unrecognised the central issue of defence and foreign policy. Paragraphs 13, 17 and 18 on the A.N.F.—
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
The right hon. Gentleman said a little earlier that when it was proposed that a policy should be revised, it was always advisable that the speaker should state what he would substitute, so when the right hon. Gentleman condemns the Atlantic Nuclear Force—he may very well be right in his condemnation—is he arguing that he would be in favour of returning to the M.L.F. and, if so, would he expound his view of that force?
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I thought that it was common ground that the right hon. Gentleman had sunk the M.L.F. I hoped that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) would pay credit to the right hon. Gentleman. He might press the Secretary of State a little closely in debate.
§ Mr. Foot rose—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
No, let him relax.
There is, centred in paragraph 13, a slightly uncertain phrase which might mean that, lurking in the middle of the A.N.F., would be the M.L.F. which upsets the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale.
§ Mr. Foot rose—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Just one moment. Let him keep calm. I know that both he and his party have come out flatfooted against it, but I am prepared to 1365 accept from the Secretary of State that he has sunk the M.L.F. He has put in its place the perhaps even more unrealistic A.N.F. The important point here, I believe, is that they are both dead. They will never happen. The right hon. Gentleman will rely on the perfectly good nuclear organisation which exists in N.A.T.O. at present.
What I was putting to the right hon. Gentleman was that I believe that the White Paper leaves unresolved and unrecognised the central problem. These paragraphs seem to me to be self-contradictory on the one issue which really matters. Are we prepared, in the elaboration of strategy, to move rather nearer to the French position, or do we wish to stand apart from it? If we differ, in what way, and for what reason and with what consequences?
I am speaking to leading members of the Government who are about to go to Bonn and Paris. I think that this is an opportunity to hear something of their thinking before they go. I would hope that, before the Prime Minister goes, he will read and re-read these paragraphs. He might also read an article by the French Ambassador and by Mr. Drew Middleton in this week's Spectator on these subjects. The issue round which the White Paper skirts in terms which are cryptic, at times evasive and at times confused, is the issue of our long-term relations with the continent of Europe. I believe that this deserves a much more clear-headed and courageous statement than it has had here. I believe it to be in the long run more important for the future of this country than the immediate fortunes of any of the parties in this debate. I believe that what is said about it in this debate may matter more than any other subject.
I commend this Amendment to the House. The Government have elected to force a Division in this debate by their opening paragraph in the White Paper, to make it a party issue. I see their purpose. They want to force their own supporters, under the guise of attacking the Conservative record, to march into the Lobby in favour of a nuclear policy. One can understand, though one must deplore, their tactics. The White Paper, as presented, casts doubt both on the Government's understanding of the issues, particularly of 1366 Europe, and on their willingness to supply the means to execute the rôles which they have set themselves. It records a major move towards a deterrent policy and we think that it is right that we should mark it and approve it.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I understand that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is attempting to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman before he sits down. Mr. Silverman.
§ Mr. Silverman
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the subject may I remind him that so far—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—he has not said a single word about the Amendment which he has on the Order Paper. I do not think that he even moved it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Of course he did."] Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to move it, and if he does, would be explain a little what it means? Only one word—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I cannot allow the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne to invite the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) to make a second speech.
§ Mr. Silverman
I certainly had no intention of inviting the right hon. Gentleman to make a second speech—one was enough. But there is an Opposition Amendment, and therefore I wanted to ask him a simple question about what it means. It states at the end of the Amendment… welcomes the recognition by Her Majesty's Government of the importance of a powerful nuclear capability".The right hon. Gentleman apparently approves of that—he welcomes it. What I want to point out to him is that, somehow or other, the word "independent" has disappeared. Does the right hon. Gentleman's party no longer believe that the nuclear capability is independent?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Before I call on the first speaker from the back benches, may I observe to the House that already there are 39 hon. Members seeking to catch the eye of Mr. Speaker. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members who are called will remember that when they are making their speeches.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am a little embarrassed at introducing a discordant note into what, so far, seems to me to have been a quite "phoney" engagement between the two Front Benches. Indeed, my objection to this White Paper is that, taken as a body of proposals, it is almost exactly what I would have expected the right hon. Gentleman opposite to have proposed had he been sitting on this side of the House. I am still waiting for some explanation why the Labour Party defence policy, which we worked out over a number of years together, has been abandoned, and the Conservative policy adopted in its stead.
Our line on the atom question has never been that we wished to abolish the independent nuclear deterrent. Our doctrine was that there was no such thing, that there was not an independent nuclear deterrent to abolish. This did not mean that we lacked a nuclear capacity. Of course we had that. It did not mean that we lacked the capacity to cause great injury to the Russians. Of course we could inflict injury in a few hours comparable with the great injuries they suffered in the last war. The injury would not have been fatal and would in no way have even reduced their capacity to destroy us, which was complete and absolute. Our case was that a nation which was indefensible could not have a credible nuclear deterrent because there were no conceivable circumstances in which we could have dared to use it. I think the Rand Survey paper worked out that it would have taken about 13 H-bombs to bring this country to an end as a governable community. We are within range of and without any defence whatever against at least 500 H-bombs, and a nation in that position cannot, by reason of its geography, have a credible deterrent.
If that applies to our own deterrent, it applies equally, of course, to the A.N.F., because any deterrent over which we have a veto cannot be credible. We should always have to exercise that veto and so would any other indefensible European country. Therefore, the A.N.F. would, if it had ever come into being, simply have been a subtraction from the deterrent capacity of the West and would have contributed nothing to it. I should have thought it a wholly 1368 objectionable proposal and I agree with the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) that having done its job in sinking the M.L.F.—on the whole I think that was probably right—it certainly has no future life. I should have thought that it had built-in safety devices in having specific provisions which would make it unacceptable to everybody. It had a built-in American veto which is de Gaulle's whole case against N.A.T.O. As for giving the Germans equality, it gave us nuclear weapons, Polaris and V-bombers which we manned, which we commanded and which were part of our forces—even though they were assigned to N.A.T.O. —and asked the Germans to believe that they had nuclear equality by being allowed to contribute some of the personnel of mixed manned either land or surface-ship force. That is the sort of equality which I think segregationists in the Southern States used to describe as "equal but different". I should have thought it something highly unlikely to convince the Germans.
There are only two ways in which we can give equality to our German allies. We can allow them to have nuclear weapons similar to our own or we can stop having nuclear weapons ourselves. Why we require quite incredible, unusable and highly expensive nuclear weapons in the European field I am still utterly unable to understand. I think they do nothing for the Alliance, except divide it, and if we dropped them I do not think it would take the French so very long to discover that after all their expensive and weakening effort they had reached the same sort of obsolescent futility in which we find ourselves in that sphere. There can be only one Western deterrent, only one credible Western deterrent, and that is indivisible and in America. Having sunk the A.N.F., we are left where we came in, with a British nuclear deterrent committed to N.A.T.O., in our case to be withdrawn if the Alliance breaks down and in the case of hon. Members opposite to be withdrawn in the event of a vital national interest. There may be a distinction, but I doubt whether there is a difference.
I come now to the question of B.A.O.R. Here again I do not think it is any new discovery to find that that Army is not guarding the frontier. It is not posted to meet a Russian aggression. When I 1369 was there three years ago I pointed out in a paper which my right hon. Friend will remember that our forces were committed to deploy on forward positions, unfortified and unprotected, across difficult lines of communication and at least 24 hours further from us than from the Russians. Forces disposed such as our forces in Germany are disposed, and in the way Stalin's forces in Russia were disposed in 1941 for a political effect, are utterly at the mercy of an attack. Indeed, Stalin lost 100 divisions in a fortnight, none of which were able to engage the enemy at all. So from that point of view, in the event of a Russian invasion there, our forces would have a far better chance of intervening if they were back here in England than if they were posted, as they are at present, in Germany. However, I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that that is not the risk today. It is not going to happen. We are not there as a defending force but as a military presence.
At dangerous frontiers it would be convenient to have a United Nations army, but it is not available, so the next best thing is to have international armies. On both sides, running through Europe, we have international armies and I agree that they should stay there because, while they are there, there is no great danger.
The other point which we must bear in mind is the tremendous cost to us of bringing that Army back to Britain. Apart from its whole infrastructure, its equipment and so on—and all who have been to Germany have seen the scale of it—would need a new town of 150,000 people to accommodate the Army and its dependants who are at present in Germany. The charge on our resources —the burden on our building industry and so on—would be enormous and I cannot believe that it would be the best way of coping with the balance of payments problem involved. I cannot help feeling that the ingenuity of the Alliance will find a better way.
I come to our third major commitment, the Indian Ocean, and I say at the outset that I do not believe that we have any British interests whatever in that area. The idea that we can maintain trade by maintaining a military presence is entirely obsolete. If somebody else owned the oil of the Middle East they would be equally keen to sell it and, if that somebody else was not controlled 1370 by the Gulf oil interests from America, they would be selling it at about half the price because Middle East costs are about half those of America.
One of the sums I have never been able to work out is whether the profits which we draw from the oil companies are more or less than the additional price which we pay for our oil to maintain Gulf prices. It is a difficult sum to work out, and the same goes for tin and rubber. We are in the Indian Ocean area for altruistic reasons. We are there, I think rightly, to support the interests of others.
Malaya is a successor country which we brought into existence and she should be defended from quite unjustifiable aggression. That we are seeking to do, but we cannot go on doing it indefinitely. It is a commitment which we should wind up as soon as we safely can. The suggestion that we should take on a nuclear rôle to support India and eventually use Polaris submarines to put nuclear missiles on Himalayan passes seems to me to be among the most fantastic pieces of nonsense I have ever heard. If India requires a nuclear shield she must get off the fence and join the Western Alliance, and so partake of the Western nuclear shield. She cannot remain independent in this respect, having us maintain an Indian Ocean power to support somebody who will not accept us as an ally.
The thing that worries me more than anything else in this connection is that this is not conceived in the White Paper as something which we are anxious to wind up. We are not looking forward to the day when we will be as out of place in the Indian Ocean as an Indian Navy would be in the Channel. This is being looked at as one of the things which we should extend. There is talk of a new aircraft carrier and, with escalation of costs, that would probably cost £200 million to £250 million—and there is no other use for it.
I say in parenthesis that I am all in favour of cost escalation in this respect and I hope that it goes on. It is the only promising disarmament line I have yet seen. I should like to see us all armed with a few enormously expensive weapons which we all recognise as being far too expensive ever to use, but this is all in parenthesis. Even on a pessimistic view of escalation costs, I have 1371 little doubt that such an aircraft carrier would cost £250 million by the time it was built, equipped and got into service. I would regard it as being utter nonsense. If the Americans want our assistance there they have the communications, the bases, through the Pacific, and we could work with them there if they wanted us to.
§ Commander Anthony Courtney (Harrow, East)
I have been following the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument with great interest. Would he care to say what American bases there are west of Singapore?
§ Mr. Paget
I was dealing with the Pacific Islands. The Americans still have bases in the Philippines. I was referring to going to Indonesia, Australia and so on through the Pacific.
There may be something to be said for this Conservative foreign policy, but, on balance, I would be against it. However, I think that there is something to be said for it if only because it satisfies our great American ally—and, unlike some of my hon. Friends, I consider that an important thing to do.
What I cannot understand the Government doing is, on the one hand, accepting Conservative foreign policy and defence commitments and, on the other, accepting their economic policies as a means of paying for them. I should have thought that one thing which 13 years of Tory rule had established was that the strain on our balance of payments in an uncontrolled economy got us into one balance of payments crisis after another and left us no chance whatever of developing investments sufficient to provide a 4 per cent. increase. or anything like it, in the national product. I am not for a moment saying that we are not a strong enough country to carry this defence policy should we decide that it was necessary, but we would have to be in a position then in which it was possible for us to control our priorities. General de Gaulle has been able to have an agrandising foreign policy for France, but look at the control he has over his economy. Not only is one-third of France's productive power nationalised and within his complete control but he depreciated his currency to the point which he found suitable to his economy, and he controls it. He controls his 1372 investment, both in the property market and in the money market. He even controls prices. That is a dirigiste economy. France also has a conscript system. Within that sort of control one can choose to allocate such a level as this to defence. Within our free system it is manifestly unavailable.
We put it beyond our power to have anything like a de Gaullist policy or de Gaullist controls the moment we said that sterling should be a first priority, because at that point we put ourselves in the hands of the bankers. We went to them. It is no use saying that bank loans are without strings. They are always subject to strings. The borrower's policy has to be such as the bankers deem sound before they are prepared to renew the loan. I do not think any banker would have any objection to the nationalisation of steel. Bankers have been accustomed to nationalised steel, unnationalised steel and semi-nationalised steel. They know that it does not make any difference, that it is irrelevant. It is a bit of nonsense to which they will not object. We have already experienced their reaction, however, to a policy of increased pensions. As to low interest rates, the sort of interest rates which will enable young working-class couples to buy their own houses as we promised them, and the substantial transfer of purchasing power from those who own to those who earn, these are just not acceptable to bankers.
§ Mr. Paget
I am very sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was merely pointing out the economic consequences of spending on this scale. I will leave that point.
With this defence drain, I cannot see the slightest chance of our getting out of the bankers' hands. A country cannot have this sort of drain and earn its way out of its loan position. So long as our priorities are, first, the maintenance of sterling as an international currency, secondly, the maintenance of a seat at the high table with this kind of nuclear foreign policy, and, thirdly, the expansion of our power to make war in the Indian Ocean, there is not the remotest chance of our being able to develop the level of investment necessary to give us a 4 per cent. increase in our national product. I 1373 have the uncomfortable feeling that, in saying this, I am saying something which all my right hon. Friends know.
The depressing thing is that I have a feeling that the basic decisions here have been funked and that one is simply proceeding upon the basis that they did not have to be taken. There are Departments such as this proceeding with great energy and panache, but proceeding in directions which will be mutually destructive, because the basic decisions are wrong. I remind my right hon. Friend that all our promises to the electorate are based squarely on our being able to find a sufficient balance of investment to give us the 4 per cent. increase in the national product on which all our plans are based. If we do not fulfil those promises, if we fall down on those expectations, Nuneaton and Leyton will not be the nadir of our misfortunes—they will be only the beginning.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Aubrey Jones (Birmingham, Hall Green)
It would be indelicate of me, at the beginning of my speech, to add to the discord which exists between the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) and his Front Bench on the nuclear question. I will give later my reasons for the apparent similarity between the posture adopted by the present Government and that adopted by their predecessors. They are more subtle and intractable than he made them out to be. I should like to invert the order in which the hon. and learned Gentleman approached this question. I want, first, to talk of the budget as a whole, then of the conventional part, and, finally, the nuclear part.
This afternoon the Secretary of State said that we had no new policy here, that what we had was a first engagement, a first grip. What we have indeed is a statement of aspiration, the aspiration that defence expenditure be kept fixed in real terms for the next few years. In addition to that statement of aspiration, we had from the Secretary of State one or two hints or trailers about how policy might evolve. I want, first, to comment on the aspiration and then on the trailers.
In this debate we should address ourselves to the question whether this is a realistic aspiration. What are likely to be the consequences of trying to hold our defence expenditure fixed in real 1374 terms for the next few years? As the Secretary of State said, both the Soviet Union and the United States have reduced their military budgets. I do not think that the reduction in the Soviet budget is of much relevance to our problem, because no direct comparison can be made. But we can attempt a comparison with the United States. There are, as I see it, three main reasons for the reduction in the American military budget.
The first is the fact that when President Kennedy came to power in 1960 he was under the mistaken belief that there was a great missile gap, to the disadvantage of the United States, between the Soviet Union and America. Therefore, there was an accelerated rate of spending on the nuclear deterrent. That has now tapered off. This is one reason for the reduction in the American military budget. There was not the same rate of increase in this country's expenditure on the nuclear deterrent in the early years of this decade, and this particular road to economy is, in my view, closed to us.
The second reason why the American military budget has been contracted is that there has been a great emphasis in the United States on competitive procurement. Ours, however, is a very limited national framework and our defence industries are contracting. Therefore, this route to economy is also closed to us.
Finally, we are left with cost-effectiveness techniques. We are at the beginning of them. They can achieve something, but to my mind they will not alone, as I think the right hon. Gentleman conceded, help us to hold defence expenditure at a fixed level for the next few years in real terms.
The economies have to come from somewhere else. There are only two sources. One could stage a savage and arbitrary cut in the whole of our research and development programme, but it would be foolish to do that at the very moment when we are trying to make independence arrangements with other countries. This would be to throw away our negotiating card. This is ruled out, as the right hon. Gentleman conceded.
Rule that out, and there is only one other source—namely, numbers of men. The Secretary of State gave figures of expenditure on men, accommodation, 1375 and so on. He said that this amounts to 50 per cent. of the military budget. Frankly, I am surprised that it should have been so low, but I take the Secretary of State's estimate. I would myself have been inclined to put it higher. The only real room for economy is the reduction of some commitment or other which will lead to the release of men. The trailer in the White Paper, and which we have heard this afternoon, is that the reduction in the commitment should be in Western Europe.
I should like, therefore, to say something about the distribution of our conventional effort as between Europe and east of Suez. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the military dangers are entirely east of Suez and not in Europe. The right hon. Gentleman gave some reasons for this. I will give at least two reasons why I believe the military dangers east of Suez are likely to increase. The first is the crash nuclear programme of China, which seems to me to have most ominous implications —far more ominous now than appeared to be the case two years ago. The second is the fact that the Soviet Union is converting some of its conventional forces into marine forces, and one must infer from this that in a few years' time the Soviet Union will appear east of Suez. The dangers there are increasing.
There is no immediate danger in Europe, although one ought not to discount the potential danger in Europe. As I see it, Russian policy has been concerned with preserving the invulnerability of Soviet territory, and as a means to this end she has historically tried to establish control over the bridgehead leading from Western Europe to the East. If there were a chance of establishing more effective control over that bridgehead, we ought not to discount the possibility that the chance would be seized.
If we apply the military criterion, then, the emphasis which the right hon. Gentleman has laid east of Suez is right. But the question is whether the military criterion is the right one. The right hon. Gentleman said that the military policy is an instrument of foreign policy. The right criterion, surely, is not the military one but the diplomatic one. Where are the diplomatic objectives of this coun- 1376 try? Do they lie primarily in Europe or east of Suez? If we apply this diplomatic criterion, do we get the same answer?
I suspect that the Government, approaching the question in this way, would reach exactly the same answer. They would place the emphasis east of Suez. This disturbs me. In the last Parliament right and hon. Gentlemen opposite used to accuse my right hon. Friends of using the nuclear deterrent to perpetuate a special relationship with the United States which they thought the facts of the times no longer warranted. I suggest that they themselves are now inviting the charge that they are using bases east of Suez to perpetuate a special relationship with the United States, which, in its turn, is illusory and can deflect this country from its real long term interests.
A classic example of this was the speech which the Prime Minister made on the last occasion that the House debated defence in December. The right hon. Gentleman said that during his visit to Washington he had had full recognition of this country's unique rôle East of Suez. No one, he said, could "compete with us in the range of the contribution we can make in those vast areas beyond Europe." He said that this is what admitted this country to the top table, and that no one else could do it. Good, true-blue stuff!
It is no doubt very gratifying that we should please the United States and that we should be admitted to the top table, but does the pursuit of this gratification coincide with the pursuit of the real interests of this country? I do not believe it does. As I see it, the problem of this country is this. We have inherited, as a sovereign entity, certain overseas responsibilities which have grown and which are likely to continue growing in relation to our power to discharge them. We can no longer, as the right hon. Gentleman conceded, discharge them alone. The only conceivable way of discharging them is to fit ourselves into a stronger and more powerful unit. That is Europe. This, I think, is the part which is missing from the policy of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I have never seen a contradiction between European policy and an east of Suez or Commonwealth policy. I have always regarded European policy as a 1377 means of enabling us the better to discharge our east of Suez policy. The main diplomatic objective, as I see it, is Europe, and from this point of view our conventional and military presence in Europe is a great diplomatic significance. Over the past few years we have relinquished command after command in Europe. We have diverted air force units as well as ground troops in Europe, and we have in this way fostered the impression that we are no longer interested in Europe. I hope that we are not now going to add fresh colour to this belief.
I accept that we should attempt to revise N.A.T.O. strategy in Europe, and if we can reach an agreed revised strategy we can both achieve the financial target of keeping expenditure fixed and we can achieve our diplomatic objective of remaining close to Europe. But if we fail to reach an agreed revision, one of two things must go. Either the right hon. Gentleman's target cannot be reached, or we dissociate ourselves from Europe by a unilateral withdrawal.
The last, in my view, would be an utter disaster. In looking at the Government's aspirations to hold military expenditure for the next few years, let us not leave out this possible eventuality. This, I think, may conceivably loom before us.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
My right hon. Friend seems to be arguing, as did the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), that the defence of the West is not a worldwide problem. Is he arguing that if the area of the Indian Ocean fell under, say, Communist domination, it would not affect Europe and the West?
§ Mr. Jones
I regard the defence of the West as a worldwide problem. What I am suggesting is that in attempting to discharge our responsibilities east of Suez we must strengthen our European base. Unless we do that, we shall be less able to discharge our east of Suez responsibilities. So much for the conventional side.
I should now like to come to the question of the deterrent. As I see it, as a result of the A.N.F. proposals, as far as we know them, one can divide the present British strategic nuclear effort, like Gaul, into three parts. There is, first, the part east of Suez, part of the V-bomber force. 1378 There is, secondly, the national contribution to the Atlantic force; and, thirdly, the mixed-manned element.
Let us look, first, at the force east of Suez. Under the Nassau Agreement this country has assigned its V-bomber force in its entirety to N.A.T.O., subject to the right of withdrawal, one of the contingencies being east of Suez. What we are now doing is exercising our right of withdrawal in perpetuity for purposes east of Suez. It has been said—I believe the Prime Minister has said it—that nuclear war is indivisible. One cannot have nuclear war in one part of the world without affecting the rest of the world. If this is so, as I believe it to be, the corollary is that a nuclear organisation must also be indivisible. The Nassau Agreement, as I see it, was a step towards the creation of a single indivisible nuclear organisation.
On the face of it, the detachment of part of the V-bomber force from the assignment of N.A.T.O. is a step backwards from this objective. We understand, of course, the reasons why this has come about. The Government are concerned, perfectly rightly, lest India should acquire the bomb, and they may hope that by having an independent bomb east of Suez they can join with the United States and the Soviet Union to offer India a nuclear guarantee. I do not believe that the Soviet Union is likely in any circumstances to join such a guarantee.
The only conceivable guarantee must be a joint British and American guarantee which, I agree entirely with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, would be the end of the Indian policy of non-alignment. But what is likely to appear is the creation of a Pacific or east of Suez nuclear force. We shall have two nuclear organisations in the world, an Atlantic one and an east-of-Suez one. I should have thought that it ought to be one of our primary objectives, even if this comes about, to try and integrate these two organisations. I would have preferred quite a different approach. I would have preferred to see N.A.T.O. extend its interests and move outwards to other parts of the world. But let us, at any rate, have in mind a single organisation.
Then we come to the national contribution to the Atlantic Force. I entirely 1379 agree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton. I see no difference between this contribution as it was envisaged by my right hon. Friends and as it is now proposed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Had my right hon. Friends stayed in office the contribution would have been withdrawable when supreme national interests were at stake, that is, had the United States refused to come to our aid. But at that very moment the Alliance would have broken down, and in that sort of situation right hon. Members opposite are now retaining the right to withdraw. These two things, therefore, are essentially the same.
Finally, we come to the mixed-manned element. I thought that the Minister of Defence slightly misled the House at this point, because he suggested that in the Atlantic Nuclear Force there was complete equality between a country contributing to the mixed-manned element and a country contributing a national contribution It is perfectly true that under the proposals, as I understand them, Germany, as a participant in the mixed-manned force, would have an equal say with ourselves in Atlantic nuclear policy. This is a change and an advance, but in other respects—in two at least—there is no equality.
First, as I understand it, no new weapons are envisaged. The German participation in a mixed-manned force would be confined to our V-bombers, an obsolescent force with no succeeding force to follow. Secondly, the old discrimination between this country and France—both of which are entitled to withdraw their national contributions—and Germany, which could not withdraw its contribution, would remain.
Therefore, we have three parts of the nuclear force. The first part east of Suez represents a step backwards. The middle part, the national contribution, represents, as I see it, no change. The mixed-manned part represents one step forward, but all in all there is no essential change.
§ Mr. Tom Dalyell (West Lothian)
Will the right hon. Gentleman state in the terms of his argument what he conceives are our obligations or otherwise to Malaysia in the face of possible Indonesian aggression?
§ Mr. Jones
We have, of course, an obligation to defend Malaysia. All I say is that that is an interest not only of this country but of the United States and indeed of the whole of N.A.T.O.
A question which the hon. and learned Member for Northampton did not answer, but which my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) touched upon, and one to which the House should address itself, is why it is that despite an apparent violent difference of language both Front Benches have arrived at practically identical nuclear arrangements. The answer—and this is a matter which we should consider very seriously—is that as a country we are on the horns of a very cruel dilemma. The dilemma is that, on the one hand, we want to provide room in the Alliance for France, and if France comes in at all it can only be on the basis of a withdrawable national contribution. We also want to provide room in the alliance for Germany, but in the light of German relations with the Soviet Union we cannot provide for a withdrawable German contribution.
How can we choose between these two irreconcilable things? What my right hon. Friends did, and this was behind their policy, was to keep this option open. I think that they were right. The essence of the A.N.F. is, once again, to keep this option open, and at the moment I think that it is right to do so. But, indefinitely, it cannot be kept open. Some day or other, and in my belief sooner rather than later, we shall have to choose.
The essence of the choice is: with whom do we align ourselves? Do we align ourselves with France, or do we seek to align ourselves with Western Germany? I do not pretend to understand what the French position really is. It is possible—I do not say probable—that we might as a country have obtained entry into the Common Market had we been prepared to countenance some kind of nuclear deal with France and the emergence of a separate European nuclear deterrent. I say that it is possible and not probable, because I doubt whether France would have admitted anybody else into the leadership of Europe. Be that as it may, my right hon. Friends in the last Parliament refused to pay this price of entry into the Common Market. I believe that they were quite right. The Government now do not have it in mind 1381 to pay this price, either, and I believe that they are quite right, for a variety of reasons. The most important reason of all is that a European deterrent would disturb more than anything else any possibility of a détente between the West and the Soviet Union.
If we do not go along with France, and neither the preceding Government nor the present Government seem to wish to do this, then we face one of two alternatives. Either our diplomacy is condemned to utter immobility, as it has been since we were excluded from the Common Market, or we face bravely and boldly the only other course, and that is that we must seek to align ourselves with Western Germany. To my mind, our aim ought to be the establishment of an Atlantic, not a European, organisation into which Western Germany would be effectively integrated. This is the only way of ensuring the triumph of the moderates in Western Germany and, therefore, in the long term the only real way of reaching a détente with the Soviet Union. To my mind, it is also the only alternative road—indeed, I think, the only road—really open to us to go into Europe.
The responsibility of fashioning an Atlantic organisation of this kind has been surrendered by the United States President to the Prime Minister. The initiative is now the Prime Minister's. To my mind, he has not yet seized it effectively, possibly for the simple reason that his own sayings and his own back benchers prevent him from being as forthcoming towards Western Germany as he would need to be. His most important aim in the visits abroad which he is now about to undertake should, in my view, be to seek much more energetically than hitherto a closer identity of interest in defence and in other matters between this country and Western Germany.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) has made a most intelligent speech which, like the one we heard from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), served to demonstrate the problem facing the nation as a whole, as distinct from the House, in deciding for both the present and for the next 10 years or so 1382 how its defence arrangements can be finally and irrevocably fixed.
When I read the White Paper, as I did with great interest, I had the feeling that I used to have years ago when I went to the cinema where the showing was continuous and the programme came round again. I felt that this was where we came in, and this was where some of us went out a long time ago. I looked back to 1951, when there was a defence bill of £1,400 million or so, and I recalled what happened at that time, which has kept us on the boil internally in our party for 13 years and which, in no small measure, has, on occasion, probably denied us the right to office.
In its simple objective, the essence of the White Paper is "Mr. Dulles and the trip-wire". It is nothing more or less than that. But when we read the White Paper and study the implications of what does not appear between the lines, what should be written there but is not, the full argument of it begins to unfold. Apparently, we have as a nation now arrived at a situation where we can go neither forward nor backward. This is an appalling dilemma for any nation to be in, and for us especially with our great financial problems, our Commonwealth commitments, sometimes overstated, and our desire still to be regarded as a nuclear member of the top table in a special relationship with the United States.
Let us frankly recognise what the position of the United States is. The United States adopts global policies and strategies according to the circumstances as the United States sees them, in Cuba, Vietnam or anywhere else. Considerations of European or other interests are secondary. If the United States wanted to apply a global policy to Europe tomorrow, it would do so with or without the concurrence of Great Britain, France, Germany or N.A.T.O. I say this for very good reason. Only a country such as the United States with its great power, almost in charge of the global strategy of its allies, is able to dictate the terms on which that strategy shall proceed. This is the dilemma which we still face. To take just two organisations, N.A.T.O. and S.E.A.T.O., the United States brings with its membership the power of its armed forces and the power of its industry. Inevitably, this gives the United 1383 States a special position. This is why the Atlantic concept to which the right hon. Member for Hall Green referred offers the right course for Great Britain, if it can be achieved.
It has to be recognised, after all the arguments have been propounded, that, with the ever-growing arms burden on this country, which now penalises every man, woman and child to the extent of £40 a year, a burden fixed today by the Secretary of State for Defence as a programme for several years ahead, we shall be running an escalator which we cannot control. I shall explain why in a moment.
If we are to stay as a premier partner, as we should like to be, in the Alliance, with or without France, or with France and Western Germany, the concept of an all-embracing nuclear Atlantic Alliance is the only true one for us. It is to this that we must address ourselves, because impinging upon us is the terrible weight of the American industrial arms machine.
Events have proved time and time again that integration of arms, deployent, strategy, staff consultations, tactical manæuvres and so on can be separate things, but, when it comes to the sale of arms to allies, this is a United States market, kept firmly and tightly within United States influence.
This was one of the prime reasons for the rundown of Britain's defence industries, not that we could not compete but that, despite the Alliance, we were not allowed to do so. This is a continuing situation, and we had better recognise it because it means that we may, year by year, have to purchase arms from the United States which by themselves will involve an escalating cost. Therefore, in this situation, we must look to our diplomatic and foreign policies to see where we are now and where we would like to be.
This is why I was so interested in the former Prime Minister's first reference a month ago to the possibilities of interesting ourselves more in the Far East and in Europe as distinct from N.A.T.O. This raises the question of where our responsibilities should lie. Whether for conventional or for non-conventional forces, the burden is on 1384 us, and, what is more, I do not believe that this country can adopt only a conventional rôle. This is not possible unless we are prepared to go alongside other non-conventional forces of a tactical nuclear kind. The idea of a so-called conventional holding force in Europe, with escalation of a conflict to nuclear war after a few weeks, is just a dream. It could never really happen, and, if it did, the thing would be over in less than 30 days.
In this situation, who controls what and for what purpose? The United States has 58 separate and distinct items of tactical missile weapon available for conventional targets. It also has 1,000 intercontinental ballistic missiles, with an over-kill capacity which defies imagination. Probably, for all I know, the Soviet Union has the same.
Between these two factors is Europe, with its conflicting histories, its Berlin Wall, its divided ideologies, the illusions of President de Gaulle, his false grandeur and force de frappe, and Britain's contribution under the Brussels Treaty, of 55,000 men, being maintained by the British taxpayer in a competitive world at a crippling cost. How do we slide out of that? The answer is that we cannot.
Any suggestion of a reduction in forces or a change of policy goes before the N.A.T.O. Council for a majority vote, and even if we withdrew 20,000 or 40,000 men, where would we put them? In Carlisle, or Salisbury, or Swansea, or Nottingham? There is nowhere to house them in this country.
Someone has to take a longer look at this situation in diplomatic and political terms and tie it in more tightly with a worldwide concept of an Atlantic community as quickly as possible. Germany's position and her concepts are worthy of study because, in every situation since the formation of the Common Market in which she has been at issue with France, the French have won. Why? One reason is that the French have not yet recognised the Oder-Neisse Line. Another factor in German thinking is that American troops are not bound to be in Germany by the Brussels Treaty. They also recognise that the Berlin Wall is a geographical factor which separates France from Britain.
All these things lead the formation of German thought and have pushed them 1385 ever closer to France, despite the arguments that have arisen between them and in which French will has usually prevailed. Thus we get the situation where President de Gaulle goes for his own nuclear force and will not be diverted by any talk of A.N.F. or M.L.F. The German position in the A.N.F. would give them a voice in a minor rôle, but the idea is not sufficiently attractive for France to accept such a proposition.
Then we come to the concept of our so-called position east of Suez. This is supposed to be a position that overrides other considerations in Europe. In considering the future, one can always tell, for obvious reasons, in this country, through the militancy of certain organisations on the left fringe, which way the Soviet Union is thinking. If the A.N.F. is set up, I can see no possibility of a settlement in Europe or a nuclear-free zone.
At this stage all these factors should be considered and studied before we talk about the Far East. If we are considering reserving a percentage of our V-bombers for a special, so-called independent mission outside N.A.T.O., for the so-called defence of India against what may be threatened nuclear attack from China, then we should take a long, objective look at it.
We know that the Government are retaining Polaris and the bomber force—or what is left of it—and that there is more than an offside chance that we shall be left with 50 TSR2s when the day comes. The concept of the future in the White Paper could be the end of the line for an interdependent British deterrent. Before we make such an offer to India, we would do well to pause. What have we in that part of the world, in India? If we get bogged down in nuclear forces in India. which has had a growth of population totalling 80 million in 10 years, our treasury will be drained dry. There will be no escape. One thing Asiatics do superbly well. They know how to play on the humanitarian instincts of Western intellectuals. We should make a long, objective appraisal before we commit ourselves.
In 1951 I prophesied in this House the present position between China and Russia. A split between them on ideology can mean, if we are clever 1386 enough, that we can consolidate our principles either with one or both. This is what we should be thinking about. China has a population of 600 million and an ancient civilisation, with the problem, among others, of Taiwan. I have been studying the history of Taiwan. As far back as 1760 it seems to have been very firmly Chinese. What has happened since 1870 is another matter. This bone of contention between China and the United States will have to be tackled some day and the Chinese will take a dim view of our deliberately opting for a special nuclear force for the protection of the Indian sub-continent. Should we do it at this stage, before any talks, before full exposition of what the differences are?
It is for these reasons that I find the policy in the White Paper so indistinct, not so much in what it contains but in what lies between the lines. We have here a commitment to a nuclear deterrent, either within N.A.T.O. or outside it. There are many contradictions in the White Paper and they lead to the inescapable conclusion that the policy of defence over the last 10 years has been unrealistic. Some of us have always tried to take a realistic national position and that has meant our having the courage to stand up and suffer indignity and abuse. That is why I said at the beginning of my speech that this was where we came in. We have come right round again to the full sense of national responsibility for defence in its full context.
From this stage onwards, and if, within 10 years, this burden proves to be too heavy for the country to carry, all the functional costing and evaluation will not make any difference. In between now and then we must look at the whole concept of Atlantic affairs and Europe to decide upon a full global strategy. Great efforts should be made, at whatever cost, to bring President de Gaulle away from his position before he finally gets a bomb for his delivery system. Great effort should be made for some kind of top diplomatic contact with the Chinese because, if we get continuance of the present situation between American and Chinese mutual aggressiveness and an ideological quarrel between China and Russia and, finally, an alignment between the United States and Russia, it will take us a very long time to cure it.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Brigadier Sir John Smyth (Norwood)
I always enjoy listening to a speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), because he always thinks things out for himself and takes his own line and always has many interesting things to say.
Ever since the last war, and even before, we in this country have been rightly convinced that the defensive strength of the West must be built up on the principle of collective security. I was a little surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Defence speak today as though he had only just thought that Britain could no longer take a line of its own. We have been convinced of that for some time.
The fact that modern weapons take such a long time to develop and complete and that allied strategy is so complicated makes it important that we should have continuity in our planning, and continuity and confidence are all-important in any alliance. We have made great strides in N.A.T.O. and our other alliances on this principle and the result, 20 years after the war, is that global peace continues, although there are unpleasant areas of strife and tension, particularly east of Suez. This global peace has been maintained mainly, almost entirely, because of the nuclear deterrent.
Although we have attained collective security abroad, for many years we have not achieved collective security in the House of Commons, and that is a very great pity. I made my maiden speech on the wish that defence should not be subject to party politics, as it certainly is today. We were always told by Sir Winston Churchill, when he was Leader of the Opposition, that we should try to support everything which the Labour Party put forward which was in the national interest, and to try, first, to get subjects of agreement rather than to disagree with the Labour Party all the time. One example of that is when Mr. Attlee, as he then was, decided that we should have a British atom bomb. He did not tell us anything about it until after he had made the decision, but we supported it.
When the Conservative Party came to power in 1951, we were not handed a perfect defence set-up, far from it. Conscription was still going on six years after the war and there seemed to be no sign 1388 of being able to do away with it. We had had the Korean War and without calling up reserves we had not been able to send even one brigade to Korea from an Army of 400,000 men. This was the nadir of our defence arrangements. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), who often speaks in these debates, has always been frank about that. He was Minister of Defence at the time.
We had been handed very expensive Estimates for the Labour Party scheme of rearmament. We had supported the Labour Party about them because they were obviously essential in the national interest, but we appreciated what a heavy burden they would be. Owing to the Labour Party rearmament programme, by 1952–53 we were spending 9.8 per cent. of our gross national product on defence, or, at 1964 prices, £2,200 million a year. This was a level which we could not allow to continue, and we had to prune it back.
When the Labour Party was under the leadership of Mr. Attlee, there was a certain amount of reciprocity between the two sides of the House on defence policy, but after his departure a big divergence between the two sides began to occur, and that divergence has continued and increased. Mr. Gaitskell, a boyhood friend of mine—I knew him well—fought a gallant rearguard action about this matter with his own party. Any hon. Member who has not done so should read Mr. Gaitskell's speech on defence of 1st March, 1960. I have quoted it before and it is well worth reading. It contains his views on the nuclear deterrent.
Since then, we have not had an agreed British defence policy. My quarrel with the Secretary of State is that in his speeches, both in opposition and in the Government, he always seems to try to divide the House rather than to unite it about defence policy. That is his fundamental error which he has continued into this White Paper.
Of course, defence strategy must be capable of change to meet changing conditions, but major changes of defence policy and thinking not to meet changing conditions, but to satisfy party political views, are at best a weakness and at worst an absolute danger.
1389 It was for this reason that there was considerable anxiety among our allies when they knew it was likely that we would have a Labour Government. They thought that that might result in a big upset in Western defence planning. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), I must congratulate the Secretary of State on having kept as closely as he has to Conservative policy. This Statement on Defence will have been eagerly awaited by our allies, our potential enemies, the House and the country and, last but not least, by our own British and Commonwealth Armed Forces.
The morale of the Services, who do a splendid job of peace keeping for us in Europe and so many other parts of the world, largely depends on how their efforts are valued by the House and the country. I am sure that the Services were greatly heartened by the tribute paid to them by the Secretary of State when he was on this side of the House, when he spoke in the defence debate only a year ago.
The right hon. Gentleman said:I think that the whole nation is deeply proud of the rôle which we have played in recent weeks in East Africa and in Cyprus and is proud of the speed and efficiency with which our services reacted to the challenge … I do not believe that there is any other Army in the world which, faced with these extremely difficult situations …"—He continued in that fashion and he also said:All of us on both sides of the House are delighted that the Government have decided to maintain Gurka recruiting up to a level of 15,000 …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 470–4.]The Secretary of State subsequently visited our forces in Malaysia and paid high tributes to the splendid job which they were doing under very difficult conditions. When he came back, on 17th June last year, he said:I think that the courage and ability and patience shown by the Malaysian and British troups in this situation is well-nigh incredible … One lesson which I know the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) would agree about, is the supreme value of Gurka troops in such a situation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1964; Vol. 696, c. 1298.]I certainly did agree about that, and I complimented the right hon. Gentleman on his energy and the way that he had 1390 gone round and seen the troops and visited the Gurkhas and the interest which he had taken. The right hon. Gentleman also acknowledged that the defence position which he had taken over from my right hon. Friend was the best that any Defence Minister in this country had had.
I therefore strongly condemn the Secretary of State for the very cheap and unworthy bit of party political propaganda with which he opened the Defence White Paper. That sort of thing is quite unprecedented in a document of such world importance, and I have never known it to happen before.
As hon. Members opposite have often quoted The Times about defence, I should like to do the same. I remember that on one occasion, after Mr. Gordon Walker, speaking from the Dispatch Box on this side, had quoted that newspaper four times, I said, in replying to him:He is behind 'The Times'."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c. 276.]Certainly, The Times at that time was a great supporter of the Labour Party point of view.
Last Wednesday, The Times, in its leading article on the Statement on Defence, said:The burden of the introduction is that the present Government have inherited 'defence forces which are seriously overstretched and in some respects under-equipped'. But there is very little evidence adduced in subsequent pages to support this claim",as my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth said. The Times goes on:On reading a document of this kind one is bound to ask what is its purpose. If it is to state a case, it does so in a most scrappy and inconsequential way. If it is to inform, it must be said that the new information of significance on other than financial aspects is vague.The Times ends by saying that the White Paper is wanting even in any masterful exposition of the problem and suggests that it would have been better to have no defence review at all.
That is very severe criticism from The Times. It may be that, owing to the departure of its military correspondent, now Lord Chalfont, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, the newspaper felt that it could no longer keep up with the Joneses. However, I think that the House will agree that on two 1391 subjects the Labour Party has been absolutely consistent over the years. The first is that it wanted to get rid of the British nuclear deterrent in any shape or form. That was its general feeling. It wanted to offload it in some way. Secondly, it wanted to increase Britain's conventional forces in N.A.T.O.
In the debate on the Army and Air Force, 23rd November, 1962, the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), speaking from the Dispatch Box for the Labour Party, in opposition, said that four divisions in the B.A.O.R. were not enough and that they must be increased. In the debate on the Army Estimates, he said, speaking for the Labour Party at the Dispatch Box:As I have said, I would put the N.A.T.O. priority without question first, and I would put it certainly not at 51,000, 52,000 nor at 55,000, but at … 80,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c. 622.]The following year, the hon. and learned Member, again speaking for the Labour Party from the Dispatch Box, repeated that statement—that the Labour Party, if it came to power, would increase N.A.T.O. by a further 25,000 men. The Leader of the Liberal Party, whose speech I followed in that debate, said that he would go even higher. Certainly, he was competing with the Labour Party in the number of extra men that he would put into N.A.T.O.
On every occasion I have said that a large-scale conventional war in Europe was out of the question—I have said this, I think, in four defence debates running—and that it was the nuclear deterrent which would make it so. The then Minister of Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, said in last year's debate on Defence:A large-scale coventional war is happily. unlikely … because there is every probability that large-scale conventional war would at a fairly early stage escalate into nuclear war".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 443.]Therefore, it was nothing new when the Secretary of State said exactly the same thing, as though he had suddenly thought of it all by himself.
We are glad that the Labour Party has at last seen the light in these matters, and paragraphs 9 and 18 of the White Paper make this absolutely clear. I must quote paragraph 18 because I think it 1392 all-important that the House should realise what it means. It says:In recent years the United States has developed an overhelming nuclear strike force which is committed to the direct support of Western Europe in case of war. Its purpose is to deter aggression. In the unlikely event that it should fail"—that is, I suppose, to deter aggression—its use would cause such destruction that it is impossible to conceive of a land campaign in Europe lasting for many days. It is, therefore, pointless to tie up resources against the risk of a prolonged war in Europe following the nuclear exchange.That is fairly forthright. Again, we can congratulate the Secretary of State on coming round more to our point of view.
I turn to the Labour Party's policy on the British contribution to the deterrent. It was really against having a deterrent at all, whether interdependent or independent. I remember that Mr. Gordon Walker, who used to speak as "Shadow" Foreign Secretary or "Shadow" Secretary of State for Defence, said in a speech outside the House, which I noted down, on 16th May, 1963, that a Labour Governmentwould not throw away the nuclear weapons we possess but they should be allowed to run down and not be replaced".On Polaris submarines, the Labour Party stated, in its election manifesto:The Nassau Agreement to buy Polaris know-how and Polaris missiles from the U.S.A. will add nothing to the deterrent strength of the Western Alliance and it will mean utter dependence on the U.S.A. for their supplies.It made clear that it was not going to do it, and that was only during the election. But now it proposes to do just the opposite of what it said. It wants to reduce our conventional forces in N.A.T.O. and keep the four Polaris submarines now under construction, and these with the V-bombers with the exception of those required for commitments outside N.A.T.O. will be consigned to the proposed Atlantic Nuclear Force, and will constitute, in the words of the White Paper:a massive British contribution to the Alliance"."Massive" is a very powerful word. There is no question about the Government running down the nuclear weapons. So Britain is to remain a great nuclear Power after all and is also to have an independent deterrent of her own. Again, I congratulate the Secretary of State for 1393 Defence on having done his best to follow the policy of the Conservative Government.
Our massive contribution towards the Atlantic Nuclear Force, as the Prime Minister told us originally, is to be for ever, or for "as long as we both shall live". But nothing in this wicked world is really for ever, not even diamonds, and if the independent part of our deterrent does not prove sufficient for the task that it has east of Suez, I am certain that we shall be able to reinforce it either from the A.N.F. or from N.A.T.O.
With regard to the all-important area east of Suez, we are saddled there with a commitment in defence of Malaysia which all parties in the House agree that we must continue to honour. The Secretary of State should, however, turn his mind to the possibility of the local inhabitants, the Malays and the Chinese, doing much more than they are doing to defend their own country. That is absolutely right, because this Malaysian situation may go on for years. Possibly, the United Nations peace-keeping force could use Malaysia as a first training ground.
Our Gurkhas are doing what everyone would acknowledge to be a wonderful job there, but many of us, on both sides of the House, consider that they should be given a more permanent place in our defence organisation. They are merely shown in the White Paper as an adjunct. In answer to a Written Question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), on Monday of last week, the Deputy Secretary of State said that the Gurkhas will remain at their present strength only as long as our present commitments in support of Malaysia continues substantially unchanged. In other words, if the Gurkhas do their task well, they will fight themselves out of a job.
This is very distressing to the Gurkha brigade, as I know very well, and it is very unhelpful to recruiting machinery in Nepal. Why not raise the ceiling of our British Army forces from 180,000 to 195,000 to include 15,000 Gurkhas? The Gurkhas would then feel that they were really part of Britatin's forces, it would be a just reward for all that the Gurkhas have done for us and it would ensure our getting the best recruits from Nepal and 1394 the pick of the British officers from Sandhurst.
I suggested to the Deputy Secretary of State that he should visit Nepal during his Eastern tour, but I quite understand that time did not allow. I think, however, that a Minister should visit Nepal when opportunity permits. He might have a look at the new road which the Chinese have forced through from Lhasa to Khatmandu, the capital of Nepal, about which we hear very little in the House of Commons. However, our great British Ambassador, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, will be visiting Nepal in 10 days' time and he intends to see a number of our Gurkha pensioners, which will send up the morale of the Gurkhas and their recruiting sky high. The continuing effort made by the Chinese to infiltrate into Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan are all part of the grand design to establish a position from which to hold a permanent threat over the Indian sub-Continent.
In that connection, I make an urgent request to the Government. In view of the dangerous Communist threat, it is sheer lunacy that India and Pakistan should still be at loggerheads over Kashmir. A settlement of this problem is, perhaps, the most vital thing that could be done in Asia today. In the present situation, both India and Pakistan are tending to waste their strength and ruin their economies by glowering at one another over the cease-fire line in this lovely country of Kashmir, which I know so well. It could surely become a guaranteed independent State. It is incapable of harming anybody. If the British Government could help to bring this about, they would have greatly strengthened the chances of peace in this part of the world.
In conclusion, I again congratulate the Secretary of State on having retained so much of the main tenet of the Conservative Government's defence policy, despite having to eat so many of his words and those of his colleagues. The right hon. Gentleman is, however, dedicated to the problem, as I know, and I realise the difficulties that he has had to face. They are difficulties in his own party more than anything else. I only venture to remind the right hon. Gentleman that defence is a long-term business.
1395 Ministers of Defence come and go, some more quickly than others, and it is the duty of each of them to maintain Britain's contribution to the peace of the world at the highest possible level, remembering always that it is only too easy to destroy the defence machinery but that it is a long and arduous business to build it up again.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
I agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) that there is a great measure of similarity between the defence policy of the Government and the defence policy of the Opposition, and that this has been achieved by the Government eating a great many of their words spoken before the election.
The debate between the two Front Benches has been conducted on what I might call the "Annie get your gun" principle, "Anything you can do I can do better". I shall strike a somewhat discordant note in this harmony, because in my view—I say it with sadness—the Defence White Paper is not so much a policy, more a way of death for the Labour Party and for everything for which it stands and, eventually, for humanity, including the people of this country.
This defence policy does not make sense in terms of the needs of the people, nor of the needs of our economy, nor is it compatible with our foreign policy, although we have declared that our foreign policy should be the master and defence should be the servant. It is not even compatible with what the Prime Minister told the House on 16th December, when he said thatwe need to take a fresh look at the world around us, question the basic assumptions on which we have been operating for so long, decide what are the problems and challenges of the second half of the 1960s and the 1970s, formulate fresh policies when needed and start to re-deploy our resources so that we can meet them.On the same occasion, the Prime Minister further recalled the warning given by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Secretary of State and Minister of Defence for the Army on 14th December that however successful we might be in eliminating waste and muddle—that 1396 is, in achieving cost effectiveness and value for money—defence costs would nevertheless continue to rise unless there were changes of policy and reduction of commitments. After referring to this warning, the Prime Minister rubbed it in in the following terms on 16th December:There is built in to our defence system an unavoidable rate of increase—in the absence of changes of policy—which will mean, year by year, a crippling increase in the call on money and on resources. … Assuming the continuance of existing contracts and commitments, and assuming no change in policy"—I revert to the previous paragraph—there is an inexorable law that in terms of military expenditure the rise in costs is rising far faster than any conceivable increase in the gross national product."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 418–20.]So far from cutting defence commitments, the Defence White Paper has reaffirmed all the existing commitments—N.A.T.O. CENTO and S.E.A.T.O.—and has added two new ones, a nuclear confrontation with China and an ominous and ill-defined world rôle. On this basis it will prove impossible to achieve even the very modest aim set out in the defence White Paper of reducing defence expenditure in the next few years to roughly the level in real terms of the present figure.
I should like to know what that means. Does it mean that if prices rise the defence budget in terms of money will continue to rise, although it will be stabilised at the present figure in terms of real value and present purchasing power? In any case, even if this aim were achieved, it would be useless, because unless we can cut the defence budget radically, by something like one-third or even one-half, before the next General Election, we shall fail in what we are trying to do at home and once more lose power, as the last Labour Government did, by trying to combine a Labour home policy with a Tory defence and foreign policy. Then it took four years for rising defence costs to catch up with and crack down on what we were trying to do at home, and encompass our defeat. This time the danger is in front of our eyes.
I come to the Polaris question. It is quite true, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says, that the Government gave 1397 the electorate, and most of us who fought the election in good faith on this issue, the impression that they intended to scrap the Polaris missiles. I am not a lawyer, and one cannot really scan every word and phrase of every statement to find the quirk which lets them out somehow. I do not accept the argument about the point of no return—that it will cost more to scrap the nearly completed Polaris submarines than to go ahead with them. I remind the House that at the 1922 Washington Naval Disarmament Conference between the United States, Britain and Japan a number of battleships were scrapped which were practically completed. It is not just a matter of the capital cost of producing these things, but the cost of their upkeep afterwards, and what it implies in terms of commitment to a nuclear policy. We should have scrapped them. I still think we should scrap them.
Then, I do not know why we want to provide N.A.T.O. with Polaris missiles at all, in view of the fact that the present Minister of Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) was very emphatic on this subject when speaking in the House when he was, if I may put it this way, the mere shadow of his present self. He was, in fact, Shadow Defence Minister—for anybody who does not catch the point. He said this on 20th July, 1960:It is absolutely impossible to reconcile a Polaris missile strategy for N.A.T.O. with the declared aims of N.A.T.O. strategy … it completely rules out the whole of N.A.T.O.s military purpose, because it makes total war absolutely inevitable from the word 'go' … The plain fact is that the proposal for putting Polaris in Europe has no military justification whatever … Much worse than that"—added my right hon. Friend, to give Polaris missiles to N.A.T.O.—would mean a tremendous increase in political tension. One thing I have never been able to understand about Western military policy is the assumption that the West can always do something to strengthen its military position without the Soviet doing something to counterbalance that. It is as certain as night follows day that if N.A.T.O. distributes these missiles under national control, or under collective control, all over Western Europe, the Soviet Union will respond by taking similar steps in Eastern Europe ….—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1960; Vol. 627, c. 608.]The Soviet Government—indeed, the whole Warsaw Alliance—has already served notice that that is precisely what 1398 they will do if we go ahead with the policy of the Atlantic Nuclear Force. They will presumably also contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons by setting up an East European or continental nuclear force in which the participants would be East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia. That would be as valid a way of stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons as going ahead with the Atlantic Nuclear Force. The thing is all the more inexplicable in that the Prime Minister, before leaving for Washington on 23rd November, told the House:The purpose of collective strength in defence is to make fruitful negotiations possible for the easement of East-West tension. … Therefore, in all the measures that we shall be proposing in Washington for strengthening the effectiveness of our collective defences it is paramount that all we do shall not only not make disarmament measures more difficult, but we must so far as possible actively contribute in our defence proposals to making those measures easier to achieve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 937.]The Government retreated from Washington bearing a banner with a strange device: A.N.F. When the news was published first the Polish and then the Soviet Governments' reactions were that they both gave warnings that A.N.F. would put a stop to any attempt to diminish tension, and would make it impossible to get anywhere with either a treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, or disarmament, or any other major issue. The whole Warsaw Alliance chimed in and said the same thing.
I asked the Prime Minister, in view of the condition he had posed, namely, that our measures for strengthening defence must contribute to the easement of East-West tension and to fruitful negotiations, and the obvious fact that the A.N.F. is not consistent with this avowed purpose, to drop the whole proposal. His answer was to remind me that he had said on numerous occasions that one purpose of our defence policy was to further non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.
No doubt that is our intention. I do not doubt the Government's good intentions in any of this. I know very well they have tried manfully to cut down defence expenditure, that they say with modest pride that they will spend £55 million less than the Opposition would 1399 have done if they had been in. That is quite possible. It does not soothe me very much, but I believe it. But, frankly, these are the kind of good intentions which are the paving stones on the primrose path to the eternal bonfire. This will not do. It is not good enough. It will not work.
Having said all that, I want to add that I fully agree with my right hon. Friends that the Opposition would do even worse. I still believe it is vitally important to keep our Government in power, because I believe that there is hope of their learning from the error of their ways when they are up against economic necessity and political opposition. That is why, on the one hand, I signed the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) to this Motion. When I inquired about it at the Table Office I was told that between 30 and 40 of my colleagues had already signed it. I think that probably nearly 50 will have done so by the end of this debate tomorrow. Because, on the one hand, we want to support our Government, we intend to vote for them, however much we dislike their policies, in order to keep them in power. That is the choice of the lesser evil. We believe that the return of the other side would be the ultimate disaster.
Therefore, we shall do our distasteful duty. At the same time we are going to do all we can in the country from now on to generate a politically effective demand for a British lead for disarmament and peace, because we believe that that is what we were elected to do, and we are going to do it with all our power. We are not lying down under this. We are not accepting this.
Now I come to the question of West German access to nuclear weapons. Here I am sorry to say that the Government's policy amounts to nothing less than a breach of faith with the electorate. I know that this gives joy to the Opposition, and I am sorry to have to say it for that reason, but facts are facts. We had the Prime Minister's statement on 3rd July, 1963, repeating what he said on 31st January, 1963, when he said:We are completely, utterly and unequivocably opposed, now and in all circumstances, to any suggestion that Germany, West Germany or East Germany, directly or 1400 indirectly, should have a finger on the nuclear trigger or any responsibility, direct or indirect, for deciding that nuclear weapons are to be used."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1963; Vol. 670, c. 1246.]It was on the second occasion when the Prime Minister said that this was the policy of the party, and so it was. On 17th December, 1964, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence, explaining the A.N.F. project, used the following phrase:We offer her"—that is West Germany—participation in the ownership, management and control of a new strategic N.A.T.O. nuclear force on terms of absolute equality …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1964; Vol. 704, c. 603.]I am not a lawyer. I am not an acrobat either. I simply cannot reconcile those two statements. They are completely contradictory, and I believe in keeping faith with those who elected us, both in foreign affairs and home affairs.
I agreed with the Prime Minister's warning on 3rd July, 1963, that the Soviet Union would regard any participation, in any capacity, of Germany in any form of international nuclear force, as a step to a Germany equipped with nuclear weapons of her own. He said that this could easily mean the end of any hope of relaxing tension in Europe, or reaching agreement on any major issue. I do not see why we should proceed in the teeth of that dire warning.
I turn again to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence on 20th July, 1960. I have already referred to what he said at the time about the Polaris missile strategy. He went on to say:The real danger in Europe"—and there are echoes of this in the defence White Paper, which says it rather more briefly but takes the same line—and we all know it, is not the danger of a large scale deliberate Soviet attack on the West but of a local conflict developing, perhaps out of a spontaneous rising of discontented people living in Eastern Europe, as happened in Hungary, in Poland and in Berlin, perhaps out of miscalculation. In other words, the danger of a conflict arising is essentially in a situation to which deterrence is irrelevant …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1960; Vol. 627, c. 609–10.]My right hon. Friend elaborated that on 27th February, 1961, when he said that there was no substantial danger of a 1401 deliberate Soviet attack. In my considered view there never has been any such danger. The whole thing has been nonsense from the word "go". I have always said so, and I am glad that people are beginning to realise that the Soviet Government have never believed in spreading Communism to the rest of the world by force of arms. They believe that it will come through internal social and economic causes, stimulated by the example of the Soviet Union.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
Would my hon. Friend extend that to the assistance and encouragement which the Soviet Government gave to the Hungarian uprising in 1956, and to those in East Berlin who did not want Communism?
§ Mr. Zilliacus
The Hungarians who revolted did so against the Communist régime, which called in the Soviet Government who were their allies, just as the South Vietnam puppet Government have called in the Americans. I was against what the Russians did, and I am against what the Americans are doing in Vietnam, but the two things do not argue that the Soviet Government are trying to spread Communism to the rest of the world. Both in Hungary and in East Berlin they were moved by balance of power and national interest considerations, aid not by ideological considerations. That means that we can deal with this by a negotiated settlement, including disengagement and the withdrawal of forces. That is the way out of the situation, and not by piling up nuclear arms.
I return to what my right hon. Friend said on what I call the second occasion. He said:The only real danger of a war in Europe is a small, local conflict arising in a situation in which the whole spectrum of deterrence would be irrelevant, arising perhaps just across the Iron Curtain or in East Berlin. No military posture by the West could deter such an incident breaking out in the first place. … It is a danger to which the whole concept of deterrence is irrelevant. It is, in fact, the only real danger, in my view, which the West now faces in Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1961; Vol. 635, c. 229–30.]The argument as exponded by my right hon. Friend at the time, and as mentioned in the White Paper, is that we should deal with such situations by policies of armed intervention through small, mobile conventional forces, backed in the last analysis by nuclear power. That is 1402 a recipe for world war on the instalment plan, because if we think that we are entitled to do that in such situations, the other side may take the same view. It also happens to be a violation of the United Nations Charter. We do not have a licence under the Charter for armed intervention in the internal affairs of a country which has an uprising that we do not like.
The whole situation seems to be one which cries out for political arrangements, through the United Nations, with the Soviet Union, to work out methods for jointly dealing with disturbances to the peace and dealing with the differences out of which such disturbances arise. We should try to apply the obligations of the Charter to such situations instead of preparing to use a steam hammer to crack a nut.
Then we come to the question of Germany itself. On 16th December the Prime Minister described the situation in Germany as impossible and said that we were spending between £55 million and £60 million a year net on the upkeep of the B.A.O.R. The idea apparently is to try to alleviate that situation by competing with the Americans in getting the Germans to buy arms and munitions from this country. The Americans have a great superiority over us. They can use methods which are beyond our reach, and which should not be used anyway, to beat us in this competition, as they have been doing. I do not think that there is much hope there, apart from the fact that the whole idea of competing to try to sell arms and munitions to bolster up the territorial demands of the present German Government is enough to make our soldiers who fell in the last war turn in their graves.
If we want to cut defence costs—and we should—and if we want to put an end to the situation which the Prime Minister has characterised as impossible, we should point out to the German Government, that what they want most is unification, and they can get it only by peaceful means, through a policy of disengagement, the policy for which the Government have long stood, or at least for which this party stood before it became the Government. I think that they still stand for it, more or less. The only possible way of negotiating the unification of Germany with the Soviet Union is within the framework 1403 of disengagement. Such a policy will enable us to bring the B.A.O.R. home because there will be no need for it to stay there; indeed it cannot stay there when Germany is out of the rival alliances.
We should tell the Germans that if they refuse this basis of settlement, which is the only possible one for a peaceful settlement, and continue a policy of intransigence and refuse to recognise their frontiers, we will declare their policy provocative as we have every right to do under N.A.T.O., where collective defence obligations operate only in case of unprovoked aggression. We should tell the Germans that if they persist in this kind of policy we will declare that they have made these obligations a dead letter. We shall tell them that their policy is provocative, and so we are bringing our forces home.
In the Middle East we are spending £125 million a year, although according to Labour Party policy we should rely on commercial arrangements and not force or the threat of force, to obtain oil from the Middle East. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), in introducing the Estimates Committee Report on overseas military expenditure, pointed out that other countries are getting a great deal more oil from the East than we are simply by commercial arrangements. Therefore, we had better look to winding up our forces out there as well. I do not see what purpose they are serving.
I do not accept that the purpose is stability, because that means propping up regimes which are so corrupt and dictatorial that they cannot rely even upon their own police or army. Let nature take its course. We should not prop them up.
§ Commander Courtney
If the hon. Gentleman wishes to withdraw our forces from Germany, can he say why he fought the last election on a manifesto which specifically said.Our stress will be on the strengthening of our conventional regular forces so that we can contribute our share to N.A.T.O. defence and also fulfil our peace-keeping commitments to the Commonwealth and the United Nations.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I fought the election by saying that whereas I agreed with my party's home policy I believed that foreign policy should take priority over 1404 defence. I said that I disagreed with my party on the commitment to keep forces on the Rhine. I am saying now what I said throughout the election. I made it clear that I thought this was the wrong line, and that I hoped to convert my party and the Government to my way of thinking in due course, under the spur of sheer economic necessity.
We should wind up the Aden and Cyprus bases, because the local populations are against us and those bases serve no useful purpose. We should give up the idea of using force, or the threat of force, to obtain oil and adopt the principle which Mr. Aneurin Bevan once laid down and which represents the view of the overwhelming majority of the party, that it is not Britain's business to fight Communism or put down revolutions in other people's countries.
§ Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)
Will the hon. Member extend the reasoning that he has put forward to the question of giving up our base in Gibraltar and leaving it to Spain?
§ Mr. Zilliacus
Gibraltar happens to be a British Crown Colony. It is British territory, under British sovereignty. It is in a rather different position. There is no doubt about our legal right to be there, but there is a very grave doubt in my mind whether we are not violating the Charter of the United Nations by arrogating to ourselves the right of armed intervention in the internal affairs of other countries in order to put down revolutions in those countries. That is an illicit policy.
§ Mr. Zilliacus
I am suggesting that we should give that up on the ground of expediency. There is no point in our staying there.
The example has been referred to on several occasions of the quite admirable incident when four newly-born African Governments called in British forces to help them restore order. But we should not build our whole policy on the expectation that situations of this sort will recur, because they correspond to an early stage in the development of African independence, and African nationalism has since developed. In any case there 1405 was so much recrimination afterwards about the use of white troops for this purpose that there is not the least chance of our being called in again to do such a job.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West said in the debate on 19th January. It really makes no sense to spend over £100 million a year—or, if we include the Far Eastern Royal Navy operating from Singapore, about £225 million—to protect British assets in Malaysia which are worth £150 million as a total capital sum, particularly since at any moment the Malaysian Government, if so disposed, could nationalise them and take them over. Here again we must rely on commercial and political arrangements.
I have said before, and I say again, that I support, as an emergency measure the help that we are giving Malaysia to resist the aggressive actions of Indonesia. But we should put enormous emphasis on seeking a political settlement, perhaps on the lines of reviving the idea of Maphilindo, but with an international guarantee, at a conference in which China and the Soviet Union, as well as the United States, France and ourselves, took part. We must not get ourselves into the position of starting a nuclear confrontation when China is at least five or six years away from being a nuclear Power. In my opinion it is more like ten years. We must not assume that this is inevitable. We must use the intervening period to try to come to terms with China—to bring her into international circulation, to give her her place in the Security Council, and bring her into conferences for settlements on the lines of the neutralisation of South-East Asia and Malaysia. Political action is what matters there.
The other way is the road to the precipice, leading to more and more military expenditure and to no solution. It is a tragic mistake to believe that we can abate the danger to peace and the consequent potential strain on our military resources from the American war in Vietnam, by trying to exert an influence for peace in Washington while supporting the American war in Vietnam. We are making the worst of both worlds. In a dispatch from Washington in last Sunday's Observer I note that our efforts are not at all appreciated, and that 1406 President Johnson, according to the dispatchis far from grateful to the kind friends, Mr. Wilson among them, who have come forward with offers to help him negotiate an end to the war in Vietnam.Washington officialsappreciate, that Mr. Wilson faces the danger of rebellion from his Left Wing back benchers on Vietnam, and they simply discounted his talk of 'further action' which could lead to 'an eventual settlement' as so much sand deftly tossed in the eyes of the Left."'I have indicated that I believe that the Government's policy is mistaken in this respect, and that the penalty will be that we will lose so much ground in the eyes of other countries—already the Russians are approaching de Gaulle and discussing Far Eastern and European affairs with him—that we will have no power to arrest the steady worsening of East-West relations, brought about by what the Americans are doing. We should throw our weight on the side of the forces of sanity in the United States who are fighting this policy, and not only publicly dissociate ourselves from it, and join with France and the Soviet Union in calling for a conference, but also warn the Americans that if they go on like this they can no longer count on us in respect of N.A.T.O., C.E.N.T.O., or S.E.A.T.O. We should tell them that they are wrecking the whole Alliance system.
We must get tough and assert ourselves on the issue of peace. Our real world rôle is to be the leaders in peacemaking and winding up the cold war, rejecting the wrong, unreal and dangerous assumptions on which it is based.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Peel (Leicester, South-East)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) on his honesty in admitting that he proposes to be lobby-fodder in the Division tomorrow, despite his passionately-held views on the subject of defence. He will not expect me to sympathise with him in respect of those views.
I found myself agreeing with much of what the Secretary of State for Defence said. It made me feel that it was all the more of a pity that the White Paper contained Part I, which is tendentious and partisan. I have no doubt that the Government had a reason for this 1407 but I must confess that it seems a little strange when one remembers that the Prime Minister has appeared to want to bring some bipartisanship into defence matters by offering defence talks to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and others. He has not only said it once; he has repeated it a number of times in answer to Questions by his hon. Friends behind him. Therefore, in view of this extremely political approach to defence, as embodied in Part I of the White Paper, perhaps the Prime Minister himself—who, I understand, will be intervening in this debate—or one of his right hon. or hon. Friends, will explain exactly what he means by suggesting defence talks with my right hon. Friend.
Part I is strange in another respect. The strong criticism which it contains of the Government's inheritance accords extremely ill with the words of the Secretary of State for Defence soon after he took office, when he said that he took over the best weapon any Defence Minister in this country has yet had. That hardly coincides with some of the remarks in the first part of the White Paper. This criticism has been entirely nullified by the actions taken by our defence forces over the last few years. They have discharged worldwide commitments admirably and with great efficiency, ranging from Malaysia through Africa and the Mediterranean to British Guiana. Nobody can pretend that they have not helped considerably to maintain the peace.
I want to speak this evening principally about the strength and coherence of the N.A.T.O. Alliance, because I think that it is facing a crisis in its affairs. This is due, in considerable measure, to the problem of the control of the nuclear deterrent. I can quite well understand the view—though I do not agree with it—that one should throw the nuclear deterrent away completely. What I find passes comprehension is the attitude that one should keep it but give up all control over it except the veto. This seems to me to give Great Britain the worst of all worlds. We pay the piper, but we do not call the tune. We heard a great deal from the present Government, when they were in opposition, about the cost of the nuclear deterrent 1408 and about how much more could be done for our defences if we discarded it, but they are now proposing a scheme which will save nothing but will take away from us the ultimate control of this ultimate weapon.
By proposing a scheme which applies a veto to all our allies, they render the deterrent almost incredible. This is implicit in the Government's half-baked plan for what they call the Atlantic Nuclear Force. It is much more likely to divide N.A.T.O. than to unify it. The only good thing I can find to say about it is that I imagine that it finds very little favour with our allies and that discussions about it are likely to continue in the capitals of N.A.T.O. for a very long time. While these discussions are going on, Britain will, presumably, retain her own deterrent and her control over it. This is an interesting position—I presume that this is the position of the Government—especially when one recalls the Prime Minister's slighting references, when in opposition, to the "so-called British so-called independent so-called deterrent". In view of the speed with which he is now handing our defences over to America, presumably he can extend that sentence and say that it is now a case of the "so-called British so-called Royal Air Force". This, of course, is a deplorable situation.
I have no doubt that the Government put this scheme forward for two reasons. One was that the Prime Minister had to get off the difficult political hook in his own party, and the other was that they wanted, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) said, to ditch the M.L.F. But, in my opinion, there was no hurry to do this, and I doubt if there was any need to do it. The Americans put forward the multilateral force proposal because, I think, they felt that Germany would, in due course, ask for a greater share in the control of the deterrent. The Germans agreed to it, not because they wanted to get their fingers on the mechanism, but because they felt that it would help to bind America more closely to Europe. I do not believe that there was any need for that. The Americans have told us repeatedly that as long as their allies in Europe want them to stay there and help in the defence of Western Europe, they are very happy to remain.
1409 There is certainly very little enthusiasm elsewhere in the Alliance for the M.L.F. idea. The French, of course, dislike it very much indeed. This proposal therefore threatened the whole cohesion of N.A.T.O. For that reason, the N.A.T.O. Parliamentarians' Conference debated this contentious issue last December. When the Americans and the Germans had listened to all the arguments which the speakers put forward, it was agreed, by a very large majority, that there was no hurry to come to a conclusion over the multilateral force, and that the respective Governments should be asked to discuss it and to investigate it a great deal further before any decision was taken.
Into this already somewhat complicated position the Government have thrown an even more complicated and undesirable suggestion in the form of the Atlantic Nuclear Force. We already have a N.A.T.O. nuclear force. This is something which we should try to develop, because this gives to our non-nuclear allies a great say in the targeting, planning and control of the Western nuclear deterrent. The Nuclear Committee of N.A.T.O. is under a Belgian officer who is the deputy of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. There are representatives of the non-nuclear allies on the Committee, and there are representatives of the N.A.T.O. countries at Strategic Air Command at Omaha. This gives all our N.A.T.O. allies a considerable say in the control of the nuclear deterrent. It seems to me that we ought to try to develop further co-operation in this direction in order to strengthen N.A.T.O., which is so vital for the defence of the West.
The difficulty is that it does not matter what scheme is proposed for the nuclear deterrent, we still come up against the political difficulty, which is at the bottom of it all. It seems to me that unless and until we can get much closer political co-operation between the allies, we cannot make much advance in spreading control of the nuclear deterrent. All we can do is to leave the utlimate say, the ultimate control, where it now lies. Frankly, I do not see a chance of getting much closer political co-operation in the near future, but I think that some efforts should be made to see whether we can develop closer co-operation with our allies in regard to the nuclear deterrent.
1410 It might be a good thing if we had bilateral talks with the Americans, the French and the Germans, before going to N.A.T.O. at all, to see whether there is any possibility of improving co-operation over the control of the nuclear deterrent in N.A.T.O. and not outside. I am quite convinced that the Atlantic Nuclear Force idea is far more likely to split N.A.T.O., to divide rather than to unify it.
There is one other thing which I should be grateful if the Minister of Defence for the Army would clarify more fully than does the White Paper. When we were in Government we were often chided, sometimes in most extravagant terms, for the fact that we had not got our agreed 55,000 troops in Germany. That promise, that we would build it up to 55,000, was repeated, I think by the Minister of Defence for the Army soon after taking office. I read in paragraphs 18, 19 and 21 of the White Paper suggestions that lead me to think that the Government may well be seeking from our allies a revision of this figure and this target. It is made clear—I will not weary the House by reading out the paragraphs—that the position in Europe needs revision; that our allies should appreciate that we are carrying a very heavy defence burden across the world, much of which is in their interests, and that we should get more assistance from them.
I should like to know whether we are going to seek that assistance by asking them to agree that we should not go to the figure of 55,000; whether we shall ask them to allow us to reduce below what we already have in Europe; or whether it is proposed to ask for assistance to help us with our defence arrangements east of Suez and what shape or form that help may take. Or are the Government proposing that some assistance should be given in both respects?
These are things about which I think we should be told something. From the point of view of the country it would be a very good thing if we could get more bipartisanship in this House on the question of defence, but frankly I do not consider that paragraph 1 of the White Paper helps in the very least in that respect.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Much has been made of the importance of the cost of weapons and of the whole of our defence policy. When I hear so many people talk about the necessity to reduce these costs, my natural optimism tends to remain somewhat subdued. Page 11 of the Statement on Defence comments a great deal about the need for cost control and discusses the question of functional costing, value analysis, and cost-effectiveness. It strikes me that the amount of jargon may not necessarily be proportional to the amount of progress.
Be that as it may, the most important part I feel, although I am convinced of the necessity for more refined methods of cost control, is that these, deployed in certain ways, could be of value in understanding the purpose for which the job is intended. I should be quite happy to see rather more modest ends pursued if they could be pursued effectively. In fact, as we know, there is no simple method of costing in the way in which an industrial organisation desires to cost.
Reading the Ninth Report from the Estimates Committee we find that the real information we want in order to assess the way in which the money is going is not available. Accounts on defence may have been superbly designed to ensure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not get his fingers in the till very often, and may have been successful in achieving that objective, but for the rather more refined objectives which we require they are not so successful. As in accounts in industry everywhere, much wider information is required on which to make important decisions, and necessary information on which to come to a decision is not available on the massive scale on which we need it.
This would be, or should be, thought of as too elementary even to need stating. A manufacturing firm making toffee should be able to know how much it costs to produce each package of toffee. The main element in assessing the cost is the apportionment of the burden and the allocation of overheads. Throughout the Report of Sub-Committee D of the Estimates Committee there is no attempt at an apportionment of the burden or to allocate the overheads. To talk about refined controls in the face of such an archaic system is like discussing the pro- 1412 vision of a computer for a person who does his accounts on the back of an envelope.
Before we think of these refined methods we must start with simple costs, to which little approach has been made. I believe that the bases overseas are costing more than any of the highest estimates which have been given and, what is worse, no one can disprove what I am saying. Looking at paragraph 241 in the Ninth Report from the Estimates Committee we can see clearly that the idea of overheads is not understood at all. A witness who appeared before the Committee said:… the extra cost of having them"—that is, the troops—in Hong Kong rather than keeping them somewhere else, is, I think only about £3 million.He goes to to say:On second thoughts, about £4 to £5 million, I think, might be the figure.That is based on a number of estimates. In reply, the Chairman says:We think we have some previous figures on that, showing that the expenditure which falls on the British taxpayer for Hong Kong is much greater than the £3 million that has been mentioned.In reality, we have not the faintest idea of what these bases are costing us.
Some of the arguments are based on the fact that we have to have troops somewhere, so we may as well have them in Hong Kong, Singapore, and elsewhere. They do not have to be somewhere, they could be disbanded. These troops are valuable to us and the fact that no accurate estimate is possible means that decisions affecting the future of this country are based on inadequate evidence of this kind.
It is not just a question of troops and their cost. We also have to consider the support bases. If these far-distant bases could be run down, the need for expenditure on support bases would diminish, and these support bases are carrying part of the overheads. There are the support forces which are necessary to maintain the far-distant bases and if the far-distant bases are diminished, the support forces could also be diminished. They could be reduced as well as the support bases. The overheads borne by the support forces additional to the overheads borne 1413 by the far-distant bases could be diminished additionally.
There is the question of other weapons being made or being held in reserve. The overheads borne by these might also be apportioned. We have the Reserves in the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State mentioned the difficulty of taking these men to the far-distant bases and the maximum amount of separation from their families which could be endured. We have all the cost of maintaining these reserves—and part of the cost of these reserves is necessarily part of the overheads—but if we did not have to take that unpopular action of separation we could reduce the amount of recruitment. There are other overheads very near to home, the overheads in Whitehall of defence staff, and so on. Then we have the special manufacturing of certain items of equipment, along with other forms of expenditure, particularly for the area concerned.
This is not all. Beside all these overheads of which there is no attempt whatever to apportion them to the cost of the far-distant bases, we also have the ancillary costs, for we all know that the further away a base is the more it costs to keep. This cost is partly due to inefficiency, for there is a natural inefficiency which is extremely difficult to overcome.
Hon. Members are well aware of the difficulties which industrial organisations have when they are separated from the factories which the head office controls. Inefficiency due to distance is something very real in the industrial world and it has a great deal to do with the difficulties involved in the relocation of industry. The further away parts of industry are from each other the greater the inefficiency; and this inefficiency in the field of defence must also be considered in terms of the vast distances between bases.
I believe that the true cost of these bases is far higher than even the highest estimates which have been given. However high or wide the stated estimates may be—from £100 million to £225 million per base—I still believe that they cost more to keep. Figures have been adduced for our base in Hong Kong, and I suggest that the same applies there.
One of the greatest expenses in defence—our far-distant bases—has been con- 1414 sidered with the least knowledge of the true costs involved. I agree that the allocation of overheads is not an easy matter to decide. It is not easy in industry, defence or anywhere else to try to divide the pay of generals and apportion their costs, to try to divide the reserve units and their costs, the research and development costs and so on and try to apportion them over the different bases. It is not an easy thing to do.
However, this kind of statistical work is done in industry day by day and the bigger the industry the more developed are its systems of dividing its costs. We cannot afford to stop short in using these methods for what is the biggest industry of them all. While we must all welcome the new tools of functional control, we must remember, too, that the simplest form of real control has yet to be inaugurated. It is the obtaining of true costs.
In connection with the use of our forces in the Far East, it is interesting to read, on page 7 of the Statement:… if our friends turn to us for help we must be ready to give it where we can, so that they may achieve security and the chance to flourish in peace".As a piece of optimistic altruism, that is difficult to improve on, but does it mean all our friends? I hope that we have a great number of friends in these areas overseas, the areas which are bounded by the sub-continent of India and the east coast of Africa down to Australia.
Are we, in those areas, to go to the assistance of those concerned, and, if so, how can we define these friends? What is our real position there? I submit that our position is not policeman of the East. We are not the universal "bobby" of the twentieth century. This has long since ceased to be our rôle. The extent of the nostalgic whiff of folie de grandeur is still present and, of course, we all believe in the cause of world peace. We hope that if our rôle is of such supreme value we shall be begged and implored by other countries, particularly in the area east of Suez, to continue our rôle. Despite the anachronism and the large cost involved we should do so and, based on a consideration of that sort, we should be prepared to continue this rôle.
If this were to help the cause of peace, and if it were accepted by all these countries, then—if there were such a demand—we should yield to it, despite 1415 our balance of payments difficulties and our changed rôle. However, if those countries believe this—and there is little sign that they do—one would imagine that they would be prepared to help us materially in that respect. There is neither sign of clamour nor prospect of any material assistance, other than from Australia and New Zealand, who have personal interests in the area.
I look forward to the present Government facing the realities of the situation. It is easy to try to dispose of world problems and take a delight in acting on them, but nobody in this area at present—certainly nobody of independent status—either thinks that we can, or are able to dispose of these problems. Our resources are limited and we should not be profligate in an out-dated effort to influence in this area. If we think that we can hang on for the present, hoping that the situation will improve, we should at the same time remember that the curve on the graph of rising expenditure almost as vertical as a brick wall is against us.
This progress is almost as natural a law as any physical law, so certain is it in its consequences. Why escalation should continue should be well known. We have, first, such matters as inflation, which, despite what we say here and despite the pious words uttered from time to time, is in operation throughout the world. No one can hope to do more than mitigate its effects and diminish its extent.
Another cause of this escalation is the United States-Russian arms race. New weapons of vast expense are being produced regularly, making ours obsolete when they are still on the design board. The enormous sums which we spend really only keep us little less than one technical generation behind. When we come to the larger weapons, the difficulties are even greater because before these larger weapons—of ships, aircraft and so on—are completed, they are obsolete. Indeed, we are producing obsolescence every time we lay down one of these new weapons systems because halfway through their production the admirals and air marshals come along and insist that something be changed, something of which they were not previously aware, as a result of which the change must be incorporated in the system.
1416 These are massively expensive changes. If this were not enough, we also have the errors in costing, and these errors are adding cumulatively to the irrevocable escalation of costs, an escalation which goes well beyond the highest estimates that have been mentioned.
The time when we could speed to the rescue of countries 7,000 miles away has nearly gone. Clearly, we are not able to abolish our commitments overnight, and our word is obviously still of value. However, there is an inexorable trend and we must face the economic position and organise a phased programme of reduction. Most important, we must say "Absolutely no" to any further commitments.
There has been talk about India today and hon. Members who, like myself, consider our links with India to be most important regard the greatest triumph of the Commonwealth to be the birth of the greatest democracy of which we should be particularly proud. Nevertheless, even in such a case as this we cannot be expected to provide a nuclear umbrella. I am not thinking of the military argument alone, but particularly about the costs involved. What if there is proliferation, despite all this? This is the main argument for the defence of India with nuclear weapons. If there is proliferation—and this is the crux of the argument—we will have found ourselves saddled with yet a further commitment, and the escalation in terms of cost will have gone even higher than at present.
There is a defence for India. There could be negotiations to persuade the United States to come into this. If the fine point is made that India does not wish to be so closely aligned, I, like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), would agree that the time has long gone when we can be quite so fastidious in this world.
I, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, believe that defence must be the servant of foreign policy, but I believe that both defence and foreign policy must be the servants of the economic situation and the economics of the matter must be supreme. The days when we could dream our dreams of being mistress of the seas and conducting affairs on the other side of the 1417 earth have long gone. We cannot any more act as an arbiter among nations.
If the Labour Government are remembered for anything, I hope that they will be remembered for the greater realism they have shown, and it is this realism that I expect the Government to provide.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) has spoken about making savings in defence expenditure. I believe that real savings in defence expenditure can be made only if it is possible to get our allies to share some of the defence burden which at present we shoulder alone. However much it may be desirable to have cost accounting and to go through the books of the Services, only by persuading our allies in that way to help us with the commitments and not by pinching and squeezing the Services, shall we bring about real savings in defence expenditure.
The first few paragraphs of the Defence White Paper are so full of Left-wing politics that I was beginning to believe that, if the document was written by the Prime Minister at all, it must have been written when he was wearing his Downing Street wig and certainly not the wig of his Chiefs of Staff. It has so much the air of the amateur about it rather than that of the professional that it brings me to advise that, if the Secretary of State wishes to make an immediate saving in defence comparable to the saving that he suggested this afternoon in regard to R.A.F. ceremonial dress, he should sack the Paymaster-General and his Department.
One of the easiest acts for a politician to perform is to call for cuts in defence expenditure in time of peace. It is one which is bound to be attractive, especially in a democracy, and especially, too, when there are so many immediate demands on the public purse—for more schools, more hospitals, more roads and for many of the items which from our own experience in our constituencies we all know are so urgently needed. It was his reaction to cuts in defence spending which made Sir Winston Churchill such a lone figure in the 1930s and for someone to write about our preparedness when the Dutch swept up the Medway: 1418If war was won by feasting,Or victory by song,Or safety found in sleeping sound,How England would be strong!It is for these reasons that I am most suspicious of the opening words of the Defence White Paper, in which, as the Amendment says, there is anabsence of any clear account of Her Majesty's Government's proposals for maintaining the strength of the Armed Forces at a level consistent with the rôles undertaken.They echo, if still a bit faintly, the call made by the Labour Party in the 1930s, with such fatal consequences to our country and the world. Indeed, after hearing the words of the backwoodsman of the Labour Party this afternoon, I must say that they echo very similarly some of the words which were spoken from the Labour Party benches in the 1930s. Their leaders who called for cuts in defence spending then said after the last war and during it that they would never make the same mistake again.
What applied to the Army in those war days and before applies equally to our soldiers and sailors, and especially to our airmen, today. The cuts of the P1154 and the HS681 and the threat to the TSR2, and to the whole air industry, not to mention the field of advanced technology, are becoming just as menacing to me as the action of the Labour Government in 1929 when they stopped work on the Singapore naval base.
The White Paper, in my view, all too easily and complacently discounts the Communist military threat which faces us in both Europe and Asia. Do intelligence sources tell us that there is no danger at all today? Is this the inference we can draw from the complacent attitude of the Government? Will the Secretary of State for Defence tell us the kind of order of battle which is poised against us in Asia and, indeed, in Europe? What are the number of submarines? What are the number of planes, missiles and military divisions? Why is a reasonable estimate of these not given in the White Paper?
Bearing in mind what the answers to these questions are likely to be, surely it would be very dangerous to start pulling our troops out of Germany. Might it not be the very act to change Russia's calculation about the usefulness of returning to a policy of strength in Western 1419 Europe? Indeed, the position of Berlin is still most vulnerable. If we begin pulling our troops out of the Continent, what hopes have we got of getting our European allies to share the defence burden which we are carrying virtually alone in the Indian Ocean?
Of course we all want to work for disarmament, and to cut our defence commitments, expensive as they are in foreign exchange. But surely that must be controlled and matched by what other Powers are doing, indeed with what our allies are prepared to do as well, either economically or militarily, to help us share this heavy commitment. We are in a position to step up the pressure now, but is it not dangerous and, indeed, misleading to assume, as the White Paper does, that if we had continued with the policies of the Conservative Government we would have been steadily raising the percentage of our national income devoted to defence at a time when Russia and the United States were reducing theirs? Indeed, it is rather like trying to match one's economies in a time of necessity with those of a Gulbenkian.
I answered such a charge in an Adjournment debate almost a year ago. I thought then that they were just the Left-wing views of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). I am surprised to find now that they have become the views of the Government in the opening paragraph of the Defence White Paper.
The assumptions on which the White Paper are based are most dangerous and misleading. Of course our forces have been stretched. Of course our equipment is not all it might be. It never will be, to satisfy those who are concerned with meeting military requirements.
If we criticise on this score, who in the last few years, indeed in the last decade, has been saying that we should be spending more on our defence? Has it been the Minister of Technology? Has it been the Secretary of State for the Colonies? Has it been the Minister of Overseas Development? All, indeed, were prominent members of the C.N.D. Surely the pleas from those now on the Government benches were exactly the opposite.
1420 My opinion, for what it is worth, is that with our present commitments it could be said that we should have been spending up to 8 per cent. of the G.N.P. on our defence requirements, but clearly this is an enormous burden for a country like ours with our balance of payments position. I say this to underline the fact that, with our present commitments, our forces are cut to the bone and there are not many real economies that can be made without cutting commitments. Of course political capital can be made, as indeed it was last year, over the admiral's house in Aden, over Service accommodation at Gibraltar, over R.A.F. ceremonial dress, although I thought that that was a particularly cheap way of trying to get some political capital, and over other such items, but I do not believe that it is possible to save really big sums in defence expenditure, unless we cut our commitments.
If we are to try to do this—and I believe that we should—let us be frank with our allies and, indeed, with West Germany too. Let them know the economic burden that we are shouldering in maintaining our forces overseas. But in the first place, let us work through the defensive organisations, N.A.T.O. in Europe and S.E.A.T.O. in the Far East. As we have Germany playing her part in N.A.T.O., surely we must see Japan playing a far greater part in the Far East and in South-East Asia in helping with the free world's defence. It means altering certain post-war treaties, but surely we have been too slow in taking an initiative like this in the West. I am sure that such action would be just as much in America's interest as our own.
I certainly welcome the Government's backing of the difficult American position in Vietnam, which occupies such an important key strategic position in South-East Asia, but surely we cannot expect a sharing of some of our lone world interests unless we help our friends when in need? Surely we must see that the kind of co-operation that we have in N.A.T.O. spreads east of Suez? Indeed, this open flank of N.A.T.O is under attack all the time. It is high time that the free world co-ordinated its efforts far more than is being done at present both in the Middle and Far East. It is not in Europe's interest that our position 1421 is as vulnerable as it is in the Middle East. Europe and N.A.T.O. are courting danger by not facing the reality of this problem, which is theirs just as much as it is our own. Certainly Western Germany does not do a service by cutting her defences at a time like this.
The A.N.F. proposals show at least that the Government accept the nuclear deterrent. Indeed, what an advance they seem to have made in their views since the General Election. They speak now of a massive British contribution in the nuclear field to the Alliance, and I welcome this conversion, but as it is now accepted, surely it is high time they stopped the nonsense they have been talking these last few years about the money that we have been spending on our own defence in the last 13 years having been wasted.
Can anything else be done to save defence expenditure? Surely reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence means nothing if we are prepared to integrate the medical, housing and education branches of the Services, and yet do nothing about air co-ordination. For some time we have faced the mounting costs of air defence, especially in this age of advanced technology. Yet we have always veered away from such a solution. Is there not already too much diversification of air power between the Services? Can we really afford a carrier programme on top of the mounting costs of modern fighters, tactical strike reconnaissance planes and a modern air transport capability as well?
Concentration of forces is a vital principle of war. My criticism of defence policy in these last few years has been of our failure to concentrate the use of air power. I believe it has been the mounting costs of our carrier programme which have delayed vital decisions being made early enough on either the TSR2, the P1154 or the HS681.
To operate one carrier in the Far East, the support of two or more are needed. Destroyer and helicopter cover are vital. All this adds to the cost. The fear of submarine attack limits flexibility, as was shown by the failure of one of our carriers to sail through the Sunda Straits in Indonesia recently.
§ Commander Courtney
I hope my hon. Friend will correct that last statement. I 1422 understand that the non-passage of the Sunda Straits by carrier and supporting forces was due to political reasons on the instructions of the Foreign Office alone.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
I am glad to have my hon. and gallant Friend's explanation from the Navy point of view.
Indeed it is the threat from our strategic bombers that enables our helicopters to fly unmolested in Borneo, and not necessarily the cover given by our aircraft carriers. I fear that defence thought and planning have been too long and too much in the hands of those who think in terms of surface sea power.
I do not like the recent cancellation of the P1154 and the HS681 and the building of another aircraft carrier, because it limits the flexibility of air power east of Suez, especially at a time when the threat to our free world comes more and more from a militant land-based Power. To meet this threat, which might erupt anywhere from Africa, through the Middle East to India and South-East Asia, we need speed and flexibility. Sea power through a carrier force cannot give us that. Indeed, it is highly vulnerable in the land-locked waters of South-East Asia. That is why the speed and the short take-off and landing capability of the HS681 appealed against the C130, and the flexibility of the P1154 appealed against the Phantom which can operate only from fixed runways and, according to the White Paper, has a "high" capacity both as a fighter and as a ground strike aircraft. Do I take this to mean high in height capacity as a ground strike aircraft? Perhaps the Secretary of State will explain that passage of the Defence White Paper.
I do not believe that we shall ever face up to the cost of quality in modern aircraft and missiles until we rationalise air power and concentrate its direction in a thoroughly integrated and powerful air staff. The solution that we have been given by the Labour Government for air power is a second-best. With history as our guide, we should be prepared to accept nothing but the best in quality, especially as we can never command the most in quantity. That, indeed, has been the secret of our military power through the ages. But in planning, another stage must come and, indeed, 1423 very soon. If we concentrate the resources of our air power, I am sure that with variable geometry and laminar flow we can add to the range and speed of our transport and achieve further flexibility in the use of air power.
I hope also that if we rationalise as I have suggested we shall be able to concentrate not only on sophisticated aircraft but also on more space research and on a communication satellite programme. We must give this vital programme more momentum and much-needed investment.
I conclude with three main threads of advice to the Government. The first is not to underestimate the threat poised by the Communist Powers. Secondly, the Government should try by all means to cut our commitments abroad but to do that by getting our allies to play a greater part than they are now doing. Let the Government take as much initiative as they can on this account. Thirdly, the Government should realise that it is in their hands, by concentrating on air power based on an efficient air industry, to make great strides forward in securing value for money from the Services. Above all, let the Labour Government in these days of the Welfare State remember those lines of Kipling's:If war was won by feasting,Or victory by song,Or safety found in sleeping sound,How England would be strong!The Prime Minister might pass those words on to his colleagues in Germany and France, because the danger is not over. The threat to us and the dangers we face worldwide are continental Europe's dangers, just as much as ours.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Mr. George Jeger (Goole)
The hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) gave the Government some useful advice, but he also referred to the pre-war history of arms and rearmament. He was good enough to refer to the record of Conservative Governments before the war and to Sir Winston Churchill, but I wonder why he did not refer to and quote what Sir Winston Churchill said about the armaments record of the Conservative Government before the war.
Shall I remedy that omission? Sir Winston said: 1424… when I think of the immense combinations and resources which have been neglected or squandered, I cannot believe that a parallel exists in the whole course of history. So far as this country is concerned the responsibility must rest with those who have the undisputed control of our political affairs. … They left us in the hour of trial without adequate national defence or effective international security."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th October. 1938; Vol. 339, c. 336–7.]The Conservative Party has not changed. The opening paragraph of the White Paper puts the blame fairly and squarely upon the late Conservative Administration for the failures to get value for money and to supply our Forces with the arms and equipment they need.
The White Paper is realistic. It gives a new look to armaments and to our responsibilities. The fact is that always under a Conservative Government there are shortcomings and deficiencies, there is muddle and there is waste in our defence services. We have had this always in history. Unfortunately, up to now a Labour Government have not taken power immediately after a Conservative Administration. We took power after the war and consequently we were not able to criticise effectively, because we did not have the facts of what had been happening before the war. But Sir Winston Churchill did it for us. He alone before the war, through his knowledge of the facts, was able to condemn the Conservative Government of those days.
We are now in a position to examine the books and the records of the previous Administration and we can see, as we have always suspected, how the Tories are always in defence matters bedevilled by the old-boy network. They are always planning for the last war or the war before that, and they are always overstocking in some directions and under-developing and equipping in other directions.
It is a commonplace that when high-ranking officers in the Services retire they are offered positions of responsibility in firms which are usually contractors to the Services. We know very well that they keep up their social obligations and activities. They maintain their contacts, and those contacts are very useful for business purposes. Is it any wonder that some of the equipment ordered on the basis of the old-boy network is not up to date, that it is obsolescent before it is required, is sometimes obsolete even 1425 before it is delivered, and has to be subjected to a number of modifications before it has left the factory or workshop and that those modifications continually cost more and more money?
The favourite word at the moment is "escalation". Costs escalate and so we find under the late Administration the abandonment of various projects and arms, and the cost of those which come into fruition is very much more than was ever dreamed of at the time when the project was first conceived. We are now having a new look at expenditure. My right hon. Friend has appointed the Deputy Secretary of State for Defence to see that we get value for money and that waste and unnecessary extravagance are cut out. This means that over a period of time, and it must take time, there will be an immense avoidance of waste, muddle and inefficiency.
Apart from that, the White Paper makes certain matters quite clear. It sets out for all to see that we have now accepted our full obligations to our allies and to the Commonwealth and that we shall maintain our capacity for providing military assistance wherever it is necessary in many parts of the world. It sets out that we now accept that the nuclear deterrent works. It has worked. It has maintained the peace. We accept that it has done that, and how glad we are that it has.
The White Paper sets out that we accept our responsibilities to N.A.T.O. and that we shall do our best to strengthen it. We accept that we have nuclear bombers and Polaris and that we shall maintain them. We accept our responsibilities outside as well as inside Europe. We accept that we shall maintain our bases throughout the world wherever they are established now. We further accept responsibility for providing facilities for Germans training in Britain.
These things are to a certain extent revolutionary in the thinking of the Labour Party. I welcome them, and I am quite sure that they will be welcomed by the mass of the people of this country. They show that there are in the Government no hidebound prejudices. They show that, when face to face with realities in Britain and the world, the Government can make a decision which is consistent with the welfare of Britain and its peace and 1426 security. They show—let us be frank about it—that there have been a number of conversions inside the Government. [Interruption.] Let us not deny it, but welcome it. I welcome it.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) is not here, because he is, by self-confession, one of the small band of malcontents who are not satisfied with the approach to reality inside the Government. But my hon. Friend is usually out of step with us. He usually leaves us between elections and returns just in time for them. His views are rather confused and distorted, and we acknowledge this; he seems to be unable to face reality. I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that, if possible, he should find a place on the Front Bench for my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton. It might assist his education.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I put it to my hon. Friend that it may well be that many hon. Members on this side feel that, perhaps, my hon. Friend himself is not entirely facing realities, and I think it a little unfortunate that he discusses the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton when he is not here to express his opinion about the remarks which my hon. Friend has made.
§ Mr. Jeger
My hon. Friend the Member for Gorton is quite capable of looking after himself, and at great length, if necessary. When my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has a little more experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton in the House, he will know how the land lies in that direction.
I can only speak as a member of the Labour Party supporting my Government and supporting their White Paper and policy on defence. I was elected in support of the Labour Party and its defence policy, and I do not detract from a single word in my election address or from anything which was contained in the Labour Party manifesto. The present White Paper is in step with the Labour Party election manifesto. Anyone who disagrees with it is disagreeing with that manifesto.
During my election campaign I made my views clear. The only questions I 1427 received in various parts of my widespread constituency were devoted to getting an assurance from me that under no circumstances would a Labour Government leave Britain and its allies and the West undefended and that in no circumstances would we send soldiers out to fight ill-equipped with weapons inferior to those possessed by the enemy. I gave a pledge to that effect. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary, in the White Paper, is honouring that pledge on my behalf and I can go to my constituency with a clear conscience, saying that the Government are supporting that policy.
There is one weakness in the White Paper. Not sufficient is said about our responsibilities towards our widespread Commonwealth. I should like to see a Commonwealth defence conference at which we could go, candidly and perhaps in secret, into the questions of Commonwealth defence. We know that there is tension between India and Pakistan and it must cause us concern that these two great countries, for whose existence we are responsible, should not be seeing eye to eye, and, indeed, should be viewing each other with suspicion.
The Indian Government came to us for arms and assistance because of the threat from China, and we gladly gave our help. The sequel was that Pakistan wanted to know why we were arming India when Pakistan was afraid of Indian aggression. Surely we could bring these two great nations together and get them to settle their differences peacefully under our auspices—and what would be better qualified to do that than a Commonwealth conference, bringing into play the great potentialities of the Commonwealth?
We cannot take on all the responsibility for keeping the peace east of Suez. I doubt whether S.E.A.T.O. is strong enough to undertake the responsibilities placed upon it. A Commonwealth defence plan worked out so that we offered, and let it be known that we were offering, all round mutual support for all sections of the Commonwealth would contribute a great deal towards lessening of tension and the deterrence of any aggression.
There are enormous potentialities in the Commonwealth in that part of the 1428 world, and the defence of the area should be a Commonwealth matter and not for us alone. The White Paper acknowledges the shift of the danger spots from Europe to that area and if we attach more importance to it and concentrate more on that part of the world we shall be pursuing a very useful policy for peace. The White Paper has made a very good beginning. We look forward to other White Papers being published as the result of the investigations of the waste and muddle of the past and the concentration of our efforts upon our rôle in world peace.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Hamilton (Salisbury)
I was a little sorry that the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger) saw fit to cast a slur on senior Service officers employed, on retirement, by industrialists. Industrialists are very often most fortunate to acquire the services of these officers, whose retirement pay is, in any case, not all that high. Surely when a man leaves the forces after long service he should be allowed to take such a job if it is offered. Apart from that, I found myself in warm agreement with much of what the hon. Gentleman said. I am delighted that there have been so many conversions during the debate to Conservative thinking.
I am aware of the traditions of the House and I am aware that an hon. Member cannot make a maiden speech twice. Although I am not strictly a maiden today, I claim to be something very close to it. Maidenhood once forfeited cannot be restored, and I fell from grace some years ago—it was rather late in the evening, in a defence debate just such as this. The House is ever tolerant and I am sure that if I wander a little for a moment from defence itself, I shall be forgiven.
I represent the Salisbury division of Wiltshire. My predecessor was not known to all hon. Members, but to most. He was a friend to all of us. He was much beloved in all parts of the House. He was a big man, not only in stature, and we on this side of the House elected him and re-elected him chairman of our '22 Committee for nine successive years. We did this because we liked him and because we trusted him. I have not been surprised in recent weeks to find in the 1429 towns and villages of Wiltshire that he and his wife are equally beloved, the towns and villages represented by him for more than 22 years and represented by his father before him. He has now taken his seat in another place, but he remains essentially a House of Commons man, and we shall miss him greatly.
Salisbury is deceptive. The cathedral spire is the loftiest in England and hon. Members who know the city and its surrounding countryside will agree that it is without parallel. Yet at the same time and alongside these things the constituency is very proud of the contribution which it makes to the nation's defences. Within its boundaries are the Headquarters of Southern Command, the military centres of Larkhill and Bulford, the experimental station at Porton and the aircraft testing centre at Boscombe Down. I was very glad that the Minister of Defence for the Royal Air Force was at Boscombe Down only a week ago.
It would not be in order if I were to spend any time discussing the by-election, but we had many distinguished visitors during those brisk weeks. The deputy Prime Minister came down to explain to us about the nation's economy and the Minister of Agriculture came down to explain to us about farming. But my constituents are curiously independent and, although they appreciated these explanations, they decided to remain Conservative.
Four times during the campaign I saw the TSR2 flying overhead from Boscombe Down. It was flying overhead with a dark plume of smoke behind it and a little satellite aircraft circling round it and photographing it on its way, the only type of aircraft capable of survival in enemy air space in the 1970s. I searched through this Statement on Defence and could find only one reference to this great project. There is plenty in it about married quarters in Gibraltar and primary schools in Germany, but I could find only one sentence of welcome in this White Paper—and a very qualified welcome it was.Meanwhile"—it reads—work on the TSR2 is being continued.I am concerned with the defence aspect and with the wellbeing of my constituents whose livelihood is closely interwoven with the future of this great project. It is not merely that they are threatened with 1430 redundancy. It is not merely the uncertainty. These things we accept in these swiftly changing times. It goes deeper than that. These men are patient and highly qualified. They are dedicated to their work, confident of their skills and confident of their achievement. They believe that through long years of effort they have created something which is unique. They have faith in it and they look to the Government for recognition and encouragement.
I have not been their Member long, but I should be failing them if their voice was not heard in this debate. My concern is no narrow constituency point. It is the same as that which was expressed for this project by hon. Members on both sides on 9th February, including my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Hugh Fraser). Pleas were made for this great project. I will not press the matter further tonight. I am content to add my voice with urgency to theirs.
I have been away from this place for a few months. When I returned and read this Statement on Defence I had to rub my eyes. I wondered whether during my absence there had been a second change of Government. There is the acceptance that Britain's survival depends on the strength and unity of N.A.T.O.; the recognition of our crucial commitments east of Suez; the realisation that equipping our forces poses what are called "daunting problems"; the awareness that time and cost control of a project involves what are described in the White Paper as some of the hardest problems which have to be faced. This is language which I have never heard before from the Labour benches.
Only a few short months ago—I do not think it unfair to say this—the unending song of the Labour Party was "What about Ferranti? What about Blue Streak?" Yet today these military projects constitute "daunting problems". This is very different music. The gramophone record has been turned over and responsibility is playing a new tune.
I searched in vain in this Statement on Defence for traces of Labour Party defence policy, and I could not find them. They had all gone into the waste basket— 1431 sunk without trace. We had all those exciting seaside conferences, singing the "Red Flag", all those dramatic resolutions about Polaris, all those tense debates about the deterrent, all that happy heart-searching in the sunshine at Scarborough.
§ Mr. Hamilton
They were just exercises; they were irrelevant, they were academic. After 13 years, the Labour Party has now scraped back with a majority of three or four seats and overnight it has become respectable, emasculated and unrecognisable.
I was amused earlier in the debate this afternoon to learn that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget)—I am sorry that he is not now present—was finding it so painful to discover that all Governments are Tory Governments. This Statement on the Defence Estimates is the most conventional stuff that one could ask for.
I disagree here with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth), who said that he had never seen such an opening to a White Paper in his life. I should have said that this opening was older than time. The opening is as much of a convention as an opening of chess. Somebody has got down the file, turned up the procedure and said, "Ah, yes. Change of Government. That means that the first section must be headed 'The legacy'. If there are shortcomings, let us be quite clear that they are not of our making."
What amuses me is that the Labour Party has concentrated all its energy into Part I. The Government have wrestled with only 10 pages in the White Paper. The rest, the remaining 50 pages, has been wisely left to the highly competent civil servants behind them. The result is a delightful contrast. After all, we begin with the shortcomings, the parlous state of our defences, and yet Part II is a success story from beginning to end.
We read about the Strategic Reserve, which is poised for instant action. We read about the achievements against the Radfan tribesmen and of the success against the infiltrating Indonesians. We 1432 read of the immediate response by British troops to trouble in Kenya and that within hours of the President's call for assistance in Tanganyika, our forces were there. We read of the highly efficient operations in Uganda and in British Guiana and of the swift help given to Hong Kong after a typhoon and to Ceylon after a cyclone.
These are actions of which all of us, on both sides, can be very proud. They stem directly from the successful defence policy of the Conservative Government. There are legacies and there are legacies, and I believe that the country is grateful that the Labour Party have inherited sufficient defence capacity to tide them over their brief months of office.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
I do not think that even the most friendly of their supporters would claim that the Government have had a good day today. With the solitary exception of the speech of the hon. Member for Goole (Mr. George Jeger), who was not entirely uncritical, all the speeches to which we have listened from the other side of the House have condemned the White Paper and the policy of the present Government. This must—I realise it—be a grave disappointment to the Secretary of State. We have seen him, year in and year out, at this Box on this side of the House, working hard to get to his present position, and, of course, we congratulate him on reaching his high office; but it must be a disappointment to him that his first White Paper has met with such a poor response from some of his own friends.
We have once more the interesting spectacle of the Labour Party split wide open on defence. Let Ministers realise that it is not our fault. They asked for this. They produced the manifesto which promised all sorts of things to their Left wing. They were the ones who made the speeches at the election promising that they would renegotiate the Nassau Agreement and, in terms, would give up the Polaris missile. And now they have found that some of the hungry sheep below the Gangway are looking up rather surprised that not only are they not fed but must get a kick in the pants as well. They must not be altogether surprised at the result.
1433 Now we on this side of the House are, of course, obliged to attack the White Paper, and we have moved an Amendment to the Motion and we intend to vote upon it, principally because of its opening paragraph. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) made clear in his speech this afternoon, the opening paragraph is purely party political. It contains an attack upon the policies of the previous Administration, an attack which, I think, is unprecedented in a Government White Paper. Indeed, the mildest language which I personally can find to describe it is that the allegations which it contains are not only reckless but are untruthful. I say reckless because if any regard at all is being paid by the Government to the morale of the forces—and they admit elsewhere in the White Paper that manpower is a problem—then, surely, it was unwise to proclaim in terms that they believe the forces to be seriously overstretched and dangerously under-equipped. There may, of course, be some overstretching, and we realise that some of the equipment may not be perfect, but, basically, we know that the forces are adequate to the tasks placed upon them and that the equipment which they have is satisfactory.
Indeed, not only does one just look at the remainder of the White Paper to prove the truth of that statement, but the Secretary of State for Defence himself has admitted, in his speech of 23rd November last, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, the previous Secretary of State, handed over to him as he put it,the best weapon that any Defence Minister in this country has yet had".—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 23rd November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 1026.]The right hon. Gentleman was talking about the defence forces of this country. Perhaps he would look again at what he said.
§ Mr. Hay
Whatever the argument about that, the simplest proof, of course, is that even if £20,000 million may have been spent since 1952 on defence, even though that be so, peace has been maintained and the security of our country has been preserved. Moreover, our responsibilities to our friends and our 1434 allies have been discharged, and they can continue to be.
I suspect that we are here in the presence of the making of another myth, like the one about our economic and financial position when the Government came into office. They are going to say that they have inherited an awful mess and muddle, but their own White Paper proves that the reverse is true. What they have inherited is a highly efficient machine, well-trained and equipped forces, and sensible and economical plans for the future. Our defence record is one of which we can be, and are, extremely proud, as right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will come more and more to understand as time goes on.
I must just point out one piece of what I can only describe as sharp practice in paragraph 1 of the White Paper. There is a reference to the estimates of expenditure for 1963–64 and for 1964–65. It is said that for the current year the estimates provide for £1,998—I take it that to be a misprint and that it should be £1,998 million—and it goes on to say:The plans for 1965–66 which we inherited would have made necessary estimates of £2,176 million …I am sure that the Ministers opposite know now, or at least have been advised, that the process of estimating in the Defence Department proceeds according to a well-established formula. What the Government got when they came into office were the draft estimates for the various parts of the Ministry of Defence.
The White Paper talks about "plans" which the Government have inherited. I protest about that, because what the Government have done is to take the original draft estimates, which are always subject to intensive cutting and scrutiny, and claim that they are the estimates which we would have presented had we remained in office. They are not. The right hon. Gentleman knows, and his experience should have shown him, that from October to this time of the year this process of cutting and eventually of settling the estimates with the Treasury continues, and in this case that has resulted in a substantial reduction. I repeat that what the Government have done is sharp practice.
§ Mr. Healey
The hon. Gentleman calls it sharp practice. If he says that if he 1435 had stayed in office he would have made cuts, what would he have cut? Would he have cut the £20 million which we have saved on aircraft and submarines? Would he have cut the larger sum which we have saved on nuclear weapons? Would he have cut the amount we have saved on ceremonial dress? If the hon. Gentleman expects us to believe what he tells us, let him tell us what he would cut.
§ Mr. Hay
That goes to prove the point that I am making. The right hon. Gentleman knows that had we remained in office we would have pruned the estimates in accordance with our own programmes. The Government have now made a number of decisions. We were told this afternoon that a saving of £55.5 million had been made in various fields, but we were not told the figures. The right hon. Gentleman just mentioned a figure of £20 million. This is the first figure which we have been given, except for the derisory point about ceremonial dress. This is not the way in which the Government should approach Parliament.
I do not want to take too long on this, but in the next sentence there is a reference to the White Paper on Public Expenditure, published by the previous Government in December, 1963. It says that that White Paperenvisaged an annual increase in defence expenditure of only 3½ per cent. …I have looked at the White Paper on Public Expenditure. I find that there is only one reference to defence, and that is in a table of figures in Part II. There is no reference to a 3½ per cent. increase. If one takes the figures in there and works out the sum, one gets an average increase of 3½ per cent., but the point is that we always knew that in the first two or three years of the period covered by the White Paper the increase would be much more than 3½ per cent. When one talks about an average, some years may be higher and some may be lower.
§ Mr. Hay
The right hon. Gentleman says "Absolutely the contrary". I am sorry, but I disagree with him. Again, this is not the way in which the Government should approach Parliament.
1436 There has not been much talk today—perhaps we shall have more tomorrow—about why defence costs increase. Many of the criticisms of our record contained in paragraph 1 of the White Paper are themselves answered in the remainder of the document. For example, paragraph 6 refers to the way in which the costs of weapons increase. Similar references are made in paragraphs 32, 33 and 143. I do not propose to take up time by quoting them, but they provide the answer—if an answer is really needed—to the question why the proportion of the national income now spent on defence has had to rise year by year.
We all know that the costs of these highly sophisticated weapons are extremely difficult to forecast when we begin the process of research and development. Inevitably programmes slip. Inevitably the requirements change as new knowledge becomes available. We need not imagine that this country is alone in this. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Goole is not here. He was somewhat critical. I would remind him and the House that other countries have exactly the same trouble. The United States has had long experience of this kind. Skybolt—one of the great projects of the past—had to be cancelled simply because the requirements had changed and the development schedule slipped. The TFX itself—which the Government are thinking about—is a weapon which was proposed to come into service some time ago. That, too, is slipping.
That brings me to the problem of cost control and the reorganisation of the Defence Department. Paragraphs 32–47 contain a factual account of the new machinery which my right hon. Friend set up in the Ministry of Defence before he left it. I would remind the Government that we set up that machinery. Anyone reading the White Paper might imagine that all this had been done in the last two or three months, but we did it. By all means let us make use of United States experience, which is very great in these matters, but I warn the Secretary of State, and especially the Minister for the Army, that neither should expect too much from this machine.
There are two things which all the computers which can be put to work will not give—the first being plain common sense, and the second the long 1437 and detailed experience of the professional soldiers, sailors and airmen, who form the nucleus of the defence machine. Their knowledge cannot easily be fed into a computer. I hope that the Secretary of State will take account of the salutary warnings given to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) on this point.
I repeat that the reorganisation of the Defence Departments was carried out by my right hon. Friend. We were very glad to read the progress report contained in the White Paper, but, as my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, the next move to the functional approach will have to be made soon. The question is when and how it will be made, and not whether. I hope that the Minister for the Army will say something about this. We were extremely interested in the mention made in paragraph 46 of the review which is to take place of the reorganisation, under the hon. Member's direction, with the help of a Committee, as I understand it, How does he envisage his task, and propose to go about it?
I turn to some of the other major matters which have been canvassed. Basic strategic concepts are mentioned in the White Paper. Paragraph 19 quite rightly says, in connection with our rôle east of Suez, that the British contribution to peace and stability in this area is paramount. I note that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) rather disagreed with this point. It is one to which my hon. Friends and I attach the greatest importance. It underlines, of course, the importance of the bases, particularly those of Aden and Singapore. I would remind the Government that this is an extremely large area. The whole of the Indian Ocean basin covers many thousands of square miles. I wonder whether, having regard to what they say in the White Paper about the paramount importance of our rôle in that area, the Government now accept the need for a seaborne strategy, with emphasis on amphibious forces? With all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale), who was a little critical on this point—he and I may disagree about it, but it is my opinion which I give—we cannot hope to discharge the many response- 1438 bilities which we already have in that area, unless we are prepared to accept a seaborne strategy and all the things which go with it.
The hub around which an amphibious force has to be built is the aircraft carrier. This is quite clear in the present time. I should like to refer to paragraph 60 of the White Paper, which I think—this is perhaps not deliberate but accidental—is a little misleading. It says:Our largest forces outside Europe are in the Far East, where we have a combined commitment to S.E.A.T.O. and to Malaysia. The deployment of aircraft carriers and Commando ships is flexible as between the Middle East and Far East and we expect to maintain a total of three in the area East of Suez.At a first, quick reading of that sentence, one might think that the Government were committing themselves to the maintenance of three carriers east of Suez. In fact—and I ask for confirmation—they do not intend that, at this stage at any rate.
I must therefore put to them the problem. We must assume that there will be, for almost all the time—as far as it can be done in accordance with the refitting schedules and so on—two carriers east of Suez. That was what we always tried to do. We tried to maintain them. We found it a little difficult, but this is the essential thing to aim at, two carriers east of Suez. I do not think that even that will be enough.
§ Mr. Healey
I should just like to point out a fact of which the hon. Member must be well aware. It is that the last Government decided that they could only afford to maintain one east of Suez normally and only ordered one replacement carrier. I should be grateful to know at this stage whether the party then in power has changed its view on this since it has been in opposition.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Does the hon. Member reject entirely the view put forward by his right hon. Friend the Member for 1439 Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones) that there should be an overall Atlantic force commitment in this area?
§ Mr. Hay
Not necessarily. I always find the views of my right hon. Friend stimulating, as I think do most hon. Members. I was not altogether clear about what he meant on that and I should like to study what he said in HANSARD before I give a reasoned reply.
I should like to know whether we can be told before the debate ends tomorrow night what progress is being made with the new carrier. I had hoped for a statement in the White Paper about the progress of this carrier. And have the Government yet come to any decision as to whether a further new carrier may be ordered? I do not think that we can anticipate that our responsibilities in this area east of Suez will become fewer. In fact, I think that they might well increase. We may have additional responsibilities placed upon us. It is not impossible that the United States may ask for our help in the difficult situation in Vietnam. It is also possible that, at any moment, we may be called upon to fulfil a dormant obligation in the Middle East—our obligations to the Gulf States, for example.
I understand that the Government, quite properly, would wish to review the whole of this picture, but I think it is very unlikely that they will find any answer to the situation east of Suez which is cheaper than, and as effective as, that which we sought to follow during our period of office.
I now turn to the question of Europe. As my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, paragraphs 17 and 18 of the White Paper are extremely important, but one regrets the somewhat scanty treatment which this very important subject is given. I can understand why it is given that treatment. Clearly Ministers are in the process of trying to make up their minds about what they are going to do with B.A.O.R. They say that the strategic concept requires revision and that is a statement which I think would get some loud "Hear, hears" not only in this country but certainly throughout N.A.T.O.
They having stated that publicly, I must ask what machinery for revision do 1440 they propose? We should very much like to be told if they have any ideas. I must ask this further question, do they intend to propose to our allies in N.A.T.O. a reduction of the force levels in B.A.O.R.? If so, presumably it has to be done by agreement. Then I must put this further question: what is to happen about what is said in the White Paper about the need in Europe for a revised strategic concept, if the other members do not agree? As hon. Members on this side of the House have said during the debate, the trouble with this White Paper is that it leaves so many questions unanswered. I do not altogether blame the Government for that, but I think we are entitled to have some answers to some of these questions.
I turn to another area of strategy, that is, the nuclear question. I note the recent decision made to reduce the Polaris fleet from the five boats that were planned to four. This decision—I speak for myself—I regard as unwarranted. Why did we originally—
§ Mr. Hay
I speak personally; I think that phrase will be understood by the right hon. Gentleman.
Why did we go for the five-boat fleet? The reason, as I am sure the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy will confirm, is that if we have a five-boat fleet we can be certain of always having two boats on station. That, of course, goes right to the root of the problem of credibility of the deterrent. There is also—this was in our minds even at that stage—the possibility—I put it no higher—that it might be necessary to deploy Polaris in other parts of the world than the Atlantic. Now the fifth boat has been cancelled and I regret the decision. My reasons are these. I think the Government are going to find a very heavy bill for compensation. That is something which will have, presumably, to be presented in a Supplementary Estimate before long. Secondly, within a very short time now there will be no going back from this decision, even if they want to, and there might be circumstances in which they would want to. Once the United States production lines for the equipment, for the missiles and for the guidance equipment have closed they cannot be reopened.
1441 The Government say in the White Paper that the four Polaris boats and half of the V-bomber force are an adequate subscription to the proposed A.N.F. That may be so, I do not know. It might be so if A.N.F. comes into being. If their proposal succeeds and A.N.F. is set up, that might be a sufficient subscription from Britain. I must ask the Secretary of State—I put this to him deliberately because I should like him to deal with it tomorrow—what he proposes to advise his colleagues to do about the Polaris fleet if, in fact, A.N.F. is stillborn. Suppose the allies will have nothing to do with A.N.F. and we are left with a four-boat fleet, which will have the disadvantage I mentioned a few moments ago, what would they do then? Would they scrap it or keep it? We should certainly like to know the answer to this question, and I think that some hon. Members opposite below the Gangway would also like to know the answer.
I must not be too unkind to them about this. We welcome their repentance on this issue and acceptance of the plain facts of international life.
I marvel at the good luck they have had so far. I could have imagined that the publication of the White Paper would have been the signal for the masses of C.N.D. to haunt Whitehall and Trafalgar Square, sitting down in their thousands for what they might regard as a betrayal of the promises made to them. However, Easter is coming and we may see something of that sort yet.
I turn to the question of the A.N.F. I noted that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton was against it. He put some of the points succinctly. I have never understood the case for the A.N.F., although I appreciate that it might have been a useful piece of equipment with which to destroy the M.L.F. project. It is often said that the reason why some kind of multilateral force or Atlantic nuclear force is necessary is because of German pressure for a share in the control of the nuclear deterrent.
I have a number of friends in Germany and have visited the country many times. I was there quite recently. I have never been able to detect from anyone in German politics an insistent demand that they should have a share in the nuclear deterrent. If there really 1442 is such a demand, I must ask whether the House agrees that the Government's present proposals—so far as they have been made known to us in speeches and in the White Paper—will really satisfy that demand. The proposals are certainly very obscure. We have a slightly better idea of the detail from paragraph 15 of the White Paper, but again many questions are begged. There is reference to… some kind of mixed-manned and jointly armed element or elements in which the existing non-nuclear powers could take part.Does that mean non-nuclear forces and, if so, what happens to the German desire for a share in the control of the Western nuclear deterrent if that is all they are going to get? There is a reference to any force which France may decide to subscribe, but will France subscribe and, if she does not decide to do so, how will the Government try to tie in the proposed A.N.F., if it is created without France, with the structure of N.A.T.O.?
It is stated elsewhere that there will be proposals made for the political control and military command of this force. The Government have made these proposals already. The House of Commons should be told what these proposals are because we cannot reach a judgment on this matter until we know. I gather that the Prime Minister is off in a few days to Germany, and I suppose that these things will be discussed. We should be told, before he goes, whether the Government envisage that the A.N.F. will be set up outside or inside N.A.T.O. If it is to be set up outside N.A.T.O., what becomes of all the brave words in the White Paper about the utility of the A.N.F. in strengthening the Western Alliance?
I will not dwell on the issue of the veto but simply say that it is apparent from the words used in the White Paper that the Government are envisaging an A.N.F. to which our nuclear forces would be committed for the duration of the Alliance and that any country which chose to have that right of veto, being a member of the A.N.F., would be able to prevent our forces being withdrawn should our supreme national interests require them to be.
Speaking personally, I say again that this is an unwise statement for the Government to have made at this stage. It is very unlikely that my hon. and 1443 right hon. Friends could ever accept such a commitment, should the A.N.F. come into being. The truth really is that the A.N.F., if it is ever born, will be a useless and divisive apparatus which will contribute nothing whatever to the strengthening of N.A.T.O. and the resolution of its problems. It is a patently transparent political device to keep the left wing of the Labour Party quiet. The only danger that I envisage in the A.N.F. is that, by some chance, the Government may come to believe in it themselves.
In conclusion, 99 per cent. of the White Paper is good stuff, I believe. Most of it refers back to the past, when we were responsible, and it is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton) said, a success story. It is a little obscure in places, but we do not mind that. But we object very vehemently to the untrue and unworthy allegations made in paragraph 1. Let nobody imagine that, because we vote against the Government tomorrow, we are against the broad outlines of the policies and the programmes that they are following, with the exception of the A.N.F., but what we are not prepared to do is to vote tomorrow night to endorse a lie.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ The Deputy Secretary of State and Minister of Defence for the Army (Mr. Frederick Mulley)
The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) made, as always, a very competent and interesting speech, but I thought that he was rather happier in the middle of his speech, when he was making constructive, well argued, comments, than when he was following what clearly is the line of the Tory Party—an attempt, as it sees it, to divide the Labour Party, as the hon. Gentleman put it, down the middle.
The hon. Gentleman rather gave the game away by saying that he was disappointed that there had not been all the demonstration that the Tories thought would come. I am sorry to have to disappoint right hon. and hon. Members opposite, but, as will be shown tomorrow night in the Division, the Labour Party is, in this House and in the country, united behind my right hon. Friend in his task.
I do not know why the hon. Gentleman thought that the first paragraph of 1444 the White Paper would upset the morale of the Armed Forces. In the last Government he had responsibilities for the Royal Navy. Surely he knew that the men knew that ships were in moth balls because there were not men to man them. One can develop this theme further over the field. I thought that it was particularly apposite that the hon. Gentleman compared what he called the myth about defence with the myth about the economic situation. If to inherit an annual deficit of £700 million to £800 million on the balance of payments is not a legacy, I do not know what is. The hon. Gentleman's comparison was perhaps rather more apt than he thought.
The hon. Gentleman was charitable enough to say that he thought that perhaps we should not be blamed for not dealing with all the questions in the White Paper. He probably had in mind, as one of the Ministers responsible, that last year the first Secretary of State for Defence came to the House with a White Paper which was a single sheet of paper.
§ Mr. Mulley
It ill becomes hon. Gentlemen to complain about lack of information in my right hon. Friend's White Paper, in view of the documents which were produced in the past and which are on the record for all to see.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, the White Paper which the House is asked to approve tomorrow night is the first engagement in a long campaign to get our defence policy, our forces and our organisation right. To those who may be disappointed that we have not been able to go further today I would say, not by way of apology but as factual explanation, that a much longer time than four months is needed.
Already, much has been done. In N.A.T.O. we have taken a new initiative with the A.N.F. and my right hon. Friend has proposed a constructive approach for a realistic appraisal of N.A.T.O. strategy in the changed circumstances of today, as compared with 10 years ago. Urgent decisions to provide new aircraft in the time scale required and at a lower cost have been taken. Discussions have already begun with France to develop jointly some of the next generation of aircraft needed.
1445 Defence studies are well advanced covering the whole field of policy. The Ministry of Defence is working closely with my noble Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who is responsible for disarmament, to produce proposals for arms control and disarmament, the safest and most certain way of increasing our security and lowering the cost of our defence budget. But we are very conscious of how much remains to be done and that it cannot all be done quickly.
The basic facts of defence, as the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) said, is that it takes up to 10 years to design and produce a major item of equipment and over two years to train a soldier sailor or airman for the sophisticated tasks demanded of him in the Armed Forces of today. In every direction there are mounting costs as the sophistication of weapons increases, and in many cases it is clear that the enormous cost of research and development cannot be sustained by the orders that we can place for our comparatively small requirements. Emphasis on joint projects and export of our equipment, to balance items which we must buy abroad, must replace the complacent attitude that we can leisurely produce all that our forces are likely to require. Control of costs and a closer examination of new requirements demand, and are being given, a high priority. I was glad to see that the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) welcomed the establishment of the new defence operational analysis establishment at Byfleet. Functional costings which provide a broad picture of the relative total costs of forces and weapons systems are well advanced and give us a most useful planning tool. I appreciated the thoughtful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who warned us that it was not too easy to get all the information we wanted. It is because of the shortcomings, as a planning tool, of the estimates in the traditional form that the outgoing Government began, and we have greatly developed, this system of functional costing.
In another direction we are endeavouring to get better value for money by applying the techniques of value analysis or value engineering to the production of weapons and equipment. The Royal Navy 1446 pioneered these techniques within the Ministry. Our object is to achieve not only cost reductions in manufacture, but cost prevention in planning and use as well.
I submit that great as the problems are, we have already made a good beginning, which is in marked contrast to the legacy we inherited from right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It would seem that they are excessively upset by the first paragraphs of the White Paper which deal briefly and, I believe, moderately with the magnitude of the problems which my right hon. Friend found when he took up his office last October. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Monmouth himself referred in an unguarded moment this afternoon to the large and grim problems that he left behind. I assure the House that these paragraphs could be greatly expanded, but I want to deal now with the positive aspects of the steps we are taking to deal with the situation rather than dwell on the deplorable legacy we were bequeathed.
The most eloquent testimony we have, perhaps, is the fact that the right hon. Member for Monmouth has been summarily removed from the defence field. We heard his swansong this afternoon. I imagine that this is because the Leader of the Opposition is learning the facts of the defence muddle over which he presided and which, clearly, he could not have known when he was Prime Minister.
§ Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)
Referring to the first paragraphs of the White Paper, could the right hon. Gentleman say when he found himself in a position with no battalion in reserve to send overseas if the need arose?
§ Mr. Mulley
The hon. Gentleman should understand about not imposing excessive separation on families. This situation has already occurred.
§ Mr. Mulley
In many ways the swan-song of the right hon. Member for Monmouth can perhaps be described as the most entertaining confessional that the House is likely to be privileged to witness because, in a sentence, what he was saying to my right hon. Friend was, "Please do not make all the mistakes that I 1447 made". That would be a fair summary of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. We have all enjoyed his histrionic talents over the years and I could not resist the thought that if, as seems not unlikely, he is in future rejected by the electors of Monmouth, and he were to take one of his own White Papers, particularly last year's one-sheet White Paper, and do the kind of turn which he was doing on our White Paper, that show would run for many years on the halls.
The right hon. Gentleman very properly asked a number of questions. In the defence debate last year I asked a lot, too, speaking just before the right hon. Gentleman when he wound up the debate, but he did not answer a single one of them. He indulged in his usual pantomime performance. I intend to try to answer some of his questions tonight.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what was the cost of the logistic support for the United Nations peace-keeping force. He said, "When I was in the Ministry we had a procedure. Surely this proposal would have been costed." This shows the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten the workings of the Ministry very quickly, because it is quite impossible to arrive at a figure of cost for this commitment. Quite simply, the troops and the aircraft are already there and, therefore, no additional cost is incurred until the moment comes when these resources are called upon by the United Nations.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
Does the right hon. Gentleman really mean to say that the Foreign Secretary's statement meant that everything was exactly as it was before?
§ Mr. Mulley
Of course it does not. That is why my right hon. Friend made the statement.
It is of immense value to the United Nations that in its planning it can call upon the logistic support which we have stated to be available. The right hon. Gentleman never made a statement to the United Nations on what the Conservative Government were prepared to do. In fact, the Leader of the Opposition when he was Foreign Secretary did not play a very constructive rôle in the United Nations.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft rose—
§ Mr. Mulley
I will give way when I have finished my point.
I want to make the further point that if, not only because we believe in the United Nations but for other reasons, we can enable it to play a greater peacekeeping rôle it will also save our manpower in that we will not have to deal with a situation from our own resources alone.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that we have made great contributions on the logistic side to the United Nations in Cyprus and other places, but is he really saying that all that the Foreign Secretary said amounted to nothing by way of extra logistic support or in cost, but was merely a repetition of a situation which everybody knew?
§ Mr. Mulley
I am sorry that I am not carrying the right hon. Gentleman with me. Clearly, he never got down to the question of costing while he was Secretary of State. Obviously, the forces are there and the equipment is there and it is only possible to cost it when it is actually used. The logistic situation in Cyprus can be costed because it has been used. The effect of the Foreign Secretary's statement was to assure the United Nations that it could get on with its planning and avoid the sort of Cyprus situation in which we had to hold the fort alone for so long.
The right hon. Gentleman put his second question when he complained about the lack of information and asked whether it was proposed to purchase more helicopters. This question was put to him last year in the defence debate by his hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), and the then Secretary of State for Defence said—I think that it was a characteristic reply—I am not giving either the cost or the numbers, because such information has never been given in the House of Commons."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1964; Vol. 690, c. 453.]Perhaps, if he can get over his euphoria this afternoon, the right hon. Gentleman might recall who the Secretary of State for Defence was at this time last year. I can tell him, however, that we have gone much further than he ever did. If he looks at paragraph 154 of 1449 the White Paper he will see that we give the numbers of helicopters in service now. Incidentally, my right hon. Friend and his colleagues have devoted a great number of hours to increasing, or trying to increase, the serviceability of the helicopters which the right hon. Gentleman bequeathed to us. By increasing their serviceability one produces the same effect as by increasing their number.
Also, when he complains about lack of information, the right hon. Gentleman should recall that from his speech last year the House learned for the first time of the decision to purchase the Bell helicopter and the Phantom aircraft. Nowhere in any of the documents issued was there a mention of these important policy points.
Throughout the period of the Conservative Government, defence was treated as a separate issue, divorced from foreign policy on the one hand, and the national economy, on the other. There was an incoherent process of decision-making based on last-minute responses to events. There was no real attempt to match political commitments to military resources, still less to relate the resources made available for defence to the economic circumstances of the nation. Circumstances are always changing. We should welcome change, but we must anticipate it in our defence policies and plan to cope with it instead of shuffling after events as right hon. Gentlemen opposite did for so long.
My right hon. Friend said that I would make some reference to the changes which we consider necessary—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with us on this at least—in organisation. The right hon. Gentleman said that he bequeathed us a good instrument. I do not wish to detract from his achievement, with the full support of the then Opposition, in bringing the three Services together under one roof in the new Ministry of Defence. We wish that it could have been achieved earlier. It seems that the right hon. Gentleman, however, spent himself in his efforts and, from 1st April last, contented himself with clutching his one battle honour while other great issues, aircraft policy, the seaborne M.L.F., and escalating costs just drifted out of his control. As the right hon. Gentleman said that the A.N.F. had got one battle honour, at least it is to be equated with the right 1450 hon. Gentleman in that respect, but with the difference that the A.N.F. is still going on. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is it."] The proposal for the A.N.F. is still going on.
I think that we understand fully what was occupying the right hon. Gentleman. He was, as he put it, writing full instructions for his successors. If he had bothered to ask his private secretary, he would have been told that, unhappily, a new Government are not entitled to look at the papers of the outgoing Administration. We should like very much to see those papers, not because we think that we would get any guidance or information from them, but because we would find them extremely revealing.
The instrument that the right hon. Gentleman left us was a blunt one and we need to sharpen it if it is to play its full rôle in achieving our agreed objectives of producing the most efficient fighting forces at the lowest cost. In any case, the organisation, so soon after the major upheaval last year, cannot stand still. There is no question whatever of abolishing the separate Services or of merging them into one, but how can they work together most efficiently and economically?
The right hon. Gentleman made a fuss of the statement in the White Paper that "The question is not whether further changes take place, but what changes, in what direction, and at what pace." Nevertheless, that statement represents the situation. I thought that in his attitude to the question of the reorganisation the right hon. Gentleman had a little phobia about the strength of the individual Services and the Chiefs of Staff.
It was perhaps rather unfair of him, in defending himself against the accusations of paragraph 1, to say that we were running down the men in the Services. In earlier speeches he has tried to get behind the skirts of the Chiefs of Staff. What he must understand, and what is absolutely clear in paragraph 1, is that our criticisms are of him and his right hon. Friends and he must be big enough to stand up and defend himself without bringing the Armed Forces, high or low, into the conflict.
I am very conscious of the responsibilities that I carry in the re-examination of the whole structure of defence 1451 organisation. There are two main aspects to this. First, there is the organisation of commands, which in time must necessarily react on the structure of the Ministry of Defence. Secondly, there is the rationalisation of common services between the three separate arms. These questions are interlinked.
We need an organisation which can respond flexibly and swiftly to circumstances in which the three Services are required to act together, but it is most important that we divest ourselves of any preconceived ideas. It is wholly wrong to approach this with a theoretical solution in front of one, as I rather thought the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Henley did.
We are not interested in change for the sake of change. We want the right kind of change which will give us more efficiency at lower cost. We are anxious not to fall into the trap of reorganising Whitehall without regard to the people who are doing the fighting. That is why it is proposed to start the new examination in the Far East—I am sure that he will agree with us there—and in the Middle East commands.
We want to examine the problems from the sharp end, to examine the unified commands, and I am sure that this will also provide material for the examination of the headquarters organisation. The study will be undertaken by a team answerable to me and it is bound to take some time. We hope then to go on to the Home Commands and B.A.O.R.
§ Mr. Mulley
We shall be making statements when changes arising from these studies are contemplated. I will not go through the list of rationalisation studies and the steps already taken, but we are in process, also, of trying to reorganise what I suppose is one of the largest undertakings in the world—the 800,000 people, Service and civilian, who comprise the three Services. I think that 1452 the magnitude of our task will be understood when I say that there are about 2 million items of stores in the inventories of the three Services, and, to make matters more complicated, they usually have different descriptions in the different Services.
A team has visited the United States to examine their difficulties in this respect, and it is quite clear from the American experience, although it is different from ours, that the progress of standardisation and the progress of economy can be achieved only by giving priority to a common supply language. In the United States this took six years and the employment of many thousands of people, but a common supply language had to be achieved before they could proceed fully to rationalise the administration and logistics of their Services. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about carriers?"] My right hon. Friend has already said that he will deal with questions about carriers tomorrow.
The Committee under Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer is to determine the most efficient and economic organisation for the control and employment of air power in support of defence policy. This will deal not only with the operational, but the logistics side. It is also intended, as far as is applicable, to bring in outside people with industrial experience in the manifold problems which we are facing in this reorganisation. Incidentally, speaking of external advice, two strong sub-committees of the Select Committee on Estimates are dealing with these matters. We welcome their inquiries and look forward to their recommendations.
I conclude by commending the White Paper to the House. It is clearly not and cannot be a blueprint of our defence policy, but, as several hon. Members have said, it is a good beginning, the first steps towards a policy which will provide us with security at a price the nation can afford.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. McCann.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.