§ 4.1 pm
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
Scarcely ever before can a Royal Navy debate have taken place against a more dismal background for Britain's maritime forces. It is no ordinary occasion when such a debate can be preceded only two days earlier by the speech of a noble Lord—a distinguished former admiral of the fleet and recent Chief of the Defence Staff—which said that the present Government's defence review represented the second attempt in the past 24 years by a Tory Government to destroy the Royal Navy. So said Admiral of the Fleet Lord Hill-Norton on Tuesday in the House of Lords.
At one stroke the Secretary of State for Defence has done more damage to the Royal Navy than any of this country's enemies has ever managed. In the process he has dealt a blow of enormous proportions to the morale of the Senior Service. It is scarcely surprising, therefore, that naval affairs have dominated all the defence debates in the House this year, as the Government's financial and military panics—some of them arising from the end of the Tornado programme, but most from the impending cost pressures of the still unquantified Trident programme—have been taken out against the role of the Royal Navy.
How bizarre it is to look back only two months to the Secretary of State's public: relations triumph in the Estimates debate in May and to consider how his campaign for preferment to the Treasury bounded ahead as he swept aside all the speculation and all the doom preachers in the assorted press; and how the Secretary of State dominated his dismissed Navy Minister, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), whose prophecies he derided. Heresy of heresies, the Secretary of State even broke his own admitted convention and singled out for maximum odium the distinguished naval correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, no less.
The Secretary of State said in May:Some of the suggestions in the press, especially—and I have never before singled out a newspaper in such a debate—the report by the naval correspondent of The Daily Telegraph, are pure invention.He went on:If such ridiculous notions exist anywhere, we have not seen them.Later, he said to the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner):I cannot be drawn into commenting about the quite unbelievable things that appear in The Daily Telegraph every day."—[Official Report, 19 May 1981; Vol. 5, c. 161–6.]The article to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was entitledNott Plan to Gut the Navy.
Let us examine what Mr. Desmond Wettern said in The Daily Telegraph of 18 May. This is invention No. 1. He wrote that 32729 out of 63 major surface warships would be scrapped prematurely.We now know from the hon. Member for Ashford that the number will be 26—that is, only three away from pure invention.
Invention No. 2 was of a 30,000 cut in the strength of the Royal Navy. It will not be 30,000, but it will be 10,000. Mr. Wettern invented the closure of two dockyards—Chatham and Portsmouth—and, hey presto, Chatham and Portsmouth are to close. He invented the cancellation of the third ASW carrier, and one of the three carriers is to be sold off to whatever market we can find. He invented the scrapping of amphibious assault ships, and both of the amphibious assault craft are to be scrapped at the end of their lives. He invented the non-modernisation of the type 22 and type 42 frigates, and no later than yesterday the Secretary of State confirmed that there would be no mid-term modernisation of the type 22 or type 42 frigates.
Mr. Desmond Wettern was wrong about the Royal Marines, but, for the record, his pure invention was remarkably close to the defence review ultimately presented by the Secretary of State to this House.
Normally, debates on the Royal Navy are conducted in a fairly non-partisan atmosphere. That was a tradition encouraged by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), who was my predecessor in this Shadow post and who fought long and hard for the cause of the Royal Navy. It was also a tradition, as I note from Hansard, that was encouraged by the hon. Member for Ashford, the last of the Navy Ministers, whose resignation put his Service on the front pages of the newspapers but whose sacrifice to the cause of open government has still not altered the Navy's fate. I believe that on this occasion it will be well understood if I break with that calm tradition in this far from calm year for the Royal Navy.
However, I emphasise that, as is traditionally expected, I sincerely believe that we should give our thanks and congratulations to those who serve in the Royal Navy, directly and indirectly, and give great service to this country.
I have one perhaps unique qualification as I stand at the Dispatch Box today. I am almost certainly the first official defence spokesman who was born after the end of the Second World War. Therefore, I have experienced no military service of any kind. That is far from unusual, as the period of peace since 1945 has meant that a growing proportion of our population has not had the direct contact with the Armed Forces that practically every generation in our history experienced. Perhaps because of that I feel all the stronger about the direction of this review, which may be the reason why I reject the shallow commentary of the Conservative Party made when in Opposition during the period of office of the previous Labour Government, when it is measured against the actual performance of the Government now in power.
A debate in June 1978 on the Royal Navy during the period of office of the previous Labour Government, was wound up for the then Opposition by the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie). I am extremely sorry not to see the hon. Gentleman seated on the Treasury Bench this afternoon. He now bears the romantic title of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement under the new set-up.
328 Were the hon. Gentleman present to hear what I have to say, I would remind him of what he said during his speech. He said:We are dependent on our Navy now as ever we were …The more naval forces are weakened at the expense of land forces, the more the naval part of the deterrent is weakened, namely, the likelihood of being able to reinforce and resupply Europe.
The hon. Gentleman concluded with the peroration:The House and the nation do not want an increased social dividend from the Navy. What we want is a Navy which is given more ships, more strike aircraft, more reconnaissance aircraft, worthwhile mining capability and proper command communications. All these will enable the Navy to safeguard our supplies, contest control of the seas and put our troops ashore. The Navy is our first line of defence."—[Official Report, 19 June 1978; Vol. 952, c. 148–158.]
§ Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm, therefore, that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition to implement what my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) said some three years ago? If it is the policy of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition to increase the expenditure on defence and the Navy, I for one will happily vote with them in the Lobby whenever that question is raised.
§ Mr. Robertson
Comforted though I am by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) supporting me in any of my ventures, it is interesting to quote, as well as an admiral from the debate in another place, someone who might have been an admiral had he stayed on the ship. I have no doubt that he was in there and, if the hon. Member will bide his time, I shall explain my precise criticisms of the Government's defence review and of the method by which they reached their conclusions.
Let us look back at the promises made by the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton. How rich his rhetoric must have sounded in the ears of the electors of Portsmouth, Chatham, the Medway towns, Devonport, Portland and all the shipyards throughout the country, but how arid and empty it sounds now as the jobs disappear, the ships are not built, the dockyards are shut, the ships grow obsolete, and the shipyards totter on the brink of closure.
However, the real culpability of the Government is not simply their reneging on their election promises or their drum-beating defence noises, but the way in which they have relegated real defence priorities, a conscious defence strategy and a realistic assessment of our defence needs, capacity and resources to a simple obsession with the new and horrendously expensive independent deterrent—the Trident system.
Defence priorities have been shaped in panic this year with no defence criteria and no real thought for the future, in order to accommodate Trident—something which will, to quote Field Marshal Lord Carver, bean unnecessary and even undesirablefeature of our defence.
The Government are absolutely culpable in their decision against the Royal Navy in favour of Trident and BAOR. That decision will be almost irreversible, and the capacity to change course later will be lost. Naval dockyards cannot simply be reopened. Naval shipbuilders closed down by the Government's dithering over decisions cannot be opened again overnight, and it will be difficult to regain the morale that has been destroyed. In the Armaments and Disarmament Information Unit report this month, David Greenwood of Aberdeen university said: 329What the United Kingdom does in the Eastern Atlantic is unique, and it is inconceivable that any of the other European members of NATO would (or could) make good the deficiencies that diminution of the British contribution there would produce.There lies the crunch.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
If I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, he said that the Royal Navy would be cut for the benefit of BAOR. Does that mean that the Opposition's policy would be to cut BAOR if they were in office, and have they taken into account the serious consequences which would flow from that?
§ Mr. Robertson
I am making the point that some very difficult decisions have had to be made by the Secretary of State. I shall come to that in a moment. Some choices have been made which, in our opinion, are wrong. The most obvious is the Trident programme, which will impinge most on our future defence capacity and spending power. That is the crunch.
In editorial after editorial, in newspaper after newspaper, friends aplenty are warning the Government not to abandon the irreplaceable maritime role in choosing between that and the Trident missile system. Recently, The Times, the Financial Times and even the Spectator have clearly come down in favour of a policy which puts defence effort more on the side of the Royal Navy and less on the side of the independent ballistic missile system. The Government have the cheek to proclaim that they have won the debate on Trident, but they choose to ignore all the evidence of their real loneliness on the issue.
Of course, the Royal Navy has not been decimated for good defence reasons or as the result of a carefully assessed change in what was previously a clear, unequivocal judgment, even in this year's Defence Estimates. Squeezed willy-nilly between Trident and budgetary loss control, rigid monetarism and what the Leader of the House called totally inappropriate cash limits, the surface fleet was to be the casualty.
In his statement, the Secretary of State said that he would now offer NATO 50 surface ships compared with the 59 at present in the fleet. He proclaimed that he was satisfied that the fleet was therefore adequate—although adequate for what was not outlined.
The arithmetic, of course, was just a fiddle. It was a fiddle to placate our NATO allies, especially the Americans. What is lying behind the Casper Weinberger fig leaf? The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) tells us that with the standby squadron, the premature scrapping of frigates, with refits, repairs, dockings, and so on, we shall, by the mid-1980s, have only 32 or 34 operational ships in the Royal Navy. If he does not know, who should? Another estimate puts the figure at 32 ships by 1990, on the reasonable assumption that this new short-life Navy will have a life of 20 years.
The hon. Member for Ashford estimated further that 26 ships will be scrapped within three to four years and that only nine ships will come into service in the same period. It is a sorry picture for Britain's naval fleet and it is far from the rosy figure of 50 peddled by the Secretary of State to keep the United States on the right side of the Government's obsession with keeping the Trident extravaganza. When will the Government come clean about the precise figures for Britain's surplus fleet, or is there yet more to hide?
It is true, however, that the size of the fleet, both now and in the future, matters to more than just the sailors of 330 the Royal Navy. Perhaps 60,000 jobs in Britain's shipyards depend entirely on naval orders. More than 60 per cent. of British shipbuilding capacity is tied to making Navy ships. How will these yards fare with this gutted fleet? How many yards will close? Will the Minister confirm or deny the rumours and uncertainties in thousands of communities dependent on shipbuilding all over this country?
What will happen to Cammell Laird, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), if no more type 42 destroyers are to be ordered and if all the nuclear and non-nuclear submarine eggs are placed in the Barrow-in-Furness basket? The Minister, in his defence statement, promised us the news of Cammell Laird's future, but still we have not heard a word about it.
What about Swan Hunter, on the already depressed Tyne? What about Vickers, at Southampton? What about Yarrows, on the Clyde? Has the order for the type 22 frigate 07 been placed yet, or are the Government still dithering? Will Yarrows get the frigate 08 so that it can keep in business and keep its scarce manpower until the type 23 frigate has emerged from the Ministry of Defence's bureaucratic assault course?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) knows that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) is not giving way.
§ Mr. Robertson
These questions are not just about jobs. No sensible defence policy can be built simply on providing jobs. They are about maintaining a capability to rebuild the fleet and to remain independent in the crucial function of defence. No wonder the editor of "Jane's Fighting Ships" hit out last week in solid terms against the Government's policy on fleet orders.
Then there is the magic talisman the type 23 frigate—
§ Mr. Robertson
—which is to be the backbone of the new surface fleet. Will it be ordered in 1985, 1986 or in 1988? What will be its equipment? Will it be a fighting ship, or will it be a pseudo-ocean-going tug with a sophisticated towed array and with no active sonar? Is it not true that we shall need to order at least three of them from 1985 onwards to keep up with our emasculated fleet?
I shall now turn to the next question of the Royal dockyards.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Petersfield may have an opportunity to speak later in the debate if he is patient.
§ Mr. Robertson
I am sure that you will give due consideration, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the rights of the hon. Member later on.
331 What a pity it is that the angry Members from Portsmouth and the Medway have not got a lobby to protest in tonight. We have heard the anger, dismay and outrage and the sheer disbelief that, only a year after the cast-iron assurance that those areas received about the continuing need for four dockyards, only two, apparently, will suffice.
Those who came travelling from all over the country at the behest of the Prime Minister—from my constituency and many others—now know what those exhortations were worth. Again, it makes no defence sense at all. Chatham has the capacity and the principal experience for refitting the SSNs, which in fume are to be the cream of the Royal Navy. It is to close, and the workers are to go to Devonport, where they have yet to finish the first SSN refit, which already is more than a year behind schedule.
Now we hear of the latest foul-up in the Ministry of Defence. Last week, Chatham was told that it had to do the refit on HMS "Dreadnought" because Devonport and Rosyth could not do the work. The people at Chatham were appropriately disdainful of that. With their jobs prejudiced, why should they dig the Government out of the hole that they had created?
I understand that the Ministry is willing to consider another date. Will it delay the closure of Chatham simply to get off this hook? Why cannot Devonport do the refit now? Will Devonport be able to carry out the refits in the future, and will the Minister of State confirm or deny that the refits will be exported to the United States of America? Has that possibility been considered? If not, will the Minister be able to refit with only two dockyards—and one of them committed to the Polaris or Trident submarines—or is it as the Chief of Fleet Support told the Select Committee last week?
I am careful to quote from the Guardian article, since the minutes of the Committee's proceedings are not yet obtainable. The Guardian said:The Royal Navy admitted yesterday that it was deliberately taking a risk by closing down the Chatham dockyard.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
The Select Committee has been at great pains to make the record of those proceedings—which were in public—available. The hon. Gentleman has not taken pains to check the source. I can provide him with the text, and I hope that when he gets it—if he has not bothered to go to the Library for it—he will quote accurately to the House, for a change.
§ Mr. Robertson
If I have not checked as assiduously as the hon. Gentleman suggests, I apologise. I simply quote from a reputable newspaper whose representative was present. Indeed, it was confirmed by the words carefully used by another hon. Member that at least an admitted risk is involved in concentrating all the nuclear refitting capacity in only two dockyards. Whether the Chief of Fleet Support said the precise words that I have attributed to him or whether he only thought them, which is more than likely, the fact is that the Government are taking a risk.
I turn to the other mystery—that of the submarine programme. The mystery concerns the Government's 332 intention to keep a fleet of 17 nuclear-powered attack submarines—the SSNs—and their ability to explain how that will be physically possible if the Trident submarines are to be built in Vickers at Barrow.
In the evidence to the Select Committee on Defence on 16 April last year, the Assistant Under-Secretary of State (Naval Staff) answered a question on the crowding out of the SSN's at Barrow by saying:Unless there was extra capacity which was made available, the advent of a successor to Polaris would cause some delay in the building up of the SSN programme.Unlike the Government's other gyrations on the issue, that makes sense. One cannot build everything at the same time at Barrow-in-Furness. Something has to stop for the SSBNs that will be coming on stream, and there will be a fatal gap in time. By the mid-1990s the SSN fleet will be down to 12, simply because five boats will have passed their 25-year life span, and new boats will not be built because the Trident submarines will be blocking up the four years of space. Does this not devastate the foundation of a defence policy based on a 17-strong SSN fleet?
What will happen to the new generation of diesel submarines which we are promised at the rate of one a year? When will this order be ready? Why has Barrow yet again been designated as the lead yard for the first order, when Scott Lithgow on the Clyde can build them, needs to build them and would probably, anyway, be British Shipbuilders' choice as the lead yard?
This defence review is unique in several ways. First, it singles out for butchery the Royal Navy surface fleet without any reasoned argument for such a sudden and dramatic departure from the previous policy of Atlantic reinforcement. Secondly, the review is unique in that, although we are told that it is based on the need for cost containment and financial prudence, no figures for the savings have yet been put forward.
§ Mr. Robertson
When shall we know the savings in the budget? How much is to be cut? How much of our GDP will we spend on defence next year, and how much is projected for the end of the decade?
§ Mr. Robertson
Hon. Gentlemen make much noise about that. Today, we are considering the effect on the Royal Navy of the Government's policy. That is dramatic enough.
How much is to be cut, and when will that crucial information be available to the House? Will there be another statement before the end of the Session, or will it simply be slipped through before the Summer Recess in a planted written answer?
Thirdly, the review is unique because those Government Back Benchers and retired admirals expressing controlled outrage still cannot see that hard choices have to be made. Like them, we believe that the cuts are ill-considered, wrongheaded and strategically risky.
§ Mr. Robertson
Unlike the Government's critics, including Lord Hill-Norton, we realise that we cannot have a surface navy, the dockyards, all our present naval 333 capability and Trident at the same time. The sooner Tory hon. Members realise that, the sooner the Royal Navy will have a chance to survive.
Finally, the review is unique because a tub-thumping Conservative Government came to power trumpeting about boosting defence expenditure, curing morale problems and expanding our defence capability. Now we see the sad reality of a Government pretending that expenditure alone means good defence, even when it is spent on a wildly expensive foreign policy symbol. We see a Government who have cruelly and perhaps irreversibly damaged the morale of the Royal Navy while providing no reason for the country to feel that its security and its real defence have been assured.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Peter Blaker)
It is traditional on this occasion to review the work of the Royal Navy during the past year, and it is right that we should do so. We have other important matters arising from the recent White Paper to discuss, too.
Before I turn to those subjects, I must say something about the inadequate speech that we have heard from the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). It was a most interesting speech, especially as it said nothing about the consequences of the Opposition's policy for the Royal Navy. The Opposition have studiously refused to estimate the effect on the Services of their proposal that our defence expenditure should be reduced to the average percentage of GDP spent by our European allies.
I have been handed a statement—[Interruption.] It is a different statement this time, I am advised that if the cut of £3,500 million which would result from the Opposition's proposal were applied proportionately to the Royal Navy, it would amount to more than the total spending on naval ships and crews this year. We would therefore have no ships and no crews. What effect do the Opposition think that that would have on jobs and morale, and on the shipbuilders? Are we not entitled to ask whether there was not just a little bit of humbug about the hon. Gentleman's speech?
Many people tend to take our Armed Forces for granted. This is an indirect tribute to the effectiveness of our defences. Despite the growing military strength of the Soviet Union, and the brutal way in which it has been used, the fact that this country has not been subjected to the immediate threat of external attack for over 36 years can easily lull our people into forgetting not only the importance of deterrence, both nuclear and conventional, but the men and women without whom deterrence would mean nothing.
The debate is a reminder of how much we owe to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines: first, for helping to keep the peace successfully for so long; secondly, for their contribution to the NATO Alliance, which remains the cornerstone of our national defence policy; and, thirdly, for ensuring in many ways the peacetime protection of our national resources.
I hope that those who take pride in the Navy and its traditions—and I believe that we all do—will also take pride in the fact that the single most important element in our defence forces—the strategic nuclear deterrent, Polaris now and Trident in the future—is and will be operated and supported by the Royal Navy and the civilians who work 334 with it. It is the single most powerful element of the United Kingdom's commitment to the collective defence of the North Atlantic Alliance.
Since 1969 we have maintained an unbroken deployment of at least one Polaris submarine on patrol, at all times, with its missiles ready. We have good reason to believe that the Soviet Union has never found one of our submarines on patrol. I am sure that the House would wish to join me in paying tribute to those who have successfully undertaken this demanding task over such a long period.
The House has had a number of opportunities in the last 12 months to debate our strategic deterrent, and therefore I do not propose to deal with it any further now except to repeat that Trident is by far the most cost-effective and secure way of continuing our strategic nuclear deterrent into the 1990s and beyond. This point was very clearly brought out by the excellent majority report of the Select Committee on Defence, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow).
As the most powerful navy in Western Europe, the Royal Navy has a leading part to play in NATO maritime activities, both in peace and in any future conflict. I should like this afternoon to cover our maritime forces in some detail. I know that many hon. Members have sought an assurance that our future capability will be adequate for the tasks that we foresee.
The House knows of the real increase in the costs of defence equipment. A type 22 frigate costs about £120 million, and the latest class of mine countermeasure vessels, the Hunt class, about £30 million. Even with our planned real increase in the defence budget of 3 per cent. per year until 1985–86, we simply could not have afforded to sustain the level of expenditure necessary to retain all our existing forces and the improvements planned for them.
When we assessed our plans it became clear that, even with the real increase in the resources that we shall be allocating to our maritime capabilities, we had to take some tough decisions about priorities. The result of this has been the shift in emphasis towards submarines and maritime patrol aircraft and the decision to eliminate major refits of surface vessels.
Nevertheless, we are not abandoning any element of our maritime capability. We must beware of fighting previous wars when we consider future conflicts. But surface ships, submarines and aircraft all have complementary roles to play in our contribution to the defence of the North Atlantic by the Alliance. Each has a wide range of tasks for which it is uniquely suited in peace and war, although there has undoubtedly been an increase in the vulnerability of surface ships to modern weapons.
We shall be concentrating more of our efforts on forward and barrier operations in the focal areas which Soviet submarines, and surface ships, must cross to reach the North Atlantic and their targets.
Submarines would be used in forward operations, and surface ships, submarines and maritime patrol aircraft all have vital roles to play in barrier operations. But no such barrier is impenetrable, and enemy submarines would almost certainly be deployed in the North Atlantic. We must therefore be capable of defence in depth.
NATO is crucially dependent on its ability to provide rapid transatlantic and cross-Channel reinforcements for the forces already deployed in Europe both before and at the onset of war, and on its ability to resupply. The 335 security of reinforcement and resupply is therefore vital, and the House is right to seek an assurance about our ability to contribute to that.
The submarine is a powerful enemy, but the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" shows that against an estimated Soviet submarine threat of about 80 attack submarines—nuclear and conventionally powered—NATO can deploy more than 90 anti-submarine warfare ships, 70 submarines and 400 anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Nantwich)
I am interested in the figures that my hon. Friend has just given, because I understand that the Soviet Union has 179 attack submarines deployed in its northern fleet. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that the figure is inaccurate?
§ Mr. Blaker
The figures that I have given are taken from page 19 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates, and are fully explained there. I hope that my hon. Friend will look at them. I have examined them very carefully with the experts in the Ministry of Defence.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
The Minister says that 90 ASW vessels are available to NATO. Are they assigned to NATO? If so, are they assigned at less than 30 days' declaration? Do they all fall within categories A and B? That is the test that we must apply to the Minister's claim.
§ Mr. Blaker
In various categories. The hon. Gentleman will find it explained on page 19 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates.
We shall be devoting substantial resources to improving the effectiveness of the sensors and anti-submarine weapons of our section of these forces. This includes the new passive towed array system that we hope to introduce into service next year.
Royal Air Force maritime capabilities will include 34 Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft. All the Nimrods will be equipped with the new Sting Ray torpedo. In addition, we shall run on into the 1990s two squadrons of Buccaneer aircraft in the anti-shipping role, which we plan to equip with improved avionic and electronic warfare equipment and the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile.
My right hon. Friend mentioned our intention to retain in the fleet 50 destroyers and frigates, of which eight would be in the standby squadron. This will mean disposing of some of our older and more manpower-intensive vessels. Our aim will be to run these ships until their next refit would have been due. But at the same time we shall be introducing into service seven new type 42 destroyers and four type 22 frigates.
The type 42 destroyers are equipped with the Sea Dart air defence missile system, which incidentally also has a good anti-ship capability, the rapid fire gun, and anti-submarine torpedoes. Their Lynx helicopters will carry the Sea Skua anti-ship missile when it enters service, as well as anti-submarine torpedoes. In total, we shall have 14 of these ships in the fleet. They will be operational until the late 1990s.
336 The type 22 frigates are designed for anti-submarine warfare and are equipped with the latest computer associated sonar system, advanced sensors and communications equipment. They, too, carry the Lynx anti-submarine helicopter and are armed with Exocet surface-to-surface missiles and Sea Wolf close-range air defence missiles. We shall keep under study the need to place any further orders for these ships in addition to the one that my right hon. Friend announced to the House on 25 June.
§ Mr. Trotter
If the Minister feels that the type 42 destroyers can stay in service until the late 1990s, surely their Sea Dart system will be well out of date by that time—in fact, long before it. Should not there be a replacement for it, or a modernisation of it?
§ Mr. Blaker
We have decided not to go ahead with the large-scale modernisation of that vessel, for reasons which I think my hon. Friend will already have understood.
These new frigates will represent an impressive addition to the Royal Navy's firepower, but they are very expensive to acquire and maintain. For the next generation we are therefore aiming at a cheaper and less sophisticated vessel, which will be attractive in the export market as well as to the Royal Navy. We shall get this frigate, the type 23, into service as quickly as possible and in the largest quantities that our resources will permit. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has acknowledged the contribution that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) made to this concept. We shall be working closely with British Shipbuilders on it.
The type 21 s and most of the Leanders will continue in service for many years. We plan to complete the five vessels undergoing major modernisation, and they will provide a welcome enhancement to our firepower. In summary, the escort fleet will be smaller than it has been in the past, but it will be younger, and the ability of the ships to hunt and destroy hostile submarines will be greatly increased by the introduction of new long-range sonar and the Sting Ray torpedo, the most advanced weapon of its type in service with any navy.
At the same time we shall be increasing the number of nuclear powered hunter-killer submarines in the fleet. As I explained to the House on 7 July, the number of new boats of this type ordered will depend on the availability of resources, but we hope to be able to order more than the SSN 17.
§ Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)
If the resources are available, how many more hunter-killers will the Government build, apart from the 21 that will come into operation?
§ Mr. Blaker
I do not think that I mentioned the figure 21. I cannot go beyond what I have said. I said that I hoped that we should be able to build more than the SSN 17.
In home waters we shall continue to attach great importance to protecting the United Kingdom and its national resources offshore. I shall describe our peace-time operations in this role later. Two new offshore patrol vessels are currently under construction—the Castle class. We have seven Hunt class mine countermeasure vessels currently on order, which will join those already in service. We hope to order more. We have made it clear that a new class of minehunters will proceed and that we shall continue work on defensive mining. We shall strengthen the Royal Naval Reserve by buying new, low-cost minesweepers as soon as funds can be made available.
337 The review was intended to concentrate resources on the front line, maximising the return that we obtain from our investment on complex equipment, and to reduce the overheads and infrastructure of the Armed Forces. This includes the support organisation for the fleet. I shall deal shortly with the effect of the review on the dockyards.
One of our decisions is to abandon the expensive policy of mid-life modernisation of surface ships. This is relevant to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter). Ordinary refits will continue. Perhaps I can illustrate the difference between the two—the mid-life modernisation and the ordinary refit—by the fact that a major modernisation is the equivalent, in demand on resources, of five ordinary refits. This accounts for the fact that the new policy will save a great deal of money, but will at the same time greatly reduce our need for dockyard capacity. The consequence of this, as the dockyard study showed, is that a short-life fleet will give us a higher operational availability per ship.
The House will want me to say more about the dockyards. I make no apologies for referring again to the long and historic record of service that both Chatham and Portsmouth have given to the Royal Navy. They can justly be proud of their centuries of association with the Royal Navy and it is only right that in the Navy debate the Government should place on record their gratitude to them and our deep regret that it is now necessary to close the naval base and dockyard at Chatham and to run down the dockyard at Portsmouth.
I know that many hon. Members, particularly many of my hon. Friends, are concerned about these decisions. That is true not only of local hon. Members, who are concerned about the effect upon their constituents, but of the House as a whole, which wishes to be sure that the remaining dockyards will have sufficient capacity to support the fleet.
In particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden), for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner), for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton) have questioned whether Devonport and Rosyth will be able to refit our SSN fleet. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already discussed this with them, and I am arranging a further meeting for them with the officials concerned in the Ministry of Defence to discuss the nuclear refitting programme. However, I think that on this occasion the House would expect some assurances from me.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained to the House that the introduction of longer life cores for the reactors in nuclear submarines and experience and improvement in the peformance and durability of submarine equipment and materials were allowing us to extend the interval between refits by 10 per cent. for our older classes of submarines and by 20 per cent. for the new Swiftsure class.
§ Sir Federick Burden
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again. For how many more months will those submarines be at sea before they go in for a refit? How will the length of time compare with that of today?
§ Mr. Blaker
I cannot give that information to my hon. Friend, because I am told that I cannot give it publicly. I can give him only the figures of 10 and 20 per cent. Indeed, I asked whether I could reveal that figure, but I cannot. This will have a significant effect in reducing the 338 demands on the dockyards. I do not underestimate the complexity of refitting a nuclear submarine, which is equivalent to the workload which used to be required to refit the aircraft carriers, despite their obvious difference in size.
The country has already made a sizeable investment in modern nuclear refitting facilities in both Devonport and Rosyth—in the case of the former, about £85 million to build a new submarine refitting complex, which will allow the dockyard to work on three submarine refits at the same time. Devonport dockyard is, at the moment, twice the size of Chatham. The size of the work force will give management increased flexibility, which will allow a more economical allocation of tasks.
At Rosyth we plan to refit two streams of nuclear submarines in phase with the forecast build-up of the load in the late 1980s.
We shall need about 1,500 extra staff at Devonport and 600 at Rosyth. Some of these we expect to be transferred from Chatham and Portsmouth. Very little additional capital expenditure on nuclear refitting facilities will be required in the dockyards because of the review.
I am satisfied that we shall have the necessary facilities to provide refits for our SSN fleet as well as for our ballistic missile nuclear submarines—the SSBNs—and that we shall be able to build up our work force to the required level.
§ Mrs. Peggy Fenner (Rochester and Chatham)
If my hon. Friend is satisfied, why should Admiral Pillar have spoken in the Select Committee in the following way about the nuclear refitting programme:I would not pretend the programme is without risk"?My hon. Friend must come clean. If there is a risk, he should quantify it. We should know whether the risk is acceptable.
§ Mr. Blaker
Of course there is a risk. Indeed, I was asked about this yesterday. For example, as a result of industrial action a refit might take longer than anticipated. However, there is a significant gap between the time when a submarine goes out and the time when the next submarine comes in.
§ Mrs. Fenner
It would be less than open of my hon. Friend if he were to place industrial relations first in that element of risk. If there is a risk in terms of the time taken, he should not suggest that there would not be a risk if there were no industrial relations problem. Whether or not there are bad industrial relations, is there not a risk in terms of the months taken to refit, and Devonport's capacity to carry out the work?
§ Mr. Blaker
The only risk that I have identified is that of bad industrial relations. In any circumstances, there is a risk. There is now a dispute with the civil servants, and as a result, although we have four dockyards, things are running low. Even if there were four or five dockyards we should still be in an unsatisfactory situation if there were a national strike. I believe that the risk, such as it is, is one that we should be prepared to accept.
I know that hon. Members in the Chatham and Portsmouth areas, in particular, are concerned about the rundown of the two dockyards and their future work load. I am pleased to be able to confirm to the House that we plan that Chatham will complete the work on the warships that is in hand, on HMS "Warspite" and "Churchill", two hunter-killer submarines, and HMS "Hermione" and 339 "Phoebe", two Leander class frigates. In addition, we are planning to put HMS "Dreadnought", another hunter-killer submarine and HMS "Cleopatra" into the dockyard early next year. A number of smaller ships are also likely to be refitted there. This will allow us to make the most cost-effective use of the facilities there during the rundown period.
At Portsmouth, HMS "Sea Lion", "Fife", "Birmingham" and a number of smaller ships are currently in the dockyard and we are planning that HMS "Opportune" will start a refit in September and HMS "Newcastle" will start her normal refit there in the spring of next year. Additionally, over a dozen ships are expected over the next 12 months in Portsmouth for docking and essential defects work.
I know that my hon. Friends in the Portsmouth area are concerned that the Ministry of Defence should identify and release any surplus land and facilities as soon as possible. I have written to my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) to give the initial reaction of the Ministry to a list of sites that he has sent me in which the Portsmouth city council is interested.
The Ministry of Defence has a positive interest in identifying and disposing of surplus land as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has authorised me to say that his Department will pursue a positive policy designed to get the property on to the market as soon as possible and to attract the maximum interest in its development and redevelopment.
I have to remind the House, however, that the rundown of the dockyard at Portsmouth will not be completed until 1984 and it will be some time before we can be sure what naval shore facilities can be released. But we shall move as quickly as possible to identify available land.
Any rundown of the size at Chatham and Portsmouth causes difficulties and anxieties not only to the hon. Members concerned but to those whose jobs are affected and the local authorities and trade unions. The closest consultation will be needed between all these bodies and the Ministry of Defence and other Ministries which are concerned. The rundown will be a complex business, requiring much planning and care.
At Portsmouth, some staff will still be needed to help service the fleet base there. Others, at both Chatham and Portsmouth, will have the opportunity to move to other defence establishments. But we must face the fact that there are bound to be redundancies, which will be phased over the next three years.
The Hampshire county council has set up a working group to consider ways and means of stimulating alternative employment. The group will have its first meeting at Winchester this Friday and the Ministry of Defence and other Government Departments will be represented. If the local authorities in the Chatham area wished to do the same, we would, of course, be very happy to take part.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
Where there are rundowns, do the Government intend to take any direct initiative to see that additional work is brought into those areas for those made redundant? Or do the Government intend largely to leave this to private enterprise, apart from the activities of various working parties? Will the hon. Gentleman make this clear as a point of principle?
§ Mr. Blaker
We shall be consulting the local authorities in South Hampshire. In a couple of days' time 340 we shall hear their views. The resources of the Government will be devoted to seeing that the problems, not least the problems of those who will lose their jobs, are eased as much as possible.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Where redundancy is, unfortunately, necessary, what will be the scale of payments? Will it bear any relation to the maximum compensation of £18,000 for British Steel Corporation workers, the £10,300 for British Shipbuilders workers or the £6,300 for Post Office workers?
§ Mr. Blaker
A redundancy scheme is already in operation as a result of measures taken by the Labour Government in 1974–75. The arrangements under that scheme will continue to apply.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
Will the trade unions be brought into discussions on plans for alternative employment at Chatham and elsewhere?
§ Mr. Blaker
I am about to come to that. The short answer is "Very much, yes". I shall continue to keep closely in touch with local hon. Members and the trade unions—the point raised by the hon. Gentleman—and a special focal point is being set up in the Department to co-ordinate action on personnel matters at official level.
My right hon. Friend has had a number of meetings with hon. Members from the Medway and South Hampshire areas and with the local authorities. He has already had talks with representatives of the trade unions, and he will be seeing them again next week. We propose to give the trade unions consultative papers on the rundown and its personnel implications, and special consultative machinery has already been set up.
I turn now, although I shall have to treat it briefly, to a report on the Royal Navy's peacetime activities during the last 12 months. Surface ships, submarines and aircraft of the Navy and the Royal Marines have taken part in a wide range of NATO exercises. These included the amphibious exercise Team Work 80, in September, which spanned all three NATO commands and involved forces from nine other members of the Alliance. Over 30 ships and submarines of the Royal Navy took part, together with the British element of the United Kingdom-Netherlands amphibious force, including a brigade headquarters and two Royal Marine Commandos.
Hon. Members will know that for all the crucial importance to our security of membership of NATO, naval activity is not confined to the NATO area. Between May and December last year a task group of three frigates and two destroyers, together with afloat support, deployed through the Indian Ocean to the Far East and back. Three ships from the group paid the first Royal Navy visit to the People's Republic of China and enjoyed very warm hospitality. In all, the task group visited about 20 ports in 15 countries. The opportunity was taken to train with our friends and allies, including, for the first time ever, the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force and subsequently the United States Navy.
It was thanks to the presence in East Asia of the task group that, following the outbreak of war between Iraq and Iran, it was possible so swiftly to start the Gulf of Oman patrol. Ever since then, two warships, with afloat support, have been stationed in the vicinity of the Straits of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, through which so much of the free world's essential oil supplies pass.
341 In peacetime, a large part of the Royal Navy's day-to-day business is the protection of our natural resources. For example, the Royal Navy fishery protection squadron, assisted by RAF aircraft, plays a vital role in safeguarding our fishery resources—a task the Royal Navy has been involved in for over seven centuries. Last year over 1,500 foreign vessels, from a wide variety of countries, were boarded. As a result, a number of successful prosecutions were brought for breaches of the fisheries laws.
The vessels of the fishery protection squadron also provide a continuous patrol in the vicinity of our offshore oil and gas installations. Here again we have vital national resources, the protection of which falls naturally to the Royal Navy. Last year saw the establishment at Arbroath of Commacchio Company, the Royal Marines' quick reaction force, which can deploy, in response to a request from the civil power, to any installation threatened by terrorist attack.
Such an attack on an offshore installation would bring about a professional and effective response from the Royal Marines, working closely with naval ships and aircraft. This should be a powerful deterrent to a potential terrorist attack.
Last January the Government had to take the painful decision to disband 41 Cammando, for the reasons given by my right hon. Friend in his statement at the time. The unit rounded off a distinguished history with a very successful tour of duty in South Armagh. I am pleased to record that tills tour was completed without any Royal Marines casualties, and that eight members of the Commando later received awards. 45 Commando is now deployed in Northern Ireland on a four-month tour. Within a week of its arrival the Commando was engaged in two major incidents, which resulted in the arrest of several terrorists and the recovery of their weapons.
§ Sir Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
Can my hon. Friend confirm that as 41 Commando has been disbanded there will be no further cuts in the Royal Marines?
§ Mr. Blaker
I can assure my hon. Friend that we intend to maintain the three existing Marine Commandos.
The Royal Marines took part earlier this year in the annual Arctic warfare exercise in Norway, culminating in the aptly named Kald Winter, together with forces from Norway, the Netherlands and the United States.
Further afield, an event occurred which I have other reasons for remembering. A British force, including a tactical headquarters and a company from 42 Commando, was deployed to the New Hebrides, now Vanuatu, to help restore law and order on the rebel island of Espiritu Santo. The Prime Minister of Vanuatu rightly gave credit to the Royal Marines for helping to ensure that his country was able to achieve independence on the planned date.
The peace-time operations of the Royal Navy also include assistance in emergency to the victims of natural disasters and search and rescue. Royal Navy personnel have provided valuable assistance in the past year to communities in the Caribbean and in Italy. In the year up to the end of April naval helicopters were called out on nearly 300 occasions to civilians in distress and rescued 187 people.
Before I leave operational matters, I should like to mention the surveying flotilla, which, in 1980, had one of its most productive years on record. Hydrography is a vital task, which depends on painstaking work carried out under conditions which are often rough and unpleasant.
342 My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) asked yesterday whether a decision had been made on the "HMS Herald" autumn programme. I can confirm that she will be going to the Gulf area, where she will be engaged on valuable survey work.
§ Sir Nicholas Bonsor
I am anxious to clear up the difference over figures that we had earlier. I think that I know the reason for the difference. Will my hon. Friend accept that the figure that he gave was for only one of the northern USSR fleets and that if we also count the Baltic and Mediterranean fleets, both of which have access to the North Atlantic, the figure for submarines in the Soviet fleet would be 175?
If that is so, will my hon. Friend expand on what he has told us about his plans for defending convoy operations between America and this country?
§ Mr. Blaker
If one counts all the various Soviet fleets, one finds that there are many more submarines than the number that I gave. That figure is the estimate that the Ministry made of the threat that would face us in the North Atlantic. It is directly relevant to the problem of ferrying ships across the North Atlantic for resupplying.
We have constantly stressed the high priority that we give not only to attracting the right numbers and quality of men and women to the Services but to retention and keeping them long enough to get an adequate return from their training and experience.
I am happy to be able to report that over the past year both recruiting and retention for the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines have been excellent. While pay is important, money is not the only factor in recruiting and retention. We have to be flexible, for example in relation to terms of service, and they have been improved in a number of ways, which my hon. Friend the Undersecretary may be able to expand on when he replies to the debate.
I should like to say a word about the WRNS. We are continuing to seek ways of extending the valuable contribution that the WRNS make to the naval service by increasing the avenues of employment open to them, though there are constraints, particularly in relation to sea service.
The first WRNS air engineering officer is now undergoing professional training at Manadon and WRNS air engineering mechanics have several times deployed to sea for short periods on board the Royal Fleet Auxiliary "Engadine" with their helicopter squadrons.
I should also mention the excellent work done by the Royal Naval Reserve and its counterparts, which have vital tasks to perform in wartime. Numbers continue to increase. Training continues at a high level, and the Reserves have played an active and essential part in a number of recent exercises, including Wintex 81. Development at the RNR (Air) Branch has been most satisfactory; it has already achieved its initial manpower target since it was set up last year.
This has not been an easy year for any of our Armed Services, but the Royal Navy has had to face more difficult adjustments than either of the other two Services.
Nevertheless, with an increasing defence budget, our expenditure on the maritime role will grow over the coming years in real terms. The fleet of the future, though fewer in numbers, will have a greater reach and hitting power than that of 10 years ago. Its ships will be more 343 modern and spend more of their time operational. There will be more emphasis on submarines and aircraft, but the surface fleet will have a continuing and vital role to play, both in the crucial area of the North Atlantic and outside the NATO area. The judgment on our future forces was a difficult one, but the Government believe that they have made the right choice on the way ahead, and on 7 July the House endorsed it.
We need in the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service and the WRNS, men and women of the highest calibre. The task they have remains, and will remain, one demanding the highest standards of courage, endurance and skill. It will become even more demanding in the future. I believe that we have in the Service, and shall continue to have, men and women who meet that test. The House and the nation at large are in their debt.
§ 5.8 pm
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) on his opening speech. He was lucid and convincing, and his speech will stand close scrutiny. It was a competent performance from an hon. Member who was opening a debate for the first time. My hon. Friend got the debate off to a good start. That is important, because for some years Navy debates have had the reputation of being good and constructive, and of being conducted in a good atmosphere.
I am sorry that the Minister described my hon. Friend's speech as inadequate. If any hon. Member is badly placed to call another hon. Member's speech inadequate it is the Minister. No Conservative Member who was present for the hon. Gentleman's reply to our debate on the defence review will disagree with that, whatever outward show he may make. The hon. Gentleman did not even give way to many of his own right hon. and hon. Friends. Whatever the Minister's record in the Foreign Office—and I dare say that it was very good—he does not strike me as convincing at the Ministry of Defence. He certainly does not have the Navy touch, and he is not yet credible in his new appointment. I do not expect that the Under-Secretary who is to reply will impress me more.
We have been fortunate for some years in having on both sides of the House spokesmen on the Armed Services who have had a degree of credibility and have brought authenticity to our debates. I see none in the Ministers now on the Government Front Bench. Therefore, I attach no importance to the reply to the debate.
We have had three major defence debates this year, but not one decent reply. Anyone who reads Hansard will know that hon. Members on both sides of the House have been disappointed with the replies to those debates. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Defence has left the Chamber, because he was guilty in the first two debates. He kept his head down and would not give way, although he did not keep as closely to his brief as did the Minister today.
Some Conservative Members may believe that I am being less than fair, but I am looking for a high standard in an hon. Member who purports to be a Navy Minister. I know that we no longer have a Navy Minister, and that is part of the explanation. But that is the Government's responsibility. Conservative Members might like to know 344 that the recommendation that Service Ministers should be dispensed with has been lying around in the Ministry of Defence for many years. The Labour Government did not act on it. They knew that the Services needed their shop stewards. We know that they need a representative. We know that they need someone other than a uniformed officer or admiral or their captain who will go on to the mess decks.
I do not know whether either of the Ministers present has ever been on the lower deck of a modern naval vessel. I do not know whether they know what a modern naval vessel looks like, but I know—and many Conservative Members agree with me privately—that increasingly Service men are more demanding, articulate and sensitive to what is happening around them. They raise more and more questions. In recent years the role of Service Ministers has become more demanding than it was a few years ago. If ever there was a time when we might have dispensed with Service Ministers, it was not in 1980 or in 1981. I dare say that we shall feel the need for Service Ministers in 1982 and 1983.
The House will remember that it reminded the Secretary of State that he should not place too much reliance on the SSNs—the hunter-killer nuclear submarines—and the maritime patrol aircraft, with which the Minister seems to have fallen in love. Like all converts he has shown an excessive zeal for their capability. The Secretary of State was reminded by hon. Members on both sides that he must not attach too much importance to barrier operations and the new combination. It is good, but it has its limitations. The Minister conceded today that submarines could slip through the barrier. They can, and they are doing so. The Minister assured the House that it need not worry. Whatever suggestions had been made in recent months that the surface fleet should be severely cut, we still have 94 ships available for anti-submarine warfare or escort purposes.
I am paraphrasing what the hon. Gentleman said, but there is no doubt that he said that there were 94 ASW ships available. He referred me to page 19 of the defence statement. I agree that there are 94 ships available if one includes France. There are 94 ships available if one includes not only the Atlantic but the Channel. The hon. Gentleman had the Atlantic in mind when he offered that figure to us.
The Minister may not yet know, but I hope that he will learn quickly, that what matters are ships that are assigned and in particular categories. Many Conservative Members understand that. When he was trying to answer me, when he was caught out, two or three of his hon. Friends were smiling behind his back. They know that what matters at Northwood are ready forces at certain notice. Three of four hon. Gentlemen know that we must allow for ships that are removed to go to Belize, the Caribbean or the Gulf, or are on passage, not including the task forces that the Minister mentioned. Then there are sudden demands. There are ships in dockyards—sometimes one-third of the fleet, and never less than one-quarter. One can understand why hon. Members are doing their arithmetic and wondering whether we might have to consider between now and 1984 having only 26 or 29 surface ships available for Northwood. That is a different figure from that mentioned by the Minister. I hope that he will improve that figure, because the Navy deserves and has received better treatment in recent years.
345 Again, the House is at a disadvantage in the debate because there has been no attempt at long-term costings. How the Government can talk about shipbuilding programmes without introducing costing information is beyond me. We cannot expect new build unless we think of scrap, but we cannot talk about scrap and build unless we have long-term costings. That is why some Conservative Members are nervous about what the Government are doing—more scrapping and less building. Hon. Members will not be assured unless they are given the long-term costings soon.
All that must be set within the context of strategic analysis. We have not had that, although there were brave attempts to provide the House with such information in the last defence debate, notably by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Jay). I hope that more hon. Members will continue to raise questions, because many questions should be raised about the defence review. However, such questions are unlikely to be answered. That is why I attach no importance to the winding-up speech.
I shall pose some questions not with any expectation of satisfaction but to place them on the record. It is important that the questions are registered. Such questions will make hon. Members think—though some hon. Members are abreast of me and others are ahead. Hon. Members are worried about the attitude of the Secretary of State for Defence to deterrence. What is he trying to do? What contribution will the defence review make to the Alliance? Will it improve deterrence? We can all join in the objective not to go to war but to deter an aggressor. I have found it heart-warming that our top admirals have said that to me in recent years. It gives me great pleasure to pass on such information to my constituents and to reassure them that out top admirals and military commanders are not looking for or preparing for war. They are for maintaining peace, and if war breaks out they will feel that they have failed. That is the only attitude to which the Opposition and the Government can subscribe.
Deterrence is important. We know that it depends on a flexible response, which means conveying to the Russians that there is no scenario, whether for a long or short war, that they can pursue with advantage. The Secretary of State for Defence is leaving hon. Members on both sides of the House with an uneasy feeling that he is thinking of a short war. I repeat what I said in the last defence debate: once we have that frame of mind, we have lost the war. There is growing evidence that others in the world are thinking of a longer war. From what we know of Russian thinking, they are showing much more interest in the interdiction of Atlantic supply lines.
First, will the defence review enhance deterrence? Will it deter war? Is the Secretary of State for Defence matching all possible scenarios against the options short of war through his defence review? Does he believe in a flexible response? Does his preference for Trident mean that he must pursue Trident, and provide for it financially more and more as time goes on at the expense of the other end of the flexible response spectrum? That is where our surface ships come in. We are concerned about not only building surface ships and providing jobs, but maintaining dockyards. We attach more importance to a conventional posture, because we are nervous of a nuclear one. Above all, we are concerned not to lend ourselves to any attitudes or policies that might lower the nuclear threshhold. That is why deterrents are so important.
346 Secondly, I want to mention the impact of the defence review on Alliance strategy and burden sharing. I recognise that the proportion of the British defence budget devoted to equipment has risen steeply in recent years. It now constitutes 45 per cent. The effect of that and increasing the size and capability of United Kingdom forces has been largely offset by the continuing rise in procurement costs and new weapons.
I recognise the difficulty facing the Secretary of State for Defence, but it has not arisen only in the last year. This matter is by no means confined to this Administration. The Labour Government had to grapple with the problem for years, and they were able to do so in a more even-handed and balanced way. Indeed, over the past two decades the steep rise in the cost of the new generation of weapons equipment has been the prominent factor affecting the size and shape of United Kingdom forces, particularly the Navy. Allowing for inflation, the cost per tonne of warships has risen in that period by a factor of between 10 and 15. A frigate which cost £4 million to £6 million in the early 1960s can be replaced today only at a cost of £120 million, as the Minister said. I should put at least another £10 million on that figure.
That increase is not merely the result of inflation, It is a measure of the increasing complexity of the operational environment and the need for improved performance or quality. Quality has increasingly been bought at the price of fewer weapons systems. Thus, an explosion in defence technology has brought an explosion in cost. In turn, that has posed a new set of questions, for example, in the conduct of ASW in the Atlantic. The Secretary of State said that in the first defence debate this year. We sympathise with him and we understand. However, what worries many people, particularly those who took pan: in the debate in the other place, including a former Chief of Defence Staff, is that too few answers are being provided by the Secretary of State. Those that are provided are disturbing and unacceptable.
§ Mr. D. A. Trippier (Rossendale)
The hon. Gentleman referred to answers given by the Secretary of State and junior Ministers. Will he answer a simple question? Is he seriously trying to convince the House that a Labour Government would have increased defence expenditure by 3 per cent. in real terms annually?
§ Mr. Duffy
That was the Labour Government's policy when they went out of office. Indeed, a Labour Government initially subscribed to the NATO Alliance policy. I cannot speak for my right hon. Friends. However, I am sure that they would join me in saying that we should be concerned about the country's defence. We should be concerned for it on the most cost-effective terms and on the most balanced basis. We should get our priorities right. For that reason, as well as for moral reasons and reasons of principle, we reject Trident, for example.
§ Mr. Mates
The hon. Gentleman has reached a very thoughtful part of his remarks. I agree with almost everything in the analysis that he made in the last five or six minutes. He analysed the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had to make this series of serious decisions. He correctly identified the explosion in technological advance which has far outstripped the rate of inflation. But does the hon. Gentleman think that that explosion will now come to an end, or does he think that 347 it will go right through to the next generation of the procurement of weapons systems, not just for the Royal Navy but right across the Services? If so, what is his answer to how we combat that within a reasonable defence budget?
§ Mr. Duffy
That was a good intervention. I think that the steep rise in the cost of defence technology will continue to present problems. The problems will be as severe as those with which the Secretary of State is now grappling. That is why I believe that he has to tackle them now. If he does not, he will have to come back. I hope that nobody believes that this is the end of the defence crisis. Some Conservative Members know in their hearts that this is not the end. They know that the Defence Secretary or his successor will come back to the House with another defence review perhaps within 18 months, but certainly not more than two years hence.
§ Mr. Trotter
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that on the Conservative Benches there would be no support for such a move, and that we see no sign of it whatever?
§ Mr. Duffy
I cannot add to what I said when speaking of cost-effectiveness and priorities. That must be the basis of our attitude now. That is the only way out. Increasingly fulfilling our Alliance responsibilities on a division of task basis, I believe to be one source of relief. We must concentrate on increasing specialisation of tasks and doing what we are fitted to do best for reasons of history, geography and expertise. We should not want to do too much for too long. There has always been some debate about the relative importance of optional systems with the object of achieving the right mix in the light of the changing nature of the threat.
I shall continue, by way of illustration, to draw upon the United Kingdom's maritime role, for example in EASTLANT and the Channel where we have to provide 70 per cent. of ready forces. The emergent mix will more and more reflect budgetary pressure than strategic need, and much less appropriate response and assigned responsibility. In other words, the Secretary of State has set his feet on a path along which he might be driven further by the present cost considerations. The emergent mix might consequently reflect a narrowing of options and an increasing reliance, for example, on SSNs and MPAs. The Minister was apologetic in his reference to both this afternoon. He has reason to be, because of the narrowing mix and the higher risk strategy. That is at the expense of surface ships. It might not come off.
We need a balanced and interdependent contribution. Such a development in conventional weaponry might have the effect of raising the nuclear threshold, just as it could be lowered as a direct consequence of a high risk strategy in the North Atlantic in relation to reinforcement and supply in the central region of Europe.
Resource allocation and overall Alliance strategy must be seen ever more clearly because they will keep coming back as interrelated issues as budgetary constraints continue and perhaps intensify. The problem will not go away. It will come back. We should square up to it realistically now. The budgetary constraints can be reconciled only on the basis of the increased application of the division of tasks right across the Alliance, and that means a more active policy of defence co-operation.
348 One obvious instance—I do not wish to dwell on it—is our maritime role. That involves the problem of getting vast quantities of material across the Atlantic, not necessarily during a war but at a time of tension. Britain is assigned to that role to a greater extent than any other country. We provide 70 per cent. of ready forces. We are aware of the maritime threat to reinforcements and supply. Clearly, one choice illustration is the defence of NATO's sea lines of communication.
A wide variety of platforms are available for that work, all suggesting interdependence and therefore the need for co-operation. None is predominant. The mobility and extent of the threat will call increasingly for co-operation within our own Services and, increasingly, at Alliance level.
Despite the diversity and interdependence of ASW platforms, two have become increasingly valued—SSNs and MPAs. However, they are not predominant. They depend for maximum effectiveness on information that they are unlikely to provide themselves. The role of surface ships, especially in conjunction with helicopters in terms of command, control and communications, is indispensable to the most effective deployment of SSNs and MPAs. Surface ships are also indispensable in the provision of the widest range of anti-air capabilities—I refer to the Harrier—to deal with reconnaissance aircraft from platforms, such as the Invincible class, as well as point and area defence missile systems that the type 42 can provide to deal with Soviet missile threats. In that instance the value of surface ships is obvious.
The question of resource allocation and overall Alliance strategy will keep coming back to us as budgetary constraints intensify. I am arguing that defence reviews will have to be examined rigorously at some time in future—preferably now—against the background of Alliance strategy and objectives. I wonder whether the Secretary of State consulted his Alliance partners. I am asking not whether he went to Washington and Bonn after the defence review was approved by the Cabinet, but whether he consulted his Alliance partners. As the principle of the division of tasks is increasingly adopted within the Alliance, two perceptions must prevail: first, that Trident is, at best, incremental and, at worst, a needless sophistication; secondly, that Trident might hamper what is clearly the United Kingdom's most important contribution to the Alliance—her maritime role and, in particular, her operational capability in mid-Atlantic.
The Secretary of State has argued in the House more than once that the cuts involved in the review are in infrastructure more than in the front line. How, then, does he view the relative effects, say, in 1984? When will he offer that kind of projection? He must know that there is as much anxiety on that score among Conservative Members as there is among Labour Members, because of the involvement of the dockyards.
I mentioned earlier the declaration of ships to NATO at less than 30 days' notice in, for example, categories A and B. How many such ships can we declare to NATO by 1984 compared with 1977? Conservative Members should keep that question in their minds. It is not one that needs to be answered now—that would not be possible, anyway—but they should demand to know how many ships will be available at less than 30 days' notice to NATO at the end of this Administration, compared with the numbers that were available to NATO in categories A 349 and B in the middle of the Labour Administration. That would be a useful test of the service provided by the two Administrations to this country's maritime capability, and it is a question that deserves to be answered on its own merits.
I hope that Conservative Members will not be dazzled by the prospect of a type 23 frigate. In my view, that is merely a twinkle in the eye of the Defence Secretary. When I was in the Navy Department we used to play about with the notion of the type 24. We had the same thinking about the type 24 as, presumably, the Defence Secretary now has about the type 23. We had the same hopes, beliefs and expectations. I suppose that he has forgotten about the type 24, and I suggest that the type 23 will have the same fate.
There was no mention today of the helicopter. The Minister mentioned ships, and I was tempted to intervene to ask about helicopters. The Sea King helicopter replacement, as all hon. Members know, is vital. Why cannot a decision be taken? I realise that it is a difficult decision, but the matter has gone on forfar too long. What will be the future of the surface fleet if there is no replacement for the Sea King?
Now I come to personnel. Men do not join the Royal Navy to go into submarines. They go into the Navy and then they join the submarines. The ambition of every submarine commander is to command a surface ship. How large a proportion of the Navy can be expected to become submariners? There must be general service and a balance of opportunities—otherwise recruitment will suffer.
In recent years the Navy has pressed people into submarines from general service, where necessary, but that assumes a reasonable level of general service. Clearly, that balance will be upset. How can a submarine force level planned with a nuclear refitting stream at Chatham be sustained in its absence? I do not know the answer to that. The hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) did not get an answer to that question this afternoon or on previous occasions. Neither did the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden). I repeat: how can a submarine force level planned with a nuclear refitting stream at Chatham be sustained in its absence? It is all very well for the Minister to say that a risk is involved and that he is prepared to accept that risk, but I hope that he will think again, because he has convinced no one in the House. What costs and risks are involved and why, bearing in mind that men, expertise and facilities exist at Chatham?
The United States can now be struck by submarine-launched ballistic missiles from the Barents Sea. Why is the Defence Secretary so confident that underwater systems laid to detect SSBNs threatening the United States will be maintained and upgraded, if technically feasible, by the United States now that the United States does not have the same need? If not, what do we do, and what would be the cost? Is the Defence Secretary justified in placing so much reliance on the combination of Barrier, SSNs and MPAs? How can a combination of SSNs and long-range maritime control aircraft operate coherently in a state of unremitting vigilance in areas controlled by Soviet task forces that will eventually be based on the Kiev class, suitably supported from the USSR?
So much for deterrence, Alliance strategy and burden-sharing. I conclude by saying a few words about arms control. I remind the Minister that concern about arms control has been expressed on both sides of the House this 350 year in all our defence debates, and that concern has swelled among Conservative Members. More and more hon. Members are becoming increasingly sensitive to the need for arms control. They must see, as we on the Labour Benches see, a want of any such concern on the part of the Ministry of Defence. There is no evidence that it is concerned about arms control. If I am wrong, I shall gladly withdraw that remark. There is nothing to match the concern that was expressed by the right hon. Member for Sidcup.
§ Mr. Blaker
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that for two years I took part in the disarmament conference in Geneva and was a member of the team that successfully negotiated the partial nuclear test ban treaty and went to Moscow to conclude it. Can the hon. Gentleman match that?
§ Mr. Duffy
Then how does the hon. Gentleman reconcile that concern and posture with his present support for Trident? My argument is that Trident is wholly out of tune with the times. It is out of tune with the thinking within the Alliance. We have no supporters in the Alliance for Trident. Not one of our partners in the Alliance wants Trident. They are all concerned that Trident will be at the expense of conventional weaponry.
§ Sir Patrick Wall
The hon. Gentleman will know that the United States has said that it wants us to have Trident, because it is a considerable reinforcement of the nuclear deterrent.
§ Mr. Duffy
I think that the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Sir P. Wall) will agree that the United States also wants us to provide more surface ships. We do not believe that we can do both. Our order of priorities is surface ships rather than Trident. Moreover, we believe that our view is shared outside the House, and certainly it has been confirmed by opinion polls. That view is held not just by people on the Left or by political parties. Concern is felt in Churches and trade unions, and and now it is extending to local authorities. I fear that some local authorities are so outraged by the Government's attitude to Trident that their antagonism towards the Government's Trident policy is affecting their attitude towards conventional weapons and to the visits of Armed Services careers officers. I understand why that is happening, although I regret it.
§ Mrs. Fenner
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right when he says that there is deep feeling in the country for disarmament, but will he make it clear whether he is talking about multilateral disarmament or the unilateral disarmament about which some Members of the Opposition Front Bench have spoken?
§ Mr. Duffy
I am talking about the Labour Party's policy, which is multilateral disarmament. The defence review does not easily fit into our deterrent policy or the deterrent policy of the Alliance. It upsets it and throws it off balance. Trident, more than any other factor, is responsible for upsetting the deterrent posture. On the question of Alliance strategy and burden-sharing, the Government's devotion to Trident is upsetting the division of task principle that, because of budgetary constraints, needs to be applied and rigorously exercised throughout the Alliance. The defence review, especially the priority given to Trident—it is regarded as a sacred cow by the 351 Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence—acts as more than an irritant and an upsetting factor in the area of arms control and disarmament. It cannot easily be reconciled to the times, to public opinion and, increasingly, to the mood of the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I fully understand why the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) felt able to make a rather long speech. If other hon. Members follow his example, not many will be called.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
I am not sure why the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) felt it necessary to make such a long speech. I shall try to be both briefer and better tempered than he was. When he reads his speech, he may regret much of it.
§ Mr. Onslow
It would be better to return to the matter in hand.
I wish to begin my speech with the subject of dockyards. Most hon. Members will be aware that the Select Committee of which I have the honour to be Chairman recently took evidence on this subject. We had five sessions of evidence, including three from the Ministry of Defence. We saw both the industrial and the non-industrial trade unions, and British Shipbuilders, and had the advantage of hearing evidence from Sir John Mallabar, whose name will be familar to many.
I found it surprising that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) appeared to be unaware of the evidence and had not made any efforts to obtain it. The evidence was taken in public and published, and many of my hon. Friends have read it with care. If at any time the hon. Gentleman wishes to do a little more homework and asks me for information on the subject I shall be happy to oblige him. He will make a better speech if he does a little more work.
The evidence did not lead to any conclusions in the form of a report. The Committee was simply trying to help the House by exploring the subject. We were fundamentally unsatisfied with some of the evidence during our inquiry into the White Paper. We felt that the officials could have told us more. The Committee wanted to find out whether that was the case, and in a sense it proved to be so.
The subject of the dockyards is integral to the whole question that the House is discussing today, namely, the future of the Navy. The Committee has laid before the House evidence which I hope will be of benefit to it. I must in particular commend my hon. Friends from the Medway ports, who helped us by contributing their questions. I hope that our evidence will educate and elevate the level of debate now that we have heard from the Opposition Front Bench.
Because there is no formal report, although I chair the Committee I cannot represent a Committee view. Some of my comments do not necessarily represent the views of every other member of the Committee. I offer my comments as my impression of most of what we were told and the conclusions that I drew from that.
The most important conclusion is that the dockyard problem is a crucial problem but not a new one. When Sir 352 John Mallabar gave evidence he told us that if his recommendations had been implemented 10 years ago, as they could have been, at least one dockyard would have closed because the productivity of the four dockyards would have so increased that it would not have been necessary to keep all of them in operation.
I remind the hon. Member for Hamilton of another fact. Six years ago the Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee reached a firm conclusion on the same subject. It laid before the House a firm recommendation that at least one yard should be closed, and soon. Therefore, the position confronting us today is not new.
The reasons why decisions have not been taken are fairly familiar, and some of them are political. Governments of both parties have shied away from making themselves unpopular, until now. I am not necessarily glad to say that this Government have bitten on the bullet, but at least they have, and that should be recognised.
The position described in the Speed report cannot be ignored by the House. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hamilton has read it. I see that he has it with him. On page 8, chapter 3, headedThe mismatch between load and capacityit states:The most immediate and pressing problem facing the dockyards is the decline in their ability to meet the needs of the Royal Navy.At the end of chapter 3, on page 10, it states:The effective support of the Fleet is already at risk and unless ways can be quickly found of increasing capacity and reducing load in order to achieve a reasonable balance, the strength and effectiveness of the Fleet will be seriously reduced. To do nothing is not an option.I hope that thus far, at least, the House is with me. Until now, the size of the fleet has been, to a large extent, dictated by the incapacity of the dockyards, by the time that they have taken to refit ships, and by the time that they have taken to return vessels to operational service. The size of the fleet has been determined by the ability of the dockyards to deal with the work placed upon them. Nothing in the evidence given to us either from the unions or from the Ministry of Defence gave me confidence that there was anything in the Speed report or elsewhere that was likely to produce so dramatic or so sudden an increase in productivity, such a marvellous transformation, that we could say with confidence that the dockyards could pull their weight and maintain a fleet of the current size. Perhaps in the process one may contract or close. We cannot allow the capability of the dockyards to determine the size of the fleet. If we did, a tremendous waste of money would be involved.
The average naval ship spends 28 per cent. of its life in dockyards. The Speed report suggests that the size of the fleet could be reduced from 67 to 58 vessels by adopting a policy of short-lifing. That is a necessary approach to the problem. Most members of the Committee were attracted, as were the Government, by the movement towards a short-lifing policy. The Government's announcement to maintain all four dockyards was a mistake and should not have been made before the matter had been thought through.
A second factor that has been ignored in the debate is the change that has taken place as a result of technological advances. There has been a change in the potential battle on the North Atlantic. When we are confronted, as I believe we are, with the facts that sheer cost is increasing the difficulty of keeping a fleet in being, that the cost of 353 the air defence of that fleet exceeds the cost of the air defence of the United Kingdom, that merchant ships are capable of higher sustained speeds than in the days of the convoys in the last war, that frigates might have considerable difficulty in keeping up with convoys, and that the range from which Russian submarines can attack the convoys or warships and the speed with which they can move have vastly increased, it is right to look thoroughly at the tactics that we have inherited from the past—namely, the convoy system.
I was glad to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister said about defence in depth. The concept of righting a forward battle to defend as much as possible of the United Kingdom—Iceland—Greenland gap to keep Russian ships away from the South Atlantic and to maintain it as a safe passage for merchant ships coming by the Azores route to reinforce Europe makes sense, given the sort of war in which we could be involved in the North Atlantic and the sort of resources that we could deploy.
There are those who ask "Where do merchant ships fit into this? Is it not a risk for them to travel on their own?" They may be right. However, it is possible to move in the direction of providing them with local defences, such as on-board helicopters, following up the "Arapahoe" project, and installing electronic defences that will deflect missiles that might be levelled against them. Admiral Sir Ian McGech has recently written a very interesting paper which touches on this topic, and I commend it to the hon. Member for Hamilton. I am giving the hon. Gentleman quite a reading list for the holiday. I hope that he is grateful to me.
§ Mr. George Robertson
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is intent on educating me. May I educate him? I draw his attention to paragraph 329 of the Defence Estimates, which were published in April over the signature of the new Secretary of State. The paragraph states:The conventional defence of Central Europe depends crucially on transatlantic reinforcement and resupply.I do not see anything in the Select Committee's report that questions that assessment. What blinding revelation has come to the hon. Gentleman that enables him to defend the Government's change of mind since the Estimates were published in April?
§ Mr. Onslow
It seems that I have been going too fast for the hon. Gentleman. I thought that he had some knowledge of the basics of the problem. I shall slow down and speak in shorter words. I have said nothing that indicates that I do not believe that the Atlantic needs to be kept clear for resupply. I have said that the means of so doing have to change and that the methods of so doing must adjust to the menace that our enemies may bring against us. If the hon. Gentleman reads my speech during the recess, I think that he will find that I have accurately paraphrased my words. I shall not put the argument a third time if he has not understood it now.
I must add this. This debate and the defence review have taken place against a background of fairly intensive lobbying on the part of Service interests. We would be mugs if we did not recognise that. It is not beyond our knowledge that senior naval officers have been encouraging one another, and perhaps their retired colleagues, to fight for the Navy's share of the cake. I do not take the view that the articles by Mr. Desmond Wettern 354 are entirely the product of his own fertile imagination. I think that some of them may have had their origins rather closer to Whitehall than Fleet Street.
We should not ignore the fact that there has been a strong and determined attempt by the Navy to fight its corner. I do not necessarily blame naval officers for that. However, the background has to be seen for what it is. It became even clearer in the speech made in another place on Monday by Lord Hill-Norton. The kindest thing that I can say about that speech is that its language was extravagant—
§ Mr. Onslow
—and over-ripe, which is a term that my hon. Friend will recognise. It was an inadequate analysis of the problem. Anyone who has read the speech will know that there was not a word in it about the dockyards. To analyse and to criticise the Government's policy without referring to the fundamental problem puts the admiral into the category in which he put the Government. I think that he used the word "superficial". It was not the best speech in the debate that took place in another place, and it must have done damage to the morale of the Navy. If officers of such seniority take the view that they are free to criticise on grounds that are inadequate, and that they are free to accuse the Government of destroying the Navy without properly analysing the problem, they must take the consequences. It is a shame that the speech was made, even though there is one passage in it with which I agree—the noble Lord's comment on Trident. He referred to itas the corner-stone of our defence policy."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 July 1981; Vol.423, c.24.]He said that it was right and essential that it should go ahead. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Attercliffe did not notice that.
It is true that Lord Carver spoke out against it. He called it—
§ Mr. Onslow
I shall try to find the passage, as I wish to quote the noble Lord accurately. May I stress to the hon. Member for Hamilton that it is important to quote accurately?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) strays too far, I must remind him that it is not in order to quote from a speech made by a Member of another place unless that Member happens to be a Minister.
§ Mr. Onslow
It is a good thing that you did not tell me about that sooner, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If you had done so, I might have been hard put to it to keep going.
§ Mr. Robertson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) cast the aspersion that I had not quoted accurately. I understood that the rules of order did not permit one to quote from debates made in another place or to criticise them at the same time.
§ Mr. Onslow
I am delighted to have had the help of the hon. Gentleman for a change. The words that Lord Carver used to describe Trident were "unnecessary" and "undesirable".
355 The hon. Member for Hamilton told us that he was the first Opposition spokesman to address the House on defence to have been born since the war. I hope that I shall not bore him with the following story. I met Lord Carver for the first time in 1946, when I was a young subaltern. I had recently joined my regiment in Germany. Lord Carver was then Brigadier Carver and was commanding the 4th Armoured Brigade. He organised a TEWT—you will remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that is a tactical exercise without troops—on the Dutch-Belgian frontier. It was a re-run of an engagement in which the 4th Armoured Brigade had been involved during the war, and the regiment which I had joined was one of those which had been involved in that piece of unpleasantness.
We had a clear, concise and probably brilliant analysis of the problem. A staff solution by Brigadier Carver was presented to the assembled officers. I thought that it was marvellous. However, there was an elderly major in my unit who clearly wanted to get home to his tea. He intervened and said "That is all very interesting, brigadier, but if you remember, what you actually did was something entirely different." I do not know why those words have stuck in my mind for 35 years. They have come back to me today. They offer a key to Lord Carver's thinking.
I know that Lord Carver is against Trident. I am not sure whether he is against the United Kingdom's having a nuclear capability. However, he is against an independent strategic deterrent and he is against Trident.
If anybody wants to take on Lord Carver on this subject, he has to meet the challenge of producing a set of circumstances in which Trident could fulfil the deterrent role, which is strategic, which is independently British and which, therefore, is essential to us. Conventionally discussion in this area never extends to the possibility of there being a political wedge between ourselves and the Americans. Many consequences would follow from that, including the collapse of the Alliance. For practical purposes, the concept ceases to have reality. However, there is a real scenario that I think the House should consider.
Let us suppose that in a time of tension, if not actual warfare, the Russians succeeded in entirely disrupting all communications between London and Washington. I cannot specify how they might do it. However, they could knock satellites out of the sky and saturate the outer ionosphere with something or other. They could probably do a bit of sabotage. It is a possibility that needs to be considered.
Let us suppose that the Russians, having done that, delivered a note to the British Government that stated "Unless within 12 hours you, the United Kingdom Government, neutralise all NATO bases on your territory, we shall launch a nuclear missile at some point on the British Isles". If we did not have the independent strategic capability to respond, we could make no other response but surrender. That is a situation which can be conceived and that is a situation which we have to confront. If I do not know and cannot say to the House that that is something that could be done, I know and I can say that because it is to the Russians' advantage to try to create such a situation, we cannot dismiss the possibility that they will try it. That is why we need Trident to maintain an adequate philosophy of deterrence.
356 What we should be talking about today is preventing war. I am not interested in a short war or a long one, conventional war or nuclear war. I do not want war at all. That is why we devote ourselves to defence. That is why some Opposition Members should think a little more before they speak.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow in detail the argument that we have been having about the dockyards, because, after all, a large number of my hon. Friends presumably wish to speak.
I wish to explore two themes in my short contribution. First, I wish to pose a question: why have we had peace in Western Europe since 1945? Until recently many people would have answered that question by saying "Because we have nuclear weapons". Another answer, and one that the House would do well to consider, is that we have kept peace in Western Europe not because we have had nuclear weapons but because of the balance of our conventional forces. Therefore, one of the arguments that we must consider is the effect that this defence review, and its particular effect on the Navy, has on our conventional capabilities.
There is general agreement in the House that the changes that the Secretary of State is bringing about lower the threshold for nuclear war. Given that that will be the likely result, it is interesting to compare this result with one of the Secretary of State's other great objectives, which is not one that I have heard him mention in the House, but one of which he informs us in the newspapers, although I do not criticise him for doing that.
The Secretary of State says that he fears the peace movement that is gathering pace in this country. He believes that there are dangers in it. Partly for this afternoon's debate, but for other debates, I have been asking large numbers of people in my constituency about their attitude to that matter. I have noticed a change in emphasis from the last time that we saw a mass peace movement. That time could be called, I suppose, the rise of CND Mark 1. At that time there was a considerable amount of straightforward idealism about the wish of people to disarm. This time, there is a great deal more scepticism in their argument.
That scepticism can be expressed in two ways. In my constituency, people are now more aware about the extent of the imperialism of the Russian Government. They are also worried about the increased likelihood of nuclear war coming about by accident. They are therefore concerned about any defence review that puts greater rather than less emphasis on using nuclear weapons. Therefore, if the Secretary of State's aim is to capture the middle ground, he does not seem to be going about it in the most effective way, I read the changes in the defence review as increasing the emphasis that we shall have to put not on only having, but on using nuclear weapons. I believe that this change will have a major effect on the peace movement in our constituencies and will influence the debate on whether and how we disarm in this country.
Linked to that, I wish to pick up one point on which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) touched, and that is the escalating costs of defence procurement. The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) 357 also mentioned this. I wish to pose a question to the Minister who will wind up the debate and, unlike my hon. Friend, I should be grateful for some answers.
We have heard a great deal recently about the escalating costs of extending the life of Polaris. In the debate on the defence review at the beginning of July the Secretary of State tried to calm our fears by drawing a distinction between having a defence procurement that is partly dependent on other countries and one that is very much under our control or under the control of our allies and of which we can be certain.
The increased costs of extending the life of Polaris grew like Topsy. Not in this House, but elsewhere, the Secretary of State said that the programme had gone bananas. If the cost of Trident goes bananas, what will be the Government's response? Will they tell the House that they will cut our conventional forces even further? Will the Royal Navy be marked out again for more cuts, or will the Government ask for an even bigger increase in the real defence budget of this country? We need to know the answer to that.
§ Mr. Buck
I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting muddled. I hope that he will forgive me if I have misunderstood him. The original Polaris programme did not escalate in price. It is one of the few defence expenditures that have not done so. The Chevaline updating escalated the costs, but not as much as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
§ Mr. Mates
The hon. Gentleman is making a good point. The important thing is not to try to fudge the extension of Polaris with a Chevaline-type answer. I shall not say which Government is to blame for that. That is what cost £1 billion in escalating cost, whereas the Polaris programme, planned and purchased from the United States, was on cost. Trident is being purchased and planned under the same system as Polaris. That is its merit.
§ Mr. Field
That is one answer that is put forward, but it does not seem to tally with some of the earlier interventions of the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). Those interventions suggested that he expected the cost of the programme to grow, and that he expected the Government to come back with a defence review within 12 or 18 months, and that further cuts in the conventional programme would be made. He expected the Government to put forward that option or one that asked for increased defence spending in real terms. This, then, is the first theme which I wish to explore. How we answer my question on why we have had peace in Western Europe since 1945 depends to a large extent on how we view today's debate on the Royal Navy in particular and how we respond to the Government's defence review in general.
Secondly, I shall pick up a theme which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) put with considerable force when we debated the defence review: is the assumption that the next war will be a short war correct? His argument was that the next war, if it comes, 358 will be a long one. If it is long, we must raise questions about our shipbuilding capacity. I happily declare an interest. I have the honour to represent a shipbuilding constituency. Therefore, the words that I now offer the House are of special relevance.
What we are looking for at some stage, if not during the winding-up speech on the debate, is a statement on the effect of the defence review on British Shipbuilders. Most hon. Members will be aware of the changes which the last Government and this Government brought in in size of our shipbuilding capacity. The thread that linked the programmes of both Governments was an agreement that a large Navy budget should tide British Shipbuilders over this transition period. Indeed, trade union agreement to a considerable rundown in the size of the labour force was won only because it was to be cushioned by the size of the Navy procurement from British Shipbuilders.
I understand that British Shipbuilders has again submitted a corporate plan for the coming year. Presumably that plan is based on expectations of considerable orders from the Navy. The Minister made general statements about orders at some stage in the future but he must be more specific. We should be told about the effect that the defence review will have not only on the Navy's capabilities but on the corporate plan submitted by British Shipbuilders. In particular, how will it affect the size of the British shipbuilding industry? That question is important if one explores the theme of the right hon. Member for Down, South in the debate on July 7—that the next war will be a long one rather than a short one.
If British Shipbuilders does not get the support that it expects from the Navy department, there will be further considerable cutbacks in shipbuilding capacity. If that occurs, how will British Shipbuilders stand in relation to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act, which imposed a duty on British Shipbuilders to have regard to Britain's defence requirements?
If British Shipbuilders is disappointed with the size of the Navy department order book over the next couple of years, and if it is forced to cut back on shipbuilding capability, which may lead to the closure of some yards, will it then be in a position to fulfil that part of the Act? Are the Government concerned about that, and are they having discussions about it? If so, what can they tell the House?
In this debate and others, as well as in the press, there have been suggestions that the defence review and its effect on the Navy will lead to the closure of some yards. The hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson) made some comments from a sedantary position about shipbuilding capability in Birkenhead. I hope that the Hansard reporters did not pick up the hon. Gentleman's interventions. Therefore I shall not repeat them, even though they were serious.
I wish to refer to the success of Cammell Laird. I should also like to show how in this and other areas one Department of Government has no respect for what other Departments are trying to achieve. We may disagree strongly, even with considerable verbal violence, with what the Government are trying to do with the economy. Be that as it may, the one item that has emerged from the Prime Minister's statements is that the policy aims to get British industry efficient. In those circumstances, if an industry, or part of an industry, was trying to respond to that plea, one would have thought that the Government would support it, rather than penalise it.
359 The only major order in the shipyard at Birkenhead is for a type 42 frigate, which was expected to be built within five years. It now looks as though it will be built within four years. I suspect that if hon. Members worked in a shipyard where most of the berths were empty, and with little work on the order book, they would try to stretch the time to build that ship rather than to shorten it. If our aim is to have a shipbuilding industry that is efficient, effective and competitive, should not the performance of the Birkenhead yard be rewarded, rather than penalised?
Any time that the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks wishes to visit the Birkenhead yard, I shall be happy to accompany him. In the meantime, I leave the House with a more general thought. This Navy debate will have crucial spill-over effects on the shipbuilding industry. It is therefore important for the Government to spell out specifically the effect on each yard if their proposals for the Navy are carried out.
§ Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) will not expect me to agree with his suggestion that since the last war peace has been maintained by conventional weapons. I am convinced that peace has been maintained by strategic nuclear weapons. Therefore, I am entirely in favour of Trident.
I assure the hon. Gentleman—I am certain that I speak on behalf of every Conservative Member—that we are all absolutely against war and we shall do all we can to prevent it and to deter other people from starting it. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about shipbuilding capacity, but I shall return to that subject later.
For centuries, the Navy has been said to be Britain's sure shield. That is still true today. Therefore, this is an important debate. But where are the Opposition? Where are the Liberals? Where are the Social Democrats? [HON. MEMBERS: "In Croydon."]
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
Just for the record, perhaps my hon. Friend should emphasise that only two Labour Back Benchers are present, and no Liberals or Social Democrats at all.
§ Mr. Pink
The Opposition seem rather absorbed with the whole question of Trident. I am uncertain why that should be so. There is, of course, the argument that without Trident we could afford more conventional weapons, but that is not materially true because the effect of Trident as a deterrent far outweighs the deterrent effect of the extra conventional weapons that could be bought with the same money. Alternatively, is it merely because, like the CND, they are against all nuclear weapons? I support the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) who said that we should have a separate and independent nuclear deterrent.
I thank the Minister for his speedy reply to my letter about dockyard land. I received it only this morning, and I am sure he will appreciate that it will take much study. No doubt I shall come back to him on the subject at a later date.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has produced a plausible division of resources between the three Services. The trouble is that too little cash is being 360 provided for Britain's defence. That is why we are to suffer the contraction in the Navy outlined in the present proposals.
As I said, I am in favour of Trident. I am entirely in favour of stopping the major modernisation of warships at half life. I am entirely in favour of simpler and cheaper ships to replace our present fleet. However, I still have three worries. The first relates to manpower. The Navy is to lose 10,000 men. Two years ago, we asked for more pay for the Navy because men were leaving so fast that we could not man the fleet. We were worried because recruiting and re-engagement were poor.
We are now telling the Navy, "Ten thousand of you are going". That will mean fewer promotions and fewer chances of a permanent career. What careers master in any school could possibly recommend a schoolboy to join the Navy for a permanent career when we see this kind of thing happening?
The Secretary of State has emphasised the cost of materials and of the new weapons. He has opted for weapons as against men. I believe that he is wrong. Comparatively speaking, ships, tanks and aircraft can be built fairly quickly—certainly far more quickly than one can train the men to man them. It is not just a question of manning the fleet or the weapons. It is a matter of training the new intake in an emergency. I therefore believe that we should stop reducing the number of men in the fleet and even increase it.
My second worry is ships. The Secretary of State seems to be sold on the idea that we shall have a quick war. The last two wars were both supposed to be over by Christmas, but they lasted for years. The same will happen again. The Secretary of State is right, of course, that if we do not stop the war on the Western front we shall be finished. The war will be over. He has not, however, answered the next question.
Having stopped the enemy on the Western front, as I presume my right hon. Friend is determined to do, how will the reinforcements and materials of every kind be brought from America and the wide world? They must come by sea. There must therefore be proper convoy protection. History has taught us for centuries that the only way to get merchant ships to this country safely is in convoys. In the First World War, we tried to do without. In the Second World War, we tried to make do with hunter-killer groups. They were failures. In the end, the answer is always the same. There must be a proper close escort for the convoys.
Weapons and methods change, principles remain. There will have to be the outer screen of Nimrods, the close escort of surface ships and aircraft with the convoys, as well as the hunter-killer groups. However much it costs, if we are to survive in any war we must have the ships to preserve the convoys.
The Minister also referred to the number of peacetime jobs that the Navy undertakes. At present, there is the Gulf and Belize. There are a hundred and one little jobs as well— earthquakes, and so on. It is no good saying that we can send a nuclear submarine to do those jobs. The presence of a nuclear submarine is nothing like so effective from the point of view of morale as a surface ship flying the White Ensign. I therefore appeal to the Minister to think again about the reduction in ships.
Finally, I am worried about the dockyards. Naturally, I am worried from a constituency point of view, but that is not my only worry. I am worried because, as my hon.
361 Friend the Member for Woking clearly and conclusively showed, no fleet can operate without the proper back-up of the dockyards. The Secretary of State has said that he can operate the fleet with two dockyards. I cannot dispute that, as I do not know enough of the detail to say whether he could or could not do that. Even if he can maintain the present fleet or the future reduced fleet, I am convinced that two dockyards could not sustain the fleet in an emergency.
No doubt Devonport and Rosyth can carry out ordinary refits and repairs, but what happens in an emergency, when there is an accident in the Channel, for example? If one of Her Majesty's ships is involved in a collision, that ship must be repaired straight away. There can be no delay. Where is the space in Devonport dockyard to carry out repairs of that kind? It simply does not exist. I therefore believe that it is essential that the four dockyards that we now have should be maintained, although I appreciate that there will be some redundancies. If the recommendations of the Keith Speed report are carried out there are bound to be redundancies in the interests of efficiency.
I return to the hon. Member for Birkenhead. I should like to see warships again being built in the Royal dockyards. I do not mean that the ships in the normal programme should be built there. I am talking about ships to replace those which normally would have undergone modernisation and long refits—three or four each year in Portsmouth. The replacements for those ships should be built in Portsmouth and Chatham.
That would be healthy not only for the Royal dockyards, because there would be yardsticks on the costing of warship building; it would be healthy for the private yards, because, again, there would be a yardstick of costs. For the same reasons, it would also be useful if more repair work went out to private yards. There would then not only be yardsticks on costing but also experience of warship repair and construction in private yards. It is comparatively easy to repair a merchant ship, but today's warships are so complicated that few private yards could at present undertake that work.
I therefore appeal to the Minister to tell the Cabinet that we want more money for our vital defence needs and that the Navy must not be cut in the way that has been proposed.
§ Mr. Bernard Conlan (Gateshead, East)
In deference to the appeal made a short time ago by your deputy, Mr. Speaker, about the need for short speeches, I hope to be the model of brevity.
I should say to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) and, indeed, the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) that they delude themselves if they believe that the difficulties now facing the Royal Navy are the result of the escalating technological cost of providing new weapons systems. That plays a major part in the problem facing the Navy, of course, but real difficulties facing the Navy today derive directly from the Government's decision last year to invest £5 billion, £6 billion—or is it even £7billion?—in the Trident system. If the Government had decided instead to extend the life of Polaris, it is ray conviction that the Navy would not be facing the difficulties that it now faces.
I shall confine my remarks to two aspects. I make no apology for raising a matter which affects several hundreds 362 of my constituents. It is not only the dockyards, the Medway towns or Portsmouth which will feel the brunt of the cuts being made in naval expenditure. The effect will be felt throughout the defence industries. I am concerned primarily with the high technology industry which provides radar equipment for the Navy. Specifically, I am concerned about the jobs which are involved in the Marconi company, in my constituency.
The cuts that have been made will seriously affect jobs in Leicester and Chelmsford. A decision was taken that the development programmes for the anti-air warfare capability of the type 42 destroyer would be cancelled. That directly affects jobs in Leicester and it will have a serious impact on job opportunities in Gateshead—an area where there is already 17 per cent. male unemployment, excluding school leavers and young people. That decision, arising from the defence review, will also have further serious repercussions.
In addition, I have been discussing with the Ministry of Defence the improved Sea Wolf point defence system. It was not until recently that British Aerospace was recognised as the prime contractor for the Sea Wolf defence system. Previously, a collection of firms put their equipment together to form the system. For some unaccountable reason the Ministry of Defence now looks upon British Aerospace as the prime contractor for the system.
British Aerospace has been working for some time on developing new lightweight Sea Wolf point defence equipment. As I understand it, British Aerospace decided unilaterally that the tracker system for the Sea Wolf would be acquired from the Dutch company, Signaal, a subsidiary of Philips. It decided, to the exclusion of Marconi, that the Signaal tracking equipment would be used for this British defence system.
If there is one thing that I believe in, it is that we should support British industry, even if it costs a little more. I recall the Prime Minister saying in reply to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) a few weeks ago that the Government would prefer to buy British equipment even when that equipment cost just a little more. That is what I want to see. I want to see the emphasis in the Ministry of Defence on the purchase of British equipment.
I should like to quote from an article in the Financial Times of 18 May, which is significant to the discussion about the possibility of the Navy using Dutch equipment. It states:The Dutch Government announced it will place a 700 million florin"—that is equivalent to £135 million—order for 841 light tanks with a Dutch consortium, despite a 100 million florin lower offer from an American company.So the Dutch Government have decided that in order to preserve and secure Dutch industry they will pay more for this equipment than it would otherwise cost. I am not criticising the Dutch Government for so doing. Indeed, I applaud them, but I want to see the same sort of aggressive purchasing policy by the Ministry of Defence. I want the Ministry of Defence to say that it will buy British equipment even when it costs more. Let us have no more nonsense about going overseas for the purchase of equipment that can be produced satisfactorily here at the same price and in the same time, and that is of the same capability.
363 The MOD is currently considering a type 996 radar equipment for the Navy. The Ministry has requested that, in addition to Marconi, Plessey, Mullard and Ferranti should enter into competition to determine the best equipment for the Navy. But Mullard and Ferranti are themselves quoting for the use of equipment purchased overseas. Mullard is considering the use of Signaal equipment and Ferranti is quoting for the use of Selenia equipment from Italy. I hope that the Minister who now carries the prime responsibility for procurement for the three Services will take steps to insist that the equipment used by the British Forces will be purchased from British industry unless British industry is in no way able to provide it.
The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South made a strong case for the retention of four home dockyards. In my view, no valid case can be made for the retention of four home dockyards, especially at a time when the size of the fleet is decreasing. If previous Governments had grasped the nettle, one of those four dockyards might well have been closed long ago.
I am not arguing whether the closure should be at Chatham, Portsmouth, Devonport or anywhere else. All that I am saying is that it is rather extravagant for the fleet to be using four home dockyards. There is a good case for the work to be done in perhaps three dockyards. But, as Admiral Pillar explained to the Defence Select Committee last week, there is a risk in the use of just the two dockyards at Devonport and Rosyth, and the Government must take full responsibility for that risk.
In my view, the dockyards are totally inefficient, and it is not the fault of those who are responsible for running them. The management in the dockyards is as good as and probably better than that of many of the main British companies. But in the management of dockyards the people concerned are constrained by the overload of the Civil Service Department that is sitting on their shoulders. We still have the crazy, anachronistic system in the dockyards of referring to so-called industrial and non-industrial workers. They are workers. Their task is to refit and equip ships for the Royal Navy to use at sea. Therefore, there is no distinction. The reference to industrial and non-industrial civil servants causes friction in the dockyards.
Another factor that does not make for the efficient running of the dockyards is that the managers at Devonport, Chatham, Rosyth, and so on are restricted in the types of decision that they can make. I shall tell a simple story, which happens to be true. It occurred at Rosyth. A welder who was working in cramped and overheated conditions, in hot weather, could get the general manager's approval for a supply of lemonade. However, he requested orangeade instead of lemonade and the general manager had no authority to authorise the change. That is petty, but it is typical of the type of thing going on in the dockyards.
If Chatham is to close and if Portsmouth is to be run down, this may be a golden opportunity to look at dockyard structures. Our dockyards could be as efficient as dockyards anywhere else in the world. They could be as efficient as any of our big commercial manufacturing companies. However, they will never be efficient when they are subjected to the disciplines and rigours of the Civil 364 Service Department. We have an opportunity to look again at the industrial structure of our dockyards. We can change them and make them far more efficient.
§ Mr. Speaker
I appeal to hon. Members to help each other by keeping their speeches brief. Only they can help each other, although I, of course, am responsible for the order in which hon. Members are called.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)
The hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) will find ready listeners among Conservative Members in his plea for defence contracts to be placed with British industry. Many of us feel strongly about that and are prepared to go down that road.
This debate is about the Navy. I offer hon. Members the following reminder:It is upon the Navy under the providence of God that the safety, honour and welfare of this Realm do chiefly attend.Those words were written in 1652 and are as true today as they were when they were written. They are true because we are dependent upon overseas trade. They are true because the ultimate defence of these islands must depend upon a seaborne defence. They are also true, in modern times, in relation to the NATO Alliance, which is the cornerstone of our defence policy.
In paragraph 6 of the White Paper the Government describe their new defence policy asa fresh and radical look at the defence programme.Whether or not that is true, it is evident that the maritime interest has lost out. That is particularly true in one vital aspect, which has been touched on by several hon. Members. In any confrontation with the Soviet Union we should not be able to keep the Atlantic supply lines open. That is the most important point. The Soviets are in the ascendancy in terms of naval strength. The gap is widening day by day. That is equally true in relation to their land and air power. In every arm of maritime warfare—whether maritime aircraft, conventional or nuclear submarines, all types of surface ship, or, particularly, amphibious vessels—the Soviet Union has a massive lead. That lead is increasing. Indeed, we ignore its lead in amphibious vessels at our peril. All those who take an interest in defence matters know the figures and know that the Soviet Union has a massive lead. Therefore, I shall not weary the House by repeating them.
The massive development of Soviet land and air power can be explained. I do not accept the explanation, but it can be explained by the Soviets' fear of an attack across their land borders. However, we must ask ourselves why the Soviet Union has created such a massive maritime capability. What is its purpose? We are discussing a land-locked power, which is self-sufficient in raw materials, food, and so on. Why is it creating that capability? Its purpose can only be offensive.
I accept that it is wrong to try to fight the battles of today in terms of the past. It is wrong to envisage modern warfare in terms of the weapons and tactics of a previous conflict. Therefore, the first sentence of paragraph 22 of the White Paper is correct. It states:All the major weapons platforms of maritime warfare—aircraft, surface ships and submarines—have a continuing part to play, complementing one another.365 However, Nilmods and helicopters are relatively soft targets. Both are essential to anti-submarine warfare, but their lack of self-defence has important implications for where and when they can be used.
Nowadays, it is rightly said that the large helicopter has an anti-submarine role that is equivalent to that of a modern frigate, but it lacks endurance and therefore needs suitable airfields—whether ashore or afloat—to operate from. I understood that that was always the justification for new carriers. However, those are dismissed without much qualification in paragraph 27. I still await a proper explanation for that action. This leaves a dangerous and noticeable gap in our defences. We urgently need smaller, cheaper, hard-hitting vessels that can be produced quickly. I agreed with only one part of the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy). He mentioned that there was a strong impression that this was a short-war strategy, which had been decided on political rather than defence criteria.
As time goes on, the dangerous overall imbalance of sea power will become more obvious to all. That will inevitably result in an extension of Soviet influence throughout the world, a loss of morale in the Services, and in the Alliance as a whole, and in a consequent increase in the danger of an all-out conflict which we all wish to avoid. Some people are contemptuous of the principle of showing the flag. However, the Soviets are not. They know how effective that is and they use it to the full. Unfortunately, submarines cannot show the flag well.
There is an inescapable choice. We must either spend more or—if that is impossible—reorganise the Alliance. It seems crazy that this country should be committed to a major defence effort on the Continent, at the expense of a maritime capability that we undertake superlatively well and of which we have great experience. This is one of the few areas in which we are ahead both in equipment and training.
The short-tern political need to maintain our section of the front in Germany has resulted in a stopgap solution of concealed cuts, which are falling, in particular, on the Royal Navy. I fear that our European allies will appreciate what has happened and will be quick to copy our example. with very dangerous results.
I wish to leave the House with one message, which is that we need to take a truly fresh and radical look at the defence effort of the Alliance as a whole, which includes the question of specialisation roles within NATO, so that the sum total of conventional effort may be better balanced and more attuned to the needs of the next decade.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), who is a distinguished ex-naval officer. I agree very much with his remarks. I also listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), although I would have had much greater confidence in the posture of the Opposition if some of the speeches made from the Back Benches above the Gangway had been made from the Front Bench. A most robust attitude was adopted by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy), my successor as Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Navy) who is not at the moment in his place.
The hon. Member for Hamilton talked about the need for a big expansion in the shipbuilding programme for the 366 surface fleet. That was the purport of his remarks. The hon. Gentleman refused to give way very often during his speech but I am willing to give way if he wishes to correct my interpretation. I am interested to know whether he speaks with the authority that one usually associates with right hon. and hon. Members addressing the House from the Dispatch Box and whether the official Opposition are committed to a major expansion of the shipbuilding programme. I have a great deal of sympathy with that view, but it would be interesting to know if it is indeed the posture of the official Opposition that there should be a massive increase in our conventional maritime capability.
It is known that the Opposition do not want us to have Trident. If, however, they believe that the saving on the cost of Trident would enable them to embark upon a massive increase in conventional shipbuilding capacity, they delude themselves. I am interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman is committing the Opposition to the sort of increase in the shipbuilding programme that his remarks seemed to indicate. I gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Robertson
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I apologise if he was offended because I did not give way. I endeavour to give way as often as possible. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between those hon. Members who wish me to give way and others who are simply disagreeing with what I say. I have searched diligently through previous Navy debates as part of the background for this debate. One characteristic of Conservative Members when in Opposition was to say as little as possible about their intentions. They made a great virtue of not saying what they would do on coming to power. My purpose today has been to examine critically the Government's defence posture as proposed in the defence review and to point out the inconsistencies between what they are now doing and what they stated in Opposition.
§ Mr. Buck
I am moderately regretful about giving way to the hon. Gentleman. One criticism that I will not tolerate from the Opposition is that Conservative Members had indulged in concealed politics in defence matters. When the Labour Government were in power they inherited the possibility of updating the Polaris system by Chevaline. They spent tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on updating Polaris. They were right to do so but wrong not to reveal it to the House. I shall not accept from Opposition Members, especially those on the Front Bench, any suggestion that we have not indulged in open politics while they did. The reverse is true. The Labour Government performed a massive con trick in updating the Polaris deterrent.
§ Mr. Buck
I understand from my hon. Friend that even the Labour Cabinet was not informed. My hon. Friend has perhaps more effective moles than I have in this sphere. I was not aware that even the Cabinet had not been told. I think that a small sub-committee of the Cabinet had been told.
I commend the posture of my Government, which has been far more orientated towards open government.
My happiest time in politics was the short period I spent serving as Minister for the Royal Navy. During that short 367 period of about 20 months I had the privilege of visiting every type of ship in the Royal Navy. I found an expertise and professionalism that cannot be excelled. Through the courtesy of my Government and the Labour Government I have been able to continue updating myself through frequent visits to Her Majesty's ships. The expertise of the Royal Navy today is as high as ever.
Morale has also been very good for a considerable period since we Conservatives came to office. When we took office morale in the Royal Navy, as in all the Armed Services, was very low. That was because of the pay issue. Undoubtedly, the Royal Navy, like the other Armed Services, had fallen far behind in pay. It is very much to the credit of the Government that the first action they took was concerned with the pay of the Armed Services. On visits to ships or barracks, one expects to hear grumbles. It would be artificial if such grumbles were not found. However, those hon. Members who visited Navy and military units in the last days of the previous Government found a real outpouring among the middle ranks, chief petty officers and officers—over pay. Our Government dealt with that issue along with police pay even before the Queen's speech. We were right to do so.
This proved a great boost to morale and staunched the flow of middle management personnel, if I can so describe them, from the Royal Navy and the other Services. Morale remained high for a while. In the immediate past, however, morale in the Royal Navy has not been so good due to the extended review that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on the Front Bench have been conducting.
The most debilitating thing for the Armed Services, as in any other sphere of activity, is uncertainty. That uncertainty has to a considerable extent now been brought to an end. However, I view the decisions of my right hon. Friend with mixed feelings. I commend very much the Government's courage in taking the bold course and pledging an increase in defence expenditure in real terms by 3 per cent. for a further extended period.
I would be glad to hear whether the Opposition Front Bench likewise commends this bold decision. The Opposition talk about building new classes of ships and building them especially in areas of political sensitivity. Are they prepared to commit themselves in the same way as the Government to the extension of an increase in NATO defence expenditure in real terms for this further period?
§ Mr. Buck
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for that intervention. It heightens the point that I was seeking to make. It is interesting to note that the Opposition Front Bench remain firmly seated although I am willing to give way on this point. Now they are talking from a sedentary position.
I should like to compare the overall defence postures of the two parties. Defence expenditure presents difficulties for the Government side and for Opposition Members. They are difficulties of a totally disparate character. There are certainly many Labour supporters in the country and perhaps some Opposition Members who would wish to see a diminution in our defence effort. 368 There are many in the country and I suspect some in the House—although hon. Members will speak for themselves—whose real defence posture is to send a telegram to the Kremlin saying "I surrender".
I do not accuse the Opposition Front Bench of adopting that posture, but it is certainly adopted by some elements in the Labour Party, including some in my constituency, and I suspect also among hon. Members in the House.
On the other hand, there are in my party, although not I think among any of my right hon. and hon. Friends, whose defence policy goes totally the other way. Some members of my party are even more robust than I on defence matters. Their posture is that there should be only one or two new hospitals every few years and that virtually every penny of national expenditure should be devoted to defence.
Those are the two extremes. I know the posture that I prefer. I prefer a party—I think the country prefers a party—that has an element that perhaps slightly overemphasises the need for expenditure rather than one that says there should be virtually no defence of the realm. But undoubtedly it creates a difficulty for both sides of the House relative to defence matters.
I will cut my remarks short because of the pressure of hon. Members wishing to speak. The Government have striven valiantly to deal with the defence situation. We must start by getting the structure right and that has not been brought much into the debate. We have not yet talked about the nature of defence organisation. It is important to get this right from the top. My right hon. and hon. Friends have not said much about this major reorganisation in the Ministry of Defence. I am a conservative with a small "c" as well as with a large and I am bound to say that there have been certain doubts and hesitations about this reorganisation.
As I said, I was a Defence Minister for only a short time, but it was long enough to know that the single Services valued their Ministers. In my view, it was important that the single Minister should recognise that whilst he was the Minister for a single Service he was an overall Under-Secretary of State for Defence. As I may reveal at a later stage I was myself from time to time not able to agree entirely with the Royal Navy cause on particular matters because I regarded it as my duty to take a slightly more ecumenical approach. I would like to hear from the Minister who is to reply what he thinks about the reorganisation.
The dangers are that what I call the "middle management" in the Services may be looking for other spokesmen outside the ordinary accepted sphere because there are not individual Service spokesmen. There are already signs of individual Services seeking to contact Members of Parliament who may be amicable to their cause. There may be much more of that now that the Services do not have their own Ministers. I should be grateful if the Minister would deal with this question and tell us what the Civil Service support for Ministers will be in future.
In the past, there was an Admiralty Board. Are we still to have one? Are we still to have a Civil Service deputy under-secretary for each Service?
I should like to hear more about the political and supportive structure which is being created in the Ministry of Defence and how my hon. Friends will distribute the duties among it.
369 Labour Members have talked a great deal about equipment and the necessity for the Services to "buy British". That is an opinion I should be glad to hear emphasised by the Government Front Bench, but of equal importance is the necessity to have within NATO a uniformity of defence procurement. The amount that we lose in efficiency because there is no overall NATO requirement has been estimated in various ways from various sources.
I can perhaps give the example of our torpedoes. I put forward a long time ago the simple idea that as we and Marconi were doing well with a lightweight and fast torpedo, it might be acquired for the whole of NATO, to its and our advantage. As the Americans were, it seemed, ahead of us with their heavyweight torpedo, it appeared a possibility that it would be a fair quid pro quo for NATO's acquiring our lightweight torpedo for us to buy it.
The one thing that I am convinced about and that I hope the whole House will be too is that it is very important for us to have greater uniformity of equipment throughout the whole of NATO.
§ Mr. Trotter
Will my hon. Friend accept that it is by no means certain that the Americans are ahead of us on a heavyweight torpedo? A good design is being put forward in this country.
§ Mr. Buck
That may be the case. It is impossible to be absolutely accurate about such matters unless one has the sort of logistic support that no hon. Member has. My idea was that we should produce the lightweight torpedo while the Americans supplied the heavyweight torpedo.
The important considerations are that NATO and the Royal Navy should have the best equipment available and that there should be some reality in the "two-way street". Our American allies pay lip service to that, but most of us would be hard-pressed to think of much that the Americans have bought from us. They bought the Harrier, but after that we would have to struggle to think of any major pieces of equipment that the Americans have purchased.
I promised to be brief and perhaps I have already gone over my time. I commend the Government for what they have done in seeking out the major commitments, to which we must adhere absolutely. They have done some interesting fundamental research, but I offer a word of warning. In the maritime sphere the Government have done as much as their Back Benchers are prepared to tolerate. Indeed, it is possible that they may have gone too far.
§ Mr. Buck
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) with her constituency responsibilities, feels very deeply about the matter.
It is our tradition to make a contribution in the maritime sphere. It is recognised throughout the Alliance that it is appropriate that different countries should put a different emphasis on the efforts that they deploy to NATO.
I have quoted previously the International Herald Tribune, which said wisely:If the Alliance is to be effective, each nation must play the role for which it is best suited. In Britain's case that role is the defence of the North Atlantic, including the Iceland Gap through which the United States must resupply its forces in Northern Europe. That means cuts in Britain's naval strength will weaken the Alliance's ability to fight a prolonged eventual war in Europe.370 It went on:If British ships are taken cut of service, there are currently no Allied naval forces to replace them. The United States Navy is stretched so thin and is so undermanned that at the moment it could not possibly fill the gap.That analysis causes me grave concern. Our history is a maritime history and Conservative Back Benchers will not tolerate any further cuts in our maritime history. Indeed, we look forward to an enhancement of that capacity before many years have passed.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Sir Frederick Burden (Gillingham)
At the beginning of the Second World War a signal went out to the Navy which brought applause and celebration. It heralded the fact that Winston Churchill had become First Lord of the Admiralty. I have no doubt that there will be celebrations when a signal is sent out from our ships saying "Thank God Nott has gone". I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be offended by that, but that is how I feel after seeing what has been done to the Navy.
Winston Churchill said that an hon. Member had three responsibilities. The first was to the nation, the second was to his constituency and the third was to his party. During the 31 years that I have been an hon. Member I have found almost invariably that there has been a close community of interest between those three responsibilities.
However, following the recent actions and statements of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State I have had to look at those responsibilities again. The community of interest has gone. My concerns are the interests of the nation and, secondly, the interests of my constituents. It is utterly and completely wrong, as I said on 20 May, for the Government to cut the surface fleet. It is no less wrong for Chatham dockyard to be closed and for cuts to be made to considerable parts of Portsmouth.
On Wednesday last week I attended the Select Committee meeting with the members of the Committee who had advised the Minister of State and on which he took action. The Select Committee meeting included questions on the closure of Chatham dockyard and the role played by that dockyard in the refuelling and refitting of nuclear submarines. The intention now is to refuel and refit them at Devonport and Rosyth. Devonport will, theoretically, in the not-too-distant future, be able to refuel and refit three SSNs at once, while Rosyth will have its capacity increased to two.
Present at that meeting was Vice-Admiral Sir William Pillar, who is an adviser and the officer-in-charge of fleet support. When giving evidence to the Select Committee at Rosyth last year he said:I did say at the moment Chatham is working up two streams. Devonport has one and might have the capacity for three". Devonport, of course, has not yet finished a nuclear refit. Chatham's record is very good.The vice-admiral continued:I would not pretend that the programme is without risk"—that is, to throw away the facilities at Chatham—but the Navy had to find very large savings indeed, and, as you know, it came from cuts in the surface fleet, in naval manpower, and, of course, in the support area.Mr. Thomas, the chief executive of dockyards, said:The present task Devonport has is the major refitting of frigates. This is being phased out, so that Devonport can start the so-called three stream refitting of nuclear submarines. There would be labour available for them.How many frigates are now under refit, and when will that work end so that the work on the three-stream refitting of 371 nuclear subs can commence? How will the destroyer and frigate refit needs be met if Devonport's capacity is to be phased out and parts of Portsmouth are to be lost? I shall return to the question of Chatham.
If Devonport cannot accept the frigates and the destroyers, and if the port is to carry out work on the nuclear fleet and Chatham dockyard does not exist, where will the work be done? It cannot be done in the commercial yards. The Minister made it clear that the only dockyards that can refit naval vessels—he also included nuclear vessels—are the Royal naval dockyards. The work cannot be done in private yards because of the widespread technical knowledge required to deal with the equipment.
In connection with the closure of Chatham and the transfer of work to Devonport, Vice-Admiral Pillar repeated:This is a programme not without risk and we were faced with having to make very large savings indeed and to do this I do not think there was much of an alternative".Such statements are serious. The House, the nation and those engaged in defence should know about them. The fact that the programme is not without risk depends upon Devonport's taking the risk and succeeding. I cannot quantify that risk. The Vice-Admiral added:Devonport has not yet completed one nuclear refit.
Mr. Thomas, the chief executive officer of the Royal dockyards, said that owing to a major industrial dispute at Devonportwork on Swiftsure may well have been held up for between 12 and 18 months".What surprised me was that we all assumed that the hold-up would be 12 months. We were told that Swiftsure would not emerge until 1983, but is it not surprising that the chief executive—one of the men advising the Ministry on what it should do about the refitting and refuelling of submarines—could not tell us whether the hold-up was 12 or 18 months due to the industrial dispute? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is all very well for my hon. Friends to exclaim, but that is important. If that happened in private industry, someone's head would roll if there were any common sense.
The Secretary of State is prepared to sacrifice Chatham, which has a proven and admittedly good record for refuelling and refitting nuclear submarines, for a questionable and, at present, non-existent facility at Devonport. The vice-admiral agreed that vulnerability in getting the work done satisfactorily was being created simply to save money. When asked whether it was as brutal as that, he replied:I think it is, yes.That sums up the vulnerability of our defences.
When asked what would happen if another submarine were added to the fleet, the admiral agreed that he could not guarantee that it would be serviced with those facilities. Throughout all the exchanges the emphasis was on the very considerable risk of closing down the proved refuelling and refitting facilities available at Chatham and concentrating the task at Devonport, where the facilities so far are unproven. It is no good my hon. Friend the Minister shaking his head. I hope that whoever winds up the debate will give us better proof of what is happening than we were given in the previous defence debate.
§ Mr. Blaker
I was shaking my head at one expression that my hon. Friend used, namely the "very considerable risk". I believe that that phrase was never used in that exchange of evidence.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
When it was said over and over again that the risk was there, it must have been a rather considerable risk. It was made clear at the public meeting on defence that the talk of improving the start of nuclear submarine refits was meaningless, because it was categorically stated there that the refuelling and refitting time would still be two years, as it is now. We are told that there will be a short saving—the Minister was unable to give the figures today—when the submarines are fitted with the larger reactors. Not one submarine has yet been fitted with a larger refuelling reactor. The reactors must all be installed before the supposed saving will be achieved in refitting time.
If the operational requirements of our hunter-killer submarines are to be assured, all the evidence proves that without the retention of Chatham's nuclear facilities the necessary intention cannot with any certainty be sustained. It cannot be guaranteed.
It has been made clear to us over the past few weeks that the operational efficiency and availability of our nuclear submarine fleet is the cornerstone of our defensive ability in the foreseeable future. It is extraordinary how often what appear to be minor risks turn out to be major catastrophes. That should not be allowed to happen in this instance, because it would put the defence of the nation at risk.
It has been stated that the refitting of frigates and destroyers at Devonport is to be cut and phased out to allow for an increase in the nuclear refitting and refuelling facility. If there is any possibility of war in the next 20 years, the refit facilities for the surface fleet will still be required. If the facilities at Devonport are to be cut, that is all the more reason for using the facilities which exist and which have been most efficient at Chatham, because they will still be required.
The type 23 frigate replacement is still on the design table. If all goes well—and those are the operative words—we are told that the prototype will appear in 1988. However, before it is put into production it will have to undergo sea trials to see whether it matches up to the job for which it is intended. Even if a cheaper hull is put in, if the frigate is to do anything in the present conditions it will have to be equipped with highly sophisticated equipment that will require attention from time to time. I believe that we shall take great risks with the nation's safety if we close Chatham dockyard and phase out the facilities for fleet support which are so essential and which it can provide.
I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that in August of last year a solemn undertaking given at Cabinet level was that the four dockyards would be needed and retained to ensure that the British Navy was given the support that it needed to keep it operational. I believe that those conditions have not changed. I believe, too, that we are taking grave risks by making the cuts that have been announced. It would be wise for the Secretary of State to reconsider his decision in the light of what I believe to be the facts, many of which were brought out at the meeting a week ago between the Secretary of State's advisers and the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
I approach the debate with some diffidence because many hon. Members are expert on the Navy. I intend to make a short contribution which will be limited mainly to a constituency issue. Half within my constituency's boundaries is the Yarrow shipyard, which builds warships. It is an important employer of labour and its work force numbers 5,700. The work force is one of considerable skill and sophistication. To put not too blunt a point on it, its future is a matter of real concern in an area of high unemployment.
There will be no dispute that the level of skill and sophistication to which I have referred is largely reflected in the principal product at Yarrow—the type 22 frigate. The unit cost of the product is £120 million and upwards. To the layman that might seem staggering. However, there will be no quarrel when I say that such a craft is highly relevant to our defence needs.
I speak for many of my colleagues when I say that those who believe that there is a need for substantial and effective defence spending see the provision of such defence capability as a sensible use of public money. I do not wish to become involved in arguments about Trident. I merely say, in shorthand, that I am one of those who believe that conventional capacity in the naval sense makes a great deal more sense than the Trident programme that has been advanced by the Government and which I see as a folie de grandeur.
Many sophisticated arguments will be to the effect that the two systems are not incompatible—that we can have an effective conventional naval force and Trident. However, I believe that there is a good deal of special pleading involved in that argument. Inevitably, the one will squeeze the other.
If the conventional programme were slashed to make room for Trident, we should be making a considerable mistake in terms of Atlantic defence, escort duties and so on. The present commitment to NATO of 50 destroyers and frigates should be maintained, and to a high standard. It should not be cut in any way in terms of either numbers or quality.
I recognise that we spend a high proportion of our gross domestic product on defence. The figure is 5.2 per cent. That is high compared with that of many of our NATO Allies. One of the most depressing statistics in the defence review is that of per capita spending. In France 4 per cent. of GDP is spent on defence. Per capita the French are spending more than we spend. That tells us a lot about our sad economic performance, not necessarily over the last two years but over a considerable period. I believe that we should have adequate defence spending but we must spend properly. My reservations are about the way in which the Government are spending the money.
A conventional commitment involves and implies a continuing frigate-building programme. We can argue about the kind of frigate that we need, but there should be agreement that we need a rolling programme of two or three starts a year over a period.
It would be ungracious not to say to the Minister that, as the Member representing an area which staffs the Yarrow yard, am grateful for the type 22 order announced in the recent defence review. It is the seventh of the line. It has made an enormous difference to the atmosphere in the yard and in the area.
374 By the end of the summer there would have been a gap in work for the steel trades. We would have faced substantial unemployment in an area of genuine sensitivity. I hope that I shall not be thought partisan if I say that we have faced a heavy burden as a result of the recession which followed from the Government's economic and financial policies.
I am not suggesting that the type 22 was the only issue worrying us. We also have a heavy investment in the GRP complex. About £7 million has been spent in Yarrow, giving us a modern facility for making the glass-reinforced plastic-hulled mine hunters. Naturally, I am interested in some continuity to justify that recent level of investment. However, I confess that the arrival of that seventh type 22 on the line was a considerable relief to the work force and to everyone living in that part of Glasgow.
I hope that the Minister will not think that I am being difficult, but I must point out that worry still exists about the future. We know from what the Secretary of State for Defence said in the debate on 19 May that he is thinking in terms of a type 23 rather than a continuation of the type 22. He said that defence against submarines can be achieved by the use of the Nimrod 2 and the hunter-killer submarine. If the type 23 is to be proceeded with—we now know that the design work is under way—it will be a much cheaper and less sophisticated vessel. According to the Secretary of State for Defence, it is a platform for towing subsonar and therefore it does not need the high unit costs of the type 22. However, there are dangers in going too far down that road. Here I am being selfish in terms of the implications for the shipbuilding industry—that is, apart from defence arguments. A type 22 involves more than the Yarrow shipyard. About 60 per cent. of the value of a type 22 is brought into the yard from outside. A whole range of highly sophisticated defence contractors have a great interest in supplying the components of a ship of this value and complexity. If we simplify in this way, the spin-off—apart from the loss of defence capability—could be considerable.
I do not have the knowledge to assess these matters, nor do I know what the impact would be if we were to replace each type 22 which might have been in a putative ordering programme with a type 23. I do not know the employment projection that that would entail or the cuts that would flow from that decision. I welcome the fact that the type 23 design has been pushed on, but some assurance should be given that there will be a regular ordering pattern, and an assessment of the implications of that trading down-market—if I may put it that way—by the MOD in terms of capacity and need not only of Yarrows, but of all the other contractors and yards which might be involved.
We have a type 22 order—No. 7. We know that the type 23 design work is under way. However, it would not be too cautious to suggest that even if the type 23 got under way and went ahead with no delay there would still be a gap of 18 months to two years—perhaps longer—before a hull would be on the slip and construction work would begin. In view of the skills that Yarrows and such yards represent, perhaps the seventh order will not be the last of the line of the type 22. I hope that I am not reading too much into the letter that Lord Trenchard courteously sent round on the day of the statement on the review expenditure saying that the order of a seventh type 22 would be laid. He went on to say thatthe question of further type 22 orders is under review.375 I do not know what "under review" means. It is a nice, anonymous blanket phrase. I hope that it means that the door is still open and that there is the possibility of at least another order to bridge the gap before any successor—type 23 or whatever it may be—comes on stream.
I said that I would be brief. In view of the anxieties that are being expressed forcefully and over a wide spectrum by Conservative Members about the direct and sometimes tragic consequences of the Government's decisions on particular interests and constituencies, it would be wrong to pretend that my constituency has been hardly dealt with in this review. As I said, I am grateful that we have the additional type 22 order. For all that, it is right for me to put down a marker and say that I am anxious that there should be continuity of work.
I referred to the unemployment problems in my area. Every hon. Member thinks that his area in unique in the way that it has been hard hit, but in west Glasgow, of the fundamental industries of two or three years ago, such as Weir Pumps, the Singer Sewing Machine Company, the Scotstoun Marine shipyard, which did not deal in naval orders, all that now remain are empty sites. There has been not a rundown, but obliteration. The area has been very hard hit. In my opinion, continuity of work in yards such as Yarrows is of the highest social importance. At the same time, it makes sense in terms of defence spending and the need to maintain a conventional capability. If the work force were dispersed it would be extremely difficult to reassemble the skills and undertake a future building programme, if we ever wanted to do that.
I am sure that all these arguments are familiar to the Minister, but I hope that he will bear them in mind when he considers how the naval programme should develop over the next two or three years.
§ Mr. Michael Mates (Petersfield)
This debate has been remarkable not because of the almost total absence of Labour Members, to which we are all too accustomed, and the non-appearance of the Social Democratic Party—aside from a fleeting visit by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who has a dockyard constituency and who one might think would take more than a passing interest in this debate—but, rather surprisingly, for the three thoughtful contributions that have come from the Opposition Benches.
One was from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), one was from the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) and the last was part of the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy). I only wish that they had stayed on to hear the rest of the debate, because they might have been a little surprised to find that I agree with much of what they said and want to comment on it. I shall do that later in my remarks.
First, I want to deal with the reorganisation within the Ministry of Defence which was mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck). Although all of us deeply regret the circumstances which brought it about, I am pleased that this nettle has been grasped. Whether the new organisation is right, time alone will tell. If it needs adjustment, I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Defence will make the necessary adjustments.
376 The abolition of the single Service Ministers is long overdue. I do not say that those posts were not filled with distinction by many of my hon. Friends and by several Labour Members, but it is the logical conclusion of the setting up of the central staffs of the Ministry of Defence and the centralisation of the direction of the whole defence effort at the top.
Instead of Ministers who are politicians and Members of this House having to be, in the words of one of the Opposition speakers, shop stewards for the Services, which they cannot do if they are also dedicated as part of a team to an overall defence effort, I hope that the Chiefs of Staff will now be the shop stewards of their Services. With the best will in the world, and with all the ability of many of my hon. Friends who held the jobs, the Chiefs of Staff have had 30 years' training in getting to the top of their tree and they understand the single Service. Their interest is known to be the single Service interest of which they are the head. They are the people who should argue the case within the Ministry of Defence and to politicians, rather than a spokesman, sometimes with only months of experience, who has been brought in to carry out this shop steward role.
I am delighted that this has happened, and I hope that it will mean that the arguments that will always arise about the priorities in defence will now be taken direct to the management—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State—from the Service chiefs, who can speak with the wealth of experience that has brought them to their posts.
My second point is about the cuts. They were painful, and the decisions were difficult to take. Predictably, the broadsides have come from on high. Two noble Lords have objected. There have been objections from the Opposition, but they must be tongue-in-cheek objections because every time they object to cuts they are implicitly advocating more defence expenditure. No Opposition Member has said that since we must not cut the Navy because we must have a surface fleet, adjustments must be made elsewhere.
My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) said that we must maintain a surface fleet. I wish that he had said what we must do without to achieve that. That would have involved the other side of the argument, to which I shall address my remarks. Much has been said about the broadsides from the admirals. When Lord Hill-Norton made his tirade against what my right hon. Friend has done—again without offering any alternatives—Lord Home of the Hirsel, as always, made a pertinent remark at the pertinent time. He said that Lord Hill-Norton was speaking as though the 3 per cent. increase for five years, to which the Government are committed, was a figure snatched out of the air. He said that that was not so, but was the figure requested by the Secretary-General of NATO and all our allies. That is the base line from which all the decisions have followed.
§ Mr. Mates
I was about to do so. Lord Hill-Norton said that the Secretary-General of NATO had requested that figure because he thought it was what the NATO market could bear. That is coming to terms with reality. I do not know what my hon. Friend intends to say. I do not know if he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If he does 377 not, there will be trouble. He may say that what the Secretary of State has done is wrong. He is entitled to that view. However, I hope that he will then tell us what we should have done instead to arrive at the same sum. If he thinks that we should increase our expenditure by more than 3 per cent. per annum in real terms—an increase of hundreds of millions of pounds, which is not small beer—he must say where that money can be found. That is what worries me.
That point follows on from the excellent analysis of the reasons why we got ourselves into this mess which was given, in a purple passage in an otherwise disjointed speech, by the hon. Member for Attercliffe. There has been an explosion in defence technology. Frigates that once cost £5 million now cost £150 million. I tried to point out to the hon. Gentleman that we have not yet reached the end of the technological age.
The explosion in technology does not end in 1981. We all know that throughout the next 20 years we shall have to produce ever more sophisticated answers to the ever more sophisticated threat by the Soviet Union, and especially by its Navy. I do not see how we can continue under the present scheme of things.
While I am happy to sleep in my bed at night, content with my right hon. Friend's decisions, and while I do not think that he needs to lose any sleep about the rightness and the broad sense of what he had to do, the spectre that must haunt him and my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench is that it will have to be done again in two, three or five years. Whatever happens to inflation, the gross domestic product or Britain's economic recovery, the technological advance and the cost involved will outstrip inflation and bring the whole matter back full circle. Whether it is this Government or another Government does not matter—the problem will have to be faced again. We cannot continue to face the problem by paring away at the edge. Some will say that we are taking off the fat, then the flesh and then some of the bone. That is not the way to do it.
We must take a fundamental look at the future because all our NATO allies, with the possible exception of the United States—I shall not draw it into the argument—are trying to do too much across too wide an area. I can see only one answer that will limit our commitment to increased expenditure. It is not realistic to say that we shall spend more than the figure that we have set. Some on the Conservative Benches say that we must spend what we need on defence, and to hell with the social consequences. That is not a tenable position. We must strike a balance. We have always said in our philosophy that we shall give defence a high priority in that balance—but it cannot be every priority.
If we are not to be faced again and again with the agonising decisions about cuts and increases because of advanced technology and other factors, we must think of another way to solve the problem. The Alliance is at the heart of all we do. All our major allies are devoting their efforts across all the areas of defence. Each is maintaining a standing Army, or part of an Army, for the defence of Continental Europe. Each is maintaining a Navy, to a greater or lesser extent, to take in the defence of the Channel and the North Atlantic.
§ Mrs. Fenner
My hon. Friend is making a serious point. Does he not accept that we are providing 75 or 80 per cent. of the naval force? Therefore, we are not talking 378 about each member of the Alliance contributing an equal share. We are doing exactly what the hon. Gentleman seeks. We are specialising in the marine defence of the NATO Alliance.
§ Mr. Mates
My hon. Friend has misunderstood me. I was not trying to show that each member was spending an equal proportion across the front. I said that each was spreading its resources across the front. She is right to say that we are providing a major contribution to the maritime defence of NATO. That is how it should be. I hope that my remarks will lead her to conclude that we could do better. Each member is maintaining an air strike capability in addition to an air defence capability. Five major countries have land armies for the defence of the central front, protected by their own aircraft—all of which have been bought, developed and researched by their own industries. There is a certain cross play, but not a lot.
§ Mr. Dewar
I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I agree that we should specialise and not try to be omnicompetent. Is that not a strong argument against Trident? We shall never compete effectively with the American-based Western deterrent. Why, therefore, have a redundant status symbol of our own?
§ Mr. Mates
It is not a status symbol of our own. Above all, it is the NATO part of the strategic deterrent. The hon. Gentleman's argument surely must be strongly in favour of making Trident a sound part of our contribution. It is seen as that. One reason why we have maintained the respect and integrity of the NATO Alliance is the Polaris fleet, which is dedicated to NATO. It is planned and targeted within the Alliance. That is a strong argument in favour of what I am saying.
Across the board, the whole of the Northern Army Group and Central Army Group have standing armies from the Dutch, the Belgians, the West Germans, the United States, ourselves and a small contribution from the Danes. In the South, we have the Italians. Each army's air cover is provided by that nation. We have to make a tremendous effort to defend the 60km of the central front and to provide the close air support and the ground suppression for our own army. The Germans are doing the same alongside us. The others are following suit. The result: is that there are seven or eight different types of aircraft doing the same job on the central front. Each has been procured, developed, researched and built separately. The cost has not been merely seven times the total sum but nearer 70 times that in resources that we could otherwise be using to better advantage.
The same can be said for the variety of frigates, destroyers and other types of ship that are in the various NATO navies. The same applies to the equipment of the standing armies, although that is a slightly different argument. Is it not ludicrous that to do one job on the central front we have five sorts of tank?
With foresight and with a certain amount of risk nationally we could make the most tremendous breakthrough and prevent ourselves from getting into the recurring circle that I have described. Countries will always have to have their own standing armies for their own home purposes as well as for political reasons. However, my hon. Friend's task of undertaking these desperately difficult procurement sums would be made so much easier if, for example, we were able to agree within NATO that the Unted Kingdom, because of its experience 379 and background, and the whole of its tradition, would provide an even greater part of the standing NATO maritime defence and that in return the West Germans, for example, would provide the close air support of the British Army of the Rhine.
That is a proposition that would not be popular with an Air Force Minister. I am glad that we do not have one again. It would not be popular with the Royal Air Force. Of course, it is extremely proud of the highly expensive and highly sophisticated Second Tactical Air Force, of which it forms the major part and which sits in Germany, but at what cost not only to our defence effort but to the overall effort that NATO is able to make within limited budgets?
I can see no way out of the perpetual dilemma other than rethinking the way in which we arm NATO and task it. It cannot be sensible to continue with the present approach. If it is difficult for us, how much more difficult it must be for Denmark and Belgium, which have much smaller gross national products than that of the United Kingdom and which experience much greater difficulty in providing a small force? In most instances they have to resort to buying from overseas.
If we could achieve a common procurement programme and a rationalisation of tasks so that every country did what it was either best placed to do or best at from its history and traditions, we would have a NATO force structure that pound for pound could well be three or four times as efficient and cost effective as the present structure.
The penalty that we pay is political. All the nations would have to pool part of their political independence. If that happened, we would not be able to cope with anything that happened on the central front without full agreement. BAOR would be unable to operate if the Germans decided not to take part in a particular phase of a NATO conflagration. That risk would have to be faced and there would have to be tough negotiations.
Is that really a risk? Could any part of Continental Europe for a political reason opt out of responding to an attack by the Soviet Union on the central front? I do not believe that such a political reason exists. Politicians might huff and puff. They might be as proud of national independence as General de Gaulle, who took France out of the Alliance for that one reason. However, in the state of tension in which we live, I do not believe that there is any leader in the Western European Community who should not be prepared to say, "We shall pool that bit of our national sovereignty in the greater cause of the success of NATO." That is the approach that our political leaders must now take.
It is no longer any use pussyfooting around the problem of ever-increasing defence expenditure against, comparatively speaking, ever-reduced resources, however strong the political will—and it could hardly be stronger than that which has been demonstrated by the Government. Even so, we are left with decisions which cause many of us anxiety because they will reduce our capacity against an increased threat.
There will have to be some great and imaginative politicking by our political leaders in Western Europe. Without that I do not believe that we shall solve the problem. I believe—this is something that I sincerely regret and I hope that it will not happen—that after two or three years we shall be having this debate all over again. 380 My hon. Friend the Minister of State, or his successor if he has gone on to greater things, will be saying, "I am sorry. This is the problem and this is the best solution that we can offer."
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the solution that he has come up with. It is the best one in the circumstances. It is the last time that we can tinker with the problem in this way and still maintain any credibility in our defence.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) complained about the absence of Opposition Members participating in the debate. No doubt he will recall that I was rising in my place and trying to get the opportunity to participate in the debate at an earlier stage.
A number of Conservative Members have exhibited the officer-militaristic syndrome that characterises these debates. However, one or two have made a plea for dockyard workers and the representation of dockyards. Against a background of almost 3 million unemployed, it is understandable that Members of Parliament should press the case to retain jobs. I believe that before the dockyards are closed or other defence facilities are pruned there should be alternative jobs for the workers concerned.
There has been a call for a Minister to act as a shop steward for the Services. When one Minister tried to do that he was given the push. There has been a reorganisation so that direct representation of the Services—in the instance to which I referred it was the Navy—should not recur. When dockyard workers are making their representations, which is often through the trade union movement, there is no reason why members of the Navy should not have their own shop stewards. There is no reason why members of the Navy should not be allowed to join the National Union of Seamen and to organise and maintain services and conditions.
The Government are about to embark on one of the most ludicrous prestige projects on which a nation has ever embarked. I refer to Trident. It will be the responsibility of members of the Navy to supervise that horrible means of mass extermination. It seems that those people should have a right to discuss the issue and to make known their views about the task that will be imposed upon them if the Government's plans are implemented. I doubt very much whether they will be, because the Government will be replaced by a Labour Government, and the Labour Opposition are pledged to halt Trident when they form a Government.
There is no reason why members of the Armed Forces should not be entitled to join a trade union and to take part in such an important discussion. They are not robots. They have a right to express their views and to put their case forward in the trade union movement. Indeed, that happens in Holland, where members of the Armed Forces have advanced some interesting views about the proposed siting of cruise missiles on their soil. It adds a new and different dimension to our discussions and debates on these matters. It may be that the Government are frightened by that degree of organised representation, just as they are frightened of all trade unions.
It should be the right of those in the Armed Forces as well as in the Service organisations, such as the dockyards, which are an integral part of maintaining the Navy, to have the right of trade union organisation.
381 Members on the Conservative Benches outdo one another in their claims for more new weapons and larger weapons with more means of extermination. That is because of the militaristic syndrome that afflicts the Conservative Party. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who is the chairman of the Conservative Party Back-bench defence group—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not."] He was, so he has probably been given the push. He is on record as saying that Trident would draw resources from the conventional parts of the Royal Navy. That is right. He is the only one to exhibit any critical faculty towards the purchase of and embarkation on the expenditure on Trident. How nauseating it is that the Government should embark on that massive expenditure when they are cutting back on every part of the Welfare State, which people of this nation hold dear.
The National Health Service is facing cuts because of the increase in VAT, and so on. Local authorities are facing cuts. Yesterday we debated the £47 million worth of cuts for the Lothian region in Scotland. That will spread to England and Wales. It will mean more people who are providing services to the community being put on the dole. Children do not have sufficient textbooks. That question is raised, and the Minister metaphorically weeps crocodile tears. However, the Minister's inspectors have said that there are serious difficulties in the supply of textbooks. Roads, sewerage facilities and housing are being cut. This year about 30,000 council houses are being built, compared with 107,000 in the last full year of the Labour Government.
People in need are queueing up for housing at reasonable rents, yet the Government are embarking on a project costing at least £6 billion. I shall come to evidence by the Committee of Public Accounts, which suggests that the Ministry of Defence is not all that capable of assessing costs in any event. The Minister's figure is at least £5 billion. We know that that is moving inexorably towards £6 billion. The Government prefer such a priority to the priorities that the people of our nation prefer.
No wonder the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is gaining strength week by week and month by month. No wonder the Secretary of State for Defence is using taxpayers' money to mount a campaign to try to combat the enthusiasm. ideas and commitment of the members of the CND.
It is a scandal that the Government have cut back on overseas aid to the poorest nations on the face of the earth when they are proposing to spend £6 billion on Trident. That is the Government's priority, yet people who can hardly feed or clothe themselves will face difficulties as a result of the Government's cutback. The Government are increasing the fees for overseas students, so that, for example, Zimbabwe, the country for which the Government are supposed to have organised a settlement—which they did well; everyone said that that was a good step forward—is now having to withdraw students from this country because of the increase in overseas students' fees. The Government are apparently reluctant to provide that extra finance while they embark on the means of massive extermination.
If Polaris is the deterrent that the Conservatives say it is, why do they need at least twice the power of Polaris to maintain the deterrent?
§ Mr. Cryer
In that case, why embark on Trident at all? The fact is that Polaris is already an enormously horrific weapon. One boat carries more fire-power than was used by both sides during the last war—that is the dimension about which we are talking. Some Conservatives say that it is a sort of catapult, but it is a means of mass human extermination. Therefore, if it is, and has been, effective as a deterrent—I do not accept that, but it is the Government's point of view—why should we double the amount of power? If we are doubling the amount of power, other nuclear nations will go along that road.
Whilst Conservative Members wring their hands and talk about multilateral disarmament, the fact is that year in and year out nations are accumulating more nuclear weaponry. If Trident is essential to our purpose as a deterrent, what about the 100 countries that do not have nuclear weapons? What argument should be put to them? What about the countries that signed the non-proliferation treaty on the basis that the nuclear powers would take some determined steps towards reducing their dependence on nuclear weapons? What about that argument? If we have Trident, is that not a justification for every other nation to say that it, too, needs a deterrent and that it, too, needs to take its part in the development of nuclear power. Happily, the majority of the world's nations do not have nuclear weapons. They do not have to depend upon deterrents. Somehow, they get by.
This is a vicious circle. Everyone says that he wants to disarm but no one does, and one side pushes up its capacity, so that the other side says that it has to increase its capacity to match the other side, as it can negotiate disarmament only from strength. We are moving in a vortex towards destruction. Until and unless we take a determined stand, that vortex will inexorably move towards that moment of calamity.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament by this country will be an important step along that road. Like Canada, we will have rejected the deployment and use of nuclear weapons. It will be an act of faith to those countries that do not have nuclear weapons. They will see a nuclear Power taking a determined step to end dependence on nuclear weaponry and it will expose the real problem of nuclear weapons, which is not ours, but that of the two super blocks—America and Russia. It will help to push those two countries towards serious and determined negotiations for disarmament.
The business of always referring to "the other side"—the Russians—is used as an excuse for massive expenditure, which is accepted virtually without question by Conservative Members. Useful expenditure is never treated in the same way. If it is for local authorities close scrutiny is exercised. We should do that for this expenditure. Let us take the example of Sting Ray. The Committee of Public Accounts drew the attention of the House in June last year to Sting Ray. Sting Ray is not a minor matter, but a matter of £1 billion, like the updating of Polaris under operation Chevaline. Sting Ray has been done in a better way and it has been done openly, which is much to be preferred.
The Committee of Public Accounts said:The Ministry stressed that the choice was made predominantly on the basis that Sting Ray alone possessed the capabilities considered essential to meet the potential threat. For this reason the project has been given high priority in spite of the last slice of defence resources which it would consume.383 Almost identical words are used about Trident. We must have it, because if we do not our strategic position will be weakened.
The Committee of Public Accounts said in paragraph 26:We feel bound to say on the evidence available to us, we were not convinced by MOD's case for spending an additional £720 million rather than purchasing the US torpedo.What about that immense amount of money? In paragraph 21 the Committee says:As far as Sting Ray was concerned MOD accepted that they had not fully learned the lessons from the Mark 31 torpedo project. They had failed to appreciate the technical complexities of the project and had tried to develop each of the components separately.Will that be true of Trident? The Government do not even know which mark of Trident they will buy. Therefore, how on earth have they solved the technical complexities?
§ Mr. Cryer
We know that most Conservatives go weak at the knees when defence is mentioned and say "Yes". It means that more and more expenditure is approved without the necessary critical scrutiny. That always costs the taxpayer more than it should, because undue care and attention is paid to the need for it in the first place.
§ Sir Patrick Wall
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will bring the story up to date and quote from the report of the Select Committee on Defence. That shows that since 1977, when Marconi defence systems took over, Sting Ray has cost less than anticipated and has been ahead of time. That completes the hon. Gentleman's story.
§ Mr. Cryer
It still cost £1 billion. We ought to follow the example of Japan, which spends less than 1 per cent. of GNP on defence. I agree that Japan has a different GNP from ours, but various people in the arms industry want Japan to spend a great deal more. So far, Japan has resisted those blandishments.
It may be felt that as a result of the development of Sting Ray we can perhaps export a few torpedoes to world markets, but that will not benefit ordinary people in other countries who are looking anxiously for better schools, tractors and irrigation schemes. Sting Ray will not bless them with such things.
Why do we not use that money and the ability of our people to develop products that we need and want? Japan has done that with enormous success. On many occasions we have talked about Japanese car imports and how they can be cut back, but Japanese cars are well designed. Japan has also taken over the motor cycle industry, and is a world leader in sound centres and audio equipment. We could do the same if only we put our resources into those sectors.
We are wasting our money on Trident and projects such as Sting Ray. The people of the world need better priorities visited upon them. By stopping Trident and providing the Navy with decent facilities—if necessary, by providing alternative jobs for dockyard workers—I believe that we can switch from defence to peaceful purposes. In that way we can safeguard jobs without the threat of mass extermination, which Trident implicitly and explicitly means for all of us.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
It is a parliamentary tradition, when following the speech of another hon. Member, to say something complimentary about him. I admire the brass neck of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) for not being present during the whole debate and complaining that he had not been called.
As the debate is about the Royal Navy, I hope that the House will forgive me if I concentrate first on one aspect that has caused me considerable concern—the proposed rundown of Portsmouth dockyard. That has caused everyone who works for the Conservative cause a great deal of agonising. It is no secret that for years many of us have campaigned on the basis that the Conservative Party believes in and is more committed to defence than the Labour Party. From that it follows that the Conservative Party is more likely to spend money on defence and to safeguard the jobs of people in the Gosport-Portsmouth area.
When, several weeks ago, before the defence review was announced, I discovered that it was likely to involve the closure of Portsmouth dockyard, I was shaken. I had to study the implications of the review and try to form my own view about whether the proposed rundown of Portsmouth dockyard was something that I could support. I spent much time consulting many people, including members of the North Atlantic Assembly and many colleagues and friends. One makes many friends on the defence circuit, especially if one has been a pilot in the Royal Air Force, commanded a missile unit in the Territorial Army and represents a naval constituency. I was, therefore, able to receive some good advice.
My conclusion is that we are suffering from disarmament by inflation. A recent study in the United States showed that armaments costs were rising by about 20 per cent. compared with inflation of about 13 per cent. On that basis, it is necessary to spend an extra 7 per cent. in real terms each year just to stand still.
That has an effect in a number of ways. Principally, we have maintained our platforms—the ships, aircraft, tanks and helicopters—but we have lost out in terms of weapons systems, war stocks, such as ammunition, and training. It has not been possible to use our ships in the way that we would wish; nor has it been possible to give our pilots the flying training that we would wish.
The immediate and most important implication in the Gosport-Portsmouth area is that we have been stretching the life of our ships. We built the ships on the basis of a 20 to 25-year life, with three refits during that period, including a major mid-term refit. We know that a refit for a Leander class frigate now costs about £70 million. Of course, refits for smaller ships are less expensive. But we can no longer live with the concept of mid-term refits.
Let me give a homely parallel which is valid. Years ago, when a motor car gearbox went wrong the car would be taken to a garage and a skilled mechanic would remove the gearbox. He would take it to bits and, if necessary, painstakingly make a new cog to fit it. He would then reassemble the gearbox and put it back in the car. That can still be done, but increasingly it has become uneconomic to do so. What normally happens now is that the garage replaces the component. Moreover, we no longer try to repair cars indefinitely. Motor cars are built so that all parts last for roughly the same period. It is called phased obsolescence.
385 When that is applied to ships, it does not make sense to take a frigate or another surface ship and refit it to a major extent—the hull and engine still retained—after about 10 or 12 years. If that is done, we still end up with a ship, the hull and engine of which are 10 to 12 years old.
I became convinced that the concept of major refits, which make up a heavy proportion of turnover in dockyards, was wrong. I arrived at that conclusion not as the result of comments that I have received in letters and elsewhere or of any kind of pressure from any source but independently. I therefore supported the main concept of the defence review as it involves my area with a heavy heart but with a clear conscience.
Many people in the Gosport-Portsmouth area cannot understand how one can support a defence review that involves job losses in the area. They want to know how I can fail to oppose a plan that will cost jobs. Vital though jobs are, primarily defence is not about jobs but about lives and defending a way of life. That priority must therefore prevail.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden), who referred to the three duties of a Member of Parliament—the national duty, the constituency duty and the party duty—will recognise that those of us who support the defence review do so because, albeit with a heavy heart, we recognise that the national duty must take priority over the constituency duty. I therefore support the main concept of the defence review.
I turn to the personnel implications for my area. I have a shopping list of five items which I have already put to the Secretary of State. I believe that he, his Ministers and the Government must take cognisance of the fact that what they are doing to the dockyard areas is comparable with what has been done in the areas where steelworks have been closed and major redundancies have taken place. This is not normal redundancy. It is not just a few people becoming redundant and seeking jobs elsewhere. It is redundancy on a major scale in an area so completely dependent for employment on the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence that the Government must take cognisance of the special demands of the people involved. It will not be easy for them to find jobs outside the defence area. There must therefore be special terms.
My shopping list is as follows. First, I ask the Government to take special cognisance of the requirements for compensation. In a brief intervention I said that compensation for redundancy in other areas had been quite generous. Of course, I quote maximum figures and I recognise that they do not apply in many cases. Nevertheless, I believe that those becoming redundant in the Gosport and Portsmouth area and, indeed, in Chatham are entitled to point to them as examples of the figures that they expect to use in negotiations.
In British Shipbuilders, the maximum payment is £10,350. In the British Steel Corporation, it is £18,000. I make the point at once, as I am anxious not to mislead the House, that the highest-paid production worker in BSC at age 60 and with more than 20 years service would have received that amount, but that very few payments were made at that level. Nevertheless, is fair to show the levels of compensation that have been given in other areas. Similarly, the Post Office posts and Giro service made compensation payments of £6,050 in 1980. I believe that my constituents are entitled to point to those figures and 386 to say that if the scheme operated by the Ministry of Defence does not match up to them, they have a right to know why.
Secondly, there is the question of land release. Working parties in Hampshire, in Gosport and in Portsmouth are now studying the requirements. I believe that about one-third of the land in my constituency is controlled by the Ministry of Defence PSA on behalf of the Royal Navy. Considerable areas could be released to provide opportunities for building factories where people could find employment. It is not for me to say which land should be released. It is not even for me to ask which land would be released. That is the proper duty of the working parties for Gosport and for Hampshire. Nevertheless, I ask the Minister to take cognisance of the special needs as and when those requests are made.
Thirdly, there must be an acceleration of the ship and boat building programme. For years, a situation has been tolerated which has allowed about 14 years to elapse from the date when a ship is first conceived to the date when it reaches service. That is unacceptable. We must think again about the whole of our ship and boat building programme. We must try to work out how to get the hulls into the water fast. If, as the ship is being designed or even built, someone in Bath, someone in Whitehall or someone in the builder's employ thinks of a better way of designing it, he should be told that his ideas can be implemented in the second hull. Let us get the first hull in the water and have the experimentation worked out in that way. Consistently, ships have been held up for year after year because the best is the enemy of the good. One is always seeking perfection, but by the time one gets perfection the ship is out of date. We need those ships to maintain the shore and training establishments to keep up the role of the Navy.
Fourthly, there must be a new look at defence procurement. Many firms, including small firms, in the Gosport and Portsmouth area have gone to the trouble and cost of having themselves accepted as recognised defence contractors. They then find that because of the reduction in shipbuilding there is less of the smaller sub-contracting work for which they have registered as defence contractors or subcontractors in the first place. We must ensure that a proper proportion of the work goes to those who have taken the trouble to register in that way.
Fifthly, because of the vital role of the Ministry of Defence in the Gosport and Portsmouth area and its crucial role in training we cannot afford to lose the job and apprenticeship opportunities provided by Portsmouth dockyard training school. I hope that ways will be found by the Government to take account of those points. I do not want to be told by the Ministry of Defence that this is not its area and that I should see the Secretary of State for Employment. The Ministry of Defence has a prime responsibility. It has caused the problems and it must help solve them.
Much has been said about the reduction in the size of the Navy, and I know that morale has suffered to a certain extent. However, it is fair to say that the Royal Navy will be left with its vital role of the protection of our trade routes—96 per cent. of our food and raw materials come to and leave this country by sea—the protection of North Sea oil and gas production, the protection of our fisheries, employing about 20,000 men, and responsibility for the 387 nuclear deterrent, which is rightly entrusted to the Royal Navy. There is no heavier responsibility entrusted to anyone than that entrusted to the Royal Navy in that area.
Finally on the list of roles is the reinforcement and keeping free of sea routes in times of emergency. It is not good enough for us to expect the United States to provide the ships, the men and the cover for the reinforcements that will be required in times of emergency. I have made the point before, but I reiterate it: how can we expect the United States, still suffering from the scars of Vietnam, looking West as well as East, to provide not only these thousands of men, the millions of pounds worth of equipment, the ships in which to bring those reinforcements of men and materials, but the convoy cover? It would be stretching credibility and our defence capacity too far to think that the United States would do all that if we were not prepared to show our total commitment to NATO by maintaining a strong surface fleet.
A major sea battle may be unlikely now, but the Russian's submarine threat is enormous and their mining threat—which has not been mentioned—is also enormous. We must have a minesweeping capacity and a surface fleet capacity that will enable us to withstand those threats. If we do not concentrate our resources where they are really needed we may find our harbours mined and our supply ships sunk or threatened. If our food and raw materials could not be brought in it would be incumbent upon us to escalate the war or to starve. How do we face that threat? We must face it by increasing our surface fleet and by increasing our minesweeping capacity. Our small frigates and conventional submarines must be fast.
My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) referred to the concept of changing the roles within NATO and allowing each country to concentrate on its strengths. I raised that point during a recent meeting of the NATO assembly. It received rather short shrift from many of our European colleagues. Nevertheless, it is necessary for us to move on and to consider the wider question within the concept of NATO.
NATO, of course, moved from an alliance of guarantee—an alliance whereby each of the parties provided its own defence guarantee to the others—to an alliance more closely linked with forces from each of the countries that are prepared to fight in central Europe, and so on. We may have to look again at that concept and concentrate our resources where they are most useful and needed. That would require us to look again at the defence of the North Atlantic and the Channel, which would necessitate increasing not only our surface fleet but our other naval forces.
§ Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) on not only a notable but a brave speech, in which he set out so sensibly his views about the future of the dockyards.
I begin by saying something in favour of Her Majesty's Government—which is always a pleasurable thing to do. [HON. MEMBERS: "And rare."' Indeed, it is rare. The decision about Chatham and Portsmouth dockyards is entirely correct. No one has yet pointed out that the dockyard at Chatham was originally built to defend us against the Dutch and that the dockyard at Portsmouth was 388 built to defend us against the French. The French, eccentric though they may be, are unlikely, even under President Mitterrand, to attack us. Therefore it is a correct decision for Her Majesty's Government to run down the dockyard at Portsmouth.
The attendance on the Labour Benches—I see that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has just returned—shows the great regard of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition for the Royal Navy. Even the Opposition Front Bench was unguarded for a time.
I note that no representative of the Liberal Party has been here all day. I have sat here since 3 pm. There is another party that sits on the Opposition Benches. One of its members looked in briefly—the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) —then disappeared. Doubtless he had other things to do, such as deciding who should be the leader of his party, or even what its policy should be on the Royal Navy. As the party has not yet decided on a policy, it would be impossible for any member of the democratic Socialists—that is what we must call them, not Social Democrats—to say what sort of policy the party should have on the Royal Navy.
§ Mr. Brotherton
Yes, but the right hon. Member for Devonport did not even get up to say a word on behalf of the dockyard in his constituency.
We have had a fairly mean and nasty debate. We have talked about dockyards, about labour, about Europe, and about the North Atlantic, but we have not talked basically about the Royal Navy. No one in the entire debate has mentioned the Soviet fleet, which has expanded over the years and is now in the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.
We are debating today a Royal Navy that is to be dramatically and drastically reduced at the same time as the Soviets are commissioning aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers in enormous numbers.
I sometimes despair of this nation. We were elected to office in May 1979 to defend the nation, on a platform of boosting our defences once again. But what has happened? We have had a defence review and a defence White Paper, and now the Royal Navy, the most important arm of our three Services, is being slashed.
In the last few months I have had the privilege of visiting two training establishments of the Royal Navy, one for officers and one for petty officers. I went last October to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth—where I had the great privilege of being educated—for the rededication of the chapel. My wife had done a kneeler for the chapel—in commemoration of me. She had said to the padre, "Who shall I do it in memory of'?" and I said, "Why not me?" She said "You are not dead," and I said, "I shall be some day". So I am now commemorated in the chapel there. We were there for the weekend and had a marvelous time. When I saw the hundreds of totally dedicated young men and the training staff, I was proud to be British and proud of the Royal Navy.
Only a few weeks ago I went to HMS "Royal Arthur", the petty officers' leadership school, to talk to the 150 petty officers there. I had been given the nod by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) two months earlier. He told me that the Secretary of State was happy for me to go there but that I was not to talk politics. Of course, I would not dream of doing that. I went there on 389 the day after my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence had announced what was to be done to our Royal Navy. I was courageous. I did not talk politics to the petty officers.
I am given to understand that we have a commitment to NATO and to our American allies to maintain 70 per cent. of the anti-submarine warfare presence in the eastern Atlantic. Under the Secretary of State's proposals in the White Paper it will no longer be possible for Britain to maintain that 70 per cent. presence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) and I learnt this afternoon that hon. Members are not allowed to quote directly speeches that are made in the other place. However, Lord Hill-Norton made a remarkably sound speech the day before yesterday. He said that the Government's thinking—if he may so dignify it—was that we should reduce the number of surface vessels in our sea-going fleet from 50 to about 30. That is a crazy proposal. It will be impossible to fight the antisubmarine battle that might arise with Nimrods and antisubmarine submarines. Basically, we need frigates that carry helicopters.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, to some extent, in his argument for maintaining the fleet. However, the weakness is that we have been told that Polaris—and, in future, Trident—is a deterrent. If that is so, we are not likely to face that type of situation. We must make a choice between nuclear and conventional weapons, because we cannot afford both.
§ Mr. Brotherton
The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. We need a belt-and-braces defence policy. We need Trident to replace the Polaris fleet as a deterrent against a nuclear attack. We also need a normal conventional fleet, in case we have to fight a normal conventional war.
We are told by the Secretary of State that a few more Nimrods are being produced to help us in a possible antisubmarine battle in the Atlantic. I wonder whether hon. Members realise what an additional three Nimrods mean to our anti-submarine defences? They mean 50 per cent. of very little. To have one Nimrod aircraft on task there must be six aircraft in commission. One aircraft is on patrol, one is in transit to patrol, one is in transit back to base, one is turning round, one is unserviceable and one is on a main check 4 or main check 5 major refit. Therefore, to say that we can replace any number of frigates by adding three, or even six, Nimrods to our antisubmarine forces is foolish and dishonest. Six Nimrods mean one Nimrod on task. To put one Nimrod over the vast Atlantic ocean is to send an aircraft out to throw ping-pong or tennis balls into the ocean in the hope of hitting something.
As was proved in the last war, we need surface ships with sonar to defeat a submarine force. I do not mean those sophisticated surface ships. We have wasted an enormous amount—£100 million to £150 million—on them. I mean ships that carry helicopters and anti-submarine weapons and that are backed up by anti-submarine submarines and Nimrods. Vice-Admiral Sir John Roxburgh—a distinguished submariner and an ex-flag officer, submarines—pointed out in a recent article in The Daily Telegraph that the argument in favour of anti-submarine submarines being used as our primary weapon against the Soviet submersed fleet is nonsense. Will the Minister give 390 us an assurance that the Government will think again about the disastrous decision in the White Paper to reduce the number of surface vessels?
The Secretary of State said in May that he had no thoughts about any of the Invincible class being taken out of commission. Far be it from me to say that the Secretary of State was not aware of what was going on in his Department. It is, however, extraordinary that only a few weeks later the Secretary of State came to the Dispatch Box to say that one is soon to be sold—a pal of mine has just been made captain of an Invincible class vessel—and that "Illustrious" and "Ark Royal" will be in commission only one at a time.
This brings me to the Secretary of State's thoughts expressed in Washington some months ago, soon after the Reagan Administration came to office. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also joined in. There were great cries at the time that Britain would be in favour of a rapid deployment force. This was greeted with cries of joy on the Conservative Benches. Who are the rapid deployment force to be? Obviously they are to be Royal Marines. Three Commandos remain in commission. Who will take the Royal Marine Commandos in their rapid deployment force anywhere? After all, the assault vessels are being phased out. We are told that "Hermes" is being taken out of commission, that "Invincible" is to be sold and that "Illustrious" and "Ark Royal" will be in commission only one at a time.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must be consistent in his thoughts. It is no good the hon. Member for Hamilton giggling on the Opposition Front Bench. For his party conference in October, all the resolutions on defence related to nuclear disarmament and taking away all our defences. The hon. Gentleman is totally out on a limb as he sits there giggling. He proves yet again that Socialists have no interest in our defence and no interest in looking after the nation. His party conference will prove that what I say is true.
I would, however, say to the Minister that the Conservatives were elected in May 1979 to defend the realm. We were elected to increase our defence forces. It is no good talking about 3 per cent. As Lord Hill-Norton said two days ago,You cannot buy defence like you buy soap powder." — [Official Report, House of Lords, 20 July 1981; Vol. 423, c. 20.]One defines the threat and then one guards oneself against it.
It has been argued from the Conservative Benches that one cannot spend all that is necessary on defence because there are also calls on social spending. I would only say to the House that if one does not defend oneself, one is not worthy, as a nation, to be called a nation. Lord Home of the Hirsel said some years ago that a nation that is not prepared to spend enough to defend itself is not worthy to be called a nation. My fear at the moment is that the Government which I have the privilege to support are not doing all that they should do to defend our people against aggressors from overseas.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I apologise to the House. I sometimes sit through defence debates without being called. That perhaps limits my apology. I shall 391 apologise however more profusely afterwards to those hon. Members who are not able to speak because of the time taken by my speech.
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Brotherton) has publicly agonised over the role of the Conservative Party in defence. Often, when the Labour Party was in power, Labour Members were taunted about what would happen when the Conservative Party came into office. We were told that unlimited sums would be available for defence. It must be nauseating for Conservative Members to find that the situation is nothing like that, and even more nauseating to realise that the despised Labour Party, when in Government, does not automatically sell the country down the river, despite party resolutions. For the party of defence and for the party that has supposedly supported the Navy to speak about the closing of dockyards and the scuttling of a large part of the fleet may lead their constituents to put further pressure on Conservative Members and their Government.
Some Labour Members argue that the money spent on Trident should be devoted to building new hospitals and other such projects. In many ways, I wish that that could be done, but those of us who signed the minority report of the Select Committee on Defence said that the money should not automatically be lost to the defence budget. If the world situation does not improve, the money should be spent on improving our conventional defence.
The argument of those of us who believe that there should be a defence posture for this country—we are not an overwhelming majority in the Labour Party—is that there should be a better division of labour within NATO. I will not argue the moral, philosophical and political reasons for abandoning Trident, but I believe that if we abandoned the project we would be able to play a better part within NATO—and even the Labour Party conference overwhelmingly rejected a motion to withdraw from NATO. We should concentrate on conventional defence and rely on the United States to provide the nuclear deterrent. I hope that we would have considerable influence on the United States in seeking to ensure that it exercises restraint in its foreign policy. At present there is no overwhelming evidence that that will be the case.
Those who argue that Trident will not distort the rest of the defence budget are talking nonsense. Trident is beinning to bite on that budget even before it has been designed or built and before we know what sort of missile will come with it and what submarine diameter will be required.
What will be left of our conventional forces in five or six years when the cost of Trident keeps increasing? Conservative Members are already bleating, but if present defence policies continue for the next five years there will inevitably be further cuts in our conventional defence effort, which could be a disaster.
I wish to concentrate on two themes—the decline of party influence on defence and the consequences of Trident for the naval procurement process.
The hon. Member for Louth castigated Labour Members for their non-attendance. One should not always equate the numbers sitting in on a debate with enthusiasm for the subject. Instead of castigating Labour Members, we should be castigating ourselves, as the legislature, for allowing our influence over defence matters to decline so 392 considerably. Perhaps the Opposition Benches are bare, but of the 635 hon. Members eligible to attend only one-tenth have been here.
It is not a question of the Ministry of Defence and the Government taking power away from Parliament. It is more a case of Parliament's having thrown the power away. Perhaps Supply days are an example of the growing impotence of Parliament. We have strayed a long way from the original intention of debates on such days and if attendances continue to fall there will be a danger of the Government's considering taking away even these limited opportunities which are so important to Parliament.
Even with the new Select Committee on Defence and the Public Accounts Committee, parliamentary influence over administration, policy and finance in defence matters is limited. We can hardly pat ourselves on the back for the way that we have abdicated our responsibility to the Executive.
The Government can make major decisions on naval matters and all that we can do is to shout "Hooray" or "Boo". Their decision is a fait accompli. Parliament is used only to support any decision. Our whipping system means that only a handful of Government Back Benchers will vote against any decision, even though they may scream blue murder during debates. We have abdicated our responsibility and in many ways we deserve the impotence that Parliament suffers in these matters.
It was not always that way. Parliament had a legitimate interest in those matters. I do not always extol the virtues of bygone eras, but in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Parliament had real debates on defence. There were an enormous number of Select Committees operating on all manner of naval and defence matters. The expenditure committees, although not called that, exercised considerable influence on naval policy. There were naval and military disasters in 1809, such as the Walcheren expedition, and that was followed by an enormous parliamentary outcry. The failures in the Crimean War were also followed by parliamentary outcry and a Select Committee. Even the setting up of that Select Committee led to the resignation of the Government. That was the nature of parliamentary control. It was not complete from the fourteenth century onwards but in those days Parliament exercised a real influence.
Parliament, through the new Committee system and the renewed interest from the Back Benches on both sides of the House, has an opportunity to renew that influence. One should not criticise hon. Members, but Conservative Members do not turn up for debates, except at 10 o'clock, and one realises the extent to which Parliament has sunk.
§ Mr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West)
I have been in the Chamber for two or three hours and the concern that I share with the hon. Gentleman is that no members of the Social Democratic Party or the Liberal Party are present to express their opinion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman shares that view with me. They are the people who are supposed to form a Government one day.
§ Mr. George
We hope for both of our sakes that that is not the case.
"The Way Forward", which I regard as the way backwards, expresses what will happen. Dockyards will close. We have not learnt very much in the House or in the country. I was amused when looking at a Select Committee report dated 1797 in which was argued the 393 same ground for improving the dockyards as we have been arguing quite recently. There was the desire then to give greater autonomy to the dockyard management. Two hundred years later we do not appear to have learnt any lessons. The dockyards will be emasculated. Some of the surface fleet will be sunk. I regard that with considerable disquiet.
Much nonsense is written about the Soviet threat. We should consider the naval threat in perspective. I believe that the Soviet naval threat has been exaggerated, but there is no doubt that the Russians have a legitimate interest in establishing a world-based navy. The second important fact is that the USSR is improving considerably the quality and quantity of its fleets. The northern fleet includes one aircraft carrier, 11 cruisers, 12 destroyers, 47 frigates, 56 strategic nuclear submarines and 135 attack submarines. A fleet of that size cannot be ignored. Although we may criticise the quality of the seamanship and say that it is not the same as ours and we can point to disasters in some naval construction of the Soviet Union, we cannot deny that the threat has increased. I do not believe that the Soviet Union is superior, but it is a trend to be observed.
In the event of an appalling conflict, the Soviet Navy's objective would be to disrupt NATO shipping in a short or protracted war. It also has a role in disrupting shipping in peace time, according to Admiral Gorshkov, the architect of the Soviet Navy. Naval forces can be used in peace time to put pressure on enemies at a time of military demonstration as a threat to interfering with sea communications and as a hindrance to ocean commerce. It must be stated that the Soviet Navy is not superior to those in the West, but it is constantly improving. The Soviet Union has more attack submarines than we have and it is producing nuclear-powered submarines at the rate of 10 a year.
One should consider the failures of the United States in producing its first Ohio class submarine. There were 80,000 faults in the first vessel. That proves that there is need for concern. I believe that the Soviet naval threat is credible. Although the country is weak in air power, antisubmarine warfare, amphibious warfare, logistics and readiness, it has a capability to sink our ships and to create havoc in the sea lanes, but only if we allow it to do so.
The primary function of a navy is to exploit an opponent's weakness. However, I believe that the current naval strategy is not designed round that fundamental principle. Like the Soviet navy, our Navy seems to be more concerned to show the flag than to prepare for the next war, which I hope will never materialise.
In sharp comparison to the 1950s and 1960s the Soviets now have a real navy. It is a force that will not vanish overnight. It can be negated if our naval strategists and builders are up to the task. A paranoia and obsession with Soviet superiority will not assist us to achieve that policy goal.
For NATO to win a conflict, or not to be defeated, it is necessary for it to control the Atlantic. Reinforcement is crucial in the event of a war. For the Soviet Union to win it is not necessary for it to control the seas. The Soviets need only to deny us the ability to control the seas. That is their lesser task.
Our Navy, traditionally, has a significant role within NATO. I fear that as a result of Trident that role will be diminished. Our traditional task is to patrol the Greenland and Iceland gap where the Soviet submarine threat is most obvious. That is where the Soviets would be likely to enter 394 the Atlantic. If we do not have the number of ships and submarines necessary for that task that must be to our disadvantage. The proposed cuts in the surface fleet call our whole naval strategy into doubt.
Perhaps the Navy is correct to say that the future of naval warfare lies with subsurface vessels. That does not mean that we should not hold our current level of surface ships. If we go ahead with Trident we shall suffer in a number of ways. For example, there will be delays in procuring new attack submarines. We have 12 and shall have 17. Anyone who believes that that is adequate to meet the threat is wrong. Trident will pre-empt the hunter-killer submarine programme.
If we diminish our capability in maritime defence, who will pick up the mantle? Will it be the United States? The United States has a worldwide function but doubt whether it will be keen to fill the vacuum that we would leave. Will it be the French, the Germans or the Italians? I doubt it. "The Way Forward" says that the Navy's role will not be diminished. Obviously, it is to be diminished.
Just because the world could be engulfed in a nuclear war, we should not automatically believe that we need only a nuclear deterrent. We cannot go back to the old tripwire philosophy of the Sandys era—the shorter the fuse, the greater the danger. The Government have chosen the course that we feared all along. They want to have their cake and eat it. They intend to spend between a £6 billion and £8 billion on Trident. The price will be a blunted conventional presence.
I hope that as a result of reading the majority report of the Select Committee—and more importantly, the superior minority report—even the Government will realise that we can fulfill our NATO role far better by concentrating on developing our conventional presence than by having a weapons system which is not obsolete but greatly in excess of our needs, and which adds little to NATO's deterrent capability. The price that we shall pay for Trident and four submarines will be the sinking of more ships and a further reduction of BAOR's fire power. Conservatives who were elected to improve defence will surely not allow that to happen.
§ Mr. Neville Trotter (Tynemouth)
The debate is taking place against the background of two fundamental facts. The first is the ever-increasing cost of modern technology, which has produced a cost of over £1,500 million for a new large aircraft carrier being ordered by the Americans, and that cost is apart from its aircraft. The cruisers to escort it will cost about £400 million each. It is clear that only the navies of the two super Powers are able to acquire such weapons systems. The cost trend presents us with a major problem for the future of the Royal Navy.
The second fundamental fact is the threat from the Soviet Union, to which reference has been made by surprisingly few hon. Members this evening. There is no doubt that this threat is increasing all the time. Powerful new ships of class after class are coming out of the Soviet yards at a high rate. One of the most worrying features is the expansion that has taken place in their capacity for future building. The rate at which they are now launching warships is only a fraction of the potential capability of the industrial complex that has been built up in their warship building yards. Admiral Gorshkov, in his writings, has said that he sees Soviet sea power as the most important 395 element in the Soviet arsenal to prepare the way for a Communist world. Not only do we see the new ships coming out of the shipyards and their fleets exercising at sea; we read from their Commander-in-Chief the aim of that great navy. It is against that background that the Government have made the review which has had the effect of reducing our surface fleet.
No other NATO navy can take the place of the ships that will no longer be made available by the Royal Navy. The United States navy is being increased in size, but it is greatly over-extended. For many years it was based on a strength which was hypothetically adequate to cope with one and a half oceans. Now it is committed in three oceans—the Atlantic, the Pacific and, more recently, the Indian Ocean. It is suffering gross overstretch, and it cannot make up for any gap that we may leave.
Reference was made earlier to the fact that in the Atlantic there are 80 Soviet submarines versus 94 escorts and 400 aircraft on the NATO side. In my view, the acceptable odds at sea are very different from those on land. With skilful use of terrain, a land commander can accept odds of perhaps three to one against him and survive. At sea, all the experience of two world wars has shown that the odds are the other way round. When hunting submarines, one needs odds of perhaps three to one on one's side. So the figures are grim. If one goes back to 1943, at the height of the war against the German U-boats, on a typical day there were 50 German submarines at sea in the Atlantic. Against that, we ranged 25 escort carriers, 800 escorts and 1,100 aircraft. The balance has changed very much against us since then.
The balance has also changed on land and sea, but I believe that it is more obvious at sea, because one can count the power and strength of the Soviet navy more readily than one can assess their army and air force. This is a bad time in which to be reducing any capability of the Royal Navy.
I join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend. He fought a hard battle to obtain more money for the Services. I believe that he had a great deal of success in that battle. In the last stages he obtained billions more than at one time seemed possible. I congratulate not only him but the Cabinet on the collective decision to honour the NATO commitment and to increase it by 3 per cent. a year in real terms. That is more than seems likely to be forthcoming from our European allies although it is not as much as America, where the increase is likely to be 7 per cent a year in real terms. It is an honourable commitment in the present economic conditions of this country, and it is an example to our NATO allies in Europe.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on the skill with which he has approached the problem in general. He is determined that we shall no longer have a facade of weapons systems which are not wholly effective because they have not been modernised or are not backed up by adequate spares or stocks of ammunition. I am sure that he is right that, whatever fighting units we have must be effective, and that the three Services must be fully effective.
The rising costs to which I referred are a problem that will not go away. My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) made an interesting speech on the matter. However, I fear that no degree of specialisation will enable us to face the ever-increasing challenge from 396 the Soviet Union as long as we in the West are not prepared to increase the amount that we spend on defending ourselves by more than an arbitrary figure of 3 per cent. I wholly deplore that. The Soviet Union—a country much poorer than the West—has no such arbitrary limit. It is directing ever-increasing sums from other human needs to weapons systems and ways of expanding the power of its services, including the navy. We must face the financial consequences of that fact if we value our freedom.
The crux of the matter is in paragraph 4 of the White Paper, which states:Our current force structure is however too large for us to meet this need within any resource allocation which our people can reasonably be asked to afford.How much more would have been needed to retain the force structure at its present level? The House and the country are entitled to know the figure. When we know it we may say that it is so high that we agree that we cannot meet it. But let us know what the Cabinet was told about the figures when the decision was taken. Would it have meant 1p more on income tax? That would bring in £850 million a year—a not inconsiderable sum. A halfpenny would bring in £425 million. Many hon. Members, including myself, would have accepted a 1p on income tax if that increased our assurance of peace.
Britain actually spent more on defence in the 1960s than it does now. The difference between what we spent in 1968 and today in real terms is £1,200 million. If we spent today what we spent then, we would be spending £1,200 million more. That would, I am sure, have gone a very long way towards maintaining the present structure of the Navy.
Perhaps the decision on where the cuts should fall is in part because the Navy has been too secretive in the past about its operations. It is difficult to know what happens out at sea. The Navy operates hundreds of miles out into the Atlantic, away from observers and it is difficult, even for interested persons to witness it exercises far out in the Atlantic. It is a war of electronics, which is very difficult to assess. There has been no naval battle in modern times. I regret that nobody really knows what would happen. The Navy is probably not absolutely sure of what might happen when its electronic equipment is pitted against that of a sophisticated enemy. The Navy has suffered because its public relations image has not been able to show its true role in a war and has, perhaps for security reasons, been too secret. I am sure that the country appreciates the professionalism and ability of the Navy, but few appreciate its technical task and capabilities in a war.
The Navy has an important role in assisting in countering the Soviet presence in far-off waters, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend for deciding to continue to deploy the Navy in those waters. The main role in a war would, however, be to keep open the sea lanes across the Atlantic. These lanes are essential if the war on land in Europe is to continue for any length of time. If we allow a position to develop—I am not suggesting that it has developed—whereby the reduction in the naval strength in the Atlantic prevented the sea lanes from being kept open, defeat would follow in Europe regardless of what we had done to build up our forces on land.
We could not hold a Soviet blitzkrieg in Europe for any length of time without American reinforcements of men and materials. While men can be flown over the Atlantic, supplies must come by sea. American figures show that the airlift capacity on the Atlantic is 3,000 tonnes a day. One 397 armoured division requires 100,000 tonnes at the start. One container ship can carry as much as several days' airlifts. The sea lanes are thus vital if the war in Europe is to last for any length of time. If they were not kept open, the nuclear threshold would be reduced. I hope that my hon. Friend can assure me that that factor was taken into account in considering the reductions in the Navy. I am sure that everyone wishes the nuclear threshold to be retained at as high a level as possible.
I turn to the future shipbuilding programme. There is a great deal of concern about the future of the dockyards. I am concerned about the future of warship-building yards in British Shipbuilders.
There are to be no more half-life major refits, and the arguments advanced appear to make financial sense. It costs as much to refit a ship halfway through its life as it can cost to build a new ship. On that basis, one can understand the argument for short-life ships and this should benefit British Shipbuilders. The Trident programme must surely be the largest order ever placed with the British shipbuilding industry. Under it there will be an enormous amount of work for British Shipbuilders. However, I hope that all the implications for British Shipbuilders will soon be spelt out when decisions have been taken on the allocation of the funds available for future Royal Navy shipbuilding.
Before leaving the subject of dockyards I express the hope that the interests of Gibraltar will not be overlooked and I believe it right that Gibraltar should be mentioned in this debate. There is no Member representing Gibraltar in this place, although there are one or two who sometimes seem to be almost Members for Gibraltar. The yard has a very important role to play. One aspect is the effect on the life of the community in Gibraltar if the yard were to close. Almost everyone with an industrial bent in Gibraltar works in the yard. There is also the vital location of the yard at the entrance to the Mediterranean. Its future is surely strategically essential from the point of view of NATO, and I hope that it will not be overlooked as a result of the review.
I return to the building of warships in future. Why cannot we have a programme that spells out the detailed implications? Are a large number of frigates to be built, and are there to be a substantial number of new supply ships built? I believe that the answer is probably "Yes" to both questions. I intervened in the previous defence debate to say that if we are to maintain 50 frigates and destroyers in the active fleet, and if they are to have a life of, say, 15 years, we shall need to build three or four a year to maintain that number.
The shipbuilding programme must be a long-term exercise. It takes five years to build a ship. It can take nearly as long to design one. There is always the problem that a weapons system is out of date after about 10 years so that the weapons system is out of date on the last of a class while it still being built. That looks like being so for the type 42. By the time that the last type 42 is finished, it will carry an obsolete weapons system.
If there is not an adequate building programme in the next few years, I am convinced that the consequences for the Royal Navy will be at least as serious as the cuts that have been announced in the review. It is essential that we clear up as soon as possible any doubts about the building programme. I am worried about the effect on the size and capability of the Navy in the 1990s until such an announcement is made. If insufficient new ships are built 398 and if, as proposed the existing ships are not modernised, we shall have a Navy with too many obsolescent ships, and it will be inadequate to deal with the sophisticated threat from a modern enemy.
There is too much hope and too little commitment so far in the Government's expressions of opinion on these matters. We heard from my hon. Friend the Minister of State that if the resources were available he hoped that we would build more than 17 nuclear submarines. There was hope that we would buy more than seven Hunt class minesweepers. In the review the hope is expressed that we shall build one conventional-type submarine a year. There is a certainty that type 23 frigates will be built. but the number is uncertain. We are told that it depends on the resources that are available.
I am not criticising the Government for that state of affairs at this time. I think that they were right to bring out the overall results of the defence review as quickly as possible. It was essential that the main decisions were taken and the main worries confounded. However, there is a need for a further statement by the Government in the autumn. Those who work in the Navy and in British Shipbuilders are entitled to such a statement. The statement should set out in detail what the programme is to be and it should emphasise that the Government understand that after the review decisions there is need for stability and progress in the Navy's future. The main assets of the Royal Navy are the skill and expertise of those who serve in it. They are entitled to have that reassurance for the future.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
First, I emphasise the opinion expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter). I appeal to the Government to think again—it is a last minute appeal—about the total resources allocated to the Royal Navy and of the size and strength of the Royal Navy as envisaged in the defence review. I think that more money should be made available. That should not be at the expense of Trident, or at the expense of our front-line capability on land or at sea elsewhere, but I contend that more money should be made available. It would not be necessary to provide a substantial additional amount to maintain the surface fleet at the level that was envisaged before the review was introduced.
At the very least, if we are being called upon to cut the size of our fleet the House is entitled to know how much we are saving and how much money is involved in making these sacrifices. I believe that they are the wrong sacrifices and that they should not be made. There is the sacrifice of the elimination of the third aircraft carrier, and possibly the operation of only one aircraft carrier at any one time. There is the reduction by a substantial number of our frigate and destroyer force, which is the most significant sacrifice of all. Because of some mysterious mathematics, it is difficult to know what level of escort force will be available. The early phasing out of HMS "Fearless" and "Intrepid", our specialist amphibious ships, is unnecessary. I regret very much the reduction in Royal Navy numbers by about 8,000 to 10,000.
We are being asked to make those cuts not because of some military rethinking, but because of the need for economy. If we need any evidence of that, I refer the House to the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 7 July 399Of course I want to see more escort ships. If we had the resources, I have no doubt that we would put some of them into the building of more frigates and destroyers."—[Official Report, 7 July 1981; Vol. 8, c. 282.]I urge the Cabinet to think again about giving those extra resources. I believe that the country would want to support the Royal Navy if those extra resources were provided, to ensure that it is able to play a stronger role in our defence and make a greater contribution to NATO.
The other matter to which I wish to refer is the hunter-killer nuclear submarine programme and our ability to sustain the hunter-killer fleet and its relevance to the Chatham dockyard. If right hon. and hon. Members think that we are deploying purely a local interest it would not be a bad thing if that were so, but it is of much greater concern than that. It is asserted by the Government that the nuclear-propelled hunter-killer submarines are our most powerful vessels for maritime war. If that is so, it is our duty to ensure that the refit and refuelling capability is there to ensure that the fleet is operational and can be at sea at its maximum efficiency. The Government's action in closing the most efficient proven nuclear facility at Chatham undermines the possibility of keeping that fleet at sea.
I do not have time to deploy the many arguments that can be used—they amount to a technical argument—but I shall summarise them. As I understand it, there are about 12 hunter-killer submarines in the fleet—nuclearpropelled SSNs—with one other which has been launched but is not yet in service. There are also five submarines which are in dock and undergoing major repairs, three of which are undergoing major refits and refuelling. This is a two-year process, which cannot be reduced. Two of these are at Chatham, and one at Devonport. It is generally accepted that Chatham has proved to be the most efficient and successful dockyard for the refit of nuclear submarines.
We are entitled to ask about the nuclear submarine which Devonport has been refitting and refuelling. We are not pursuing a witch hunt at Devonport. We know that it has a major role to play in the maintenance of the SSN fleet. However, if by 1983, we expect Devonport to be refitting three nuclear submarines at one time, we are entitled to ask whether it is yet able to do that. We are entitled to point to Swiftsure, the one nuclear submarine which is being refitted at the moment. That has been at the dockyard since December 1978 and is not likely to emerge until 1983. If Devonport is to take that length of time on its first refit, why should we be confident that by 1983, with all the problems of the closure of Chatham, it will be able to handle three nuclear submarines at any one time?
Without denigrating the work force, we must recognise that there have been major industrial problems at Devonport. It takes years to build up the expertise and ability to handle one of the most complex and technological tasks that confront any industrial operation, and it is folly—grossly excessive optimism at the very least—to believe that we can reach that position by 1983.
It is expected that Chatham naval dockyard will cease to accept further nuclear submarines by 1983. There will be no more work done thereafter. That being so, in 1982–83 Devonport, which at present has one submarine 400 in for refit, will be expected to take three nuclear submarines for refit, in addition to other intermediate servicing and contingencies. It will not be able to cope.
According to my figures—if I had time I could spell the case out ship by ship—four nuclear submarines will be awaiting refit by 1983. We have been told that there is a risk. In fact, we have been told that there is always a risk. Although many of my hon. Friends have rightly accepted the philosophy that there are too many dockyards, I believe that the risk that they are endorsing is that by 1982 and beyond a queue of nuclear submarines—the backbone of our maritime effort—will be waiting for refuelling and refit, with their nuclear cores expired, simply because we have taken an irresponsible decision to press into Devonport an intensified and excessively ambitious nuclear programme with which it cannot cope.
I therefore urge the Government to think again about the time scale. I believe that they have got it wrong. My hon. Friends probably know in their hearts that they are taking a hell of a risk and that they have probably got it wrong. If they have got it wrong in that respect, they may have got it wrong in other respects. That is why I appeal to the Government to think again.
§ Mr. Mates
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) will address us again, by leave of the House. I do not wish to deny him leave to speak again, but perhaps you will point out to him that in this place we conduct debates and not harangues. The hon. Gentleman spoke for 28 minutes, made several combative and aggressive remarks and constantly refused any efforts—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. The content of a speech by a Front Bench spokesman is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. George Robertson
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I have great sympathy with much of what the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) said. The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) may feel that it is wrong to be combative, but many of the combative tendencies against the Govermment have come from Conservative Members. It is certainly par for the course to give way twice in a speech that lasted only eight minutes longer than the speech of the hon. Member for Petersfield.
The hon. Member for Faversham raised some concrete and realistic problems about Chatham dockyard and the ability of the renewed dockyard structure to cope with the problems that will be faced by the new SSN fleet. This is not an unimportant matter, as the Government clearly intend to depend on the SSN fleet for the backbone of the new "haircut" Navy. Therefore, the risk that has been admitted by the Minister must be assessed and taken into account.
It will not be beyond the Minister's memory that yesterday at Question Time I asked him a question about 401 the refit of HMS "Dreadnought". I asked whether it was true that last week that refit had been offered to Chatham dockyard. The Minister replied:As for 'Dreadnought', we are not ready yet to make an announcement about the future workload in Chatham, but we hope to do so soon."—[Official Report, 21 July 1981; Vol. 9, c. 157.]Twenty-four hours later the Minister of State tells us that the "Dreadnought" refit is being offered to Chatham dockyard. Leaving aside defence Question Time yesterday, the fact is that Chatham dockyard was offered that refit last week because Devonport cannot at present take that submarine, which should have gone there for its refit.
What the Minister did not tell us today is that there is considerable reluctance among both management and men in Chatham dockyard to take "Dreadnought", because at the same time as they are being asked to carry out that refit and to rescue the Government from the present crisis they are being told that they must run down and shut the dockyard in the next two years. I do not make these statements off the top of my head or on hearsay evidence. The authority comes from the chairman of the Chatham dockyard Whitley committee, who reliably informs me that that is the state of affairs. I see the hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) nod in assent, so that is her information too.
The crisis and the risks that have been admitted and are now being played down are already upon us. The concern expressed by the hon. Member for Faversham, which was expressed also by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) and indeed the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink), who mentioned the general problem of the dockyard capacity, is therefore genuine and real, and no real reassurance has been given so far. We can only hope that there will be a better response from the Undersecretary of State later today.
Much has been made of the Opposition's stance on defence, almost as a defensive mechanism against the serious splits displayed on the Government side throughout the debate. Some Government supporters, including the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who has now decided to rejoin us, seem to believe that one simply throws money at a problem and invents a policy, and that a policy is synonymous with greater expenditure, although we are told week after week by the Prime Minister that throwing money at problems does not solve them
By saying that defence expenditure will be increased, albeit by spending on the Trident programme, the Government expect us to believe that by virtue of that fact alone the defence capability of this country will be improved. Nothing of the sort is the case. The Government still have to convince the House and the country that their review will mean a strengthening of the defence of this country, and not simply an arithmetical calculation to prove that more money will be spent next year than was spent last year.
We have yet to hear from the Government the costs and the savings involved in this major defence review. It is remarkable that the Government can come to the House with a review of devastating proportions, affecting thousands of jobs and involving the closure of the dockyards and the reshaping of the Royal Navy, and still not tell us how much they will save on their programme 402 as a result. That is disgraceful, and those who are trying to make a virtue of the openness of the Government have a great deal to answer for on that subject alone.
§ Mr. Trippier
There seems to be some confusion on the Conservative side about the Opposition's position on defence policy generally. We understand that the last Labour Party conference voted overwhelmingly in favour of unilateral disarmament. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) said that he did not agree with that. We want to know the view of Her Majesty's Opposition, namely, the Parliamentary Labour Party.
§ Mr. Robertson
The resolution carried with the largest majority at last year's Labour Party conference—by more than 6 million votes to fewer than 1 million—was a motion in support of NATO. That is the common cord of the official Opposition. But the one view on which we are totally and completely united is that the review makes no defence sense whatsoever.
§ The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. John Nott)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party is quoted as having said at a meeting of the national executive committee of the Labour Party today that if the policies expressed at that meeting were followed it would involve coming out of NATO? So what is the policy about NATO?
§ Mr. Robertson
I have told the House of the policy of the Labour Party, as expressed at last year's annual conference. I am not a member of the national executive committee of the Labour Party and I am not in a position to judge what it may have decided at its meeting today. It is the Government's defence review that is up for judgment. We have seen today, as we have seen in every defence debate that we have had this year, major and serious structural splits between Conservative Members, never mind any differences of opinion that may exist on the Labour Benches.
When the Labour Government were in office, much was made by Her Majesty's then loyal Opposition about morale in the Services. There was great trumpeting about the perceived decline in the morale of Service men throughout the country. The incoming Conservative Government said that they would link Service men's pay to inflation—a pledge that they immediately carried out. But at that point they stopped trying to build morale in the Armed Forces. Several hon. Members—even the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) who was a former Navy Minister—have said that morale is in decline. That is a serious underestimate of the state of morale in the Royal Navy, suffering as it is under the burden placed on it by the Government, with a cutting back of its major capabilities and with uncertainty about the future.
Another small sign of the way in which the Government treat the Forces—and especially those in the Royal Navy—is that there will be considerable changes in the life-style of about 18,000 naval families, because the Government have decided to change the system of the weekly allotments paid to them. It would appear to be part of the great efficiency drive on which the Government have embarked. Unilaterally a decision has been taken that the allotments are to be paid monthly and by cheque. That will have serious consequences for many people, and we have had representations on the subject. That one small decision by the Government will impinge on 18,000 403 families, and it characterises the way in which the Government treat people who have given loyal service to the Navy, and to whom many hon. Members on each side have paid tribute in the debate.
§ Mr. Viggers
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the Government have given pensions for the first time to 13,000 pre-1950 Service widows, it having been said by the Labour Government that it was administratively impossible to do so?
§ Mr. Robertson
I have already given credit to the Government for linking Service men's pay to inflation, and there are other things that the Government have done. But morale is not simply about pay. It is about fighting men and fighting women in the Forces having the ability to do the job. Morale is at an all-time low in the Royal Navy, and no one can get away from that.
Time is severely restricted and I must allow the Minister the chance to reply to some of the critics on the Conservative Benches, but I should like briefly to mention the size of the fleet. Hon. Members have expressed genuine and deep concern about the future of naval ordering. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), and also my hon. Friends the Members for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) and Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) are deeply concerned about the future of thousands and thousands of shipbuilding jobs that depend on the Government's ship ordering programme.
It is not good enough to come to the House with a series of what appear to be platitudes, such as "Orders are about to be placed", "Orders will be placed as soon as possible" and "Orders will be placed as soon as we have some money". Presumably, orders will be placed in the first year in which cash limits do not affect the purchasing power of the Ministry of Defence. Some of our yards are dependent upon naval ordering and it is crucial for them to know whether there will be long-term continuity of work.
The hon. Member for Woking gave me a fairly patronising lecture on the basics of defence, as he sees it. He is sometimes a member of the minority, even on the Conservative Benches. He told me about the dockyard study and implied that I had not read it. I have read it. The Secretary of State must have read it, because he made a fulsome reference to it in the last debate. It stated clearly that one of the prices that would be paid for a short-life fleet—the option that the Secretary of State has taken on board—would be continuity of ordering and large batches of orders. It stated that new ships had to be coming on stream before one could have a short-life fleet. That means that orders have to be placed for a frigate that has not yet got over the Ministry of Defence's bureaucratic hurdles. After 1985, almost three type 23 frigates will have to be ordered per year.
If the shipyards are to comply with the Secretary of State's objective of a short-life fleet, orders must be placed at a time that will save the shipyards from decline and closure. That will ensure that the Secretary of State's targets are maintained if the fleet size is kept at 50. There has been much questioning—significantly by Conservative Members—of the Government's defence review. I do not apologise for reiterating one point. We have yet to hear from the Government how much will be saved at the expense of our Royal Navy. I hope that the Minister will tell us. By how much will the amount spent 404 on defence be short of the amount that the Government intended to spend? If we receive some answers from the Government, we shall be able to judge the amount of damage that the Government have done, not only to the Royal Navy's surface fleet, but to the morale and fighting stance of those who man that Service.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Philip Goodhart)
My hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates), my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) devoted parts of their speeches to the importance of a degree of specialisation within the Alliance. In theory, I agree with them. I have made speeches on some of the points that they made so eloquently today. However, I suspect that the cause of specialisation within the Alliance has faced certain setbacks. Those setbacks are partly based on financial grounds. With the increasing cost of high technology—which hon. Member after hon. Member has referred to—Treasuries in all the countries of the Alliance are unwilling to accept the type of forward commitment necessary if specialisation is to mean anything.
As we were told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the cause of specialisation suffered a further setback this afternoon at the hands of the Labour Party. I have a news agency tape in front of me which says that the leader of the Labour Party failed in an attempt to defer a decision at a meeting of the national executive committee on a defence document which calls on future Labour Governments to close all nuclear bases on British soil. The Deputy Leader of the official Opposition said:If this document goes to conference as it now is, all our sister parties would assume that we were moving away from NATO, especially if we said we were going to expel all bases from the United Kingdom.There cannot possibly be any talk of specialisation within the Alliance while that sort of political threat hangs over us and over it.
The main thrust of the debate has turned on the proposed closure of Chatham dockyard and the drastic thinning down of strength at Portsmouth. My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), in a powerful speech, reminded the House that while this was a crucial matter it was not new, and had been discussed many times in past years. Captain Stephen Roskill wrote a letter to The Times, much quoted in recent weeks, shortly before the defence decisions were taken, arguing that the fleet was to be cutwhile the excessively numerous and grossly overmanned Royal Dockyards are to remain relatively intact obviously because they command most electoral votes".This issue was discussed many times in the 1920s. I understand why previous Governments and this Government have been exceedingly reluctant to make decisions of this sort. Experience has shown that if one is to get substantial savings a whole dockyard has to be shut down, or virtually shut down, which must inevitably have a devastating effect on the careers of many men and women who have given years of loyal service to the Crown.
Inevitably, the choice between special skills, physical size and the right location is difficult. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Sir F. Burden) and others have rightly raised the question of what would happen if there 405 were problems at Devonport, and to a lesser extent at Rosyth, which meant that they could not handle the streams of SSN refits that would be needed.
On the physical state of the dockyards, there is no doubt that Devonport could handle more than three streams with some comparatively minor modifications, such as additional power lines. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) asked whether that could be done now. The answer is "Yes", but it would mean some strengthening of the management team.
§ Sir Frederick Burden
I find my hon. Friend difficult to follow when he says it could be done now if the management were strengthened and if other things were done. What are the "ifs"? How long would they take to implement?
§ Mr. Goodhart
Some members of the management team working in Chatham who have the expertise can, in the course of time, be expected to move to the Devonport area to provide the benefit of their expertise there. There seems little doubt that we can recruit the skilled craftsmen concerned. We have already had many applications from former apprentices who wish to return.
§ Mrs. Fenner
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but this is the area in which we find it difficult to accept his answers unless he can state them categorically. I understand that the expertise that will eventually help Devonport to carry out three schemes is in Chatham and that until 1984 Chatham will be using that expertise on submarines. Can my hon. Friend therefore repeat that Devonport can do it now, without the experts from Chatham? Are those experts to go now? If so, what will happen to the submarines at Chatham?
§ Mr. Goodhart
There is no question of that happening at the moment, but we seem to be at cross purposes. The physical structures are there and many of the skilled craftmen are already working in Devonport. More can be recruited in the very near future. The shortage is at the higher management level and one expects some transfer of personnel from Chatham to Devonport in the months and years ahead. Expertise must be built up at the middle management level.
There are risks of delays. But unless we duplicate or triplicate every system, there must always be risks of delays. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham pointed out that Devonport has not yet completed the refit of a nuclear submarine. However, Vice-Admiral Pillar made it clear to the Select Committee on Defence last week that he was confident that that could be done by late 1983. It would be overly pessimistic to plan on the assumption that the sort of industrial dispute that held up the refit of "Swiftsure" will be repeated.
Of course, there will be difficulties, but I do not think that it helps the work force of Chatham to hold out hope that the decision will be reversed by future Ministers of Defence.
§ Mr. Moate
My hon. Friend says that it would be wrong to hold out hope that the decision will be reversed, but we have arranged a meeting for next week in the hope that the arguments that we shall deploy will persuade the Ministry to change the decision. I hope that my hon. Friend is not saying that that meeting will be fruitless.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I have seen the record of the meeting that my hon. Friend had with my right hon. Friend the 406 Secretary of State. It would not be helpful to my hon. Friend's constituents for him to hold out hope that there is any chance of a reversal.
The hon. and learned Member for Accrington (Mr. Davidson), who wound up for the Opposition our previous defence debate, was directly challenged on whether a Labour Government would reopen Chatham or re-expand Portsmouth. He said:We would expand the economy, and we hope that any slack taken up in defence could be used for other, more productive industries."—[Official Report, 7 July 1981; Vol. 8, c. 344.]I regard that answer as meaningless, and it cannot be interpreted as even the weakest pledge to do anything to change the status of the dockyards.
I take the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) about apprentices and redundancies. Redundancy pay for the industrial work force in the dockyards will, regardless of the final arrangements, be determined to a considerable extent by earnings in the last 12 months of employment. The trade unions and the management have an interest in seeing that the rundown is orderly, with an adequate work load. Of course, that will require close planning. I hope that the trade unions will be prepared for detailed discussions in the near future.
My hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) and for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner) and the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Conlan) have raised in the House and in letters to The Times the issues of the heavyweight torpedo, radar, and the importance of reaching early decisions on procurement and also "buying British". I recognise that any major equipment decisions have technical, financial and political ingredients. It is right that the powerful points that were made about unemployment should be taken into account. A balance of 3,000 jobs could be at stake.
Over the years, officials and senior officers in the Ministry of Defence, as well as leading industrialists, have complained that American procurement policies have been dominated by the numerous Senate and Congressional Committees operating in defence. I am sure that my hon. Friends would not want or expect us to settle procurement issues of that importance by exchanges at the end of a debate, but we note the points that they have made.
My hon. Friends the Members for Gosport, for Buckingham and for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), and the hon. Member for Attercliffe asked about the type 23 frigate and simpler methods of construction. Everyone says that he has always been in favour of smaller, cheaper vessels. It seems that Admiral Jellicoe was the last person to be in favour of large expensive ships. But this is a comparatively new fashion, because, as the right hon. Member for Dudley, East (Dr. Gilbert) reminded us in the earlier defence debate, the Labour Government were trying to achieve the agreement of the Admirals to a vessel similar to the type 23 frigate in 1978. The hon. Member for Attercliffe reminded us at some length of what a good Navy Minister he was. Perhaps he recalls that he lost that battle with the admirals.
Inevitably, the debate has taken place against a background of controversy, but when all is said and done we shall retain a strong, balanced and flexible fleet, as well as increasing the numbers of nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines and maritime control aircraft. We shall also seek to maintain destroyer and frigate numbers at about 50.
407 We shall introduce the new type 23 frigate as early as possible—[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] As early as possible. We hope to give an order by the middle of this decade and we hope that the first will be in service well before the end of the decade. We shall order these vessels as fast as resources allow.
§ Mr. Goodhart
Together with our decision to end mid-life modernisation, this will, in due course, reduce the average age of ships in the fleet and allow a larger number to be operational for a given size of front line. We shall introduce a new class of diesel-engined patrol submarine. We shall enhance our defensive mining and mine countermeasure capability with the introduction of new mines and a new class of mine hunter.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I think that I had better press on. I have given way to a substantial number of hon. Members.
I note that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) did not give way in his opening speech. A number of interesting questions might have been put to him. If the hon. Member wishes to maintain his loyalty to his party's policy of reducing defence expenditure by £3,500 million a year, where will he get the extra money for the extra ships that he seems to hanker after?If he wants more ships to be built, let him say where the money is coming from. If he wants more jobs in the defence industry, let him say where the money is coming from. Some of us are getting fed up with the humbug that we hear from the Opposition Benches. The Opposition's criticism of the Government is not credible."—[Official Report, 7 July 1981, Vol. 8, c. 311.]
§ Mr. Goodhart
No. The words were spoken by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) in the last defence debate. Since then we have heard three Front Bench speeches from the Opposition and we have had no reply of any sort from the Opposition about how 408 they intend to raise the extra money. Is it any surprise that the right hon. Member for Devonport left the Labour Party in disgust?
I close with one brief quotation. It is this:The important thing … is to see that the organisation is as taut and efficient as possible so that resources and manpower are not wasted … This Government, notwithstanding the severe economic difficulties facing us as a nation, are implementing the NATO target of an increase of 3 per cent. in defence spending in real terms … However, with the cost of high technology and high quality weapons … there are difficult decisions of priorities that we have to make in our defence expenditure."—[Official Report, 19 June 1980; Vol. 986, c. 1828.]Those were the closing words of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed) in the Navy debate last year. They set the scene in which we, I believe, have successfully reviewed the defence—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Question which he was directed by paragraphs (7) and (11) of Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply) to put at that hour.