§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Le Marchant.]3.42 pm
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
In opening the annual debate on the Royal Air Force, my first expression should perhaps be one of regret. Although I welcome the Minister of State to the debate for the first time, that expression of regret surrounds the demise of the hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) as the Minister responsible for the RAF.
It has been custom and practice since the 1960s for each of the Armed Services to be represented by a Minister, and I am afraid that "Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement" does not have the same ring about it as "Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force". If I may say so, without unduly blighting his future career, in the two years in which I shadowed the hon. Gentleman, I found him to be a keen and enthusiastic RAF Minister. For those reasons, we regret the Prime Minister's decision to reshuffle the titles of Ministers in the Ministry of Defence.
For many years, it has been true to say that there is not much wrong with the RAF that money could not put right. However, insufficient money is available under any Government to do all the things that the RAF would like to do. Inevitably, modern and expensive technology means that the RAF must account for a large slice of total defence expenditure. The RAF is tiny indeed compared with the air forces of the United States and the Soviet Union—the two super Powers—yet man for man it is rightly considered to be the best in NATO. I believe that it is probably the best trained and most professionally skilled in the world.
If one looks back over the past 25 years, it is remarkable that the morale and ability of the RAF have remained so consistently high. It has seen its tactical aircraft reduced in numbers following the 1957 defence review, which relied more on the so-called nuclear deterrent than on manned aircraft and on air defence surface-to-air missiles than on conventional aeroplanes.
In the 1960s, some of the RAF's most cherished projects—the supersonic jump jet, the Anglo-French variable geometry aircraft and the TSR2—were all cancelled, usually and justifiably in the name of economy. The 1970s brought yet another switch in emphasis. The strategy of flexible response meant that NATO moved away from tactical nuclear weapons—if such things exist—to conventional means of fighting, and the RAF's view of the "strike back" approach as a means of defence became the new strategy.
To that end, the RAF brought into service Harriers and Jaguars and bought Phantoms from the United States. At that time it lacked a long-range aircraft for strike and attack missions, and that old campaigner, the Buccaneer, was plucked from the aircraft carrier and did, and still 141 does, sterling service in its low-flying attack role. Also in the 1970s there was the development of the Anglo-French Jaguar, which in the opinion of many experts was sadly underpowered and seemed to owe its existence more to the state of the entente cordiale than to the strategic requirements of the two respective air forces.
The RAF, therefore, has a motley collection of aircraft—too few aeroplanes, but too many types. For the future, it has pinned its faith on just two types—the Tornado, with its all-weather and seemingly all-purpose capacity to replace aircraft as diverse as Vulcans, Buccaneers and Canberras in strike attack, and Lightnings and Phantoms as interceptors.
In addition, we may have the AST403, an aircraft—perhaps I should say a concept—which as yet has no discernible outline. If I remember correctly, during last year's debate on the RAF at least two Conservative Members and one of my own hon. Friends made a plea for a quick decision on this matter. But given the experiences of Jaguar and Tornado to name but two, I fear that AST403 might well produce more talk than action.
The Government must also make a decision in the near future on that other vexed project, the AST409, the Harrier replacement. It appears that they have already decided, although they have not publicly said so, to buy American. On 6 June, Flight International carried a story under the headline "AV8Bs for RAF". If, as they presumably hope, the Government can evade America's fairly tough anti-trust laws, they owe an explanation to the House if that is indeed the decision that they have reached.
A comparison of the American AV8B with the all-British mark 5 indicates that the British version has a marked superiority in terms of maximum speed, speed at low level and better manoeuvrability. I understand that the GR5 has better air combat capability, a better payload and a longer range. But this decision is surely about the independence or otherwise of British Aerospace. The V/STOL project represents a massive United Kingdom investment in British cash and technology, but fears are already being expressed within British Aerospace about the future of its skilled and experienced designers and technicians. "Go West, young man," might be their only option if this country goes ahead and buys American.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the concern expressed by British Aerospace in relation to maintaining a design team. Will he also recognise that the decision, if it is taken, to have the AV8B rather than the GR5 will mean more in terms of profitability and jobs to British Aerospace?
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman pre-empts me by seconds. I was about to deal with that matter. It is, however, right to point out the long-term implications for the technical and design staff and to express their fears about the future. As the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) says, there will be substantial orders for the United Kingdom if the Government purchase the AV8B. As far as McDonnell Douglas is concerned, I have seen estimates that between 60 and 75 per cent. of the total work will go to Rolls-Royce.
I hope that the Minister will say whether we are to have British or American. If we are to have American, what proportion of the available work will come to Britain? Indeed, the Minister will have to go further. Many times 142 in the past pious hopes have been expressed about cooperation between our respective aircraft building companies. The American are tough and hard business men. I hope that if the decision is to go ahead with the AV8B, the Minister and his colleagues will be able to assure the House that contracts for the subcontract work are drawn so tightly that the promises of the United States Government and its aircraft builders become a reality. It would be sad if British Aerospace is to be left, in the words of Mr. Ken Gill of the AUEW, only with a role as America's tin bashers.
I appreciate the difficulties behind the decision. I hope, however, that the future for British skills, technology and workers in aircraft design can be assured as a result of tightly drawn agreements.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's balanced remarks about an important project. Does he also regard as important the retention by British Aerospace of an independent design capability in V/STOL in which it has world primacy? Does he agree that this is the key if we are to develop the Harrier beyond the AV8B into a truly supersonic V/STOL for the 1990s?
§ Mr. Snape
I hope that this is what will happen. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will support to some extent my view that if one buys American there is a danger that the British capacity for further development will be lost. That would be a tragedy. I agree 100 per cent. with the hon. Gentleman.
No debate would be complete without some mention of Trident and its effect on the Royal Air Force budget in the 1980s. Some Conservative Members have given notice of their concern—I believe that the hon. Member for Preston, North did so in the debate last year—regarding the impact of Trident on other defence budgets, particularly RAF purchases throughout the 1980s and the 1990s. The future of projects like the AST403 and 409 are bound up in the overall defence posture and policy of the Government. It appears that the RAF budget is at present untouched. We are concerned, however, that Trident should not have a serious effect on our air defence capability in the run-up to the next election. I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said on many occasions. After the next election, the Labour Government will cancel the Trident project, which will cease to be a burden and threat to our other defence priorities.
Conservative Members have many questions to answer on Trident. Nearly all of them profess to support it. They say that its cost should not fall on other Service budgets. They neither know nor appear to care what these costs are. The estimates are very vague. They neither know nor appear to care about the effect of the costs not only on Service budgets but on the whole range of Government expenditure. A decision to go ahead with Trident does not merely affect Service budgets. It also affects areas important to hon. Members on both sides, such as schools, hospitals, the National Health Service and industrial strategy. All will be affected if the Government go ahead with Trident. Conservative Back Benchers should reflect on whether this country can really afford, putting aside the ethics of the matter, to stay in the nuclear arms race while still providing the conventional forces that Britain and NATO want.
Over the years, when demands for economies have been made, the Royal Air Force, unlike the Royal Navy, 143 has chosen to cut its administrative and back-up services rather than to reduce the number and efficiency of its combat squadrons. Many ground crews still work long hours without overtime pay. For the unemployed youngster, with the necessary academic and technical qualifications, the RAF still offers an extremely good career. Many who acquire specialist skills are much sought after in civilian life. The RAF needs its skilled mechanics and technicians. Their pay and conditions must be such that they remain in the RAF at the end of their engagements.
A great deal has been heard about the shortage of pilots. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) has pointed out repeatedly that there are the equivalent of two-and-a-half pilots to every aircraft receiving flying pay. There is still, however, a shortage and, so far as can be seen, will continue to be a shortage of fast jet pilots. A pilot entering the RAF from university takes five-and-a-half years, including three at university, to reach his first squadron. A direct entrant pilot takes three-and-a-half years. It says a great deal about modern systems of navigation and weapon systems that the training of a navigator takes almost as long.
The failure rate of pilots of fast jet aircraft is still, I believe, about 70 per cent., although a proportion of initial failures eventually qualify on less demanding aircraft. I appreciate the difficulties. I wonder, however, if the Ministry of Defence has considered shorter lengths of service or even the vexed question, discussed last year, of adequately trained reserves. Both would, I suggest, have a beneficial effect in the short term. After all, 35 per cent. of jet pilots are currently on short service commissions. I believe that the Royal Air Force can ill afford to lose such pilots. I believe that the Ministry should examine the possibility of increased inducements to persuade them to sign on at the end of their engagements.
The tough questions regarding pilots of modern aircraft require an expert—I am certainly not one of them—to provide an answer. Can a man, no matter how well trained, be expected to perform all the roles necessary in flying a multi-role aircraft? Can he really be a fighter pilot, bombardier, close-air support specialist and ECM operator? Can he perform all these functions in combat? In the event of a Soviet attack, NATO's tactical air doctrine emphasises four main roles—counter-air, meaning the maximum disruption of Soviet air operations; close air support, the co-ordination of air attacks with NATO ground forces; interdiction, the attack on logistics and communications; and reconnaisance to provide intelligence.
There is still a basic difference between the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force over strategy. The USAF favours medium level operations utilising technology, while the Royal Air Force emphasises low level flight, stressing pilot skill. No one doubts that such skill exists. RAF pilots have consistently achieved brilliant results in exercises such as Red Flag and Giant Voice. Without repeating views that I put forward last year, I would point out that the United States, the only NATO nation with recent air combat experience, is moving away from multi-role aircraft designs toward more austere and narrower purpose aircraft such as the F16 and the A10.
The Warsaw Pact has basically four main types of aircraft. It has the TU-16 Badger, a fairly old, medium-range jet bomber, the TU-22 Blander, a supersonic and maritime patrol bomber, and the Backfire, which appears 144 to be earmarked for a long-range role. That leaves only the SU-19 Fencer, a swing-wing fighter bomber for frontal aviation, yet the 150 currently deployed represent only 4 per cent. of the pact's frontal aviation. Even when the full complement of 600 Fencers is deployed in 1985, the plane will still constitute only 13 per cent. of the Warsaw Pact's total air power. In other words, the pact's all-weather capability is limited. In any case, the Fencer appears to be earmarked not for front-line ground support but for fairly deep interdiction against high value targets.
As I pointed out in last year's debate, the mass deployment of anti-aircraft guns would force the Soviet Union into higher level operations than it plans at present. According to the United States, in North Vietnam the mass deployment of anti-aircraft guns significantly reduced the accuracy and thus the effectiveness of United States air strikes by up to 50 per cent.
The Soviets can only reach that type of defence with precise-guided weapons, and presently it is behind the West in that capability. If the Minister believes differently, perhaps he will tell the House. Indeed, one or two American specialists to whom I have spoken believe that the lack of precise-guided weapons places a question mark over the Soviet clear-weather capability on the central front.
Although we can justifiably be proud of the Royal Air Force, I have a number of questions for the Minister. Regarding phasing out the AEW Shackleton, when will the AWACS Nimrod be in place, and what plans does the Department have to cover the gap of some years? What about the Nimrod's lack of look-down capability over land? In last year's debate I mentioned experience with the Grumman turbo prop E2-C. Have the Government looked into the problem? It worries our NATO Allies considerably.
Has the Minister seen the reports on co-operative development on Jaguar replacement with Saudi Arabia? Is there any truth in them? If so, what future is there for European development? Over the past few weeks there has been talk of the P106 development with Sweden and India. There have been newspaper reports about both matters. Can the Minister clear up the understandable confusion on both sides of the House about the future of the project? Given the constant escalation in equipment costs, has the Department compiled priorities if further cuts have to be made? How do equipment costs look over the next 12 months or two years compared with the retail price index? The Secretary of State mentioned the vexed question of defence costs. Sophisticated technical equipment has a habit of escalating in cost at a far greater rate than the RPI.
What happened to the much vaunted de-mothballing of the Lightning squadron? The Under-Secretary of State told us last year that it was essential to Britain's air defences. Does the RAF employ a squadron of erks shovelling mothballs in and out of the squadron? There has been no sign of it being wheeled out of the hangar since the hon. Gentleman promised that it would appear. Is there a gap in our defences without it?
A few weeks ago we discussed our future defences in the debate on the defence White Paper. Pay was mentioned. Hon. Members on the Government Benches congratulated the Government on what they called a very good settlement, but their glee was not shared by the press. Although I am afraid they are four weeks out of date, let me quote some headlines. The Financial Times stated:Armed forces to get 9.4% net rise".145 The Daily Telegraph headline was:Back-dated Service increases put 10.3 pc on total salary bill".The Times had the best one:Other ranks may take cuts in Forces 'rise'".In Opposition in the 1970s, the Tories made great play of the need for Armed Forces' pay increases to be kept up to retain skilled men in the Royal Air Force, but Henry Stanhope, the defence correspondent of The Times, states in the article:The Ministry of Defence acknowledged last night that many lower ranking Servicemen will see little or no difference in their pay packets after increased charges, higher national insurance contributions and tax have been taken into account. A number, including most junior soldiers, will be worse off.If that is true, what do the Government plan to do? In the last review, food charges were increased by 26 per cent. to £11.69 a week, and increased accommodation charges were described at the time as substantial after several easy years, so it is unfair if the lower ranks are worse off because of a pay rise that many hon. Members on the Government Benches described as substantial.
In last year's debate, I criticised the Property Services Agency, which is one of the quangos created by the Government of thrusting business men between 1970 and 1974. The justification for the PSA is as illogical as the reorganisation of the National Health Service and, indeed, the much vaunted and still unexplained local government reorganisation. The Conservative Government's doctrine of bigger is better has proved a failure, certainly with regard to the PSA.
Station commanders and others with whom I have spoken in the past year tell be that, far from things getting better, the bureaucracy, problems, delays, incompetence and inefficiency have become worse over the past 12 months. I appreciate that we are dealing with two Departments, and that it is difficult when dealing with the Department of the Environment to chop one's way through the bureaucratic tangle that surrounds the great towers on Marsham Street, but, for the sake of better relations at RAF stations, I hope that Ministers will attempt to overcome that problem next year.
In the debate last year, the Under-Secretary of State revealed the RAF's accident statistics for 1979. I do not know whether the Government plan to give us the 1980 statistics today. Considerable concern was expressed in 1979 and 1980 about accidents. The RAF lost 26 aircraft, with 11 Service men killed and nine seriously injured, in 1979, although I accept that there was a hiccup and the figures are slightly above average. One or two of the accidents last year caused considerable concern, which, I hope, will be allayed. I hope that we shall be told that the accident rate has improved.
The Government inherited the Royal Air force in its present state. Despite the bellicose speeches of the mid-1970s and the attacks on my hon. Friends the Members for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), I finish where I started. Man for man, the Royal Air Force is better than any other air force in the world, and is one of which hon. Members can justifiably be proud.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Peter Blaker)
I approach the Dispatch Box today with some diffidence. This is the first occasion for some time 146 on which a debate on the Royal Air Force has been opened for the Government by a Minister other than one designated with exclusive responsibility for that Service. After less than a month in office I have had little opportunity to see for myself the Royal Air Force at work. I look forward to doing so very soon and to meeting the men and women who serve in this and the other two Services.
The House will be aware that our defence programme has been subjected to a thorough review. We heard today that the Secretary of State will announce his conclusions to the House on Thursday. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) asked many questions, some of which referred to the outcome of that review. I must ask him, as his hon. Friends were asked by my right hon. Friend and others at Question Time today, to await our answers on those subjects on Thursday. There are other questions that we can answer today. I myself shall not attempt to answer all of them. I may be able to answer one or two of them, but I do not want to diverge too much from the main thrust of my speech because I have certain things to say which I am sure the House is waiting to hear, such as the reorganisation of the ministerial structure.
Before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State makes his statement on Thursday, I must stress that the Government remain totally committed to the NATO objective of increasing defence expenditure by about 3 per cent. per annum in real terms. Since coming to office we have achieved that aim, and it is our firm intention to continue to do so.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I apologise for interrupting the Minister. Reports have it that the Government will not meet it either this year or next year. What will the Government do in the remainder of their period to fulfil that obligation?
§ Mr. Blaker
That is perhaps a more appropriate subject to raise on Thursday with my right hon. Friend.
I propose to set out the current roles of the RAF, to say how its forces are deployed, to talk about its many peace-time activities, and to refer to the impressive programme of re-equipment upon which it is embarked. I shall speak in particular about its major asset in the effective operation and support of its aircraft and equipment—that is, its uniformed officers and men and their civilian colleagues.
However, before I speak about the RAF I believe that the House will expect to be told something about the recent changes in the ministerial structure, as this is the first occasion on which there has been an opportunity to say something on that subject. Rumour has it that in 1970 the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who was the Secretary of State for Defence for the Labour Government at that time, contemplated the sort of reorganisation of the structure that we have now undertaken. I cannot assert that, but it is widely believed to have been a fact. I was therefore interested in what the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said about his regret at the departure of the three Under-Secretaries for the three different Services.
I refer back to the White Paper "Central Organisation for Defence" of 1963—setting aside what may have been the views of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East in 1970—which laid down four basic principles: first, that the control of defence policy requires a greater knowledge of the background problems and currents of opinion within 147 the Services than can be secured with four separate Defence Departments—as there were then—responsible to separate Ministers; secondly, that the Secretary of State must have complete control both of defence policy and of the machinery for the administration of the three Services; thirdly, that the services must preserve their separate identities; fourthly, that although the three Services would remain separate, work within the new Ministry would be organised wherever possible on a defence rather than a single-Service basis. Those are the principles to which all successive Governments have remained committed, and I believe that most of us would agree with them today.
At the same time, it seems obvious that satisfying those principles is a matter of achieving a proper balance between arrangements that provide adequate across-the-board support for the Secretary of State on the one hand and those that enable the three Services to manage themselves efficiently on the other. This is achieved in the Ministry of Defence by organising work on two different axes. On one axis are functional officers giving across-the-board advice or managing functions on an across-the-board basis, such as the Chief Scientific Adviser and the Chief of Defence Procurement, while on the other axis the Service boards can obtain functional advice in order to form their views on a single-Service basis. So there is a form of grid.
So far as the ministerial structure is concerned, it is a question of achieving an appropriate balance between the provision of support on a functional basis to the Secretary of State and an adequate political direction to each of the Services. The new organisation is intended to strengthen the functional ministerial support for the Secretary of State.
Thus, as the titles imply, the Minister of State for Defence Procurement and the Under-Secretary for Defence Procurement—my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie)—will look after equipment matters, including requirements, development and approvals. procurement executive management, sales, research and development, and so on. They will do this for all three Services. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces—that is, myself—and the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces—my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart)—will look after the administration of all three Services, personnel and logistic matters, and similar questions.
At the same time, the three Services, the three Service Departments, and the three Service boards will be retained. Looking at the roles of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and myself, there are three important functions that we shall need to perform in relation to the Armed Forces. The first function is to provide a political input into the consideration of important problems. I intend to do this by, among other things, taking the chair on behalf of the Secretary of State at the Service boards, of which my hon. Friends the Under-Secretaries of State will also be members. My hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey will attend, as necessary, for discussion of equipment matters.
The second function is to deal with casework in the form of Members' correspondence and parliamentary questions. Each Minister will now do this, so far as subjects falling within his responsibility are concerned, for all three Services. The third function is to visit the Services. It is important that Ministers should know the 148 Services and that the Services, in turn, should feel that Ministers are closely in touch with the problems of the grass roots.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
While the Minister is on the subject of the organisation of the Service boards, may I ask him whether the Government intend to abolish the so-called Standing Committee for the Royal Air Force, which comprises only Service officers and permanent civil servants, without any political input—the same sort of Committee exists in the other two Service boards—and to ensure that all discussions about the future of the three Service boards are carried out when a political Minister is present?
§ Mr. Blaker
The Committee to which the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) refers is a matter for the Service members of the boards. We have no intention of imposing any change so far as Ministers are concerned.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
Will the Minister explain what he said about questions? He rather glossed over the subject. Do I understand that any Minister will be responsible for answering any questions on any Service and that there will be no delegation at all?
§ Mr. Blaker
No. That was not what I intended to say. I intended to say that there will be a basic division between the two Ministers who are concerned with defence procurement—that basically involves equipment and related matters—and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces and myself, who will be responsible for the Service boards and for administration, personnel an logistics. Questions will fall to be answered by the Minister or Ministers who are dealing with the separate subjects. Correspondence from hon. Members will be dealt with on a similar basis.
The Service boards will lose their own Ministers but will have in the chair a more senior Minister than before, who will be familiar with the Services and will be expected to have an understanding of the defence-wide implications of what is being discussed. I am not yet familiar with everything, but I hope to be so before long.
I turn to the main subject of the debate. As this year's defence White Paper shows, air power has always played an important part in NATO strategy. The speed with which air power can be applied, its flexibility and its effectiveness against a variety of targets give it a unique place in the spectrum of military capabilities.
The dramatic changes that have taken place in the Soviet air forces in the last 10 years demonstrate the recognition of that fact by the Soviet Union. Until about 1970 the Soviet air forces' range of capabilities was limited. Its bomber force was mainly nuclear and its tactical air forces were intended to operate in close support of the Army.
Since then, massive expenditure has led to a huge programme of improvements in all arms, not least in the air arm, which now accounts for 1 millon men and about 20,000 military aircraft. This represents something like a 30 per cent. increase over the last decade. During this time, many new aircraft have been introduced, including the long-range Backfire bomber, which is capable of higher speed, greater range and bigger payload than any predecessor. I said at Question Time, it has the range to attack the United Kingdom from the West as well as from the North and East.
149 About 80 of these aircraft are estimated to face West and a further 30 are produced each year. The Soviet tactical air forces have also been greatly enhanced and now number about 5,000 aircraft. Three-quarters of these are the dual-capable Fencers, Floggers and Fitters, with twice the range and payload of their predecessors. Fencer is a light bomber with the ability to carry a heavy weapon load over long distances and in certain flight profiles could reach South-East England. By the middle of this decade we expect 1,000 of these aircraft to be available.
When one takes into account the greatly improved avionics and the increasing accuracy of their weapons and delivery systems, the threat from the air to the United Kingdom and NATO can be seen to be great and continually increasing.
§ Mr. Churchill (Stretford)
Bearing in mind that the tactical air threat to the United Kingdom from the Soviet Union, and specifically its capability to drop conventional bombs on Britain, has increased by a factor of 10 over the last five years, and bearing in mind what the Minister said about the capability of the Backfire bomber to strike from the West, what have the Government been doing in the last two years to strengthen the appallingly weak state of the United Kingdom's air defences, which, under the last Government, provided for no more than 10 aircraft for the air defence of the entire southern half of the United Kingdom, the southern part of the North Sea, the Channel and the Western Approaches?
§ Mr. Blaker
I recognise the importance that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Churchill) has, for a long time, rightly attached to that question. Rather than embark on a detailed reply today it might be more useful to wait until Thursday, when my right hon. Friend intends to make a statement.
The programme to which I have referred costs money, even to the Soviet Union. We estimate that during the 1970s the Soviet defence budget grew by about 35 per cent. in real terms. It probably now accounts for between 12 per cent. and 14 per cent. of its gross national product. That is double the percentage spent by any Western nation. About 40 per cent. of the Soviet defence budget goes on procurement. Of that, expenditure on the Soviet air forces is nearly one and a half times that spent on ships, submarines and land armaments together. That is the background against which we must debate the Royal Air Force and its contribution to NATO defence.
As the House knows, the growth in Soviet capabilities is not confined to its air forces. In the response to increased Soviet capabilities in all three environments the Royal Air Force's contribution to NATO's deterrent posture covers operations at sea and on land as well as in the air, and includes maritime control operations against submarines and surface vessels, airborne early warning, strike/attack, reconnaissance, ground support and air defence.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The Minister mentioned the importance of the Royal Air Force's early warning system. What is he doing about it? Is he satisfied with the situation in terms of the vulnerability of that system during the present industrial dispute? What consideration is he giving to the maintenance of our early warning system when it is directly threatened by strikes?
§ Mr. Blaker
I answered a question on that subject at Question Time.
We believe that the Royal Air Force's traditional maintenance of a balanced air force, undertaking a wide variety of roles, is necessary because of our unique geographical position. The United Kingdom sits astride the sea and air reinforcement routes across the Atlantic to Europe. It is also an important mounting base for land, sea and air operations.
The Royal Air Force serves all three NATO commanders and virtually all of our front line is assigned to NATO. All our front-line aircraft are now deployed in two operational commands—Strike Command in the United Kingdom and Royal Air Force Germany. Both the Commanders-in-Chief also hold NATO commands.
Both the operational commands are backed by Royal Air Force Support Command, which undertakes all our flying training—about which I shall say something later—and our ground training, as well as providing engineering, signals, logistic and administrative support. The Royal Air Force contributes to defence in three main areas—the central region, the Eastern Atlantic and Channel, and the United Kingdom air defence region.
In the central region the Royal Air Force maintains 12 aircraft squadrons, kept at a high level of readiness to counter any surprise attack. Its role then would be to disrupt an aggressor's tactics and deployments, and to impose the maximum possible delay, winning time for NATO to call forward reinforcements. These squadrons would be responsible for many varied tasks, including attacks on enemy communications and movements behind the lines; operations against airfields and command posts; air defence of 1(BR) Corps, supplemented by the Rapier and Bloodhound squadrons stationed in Germany; attacks on tanks and armed vehicles on the battlefield; mobility for men and equipment; and reconnaissance.
The Royal Air Force's contribution in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel includes four squadrons of Nimrod long-range maritime patrol aircraft, which undertake anti-submarine warfare and the surveillance of surface vessels.
Two squadrons of Phantoms are primarily earmarked to provide shore-based air defence for the Royal Navy, which could be supplemented by other United Kingdom air defence aircraft, and two squadrons of Buccaneers—armed with Martel missiles and laser-guided bombs—operate in the anti-shipping role.
The third area in which the Royal Air Force has responsibilities is of course the United Kingdom air defence region. This area is extensive—about 500,000 square miles—and is of vital importance to NATO. Its strategic importance—deriving from the United Kingdom's role as a transit centre for transatlantic reinforcements, and from our own reinforcement forces stationed here—would make the United Kingdom an important target for air attack in the event of a conflict with the Warsaw Pact—and I have already discussed the strength of that threat.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
On the question of the United Kingdom air defence region, there is a view prevalent in the Royal Air Force that the Government have brought forward the debate to a date before the Secretary of State's statement to avoid answering questions on the Government's abandonment of the outgoing Labour Government's proposal to increase the number of air defence aircraft by 50 fighters and to cloak the abject 151 betrayal of the air defence of the United Kingdom by the withdrawal of the "Phantom" squadron of Lightnings about which the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement boasted when he first took office.
§ Mr. Blaker
Anyone who holds that view, which I have not heard expressed, would be talking nonsense. The debate today has been chosen by the Opposition; it is an Opposition Supply day. However good may have been the hon. Gentleman's intentions, he did not score a bull's eye with that.
§ Mr. Snape
In fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), it should be pointed out that it is traditional for the Opposition to give up their Supply days to discuss the three Services when requested to do so by the Government. The first that I knew of the debate, as the Shadow Royal Air Force spokesman, was last Wednesday, so my hon. Friend has a valid point.
§ Mr. Blaker
If the first that the Opposition spokesman knew of it was last Wednesday he cannot blame the Government. He should improve communications on his side of the House. It would be much better if the Opposition dropped this point; it is not a good one.
Perhaps I may be allowed to get back to the discussion—
§ Sir Albert Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
If this is an Opposition day, why is there only one Back Bencher on the Opposition Benches?
§ Mr. Blaker
That is a phenomenon that we are getting used to, on many subjects.
With the permission of the Opposition, I should like to say a word now about our concepts of air defence. Because the nature of the threat is constantly changing, flexibility must be a prime aim. Our air defences must therefore consist of an integrated range of different systems available to meet the threat as it develops, and we achieve this by operating a system of three layers of defence.
Because of improvements in both the range and the accuracy of stand-off weapons, it is essential to counter the air threat as far out as possible in the first instance before the intruders have a chance to release their weapons. Thus, the first layer of defence is the fighter screen provided by five squadrons of Phantoms and two of Lightnings.
I was asked by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East to say a word about the Lightning squadron. As was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 20 January, although it is no longer our intention to form a permanent third Lightning squadron for United Kingdom air defence we plan to find the equivalent of a further squadron based on an augmented training unit which would be rapidly made operational in an emergency.
The emergency squadron would be strengthened by the addition of air and ground crews serving in other posts without an essential war role but with recent Lightning experience. This squadron will enable us to maintain planned fighter numbers, and will capitalise on the work already done in preparing for a third Lightning squadron, but will be substantially cheaper than the establishment of a permanent squadron.
The range and endurance of these aircraft are extended by air-to-air refuelling, and they are directed by information received from a network of airborne early warning radars, ground radars and shipborne radars. The 152 fighters aim to inflict the heaviest possible losses on incoming aircraft. Those that get through are then faced with the second layer—our area defences provided by Bloodhound medium range surface-to-air missiles, and finally the third layer, the Rapier point defence missiles, which protect those targets of particular importance and which will be supplemented in this role in due course by the Hawks armed with the Sidewinder AIM9L air-to-air missile.
Hon. Members may be interested to know that, whereas in 1978 the Royal Air Force carried out about four interceptions of Soviet aircraft each week in the United Kingdom air defence region, last year the figure rose to nearly five a week. We are thus repeatedly reminded of the need for constant vigilance and readiness. I am happy to assure the House that our preparedness is reflected in the consistently high scores that we achieve in NATO's tactical evaluations. These are searching examinations of all facets of a station's ability to conduct air operations in simulated war conditions. Stations are graded for their performance in various categories, and our units in Germany are very much in the top league and enjoy the highest reputation amongst our allies in the central region.
Only last week, and for the second year in succession, a Royal Air Force team won the "Best Allied Air Force Award" in the United States Air Force tactical air-lift contest. Likewise, our standard of performance in the many NATO exercises is very high, and in war time our pilots' ability to fly fast and low beneath enemy radar would amply repay the low-flying practice undertaken in this country.
I should like here to emphasise that, contrary to what some people believe, low flying is not in itself inherently more dangerous than are other forms of Royal Air Force training, and the risk to the public is very small.
§ Mr. Beith
I appreciate that low flying creates many difficulties, and my area has suffered a great deal from it over the years. We have benefited from a wider distribution of low flying, which we hope will be maintained, and many people understand that the pilot in the aircraft is risking his life on their behalf.
§ Mr. Blaker
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He has been personally affected in his constituency, and I am sure that his remarks will be welcomed in the Ministry and in the Royal Air Force.
Before leaving the subject of our contribution to NATO I should like to mention two areas of assistance to our allies. First, I emphasise the importance of NATO's decision in December 1979 to modernise our long-range theatre nuclear forces. Since the 1960s those forces—the ones capable of reaching the Soviet Union from bases in Europe—have consisted of United Kingdom Vulcan and United States F111 aircraft operating from the United Kingdom. These aircraft are becoming increasingly vulnerable to improved Soviet defences and to attacks by Soviet missiles on their bases, and they are approaching the end of their useful lives. Cruise missiles will ensure that NATO retains its LRTNF capability. It is to be seen as a modernisation of something that has existed for a long time.
Secondly, I want to mention the signing in February of the memorandum of understanding between the United States and the United Kingdom on the purchase of Rapier. Work is already under way on the deal. As hon. Members 153 know, the Rapier units will be manned by RAF Regiment personnel, the costs being met under the terms of a published exchange of letters between the then Secretary of State for Defence and the United States Secretary of Defence of 14 and 15 July last year. This will be a very fine example of defence co-operation between our countries.
In addition to the support of NATO, the Royal Air Force performs a number of other tasks of no small importance. Last year, for example, the air transport force undertook the dropping of grain and food supplies to mountain villages in Nepal during the famine; the Hong Kong squadron continued to stem the flow of illegal immigrants; and the Nimrod force contributed, as always, to fishery protection.
The House would want me to mention also the achievements of the Royal Air Force search and rescue services, both at sea and on land. Although the permanent search and rescue units—the Royal Air Force helicopters and the Royal Air Force Nimrod on continuous standby—are established primarily for military purposes, most of the people rescued are civilians. If we take into account the other Service units involved in search and rescue—Royal Navy ships and helicopters, Royal Air Force marine craft and the mountain rescue teams—the scale of the service provided for the civil community becomes even greater. The statistics speak for themselves. In 1980, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy helicopters rescued 834 people, 758 of them civilians; and in the first five months of this year they saved 226 lives—28 Service and 198 civilians. That is a remarkable performance.
I want to mention one outstanding example of the courage of our search and rescue helicopter crews, and that is the rescue from the Swedish vessel "Fineagle" in October last year. Conditions were appalling. An inherently dangerous cargo was on board. The helicopter crew saved 22 people, including three women and two children. I am proud to report that, in tribute to their bravery, Flight Lieutenant Lakey, the pilot, has been awarded the George Medal, Flight Lieutenant Campbell, the navigator, the Air Force Cross, and the remainder of the crew the Queen's Commendation.
A regrettable case in 1980 involved the loss of a member of one of the helicopter crews. Master Air Loadmaster Bullock lost his life during a rescue attempt in the North Sea, again in very bad weather conditions. The tragedy of his death is a reminder to us of the dangers that our search and rescue teams are prepared to face, routinely, day after day. I want to pay tribute to the courage and the professionalism that save the lives of hundreds of people every year.
I have spoken of the crucial role of air power, and of the Government's commitment to a strong and effective Royal Air Force. The Government's commitment is paralleled by the confidence both of the serving men and women of the Service and of the young people of our country in the Royal Air Force. Whereas in 1977–78, 778 Royal Air Force officers and 3,247 airmen and airwomen applied for premature release from their engagements, by 1980–81 the figures were down substantially to 193 and 1,038 respectively. That is a dramatic drop, extending the downward trend that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement reported to the House in the debate last year. Those statistics are indicators of the 154 encouraging level of retention of trained manpower in the Royal Air Force at the moment. The Government attach great importance to retention. Last year we introduced an additional optional retirement point for officers in their mid-forties to encourage the retention of those who, although keen to remain in the Service, did not want to commit themselves to the age of 55.
I referred to the confidence of young people at large in the Royal Air Force. The evidence lies in the high number of applications for service in the Royal Air Force. The recruitment achievement in 1980–81 was excellent. More than 11,000 officers and other ranks were enlisted, representing 89 per cent. of the officer recruiting target, and 99 per cent. of the ground trades airmen target. The result is that the manning deficits that plagued the Royal Air Force in the later years of the 1970s and had such a depressing effect on morale are being progressively reduced.
Of course, we have problems in certain areas. We need more engineering officers, for example, and we remain short of pilots. Competition for highly qualified recruits may become more difficult as the decade progresses, because the pool of school and university leavers will diminish for demographic reasons. It is important, therefore, to ensure that satisfaction with today's success in recruiting and retention does not tempt us to relax our determination to treat the Services fairly. I have no doubt that the full implementation of the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has been a source of confidence in the Forces.
We recruit to the Royal Air Force in order to fill particular vacancies. With improved retention, and with the gradual reduction of our manning deficits in most areas, our recruiting targets have fallen. That means that the Service has to be more selective in its acceptance of candidates, and the result is that the new recruits to the RAF are of a very high overall quality. That is to the good. It used to be said that the Army equips men whereas the RAF mans equipment. The equipment the RAF mans incorporates some of the most sophisticated of today's technology. An enormous responsibility is vested in those who operate and maintain the airframes, engines, avionics, ground installations, test equipment and weapons that form the basic tools of the modern air force. To exercise that responsibility, we need young men and women not only of the requisite technical aptitudes but of judgment and maturity. I am glad that we are currently able to select such people against the highest standards.
In last year's debate on the Royal Air Force, the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford exhorted the Select Committee on Defence to review pilot training in depth, and to discover the reason for wastage during training. He said:I still believe that the in-service reviews do not come to grips with the real problems."—[Official Report, 23 June 1980; Vol. 987, c. 76.]I welcome the Committee's zeal in addressing itself to that question. Hon. Members who have read its report and the evidence on which it was based will no doubt feel that the Committee has fulfilled the wish of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford for thoroughness. The Committee concluded that, as long as the emphasis remains on boosting the numbers of pilots qualifying for the fast jet force, the current pattern of RAF training must continue largely as it is and the costs of producing pilots to the required standard must be accepted. I am pleased that the 155 Committee was, as I read it, able to endorse RAF flying training methods. Of course, the Ministry of Defence seeks constantly to identify areas where we might improve our training methods to reduce costs and wastage.
At the Committee's suggestion, we are examining whether there is any scope to alter the pattern of helicopter pilot training. But the general message of the Committee was clear—the sophistication of modern, fast jet aircraft, and the demands of the role of the RAF, set requirements for pilot ability that can only be met by rigorous training, and training that by comparison with civil aviation is inevitably expensive.
The Committee's inquiry was prompted by the shortage of pilots in the RAF, to which I referred earlier. That shortage is still with us, and will remain, I am afraid, for a while longer. Eliminating the pilot deficit is not simply a question of higher recruiting. Our ability to recruit candidates who show sufficient potential to complete flying training is, of course, one limiting factor in reducing the deficit, but recruiting targets are themselves limited to the size of our flying training machine, and by the rate at which front-line squadrons can efficiently absorb new pilots on their first tours. Nor is expansion of our flying training capacity a simple matter. We should need, for example, more flying instructors, thereby taking training skill and expertise from the front lines. The present pilot shortage is manageable. By giving priority to the manning of the front line, we can sustain more than the minimum aircrew-aircraft ratios—in every case better than one—to-one—and in an emergency we have firm plans to return to the front line squadron pilots with recent operational experience and now filling flying training or ground appointments.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Will the Minister ask the personnel department to produce an undoctored computer printout of those in the RAF receiving flying pay? When he receives that statement, he will see that about 5,000 are in receipt of flying pay, of whom 4,000 are qualified pilots. Bearing in mind that the order of battle of the RAF is 650 aircraft, will he critically examine the repeated claim-—notwithstanding the findings of the Select Committee on the evidence presented to it—about pilot shortage, yet 4,000 people are receiving flying pay for flying 650 aircraft?
§ Mr. Blaker
I pay tribute to my staff for advising me that the hon. Gentleman might raise that question. I have made some preliminary inquiries, but have not examined the matter exhaustively. I have had some answers and will pursue the matter further.
I should not have made specific reference to my next subject had it not been for the regret expressed by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East, in last year's debate about the small amount of attention paid to the role of women in the Royal Air Force. The Women's Royal Air Force is fully integrated into the Service, and to pay tribute to its contribution specifically—while I readily do so—is in fact to highlight a discrimination which the Royal Air Force itself recognises in only one or two areas. Women are employed in all branches and trades open to men, with the exception of those that are concerned directly with combat or demand physical strength.
The regular members of the RAF are supplemented by the RAF Volunteer Reserve and by the Royal Auxiliary Air Force which undertake various important support tasks.
156 I should also like to pay tribute to the loyalty of the many civilian staff who support the RAF and contribute crucially to its efficient operation. It is all too rarely recognised that most of these are "producers" in a wide variety of trades and specifications. They work alongside their uniformed colleagues and they are rightly proud of the part that they play in keeping the Royal Air Force flying and maintaining its standards.
I turn briefly to the major re-equipment programme under way for the RAF. I shall deal with it under three headings—air defence, overland operations, and maritime operations.
To counter the increasing conventional air threat to this country, we have in hand a major programme of improvements to our air defences. The existing ground radars and control facilities are being progressively replaced and improved over the next few years. The Shackleton airborne early warning force will be replaced by the far more capable Nimrod. One development aircraft has already undertaken successful flight trials and the second is due to fly in August with full mission avionic equipment.
The Nimrod AEW will provide a major United Kingdom contribution to the NATO AEW force when it comes into service in a few years' time. The capabilities of the new aircraft will enable us to combat more effectively aircraft such as the Backfire. The Nimrod AEW will detect these attackers far out to sea and enable fighters to interept them much earlier.
The main element of our future active air defences will, of course, be the Tornado F2. Three development aircraft are now flying and good progress is being made. The first batch of 18 aircraft has been authorised out of a planned buy of 165 aircraft. We are confident that the F2 will be an excellent interceptor upon entry into service in the mild-1980s The aircraft's main armament will be the Sky Flash medium range air-to-air missile and the complementary AIM9L short-range missile.
Air-to-air refuelling represents an extremely cost-effective way of keeping fighters on combat patrol. Refuelling tankers are thus a force multiplier and we are planning to increase our tanker force with the introduction of nine ex-civil VC 10 aircraft, which are now undergoing conversion to the tanker role and are expected to begin to come into service in the next two years.
For overland operations, the Tornado GR1 will, of course, be the keystone of our capability for at least the next 20 years, with its ability to operate in all weathers and at night. The aircraft has entered service at the Tornado tri-national training establishment at RAF Cottesmore. This unit will do the initial conversion training for crews of the German and Italian air forces as well as our own. Weapons training is done on a national basis and the delivery of the first aircraft to the weapons conversion unit at RAF Honington is imminent. Reports from our instructor pilots and navigators at RAF Cottesmore are, without exception, full of praise for the aircraft, and especially for its handling qualities. Weapon delivery trials are also producing some excellent results in terms of accuracy and reliability.
The Tornado will carry a full range of current conventional air-to-surface and self-defence armament. In addition to existing weapons it is intended that it will carry the advanced airfield attack weapon JP233. The United States decision to withdraw from this important joint project is of course extremely disappointing. I hope, 157 however, that it will reconsider its position. We remain convinced that this weapon offers a very cost-effective solution to the problem of airfield attack.
A major task of our aircraft operating in support of ground force will be to attack enemy tanks. To counter improvements in their armour protection we are now seeking a weapon which will offer an even better performance than the existing BL755 cluster bomb.
The House is aware that, in pursuing the equipment programme I have outlined and other aspects of the equipment programme, a serious problem began to arise last year over the containment of expenditure within the cash available. This has occurred because, with the falling away of civil orders in a time of recession, industry's rate of progress on defence contracts has been much faster than in previous years and this in turn has resulted in greater payments than were allowed for in our Estimates.
Even the harsh measures taken during 1980–81 through the moratorium and the period of stringent discipline which followed it did not entirely overcome this cash problem. Our early forecasts for 1981–82 indicate that this unusually high rate of industrial progress is still being maintained and there is growing evidence that we shall face a cash problem similar to last year's.
Action is therefore being taken to restrain expenditure and we are maintaining a close scrutiny of existing commitments and new starts. We shall also be seeking proposals and assistance from industry to control the levels of resources and manpower being applied to defence contracts. It is in the mutual interest of both industry and the Services that the rate of industrial progress on defence contracts should be regulated in order to avoid potential difficulties on this account, and we therefore look to industry for full co-operation in dealing with this problem.
Because of these difficulties, we shall also have to continue with some restrictions on flying activity. This is less than ideal, but I assure the House that RAF crews will still fly more hours than the minimum recommended by NATO, and we shall not entertain the slighest risk of endangering safety standards.
The introduction of new aircraft and equipment and the maintenance of a modern and effective air force are bound to produce short-term problems, as I have outlined. These problems have to be relieved by temporary restrictions. However, I stress that these are short-term problems, for the Government are determined to overcome them and to protect their investment in the future of the Royal Air Force. The RAF has a vital and ever more sophisticated role to play in the defence of this country, as well as in the central region and on the flanks of NATO. Hon. and right hon. Members of all parties will join me in paying tribute to the quality and loyalty of the men and women serving today. From what I have said of the roles and equipment of the Royal Air Force, the House will see clearly that we shall continue to need people of the highest calibre to man it.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I accuse the Secretary of State, the Ministry of Defence and the Secretary of State's predecessor of fraud. I accuse them of fraudulent accounts of arms spending. They are conning the public into believing that the vast increase in arms spending is far less than it really is. I challenge the 158 Minister to refute the charge that I shall make and substantiate. Fantastic as is the growth in the military bills, they have been, in reality, enormously greater. Nearly £1 billion of taxpayers' money is involved, as I intend to show. My figures have been supplied by the Defence Estimates and by the statisticians of the Library.
Let us consider the last year for which figures are available, which is 1980–81. The total bill in cash terms rose from £9.1 billion to £11.4 billion, an increase of about £2.3 billion. I naturally and at once admit that inflation rose by 16.3 per cent. in that year according to the retail price index. However, the increase in military spending rose in cash terms by 24 per cent. That is 7.7 per cent. more than the RPI increase.
The Government claim that their spending in real terms rose by only 4.9 per cent. "Only" is a word which I would hesitate to use. The question is why there is that difference between a 4.9 per cent. increase and a 7.7 per cent. increase. Why is there that discrepancy amounting to the little sum of £215 million in a single year? I stress that that scandalous deceit has been going on for years. In other words, when the Ministry of Defence reduces its growth to an increase in real terms, it allows itself the excuse of an inflation higher than that for lesser mortals, indeed, for everyone else in the community. How do the Ministry and the Government get round it? "Ah", they say, "the cost of weapons and of the forces has increased faster than the increased cost of other things." The truth is that nearly two thirds—62 per cent., in fact—of the arms budget goes on arms and not on men. The more serious racket is taking place in weaponry. For example, a nuclear-powered fleet submarine cost £140 million in the 1980 Defence Estimates, but the following year for the same vessel it had risen to £175 million—an increase of 25 per cent.
I shall now illustrate a case in which the Ministry of Defence gets more bangs for the buck. The Sea Wolf guided missile costs three and a half times the earlier Sea Cat. Why should the Minister be allowed to disguise that by pretending that that more effective and more destructive weapon is more costly only because of general inflation?
That would be like the Secretary of State for the Environment saying that his Department is not subject to the normal rules of inflation and that because land prices or interest rates have risen sharply and above the increase in other prices they must be ignored when considering the real expenditure on housing—which, of course, he does not do. Why should the Defence Minister alone be allowed a different method of accounting from everyone else? Why should the people in his Department be allowed to pretend that their expenditure is increasing less quickly than it really is? The Secretary of State is not God. Why should he be considered sacrosanct?
Forces' pay has risen, and rightly so. I differ strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife Central (Mr. Hamilton) who talks about Service pay as compared with nurses' pay. Service men are entitled to a decent standard of living. Contrary to occasional accusations from Conservative Members of Parliament that Labour wants to hit Service men's pay, we say that they are entitled to decent living conditions and that they should have—as they have in most of Western Europe—trade unions to help them to obtain that. Our objection is to other people's real wages being kept down.
The Forces' chiefs have had to raise pay rates to secure recruits, although I admit that unemployment is now the 159 best recruiting agent. It may come as a surprise to some hon. Members to learn that Service men's pay has risen by 82 per cent. in the past five years, as compared with 73 per cent. for a civilian's average earnings. Therefore, the Forces, which are supposed to have had such marvellous treatment, have only 2 per cent. per annum more in pay increase than civilians. I flatly deny that that provides an excuse for the greater increase in the arms bill.
Therefore, the increase of 4.9 per cent. in real terms in 1980–81 is in fact 7.7 per cent. in real terms. All this at a time when housing is being cut by 51 per cent. in three years, when hospitals are being forced to close through shortage of money, when doctors, of all people, are unemployed and when councils are being forced to cut home helps, school dinners and meals on wheels.
There is no need to cut any of those services. If we acted sensibly, as the Japanese have done, and devoted 0.9 per cent. of our gross national product to arms instead of 5.2 per cent. as we are doing, we could expand all those vital services. Even if we reduced only our share of gross national product spent on arms to the average for West European NATO forces, that would provide, the Minister told me in a recent parliamentary reply, £3.6 billion a year for other and better purposes. That is £3,600 million a year. What could we not do with that sum every year, using it for the things that we really want?
I need hardly add that it is because Japan has not wasted her research and development expenses on war preparations, as compared with the £1.7 billion a year which we are wasting, that she has captured the markets of the world in motor cycles, motor cars, televisions, electronics, radio, cameras and even shipbuilding. No wonder we are losing customers.
At the time of the campaign to wind up our military bases east of Suez, some of us knew that it would come about because our country could not afford them—not because of the eloquence of the Opposition, but for bread and butter reasons. Similarly, I say today that the economies in the Royal Navy and the cancellation of the £5 billion on the Trident will both have to come about for the same reason.
The current issue is whether to reduce the Royal Navy or to cancel Trident. As there is less likelihood of the Royal Navy triggering off a nuclear war Labour would undoubtedly scrap Trident. However much of the £5 billion has been spent, possibly £300 million, £400 million or £500 million by 1983 when we come into office, it will be scrapped. I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition and to the party for taking that line. For my money, we should take both steps for reasons which I shall explain.
Will the Minister tell me what possible advantage there can be to Russia either to incinerate Britain or to invade us, unless it was clear to her that Britain was the source of an imminent launch of a nuclear bomb on her territory? I suggest that there would be no advantage.
The Secretary of State has given us the oft-repeated story that we had 30 years of peace thanks to NATO's nuclear bomb. Yet throughout the world today there is more fear and more talk of nuclear war than there has ever been in history. The reason is obvious. It is because we are much nearer the brink; it is because the nuclear arms race, like all previous arms races, is taking us daily towards war. If people are not sensible of that, they will be sensible of nothing.
My fear is that the two super Powers will not give up their nuclear bombs and missiles for a good many years 160 ahead. I say that with deep regret. As we have been told, the knowledge is there and cannot be forgotten. Even if a complete ban were agreed on, I suspect that both. Powers would keep a few hidden away just in case the other side cheated. But every other nation—especially the second-class military Powers such as ourselves--could afford to give up their nuclear weapons. They would be less vulnerable, not more vulnerable, if they followed the example of Canada. Canada has divested herself of her nuclear weapons on both the European continent and the American continent.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
Why does the hon. Gentleman think that the Israelis chose to take out the Iraqi nuclear reactor if it was not because of their absolute fear that Iraq might have nuclear weapons that could destroy Israel? By the same token, why did not Israel make her own nuclear efforts available for inspection? It was for the same reason—that she intends to maintain her national security.
§ Mr. Allaun
The answer is that I do not support the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear installations, nor do I support the setting up of a nuclear bomb in Israel. If we are to prevent these things happening, it is best for us to have clean hands and to see that the International Atomic Energy Agency does its job more efficiently than it is doing it at present.
Thanks to Duncan Campbell of the New Statesman, we know now that the Government's report on American nuclear bases here was an understatement. There are no fewer than 103 such bases in our small, highly populated, island. This makes us a priority target for extinction by way of retaliation if war should break out.
To Tory Members who are still thinking in terms of winning a nuclear war, as some of them clearly are, I say there would be no winners or, indeed, survivors. Our aim must not be to win a nuclear war but to prevent it—a very different matter. We certainly do not prevent it by spending £5 billion or £6 billion on four Trident submarines which, by design—or, more likely by accident—could land us right in it.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Would the hon. Gentleman reflect on the example of those countries that were contiguous to the Soviet Union and weak, such as Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and, more recently, Afghanistan? By virtue of their weakness, they were all invaded. In some instances they lost their sovereignty and independence totally. In the case of Finland, the country was taken apart.
§ Mr. Allaun
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Soviet troops moved out and that today Finland is an independent country. Moreover, there are other countries adjacent to Russia—I am thinking of Sweden and Austria—which are neutral and in no way involved with nuclear weapons. They refuse to touch them. As a result, those countries are safer and less vulnerable today than they would be if they were part of NATO and nuclear-armed.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the more authoritative comments on the notion of Russian aggression and expansion was provided on 3 March by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark) who, as my hon. Friend knows, is a vice-chairman of the Conservative Party defence committee? The hon. Gentleman said that since 1948 there has been 161 a continuing retreat in Eastern Europe by Russia. That is contrary to the views held by most of his Conservative colleagues. In that debate he produced specific arguments to show that Russian influence, far from increasing, had diminished.
§ Mr. Allaun
I have recently been in Austria, Finland and Norway—countries far nearer to Russia than we are. They will not have nuclear weapons on their soil. I shall be coming in a minute to more important allies such as Belgium and Holland. I can tell the Minister that those countries will never take the cruise missiles, and I think that we shall be joining them very soon.
Tory Members are still thinking in terms of winning the war, whereas our job is to prevent it. We shall certainly not prevent it by spending all this money on Trident submarines—by having them we would be more likely to be involved in a war than if we did not have them—nor by deploying 160 cruise missiles, widely dispersed in times of crisis, because they would not be confined to their two bases.
That would make our whole country a target, a veritable sitting duck, if by design or accident a nuclear weapon dropped on Moscow or Leningrad tonight. The Russians would not sit back and set up the Russian equivalent of a Royal Commission of inquiry to find out where the bomb had come from. They would wipe out all possible sources for the bomb by way of retaliation, and the Minister knows very well that we should be the first in that list, because of our nuclear armament.
It emerged last week that it is possible for each of the American's 42 Polaris submarines to fire their missiles without the consent of headquarters command. When I put the matter to the Prime Minister, she replied:The British Polaris submarines are firmly under our control".—[Official Report, 16 June 1981; Vol. 6, c. 857.]I just wonder in what way they are under our control. Perhaps we could have it explained to us. These are of an almost identical system to the American Trident. Someone on board one of those submarines might misinterpret a signal. There might be a crazy submarine commander. I know that other members of the crew have to be involved; it is not just the commander alone. Nevertheless, it is possible that if the crew were convinced that a signal they had received was genuine and from the top, they would use—
§ Mr. Wilkinson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not this an Adjournment debate on the Royal Air Force?
§ Mr. Allaun
The remarks that I have been making about the fraud in defence spending apply mainly to the Royal Air Force, because it has more equipment than the other forces. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will not try to silence me by means of a phoney point of order.
Mr. Brezhnev has made strenuous efforts to get negotiations going--unless hon. Members do not read the newspapers or do not take seriously anything that Mr. Brezhnev says. Mr. Reagan has replied, yet the press reports disbelief in Bonn that he is serious about those 162 negotiations. I other words, it is believed that Mr. Reagan is playing for time while the cruise preparations are speeded up.
On "Panorama", Mr. Weinberger declined to answer the question when asked whether he believed in detente. He countered it by saying that he did not know what detente meant. It means relaxation of East-West tension, and all our lives, our children's and our grandchildren's lives depend upon it. I hope that no one in the House will forget that. How one achieves detente by installing Trident and cruise is beyond my mind and those of most other people.
The more bellicose our Prime Minister and the American President become, the greater and faster the peace movement grows. Recently, the public opinion poll conducted by Marplan and printed in The Guardian showed not only that only 41 per cent. approve of our having cruise missiles as against 50 per cent. who disapprove, but that opposition to Trident is even more striking, with only 32 per cent. approving while 53 per cent. disapprove, the remainder being "don't knows".
Throughout Europe, the opposition to cruise mounts higher and higher. I recently attended a meeting in Oslo of the heads of the Dutch, Belgian, Norwegian, Danish and British Labour Parties, at which Ministers, Prime Ministers and Shadow Ministers were all determined that they would not have cruise on their soil. If the British Government go ahead with it, they will know that in so doing they are opposing the will of the majority of the population not only of Britain but of the whole of Western Europe. The Labour Party believes in both multilateral and unilateral arms reduction.
Talks have been going on for seven years in Vienna. I hope that the Minister will not look so worried. I am not worried. He seems to be the worried man here at the moment.
§ Mr. Allaun
That is a matter of opinion. What is a fallacy to me is not to the hon. Gentleman, and vice versa.
§ Mr. Allaun
In Vienna, for seven years, the Governments of the world have been discussing conventional arms reduction, which involves the Royal Air Force. After seven years of negotiations, they have failed to reduce conventional weapons by a single rifle, never mind a single aircraft. That is why the Labour Party believes that action must be taken without waiting until everyone agrees. We should take the lead by getting rid, not of all our weapons, but of all our nuclear weapons.
I conclude by saying that the opponents of East-West detente are opponents of peace itself.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
I shall not seek to follow many of the comments of the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), but I remind him of the truism that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. The day that our country is not vigilant to the dangers around it, I at least will be fearful for my freedom.
In the Royal Air Force debate last year, I raised the question whether it was feasible for the Royal Air Force to insure its aircraft in peacetime.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
The hon. Gentleman said that we must be vigilant, and so on. Does he equate that with having nuclear weapons? Does he mean that we must have nuclear weapons to be vigilant and defend our freedom? That seems a very strange argument.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I do not wish to break up my speech and turn immediately to the subject of nuclear weapons. I shall touch on them later in my speech. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stay in the Chamber to hear what I have to say.
I wish to pursue the question of insuring Royal Air Force aircraft. When I raised the question last year, I was told that it was a matter for the Treasury. Indeed, a reply that I received from the Minister of State, Treasury, informed me:It is long-established Government policy not to pay a commercial insurance premium unless there is a statutory or contractual obligation or a particular advantage, such as specialist services, over and above the possible receipt of compensation for loss."—[Official Report, 7 July 1980; Vol. 988, c. 72.]That answer, no doubt, is the considered wisdom of the Treasury and no doubt it has stood the Treasury in good stead for many years. The Defence Estimates this year, however, show that the Royal Air Force lost 24 aircraft, with a probable value of between £100 million and £150 million. I therefore wonder why the Treasury sets its face so resolutely against a proposal, put to me by an insurance company, to produce some form of insurance which would mean that when aircraft were lost something would come back to the State which would at least help the Royal Air Force to find the cost of replacement aircraft.
We know that many of the aircraft that were lost had been built many years ago. Those replacing them will have to be built at today's prices, which will be considerably higher than the original cost.
The point about insurance and the longevity of aircraft is forcefully borne out by the Defence Estimates, which make it clear that no fewer than seven squadrons in the Royal Air Force are currently flying Vulcan B2 aircraft which I believe first saw service in the 1950s. I doubt whether the designers of the Vulcan in those days imagined that it would be flying in first line service in the 1980s. Nevertheless, it is. I believe that that says a great deal for its design and engineering and for the quality of its manufacture. By the same token, I see that we have a squadron of Shackleton aircraft, which are about the same age, and that we still have two squadrons of Canberras which I suspect are even older, certainly in design terms.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Last but not least, the Devon and Pembroke aircraft, which are even older, and which I hope will be replaced by Jetstreams, soldier on in a communications role at Northolt in my constituency.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
It was perhaps a mistake to give way, as I wish to concentrate on Canberras and I am now being carried off into Devons and Pembrokes. I shall haul my speech back to Canberras, as I wish to make a specific point to the Minister.
When I visited Short's in Belfast two or three weeks ago, I was delighted to see two Canberra PR9s on the runway, both of which had received a 1000-hour overhaul at the factory, and to be told that between 1955 and 1980 Short's had built no fewer than 200 Canberras of various marks. I was delighted to see those two Canberras on the 164 runway, looking very smart in their new paint, but I was sad to be told by the directors of Short's that the work currently being carried out by the company in overhauling Canberras is the only work that that aircraft company now receives from the Procurement Executive of the Ministry of Defence.
I was equally sad to hear that the directors fear that the further five Canberras which need an almost complete rebuild would not come their way. They do not know that, of course. Therefore, I am using this debate to persuade the Minister that the five Canberras that were originally built at Short's in Belfast should go back to that company to be rebuilt. I stress that if this is the only interface left between Short's and the Procurement Executive, of which the Minister is now the top adornment, this must be his chance to do Short's a good turn and to ensure that the company, which proudly claims to have been the first aircraft manufacturer in the world, continues to have a place in the thinking of the Ministry of Defence.
We have been told that the statement on the defence review will be made on Thursday. Given that and the fact that, rather unusually, the first of the Service debates is taking place today on the Royal Air Force, I am forced to conclude—I hope not without some foundation—that the Royal Air Force will escape most, if not all, of the effects of the review. It seems clear that we would hardly he debating this Service if drastic changes were to be imposed on it as a result of the review. I have made only a guess, but I hope that I am right. The Royal Air Force is a highly efficient and compact force. It would be impossible to reduce it any further without considerably damaging its operational effectiveness.
The ending of the old transport command structure was the right step to take in peacetime. The changes that have been made to rationalise the Royal Air Force and to make it such an efficient front-line service have been made, by and large, along the right lines. Although I accept that there was a need to slim down, I nevertheless express some disappointment with the Defence Estimates and the comments on the Royal Air Force. I read the paragraph on "Crusader 1980"—the Territorial Army exercise that was planned to show how quickly it could be deployed in Western Europe—with particular regret.
The paragraph contains no mention of how the Territorial Army was moved to Western Europe. Nor is anything said about the plan—which I believe exists in the Ministry of Defence—to use the airliners of British Airways as troopers in an emergency. That point needs emphasising because British Airways recently told me that although it knows that it has been earmarked for the task, no physical exercise using airliners—as far as British Airways. knows—has been carried out.
Perhaps the contingency plans are so well drawn and understood—at least by the Ministry of Defence and by the Royal Air Force chiefs—that they do not think that there is any need to see if the plans work in practice as well as they do on paper. If the proposition to use British Airways airliners in that important role is to be credible, some sort of exercise should surely have been carried out.
In view of the remarks by the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) about pilot shortage, I am in a slight quandary, but if it is true that the Royal Air Force is short of pilots, what thought is being given to using the services of the 300 British Airways pilots who are sitting at home on full pay and who have no aircraft to fly? Indeed, they are not likely to fly any aircraft in the 165 near future. We have a pool of 300 highly-trained pilots. As they are drawing full salaries from British Airways, I should have thought that a proposition could have been put to them directly, or through British Airways, to bring them into some form of service with the Royal Air Force.
Such a proposition would help to tide the RAF over the present deficiency. Once those deficiencies have passed through the system, there will no longer be a need for such pilots. However, at present there is a shortage and we should surely try to tap that pool of experienced men.
Unless it is possible to conceive of a European conflict that does not involve Russia and America, NATO, with its needs as the defensive shield of Western Europe, will need to make the first call on each of its members' defence forces. Thus the air defence of Britain must be seen in terms of defending part of NATO's overall land mass. Although that does not preclude a fiercely British point of view, it gives our air defences a NATO dimension, which, in terms of the northern flank of NATO or of safeguarding our air space to enable reinforcements to be brought in from North America, seems commensurate with our responsibilities to the treaty.
Given those responsibilities to Western defence, the great mass of my constituents did not oppose the suggestion that ground-lauched cruise missiles should be stationed at RAF Greenham Common. At Question Time and in today's debate some Opposition Members have implied that the majority of the British people are against such missiles. I keep a close tally of the figures, and to date I have received 28 letters from constituents who oppose the stationing of missiles.
I attended the Easter Monday rally against the missiles, which was held near Greenham air base. I did my best to count and I discovered that 2,500 to 3,000 people were there. Judging by the stalls on display, many of those there did not come from my constituency. There were stalls from Southampton and Abingdon, to name but two places that caught my eye. Only last week there was another meeting at Newbury, at which 400 people were present. I have 82,000 constituents.
Given the small number of letters that I have received from those who are opposed to cruise missiles and given those two events, I can conclude only that the great majority of my constituents do not oppose the stationing of cruise missiles. They recognise that the defence of Western Europe is of prime importance to everyone. They do not see why Berkshire should expect to escape its proper part in that defensive structure.
I salute my constituents for their good sense, loyalty and patriotism. I ask all those who are so sure that the nation is opposed to such missiles to take note of what I have said. I have been talking about those who are most affected by such missiles.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
My constituents will have those missiles close to their front doors. Nevertheless, they adopt a strong and patriotic attitude towards the defence of Western Europe.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, and he will not browbeat me into doing so. I 166 wish to raise several points that have concerned me since the announcement about cruise missiles. RAF Greenham Common is a Royal Air Force base that is now a standby base for the United States Air Force. It is to be protected by the Royal Air Force Regiment, using Rapier ground-to-air missiles. The base therefore belongs to the Royal Air Force and is to be defended by it. To what extent can the base still be used by the Royal Air Force in an emergency, or is it now earmarked solely for the use of the United States Air Force?
I ask that question because of the curious circumstances surrounding the cruise missile and its use. As I understand it, cruise missiles are the second ground-fired United States missiles to be used in the United Kingdom. Thirty years ago we had Thor missiles. However, while the Thor missiles were held on a dual key arrangement, cruise missiles are to remain the property of the United States Government, although committed to NATO.
The missiles can be fired only with the consent of the American President. However, I learn from the documents issued by the Minstry of Defence that although the American President can give consent for the firing of cruise missiles, the British Government have the right to refuse that consent. Thus it may fairly be said that any decision to use cruise missiles must be an Anglo-American decision.
My hon. Friend may be aware that there is some uncertainty about how the British veto, if it is to be used, will operate. Will the chain of command go from the American President to the British Prime Minister or the Cabinet, or will it go from the American President back through the NATO command? If it is true that the question whether cruise missiles will be fired from this country is an Anglo-American decision, is it also true that it would be a German-American decision if missiles were to be fired from West Germany and an Italo-American one if missiles were to be fired from Italy?
I pose these questions because if cruise missiles are to play their part in the defences of the West and to be a credible form of deterrent, their credibility lies in the fact that they will be fired from a wide area of Western Europe. Clearly, if there are so many different decision-making points, that credibility could be impaired unless the decision is made clearer.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I have made it clear to the hon. Gentleman that I do not intend to give way. I hope he will forgive me, but if I lose the track of my speech he will be the poorer and so will I.
The next point is the initiation of the use of missiles. Is the request for the use of Cruise missiles to come from SACEUR?—the supreme Allied Commander Europe? Does he put the proposition to his NATO commanders or to the Governments involved before seeking the consent of the United States President?
Should the United States' President refuse his consent to the firing of the missiles, does that free the countries which have the missiles stationed on their territories from the further command of SACEUR? It would clearly be unreasonable for SACEUR to continue in command if he could not fire the nuclear weapons under his control when other countries in the Western Alliance possessed nuclear deterrents of their own which, presumably, they would want to bring into use. Otherwise, SACEUR would not 167 have made his original request for cruise missiles to be fired. If I am right and if SACEUR is refused the American President's consent, does that mean that NATO devolves into a series of national commands? What is the contingency plan?
I raise these questions because I do not know the answers to them and can find no source material which will provide those answers for me. I also raise them because, if the credibility of cruise missiles is to remain at the highest level, the NATO command structure is of the highest importance.
These are complicated questions and they may not easily be answered by the Minister in the context of the debate. On the other hand, they are important not only for the credibility of ground-launched cruise missiles in this country but for the credibility of NATO in possession of this new type of nuclear missile.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The question about who is called is entirely at the discretion of the Chair. The House has been full on one side for the whole afternoon. It has not been quite so full on the other side. Mr. Nelson.
§ Mr. Heffer
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If you are going to start that in the House, we can point to various precedents where Members from both sides have wandered into the Chamber at different times, at the request of the Whips, to speak. Some hon. Members have been in the Chamber throughout the debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr). In my view, there is no question but that there must be a fair allocation of speakers from both sides of the House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself for a moment, I am sure that he will find that the situation will be exactly as he has outlined.
§ Mr. Heffer
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that we must call for Mr. Speaker. I protest most strongly. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston, who has now left the Chamber in disgust, served right through the war in the Royal Air Force and is extremely knowledgeable about the RAF. He has not been called and two hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches have been called one after the other.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) was a member of the Irish Fusiliers when in national service, and some of us served in the Royal Air Force. I protest. If you insist, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we must get the Speaker here to sort this matter out. It is not good enough.
§ Mr. Cryer
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There are occasions when one side of the House is empty for prolonged periods. On those rare occasions, when no other Member is in the Chamber, two hon. Members on the same side are called. My hon. Friend the 168 Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) has been present throughout the debate without missing a minute of it. He has not been called. Of course, the Deputy Speaker has discretion about who he calls among the competing Members on both sides wishing to speak, but there is a strong convention of the House, which Mr. Speaker has reaffirmed repeatedly, that hon. Members should be called alternately from the Opposition and Government Benches and not in succession when other hon. Members have been waiting to speak.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) has been present, but he does not have his name on the list and he had not risen to speak until just now. That was the first intimation that I had that he intended to take part in the debate. In those circumstances, it would have been my intention to call him next.
§ Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)
I welcome the opportunity to speak, among the many Members, especially on the Government Benches, who wish to contribute. I hope that my speech will not exclude any other hon. Member who wishes to speak.
My preliminary remarks affect my constituency and the future of the former RAF station of Thorney Island. The station was abandoned when the former Transport Command was dismembered under the Labour Government in 1976. It is currently used as a reception centre for Vietnamese refugees. That use under lease will come to an end in the near future.
Various alternative defence uses have been considered. It was finally decided to use the former RAF station at Thorney as barracks for Army units, possibly the Engineers. This was widely welcomed locally because it was regarded as a sensible use of a considerable and valuable national asset which was tailor-made for a defence purpose. However, I am concerned that the station itself is in a bad state of disrepair, and I hope that work will be undertaken urgently to restore it to the necessary state for reoccupation by Army units.
I also express the even more fervent hope that the decision to reoccupy Thorney Island will not be affected by the defence review that is currently under way. I say that for three reasons. The first is that the White Paper forecasts an increase in Regular Army personnel to more than 164,000 this year, and recruitment is at its highest peak for almost 18 years. These new recruits and existing Army manpower will need accommodation.
Secondly, the reoccupation of Thorney Island and its continued defence use is tangible evidence that our defences are being rebuilt after years of neglect and disbandment by the previous Labour Government. Thirdly, as I have already said, it would be an enormous waste of resources. For all those reasons, I hope that the decision to reoccupy Thorney Island by Army units will not be changed.
I turn to the main part of my speech. I shall direct my remarks almost entirely to the subject of deployment. This is an important aspect of defence, because in my judgment there are four separate components of a defence capability. First, we must have the people. Secondly, we must have the weapons. Thirdly, we must deploy them in the right place. Fourthly, we must have credibility; that is to say we must be prepared to use them. We cannot be defended unless these four components are brought into play.
169 I wish to concentrate on the third aspect—deployment. The traditional and accepted deployment of our Armed Forces, particularly the RAF, has in recent years become increasingly anomalous. The trend away from wider international deployment should be reversed, and for new and good reasons we should adopt a more international approach in our deployment.
There are three spheres of deployment. The first is the direct defence of the United Kingdom. The second is collective defence through NATO. The third is what I would term our wider defence interest. I shall describe each in more detail.
The first two spheres rightly remain priority responsibilities. They have not changed radically in terms of the threat posed or the strategy to be applied. There has been a quantitive change in the threat posed to both the United Kingdom and NATO, but the qualitative nature of that threat has not changed radically.
However, I hope to show that in the international sphere of defence interests there have been major changes. When looking at the initial area of the direct defence of the United Kingdom, it is true to say that internal terrorism has been reduced, but, sadly, we all know that it is still prevalent in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom on occasions. Improvements to the United Kingdom-based defences, particularly our air defences, are in hand, but although the external threat has increased, it has not changed radically in its nature.
Reference has already been made to Rapier ground-to-air missiles that now enhance our air defence capability and the RAF stations in Britain. I was pleased to hear the Minister refer to the steps that are being taken to improve our air defences. However, while those steps are being taken, and while the threat that we face has increased in numerical terms, the nature of the threat itself has not changed and the priority that we accord to the deployment of part of our forces in defence of the United Kingdom must remain.
Between 500 and 600 heavy and medium Soviet and Warsaw Pact bombers are now available for attacking Western Europe. Against that threat, it is proper that we make adequate defence provision. Nevertheless, in the context of the direct defence of the United Kingdom, I hope that it can be accepted that the nature of the threat has not changed radically.
I turn to the question of collective defence through NATO. Paragraph 113 of the White Paper states:NATO remains the essential framework of Western defence and the key to the United Kingdom's own national security".The White Paper graphically illustrates the imbalance of forces in Central Europe. In the case of aircraft, we know that the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries have more than twice as many fixed wing aircraft as NATO.
The White Paper also points to key Warsaw Pact improvements, notably in tactical aircraft and forward air assault units. But, once again, the nature of the threat has not changed radically. The two forces are massed against each other in Central Europe, the quantity of equipment and the numbers of forces involved have increased, but the nature of the threat is not radically different. It remains a second and important responsibility to ensure that we are defended through the collective defence of NATO.
It is in the third area of what I call the wider defence sphere that the most radical changes have occurred. This 170 is where our defence posture needs to respond equally radically. Two major changes that have occurred over the last 20 years in particular have influenced significantly the global context of our defence deployment, particularly that of the RAF. The first is what I regard as the extended threat outside the NATO area, and the second is the extent to which military capabilities are increasingly used by Governments as instruments of foreign policy.
The major change in the extended threat outside the NATO area has resulted from the switch from the geographical diversity of interests we once protected to the diversity of threats that we now face. In the days when the map of the world was largely pink, when British interests spread around it and when we had the men and machines to protect those interests as well as our subjects internationally, we rightly had responsibilities which we fulfilled adequately and honourably. For reasons that should now be put forward, no one really resisted the policy initiated in the early 1960s by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) as Defence Secretary in the first period of withdrawal east of Suez. However, there has been a secular trend away from having a policing interest in the world.
Any politician who argues in this House or elsewhere that we should again adopt a more internationalist approach, or be involved outside the United Kingdom, must be extremely cautious because it could rightly be argued that he is trying to involve the country in affairs which do not necessarily affect our citizens.
Nevertheless, I would argue that while many of the interests and consequently the citizens of the United Kingdom—which provided the rationale for defence deployment in the past—have disappeared, the change that we now see is that the Security threat is much more diverse geographically, whereas in the past it was either a threat to the immediate boundaries of our country or a threat posed within Central Europe.
§ Mr. Heffer
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have made representations to Mr. Speaker, but unfortunately he is at present otherwise engaged. I have therefore been unable to get a reply from him. But I have made my protest, and I continue with that protest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) may have been slow in rising to his feet, but, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you did not bother to look at the Opposition Benches and called two Conservative Members in succession.
I continue my protest. It is against the normal procedures of the House. Whether or not Mr. Speaker, when he arrives, gives an immediate ruling, I shall pursue the matter until it is satisfactorily resolved.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I can perhaps assist the hon. Gentleman by saying that if he had stood up I would have called him. He did not, however, stand.
§ Mr. Heffer
I deliberately did not stand up. I was waiting for my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) who had been sitting in his place throughout the proceedings and was obviously next in line to speak.
§ Mr. Cryer
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It appears that some new rule has been introduced whereby if an hon. Member has not been sitting in the 171 Chamber for a period of time to satisfy the Deputy Speaker occupying the Chair, he does not qualify automatically for inclusion in the list.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied with the discretion that I have excercised, to the best of my ability, he has a remedy of which he is aware.
§ Mr. Nelson
I was referring to the reasons why I believe that the extended threat to NATO has changed in recent years. 1 shall adduce three reasons for this new, extended threat to Western security and this country in particular. The first is that technological advances have extended the range, deployment and capability of weapons. The incursion of the Soviet navy into the Indian Ocean and the world-wide deployment of atomic submarines has been made possible by the increased range of inter-continental missiles and launching systems.
The second reason for the extended threat is the increasing reliance that this country and the Western world place on essential routes and materials. There have been throughout our history certain essential routes for goods coming to and from this country. In recent years, however, specialisation and large bulk carriage of goods has meant that certain routes have become even more essential than in the past. 55 per cent. of Western Europe's oil requirements come through the Straits of Hormuz. That alone serves as an example of the extent to which reliance on routes outside the territorial waters of this country has increased in recent years.
The third factor that has extended the threat to Western security is the increasing military capability of a number of developing countries. The nuclear capability of such countries as Israel, Pakistan, South Africa and China and the conventional military strength of countries such as Cuba, Libya ale Gulf States and indeed, a number of terrorist groups internationally, is evidence of this growing military capability and demonstrates that we face a more pluralistic threat than we have been prepared to accept in the past.
I believed that last year's White Paper, authorship for which has generally been regarded as being in the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie) was an excellent statement of what should be our response to this extended threat. Paragraph 408 of last year's White Paper said:the West must make it clear to the Soviet Union and its allies that it is capable of protecting essential interests by military means should the need arise. That task cannot and should not be left to the United States alone.Paragraph 409 of the same White Paper statedthe Government believes that the Services should also be able to operate effectively outside the NATO area, without diminishing our central commitment to the Alliance.Those were fine words with which I agree. They follow logically from the analysis that I have tried to present. However, paragraph 401 of this year's White Paper states thatthere has been much discussion in this country and in NATO of whether we could and should do morein the world beyond NATO. 172That question must be considered, like the issues of out-of-area defence as a whole, with due respect for realities. Reinstatement of the former British presence 'East of Suez', whatever the arguments for arid against, is no longer either a political or an economic possibility. What we can do is review each aspect of our worldwide defence activity to ensure that our available resources are being used as effectively as possible".I detect in those extracts from the two White Papers a notable change of attitude. I ask the Minister, if possible, to give some reassurance that the Government are alive to the changing nature of the extended threat to this country, to NATO and to Western security and that our defence posture is one that is credible to potential opponents and one that will be capable not only of dealing with the threat but also contains a credibility and willingness by the Government to operate outside the geographical area of NATO itself.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Will not my hon. Friend agree that the obscurantist verbiage that he has quoted from this year's White Paper is in marked contrast to the clear statements of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who has been not in the least equivocal in her committed support for the determination of the President of the United States and his Administration to play an important part in global peace-keeping in the Gulf and in other areas?
§ Mr. Nelson
The second point I wish to make with regard to wider defence interests is that defence capability has increasingly been used in recent years as an instrument of foreign policy. This is something that we should not ignore. The Soviet Union has demonstrated how effectively its foreign policy can be enhanced and implemented by strong military backing and a preparedness to use those forces. The deployment of sizeable formations, particularly airborne divisions, on the borders of Poland and Iran, and the use of Soviet weapons and so-called advisers in numerous African countries and in the Middle East are evidence of the leverage that the Soviet Union exerts on political developments well beyond its own borders.
In response, the West, in my judgment, has shown a marked unwillingness to back its words with action. This is understandable to some extent, but our credibility in foreign affairs and our own economic self-interest will be diminished if we abdicate responsibility for sharing in the defence of the free world.
If it is accepted, therefore, that in the area of the wider defence sphere, there have been radical changes in the course of the last 20 years, and particularly the last five years, which should encourage a changed policy of deployment both for the Royal Air Force and the other Services, I think that more emphasis should have been laid in this year's White Paper on a counter-strategy for the global challenge that this country and Western interests face.
The White Paper set out the bare bones of such a strategy, consisting of three objectives. The first was defence aid to independent States. The second was periodic deployment for exercises and visits abroad. The third was, in the last resort, intervention. I support this strategy. However, the principal argument that I am trying to advance is that the changed conception of our wider defence interest requires a more forthright determination and ability to protect our interests outside the United Kingdom and outside NATO. I am not proposing that we 173 police the world once again but that in concentrating our defences in the United Kingdom and Europe we should not overlook the threat that may come from elsewhere.
The third aspect of the so-called Western counter-strategy is that we should, in the last resort, be prepared to intervene. Once again, the words of the White Paper are couched in curious language. Paragraph 110 of the White Paper states:The third is the ability to deploy those forces for deterrent or defensive action where circumstances make this necessary in the last resort.The language is so guarded that I do not believe that any country, let alone the Soviet Union, would believe that it was a credible threat or a deterrent to its intervention in another country. In our future policy we must be bolder with our words and mean what we say.
Paragraph 115 hints that the European members of NATO have different starting points for responding to the extended threat. No details are given, but the differences should not be insurmountable. If they exist, more strenuous efforts must be made to persuade our European partners in NATO—I do not mean the United States, as one day we may be reliant on our own resources—of the need to act as one in responding to the changed nature of the wider defence sphere, which should be the determining factor for the deployment and capability of the Royal Air Force and the other Services.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
We cannot discuss the Royal Air Force in isolation from our whole defence policy. I have always had an affinity with the RAF, having served in it during the war, which is more that some hon. Members can say, although they appear to be extremely knowledgeable about it. Although I am sure that what I am about to say will not please the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), I was for some time stationed at Newbury, and know the area.
I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman suggested that if a person did not want a cruise missile nearby he was not a patriot. I do not equate that attitude with patriotism. People can be just as patriotic and interested in defending our rights and democracy without wanting a cruise missile next door to them, or in the country at large. I do not equate cruise missiles with democracy.
The Soviet Union has all sorts of nuclear weapons, but it does not have democracy. Other countries have nuclear weapons and are not necessarily democratic. The argument is not logical. One can feel deeply about our future and be patriotic, yet passionately believe, as I do, that nuclear weapons are absolutely unnecessary and endanger the future of our country and democracy.
We are in an awful situation, where both super Powers have huge stocks of nuclear weapons. Because of the antagonism that exists, in itself that damages democracy in all parts of the world. I ask the hon. Gentleman to think about that for five minutes. He may then reach a different conclusion.
Over the years I reluctantly accepted that Britain should be a member of NATO, although I am increasingly moving away from that belief. Many European countries are not members. France, which is not a member in the strict sense, is concerned to defend its people and territory and has a nuclear capacity, so we do not automatically need to be a member of NATO to defend our interests.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
France is a member of the Western Alliance, and a signatory to the Brussels Treaty, and the mutual defence provisions of that Treaty are even more explicit than those of the NATO treaty—and France has nuclear weapons.
§ Mr. Heffer
France is a member of the Western European Union and has agreements with us, but she is not a member of NATO. Whether or not the hon. Gentleman likes it, they are not the same thing. France is independent in her defences, so we do not necessarily have to be a member of NATO to have agreements with other countries to work together in the face of aggression. We must consider that.
The time has also come to reconsider our NATO commitments, although perhaps not to act immediately. I do not believe that we should withdraw from NATO tomorrow. That is not possible. However, we must consider in depth whether we should continue to be a member of the Alliance.
Like Pavlovian dogs, some hon. Members, when they hear a speaker mention unilateral disarmament or withdrawal from NATO, jump up and behave as though the speaker is a Soviet agent and a paid-up member of the communist party. My record is sufficient for people to know that I am no friend of the bureacratic system of the Soviet Union; nor am I enamoured of the Communist Party. It is a question of what is in the best intersts of our people. My argument may be considered heretical on the Government Benches. I am in favour of our getting rid of nuclear weapons completely, but it does not follow that we must get rid of what are strangely called traditional or conventional weapons. We must have a defence capability. I am not a pacifist, although pacifists have every right to argue that we should get rid of all weapons, which would mean abolishing the Royal Air Force, the Army and the Navy
I believe that we need an efficient Royal Air Force, Navy and Army, within limits. I am not suggesting that we should again become the policemen of the world; I am talking of protecting our country within possible limits.
We also need greater democratisation in the Armed Forces. Some hon. Members may have a mild heart attack when I say that I am very much in favour of having a trade union organisation to protect the rank and file in our Services, as other European countries have.
Because we believe that we should get rid of nuclear weapons and the nuclear bases in this country, and that at some time in the future we may have to consider our function and positon in NATO, it does not follow that we should not defend our shores and have proper Armed Services. That is vital, but while some of us believe that, we nevertheless feel that we should get rid of nuclear weapons.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) said that we believed in both multilateral and unilateral disarmament, he was asked which part of the Labour Party believed that. It is a belief that can and does unite the party. The whole Labour Party is in favour of multilateral disarmament in nuclear weapons. We believe that every possible effort must be made to reach international agreement to make certain that the number of nuclear weapons is reduced.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, as far as I can ascertain, the vast majority of Conservative Members are also in favour of multilateral disarmament? It is unilateral disarmament that we oppose.
§ Mr. Heffer
I have heard it argued on many occasions over the years that Conservative Members are in favour of multilateral disarmament in nuclear weapons. Yet they drag their feet when anyone suggests doing anything positive about it. It was my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who responded in a most positive way to the representation made by Mr. Brezhnev. Whether Mr. Brezhnev is right or wrong, once the Soviet Union makes a proposal, the only way of knowing whether it is serious is to test it out, feel the waters, and discuss the matter. Conservative Members have been most tardy in that regard. In fact, there have been far too many cold war speeches of late, giving the clear impression that Conservative Members are in favour of a build-up when they should be arguing for a serious attempt to reduce nuclear weapons.
Most of us in the Labour Party want the removal of all nuclear bases in this country, because we feel that this country is in the front line. We would be a prime target. The first time that a nuclear weapon lands in Moscow or in any part of the Soviet Union, the Russians will not have a philosophical debate about it. Some guy will press the button—assuming that the bomb did not land on the button—and our towns and cities will disappear at one go. Not many of the modern bombs would be needed to do that.
I discovered recently that if a 1-megaton bomb dropped on the middle of Newcastle it would devastate an area within a nine-mile radius, and no one would survive. What in any case, would be the condition of those who did survive? Even if people did survive, what would they find when they came out of their nice underground shelters? What kind of a society would remain? How would they manage to survive? That is why we are deeply concerned about the present situation.
The Labour Party and I want to get rid of nuclear weapons on British soil and in the seas around Britain and at the same time seek multilateral disarmament in nuclear weapons on an international scale. However, I believe—perhaps not all my colleagues agree—that within that context we need efficient, workable, decent and good Armed Services to protect ourselves. Of course, that does not mean putting people into the Armed Forces through National Service, or anything of that kind. I am not in favour of that. Nor am I in favour of a massive extension of the Armed Forces. Nevertheless, we could save many billions of pounds by getting rid of nuclear weapons and making certain that the Armed Services that we have are the best possible that we can have within that context.
§ Mr. Robert Atkins (Preston, North)
I shall not follow the argument of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) because, although it was interesting, the debate is about the Royal Air Force. First, however, I wish to welcome my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces to his present position. As he comes from Blackpool and I from Preston, we share the British Aerospace factories. Whenever I visit those factories I find that his constituents are putting together Tornados, and I hope that when he visits them he finds that my constituents are doing the same.
176 Much has been said, and doubtless will be said, about the threat. I noticed in a copy of the press release to which my hon. Friend referred, that Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Beetham said only the other day thatinterceptions of Soviet aircraft by Royal Air Force air defence aircraft in the UK Air Defence Region rose from a weekly average of four in 1978 to nearly six a week last year.So the threat still exists. It is therefore all the more worrying that people in the Royal Air Force tell me of their concern about the fuel restrictions, for example, which are making the training of Royal Air Force pilots and crews more difficult than before.
Last year I had the privilege of visiting the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Pollock), which contains both RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss. It was a great privilege for me—as, I am sure, it was for him—to witness at first hand what Royal Air Force personnel do in the front line in Lossiemouth and Kinloss, and their dedication to duty. That was drawn to our attention recently by the tragic crash of a Nimrod aircraft in the area.
§ Mr. Alex Pollock (Moray and Nairn)
Does my hon. Friend agree that those stations display a remarkable degree of professional competence and a unique esprit die corps in terms of the Nimrod operations, which undoubtedly play a significant part in their contribution to the NATO Alliance?
§ Mr. Atkins
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn. In opening, the Minister said how much he valued the work done by those crews, not only in my hon. Friend's constituency but in the West Country.
However, there is more to defence than the threat. I want to address my remarks to what I shall loosely call the industrial base—the procurement and operational requirement side of defence. The implications of the cuts imposed by the defence review, about which we shall hear more on Thursday, will have a wide effect on industry.
I recently had the good fortune to visit an exhibition of the Defence Manufacturers Association in Brighton. Following the exhibition, I received a letter from the association, which said:there is a real danger of the break-up of the industrial base of the British Defence Industry, 'from the bottom', an industry which has hitherto been at the forefront of the world's manufacturers of Defence equipment. It could take many years to recover from such a situation".I wonder whether, in our industrial strategy, we are paying enough attention to the industrial base in defence and aerospace. In the preliminary part of its report on the Defence Estimates the Select Committee refers to the problem of industrial strategy and the defence industry It states:We regard it as important that every effort should be made to maintain the British industrial base and safeguard capabilities which might otherwise disappear; this is particularly important in areas of high technology.I believe that it would be better to devote more money to the successful industries, which fall largely in the area of high technology in aerospace and related matters, than to throw good money after bad as we have in recent months, understandable though that may be.
Mention has been made of decisions that will have to be taken in the near future about equipment. I refer, for example, to the AV8B and the GR5. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) referred to that, and I intervened during his remarks. I feel strongly that he was 177 right to worry about a design team capability for a follow-on to supersonic V/STOL. That must be retained. If the decision is to go for the AV8B, as I suspect it will be, we must be aware of the jobs and profitability that it will give to British Aerospace, its employees and shareholders, and how important it is to tie down the contracts tightly.
I was glad to hear the Minister refer to the decision that has to be taken on the JP233. It is a crucial decision, which is important to the future of the Tornado. I urge the Minister to make an urgent decision, so that we can be clear in our minds.
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman has compared the AV8B with the GR5. I remind him of what he said 12 months ago about those two aircraft:there is a marked superiority of the GR5 over the AV8B in both maximum speed and dash speed at low level, and it also has much superior manouvreability. Above all, in this context, cost comparisons between the GR5 and the AV8B show that for a force of 60 aircraft it would cost the United Kingdom 15 to 20 per cent. more for the AV8B than for the Mk. V. I do not have to spell out in words of one syllable the industrial ramifications of purchasing the GR5 as opposed to the AV8B."—[Official Report, 23 June 1980; Vol. 987, c. 118.]I appreciate that 12 months have passed since then and that things have changed. If the hon. Gentleman stands by those sentiments now, he is letting the Minister off lightly.
§ Mr. Atkins
Like many of my colleagues, I think that the GR5 is a better aircraft for the RAF. However, in the last year great developments on the AV8B have taken place and it is now more acceptable to the RAF. To expect exactly what one wants is not always sensible. To that extent, the AV8B has improved in terms of what the RAF wants. I make no bones about it. As I said last year, I should prefer the decision to be made in favour of the GR5, but I accept that other matters outweigh the design leadership of the GR5—for example, the greater purchase number likely if we have American involvement, and the effect on jobs and profitability that will ensue from that. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments.
Another matter that has exercised my mind has been mentioned briefly, and the Minister of State will be aware of it. I refer to what was called the AST403. It then became the ECA, or the European combat aircraft, and is now loosely called the light combat aircraft. Discussions on the P106 are taking place with the Swedish and Indian aircraft industries.
The Select Committee report says of the Jaguar replacement:we must press upon the Government the need for urgent progress. The longer it takes to agree the design of the replacement aircraft, the more the in-service date will slip and the greater will be the ultimate cost.I agree with that.
British Aerospace must recognise the difficulties with which Defence Ministers are faced. It should continue its search for outside finance which is being rumoured in relation to another project, the P110. That rumour concerns funds being made available from Middle East countries or anywhere else to allow British Aerospace to go its own way. Then perhaps an aircraft will be built earlier, instead of waiting for the Minister and his officials to make a decision which they might not be in a position to make.
I congratulate British Aerospace on two leadership projects on which it is engaged. It has gained a contract 178 for carbon fibre composite work with the Ministry of Defence valued at about £400,000 and involving the wear and tear aspect of carbon fibre. Some work has been done on the Jaguar wing. British Aerospace is excited at the prospect which the new contract opens up. It is far advanced on yet another project known as the Fly-by-Wire Jaguar, for which British Aerospace has world leadership in design. I hope that the Minister will say how he sees the development of the expertise that results from that.
The cuts in programmes which have exercised the minds of many of my hon. Friends equal cuts in jobs. That must not be forgotten. Industry must recognise the problem. It must accept that it cannot always wholly rely on the Ministry of Defence and the Procurement Executive to get the projects that it wants. Industry must seek finance from outside. Our industries are world leaders and they can succeed.
A classic example is the Hawk, a private venture which has proved to be an amazing success. All being well, if it takes up the VTX requirement of the United States Navy, it will become a trainer, and even more will be sold.
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
I apologise to my hon. Friend for not hearing the beginning of his speech. What does he think of the new 321 helicopter which is on the Rolls-Royce drawing board? That helicopter is dependent on assistance from the Government for its initial research. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for strategic reasons that that project should go ahead?
§ Mr. Atkins
That is an important point. My hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not develop it at length. He refers to the fundamental arguments in the MOD about which pieces of equipment will fulfil which roles and, indeed, whether the roles are there to be fulfilled. I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about the helicopter that he mentioned since it affects his constituency. I hope that the Minister will refer to it later.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Is my hon. Friend referring to the EH101, the Sea King replacement, to be built by Agusta and Westland jointly?
§ Mr. Atkins
I am referring to a different project. The EH101 is the European helicopter which, it is hoped, will be the Sea King replacement. I hope that my hon. Friends will confuse each other outside the Chamber instead of confusing me now.
§ Mr. Atkins
I shall move on, before I become waylaid.
The small firms which comprise the membership of the Defence Manufacturers Association are concerned. In a letter to me about cuts in programmes the association states:major Defence contractors with long term contracts and greater capital resources are better able to weather this situation than the smaller contractors and sub-contractors, on whom the major contractors and MOD(PE) eventually depend.To that extent, the small subcontractors should be given as much attention as the large contractors, however important they may be to me and my constituency.
The exhibition of the Defence Manufacturers Association was an enormous success. People came from all over the world to see the highly technical, almost esoteric, products that form so much of the subcontracting work of the defence industry. It was a tribute to the amount of work done in that industry.
179 I want to touch on the effects of the moratorium to which my hon. Friend referred. I have a copy of a letter which was sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) by Marconi Avionics, in which the company submitted that the moratorium had serious effects for several reasons. The three reasons given in the letter are that firms were making faster progress than expected; they were submitting bills more promptly, and prices of defence equipment were moving faster than expected. That is true, arid we understand it. The writer of the letter suggested that the single root cause was the inability, unwillingness or incapacity of MOD(PE) to place contracts on other than a cost-plus or price-to-be-agreed basis.
The letter continues:Most Mo D(PE) contracts are placed on a cost plus or 'price to be agreed' basis. The very nature of such contracts indicates the uncertainty about costs and it is not therefore too surprising that the reasons given did in fact materialise. The problem with the cost price and 'price to be agreed' contracts is that it is difficult and sometimes impossible to place any restraint on a company paying higher rates, or devoting more effort to a job, or incurring increased overhead expenditure. I can only assume that this is what happened to cause the unpredicted rise in costs.That is a leading defence manufacturer Marconi expressing concern about the reasons for the moratorium and their effect.
I open out the argument and ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider whether the operational requirements section for the RAF is working as well as it should. My hon. Friends have made criticisms, for example, about delays with the next version of the Harrier, which have necessitated a decision likely to be taken for the AV8B rather than the GR5. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) argued that that decision was forced by delay in the operational requirements section, and he may wish to expand that if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Is the operational section on the ball; is it aware of exactly what is involved? My hon. Friend the Member for Woking, in an earlier defence debate, said that he thought that perhaps an aspect of virility was involved. A new man coming into the operational requirements section might feel that he has to alter or reconstruct a product to prove that he is worth his job—[Interruption.] I would not for a moment suggest that that remark applies to the Secretary of State. I am speaking of the people professionally involved within the Department other than the ministerial team.
I am concerned that the section appears to change its requirements, having set them too high in the first place. Operational requirements chop and change so frequently that the manufacturers do not know whether they are coming or going. I quote from the Defence Manufacturers Association's letter:it is also necessary to see that sufficient funds are available to retain in business a viable and properly structured defence industry, which must take into account the survival of smaller contractors and sub-contractors as well as main contractors. It is the smaller manufacturers, whom the Government profess to want to help, who are being hardest hit by the current policy".To that extent, the operational requirements section needs to be examined.
I am pleased to see the development in the area of the tanker fleet. Some of us attended a recent presentation by the Boeing Company which suggested that there was more to the tanker fleet than just providing converted British Airways DC10s. Existing civil airliners with inflatable 180 tanks could be used. That would be considerably less expensive and just as effective. Will the Minister consider that innovation with perhaps greater urgency?
The day before yesterday I went to a convention held by Marconi where I met the Director General of the Society of British Aerospace Companies. In the context of operational requirements, the tanker fleet and various other items, he stressed that there must be immediate discussions between SBAC and Sir Derek Rayner so that they could come to a joint conclusion about the reforms needed in MOD(PE). I understand that those discussions have not occurred and I hope that my hon. Friend will refer to that.
It was suggested during the major defence debate that the Select Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, should examine the operation of MOD(PE) and operational requirements section specifically. I hope that this will happen in due course.
Another aspect of the procurement and operational side—an area which is exercising British Aerospace, particularly in Preston—is production technology. This is concerned not so much with aeroplanes but with the extremely advanced, highly technological equipment that will be required between now and the end of the century to make the aeroplanes, and the bits that build the aeroplanes—the robotics, computer-aided design arid computer-aided management.
In America, France and Japan the Government devote a large amount of money to assisting industry to develop in this area. I quote from a letter I received recently from a director of British Aerospace in the Preston area. He raised several questions which I hope my hon. Friend will be able to answer:To what extent is MOD funding research on production technology in the defence industry in order to improve efficiency and hence the competitive position of United Kingdom industry? How many Government engineers and scientists in MOD research establishments are carrying out research? How many of these Government engineers and scientists are working on production technology?Then came a suggestion which frightened me, that the level of aeronautical research and deveolpment in the United Kingdom showed that in 1970 the United Kingdom was investing one-fifth of that invested in the United States of America, whereas in 1978 our investment had dropped to only one-tenth of that of the United States of America. To make matters worse, our investment in 1978 was less than that in either France or Germany, our primary European competitors. The letter continues:In spite of the difficulties, it is vital that something is done, and quickly, or production technology developments in the United States, Germany and Japan, countries in which aerospace manufacturing enjoys massive Government support, will destroy the competitiveness of the aerospace industry in Britain, which will then suffer the same fate as many of our manufacturing industries".That concern, I know, is prevalent within the aerospace, avionics and air engine industries and I hope that my hon. Friend, who has discussed this matter with British Aerospace, will be able to say something about it.
The sales side of the Ministry of Defence is improving, but there is still room for improvement. I am concerned that there is no replacement yet for the sales director, Sir Ronald Ellis, who is due to leave shortly. I have heard rumours—I hope that they are only rumours—that a civil servant will be appointed. I and many of my colleagues, and I suspect some Opposition Members, would prefer someone from industry to be appointed. Sir Ronald Ellis 181 came from Leyland, not too far from Preston. He has been a success, and I hope that someone in a similar capacity will be appointed to take his job in due course.
The sales department leaves some room for improvement. I wonder how many hon. Members are aware that a large number of those in that department are serving officers doing a two-year tour, in the way that other serving officers are involved in many other aspects of the RAF. One of them told me that he had a learning curve of about one-and-a-half years, so that effectively he was good at selling only for the last six months of his tour. Is there room for altering the structure so that people within MOD sales are there for a longer period, or the department structured in such a way that it uses a greater number of people with expertise from outside?
I was delighted to note that the Prime Minister went abroad and sold Hawks. She did it, the former President of France did it and many French Ministers did it. I do it because I represent a constituency with an interest in that area, and I know that many of my hon. Friends do the same. I wish that all hon. Members, when we have such a successful area of industry, would sell it as hard as I and my colleagues do.
I was upset at the decision not to replace the aircraft in the Queen's Flight. I know that many others also feel upset. It was a minor scandal that the aeroplanes had been operational for many years, and the opportunity to replace them with British aircraft before the production line was finished was missed. Presumably we shall have to buy foreign aircraft, use British Airways or use the 146. It would be a marvellous decision to use the 146. However, I have not heard that that will occur. That selling point needs to be emphasised strongly.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will answer my second question. I recently learnt that a Sea Harrier was provided for the Paris Air Show by the Ministry of Defence for demonstration purposes. British Aerospace was charged £45,000 to use the aeroplane, and then had to insure if for £6 million, which cost a further £15,000. If those figures are correct—and I have heard only a rumour—we asked one of our leading companies which makes the aeroplane to provide £60,000 for a demonstrator for the Paris Air Show. That is an absolute disgrace. I hope that that practice will cease as soon as possible.
I have spoken about a number of matters, as perhaps I was expected to do. There is more to defence than simply the threat of war. Taking into account the Government's assumption of a 9 per cent. increase in prices in the coming year, the 1981–82 cash limits represent an 8 per cent. reduction in volume spending. If we deduct the January cuts of 1½ per cent. I have to wonder what is to come. The industrial base of our aerospace and defence industries is extremely important. If programmes, commitments, arms, personnel and so on within the MOD are to be safeguarded during this difficult time, industrially as well as strategically, the cash limits must be relaxed.
I wish to quote from the Select Committee report in relation to the overspend last year. It states:we consider that on this occasion the Chancellor should allow the additional expenditure incurred beyond the 1980–81 cash limit to stand.I hope that that will be the case. The decision may have been taken already, but I hope that it has been taken along the lines of the Select Committee report.
182 My only comment about Trident, which Opposition Members rightly say is supported by myself and my colleagues, is not that the cost worries me, but that there is no great offset for that major deal. When I visited the United States recently, I was amazed to find that American companies had put forward many suggestions, prior to the decision being taken, about how to offset some of the cost. They were astonished when no proposals were made for offset agreements. Although that issue has now passed, before we exercise those cash limits we must remember that some opportunities have been missed, especially for Trident, which I hope will not happen again.
Preston, North is a defence town—one of the most important defence towns in Britain because of the numbers working in and around the defence industry. I give notice openly, here and now, that I fought the election at Preston, North on the ground of an increased budget for MOD spending, both strategically and industrially. Preston, North has a company which is a world leader and many subcontractors rely on it. I cannot, and will not, support the Government if they propose cuts in that area, which I believe to be important. We have a mandate. I am convinced that we can stick to it—not only because the defence of our country is important, but because we are in a difficult time of recession and cuts. We lead the world in this area. I refer not only to British Aerospace, but to the British aerospace industry and the defence industry throughout Britain. We lead the world. Let us continue to do so and ensure jobs, profitability and the defence of Britain.
§ Mr. Bruce George (Walsall, South)
I am fortunate to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because there are always many hon. Members on the Opposition Benches clamouring to speak. There are exceptions, and perhaps tonight is one of them. During the last two defence debates I tried to catch your eye but was unsuccessful, because of the enormous number of hon. Members who wished to speak.
I wish to comment on some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins). He admitted that he acts as a salesman for his constituency. Many of us do that, and not only in relation to defence industries. I should like to be more of a salesman for my constituency, but with more than 15 per cent. unemployed there are less wares to tout abroad. The Chancellor is shortly to go on a whistle-stop tour of all the successful enterprises that have been proposed under the Government. He will be back for Question Time at 2.30 pm. He will visit my constituency. However, it has little defence industry. It is suffering considerably because of poor economic policy making, which I suspect is replicated in defence policy making.
As I listened to the minor arguments between three Conservative Members I felt that it was a foretaste of things to come. They must accept some of the responsibility for that. I apologise for my analogy, as I do not wish to be malicious, but they appeared to be like dogs fighting over a bone. We shall find that that happens far more often in future.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
I simply inquired about the identity of a helicopter. I was ignorant enough not to know about the 321. I wrongly assumed that it was the EH101, which I know something about.
§ Mr. George
Conservative Members are in a considerable dilemma. Having acclaimed Trident and shouted "Hoorah, hoorah" they now have to face the consequences of their support for it. Many have argued for some time—not only in the House but outside—that we cannot have our cake and eat it. Trident will be to the detriment of conventional forces. The Navy appears to be about to suffer. There will be less money for conventional forces, whatever the MOD may say. There will be the unedifying spectacle of Conservative Members representing constituencies with defence interests fighting over a diminishing cake. I do not relish that prospect for the months or years that lie ahead. Members of Parliament who vote for the Government's policy must accept responsibility. It will be difficult for some of them to face their constituents and admit that their support of the Government will cost many jobs.
Single Service debates are often seen as rituals. We go through the motions of debate, expending more heat than light, and then like tennis professionals move on to the next Service debate. At one stage I thought that the tennis analogy was inappropriate. However, having listened to the questioning of the umpire's decision by our own McEnroes and Nastases, it may be that it was not entirely unfounded.
We may have arrived at one of the major turning points in post-war defence and foreign policy decision-making.
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend seems to imply that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and I were questioning a referee's judgment unfairly. He will know that it is a convention of the House for the Chair to call hon. Members from both sides of the Chamber. I hope that he will accept that.
§ Mr. George
That is an issue that will be pursued by reference to Mr. Speaker.
Since the Second World War there has been a constant effort on the part of successive Governments to adjust commitments to resources. That has led to a series of major decisions. The latest may already have been taken and may be seen as a watershed in post-war history. There has been a considerable scaling down of our commitment in the light of our inexorable economic and industrial decline. The decision having been taken to procure Trident as a successor to Polaris, it is clear that there will be a detrimental effect on the remainder of the budget on conventional armaments. That is a factor that our NATO allies are probably considering with considerable anxiety.
Our debates on defence decision-making should be more open, as they are in the United States and some other countries. The decision on Trident and on the consequences of Trident have been taken by a small elite, and Parliament has looked on as almost an innocent bystander. The reports of the Defence Committee on Nuclear Weapons Policy will be published on Thursday. However, the Government will be making their decision without having formally considered that document. I am disappointed that a defence statement will be made on Thursday after a meeting of the Cabinet. It is not surprising that that will coincide with the publication of a report that may question the wisdom of that which the Government are about to do or have already done. That seems to be so from leaks that have been made to the press. I hasten to add that I have not been responsible for the leaks.
If the Government are interested in a wider debate, it will be unfortunate if that debate is scuppered by the 184 announcement of defence decisions that perhaps could be left for a few days. The Committee of which I am a member has been labouring for 12 months to produce what I consider to be well researched reports. I have argued in the past that we should not wait until July for the Government to make their major decisions. However, it would be regarded by many as a piece of sharp practice if the Government attempted to stifle debate on the Committee's report by pre-empting it in this way.
I regard single Service debates as useful. I hope that the reorganisation of the Ministry will not change the number of days spent on debating defence and the format of our debates. Over the years the Chair has been flexible in accepting that one does not speak exclusively to the Army, Air Force or Navy. To do so would be detrimental to defence debates. In the reorganisation of the Ministry of Defence there has been a move away from compartment-talised Departments. In some ways that could be replicated in defence debates. I hope that the Leader of the House will not try to undermine single Service debates. Surely we should be permitted to raise issues that do not fall exclusively within the confines of the single Service.
We live in highly dangerous times. We live with the threat of mutual extermination. The individual politicians of various countries regard that threat in many different ways. There are those who consider that the Soviet Union is indifferent to territorial expansion, isMore sinned against than sinningand is one of the finest examples of a peace-loving nation in contemporary terms or historic terms. We must contrast that view with the fear that is often expressed that the Soviet Union has designs on a world State and that it has a master plan for world domination, with all the pieces slotting neatly into place with a degree of scientific exactness.
In the Labour Party there are those with strong pacifist traditions who would not meet aggression with aggression. There are those who prefer to trust in God and to display an indifference to the dryness of the powder. I have a sense of profound uncertainty. I do not have the satisfaction that certainty gives to many others, either from the position of the far Left or the far Right. It seems that those who hold those positions are able to perceive defence in fairly simple terms. They have a framework, and the pieces slot into it. I amend slightly what a Member of Parliament said over 100 years ago. I wish that I were as certain of some things as they are of everything.
In this world of uncertainty we have to decide as a nation how to respond and how to react to a growing danger. Why is the danger increasing? The answer is clear. There is nuclear proliferation. A world war could be started by the spread of atomic and nuclear weapons to countries that will exercise rather less responsibility than that exercised by super Powers, France and the United Kingdom.
There are anxieties because of growing tensions between East and West. The era of detente has come to an end. I hope that that is a temporary end. It seems that the beating of swords into plowshares has not been all that successful in the past. It is vital to return to the negotiating table. I have fears about the widening of the Atlantic. Poor President Carter was admonished for helping to widen the Atlantic. I suspect that the Atlantic, by which I mean the relationship between the United States and Europe including Britain, will become much wider. The 185 individual nations within Europe have different perceptions from those of the current American Administration on defence and foreign policy.
One example is what appears to be the absolute support that the United States is showing and will be showing to Israel. I do not question Israel's right to exist, but I hope that the United States will consider Middle East matters rather more rationally. The display of an uncritical analysis of the Middle East could lead to serious consequences for us all.
I am worried that the leadership in the Soviet Union and in the United States appears to display a simplistic analysis of those on the other side. The gerontocratic leadership of the Soviet Union and the new Administration in the United States seem to regard the other side as the personification of evil and the force of darkness. We are living in a world that is governed by the principle that realpolitik is dangerous. However, a world governed by—I am not sure whether my next word exists—idealpolitik would be even more dangerous in which to live.
The demise of detente, the development of nuclear weapons and the arms escalation lead me to be profoundly anxious about the world's future. What can Britain do? No one denies the dangers. One could adopt the approach of some, in seeking refuge in pacifism or in neutralism, but neutralism can be an expensive business. Some countries that purport to be neutral are spending more on defence than some countries that are formally in one or either of the major alliances. There could be an armed neutrality, which would give no guarantee of security, whilst we would argue forcibly that being in an alliance and relying on deterrence is no guarantee of security. However, I would argue that neither is there any guarantee in pacifism or neutralism.
I hope that eventually the major pacts—NATO and the Warsaw Pact—will wither away. If there is any sudden shift in the major alliance system—to use that well-worn American phrase—we will have destabilisation, and that would lead to serious consequences.
Some people have argued for a form of Gaullism. However, a Gaullist Britain would be a highly expensive and dangerous place. People who look to France for support for this principle must remember that in the presidential election the French President expressed a commitment to retaining France's nuclear capabilities, so all those who are arguing for a form of Gaullism here must see a reproduction of that sort of policy of retaining British nuclear weapons. Another alternative of that closer co-operation with Europe is also fraught with difficulties.
We move on to other options of remaining within NATO as a partner playing a genuine part in NATO or as one of those groups currently in NATO whose contributions are rather limited. I believe that we should remain within NATO. That view was apparently shared in one of the resolutions in the last Labour Party conference at which the motion to withdraw from Europe was defeated by 6,500,000 votes to 800,000. NATO has been an element of continuity in British defence policy over the last 30 years. One writer called it our country's irreducible commitment.
We must remain a member of NATO, not only because we should believe in collective security, but because it is within the membership of NATO that we shall be best able to influence the United States. We have played an 186 important part in the past. We must use our good relationship with the United States to ensure that that country pursues sensible policies, which will not jeopardise security—ours or theirs.
In the perception of the United States, it has fallen a long way behind in the arms race in the era of detente. Now we have the latest lurch in the arms race by the United States seeking to remedy what it perceives as a deficiency by the proposed construction of the B1 bomber, TNF modernisation, MX, although there is disagreement at the moment about the basing mode, an increase in aircraft carriers and submarines, and rumours about a return to conscription. Such moves, far from increasing security, could jeopardise it.
As members of NATO, I hope that we shall not blindly follow the United States, because that could not be in British interests. We must use our influence to ensure that the United States operates reasonably and that the apparent support for the proposals to get around the negotiating table is not merely rhetoric to satisfy its European allies. I cannot believe that peace and security can be permanently guaranteed in this world by a balance of terror, although one must believe, distressing as it is, that the balance of terror has up to now been a contributory factor in maintaining peace in Europe.
The United States response to the increase in defence expenditure for the Soviet Union since the early 1960s, if maintained, may eventually restore the arms race at a more expensive and dangerous level. I hope that genuine security will be achieved by arms control, leading eventually to general disarmament. Swift attention must be given to the restoration of discussions between East and West, because we must reduce the arsenals of weapons at the disposal of NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Those are the difficult times in which we live. Those are difficult times for any Government to make decisions that will not only enhance our security but will lead eventually to a reduction in the weapons of war.
Within the context of defence and of British membership of NATO, the Royal Air Force plays a crucial part. In an address that he gave to the Air League in January the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement, apparently not speaking in an official capacity, stressed that he was giving his own views and not necessarily those of the Air Staff or his Department. He commented on the need to maintain the country's air strength in the face of rising costs and increasing pressure on the defence budget.
The Royal Air Force is playing an important role in NATO. The role in air defence is one that should be improved. When in Opposition, the Conservative Party castigated the Labour Government for what seemed to be the paltry numbers of planes available for the air defence of the United Kingdom, yet as part of its election rhetoric and the immediate aftermath of its election there were promises of immediate improvements and of Lightning squadrons, which never materialised. What needs to be done swiftly is not simply to see the Tornado and the air defence version as the ultimate solution for our air defence problems, but to realise that we need to do many other things. We need to have an inventory of planes that meet the potential threat. We need to have the hardening of our airfields and we need to improve command and control procedures. Spending thousands of millions of pounds on defence might be superfluous if the command and control network were destroyed in time of conflict.
187 We need to have replacements for ageing planes, such as the Harriers and Jaguars. We need to have a proper inventory of transport planes, because if there is a conflict—God forbid—there will be a need swiftly to transport our forces to wherever they are required. That would mean more than commandeering Laker or British Airways. There is a need to improve radar. There is a need to improve the tail as well as the tooth.
The Defence Committee looked at ammunition storage in West Germany. That may not be a politically exciting subject. It may be more exciting and more important to look at the International Institute of Strategic Studies review each year and at the number of planes that each country has. However, unless those planes are properly serviced, unless they have the proper weaponry, and unless the ammunition that is stored can be swiftly and properly distributed, there is no point in having the expensive hardware. Those are some of the things that need to be done by the Government in terms of the Royal Air Force.
However, I fear that with the commitment to Trident many of the things that I had hoped would come about will suffer. I have not mentioned the Royal Air Force in Germany. Certainly, there are comparable needs there, too. I suggest that people should read the published evidence to the Defence Committee given by the Society of British Aerospace Manufacturers about what it considers may be the likely consequences of the Government proceeding with Trident.
If the budget is under pressure now, what will happen when Trident starts to bite? The projects that many hon. Members regard as sacrosanct to their constituency will be cancelled, one by one. There has been debate in the past and there will be debate in the future. Hon. Members are mistaken if they think that just because a decision has been made to procure the successor to Polaris, and because they have voted in large numbers to support it, the debate on Trident is over. The debate is far from over, for when we begin to see the consequences of Trident, the Government will be under enormous pressure from their own side as well as ours.
Some Labour Members argue against Trident on religious, moral and philosophical grounds. I would argue against Trident not simply on those grounds but on the ground of the opportunity costs of Trident—and in terms not only of hospitals and housing but of the remainder of the defence budget. That is why I ask hon. Members to look very carefully on Thursday at the reports of the Select Committee. They will then see the question in a different light, whichever report they look at, and that will improve the quality of the debate, which will go on for some time—well into the future.
I hope that the goal of both East and West will be to reduce tension, to reduce armaments, and to create genuine arms control, leading eventually—this may be Utopian—to general disarmament. I hope that that question will reappear on the agenda. The Governments of the United States and the Soviet Union will be doing a great disservice to their respective populations if there is no return to genuine negotiation.
We must ensure that while disarmament and arms control are taking place there will be the maintenance of security. I do not think that they are incompatible goals. It is important to realise, too, that the strength of a nation should not be seen simply in terms of one side of a world-wide balance sheet. Strength is more than a military 188 matter; it relies on the confidence that its population has in its institutions. It relies on the nation's ability to marshal its economic, political and diplomatic resources. Defence and security are far more than mere numbers.
We must adopt—and I hope that the Americans will adopt—a rational approach to defence. I hope that all in the West will realise that we can either live with the Soviets or, surely, die with them.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) said that there was more to defence than just the threat. We have learnt this afternoon that there is more to an Adjournment debate than just the Royal Air Force. The argument has waxed and waned over so many subjects that are peripheral to our main debate that you may be a little surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I seek to come back strictly to the subject at issue—the Royal Air Force.
This debate is an exceedingly timely one as it comes two days before the Secretary of State announces to this House the findings of his defence review. If I am not to mix my metaphors, I should like to take this modest opportunity to fire a shot across the bows, if that is the right nautical phrase. Much of the speculation about that review is quite clear. It is that the Secretary of State has placed less emphasis on our maritime role than he has on our role in Continental Europe on the central front and our role in the air. I shall go briefly into those roles.
First, there is the deterrent role, which is to continue with the modernisation of our independent deterrent force with the acquisition of the Trident missile system. I do not quarrel with that decision. I argued for the purchase of Trident in an Adjournment debate in the middle of the night in December 1979, and my view has not changed since then. But it would be foolish of us to pretend that that conscious decision will not have major ramifications for our conventional defences and for our whole defence posture.
The review is, at least in part, a consequence of that conscious decision to procure Trident, and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise, particularly as we are increasingly aware that the cost of Trident will escalate beyond the £5,000 million originally envisaged to at least £6,000 million, or thereabouts. It will, therefore, have a significant influence.
The right hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Rodgers) said, I think in our first defence debate in this Parliament, that as a result of the Trident decision, something would have to give. A lot of things will have to give, and. I suspect that the Navy will have to give up most. The Royal Air Force is a service that is associated with all our roles except the deterrent role.
The second primary role is our commitment, according to the Brussels treaty, to station four divisions on the Continent of Europe, with an associated tactical air force We are told by Her Majesty's Government that the commitment to four divisions is immutable.
I can well understand why the Foreign Office is reluctant at this time to embark upon a major shift of balance within the British defence posture—a shift of balance away from Continental Europe, at a time when our Continental allies, particularly the Germans and perhaps to a lesser extent the Dutch and maybe the Belgians—are 189 having difficulties in meeting their Alliance commitments, and at a time when their domestic public opinion seems to be less and less wholeheartedly committed to defence.
I can understand the anxieties that Her Majesty's Government feel. Nevertheless, that issue will at some stage have to be faced. I regard the prime roles of the United Kingdom—as an island nation to the rear and slightly to the flank of the rest of the Alliance—as being maritime and air. The United Kingdom is, after all, the essential bridge, the link, between Western Europe and North America.
The defence of Western Europe is predicated on reinforcement across the North Atlantic. Without that reinforcement there can be no sustained defence of Western Europe, and to make good that reinforcement, the sea lanes across the North Atlantic must be kept secure. The skies must also be kept secure, and in particular the air defence of the United Kingdom air defence region, which stretches right up to the Shetlands and encompasses part of the vital Greenland-Iceland-Pharoes-Shetlands gap. That air defence must be effective.
The Royal Air Force plays an important part in the defence of the Eastern Atlantic and the Channel areas, which are our main naval responsibilities, and in the defence of the United Kingdom air defence region the Royal Air Force is solely responsible.
Apart from the four roles that I have listed—the deterrent, the Brussels treaty commitment, the United Kingdom air defence region, and the Channel and Eastern Atlantic naval commitments—there is the mobile role. That is a contribution to the allied mobile force of close support aircraft. There is also a potential for the deployment of squadrons overseas in the national interest or, at least theoretically and hypothetically, in support of an alliance operation outside the NATO theatre, be it as part of the rapid deployment force or whatever.
In the United Kingdom we should not overlook our essentially unique position geographically, and as a maritime power with overseas commercial and trading interests, which should surely lead us towards an air and naval strategy.
There is another argument. We alone of the European countries of any military significance—that is, if one discounts, for example, Liechtenstein, Andorra, San Marino and Iceland—have no form of national service. We do not have conscription. We therefore have to make good, with the very best weapons systems and, as members of a defensive alliance, with highly flexible mobile forces, the lack of manpower inherent in a nation which by conscious decision has renounced standing conscripted armies in peacetime.
Those arguments, too, lead me to believe that to make the best use of our limited resources we must involve more naval forces and air forces in our defensive tasks rather than a static and inflexible presence in Central Europe.
When one considers the defence of Central Europe, one is struck by one obvious fact. If Central Europe is to remain secure, our allies in the Federal Republic of West Germany must put freedom, independence and the preservation of democracy before the reunification of their country. I wonder to what extent the four divisions of BAOR actually influence that, which is essentially an internal German question.
190 I believe that our role in Central Europe should be primarily an air role. We do not know the time, the place or the direction of the thrust or the aggression when, or if, it falls. If it falls, however, we can be virtually sure that from our point of view it will fall at the wrong place and at the wrong time. BAOR in peacetime, with its attendant baggage train of married quarters, swimming pools, NAAFI shops, schools and the whole impedimenta, is in the wrong place if we seek a forward strategy to defend on the Elbe as far forward as possible. We may be sure that when the strike comes the refugees will be hurtling westwards and BAOR will be struggling to get out of barracks to go eastwards and at the same time to despatch the wives and children to the Channel ports—a horrifying spectacle.
I suggest that if we try to make our main contribution to the defence of Central Europe an air defence, we can provide from this country air squadrons which at very short notice can go where they are wanted, to plug the gaps and try to stem the breakthroughs and to meet the armoured thrusts in an effective and flexible way. If they are not wanted on the central front, they can be sent to the Northern flank, the Southern flank or even to support the rapid deployment force further afield.
Those are some of the reasons why I say that the role of the Royal Air Force is essential and crucial and why commentators such as Stansfield Turner, the former commander, Allied Forces Southern Europe, writing to The Times, Admiral Kidd, former Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, Senator John Towers, chairman of the Senate Armed Forces, Committee, and yesterday in a letter to The Times my former Cambridge supervisor, Captain Stephen Roskill, were right to emphasise Britain's unique and paramount maritime role in Europe. Since the Battle of Britain, we have realised that that must be an air role as well. The two go hand in hand. One cannot divorce the waters or the underwater environment from what goes on above it, and one cannot secure the transatlantic reinforcement of Western Europe without security of the sea lanes and adequate air defence.
This is a critical juncture in our defences. I suspect that the document to be issued on Thursday will, as the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) suggested, be as historic as the White Paper of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Duncan Sandys. In retrospect that White Paper was somewhat flawed. He was right to emphasise the importance of the deterrent, but his idea that manned aircraft could be superseded to a large degree by missiles did great damage to the Royal Air Force and the air defences of this country took a long time to recover.
I hope that those who have had the burden of responsibility for producing this review will not have entered upon it with any preconceptions such as that everything can be done by submarines which was previously done by other means or any other preconception. We need a balanced fleet, which means a submarine fleet, escort vessels, carriers—manned, I hope, in part by Royal Air Force aircrew as well as Fleet Air Arm pilots—and maritime control aircraft in sufficient numbers.
We also need a balanced Royal Air Force with enhanced air defences, improved close support capability, with the acquisition of a new aircraft to replace the Jaguar in not too long a time scale, and sufficient reserves to mount protracted hostilities. We have always imagined that the next war will be a three-day or four-day affair. We 191 hope that it will never happen. We trust that deterrence will work, but if it breaks down we do not know the nature of the conflict upon which we may be embarked.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Or the duration, as my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) reminds me. For that very reason, we need reserves. The auxiliary maritime headquarters units are doing their work well. The local one at Northwood does an admirable job. The three new auxiliary regiment squadrons are proving highly effective and I hope that we shall gain more of those.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force, whose work in the Air Force department when it existed I so much admired and whom I wish well in his new and equally important responsibilities for procurement, would, I am sure, think it remiss of me if I closed without a plea for flying squadrons in the Royal Auxilary Air Force. A close study of the Air National Guard in the United States has shown me what a remarkable contribution that makes. I believe that for about 6 per cent. of the USAF's budget it provides about 15 per cent. of the capability. That is the kind of cost effectiveness that I hope we are looking for in this review.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
It is most appropriate that I should follow the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), as he mentioned during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) that he thought that the Soviet Union was becoming more aggressive. That is the general theme from the Conservative Benches. Indeed, that is why there is the continual cry for more money to be spent on all the Armed Forces, and particularly the Royal Air Force with which we are dealing today.
I remind the hon. Gentleman of the quotation to which I referred earlier. On 3 March 1981, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), vice chairman of the Tory Party parliamentary defence group, said:If one measures the extent to which the strength of the Soviet Union has been eroded in central Europe by defections of one kind or another since that high point at the time of the Berlin airlift, one sees that effectively, it has lost Austria, half of which it occupied, and Finland over which it exercised almost total dominance. It has lost, irreparably, Yugoslavia. It has lost Rumania in all but name. In Hungary, the regime has become more relaxed and more inimical to Soviet influence. Finally, there are threatening developments for the Soviet Union in Poland. Seen from the Soviet side, this shows a steady pattern of retreat and disintegration."—[Official Report, 3 March 1981; Vol. 1000, c. 193.]Why are we not retreating in the same way from defence expenditure, to follow that self-same retreat, instead of repeating time and again the myth that the Soviet Union is expansive and increasing? It was said that one trusts that the deterrents will work. Why did we not maintain the deterrents at the position that existed when the mutually assured destruction theory was held to be valid in 1963? At that time, both sides could effectively deter, because they were potentially able to exterminate each other.
Since 1963, why have the United States of America and NATO in particular increased their nuclear armoury many fold? The Soviet Union has also done so, but to a lesser extent. Why was the deterrent capability not maintained at the level found in 1963? In 1963 it was agreed that there was a deterrent. We now have many more nuclear 192 weapons. We cannot go on in this platitudinous haze in which we say that the Russians are building up their weapons and in which they say that we are building up ours. Inexorably, we shall move towards the point at which those weapons are used. We must call a halt to the reckless arms race that both sides indulge in while they echo platitudes about wanting multilateral disarmament and while waiting for the other side to make a move.
§ Dr. Glyn
The hon. Gentleman rightly highlighted 1963. Does he not agree that, although there may have been parity at that time, the Russians refused to allow any form of inspection of their weapons on the other side of the Urals? Therefore, we knew that they were still making atomic weapons. We were lucky to get the Nassau agreement, which gave us superiority.
§ Mr. Cryer
The cry for superiority has been echoed by both sides. However, I shall turn to the subject of inspection later, because it is relevant to my remarks. The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) is right to imply that inspection is a key factor. It calls into question the Government's sincerity in calling for peace negotiations.
I question the integration with and reliance on the American deterrent system by both this and previous Governments. More than 100 RAF bases are occupied in whole or in part by the Americans. No debate has been specifically raised in Parliament on that point. The gradual increase of integration with American foreign and defence policy means our subordination to that policy. We are increasingly unable to exert any independance influence. It is interesting to note that much of that gradual subordination to the American will has been carried out under a cloak of secrecy. That is not new.
Under successive Governments, Britain developed an atomic bomb without Parliament's express authority. Nevertheless, we are supposed to live in democracy. Having developed the bomb without Parliaments' approval, and without—in a democratic State—any democratic consent, the bomb's explosion in 1952 could hardly be hidden. An announcement was made by means of a pre-arranged parliamentary question. The late Sydney Silverman—a doughty fighter for peace if ever there was one, —asked the then Prime Minister about the cost. The Prime Minister, then Winston Churchill, said:As to the cost, I have said before, as an old Parliamentarian that I was rather astonished that well over £100 million should be dispersed without Parliament being made aware of it. I was a bit astonished. However, there is the story, and we now have a result which on the whole, I think, will be beneficial to public safety. As for the future, I think we must be guided by the precedents established under the last regime as to detailed accounts and the way in which the expenditure is recorded." —[Official Report, 23 October 1952; Vol. 505, c. 1271.]Secrecy was justified by someone who is regarded by many as a defender of parliamentary accountability.
Since then, the process has gone on. It came to light that the Labour Government spent £1 billion on operation Chevaline without any parliamentary authority and without any consultation of the public. When questions are raised about the American presence on more than 100 RAF bases—I shall come to the way in which the Ministry of Defence cloaked the issue—it is always said that an agreement was reached in 1951 between Prime Minister Attlee and President Truman. On 11 November 1931 I asked a written question. The Under Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Air Force replied: 193More specifically, the use by United States Forces of bases and facilities in the United Kingdom is governed by the agreement reached by Mr. Atlee and President Truman in October 1951 and re-affirmed by Mr. Churchill and President Truman in a joint communiqué of January 1952.What was significant about October 1951? The House was not sitting then, because there was an election. Therefore, an agreement that gave the United States of America the right to use bases here was reached without any possibility of parliamentary approval.
The subsequent joint communiqué, which confirmed the 1951 agreement, has never been debated in the House. The Minister's reply continues:There are also a number of supplementary undertakings and agreements which either amplify these main documents or relate to the use of individual bases and facilities. Examples are the Exchange of Notes Relating to the Sale of Tobacco by the United States Government and the Construction of Housing and/or Community Facilities by the United Kingdom Government… No central record of such material is held, and the research which would have to be undertaken to assemble one would entail disproportionate effort and cost." [Official Report, 10 December 1980; Vol. 995,c. 680–1.]No doubt it would entail disproportionate effort and cost just like that which the Ministry of Defence would be put to if it had to tot up the cost of over 600 public relations visits by newspapermen in 1980. In a Department that spends £12.7 billion of public money incapable of obtaining the information from a central register, or is it dissembling despite the fact that we live in a democratic nation, in which hon. Members are supposed to be entitled to information in order to scrutinise Departments?
It is extraordinary that the right of the United States of America to use so many Royal Air Force bases and to fly planes that use nuclear weapons should have crept up on us in such an underhand and undemocratic way. It is extraordinary that a Government—no doubt the previous Labour Government would have tried the same ploy—should argue that the F111s that carry nuclear weapons and that the nuclear weapons stored on Royal Air Force bases under American supervision are somehow related to the exchange of notes on the sale of tobacco by the American Government and to the construction of housing and/or community facilities by the United Kingdom.
The use and deployment of nuclear weapons were not envisaged in such agreements. The Government dissemble when they attempt to argue that that was envisaged. We should be given a more open account of the use of those bases. I have asked several questions on this issue. On 18 June I asked the Secretary of State for Defence to listthe total number of bases operated in whole or part by the United States forces in the United Kingdom." — [Official Report, 18 June 1980; Vol. 986, c. 587–88.]His answer referred to the fact that several American bases were being operated on Royal Air Force airfields. Eleven such bases were listed. I carried on questioning, although on the basis of ordinary open government and honesty one would have thought that my first question was sufficiently straight forward. I asked for all the bases that were operated in whole or in part by the Americans. About three or four questions later I was told that there were about 50 such bases. I understand that more than 100 bases are operated by the American Government, largely on Royal Air Force property, in Britain.
It is less than satisfactory that the Ministry of Defence should be so evasive about such matters. If the United 194 States has extensive use of RAF bases in this country, if it flies nuclear weapons on practice or training runs or NATO-organised runs and stores nuclear weapons, should not the citizenry at least have the right to know about such matters? Should not Members of Parliament have the right to question the Secretary of State and expect full open and honest answers instead of the dissembling that goes on?
There was an article in the New Statesman by Duncan Campbell on 18 July called "The billion dollar phone tap". It was captioned "Menwith Hill Station. America's Big Ear in the heart of Yorkshire." That, too, is on an RAF station. It contains the largest interception operation by the United States outside America. It has never received the explicit approval of the House of Commons. The Minister might say that we are members of NATO and every White Paper—suitably shaded in periods of Conservative Government in a tasteful shade of blue—refers to our commitments to NATO and therefore that is all right. We approve it, but that is not good enough.
If a foreign Power, friendly or otherwise, sets up an interception station employing over 800 people, that is reasonably significant and should merit the specific attention of Parliament. It is deceitful for successive Governments to have allowed that station, America's big ear on Europe, to begin operations and to undertake interception without express parliamentary approval.
If it is not America's interception on telecommunications going in and out of the United Kingdom and is only the centre of the European communications network for the United States forces, that also should be known to the citizens at large because that makes us vulnerable to any attack in a future confrontation. The citizens have a right to know. They have a right to know the nature of the installation in which they are unwittingly embroiled.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
May I question the hon. Member's extraordinary assumption—it was made, too, by his hon. Friends—that, somehow, by a close working relationship with our American friends, we are made more vulnerable and more open to attack. Surely the reverse is the case. It is by the closeness of our ties that our potential adversaries are deterred.
§ Mr. Cryer
Even the Americans have accepted that their computer control system of their nuclear weapons is not the most perfect. There have been a number of nuclear alarms. Happily, nothing has happened. The then Secretary of State took the view that because the world had not been blown up everything was all right. I do not take that view. Either by accident or design, we could be sucked into a nuclear confrontation—by accident because of defective computers in the American complex at Colorado Springs or wherever, or by design because the Pentagon, having abandoned mutually assured destruction, is embarking under presidential directive 59 on the concept of a limited nuclear war in Europe.
I know that it seems far-fetched, but the secret presidential directive 59 was leaked to the world at large. It was not published. It suggests that there should be nuclear weapons in this country, in other NATO countries and in America, targeted on military targets instead of the mutual destruction concept of wiping out whole cities. There is the aspect, too, that the Pentagon may embark on that notion. Once it thinks it can achieve a 100 per cent. wiping-out of Russian military targets, it is conceivable that some Right-wing extremists coming to power in 195 America could argue for a first strike against the Russians or the perception is that the Russians are about to strike and that the Americans must strike first.
In such circumstances, we could be dragged into a nuclear confrontation for which we were not prepared or willing to be involved with our American allies. We are friends with the American people. We are friends with the people who forced successive American Governments to abandon the Vietnam policy. We are friends with those who forced Nixon out of office because of his deceit of the American nation. I do not say that the American nation is not a friend; of course it is. But it must not be a friendship of subordination. It should be a friendship of equals and we should be able to assert our independent views separately and, if necessary, in opposition to those of the American Government.
§ Mr. Cryer
Yes, I do think we should withdraw from NATO. NATO is a dangerous and secretive alliance, but that is not the view of my party. The Labour Party has not adopted that view and I am in a minority in the Labour Party. Labour Party policy is for this country to remain a member of NATO. Indeed, there is an argument that, in order to control some of the generals in NATO and to know something of the plans, we should remain members. I think that we should be better off withdrawing from NATO because it is an organisation that uses the deployment, involvement and threat of nuclear weapons. I am not prepared to support that.
I add briefly one or two comments about cruise missiles as a question has been raised about verification. At RAF Greenham Common and RAF Molesworth we are to have cruise missiles that will be owned by the Americans and controlled by the Americans, except that they will be subject to the agreement reached between Attlee and Truman in 1951, taking into account negotiations that are undertaken in the light of the circumstances prevailing at that time. That was at a time when nuclear weapons were not envisaged as a consequence of the agreement. We know that a nuclear war can take place in minutes; therefore, negotiations will surely be somewhat academic.
The reality is that in the American control of cruise missiles there is no United Kingdom veto. The only reality of a veto is when there are two keys and the United Kingdom Government can say "You cannot have our key to fire the missiles". But the United Kingdom Government do not have a key, and the Secretary of State has made it abundantly clear that the only way that we can have a key for the cruise missiles is to pay for it. We cannot do that because all our money is going into mad prestige schemes such as Trident, so we cannot afford to buy a cruise missile key to ensure that the Americans use their key only at joint discretion and not by some, perhaps meaningless, consultation at the time of confrontation when cruise missiles would be deployed.
The second thing about cruise missiles is that they fly close to the land and the computer programmes to follow that flight path will be provided by the Americans, which gives them a crucial element of control. If the Government are serious about disarmament, and if their claims about 196 wanting disarmament are more than platitudes and meaningless verbiage, why have they accepted a missile which, by common consent and understanding, is one of the least verifiable of all weapons? It can be put on the back of a lorry. It can be shifted into and out of a silo and down the road into a shed, an old tunnel or the middle of a woodland. It cannot easily be photographed by a satellite. In other words, it is not easily verifiable.
That is the point that the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead made about verification between two sides, full of mutual distrust of one another. If we are to have a reduction in nuclear weapons that will give humanity some sort of guarantee for the future, we must have verification, and cruise missiles are least susceptible to that important and crucial element in any arms reduction programme. Therefore, far from diminishing the arms race, the acceptance of cruise missiles will enhance and increase it.
It will not be long before the Russians also embark on a programme of cruise missiles. Ever since 1945, when such an initiative has been taken—mostly by America—the Russians have subsequently followed suit, as a result of which the momentum has increased.
§ Dr. Glyn
With respect, the hon. Gentleman misquoted me. I said that in the 1960s we tried to establish some sort of reciprocity between ourselves and the Soviet Union about what atomic arms were available. That came to nothing, which is why we decided to embark on a programme of superiority. We still have no chance of examining the arms that Russia possesses which we cannot photograph from the air.
§ Mr. Cryer
I do not want to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman, but he has made the point for me. Verification is a crucial and important element in arms limitation, and cruise missiles will diminish and harm that aim.
If we are really serious about reducing the arms race and arms momentum, we must break the military industrial complex that has grown up in America and Britain. It is true that a lot of jobs depend on the arms industries, and Conservative Members never make that point about other areas of public expenditure. Just as we claim that the increased electrification of British Railways and the building of houses through public investment would produce jobs, so defence expenditure produces jobs. It is the task of any Government—certainly of the next Labour Government—to switch from production of arms to production for peaceful purposes. However, we cannot expect people to go on the dole while we drum up some jobs at some future date.
The switch can be made. Many plans have been put forward, such as the plan by the shop stewards of Lucas Aerospace. They demonstrate that the British work people have the ability, ingenuity and desire to halt this dependence on production for war. Indeed, production for war, be it nuclear or conventional, is seen to be a variable form of dependence, as the contract to sell Chieftain tanks to the Iranians demonstrated.
If we sell to a reactionary regime, which is generally the case, that regime could well be overtaken in the future by another regime, and we could lose both military and commercial contracts because the new regime is antagonistic to those who supplied the previous regime with military hardware.
We must also curb the apparently easy way in which members of the Armed Forces move into the defence 197 industries as part of the momentum of expenditure by those industries. Between 1975 and 1980, one air chief marshal, five air marshals, nine air vice marshals, six air commodores, nine group captains, 14 wing commanders, 34 squadron leaders and 10 flight lieutenants left the forces and went into jobs in the defence industries. They are included in the 255 senior personnel who have left the Armed Forces to go into the defence industry.
We must accept that they form some sort of mutually reinforcing pattern. If we are to break away from massive expenditure to the preservation of life instead of its destruction, we must break this military and economic stranglehold which grips part of our industries.
There are ways in which we can break away from this military expenditure. The myth perpetuated by the Tories about massive expenditure by the Russians and minimal expenditure by America and NATO simply is not true. Most aspects of Tory defence expenditure places us in greater peril and does not increase our safety. Part of the Labour Party's concern is to build a genuine peace policy so that we can move towards peace and away from armaments.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)
I shall endeavour to confine my remarks to what the debate is about—the Royal Air Force. Many of the speeches to which we have listened have drifted away from that aspect.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is not in his place, because he made such a desperate fuss about the interest that he was taking in the debate. He also stressed the fact that he served in the Royal Air Force. I must also declare an interest. I am a serving member of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. In fact, I have held Royal Air Force commissions of different kinds for more than 30 years.
The Royal Air Force is a high technology service, whose members are required to undergo lengthy and expensive training. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) referred to the 4,000 pilots who are currently undergoing ground tours, and I was surprised that he should make that point. As a result of the way in which the Royal Air Force is run and operated, it is essential that pilots carry out ground tours. Their experience is essential to the operation, control and management of the whole organisation.
The hon. Gentleman should also have known that not all those 4,000 pilots are fast jet pilots. There are different types of Royal Air Force pilots flying different types of aircraft, and it is not possible to take someone who flies helicopters and put him in a fast jet.
Defence policy should properly and rightly give vital consideration to the needs of the service and the task that it will be called upon to meet. Although the Royal Air Force is a young service—indeed, a service of this century—it already has an impressive war-time and peace-time record. We in Scotland pay great homage to the Royal Air Force and are delighted at the search and rescue service which it regularly provides in our part of the world. We are deeply indebted to the Royal Air Force for what it does.
The air battle experience of the Royal Air Force, and the lessons gained in two world wars, Korea, and other 198 foreign areas of conflict, should not be lightly discarded or, worse still, forgotten. The experience gained during the 1939–45 war, particularly during the Battle of Britain, as well as the all-weather experience gained in defending these islands, cannot be without relevance to the air and seaborne threats that we face today.
We can also be guided by the experience of the United States Air Force in Vietnam. We can also learn from the Israeli Air Force, which is probably the only air force in the world with up-to-date experience of modern dog fights. The wars of the Middle East have shown us a lot, and we have a lot to learn from them. I believe that the "defence in depth" policy which was so successful in defeating Hitler's Luftwaffe is still a policy that makes sense even in modern times.
Therefore, to defend these islands, the Royal Air Force requires an interceptor force that is capable of meeting attack both from the East and West. When we fought against Hitler, we were never unduly bothered about air defence attacks from the West. However, the Soviet Backfire bomber has the capacity and ability to fly in behind our traditional North-Eastern flank, and that is an important consideration when discussing maritime and airborne problems.
The question that must be asked is whether the Royal Air Force has the best modern aircraft and equipment, and in sufficient quantities, to defend against the present threat to the United Kingdom. I believe that the situation inherited from the Labour Government contained many gaps. Can it seriously be stated that the Royal Air Force of the day is able to police our sea lanes adequately and to detect enemy surface ships and enemy submarines and, more importantly, destroy them? In these difficult economic times, we have to examine the real cost of maintaining the position and capability of all our Armed Forces. Inevitably, there will be pressures from each of the interested parties to declare that it is of paramount importance.
The lessons of the Battle of Britain should never be forgotten. We could never have won the battle of the Atlantic if we had lost the Battle of Britain. It is sobering to realise that the Royal Air Force has only five squadrons of Phantoms and two squadrons of Lightnings to defend United Kingdom airspace. That was the inheritance left to the Government by the outgoing Labour Administration. They left a situation in which we had neither the aircraft nor the pilots. One cannot produce a fast jet pilot to fly a modern interceptor fighter in less than three years.
The Lightning can best be described as the ancient chariot of the skies. It was a splendid aircraft, well ahead of anything in its day, but it is becoming elderly. Sadly, the Phantom can now be described as the middle-aged chariot of the skies. The Labour Government did not see the need to do anything to remedy the situation during their time in office. They wasted their years in office.
The aircraft possessed by the Royal Air Force desperately need replacing. The Royal Air Force is also desperately trying to make up the shortfall of fast jet pilots. The most modern fighter aircraft at present available for the defence of United Kingdom airspace is the Hawk trainer modified for a defence role. A modern fighter aircraft requires the equivalent of at least one-and-a-half aboard to be successful. A modern interceptor puts special demands on the pilot. Until replacement aircraft are available, the Royal Air Force will be vulnerable.
199 I hope that there will be no question in the defence review statement on Thursday of the Red Arrows suffering as a result of an attempt to produce savings. The high standard of airmanship that they display regularly contributes to recruitment to the Royal Air Force and also to the sale of British aircraft. I would welcome a further assurance that this unit will continue to have the finest of Royal Air Force pilots and to be led by officers of the highest possible calibre and experience.
Until the Tornado F2 enters service there is a worrying and frightening defence gap—a relic of the Labour Administration. The Tornado F2 is a superb aircraft. I must, however, express grave doubts about the estimated cost of £14.3 million per aircraft. Can we afford enough of these aircaft to meet the obvious waste that must occur during the early stages of a battle to defend the air space of the United Kingdom? I believe that advantage should be taken of the chance offered by the present depression to get our aircraft designers to examine seriously the possibility of creating a new generation of interceptor fighters—dare f call them budget fighters? They would be designed to he built in numbers and would be capable of being used in numbers to protect United Kingdom airspace. The lesson of the Tornado project is that we cannot in future enter into such expensive collaborative, multi-role projects. At a cost of £14.3 million each, the Tornado F2 is almost too expensive to risk in battle. I can visualise a commanding officer wondering whether to commit his expensive aircraft into an uncertain situation.
We must examine the tasks for which we are using expensive modern aircraft and highly expensive and highly skilled air crews. As the demand on the anti-submarine Nimrod force increases, should we not consider the establishment of a volunteeer force flying less expensive aircraft to carry out search and rescue work coupled with fishery protection police duties and North Sea oil rig surveillance?
I am at present preparing a paper on the logistics and costs involved in setting up and runing one, or possibly two, such auxiliary squadrons based in Scotland to carry out North Sea and North West Atlantic surveillance. I see the unit carrying out morning and evening patrols similar to the patrols operated by the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. I should like to place on record my thanks to the office commanding and staff of the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force unit for the help I received in the preparation of my paper on my two visits earlier this year. The Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force is operated largely by part-time volunteers. It flies different types of aircraft. The type of work it carries out would not be dissimilar to the type of work that I envisage being carried out in Scotland.
The tasks I envisage include the policing of the new EEC fisheries agreement, if that is ever achieved. The cost would be met by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Those in the Ministry will love me for saying that. Another task would be oilfield patrols. I see part of the cost of this operation being borne by the Department of Energy. A third task would be surveillance of North Sea shipping with checks on illegal dumping of oil. Again, the cost could be borne. in part, by the Department of Energy. A fourth task would be mapping the rivers and estuaries of Scotland, checking on the discharge of effluence into the rivers and other environmental projects. The cost of that would be met by the Scottish Office.
200 To carry out these tasks the aircraft required would be twin-engined and capable of patrolling the United Kingdom fishing zone and the oil and gas fields. At present, I am investigating the practical problems of using the Jetstream 31 aircraft suitably equipped with the avionics and infra-red cameras for the type of tasks I have listed. Hon. Members will not have missed the point that the Jetstream 31 is manufactured in Scotland. That is why I hope that the Scottish Office will respond by making helpful noises towards the setting up of the unit.
It may be possible for the other Departments I have mentioned to share the capital costs incurred in setting up the unit and producing the aircraft. This would give them a stake in the project.
I also envisage the unit operating two Bulldog trainers which, again, are manufactured in Scotland. These could be used for pilot training up to wings standard. Consideration would have to be given to the locations of the unit. The aircraft and the airfield from which they operate would have to be close to the source of population and yet near enough to the maritime areas that they were to patrol. My researches indicate that the airfields at Dundee, Perth or Arbroath would be suitable for this type of North Sea operation and close enough to where the volunteers would live. Experience of other volunteer units shows that there is a substantial pool of individuals prepared to give their time at little cost to public funds. I cite as an example of which I have some knowledge the air experience flights operated by the RAF to fly air cadets and the volunteer gliding schools used for training air cadets.
In response to questions from me, my hon. Friend stated that the volunteer gliding units have 344 categorised gliding instructors, 54 of whom have served more than 10 and less than 15 years, 32 between 15 and 20 years, 18 between 20 and 25 years and eight between 25 and 30 years. Only one has served over 30 years. I wonder whether I am that one. I imagine that it is someone else. In addition, three commanding officers of the units have served between 15 and 20 years, two between 25 and 30 years, and one has over 30 years' experience.
Many of the officers and instructors attend Sunday or Saturday of almost every week and some attend on both days. They are volunteers. Although I already knew the answer, I also asked my hon. Friend whether they were paid, as I felt that the House would like to know. They do it for nothing, which is vital. We have a pool of people, some of whom have served for many years. I calculate that between them they have served 1,500 to 2,000 years without payment. They are paid out-of-pocket expenses, but even those are limited. Unless the journey is less than 30 miles, expenses are not paid. I travel over 30 miles, and have not put in a claim for some years. That is my contribution to the nation's economy, and I am not alone in that.
The group's existence shows that there are people prepared to serve the nation. They want to help people who wish to fly and do something interesting. I do not believe that we should have any difficulty in getting recruits to set up a volunteer force.
From what I can ascertain, only one instructor has had an award in the Honours List. I hope that the Secretary of State can be persuaded to discuss that with the Prime Minister. The instructors are not alone, but they give their 201 time every weekend, with consequent effects on their domestic lives, and have not yet been recognised in the Honours List.
Many of us believe that it is character building for a 16-year old to make a solo flight in charge of one of Her Majesty's flying machines. It considerably reduces the prospect of that person becoming a problem to the nation. I hope that the Minister will tell me that the volunteer gliding schools of the Air Cadets will continue to receive the Royal Air Force's full support and that the schools and their meagre budget for out-of-pocket travelling expenses will not be hit by defence cuts.
Above average boys who have completed flying training with the units could be offered staff cadet positions in the new auxiliary squadrons that are mentioned, with a view to being trained to wings standard on Bulldogs. Experience in Hong Kong shows that they can be trained in under 18 months to become full wing pilots. The auxiliary squadron could then grow its own pilots in the way that the volunteer gliding schools have trained instructors for the past 30 years. It is possible in this debate to argue for the proposal in detail. As I said, I shall submit a detailed report and a comprehensive paper to my hon. Friend, which I hope he will seriously consider.
I wish that time permitted me to deal with other aspects of Royal Air Force activity, but other of my hon. Friends wish to speak. The main priority is to make sure that the Royal Air Force's tasks are clearly defined and that it is given the equipment to do the job. We must balance a full-time professional force and an element of volunteers. It can be seen in the Royal Air Force Regiment that the calibre of personnel is high. We must be satisfied that the force has the men and tools for the job. The Royal Air Forces greatest asset is its highly trained, professional people. The House has a duty to ensure that they are given the equipment to do the job that we require of them.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)
Fifty years ago a prosperous relationship began between Welwyn and Hatfield and aviation. As the Prime Minister said earlier this month in a message to my constituents:Everyone who has worked at the Hatfield plant—from the great pioneering years of de Havilland onwards—has made a tremendous contribution to civil aviation and the defence and economic growth of our country.It is appropriate, therefore, in a debate on the Royal Air Force to recognise the truly great importance of British Aerospace, to join in congratulating the people of Hertfordshire associated with the industry and to send good wishes for its continuing success.
However, to a considerable extent, such success must depend on the Government's defence policies and expenditure relating to the Royal Air Force. In my constituency, the aircraft group is playing a valued role in the highly respected airbus consortium and in selling its spectacular new aircraft, the BA146. Those activities, along with a number of others, enable British Aerospace to operate in the open market.
The dynamics group, also in my constituency, is necessarily greatly subject to the requirements of the Government and the Royal Air Force. Here again a number of projects are involved, including the 202 development of the advanced short-range air-to-air missile—ASRAAM—and the Sea Eagle air-launched anti-surface ship missile.
The two divisions are key components of British Aerospace and have done much to stimulate the clear confidence in the company, as evidenced by the sale of shares earlier this year to employees and the public. Sea Eagle is vital to the British Aerospace dynamics group, in the same way as the 146 is vital to the British Aerospace aircraft group. Equally, however, the weapon is vital to the Royal Air Force if it is to have this crucial capability. It is the most advanced missile of its kind, and one which will have enormous significance in strengthening our defensive position.
As a project, it also involves particular technical expertise and specialised knowledge to provide a foundation for the required development of a family of weapons in the coming years. That will have far-reaching implications for the RAF and the other Services. Not to proceed with Sea Eagle would mean greater reliance on the United States both now and in the future, with all the trade and employment implications, including those for many associated companies of great worth, which will result from such a decision, and could adversely affect ASRAAM, where such technology is imperative. It would be particularly tragic after the recently successful trials if the realisation of this project were to be jeopardised by lack of adequate financing.
The Government have rightly always expressed their firm commitment to our nation's defence, and have advocated increasing such expenditure in real terms. It must surely follow, therefore, that the Royal Air Force should be given the essential equipment that it requires. To quote my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's introduction to the recent Statement on the Defence Estimates:The Government intend to support its advanced industries strongly, and to concentrate effort upon the areas where the greatest return in deterrence can be produced".I venture to suggest to my right hon. Friend and to the Minister that there is no better way to achieve that than by looking to British Aerospace which, after 50 years in my constituency, has proved its outstanding contribution to the defence of the realm.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I shall be brief. My hon. Friend said that three things were important: first, the Royal Air Force must know its tasks; secondly, it must have the equipment to carry them out; and thirdly, and more important, it must have the voluntary back-up to be able to produce those results. In conjunction with that voluntary back-up, it must of course have the repair facilities over which the armed Forces must have control.
Our debate is difficult, in that it precedes the Select Committee's report. However, it gives us a chance to look at some of the firm things that this House has considered. One firm point has emerged from the debate, and that is that there is no question of Trident's being put aside. We are going ahead with that project. That was made clear not only by the Minister in opening today but by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Question Time this week.
We are approaching a period of reorganisation. That reorganisation is not quite the same as the one that was suggested by Earl Mountbatten, that all Services should be 203 combined. It falls short of that. However, I am not sure how effective or more efficient it will be. How much will the reorganisation that is to take place save the nation? That is important. How much will it save in Civil Service personnel? How much manpower will it save? How much will it save in materials? No doubt my right hon. Friend, in winding up the debate, will say that we must wait until Thursday. However, it is a matter of considerable importance, because we are very stretched. Everyone knows how important I think it is to increase expenditure on defence, but we all know that there are limits. Therefore, the reorganisation must be considered in terms of both efficiency and cost.
I want to say a word about convoys. How often we woke up in the middle of the night when we were in convoy, only to find that there were no ships around us and that the ship's captain had decided to take a different course, and we were all on our own. Convoys are important, because we depend on them not only for 47 per cent. of our food but for our raw materials and energy, especially oil. Also, of course, we have to defend our oil rigs. That, again, is a job that the Royal Air Force may be able to do efficiently.
We must look at the whole concept of how to protect these convoys. Are we to be able to shift more responsibility from the Navy to the Royal Air Force? My right hon. Friend, in winding up, will probably say that we shall be able to do that job efficiently by using the Royal Air Force more than the old convoy system, which has served its time and must be reconsidered.
We must remember that we live on an island. Unlike Europe, we are entirely dependent upon our air defences and our Navy. The balance between the two Services is delicate. The Government must decide on costs and possible duplications. They have to decide how reinforcements can be brought in as quickly as possible.
One of the most important aspects for Europe is to be able to bring in reinforcements quickly. The Royal Air Force can provide that service. The Europeans have a different conception. Our commitments to NATO are all very well, but who knows from where the thrust will come? It is likely to come at the most unlikely place and time. It is difficult to decide how to reinforce in the best way, in the conventional sense. Perhaps our whole conception will have to be changed.
I have always believed that Europe should play a greater role in defending itself. We have to defend the sealine, but, more important, we have to ensure that food and materials are supplied to our forces and civil population. Europe is close to the great threat. I do not wish to rehearse the arguments expressed by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). I can remember how hard we had to work to establish some form of inspection between the Soviets and ourselves. At least we now have some knowledge about how much they have built. We now know that the Soviets have built up their forces.
We have to keep our forces in trim to maintain superiority. Only from superiority are we able to negotiate any form of peace. More important, we must remember that the peace of our nation depends upon our ability to defend our own interests, with the Americans. However, we can rely on the Americans only for four years at a time, because of the tenure of the Presidency.
The Royal Air Force and the Navy must maintain their mobility. They must be able to go to any part of the world quickly. They must be able to take with them ancillary 204 troops. It will certainly be necessary to defend our interests even outside the NATO area, on which materials such as oil depend so much. I hope that on Thursday, when we hear the full story, some of the answers will be given.
§ Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)
I apologise to the Minister of State for not being present to hear his speech but I had two Select Committees to attend. I wish the Minister well in his new job. I hate the idea of him losing his title because it is an honourable one. However, in principle it is a correct move. One can be too tied to a particular Service—as I probably was to the Army—to have an uncluttered view of the whole defence system. We all have to work together in defence.
I intended only to speak on one narrow point, but what has been said by some Opposition Members makes me want to enlarge on what I intended to say. I do not believe what the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) said about there being 100 airfields under the control of the United States Air Force. I live in an area that is cluttered with air bases, and I know of only one. Marham airfield in my constituency is one of the biggest bases in the country, and American bombers visit for a competition once a year. That does not put Marham under the control of the United States Air Force. Swanton Morley, in my constituency, as far as I know is not under the control of the United States Air Force. We know of Lakenheath. The hon. Mernber is exaggerating.
The hon. Member for Keighley also said that he was astonished by the large number of service personnel who move into civilian jobs. He mentioned several admirals and generals. They are people used to discipline and to the command of men and are in demand by industrial concerns in civilian life for many jobs. I was shocked to know of one job which is being done by civilians and that is the arming of our Polaris submarines. They recently refused to do it. In my view it should be done by Service men.
Opposition Members stated that Russia was a peace-loving nation, and we could well throw all our weapons into the sea and do without them. I respect the view of a pacifist, even a belligerent pacifist such as the hon. Member for Keighley, but I wish that he and some of his hon. Friends had been with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) at the Western European Union meeting, where my hon. Friend made one of his best speeches. My hon. Friend always makes a good speech on defence matters in the House. He has produced several outstanding Western European Union reports.
I wish that those Opposition Members had been with us when we listened to General Rogers last week in the Western European Union meeting. He stated that Russia outnumbered us in all the main weaponry by 2: 1 or 3:1 and that the quality of Russian weapons had caught up with ours. It was a sombre speech, in which he told us that 675 SS20 warheads had been deployed on the Russian front whereas our planned 500 warheads will not be brought in for two-and-a-half years. He emphasised that we must put over these facts to our constituents so that they would understand better what the free Western world is up against.
I know that it is difficult for a democracy—a prosperous democracy in spite of all our unemployment—to understand the way in which Russia has depleted its consumer goods and allowed food to be rationed in most 205 of the country. Russia's agriculture is poor, to say the least. Why else should it have to import so much food? Yet it has put all those weapons into the front against the small allied forces of NATO.
As General Rogers said, Russia was in a defensive position in the 1970s, but in the 1980s it has moved into an offensive position. We must rouse our people to understand why it is necessary to have our small forces. For the sake of liberty—which we have now, but disregard—we must pay more if we are to have the defences that Britain deserves.
After listening to General Rogers, we had a most impressive and interesting talk for one-and-a-half hours with a leader of Solidarity in Poland. He said that Poland would never change from being a Socialist country, but that it wanted some of our freedom. His plea to us was for this nation to wake up and understand the regime under which Poland lives, and which some of our Socialist friends on the Opposition Benches—who are not here today—would impose upon Britain. These interesting and awe-inspiring speeches and talks made me think again. I am prepared to pay more for our defences.
Although I have spoken for long enough, I must mention morale in the Service. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) said, and in general he was correct, that morale has remained consistently high. But from 1974 or 1975 to 1979 morale was becoming dangerously low. I think that, in his heart, the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that that was so. The Royal Air Force middle ranks were leaving in large numbers. The Conservative Party restored their morale when it came into Government in 1979. Morale is high today. We must not let down our Service personnel. We must give them the planes, the petrol and the money that they need. Expenditure on petrol and ammunition has been cut greatly. We must give them more encouragement.
I have previously raised with my hon. Friend the Minister of State the question of officers and men living on their bases. Far too many of them live off their bases. If only we could adopt the principle of the tied cottage in agriculture, which has now been abolished, we could effect a great rise in morale. A greater number of men and officers would live on their bases, which would be good for morale. Currently, the rents are so high so that they prefer to buy houses in the neighbouring villages. That cannot be good for the morale of the base. They do not live in messes today in the same way that they once did. It used to be a good way of getting to know one's opposite number. That practice should be reintroduced. On some of the bases that I know many houses are unoccupied. We should let them rent-free to our Service personnel.
I hope that we shall not in any way weaken the Royal Air Force in the statement to be made on Thursday.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)
My only pretension for speaking in a defence debate is that I am a serving gunner. However, as an airborne gunner I have had something to do with the Royal Air Force. I have flown a great deal with it, but I have seldom landed. Within my constituency there is RAF Valley, which is well known to my hon. Friend the 206 Member for Chertsey and Walton (Mr. Pattie), the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement. My hon. Friend made a most impressive speech at a dinner that I had the privilege of attending when he visited RAF Valley.
The House will know that the station is responsible for advanced flying training. It does a tremendous amount for the economy of the island. There are about 3,000 souls connected with the station, including the families of Service men. The spin-off from the station must be acknowledged. It is the busiest station in the Royal Air Force, with about 12,000 movements a month.
My hon. Friend the Minister for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), rightly paid tribute to all the different aspects of the Royal Air Force, and RAF Valley is truly representative in that sense. There is the search and rescue flight, which has done a great deal to assist swimmers, climbers and yachtsmen who have been in difficulty. During daylight hours a helicopter and crew are at 15 minutes readiness. There is a mountain rescue team, which is of special importance bearing in mind the proximity of the mountains of Snowdonia. It has assisted many climbers who have been in difficulty.
I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, when he replies, to refer to the civilians who are employed by the RAF. They have not been mentioned so far in the debate. I apprehend that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East will refer to them when he replies on behalf of the Opposition.
I wish to direct my hon. Friend's attention to contract cleaning. Considerable concern was expressed by the civilians working at RAF Valley when they realised that a survey was to be carried out. I welcome the survey. We must ascertain whether the present dispensation is the most cost-effective. I was heartened to receive a letter from my hon. Friend dated 31 October 1980. He wrote:It is our intention to change to contract only where it is shown to be cheaper than a direct labour service, and provided that other considerations do not preclude it. I am afraid I cannot give you the assurance you seek on change being dependent on the size of the financial savings, however, since we have a very firm commitment also to make savings in manpower numbers. But, I am satisfied that we are going about this exercise in as thorough and fair a manner as possible, and that contract will be introduced only where such a change is fully warranted.I hope that my hon. Friend will refer to the review that has been undertaken and will be in a position to assuage some of the fears that have been expressed. My hon. Friend will realise, although many others do not, that the cleaning that is presently done on Royal Air Force stations by the station labour pool is only one aspect of the work that is undertaken by the pool. The various forms of work done by the RAF Valley pool include dusting furniture, emptying wastepaper bins, internal window cleaning, washing internal walls, cleaning messes and litter collection. There is a variety of work that would not be undertaken by contract cleaners. It is an issue that needs to be considered carefully.
We all acknowledge the necessity for low-flying training. I receive very few letters about low-flying aircraft over my constituency. I can assure my hon. Friend that any problems that arise are dealt with expeditiously and sympathetically by the commanding officer.
Will the Minister tell us what we are doing to try to encourage Germany to expand the use of low-flying facilities there? He will know how restricted the facilities are for our pilots there. Essentially, that is where much of the training should take place.
207 It is acknowledged that we need to have constant low-flying training. I know what it is like, as I knew in my parachute role that there is nothing so disturbing as flying in a C130 at about 50 ft. above the ground, hopping over the hedges. Careful planning is done on low-flying training. It is above the operational flight. Perhaps even the value of the present low-flying training is in doubt, but I believe that it is essential.
I now come to the gravamen of my remarks—the question of the training of pilots. I should like to pay tribute to the Hawk trainer. Some hon. Members seem to deal with it with some ridicule, because we were seeking to arm it for the defence of airfields. I believe it to have a most effective role in that dispensation. The most important thing is that it is an excellent trainer. It has improved all-round vision and an efficient airframe. It should be known that it is the first advanced jet trainer ever to enter Royal Air Force service which has not been an adaptation of a fighter aircraft. It has also been put to immediate use without a service trials unit being formed, as has happened in the past. Export orders for that aircraft have gone to Finland and Indonesia.
When Royal Air Force pilots come to Valley, they do 19 weeks' flying, which involves 85 hours, of which 58 hours is dual instruction, and at the end of that period the pilots receive their wings. It is an efficient exercise. However, something that was identified by the first report of the Defence Committee is the problem of wastage. For every fast jet pilot there are 70 applicants, of whom 30 are accepted. Although it is right that only 17 per cent. wastage occurs after basic flying training, which means that the greatest wastage is at the least expensive stage of a pilot's training, wastage is still high. When one considers that the total training of a pilot now costs more than £1.7 million, that is something that all of us, even the hard-faced devils of the Treasury, will look at particularly carefully.
I do not wish to quote at length from the report, but paragraph 29 needs to be quoted. It states:This leads to the final criticism of the RAF training pattern: that it compares unfavourably with the training of the commercial flying training schools and with the Army and, to a lesser extent, the Navy practice whereby pilots are given specific to role training from the outset. The RAF start from the premise that their primary need is to produce pilots for the fast jet force and that it is therefore necessary for all pilots to do a substantial basic training course (costed at £78,000 per successful pilot) … On the other hand it could be argued that helicopter pilots could be fully trained on helicopters or possibly helicopters and light piston-engined aircraft".A similar case can be made for the multi-engined force. I know that that matter is being examined by my hon. Friend the Minister. Perhaps he will be able to tell us tonight what course that examination is taking and whether he has been able to come to any conclusion as a result of the criticism that was made, with a view, perhaps, to move towards sub-contracting basic fixed-or rotary-winged flying training to a commercial flying school.
In the few minutes remaining to me I would like to say something about the reserves. I do not have the credentials of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker), who has a long record in the Royal Air Force Reserve. A number of hon. Members have raised that matter. I hope that my hon. Friend will say something about the need to expand the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, not least on a cost-effective basis. We all know the extent to which the Territorial Army is an enhancement of the British Army of the Rhine. The same 208 could be done in the Royal Air Force. I suspect that the question is not being looked at sufficiently closely at the present time.
I have the privilege of chairing the Bow Group's standing defence committee. It was chaired very ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) before I took over. It has identified this aspect of the need to expand the reserves. The reserves could do a tremendous amount, not only in transport aircraft or matters of that nature, but in ancillary matters.
I hope that the Minister will have something to say about that in his reply.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Snape
With the leave of the House, I should first like to reply to some of the points made in the debate, in particular to the contribution by the Minister of State. I think that the he caused many of us some concern when he talked about the future, following the reorganisation of ministerial responsibilities within the Ministry of Defence.
My immediate concern is with the Service hoards if they are to lose their own Ministers. Despite the view of the view of the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins), who welcomed the decision, I should have thought that, without a Minister present to guide and give the political viewpoint, other Ministers in the Department could well be faced with a fait accompli from civil servants and Service chiefs who are rather good at arriving at various conclusions and then presenting them to their Ministers and asking for more or less immediate action. If the Minister of State feels that I have misinterpreted what he said at the beginning of the debate—and I see that he does—no doubt the Under-Secretary of State will be able to put me right. But, if I am correct in my view, it is a matter that causes justifiable concern on each side of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) intervened to say that he had heard a rumour—perhaps he should not listen to rumours—that the debate had been rushed because Thursday's statement would show that the Government proposed to do nothing further about the air defence of the United Kingdom or t he strengthening of our defences. Given the savaging that Labour Ministers had during their period of office, and the savaging that some of them still get now that they are in Opposition, I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to deny that rumour when he replies to the debate.
The Minister of State, in response to something I said in the course of last year's Royal Air Force debate, mentioned the role of women in the Royal Air Force. I made no apologies last year for discussing that topic arid, choosing my words carefully, I make no apology for discussing it again this year. I do not think that the Minister of State gave a satisfactory explanation of the difference in treatment between the sexes in the Armed Services generally and the in Royal Air Force in particular.
Despite these days of supposed equality, I believe that women in the Royal Air Force do not receive equality of treatment with men. In addition to jobs such as traffic controllers, radio operators, engineers, and so on, the women do the more traditional secretarial and clerical work. They receive the same pay as men for those jobs, quite rightly, and they are just as skilled as their male counterparts. But they are excluded from flying duties. That means that they are also excluded from the higher ranks of the Royal Air Force. They play little part in the 209 planning and decision making processes, and are not even allowed to fly the lightest unarmed communications aircraft.
I accept that there is the justifiable rule that women should be barred from combat, but surely, in the days of modern warfare a woman operating ground radar would be just as much at war as a pilot, and might in certain circumstances be in almost as much danger. Many women have already proved that they make excellent pilots. Now that many of them are flying commercial jets, the time has surely come to take another look at their role in the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Does my hon. Friend agree that, now that women in the Royal Air Force are to have a self-defence role in defending Royal Air Force stations both here and in Germany, it would be reasonable for the Government to give them the 10 per cent. X factor, rather than to keep them on 50 per cent. of that as they are at the moment?
§ Mr. Snape
That is a valid point. I hope that the Minister will bear it in mind when he replies.
The Minister of State mentioned JP233 in his opening speech. Given that the United States has announced its virtual withdrawal from that project, certainly the initials need to be changed, if nothing else. Perhaps the Minister can tell us where the "J" will arise without our partners. Perhaps he will also tell us whether he feels that there is any market for this weapon throughout Western Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) accused the Government of concealing the real costs of defence expenditure.
§ Mr. Snape
And previous Governments. If my hon. Friend is capable of doing his own accounting on the basis of the figures produced in the defence White Paper or indeed by the Ministry of Defence generally, he is a better mathematician than I shall ever be. I think that he was correct to warn the House of the drift towards war which seems to be becoming more widely accepted, certainly in the West.
My hon. Friend also did the House a service by reminding us that arms reduction talks have been taking place in Vienna for seven years and that there appears to have been very little progress there. The Minister of State seemed to brush aside in a rather cavalier fashion the suggestion that there should be some regular publicity about the progress or otherwise of those talks.
§ Mr. Snape
The Minister says that there is. I have never read very much about it. Perhaps I read the wrong newspapers and magazines. Nevertheless, I believe that it is incumbent upon the Government to produce regular reports about the arms limitation talks and to ensure that they are occasionally debated in the House.
§ Mr. Best
The hon. Gentleman has touched upon a critical point. It is a pity that it has not been mentioned more in the debate. Does he agree that one can hardly blame members of the general public for thinking that the House of Commons is composed of polemicists if we keep talking about nuclear deterrents whithout mentioning all the things that the Government are trying to do in Geneva 210 and elsewhere to achieve multilateral nuclear disarmament? We should hear far more about that from both Front Benches.
§ Mr. Snape
I am sure that the Minister will bear those strictures in mind when he replies. Whether the general public would appreciate the efforts of the present Government with regard to disarmament is another matter. I very much doubt it. I have more than a suspicion personally that, like the United States Government, the Government have paid more lip service to the principle of disarmament than played any active role over the past coupple of years.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who is unfortunately no longer present, mentioned for the second year in succession the question of insurance for Royal Air Force aeroplanes. He said that he had not had a very satisfactory reply last year from the present Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement. That is difficult to imagine, but that is what he said. In last year's debate, however, he received a reply from his hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who is also not present, who rightly pointed out that any insurance assessor would be interested in the profit motive. It seems strange for a Conservative Member to complain about that, but that is what the hon. Member for Grantham said last year. He also pointed out that there would need to be a full declaration of the activities of the insured object before cover would be granted. I should have thought that that would cause difficulties not only to the Minister but to some senior Royal Air Force officers. Perhaps the hon. Member for Newbury will have to wait another 12 months for a satisfactory reply.
The hon. Member for Newbury described the virtual ending of Transport Command under the Labour Government as the right step to take. There has been some dissension among Conservatives Members about that. I do not wish to refer to the hon. Gentleman too much in his absence, but at the time that the decision was taken, in 1977, The Economist agreed with that point of view. Transport Command was a legacy of our days east of Suez. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to bring back much a capacity in the 1980s. I am sure that the Minister will have it in mind that there are practical difficulties about going back to the days of Transport Command. In addition, the project would be so expensive that it could not be undertaken in the 1980s. Perhaps the Minister should do his hon. Friends a service and convince them that money, even under a Conservative Government, is not that available.
The hon. Member for Newbury did not, on this occasion, refer to the reduction in flying hours that has taken place under this Government. He did not refer to the report that appeared in The Daily Telegraph of 17 February 1981. It was headed:V-bombers bear brunt of RAF fuel cuts.Under the byline of Air Commodore G. S. Cooper—The Daily Telegraph's distinguished air correspondent, the article stated:Savings in aviation fuel of about 17 per cent. have been ordered, cutting up to £30 million from the RAF's annual budget bill of £180 million. This will continue until April, 1982, operating restrictions introduced last September to curb defence expenditure … Squadron commanders in this country and Germany are finding it difficult to explain to pilots why the fuel cuts are necessary … But the main concern is for flight safety and the maintenance of operational capability. Fewer flying hours increase the risk of accident.211 The hon. Gentleman may care to comment on that and on a report on the same subject that appeared in the Daily Mail of 27 March 1980. The paper contained the heading:Pilots grounded by fuel cutback.Harvey Elliott, the Daily Mail's distinguished defence correspondent, said:The RAF will be able to allow its pilots to fly for only 17 hours a month instead of the normal 22 … Junior pilots will get slightly more chance to fly to ensure that they reach a high standard. But senior pilots will have their flying hours cut even further.I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Newbury has rejoined us. When he spoke this afternoon I cast my mind back to a debate on the RAF that took place in 1978, under the then Labour Government. I had the unenviable task of sitting mute on the Government Front Bench as the duty Whip. I listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's speech today and then found a report of that debate. In 1978 the hon. Gentleman quoted a pilot as saying:If we flew any less, we would not just become operationally inefficient: we would become bloody dangerous to ourselves and everyone else."—[Official Report, 3 April 1978; Vol. 947, c. 130.]If the pilot was right in 1978, the RAF must—to quote the pilot's somewhat crude words—be bloody dangerous now. Pilots are flying fewer hours than they were in 1978. If the hon. Gentleman still holds the same views he should have expressed them again, more strongly to the Minister.
The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) gave us a detailed and intriguing view of what should be the country's counter strategy to Soviet global intentions. I hope that I have remembered one of his resonant and rolling phrases correctly. The Minister has written many books on these matters. Judging by the number of times that they are used for quotations, some of them must be best sellers, at least in the House. No doubt the Minister will explain the Government's counter strategy to the hon. Gentleman.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that he questioned Britain's further membership of NATO—a sentiment that he shared with my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). I am sorry to have to say, without their being present, that I never have much difficulty in finding out what they are against. I occasionally have difficulty in finding out what they are for. If they believe, as they have said—I accept that they hold these views sincerely—that Britain should quit NATO, they should draw up an alternative defence strategy. My hon. Friend the Member for Walton said, and I applaud him for it, that the country should have decent, proper, armed forces. Before embarking on another series of Labour Party conferences in which we fight and fight again to overturn conference decisions, both my hon. Friends and any other hon. Member on either side who feels that way, has a duty to devise an alternative defence policy, rather than leaving us to rely on sentiments or cliches.
The hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) made such a good speech—if I may say that without unduly blighting his career—that I was unclear whether he was advocating more State aid for the aircraft industry or whether, as a good Tory, he was advocating less.
§ Mr. Snape
In that case my illusions are well and truly shattered, because these days even the good Tories are advocating more State aid. Most of them in their own 212 constituencies advocate greater State aid for private as well as public industry, although they deplore both on some occasions when speaking about someone else's constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) in a sound and wide ranging speech, answered the question raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Walton and Keighley. Quite correctly, he stressed the importance of our NATO membership, especially its future influence on the United States. Again I question my hon. Friend's in their absence about how an isolated United Kingdom could have any effect on the defence policy of any other country, especially a super Power such as the United States. My hon. Friend also mentioned the problems that will continue for some years concerning weapons and ammunition. He said that nothing had been done under the Government because of the pressures that Trident and the cost escalation of equipment generally had placed on the defence budget.
The hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) felt that the United Kingdom should have air and maritime facilities. Although he did not say it, I gained the impression that he felt that there should be some withdrawal of land forces from the central region. He painted an interesting and horrific scenario of a Warsaw Pact attack in the central region and NATO and British ground forces going east to block that attack and meeting the inevitable refugees who would be moving west. He pointed out the social and family problems that such an attack would pose to what he described as the minutiae of Army barracks, and the problems to families and children. He did the House a service by pointing out such problems. Perhaps they should be submitted not only to Ministers but to the Defence Select Committee so that both sides could consider the overall strategy of the central region.
The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) has some pithy and pungent comments about what he saw as the failure of the Labour Government. I shall come to the effect of that Government on the Royal Air Force in general and defence policy in particular in a few moments. Whatever else his speech lacked, loyalty to his party was not one of them. In his strictures on the shortage of fast jet pilots he was being less than fair to those of my hon. Friends who were Ministers in the Labour Government.
The hon. Gentleman said that the Tornado was an expensive plane. I am surprised that he is still in one piece, because any criticism of the Tornado normally means that the hon. Member for Preston, North flies at one's throat and accuses that person of unduly castigating his constituents. However, on this occasion the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire was perfectly right.
During last year's debate, I said that it would be a brave squadron commander who would commit an expensive aeroplane such as Tornado to a compararatively simple and fast-moving target. For those reasons, the hon. Gentleman is quite correct.
The hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) made a fine plea on behalf of his constituents. I am not sure whether it was a plea for more work on their behalf or a plea for them to provide more work on his behalf following the next election. I fear that he will be sadly disappointed about the latter, and perhaps even in regard to the former, given the Government's track record over the last two years.
213 The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) felt that Europe should pay more for defence. So say all of us. At present, what is arguably the weakest economy in Europe pays a considerable subsidy to the strongest economy for the privilege of defending that strong economy against attack from the East. Like the hon. Gentleman, I think that that is absolute nonsense. I suppose that the Minister will castigate the Labour Government and use that as an excuse for ending the offset agreement. I imagine that he will argue that it was not working very well at the time and that something else should replace it.
§ Mr. Snape
I am tempted to believe it, having listened to the hon. Gentleman for the past couple of years.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West felt that some Opposition spokesmen believed that Russia was a peace-loving nation. I doubt whether any of my hon. Friends think that. However, having lost 20 million people in the Second World War, I doubt whether the Soviet Union would be in too much of a hurry to go through a far worse experience in the event of a third world war.
We must get away from the view that both sides must negotiate from a position of strength. The hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead made that point. I am sure that counterparts are to be found somewhere in the Kremlin urging exactly the same policy on the leaders of the Soviet Union. It is impossible for both sides to negotiate from a position of superiority.
People in the West now say that the Russians have caught up and have recently overtaken us. I cannot remember a time when any Western leader has admitted that the Soviet Union was behind the Western Powers. That argument was always used throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. It was said that we must spend more and more so that we can keep up with the Soviet Union. It is all very well for Conservative Members to say that the Soviet Union has only just caught up, but at no time during the 1950s and 1960s did United States Presidents or British Prime Ministers admit that the superiority of the West was as great as it obviously was.
§ Mr. Snape
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way. but I must finish by 9.30 pm.
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) made an impassioned plea on behalf of civilian cleaners at RAF Valley. I hope that the Minister was listening. It is nice to hear yet another Conservative arguing for State employees rather than private enterprise contract cleaners. Those hon. Members who have had dealings with contract companies will know that it is possible to obtain attractive quotations from contract cleaners. Normally they pay lousy wages. They have non-unionised staff. They carry out the specific tasks, and only those tasks, agreed between themselves and the management of the firm concerned. As the hon.
214 Gentleman rightly reminded us, the civilian cleaners at RAF Valley perform various other jobs that would not be done by contract cleaners.
The hon. Gentleman was surprised that there had been little mention of civilian staff during the debate. He must remember that Ministers and, to a certain extent, Conservative Back Benchers, are on the horns of a dilemma. They cannot pay their normal tribute to the hard working dedication of civilian staff at the same time as the Prime Minister and some of her acolytes are rushing round the country attacking those same civil servants for undermining the economy. The hon. Gentleman need look no further for the reasons benind the lack of praise for civilian staff.
There has been mention of standardisation of weapon systems. The great problem is that there is no single weapon system used by all the NATO allies. I have tried to discover how many different systems exist throughout Western Europe. I do not know whether my arithmetic is correct. I find that there are 39 different types of combat aircraft, over 100 separate tactical missile systems and 36 different radar systems in air defence use. This must surely affect both performance and pilot safety. Because of the diversity of fuel and ammunition requirements, aircraft can only re-arm and refuel at certain airfields. Again, this results in problems of co-ordination.
We have heard during the debate how much NATO relies on the United States air tanker fleet. It is my belief that many NATO aircraft will be unable to use these air tankers because they employ a different style of mid-air refuelling. Exercises have shown that increasing the number of aircraft does not necessarily increase combat effectiveness. Improving communications and standardisation is surely a top priority.
Fuel is in particular, a major constraint. It is an especially important matter in an era of steep increases in energy prices. It is not only cost that is a major factor. So, too, is the fact that NATO fuel dumps would be a prime target for enemy action. We come back to standardisation. Although NATO adopted a standard jet fuel based on commercial octanes, most multi-role aircraft, particularly those of the United States, are not able, I understand, to operate on this fuel. This is particularly important when the A10 is the predominant CAS aircraft on the central front. Spot shortages of key fuels would surely cripple our front line air capability despite adequate supplies of other octanes.
A great deal has been heard during the debate of the Hawk. Whatever the hon. Member for Anglesey rightly says about the Hawk, it is no substitute for 50 Phantoms. It is a fine aircraft. Hon. Members have heard little since the Prime Minister came back from Saudi Arabia about the future of the Hawk aircraft. A few newspaper headlines that arose from the Prime Minister's visit in April are worth recalling.Thatcher nets Saudi ordersaid The Guardian on 24 April.Thatcher Gulf sales drive nets Hawk jet ordersaid the same newspaper a day later.Maggie leads the sales drive for £200 million jetssaid the Daily Mail, the Tory Party house magazine, on 22 April. Maggie might well do all these things. Hon. Members need something more tangible than newspaper headlines that the Saudis intend to buy Hawks to this extend.
215 Looking at the Royal Air Force and its equipment over the past two or three years, one can prepare a list of new systems, new aircraft and new developments. It would include the ASW Nimrod, the VC10 being converted to a refuelling tanker capacity, the Skyflash, the Sidewinder, the A9L, the Tornado F2 and the JP233, the Rapier deployment around airfields, the stretching of the Hercules and the shadow Lightning squadron, the mothballs having evidently being been stuffed back into the cockpit, so that it will not now happen.
Does the Royal Air Force fly fewer hours now than at the height of the fuel crisis? In 1978, the Air Force Board, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford, agreed to provide an extra 50 planes for the defence of the United Kingdom. Where are they? The Minister gave us honeyed words and tough talk when he was in Opposition.
The developments in the past two or three years have one thing in common—they were introduced or agreed by the Labour Government. The equipment and other innovations introduced by this Government would comprise a very short list. Indeed, I believe that it would be non-existent. Despite their bluff and blustering stance in Opposition, the Government inherited the Royal Air Force in its present form from the Labour Government and have done nothing to improve it. The improvements were agreed and the vast majority introduced before we left office.
The country is lucky to have the devotion and commitment of the Royal Air Force personnel. Although we call it the junior Service, in the 1980s it is the premier Service. The House should see that its personnel, who serve us proudly and devotedly, are adequately rewarded and have proper equipment to do the job that the country expects of them.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)
I listened with considerable interest to the comments made in this interesting debate. I shall answer as many as I can, but I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I devote a few moments to a valedictory address to the Service of which I have been the political head for just over two years.
They have been happy sometimes difficult, but always stimulating and rewarding years. In a comparatively young Service, whose equipment is at the forefront of rapid technological innovation and change, it would be difficult for them to be other than challenging and exciting. However, the aircraft, which are marvels of inventive ingenuity, are only as good as the men and women who operate them. During my many visits to Royal Air Force stations at home and abroad I am left in no doubt about the excellence and dedication of the young men and women who comprise this fine Service and of the civilian staff who assist them.
I pay tribute to them all—to those who serve on the ground, manning communications equipment, directing aircraft, maintaining systems and ensuring good administration, no less than to those who serve in the air. As an RAF recruiting advertisement so accurately puts it, without this closely integrated team effort the aircraft would simply not get off the ground. I should also like to thank my colleagues on the Air Force Board and in the Civil Service for their guidance and assistance during my 216 tenure of office. Although my contact with the Service will now become more tenuous, I shall always keep a friendly eye on its development.
Finally, I say a heartfelt "Thank you" to the long-suffering members of the British public who live near Royal Air Force stations or ranges and, therefore, see the concentrated activity of our own and Allied aircraft, and to those who see and hear our aircrews carrying out their low-flying training. I cannot emphasise too much the critical importance of that training. In war time our pilots' ability to fly fast and low beneath enemy radar cover will help to ensure that the toll of their numbers is kept to a minimum and the damage inflicted on the enemy to the maximum. I know that such peace-time activities are considered by many to be an intrusion and a disturbance, but I emphasise that we do all that we can to keep them to a minimum and to ensure safety.
Low flying in itself is no more inherently dangerous than other forms of Royal Air Force Training, and the risk to the public is very small indeed. I recognise that our training could not go on without the continued understanding and forbearance of the British public. I hope that they will see the activities in the same light as I do—an insurance for peace and a means of ensuring that, should we fail in our goal of maintaining peace, our young men can do their job and face no more risk than they absolutely have to.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) asked about the ministerial reorganisation. Clearly, he did not understand what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said in opening the debate. I assure him that now either the Minister of State or the Under-Secretary is available to chair the Service boards. There is no question of the Service boards being cast adrift, as it were, without the the political direction that I know my predecessor, the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), wishes to be exercised.
The hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) spoke early in the debate. I remind him that the Government have provided more time for debating nuclear weapons than any of their predecessors. It seems to have encouraged the hon. Gentleman to make what appears to be more or less the same speech. I respect his sincerity, but repetition does not increase the veracity of what he says. We are not thinking of winning a nuclear war. Rather, our entire strategy is designed to prevent one breaking out. I do not know how many times we have said that, both inside the House arid outside, yet that was never mentioned in the hon. Gentleman's speech.
The possibility of nuclear blackmail by the Soviet Union is never mentioned in his speech. The absence of a CND movement in the Soviet Union is never mentioned in his speech. The absence of any semblance of freedom of speech and thought in Warsaw Pact countries is never mentioned in his speech. The enormous increase in expenditure on arms by the Soviet Union is never mentioned in his speech. The fact that Soviet research and development expenditure is more than the entire research and development expenditure of the United States and all the NATO allies put together is never mentioned in that speech.
The hon. Gentleman said today that there was some kind of fraud in defence spending. To be fair to him, that is a slightly new tack. We tried to explain that the fact that the increase in complex equipment costs is ahead of inflation means that we find it difficult to contain the new 217 equipment that we need even within real term increases. There is nothing fraudulent about that. That is simply a statement of fact.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) does not appear to realise or to care that his line of populist questioning challenges the very nature of the relationship that exists between the United States and the United Kingdom, and that is the cornerstone of the Alliance and our defence policy. Moreover, that relationship has guaranteed the peace that we have enjoyed since 1945 and that has enabled the hon. Gentleman to flourish and develop his beliefs.
Both hon. Gentlemen referred to Mr. Duncan Campbell and his journalistic scoop in the New Statesman in identifying 103 United States nuclear bases in the United Kingdom. The House may like to know that so thorough was Mr. Campbell that his list of nuclear bases included such strategic facilities as a petrol station on the Edgware Road, at which United States forces may buy duty-free petrol.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
The Minister says that our arms are purely defensive, to stop a war. He must know that that is precisely what the Russians say about theirs. Frankly, I do not believe either.
The Minister said that I was repeating myself. I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will recall that I spent three-quarters of my speech attacking the accounts that are presented by the Defence Minister, which, I repeat, are fraudulent, and this Minister has not attempted to deny that and explain in what respect they are not fraudulent. The increase in spending was 7.7 per cent. and not 4.9 per cent., which made a difference of £215 million a year to the taxpayers. The Minister has not attempted to explain that.
§ Mr. Pattie
I wanted to be courteous to the hon. Gentleman. I respect his sincerity in these matters. I had not counted on him making his speech again.
When we look to the future we must accept that we cannot hope to match the Warsaw Pact's air forces in terms of numbers. All that we can hope to do is to maintain our admittedly narrow technological advantage and the excellence of the men who operate our equipment. Technology is throwing up many new possibilities for weapons. The problem is in recognising the impact that they have on doctrine, and responding accordingly. The Royal Air Force's history has been one of responding rapidly to technological change. I am sure that it will be well able to meet the challenge.
Given the ever-developing sophistication of the defence environment which will increase aircraft attrition rates, we shall have to start looking for weapons with a stand-off capability, such as air-launched conventional cruise missiles. This, in turn, will require the weapons to be intelligent. The great precision and accuracy of such systems will mean that they are ideally suited to the attack of high value, fixed targets which will be particularly heavily protected.
The day might not be far off when we shall witness a manned aircraft—and I emphasise that—which does not simply have weapons hanging from it but which will be accompanied by a slave flock of remotely piloted vehicles which will be used to get into high attrition areas. For the 218 moment, however, we shall need equally smart munitions which can be used by aircraft against targets of opportunity in the fluid, forward area of the battlefield.
Given the numerical preponderance of the Warsaw Pact and its philosophy of massive concentration of force, these will need to be area weapons which are dual-capable in that they will not only be able to knock out vehicles and so-on on contact, but, if direct hits do not occur, will be able to change their mode to that of a mine, whether using delayed action or contact, to further impede, delay or deny access to the enemy.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East seemed to be unaware of a publication that exists to give the public news about Government efforts in disarmament. The publication is called "Arms Control and Disarmament". It comes out quarterly. It was launched in August 1979 by this Government for the express purpose of making the public more aware of what is happening in disarmament. It has been referred to at least 10 times in the House. Copies are available in the Library.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
Hon. Members would be pleased to be sent copies of that document. For the last six months I have been asking for an explanation of defence policy and some insight into what is happening. That has been denied me. The former Secretary of State offered it but the present Secretary of State does not.
§ Mr. Pattie
White Papers should be sufficient indication of Government policy. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman goes to the Library and reads the publication, like anybody else.
§ Mr. Pattie
I shall see whether an illustrated version of the publication can be prepared for the hon. Gentleman.
I was asked about the latest figures for accidents, about which it is said there is public concern. In 1980 there were 23 serious Royal Air Force accidents, two fewer than in 1979. The accident rate of 0.47 per 10,000 flying hours also shows a significant reduction. In 1979 the figure was 0.52. So far this year there have been five serious Royal Air Force accidents involving the loss of three aircrew with no civilian casualties. Again, I stress, as did my hon. Friend the Minister of State, that low flying training is not itself inherently more dangerous than any other form of Royal Air Force training.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to women, and his hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford spoke of women being deployed in an airfield defence role. I do not think that he is accurate in saying that. Women are authorised to carry personal weapons to defend themselves. That does not mean that they will necessarily be spread around in a perimeter defence role. Flying training fuel saving is much easier to do with a transport force. There is no question of safety being jeopardised.
219 The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East also asked about the phasing-out of the Shackleton and the introduction of the airborne early warning Nimrod aircraft. I assure him that there will be no gap. Although the rundown of the Shackleton will be accelerated, as my right hon. Friend announced on 20 January, and the force will be reduced by about half, it will not be finally withdrawn until the Nimrod enters service in a few years' time.
The hon. Gentleman also stated that the failure rate in the fast jet flying training is 70 per cent. I do not know where he came by that figure. It is not the figure that is included in the Ministry's evidence. The wastage rate in the fast jet stream to which I take it he refers, is less than 50 per cent. Of those who do not qualify as fast jet pilots, many are not lost to the service because they re-enrol as multi-engined or helicopter pilots, navigators, or officers in ground branches.
The hon. Gentleman also asked whether some ranks would receive little or no increase in take-home pay from the latest award based on the AFPRB. That is true for some lower ranks when tax is taken into account. The review body was conscious of this but considered that its recommendations were consistent with the overriding principle for military salaries that income and costs should be broadly parallel with those in civilian life.
I remind Opposition Members of the Government's record on Armed Forces pay. We have stood by our commitment to keep pay at levels comparable with those of their civilian counterparts. This has been a major factor in reversing the outflow from the Services that was a characteristic of the Labour Government's term of office.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) raised the question of the refurbishing of five Canberra aircraft and asked whether the contract would be awarded to Shorts of Belfast. The placing of this contract is still under consideration. I have taken careful note of what my hon. Friend said and will let him know as soon as a decision has been reached. My hon. Friend also asked about insuring Royal Air Force aircraft. I doubt whether I can give him more satisfaction this year than I did last year. Perhaps I may write to him again on the matter.
§ Mr. Pattie
I am trying to deal with all the points that can be dealt with. The hon. Member for Keighley can always ask my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury to show him the letter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury also referred to the cruise missile programme. I am grateful to him for his statement that the bulk of his constituents support the stationing of cruise missiles on Greenham Common as part of NATO's long-range theatre nuclear force modernisation programme.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) that we are alive to the wider and changing dimensions of the threat. I dealt with this in some detail in my opening speech on the second day of the defence debate, on 20 May. I do not suggest that my hon. Friend should re-read that speech, but perhaps he will take my word that it was said. We think that it is very important. Perhaps my hon. Friend will stand by and watch this space for further announcements on Thursday.
I was surprised that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford chose to refer to the shadow Lightning squadron 220 as a "Phantom" in the same breath as he dragged out that old debating war-horse of the previous Administration, the concept of 50 more air defence aircraft for the Royal Air Force. I thought that one had collapsed by now. I remind him yet again, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reminded him within weeks of his departure from office, that whatever thought he and his colleagues might have given to that illusion of 50 more aircraft, they made no financial provision in the Ministry of Defence long-term costings. Therefore, his identification of the need is totally meaningless.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Can the Minister confirm that the Air Force Board agreed to recommend that the desperate need of the Royal Air Force was for 50 more air defence fighters? If it had not been for the intervention of a general election, that recommendation would have been included in the long-term costings. Will the hon. Gentleman cease trying to excuse himself and his political colleagues for failing to do what they promised when in Opposition—to make the air defence of Britain a viable and proper organisation?
§ Mr. Pattie
What would or would not have been done had the hon. Gentleman returned to office as Minister with responsibility for the Royal Air Force must remain one of the great imponderables of history. There is further confusion about the nature of our shortfall to the number of officers receiving flying pay. It is legitimate to ask about the number of officers receiving flying pay. I wrote to the hon. Gentleman on 7 July last year, following last year's Royal Air Force debate. I regret that I failed to enlighten him. I shall not read out the letter now.
The shortfall lies in our junior officer pilot requirement. By giving priority to the manning of flying appointments, the shortfall manifests itself in the undermanning of ground posts normally filled by pilots. The hon. Gentleman will remember from his experience that although it may seem anomalous that ground appointments are filled by junior officers, there are some posts in respect of which recent flying experience is essential
§ Mr. Pattie
My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) confirms my point. Flying pay is paid to all officers who remain appointable to flying duties, which include multi-engine, rotary wing as well as fast jet. It includes navigators as well as pilots, and senior officer pilots as well as junor officer pilots. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire covered that point eloquently from the background of his service experience in the Royal Air Force. Therefore, I shall not pursue that matter further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury and others raised questions about the utilisation of civilian air transport assets—both personnel and equipment—in times of tension. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) raised a point about the modification of commercial aircraft to a tanker role. We have considered that proposal in the past. Attractive as that option appears at first sight, there are geniune difficulties with the cost of modifications and compensation to airlines for the operational penalties involved. Obviously, the aircraft would be heavier and more expensive to operate.
We have no plans to incorporate civilian aircrew into some form of flying reserve. As I said in last year's Royal 221 Air Force debate, I am attracted to that option. However, we are considering varous support roles for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, where part-time auxiliaries could be trained to make a cost-effective and worthwile contribution to our defence effort. I am thinking, for example, of the ground handling element of air transport operations.
During the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North, my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) intervened to ask about the future of the helicopter project. I am afraid that that project, like all other specific equipment questions, and also the EH101 replacement for the Sea King will have to await my hon. Friend's announcement on Thursday. I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North raised a series of cogent and important points about the procurement executive, and touched on such matters as cost-plus contracts, various reforms in the Procurement Executive, doubts about the operational requirement branch and the importance of production technology. One of the aims of the ministerial reorganisation at the Ministry of Defence is that there are now two Ministers with responsibility for equipment. That will provide more time to examine that sort of problem, which has never been easy for Ministers to get a handle on in the past.
It is said that Service officers spend only a short time in the sales department. It is a reasonable argument. Career structures are involved. The problem can be tackled only if it is possible for people to make a career inside the sales organisation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston North commented on the Queen's Flight and the new and excellent HS146, which was rightly and understandably referred to with pride by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mr. Murphy). Both my hon. Friends will realise that the HS146 will have to enter service and prove itself in service for some time before it can be considered for such a role.
As for the demonstrator costs of showing the Sea Harrier at Paris, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the figure given by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North. However, I can confirm that the Government are obliged, in accordance with normal accounting procedures, as verified by the Public Accounts Committee, to recover in full the cost of loaning aircraft on a commercial basis, for example to companies exhibiting equipment at air shows.
My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire gave us an interesting account of his experiences with the fliers in Hong Kong. I echo the tribute that he paid to the marvellous work that is being done at the volunteer gliding units. The Royal Air Force and the country as a whole are in debt to the air cadet movement and all that is done by it.
222 My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) spoke about what goes on at RAF Valley. He referred especially to contract cleaning. I have nothing new to add to what I said in my letter. My hon. Friend asked about more low-flying training taking place in Germany. I think that the Germans would find that an especially unappealing prospect. They have greater problems than we do because of the span of population across the terrain. We are discussing with the Germans the possibility of doing more low-flying training in Canada. That will be an important opportunity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury asked whether it would be practicable to use surplus British Airways pilots for RAF duties. We have had discussions with BA. There are many problems. The sort of flying that is undertaken by the RAF is very different from that carried out by the civil airlines. To convert to the roles of the RAF's multi-engined aircraft would require a civil airline pilot receiving a considerable amount of training. That may seem rather surprising, but that is the position.
Flying training is expensive and if it is to be cost-effective the RAF will need to be assured of some years of service from the pilots so trained. I suspect that few BA pilots would wish to take on the commitment. However, if there are BA trained pilots who are surplus to the airline's requirements and who are interested in an RAF career, it is open to them to apply for an RAF commission in the normal way.
I have already told my hon. Friend that I shall write to him about insurance. I ask him to await that letter with patience.
The industrial challenge was mentioned by several of my hon. Friends, and especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have stressed the importance of sustaining an adequate industrial base. This factor will be taken into account and borne in mind by my right hon. Friend when he makes his statement on Thursday. We appreciate that it is centrally important to sustain an adequate industrial capability if we are to give our defence forces the equipment that they need when they need it and, we hope, at lower unit costs.
The Royal Air Force is a fighting service whose professionalism and dedication has won the admiration and respect of the free world. The Royal Air Force of today is a worthy successor to its predecessors who defended our freedom in the past. In my belief, the House can feel proud of what is being achieved.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, it is extremely reassuring to go round Royal Air Force stations, to meet the personnel there, and to see a motivation on their part which, sadly, is all too rare in the rest of society now. It is almost like dealing with a vanishing breed of people who are not watching the clock, as I am, and who are interested in doing the job because the job is worth doing. In my opinion, the House can feel proud—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.