HC Deb 27 October 1987 vol 121 cc205-72

[Relevant reports from the Select Committee on Defence:

First Report: Expenditure on Major Defence Projects: Accountability to the House of Commons, House of Commons Paper 340; Third Report: The Progress of the Trident Programme, House of Commons Paper 356; Fourth Report: Implementing the Lessons of the Falklands Campaign, House of Commons Paper 345–I, and the Government Response thereto, Cm 228; and Fifth Report: Defence Commitments in the South Atlantic, House of Commons Paper 408.]

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Secretary of State for Defence, I must announce that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. and hon. Friends.

5.21 pm
The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Younger)

I beg to move, That this House approves the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1987 contained in Cm. 101. We are debating the statement on the Defence Estimates today, unusually more than five months after its publication in May. As all hon. Members are aware, the delay has been caused unavoidably by the general election and the pressure of other business in the early weeks of this Session.

Equally unavoidably, the House has not had the benefit of the usual report on the statement by the Select Committee on Defence which has still to be reconstituted.

I very much regret this—as I am sure does the House as a whole. The Defence White Paper covers a good deal of detailed ground much more than can be covered even in a long debate.

I have greatly valued the time and care that the Committee has devoted both to the statement on the Defence Estimates and to other issues.

This summer, for example, saw the publication of the previous Committee's report on "implementing the lessons of the Falklands campaign". The House will appreciate the care and effort put into this wide-ranging and detailed survey by the then Sir Humphrey Atkins, formerly my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) and his colleagues on both sides of the House. The report fully maintains the tradition of thoughtful and constructive analysis of major defence issues which the House has come to associate with the Committee. The Government's observations, published last week, record the substantial progress that we have made in profiting from the experience of the Falklands to strengthen the capability of the armed forces.

Despite the absence of this year's report on the statement on the Defence Estimates, I commend the statement to the House as having passed two equally rigorous tests—the test of time and the test of the electorate.

The theme of this year's statement is not new. It is a reaffirmation of our long-standing policy of securing our defence through our membership of NATO; and, within NATO, pursuing the dual approach of deterrence and detente. That requires us to maintain sufficient strength to deter aggression, while simultaneously seeking, through arms control negotiations, to achieve an inherently less dangerous world in which security can be assured, and, if possible, enhanced, at lower levels of armaments.

The electorate has massively endorsed the policy of deterrence based on a mix of nuclear and conventional weapons. There will be no substitute for the nuclear component in this mixture so long as the risk of war in Europe remains, or until we are confident that we have a better way to keep the peace. Only nuclear weapons can present a potential aggressor with a sufficiently clear risk that the costs of aggression will amply outweigh any conceivable gain.

The debate on the British contribution to NATO's strategic deterrent has now been settled. The Trident programme is on course to provide the necessary updating of that capability from the mid-1990s; and earlier this month I placed the order for the second Vanguard class Trident missile submarine, HMS Victorious.

I must say a word about the operation of Trident, in view of some very strange reports that have been circulating recently. There is no truth whatever in the idea that we shall not own our own missiles for the Trident system. We shall be buying them all, and they will cost us over £1 billion. Trident will be truly independent, and the Labour party is clutching at straws by trying to claim otherwise.

As the House well knows, we have had since 1982 an agreement for servicing them at the United States facility at King's Bay, Georgia. That has been very advantageous to the United Kingdom, producing savings of some £767 million over the original estimate for Trident. Under the agreement, our missiles will go to King's Bay for refurbishment after every seven or eight years of deployment and replacements will be taken into service. That perfectly sensible arrangement will in no way affect the independence of our deterrent, which with its United Kingdom warheads and United Kingdom owned missiles will remain at all times under the control of the British Government.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

On the matter of independence, nobody doubts that the warhead would be owned by Britain. However, will the Secretary of State say categorically that it could be fired and targeted without the consent of the Americans who own the satellite system? In the Zircon film, which the Government banned, a clear statement was made by the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence that we do not have independent use of it. However, as I have said, nobody is questioning the fact that we shall own the hardware when we buy it from the United States.

Mr. Younger

The right hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he sees in films of that sort. That was not a fair representation of what the former permanent secretary said. I can confirm that our independent nuclear deterrent is just that and, in the appalling circumstances of having to use it, it can be used entirely on our own should we wish to do so, which, of course, I hope we never will.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Secretary of State has just said that the warheads made in Britain would be British. I think that we have all long understood that. However, can he explain the paragraph in the July report of the National Audit Office on the control and management of the Trident programme which says: Most of the expenditure on development and production is incurred in the United States"?

Mr. Younger

The warhead is entirely made in this country. It is stored in this country and it is under no one else's control at any point. That is an important factor and I confirm that that is so.

The talk about independence is extremely important but I am surprised to find that right hon. and hon. Members are concerned about independence. Until recently they professed to reject the need for any such deterrent. I can well understand their desire now to divert attention from their own lamentable record on defence, but they should not try to divert the public's attention from the facts.

That brings me to the truly remarkable trio of amendments that have been tabled. They are the most compelling reading I have seen on the Order Paper for a long time. For light relief we have the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) and his colleagues — I think that they are colleagues or half colleagues — which draws our attention to their complete departure from the real world. That amendment spells out a non-nuclear world in which independent Wales and independent Scotland would happily sit. They would cancel the Trident programme destroying literally thousands of Scottish jobs and probably some Welsh ones, too, in the process. It says that they would leave NATO, which, as I understood the press reports, is in direct conflict to the decisions taken by the Scottish National party congress in Dundee some weeks ago. I notice that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who I think is the defence spokesman of the SNP, is not present, but no doubt she will let us have the benefit of her views in due course.

We then have not one but two amendments kindly tabled by the main Opposition party. I hope that the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) will be able to tell us to which one of them he is speaking today because, as the Front Bench spokesman for the Labour party, he is presumably supposed to represent all the hon. Members who sit behind him.

The amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and his colleagues reveals the real Labour party policy; there is no doubt about that. It clearly spells out that it is against the retention of any nuclear weapons; it wrongly says that our weapons cannot be used without the consent of the United States and outlines a future that will be free of all military blocs.

The amendment tabled in the name of the.Leader of the Opposition is the most remarkable of all three. [Interruption.] It would be convenient if I did not have to mention this but the House would complain if I did not. It would not be too much to expect the main Opposition amendment to be accurate. It is extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman and his senior colleagues should have tabled this amendment, because in the third line it says, the Government's plans … are leading to damaging cuts in the United Kingdom's conventional defences". That amendment was tabled against a background, as the right hon. Gentleman must know, that since 1979 we have spent £16 billion more on conventional weapons, not nuclear weapons, than would have been spent on the previous Government's record. That is an average of £2 billion extra per year. The amendment says that there would be a running down of our non-nuclear defences. Again, that is against a background when our contribution to NATO is better in quantity and quality than it was in 1979. It further says that the defence industrial base is being run down. That is against the background of the largest ever turnover in defence industries and the record defence sales that we are now recording.

An amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition should at least be accurate, and it is deplorable that that is not the case.

Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)

Is not the comment in the third line of the Opposition's amendment on cuts a continuation of the scare stories that the Labour party put around in each of the major cities where defence industries are based in an effort to win electoral support? Did it not receive its answer at the general election in Bristol, where four of the five constituencies returned Tory Members of Parliament with increased majorities?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is right on that point. lit is a sobering thought that if the election result had gone the other way all the people concerned would now be out of work.

Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

I know that it is a long time since the White Paper was published, but the Secretary of State should try to read it. Paragraph 603 clearly says: the defence budget is expected to decline by some 5 per cent. in real terms over the 1986 Public Expenditure Survey period. Our amendmant exactly reflects that statement.

Mr. Younger

Unfortunately, it does not; it talks about a reduction in conventional spending, but there is no such reduction. As I have said, there has been a vast increase in spending in that sector.

These days it is more than usually difficult to take seriously what the Labour party has to say on defence. It is the last party that should be offering advice; it should be seeking it. Indeed, if we are to believe the Leader of the Opposition, he has scrapped his policy and is looking for a new one. History has already proven it wrong. It said that the deployment of cruise missiles would wreck the prospects for arms control, but the reverse has happened. NATO's decision to stand firm has brought within our grasp the first-ever deal to reduce nuclear weapons. There might have been a deal earlier but for the actions of the Labour party and CND, which encouraged the Soviet Union to believe that it might achieve all that it wanted without negotiating seriously.

Moreover, the Labour party's defence policy is in tatters. In June, it seems to be generally agreed, even by the Labour party, it had a bad defence policy. But now it has no defence policy at all; no one knows where it stands on any issue. The right hon. Member for Llanelli is forced to stand facing both ways at the same time. He was quoted in The Times on 2 October as saying of the disarmament process we've got to look at both unilateral and multilateral methods in the new climate". Talk of using Trident politically will not get the Labour party off the hook either; the result is unilateralism by another name. A deterrent of which one says in advance, "I will never be prepared to use it", is no deterrent at all. Why should the Soviet Union negotiate seriously if it knows that a Labour Government will give up our deterrent regardless? Moreover, even if one could get the Soviet Union to agree missile-for-missile reductions with us, it would not enhance our security one jot. In effect, one would be saying, "We will give up all our nuclear weapons if you give up just 3 per cent. of yours".

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I should be interested to know in what circumstances the Secretary of State would use this so-called independent deterrent.

Mr. Younger

The circumstances are clearly spelt out in the White Paper, and they lie behind the defence policy not only of this Government but of every previous Government, including all past Labour Governments. I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware of the circumstances. As for the Liberal—SDP alliance, or what remains of it, I must confess that as regards its defence policy I am even more baffled than it is, and that is very baffled.

The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who sadly is not present, seems to be a country member of the SDP. He may have principles, but he has no party. The Liberals and SDP may one day have a new party, but it has no principled policies. On that point the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), whom we are glad to see representing the weight of the alliance, let the cat out of the bag by saying in Liberal News, which I read avidly, on 18 September: There will be some who insist that a new merged party must have a clear line on Trident in particular, and Britain's own nuclear weaponry in general. We will do our party no service by heeding such calls. That statement says it all.

Common to all of the Opposition parties is a belief that the world has changed so fundamentally that they are relieved of the responsibility for facing up to the difficult defence issues. But events have not altered the fundamental need for the alliance to negotiate from a position of strength.

We welcome the recognition in Mr. Gorbachev's new political thinking of the interdependence of the countries of the world. We welcome the Soviet Union's new-found willingness to negotiate effective arms control arrangements. We would welcome these matters all the more if Soviet leaders did not quite so often, in the course of negotiations, seek to drive wedges between Europe and North America and between Western Governments and their electorates. We would welcome them all the more if it did not raise so many irrelevant arguments or place so many spurious obstacles in the way of progress on arms control. The events last week in Moscow amply demonstrate its commitment to brinkmanship, if necessary jeopardising the progress which has so far been made. We have even seen Soviet spokesmen attempt to liken the dual key Pershing 1A, with its United States warhead, to the United Kingdom's Trident programme; such analysis is patently false. Trident will be a fully owned, fully independent United Kingdom deterrent, carrying United Kingdom designed and manufactured warheads. Soviet attempts at wedge driving and misinformation have failed and will continue to fail.

The NATO Alliance's solidarity remains intact, and because of this we have brought the Soviet Union not only to the conference table but to the brink of an historic agreement on intermediate nuclear forces. Despite Mr. Gorbachev's refusal to name the date for a summit meeting, steadfast negotiating by the United States managed to make substantial progress on the remaining issues. It is a matter for regret that a treaty as important as this may not now be signed by the leaders of the world's great powers as a demonstration of the improving relationship between them. But nevertheless we are intent on reaching agreement, the right agreement, by maintaining the West's united pressure.

We believe that signature by the United States and the Soviet Union of a treaty eliminating land-based INF missiles above the range of 500 km will be achieved. The result will be that the threat posed by Soviet SS20 missiles to Western Europe will be removed. For the first time an arms control agreement will produce an actual reduction in nuclear armouries, and this without diminishing the security of either East or West.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) asked a legitimate question which the Secretary of State passed over in a facile manner. She asked when the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister would press our button. Would they press it if Russian troops moved into Germany, Holland or Belgium? Would they press it if they landed on our coast? Would they have the complicity and support of the West Germans and the French to nuke their populations as well? When would they press the button?

Mr. Younger

It would be extremely foolish and irresponsible of me to announce publicly in the House of Commons answers to such questions. Of course it is absolutely clear that we have nuclear weapons in case we are put in a position that they are necessary for the survival of our country or the NATO Alliance. It is not only important that we should be prepared to use them. but it is vital that the other side knows that we are prepared to use them. That is the whole purpose. It has been the whole purpose of every Government, Labour as well as Conservative. It is still the purpose of every Western Government, Socialist as well as non-Socialist. On that, some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues are right out on a limb.

Ms. Ruddock

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Younger

I should love to give way, but I must press on. Time is against us.

This agreement, if we can get it signed, will be a major success for the Alliance, marking the achievement of a goal that we set ourselves eight years ago. It could not have been achieved unless the Alliance had remained firm in its determination' to counter the SS20 threat by deploying long-range INF systems of its own. Those in this House, and outside, who sought to deflect us from this goal have been proved wrong. The proponents of unilateral disarmament have been clearly, and I hope finally, proved wrong.

We should all beware of the trap of viewing arms control as an end in its own right. The statement on the Defence Estimates rightly cautions against negotiating ourselves into a less secure world. In this respect it is right and proper that those concerned for our security should want to look very closely at the details of the arrangements that are being, and will be, negotiated to make sure that our ability to deter war is not impaired.

The proposed agreement on INF missiles has naturally been examined closely on this point. The House will, I am sure, welcome the clear statement by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Galvin, that the strategy of flexible response will remain viable after the elimination of land-based INF missiles.

Clearly the agreement will have implications both for the overall balance and for the structure of our forces. But both NATO and the Warsaw pact will retain sizeable theatre nuclear forces after this agreement, including dual-capable aircraft and sea-based systems.

There may need to be adjustments within NATO's remaining forces to ensure that deterrence remains effective. We are looking at this now in NATO. No conclusions have been reached, nor would I expect final decisions before an INF agreement has been secured. There will also continue to be a requirement, articulated in the 1983 Montebello decisions and SACEUR's subsequent study of theatre nuclear requirements, for the modernisation and improvement measures necessary to allow us to maintain deterrence with the minimum number of warheads. I am, however, totally confident that we shall be able to maintain effective deterrence following such an agreement.

Chemical weapons are another serious cause for concern in the West. We in this country abandoned our chemical warfare capability in the 1950s; the United States has not produced any such weapons since 1969. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, has accumulated a massive capability — although it was only six months ago that Mr. Gorbachev brought himself to admit publicly that the Soviet Union possessed chemical weapons. This admission is helpful, but more glasnost is needed. In this context we welcomed the opportunity to send a team to visit the Soviet chemical weapons facility at Shikhany earlier this month. But the fact that the team was shown only weapons and agents dating from the 1950s inevitably begged a few questions. Are we really asked to believe that this is all? Have there been no new developments over the past 30 years? The Soviet Union will have to be far more open if we are to have confidence in its commitment to a chemical weapons ban.

The statement on the Defence Estimates reaffirms the Government's commitment to maintain the conventional leg of deterrence by providing forces capable of meeting the threat on the modern battlefield. This means committing the resources necessary for that purpose.

The House will need no reminding that the years since this Government came to office have seen an unprecedented increase in the funds devoted to defence. The defence budget has increased by a fifth in real terms over that period. Our conventional forces have taken the lion's share of that increase. If we exclude the cost of our strategic forces. we have spent, in real terms since 1978–79, some £16,000 million more on conventional defence than if spending had continued at 1978–79 levels. In cash terms, 95 per cent. of the increase in the budget between 1978–79 and 1986–87 has gone to improving conventional defence.

Most of the benefits of this huge investment are yet to come. At the time that the statement was published we had announced orders, since 1979, for 55 vessels and 75 combat aircraft for the Royal Navy.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Earlier, the Secretary of State dealt with some of the lessons of the Falklands and the Government's response to the Select Committee's report. In that report is a distinct reference to the need not now to order three type 23 frigates every year. The decision in relation to that goes back to 1982.

Every Select Committee report since 1982 has made it clear that we need to order three type 23 frigates each year to keep the frigate fleet up to date. What effect will his announcement have on job prospects at Yarrow's and other shipyards in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Younger

There are two answers to that legitimate question. The first is that the size of the Royal Navy frigate fleet remains much the same—about 50 frigates. That has not altered, but what has altered since 1982 is the cycle. The type of frigates that we are building will require less maintenance and will have a longer life. That means that the frigates will be able to perform effectively for longer. That is why the workload in the dockyards has declined. The matter is clear and well documented. It is, in a way, a success if we can manage to run our fleet with lower maintenance costs for the same number of ships.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the design of the type 23 frigate is based largely round the computer assisted command system. As CACS has proved a very expensive failure, costing nearly £500 million, on what basis can my right hon. Friend justify his confidence in the building schedule for type 23 frigates?

Mr. Younger

The computer assisted command system is an important part of the frigate, but it does not affect the building programme, except that the first of the line might have to come into service before the full CACS system is available. It is much more important that we should have an effective system than that we should go ahead too quickly with a system that is not satisfactory. My hon. Friend will be able to speak later about that subject.

I was saying that since 1979 we have placed orders for 55 vessels and 75 combat aircraft for the Royal Navy. Many of the vessels have yet to be delivered. This includes 10 of the 12 frigates ordered, three out of five nuclear-powered fleet submarines and all four Upholder class diesel-electric submarines.

The statement records also the Government's decision a year ago to retain an amphibious capability in the longer term. Additionally, since the statement was published, the Ministry of Defence has ordered a further four Sandown class single role minehunters. We remain committed to a modern, well-balanced and capable surface escort force of about 50 frigates and destroyers, and to this end we have recently invited competitive tenders for up to a further four type 23 Duke class frigates.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Can the Secretary of State give a categorical assurance that he will make a decision on those four tenders judging on price only?

Mr. Younger

We will assess the bids, which I hope will come from a number of different suppliers, with regard to price and the capability of the yards to produce the goods in good time. That is the normal way in which we assess all such bids. The Royal Navy's capabilities are continuing to be enhanced by major programmes to update missile air defence systems, underwater weapons systems and sonars.

Substantial enhancements of the Army's capabilities are also in progress. Equipments ordered since 1979 that remain to be delivered include two out of seven Challenger tank regiments, 17 out of 23 APC battalions to be equipped with the new Warrior and Saxon vehicles, 14 out of 26 air defence batteries and all three MLRS regiments. Since the statement went to press, I have been able to announce our intention to order a further 16 battlefield helicopters for the Army, bringing the total ordered to 41, of which 24 have been delivered. These new equipments represent a major advance in 1 British Corps' ability to conduct armoured operations. They will increase the mobility and firepower of the infantry, provide effective protection against a wide range of air threats and substantially improve the range and hitting power of the artillery. 1 BR Corps' capabilities will be further enhanced with the formation next year of a 12th in-theatre armoured regiment, equipped with Challenger, and the re-mechanisation of 6 (Airmobile) Brigade beginning next year. In addition, I am pleased to announce that, following the successful trial of 6 Brigade in its current role, we shall be retaining this important capability by conversion of 24 Infantry Brigade, based at Catterick, to the air-mobile role, starting next year.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Has the right hon. Gentleman felt it necessary to review the TRIGAT programme, which is mentioned in the Defence Statement, in the light of the introduction by the Soviets of reactive armour for their tanks?

Mr. Younger

That is a very relevant consideration in our progress on the TRIGAT programme. We are discussing this matter with our partners and hope to get them together for decisions fairly soon.

The RAF is in the midst of a major modernisation programme. The Tornado programme alone is costing nearly £10 billion—more than the Trident submarines and their weapon systems. It is now two-thirds completed, with some 120 aircraft remaining to be delivered. I was recently able to experience for myself what an outstanding aircraft this is. Other aircraft ordered, which have yet to come into service, include 62 Harrier GR5 ground attack aircraft and 130 Tucano basic trainers.

Manning our modern equipment requires well-trained, well-motivated and highly skilled people. We must provide the pay and conditions of service necessary to recruit and train them. Since 1979 the Government have increased service pay in line with the recommendations of the independent Armed Forces Pay Review Body. As a result, more of our service men are staying on for their full period of engagement than in 1979.

At the same time we are building up the reserves. The total of regular reservists in all three services has increased by 31,000 since 1979, and the volunteers and auxiliary forces have increased by 23,000 over the same period. That is the Army which the Opposition say is suffering from cuts in conventional provision.

I have never pretended to the House that a defence programme on this scale is easy to maintain with resources that are necessarily limited. It never is. We must press on with our efforts to get better value for the money we spend. In this respect, the White Paper highlights progress in three areas. First, there has been progress in continuing to transfer resources from the tail to the teeth. For example, the proportion of service manpower devoted to teeth functions has increased from 60 per cent. in 1981–82 to 68 per cent. now. Civilian staff numbers have been cut by one third since 1979. Secondly, there has been progress through a broad range of initiatives designed to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of our equipment procurement. Like others recently, this year's statement shows the dynamism of the changes we have made in this important aspect. Increased competition and a more commercially minded approach to our dealings with our contractors have produced not just financial savings but improved contract performance. Thirdly, there has been progress through international collaboration. The statement records our commitment to collaboration with allies whenever it is the best way of meeting our requirement and getting value for money.

The ending of our commitment to real growth in the defence budget, which I announced in last year's statement, inevitably means that difficult choices have to be made between relative priorities in our forward plans. What will happen — this year, as every year — is the normal process of taking some items out of the programme and putting in others that are considered to be a higher priority. I shall give the House the same assurance as I have given it before. With good management, prudent planning and, not least, the benefit of substantially increased resources over the past eight years, we can maintain our main defence roles. The very large and continuing programme of improvements which these measures have made possible—some of which I have outlined — gives the lie to those who claim that this country can maintain an effective nuclear deterrent only at the cost of weakening our conventional forces. That simply is not the case.

It is because this Conservative Government have looked carefully at the fundamentals of our security that we have realised that nothing has happened in the world to diminish the need for this country to maintain the central pillars of our defence—pillars which have helped to keep the peace for over 40 years. As the statement makes clear, we will not falter in our search for peace with freedom at a lower level of armaments. But in doing so we will never take risks with this country's security. Now is not the time to abandon a policy which experience has shown to work.

There can be no doubt about this Government's determination to take the measures necessary for our national defence. We have charted a clear and consistent course over the past eight years. Our record has twice been put to the test of the polls and twice been endorsed by the electorate. The Conservative party is now the only party in this country that has a defence policy at all. We shall keep steadily to the course we have charted. The task for our third term will be to build on the considerable achievements of the past eight years.

5.57 pm
Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: believes that the plans outlined in the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1987, Cm. 101, and in particular the Government's plans for Trident, are leading to damaging cuts in the United Kingdom's conventional defences, in our contribution to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and in our defence industrial base; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to cancel Trident, which clearly will neither be British nor independent, thereby avoiding a run-down in our non-nuclear defences; welcomes the progress made by the governments of the United States and Soviet Union towards concluding an agreement eliminating all longer range and shorter range intermediate nuclear missiles, including Cruise missiles, from Europe; further believes that the obstacles created by the Strategic Defence Initiative can be resolved and that a further agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union for a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic ballistic missiles can he successfully pursued; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to press, within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, for the speedy commencement of further negotiations to reduce and eliminate all battlefield nuclear weapons in Europe, such negotiations to take place simultaneously with the proposed negotiations between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Warsaw Pact on the reduction of conventional forces. The Secretary of State had some fun at the beginning of his speech. It was almost like a knock-about winding-up speech with the right hon. Gentleman stating the various defence policies of the various Opposition parties. Only towards the end of his speech did he address his mind to the real problem and give the game away. Of course, there will be cuts and priorities must be considered. The defence budget is in decline, as I shall show.

The Secretary of State mentioned the INF agreement at some length. We all hope that that agreement will be reached, despite what happened in Moscow recently. The right hon. Gentleman then said that there might have to be adjustments in NATO's nuclear forces in Europe. During the election the right hon. Gentleman talked about compensations, but last Thursday we discovered in the debate on arms control — which, in the main, was a foreign affairs debate — that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office draftsman had got at the drafting and obviously decided that "compensations" was a bit to hard sounding and that "adjustments" sounded much better. Shall we call them "compensatory adjustments"? What will they be? Will they he cruise missiles on submarines? Will they be cruise missiles on frigates? Will they be F111 bombers with hydrogen bombs at Greenham common and Upper Heyford, as has been suggested? Will they be B1 bombers? Perhaps we can be told what these "compensatory adjustments" will be.

As the Russians apparently are giving up three times as much "power", if I may use that word, in terms of the INF agreement, presumably the Warsaw pact countries are entitled to have three times as many "compensatory adjustments". That will make a mockery of any INF agreement, cause NATO considerable political problems and do damage, especially in the Federal Republic of Germany.

I was slightly surprised that the Secretary of State made no mention of the one area outside the United Kingdom where British troops are engaged in—or at least having to operate in — a war zone. We may have had such assurances from the Foreign Office, but we seek a similar assurance from the Minister of State that there will at least be no change of policy and that the Royal Navy will not accompany shipping further than Bahrain and the southern end of the Gulf. As I understand it, that has been the position for the past seven years.

The situation in the Gulf is much more dangerous now than it was seven years ago when the Royal Navy Armilla patrol started to accompany British merchant ships. I am sure that the Secretary of State is more aware than anyone of the real danger arising from Iranian Silkworm missiles based at Bandar Abbas at the mouth of the Gulf. Royal Navy frigates have to pass within range of those missiles, and although it has been fashionable to view them with contempt on the ground that they are old, or inaccurate, or Chinese, over the past few weeks we have seen what damage they can do. The danger to the Royal Navy is far greater than it was when the original decision to send it to the Gulf was made seven years ago. There is a real danger that we could be dragged in behind American involvement in the Gulf, especially as the Government foolishly agreed to reflag Kuwaiti tankers with the British flag.

That was an unfortunate and serious decision—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] — first, because it increases the responsibility placed on the Royal Navy. The Navy has very limited resources, and the more ships that it has to accompany, the more difficult the task becomes. Secondly, the decision places us, with the Americans, on the side of one of the belligerents in the Gulf. Although Kuwait is not a belligerent, it is certainly not a neutral state. Kuwait is funding, or helping to fund, the so-called reflagged Kuwaiti tankers carrying oil, the sale of which goes to finance the Iraqi war. There is a real danger that we may be viewed as being in the Gulf, not to protect international shipping, but to help the Americans to ensure that Iraq does not lose the war. As we know, the American navy has plenty of power in the Gulf. It has more ships there than the Royal Navy. It has three aircraft carriers and the kind of air cover that the Royal Navy does not have. I am sure the Secretary of State realises that we are in a very dangerous position. The danger is that we may get dragged further in behind the rather grandiose designs and aims of the United States of America.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

My right hon. Friend gave an account of the military implications of reflagging. Was he not astounded when, in response to questions on this matter, the Government said that these were commercial matters alone?

Mr. Davies

I think that the word used to describe the arrangements was "administrative". I should have thought that these were serious political matters.

The best that can be said about the White Paper—it is clear from the tenor of his speech that the Secretary of State knows this—is that much of it is out of date and irrelevant. It is based on figures for expenditure agreed almost a year ago in last year's public expenditure review. The Secretary of State did not tell us anything about this year's public expenditure review, although I suppose that he has been on his annual trek to the Star Chamber and knows very well what will happen to him. We shall probably have to wait until next week or the week after before the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us what effect this year's review will have on the defence budget.

As the Secretary of State conceded, the White Paper was written about six months ago when the Government no doubt had both eyes firmly fixed on an early general election. The White Paper was written with the aim of perpetuating the myth—the Secretary of State tried it again today — that the Tory Government could somehow meet all their defence commitments within the resources allocated to them under the White Paper and under public expenditure reviews. Most hon. Members honestly know — just as most members of the armed forces and most of the outside commentators who take these matters seriously know — that the Government have no hope of meeting their defence commitments within their expenditure target. Over the next few years we shall see a substantial rundown in the amount and quality of non-nuclear equipment available to our armed forces.

I thought that one fact was quite clear and could not be concealed, but the Secretary of State sought to deny it. Expenditure on defence is to decline by about 5 per cent. in real terms as a consequence of a definite decision by the Government to cut Britain's defences. I should have thought it obvious that if expenditure declines we will have fewer defences. The White Paper mentions a 5 per cent. cut in real terms — that is 5 per cent. after taking into account the Government's prediction of a rise of about 3½ per cent. in the general rate of inflation. If that forecast is wrong—it seems to be on the low side—the defence budget will be affected.

We must also remember something that is loosely called internal defence inflation. I do not know whether the process can be described as inflation as such. It is a shorthand description of the position. Over the years, internal defence inflation has invariably been higher than inflation as measured by the retail price index, the general deflator, or whatever the Treasury cares to call it. If we take into account that fact and the Government's rather optimistic forecast for general inflation, we realise that there is a real danger that defence expenditure will decline by more than 5 per cent. over the next few years.

It should not be forgotten—although the Secretary of State seems to have forgotten it—that on 27 May this year, while the Secretary of State was engaged on other matters in Scotland, his representatives attended a NATO meeting and agreed with all the other NATO countries that the Alliance should revert to the requirement of a 3 per cent. growth in real spending. I do not know what happened to that agreement. Perhaps the Minister or the Secretary of State will tell us whether that commitment remains. Perhaps it has been ditched. Perhaps it was not a commitment at all, but something to try to fool the British electorate. We should be told. There was a meeting and there was an agreement. Does that agreement still stand? With a 5 per cent. decline in spending in real terms, how on earth do the Government propose to meet that NATO commitment?

As the House well knows, the two main items in defence expenditure are the pay and pensions of service personnel and the expenditure on defence equipment. Unless the Government cut service pay—I doubt whether they would want to do that—the decline in defence expenditure will fall almost entirely on the equipment budget, even given that a few savings may be made elsewhere. Between 1981–82 and 1984–85 there was a fall in the amount of expenditure on personnel and manpower and the Ministry of Defence was able to use the sums saved on those items to buy extra equipment. As the Secretary of State knows, that course is no longer available to him. I understand that expenditure on personnel and manpower is beginning to increase again, so the whole burden of the cuts will fall on defence equipment.

Not all areas of equipment expenditure will suffer. Some are sacrosanct. The budget for Trident will not be touched because, as we heard again today, Trident is the Ark of the Covenant for the Government. In the next five years, at a time when the total budget is in decline, expenditure on Trident will increase sharply. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State's version of the great "Rent-a-Trident" war last week. Perhaps he was out of the country at the time, but he was scathing about what took place. I remind him, however, that the revelations came, not from the terrible Labour party or the Russians, but from his own officials at Faslane, where they know about these things. They came from experienced officials at the heart of the system. Those officials knew exactly what the position was, although it may have come as a surprise to the Secretary of State as he was not around at the Ministry of Defence when the famous agreement to save £750 million was negotiated, probably by the then Secretary of State, Sir John Nott.

The present Secretary of State may not have known the details. He may not have read the small print. I shall therefore read out the statement. On Friday 23 October, in an article headed Trident will depend on US base staying open", The Times defence correspondent, Mr. Michael Evans, gave a verbatim quotation which he had clearly taken down in his notebook of what was said by Ministry of Defence officials at Faslane. It read as follows: The rocket bodies are being shared in a common pool with the United States where they are built. The missiles are American. There will be a mingled stock. We've got to treat them the same way that the Americans will treat them. We're not having to buy the missiles from the Americans. We're sharing them and"— this is very important— we're not going to have spare missiles in the UK.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. The remarks that appeared in that newspaper were wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "Was the hon. Gentleman there?"] Yes, I was there. The reporters were told authoritatively that the story was wrong before it went to press, but they still chose to print it. We have a free press, so I make no criticism of that, but the right hon. Gentleman should know from experience that the press does not always get these matters right, and he does the defence effort no service whatever by latching on to false press reports.

Mr. Davies

I admire the hon. Gentleman. I have watched him operate over the years. Whenever there is a sticky problem at the Ministry of Defence—I remember one or two during that famous weekend of the Ponting trial—it is always the hon. Gentleman who is put up to clear the confusion and set the record straight. He is a very good soldier, and one of these days he should be rewarded by becoming an official spokesman for the Ministry of Defence rather than an unofficial one. He did a good job on the "Today" programme when he said that the missiles were like calor gas cylinders—we take one in and get another one out. Basically, that is exactly what the officials at Faslane were saying.

Mr. Mates

The programme was "The World at One" — I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman listened to it. I was trying to explain the situation in terms that would be understood by those not conversant with the defence world.

Mr. Rogers

Such as the Secretary of State.

Mr. Mates

No, it was not my right hon. Friend's analogy and I do not know that he would have used it. That is a matter for him. I said that the position was like the calor gas system. One buys a cylinder when one buys the stove. It is one's own property and one can use it as and when one wishes. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] No one else owns it. When it is empty, one takes it back. One might wait to have it refilled, but that is not very intelligent when one can pick up another one instead. Nothing in my analogy in any way derogates from our possession of the missile. If we get another one back it is still ours to use independently, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows.

Mr. Davies

That is an excellent analogy. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The quotation from Faslane continues: With Polaris we own the missiles and process them in the UK. We're renting the Trident missiles. I accept that "renting" was perhaps not a good word to describe this unusual arrangement. The quotation continues: We're paying for them but we're renting them, not buying them. Another official—the hon. Gentleman may claim that that official too was inaccurately reported—said that Britain would be paying towards "the totality" of the Trident B5 missiles to be built by the Americans.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman was not in Faslane and I must get on. I have given way two or three times already.

Nothing could be clearer. What we are buying is access to a common pool of missiles all owned by the United States.

Mr. Mates


Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech rather than shouting inanely from a sedentary position. He has already had two opportunities, plus "The World at One". One missile will he handed in and another taken out. A missile that has been in an American submarine will be put into a British submarine, and vice versa. We are buying access to a common pool.

The Foreign Secretary tried to retrieve the position in last Thursday's debate, but he only made it worse. The Foreign Office draftsman clearly found it difficult to describe the arrangement without giving the game away. The Foreign Secretary said: We shall continue throughout to own the same number of missiles at all times. I do not know how one can own a number. I thought that one could only own things. Clearly the draftsman had problems. When the junior Minister, the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), wound up that debate, he characteristically made things even worse when he said: The Americans have discovered that if a rocket has to be fully overhauled it might be just as convenient to replace it with another missile."—[Official Report, 22 October 1987; Vol. 120, c. 949–1012.] There we have it. A missile which at one time has been in a British submarine will he put into an American submarine, and vice versa.

This is not a pedantic exercise. The nature of the arrangement is extremely important. The Secretary of State was trying to pretend that the terrible Russians were spreading propaganda to the effect that the missiles were not really British and therefore would be treated like the Pershing 1A in relation to the INF talks. The Secretary of State claims that the Pershing 1A is completely different. In that situation, the West Germans own the missile and the Americans own the warheads. In our case the situation is reversed, but the principle is the same. How on earth can the British missile system, if one may so describe it, be described as a third country system, as was attempted with the Pershing 1A? It is not a third country system. There will be a pool of D5 missiles. They will all end up in the arms negotiations and they may well be treated in the same way as the Pershing 1A in the INF talks.

There is another important question. When asked in what circumstances Trident would be used, the Secretary of State would not be drawn. His predecessor, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), however, was fond of describing Trident and Polaris with the chilling phrase, "a weapon of last resort." It is a weapon of last resort, presumably to be used when the Russians are at the Channel ports and Britain will have to use its missiles. In the circumstances, the Americans will not even be engaged in a war in Europe. They will have decided not to commit their vast nuclear arsenal to the defence of Europe. It will be Britain's weapon of last resort. In fact, Trident and Polaris are the very negation of the American nuclear guarantee. They exist—and this is the unsaid fact—because we do not trust the Americans. Whatever we might like to think, Trident will be there because we do not believe in the Americans.

There was a great deal of dust during the election about whether we believed in the American nuclear umbrella and their guarantee. The Secretary of State does not believe in the American nuclear guarantee, and the Prime Minister certainly does not subscribe to the mythical concept of an American nuclear umbrella. Trident is to be introduced because they do not believe in the American guarantee. We do not trust the Americans and we do not believe that they will come to the defence of Europe, so we need a weapon of last resort. That weapon is part of a common pool of American missiles, and one from which the Americans are not prepared to draw in the defence of Europe. If the Government are not concerned about political honesty, at least as a matter of linguistic integrity they should drop the words "British" and "independent" when describing Trident.

I must now return to the more mundane subject of equipment. The Secretary of State is smiling — the subject is obviously on his mind all the time. As he knows, other equipment in the defence budget cannot be touched, such as that subject to contract. Unless the Ministry of Defence breaks a contract, nothing much can be done about that. Some equipment is the subject of joint agreement—such as the Tornado agreement— with other countries, and one reason why people want them is that they are beyond the reach of the Treasury because, politically, it is too much of a problem to touch them.

The pool of equipment is becoming more and more limited and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman has three options. The first is not to buy any equipment, and he will obviously take that option from time to time. Secondly, he can run beyond its normal life the old equipment that should be replaced. As the report from the Select Committee points out, he is already doing that with the Navy. In that way he can avoid the capital cost of replacement, but he will only increase the revenue cost on his defence budget by trying to maintain clapped out equipment. Thirdly, when he has no other option and has to buy, he will buy from America, either off the shelf or through a few licensing agreements. The Americans, with their vast industry, can afford to produce at lower cash prices. The MOD will save cash from its budget by buying American rather than British. However, because we cannot afford to build our own equipment, other losses and damage will be high-for example, to the balance of payments, industry and employment.

The Secretary of State said that there would be no cuts, but recently a leading firm of City stockbrokers specialising in this area said in a circular to its clients that as many as 100,000 jobs could be lost in the defence industries during the next three years because of cuts in the equipment budget.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Was that one of the firms of stockbrokers which, three weeks ago, predicted that the bull market would continue?

Mr. Davies

I believe the market implicitly. I think that it always gets it right. On this occasion it is getting it right again.

The Secretary of State has tried to give the impression—as he would—that there have been fantastic, dramatic increases in defence expenditure since 1979; that there have been a few cuts here and there, but as we have a pool of equipment that does not really matter. I concede, because I cannot do other, that until 1984–85 there was an increase in defence expenditure, but since then there has been a continual decline, and that will continue until the period covered by the last expenditure White Paper of 1989–90.

That decline has been about 5 per cent., but if we exclude expenditure on Trident the decline is 12 per cent. If we simply examine the equipment budget, excluding Trident, the fall is 25 per cent., and for the new equipment budget it is about 35 per cent. Therefore, there is a deliberate policy to cut defence expenditure. We must conclude that, despite all the rhetoric of the election, the Government really are not that interested in defence expenditure. They are concerned, not with non-nuclear defence expenditure, but with nuclear illusions. They are not concerned with providing our armed forces with the reality of modern conventional weapons.

Who will suffer? First, there is always the Navy. I am sure that the House will remember Captain Barker, who, when captain of HMS Endurance, warned against withdrawing that ship from the Falklands patrol. That was during the period of the Sir John Nott cuts. His warnings were ignored, no one listened, and General Galtieri invaded. Captain Barker is now the commanding officer designate of HMS Sheffield. I hope that after this debate he still will be. Recently he said: The Navy has its nose to the grindstone the whole time because we haven't got the tools for the job. That will get worse. Apparently Ministers are committed to about 50 destroyers and frigates. By next summer the figure could be down to 46.

At one time the Government said that they would order three new type 23 frigates a year, but now they will not do that and have told us why. In paragraph 11 of the Government's response to the fourth report from the Defence Select Committee, "Implementing the Lessons of the Falklands Campaign", they state in splendid MOD language: The benchmark of about three frigate orders a year was devised in 1982 and was based on a judgement made at the time concerning factors such as hull life, maintenance support and maintenance cycles. Some of these considerations have since changed, leading to decisions to extend ships lives"— that is, ships will become older and older and will not be replaced; that is what it means in MOD language— and modify upkeep cycles with the result that it is not now necessary to order three frigates a year in order to maintain a surface fleet of about 50 destroyers and frigates. It will be a very old surface flee— —

Mr. Brazier


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I remind the House that a very large number of hon. Members are waiting to speak. The Chair will have to take interventions into account. Hon. Members cannot make interventions and speeches.

Mr. Brazier

I am most grateful to the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) for giving way again. Is he aware that in terms of hull age we have almost the youngest Navy of all the major navies in the world? Is he further aware that when we inherited the Navy in 1979 we had young hulls with very few weapons systems?

Mr. Davies

From what the Navy tells me, I know as everyone else knows that the surface fleet faces a future of fewer and fewer and older and older frigates and destroyers

Perhaps the Minister will tell us something about our commitment in the Baltic and to Norway, and especially about the negotiations within NATO on our commitment to the Baltic approaches. I hate to mention Schleswig-Holstein in time of tension and war. We know that the Government are trying to get out of that commitment. Will we still defend Schleswig-Holstein during the next few years?

Then, of course, there is the more expensive, real commitment to Norway. Some people say that it will cost about £1 billion to replace Fearless and Intrepid and to have proper aviation support platforms. I do not know whether the Government have the money for that. There are grave doubts about whether they have. If that commitment goes, not only will we destroy a NATO commitment, but we will say goodbye to the Royal Marines also. I hope that we will be told something about what is happening in respect of landing and support vessels.

There are real questions about European fighter aircraft. We are now told that the RAF budget will not be able to sustain the 260 fighters required to replace the Phantom Interceptor and the Jaguar ground attack aircraft. To do so would cost £6.5 billion. Apparently, the idea now is to have about 120 of them. The West Germans are also having problems. They may scale down the number of aircraft. Obviously the time will come when project development costs are not worth while in terms of the number of aircraft that will be ordered. I hope that the Minister will deny the rumours. One can envisage the Secretary of State going off to the Americans to buy the F 18. In cash terms that would be cheaper than going ahead with the project. May we be told that there is no intention to do that? If that occurs, 25,000 British aircraft jobs will immediately be lost.

On procurement, there is the matter of tanks for the Army. I read in Jane's Defence Weeklythat perhaps we have finished building the British tank. In the 1990s we will need 500 tanks to replace the old Chieftain tanks. Perhaps we will buy the Leopard 2 tank from the Federal Republic or the American MIA tank from the United States. If that is the case, it will be the end of the old Leeds RAF tank factory, which is now in the ownership of Vickers Armstrong. May we be told something about tanks?

A reduction in defence expenditure will not only have a damaging effect on the armed forces but will mean that Britain and NATO will rely more on nuclear weapons and less on conventional forces. In the awful jargon of this business, we will lower the nuclear threshold and bring forward the moment when, if war breaks out in Europe, a decision to use nuclear weapons will have to be taken. The point was put clearly by the Foreign Secretary, who is good on such matters. We remember his speech on SDI. He did it again in a speech in Brussels on 16 March, which was reported in the Foreign Office's house magazine "Arms Control and Disarmament Quarterly Review". The right hon. and learned Gentleman said: Of course we do not want to be faced with a nuclear 'yes or no' choice at the outset of any conflict. So we must continue to work for improvement in our conventional defences in order to raise the nuclear threshold.

Mr. Younger

indicated assent.

Mr. Davies

It is no good the Secretary of State nodding. He is reducing our conventional defences and nuclear threshold and putting more and more money into nuclear weapons and less and less money into conventional equipment.

Our flexible response is more and more dependent upon nuclear weapons, which means that within seven or eight days NATO would have to decide whether to use nuclear weapons. The weapons that NATO would perhaps want to use first are battlefield weapons—the Secretary of State briefly mentioned Montebello—which are located in the Federal Republic. The unfortunate thing is that their range is so short and their power so great that they will destroy 55,000 British troops. They will be killed, not by the Russians, but by our own forces and our own weapons. That is the enormity of such a ridiculous strategy of flexible response, which states that we must fire off nuclear shells, some with a range of 25 km, in that very part of Germany that we are trying to defend.

In the amendment, we ask—this was mentioned in the debate on the arms control legislation last week—that priority in Europe should be given to multilateral negotiations on battlefield nuclear weapons. Such negotiations should be carried out simultaneously with the talks on conventional weapons, which will start between NATO and the Warsaw pact countries in the spring. The Federal Republic desperately wants simultaneous talks because its territory could be destroyed, but apparently the stumbling block is the British Government, and mainly No. 10. There is some fear about what is described as the denuclearisation of Europe. In fact, such weapons would destroy our own forces. The Russians have much more powerful, longer range weapons.

Mr. Cormack

We have heard that the right hon. Gentleman believes the press rather than the Secretary of State for Defence. We have heard a ragbag of accusations, but we have not heard a policy. From what he has said, do we take it that the Labour party believes in multilateralism, not unilateralism, or does it believe in both, or neither?

Mr. Davies

My party's policy is clearly set out in the official amendments. We make no secret of it.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

Which amendment?

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman was not listening. I referred to the Opposition's official amendment, which has been selected for debate and to which I am speaking. The policy is quite clear. Trident should be cancelled — it does not make any sense—so that we can maintain our conventional defences and raise the nuclear threshold, not lower it. As the amendment states, we wish to see talks to get rid of cruise missiles. We want to see a 50 per cent. reduction in strategic weapons. We do not think that the SDI stumbling block—

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

rose —

Mr. Davies

No, I shall not give way again. Many hon. Members wish to speak.

The policy is clearly stated in the amendment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should leave the Chamber for five minutes and read it.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett


Mr. Davies

No, I shall not give way.

There must be simultaneous negotiations on battlefield weapons. I hope that we can get a better response from the defence team than we received from the Minister of State, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), when he tried to deal with the subject last Thursday. The policies are set out in the White Paper. The resources that the Government have devoted to defence expenditure will mean a weakening of Britain's conventional forces and an increased reliance on nuclear weapons. Such a policy makes no military sense and is morally wrong. That is why we call upon the House to support the amendment and to oppose the White Paper.

6.37 pm
Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton)

I shall make some remarks about an aspect of the defence budget which is not often debated on the Floor of the House —research and development. It is referred to on one page —page 48—of the White Paper. It is not an inexpensive item; it costs the Ministry of Defence over £2 billion. Indeed, from about February 1987, the subject of research and development has become one of national media interest. There have been leading articles in the heavy newspapers, television programmes and rows in the European Community; Sir George Porter, backed by his serried ranks of scientists, has made complaints, and there is now disagreement about space research. Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would rightly say that that is another subject for debate on another day, but I ask the House to note that there is a distinct and obvious correlation between a civil capability and an ability to supply the military when necessary. That should be obvious to anyone who is not defending a departmental budget.

The moral for the Ministry of Defence is that, if a Ministry wishes to put itself in a position in which it must rely completely on a foreign supplier, the way to go about it is to stand back while a civil capability is allowed to decline and atrophy. That means that a foreign supplier gives the Ministry of Defence the parts when it thinks that it is suitable to supply them, that it transfers the technology when that country thinks it suitable for the recipient to have it, and that exports are made with the leave of the other supplying country and not this country. If that consideration is important —it is up to the Ministry of Defence to say whether it is—it cannot sit or stand idly by while another departmental matter is apparently being decided — the question of capability, which is apparently in a departmental box, which is not military, but something else. It would be short-sighted to take that attitude.

I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who is the only Secretary of State for Defence during the past eight years with whom I have had any dealings, who, when the chips were down on this question of supporting civil capabilities in research, chose to act on his own sense of commitment and vision, as opposed to taking a narrow departmental brief, which, of course, all Ministers get, and to say that it was not in the interests of the Ministry of Defence to support the European Space Agency because it was a civil matter. I hope that in future the Ministry of Defence will continue to follow its instincts, which should be to support the national capability where one should exist.

From the military research point of view, why on earth do we have military research and development? I think that there is consensus in the House that we all wish to see the proper defence of the United Kingdom. There are no differences in the House on that. Therefore, we need the systems and equipment to make that defence possible. If we are to have the systems and the equipment, we must have the research to achieve them. However, the cost of those systems has been rising in real terms. The Ministry of Defence budget allocation does not appear to be rising in similar real terms. That would appear to call into question before long the actual value of the procurement spend. That means that the research and development budget is likely to get out of phase with the amount of equipment that is being procured. Although collaboration on equipment is becoming more common, collaboration on research between various nations is not yet well established. I should like to see the focus put increasingly on collaboration at the research end, as well as at the procurement equipment end.

The White Paper draws our attention to the fact that the research spend—that is the R—is £401 million, and that the D is probably about £1,800 million, although it is not mentioned specifically. It is important to bear that in mind because the R and D spend of the Ministry of Defence is £2.2 billion and the amount spent on pure research is a relatively small part of that large amount.

The claim is often made in various quarters that the Ministry of Defence research budget acts as what one might call, in aerodynamic terms, a drag factor on the whole of the national economic effort as it pre-empts people and money. It is said that too many high-priced people and expert talents are occupied in defence and it is questioned whether that is right. One must say, prima facie, that there is a considerable drag factor and that a lot of people work in, for example, defence electronics. That is not necessarily wrong. However, the way in which it has been approached in the past, in trying to get a spin-off between the military and civil sectors, which is referred to in, for example, paragraph 518, has been to allow companies such as Defence Technology Enterprises Limited to enter certain establishments, to look around and to find a database, which they now have, of items which can be spun off into the civil sector.

However, I have always taken the view that the real spin-off is at the other end of the process, to go upstream rather than downstream, and to co-operate in the early stages of research programmes, such as the Alvey programme with which the Ministry of Defence has been involved, and in various forms of co-operation such as the pattern recognition programme at Malvern, and the Gallia-Mercia programmes, some of which are referred to in paragraph 519.

I still do not believe that the process has gone anything like far enough. When one considers it for a moment, the fundamental future technologies that involve communications, materials, sensors, lasers and many other areas of activity have civil, as well as military, applications. Therefore, the basic research into those topics should be carried out by the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry and the private sector, all of which should be involved at the earliest stages. They should not wait until they see some spin-off from the missile programme or from another military programme. That is useful but not fundamental. It is not the best use that we could make of our resources.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his interesting speech. With his experience at the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry, will he reflect on why it has been so difficult to have joint research projects? Is it anything to do with the United Kingdom's patent law?

Sir Geoffrey Pattie

It could be something to do with our patent law. However, it is more often to do with rather basic human considerations, such as Government Departments or different departments of large companies being disinclined to co-operate with each other. It comes down to something as straightforward as that.

I know that many hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate, and in conclusion I urge the House to be aware, on the subject of research and development, of the important agency which exists in the United States and from which we could draw some useful parallels and examples. The Defence Advance Research Projects Agency — DARPA as it is known in the land where acronyms seem absolutely essential — acts as an important centre of seedcorn activity in research on both the civil and military sides. If the Ministry of Defence wishes to avoid some of the pressure that is being put on it at the moment to have the R and D budget reduced, I hope that it will consider putting forward a proposal to the effect that it could act and go beyond paragraph 519 in saying that it will allow some firms from the private sector to go into Malvern and "Isn't that good?". Well, it is good but it could counter-attack by taking the initiative into the private sector by saying that there could be a British research procurement agency to seed all the advanced technologies to which I have referred in both military and civil spheres. We must face the fact that, even though our economy has improved enormously, we cannot afford to duplicate activities in the civil and military areas.

Finally, there must be a strong case for the advanced research that is being carried out in military bases in France, Germany, Italy and Britain being combined. It is ridiculous to have four of the leading European NATO allies reinventing the military wheel in their own countries when we know that the Americans have the great advantage of a unified system, with all the plusses that they can gain from that.

6.48 pm
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

The right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) is a great expert on many of today's subjects. Indeed, he is so much an expert that some of us cannot understand why he delivered his speech from the Back Benches, rather than from the Front Bench. I hope that he will excuse me if I do not follow him in discussing such detailed matters. I shall return to the larger themes of the White Paper because it is one of the most squalidly inadequate documents that has ever been presented to the House of Commons.

When one considers the scale of world events, the perils of nuclear armaments — whatever the estimate that is made of them—the intensification of the dangers of war in so many parts of the planet, surely the White Paper should have been applied to most, or at any rate, to some of those issues. I suppose the fact that the White Paper was produced five months ago is some excuse. I do not know whether the Ministry of Defence knew about the timing of the election and produced a White Paper which it believed would be good for the election instead of for our defences. I shall give some illustrations of that.

Of course, the Opposition are glad about the prospective agreement on intermediate nuclear weapons. We want that agreement to be carried through. It is one of the best developments for a long time, and the Opposition welcome it eagerly. The White Paper talks as though that was not the case. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) will recall that he accompanied me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds. East (Mr. Healey) on a vist to Moscow, where we had lengthy discussions on intermediate weapons. At that time, many countries were becoming extremely anxious about the dangerous build-up of SS20s. We asked the Russians whether they would reduce the number of SS20s, saying, "They are not essential to your security, so would it not be the best solution to abolish them?" The Russians did not say that they would do that, but they said that they would consider substantial reductions in SS20s.

That was the first time that anyone had talked about the zero-zero option in regard to those weapons, but when we returned to London we were attacked viciously by a Foreign Office spokesman. I do not remember who it was, but it was an up-and-coming eager Minister at the Foreign Office who wanted to prove that he could defend any policy at any time with the utmost assurance — the David Mellor of his day, I suppose. The House can see how easily I can keep up with these matters. It may even have been the present Home Secretary. The Minister said that it was absurd to return from Moscow talking about a zero-zero option. He said that it was an idealistic and hopeless proposition, and we were denounced in the usual fashion of the Foreign Office.

Two or three weeks later, President Reagan went on television in the United States saying that he favoured the zero-zero option. Immediately, I went on to "The World at One"—the only programme I could go on—and said that we had welcomed it in Moscow, we welcomed it from Washington and we wanted to see it in operation. Lo and behold, 24 hours after President Reagan had said that it was all right, the Foreign Office said that it was all right. That is an illustration of how we can make progress by the most extraordinary routes.

The White Paper is a shameful and shocking document. I cannot cover all of it in the time available, but I believe that no such document should have been presented to the House of Commons. One part of it, entitled "70 Years On: A Country or A Cause", is printed on special pink paper, no doubt to tell us that it should not be taken too seriously. It purports to be a history of the Soviet Union and our relations with it during the past 70 years. It is a hangover from the time when the previous Secretary of State for Defence set up a department of Conservative Central Office in the Ministry —paid for by the taxpayer—to conduct a campaign against the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I suppose that the people who drew up those documents were responsible for this potted history of our relations with the Soviet Union since the Russian revolution. The document states: Russia has always been a difficult country for the West to understand. 'Secrecy presides over everything'. Perhaps the former Secretary of State for Defence wrote that paragraph.

There are many more columns, and I looked through them carefully for any reference to the time when we were allies of the Soviet Union. After all, it was an important period in the history of the Soviet Union. First, I thought that it had been omitted, but that would not have been fair.At the fag end of a paragraph, it states: In more recent times, Western intervention during the Russian civil war and, later, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, with its appalling toll of 20 million Soviet dead, reinforced the Soviet obsession. This is supposed to be a serious document presented to the nation. What is this Soviet obsession? Invasion was a bit more than an obsession; it happened several times in Soviet history. Suppose that Soviet historians wrote about the British obsesssion with the Channel. Suppose that they asked why we had this obsesion that the Channel should be defended. They would be derided. This section is supposed to be the background to the defence White Paper, but no one except the Secretary of State for Defence could have written it, because no civil servant would dare to put his name to such a document.

Let us go on to some of the so-called constructive parts of the document. The Secretary of State mentioned his idea of flexible response. When he was asked about it soon after his appointment, his flexible response was always to say that the central feature of the Government's nuclear strategy was the reliance on a flexible response. The White Paper states: So NATO evolved in the 1960s a new strategy of 'flexible response'; and this remains its strategy today. Is that true? Does our nuclear defence strategy remain one of flexible response even on the eve of attaining the abolition of intermediate nuclear weapons? Do the Government still rely on flexible response? Flexible response means the readiness to use nuclear weapons first. It is a scandal that we should be presented with a document saying that we still rely on the idea of using nuclear weapons first when we are on the eve of a major agreement which will abolish that class of weapons altogether.

The document fails to deal with many other immediate problems. It does not mention the non-proliferation treaty agreements. Apparently neither the Ministry of Defence nor the Foreign Office cares much about them. The document, which sets out the thinking behind the Government's defence strategy, ends with a paeon of support for nuclear weapons, as though they were the only ones on which we could rely. But under the non-proliferation treaty, which Britain signed, we are committed to abolishing nuclear weapons. We are not committed to doing it within months or years, but to doing it as soon as possible. The treaty talks about declaring their intention to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament. Most of the declarations in this defence White Paper and most of the conclusions at the end of each section are in direct conflict with the obligations of Her Majesty's Government under the non-proliferation treaty agreement which binds the British Government to do everything in their power to get rid of nuclear weapons. The Government are in breach of that obligation. How do they believe that they will be able to persuade other nations to join in the non-proliferation treaty agreement?

The other day I read in the papers that President Reagan had had talks with the Indian Prime Minister. He had had the nerve to say that he hoped that India would carry out its allegiance to the non-proliferation treaty on the Indian sub-continent. That matter must have been raised because the Indian Prime Minister asked the President what he was doing about his relations with Pakistan. Of course there is a great danger that great areas of Asia will be thrust into nuclear competition. Indeed, under the principles of this White Paper there is no reason why they should not. The Government's proposition is that the safest thing that one can do is to have nuclear weapons if one can get them. If that applies to us, it applies to other countries too.

I say to the Government and the country that one of the major propositions for ensuring the future safety of this country is that the non-proliferation treaty should be made a reality. However, instead of any mention of that treaty in the defence White Paper it has been utterly excluded. We had a debate on such matters last week and I am sorry that I could not be present to hear the Foreign Secretary. However, I followed that debate carefully. At the beginning of my speech I said that the world may be in the most delicate and dangerous position of its post-1945 history. That also means it is the most dangerous moment in the history of the world because these nuclear weapons have a destructive character beyond anything that the world has conceived before.

The Foreign Secretary and the Government, as shown by this White Paper, are apparently content to base their case, almost entirely, on what was said by Winston Churchill when he went to the United States Congress in 1952. His speech has been quoted by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and it also appears at the beginning of the White Paper. Indeed, it is almost a test of the Government's whole policy. In 1952 Winston Churchill told the United States Congress: Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure, and more than sure, that other means of preserving peace are in your hands". That sounds reasonable. It sounded more than reasonable in 1952 when the world was only equipping itself with atomic weapons—though they were horrific enough. In my opinion, it would have been better in 1951 and 1952 if Mr. Churchill — a man whose word was greatly respected throughout the world — had used all his influence to try to prevent the arms race — atomic or hydrogen—from ever getting under way

At that time I believe that there should have been a much greater effort to try to secure such agreement. However, I believe that the attempts made at such an agreement were largely a fake. I believe that anyone who looks at the facts and figures of the Baruch plan will come to that conclusion.

Winston Churchill did not only say what the Government were prepared to do—he was a much wiser old man than that. Very often he was inconsistent as people may be when facing new situations. He did not always say, "I must say exactly what I said before". He changed party allegiance on quite a number of occasions. I happened to be in the House, as were some of my hon. Friends including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), when Winston Churchill made pretty well the last speech he was to make to the House on the hydrogen bomb. Perhaps he did not draw a sharp distinction, but he made a major decision in his thought between atomic development and the hydrogen bomb. He talked as if the development of the hydrogen bomb was something beyond any previous reckoning and that statesmen of the world should try new methods to deal with it.

Therefore, when Mr. Churchill had the opportunity his last words to this House were not to repeat the statement which the Foreign Secretary repeated, and which is also the text of the defence White Paper. He made an intervention in the famous H bomb debate in which he tried to tell the House and the world that they were facing a new situation. He tried to do that especially because he said that great and hopeful changes were taking place in the Soviet Union. Nobody could accuse Winston Churchill of being a Communist spy or something of that sort, but he did not under-estimate the changes. After the death of Stalin and the arrival of Malenkov and others in power he said that it was one of the great moments in history when we should be seeking to get a real détente—a detente which did not merely lessen the tension, but which dealt with the fundamental question of the nature of the weapons.

Winston Churchill came to the House and had to acknowledge how he had been thwarted in going ahead with his plans for discussions with the Soviet leaders. I hesitate to use the language that Winston Churchill used—he used it not in the House of Commons, but elsewhere. He put the blame primarily on the United States, but also on the Foreign Office, for preventing the discussions that he had wanted with the Soviet Union at that critical moment.

He was eager for a meeting in Moscow, but he said that his plans had been "bitched up"—those were the words he used—by the Foreign Office and the United States President of the time. Perhaps the present Foreign Secretary knows of some other occasions that have been bitched up by the intervention of the Prime Minister and the United States President, but that is another question.

After the debate, having heard what sane and sensible people from all sides of the House had been saying about the menace of the nuclear arms race, he went back and told his doctor, who recorded the conversation, that he was furious at being prevented from carrying through the negotiations for detente which he had prescribed and which he thought were the right way to proceed. He went on to say — it is not exactly the document that is presented to us in the White Paper, and if the Government want to have Churchill up to date they had better put this quote on the head of their next White Paper:

that is Russia if he had been allowed to go and if his plans had not been hitched up by the Foreign Office and the American President. It might have meant a real UNO, with Russia working with the rest for the good of Europe. We would have promised them that no more atomic bombs would be made, no more research into their manufacture. Those already made would be locked away. They would have had at their disposal much of the money now spent on armaments to provide better conditions for the Russian people. I trust the opportunity may not slip away. That is what Churchill said about the beginnings of the hydrogen bomb age and, of course, that is what any sensible man or woman should be saying about the present situation.

Tragically the opportunities of 1951–53 after the death of Stalin were cast aside. I am not saying that responsibility rested only with Western statesmen. I have no doubt that it also rested with Soviet statesmen. There were other opportunities such as when Mr. Khrushchev came into power. I am not saying that the entire responsibility for the destruction of that opportunity rested with Western statesmen, but in my judgment most of it did. I believe that that belief is shared by any who apply their minds to that opportunity.

In some respects we have been given a greater opportunity than ever before. So, are we to destroy the possibility of real detente with the new Soviet leadership just as we cast away the chance after Stalin's death and when Khrushchev was the General Secretary in charge of Soviet operations? Will we cast it away again now? I trust not. I trust that the Foreign Secretary will not come to us and say, "Well, again it is the Russians who are causing all the trouble." I want to see not merely the INF agreement agreed, as we all do, but a great big cut in strategic weapons. We want the conditions that can make that possible and we want to carry through our signed obligations under the non-proliferation treaty agreement.

I want all those things to be carried through, and I believe that we in this country could play a major part in securing that, just as Winston Churchill tried to in 1953, although on that occasion he was blocked. What is the blockage today? It is star wars. The Prime Minister can do anything—she does not take any account of these matters—but the Foreign Secretary can hardly come to the House and say, "These wicked Russians are imposing a condition about star wars", because the Foreign Secretary himself said that the star war speech by Reagan was nonsense. He tore it to tatters before the Prime Minister got at him. However, it is still on the record and makes good reading. I have no doubt that it has been translated into Russian. I dare say that when Mr. Gorbachev has the chance to spell out his views, he will spell them out in terms not so different from those which the British Foreign Secretary, in his flash of independence, used when he was outlining a way in which we could proceed.

I believe that we could achieve the most momentous changes in the prospect for our world. We could set behind us the whole of the nuclear arms race. We have a better chance of agreement than ever before. But if we are to secure it we must tear to tatters this wretched little defence White Paper that has been presented to us today because it does not deal with any of those problems. It is a shame and a scandal that it should ever have been presented to the House of Commons.

7.13 pm
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

You must excuse me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not being able to follow the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) in such a vintage and distinguished parliamentary style. The content of my speech will he a little different, but it is a special honour to succeed the right hon. Gentleman. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to speak in the debate, the subject matter of which has closely affected so many generations in. Portsmouth and which continues to be no less relevant today.

My first duty is to refer to my predecessor, Mr. Michael Hancock, who held the seat for three years as a result of a by-election brought about by the death of Mr. Bonner Pink, whom Members of the House will remember with respect. My predecessor, Mr. Hancock, represented the interests of his constituents to the best of his ability and to the limits of what it was possible for one man to do. He continues to serve as a Portsmouth city councillor and as a Hampshire county councillor. I relieved him of only one of his jobs. He can rest assured that I have no designs on the other two. This year Portsmouth was host to the Social Democratic party conference, bang in the middle of my constituency. Particularly if the SDP can guarantee another like the previous one, it is welcome to come every year.

I shall not stretch the patience of the House by giving a detailed description of such a well-known and historic constituency as mine, because Portsmouth, as the home of the Royal Navy, has for so many centuries played such a conspicuous part in peace and war—since at least the reign of Henry VII. I represent the southern half of the city, including the whole of Southsea. It stretches between Eastney with its fine Royal Marines barracks to old Portsmouth, past the Hard, which will be well known to many hon. Members, to the naval dockyard and the harbour. The heritage area grows more interesting as the years go by, with the latest addition of HMS Warrior, a brilliantly restored symbol of the Victorian Royal Navy. Let no one sneer at the jobs created by tourism in the wake of the increasing attractions in my constituency.

Nobody could live in Portsmouth, as I do, or represent the people of Portsmouth for very long, without being immensely and genuinely impressed by the sheer dedication to duty and quality of those serving in the Royal Navy, including the Royal Marines. They enrich beyond measure the life of the city and any threats to their future send shock waves through the population.

I should like to raise three specific matters—first, the relatively new arrangements in the dockyard, which is home base for more than 30 ships. Few people realise how many are still employed there. Apart from the 600 who look after the stores, and the 600 for the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service, the repair and maintenance organisation employing nearly 3,000 people has found new confidence. The flexible arrangements negotiated with the trade unions mean, as I saw for myself on a recent visit, that the naval base people in green overalls work alongside the service men in blue overalls who work alongside private contractors in white overalls. If one speaks to the captain of any ship that docks there—already I have spoken with many—one hears praise for the service that they receive from the naval base and for the quality of the work.

Ship repair and maintenance for both naval and civilian purposes remains a difficult matter for guarantees in particular, but I should like the work force to be publicly assured that, for the foreseeable future, the Government's express commitment to a modern, capable escort force of about 50 frigates and destroyers, the mix of new orders and the extension of ships' lives that that entails, includes a leading future for the present arrangements at the Portsmouth naval base. I should like an assurance that the work force will be treated with frankness and kept well informed at regular intervals of what is expected of it, so that rumours that sap morale can never gain ground.

The second specific matter that I should like to raise is about Royal Navy numbers and sea-going commitments. It is well known—the Government make no secret of it—that reductions in uniformed strength of the Royal Navy since 1981 have led to some pressure on manpower. Is it not time for Wrens to have an opportunity to serve at sea? It should at least be part of the training. Let that be a goal for the 1990s. It would help with numbers and please a great many people.

The third and final matter that I should like to raise is the Royal Marines barracks at Eastney. Debates on the Defence Estimates are principally about money, or resources as they are delicately called. It is common knowledge that there is money to be raised from the redundant service property at Eastney. I am sure that I do not need to remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who recently visited there, of the special affection that the people of Portsmouth have for the Royal Marines presence and in particular the Royal Marines band based at Eastney barracks. This year it is celebrating its 125th birthday. At 9 o'clock on Radio 4, Angela Rippon is introducing a programme that is helping to publicise that fact. Quite simply, it must remain. Also, there should be as wide a Royal Marines presence as possible, including facilities for cadets. It might be inconvenient, but the cadets are important. People have special affection for them, and there are opportunities at present for them in those barracks.

It is intended to preserve the finest buildings, including the magnificent Royal Marines museum, which I recommend anyone to visit. In addition, it would be sad for any part of the frontage to the sea, including the parade ground, to be developed. It should remain open space, and, what is more, a covenant should be included in any sale so that it can be preserved as such.

If one continues on a trip along the sea front—hon. Members are certainly coming on a trip with me now—one sees the naval playing fields, which are adjacent to the barracks. Although the playing fields are a separate issue, when they are sold there should be sensible provision for open space and recreation, particularly against the sea front. Future development at Eastney must take account of the strength of feeling among the people of Portsmouth about the tradition of the service's presence and the importance of open space in an area that is not too well provided with it. The Ministry of Defence has a tremendous opportunity at all times to contribute to the qualities I have mentioned.

While I am in this House I hope that I shall always be ready to take advice as well as to give it. I have taken the advice of the Duke of Wellington to a maiden speaker, which was to say what one has to say, not to quote Latin and to sit down. That is precisely what I have done, what I have refrained from doing and shall now do.

7.21 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) on an eloquent maiden speech, and I am sure that all hon. Members wish to say how much we enjoyed it, and the way in which the hon. Gentleman displayed his knowledge of the defence issues that affect his constituency. I also thank him for the kind tribute he paid to his predecessor, Mike Hancock. Mike Hancock's work at two council levels shows that he has great commitment to that area. I am sure that the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South would be the first to accept that, while he walked away with the victor's laurels, Mike Hancock gave him a good run for his money.

The Secretary of State for Defence showed in his speech that he was a reader of Liberal News, but it would appear that he is a selective reader. So that these matters do not remain on the record and get used by Conservative Central office, it is necessary to correct the record. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is a democrat and as such will appreciate that, when a party is being set up on the basis of party membership democracy, it is not right to foist policies on it before the party has ever met. What I said in the report—the Minister did not accept this—was that we should agree on principles; we shall not be a new party without principles—far from it. As an avid reader of Liberal News, the Secretary of State can see those principles well set out in the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal party, which was duly reported in the edition of the week following the one from which the Secretary of State quoted.

Before I return to two key issues that have already been raised in the debate—the question of Trident and the costs of the defence budget—I wish to raise two matters that I know have been giving concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. First, there is the issue of low flying aircraft. The fact that there have been a number of incidents—indeed, tragically, fatal accidents—during the summer months has led to grave concern being expressed, not least by those in areas in which there is a concentration of aircraft flying at very low altitudes.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister should take on board the necessity to review low-flying procedures in this country at the present time? In particular, he should ban aircraft from flying at 100 ft or below in this country and have it done in Canada and the Falklands, where the facilities are available.

Mr. Wallace

Although the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces is not present, I know that he has given that matter some thought—he has had many representations on it—and I am sure he will have noted my hon. Friend's point, with which I entirely concur.

The second matter concerns the incidents—reported in the press—of new recruits to the services being brutally treated in many ways. I do not expect the Minister to refer to cases that have come to court and been dealt with by courts martial, but as one who was born and brought up in the recruitment area of the King's Own Scottish Borderers, I may say that it was a matter of dismay to me that that fine regiment with its fine traditions should have had its reputation tarnished in such a way. I am sure that it is not the only regiment in which such incidents happen, and I hope we shall hear, tonight or tomorrow, what steps have been taken by the Ministry of Defence to root out such activities from our armed forces.

An issue that was dealt with in last Thursday's debate is that of the extent to which our so-called independent deterrent is independent. In that debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) set out the reasons that might conceivably he given for supporting an independent deterrent. The Liberal party has always rejected the deterrent as a purely national status symbol, and to adopt one on those grounds can lead to proliferation on a massive scale.

As the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) has already said, the underlying reason for an independent deterrent is that we cannot depend on the United States' guarantee. Although Ministers will never publicly admit it, one often finds even people that one could categorise as pro-Atlantists who will privately admit that it is that niggling fear at the back of their minds that causes them to want an independent deterrent. In recent years, that fear has been strengthened by the United States, which has adopted an outlook that is more Pacific than Atlantic. As we saw last year, President Reagan went to Reykjavik and almost reached agreement wth the Soviet Union on strategic nuclear weapons without, apparently, consulting his European and NATO allies beforehand. If that is the case, we are entitled to ask how independent the deterrent is.

The issue of the missile maintenance is clearly addressed in the Defence Estimates. Page 38 refers to the decision to process missiles at King's Bay, Georgia. What came as a surprise to many last week was the fact that there was not going to be any corporeal missile that one could call the British deterrent. There was to be a pooling arrangement that raised questions about the extent to which we were to be technically independent if we were still to be politically independent.

In an earlier intervention during the Secretary of State's speech, I raised the matter of the report earlier this year by the Comptroller and Auditor General as touching the issue of whether or not the warheads will be entirely British-made and independent. The Secretary of State replied, clearly and unequivocally, that they would be British. That does not square with what the Auditor has said. Page 18 of the report states that there are four major areas: development, production, special (ie fissile) materials and capital items, although the last item accounts for only five per cent of the nuclear programme expenditure. Most of the development and production expenditure is incurred in the United States under the arrangements described in paragraphs 4.1 to 4.10". One assumes that there was close liaison when compiling that report with the Ministry of Defence; if so, it is a matter of concern to the House that a report from such a respected authority should make references that have been wholly denied by the Secretary of State. If we cannot have an explanation from the Minister in this debate as to why such a misunderstanding has taken place, I am sure that the Public Accounts Select Committee will devote its attention to the matter when it considers the report. Nevertheless, it all adds to uncertainty about how independent or dependent the deterrent is. If the essential ingredient of deterrence is to sow seeds of confusion and uncertainty in the minds of a possible aggressor. it seems to undermine the concept of defence if there is uncertainty and doubt in our own minds. So the more the status of the missiles and warheads can he clarified and cleared up the better. The subject of costs and the defence budget was explored at some length by the right hon. Member for Llanelli, but I make no apology for returning to the subject. It is at the heart of these Defence Estimates, and what they contain is important to the long-term defence planning of our country. The Secretary of State said that he regretted that there was no Select Committee this year to give useful guidance to our debate. I share his regret, although perhaps if the right hon. Gentleman had been frank he would have used the word "relief too, because in recent years the Select Committee on Defence has not minced its words about the decline of the defence budget in real terms. One assumes that it might well have done so again on this occasion.

Let us, however, give credit where it is due; a 3 per cent. per annum real increase in expenditure between 1979 and 1984 was an achievement by the Government, and perhaps one for which they have not received sufficient credit from their NATO allies. Now, however, we are in a period in which spending has been in decline, and that decline will apparently continue. The trend is downwards and there are no indications that it will be reversed. There are two main components, running costs and equipment. Service pay is a running cost. The Government say that they want to maintain competitive levels of pay and to their credit they have traditionally implemented in full the independent review body awards. Those awards will almost certainly continue at a level above the rate of inflation. Therefore, there may well be a real increase in costs that is not taken into account in the decrease in the budget as a whole.

One cannot get away from pensions and, because of the increases in pay over the last seven or eight years, pensions are bound to increase. The cost of the Meteorological Office is another running cost. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence and, in the light of recent events, we are unlikely to see many economies being made there. Fuel is an important factor. Obviously, savings have been made as a result of the reduction in the price of oil and. while it is difficult to predict, a further fall in the price of oil seems unlikely. If anything, the price is edging up again. What one sometimes suspects, when one sees the amount in the budget allocated to fuel decreasing, is that training and exercises are being curtailed. That can only lead to a fall in morale.

The Defence Estimates say that there is concern about officers voluntarily leaving the service. The Estimates say that in general it is not critical. When a Government report says that in general it is not critical, one suspects that in certain particulars it is getting quite near to being critical. That is an aspect of the rundown in the budget beginning to affect morale, and it shows that certain training and exercise opportunities are being cut.

If we cannot make any savings on running costs, that inevitably means that the burden of the decrease in real terms will inevitably fall on the equipment budget. Regrettably, the Select Committee on Defence has not been in operation. I pay tribute to the work done by Mr. Malcolm Chalmers of the university of Bradford. He carried out a useful piece of work on a detailed breakdown of the analysis of the budget. He estimates that total spending on new equipment will fall by 25 per cent. in real terms between 1984–85 and 1989–90. If one excludes from that the amount being spent on Trident, that decrease in real terms is nearer 35 per cent. That must have serious consequences for our air, land and sea defence systems.

What is the Government's response to that? Of course one can tinker at the edges and, as the Secretary of State for Defence says, one can try some prudent planning. The danger there is that, if one takes ad hoc decisions, one can take the wrong decisions, and decisions made out of necessity rather than as a result of some strategic forethought are not always necessarily the right decisions. There are other ways of trying to make savings. Common procurement, especially along with our European allies in NATO, has long been advocated by the Liberal party and savings could be made there. It has been suggested in some places that we should shop around. One suggestion is that rather than buy the European fighter aircraft we could buy American options.

These are important decisions that must be made and it is better that they are made with some idea of principle behind them, because if we find that we are buying increasingly from abroad it raises important questions about the kind of military industrial base that we want at home. That should be determined after some thought and not by the consequence at some later date of a series of ad hoc decisions.

The right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) made an important contribution to the debate when he spoke about research and development. Significantly, he said that research and development is getting out of phase with production. If one extrapolates current trends, one sees that it is not impossible that we could reach the stage at which more is spent on research and development than on producing the equipment that results from R and D. What company will maintain a high research and development budget if it does not get follow-on orders?

Some possible options have been canvassed. What is the future for our surface fleet? Will it be about 50 or will it go down to 40? Will the profile of the fleet have to change as ships are kept in service longer in order to put off the evil day when we will have to order more? Will there be a reduction in the number of orders for the European fighter aircraft? What should be the balance between the surface fleet and the submarine fleet? What should be our commitment out of area in places such as Belize, and what is our future in places such as the Falklands? What will happen if we have to meet difficulties that raise themselves in the Gulf?

The time has come to take a step back and work out exactly our commitment to NATO. Will we spread the jam thinly over a large number of options or focus resources in areas of expertise? If we do not work that out soon, the Secretary of State may get boxed in. We all know about his calm and nonchalant manner. It is the manner that he used time and time again when he told Scottish Members that it was totally impossible to have an independent pay review for teachers. However, two months after demitting office at the Scottish Office he saw his successor managing to do precisely that. If he looks for a pretext, he will find one.

We hope that, in the coming months, an INF agreement will be concluded. If we eliminate intermediate nuclear weapons from Europe, that will provide an opportunity for reassessment. One expects that that will be a reassessment of strategy and will take into account not least the balance between conventional forces. Therefore, the Secretary of State has a pretext that will lose him little politically. The newspaper columns would chide him for a reassessment that was too late, but would say that he had done the right thing. If he announced it in the House, Opposition Members would have something of a field day and would crow and say that we told him so. I have never found the expression, "I told you so," a satisfying or telling political line. It is time the Secretary of State grasped the nettle, and he should do it sooner rather than later.

7.36 pm
Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

It is a particular pleasure for me to be the first on the Conservative Benches to congratulate my hon. Friend and political neighbour the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) on a quite excellent maiden speech. Not only has he done the world a service by returning that seat to its proper control, where it will long remain, I trust, but the House will have noted from what he said that he had already done his homework. He spoke with knowledge and authority about the major concern in his constituency, the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines. I am sure we look forward to hearing him contribute to many of our future defence debates.

As my hon. Friend said, it is a tradition of the House that one is relatively non-controversial in a maiden speech. Before we acquit him entirely of any charge that he might have breached that tradition, we had better take the blood pressure of the Admiralty Board tomorrow when it reads that he wants to put Wrens on board Her Majesty's ships. That does not quite come into the category of a non-controversial remark, but we will let that pass.

The motion relates to four reports of the former Select Committee of Defence as relevant subjects for debate. As I had the honour of chairing that Committee during the last months of the last Parliament, I hope that it will be helpful to the House if I relate one or two remarks to those reports. First, I shall deal with the Trident report, which is very short and to the point. The reply from the Government was even shorter and to the point because having looked, as we do every year, we found—not going into the merits of the decision that was discussed in a very full report some years ago—that the programme is on course, on time and on schedule and that all is well.

I had an exchange with the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies). I am sorry that he is not in his place because I would rather address my remarks to his face. I am grateful to him for his remarks about me. It is impossible not to regard him with a certain affection when, with his Welsh flair and fluency, he reconciles the irreconcilable among the various defence policies of his party. He balances the imbalanceable in trying to walk this tightrope, as any official defence spokesman for the Labour party has to do, because it is not those on the Benches opposite him who will be getting at him but his hon. Friends behind him. They are by far the greater danger to his position.

The only problem is that the right hon. Gentleman gets carried away with his fluency and is sometimes in danger of believing what he says. There is one tremendous flaw in his argument. He is completely obsessed with Trident and its effect on conventional defence. He is so obsessed that it clouds his judgment about what we are doing in terms of conventional defence. I shall quote one short remark from our Trident report because it might have been written for him. I am sure that he did us the honour of reading it hut, unfortunately, he has not paid attention to it. I think that the Minister has accepted what we said. The report reads: The pressure on the defence budget has continued to grow, and the proportion devoted to equipment has been further squeezed as we anticipated in 1985. This might have been expected to increase the particular burdens imposed by Trident. We put the next section in heavy black ink especially for the right hon. Member for Llanelli: However, the decline in Trident costs means that the changes more or less cancel each other out and the expected impact on the defence budget is very similar to the position in 1985. Therefore, the right hon. Member for Llanelli is wrong when he says that the increasing Trident costs are having an ever greater effect on the conventional budget. That is not the case. In fact, the cost is slightly cheaper in relative terms because of exchange rates, arrangements made about servicing the missiles and other factors. If the right hon. Gentleman did his homework, he would find us listening to his arguments with more care and attention.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the dissolution of Parliament less than a fortnight after the publication of the statement in May meant that the Defence Committee could not carry out its usual survey of this year's White Paper. Those annual examinations have steadily increased in scope and detail over the years and I am grateful for what the Secretary of State said about the efforts of the Committee. The Committee has noticed over the years that the Ministry of Defence has cooperated admirably and increasingly in supplying it with a great deal of detailed evidence in a short time. However, we were able to put before the House just before the Dissolution a substantial report on the implementation of the lessons of the Falklands campaign. It covers almost every aspect of British conventional capability. The Government's reply to the report is also before the House. That report is one of four published by the Committee.

When the election was called the Committee found itself considerably over-stretched, and I would like to pay tribute to the members of the Committee for the immense amount of work done to get the reports agreed and published. That was not an easy matter. I should like to thank the Clerks and advisers who worked all hours to produce what I hope the House will think is a considerable volume of useful work.

We have no report on this year's statement, but we can look back to the report we produced a year ago. We said then, with the sense of warning that was contained first in our report on the consequences of giving up the 3 per cent. real increase, that management of the budget and improved efficiency alone will not avoid consequent cuts or delays, particularly on equipment. We said that there is a risk of an adverse effect on operational capability, but not in itself amounting to the ending of a major role or commitment. We also said that any further economies will have a direct effect on capability. Had we been reporting again, we would not have found cause to change our warnings.

However, we have always tried to approach financial problems, not simply by seeking increased resources—although that would ease a number of the difficult choices that the Secretary of State is constantly telling us he faces —but by seeking a matching of commitments to resources. We carried out an inquiry into expenditure and policy in each Session of the last Parliament. In each inquiry we formed the view that there was a mismatch between commitments and resources. The Ministry of Defence's traditional ways of dealing with that—salami slicing arid "managing" the budget—are, I regret, still much in evidence. That way of managing the budget can lead to a gradual degradation of capability, to the point where we may still be doing everything, but not very well. The Falklands report, which is relevant to the debate, identified some danger areas which we observed in our inquiry earlier this year.

Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument closely, but I am having a wee bit of difficulty in finding exactly where he parts company with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) because this is similar to the line of argument he was using. He said that because of the cuts and the impact of other items on the budget the items now being dwelt on by the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) would be in danger. I do not see how far the hon. Gentleman is away from my right hon. Friend in the conclusions he is drawing.

Mr. Mates

I am a mile away from the right hon. Gentleman when we are talking about all of this being the fault of Trident. The right hon. Gentleman identified certain problems, and I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would not deny that the problems and challenges are there. However, unlike the right hon. Member for Llanelli, I may have something to say about one or two solutions. We heard nothing about that from the right hon. Gentleman.

The management of the defence budget by overcoming temporary difficulties, moving expenditure to the right and sacrificing long-term planning certainly for short-term financial expediency is always more expensive in the long run. A warship builder is one of many who will confirm that, whether in the context of frigate ordering or past choices such as shortening and then lengthening the type 42 destroyers, "management" always makes small savings at the margins but in the end the overall cost goes up. The small savings one can make year by year in allowances, track mileage and live firing practice, which are needed for fine tuning, have an impact on training and readiness and we need to watch that closely so that there is no overall degradation.

I shall now deal with expenditure on major defence projects and accountability to the House. We have always had difficulty in scrutinising defence expenditure and reconciling accountability and security. For some years, the Defence Committee has received the major projects statement, which is issued to the Public Accounts Committee. That lists projects costing more than £250 million. The Committee found that the threshold was far too high for its purposes and other characteristics of the statement meant that it was inadequate for the sort of scrutiny that the Defence Committee wanted to exercise.

In our first report of the previous Session we proposed a much more detailed system with much lower thresholds and a great deal more information. We were delighted that the Secretary of State accepted our proposals almost in their entirety. The first defence equipment project report will be submitted to the new Defence Committee between April and June next year. I hope that the House will think that that is another step in the growing willingness in the Ministry of Defence to submit its plans and accountability to the Defence Committee.

Having said that, I shall make one or two brief remarks on my own account. The Committee does not exist, but there are some things I should say as someone who keeps an eye on defence matters. I have mentioned the increasing difficulty, admitted by the Ministry of Defence, in matching commitments with resources. In various debates in the past we have heard about the difficulty of trying to reduce commitments which, on occasions, tend to grow. When we made the initial plan five years ago the Falklands had not happened. That is a commitment we took up and keep, quite rightly, but it is an additional strain. Only a year ago the Armilla patrol consisted of two destroyers or frigates and one support ship. It is now considerably larger, one hopes temporarily. However, the strain increases.

Against that background is the Government's decision to allow real defence expenditure to fall slightly. That is tenable for the moment because of the tremendous efforts, which go unacknowledged by the Labour party, during those six years of real increase to bring the equipment up to date and increase it and to improve morale, pay and other things. That was a magnificent achievement by the Government and, therefore, we can take a short breathing space. However, now may be the moment to warn, as the Committee did last year, that the breathing space can only be short, otherwise the mismatch between commitment and resources is bound to grow. One can manage some of that by greater efficiency and better procurement. That is happening now but only at the margins.

What concerns me is that there is no sign that the Government, not the Ministry, have taken a strategic view on what must be put into our defence resources in the next four or five years. It is time that the Government did that, otherwise my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to tell us, honest as he always is, that there are some commitments that we will carry out so badly that they will be scarcely worth doing. I do not want to sound doom laden, but I am certain that we must reassess the direction of our strategic requirements for the next three or four years, and how we will find the resources to provide our services with the tools to do the job that they have done so outstandingly for the past seven or eight years and for many years before that.

One example is our totem of 50 frigates, to which the Secretary of State referred today. An article in "Jane's Defence Weekly" two or three weeks ago analysed the refit and repair programme and the new build programme. It alleged that in 1989 there would be 45 frigates. Is that not about 50? Is that not the most intelligent way of trying to share the problem? No one denies that there is a problem, but unless at some stage we are able to increase the resources that we can spare for defence, having taken this short breather, those totems will have to be reviewed. It would be better, not only from a military and planning point of view but from a political one, if the sooner we as a Government faced up to these problems the quicker we would be able to clear the air and see where we were going.

I have no doubt about the Government's determination to keep us properly defended, but I ask whether, having taken their eye off the ball for a moment, due to many other pressing commitments, they are not allowing our ability to do the job that we have done so well for so many years to go by default. If that were to happen, it would be a great tragedy.

7.51 pm
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

The hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) ended his speech with an open appeal for more resources for defence. My purpose is to put another question: on what basis is Britain spending over £18 billion per year on weapons of war and its armed forces?

The average family of four, before they have paid rent, bought food or had holidays, pay between £25 and £30 per week for weapons of war, which is three times greater than the amount that is spent on the fire, police and ambulance services combined. In 1986, the world spent £634 billion on defence. The cost of defence in real terms is two and a half times as large as it was in 1960. Does anybody in the House believe that the threat of war is two and a half times greater than it was in 1960? It has been estimated—these figures come from various sources—that everyone in this country will devote three or four years of their working lives to paying for defence, and £1 million spent a minute is the global figure.

I do not want to go behind these facts on technical grounds. I have listened to the speeches that have been made by experts and I recognise their knowledge. But I should like to ask, on what basis is this huge demand made on our people for the present defence programme? I know the answer very well, because the same answer has been given by every Government since the war—Labour as well as Conservative—and the argument broadly rests on three assumptions that are very rarely examined.

The first argument is that, were it not for this enormous defence expenditure, the Soviet Union would attack western Europe, take over France, Germany the Low Countries, Spain and Portugal, and would come here and in some way occupy Britain. In a letter to one of his constituents, the Secretary of State for the Environment said that if we did not have the bomb, the Russians would be here now.

The second argument is that America speaks for freedom, democracy and human rights all over the world and is our natural ally. The third argument is that the bomb makes one safer.

I should like to use this debate to invite the House to consider whether those assumptions are correct, because I do not believe that any of them are. I do not believe for one moment that the Soviet Union has ever planned a military attack on western Europe.

Mr. Mates

What about Berlin?

Mr. Benn

There has never been any evidence whatsoever that the Soviet Union was planning to attack western Europe after the war.

Mr. Mates


Mr. Nicholas Bennett


Mr. Benn

I remind the House that during the war the Soviet Union was our ally. During the election campaign I met a lady of my own age, who said to me, "Mr. Benn, we must have the bomb because we fought the Russians in the last war and we may have to fight them again." I thought that that was a brilliant example of the cold war propaganda that the Conservative party and the BBC have been feeding us. But the fact is that at no stage since the war has any evidence been submitted of Soviet intentions to attack western Europe.

Mr. Mates

What about Berlin and the airlift blockade?

Mr. Benn

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that the tripartite status of Berlin led to an argument about the rights or wrongs of the currency reform that allegedly triggered the Berlin airlift. But there was no question whatsoever that the tripartite status of Berlin and its blockade was an act of preparation for war against the west and at the time it was never presented as such.

Mr. Bennett


Mr. Benn

I will not give way immediately.

Some 50 years ago, Lord Halifax went to see Hitler. The captured German Foreign Office documents revealed the view of the pre-war Conservative Government. On 19 November 1937, Lord Halifax said: The great services the Fuhrer had rendered in the rebuilding of Germany were fully and completely recognised, and if British public opinion was sometimes taking a critical attitude towards certain German problems, the reason might be in part that people in England were not fully informed. The Soviet Union must have known perfectly well what we knew. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) wrote a book entitled "Guilty Men" under the assumed name of Cato. He drew attention to the fact that in 1939, up until the last minute, the British Conservative and National Government, as one must call it, were building up Hitler, and the Russians have not forgotten that. Of course, the Russians also lost some 20 million people in the war. I am putting a point of view which I know will not be accepted by Tory Members, but I hope that the House of Commons is still a place where a point of view can be put. I do not believe that the Soviet Union has ever intended or prepared to attack western Europe.

As a member of the Cabinet I remember some fake figures being produced by the Ministry of Defence. I do not know whether that still occurs, but it did when my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent was in the Cabinet. I think that it was he who spotted them; I certainly did not. The figures showed an enormous preponderance of Soviet forces, but it turned out that the French forces were not included in them. Somebody said, "Where are the French?" I think that it was my old friend, Fred Mulley, who was then the Minister, who said, "The French are not part of the military part of NATO." It was as if we did not know what side the French would fight on in the event of a war. I accuse successive Ministry of Defence officials of misleading us on the military balance.

The reality of the matter is that Russian troops in Russia are included in the figures but American troops in the United States are not. Mothballing is not allowed for and the estimates of the costs of the Soviet armed forces are based on estimates of what it would cost to build them in the United States, where wages are a lot higher.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)


Mr. Benn

May I finish this point before I give way to another former Defence Minister who is straining at the leash to demonstrate his knowledge, which I would not dispute for a moment?

We have been misled on the main reason for this enormous expenditure.

Sir Antony Buck

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why his argument did not prevail with the last Labour Administration, who thought it right to update our nuclear deterrent without telling the House? That Administration brought in Chevaline to update the very deterrent which the right hon. Gentleman now decries.

Mr. Benn

I shall deal with that question soon, but for a full account the hon. and learned Gentleman will have to wait for the appropriate volume, which will be coining out some years from now.

The impact that Mr. Gorbachev has on British opinion is underestimated. I never follow disarmament negotiations in detail because I have always thought them to be a propaganda exercise, but I can tell hon. Members why Gorbachev has registered with British opinion. It is because he wants cuts in defence to divert money to raise living standards for the Soviet people. That is what most people in Britain want. It is astonishing that more people today approve of Gorbachev's Russia and its role in the world than of Reagan's America. That is without a single political leader from any Front Bench saying any such thing.

With respect to some of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I must say that one of the reasons why we found it difficult to put our defence policy across during the election campaign was that we never dealt with the question of the Soviet threat. We said that we would keep the Russians out with more conventional weapons. That made it much harder to put across the peace argument in which many people, in their hearts, believe.

The second question concerns America speaking for freedom and democracy all over the world. I confess that I was born in 1925 into an empire when 600 million people were governed from this Chamber. The first time that I came here in 1937 I saw Winston Churchill sitting where the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) is now sitting. He was the old imperialist. For him there was no question of human rights in the British empire. We ran it from London. There was no question of votes in India or any of that stuff because everything was run from London. As a little boy of five, I met Mr. Gandhi when he came to London and my father had been Secretary of State for India. A British journalist asked Mr. Gandhi what he thought about civilisation in Britain and Gandhi said, "I think it would be a very good idea." That is how the empire was run. Having been horn in an empire, I would have to be very naive not to recognise another empire when it looms up out of the fog. America is an empire.

I accept that it now operates through treaties, but America has 850,000 troops abroad—more than we ever had. America has 3,000 bases around the world and 135 of them are here, housing 30,000 troops. I do not wish to be misunderstood. Empires behave like that, but an empire that fought in Vietnam, attacked Cuba, toppled the Chilean Government, invaded Grenada, supported the colonels in Greece and Franco in Spain and still supports the Turkish regime, is plainly not committed to human rights. It is committed, as all empires are, to the defence of its political and economic interests worldwide.

Iran is most interesting. The Americans toppled Mossadek, probably the first incorruptible leader in Iran. They got the Shah back and when he died they pushed Khomeini in. There is no doubt that the Americans. thought that a fundamentalist Muslim leader would be the best safeguard against Communism. Then Teheran was attacked; the Americans supplied arms to both sides. That is what Irangate was about. Now the Americans support Iraq and they are about to impose an arms embargo. At every stage, American policy has been motivated by the protection of America's interests.

The other day, I met a former Egyptian Minister in Algiers. He said that, during the crusades, European arms manufacturers supplied arms to Richard the Lionheart and Saladin. That has been going on for centuries. People pursue their own interests. I object to the pretence that empires are somehow vested with a sacred responsibility for safeguarding liberty.

I am concerned about American troops here, because there is no agreement as to their use. I doubt whether there is a written agreement at all. One of the worst things that was done after the war was to allow American bases here. That was allowed by a Labour Government. Parliament was told that they were training bases, but they were not. They were permanent. There is no effective control over the American bases.

Next year, I believe, the Government will ask us to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution, a celebration with which I am not in sympathy. But Parliament said then that we would never have a standing army. Today we do have a standing army—which we do not control—on our territory. One must not assume that the friendship, blood, sympathy and common language that bring us close to America will remain for ever. Far from accelerating the process of freedom of democracy, I believe that that could be a threat to British interests.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

The right hon. Gentleman will remember clearly that the United States air force went back to the United States when the war ended and returned here only because of the blockade of Berlin.

Mr. Benn

I said that the US air force was brought back by a Labour Government but that at the time the bases were not presented as being permanent. I shall say more about the post-war Government later.

The third argument is that nuclear weapons make one safer. In 1945, there were three nuclear weapons; today there are 60,000.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I have sought in vain for the American troops in this country. I know that they are in various places, but we almost never see an American soldier in uniform. There is a reason—because, basically, our people do not want them here. If Conservatives have seen American troops, let them tell me where, because I can never find any.

Mr. Benn

It is true that American troops are given instructions to wear civilian clothes outside the bases, so that people are not aware of their massive presence.

There were three nuclear weapons in 1945 and now there are 60,000–enough to inflict 1 million Hiroshimas on the world. Those hon. Members who have been to Hiroshima, as I have, will have seen the museum and its exhibits and will know that the overkill in the armouries of the world in nuclear weapons cannot conceivably be justified by any military arguments.

Britain has never had an independent nuclear deterrent that could be fired without the consent of the United States President. That was first brought out by Harold Wilson in an early speech as Prime Minister in 1964. We could not communicate with the Americans at the time without the American underwater telecommunications system. If our weapons were fired and the Americans chose to jam the signals, they could not land anywhere except where they came from. We have fought nine or ten general elections around the argument whether we should or should not have a nuclear deterrent, when we do not have one. That came out, and that was probably why the Zircon film was not allowed to be shown.

In return for being allowed to borrow these weapons on the "Calor gas" principle, the United States controls the entire intelligence system. I know that from my experience as a Minister. I had to go to Washington to seek the consent of the United States Administration on certain key questions that were central to our nuclear policy.

The reason why the trade unions were taken out of GCHQ was that the Americans, having supported us in the Falklands, did not want it to be known what GCHQ was doing.

The next argument is about Chernobyl, which proved beyond any doubt that, if we dropped one of our bombs on the Russians, it would kill us and that if the Russians dropped a bomb on us it would kill them. Radioactivity has not yet learnt the validity of international frontiers. To go on piling up these weapons when we know that if they were used anywhere they would kill people over such a large area is an act of insanity. The next one to go off will almost certainly be an accident. We should also now know why we have pressurised water reactors. The Americans cannot build civil nuclear power stations. We are required to build PWRs to produce plutonium for their use.

The very possession of nuclear weapons has significantly destroyed parliamentary democracy in Britain. Clement Attlee, whom I deeply admired, misled Parliament. He did not tell Parliament or, as far as I know, his Cabinet that the atomic bomb was being built. I was a Government Back Bencher at the end of the 1945 Government and I remember Churchill coming to power and announcing that an atomic bomb had been built secretly. The same was true of Chevaline. From out of the lies which are held, on security grounds, to surround nuclear matters, we have the Cathy Massiters, the Pontings and the Peter Wrights who tell us more than we are allowed to know as Members of Parliament.

If we continue with the public deception which is implicit in the possession of nuclear weapons, we shall destroy what nuclear weapons are there to defend. These arguments—whether or not people agree with them—should be discussed publicly and considered seriously.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the last Labour Government, of whom he and the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) were members. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield was also a member of the 1964–70 Government. Why did he not ever resign during those 11 years when the Labour Government were committed to nuclear weapons?

Mr. Benn

If the hon. Gentleman has ever followed any of the points I have ever made, he will realise not only that Attlee did not tell the Cabinet about the atomic bomb but that the Chevaline project was authorised by two or three Cabinet members without the rest of Cabinet knowing. I hope that the House will give me credit, because I have not tried to use these arguments to belittle or mock any member of any party. I have tried to address my mind to the underlying assumptions on which we are asked to take £18 billion from the British people next year. If we cannot look back and say, "We made mistakes"—I suppose that I must have made an enormous number myself—what is Parliament about? Are we to go through life saying, "I never learnt anything. I was always right, always right"? It is from one's mistakes that one learns what to do next. If this debate is not about that, we may as well pack up the House of Commons.

We are living in a time when there is a better hope of peace than at any time since 1945, during which I served for a short period on an aircraft carrier in the constituency of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin). I believe that Gorbachev is authentic because he wants for his people what we should want for ours. That point has registered with our people. The bloc system freezes initiatives. If we want to speak to the Hungarians, we have to have a word with Reagan to have a word with Gorbachev to have a word with the Hungarians and the Poles have to do the same to talk to the Portuguese. This bloc system in Europe has prevented us from developing unity through direct links which are necessary. Now, to be launching into a huge programme of nuclear weapons in space—star wars—is an act of sabotage, and Mr. Gorbachev is right to bring that point into the INF discussion.

I have come to believe—this is an old belief which was argued, in one shape or form, by Aneurin Bevan at the end of the war in respect of the third force—that it would benefit this country and its people if we pursued a policy of non-alignment. It would be better if we did not have any American troops in Britain, not merely have no nuclear weapons. It would be better if some countries—Britain is a middle-sized country—devoted their not inconsiderable diplomatic efforts to bridging the gap between Moscow and Washington. We should not just be a pawn of American policies. Resources should be diverted to solving practical problems.

Two nights ago, I heard on the BBC about a crane to lift Trident out of the water—the biggest civil engineering problem in Britain. I think that £700 million is being spent on a crane. There are hospitals with long waiting lists and numerous problems face people in the inner cities, yet we are pouring money into nuclear weapons. The Government cannot justify that any more. Twenty million people die every year in the Third world for lack of a dirt road, a simple clinic, a pump or a pipe, yet we sit in this House and accept that the "Reds" would he here if the Secretary of State for Defence did not have a hire purchase agreement on a Trident system, which he cannot use without Reagan switching on the communications network. President Reagan probably would not dare let the right hon. Gentleman use it. If the Americans do not want to use the system themselves, they would not let us do so and embroil them in war.

There are more emperors with fewer clothes on the Conservative Benches then there can have been for a very long time. It is time someone pointed that out plainly and clearly. This Government's defence policies and the assumptions on which the policies of previous Governments—including those of which I have been a member—have rested need to be re-examined. If a person is wrong, he must not be ashamed to admit it or, at any rate, to examine whether the original idea may have been right. There is a time of hope. History would never forgive us if we did not seize this moment, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent said in a powerful speech and as Churchill said we should in 1953, when Stalin died. Churchill said that we must explore a new prospect at the summit. We must do that now. To vote for this expenditure would run counter to everything that is necessary. I hope that the House supports the Labour amendment and also votes against the Estimates as a whole.

8.16 pm
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument, although, curiously, there are some points on which I share his opinion.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, this debate is about deterrence and diplomacy. The Government have displayed both in all their actions. Page 20 of the Defence Estimates shows this country's international obligations and all the posts which we have to defend. The defence White Paper is a comprehensive study of our defences and those of our Soviet adversaries. If we look at the details carefully, we can reach no other conclusion than that, without the nuclear deterrent, we could not possibly hold the line. It is the last resort and—here I differ from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield—until we arrive at a satisfactory, comprehensive agreement, our only method of defence.

The Territorial Army is our second line of defence. Although the strength of the Territorial Army and all the reserves has increased, there is a great difficulty with employers. It might be in the Government's interests in preserving the reserve forces to induce or compel employers to release men to fulfil what is a necessary reinforcement in a modern war. We know that our Territorial Army can be moved fairly rapidly, but it takes a long time for the Americans to bring over their reserves. We should give more thought to the Territorial Army, especially to the relationship of reservists with their employers. Small firms face difficulties because it may be difficult to replace only one man, but large employers, such as ICI, should be induced, encouraged or compelled to allow men to do their service.

My second point concerns the Merchant Navy, which is dealt with on page 29. I note that we can obtain people for it in times of war, but with a declining Merchant Navy, what powers have we to requisition ships in time of war? For example, can we requisition British ships serving under a flag of convenience? If we cannot, we shall find ourselves extremely short of transport. We all know that the Merchant Navy is declining and our next line of approach would have to be to requisition ships. What are the restrictions and limitations on requisitioning British ships which do not carry our flag?

We must retain Trident until we have a satisfactory disarmament agreement. Whatever the right hon. Member for Chesterfield says, we have an independent nuclear deterrent which has kept the peace for a very long time. The United States' interests and our own may not be the same which makes it even more important that we should have an independent Trident. It would be perfectly understandable if Mr. Gorbachev wanted to drive a wedge between Great Britain and the United States. He would find it difficult but nevertheless, if I were him, that is exactly what I would try to do because it would cripple our defences.

In one respect I agree with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. Gorbachev is rather like Lenin: he wants to convert the Soviet Union into a country with strong agricultural and industrial economies. He understands the dangers of a nuclear war, which would completely destroy his own country, and he wants to concentrate on spending money not on armaments but on developing his country. That is a laudable view. However, we should remember that that is what Lenin tried to do at the beginning but that his efforts were stamped upon when Stalin took power from Trotsky. As I said earlier, at the beginning Lenin imported American tractors and technicians to develop his country, but the process was stopped when Stalin came along.

Mr. Tony Banks

With great respect, the hon. Gentleman is almost old enough to remember this. While Lenin was trying to develop the Russian economy, this country was maintaining an economic strangulation of Russia. In many ways, we are responsible for what happened after Lenin. The hon. Gentleman must remember that. It is history.

Dr. Glyn

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's philosophy that we are responsible for what happens in Russia. I am sure that he would agree that there were other economic factors that stopped the Americans assisting Russia. They did so for a short time during Trotsky's era. Stalin stamped on the arrangements and the whole of the new economic policy was abandoned.

Mr. Banks

Lenin wanted Trotsky.

Dr. Glyn

Whether he wanted Trotsky or not, Stalin did not. That is what happened. It is historical fact.

Gorbachev obviously wants to get his country on its feet and his only way of doing that is to cut down on arms. However, I still admire the stand taken by the United States in its refusal to be pushed into a hasty agreement. Any agreement must be mutual and verifiable and the United States is right to hold back.

An agreement that did not include chemical and biological weapons would be of no value whatever because such weapons are now so sophisticated that they are capable of overcoming completely any conventional force. Without a nuclear deterrent—and all of us want to get rid of nuclear weapons—chemical and biological weapons are as great a danger. They can be hidden. Verification would be difficult as it is extremely difficult to trace such weapons with satellites. It can only be done by on-the-spot verification. They have to be physically inspected. Any arms agreement that we reach with the Soviet Union must be accompanied by verification.

Chernobyl represents a great lesson. It taught Russia the dangers of atomic warfare and gave the world a sharp shock. If Chernobyl, an industrial accident, had such effects, what on earth would happen if there was a military nuclear incident? Chernobyl has accelerated the desire of all countries to arrive at a reasonable solution to the nuclear threat.

We must maintain our defences—both nuclear and conventional—so that if we are challenged at any time we shall be capable of defending ourselves alone if necessary. At the same time, we must seek a real and verifiable agreement on all arms.

8.26 pm
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

I was surprised to hear the Secretary of State refer to the electorate having massively endorsed the Government's nuclear-centred defence policy. That is not a credible position for an intelligent person to take. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, only 42 per cent. of those who voted at the election voted for the Government's defence policies. Moreover, the remark is most surprising, coming as it does from a right hon. Member who represents a Scottish constituency. He knows that in Scotland more than 50 per cent. of those who voted, voted for parties who put forward clear non-nuclear defence policies. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Defence will remember that in his constituency he turned a seat where there was a massive Tory majority into a close marginal. He is not in a position to speak about massive electoral endorsements of anything.

To most people on this planet the control of the nuclear arms race would seem to be a very desirable objective, especially when we remember that we already have 60,000 nuclear weapons deployed by both sides of the East-West divide and that more weapons are being added to the massive stockpiles with every passing year.

It may be true that we have witnessed better relations between East and West in recent years. However, on the ground, the reality has been that each side has been making wide-ranging increases in its nuclear forces. That is very disquieting. Indeed, the leaders of the two super-powers have repeatedly acknowledged the dangers and the inherent political instability created by the growing stockpiles of nuclear weapons. For example, in the communiqúe issued at the beginning of the Geneva summit in 1985, the objectives were spelt out clearly by both the United States and the Soviet Union. The first was the prevention of an arms race in space. The second was the termination of the arms race on earth and the third was the strengthening of the strategic stability between the two super-powers by limiting and eventually eliminating existing stocks of nuclear weapons. Those were the goals which the super-powers set themselves at the beginning of 1985 and which they have pursued through the famous meeting in Reykjavik and beyond: to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to limit, and ultimately eliminate, them. Those are the aims which sensible world leaders have pursued and continue to pursue. Over the past few years the world leaders have continued to link the need to maintain security to the improvement of strategic stability between the super-powers and to link the improvement of strategic stability to the reduction and elimination of nuclear arms and the nuclear arms race.

It is therefore infinitely depressing to find the British Government's defence policy set out in terms which, far from decreasing dependence on nuclear weapons, would increase that dependence. Indeed, if carried to its logical conclusion, the Government's policy would lead to an ever-increasing proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world. While both the Soviet Union and the United States search for agreement on deep cuts in both missiles and warheads and look towards the ultimate goal of comprehensive nuclear disarmament, the British Government refuse to join them and continue to insist that nuclear weapons are essential for the achievement and maintenance of national security.

There are many ways in which the Government are failing the British people through their rigidly nuclear-centred approach to defence policy, but I shall concentrate on just a few.

First, the Government seek to distort an immensely complex debate for their own narrow political ends. The nuclear stand-off in today's world is essentially a bilateral one between East and West, the Warsaw pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Equally, if nuclear disarmament is to be achieved it will be achieved on the basis of bilateral moves by both sides. No one really expects anything else. The question is where to place Britain's allegedly independent nuclear deterrent in that bilateral process.

The Government seem to want to have it both ways. At one moment our weapons are supposed to be fully integrated into NATO's nuclear weaponry as out contribution to its nuclear strategy and a component in NATO's deterrent stance against the Warsaw pact. The next moment, however, it is apparently something completely different because we are told that Britain's nuclear weapons are not to be counted in the bilateral process. The Prime Minister regards them as completely separate from NATO's nuclear strategy and says that it is vital to keep our independent nuclear deterrent no matter what is agreed between the super-powers. That is a strange position for any Government to adopt. Either our defence policy is based on membership of NATO or it is not. Either our weapons are our contribution to NATO's overall nuclear strategy or they are not. The Government seem to have two separate and distinct defence policies, one looking to membership of NATO as the best means of maintaining the security of our people, the other placing little or no faith in NATO and arguing for our own independent deterrent as an insurance against the day when that Alliance fails.

The Government's second policy is clearly nonsense. If and when the collective security of the West fails, there is no fall-back position for any individual nation within the Alliance. In this nuclear age, if collective security fails every nation will suffer. The Government are well aware of that, but they continue to use the independent nuclear deterrent argument because it suits their political purposes. For instance, it allows them entirely to mislead the British people about the option of a non-nuclear defence role for Britain within NATO. Such a role would not be equivalent to one-sided disarmament. That is effectively to argue for the abandonment of NATO as our basic defence posture. Many members of NATO, including Canada, already fulfil a non-nuclear role within the Alliance. Britain could do the same without in any way weakening NATO's general stance. If Britain joined Canada and the other non-nuclear states in NATO, the world would he that much safer, political stability between East and West that much steadier and the nuclear stand-off between East and West significantly less dangerous.

Ultimately, the Government's betrayal of the real security interests of the British people lies in their pursuit of policies which undermine our security despite the Government's boast that their policies are preserving the peace. Their claim that nuclear weapons have preserved the peace in Europe for the past 40 years is at least debatable. What is not debatable, but patently absurd, is their claim that nuclear weapons can continue to preserve peace in perpetuity, world without end.

Equally unviable is the Government's claim that as we cannot disinvent nuclear weapons we must learn to live with and, indeed, to love them. Taken seriously, that means that it is only a matter of time before nuclear war breaks out, whether it be by accident or design or due to the overwhelming pressures on political leaders in an infinitely complex world. If a sovereign state such as Britain can defend itself only by independently possessing and threatening to use nuclear weapons, every sovereign state must follow that course. That will mean an infinitely dangerous situation with nuclear proliferation throughout the world, including danger spots such as the Gulf, the Middle East and Afghanistan. What price world security if other nations follow the Government's line?

Conservative Members are fond of citing the appeasement of the 1930s to prove that we must ann now to prevent war later. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) pointed out, it was a Tory Government who were guilty of that appeasement in relation to Fascism. In any case, those who use that argument miss the real point. The analogy today is not with the period before the second world war but with the period before the first world war. Then, as now, Europe was divided into two armed and mutually hostile camps engaged in an escalating and, ultimately, dangerous arms race. Unlike then, however, we now have a nuclear arms race which threatens the very existence of our planet. We cannot allow that arms race to run its natural course towards the outbreak of another war because that war must be a nuclear war. Our priority must therefore be to wind down and eventually halt the nuclear arms race. That is only common sense and it is well understood by the vast majority of national leaders around the world. It is an enduring tragedy for this country that the British Government are one of the few exceptions. The nuclear objective that transfixes the Government makes us all less safe, more vulnerable and, ultimately, more poorly defended.

As a number of Opposition Members have said, the opportunity exists for a real wind-down of the nuclear arms race and a real reduction in the number of nuclear arms held by various states around the world. If the Government were truly serving the interests of the British people, they would do all in their power to ensure that that opportunity is not missed, but their conduct of defence policy suggests that they are doing their best to ensure that that opportunity will, indeed, be missed.

8.38 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

First, I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury)) to his new job at the Ministry of Defence. We are delighted to see him on the Treasury Bench.

I was interested by much of what the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) said. He suggested that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had no right to make the comments that he did. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party's defence policy was one reason why Labour lost the general election. That election was for membership of this House. The Labour party lost it and we won it. That is why the hon. Gentleman sits on the Opposition side and I on the Government side.

The hon. Gentleman's analogy of the current position with that prior to the first world war is interesting. Many of us would not disagree that the forces opposing each other were of such a nature that, perhaps, war had to break out. However, perhaps he would now reflect on why only one continent on this planet has remained free from war since 1945, even though the forces have been ideologically opposed to each other, hated each other and often did not speak to each other. There is only one continent that has remained free from war for 40 years despite those factors, and that is western Europe. The reason for that is clear—it is that each side has deterred the other. Although we may argue about the detail, surely no one doubts that. Had that been the case in other parts of the world, it is possible that wars could have been avoided there also. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may find it amusing, but some of us fought in the wars and wished that a deterrent had been in place so that there could have been peace rather than war. We all want peace. The question is whether the Opposition's recipe—and I do not doubt their integrity and belief—could produce the same answers that have existed in western Europe for the past 40 years. That is the major doubt, and that is why the Opposition lost the election.

I remind the hon. Member for Dundee, East that the independent deterrent gives a second area of decision making. While the Soviets retain a nuclear capability, it is—and I want the House to note this—at least prudent for the United Kingdom also to do so. The lessons of history tell us that.

Mr. McAllion

The hon. Gentleman said that while the Soviet Union retained nuclear weapons it would be prudent for Britain to do so. Does he then suggest that all other independent Governments should retain nuclear weapons while the Soviet Union retains them?

Mr. Walker

That is not what I said. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we helped to invent the nuclear bomb and that, post-1945, a Labour Government decried that we should have that capability, and we have had it ever since. That is why it is prudent.

I am sorry that right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is not in his place. He said that more people in the world believed in Mr. Gorbachev than in President Reagan. I do not find that surprising. More than four fifths of the member states of the United Nations are not democracies. Therefore, it would be incredible if we claimed that the leaders of the mass of the world—and I phrase this carefully—were supportive of the United States. We must not expect them to be because their regimes are quite different from democracies. It is not in their interests for democracy to spread through their areas because that would threaten their regimes and their leaders. Therefore, although I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, I disagree on how he extrapolates the information. It is astonishing that Opposition Members should think that Conservative Members are not in favour of a reduction in nuclear weapons. We are. However, reductions must be properly balanced, and we support the way that that is being achieved by the United States in its negotiations.

I come now to an area in which I have a particular interest, and I declare that interest as I am an officer of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. I wish to speak mainly about the Royal Air Force and how it is affected by the defence White Paper and other matters. First, I shall deal with the issue of low-flying aircraft. Every hon. Member has, at some time or another, dealt with complaints about noisy, low-flying aircraft. The question often asked is why it is necessary. I want to place on record why I believe that it should continue. Flying low and fast is an essential part of RAF training. If pilots are to be effective in a hostile environment against an enemy equipped with modern, electronic and radar equipment and with surface-to-air missile and gun capability, the only way to survive is to avoid detection and evade the anti-aircraft missiles and shells. That calls for flying skills of a very high order. It will be too late to attempt to achieve those skills once hostilities have begun.

We must recognise that we have a limited capability, a limited number of expensive aircraft and a limited number of very expensively trained pilots. If we lose many of them in the first days of hostilities that will be bad for them and for the country as a whole. Of course, there is the additional deterrent value of making it clear to any potential enemy that RAF pilots are highly skilled, professionally trained and capable of surviving and carrying out their assigned tasks in a war.

Everyone in the country wants effective defence forces. Everyone recognises the need for regular and continuous low and fast flying training exercises. Therefore, I believe that the community view can be summed up as, "Yes, but not in my backyard, thank you very much". A great deal of nonsense is talked about the accident rate. It is important to put on record that last year was the best accident year for the RAF for a long time—although we would not think so from some of the publicity—and that this year appears to be equally as good. Those who remember the RAF's accident record when jet aircraft were first introduced must realise that the current accident record is tiny in comparison.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell us the number of pilots killed in the low-flying exercises that he was praising earlier?

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman has not been in the House long enough to know that when I arrived here I was strapped to a metal cage because I had hit the ground rather hard in one of Her Majesty's flying machines. Anyone who does that sort of work recognises the risk it involves. Indeed, there is risk when driving on our roads. Unfortunately, there will be accidents and people will be killed, but that does not deter people from driving on the roads. More importantly, it should not deter us from doing what is absolutely essential for our defence capability. The RAF pilots accept that. They are courageous, brave and skilled people and we should be proud of them. I certainly am.

Mr. Rogers

The figures for the deaths of RAF personnel can be found on page 46 of the Estimates. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that Opposition Members have paid great tribute to the skill and bravery of our young pilots. However, we feel that some of the exercises carried out at 100 ft and 500 mph do not allow for any skill element. Indeed, they are all one-off flights, and a bird strike, mechanical failure or temporary aberration of the pilot could mean that a very expensive piece of equipment is lost, that highly skilled pilots, who cost more than £3 million to train, are killed and that families are bereaved. All that the Opposition question is not whether the pilots should undergo low-flying training, but whether they should undergo it at such desperately low levels and high speeds. When I reply to the debate tomorrow I hope to develop that point further.

Mr. Walker

Obviously, the hon. Gentleman has made an attempt to study the matter. He will realise that the difference between survival and non-survival in a hostile operational environment is a capability to fly at heights of less than 100 ft. In a hostile environment, the capability of pilots and aircraft are at risk. Aircraft and pilots must be capable of operating effectively. There are limited areas in which aircraft can fly at 100 ft. The hon. Gentleman will know that the areas for low flying are clearly defined; that is to say, levels below 200 ft. It is essential that pilots are trained to fly at such levels, otherwise they will not survive in a hostile environment. The hon. Gentleman should realise that, for that reason, Argentine pilots were able to fly low and fast. That is the best example of why we must avoid the surface-to-air capability of a modern land force.

Much has been written and said about the Tornado. Recently, I saw a programme about it. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that the radar problems of the ADV version of the Tornado have been overcome and that the aircraft will be able to execute its tasks? I believe that they are capable of doing so, but I should like to have it confirmed.

Recently, I read about proposals to change the RAF's role in helicopter support for the Army. There have been suggestions that there may be advantages in transferring such capability to the Army. On paper, that may look to be so, but I remind the House that the RAF pilots who fly helicopters do so after having been selected for pilot training. During their training, many were found to be more suitable to flying helicopters than fast jets. Consequently, if the Royal Air Force loses the ability to transfer its pilots, it could mean a large loss of skilled, competent pilots. If we find that we can train only for fast jet operations, I suggest that pilot training would substantially increase. In other words, we shall have to train many more pilots. There would be a higher rate of wastage and the nation would lose. There is no substantive case for taking the helicopter support role from the Royal Air Force. Any savings would be more than offset by the costs associated with the loss of pilots.

We have come to respect the high professional standards and courage of the crews of search and rescue helicopters. Many people in the Scottish Highlands, whom I represent, and many others around our coasts are thankful for being rescued, often in conditions which are right at the edge of helicopter operational capability. Any attempt to privatise such capability will put at risk the ability of the RAF to respond to its operational needs throughout the world. The real value to the Royal Air Force of search and rescue helicopters lies with trained crews who, by the very nature of their constant duties, are kept at a high standard of professional ability. In addition, I doubt whether any savings will be made. The RAF would still be required to provide the best facilities, and most certainly would be required to give back-up facilities to any privatised search and rescue helicopter capability. Such a transfer of capability would be a mistake. The people of Scotland would certainly not support it. Any consequent savings may be cosmetic, but the loss of aircrew in a constant state of operational readiness would be catastrophic during an international crisis.

I now refer to Tucano flying training. How far has the programme slipped? Does my hon. Friend know what effect it is having? What extra costs are involved in keeping Jet Provosts in service? I compliment the manufacturer of the Tucano. I have been critical of the Tucano, but during the recess I had an opportunity to visit the manufacturer. I was able to see the modifications that have been carried out—the new engine, the re-designed wing and the alterations to the front end of the aircraft, the undercarriage and the exhausts. All such modifications must have been expensive. Of course, as the Royal Air Force bought the aircraft at a fixed price, I imagine that the manufacturer is bearing the costs. The aircraft now looks like an effective trainer.

The men and women in our services are its greatest asset. They are supported by their spouses and families. Unless families are content with service life—in other words, unless their quarters and so on are maintained at a reasonable level—they can become unhappy, and that can affect morale. I should like an assurance that the modernisation and maintenance of married quarters are being given a high priority.

Reference has been made to territorials, auxiliaries and reserves. I agree that we must make greater attempts to ensure that employers grant time off for all those who serve their country. The role of reserves, territorials and auxiliary units—particularly the reserves and auxiliaries in the Royal Air Force—have been substantially increased by the Government. I should like to see that policy continue and more use made of reserves and auxiliaries. I should also like serious studies undertaken into finding a proper flying role for our auxiliaries. The Royal Air Force is about flying. If we wish to encourage young people to our territorial reserve commitment, we must have a greater commitment to flying. That is what brings people to the Royal Air Force; otherwise they would join the Army or the Navy.

The realistic way in future to live within defence budget constraints—I shall not talk about this at length; other hon. Members have spent some time on it—must be to make more effective use of reserves and auxiliaries. I should like to see comprehensive studies into ways to make more effective use of volunteers. There would be no shortage of them provided we properly present our package. If we put together a package that will encourage young men and women to serve in our reserves and auxiliaries, the Royal Air Force and the nation will benefit.

8.57 pm
Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I do not agree with all the points raised by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), but I agree with him on the exceedingly important role of search and rescue services. I represent most of Snowdonia national park and have spent a lot of time in the hills and I know that we are always grateful for the contribution made by the rescue services.

I want to take up the challenge issued by the Secretary of State when he accused those of us who produced "unofficial amendments," as he described them, of not living in the real world. He almost found himself back in the real world. He was returned to the House by only a small majority. However, I am glad to see him in his place.

I can assure him that the election campaign in Scotland and Wales revealed a firm rejection of his Government's defence policy. I suspect that the result in his constituency had much to do with his commitment to fill Holy Loch with sea-launched cruise missiles to fill the gap that he perceives will exist once a successful INF deal is concluded.

I do not seek to speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) because she is quite capable of defending herself. However, as the joint defence spokesman for our group, I must say that what is set out in our amendment—regrettably there will not be an opportunity to vote on it—reflects the strongly held views of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru about a realistic defence policy. It strikes me that the people who are not living in the real world are the Government.

There are between 50,000 and 60,000 nuclear weapons in the world. The task must surely be to stabilise and reduce their number, to diminish the risks of their use and to move away from a nuclear-centred defence stance. However, the White Paper reveals a strengthening of that stance. It is a more nuclear-centred statement than we have seen in previous years even from the Government. Obviously it was designed as part of the Government's defence propaganda before the election. It shows a clear shift in the Government's attitude. Instead of nuclear weapons being advocated as a way of making up for the alleged imbalance of conventional forces, as has been said in previous years, between the Warsaw pact and the Soviet Union and NATO, the Government now propose them as if they were to be a permanent part of defence policy, as if they were the only guarantee of security.

As the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has pointed out, the paragraph of the White Paper which deals with that is full of literary marvels. Paragraph 114 argues from the position that the policy of so-called deterrence has kept the peace for 40 years. It goes on to argue as if what has happened during the past 40 years is likely to continue in the next 40 years. However, if we know anything of European history, we know that the cycle of change and disasters that have overtaken us in European history have led us into precisely those conflicts of war and conflagration that defence policy is supposed to avoid.

What is also unjustified in chapter 1 of the White Paper is what is described as Britain's major role in the NATO Alliance, stressing that Britain is the only European member to contribute to all three elements of NATO's triad of forces. Of course, that is not justified anywhere. As has been said, it is an historical accident in the development of nuclear weapons that Britain became a European power which had and which developed those weapons. No logical argument has been put forward in the White Paper or indeed in any of the Government's other propaganda documents for the continued nuclear role of Britain's forces.

In fact, in defending their policy the Government are unable to assess the real arguments that are deployed against those weapons. We have already heard, and I do not need to repeat, the argument about whether Trident is independent. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) argued strongly that there has never been such a thing as an independent British nuclear deterrent.

However, from the arguments put forward by those who defend the notion of deterrence, it is obvious that that notion is inherently unstable. As we have heard from the Secretary of State this afternoon, if there is an INF deal, the credibility of the deterrence must be enhanced. There is no such thing as a stability of deterrence, which is why the argument about keeping the peace for 40 years is flawed. For 40 years we have seen an escalation of an arms race on both sides—a concept of deterrence which is unstable because it costantly needs to be made more credible. At some stage in the process of arms escalation, there will come a time when, through accident or design, or the irrationality of political or military decisions, nuclear weapons will be used with results similar to those of the appalling accident at Chernobyl.

We are seeing not only a proliferation in countries, but one downwards to battlefield and tactical weapons, and a proliferation of smaller nuclear systems, with all the complications of the command and control of those weapons. As we see the concept of limited wars and the acceptance of strategies such as the United States air-land battle by NATO in a broader way, the opportunity for the use of nuclear weapons within Europe will be enhanced.

The White Paper is illogical in its attempts to deal with deterrence and the arguments in favour of maintaining nuclear weapons. It is equally implausible in its analysis of arms control negotiations. Part of the rhetoric of such documents is that they must describe non-stable systems—the nuclear weapons systems of East and West—as though they were stable, but they must also describe the arms control negotiations as though they were serious. Since 1979, there have been about 9,000 to 10,000 additional strategic warheads in the United States and Soviet arsenals. When one considers the deployments which are already planned, one sees that by the end of the decade the number of warheads will be almost double the number in 1980. We must consider the limited intermediate nuclear force negotiations in that context.

If the double zero option in the INF deal is agreed, NATO will still have about 4,000 nuclear warheads in or assigned to Europe, in addition to the several hundred weapons possessed by Britain and France. Some American and NATO military leaders have put about the notion that the INF talks are bound to lead Europe into the "valley of denuclearisation", but that falls far short of reality. Not only do we already have the strategic weapons, we have the commitment—which has not been clarified in detail—to fill the gap. The Ministry of Defence is obliged to tell us exactly how it plans to fill the gap, because it will have serious implications for the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the number of weapons in the United Kingdom. Will air-launched cruise missiles be based on B52s? Will sea-launched cruise missiles be allocated to Holy Loch and perhaps to the south of England at Plymouth? Will there be a further increase in the number of F111s based in the United Kingdom? The latter can be armed with cruise or other missiles or they can carry conventional bombs. Those aircraft are also involved in the low-flying training missions which destroy the lives of many people in large parts of Wales, Scotland and the mountainous areas of England. If the gap is filled by the B52s, the double zero option could lead to a doubling in the number of cruise missiles deployed in Britain.

We have already had an analysis of the section on the history of the Soviet Union. I would not give it a pass in a CSE examination in the core curriculum proposed by the Government. But what is even more distressing is what the White Paper does with the statistics on the so-called conventional balance in Europe. The Ministry of Defence must tell us why the International Institute for Strategic Studies data and the Ministry of Defence data come to such different conclusions about the balance of conventional forces in Europe. The technical data show clearly that the numbers counted by the Ministry and by the IISS are wholly different. The only conclusion that I can draw is that the Ministry wishes to maintain the myth of the Soviet threat, although it says in section 106 of the document: There is nothing to suggest that Soviet leaders have any desire for war in Europe. But the statistics, especially in annexe A, figure 13, imply through miscalculations and through using a different basis from the IISS that the Soviet Union has a massive conventional superiority. It is part of the myth and exaggeration of escalation that perpetuates the cold war mentality and the justification for further deployments. I suspect that such sentiments are responsible for what we see in this document.

Our amendment, which regrettably will not be voted on, points to a different kind of future for Europe, a future that is not based upon escalation as a result of the Trident programme. It points to a Europe that is not structured upon differing cold war camps, but a Europe in which areas such as nuclear-free Wales and nuclear-free Scotland make a contribution to de-escalation throughout Europe, a Europe that extends from the West through central Europe to eastern Europe, including the Soviet Union. We are the people who understand the realities of European history. We are not encumbered with the ideological rhetoric of the Government. Our understanding of European history is that we live in a continent that has been racked by war because of the failure of European Governments to work towards true security.

We look to things such as the Stockholm agreement as a demonstration that it is possible for European peoples to agree as nation states about troop manoeuvres and conventional weapons and that that has led to security building. We believe that similar security building is possible in nuclear operations. However, that security will not emerge because of the lack of Government initiatives.

9.11 pm
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

I recently moved into the constituency of Fylde. As I walk out of my front door I am struck by the considerable importance of defence aviation to my constituency. My house lies on the approach run to the British Aerospace military aircraft division at Warton. Daily, during the recess, I saw Tornados and other aeroplanes coming back from their test flights across the Irish sea.

During the recess I visited the plant at Warton not only to acquaint myself in some detail with what went on there, but to share with the management, the staff and the trade unions—I hope that that will please the Opposition—their concerns about the future of the European fighter aircraft project.

At the outset of my remarks I should like to pay tribute to my colleague in Lancashire, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins). Sadly, because of his ministerial duties, he is unable to participate in this debate. However, for some time he has shouldered a considerable responsibility for arguing the case for those in the Preston area who make their living from aviation. I thank my hon. Friend for shouldering that burden and it is now a responsibility that I gladly accept.

May I also welcome to the Treasury Front Bench my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. During the election campaign my right hon. Friend visited Lancashire and I was grateful to him for the positive commitment that he gave on the European fighter aircraft. He endorsed those remarks in interviews given during the Conservative party conference at Blackpool. I was delighted to hear that he also endorsed British Aerospace's excellent product work as a result of his recent acquaintance with the Tornado fighter.

I believe that the European fighter aircraft represents a key part in the development of our aviation strategy. In a few moments I will justify my belief in that project. I was delighted to see in the statement on the Defence Estimates, under the heading "Collaborative Projects" on page 47, table 8, that the European fighter aircraft was listed. I wish to deal with the element of collaboration because some doubt has been expressed regarding the future of the project because of difficulties with one of the principal partners—Germany.

I believe that paragraph 510 on page 46, detailing the question of collaboration and its benefits, must have been written as much from our belief in collaboration as that of our European partners. Paragraph 510 states: The impetus towards greater collaboration within Europe in particular comes from the conviction, shared by our partners, that a more cohesive European effort will strengthen the Alliance in a number of important ways: politically, by demonstrating our ability to work closely together; militarily, by reducing the inefficiency that comes from having different and incompatible versions of the same equipment on the battlefield; and industrially, by helping to produce a more competitive European industrial base. If we and our European partners share that view, it is an incontrovertible case to justify the continuing development of the European fighter aircraft.

It is notable that the joint air chiefs of the four participating countries have already agreed the operational requirements of the aeroplane. At such an early stage in the project, that is a notable achievement. It commends the project to the partner Governments, which should have the courage to go ahead and build the aeroplane.

Recent developments in defence more than ever give strength to the argument that the European fighter aircraft should be built. The INF agreement shows that a much greater emphasis will now be put on the role of conventional weapons. If we are looking at developments in aviation — the development of high technology fighters and bombers that may present a threat to this country in future—we shall need aeroplanes such as the European fighter aircraft to combat such threats.

The European fighter aircraft is at the margins of technology. It contains developments in composite materials and avionics, and other engineering developments that are vital to the future of our own aviation industry. From my constituents' point of view it is also vital that the project goes ahead—6,500 jobs at the military aircraft division in Warton alone depend on it. Within the Preston area, some 16,500 jobs are dependent on the future of that project. As the orders for Tornado are completed, a gap of work will open out in the flow of materials through the factory at Warton. The European fighter aircraft must be built to fill that gap. With regard to its impact on the north-west economy, some £69 million of orders derive from British Aerospace. The loss of that would be incalculable. I referred to technical excellence and the maintenance of it by those who build the plane. Such work is vital if our aviation industry is to prosper.

I refer finally to export potential. It is clear to me that the European fighter aircraft must be built, if for no other reason than the £3,500 billion of business with Saudi Arabia, with the Tornado. A successful customer there will be looking for a replacement for that project in the years to come. Warton has demonstrated its ability to build quality aeroplanes and I believe that it can match the requirements of the European fighter aircraft project.

I should like Ministers to commit themselves to tackle some of the problems that are outstanding. There are difficulties in Germany. Although there were initially strong rumours that cuts in Germany's defence budget would overwhelm its ability to contribute to major defence projects, the fact that the budget was reduced by 142 million deutchmarks meant that it was possible for the Germans to continue their commitment to major projects. But there is concern in Germany about the development costs of the fighter. Going back to my quotation from the statement on the Defence Estimates on the subject of collaboration, I believe that it justifies the philosophical and practical reasons for the project and lends weight to reconsideration by the Germans.

I do not want to see brought before the House an argument or debate about the reasons why we should consider the F18. We in Europe can build an adequate fighter for the needs of the latter part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century. I should like the Secretary of State for Defence to give an assurance that he will raise the matters of concern with his German counterparts and try again to convince them of the need to continue with the European fighter aircraft project.

Finally, I remind the Government of some comments that were made in the defence debate this time last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) reminded the Government at that time that the F16 fighter, which was built in the same way as the experimental aircraft project, became one of the world's most successful fighters. If there is doubt among any of the partners, that comment alone should commend the project to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), speaking about the commitment to the European fighter aircraft project, said on 14 July: I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are planning on the basis of the United Kingdom playing a full part in the EFA programme."—[Official Report, 14 July 1987; Vol. 101, c. 955.] That reassuring remark will, I hope, be echoed in the concluding remarks from the Front Bench this evening.

I hope that the Government will confirm that there are sufficient resources in the Defence Estimates to finance further development work that is currently being funded by the companies which are building the European fighter aircraft. I hope that the Government will do all in their power to persuade the partners to go ahead with this exciting project, and that we make certain that we understand the commercial importance of the project. The EFA must be built.

9.21 pm
Mr. Sean Hughes (Knowsley, South)

I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin), who made his maiden speech this evening. His is a constituency that I know well, having spent several of my schoolboy years there. I am sure the House will listen with interest to the speeches that he makes in the coming Session.

I shall begin by making a crushingly obvious statement: the Conservative party won the election in June, and the parties of opposition lost it. In view of that, perhaps we might be allowed, tonight and throughout the coming Parliament, to debate the policies of the Government, and not be sidetracked into the interesting hypotheses of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) might have presented in our Defence Estimates this evening. Unfortunately, Conservative Members give the impression that they cannot conceive of being in error. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), in a characteristic speech, said that we should all be prepared to admit to our own fallibility. I refer him to a comment in the foreword to the 1987–88 edition of "Jane's Fighting Ships". It states that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement apparently said in a television programme, "My Department never makes mistakes"—that from a Department that gave us Nimrod.

I listened with special interest to the Foreign Secretary's speech last week, in which he quoted Churchill from page 2 of the Defence Estimates. Churchill said: Be careful above all things not to let go of the atomic weapon until you are sure, and more than sure, that other means of preserving peace are in your hands. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) referred to that. Apart from the fact that I am always suspicious of people who quote Churchill in defence White Papers as if they were quoting from the Sermon on the Mount, the quotation has been taken not so much out of context as out of time. Often, the fact that Ministers rely so heavily on this quotation, made in the intensity of the cold war 35 years ago, is a sign of their thought processess.

Nothing demonstrates that more than the potted history that is given in the White Paper, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent so rightly savaged. It is entitled, "70 Years On: A Country or a Cause?" For sheer banality, hollowness and insufficient bases, this potted history takes some beating. I am astonished that the Secretary of State can pen his name to what would be considered insufficiently researched material for inclusion in the Ladybird series of history books for younger readers.

I imagine that the 18 paragraphs in the first chapter of the Defence Estimates are supposed to give us the historical background to present-day defence policy. Presumably they provide the premise for the Government's thinking on defence. If this is the premise, it does not exactly inspire us about the Government's conclusions. The section reads more like gossip than history. It is full of platitudes and slogans and quite clearly the facts, such as they are, are used to fit the preconceptions.

I shall give the House a couple of examples. Paragraph 4 on page 4 discusses the Russian view of the world that security can only be achieved from a position of military strength. Is not that the thinking that is at the core of the Government's policy and has that not been true of all the powers, especially the Western powers, in the 19th and 20th centuries?

The Statement on the Defence Estimates talks about the extension of territory from the 16th to the 19th century. I suppose that Britain, France and Germany were all standing aside contemplating the heinous nature of imperialism. The implication is that only Russia was up to these dastardly tricks with a sevenfold expansion in three centuries. It is worth remembering that in 1870 one tenth of Africa was under European control and that by 1900 it was nine tenths. That was achieved in three decades, not three centuries.

Through the ages great powers have defined for themselves spheres of influence, epitomised not least by the Munroe doctrine. The penultimate sentence in paragraph 9, page 5, says: most people would profoundly disagree that national insecurity is a fair excuse for the curtailment of others' national and individual freedoms. That comes a bit rich from the party of GCHQ. There are carefully selected quotations from what Lenin said in 1916, but no mention of how he developed his thinking in the 1920s. There is not even a mention of Stalin, the advocate of Socialism in one country who dominated the USSR for over a quarter of a century.

One particularly entertaining sentence speaks about the liberal democratic idea of harmony between states". Who are the Government trying to kid? I would expect this sort of thing to come from the Kremlin. I thought that the Russians were the people who rewrote history and touched up paintings to make sure that certain people and certain things did not happen. This is the Government who have emphasised the importance of objective history teaching in our schools.

We have heard several times the assertion that the possession of nuclear arms in Europe has kept the peace over the last 40-odd years. The Secretary of State reaffirmed that in his speech. It is interesting to recall that exactly the same claim was made for the existence of the Common Market during the referendum on Britain's membership. I have never been impressed by this sort of argument. Even the defence White Paper concedes that it cannot be proved.

It reminds me of a chap in my constituency—who is no longer with us—who was convinced that all our economic problems in the late 1970s were the direct result of decimalisation. Forget about the Arab-Israeli war and the subsequent explosion in oil prices: I could never convince him that just because one event precedes a trend there is not necessarily a causal link. The case might just as well be made that it is no mere coincidence that peace in Europe at the end of world war 2 coincided with the introduction of the biro. I cannot prove it and there may be other factors, but in terms of proof it is as valid a statement as the other one.

One of the problems about these debates is the difficulty that we have in arriving at an accurate assessment of the military balance between NATO and the Warsaw pact countries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) said last year in the debate on the Defence Estimates: Comparing quantitative factors, such as manpower and equipment, is relatively straightforward, but even that exercise can be unexpectedly difficult—a fact which may explain why no new NATO-Warsaw pact force comparisons have been published by NATO since 1984." — [Official Report, 30 June 1986; Vol. 100, c.785.] Annex A of the defence White Paper confidently tells us that by any objective measure the superiority of Warsaw pact land and air forces is substantial.

Fundamental to NATO's strategy of flexible response is the assumption that the Soviet Union has massive conventional superiority. In most NATO scenarios, Warsaw pact forces would crash through the inner German border and overwhelm the numerically inferior NATO forces. Nothing changes. It is the same Russian steamroller theory of the 19th and early 20th century. So NATO would have to resort to the first use of battlefield nuclear weapons.

Some defence analysts have challenged the notion of Soviet superiority and the way in which NATO compiles its statistics. Many assessments of NATO and Warsaw pact forces rely on distorted figures, as has been pointed out. The last time NATO published an assessment of the conventional balance was, as I have said, in 1984. However, each year the International Institute for Strategic Studies has stated: our conclusion remains that the conventional military balance is still such as to make general military aggression a highly risky undertaking for either side. Ultimately, that is a self-defeating process, because if our assessments are hyped up too much, negotiators must be tempted to take us at our word.

Time and again in the White Paper the Government assert that the United Kingdom is the only European member of NATO which contributes to all three NATO commands—Europe, the Atlantic and the Channel—through the provision of nuclear forces, the defence of the United Kingdom itself, land and air forces based in Europe and our maritime forces. It is the Opposition's contention that we cannot sustain such a grand sweep of commitments as are presently resourced. The simple fact is that, with finite resources, something will have to give.

Of course, the Minister will reply with the same words as we have heard in previous debates and in the way that has been hinted at this evening, by saying that we should not look just at the amounts of money voted by the House but at the qualitative aspect of the money. I suggest that the Minister and Conservative Members should tell that to the Royal Marines. They urgently need new amphibious vessels and aviation support ships for the reinforcement of Norway. In the event of hostilities, the Norwegians would depend, during the most critical period, on the arrival of the United Kingdom-Netherlands amphibious force. To get such a large force ashore requires purpose-built amphibious vessels and adequate aviation support vessels. Yet the Royal Marines have no aviation support ship now that Bulwark and Hermes have been withdrawn and they have only Fearless and Intrepid for the amphibious role. Fearless and Intrepid are old and expensive both in maintenance and manpower and they require crews of about 600 from a Navy that has already been drained of personnel.

Our Air Force is in an appalling state. Northern air space is watched over by five antique Shackleton aircraft with 1941 vintage radar. Most of our fighter aircraft are old and the new ones will probably not even be able to find their targets because their radar only half works. On the central front, the Royal Air Force flies what has been referred to unkindly as the oldest helicopter fleet in the world.

The strength of the Royal Navy is less than the level planned by Sir John Nott when he was Secretary of State for Defence in 1981. The Navy now has fewer personnel than Boots the Chemists. The Navy's task has been increased with expensive out-of-area commitments to the Falklands and the Gulf, to which no reference was made by the Secretary of State today. Not only do we lack frigates, destroyers and conventional submarines for our vital NATO task in the eastern Atlantic but many of those we have are obsolete, expensive in maintenance and manpower and lacking in effective armament.

The Army has been crippled by shortages of spares and ammunition and restrictions on fuel. As yet the Army has no purpose-built anti-tank helicopters. In Germany it is short of modern tanks; the Chieftain tank gives off so much smoke that it can be seen for miles. Attempts to procure new self-propelled artillery for the Army ended in disaster, with a bill for the taxpayer of £88 million.

Morale in all three services has been seriously damaged. In the Army, the cut in local overseas allowance for servicemen who are based in Germany, to save £17 million, together with training restrictions on fuel and ammunition, have had a seriously detrimental effect on morale. In a letter to The Times on 5 March, Viscount Morpeth said: 'Salami Slicing' cuts are making it increasingly difficult for Commanders at all levels to train their formations and units to the highest standard required to maintain a credible deterrence. He continued: Cuts in overseas allowances are demoralising and bear heavily on junior NCOs and their families who are least able to bear them. The outflow of skilled personnel will increase by about 25 per cent. this year, which reflects the widespread dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. The RAF is short of skilled engineers and mechanics and is losing pilots faster than it can train them. As has already been said, it costs £3 million to train a fast jet pilot and £1million to train navigators. Yet it seems that many pilots are leaving the RAF to go abroad, or are joining civil airline companies. That is largely due to the penny-pinching cuts in fuel and training restrictions, because 70 per cent. of RAF married quarters are substandard and because they are fed up with making do with obsolete equipment.

Of necessity, we have had to cut short our summing-up speeches. But when the Foreign Secretary and others have quoted Churchill's words about having other means of preserving the peace before giving up the atomic weapon, some of us have gained the impression that the present Government do not believe that there are, or ever will be, means of preserving the peace other than by the nuclear weapon. That point was emphasised in a thoughtful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion). The Government do not seem to understand the inherent dangers of a policy that Secretary of State for War, Henry Stimson, once described as wearing this weapon rather ostentatiously on our hip. The saddest aspect of the defence debate in recent years—perhaps it has always been the case—is that it has degenerated on the margin to accusations of battle lust or defeatism. The reality of the matter is that we are talking about the most effective means of defending our country, while at the same time seeking to foster an atmosphere that avoids the recourse to arms. It is in that spirit that I commend to the House the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.

9.37 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)

It is about four and a half years since I spoke in a debate, other duties having kept me silent except for contributing occasionally those valuable and usually widely welcomed suggestions that the House might adjourn or that a Question be put. I am glad to end that period of silence by winding up on the first day of this important debate. I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes) who, like me, has recently escaped from the silent service, or perhaps in the case of Opposition Whips the not-so-silent service. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his entertaining history lesson. It was a great deal more entertaining, and I hope rather more accurate, than his subsequent remarks about the defence budget.

I am particularly glad to be able to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) on an excellent maiden speech. He demonstrated, as I would have expected after spending a most rewarding day in his constituency in early June, a knowledge and concern for his constituents and for their interests and environment.

We have had a most interesting first day on this important debate, although on occasions it seemed that it was more like a history discussion or seminar than a defence debate. A number of important points have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members to which I should like to respond. However, in view of the limitation on time, I intend in general to leave those points which are the particular responsibility of my hon. Friends the Minister of State for the Armed Forces and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces to them for tomorrow when they hope, indeed expect, to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. Examples are the arguments expressed by the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) about the Armilla patrol and by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and others about low flying.

Before dealing with specific points, I should like to say something about our general approach to defence procurement, which is my particular responsibility. Our objective is clear. It is to obtain the best value for money for every pound of taxpayers' money which we spend.

Value for money is a concept which we have consistently highlighted. It was important in 1983, when we outlined our approach to it in an open Government document issued by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie), and it remains so today. It sounds simple—and, I hope, sensible—to the House but I need to emphasise that the quest for value for money requires us to take account of more than just price. It is therefore more complex than a simple matter of comparing the prices of indentical branded products in, for example, supermarkets.

First—and most important and obvious—equipment must be suitable for the required task, but there are other factors that must be considered. They include a judgment on the risk of failure in technical development. Much, indeed most, of what we procure is not ready-made, so we have to balance the value of using the most up-to-date, state of the art, technology with avoiding over-ambitious, or unattainable targets which experience shows can lead to major difficulties.

We need to make an assessment of the in-service date that we require and have regard to the date that we can reasonably expect to achieve.

Usually we need to take account of the capacity of the equipment to be improved during its life to meet changing threats or new technologies. In today's world that is particularly important as enhancement and improvement programmes can be the most cost effective way of meeting new threats. We always need to take account of reliability, maintainability, spares and manpower requirements, which all contribute to the cost-in-use of the equipment.

In a sense all these factors make up the quality of a product, and the drive for value for money is concerned with both quality and price. The House will be aware that it is nearly always easier to identify the objective than it is to set out the methods of attaining that objective. In my national service days one always first stated clearly the objective and then, usually less clearly, how one would succeed. One always had to say, "We will take that hill", not, "We will try to take that hill."

There are a number of steps which we have taken but the importance of one in particular will be recognised by right hon. and hon. Members from the experience of some of our less successful purchases in the past. We no longer enter into cost-plus contracts except in the very small number of cases where we cannot define the necessary work tightly enough in advance to use other pricing methods. Instead, as hon. Members will know, we have introduced a substantial degree of competition into areas which previously suffered from the inefficiencies that flow from negotiating with only one supplier. It is one of the chief ways in which we have improved our methods of procurement. I need not dwell upon the financial benefits of competition, but we have achieved considerable savings in that way. The White Paper lists convincing examples.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

I am interested in the points which the hon. Gentleman takes into account in considering value for money. Will he comment on Marconi, which has been accused of making excessive profits on Ministry of Defence contracts and of not paying royalties to Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Sainsbury

It would be wrong if I commented at length. Ministry of Defence police, on the instructions of the Director of Public Prosecutions, made what has been called a raid on the Marconi factory. That is now a matter for the Law Officers rather than for me.

Mr. O'Neill

The Secretary of State for Defence is responsible for the actions of Ministry of Defence police and they are responsible to him. The hon. Gentleman cannot get out of this problem as simply as he is trying to do. The House is entitled to know why between 30 and 50 of these men, using crowbars, raided the premises in Portsmouth at the weekend.

Mr. Sainsbury

I know that the Labour party has expressed a desire to put the police under the political control of local authorities.

Mr. O'Neill

That is not true. It is unfair.

Mr. Sainsbury

The Ministry of Defence police, like a county police force, are not under the operational control of the Secretary of State, any more than the county police force is under the operational control of the police committee of a county.

Mr. Rogers

Will the hon. Gentleman give way further on that point?

Mr. Sainsbury

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will let me explain this point. It is clear that, in carrying out their operations, the Ministry of Defence police are not under the direction of the Secretary of State. As I explained to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), in this case, the Ministry of Defence police were under the direction of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The action is now a matter for the Law Officers. I believe that I am right in saying that a question on that matter has been tabled for written answer to morrow by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

Mr. O'Neill

I want to get the record straight. During the passage of the Ministry of Defence Police Bill—an extremely amicable process; some might say too amicable—we dealt thoroughly with the business. There was no party rancour and it was a constructive process. We did not need the type of flippant, inaccurate remarks which the hon. Gentleman has made—[Interruption.] In this case, it was not fully justified. We know the relationship between the Secretary of State and the police committee. But in this case there was a major exercise. Had it not been for a newspaper disclosure no one would have known about it. We would not have been aware that inquiries had been going on for some 18 months. They were not the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions at the outset. I imagine that they emanated from the Secretary of State for Defence or his predecessor.

Mr. Sainsbury

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not listened to what I said about the operational control of police forces, whether it is the Ministry of Defence police force or a county police force. The latter is answerable for some matters, but not its operational control, to a local authority police committee. As I said, some Labour party members sought to get that operational control into the hands of local authority committees. But we should not spend too much time on this point because many other matters have been raised.

To increase our access to competition, we have broadened the supplier base and thus opened up new sources of supply. We have brought new companies into Ministry of Defence business through, among other things, a successful small firms initiative and through the emphasis we have put on competitive sub-contracting by our prime contractors. In April, we achieved our aim of bringing Royal Ordnance fully into the private sector, when it was bought by British Aerospace. It has now taken its place in the competitive defence market.

The wider the spread of information, the better a market works. We have, therefore, taken a number of steps to improve the flow of information about defence work. We now have a fortnightly "MOD Contracts Bulletin" and we arrange the circulation of staff targets and requirements in draft. The three systems controllerates annually make presentations to industry to help to keep industry better informed, so that it can take full advantage of the business which the MOD has to offer.

However, competition is only part of a broadly-based strategy aimed at achieving better value for money. Other initiatives include a revision of our practices on the interim financing of contracts. In this our objective is to give companies a greater incentive for timely and satisfactory performance by linking interim payments more closely to achievements.

We seek to allow industry more scope to produce ideas and innovations that will let our Armed Forces exploit new technology fully. The cardinal points specification, which allows suppliers to suggest their own way of meeting the requirement, is one means of giving companies the opportunity to use their knowledge and skills. As long as the Ministry of Defence retains the technical capability to be an intelligent customer and enters into an open exchange of ideas, we should benefit from this approach.

The procurement of modern defence equipment can be a highly complex business. We are making important improvements in the efficiency with which we carry it out. Against the background of our more effective and businesslike approach let me—in the short time left to me—deal with some points which hon. Members have raised in this debate.

The right hon. Member for Llanelli returned to his familiar theme when he said that the cost of Trident would preclude other expenditure on new equipment. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on many occasions—he said it again today—that is simply not so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) reminded us of the findings of the Select Committee on Defence on years of increased spending in real terms. Of course, had we not increased spending above the inadequate level that we inherited in 1979 we would have problems now. However, we now spend a quarter as much again on equipment for every single trained service man in real terms as we spent in the late 1970s.

The right hon. Member for Llanelli and his hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South asked about amphibious shipping. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear in December last year that the Government had decided to retain an amphibious capability in the longer term. We have let contracts for design studies both into extending the lives of the existing ships Fearless and Intrepid and into replacing them with new-build vessels. The timescale for the reports will give us ample time to decide which option to choose for the replacement of these important ships.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton made some important comments on research and development. He apologised to me for the fact that he cannot be in his place now. I assure him that I have carefully noted his remarks, especially those on the value of collaboration with our European allies. We, like them, attach considerable importance to the matter and much is being done under the auspices of the independent European programme group. Indeed, collaborative research was a key theme in the revitalisation of that group three years ago and the need was reiterated when IEPG defence Ministers met last June. To date, some 20 collaborative technology programmes have been initiated including two on gallium arsenide which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton mentioned. Attention is now focused on putting this important work on to a systematic basis by identifying the key areas of advanced technology on which the European nations should work together.

I was glad to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North on the Tucano. There is a few months' slippage on deliveries, but Short Bros. expect to recover the slippage later in the programme. My hon. Friend also commented on the Foxhunter radar for Tornado aircraft. The equipment does not yet meet the full requirements of the RAF and the Ministry is at present negotiating with the supplier, GEC, towards securing a firm price contract for the satisfactory completion of the programme. Meanwhile, radars to an agreed interim standard have already been delivered and are in service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) spoke eloquently on behalf of his constituents about the European fighter aircraft. He referred to his interest in the matter and the support that he receives on it from our hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins). Like all major equipment projects, the EFA programme is being conducted on a stage by stage basis, as is only sensible. The project definition has been successfully completed and we are now in a definition refinement and risk reduction phase, with activities aimed at stabilising the design of the aircraft and identifying high-risk activities.

Parallel negotiations on commercial issues are progressing between the prime contractors and NEFMA—the NATO European Fighter Management Agency, which is the international management agency. Action is in hand to secure agreement from the individual national authorities to launch development. The United Kingdom aims to have completed that process by the end of the year and, subject to a satisfactory conclusion, we expect to begin development work early in 1988.

The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) spoke with his usual eloquence, but it was not clear to me—I do not know whether it was clear to anyone else—whether he supported the official Opposition amendment or the unofficial one. I think that his speech leant slightly towards the unofficial one. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) astonished many hon. Members—on both sides, I suspect—with his comments on that amendment and explained why he would like to see what I believe is described as a non-aligned defence and foreign policy, although at times it sounded more like a Warsaw pact-aligned foreign policy. As I believe that the economic policies of the right hon. Gentleman's wing of the Opposition would rapidly reduce the United Kingdom to Third world status, a non-aligned foreign policy might go well with that.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Does my hon. Friend agree that the amendment of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is probably a more authentic expression of the voice of the present Labour party than the official viewpoint? Would it not be nice if the official spokesman would tell us whether the official view is still unilateralist or whether it is moving away from that position?

Mr. Sainsbury

There is some difficulty in determining the defence policy of the official Opposition as I believe that officially they do not have a policy and it is open to review. No doubt we shall shortly find out whether the view of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield or some alternative is to prevail. We await with interest the outcome of that review.

My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) referred to merchant shipping. Under prerogative powers, the Government can requisition ships on dependent territory as well as United Kingdom registers. Emergency legislation would enable the Government to requisition ships on foreign registers if beneficially owned by British operators. We continue to monitor closely the availablility of merchant shipping to support Her Majesty's forces in time of war. Despite the decline of the British merchant fleet, we are confident that defence needs can still be met.

A number of other points were raised, and I apologise if time does not allow me to answer all of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), in an intervention, expressed concern about the CACS4 project. Command and control systems for modern warships are very complex. They are made more difficult to develop by the fact that the weapons systems which the command system has to integrate are often still in development. Thus, for example, in a number of cases, we do not have a complete interface specification for the type 23, nor have we been able to model some aspects of the system fully. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that we have defined the requirement much better than in any previous case and this underpins the procurement stategy that we have adopted. In seeking to control time, cost and performance to meet the Navy's needs we decided to exploit new technologies such as distributed processing, the ADA language and advanced displays. It was for this reason that we needed a new start, although we had already spent some £30 million—not the much larger figure that my hon. Friend mentioned — on the previously unsatisfactory CACS4.

When I spoke earlier about the initiatives that we have taken to achieve more efficient procurement, I stressed the advantages to the Ministry of lower costs and more timely completion, but it is important to point out the benefits which our policies are having in fostering efficiency in industry, stimulating new ideas and promoting the full utilisation of resources. We all want to see British industry successful in world markets and competition is important not just because it contributes to keenness in pricing but because it stimulates innovation and enterprise, and the encouragement of new ideas for the solution of defence problems. Furthermore, the more efficient our defence industries are, the greater the opportunity they have to increase their exports and generate more jobs in the United Kingdom. With this in mind we now give proper prominence to export potential when we take decisions on procurement. We consider ways of adjusting our requirement to suit the needs of foreign customers as well as those of our armed forces so as to improve the marketability of our industries' products. Moreover, our policy of specifying equipment by the performance that we require of it—the cardinal points specification—rather than by attempting to design it ourselves gives companies greater scope to propose to us equipment with foreign sales potential.

I believe that the changes we have made, and further ones that are still in the pipeline, are a real contribution to the health of the British defence industry and to effective procurement. We know that handling the procurement budget is a great responsibility, not merely because it involves some £8.5 billion of taxpayers' money a year, but because the effectiveness of the nation's fighting forces depends upon it. In view of that, I believe that our achievements will be seen as valuable — —

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

Forward to