§ 2.52 p.m.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (LORD SHACKLETON)
My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Winterbottom opens this debate, may I, in the fight of the very large number of speakers whose names are down, draw the attention of the House to the First Report from the Select Committee on Procedure of the House? Not all noble Lords will have seen it, but the House accepted it yesterday. The Committee drew attention to the fact that on a previous occasion the House had agreed that speeches in this House should be shorter, but doubted whether that Resolution had had the desired effect, and suggested that, as occasion arose, the House should be reminded of its terms. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for reminding you of its terms.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1970 (Cmnd. 4290). The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House, I beg to move the Motion that is before your Lordships. On the occasion of our similar debate last year I gave your Lordships a full tour d'horizon and recounted a substantial shopping list of equipment projects. In the intervening twelve months, many items on the list have emerged from the shopping basket on to the table. In order to avoid wearying your Lordships this year with the amended list, however, I should like to take advantage of the fact that only a couple of months ago there were in another place six days of debate on Defence matters—concentrated, as one honourable Member pointed out, into a fortnight, rather like the elk-shooting season. Within the OFFICIAL REPORT of that other place noble Lords will therefore find a plethora of facts deployed quite recently by Ministers on Defence 555 matters, and many of those who are to speak after me will, I know, have digested those debates already. I shall therefore confine myself to an account of the highlights of the Services' equipment programmes before moving on to discuss, first, the matching of men and women to these machines, and then the main function of the Services which will in future lie in NATO. My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, when he comes to wind up our debate, will be dealing in particular with the questions of the Far East and Northern Ireland.
§ The first equipment highlight with which I shall deal is the Anglo-French helicopter package, which is to provide all three Services with the helicopters they require. As the House is aware, the French have been considering a reduction in their requirements for the SA 341 and have asked for a revision of the cost-sharing of the SA 341 and WG 13 development programmes. I am glad to say that we have been able to reach agreement with the French on keeping these adjustments within modest proportions. The way is now clear for the Anglo-French helicopter programme to continue without any serious effect on the balance of advantage to the United Kingdom. Both we and the French remain convinced that the package offers the best means of meeting our respective helicopter requirements. The links between the United Kingdom and French firms provide the basis for a strong and highly competitive helicopter industry in Europe. I am confident that noble Lords will share the satisfaction of Her Majesty's Government at the continuation of this important collaborative project.
§ Turning to purely naval equipment, I would remind the House that three major new classes of ship have already been announced which will make up the main surface Fleet of the future. These are the destroyers, carrying Sea Dart; the new frigates, which will succeed the "Leanders"; and the new cruiser. This cruiser will succeed the converted ships of the "Tiger" class and will have three main functions: to deploy the large Sea King anti-submarine helicopters, to carry the command afloat, and to contribute to the air defence of naval forces with its Sea Dart weapon system. The cruiser 556 will have a through deck to provide the most effective means of operating her complement of helicopters, and will also be designed so as to provide the option of operating V/STOL aircraft. Whether this option will be taken up is not yet known; more studies will have to be done before we shall be in a position to decide whether the advantages are worth the extra cost involved.
§ The Sea King is worthy of separate mention. Its speed, range, weapon system and great flexibility of operation place it among the most advanced anti-submarine helicopters in operational service to-day, and the Royal Navy are well pleased with it. In view of the large fleet of submarines now operated by the Soviet bloc, I need not stress the importance of the Sea King's role. An Intensive Flying Trials Unit having begun its work last year, the first operational Sea King squadron formed in February at Culdrose, and a second squadron will form in June; the two squadrons will embark in the aircraft carriers "Ark Royal" and "Eagle" in the course of the year. In due course, the Sea King will also be deployed at sea in the converted "Tiger" class cruisers, and later, as I have said, in the new cruisers. It is thus destined to be the Royal Navy's main antisubmarine helicopter during the 1970s, complementing the Royal Air Force's long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft and the Royal Navy's own destroyers, frigates and nuclear Fleet submarines. It is of course these submarines which, together with the shore-based maritime aircraft of the Royal Air Force, will provide the main striking force—and that a significant one—against surface ships and submarines by the time the carriers phase out. Three—"Dreadnought", "Valiant" and "Warspite"—have already entered service and a fourth, H.M.S. "Churchill", will be accepted into service later this year. The fifth and sixth Fleet submarines have been launched, and a further two are now being built. An order for a ninth submarine is currently being negotiated.
§ The Army equipment programme continues to make satisfactory progress. During the year we shall take further deliveries of Chieftain for the Royal Armoured Corps. These tanks will incorporate recently-developed items which have improved the life and reliability of 557 what is already an outstanding vehicle. Units in Germany will also be receiving Swingfire fitted on the chassis of the armoured personnel carrier. These two weapon systems, together with our helicopters which are fitted with the SS.11 guided missile, will provide a valuable increase in B.A.O.R.'s anti-tank capability. We are also at the start of a programme to provide the Army with a very substantial improvement in its surveillance and night fighting capability. This year we start taking delivery of a new reconnaissance drone system and a ground surveillance radar, for use within the battle group; in addition, image intensification weapon sights, driving aids and observation devices are all included in our programme. One more highlight in the Army programme is that an order has recently been placed for the first members of a family of lightweight, well-armed, tracked reconnaissance vehicles; the first two vehicles are Scorpion, fitted with a 76 mm gun, and Scimitar, fitted with the 30 mm Rarden cannon.
§ The Royal Air Force has welcomed the arrival of its new combat aircraft and, with its accustomed professionalism, is getting on with the tasks of developing the most effective techniques for their maintenance and operation. The first squadrons of Phantoms and Harriers have been in service with Air Support Command for some time now. Both types are well liked by their crews and have already participated in overseas detachments—the Harrier to the Mediterranean, and the Phantom to the Mediterranean and Scandinavia—and have provided valuable training and useful demonstrations of the ability of these aircraft to reinforce the flanks of NATO. Further squadrons of both types are due to deploy to R.A.F. Germany shortly; like those already formed, they will all be committed to NATO. When fully deployed, this force will represent a very powerful ground attack and tactical reconnaissance capability—a major advance in capability compared with the position before we began to replace the Hunter.
§ Here I should like to stress the unique capability which the Harrier provides. The full extent of its potential will become apparent only as we gain more experience and evolve operational tactics and techniques in collaboration with the ground forces. Nevertheless some major advantages are already clear. First, and 558 perhaps most important, the Harrier is not tied to airfields. When one knows that one will never be in the position of striking the first blow, this is of enormous benefit. It means, for example, that, in a period of tension, aircraft can be dispersed to sites well away from main airfields, thereby reducing the risk of losses from a pre-emptive attack and the expense of providing aircraft shelters on the airfield; and of course, with its V/STOL capability, the Harrier is not lied to concrete runways which may also be vulnerable to enemy attack. If I may-put the point the other way round, dispersal increases enormously the difficulties with which an enemy would be faced in attempting to seek out and destroy our aircraft on the ground. The second great advantage lies in the ability to operate the Harrier from sites which can be very close to the ground forces which it is supporting. This will offer an immediacy and intimacy of close support which will be of very great value to the Army commander in the rapidly changing battlefield situation. Again, as I illustrated earlier, and as was shown dramatically in the Transatlantic Air Race last year, the Harrier has long legs and can be rapidly deployed to NATO'S northern and southern perimeters should the need arise. Thus the Harrier offers a unique degree of flexibility and versatility; moreover, the uprating of the Pegasus engine, mentioned in the Statement on the Defence Estimates, will greatly enhance the aircraft's performance.
§ I have dwelt a little on ground attack, since this is where the re-equipment of the R.A.F.'s combat forces is furthest advanced. In other roles too, however, the R.A.F. is getting the equipment it needs. The first Phantom and Buccaneer squadrons for maritime air defence and strike have formed, and more will form as the carriers phase out. In the meantime the R.A.F. will be able to develop, in conjunction with the R.N., the tactics and organisation necessary for it to carry out its wider responsibilities in maritime operations. Later this year it will get the first of the Buccaneer 2s from new production. The plan is for the first aircraft of this type to deploy to R.A.F. Germany next year to start to take over from the Canberras. Lastly, but by no means of least importance, there is the Nimrod. Training is going well and the first squadron will form shortly. The 559 Nimrod will succeed the Shackleton in the long-range maritime reconnaissance role in the NATO area over the next year or so and will represent a powerful increment to our maritime capability.
§ So much, my Lords, for the highlights of the Services' equipment programmes. They illustrate two points in particular: first that the Services to-day are to a large extent capital-intensive; and, secondly, that the problems of planning, developing and procuring the sophisticated machines of modern defence forces to a timescale and to a budget are being brought increasingly under control. It would be folly, my Lords, if we were unable to match men to machines in both quality and quantity. I am glad to be able to say that I find the recruiting picture encouraging. During 1969–70 there has been a steady improvement in the figures over those for the previous year. The total number of male other ranks recruited for all three Services is likely to be of the order of 35,250. This is an increase of about 22 per cent. Certainly there is leeway to make up; our requirement had to include the deficit inherited from previous years and was about 48,000. Nevertheless, we are more hopeful that, despite some adverse demographic trends, the gap can be closed. All changes in the pattern of recruiting are inevitably fairly gradual, but there are reasons to expect that the upward trend in our recruiting will be supported by factors now operating in our favour. Among these are of course the new deal on pay, to which I shall refer in a moment, and the increasing recognition by those who influence the selection of careers that there are rewarding and interesting jobs in all the Services.
§ One of the major difficulties to be overcome is the fact that the number of young men in the 15–19 age group available for employment is slowly diminishing. This year's figure is about 1,100,000 and by 1974 this is expected to drop by about one-eighth to around 960,000. Against a background of increased opportunities in civilian life, we must therefore recruit to the Armed Forces a larger proportion of the available young men. To this end, ways and means of improving our methods of recruiting and conditions of service are constantly being examined.560
§ One indication of the challenging and worthwhile careers open to young men is the consistently high re-engagement rates in all three Services. In the Royal Navy, about one-third re-engage after nine years, and more than a half at the twelve-year point. In the Army, re-engagements exceed 50 per cent., and in the Royal Air Force, 45 per cent. at the five-year point and 60 per cent. at the nine-year point. In the context of recruiting and in other ways the Cadet Forces play a most valuable part. There is a total of nearly 140,000 cadets in the Combined Cadet Force, the Sea Cadet Corps, the Army Cadet Force and the Air Training Corps. Former cadets continue to provide a considerable contribution to the recruit intake of the three Services, and it is interesting to note that the wastage rate from such ex-cadets in regular service is less than for other recruits; this is particularly the case in the more highly skilled trades.
§ My Lords, I have already made mention of pay, a subject to which we have referred more than once in this House in the past year. I shall not rehearse again the details of the new pay structure which was introduced from April 1 following the Government's acceptance of the recommendations of the National Board for Prices and Incomes, but the changes then introduced were of course of a major kind. For the first time the Serviceman is to be given a salary representing the rate for the job, whether he is married or single; the appropriate salary has been determined by a process of job evaluation, and an X-factor has been added to take account of the obligations and conditions different from those undertaken by any civilian counterpart.
§ I had hoped to give your Lordships some information about the impact of the military salary on recruiting and re-engagement, but I find that it is really to early to be able to do so. I am pleased to say, however, that so far as we can tell there has been a generally favourable reaction in the Armed Forces to the new levels and concepts of pay. Naturally, some are more satisfied than others, but this is inevitable where the changes in structure produce greater or lesser benefit. There are of course a few teething troubles. The noble Lord, Lord Napier and Ettrick, has been kind enough 561 to mention some of them to me before the debate. These troubles and the uncertainties which they have engendered in the minds of some Servicemen are in the areas where we expected them and a considerable effort is being mounted to deal with these points and to tie up some loose ends which remain.
§ Pay is far from being the overriding factor in recruiting, but it is an important one. Although it is too early to say what the impact of the new pay rates will be on the level of recruiting, there is some indication that the pay is influencing young men, and the parents of those young men, who are considering joining the Forces. With the introduction of the military salary, substantial increases have also been made in retired pay, pensions and gratuities, beginning on or after April 1 this year. The percentage increases in these non-effective benefits correspond to the real percentage increases in pay for each rank under the new pay code. These true increases have been calculated by comparing the new military salary with the former basic pay, marriage allowance and ration allowance, taking into account also the increase in quartering charges.
§ Turning from the overall personnel picture to a few points on the individual Services, I would mention that the Royal Navy is about to introduce a new scheme which will allow graduates to enter as seaman or supply and secretariat officers for an initial commission of four years, with a gratuity at the end, but with the option to transfer to a full career on the General List at any time after they have completed one year's satisfactory service. We are hopeful that most of them will exercise this option. If they do so, they will be treated in all respects as though they had entered on the General List in the first place. A similar scheme for qualified engineers has existed for some years.
§ Noble Lords will recall that last April the Army's three-year engagement, formerly restricted to the Household Cavalry and Household Division, was made available to recruits into most arms of the Army. The response to the extended three-year engagement has been very satisfactory, and in the financial year which ended on April 1 it attracted over 4,000 male adult recruits. It is tempting to attribute the entire upswing in recruiting 562 to the existence of the three-year engagement. This is misleading, since many men who would have joined in any case chose the shorter engagement initially; they will, we hope, later prolong their service by transferring to the six- or the nine-year engagement. We shall not be able to see the full results of the change until the first batches of recruits who joined last year have served the full three years; but experience of these men indicates that at least 40 per cent. of them will prolong their service; and, up to now, 80 per cent. of those prolonging have transferred to the nine-year engagement in preference to the six-year engagement.
§ My Lords, we are making a number of changes in the officer structure of the Royal Air Force. In the past there have been two liste of officers in each branch of the Service, the General List and the Supplementary List. The former list comprised officers with the potential for a full career in the Service to the higher ranks, and officers filling command and staff appointments were drawn from this list. Officers on the Supplementary List had a more limited career. Although there were opportunities for Supplementary List officers to gain transfer to the General List, in the main the type of career available to an officer was determined at the time of his entry into the Service.
§ We now propose to merge the General and Supplementary Lists into a single list for each branch. Selection for promotion to the rank of squadron leader, and hence for suitability for command and staff appointments, will not take place until officers have had the opportunity to prove their ability and to demonstrate their potential. In future, therefore, officers will no longer enter upon a career to the age of 55 from the beginning of their service; intially they will serve on an engagement to a mid-career point—about 16 years' service or to age 38—and those who have by then been promoted to squadron leader will automatically have the opportunity of a full career of service to the age of 55. A number of the remainder who do not gain promotion will nevertheless be offered further service to 55, with limited prospects of promotion. These new arrangements will benefit the Royal Air Force by delaying the selection of full career officers until they have demonstrated their potential, and will at the same time 563 remove any divisiveness caused by the existence of two main categories of officers. The new arrangements were introduced in the General Duties branch on April 1, and we hope to extend them to the remainder of the R.A.F. in the near future.
§ In the General Duties branch, many officers who fail to reach the rank of squadron leader by the mid-career point will still be essential to the operational efficiency of the Service, and a number of them will be invited to join the specialist aircrew stream at the conclusion of their initial engagement and to serve in that capacity until the normal retiring age of 55. Specialist aircrew officers will receive higher rates of flying pay, with the result that their pay will be comparable to that of a squadron leader. There will still be opportunities for promotion for the exceptional specialist aircrew officer. We hope that these measures will enable the R.A.F. to retain the services of many experienced aircrew who have hitherto been leaving at the mid-career point. Their retention will lighten the training task and reduce costs.
§ I should also like to say a few words about the Royal Air Force's Graduate Entry Scheme which is intended to replace the traditional Cranwell cadet entry. About a quarter of our officer intake will be drawn from this source. The remaining three-quarters will include a large number of young men who do not reach graduate status but who will none the less make first-class officers. First-rate career opportunities exist for them, and also the possibilities of promotion to the highest ranks. The R.A.F. has a need for graduate officers, but I should not like it to be thought that there is no longer a place for the non-graduate.
§ It is essential that an officer in the General Duties branch should complete his academic training at the outset of his career, so that he can proceed without interruption through flying training to his first operational tour. This led the R.A.F. to discontinue giving degree courses in the Service. Thus, whereas in the past boys have gone straight from school to Cranwell, in future they will proceed from school to university and thence into full-time service. Boys who 564 want to join the R.A.F. as officers with permanent commissions should concentrate on reaching a sufficiently high academic standard to be accepted at a college or university to read for a degree. They will then be eligible, as at present, for the award of a cadetship.
§ By the end of 1969, there were 266 cadets in residence at universities, compared with 137 at the end of the previous year. In addition, 65 direct-entry graduates were recruited, compared with 46 in 1968. There are, therefore, grounds for believing that we are moving satisfactorily towards our eventual annual target of 250 graduate entrants by the time our last flight cadets pass out of Cranwell in 1974. At that stage we expect that the cadet population at universities and colleges will have risen to about 600. This illustrates the increasing importance of the already extremely valuable work of the university air squadrons; they have an essential role to play in the maintenance of the Graduate Entry Scheme. I am sorry to see that my noble friend Lord Longford is not in the House at this point, since it was from his wife's recent book that I learned that the idea of an all-graduate entry was favoured by the first Duke of Wellington—an encouraging lesson to those of us who become impatient when our bright ideas are not accepted with the speedy acclaim which we are confident that they merit.
§ My Lords, I have spoken of matching men to machines, but I should not like to leave the subject of personnel without mentioning the role of women in the Services. The Women's Services form an integral and important part of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force, for whom they provide valuable support both at home and abroad.
§ In the W.R.N.S. there are some 25 different types of jobs, including for example, computer programmers, radio operators, dental surgery attendants, stewards and cooks. In fact, a W.R.N.S. cook recently won the Gold Medal in the Open Competition at Hotelympia. Members of the W.R.N.S. also work as weapon analysts, welfare workers and education assistants, for whom there are no Service male equivalents.
§ The W.R.A.C, too, work in a wide variety of jobs, including clerks, cooks and switchboard operators, and so release 565 valuable manpower for the Army's "teeth" arms. But in addition to these perhaps unspectacular though certainly essential jobs they are also engaged in highly skilled work as, for example, radar operators and photographic interpreters.
§ W.R.A.F. officers are trained at a joint Officer Cadet Training Unit with R.A.F. officer cadets and at professional training schools with R.A.F. officers, and most of them are posted to fill appointments established for R.A.F. officers. They serve in appointments of the ground branches of the R.A.F. Airwomen are recruited, with a few exceptions, into the same trades as men, receive exactly the same trade training and work alongside airmen in posts established for airmen. There are many jobs in the R.A.F. which can be done equally well by men or women: indeed, there are some that, because of the nature of the work, are more suited to a woman's temperament. In addition, there are some jobs that can be done only by women. For example, W.R.A.F. air quartermasters are essential members of the aircrew when families are being carried in R.A.F. transport aircraft.
§ The Nursing Services nurse the Serviceman and his dependants, wherever they are stationed, at home and overseas. This service is, of course, an essential part of the medical services of the Forces: its traditions in the Army genuinely stem from the days of Florence Nightingale. Since those days, the nurses with the Forces have developed a reputation for skill as well as devotion. There are many opportunities available to develop special skills—for example, in midwifery, mental nursing, children's nursing and operating theatre work. At the more basic level, young girls are trained to obtain civilian nursing certificates, such as S.R.N.s, as S.E.N.s and as medical hospital clerks and dental hygienists. In the past year, 5,070 women were recruited into the three Women's Services and 1,000 into the three Nursing Services.
§ As for their pay, the National Board for Prices and Incomes took the view that the Services' objective should be in line with the Government's intention to eliminate discrimination between the pay of men and women in civilian life by 1975. The Board did not feel, however, that equality in pay in the general sense need mean equality in the X factor 566 element since there are differences between Servicewomen's conditions of service and those of men. For the present, therefore, the Servicewoman's pay is fixed at 90 per cent. of the man's basic rate, plus one per cent. for the X factor element in her case, as against the addition of 5 per cent. in his. This maintains the differentials between men's and women's pay much the same as they were before. The Government's intentions are now reflected in the Equal Pay (No. 2) Bill, which provides that there will be no distinction between men and women in the Armed Forces as regards pay, allowances or leave unless this is fairly attributable to differences between the obligations which they undertake.
§ My Lords, standards in the Women's Services are high, and I should like to put on record to-day the very considerable contribution which they make to the efficiency of our Forces. I hope we shall be able to increase their numbers still further.
Having talked of the Services' equipment and manpower, I should now like to discuss their main function, which in future will be to help in guaranteeing peace and security for Europe. One certain thing is that none of the European countries can conceivably defend itself on its own against the Warsaw Pact. The only way in which we can achieve security is collectively; and in terms of practical politics that means NATO, and it means a NATO with America as a full and active partner. For the last 20 years this has worked. It is fashionable in some circles to "knock" NATO and to question its credibility. But for 21 years Western Europe has depended on it for its survival, and I, for one, would not have given Western Europe much of a chance of surviving otherwise. But it is essential that NATO'S credibility should be maintained, and that we should not grow either complacent or unrealistic about NATO'S capabilities and aims. In the early days when the United States had an overwhelming nuclear superiority, trip-wire was a horrifying but wholly credible strategy, and it remained so for many years. But when the Soviet Union achieved something approaching nuclear parity it really was no longer credible to think of massive nuclear
retaliation in each and every circumstance. Recently President Nixon has underlined this by pointing out that:
the prospect for the 1970s is that the Soviets will possess strategic forces approaching and in some categories exceeding
those of the United States. In such circumstances it is clearly nonsense to have a massive nuclear retaliation as the only option.
§ For this reason NATO has hammered out—with the United Kingdom taking a prominent role—the new strategy of flexible response. This has been explained too often for me to go over this ground again in detail. Its aim is simple: to meet aggression with the appropriate response. To make sense of this we need a wide range of capabilities, from the conventional to the nuclear, so that we are able—and are seen to be able—to select from our armoury the response appropriate to the scale of aggression. In the conventional sphere NATO aims either to halt the aggression or, in the face of an all-out assault, to give time for sanity to prevail on the other side or for a considered nuclear response to be made by our side. It is of course in this process that the question of the use of tactical nuclear weapons under the new NATO concept comes into play. And it is this, perhaps above all other things, which has been, I would go so far as to say deliberately, misunderstood in some sections of the Press and elsewhere.
§ Under the old strategy, there was an assumption that in so far as tactical nuclear weapons were used they would be used in very large numbers; they would be used, in fact, to fight and to win the battle in Europe. This is not how we see things to-day. What we should hope to do is to use these weapons in such a way that they would persuade the enemy that if they had assumed that nuclear weapons would not be used they had gravely erred in their calculations and that the consequences of their continuing with their aggression would be escalation. At the time, the use of tactical nuclear weapons would be most carefully controlled, so as to ensure that further escalation would not be automatic, as it almost certainly would have been following the massive use of these weapons under the old strategy. 568 Thus the purpose of this use would be to restore the credibility of the ultimate deterrent, and it would perform this function not only by showing that we were ready to escalate if the enemy did not cease his attack, but also by showing that we could stop escalating if the enemy decided to call a halt. This is what the Nuclear Planning Group of NATO has been considering and what has resulted in the guidelines which have been developed for the initial tactical defensive use of nuclear weapons.
§ My Lords, what I find so incredible in dealing with this problem is that, now that we have reached a situation where the massive use of nuclear weapons is no longer envisaged as the immediate and automatic response to a Warsaw Pact attack, we are faced with headlines such as those in the Daily Telegraph of April 8 quoting my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence as promising "H-bomb to stop Russian attack". It is as if the policy which has been evolved in NATO over the past few years was not merely an extrapolation of the old, but an exaggeration of it. Criticisms of this kind, which are based on fancy rather than fact, not only are completely misleading but provide no helpful contribution to the discussion of a subject which all of us must regard as of the greatest importance.
§ This is not to say that NATO does not need strong conventional forces as well as strong nuclear ones. But in talking of conventional forces one must remember two things: first that NATO'S objective is not primarily to fight a war, but to prevent one; and secondly, that the strategy of flexible response does not necessarily require an ability to fight a long conventional war. Indeed, if NATO tried to build up its capability to fight such a war, the credibility of our nuclear deterrent and of our will to use it in the last resort would be in danger of disappearing. Moreover, it would involve long periods of conscription in all the NATO countries, including Britain; it would require a massive increase in defence expenditure, which is out of the question politically for any European NATO country; and our European allies—especially Germany—would find the consequences of a lengthy conventional war fought on their soil as distasteful 569 as the selective use of tactical nuclear weapons to bring an early halt to the invasion. We therefore have to make a nice calculation of the number of troops needed on the ground to make flexible response a convincing strategy. At the moment we reckon to have the answer about right, but for that reason NATO's conventional strength cannot be reduced unilaterally without threatening the credibility of NATO strategy.
§ Let us all be quite clear that the threat from the Warsaw Pact remains. As the Defence White Paper pointed out, the Warsaw Pact has half a million men in its navies, 1 million men in its air and rocket forces, and 3 million men in its armies. There are 30 Russian divisions in the four countries opposite the central region of ACE and 1,900 tactical aircraft. The Russian western fleets alone include some 250 submarines, 400 strike and reconnaissance aircraft, and 90 sizeable surface ships.
§ This represents an enormous potential threat, especially when one considers that all the initial advantages of surprise would lie with the Warsaw Pact. They could initiate a build-up with the secrecy that is possible only in a closed society; they could effect it swiftly over internal lines of communication; and they could choose their moment to attack. By contrast NATO, being a defensive alliance, could only react to Warsaw Pact threats, and many of its reinforcements would have to come by sea and air. In these circumstances there can clearly be no better alternative to having forces in being on the ground ready to face any potential threat. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has suggested that the current force levels would be incapable of waging a conventional defence for more than 24 hours. My Lords, NATO's capability is greater than that and the Alliance has sufficient forces of all kinds to make flexible response a reality. But we must in no circumstances allow a unilateral erosion of NATO's overall military capability. We should certainly seek to lower the tension in Europe while retaining the present degree of security for both sides, and NATO has offered, indeed repeated, an invitation to the Warsaw Pact countries to engage in a serious study of mutual force reductions designed to achieve this. So far, the Warsaw Pact countries have declined to respond to NATO's invitation. 570 We, for our part, fully realise that it would be foolhardy of NATO to lower its conventional force levels without a genuine reciprocal and balancing measure from the other side, subject to proper verification.
§ In the context of the threat from the Warsaw Pact and the European Defence Effort, I have seen repeated fairly often recently the thought that it really is nonsense for 300 million rich West Europeans to rely on 200 million Americans to defend them against 350 million relatively poor members of the Warsaw Pact. This sounds immediately compelling, but it does not, I submit, stand up to very close scrutiny. Whatever strategy NATO adopts, in the last analysis it will rest upon a nuclear capability as the ultimate deterrent, and the only nation capable of counterbalancing the nuclear capability of the U.S.S.R. is the United States. As President Nixon has pointed out, 95 per cent. of the nuclear capability of the West lies with the Americans; but, joined to that, the presence of United States forces on the ground is not only of direct military importance but also of enormous psychological importance, not merely because, as is sometimes crudely said, they underwrite the United States nuclear guarantee, but because their presence here is a visible demonstration of the United States' commitment to the Alliance.
§ The other major consideration is that, when we look at NATO Europe's efforts, we must be clear that in making a direct comparison with the efforts of either the United States of America or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics we are simply not comparing like with like. The totality of the G.N.P.s of a number of different countries can never provide the margin for defence spending that can be found from the equivalent G.N.P. of one large country, any more than a total population of 300 million provided by 13 different countries can support armed forces as big as those from a single country of a roughly equal population. In the West we are an alliance of independent partners. In the East the position is quite different, with strong central control and direction. If we had a Federated Europe and a truly European Army to defend it, then the comparison might be a fair one, but that is hardly an immediate prospect. Certainly at present, with most of 571 the NATO nations each preserving all the options and maintaining separate armies, navies and air forces, we are a very long way from an integrated defence force. Even in the field of Defence procurement there are still too many of us trying to do too much on a purely national basis, with the result that we are dissipating both technological effort and money.
§ Nevertheless, we in Europe have obviously got to make it abundantly clear that we take our own defence seriously. Clearly, our entry into the E.E.C. will make a European Defence identity easier to achieve. So would closer political ties. But that does not preclude us from trying to achieve such an identity now, nor does it remove the need for Europe now to look for ways of taking on a larger share of the defence burden. As I have said, we have a long way to go, but at least we have made a start. A lot of effort is being made to increase European co-operation and this is beginning to have results. The multi-role combat aircraft and many other projects have shown that the United Kingdom is a front runner in collaborative effort.
§ But this does not mean that we can be complacent or that Europe cannot make further efforts towards co-operation in order that all of us can obtain the maximum value from the resources that we are able to put into defence. These things take time, and it is perhaps inevitable that we must start with relatively limited, though none the less tangible, projects in the logistic and procurement areas. But, given successful and widespread co-operation, we are convinced that we can get more for our money, that we can make a bigger collective contribution to NATO defence, and that we can continue to make a reality of flexible response.
My Lords, defence is a subject which awakens deep emotions. A majority of our people agree that expenditure on defence is justified, but some say we spend too much, and some, too little. A minority say we should abdicate and spend nothing, for reasons which may be moral, or subversive, or may be an expression of despair. We all feel strongly on it; all we can reasonably ask is that our decisions be based on reason and not on emotion. And when we try to grasp the sense of the meeting, as
we are trying to do to-day, we must not forget those Servicemen who are buying time for us while we reach the right decision. Your Lordships may remember A. E. Housman's Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries. The last two lines go:
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.
This is what our professional Servicemen have done and are doing now. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1970 (Cmnd. 4290).—(Lord Winter-bottom.)
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Jellicoe had been very greatly looking forward to taking part in this debate, but unfortunately he is indisposed. We all sympathise with him in his disappointment, and I sympathise with your Lordships in being obliged at the last moment, and at such short notice, to listen to me. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, has introduced in his usual frank and friendly manner this Motion concerning the Defence Statement, and if I may be allowed to do so I should like to compliment him on the thoroughness and care with which he has expounded this report.
I cannot altogether extend to the Statement itself the same degree of approval as I do to the noble Lord's speech, because I think that in some respects the Statement records something of a decline in the effectiveness of British defence policy. Since the war all political Parties, or the leading political Parties, in this country have been in general agreement about our defence policy, except for the question of the British independent nuclear deterrent, which was strongly opposed by the Labour Party while they were in Opposition but whose warheads are now being sharpened, or improved, by the present Minister of Defence in order that they may be more capable of penetrating the anti-ballistic defences of Russia.
This Statement begins with the familiar account of NATO strategy which we all know so well, both the nuclear and the conventional. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, said that it has now progressed a little because we are now trying to substitute a flexible response for a tripwire: and I hope he is right. I 573 would only suggest that our forces in Germany will have to be a good deal more mobile, and differently disposed from what they are now, if we want to use them for a flexible response. But I will not go any further than that because I do not know enough about the present disposition of our troops in Germany. Then on page 7 the Statement goes on to say, under the heading, "Security in the Seventies":We look forward to the Seventies as an era of negotiation between the opposing alliances.I should like to say one word about this "era of negotiation" which is being held out to us in this Statement, and then I should like to conclude by mentioning one or two points in the Statement which may cause particular anxiety to some of your Lordships.
On the matter of negotiation, for the past 25 years we have incessantly been either negotiating or seeking to negotiate with Russia and her Communist satellites in order to try to get an agreement on disarmament, and also an agreement either through the United Nations or collaterally with it, that would prevent war in all parts of the world and allow people to live without being in fear of the kind of situation which now exists in Vietnam. We have been trying that for 25 years; and except for a few rather inconsiderable crumbs of consolation, like the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1961, we have achieved exactly nothing. We all know the reason: the Communist Powers, the Communist philosophy, do not recognise the same human values as we do. They do not believe in human freedom; they do not recognise the desirability of the four freedoms: the freedom from fear, the freedom from want, the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. They think it a good move if you can bring it off, to conquer a country by military invasion and take away its freedom; also that you should falsify truth to any extent if, by so doing, you can advance the advent of a world Communist dictatorship. And that is why we cannot get any agreement.
We must go on persevering patiently, in the hope that some day, either through the germination of more liberal ideas in Russia, or perhaps through the spectacle of the growth of Chinese military potential, the rulers of Russia may see that it 574 is in their own interests to have genuine co-operation with the free West, and to make a real, sincere effort to establish world peace, instead of using every disarmament conference as a sounding board for Communist propaganda and nothing else. We have learned not to be deceived by our diplomatic adversaries in this matter, and I hope that we shall be equally careful not to deceive ourselves—because when you want something very badly it is so easy to persuade yourself that you are nearer to your goal than you really are. If the Communist Powers were to think we were slackening, through despair, frustration and inability to get any results, and that our will to defend ourselves was weakening, then the hope of freedom would be gone for ever.
There are one or two particular matters which seem to me to give cause for anxiety arising out of this Statement on which I should like to ask the Government for a little more information. It is important not only for our own physical defence but for the psychological effect that it may have on our present adversaries, whom we have to convince that we are not going to yield to aggression. The first point that I should like to ask about is the growing disparity between the Royal Navy, which is declining in strength, and the Russian Navy, which is increasing in numbers and power by leaps and bounds. I should like to know whether the figures I have are correct. I am told that the Russians now have a fleet of 380 submarines, of which 60 are propelled by nuclear power. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, mentioned 250 in the West alone. Russian naval units are now stationed all over the world—in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Pacific, the Arctic and the Antarctic.
We have read in the newspapers—I do not know if it is the case—that last year, when 11 Russian destroyers left the Mediterranean, the only British naval unit that could shadow them was one single destroyer, which in any case had to be at Gibraltar, and that there are sometimes not more than two British frigates in the whole of the Mediterranean. I am particularly anxious to know the Government's views on this matter. The noble Lord the Leader of the House will remember that six years ago, in the 1964 Election the Prime Minister, speaking at 575 Plymouth, said that the British Navy was not strong enough and that its number and power ought to be increased. At that time we had, I believe, 180 vessels in service and 170 in reserve. I should like to know what the comparative figures are now, and, if there are fewer ships, whether there are any reasons for saying that they are more powerful or more efficient in speed or fire power, and how our position compares now with our position then. This is a very grave situation for all of us, because if there were to be what is called a "conventional" war, which some wise observers of human affairs seem to think possible, in which neither side would take the risk of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction, these 380 Russian submarines could do immeasurably more damage than was done to our food and other supplies by the U-boats in the last two world wars of this century. Parliament ought to have all the information the Government can give it (without, of course, giving away classified information) as to what measures are being taken to protect ourselves against this very grave menace.
The next point which has given anxiety to many of your Lordships is the decision to withdraw from South-East Asia—"East of Suez" as it is called. We have heard all the arguments so often that it is not necessary to go through them again now. The arguments for and against have both been stated by the Prime Minister—arguments for staying there before 1966, and the arguments for withdrawing after 1966. I do not think anybody could have put the arguments better than the Prime Minister on both occasions. The decision now has been to withdraw, and this decision, I feel, is a mistake. It is a great pity that we have decided to withdraw, and it may turn out to our disadvantage. Your Lordships may have heard the broadcast a week ago to-day by the Minister of Defence, in which he repeated what seems to me to be the silliest and stupidest gimmick I have ever heard in my forty years' experience of both Houses of Parliament, that if we do not withdraw from Suez we shall have to impose conscription. I should have thought that it would be far more true to put it the other way round, because one of the greatest incentives to recruiting is the 576 desire to see distant parts of the world. I should have thought one could far more reasonably argue that if we withdraw from Suez it will have so bad an effect on recruiting that conscription may become more necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, referred to the improvement in recruiting, which I was delighted to hear about, from page 13 of this Defence Statement. The noble Lord will of course be aware (although he did not actually read it out) that, according to this Statement, although the figure will rise to about 35,000,this would still be well short of our requirements".I also think it is an equal mistake to withdraw from the Gulf. The reason against withdrawing from these places is not only that we have very large investments there, although I know they are very big. The main reason is that there are people who live there—quite a lot of people still in South-East Asia—who are in free and independent countries and do not want to be invaded and conquered by the Communists, and who know that they are very much less likely to be invaded and conquered by overwhelming Communist military power if there is, not a very large British force, but a British presence there which will to some extent deter the aggressor from taking action. In the case of the Gulf, the same argument applies. If we had not been there, Iraq, which is now a satellite of Russia, might well have seized the very small State of Bahrein. Now that we have gone there is nothing to prevent that from happening, except perhaps the counter seizure by Persia. But, by going away, it seems to me that a dangerous vacuum is being created which is a great encouragement to the Russian policy of encirclement, of gaining control over the whole of the Arab world, the whole of the Middle East.
I have been, not very convincingly perhaps, telling your Lordships ever since I came to this House in 1954 that one of the cardinal objectives of Russian foreign policy was to arm the Arabs against Israel so that Russia, pleasing the Arabs in this way, would gain control of the whole of the Middle East. I think that up to now they have shown no signs of abandoning that policy which has paid them with some very great successes. My noble friend Lord Napier and Ettrick, 577 who is going to speak in this debate, had an Unstarred Question relating to this matter on the Order Paper recently. I do not know whether he means to return to the subject again or not. But it seems to me that the Russians have in no way abandoned, but rather intensified, their policy, and that they are now embarking upon a considerably more serious scale on an attempt to overthrow all the Arab Governments which are not willing to become subordinates of Russia, and to turn the whole of the Arab world into a Soviet satellite area.
The last point I wish to raise is that of our Reserves. The present Regular Army is extremely well equipped, well trained, highly mobile; it is doing an admirable job whenever it is called upon to do one. But it is pretty tightly stretched, and if it had to do two things at once—not go to Ulster for one year and to Africa for another, keeping troops in Germany all the time, but had to do two or three of these things which might happen to come at the same time—it would be pretty hard put to it without larger Reserves than we have now. That is one reason why I strongly deplored the Government's decision to abolish the Territorial Army, which was subsequently modified by a kind of stay of execution; or at least the Territorial Army was put on to a kind of care-and-maintenance basis.
What I should like to ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House is a little more about the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve, about which we are given some information in Chapter V of this Defence Statement. On page 45, in paragraph 8, it is stated that the strength of the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve on January 1 of this year was 47,000 and that last year its strength was 40,000. I have seen a little of this force, and it is incomparably more active, more professional and better trained, of course, than the former Territorial Army. But it is nothing like so numerous. I am a little puzzled to understand how it can have such a large nominal strength as 47,000. In Scotland, at any rate so far as I know, there is only about one battalion of this Army Volunteer Reserve in place of one division which used to be there in the same area a few years before. Unless there are a tremendous number of non-regimental or auxiliary troops attached 578 to it, I find it difficult to see how it can amount to so large a figure as 47,000. Perhaps the noble Lord will be good enough to enlighten me on this point when he comes to reply.
May I mention, too, a Civil Defence matter which comes into this Statement on the next page, page 46, on Home Defence? I have never seen any prominence given to the Royal Observer Corps, or any mention made of it in any newspaper, or hardly ever in conversation. It is doing a very fine bit of volunteer work. If there were a nuclear attack, it would save probably millions of civilian lives by giving warning in time. It is operating now on a pitifully small margin with, in my view, very inadequate funds and very inadequate equipment. It is making an excellent job of what it has. I should like the Government to consider whether it would not be a good measure of insurance to spend a little more on giving rather better tools to this very fine body of volunteer Civil Defence, paramilitary workers.
The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, concluded his speech by referring to the fact—as indeed is true—that the United States is still producing 95 per cent. of the Free World's nuclear power. I do not think that our own country, in comparison with other free countries, need reproach itself in any way because of its contribution to the defence of the Free World. During the war for a whole year we fought alone, without any ally whatsoever; and in six years of fighting we spent more than all of our overseas resources, leaving us with nothing to continue on. Since the war we have spent more than our share on the joint protection of the Free World. Yet if we now consider Western Europe as a whole, including ourselves, its freedom after twenty-five years is still dependent on American protection, although America has a population of only 200 million, compared with 250 million people in Free Europe, whose economic potential is considerably greater than that of the United States.
The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, rightly said that we must have better military integration. However, it is not only a question of military integration; it is a question of economic integration, too, if we want to make proper use of this potential. If we want war to be 579 prevented, and peace to be made impregnable, we must work for a much greater economic unity and also for greater sacrifice, among those countries who want to remain free.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, once again we debate the rather depressing subject of national defence—depressing because there never seems to be any adequate answer to the intractable problems that it raises. Before the nuclear age there were, after all, certain concepts which were sustainable as regards the amount of expenditure which one could and should deploy in certain circumstances to achieve national defence. But now we could virtually double our expenditure on national defence without rendering the possibility of total defeat, and indeed of annihilation in war, any less likely. So we remain, as it were, in the realm of the imponderable, and short of total pacifism—which I think most of us in this House would reject—it is difficult to be dogmatic on any of the defence problems with which in present circumstances the British Government have to grapple.
Of course, what we should have is a proper Defence Commission in both Houses, or perhaps one might even go as far as to suggest a Joint Committee or Commission, in which these great issues could be sensibly debated and before which the Government would have to expound their general defence philosophy, no doubt often in camera, and be subjected to expert criticism. I believe we are about the only democracy in which nothing of the kind exists. It is also something for which the Liberal Party has pressed consistently for many years, and now, at long last (as so often happens) I believe we are being joined in pressing it by distinguished Members, in another place at any rate, of both the Labour and the Tory Parties.
My Lords, one sad fact is that what we now do or do not do has little effect on the so-called "balance of terror" on which our security, as we all know, principally rests. It is true that we can affect this balance slightly. For instance, if we became neutral and left NATO we should make it much more difficult for the Americans to maintain their military 580 presence in Europe, and if they did weaken their conventional position unduly in this part of the world there is no doubt that, perhaps indirectly, the Soviet power would be extended westwards and that the balance would be dangerously upset. So it is thus, as an auxiliary of the American power, that our defensive effort is at present principally—and rightly—exerted. The same applies to the Eastern Mediterranean, where the confrontation of the super Powers is now in danger of becoming almost as direct as it is on the line of the Elbe River.
There remains the whole area of the Indian Ocean, and here the Liberal Party is as firmly convinced as it was when I first made the suggestion in March, 1965—and was, I may say, derided by both Parties in this House for my pains—that existing bases are entirely counter-productive and that nothing should be done to delay their proposed rundown by the end of 1971. Here, I may say, we differ totally from the general philosophy which has just been expounded by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee.
My Lords, the fear that if these bases are phased out the Soviet Government will in some way seize the oil supplies of Europe and the West is one of the more extraordinary delusions. Of course if there was a war between the super Powers, even if it were conducted by conventional means, which seems wildly improbable, Western Europe would certainly be involved and would be blockaded (as has been mentioned this afternoon) by the enormous fleet of Soviet submarines, largely nuclear-powered and operating far out into the Atlantic. Let us hope that the allied anti-submarine forces, and in particular the helicopters referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, would be able to overcome this menace, but it is clear that they would have a dreadfully difficult task.
The point I was trying to make is that it would not be the presence of tiny garrisons, or even aircraft carriers (if we have such things) in the Persian Gulf or in the Indian Ocean which could protect our oil supplies in such circumstances. But if there is no war, how can some Soviet naval vessels succeed in preventing the Arab States and Persia from exporting their oil to Western Europe, or anywhere else, if they continue to find it in their 581 interests to do so? No doubt the huge extension of the Russian naval power and the evident aim of the Russians to "show the flag" in the Indian Ocean area, corresponds to the general Soviet intention of demonstrating that if it ever did come to war with America—even a non-nuclear one—the Soviet Union would be able to act as a real world Power and therefore perhaps induce certain African and Asian nations, if not to side with them at any rate to declare their neutrality. Presumably that is the point of the whole thing.
But that is not something that we, who have consciously abandoned an imperial role, can prevent, and our role of auxiliary to the United States of America will not be changed by a small British presence in Bahrein or even by the possibility of flying out at short notice a tiny force to Singapore, acceptable though that might well be in certain circumstances to Lee Kuan Yew and the Government of Malaysia. Incidentally, though I may be wrong, I believe I saw in the paper the other day that the Shah of Persia has recently made it clear that he would in no way welcome a reversal after the coming General Election of the present British policy of withdrawal from the Gulf. Could the Government confirm that?
In our central role of American auxiliary in Western Europe, there is no doubt that we, together with our European allies, should increase our conventional forces to fill any serious gap in our defences that may be caused by a substantial withdrawal of American troops, to which distressing possiblity I rather think the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, did not refer. What in theory would seem to be a good thing would be sufficient men and anti-tank weapons, together with a great development of the Harrier programme, the whole of which could suffice to hold up a Russian conventional drive to the German North Sea ports and to the Rhine. There is no doubt that such a conventional defence could be constructed, and even if there was—as there should be—a standardisation of European weapons and a common European arms procurement policy, it would cost a good deal of money. However if there were such a policy the expense might not, after all, be prohibitive. Whether it would 582 involve some form of national service in this country, as any serious reversal of the policy of the running down of bases in the Indian Ocean area, in spite of what the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, very well might, is arguable. But since the emphasis in Western Europe would be largely on improved technical defence we might perhaps be able to make good any manpower deficiencies by increased financial inducements. Who knows? And in any case we all know that conscription is not now acceptable to any of the three political Parties in this country.
However, if there is no such intention in Britain, if there is no prospect, either, of Western European co-operation on armaments in Western European Union or elsewhere, nor any serious intention to fill the gap caused by the probable withdrawal of United States troops from Western Europe in the comparatively near future, then one thing is certain—and here I think I follow the general line of argument of the noble Lord: that the NATO forces in the Central European area will be compelled to rely increasingly for their defence on the 7,000 so-called tactical nuclear weapons of various sizes now at the disposal, under the "two key" system, of all the allied divisions and air contingents in Germany with the sole exception of the French. For, unless such weapons were employed, there is little doubt that the vastly superior and highly efficient Soviet armoured divisions, which recently proved their worth in the occupation of Czechoslovakia, backed up by greatly superior air power, would arrive in Hamburg and Frankfurt, and even I think in Munich, within days rather than weeks. This is a pretty ghastly thought, but it is not alarmism: it is a generally accepted fact.
Therefore it is no good saying, as some do in this country, perhaps chiefly in the noble Lord's Party, "These tactical nuclears could never be used. Many are larger than the Hiroshima bomb, and in order to get German consent for their use they would have to be targeted way back on junctions and concentrations near the Oder, or even in Poland, which would mean that nuclear war could hardly fail to be generalised. Besides, if they ever were used, the adversaries would reply by dropping similar devices on the North German ports and in the Palatinate; in 583 other words, in far more heavily populated areas where the damage and mortality would be quite unacceptable." All this is true. But it is also true that both the threat and the intention to employ tactical nuclears must be made absolutely clear unless, especially after any United States withdrawals, and in default of a common European defence effort, the Russians are going to be informed in advance that they would easily win World War III. For that is what would happen, the only real deterrent to attack on the West lying in the increasing, but after all long-term, potential threat from China.
This is, of course, an appallingly dangerous and thoroughly undesirable situation. For there is always the possibility that the Russians would consider that the threat to use the tactical nuclears, just as that to press the button unleashing general nuclear war, was a bluff. They might even think that their formations, which are fully equipped for nuclear war, could advance through a nuclear barrage and still arrive on the Rhine, the Allied Forces, thrown back across the river or in process of being rounded up, finding it impossible to regroup under nuclear attack and the war being won by the Russians on the assumption that it did not degenerate into a complete nuclear exchange, in which case, of course, we should all be dead.
It would be infinitely preferable, therefore, I repeat, to enable our forces to have some prospect of holding the Russians with conventional armaments. But if the Western democracies are keener on preserving their standard of living than on their survival, the tactical nuclear deterrent, as indeed Mr. Healey has repeatedly said, is the only one that makes the slightest intellectual sense; and this in spite of the fact that, as in so many other instances, it is a complete reversal of the policy on which the present Government was elected.
Supposing that we do adopt it—and I take it from what the noble Lord has said and from the White Paper that this is so—are there nevertheless any chances of arriving at some troop withdrawals, not only on one side but on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and even at some nuclear-free zone on both sides of the 584 dividing line, perhaps as the result of some European security conference, which the Russians and their friends have been asking for for a considerable time, though perhaps a little less insistently now than formerly? I do not want to be pessimistic, but I should have thought that there is very little chance, if only because the Russians, though anxious to weaken the connection of Western Germany with her European Allies and with the whole Western World, are determined to prevent Eastern Germany from getting into any real touch with the Federal Republic. So they must have a large number of divisions in the D.D.R. to achieve this end. And in any case a nuclear free zone, pushing back, as it would, the tactical nuclear weapons of NATO beyond the western frontiers of Germany, might destroy the sole deterrent on which, as we have already seen, peace now largely rests. Besides, any mutual reduction of forces, on a man for man basis, might well, unless we took great care, result in an even greater proportional advantage of the East over the West than exists at the present moment.
The real hope, of course, must be that recent happenings in China will induce the Russians to agree to a settlement with America and consequently in Europe. If the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks are successful, a great advance will have been made in this direction. If they fail—and, after all, the extension of jungle bombing in South-East Asia is not a very good omen—then we may expect another stepping up of the cold war with quite unpredictable results. But supposing that limitation does one day make a political settlement conceivable, what should we hope for in Europe? Can we in any way escape from our otherwise inevitable role of satellites of the one super-Power or the other? Always supposing that the coming negotiations for what is after all, the eventual formation of some valid European political entity do not founder on the fury of the outraged housewife, we must at least contemplate the possibility of some indigenous European contribution to defence.
How could discussion of this best be set on foot? Well, one would have thought that the most sensible thing to do, now that France has happily returned to the Western European Union, 585 would be to discuss it there. But if, owing to inhibitions connected with the old and now largely abandoned Gaullist policy, and with the unjustified suspicions of the Eurocrats in Brussels that the intention would be to set up some kind of rival machine to the European Economic Community, makes all this impossible, then in practice the talks à sept or à dix might take place, as it were, on the edge of the so-called political discussions that the Six have now agreed to conduct among themselves; and they should certainly not exclude the delicate but essential problem of how best to co-ordinate, in a European framework, the respective small nuclear deterrents of Britain and France. The great thing is that these talks should start somehow and soon, and if they are to have any success they must start on the assumption that the intention of all the Governments concerned is to take the first steps towards a harmonised foreign policy and the organisation of a common defence.
This is not the time to outline the ways and means whereby this could be done, or even the direction in which a beginning could be made. Once the will exists it will probably be not more difficult but more easy to agree on the standardisation of a tank than on a common price for butter. Certainly fewer passions will be involved. Not that we would begin by standardising tanks. Once we suceed in standardising anything, even buttons, we shall have started off on the right path. As for harmonising policy in a general way, the technique is already clear; indeed, I can assure your Lordships that it is accepted by a considerable number of French politicians. It rests on the general idea of an Independent Commission, or some reinforced secretariat—independent, that is to say, of Governments—whose function, though only advisory, would be to consider intractable problems from the point of view not of any individual nation, but from the point of view of the group. That is the way to start.
If we come to any conclusion on defence generally, then I hope it will include in the first place an admission by the Government of the evident urgent desirability of making progress with the organisation of a genuinely common defence in Western Europe; in the second place, confirmation (which I think has 586 already been given) of their intention, in the absence of National Service, to rely principally on the threat of the employment of tactical nuclear weapons for the defence of Western Europe; and in the third place, a restatement of their firm intention to proceed with the phasing out of bases East of Suez in accordance with the present plan, so that, abandoning old imperial delusions, and pending the emergence of a united Europe, we may, to use the unequivocal and, I should have thought, indisputable phrase of the Duncan Report, fulfil our true present role as "a major Power of the second order".
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, if I understood the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, aright, that he was advocating the revival of some form of a Committee of Imperial Defence, I should strongly agree with him.
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, I was not actually suggesting that, although it might be a good thing. I was suggesting that there should be a Defence Committee of the House of Commons, and of the House of Lords, or perhaps a Joint Committee of both Houses, as in France or Germany.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, I should be quite satisfied with that. But I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him in the other remarks that he made, because I mean to confine myself to the much more limited problem of manpower. I shall come back to some of the things that Lord Gladwyn said on that matter in a moment or two. When I started to read the Defence White Paper I found myself in trouble at once because I found it very difficult to understand exactly what was meant by the three words "overall military capability". Of course those words are, in their own way, jargon but that is not the point that I wish to take up; I will leave that to my noble friend Lord Conesford, if he returns to the Chamber. I felt, however, that they conveyed the impression, to me at least, that whereas the general scene, looked at from a distance, was reasonably satisfactory, if one came to look more closely at the details one would find a good many imperfections which would become 587 more and more evident the more closely one looked.
So in order to satisfy myself as to exactly what was the main approach made by Her Majesty's Government in this Defence Statement, I started to try to write a paragraph which I thought expressed it. It reads like this:The problems of the Minister of Defence are made difficult by the need for him to work within two limitations. First, he, the Minister, is allotted a certain percentage of national expenditure which cannot be exceeded, however strong the case might be to do so. Secondly"—and I will come back to this in a moment—whatever may be the demand for manpower, and however great the shortage of those obtained by voluntary enlistment, any proposal which involves any form of National Service is not to be considered.Then the statement, as I drew it, went onWithin these two limits those responsible have done a first-class job; and they have been fortunate in that the conditions during the last year have fallen just short of the degree of overstrain which, if it had taken place, would have exposed the dangers of imposing these two limitations.If that had been said I should have agreed with it; and I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Dundee said about the state of the Regular Army.
The Regular Army I believe to be in as high a state of professional efficiency and morale as anybody now alive has ever known it or can remember. The TAVR II has been pretty well treated over equipment, and very well treated over training facilities and in the funds made available for them to travel to train overseas with the Regular troops. All that has paid off. I am talking about the Army and will leave other people to talk about the other Forces. If the numbers available in those two respects in the Regular Army and the TAVR could do all that is necessary, then all would be well. But I am afraid I do not take that view. Little and good the Forces may be; but I think the truer way to put it would be to say that they are good but insufficient.
I listened most carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, said about manpower, and I shall read it again in Hansard to-morrow. Before I go on to something else, I should like to say 588 how much those concerned with the pre-Service forces will have appreciated his reference to the cadets: I say that as one who at some time has been President of the Army Cadet Force Association. As the noble Lord knows, there is sitting in the Ministry of Defence now a Committee which I hope will result in the making of proposals which will not only increase the efficiency of the A.C.F. as a pre-Service organisation but also establish it more firmly as one of the major youth movements, because I firmly believe that these two things go together when you are dealing with boys.
To come back to the figures, I am sorry to say that I have the feeling, which was not dispelled by the noble Lord's speech or by my attempts to read the manpower figures in the Statement, that, however it is put, the numbers are not enough; and the numbers can only be made to look as if they are enough by excluding requirements which anybody who has had anything to do with this subject professionally (and perhaps I may include myself as one of those) knows perfectly well must be there. By that I mean that at the moment we require men for a number of different purposes. We require them to make good the shortage in the Regular Forces on the peace establishment, which I think is admitted somewhere in the White Paper to exist. Then we need them to make up the difference between the peace establishment and the war establishment if the troops have to be put on active service conditions. I might here remind the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, that that figure will include the replacement of a number of people who, in peace time, can be civilians, but under active service conditions have to be enlisted men. Then, not least, there are reinforcements to provide for the wastage of so many months—it used to be three months—during which time the measures taken by the Government on the outbreak of war come to fruition and produce the flow of recruits.
I must come back to what I said last year, that I have never heard it said, or seen it written anywhere in the last two Defence White Papers, that any provision has been made for the requirements of home defence. I repeat what I said last year, that this, to my mind, is a very serious matter. Here again, I am not speaking completely without experience, 589 because I have very strong recollections of the time when I was closely connected with the security measures which were needed for the concentration of forces under Field Marshal Montgomery and General Eisenhower ready to go over the Channel on D-Day. It is certainly true to say that there is no means whatever at the moment, either in existence or planned, so far as I know—although it may be secretly planned—of doing anything to meet that need. I said all this last year, and being mindful of the request of the noble Lord the Leader of the House to make short speeches, I am not going to repeat it. I will only say that events in Northern Ireland, and that strange story that the headquarters of the so-called "Welsh National Army" was found in a dental laboratory in one of the Command Headquarters, have done nothing to make me feel that what I said last year was wrong, and so I should like it to be taken that I have said it all again.
I realise that anybody who has been talking about these things for as long as I have may easily lay themselves open to a charge that they are taking a "Blimpish" or bow and arrow view of the situation, and that the kind of situation that I have in my mind is a situation which would not arise if a new crisis occurred. I do not think that is so, because these calculations about reserves are constant; once you have decided on the numbers you want, so far as I can see the other calculations follow. Whether that is true or not, I was very much fortified in my own views when I read the NATO Letter for March, and there found an article by the Dutch Minister of Defence, Mr. den Toom, who produced a new phrase for me, "crisis management ". Whether or not I am taking a "Blimpish" view, I found that what I thought the Dutch Defence Minister meant by "crisis management" is exactly what I am trying to put over in this House this afternoon. I suppose that "crisis management" is another aspect of what the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, called "flexible response" just now. The point I want to make is that it is not possible to manage a crisis, or to produce a flexible enough response at the time when it is wanted, unless there are enough men as well as enough weapons 590 and so forth. That is something I want to say as strongly as I can.
I should like now to make the most earnest plea for a really genuine and honest stocktaking of manpower; the manpower required for our present commitments as they really are, and not based on a figure from which you can work backwards and satisfy yourself that the men you are going to get under present arrangements are just around the corner. I do not believe that they are around the corner, for however well the new salary structure may work—and I should like to say that I think it is well abreast of the times and I wish it all success—the fact of the matter is that many of these figures are very resistant to change, particularly in a time of full employment, because historically the number of people who will recruit for the Regular Army, or for a militia type of enlistment, or for the Territorial type of enlistment (a fortnight's camp and so many drills), or indeed for things like Civil Defence or the ambulance corps, remains very static despite any attempt, however well planned and well paid for, to increase those numbers. I hope that these things will work, but what the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, has said we have heard so many times before from people of both Parties over the years, and I think that the "Hunting of the Snark" is the best description that one can give to it.
Of course there are various marginal ways of getting over this difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, mentioned making more use of women; and he also mentioned that the Duke of Wellington had been the first one to advocate the graduate entry. I wonder whether the noble Lord knows that the first person to advocate women's service was Dr. Johnson, in an essay written during the Seven Years' War. If he does not know that, I shall be glad to find the essay for him.
To come back to my main theme. I feel that if there is anything in what I have said, and if it is right to have a proper and honest stocktaking of manpower, then we must take one more step and realise that it is our clear duty to face the issue to which that stocktaking will give rise, even if it means the introduction of some form of compulsory service. Otherwise, we must say out loud, and to the world, that, whatever 591 the need, no such step can be taken; and I believe that that would be utterly wrong. Of course, none of us knows whether any serious study of this question has been undertaken, and I should like to make it quite clear that I am certainly not advocating the introduction of National Service in the Forces for all. After all, one of the things that be-devilled National Service in the time of the last Labour Government was the fact that, because they wanted to be egalitarian, there were always, at any given time, something between 30,000 and 35,000 bodies in the Service for whom no work could be found. One of them, in fact, got so bored in my own county that he went off and murdered someone on a Friday evening.
It would be a question not merely of deciding whether it was inevitable to introduce some form of service, but of deciding what should be the form. Selective service has been introduced in Australia and New Zealand. I am not drawing the American comparison because I do not believe that comparisons of this sort with America are of any value. But I think that comparisons with Australia and New Zealand are useful. It is my own feeling that any scheme of selective service is capable of very fine adjustment. It is also my own strong feeling that if any Party took the view that if a case was made for some form of National Service the country would reject it, such a view would be quite wrong. If the case was made out, the country would do no such thing. That is only my own opinion, but no one can go beyond an opinion because the matter has not been put to the test.
Before I sit down, I should just like to finish by reminding those of your Lordships who have been good enough to listen to me that I have not advocated the immediate introduction of National Service. What I have said is that the situation about manpower is, in my opinion, so serious that an honest stocktaking ought to be made, and if that stocktaking gives rise to the conclusion that some form of service in the Forces is necessary, then whoever sits on the Bench opposite should face it; and it is my firm belief that if they do they will be supported by the country.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, I should like to commence by saying that I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, in his expert remarks about manpower, a subject on which I shall say very little. In the interests of the appeal that we all received earlier, I am "scrubbing" the beginning of my speech and diving straight in to discuss, not defence policy, which I have done the last few years, but whether the forces that are being described in the Statement that we are debating meet the requirements of this Government's present defence policy—that is to say, support of NATO.
The Statement refers to the historic decision which has been taken largely as a result of devaluation and, although I do not happen to agree with it, it is the policy which we are now engaged in carrying out. I do not think that writing in a British Defence White Paper of a historic decision to support NATO necessarily alters the direction of the threat, which I maintain is from Asia. The defence of Europe lies not in itself, but outside. In pursuit of the policy which we are carrying out, the Services are being cut by about 25 per cent. in manpower and equipment. Apart from teeth and spectacles, nearly all the other cuts in January, 1968, immediately after devaluation—which was a very painful process—were in fact postponements, but this was not the case in regard to the Services. The Services are loyally enforcing those defence cuts, and the number of mergers and disbandment parades taking place is pretty frightening, not only in the Army, but in the other Services too.
Before I make some remarks about the individual Services, I think we ought to remind ourselves of one or two nuclear facts, and I shall give a couple of opinions. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referred at some length to this nuclear business. I find it easy to write down the position as follows. First of all, the scientific gap is widening—that is to say, the two super-Powers are going ahead. They have colossal anti-ballistic systems, which are very expensive, and that is the underlying reason (because they both want, if possible, to cut their costs) why they are having these SALT talks. We in Britain cannot hope to keep up, and I think we should recognise that. The 593 second fact about nuclear weapons is this. In Europe the stakes are the highest, and the nuclear deterrent has remained as a deterrent. Consequently, there has been no war in Europe over the last 25 years. In Asia, where it has been unthinkable to use nuclear weapons, the deterrent value is, to all intents and purposes, zero, and we have had 25 years of war, of one kind or another.
I have two opinions about nuclear weapons, which I offer in case any of your Lordships agree with them. First of all, I should like to deal with the clear distinction between strategic and tactical weapons. There is only one clear distinction, in my opinion, and that is not the distinction between those two, but between the strategic weapon and the conventional weapon. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who I am sorry to say is not here to-day, has put it, it is impossible to imagine the use of tactical nuclear weapons without killing a great many civilians. The Secretary of State for Defence put it another way when, in discussing the guidelines policy, he said that the difficulty in NATO is to persuade allies who do not have nuclear weapons. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the definition of "guidelines" will escape us, and that it is a hopeless exercise.
My last point on this aspect is that there is a suggestion that if the Americans withdraw from Europe on the conventional side we ought eventually to drift towards an Anglo-French nuclear European deterrent. I feel that that would be unworkable for three reasons. First of all, France, I am sorry to say, has proved an unreliable ally in NATO. Secondly, the veto remains with each country—and we know our own veto after the Nassau agreement. If you want an Anglo-French deterrent you must have an Anglo-French Government, or, better still, a European Government, because you cannot have a single control system without a single Government, and that is a long way off. Lastly, if the present system under which we live, whereby the trigger remains in the hand of the President of the United States (a point that was referred to by the Prime Minister several years ago) is for any reason cancelled, then in my opinion NATO will fall apart.
May I turn to the conventional forces? First of all, I do not think that our 594 general capability will be very effective. It will be a promise instead of a presence. That was referred to in Kuala Lumpur not long ago, and it is not likely to be relied upon by our friends and allies. The much advertised Exercise "Bersatu Padu", which is beginning to take place, is a good example of this. It takes six weeks to fly the forces out and to acclimatise them. But if your Lordships can imagine six weeks' warning of every possible emergency, I cannot. Following that, when the British forces eventually arrive their land element will be only lightly equipped. If it is an operation of any seriousness at all, they will probably run out of ammunition after about a fortnight, having no base and only aeroplanes to support them. Ships, tanks and heavy ammunition cannot arrive for six weeks, at the earliest. In other words, the operations carried out by the so-called "general capability'', on which considerable emphasis is laid in the White Paper, are going to be not only inefficient but also quite expensive—and a good deal more expensive than the present system. That is sometimes forgotten.
I now come to the Navy. I cannot find a word in any of the Defence White Papers since this Government came into power about maritime strategy or defence of sea communications. The only conclusion I can come to is that the defence of sea communications—and we have nearly lost two world wars through lack of it—comes under the heading of "NATO". As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said in the debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, in June, 1968,… we must protect our sea lines of communication … as an alliance; not as individual nations.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12/6/68, col. 186.]Of course we all agree with that. We are in an alliance for that purpose. But if your Lordships will look at the list at the back of this White Paper you will find that the strength of the Navy is 143 ships, only 57 of which are capable of escort work. I consulted an Admiral on this point. Those 57 escort vessels, with nine in reserve or in for refit—and they are always bound to be there in about that proportion—have to compete with 380 Soviet submarines, more than 40 of which are nuclear propelled. It simply is not enough. A force of that kind, with 595 our American allies, may protect the North Atlantic trade route, but it certainly would not be able to protect the Cape route to the Far East and Australia.
I suggest that the other weakness of the Royal Navy at the present time is in the Mediterranean. Many of our friends have villas in the Mediterranean now. They look at every naval ship that passes, but they have not seen a British ship for quite a long time. They have seen Russians, by the way. There is no resident naval population at all in Malta. There are, at the most, about six ships going in and out, and it simply is not enough. On top of that, the Russians, pursuing their pro-Arab policy, have been able to creep along and get considerable influence not only in Egypt itself but in Libya, in Tunisia and in Algeria, all of them Arab countries, all of them ready to hand over airfields to the Russians, and one has to remember that no seagoing fleet has been able to survive in a lake dominated by enemy airpower, as we very well found out during the war. So I say that the Navy is not up to the job, though its morale is very high, especially when it is at sea.
Now I come to the Army, where the position is straightforward. The biggest thing about the Army is the fact that the 50,000 men in B.A.O.R.—I think it is 48,000 at the moment—are not ready to fight. There are three divisions of them, so-called—and 12 headquarters, by the way, for three divisions. They are not ready to fight on a war footing until reinforced by the TAVR—another 47,000 at the present moment, or call it 50,000. To be effective in its role, B.A.O.R. has to be over 100,000 strong, which it is not. Home defence, as we have heard, is at zero. In Strategic Command we have three divisions, or three brigades, and two parachute battalions. They are primarily committed to NATO, but they are also part of that general capability which I mentioned earlier.
Admittedly, the situation in Northern Ireland may have been a bit unexpected. There, incidentally, the Army is acting instead of the police: it is in the wrong role, but is doing its best. The question I should like to ask is: if there is an emergency overseas, really overseas, what could Strategic Command do at the 596 moment? It is supposed to be able to send one, two or three brigade groups overseas. I am inclined to doubt whether at the moment it could send even one. That is a question to which I should like to know the answer.
When we come to recruiting, which is dealt with on page 13, we all of us hope that the increase in military salary will prove a success, but it remains to be seen whether or not it will. We have heard about the three-year engagement, although there is a catch to that, of course: people go quicker, even if some of them re-engage. The requirement, according to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, is either 35,000 or 48,000 a year—I am not quite clear which. Anyway, it is distinctly problematical whether or not we shall meet that requirement; and the Northern Ireland episode is by no means good for recruitment. I was talking to two young platoon commanders who were in Londonderry for four months. They were on the streets an awfully long time; and it is not much fun having stones, broken bottles, knives, bricks and so on thrown at you. Northern Ireland is having a very bad effect on recruitment. The question of reserves has already been touched on, and the only point I should like to add is that all our allies have Territorial battalions. The French, for example have 60 T.A. battalions. As General Beaufie put it very recently, you must have the "capacity of swift expansion without reorganisation"; this is essential. We do not have that capacity. So my conclusion about the Army is that the overstretch is as bad as ever, and 47 battalions is simply not enough.
When it comes to the Air Force, before any of the things which the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, described in some detail, fairly encouragingly, can be done, you have to win a thing called air superiority. Now air superiority has been handed to us on a plate very nearly since D-day in 1944. We have not had to fight for air superiority. The second best aeroplane will simply not do for the R.A.F., any more than the second best tank will do for the Army or the second best frigate for the Navy. The TSR 2 was cancelled because it was too expensive. It was very good. Its replacement, the F.111, was not quite so good, of course, but in the end 597 it proved a failure, and anyway we cancelled it. The R.A.F. must be wondering what is coming next.
I know we shall be told that the M.R.C.A. is an arrangement with Germany and Italy, and it will come along in 1975, but these arrangements with other European countries are not absolutely foolproof. I cannot help wondering—and it is a question I should like to ask—whether there is any possibility of a purely British fighter. The R.A.F. must be wondering, because every time they order a good aeroplane to suit their requirements it gets cancelled for one reason or another. If, with their allies, they had to fight for air superiority now, they would be fighting against the Mig 23, which so far as I know is at least as good as if not better than the Phantoms and Lightnings which we have to use at the present time. I am not mentioning the Buccaneers, because they are for other purposes. Anyway, they were naval aircraft to start with, and the R.A.F. have never liked them.
The last point I come to is a question of organisation. I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has had to leave the Chamber, but for, I think, three if not four years running I have pressed for the establishment of an all-Party Armed Forces Committee of both Houses to discuss big questions of defence policy which we are not capable of discussing at length in either of the two Chambers but which should be thoroughly threshed out, as they are in nearly every other country. The U.S.A., incidentally, has had such a committee for 170 years. I feel very strongly that these things ought to be discussed dispassionately, so I press again for the setting up of such a Committee. Since this Government came into power, in my opinion there have been at least four questions which ought to have been dealt with by such a committee. The TSR 2, first of all; then the question of the aircraft carriers; then the withdrawal from East of Suez—which admittedly was pushed through for political and financial reasons but not, I think, for defence reasons—and now, if recruiting does not come up to expectations, the question of National Service ought to be discussed dispassionately, before we suddenly have to take an awkward decision. I still think that it would be a good scheme to 598 set up such a Defence Committee, and I should like to ask the noble Lord who is winding up the debate whether he is favourable to this suggestion.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Lord? I was listening with great interest, having also been very interested in the past in the idea of such a committee. Can he explain how it would have operated in relation, for instance, to the cancellation of the TSR 2? The noble Lord presumably would assume that the Government have to take the decision at the end. Is such a committee in order to influence the Government, or is it in order that the Government may have more facts? Because the Government poured out an awful lot of facts at the time.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, of course I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, says, and perhaps the TSR 2 may not be a very good example. But certainly the question of National Service, or conscription, is a matter of great public interest. So far as the cancellation of the TSR 2 is concerned, a great deal went on privately in Government circles about it, and quite rightly the Government had to take the decision in the end. The fact that they took the wrong decision has absolutely nothing to do with it. But I think that the Government would have been helped by a dispassionate discussion of the kind I suggest. Such an all-Party Armed Forces Committee of both Houses would, of course, have to be properly vetted. We could not have any doubtful quantities sitting on it.
The conclusions I come to are three. First of all, that the British weakness in conventional forces, which I hope I have described adequately, is coming at a very bad time, when NATO has already suffered losses from the French withdrawal and from the Canadian withdrawal—and now it seems very possible, even probable, that the United States will withdraw some of their 300,000 conventional forces. Incidentally, the United States are not likely to be encouraged by our withdrawal from South Asia and the Gulf. Secondly, maritime strategy does not even rate a mention in any of the Defence papers and the Navy is simply not strong enough for its responsibilities. Lastly, no defence policy is 599 worth the name of defence policy without a reserve to meet the unexpected—in other words, I think we have overdone the cuts.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, it is rather a special honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bourne: it has happened to me before. I agree with almost every word he said, and he may well have shortened my speech. Like the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, I found the very clear and able speech by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, very much more encouraging than the White Paper, Statement on the Defence Estimates, which I found sombre and depressing.
I think that what I found most offensive about it was the smug satisfaction with which it recounted the steady reduction of our Armed Forces—and it does this all in the name of economy—but, understandably, does not record the 77,000 additional civil servants taken on since this Government came into power. I disagree with the abandonment of our commitments outside the NATO area, and even within the NATO area; and much of the self-congratulation is empty and unfulfilled. The White Paper very properly emphasises that our first priority is NATO. With this I entirely agree. But the problem of flexible response, lack of reserves, I should prefer to leave to other noble Lords more competent than myself to deal with.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, nowhere in the White Paper do I find any conception of global strategy. Lip service is paid to this rather peculiar "general capability", based on the United Kingdom, which I cannot honestly myself believe credible. The fact is that after 400 years we have abandoned altogether maritime strategy and are concentrating what is left of our Armed Forces in Europe and home waters. The bulk of our Army and Air Force is deployed in this country and in Germany. There are good reasons for this with which I shall not disagree. But I do disagree with the policy of calling back the ships of the Royal Navy from the oceans of the world and concentrating them in European and home waters. We have to keep up the shield in Europe, and it is taking most of 600 the Army and the Air Force to do that. But by virtue of that fact, almost the least likely place where an enemy will strike is central Europe. He is far more likely to strike in the Middle East, in South-East Asia, or even in Africa.
Nor are we doing a service to our allies by leaving the oceans of the world unmanned and unattended. The great majority of seafaring nations of the world are members of NATO: I am thinking, besides ourselves and the United States, of Norway, Denmark, Holland, France, Portugal and Greece. The defence of the trade routes is vital to us all. We should take the lead in seeing that they are properly protected. I would also ask the Government not gratuitously to antagonise those countries who could be of most help to us in the protection of our trade. I am thinking of South Africa, of Spain, of Portugal, and even Malta. In the interests of brevity, may I again implore the Government, first, to implement the Simonstown Agreement, both in the letter and the spirit; and, secondly, to consider maintaining a maritime presence in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and also in the Far East. We want to show Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaya that we mean business if any of them should be threatened.
So far as the rest of the White Paper is concerned, I want to comment briefly on two aspects. The first has already been touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. By all means let us encourage, and continue to take part in, bilateral and multilateral conferences for disarmament. But do not let us reduce our Armed Forces in the expectation that these conferences will be successful. Such expectation has proved a very bad bet in the past.
I should like to say a good word for the new pay code. I think that most of it is very satisfactory. But I should like to ask the Government not to try to equate soldiers, sailors and airmen too much with civilians. They are very different people, and they behave in a different way. These are young men who have voluntarily placed themselves under discipline—itself now, in this permissive age, a dirty word. They are trained to a hard life; they have no trade union, no overtime; they are serving their country and not themselves. It is not 601 only money that counts: they must command our respect and support, and the image must be kept bright and shining. In this way I believe that something might be done about the recruiting problem.
Next, I turn to maritime affairs and back to the vexed question of aircraft carriers. The Leader of the Opposition in the other place said that should the Tory Government win the next Election it is his intention to retain the aircraft carriers in commission—not because he considers them essential to his East of Suez policy but to obtain some advantage from the very large sums of money that have been expended on them. It is my opinion that whichever Party win the next Election they will have to keep the carriers in commission, or we shall find that the Fleet is completely defenceless against surface and air attack throughout the 1970s. The Fleet Air Arm provides about three-quarters of the Navy's weapon capability. If we are to build no more carriers of the present type, this capability must be re-provided before we get rid of the existing ones.
The situation to-day is far more urgent than it was this time last year. Besides the strike role, the aircraft carriers are responsible for the long-range reconnaissance and defence of the Fleet. With the best will in the world the R.A.F. cannot effectively provide this. They have not the aircraft, and their pilots are not experienced in sea warfare. They cannot be expected from distant shore bases to produce that split-second timing that is so vital in war at sea. In addition, we have no surface-to-surface missile—not even the medium-range one which the Russians are prepared to lend to their Egyptian allies.
I read in the Press only last week that the Sea Slug, Mark II, our medium-range, surface-to-air missile, has run into trouble. The vertical take-off aircraft for ships is still over the horizon. Helicopters, although admirable for anti-submarine work, and possibly for defence against M.T.B.s, are quite unsuitable for the other tasks that I have described. The Minister of Defence said in 1967 that in order to help carry out the role previously played by the aircraft carriers, the Fleet submarines will be used for long-range protection of the Fleet. By the time the carriers are due to be phased out, we 602 shall have four Fleet submarines in commission, which means, at the very most, two and a half at sea. Moreover, the Mark 24 torpedo, the first torpedo produced by Britain since the war, has also run into difficulties. I understand that it requires extensive redesign and that production is now being suspended.
Finally, my Lords, we must expect considerable delays in major refits, particularly of nuclear submarines, in the next few years. The reorganisation of the Royal Yards is being undertaken with the object of obtaining greater productivity with a smaller labour force. In itself that is a good thing, and probably long overdue; but with industrial relations in their present chaotic state throughout the country, the successful outcome of this bold initiative will take time, and the Fleet is bound to suffer in the short term. For all these reasons, the continuation of the carriers in the Service becomes an absolute "must". Not only must they be there to provide defence for the Fleet, but they also, I think, assist in making our general capability world-wide slightly more credible. They are also needed in the NATO area.
During the war I spent a fairly uncomfortable year and a half in that very inhospitable sea area known as the Norwegian Sea, which is bounded to the West by Greenland and Iceland; to the East by the North coast of Norway, and to the North by Spitzbergen and the North Pole. When conducting naval operations in that area, and running the early Russian convoys, we all felt, even in those unsophisticated days, desperately naked and defenceless without the support of the carrier. I hear on very good authority that the American Navy feel desperately strongly on this point. But carriers are required not only in areas outside the NATO area; they are also required within the NATO area: in the Mediterranean, and also in the Norwegian Sea and in the Atlantic.
My Lords, both "Eagle" and "Ark Royal", and possibly even "Hermes", are perfectly capable of going on to the end of the 1970s, and the "Ark Royal", in fact, a little longer. I realise what a reversal of policy would mean. Training for the Fleet Air Arm is ceasing this year, and there might be a very awkward period when we should require the R.A.F., 603 or even American squadrons, to fly off the decks of the carriers in order to bridge the gap. But certainly I feel that the aircraft carriers are essential, and I should be most grateful to the Leader of the House if, when he replies to the debate, he would tell us how the Government now view the situation and whether there is still hope of a change of heart. I am very concerned about the Royal Navy. During the battle cruiser action at the Battle of Jutland Admiral Beatty, on the bridge of the "Lion", looked aft. He saw the "Queen Mary", the next ship in line astern, blow up. This was only half an hour after the "Indefatigable" had suffered the same fate. He turned to his Chief of Staff and said, "There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships to-day". Then, rather characteristically, he altered the course of the battle cruiser squadron two points towards the enemy. My Lords, it was not only on that day that there was something wrong with those ships. I believe that it is up to us and our colleagues in another place to see that no British Admiral in the future ever has cause, as a result of the default of this or any other Government, to say the same sort of thing as Admiral Beatty said at Jutland.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ LORD MOYLE
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, because he has represented the Royal Navy, and I am one of the few ex-members of the Royal Marines in your Lordships' House. I welcome his observations about the salary improvements in the three Services, but I was somewhat puzzled by his slight criticism, or complaint, about equating the Service salaries with the civilian standards in industry. Speaking as an ex-Royal Marine private, I should have been delighted if the powers that be had had the good sense to equate my salary, which was a shilling a day, with what was being paid to comparable unskilled labour in industry; but then, of course, we did not have a Labour Government.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, I absolutely agree with what the noble Lord says. What I had in mind was making the sailor pay for his own food.
§ LORD MOYLE
My Lords, what I wish to say is this, and it may please the noble Earl: I have not the slightest objection to our paying our Armed Forces in excess of industrial standards. That is where I stand with regard to the Services.
My Lords, the remarkable thing about these Defence Estimates is that they have been presented by the same Minister of Defence that we had in 1964, the right honourable Denis Healey. Without wishing to be too facetious, I doubt whether anything quite like this has happened in the annals of British political history, certainly since the Second World War. At any rate, I think that nothing has startled us more since the days when it was alleged that the Emperor of China baptised his troops with a hose-pipe. I say that for this reason: that here we have a Minister of Defence who has brought authority, dignity and efficiency to his high Office, and one who has won the confidence of the military chiefs. In my view, Mr. Healey is unquestionably one of the outstanding Ministers of Defence that we have had in this country for some time. It is remarkable that the Labour Party who, allegedly, are without any military sense, who are said to love an army only when it is inefficient, are the very Party who have produced two of the outstanding Ministers of Defence of post-war days: I refer to the right honourable Emanuel Shinwell and the present Minister.
Why do I say all this, my Lords? It is for this reason. What happened in the 13 years of the Tory Administration? We had nine Ministers of Defence, and the Office was reduced almost to the status of a consolation prize, to be handed out to tired warriors at the end of a long political day. It became a kind of consolation prize, like the chairmanship of the parks committee of a local council which is handed over to a disappointed alderman. That has been the position with regard to the Tory Governments of post-war years. I am glad to see that the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, is present in the Chamber. I think he will understand exactly what I have in my mind with regard to the comparable experiences in relation to defence of the Labour Government since 1964 and of the previous Tory Administrations.
605 I welcome the reduction in military expenditure that has taken place since 1964. Including the increased cost of the military salary, I am advised that the saving on the estimated costs of the Tory Party's own plans in 1964 is within the region of £3,000 million. This has been achieved, admittedly, by reducing our Armed Forces by one-fifth, but reducing our commitments by one-sixth. Therefore, to-day we have available more battalions for operation in the United Kingdom than we had before the cuts were imposed, as evidenced by the expeditious way in which the forces were transported to Ulster almost immediately when the crisis arose. I am also advised that this has been achieved without any reduction in our military capability; and, in any case, it is accepted by experts that there is not a single West European Power that can surpass our standard of military capability.
I should like to say a few words about the progress made by the Minister of Defence in the direction of unifying the functions of that Department. I well remember the late Lord Attlee dealing in his famous book with the need for a Ministry of Defence to be set up to take the place of the various Services, and how when he became Prime Minister one of the first things that he did was to set up a Ministry of Defence subordinating the three Services to the one central direction and control. I am quite certain that nothing would have pleased him more, if he had been living to-day, than to see the amazing progress in the field of economy and efficiency as expressed through the Ministry of Defence under that policy of unification.
I want now to refer to the position with regard to rates of pay and conditions of service in the Forces. I am glad that the increases have been welcomed. But I should like to draw attention to the need to consider other aspects of the Services and their conditions. For example, the principle of establishing the rate for the job in the three Services is a revolutionary principle; it has never been done before. Of course, it has brought about a certain amount of criticism as between the single and married men; but that will iron itself out in due course, and I think it is a step in the right direction.
I should like to put this proposal forward for the consideration of your Lordships. 606 Our Servicemen are recruited for a period of years—some for 12 years, some for 22 years and so on. I want to see a more forward and more progressive approach to these men who have to stand the brunt of the day in relation to the defence of this country. Why give them a gratuity at the end of their period of service? Why not treat their service in the Armed Forces as superannuable service? When the day comes for them to return to civilian life, the money can be paid to the new employer, and they can enter into that employment knowing that their service in the Armed Forces has been superannuable; that they can carry on with those transferred superannuation rates, and at the end of the day can retire at the age of 65 on the same basis and the same terms as those who have been continuously employed in industry.
A further point is this. Why do we keep talking about barracks? As soon as we talk about accommodation, we immediately envisage barracks. What is wrong with hotels? To-day, the use of the troopship has greatly declined, and the aeroplane is the basis of transport. With men and women, married couples, happy to be transported from one place to another, why do we not consider building our own hotels to accommodate married men and women who are employed in the Services? It would be a grand opportunity for training personnel in the Services in the work of catering and the hotel business, so that when they return to civil life they will be available for work of that kind. I think that the day has gone when soldiers and sailors are provided with the kind of accommodation represented by the barracks of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
In conclusion, I should like to make one further reference; that is, to commend the Minister of Defence on the wonderful record of industrial relations as between the trade unions and the Minister in respect of the civilian staff. Here we have a record of first-class industrial relations as between the trade unions and the Ministry of Defence. I hope that that excellent record will continue throughout the term of office of the right honourable Mr. Denis Healey, and continue even if we have the lamentable experience of a return of a Tory Government.
§ 5.27 p.m.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Moyle, will forgive me if I do not follow him in his arguments. I am disappointed in the White Paper. It gives me the impression that the Minister, perhaps naturally, is satisfied with the Government's defence programme and the reductions in defence expenditure. That is far from my own view. Like many other noble Lords, I was disappointed that in the gracious Speech last October defence was scarcely mentioned. There was just one reference, saying that:We will continue to play an active part in the North Atlantic Alliance".In essence, this has been repeated in paragraph 1 of Chapter I of the White Paper that we are discussing this afternoon. This is of course consistent with the policy of the Government in withdrawing our Forces from East of Suez and concentrating them in Europe. I am still disappointed, however, for, as I have said before, I believe that this is a dangerous and mistaken policy.
I have been dismayed, too, to hear a Government spokesmen speak with some sense of pride and satisfaction at the withdrawal of our Forces and the general reduction in defence expenditure. I can understand the reason for this, but I think there is great danger that our people may deduce that the withdrawal and reduction are entirely to our advantage. I want, if I may, in a few words to point out that this is not so, and to refer to what is on the other side of the scales: in fact, to the price that we have to pay for this withdrawal. In the main, I shall limit my remarks to the Royal Navy and to the influence of present Government policy on conventional war at sea; for once action has escalated to nuclear war, conventional forces, and life as we know it to-day, will soon become irrelevant.
My Lords, the most dangerous aspects of these reductions and withdrawals from the naval point of view seem to me to be, in their simplest, the early phasing out of the carriers, or perhaps I should say the paying off and breaking up of the carriers, and the virtual disappearance of our vast trade East of Suez in time of war. Coupled with this is the closing of all our overseas naval bases apart from Gibraltar. Of course, if we are going to 608 withdraw our Fleet from East of Suez we shall not require bases there, but in closing down bases we have to remember that it will take years to bring them back into use again, and until they are available Her Majesty's ships cannot operate in that area for prolonged periods. We shall, in effect, have written off our East of Suez trade in war time. Memories are short, and it is easy to forget that already since the last war we have closed, or are about to close, naval bases at Bermuda, Malta, Aden, the Persian Gulf, Trincomali, Singapore; and Hong Kong is only a shadow of its former self.
I do not want to weary your Lordships by repeating all the old arguments for retaining the carriers, but in scrapping them we are not only saving money; there is a price to pay, and as I see it the next time we are faced with an emergency or war our naval forces will start under a very severe handicap. One of the Fleet's most potent offensive weapon systems—the carriers—will be missing. Recently the well known United States naval writer, Norman Polmar, said this:Despite the advent of missile-firing submarines, and other so-called atomic age weapon systems, the aircraft carrier remains the backbone of United States sea power. Indeed current United States defence policy provides for the continued construction of aircraft carriers and for the operation of these ships into the 21st century.At this point, it is worthy of note that so far as one can see the United States, France and Australia, to name only three countries, will continue to operate fixed wing aircraft from carriers, and it is clear that these countries, among others, fully understand and believe in their supreme importance.
As I understand it—and I shall be very glad if I can be told that I am wrong—very little has been done to provide ourselves with a substitute for carriers. There has been talk of small, simplified carriers replacing the large carriers as we have known them up to now. Last month a command cruiser, which is part carrier, was authorised, but this ship can hardly be ready before 1975 and probably later than that. At one time there was talk about R.A.F. bases in the Indian Ocean, but even if these bases had been provided they would, as I understand it, have been much too widely separated to be effective. Surely, my Lords, we must have learned what 609 swift disaster can overcome the Fleet when it takes the risk and operates without proper air cover. The loss of the "Repulse" and "Prince of Wales" in the South China Sea was surely a bitter lesson.
What sort of a navy are we going to have if we have to restrict our operations to areas which are covered by R.A.F. aircraft operating from limited fixed bases? A navy, to be of any real use to this country, must be able to go anywhere where our trade is, which is anywhere in the world, and not just to areas where the Royal Air Force is in a position to lend a hand. It will be very interesting to hear of the lessons learned from the maritime exercises referred to in paragraph 67 of Chapter II of the White Paper; that is, exercises to test arrangements for the air defence of the Fleet when the carriers have been paid off. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate can tell us a little about this.
My Lords, in a debate in your Lordships' House on October 30 last year, I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, pointed out that when our carriers were phased out we would have six or seven nuclear-powered fleet submarines, and that these would be our main anti-surface ship and anti-submarine capability. He has substantially confirmed these figures in his speech this afternoon. Of course we have frigates and R.A.F. long-range strike aircraft, too, in certain areas, but what impression can our handful of fleet submarines have on Russia's 65 nuclear and 300-odd conventional submarines? And let us not forget that these Russian nuclear submarines are increasing at the rate of about one a month.
I would be the first to agree that our fleet submarines are splendid ships and a phenomenal advance on their conventional predecessors, but what weapons have they got, and how many? I know that we cannot be given any classified information, but I am afraid that I, for one—and clearly the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, for another from his remarks—have never heard of anything more modern or exciting than an improved 21-inch torpedo. I hope very much that I am wrong and that I have missed out on something here. Perhaps the Minister can reassure us on that point.
610 I have heard it said—I think on not very good authority—that Russia's submarine fleet is designed mainly for coast defence work. We ourselves thought on these lines at the beginning of the century, but we very soon learnt differently in 1917 and 1941; and in the last war we took great care to assist our allies, and in particular the Russian submarine service, to learn the lessons that we had already learnt the hard way. There is no doubt whatever that in the main Russia's great submarine fleet is designed for ocean warfare, and that includes, of course, warfare in the Indian Ocean, warfare against our oil supplies from the Persian Gulf, against our rubber and tin from Malaya, and against our immense trade with Australia and New Zealand. Bearing in mind this very real threat by Russian submarines, I hear disturbing rumours that the joint Royal Naval/ Royal Air Force Anti-Submarine School at Londonderry is closing down—the school which ever since the last war has developed and practised and kept up to date our anti-submarine tactics, the most vital of all the branches of maritime warfare with which this country is concerned. This is an economy which, if it is true, is beyond my comprehension.
My Lords, I have said all this before. I have said that I think it is utterly wrong and dangerous to dispose of our carriers and to withdraw from East of Suez; and, of course, as I reluctantly expected, this has made little or no impression on Her Majesty's Government. That being so, and if Her Majesty's Government are determined to leave our maritime forces in a depleted state while the Russians build up theirs, then we must look for some other way of reducing the grave threat to our overseas trade, and particularly that East of Suez. With that in view, I suggest that we must now, so far as possible, minimise our trade in and through the Indian Ocean where we can no longer protect it, and transfer it, again so far as possible, to alternative sources bordering the Atlantic where we and our allies will at least have some forces with which to guard it. For let us not forget, my Lords, in this time of peace, that this welcome state of affairs will not go on for ever. It never has before and, whether we like it or not, we shall doubtless be put to the test again one day, and when that day comes 611 there will be no time allowed for making preparations, there will be no breathing space. The carriers will have gone and we shall have no naval forces East of Suez; and as I said in my opening remarks, in quoting from the gracious Speech of last October, we shall be left only with the ability "to play an active part in the North Atlantic Alliance ". And even here, in my view, our maritime forces are likely to fall far short of requirements.
My Lords, may I say one final word on the new pay code. I believe that it has been generally welcomed, and though it will probably help towards solving our recruiting difficulties, I think we should be careful not to be too optimistic. In recent times I have not heard much criticism of forces pay, and I think that it is the frequent reductions in the Fleet, uncertainty as to when these will end and, as the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, said, the great reduction in foreign service, that are the principal causes of lack of enthusiasm for joining the Royal Navy. And who, my Lords, can be surprised at this?
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ LORD GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, whose great naval expertise and ability so frankly and clearly to express the warnings which he has given us we all recognise. He will, I hope, excuse me from following him in argument, since my naval expertise is sadly deficient. I also wish to offer a provisional apology to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I shall do my best to be back to hear his reply to the debate, but I have undertaken a commitment which outweighs my capability of being in two places at once.
I should like to talk a little about the balance of our defence policy from this country to the Far East. Before I do so, perhaps I may be permitted to make one or two observations on things that have been said, because they indirectly relate to this theme.
In considering the position of warfare in the modern world, I find myself somewhat nearer to the concept explained by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, than to the concept held by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. The significant point, and the difficulty about talking about defence at 612 this stage, is that because there is now a total deterrent there are parts of the world in which hostilities may be waged—and waged ferociously—precisely because the possessors of total deterrents cannot possibly use them.
We ourselves have a particularly complicated position in being what I may call a "small nuclear Power". In a sense, therefore, we are not involved in the struggle—the peaceful struggle, we hope—of the super-Powers, and we are not exactly on the same level as the Powers that have no deterrent. We must form our policy in such a way as to have a capability of non-nuclear warfare wherever it is needed, and make sure that this is efficiently distributed and disposed. I think the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was looking for a definition of Soviet policy in so far as it affects us in this respect. But I do not think he found quite the right word. Soviet policy is to supplant; it is not to deny the West one particular facility or place at one particular time; the object is to supplant, in the sense of making sure that from now on that facility will never be available.
There is one other miscellaneous point which has been raised and on which I should like to express a view in one sentence. There is obviously much interest in the idea that your Lordships' House and another place should combine in a kind of American-styled Parliamentary or Congressional Committee on Defence affairs. The only comment I would make on what has been said is that if such a Committee's examination of these affairs is anything like that of the equivalent American Committee it will not be dispassionate: it will, however, be thorough.
May I now proceed to my general theme? I must start, clearly, from the sentence in the White Paper which speaks of Britain's military role havingbeen transformed over the past five years by the historic decision to withdraw our forces from their bases East of Suez",and so on. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, I had rather the same reaction to the word "historic". I thought that the writer, or authoriser, had a slight doubt in his mind as to whether the policy was right and decided to settle for "historic". In many ways the policy has been right, but there are certain 613 qualifications which I should like to develop. Perhaps I may say with modesty that I have a certain advantage in speaking from these Benches, since there is no need for me to commit myself to a particular policy about East of Suez, nor to some of the material used try the noble Lord, Lord Moyle. But I am with him in bringing a little more to the forefront the matter of costs, which we cannot afford to disregard.
The text from the Defence Estimates of this year, of which I have read a part, raises two questions of great interest and importance which have not really been thought through. I should like to deal with both of them. The first is: what is a base and what does world opinion think about bases? Secondly, what are we really to do East of Suez? I dislike the expression, "East of Suez" because I feel that our defence policy should be a unity. "East of Suez" has a certain temporary reality, because while 100 years ago it was possible to get through the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean direct by water, to-day, owing to the advance of civilisation, it is not. None the less, the separation is in this day and age an artificial one, and we should consider our defence policy as a whole.
On the subject of bases, may I be allowed by noble and gallant Lords to describe—not define—a base as an installation with capital equipment and repair and maintenance facilities? I know that it is more than that, but let us call it that. I am not trying to be clever or paradoxical if I say that this concept is both in advance of its time and out of date. It is in advance of its time because in an organisation such as NATO, where there is mutual confidence, one can have bases in somebody else's country in a perfectly relaxed manner, every nation feeling that they have allowed this because they are thinking in an advanced way over international frontiers. On the other hand, in the eyes of many countries who have only lately won independence, or regained independence, bases of the nature that I have described appear obsolete and raise political tensions of a kind which in the present world—at any rate from the point of view of Western countries, countries with government by consent—are not tolerable and not worth contesting. We have a difficult situation 614 with which to contend, and one in which our withdrawal from Aden was a political necessity, however much it may have been militarily regrettable. There are places in the world where one's position in a base under the old-fashioned definition is not tolerable and the base is obsolete. The same applies to Soviet bases in Czechoslovakia.
Let us apply some of this thinking to the decisions that have been taken in recent times. The decision to withdraw from the Middle East was not really a financial decision at all; it was an important political decision, and an economic emergency was used to make it and announce it. I say this because the Estimates for 1968 and 1969 both give a figure for the period 1968–69 of a local expenditure of £16 million. If we are running this country in any way efficiently, we could afford £16 million for the purposes for which that base has been there for a long time.
On the other hand, now that this decision has been taken a new situation has been created. An important political decision has been taken in a very sensitively political area, and the mere fact of taking it has meant an alteration of the political forces operating in that area. The people of the area have been making dispositions to ensure the safety of the area so far as they can from outside interference, and they have made reasonably good progress. It would be very difficult and very dangerous, however, for us to seek our way back again, to reverse that decision, unless there was strong pressure on us from the area to do so. That pressure does not seem to exist at the moment. I should have thought it was not very likely to arise unless there was some very great emergency.
Then, if I come to the Far East, the case is rather different. There a withdrawal was foreshadowed certainly in 1966. It was in fact decided in 1967 and not in 1968. The decisions of 1968 were to dramatise and accelerate the withdrawal. Here the situation is quite different, in that locally the withdrawal was not at all welcome. It is even possible that a return might be welcome. But here, unlike the Middle East, the economic element is one which we really have needed to take seriously, because at the time when the estimate was £16 million local expenditure in the Middle East, the estimate 615 for South-East Asia and the Far East was £79 million. Whereas £16 million is not a great drag on our balance of payments, £79 million is something we have to take very seriously. The difficulty, further, is that if we were to try to carry on a base of Singapore proportions with something like the staff we needed there, the figure would still remain very high. The reason of course is that the payment for manpower per man is very high indeed. Great satisfaction has rightly been expressed at the improvement of conditions, but of course they make that particular equation more difficult still.
If I have said at the present point in the argument that it looks very difficult indeed to reverse decisions that have been made, am I then saying something for which, if I must be Shakespearean, I would give the answer, "A blank, my lord"? I think not. But clearly the Defence Estimates do not give us the answer; they give us a picture of our military and defensive power extending to the eastern Mediterranean, and then the picture in the Estimates is somewhat of a blank, but with two qualifications. One qualification, of which I need not read the text, is a qualification to which reference has already been made, of the general capability based on Europe, including the United Kingdom, to be used in our judgment of the circumstances. That is at least something, although its limitations have been extremely clearly explained by various noble Lords. There is also an interesting qualification in the present Defence Estimates. There is a sentence in paragraph 14 of Chapter I which states:We shall continue to train forces of all three Services in the Far East after 1971.The Paper does not say exactly which Forces, or how, or where; perhaps it is wise not to do so.
However, this combination of comment takes my mind back to the period shortly before it became clear that we were going to withdraw from Singapore. At that time there was some question of whether facilities could and would be provided in Australia for British Forces operating in the Far East. At that time the Australians were understandably hesitant about being forthcoming, for the reason that they hoped, of course, that 616 we should still stay in Singapore and that our suggestion that we might withdraw was not in fact serious. Now our friends from Australia know that it is serious, and it is possible—I do not want to press this point too hard, but it is possible—there might be a re-think.
If I may go back to what I said about the nature of bases, if we could get some increased facilities, with some capital equipment, with some staff and so on, at that end of the line, then perhaps we could fill in, commensurately with our resources, something which at the moment seems to be lacking—lacking because of this blank, of which I spoke, at the end of the line stretching from England to the South Pacific. There are many political reasons why this might be a development which we should all welcome.
I remember very well that when the present Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary visited Australia in 1966 he made the following remark in a speech in Canberra:Just as Australia and New Zealand came to the help of Great Britain in two World Wars, it is unthinkable that if Australia and New Zealand were the victims of aggression Great Britain would not similarly come to their assistance.In fairness to the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, I must explain that that was not a commitment; it was not a formal document; it was simply a statement of a feeling which he had and which probably everybody in this House would share.
Therefore, I would end by expressing the hope that if, as I believe, we cannot reverse what we are proposing to do in the Persian Gulf and in Singapore, we may start, if we have not started already, to discuss with the Australians some way in which we can have something more than facilities in Australia, and something perhaps less than the traditional base. If we do not have something like that, then I think many of the warnings we have had from noble and gallant Lords with expert naval knowledge will be better founded than they ought to be. If I may conclude in so suggesting, I think that something of this kind corresponds to a prudent, universal and commonsensical approach to a British world defence policy. I would add that I have put this idea in the form of a suggestion rather than of a question to the Government, because I believe that 617 this is the kind of subject on which, particularly at this time, it would not be sensible to press Ministers. None the less, my Lords, I hope that they will not take it amiss that I should have made the suggestion.
§ 5.59 p.m.
My Lords, I do not propose to follow the interesting arguments raised by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I am going to confine myself more or less to naval matters. In the past in your Lordships' House we used to debate the Navy Estimates on a different day, apart from Defence as a whole, but that custom seems to have gone by the board; so I feel I must confine myself to the Navy Estimates to-day. I am afraid I cannot congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Navy on the presentation of the Navy Estimates as set out in the Defence White Paper. It is still the old, old story: a further weakening of the Navy over the past year, and progressive weakening promised for future years. The Estimates for all three Services are being cut, and I would say the reason stems from an arbitrary figure of £2,000 million for Defence at 1964 prices—which of course is quite absurd at the present day.
The Estimates do not appear to relate to any policy but only to politics. I wonder how many of your Lordships realise that manpower since 1964 has been cut by some 50,000 men. Perhaps it is pertinent to mention that almost a similar number of civil servants have been added to the Establishment. When we turn to recruiting, the figures are very bad indeed, especially in relation to the run-down figures. The White Paper on Defence in 1967 said that recruitment had been running at a fairly steady rate of 7,400 per annum. Only three years later this figure has been reduced to 5,091. I think I am right in saying that this is a cut in recruiting of 33 per cent. in five years, and I suggest that these figures are most alarming for the future. If we turn to officer recruitment there is the same sad story. In 1963 there were, I think, 198 cadets at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. By 1967 this figure was reduced to 182; in 1968 it was 175; in 1969 it was 159, and in the present White Paper the figure is 112. Of course it takes very much longer to train an officer than a rating, 618 and perhaps the Minister who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government will give your Lordships his ideas as to how this short-fall can be stopped.
My Lords, I do not wish to enter into the carrier controversy at any length, but I have a sort of feeling that we shall be told to-day that we no longer have the men to man them. Surely, if France, with naval personnel running at about 70,000 men, can operate two carriers, we can do so with 85,000 men. I am not one of those who are wedded to aircraft carriers as they are to-day. I have always thought that simple, flat-topped ships, far less sophisticated than the present carriers, could be used for both fixed-wing aircraft and the new VTOL aircraft at far less cost and less maintenance.
I now propose to turn for a few moments to the state of the Fleet. The Defence White Paper of 1964 stated that we had 181 operational ships; the figure this year is down to 143. Each year the Navy seems to get smaller and smaller. No wonder recruiting is on the decline, when young men who might wish to join the Navy for a career know about these figures. I see nothing in the White Paper which indicates that we have been provided with an antidote to the Russian short-range 20 miles and long-range 150 miles surface-to-surface missiles. I understand that we are still examining the position and that there is little chance of any antidote to these missiles being available for at least another five years. I understand that the Russians are able to launch their surface-to-surface missiles in salvoes of 12, and defence against them is a formidable matter. I suggest again that it would be safer not to phase out the carriers until some new form of defence has been provided against these missiles.
There is one ray of sunshine in the White Paper, and I would refer to the development and building of the new type 21 frigate—H.M.S. "Amazon". I had the honour to command the last H.M.S. "Amazon" in the Battle of the Atlantic and the Mediterannean convoys, so I shall take a special interest in this sophisticated vessel. I should like to sug-get that there should be a clear distinction between what I would call front-line warships, able to conduct full-blooded 619 engagements with enemy forces, and vessels whose duties are limited to reconnaissance and short-distance patrols and action against pirates and smugglers. The United States Navy found out rather belatedly in Vietnam that lack of minor war vessels was a serious handicap. It was not until they became available that it was possible to begin the eviction of the Viet Cong from the Mekong Delta.
Apart from these small and very necessary craft, of which we have hardly any, I suggest that it is interesting to look at the design of frigates less sophisticated than the type 21 frigate. Why not build to the design of a 1,600 ton frigate which has been produced by a well-known and famous shipbuilding firm and fitted with diesel-gas turbines? Although having a speed of only 27 knots as against the 30 knots of the type 21 frigate, she is designed to carry an armament comparable to the larger vessel; but what is interesting to note is that her proposed complement is only 120 as against 260. She is, of course, a much less sophisticated vessel and is far cheaper to build.
My Lords, I should now like to touch for a moment on the disbandment of Coastal Command. I understand that it is now incorporated in what I believe is called the Strike Command of the 18th Maritime Group, but that the numbers of aircraft have been greatly reduced. In view of the ever-increasing importance of maritime reconnaissance with a large Russian fleet at sea, perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government could give us more information about this new grouping. My Lords, I maintain that the role of the Navy is the same now as it has always been: the protection of the ships of the Merchant Navy, which are our lifeline. It is no use blinking the fact that we have neither the resources nor the ships at the present time to combat nearly 400 Russian submarines, and we must largely rely on our technical skills to produce superior weapons of detection and attack. I do trust that the money allocated for research will not be reduced this year.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, I shall endeavour to make a short speech, and that may be more agreeable to your Lordships because I think what I have to say, unlike the general content 620 of the speeches which have preceded mine, will be strictly egregious. My problem in approaching this particular subject is that I am a pacifist. It is not only a problem but a claim, and I notice that in this particular document, composed of ten chapters, nine of those chapters are precisely consequential upon assumptions made in Chapter I; and it is upon those assumptions that I wish to speak.
To begin with, there is the assumption that the apparatus and practice contained within the articles and suggestions and programmes of this White Paper are compatible with a Christian civilisation and what ought to obtain within that civilisation. With that I cordially disagree, because I believe that this is strictly not so. I say that carefully; and although most of my ecclesiastical brethren have departed—if I feel a little like Shadrach, Meshach is still here, and Abed-nego has just gone off to Fulham Palace—I think I should be in agreement with them, and they would be in agreement with the general consensus of Christian opinion and Christian conviction to-day that our Christian civilisation is no longer capable of sustaining within its theological propositions a just war. There might have been in other generations reasons for which a just war was conceivable, but the very conditions which this White Paper envisages makes such a just war, by all those classical definitions, impossible.
A just war can be fought only under conditions which seek a minimum of violence; a just war can be fought only under conditions which are properly regulated by international agreement; a just war can be fought only if the calculable results are more or less certain and there is only a small area of possible error. In all these matters I do not find it possible to believe that these estimates, however genuinely and sympathetically they may be viewed, are compatible with the Christian faith, and I have to say so.
It does not make very much difference—indeed, it is no comfort—if the retort is made that these propositions in the White Paper are intended to prevent a war and not to engage in one. For if the deterrence of terror means anything at all, it must mean that in certain circumstances a Christian country—officially so-called—would carry out the propositions that it most desires to avoid and 621 carry out the programmes, however detestable those programmes may be. The internal conviction of the deterrence of terror is once again incompatible with the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. I say that with care, because it may contain within it seeds of irritation to people who sincerely hold the opposite view. I would, if I could, explain to myself and to your Lordships what it is that for them makes this decision to embark upon such a detestable programme inevitable. They would regard the proposition that we are to practise Christianity as an ideal which in the present state of society is inapplicable.
Last Saturday, the Minister of Defence, Mr. Healey, was engaged in a programme called "Speakeasy", the title of which is an insidious trap for the garrulous, and he was asked what was his view with regard to Cambodia. His reply was something like this—this is a translation, for I did not hear quite clearly the exact words: "In the past this country has been the world's policeman."—rather a grandiose concept, but let that pass—" I do not intend that we should now become the world's parson." I am sure that if we take a "holier than thou" altitude Mr. Healey is justified in that particular comment. But I am a parson, and if I am invited to take note of these defence propositions I must, so far as I can, be true to the faith I hold. I believe that what is morally right must in the end be politically right, and therefore I dare to say to your Lordships that, though it does not appear in Chapter I that there is any defect in the various arguments and anterior reasons there propounded, a closer inspection of them would I think lead to considerable dubiety as to whether they are verifiable, or whether they are viable.
The White Paper depends for its substance on the proposition that there is a deterrence which can be maintained and is likely to be effective. I find this increasingly difficult to sustain as an argument. The facts seem to me to be irrevocably against it. The one outstanding contribution made to this argument by the Cuban crisis was that although Khrushchev was deterred from initiating nuclear war, there is no evidence that Mr. Kennedy was—in fact, the evidence is that he was not. Furthermore, I still remain appalled at the evidence, 622 which has not in my judgment been in any way minimised in its stark gobbledygook, that in any kind of large-scale operation of war in Europe we should in fact not be compelled to utilise in the first instance tactical nuclear weapons. And I find no comfort in the proposition that these tactical nuclear weapons would be, on the whole, more congenial than larger weapons of the same nature. Here is the answer, as I see it, to those who take their comfort in the assumption that a nuclear deterrent works. We have two classical instances that it does nothing of the sort.
The second proposition that I find in the White Paper and subject to extreme dubiety is that you can, with any reasonable prospect of turning out to be right, wear the cloak of prophecy and undertake to say what will happen in given circumstances if you deploy your forces in a certain way, and if you either have carriers or Polaris submarines, or your forces are in this particular part of the world or elsewhere in sufficient depth or strength or firepower. I do not pretend to have the mind of youth to-day (and, as I said, I shall not string a guitar across my shoulder in order to be "with it"); I do not understand them in some respects. But one thing which they are saying very clearly, loudly and unmistakably is that the evidence of what is happening in Vietnam is a refutation of the calculation that you can deploy armed forces to-day in any calculable attempt to produce military results. The greatest military Power the world has even known is now bogged down in a ceaseless, wicked, endless, terrible struggle; and that struggle, far from coming to a successful conclusion, has in fact escalated with the recent invasion of Cambodia. The one thing we can be certain about is that more and more people will be slaughtered; more and more people will be homeless.
The third concept that lies behind Chapter I of the White Paper is that our strength and safety depend very largely upon NATO. I find it impossible to believe that when 95 per cent. of the nuclear striking power is held in the hands of one member of an alliance he will not exercise the rights of an elder brother, holding at least most of the cash in his hands and holding certainly the majority 623 of power. And when I think that NATO will largely be determined, or at least conditioned, by the convolutions and the practices of the present President of the United States, I am almost in despair: because here, it seems to me, is nothing more than naked political action bereft of any sense of ultimate purpose.
I would make one final comment, which is an assumption drawn from the first Chapter; and that is that we are able by the use of armed forces to allay problems and suspicions which otherwise might become acute. My Lords, I find the opposite to be true. I have just come from talking on Tower Hill. It may interest your Lordships to hear that there is a sense almost of disgust among people there, who contrast the attitude that we take—and I take it—of opposition to the South African cricket team's coming to this country, because of our abhorrence of apartheid and our connivance at Simonstown in the continued practice of what is, after all, a much closer collaboration than any cricket match can ever be. When I think of the Middle Eastern crisis, the pollution of that situation or the exaggeration of its enormities, how much of this is due to the fact that those who possess arms and find they have to sell them because they are obsolete before they are out of date, find willing markets and perpetuate a struggle which becomes all the more terrible as it goes on?
Your Lordships may think this is another petulant complaint of the pacifist. I have a proposition to put, and even if I do not anticipate an immediate conversion I do not apologise for introducing it. I do not believe that half-measures with regard to arms are effective. I too deplore our partial disarmament, in the sense that if you are going to do what is right, you should do it wholesale and for the right motives, otherwise you get no credit for it. If you are going to lose your soul, you may as well win the world in the process. If you are going to embark on a programme of disarmament, let it be seen clearly to be a part of a process that leads to total disarmament and not a piece of connivance or political strategy or political tactics. I would propose total unilateral disarmament, and I venture to say to your Lordships that there are not a few people in this country 624 who believe, as I do, that such an adventure, taken, if you like, in the teeth of what seems to be the realism of our wicked world, would break into a vicious circle which becomes the tighter as the days go by.
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I cannot help thinking back to Czechoslovakia, which did exactly that, and it has not done that country very much good.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, might I say that there is a world of difference between the situation in Czechoslovakia to-day, where resistance was non-violent, and the situation in Hungary to-day, where in 1956 the resistance was violent. What is more, it was because the Czechs refused to embark on violence that they were able to embark on programmes of wireless and television exploitation which made the whole world know much more clearly, and raised a greater hopefulness for the future than was raised even by the most splendid personal courage of those who gave their lives fighting tanks in Budapest.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, does the noble Lord consider that the present situation in Czechoslovakia is in any way enviable?
§ LORD SOPER
No, my Lords, and that is why I said that I thought it was comparatively better. I cherish the opportunity presented to a great country such as this of making the experiment of total disarmament at a time when increasingly the evidence points, as I see it, to escalation of the problems which hitherto have confronted and daunted us. And if it be that this is a wild and impractical suggestion, at least it is an adventure that we could take, in the confidence that, somehow, we had the morality of the New Testament and the fervent wishes of so many people behind us. We have taken innumerable risks for war. I humbly suggest that to take this tremendous risk for peace might indeed be for the salvation of the society in which we live.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD NAPIER AND ETTRICK
My Lords, I propose to concentrate my remarks on the subject of manpower in 625 the Services, and I shall be as brief as I can. As all your Lordships appreciate, manpower is the fundamental and major problem that faces us, for with insufficient men we are unable to operate either effectively or efficiently. Those men who are serving become overstretched because the work load is too great. They then become dissatisfied, and they leave for civilian life at the earliest opportunity. That of course merely aggravates an already serious situation. The Statement on Defence Estimates which we are considering this afternoon, itself tells us that the strength of the Armed Forces as at January 1, 1970, was 376,300, and that by 1974 it will be of the order of 350,000; in other words, a further reduction in the Regular Forces of some 26,300. As has already been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Dundee, the Statement admits that even if this year's recruiting levels rise to about 35,000 men, it will still be well short of our requirements—the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, mentioned a figure of about 250 in excess of that number.
I have recently returned from a week's visit to the British Army of the Rhine and I should like to deal with that theatre first. I have to say that I found that all our major units in Germany were, at best, at only 90 per cent. of their peacetime strength, and many were considerably worse off than that. Her Majesty's Government have always said that it is the presence of efficient and trained men on the ground that is the important factor from the point of view of deterrence; but since some of the units are not physically on the ground it surely makes that claim a trifle hollow. The Secretary of State for Defence admitted late last year—to be precise, it was on December 8 in another place—that the strength of B.A.O.R. was down to 48,100. Mr. Healey has also recently said that the present role of our 6 Brigade as a crisis reinforcement for Northern Army Group is to be taken over by a newly formed German brigade. Can the noble Lord the Leader of the House tell us when this newly formed German Brigade will become operational?
One cannot help but feel worried about the reinforcement situation. As my noble and gallant friend Lord Bourne has already mentioned, in a period of tension the peace-time strength of B.A.O.R. needs to be doubled by the arrival within seven 626 days of reserves in the shape of units and individuals. Would those reserves ever arrive in time? And if they did, is it appreciated that they would leave precious little else behind them in this country? If I am right, then in my submission considerable doubts must be cast upon the potential effectiveness of many of our contingency plans.
I understand that there are serious worries on this score both in NATO headquarters and in SHAPE. And yet we are told, somewhere in the Defence Statement, that:Our reserves have been reorganised to provide more effective reinforcement for the Regular units which we have committed to NATO.How is this so? Can the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, explain it in due course? I myself believe exactly the opposite; namely, that our reserves have been deliberately run down. There is widespread scepticism about the policy——
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, which particular reserves does he mean have been run down, as compared with the date before the creation of TAVR II? He is suggesting that the creation of this new reserve has been accompanied by a worsening of the position with regard to the reserves which are readily available. Which reserves is he referring to?
§ LORD NAPIER AND ETTRICK
My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord the Leader of the House says on that. As I was saying, there is widespread scepticism about the policy of flexible response, because there is serious doubt whether a political decision to use nuclear weapons would ever be made in sufficient time. A request to use them cannot be initiated until the reserves have been committed, and once that situation arises a quick decision on their use would be vital. I query, therefore, whether we can really afford what are called "balanced force reductions", because, as everyone knows, in NATO we are already greatly outnumbered. Any further reductions, even if matched by Russia, would make our 627 position even worse. And surely the ironic thing is that it is a Labour Government who have become more committed to a nuclear response at an early stage.
But coming back for a moment to the basic problem of recruiting, I am quite satisfied in my own mind now, having talked to a large number of Servicemen recently, that pay is no longer the overriding factor here. There are indeed many anomalies in the new military salary which will need to be ironed out quickly; and because, in the event, the Servicemen got only 50 per cent. of their award this year, the impact of the new scales was, I believe, largely lost. The Serviceman is still a bit suspicious, and needs time to see how the new pay scales are going to work out. I think it was recently stated: in another place that when a Serviceman finds himself worse off than he was before the introduction of the new military salary scales then action will be taken to redress the balance. Can the noble Lord confirm that this is true? If so, we welcome it.
No, my Lords, what matters to-day is where the Serviceman is likely to have the opportunity of serving; and, as we know, the overseas stations are fast disappearing. He also needs to see clearly what is the purpose of his engaging to serve the Colours. I believe that that is not always made clear to him. Furthermore, he must have a sense of security regarding his future; and it cannot be said that he has this at present. He must not be overstretched, otherwise he will become totally dissatisfied and leave the Service at the earliest opportunity.
I should like to illustrate what I mean by telling your Lordships of the planned deployment of one single battalion of infantry between July this year and February, 1971. The whole battalion is scheduled to proceed on an exercise for six weeks in East Africa, in July. A company of 100 men will go on an accompanied tour (that is, with their wives and families) to the Far East in November. Two companies go on an exercise in the Near East in November and December. A further two companies will proceed to the Caribbean on an unaccompanied nine-month tour in February. On top of all this, during September and October this particular battalion is the spearhead battalion for 628 Northern Ireland. If that is not bordering on overstretch, then I do not know what is.
Northern Ireland is imposing an enormous strain on our manpower, as all noble Lords appreciate: so much so, that even Gunners and armoured regiments in Germany and elsewhere are being warned for duty in Ulster as infantrymen. Yet, despite this, Her Majesty's Government continue with their plans to reduce the infantry by a further six battalions. Why? Is it not realised that such a policy is liable to lead to a situation in which, even if only small, unexpected problems arise, in say Trinidad or British Honduras, our infantry will be totally unable to meet our treaty obligations or our national requirements? Will the Government undertake to reconsider this decision, even at this late stage?
The conditions that some of our troops had to endure during the early stages of the troubles in Northern Ireland were almost unbelievable, and I should like to read to your Lordships one paragraph from an article written by a company commander in the Grenadier Guards, and which was first published late last year in the British Army Review. It is dealing with the accommodation problems that the company had to face when they arrived in Belfast, and it reads:The principal administration problem facing us throughout our tour has been the lack of accommodation. For us there was none. In this deployment we slept in two filthy derelict houses which boasted one unfiushable lavatory.He goes on later:In the first ten weeks of our tour we moved hither and thither; platoons of the company at Belfast and Londonderry. We slept in one bank, two shirt factories, a factory selling rubber accessories, a Presbyterian Church, an Orange Hall, a dairy, several private huts, one Methodist hall, five T.A. centres, an abandoned prison, numerous miscellaneous derelict houses, a county court house, two Royal Ulster Constabulary stations, an ex-bus station, a sheep shelter, innumerable three-ton vehicles, a childrens' créche, Her Majesty's ship 'Sea Eagle,' a naval maintenance yard, and an ex-seamen's hostel.Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House assure us that these conditions no longer exist? I think he probably will, for if he cannot, how can one expect Servicemen to remain satisfied with their lot in conditions such as these?
629 My Lords, I think that by and large the current recruiting advertising is good, but I wonder how good the overall control of the recruiting centres is. I have heard some not very good reports. It has been suggested to me, and I mention it as an aside, that if only certain members of the Inner Cabinet, such as the First Secretary of State, or the Secretary of State for the Social Services, would occasionally say something encouraging and appreciative about the Services, this in itself could have a good effect upon recruiting. Perhaps this suggestion might be passed on to the right quarter.
As has been said before, we accept that our primary defence commitment should be to Europe, but not to the exclusion of everything else. We must be concerned about the availability of our conventional forces. Surely it must be right at the present time to look beyond Europe; it is the protection of our trade routes that is so vital. The defence of the South Atlantic is just as important as that of the North Atlantic. What of the exposure of the NATO flanks? We all know that Western Europe's economy relies very largely on oil from the Middle East brought in tankers via the Indian Ocean and the Cape route. I have recently seen the Royal Navy to-day described as something little better than a coastal defence force. The naval recruiting advertisements imply that the Royal Navy have 200 or more warships permanently at sea to support our friends and interests. In fact, some 60 of these ships were not available last year because they were refitting, or were in reserve. And is it not true that some 44 of them are 360 ton wooden minesweepers?
As the number of our ships dwindles, those that remain have to spend more time at sea, and consequently family separation becomes more frequent. Report No. 116 of the Prices and Incomes Board, dated June, 1969, states that 69 per cent. of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines gave family separation as their reason for leaving the Service. I saw it reported in a recent edition of Blackwoods Magazine that a Junior Minister of the Crown stated in Singapore that the Royal Navy's most important task to-day is the Beira blockade—surely the most astonishing statement 630 ever made by a Minister of the Crown before dinner.
My Lords, what of the Fleet Air Arm? Is it not a fact that the Government have created and are creating deliberate redundancies here? "Ark Royal" is good, I am assured, for a further twenty years after her major refit, but it is doubtful whether there will be enough men to man her in a few years' time. Why is no Fleet Air Arm Squadron being allowed to perform at the Farnborough Air Display this year? They want to be there themselves.
How right was the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, when he said that it is Soviet policy to supplant the West in every area vital to us. The Russians continue to strengthen their positions throughout the oceans of the world, by making friends, influencing people and promptly filling the vacuum left by our withdrawals. They use, of course, as their agents their merchant shipping fleets aided by the hordes of Russians who enjoy diplomatic status in every country where Russian interests can be advanced. In Malta, Russian warships have been using the Grand Harbour. Requests will be pressed for repair and docking facilities. Should Mr. Mintoff win the forthcoming Maltese election it is surely not beyond the realms of possibility that we shall see a Russian base within the Commonwealth! In the meantime, Her Majesty's Government refuse to cooperate with two Powers—Greece and South Africa—whose geographical positions are of such vital strategic importance but whose anti-Communist zeal appears to offend.
My Lords, I could go on for hours, but I think that I have said enough. In my view, the failure to attract men to the Services stems directly from the overall defence policy. There is, I am afraid, still a lack of faith in the future that the Services offer. Taking part of the closing words, if I may, of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, as he wound up last year's Defence debate in your Lordships' House, we may still have "a quality in our Services that is second to none". I think we do, but where is the quantity? To achieve the latter, we must restore a sense of purpose. This, the future Conservative Administration will do.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, at this stage of a debate in your Lordships' House one endeavours to throw away much of what one intended to say, and to speak to your Lordships extempore. I should like to cover an area of which I have some knowledge, and that is South-East Asia, Malaysia and Singapore. I must make one comment in connection with that area and say something about the speech, to which I listened, of the noble Lord, Lord Soper. I would ask him, in his consideration of whether we should take action in any part of the world, if he thinks that it is morally right to leave people in subjugation suffering from a tyrannical oppression; and if he himself has ever been in a position to experience these sufferings. I can only tell him that I have been in a country under an occupying Power for four years; and I can say, with regard to the people of that country, that the fact that we made the exertions we did to relieve them from their sufferings and bring them back to a condition of life which they understood was, in my view, a moral right for which we fought in that part of the world. I say that with affection, having listened to what the noble Lord had to say.
Whether one's policy in regard to defence may be a success in any part of the world must, in my view, be dependent upon whether one is welcome in that area. May I, in passing, draw attention to one incident in my life which occurred in the Malayan Campaign, when we were retreating, after the Japanese ouslaught in the North of Malaya, through the centre down to the South? In five weeks of continual harassment and terrible suffering, one thing which blazed itself on my mind was the terrible suffering of the local population of that country, who for the first time in their lives had seen all the terrors of a modern war. Until then they had not understood what modern war meant. I felt then that if ever we went back to Malaya or South-East Asia it would surely be right to accustom those people to defend themselves and not to rely on us. But at that stage of our history we were quite unable to do that, because the people here in Britain were defending the shores of these islands and all their exertions had to be made back here in Europe.
632 One would have thought that, after their sufferings, their attitude would be that they did not want us back there again. But, my Lords, we are still welcomed with open arms. They want us back, and they want to be associated with us. Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore, made a speech at the last Lord Mayor's Banquet in London in which he said that he preferred to deal with the British, that he understood them, and that he wanted our association to continue. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, echoed those views.
To come to a specific proposal for South-East Asia, I think it is the Government's policy that they would reinforce that area with a capability strike force of 2,000 or 3,000 troops based in the United Kingdom. They would be flown out there in an emergency, and would help to maintain the integrity of that part of the world. But if I know anything about Malays and Chinese, it is that they are complete realists about what goes on in the world. To refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who was Director of Operations in Malaya when we were facing a Communist insurrection, what we then wanted most was reliable information. But you are not going to get any information at all if the local people feel that you are not on top and that in the end Communist terrorism is going to win. I say that because that kind of feeling is endemic in the area, and the country lends itself to it. With due respect to the Government, I do not believe that sending a force out there will be anything like so effective in assisting the people in a place where we are welcome as a permanent small force stationed in the territory would be. For those reasons I support my Party's proposals for the Far East—that we should have a small force composed of Commonwealth units to maintain stability, and that we should come to an agreement in consultation with Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and other interested people.
In conclusion, may I say that I was rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, should condemn the President of the United States, with all the great difficulties facing him at the moment, for the action he has taken in 633 Cambodia? I imagine that the President took those steps most reluctantly and, in view of the perils which face him, I am sure that it was done with the best of intentions in order to get a withdrawal from Vietnam as soon as possible.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I regret that each time we have had a major Defence debate since 1964 I have inflicted my opinions on your Lordships' House, and so have many others on the list to-day. The only exceptions in my case have been when I was on one of my periodic visits to Australia. If I combine that statement with the fact that when I first came to your Lordships' House I was a Territorial Army A.D.C. to the Queen, and am now Honorary Colonel of a TAVR III regiment of eight men—all that is left of 12 major and minor units—it may give me an excuse to make yet another short plea.
To my way of thinking, the duty of Government is primarily to protect the future of the country and the people it has been elected to govern. What use the most ideal Welfare State, the most perfect educational system, if we had been overrun by the Nazis in the last war, or if we are overrun by the Chinese in the next? What nonsense, because we disagree with the internal politics of another country, to jeopardise the future of our own. Our Government did not, and probably still do not, like the Spanish system, so we insulted a proud race by refusing to have naval manœuvres with them. The result was that they gave their orders to France and caused us a lot of expense in the confrontation over Gibraltar.
Our Government do not like the system in South Africa, so that when the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic are swarming with Russian submarines—and we should have learned the lesson there by now—we refuse to arm the South Africans, although we had agreed to do so, and so jeopardise the Simonstown Agreement. So that, following the closure of the Suez Canal, they lay supplies vital to our continued existence open to attack by what is probably the most powerful submarine force deployed in that part of the world to-day.
In the last three wars in which we have been involved, Australians and New 634 Zealanders have sent men all over the world to aid this country. Your Lordships may remember that in a debate on the insulting way we treat Australian and New Zealand visitors, I quoted the inscription on the war memorial of the little village of Cambridge in New Zealand:Tell England, ye that mark this monument, faithful to her we died, and rest content.How honourable it is of us now to pull out of Singapore, the last ditch before Australia and New Zealand, especially when nobody wants us to go.
And do not let anyone "kid" your Lordships that the exercise now going on fools anyone, least of all the troops taking part. With bases thrown away and carriers abolished, we should not have a hope in hell of getting to that part of the world. Where would we get the overflying rights? What guarantees are there of that? With the Russians controlling the Middle East, and China probably controlling Central Africa, perhaps the noble Lord will tell us what guarantees he can get that we can fly our troops out. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, made a remarkable and excellent speech on the Common Market. He pointed out that by the year 2030 one in three of the world's population would be a Chinaman. What do we do about the implications of that situation? Again, we abolish our carriers. We do not even leave a platoon in Singapore to guard an airfield; and, into the bargain, we abuse the Americans for trying to stem the tide elsewhere. Yet we seem to be going to keep troops in Hong Kong. What for? To be an appetiser for shark's fin soup? I do not see the logic in removing ourselves from one place but not the other.
While on that part of the world, let us forget our obligations and any old-fashioned ideas of loyalty, honour and all the rest of it, to our friends and relations, and let us think for a moment just of self-interest. We have over 3,592 million dollars invested in Australia. Surely, that alone warrants a battalion, an airfield and an anchorage in Singapore. No—our friends and relations can go hang. It seems to me so short-sighted. I asked the noble Lord a Question about the unparalleled iron ore recently discovered in Australia. I tried to point out to him at the time the importance 635 of the fact that we should get our share of it, and that it should not all go to our competitors. But the reply was completely lacking in any strategic appreciation of this terrific bonanza, and my Question was countered with a crack about fluctuations on the Stock Exchange—the fluctuations being, as it happens, in nickel and not in iron ore. But that is beside the point.
The Government have decided in their wisdom to become committed to Europe, and Europe only; and so, just to make certain that we have not a friendly Government remaining anywhere, we upset the Maltese, presumably with the object of making certain that NATO is outflanked. For centuries, the policy of this country has been to keep the Russians out of the Mediterranean and the Gulf, but I suppose that, because it was the pre-1964 policy, it must be wrong, and we now seem to be encouraging the Russians in.
On the same sort of point, I asked a question supplementary to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, the other day on Guyana. I asked whether there were any commitments of our troops should the threatened attack from Venezuela materialise. There was no definite answer to my question. I wonder about British Honduras and Guatemala. There are no adequate reserves anywhere of our Regular or other Forces which can cope with any extra burden laid upon them. Your Lordships have heard—and this has been referred to by other noble Lords—of the drain of Northern Ireland alone; how reserves which, so the Press says, were promised for NATO have had to be called upon. Look at our trouble in transporting our troops. There was a bit of trouble the other day in the two companies which were doing winter warfare training in Norway because at the same time we were having to withdraw from Libya.
To get back to our own little Island, one would think that even an inward-looking Government would pay a little more attention to our preservation. It does not seem to be so. Just at the moment when, according to articles in The Times earlier on this year, there is a possibility of a dirty nuclear set-to between Russian and China, what do we do? All those of your Lordships who, like 636 myself, went through the Civil Defence Staff College (or the erstwhile Civil Defence Staff College) at Sunningdale knew that, for the application of the principles that had been worked out for protecting our population from nuclear fall-out, a home Army—the erstwhile heretofore Territorial Army—was an essential ingredient. But what do we do? We abolish the Territorial Army and then the Civil Defence. That leaves the rump of our defence forces with little or no reserves, which as I see it is all we have to-day.
Several noble Lords have recently been on a visit to Germany. I would be interested to hear from some of them if they received the same impression as a friend of mine whose son is commanding a battalion out there came back with; that is, that they are convinced that we must either have a reformed Territorial Army or National Service. Now if people are thinking in that way at those sort of levels, surely—and this has been mentioned before today—it is about time that, on a dispassionate basis, all-Party preferably, we worked this situation out.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Again, I should like some precision from noble Lords who talk about reserves. What does the noble Lord mean by a reformed Territorial Army? Does he mean the sort of Territorial Army we had before, or a larger TAVR II?
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, if the noble Lord the Leader of the House will let me get on, I shall come to my suggestions in a minute, which I hope will answer that point.
Recently, the prospective C.I.G.S. was reported in the Sunday Telegraph as saying that during his tour of duty he would not be troubled with the question of National Service coming up on his plate. As he is well known as having a lot to do with (shall we put it in this way?) the reform of the Territorial Army, it looks to me as if we are in rather a depressing position so far as any of our reserves are concerned—and I am now coming on to what I suggest. The only thing we can do, or should do, is first of all to turn the TAVR III cadres into full-strength units. That, I think, would help Regular recruiting, but, of course, not as much as it did before, when we had many 637 more T.A. centres. It would improve morale, because these people have been going on for years, even before they were reduced to eight men, with no pay and very little encouragement. If we did that, then we would have a basis on which to work up and increase the TAVR II, if necessary, after that.
I think we must stop the run-down of the Fleet Air Arm. Reference has been made in the Press to what looks like a very spiteful decision about performing at Farnborough. I suggest that the Government should develop more quickly, as was suggested by the head boffin from Farnborough several years ago to the Fisher Society, a cheap carrier force based on a development of the Harrier. I suggest, also, that there might be quite a saving in abolishing the R.A.F., as suggested by the articles of Wing-Commander Allen, and creating an Army Air Arm and a Fleet Air Arm in its place. All long-range strategic bombing should be the responsibility nowadays of rockets. And for Heaven's sake keep just a couple of battalions in Singapore and Malaya or forever hang our heads in dishonourable, cowardly shame!
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I confess to considerable temptation to do what I can to follow the speech that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, which I found much to the point and, in some places, moving, but I think I had better stick to what I had prepared to say, otherwise I shall be making two speeches. My line is different but not entirely dissociated from that of the noble Lord. The first thing that I have to say, and I say it sadly, is that in this White Paper I detect no true overall defence policy at all. It contains a certain amount of defence policy, of course; but it is embedded firmly in a scheme for saving money—an aim laudable in intention and necessary, but not one to be carried to such a length as to jeopardise that which it pretends to be its intention to secure, the safety of the nation.
It may sound to your Lordships that I suspect that this White Paper and Government policy are some kind of confidence trick. I do. I think it is a confidence trick. I impute no dishonesty to the Government; but confidence, none 638 the less, is something I do not have in this policy. And this is how the trick is worked. Over a period (of years and through a series of White Papers you sell to the public the idea that the defence of Great Britain is indissolubly dependent on the defence of Western Europe by the united powers of NATO. There is no trick in that; it is true. The trick begins when you embark on the enterprise of selling to Parliament and the people the idea that if the NATO area is secure, then Great Britain is secure. That is not true. It might be true if the country concerned were Western Germany or Luxembourg; but not Great Britain.
Before attempting to convince your Lordships that I am right, may I show you where the trick begins? It begins in the first two sentences of the White Paper:Britain enters the Seventies with an overall military capability which no other West European power can surpass. Her Armed Forces are the most highly trained in the North Atlantic Alliance.Those two statements are unquestionably true but they imply that Great Britain is a European Power and a member of NATO, and that when you have said that you have said all. But you have not said all. Great Britain is a nation surrounded by the sea and does not draw her sustenance in peace, and could never draw it in war however closely integrated we might become, from the Continent of Europe.
I offer a third quotation for consideration. Paragraph 69, page 14 of the White Paper, says:The broad direction of our defence policy for the new decade is set. It will be a European policy firmly based on NATO. It will not however be inward-looking. We shall still have certain obligations elsewhere including the protection of …Of what? What, elsewhere, have we an obligation to protect? There are various answers; but surely the first of them is our own overseas trade, the shipping routes that span the world and whose severance, since we live in the sea, means death. But there is no hint of that in the White Paper, no inkling in that passage that I began to read and which ends like this:… certain obligations elsewhere, including the protection of Hong Kong and other dependencies, and we shall retain the capability to operate outside the NATO area with 639 allies or in support of the United Nations should the need arise.Whatever that may mean.
So, my Lords, it comes to this: that "Britain enters the Seventies with an overall military capability which no other West European power can surpass" is true; but it is not precisely what we want to know. What we want to know is whether or not we have the right kind of military capacity to meet our needs. I believe that we have not and that where we lack it above all is at sea. That is where the confidence trick is worked by which the Government have made economies at a risk infinitely greater than any economies could justify. They have done it simply by saying nothing about it; and it seems that almost, not quite but almost, nobody in either House has noticed it.
My Lords, to look out from the United Kingdom you must look out to sea; and I find the view a sombre one indeed. For that reason, I propose to turn my back upon the land and upon the Army for which I was trained and in which I served, and invite your Lordships to look with me for a few minutes upon the Navy,whereon "—in the words of the Elizabethan Articles of War—under the good Providence of God, the wealth, safety and strength of the Kingdom chiefly depend".Just occasionally in these debates one hears a remark about "maritime strategy "; sometimes how, being a maritime nation, we ought to have a maritime strategy or that our strategy is not maritime enough. Very often that remark is a result of muddled thinking. The reason why I say that is this. If you are surrounded by water, your strategy is maritime anyway, whether you like it or not. If you choose you may decide to keep a standing army and have no Fleet, but your strategy does not thereby cease to be maritime; it merely becomes silly and you will probably starve. What you have done is to abolish its most vital component, the naval strategy. And that is precisely what this Government have done. As the Government of a maritime nation, depending for its safety on a maritime strategy, they have abandoned naval strategy altogether.
640 As has been pointed out in this debate already, Soviet Russia is steadily expanding her influence, particularly in that quarter of the globe where it is most likely to affect us most; namely, the near East (which for some reason is now called the Middle East), the traditional strategic centre of the world, in fact, where the oil is, where the Russian sea route from the Black Sea comes down to if it does not yet actually pass through, the Suez Canal into the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean beyond. Under the guise of providing aid in the war against Israel, Russia is slowly establishing an ascendancy over Egypt that in the end may bring her mastery over the whole area—and its oil, as the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, pointed out at the beginning of the debate—and is doing all this without giving the American Sixth Fleet an excuse to intervene.
Given this fact, plus the fact that the Russians have a Fleet more powerful than ever the Germans had, it is plain that the strategic pattern of the whole world is changing. It is true that the U.S. Navy is more powerful still; but have we any agreement that in any emergency they would accept responsibility for safeguarding our sea communications? I think not. Some noble Lords may recall that my predecessor in your Lordships' House was an Admiral of the Fleet. In March, 1937, he said:It is for the safety of the Mercantile Marine in war that we go to the expense of maintaining a strong Navy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8/3/37; col. 572.]That thought was not original nor was it dependent on the need to safeguard the communications of the Empire that we then possessed.
May I ask your Lordships to listen to the words of George Savile, Marquess of Halifax, as long ago as 1694:The importance of our being strong at sea was ever very great, so in our present circumstances it is known to be much greater; because as formerly our force of shipping contributed greatly to our trade and safety, so now it is become indispensably necessary to our very being. To the question, 'What shall we do to be saved in this world?' There is no other answer than this. 'Look to your Moate.' The first article of an Englishman's creed must be that he believeth in the sea. Without that there needeth no General Council to pronounce him incapable of salvation here.What Halifax said had been true for centuries; it has always been true; it is true now, I am certain.
641 Lord Fisher maintained that "five strategic keys lock up the world ". They were Singapore, Alexandria, Gibraltar, Dover and the Cape of Good Hope;. I doubt whether, sixty-five years later, he would change that list at all; and I am quite certain that he would still include that golden key, the Cape of Good Hope. Round that Cape come three-fifths of the oil supplies for the Free World. It is the gateway into the Indian Ocean and the lands that lie beyond the Eastern and Southern Hemisphere. I am convinced that in war the keeping open of that gateway would be vital to our survival—even more vital than it was between 1939 and 1945. Keeping it open means having free access to the ports of South Africa. This is provided for us, not entirely but partly, by the terms of the so-called Simonstown Agreement, about which we have heard a great deal in the last twenty-four or forty-eight hours.
My Lords, I make no point whatever about the question whether or not we should be sending ships to South Africa at this moment, because that plays no part in the Agreement. As I understand it, we have no such obligation. The Agreement is in fact a group of agreements, arrived at by an exchange of letters between the two Governments, the chief object of which is to organise and co-ordinate between the two countries a means by which the sea routes round the Cape shall be safeguarded in time of war; to provide for a naval Commander-in-Chief for the Royal Navy in South Africa and various joint collaborative provisions. That particular Agreement is called the Agreement on Defence of the Sea Routes Round South Africa (Cmnd 9520). In the last paragraph, No. 17, it says:This Agreement will remain in force until such time as the two Governments decide otherwise by mutual agreementI should like to address a question to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for him to answer, if he will, when he winds up the debate. It is: Has this Agreement in fact remained in force; is it in force now, or has it been modified or changed in any way, with or without the mutual agreement of the two Governments? It may or may not be worth mentioning that this has nothing whatever to do with the question whether or not we are hon 642 ouring any agreement about ships to South Africa.
My Lords, apart from that, the brutal truth is that we, a maritime nation, depending for our very lifeblood on the sea, have no naval strategy that I can detect; only a collection of half-defined, ad hoc "commitments"—a fashionable word. So, not surprisingly perhaps, we have very few ships. I will not go into the matter of Fleet submarines which has been covered fairly thoroughly, but I would mention that we have some patrol submarines. According to the White Paper we have a force of 27 which will be in operation, or in service, during this year—27, my Lords! Four years ago the number in service was 36; so that in four years there has been a reduction of nine. The Russians have 400 submarines or thereabouts, many of them nuclear.
The question of aircraft carriers has been thoroughly covered, particularly by my noble friend and namesake Lord Glasgow, and I do not propose to refer to it any more. But of the so-called "major warships" I understand (this matter was referred to by my noble friend Lord Napier and Ettrick) that only about 70 are likely to be in action at any time. How does that come about? My noble friend Lord Dundee has referred to the speech by the Prime Minister at Plymouth in 1964, in which he said:The Royal Navy is not adequate for our needs in the 1960s. I believe that we shall need an expanded naval shipbuilding programme.My noble friend referred to the fact that at that time there were 180 first-line ships, with 170 in reserve. He wondered what the figures are now. I can tell my noble friend what the figures are now. The answer—the almost incredible answer—is this. For the 181 first-line ships that we had in 1964, we now have 143—a reduction of 38 ships, or 21 per cent. In 1964, of ships in reserve, undergoing long refits and so on, there were 107. To-day there are 38, a reduction of more than 48 per cent. The total strength of the Fleet now, counting ships of all categories, operational and otherwise, is a fraction over one-half of that figure which the Prime Minister said was inadequate four years ago.
My Lords, the Royal Navy, which I believe is still, as it always has been, the most efficient fighting force in the world, has been reduced in numbers 643 and in striking power to a point at which I do not believe it can carry out the task laid on it by this White Paper. And the White Paper does not even mention the greatest task of all, the protection of the ships of the Merchant Navy. This staggering dereliction on the part of the Government seems, as I suggested earlier, to have passed almost unremarked—with certain notable exceptions, such as my noble friends Lord Glasgow and Lord Ashbourne, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne.
We all know what has happened to the Army, how it has been whittled away until behind the field formations there stands only the mobilisation reserve. Even the framework, the reinforcement and expansion, has been dismantled. That sort of thing has happened before. Often in its long history the Army has been reduced far below the danger level, as now. But previously when this was done it was done behind the sure shield of the Navy. Now, for the first time in this island nation's history, the Navy, too, has been run down. The sure shield is no longer there. That is what the Government have done, and I doubt whether there could be a more damning indictment of any Government.
My Lords, do not tell me that it does not matter; that in some mysterious way all will yet be well. It is a crime greater than many for which men have been impeached. Do not tell me, in the words of the White Paper that:virtually all our Navy is earmarked for assignment to NATO …and at the same time ask me to believe that our world-wide lifelines can be saved. I would rather listen to more weighty words. On October 21, 1918, the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Fleet, submitted to the War Cabinet his views upon the Naval terms of an Armistice—and I quote from those views:We have built up a great military organism, but the British nation still exists on sea power. Although a platitude, it is one which will bear constant repetition, that even though we gain many victories on land, one defeat at sea and the Allied cause is lost.My Lords, that remains as true to-day as it was when Beatty wrote it and called it a platitude.
Is there nobody, on either Front Bench, in either House of Parliament, who will stand up and say as much? Is there 644 nobody on this side who will rise above silly squabbles about whether one Party's defence policy is better or worse than the other's because it looks like costing less or more? We are talking now of the life and possible death of a nation—something rather more important than a financial scheme for rescuing an incompetent Government from an economic mess. Some Member of the Government may come to me and say, "What you have said implies the spending of great sums of money. How do you propose to find the money?" My reply would be: "It is not my busines to tell you how to find the money. It is your business, above all else, to ensure the safety of the people who have committed that high trust to you. When you have done that, then you will be free to consider how to extract from the long-suffering people the money to pay for Socialism's private dreams."
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Moyle, is not in the Chamber. He made an attack on my late father, although I know that he meant it in the kindest way. One other interesting suggestion was that we turned barracks into hotels and marines into hotel managers. It is a little late to think about that, when we cannot even get dinner here to-night for those of us who are going to be late.
To-day, my Lords, I have listened with interest to some extraordinary speeches, some so old-fashioned as to be almost impossible to deliver in the 1970s. The idea that one Service can still do anything by itself is to me quite unbelievable; the idea that a maritime or blue-water policy ever did anything by itself is equally unbelievable. You have only to read Correlli Barnett on the Army to knock that over straight away. It has never been one Service but always a combined strategy that will save this country; and it is even more so now, with the third Service with us. Those who have recently served would, I think, be staggered and ashamed to have listened to some of the speeches to-day. We no longer think of ourselves as blue, pale blue or khaki. We look upon ourselves as part of one Service to the nation, and the proportion has to be judged in the balance. I wish that that book by Correlli Barnett were compulsory reading; it is well worth looking at.
645 I should like to go straight from there to the Far East—only briefly, because so much has already been said about it—and to put a different view from some of the amateur military historians in another place, notably Mr. Enoch Powell, on what the Americans are doing in Cambodia. I, for one, believe that it is an expert, right military operation. They have decided to withdraw from Vietnam, and before you withdraw you secure your flanks. That is exactly what the Americans are doing in Cambodia, and with great success. They have uncovered an enormous number of arms and ammunition dumps; they have encouraged the South Vietnamese forces to do a lot by themselves, and to push on; and they are going to secure their flanks before they can properly withdraw at the time when they say they will withdraw. No criticism has ever been levelled on the North Vietnamese for coming down to occupy so much of Cambodia; there is only criticism of the Americans for going in and out to save their own forces later.
I will not go at all to Germany other than to say how much I enjoyed Lord Winterbottom's view on the use and functions of tactical nuclear weapons in a war in Europe. The argument has been going on between Mr. Healey and the noble Lord, Lord Wigg—and it is a pity that the noble Lord is not here to-day. The solution is, I should have thought, somewhere slightly between the two, in that the forces there cannot hold on for quite as long as Mr. Healey would like us to think, but not for quite so short a time as the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, would like us to think. What really will matter is whether we can maintain the mobility of the Allied Forces there, and obviously, in particular, the British part of the Allied Forces there. That means sea supplies, air support and land mobility—all three, not just the one. It means that the brigades which the Government have rightly reorganised out there into the new shape are all armoured brigades, and the men commanding them should be basically armoured soldiers who are forward thinking, quick reacting and used to what is going to be necessary in mobile warfare.
Let me make another quick switch, to Malta. This is where I feel more uncomfortable even than I have on the other spheres of this debate. I was not 646 here for the debate on the financial implications and difficulties that have occurred there, but I read it with interest. I must admit that I could see a little bit of right and a little bit of wrong on both sides. But it appeared to be more mistaken on the Government's side than on poor Mr. Borg Olivier's side. It seemed to me that he was in a most difficult and awkward position. His country is important to us all—indeed, it is important to the Free World. The island is not, I suppose, more than an anchored aircraft carrier; but it is a large one. Its people are brave, and we do not want anyone else to have it or to have influence there. By the way, I heard it mentioned by some noble Lord that a Russian warship has been in the Grand Harbour. I can assure the noble Lord that no Russian warship has ever been in the Grand Harbour since the days of Grand Master Hoskiss; nor will there be.
Why should we keep our Agreement going? What will happen if we break it and the Maltese tell us to get out, and we do not make the Financial Agreement? In that event it is quite possible that we shall see Russian warships in the Grand Harbour. It is easy to keep a force in Malta and to retain it: air, sea and land forces there—easy and happy for them; a wonderful running up area for the sea, because you get good weather; the same for the air; and a wonderful resting place for the Army. It is a place that we should keep,, in duty to NATO. We should want to know what advice has been given by our own Ministry of Defence on what is our interest in Malta.
One other thing I should like to mention about that country is that the 1st Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery, is due to leave the British Service altogether in September or October of this year. The regiment has already left the Service in the British Army of the Rhine. It was founded in various shapes until it became the 1st Royal Malta Artillery shortly after the British were asked to come to Malta, when the French were still there. Its members served with distinction through war and in peace: more recently, as a gunner regiment, well trained and technically proficient in its own role. Then, suddenly, it was asked by us to become a transport regiment in 647 Germany, to support the British Army of the Rhine. This it did with enormous success, throwing itself wholeheartedly into this new and totally different role.
The men were good at work, smart on parade; they were excellent motorcyclists, excellent swimmers, and runners up in the football final in the year while I was still there. I was doing an inspection of them and had had lunch with them on the very day they heard that they were to come out of the British Army after all that service. I have felt small before, and almost ashamed to be British; I felt it very much then. But they were so dignified, proud and quiet that it made one almost more ashamed, both in the sergeants' mess and, indeed, in the officers' mess. I think that we should pay them a tribute, because we owe them a real debt of gratitude for having served us so well in the British Army of the Rhine, especially those of us who served there. One could hope very much that we would go on serving together.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way for a moment. While he is making his remarks about the 1st Regiment, I think we ought to recollect that with their 26 pounders they shot the Italians out of the water just before the German and Italian invasion. I forget the actual date, but they were extremely efficient.
§ VISCOUNT MONCKTON OF BRENCHLEY
I thank the noble Lord; that just adds to what I have said.
Everybody has mentioned the new pay system. I welcome it wholeheartedly. It will be a great success. It has at last achieved the right view on the single man in the Services—and that is really what the Services want: the more wives we carry about the more difficult it is. This, I think, will give a lead. There are minor anomalies which can easily be sorted out and which I am sure will be. It will, I feel certain, increase recruiting. But it is not the only thing that will increase recruiting. Confidence also will do this. And confidence has been difficult to create, not only here, but everywhere else. The confidence which is now lacking in the United States will make their affairs more difficult; their crash in Wall Street, and our crash 648 to come, is from a lack of confidence; and it is that which will also affect recruiting very much. I am going to say nothing more about Reserves other than to ask whether plans really exist to call up all the Reserves: that is, the TAVR II and the cadres. If so, how? And if it is not breaking security, where?
I should like to end on a quotation from Mr. Douglas-Home, the Defence Correspondent of The Times. He was dealing with the turnover in the Services now; that is to say, how many people are leaving the Services each year after their engagement is completed and going into civil life, and what good or harm it may do. He said:The Services must realise during the 1970s that they provide a remarkable facility through their training programmes, management expertise and technical efficiency".They are providing these three things for men when they leave the Services, and we must make use of them and make it worth while for these men when they come in to serve. I have used the word "serve" because Mr. Douglas-Home goes on about the study recently done in the Ministry of Defence on the basic reason why young officers have joined any of the three Services. It was found unexpectedly that the highest proportion of them joined to serve their country: not for money; not to see the world; not to gain a trade; it was quite simply to serve their country. That wants saying. It is nothing to be ashamed of, and I think it is a suitable note on which to end.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I have taken part in these Defence debates for a considerable number of years, in the time of both this Government and the last Government, and I have always pursued the advocacy of equipping our naval forces to take their part in maritime strategy. My noble friend Lord Monckton referred to the naval element that is necessary to pursue a proper maritime strategy. Normally, this the line I should have pursued tonight, but my noble friends, both naval and military, have covered the point so well that I can confine my remarks to a few things in the Defence White Paper with which I am not quite happy.
Last Sunday, at what were the Liverpool headquarters of the old Western Approaches Command during the war, 649 there were ceremonies to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our victory in the Battle of the Atlantic when for the second time in this century we defeated a nearly successful attempt to cut off our sea supplies. Although we finally triumphed in both World Wars, it was a near run thing, and only at the cost of thousands of lives in the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, and great hardships for the civilian population and enormous losses of shipping. One wondered, as they celebrated at Liverpool last Sunday, what they thought of our position to-day, 25 years later, with nearly 400 Russian submarines poised to threaten our trade routes.
Still more do I wonder what impact the White Paper, Cmnd. 4290, of which we are asked to take note to-day, would have made on the distinguished and gallant men who took part in the actions and who made those victories possible. What, for instance, would Percy Noble, Max Horton, Peter Gretton or my old friend and contemporary "U-Boat" Walker think? The White Paper opens with the proud boast that Britain enters the 'seventies with an overall military capability which no other Western European Power can surpass; that her Armed Forces are the most highly-trained in the North Atlantic Alliance, and that they have already in service, or in immediate prospect, a range of equipment second to none. Even if this be true, or partly true, it is beside the point—we are not competing in a league game for the European Defence cup. This Defence Paper is supposed to show what progress the Government have made in producing defence forces properly equipped and in adequate numbers for the defence of this country in its world-wide interests.
I will not waste your Lordships' time by speculating on what those gallant men of past campaigns would say about this White Paper—though as many of them were known to many of us in both World Wars we can make a pretty shrewd guess. I think that they would agree with The Times defence correspondent who wrote on February 14:The picture presented is one of almost wanton neglect of any real provision for defence. If an emergency now overtook us, we should have little or no supplies of ammunition, of vehicles, of tanks, or guns, or medical supplies—or any other equipment.650 In fact, my Lords, this Defence White Paper is a false and thoroughly misleading prospectus, well padded with descriptions of reorganisation, streamlining, computerisation, all like the conjuror's patter designed to deceive the audience and to take their eyes off the real facts—which are that this Government have absolutely no appreciation of our real need for defence, particularly the need for maritime strategy on which alone our real safety depends, and is making no proper provision for this.
Despite all the reorganisation of what can in the main be fairly described as "admin. nuts and bolts", some of which I freely admit is of value, the real position, as can be read in the daily prints, is this: that refits of ships and submarines are falling behind; new building delayed or postponed indefinitely; recruiting deplorable; reserves in the main scrapped; home defence dismantled; Mark 24 torpedo and Sea Slug II in serious trouble. We cannot even supply B.A.O.R. with proper winter clothing. But, of course, we can boast that we are now the only Western European power without reserves.
Further, the White Paper boasts also about what is described as the "historic decision" to withdraw our forces from East of Suez and concentrate them in Europe. "Historic" is hardly the word I would use to describe this act of folly about which we have had comments from my noble friends behind me—folly by a nation with world-wide interests, and depending for its safety on a maritime strategy to protect its world-wide interests. Moreover, if it is necessary, for one reason or another, to redeploy one's forces, why boast about it and give all the information away to potential enemies and, furthermore, discourage one's friends and allies? For instance, I do not suppose that that remarkable man, the Prime Minister of Singapore, would subscribe to the word "historic" as a description of this foolish decision.
The decision to concentrate all our forces in Europe brings us right up against the credibility of our deterrent. If it is not really credible, and seen to be really credible, B.A.O.R. and the other NATO forces in Europe will have "had it", whether it be in the centre of Europe or on the Southern or Northern flanks. This deterrent, as everyone knows, 651 depends on our four Polaris armed submarines, of which three are in service and one is over in America on her firing trials. In my view, five is the minimum we require for real safety. But an immediate point I wish to raise is that these wonderful ships will obviously be worked very hard in terms of continuous sea time. Apart from regular test and relief, they will need refit. In fact, "Resolution" is due to refit this July, and "Repulse" in April, 1971. But, due to the delays that have befallen "Dreadnought" in her refit, it seems possible that the refits of "Resolution" and "Repulse" may be delayed or, worse still—and this would be quite unacceptable—may have to be undertaken together.
My Lords, the other matter in this White Paper which causes me (and, as your Lordships will have gathered from the debate, not only me but the majority here to-night) grave concern is the decision to cease fixed-wing flying training in the Navy, coupled with the decision to withdraw the aircraft carriers from service within the comparatively near future. The White Paper does not tell us how the Fleet is to get air cover: with what sort of aircraft; whether it is to be from land bases, or where those land bases will be. Your Lordships will know that it needs at least a squadron of aircraft to keep just two aircraft over a fleet of ships in nearby waters. Helicopters, valuable though they are in many situations, are not suitable as replacements for real strike aircraft, or aircraft of the future.
There is all too little time, five or six years—perhaps seven at the most—to retrieve this situation and produce both suitable aircraft and ships to carry them, all of which is easily within our financial and technical capabilities if we set ourselves to it and accord the right priorities. This White Paper fails to give any indication that resolute thinking and planning on these matters is in hand. We shall deserve all the disasters that will undoubtedly befall us if we take the attitude that it cannot be done and that in any case we cannot afford it.
The Navy Records Society have recently published a history of the Royal Naval Air Service which is based on State papers now released to the public gaze under the 30-year rule. This volume 652 was edited by that eminent naval historian Captain Stephen Roskill, R.N., well known for his objectivity and fair-mindedness. In his introduction he writes:The annals of the R.N.A.S. (or Fleet Air Arm) are in large measure a story of continuous controversy, and at the time of writing (1969) this state of affairs seems likely to continue.That is unfortunately true, but it need not have been so if the Government had had the sense to accept the Johns Templar Report.
I imagine that there are security reasons, and even more political reasons, why that Report could not be published. If it were published it would show up the Government's policy, in particular as regards the Fleet Air Arm, as the dangerous, if not criminal, folly than it really is. However little satisfaction it may be to some of us to-night, the Report will be published in less than 30 years' time. I shall not be alive to read it, and many of your Lordships here to-night will not be here to read it, but I should like to place on record in Hansard, May 13, 1970, my firm belief that that Report will depict with frightful clarity the ineptitude and lack of foresight displayed by this Government in planning our defence for the 'seventies—in particular, for maritime air. This gives me no personal satisfaction, because I fear that when the crunch comes we shall expect our young men to "Fly Navy", lacking all that they need except courage, just as we did in 1939.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ LORD BURNHAM
My Lords, if there is one certainty, it is that we cannot defend ourselves against all threats. We must, therefore, look to the most likely threat. I get the impression from the White Paper that it has been written without very much assessment of the capabilities or the likely intentions of our enemies. It seems to be common ground that the NATO Forces in Europe cannot defend Europe without the use of nuclear weapons. If nuclear weapons are used, it will be for us to use them first. I put it to you that if the Russians are convinced that we will use them there will be no war. It is a virtual certainty that there will be no war in Europe so long as the Russians remain convinced that we will fire the nuclear weapon.
653 There is a moral from this: that money spent on marginal reinforcement and re-equipment in Germany is wasted, in that it will have no effect on the overall military position, which depends entirely upon the nuclear weapon. However, comparable expenditure on forces to be used outside Europe could have a quite disproportionate effect on our capabilities overseas. I am not suggesting that we should withdraw forces, or deliberately weaken them in Europe, but I am asking the Government to look carefully at the possibility of improving our outside capability, rather than relatively throwing away money on machinery, although desirable machinery, by sending it to Europe, where it is not going to change the position.
The Russians are well aware of the situation, and I believe that they have no intention at present of waging war on any global basis; and they are not likely to change their minds about this until there has been a complete breakdown of NATO. But until such time comes as they cease to want to export Communism and expand their own national influence there will be continual pressure in distant parts of the world, at the same time as attempts to decompose (I suppose that is the word) democratic capitalist society. The latter is not a subject for this debate, nor is the means to counter it, but the former is, and I believe it gives rise to a far more likely requirement than any in Europe.
The second point I wish to make is connected with it, and is a subject which is not generally raised in polite society. Depending on which side of this House you sit, you believe that our forces are either inadequate or barely adequate for what they might have to do. In these circumstances the vital need is for accurate and timely intelligence of future trouble. I know that there are many persons to whom "intelligence" is a dirty word, particularly as we are a people who have no aggressive intentions and who believe that information about other countries ought not to be our business. I do not hold with that. The search for truth is an essential and honourable preoccupation. Governments get information by many means, and I have no intention of going into them now. But information requires to be processed and evaluated into the form 654 of accurate statements of situations as they are and reliable prophecies of situations which are going to arise. Much of this is the business of the Ministry of Defence.
At the present time I am delighted in many ways to see that there is pressure to reduce the size of the Ministry of Defence. But when such pressure exists, the branches which are not obviously cost-effective tend to be the ones that suffer, and if nothing happens the intelligence branches are ripe for the "cut". I should like to ask the Government if they agree that at the moment, when our forces are at best only barely adequate, we should pay more, and not less, attention to getting the information which the Government need to formulate policy and, if the policy fails, on which our troops will need to act.
§ 7.48 p.m.
LORD ST. OSWALD
My Lords, we hold our debate to-day sadly mindful of an echo from the last World War. General Wladyslaw Anders died yesterday in London. He was one of the great warrior commanders of Europe, and of the Free World. He was a man idolised by those he led in battle, and by the thousands that he led out of a first Soviet captivity in 1941. The valour and prowess of this man and his troops helped to preserve our freedom, while that of his own land was tragically lost. He remained to lead his people, patiently and uncomplainingly, in their exile among us. Some of us came to know him well in this unhappy but always dignified role. He is to be buried, most fittingly, at Monte Cassino, where he commanded the Poles in their heroic and historic assault, and where he deserves to lie, among his fallen comrades, wrapped in his fame on the site of a noble victory. There will be a ceremony in London next week, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government, and the Ministry of Defence in particular, will wish to be represented in a distinguished manner. I am sure that would be the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. By a strange and even splendid accident of history, to-day is the anniversary of the first fierce day of fighting for Monte Cassino; the battle opened 26 years ago last night, the same date as the General's death.
655 Such an event, with its reminder of sacrifice, should make us more than ever determined to prevent the need of similar sacrifice repeating itself. It is not enough to be determined in words. Prevention of future tragedy can only be achieved by resolute action and resolute decisions. If action demands some limited sacrifice to redeem us from overwhelming sacrifice, so long as we are wise and far-seeing we accept that cost; we foot the lesser bill. The price may be in terms of withholding some expenditure from our physical comforts or from the valued aspiring plans for the social improvement of a nation, as nearly every nation does to a greater or lesser degree. All such plans and all such personal comforts are protected by peace and demolished by war. The price, alternatively, or perhaps additionally, may be in terms of giving up some element of a nation's sovereignty to strengthen its alliances. To forfeit a little freedom in preserving freedom itself is a counsel of wisdom, for freedom is the first victim and all too often the permanent victim of war.
Defence to-day, for our and kindred peoples, is a matter not of waging war but of trying to avert war. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, said exactly this in opening the debate to-day, and I am happy that our thoughts and beliefs should chime together. It is also a protection from enslavement, the sort of enslavement that other countries have suffered and are suffering now. Therefore, when we argue, sometimes vehemently, it is an argument between friends pursuing the same objective. If on occasion we taunt each other, it is not to wound but to alert the other to matters which we conceive to be neglected, to our common peril. We are nearing the end of a fairly long debate, but not unwarrantably long in view of the subject. Anxieties have been expressed as to the state and management of our defences. I share some of those anxieties and I must express them, as noble Lords would expect. Some anxieties I shall seek to allay.
A little more than a year ago we discussed in this annual debate the philosophy of flexible response which the North Atlantic Alliance had formally adopted in December, 1967. If that philosophy is no more than a bluff, it will be seen as a bluff and must lose 656 all effect. The credibility of flexible or graduated response depends on its very flexibility; if it is not flexible, it is not credible. That I believed to be the disturbing case a year ago. I believe it is even more seriously so to-day. There is more cause for concern—concern based on facts which have not been concealed by the Government. Last year I quoted the Secretary of State for Defence in his frank statement of the facts, and I shall do so again. My quarrel is not that he, the Secretary of State, paints too rosy a picture of the military scene; it is that he fails to respond to the dangers he himself so starkly describes. I hope that the Government to-day, in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will be able to give some comfort, so long as the urge to comfort is not confused with complacency.
Three weeks ago my noble friend Lord Jellicoe and I spent some days in Brussels looking at certain aspects of Western defence. Our visits to the headquarters of NATO and SHAPE were arranged through the kindness of the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, for which we were both very grateful. My noble friend, as your Lordships have heard, would have opened this debate but he has reluctantly admitted himself to be ill. Made of such indestructible material, he is one who suffers the illusion that he never can be ill until the conviction is forced upon him, but he will return reinforced in vigour and stamina very shortly.
I think our impressions matched from what we saw and heard in Brussels, and those impressions matched very closely with those of our colleagues, such as my noble friend Lord Napier and Ettrick, who had visited B.A.O.R. in Germany a week or two before. The besetting fact is that NATO's conventional forces are alarmingly thin on the ground and in the air compared with those of the Warsaw Pact countries facing them. Last year the figures I quoted were from Mr. Healey's speech in Munich the previous February. This year he repeated many of them in the House of Commons, and we have had, among other evidence, a convincingly and disturbingly factual account in the Press from General Sir John Hackett. I do not intend to repeat the crude and telling statistics to-day; they have been referred to in the course of the debate. The Government have not 657 taken refuge in any factual pretence as to the imbalance across the Iron Curtain. But the White Paper we are debating today is in all conscience a pretty flimsy protection against the pointed facts of military realism.
It was some years ago that the present Government began using the Defence White Paper as a Party political document and the element of fanfaronade contained in it in this Election year was something we had to expect. We enter the 'seventies, says the White Paper, withan overall military capability which no other Western European power can surpass".Our forces havein service or in immediate prospect a range of equipment which is second to none.We haveincreased our contribution to the defence of Europe, vital to our survival"—a contribution whichwill reinforce the growing political and economic unity of Western Europe. … Britain's role has been transformed over the last five years by the historic decision to withdraw our land forces from their bases East of Suez and to concentrate them in Europe. … Our Army Reserves have been re-organised to provide a more effective reinforcement for the regular units committed to NATO. Substantial increases in Britain's contribution to NATO, following the invasion of Czechoslovakia, were announced in last year's Statement on Defence Estimates. … We are embarking on a programme of active and passive defence measures at our airfields in Germany to protect aircraft on the ground.Those are some of the claims which I consider open to question, either as to substance or as to extent, and which I shall question in no spirit of rancour, but in a spirit of pure inquiry.
One claim I do not question, and which I found accepted throughout NATO and SHAPE, was that our troops are the most highly trained in the North Atlantic Alliance. This reflects of course the great advantage of having Regular forces in distinction to conscript forces. I take one by one the other claims I have quoted from the White Paper. First, the overall military capability which no other Western European Power can surpass. I wonder whether this is true if we include France. If it were true, as I should like to believe, there are certain forms in which we in my Party believe that Britain is under-contributing—weaknesses which mean that our own highly 658 trained forces lack the degree of support they deserve.
My right honourable friend Mr. Geoffrey Rippon has named four basic needs as we see them: more front-line aircraft, better anti-tank defences, stronger reserves of men and materials and better mobility on land and sea. In saying this I should in fairness pay tribute to the fact that since our debate last year the decision has been made reversing that declared at the time that three of the Harrier Squadrons then envisaged as being stationed in Britain, though assigned to NATO, will now gradually be moved to German airfields. This is an excellent and appreciated step. I should like to ask, will they in fact be formed and on German airfields by the end of 1971, as I think has been anticipated?
All this is very much to the good. However, there is a disturbing rider. A week or two ago I was able to see a demonstration of the Harrier at Hurley, and one cannot but be impressed by it. It is of course subsonic, and therefore more vulnerable in terms of target acquisition to the enemy. The P 1154 would, as we said at the time, have been a good British buy. The concept of the V.S.T.O.L. aircraft under battle conditions has always included servicing and supply by helicopters. Without such supply in their hidden landing places they are no better off, after one sortie, than a normal combat aircraft "tied to a runway", to take the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, earlier to-day.
The Chinooks, which were cancelled, were intended to perform this essential task. None of the helicopters now in process of design and construction between Britain and France is sufficiently powerful to play this part: none mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, in the opening passage of his speech, so far as I know. I think I am right, but I should be very glad to be corrected. If I am right, is there any intention of placing the order for Chinooks again? Making due allowance for this fine aircraft, the Harrier, and regretting our lack of success in selling it more widely than we have been able to do, the total figure of British front-line aircraft does not measure up to the contribution which Britain has traditionally made to her 659 alliances, and certainly would not measure up to the needs of the fighting troops on the ground once a land battle had been opened.
Most serious of all, when will the R.A.F. possess again the long-range strike and reconnaissance aircraft—the staple element of its fighting effectiveness? With the cancellation of the TSR 2, the F 111 and the A.F.V.G. we wait upon the M.R.C.A. like waiting for Godot. I know that the noble Lord the Leader of the House, when TSR 2 is mentioned, conceals the wincing of his soul by simulated boredom or derision, but nobody seriously doubts that had that cancellation—that political ritual murder—not been carried out as an early act by his Government, we should be selling TSR 2s to America and many other countries to-day as fast as we could construct them. I will not—even if he is not listening—twist the knife in his conscience by quoting his reverent blandiloquent assurances about the F 111, not all that many moons ago. But what of the M.R.C.A.? I fear that among the many things he told us, the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, told us very little about that today.
That is all I shall say, out of all that can be said, on the question of aircraft. I turn to other forms of this "range of equipment second to none", which is in service or in immediate prospect. If I were a serving soldier I am pretty certain that I would choose to be in a Chieftain tank rather than any other military vehicle. When I served in Korea with Centurions they, in their time, were the finest tanks in service. The claim that the Chieftain is the best main battle tank in the world is no idle claim. I think the sales resistance of allied countries is largely misconceived. The fact is that other European allies prefer the Leopard. The Chieftain is slower and heavier—a disadvantage with compensating benefits in terms of protection. I am told, however, that the engine is suspect and has been giving trouble. Could the Government give some reassurance on this? The 120 mm. gun is, in the view of all, superb. But I have heard criticism of its ranging device, which is by coaxial machine gun—a relatively primitive method these days.
The doubt I heard professionally expressed is that the trajectory of the bullet 660 drops in relation to the trajectory of the shell, at its full a very considerable range, and thereby is inclined to mislead the gunner. A highly skilled gunner can overcome this by "bracketing", and the more skilled he is the less time this consumes. But as the Government will know, this has been regarded as a fault by prospective purchasers. I understand that a very up-to-date system of ranging through a Laser beam is being introduced, and we should like to learn something about how soon (if this is true) it is likely to be incorporated.
As regards anti-tank defences, we are told to-day by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, that Swingfire is about to be supplied to our infantry units, mounted on A.P.C.s. I should like to hear something of the scale, both in quantity and time, how many and when.
Since I am dealing, within this broad subject, principally with matters affecting the defence of Europe I shall not enlarge on what we see as other deficiencies under which our forces at present have to labour. The naval aspects have already been dealt with, first by my noble friend Lord Dundee and then by my noble and nautical friends on the Benches behind me: in particular, the uncertainty of the future of the carrier force, together with the lack of any surface-to-surface missile comparable to advanced Russian weapons, and the disturbing delay in the development of the new torpedo. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackle-ton, will feel bound to answer the penetrating and cogent questions put by my noble friends Lord Ashbourne and Lord Glasgow, in speeches which could be made only from wide and observant experience. It stands to reason that a warship is as good as its torpedoes, and to be armed with torpedoes from a previous world war must be discouraging to the finest fighting seamen. As has recently been said, we intend to make up for the present failure of the Government in the hunter-killer submarine programme.
There is another class of weapon deployed on the Continent of Europe in which we certainly do not surpass, or even compare with, some of our partners. It has a direct bearing on this basic question of credibility-cum-flexibility, upon which the accepted concept of European defence either must depend 661 or cannot depend. I am speaking of the tactical nuclear weapon; and I should like to say first that I have more respect than has sometimes been shown in both main Parties for Mr. Denis Healey's attempts to distinguish between strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. I agree that the distinction is difficult: It is also important so long as we are dependent upon an identifiable difference—identifiable to the enemy as well as to ourselves.
I am sure that Mr. Healey is right in tying it to targets as well as yield—perhaps even more to targets than to yield. This makes sense. I sympathise with the impossibility of describing it with precision in a Parliamentary Question, or even in a passage in a Parliamentary debate. I accept that it can be spelt out more comprehensively in agreement between allies, which have to be kept secure. But the credibility rests upon the existence, nature and deployment of the weapons themselves. Britain's only weapon of this type is Honest John—the earliest and most primitive; the least impressive. It has an outer accurate range of 30 kilometers and therefore, to be of any use, has to be located at precisely the right point behind the front; and fronts would be very fluid indeed once an attack began. There would be no certainty of being able to move it laterally behind the line because the line might well not exist in some important sections.
There are two more effective and modern weapons—Serjeant and Pershing, both of which I believe the Germans possess. Their ranges are, respectively. 45 to 140 kilometers and 160 to 600 kilometers. These are weapons which convincingly implement the concept of flexible response and thereby its objective of precluding attack.
My Lords, I return to the White Paper and its assurance that,We have increased our contribution to the defence of Europe".and its reference to the transformation of our role by that historic decision of the Treasury, allowing us to withdraw our manned forces from the Far East and to concentrate them in Europe. The curious discrepancy here is that studying the comparative figures in the two White Papers—the current one and that of 662 1968, when the historic decision was made—I find under the numerical distribution table, which is at page 19 in the current document and at page 13 in the earlier one, that our forces in Europe numbered 63,700 two years ago and 60,200 when the present White Paper was published. According to my mathematics, Europe does not seem to be obtaining very much advantage from this concentration coming from the Far East. In fact, it lost a total of 3,500 British troops, which is a queer way of reinforcing or concentrating. There is a separate figure for the Mediterranean and the Near East, respectively 18,500 and 18,400, a neat reduction of 100, despite the credit which is taken for reinforcing the Mediterranean. I am certainly not opposed to reinforcing, but we would be helped by a little explanation as to what the reinforcing is for in the Mediterranean. Taking Mr. Healey's assurance seriously, as I am sure we must, that the whole Russian fleet in the Mediterranean could be blown out of the water in the first five minutes, presumably we could now do it in 4 minutes 50 seconds.
To return to the mainland of Central Europe, the basic manpower problem is disturbing, as my noble friend Lord Napier and Ettrick explained in some detail; and the European nations as a whole, I am sorry to say, make a poor showing compared to the Americans, who are taking on new responsibilities as fast as we are shedding them in other parts of the world. With the exception of one American Division which operates on a rotation system, the United States units are in almost every case manned up to 100 per cent., whereas my noble friend and I on our visit were told that it would be hard to find a European unit with more than 70 per cent. I am admittedly not clear as to whether that figure was meant to refer to war time or peace time establishment, but significantly it was related to American 100 per cent. manning, so that, unless American units maintain war-time establishments in Europe, it must mean that European units, including our own, may be 30 per cent. down on peace-time establishment. I hope that this is not so, but I have given notice of this question to the noble Lord who will wind up the debate. Whatever the figure, the fact that we are down on 663 establishment and down in all units, or virtually all units, does not help the credibility of flexible response.
There is, of course, another distracting factor undermining the British effort. Three weeks ago when my noble friend and I were at SHAPE, one British battalion, The Royal Scots, had been removed to Northern Ireland, another was expected to go shortly, and it was foreseen that during the coming summer B.A.O.R. would be depleted by as much as four battalions for duties in Northern Ireland. Is there substance in this forecast? We also learned that whereas American formations were strong in supporting arms, artillery, engineers, signals and transport, European formations, including our own, were in almost all cases dangerously weak.
As to the reference to Reserves, I am truly surprised that the term used in the White Paper does not stick in the gullets of present Ministers. The truth is that we have no Reserves after the deliberately destructive measures of previous years. The whole TAVR is already committed; every man is detailed to make good the present shortages in B.A.O.R. if they have time to get there before the battle commences. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, made this plain in his speech. Once casualties occur in a fully established unit, there will be nobody to take their place and therefore it is misleading to speak of Reserves. Reserves there will be in the true sense of the word when a Conservative Government are able to build up again TAVR and give an opportunity to the magnificent volunteer spirit which the present Government have disdained and frustrated.
I did not either follow or accept the challenge of the noble Lord the Leader of the House to my noble friend Lord Napier on reductions of Territorial forces. The wholesale reductions, dissolutions and amalgamations of Territorial units are well within our recollection. I am in fact the honorary Colonel of a Territorial unit in a very different situation from the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. He said that he had in his Regiment eight men. Mine is in fact the largest manned-up unit in the British Army, either Territorial or Regular. It has, I believe, at this date over 1,000 men in it, but it is an amalgamation of 664 four existing regiments, four regiments which to-day could be well manned-up themselves; so this is no advance and no benefit to the Army or to the nation.
I have a further detailed, though significant, query on the passage in the White Paper regarding airfield protection. I put, I recall, direct questions on this matter a year ago. Out of all the studied and careful questions I put, it was only one that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, deigned to answer, and he did so in a somewhat supercilious manner, foreign to his usual serious nature, and requiring a later Parliamentary Question which was answered by Lord Winterbottom. I was told then that this matter was being given "active consideration". That was a year ago. In this White Paper we see that, "We are embarking on a programme …". Could we be told the period of embarkation leave before some of these measures promised a year ago begin to take physical shape? Until then our aircraft remain in danger of suffering the same fate as befell the Egyptian Air Force in the first hours of the six-day war.
The Government have taken credit for the return of Six Brigade to the Continent of Europe in the coming autumn, and I certainly do not want to seem unwelcoming. The Brigade should never have been taken away in the first place, and I do not think the Government deserve to have that forgotten. It does something to compensate for the regrettable withdrawal of the Canadian Armoured Brigade, but it is not an addition as such to the strength of NATO land forces. The formation of the new German brigade is being accelerated, but even so we shall lack an armoured brigade that we had before, and that is a further weakening of an alliance which was already worryingly weak before that happened.
I do not think Mr. Healey would contradict the view of one of my right honourable friends that it is no good making great play of having changed the strategy from "trip wire" to "flexible response" if the end result in either case is an inability to put up a successful conventional defence for more than a day or two. I do not think he would demur at the description of a narrow margin between safety and suicide. He minted a very similar phrase himself. But what 665 has he been doing to widen that dangerous gap? There are many, admirably many, cases where one can quote the Secretary of State as a robust realist. One can quote his words and one can quote his unflinching figures. It is his actions which fail to reflect or take account of that realistic assessment. He flourishes in oratory, but he fails in performance. Why, in face of the dangers he sees so clearly, are we running down our forces so drastically?
I have avoided speaking of the East of Suez policy because that would widen an already fairly expansive speech. Once, as we know, the British frontiers were at the Himalayas, and not very long ago. The Himalayas have not shifted, but no political tracking device, however sophisticated, can hope to keep up with Mr. Harold Wilson across the map of Westminster, let alone the world.
Restricting myself simply to the problems facing us in Europe, I cannot see how a man as ready to face facts and describe facts as Mr. Denis Healey can so casually, smilingly derogate his own duty conferred upon him by his high office. I agree with him in so many things. I agree that it is foolish and damaging to make the assumption, so prevalent now, that American withdrawals are inevitable. I believe that they are not, but that we could make them so by this unwise assumption. I am sure—and I do not believe that I shall differ much from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in this—that what any President of the United States will look for, what all world-minded Americans, champions of NATO, for instance, are looking for and longing for, is a genuine determination on the part of the Europeans to take a more active and effective part in our own defence.
Mr. Denis Healey has himself said, among his many more robust observations:If there were a major invasion by the Red Army, Western Europe would either have to surrender without a fight or use nuclear weapons."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 4/3/70, col. 429.]He has also said:A clear demonstration of Europe's determination to take its defence seriously is its best argument against the critics of America's present contribution to the Alliance."—[Col. 432.]666 This echoes in fact the searching query of a politician from another European nation as to why, in American eyes, 250 million prosperous West Europeans should have to depend so heavily and critically on 200 million Americans for their defence. The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, also paraphrased this remark but found it fallacious, and he based the distinction on the United States' near monopoly of nuclear weapons. But I would say that an increase in purely conventional capability among the European nations would give great encouragement to our friends in the United States.
Mr. Healey poses a number of forthright questions. But how does he answer them? "Readjustment" is the "in" word now. It means Europeans taking, indeed seeking, a greater burden in the defence of Europe. Not unreasonable. But where is the concrete evidence of our intention, our determination? Does this White Paper help the Americans to regard us, the British element of Europe, as being more deserving, more determined, than we seemed before? Does it give a lead to our European allies? The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, in opening, condemned complacency—and plunged, it seemed to me, into complacency. He said that we must make a "nice judgment" of what troops are required; and he then thought that we "had it about: right". I am afraid that I think that is a most optimistic judgment. My noble friend Lord Monckton mentioned the book by Mr. Corelli Barnet Britain and Her Army. I agree with everything he said about it. Three of those chapter headings struck me as significant. They were "Stagnation in an Age of Change.", "Illusion and Neglect", and "The Cost of Unreadiness". It seems to me that as a description of their own epoch the present Government can take their pick from among those chapters.
It is sad that this White Paper should not do what we would like it to do. I do not believe that it can possibly give comfort or confidence to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who will begin winding up this debate in a matter of seconds from now. He has my sympathy. Five and a half years ago, when we first began debating from our present relative locations, I called him, aptly enough, "A bird in a gilded cage". To-day, nearing 667 the end of that period of incarceration, I see him, as sympathetically as ever, as a bird in a rusty cage. I shall be as happy as anyone when the door of that cage is opened and he can fly out again to flutter his wings in the open and refreshing air.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I must admit that the noble Lord at times reduces me nearly to tears by the sympathy that he feels for me. In some ways, I wish I shared his optimism that I should be released from this "gilded cage". I suspect that it may well be re-gilded with a rather larger majority. But before I go into the more contentious part of my speech I should like, first of all to say that I too am very sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, is not here. He always contributes extremely well and ably to our debates, and I hope that he will get better soon. We certainly miss him.
I should also like to say straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, who expressed the hope that the Ministry of Defence would take part in the ceremonies following the death of General Anders, that I echo the tribute to someone whose name meant a great deal to us during the War. He was part of the symbol that we had friends. One noble Lord at one point said that in 1940 we were alone, without allies. I am sure that he did not mean it in that way. We must always remember those from other countries who were with us, particularly the Poles and the Free French; and there were others. I am delighted to assure the noble Lord that there will be senior representation next week from the Ministry of Defence. We know that there was some muddle on the last occasion, but I think that the noble Lord knows that there was no disrespect intended to General Bor-Komorowski. My noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, R.A.F., who knew General Anders, may himself be able to go, but at any rate there will be representation. It is right, I think, that we should recognise the passing of this great man.
I am also grateful to noble Lords for the way in which they heeded the request to keep their speeches short. I am bound to say that when one is speaking from 668 the Front Bench it is always difficult to be as successful as the Back Benchers. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, always manages to be short, and I will do my best to speed up. It means, of course, that once again many questions will be unanswered. I sometimes wonder whether we ought to have a sort of "Any Answers?" debate afterwards, and whether there is not some way of doing it. We will certainly write to all noble Lords on particular points and supply answers. Of course, that is not the same thing as giving answers in the House, but I am afraid that I have about three hours' worth of answers here, and I think that with that threat noble Lords would gladly forgo some of them.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, that having listened to the debate I am even more inclined than I was before to think that there is some merit in the idea of a Defence Committee. At least some noble Lords who seem to me to be living remarkably in the past might be brought up to date. I have a habit during a debate of trying to estimate how long each person is going to speak. On the whole, the sums have come out pretty well; and those who get top marks, I am bound to say, are two noble Lords who have been most recently in the Army. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, and the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, made speeches of a totally different kind. I think that there is a case—I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, would probably acknowledge that he, too, might benefit—for a bit of up-to-date instruction. Among some noble Lords there has been almost an absolute determination, which I find it difficult to believe comes from other than a determined prejudice, not to look at the facts; and I will give some of the facts. I hope that, as a result, there will be a little better understanding and a bit more justice for the Government's defence policy.
I was particularly interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Burnham—I thought at one moment that it was going to smack a bit of the 1957 Defence White Paper, which of course was the most monstrous paper of all. I agree with what he said, and I have always been well aware that whenever there are economies there is always a tendency to 669 cut out certain activities which somehow appear to be less cost-effective. As someone who has served in Intelligence, I can only say that I listened with sympathy to the noble Lord's remarks on this question.
I should like to direct my remarks particularly to both the strategy and the strength of the Army. Before I do so, I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, whether his remarks that the Royal Air Force might be divided between the Army and the Navy were meant as a serious suggestion, or whether he thought this was the ultimate result of this wicked Government's actions. I rather thought he meant it seriously.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I mentioned the article by Wing Commander Allen which put forward this proposal.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I must say that I think it a great pity that there are not a few more Air Marshals and rather fewer Naval Admirals in this House. It is rather a defect that we are unbalanced in this matter. If people complain about what this Government and past Governments have done to the Navy, I am bound to say that suggestions of that kind with regard to the Royal Air Force are deeply resented, and I am sure noble Lords will understand that.
I should like to start by referring to Northern Ireland, because the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, asked me some questions the other day which I was not able to answer on the spur of the moment, and they do enable me to lead straight in to the strength of British Forces and our strategy. Despite the differences between us, we all recognise that policies followed by successive British Governments in Europe and the world have given us peace, in the accepted sense, for 25 years. I do not expect my noble friend Lord Soper to agree, but, much as I admire his eloquence and his sincerity, I am bound to say that, like most noble Lords, I find myself in total disagreement with him on this subject.
We have had to face a number of situations in the world, and some of them have been predictable and some have not. On Northern Ireland it may well be that we all showed a great lack of foresight 670 and prescience; and I think we did. But we had to face this situation in Northern Ireland. I will not go through the chapter of events, which is well-known to many noble Lords, but I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Napier and Ettrick, who referred to living conditions in Northern Ireland. I am happy to give him the assurance that conditions are enormously improved. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence was desperately anxious on this subject, and that great energy was shown, although conditions are not yet perfect. There is no doubt that our troops in Northern Ireland, doing a beastly job, have lived fully up to the standards expected of them.
It is clear that although the British Army has had to face abuse, danger, and being shot and sniped at in places like Aden, it is particularly unpleasant to face abuse in your own language, and they have shown a great degree of discipline. But this bears directly on the numbers available, and I want noble Lords to accept that, first of all, we must not, in Northern Ireland or anywhere else, ask one battalion to do the work of two. We must be able, from the resources at our disposal, to make available units in large enough numbers to meet the task we have given them. I would submit, in all seriousness, that we have been able to do so, and that the reorganisation of our defence policy has contributed to this. Despite the reduction in the overall size of our forces, there are now 26 battalions available in the United Kingdom—and this excludes the British Army of the Rhine units that are in the United Kingdom at the moment. It also—and I would deal with this point which I think was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne—excludes the two battalions involved in Bersatu Padu.
Noble Lords have asked what size of force could be sent at the present time to an emergency overseas. This is a very wide question, and obviously I can give an answer only in general terms. It would depend on the requirement, on the urgency, on the part played by our allies—and I strongly emphasise this point about allies—in whatever area the situation had arisen, and its priority. It would be wrong to think of our capability in this respect as confined to 3 Division, to 671 which the noble Lord referred, since although that Division is intended primarily to be a source of units for emergency operations overseas, it is not the only one. I ask noble Lords to recognise these facts.
I would underline, therefore, that the general availability of battalions in the United Kingdom at the present time is such—and I ask noble Lords to accept my assurance—that Her Majesty's Government will discharge all commitments into which they have entered, taking account of all the factors at the particular time. Clearly, and this has always been the case, if you have too many emergencies arising in too many parts of the world you get stretched. But I submit to noble Lords who have talked about "stretch" that the stretch to-day is lower, and there is less stretch, than there was before. The fact that the emergency in Northern Ireland has not caused us to revise the size of our contribution to the Bersatu Padu exercise is proof of our ability to exercise our general capability. Our economic situation required reductions in the size of the Army, and we know that there was a great argument as to which was the more important nationally to our security—and I acknowledge that the Liberals were ahead of us in this respect. I was very much an East of Suez man, but I believe that the improvement in our economy is equally, if not more, important to our influence for peace in the world.
Our review of our commitments has given us more men, not fewer. In most of 1964 there were only 22 battalions available in the United Kingdom; at one point it was down to 19⅓, and it would have been very difficult at that time—and I admit British forces were engaged in Malaysia—to cope with the situation in Northern Ireland. We are now better placed, and I ask noble Lords to accept this. This has not been at the expense of the British Army of the Rhine; the overall strength is now over 3,000 higher than it was in October, 1964. Noble Lords who come and complain that it has been run down are simply failing to recognise the facts. They may wish to criticise all Governments, but tributes have been paid to the equipment and quality of our forces. In fact, they are better manned than they were in 1964. 672 I do not know what the precise shortfall of the establishment was, but I certainly remember that in the years before 1964 we were continually raising the extent to which units, particularly in Germany, were under establishment.
§ LORD BOURNE
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive my intervening? I am a bit puzzled. I asked whether a brigade group from the Strategic Reserve could be sent overseas at a moment's notice, and the answer of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was, Yes, it certainly could. On the other hand, I hear that the rotation of units to Northern Ireland, if matters do not get worse, includes Gunners and Armoured Corps units from Germany. I simply do not square the two transactions together.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I agree. This is where the noble Lord's Committee would be helpful to him. I do not want to spend too long on this question, but there are powerful reasons why there should be a great deal of rotation. The conditions are not very good. There are a large number of units who would normally be at home or in Germany with their families but who are separated, and it is really necessary to provide a good deal of rotation. Perhaps I could give more information to the noble Lord, but I assure him that the rotation is for reasons of management and not because of the size of the forces. I will check again, and if I think I have not given the noble Lord a fair answer I will certainly get in touch with him.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I could go on at great length about the British Army of the Rhine, but I do not want to do so. There are two battalions at present in Northern Ireland on temporary detachment from the British Army of the Rhine, and although we shall try to keep such deployments to a minimum they are necessary for the reasons I gave. There is another aspect which gives us some cause for pride, and that is the way in which the Army and the people of the Province have responded to the challenge set by the creation of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The Regiment became operational on April 1, and on April 30 673 the Ulster Special Constabulary was stood down. This force has been created from scratch in three and a half months. Noble Lords will remember the debates. I have no doubt that in the Northern Irish situation there is a need for a force to support the Regular Army in what might be called the traditional Territorial Army role of defending and protecting the Border and the State against armed attack and sabotage.
The encouraging fact—and noble Lords had doubts about this—is that recruitment has come from all sections of the community, unlike the old Ulster Special Constabulary. So far a total of over 6,000 have applied to join the Regiment, of whom 1,281 axe Roman Catholics, nearly 3,000 are ex-Ulster Special Constabulary, and 1,500 are ex-Servicemen. So far 3,800 have been accepted for enlistment, and of those 2,500 are now on the enlisted strength of the Regiment. That is very encouraging, and there are times when I feel that we need a bit of encouragement with regard to the situation in Northern Ireland. One hears of things which make one anxious, but there is a good side and a strong side; and of course the Regiment is now part of Her Majesty's military forces.
I should have liked to deal at length with some of the arguments, particularly those posed by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn. I would only say that I am not really convinced that an increase in NATO's conventional forces would raise the nuclear threshold—I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, might agree with me—because a deterrent has to be credible. It is a very delicate area of judgment and I am disinclined to get into the theology of nuclear weapons. There is a great deal of theology, such as whether it is trip-wire, flexible response. Obviously, if you raise the nuclear threshold, then up to a point you postpone the threat of use. It is our policy to maintain substantial conventional forces, so as to ensure that there would be time for an aggressor to think very hard. But given the scale of Warsaw Pact conventional forces—and I acknowledge what noble Lords have said; We have lived with this issue now for many years—there is a limit to the amount of time we can buy in this way. That is why it must remain NATO policy to resort to the use of tactical nuclear weapons 674 on a limited scale if we were faced with an attack which could not be contained without it. I acknowledge that to many noble Lords this sounds very horrible, but the whole object is to avoid fighting a war. That is the fundamental concept behind NATO's strategy.
In this connection, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—and I think that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, will share my view on this point—that I do not accept his assumption that inevitably there will be large-scale United States troop withdrawals from Europe and that the Europeans lack the will to fill the resultant gap. We could wish, perhaps, that they all had more will, but, none the less——
§ LORD GLADWYN
My Lords, I did not say that withdrawals are inevitable. But I thought we must consider that they were at least probable.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, there again my noble friend Lord Winterbottom, in an extremely interesting speech, dealt with the rather simple argument of the difference between 300 million Europeans and 200 million Americans, and pointed to the advantages of a unified national force. But the U.S. Administration has assured us that there will be no question of troop withdrawals, at any rate before the middle of 1971, and President Nixon made it very clear in his statement to Congress, that involvement in Europe is a major element in United States global strategy.
I think we can see heartening signs of a growing recognition among the nations of Western Europe of the need for a redistribution of the burden, and that is very much to the credit of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I do not—although it is very tempting—talk about the many Defence Secretaries under Conservative Governments. But if there is a field where high intellectual and expert knowledge and strength of character are necessary, it is in that of the Defence Secretary, and I believe that the present Secretary of State has developed a great deal of the new strategy and has played a crucial part among European Defence Ministers.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Napier and Ettrick, that it is a misconception to think that NATO's current strategy involves the earlier use of nuclear 675 weapons than the old trip-wire strategy did. The old trip-wire strategy envisaged a massive nuclear response to any encroachment on NATO territory, and we now rely on maintaining conventional forces of sufficient strength to identify and contain an attack. So there is no question of even the initial selective use of nuclear weapons until and unless conventional defence fails.
I was asked when the newly-formed German brigade would become operational. This is part of several moves, including the return of 6 Brigade. I cannot give precise dates, and I do not know whether it is secret, but I can assure the noble Lord that it will be in the fairly near future.
Let me turn briefly to the reserves. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, expressed surprise that the TAVR strength of 47,000 was as high as it is, and I do not think some noble Lords really believe these figures. But is is nice to have a welcome on this subject coming across the Floor, and I assure the noble Earl that the figures are correct. The strength figure in Scotland was 5,974 in March, 1969, and in the same month this year it was 6,175. I think these figures are of interest. But, my Lords, I must stress to noble Lords who take a gloomy view on the question of reserves that we have in fact much more serviceable reserves to-day to meet what appear to be the most important and probable contingencies; and I think noble Lords have paid tribute to the better equipment and the greater readiness of TAVR II. I know there is still a great deal of feeling—and it is understandable—about the disappearance of TAVR III, the old Territorial Army, but I really do not know what noble Lords who talk about a reformed Territorial Army are asking for. We really must have regard to the amount of money we have available. It may be that the Conservatives, with their reduction of taxes, will find lots of money from somewhere and will be able to afford it; but we have to make a realistic choice, and I believe that the Government have taken the right decisions. What we have needed, and have got, is a reorganisation of the reserves. Further, of course, the TAVR II are not the only reserves. There are the Regular Army reserves; and, of course, it should 676 be possible to double the strength of the British Army of the Rhine within a reasonable period. Also, certain units are ready and earmarked. I have some answers to the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton, on arrangements for reporting for duty, but I think, if he will forgive me, I will not give them now. But I should just like to take one point, and that is to echo his tribute to the Royal Malta Artillery. They have given us very long and valued service, and I think we really should recognise it.
My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Napier, that I think again he was slightly misinformed when he said that only 50 per cent. of the pay increases justified by job evaluation have been given. I am not sure whether he did say that, but, if so, I would say to him that the rates proposed in the Third Report of the N.B.P.I., which the Government have accepted, are already very largely implemented. The sole exception is the very large, not to say almost enormous, increase to bring single men up to the married rates. I should be most surprised if the noble Lord can produce any example where a single Serviceman has not had either a substantial or at least some increase on his previous rate of pay. Special measures were taken by my right honourable friends for those few—I think there were some Army apprentices; no, I think they were Naval artificers, or it may have been R.A.F. apprentices—who got married at the earliest possible moment, at under 17½. Even they got looked after. I assure the noble Lord that the recommendation was that nobody should be worse off, and many are greatly better off.
My noble friend Lord Moyle, in a most interesting speech, said that he did not mind having to pay for his food; but, again, I would say to noble Lords who objected, that the sailor at sea does not have to pay for his board, and, on the whole, these proposals have been welcomed. Let me say that I think the concept of the new National Superannuation proposals, which have their influence throughout the public sector, where we are actively engaged in considering the position, should, I think, meet the ideals and the purposes of the noble Lord, Lord Moyle.
I am afraid that I am not going to be able to say anything very encouraging to 677 those extremely depressed representatives of the Royal Navy. They rather reminded me of Up Pompeii!, in which somebody says, "Oh, well! Oh, well!" all the time. I remember, shortly after I came into this House, that it was the distinguished father of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, who, almost before I was here, moved a Motion of censure against the Conservative Government in relation to the size of the Royal Navy. I mean no disrespect, but I got the slight impression that they wanted some more windjammers, or something of that kind. He was joined by my dear noble friend Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, who felt equally strongly and had always, one felt, the quarterdeck under him. I abstained on that occasion, and for many years I have felt—and I think some other noble Lords felt the same—that we needed a different strategy.
I entirely concede to the noble Lord, as to naval strategy, that the Navy has a vastly important role to play, but because some of us, including staff officers, take a different view of how that should operate, it does not mean that we are wrong or that we are insincere about it. I fully acknowledge the importance of the anti-submarine protection role. I remember once during the war being ordered to go to Western Approaches—I was only a Squadron Leader at the time—to beard Sir Max Horton and ask him not to send out signals in clear because people were sighting snorkel plumes (some noble Lords will remember these) and because we thought perhaps the Germans did not know that they were as visible. I remember that this was one of the few occasions when I showed extreme cowardice, and said that I was no match for Admiral Sir Max Horton—and those noble Lords who knew him would probably agree I was wise.
My Lords, the strategic situation really has changed in the world. I have not time to develop it; nor have I time to do other than pay a great tribute to the high efficiency of the carriers and the vital role they are going to play during the next year or two in covering our withdrawals. On the future, I cannot express an opinion, but I must say that numbers are important and that—noble Lords have indicated this as a problem in relation to nuclear submarines—there is a number below which it becomes unrealistic to have certain weapons. Quite frankly, I 678 should have thought that for young naval officers 360-ton wooden minesweepers were ideal. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Winlerbottom, whose son is in the Navy, hopes that there will soon be a Lieutenant Winterbottom commanding one of them.
My Lords, again I think I can add very little to what has been said about South Africa. We believe that we have fulfilled our obligations, both in regard to the supply of ships and in regard to spares and ammunition. There is a fundamental difference of opinion between us on this question, and I think that nothing I say will satisfy noble Lords. I acknowledge their sincerity: I happen to disagree with them.
§ THE EARL OF GLASGOW
My Lords, could the noble Lord answer the question about the problem of the defence of the Fleet, without the carriers, over the next six years? I feel that that is desperately important. The Fleet is going to be unprotected for the whole of the 'seventies if the carriers go now. I do not think one can pass over that problem just like that.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, it would take me some while. Of course, it is not unknown—and there have been many such occasions in the past—for the Fleet to be without what I believe is called organic protection of its own. I can only say that this is a matter on which practices are going on, and the Royal Air Force will play their part in it. But there have been times when the Fleet has been without a carrier. At the height of the Indonesian confrontation, when the Navy was there in considerable strength, the only carrier that was available was non-operational. It is a problem and I should certainly be happy to debate it further. I can only say that there is great determination to try to meet this problem, and I would not underestimate its seriousness.
I have no time, alas! to discuss the Far East. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has gone. I would only say that I really do not understand what is the Tory policy on this. I wish they could go into Government for just a week in order to learn some of the facts; but that would be too risky—they might stay on to the end. I suspect that it is a bit of public relations window dressing. I believe that we shall be able to make 679 a contribution, but an honest contribution. The presence of troops means that you are going to get involved, and it may give a false sense of security. We have made clear what are our commitments and our limitations. I believe that this country has still an important part to play in the world. I believe that our commitments, those of sentiment and morality, particularly to Australia and New Zealand, are unbroken. But I think we have an obligation above all to play our part properly in Europe, and to strengthen ourselves economically and also as a bastion of the Free World.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.