§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1976 (Cmnd. 6432). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I think it right at the outset—and I hope that the House will agree with me—that we should take the opportunity of the first debate on defence after his death to pay a very sincere and heartfelt tribute to the late Field Marshal Lord Montgomery of Alamein. I know that I speak for the House when I say how much we regret that we have not had the benefit of his enormous experience in recent years, particularly on matters of defence. For a large number of years he has been absent because of illness. Before then he was a regular attender of your Lordships' House, made many controversial speeches, and was a good comrade, if I may use that term, in the tea room, when those who may have served with him were regaled with the past and those who had not served with him were information of their misfortune.224
§ I suppose that the late Lord Montgomery will be remembered as the architect of the crucial Allied victory in the Western Desert in 1942, and as one of the greatest generals that this country has seen. I believe that history will be a great deal kinder to the Field Marshal than some who wrote about him and sought to assess his military and, particularly, his wartime leadership during his lifetime. I know that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Harding of Petherton, could speak of his own intimate connection with General Montgomery, as I then knew him because I was one of those who were fortunate enough to be in the Western Desert. No greater tribute could be paid to a soldier than that he could identify and sympathise with the motivation and aspirations of civilian soldiers, because that was very much the Army that fought the 1939–45 war.
§ I went to the Western Desert just before the fall of Tobruk and Mersa Matruh and the humiliating retreat to Alamein. I would not say that the Army there was disillusioned or despairing, although there were undoubted signs of this. But if one gives credit for leadership it must be to General Montgomery, as he then was, because in a relatively short time, due to his personality, he changed an Army that had doubts in itself into an Army that had supreme confidence, determination, and belief that it would not only win the battle of North Africa but would hasten the day, which was the aspiration of us all, when we could return home to our families. In my view that is the quality of leadership. We therefore express great sympathy to his family.
§ Before turning to the specific subject of today's debate, I wish to pay a further personal tribute to the remarkable and unstinting way in which the Services have approached their various tasks in the past year. Every year we pay a genuine and sincere tribute to our soldiers—to all those who serve in the three Services, but particularly the soldiers in Northern Ireland—and there is a real risk that by doing it every year it will become a ritual. We need only recall the number of Servicemen who have lost their lives and suffered grave injury in the execution of their duty. I think particularly today of the part-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, which has gathered strength in the last two or three years; part-time members who do not need to 225 serve but who feel that they have a duty to Northern Ireland to serve and to put themselves at risk. They, both men and women, are bearing the cost of that duty. It is also right that we should remember those, particularly in the Royal Navy, who, in co-operation with the Royal Air Force, have shown very great skill in the cruel seas around Iceland. One need only see some of the films not only to understand the dangers and the savagery of the weather, but to appreciate what we have asked our Navy to undertake.
§ A debate on the Government's White Paper always, quite properly, arouses great interest in your Lordships' House because there are many noble Lords who over a number of years have acquired not only interest but also expertise in defence matters. This interest was made manifest recently when, I think in January, a group of noble Lords visited NATO, and I am looking forward very much to their contributions to this debate. Even more recently we established an all-Party study group on defence. Noble Lords may be aware that only yesterday this group had a most successful inaugural meeting when it listened to and closely questioned Sir Peter Hill-Norton, a senior operational officer of NATO. I am extremely pleased to note the interest which this meeting aroused among Members of your Lordships' House, and I am convinced that, if yesterday's meeting is anything to go by, this group will develop to become an important source of advice on defence matters to the benefit of the whole House and the Government. As I said, this House has a wealth of experience and expertise in the sphere of defence, and I am confident that this afternoon's debate on the Government's Defence White Paper will be much enriched as a result. The Government will pay close attention to what is said in the course of the debate.
§ The object of a Defence White Paper is to explain the Government's defence policy and the roles of Her Majesty's armed forces. One of the aims of this year's White Paper was to give more detailed information in a more readily understandable form than was ever before attempted. I think that anyone who has read the document and who takes an 226 interest in defence matters will agree with this aim, and I hope will share my view that we have achieved our purpose. Naturally, the facts contained in the White Paper are not to everyone's liking, but in these days of economic adversity many unpalatable realities must be faced. The ratio of public expenditure to the gross domestic product has increased from 42 per cent. to 60 per cent. in the past 15 years. If the Government had continued to increase our programmes at the rate we planned earlier, by 1979 the ordinary taxpayer might have found himself paying 50p or more in taxation and contributions on every extra £1 he earned.
§ The Government therefore decided broadly to stabilise the level of public expenditure programmes after 1976–77. This was necessary not only to prevent an unmanageable increase in the burden of taxation, but also to release resources from the public sector to allow manufacturing industry to invest and create the economic growth on which the future growth in public expenditure depends. No Government could be pleased that circumstances have forced us to forego for the time being some of the improvements in public services for which we had planned and which remain as desirable aims. Nevertheless, we have made a sincere effort to plan the cuts in accordance with the real priorities. It is for this reason that we have increased our programme for jobs and trade by nearly £500 million in 1978–79 compared with previous plans. However, our decision to reduce public expenditure after 1976–77 has meant cuts in most programmes totalling £3 billion in 1978–79. I do not believe that there is anyone in this House who would question that the Government must resist all pressures for increases in public expenditure where there are no compensating reductions. Defence has to make its own share after allowing for the fact that £5,900 million are already due to be saved by 1983–84 as a result of last year's Defence Review.
§ The House is well acquainted with last year's Defence Review. It was an exercise that put under the microscope our defence commitments outside NATO—Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei, the Indian Ocean, the Middle East, the Mediterranean. the Caribbean and South Atlantic; it reassessed our NATO commitments and 227 analysed in detail the forces which the Services needed to maintain to meet those commitments. It more than fulfilled the Government's pledge to achieve savings in defence expenditure of several hundred million pounds a year, progressively over a period, and to bring our defence budget more into line with those carried by our main European allies, while maintaining for ourselves a modern and effective defence system.
§ When they understood what we had done and how we had achieved it, our allies in NATO did not conclude that their security or ours had been undermined by our actions. Indeed, they know that Britain is pulling her full weight in the Alliance and that our fighting forces are professional, efficient and well-equipped with modern weapons. In fact, our forces in NATO excel over, rather than merely compare favourably with, those of our colleagues in the Alliance. In short, we transformed a ten-year defence programme which was rapidly escalating in cost to one which would maintain our security at, I recognise, a lower, but, I believe, at a more stable level of resources. Since the Review was published, we have made good progress in withdrawing our forces to the fullest extent possible from our non-NATO commitments. We have left Gan, Mauritius and Singapore. Elsewhere we have reduced our presence. But, as I have said, these are days of economic adversity. Inflation is the enemy that the Government and the country must defeat.
§ When the economic situation made it imperative for defence this year to make a further contribution towards improving our economic prospects, the Government faced up to this in what I believe to be a totally responsible manner. We started from the baseline that we could not, and should not, cut our basic contributions to NATO, because this could have caused a crisis of confidence in NATO and could well have unravelled the Alliance as the weaker members saw Britain reducing its commitment and its contributions. Nor did we want to eat too heavily into the defence industries. We had already reduced job opportunities in this field by the Defence Review and further reductions would have meant cutting the equipment programme of the forces—and hence the quality of our front line. It was decided 228 that the cuts must fall on what is called the "tail" and not the "teeth". As a result the burden has fallen on civilian numbers and establishments in the United Kingdom.
§ Your Lordships will have noticed from the White Paper that nine establishments will be closed, and the level of activity at others will be reviewed. Other economies in the support area are being implemented and reductions in Ministry of Defence Headquarters' staff are planned. In all, some 10,000 civilian jobs will disappear, in addition to the 30,000 already planned to go under the earlier Defence Review. However, everything will be done to implement the economies as painlessly as possible, particularly as regards redundancy. There will be close consultation with the staff representatives at all stages. Given that the civilian staff reductions will be spread over the next four years and taking into account natural wastage and measures such as staff transfers and selective recruiting cutbacks, we hope to keep redundancies to the minimum. Nevertheless, I think it is likely, though regrettable, that some redundancies will be inevitable.
§ Our NATO allies have, of course, been given full information of these further reductions and the NATO staffs are examining them and discussing the details with us as necessary. By their systematic and, I believe, sensible approach to the problem, the Government have been able to divert, between 1975 and 1980, some £3,200 million at 1975 survey prices from defence towards investment and the balance of payments. I am sure that our allies appreciate that our economic health is to their ultimate advantage. I believe that far too much weight is laid on military defence, and that an alliance such as NATO depends on the economic health and strength of all its member countries. For any one to be permanently weak, with all the political and social consequences that that brings, creates, in my view, a major threat not only to the stability of the alliance but to its very cohesion.
§ I think it would be worth while if, at this stage, I reminded your Lordships of the details of our contribution to NATO. We commit virtually the whole of our combat forces to the Alliance and. unlike our European allies, we rely solely on 229 volunteers—full-time professionals. They in turn are backed up by nearly 250,000 reservists and 300,000 civilians. On the mainland of Europe, we commit no less than 55,000 soldiers and a large tactical air force. A high proportion of NATO's immediately available maritime forces in the Eastern Atlantic and Channel areas is provided by the Royal Navy. And it is worth remembering that, in spite of all the cuts, our major equipment programmes—our weapon systems of the future—have come through intact. We play a very full role in NATO, and that is only right and proper because our security and freedom are bound up with that of our Alliance partners.
§ Of course, many people question whether our security is indeed under threat. We have had thirty years of peace: thirty years which have been guaranteed by the collective security we enjoy through the existence of the Alliance. But no one under the age of 35 has any memory of what it was like to have a war in Europe. It is becoming increasingly difficult to persuade people of the needs of defence and of the unique dangers of lessening our security.
§ What threat do we face? The Soviet view of d étente and peaceful co-existence assumes the continuation—indeed the intensification—of the ideological struggle by all means short of war, and accepts the subordination of the freedom of Soviet citizens and citizens of the satellite countries to the continuation of that struggle. But there cannot be a real relaxation of tension between East and West if one side unilaterally lowers its guard or disturbs the balance of power. As the White Paper makes clear, the Soviet Union, having achieved strategic nuclear parity with the United States, is continuing to build up its conventional and tactical nuclear forces, improving the quality and number of its armaments. In terms of ready forces in the areas vital to our own security—the Eastern Atlantic and the Central Region of NATO—they already have a substantial numerical superiority.
§ So the means to pose a military threat are readily available. However, I do not see a deliberate military attack against the West as a likely Soviet move. But given a hint of weakness in the West—whether 230 this weakness were economic or military—I have no doubt that Russian leaders would exploit it by all means at their disposal, including the threat of military force, to deny to Western countries individually or collectively their freedom of political choice in their internal as well as their external affairs. Let us therefore be in no doubt that a threat exists. Our defence budget is what we pay for our security insurance. We do not intend to let our policy premiums lapse. We must seek to settle the economic basis on which our political and social stability depend, as does our ability not only to provide the forces now but, if it were necessary, to provide for their extension.
§ Some of your Lordships may conclude from what I have said that détente is a sham—a Soviet con-trick. But I would ask them not to close their minds too quickly to the possibility of genuine improved East/West relations. We all know that these are better now than they were in the cold war era. So in a very real sense d étente has already brought some rewards, however limited. I am sure no one would wish to see any backsliding. The Government are intent on pressing for improvements in East/West relations and I believe that we must all work to try to make this a reality.
§ This year the Soviet Union has a real opportunity to demonstrate that in military fields it has a true willingness to develop a better understanding with the West. It could translate the words of the final act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe into action, by implementing in a real way voluntary, military, confidence-building measures, in addition to the other provisions of the agreement. It could reduce the size of its garrisons in Eastern Europe, and cut the enormous share of its gross national product which it spends on defence.
§ It could adopt a more helpful and forthcoming attitude towards the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions negotiations in Vienna, through which we hope to achieve a more stable relationship in central Europe by reducing the imbalance of forces currently weighted heavily in the East's favour. And it could negotiate with the United States an actual reduction in the strategic nuclear arsenals of both sides through the SALT talks.231
§ If it did these things we would be some way along the road to a situation where money at present spent and needed for defence could be channelled into other peaceful and more beneficial areas. It is, however, regrettably a very long road we have yet to travel. Our own commitment to working for a genuine improvement in relations between, and contacts between, the peoples of East and West must nevertheless remain firm. I believe that we must be patient and diligent, but at all times vigilant.
§ We cannot base our future on paper promises of the Soviet Union. We must see concrete actions before we consider, as an Alliance, reducing our combat forces. But, my Lords, do not get me wrong. I am in no way advocating a return to the doctrine of an imperial Britain, and I do not have dreams of our policing the world and playing a military role in Africa or other troubled regions outside the NATO area. To consider such suggestions is grossly irresponsible. But we have a real role to play in, and a real commitment to, Europe. We have a military and political contribution to make which gives us a far greater influence there than perhaps our mere economic size warrants.
§ But of course what Europe wants, and needs, is a strong Britain. Government policies must be aimed at this objective, and I believe that this is being increasingly understood and accepted throughout the country. We must all strive to create within Britain a strong economic, social and political base. I think that it would be wrong to be complacent about anything. We need to create a cohesive and strong Europe, an outward looking Europe; and this means that until such time as multilateral disarmament can be achieved we must retain, maintain, and, if necessary, strengthen the NATO Alliance, for that is our safeguard for the future.
§ My Lords, earlier I mentioned that our major equipment programmes have emerged intact from the savings exercises. I should like quickly to mention one or two examples. On the naval side we attach great importance to the antisubmarine warfare cruiser and the nuclear powered fleet submarine programmes. Together with the RAF's Nimrod aircraft, they will be the core of our future anti-submarine warfare capability. We 232 need the cruisers to enable us to deploy in the most cost-effective way our Sea King helicopters. Each Sea King helicopter has the equivalent anti-submarine warfare capability of a present-day frigate and the cruiser, because it supports the Sea King helicopter, will therefore be a most powerful and valuable ship to the Navy.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, in view of the noble Lord's statement that so much was to be taken from the tail and not the teeth and bearing in mind what he said about the importance the Government owe to the anti-submarine capability, why, if it is to be the core of our anti-submarine capability, has the Nimrod force been cut by 25 per cent. according to this White Paper?
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, we had to seek a balance, but I use the expression of the cruiser and the helicopter as being a very valuable contribution to the Navy. This is something which my noble friend Lord Winterbottom can attend to because he will be dealing with what I call the nuts and bolts at the end of the debate. The only thing I say to the noble Lord is that cuts had to be made and the various priorities upon which the Servicemen advised the Government had to be taken into account.
My Lords, we are also developing the Sea Skua, helicopter-launched anti-ship missile, and negotiations have been opened to purchase from the United States the submarine-launched anti-ship missile known as the Sub-Harpoon. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, will be particularly glad that we are going ahead with the Sea Harrier, which will certainly add to our anti-submarine warfare task force.
So far as the Army is concerned, subject to obtaining acceptable terms, we shall be buying Milan, a light-weight infantry anti-tank missile. This will prove a welcome addition to our range of weapons. Next year we hope to put the collaborative 155-millimetre gun into series production. The self-propelled version—the SP70—will follow later.
Those noble Lords who take a deep interest in the subject will know our decision to order, subject to negotiations with our partners, 385 MRCA aircraft for the RAF, and that this is of major importance to the British aerospace industry.
233 It will provide at peak 10,000 jobs at BAC, 6,000 at Rolls-Royce, and 8,000 on equipment and avionics. Indirectly another 12,000 jobs will probably flow from the contract. NATO will also gain from our decision to go ahead with the project. It is inevitable, given the current economic climate and the lessening of our international obligations, that much of the discussion on defence should be centred on cuts and reductions. This should not, however, make us forget the magnitude of the role which our forces still have to play. Nor should we forget the opportunities still available, which will continue to be available, to those who wish to take up a career within the Services. I hope that as part of this debate some attention will be given to the questions of enrolment; and one is very glad to see that figures for those enlisting in the Services today show a very marked and welcome increase.
At a time when there is much talk of the military unpreparedness of the West, I should like to conclude these opening remarks by stressing again the value which we place upon our membership of the NATO Alliance and the strength of our commitment to it. Together with our partners in the Alliance, we remain determined to counter the threat to our own security and freedom, while at the same time seeking a reduction of this threat at the conference table. My Lords, I beg to move.
Moved, that this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1976 (Cmnd. 6432).—(Lord Shepherd).
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Lord CARRINGTON
My Lords, I can at any rate agree with one thing said by the noble Lord; namely, I can think of no more appropriate an occassion than a defence debate to pay tribute to the late Lord Montgomery. There must be many of us in this House who recall with pleasure and nostalgia the trenchant and short contributions he made over a number of years to our defence debates. All of us who were privileged to serve in his Army under his command remember his leadership and owe him a debt which neither we, nor this country, can ever repay.
My Lords, we have, as usual, listened to a most competent speech by the noble 234 Lord the Leader of the House, helped, I suspect, by some equally competent and even more knowledgable people in the Ministry of Defence. I only hope that as a result of the changes under the new Prime Minister it will not be necessary for Lord Shepherd to do everything himself, for I notice that his team is now two under strength. There have been no replacements for Lord Crowther-Hunt and Lord Lovell-Davis. We on these Benches do not like to see noble Lords opposite overworked; nor do we think it a good idea that this House should not have on its Government Front Bench enough Ministers to deal, with knowledge, with the many difficult issues, which affect so many different Departments, which are raised in all quarters of the House. Perhaps the Leader of the House would be good enough to let it be known to his colleagues that we view this development with some concern.
As I have said, the noble Lord has made a competent speech, but it has glossed over a number of very awkward facts, just as does the Defence White Paper—and I shall have more to say about that a little later. Just recently we have seen a revival of interest in the defence of this country. That is partly, I think, because Mrs. Thatcher made a speech which was given considerable publicity, even more than it normally would have been given because it attracted the considerable wrath of the Soviet Government. I doubt whether the result was that which they intended. It is partly, too, because we have had the opportunity recently of hearing, reading and watching Mr. Solzhenitsyn reminding us of some very elementary and important truths. A number of us, of course, have been saying much the same thing over a number of years without attracting so much attention. But Mr. Solzhenitsyn has two advantages. First, he speaks with first-hand knowledge and experience of the Soviet Union. He has suffered a great deal for what he believes. He knows the aims, the methods, the aspirations of the Soviet Union. No wise man should ignore what he says. Secondly, he has the appearance and manner of an Old Testament prophet, and certainly on television that is a very important and impressive thing. I wonder what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, could have done had he looked different.
235 My Lords, I believe that what Mr. Solzhenitsyn has said has had an enormous impact, and I hope it will not be a temporary one, for there can be no doubt that there has been a marked shift in military capacity as between the West and the Communists; and there has been an equally significant decline in the apparent will of the West to protect its way of life—or, indeed, the belief that its way of life is worth protecting. The Defence White Paper brings out very clearly the first of these points. On pages 5. 6, 7 and 8 are set out in detail the growing capacity of the Warsaw Pact countries; the increasing disparity between what they have and what we have; the better quality of what they are now getting; the growth—the enormous growth—of the Soviet fleet, world-wide and more modern than any other; the deployment of their intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles; the efficiency which standardisation has brought them; the capacity for reinforcement; the better dispersal of their military aircraft; the improvement in their surface-to-air missiles. All this is in the Defence White Paper. The list is boundless, and it makes menacing reading.
But in the West recently all talk has been of détente—except, of course, in the United States, where it is called "lessening of tension"; and that Presidential edict in itself is of some significance. It cannot be said too often, for those of us who, like myself, are sometimes accused of being cold war warriors, that no sensible, civilised or sane person could possibly he opposed to the relaxation of tension between the two power blocs in the world. More than that, all reasonable men must do everything in their power to see that it comes about. Only a madman would not he overjoyed if détente led to a more rational approach to East-West relations and a diminution of the vast sums of money spent by both sides on weapons of destruction.
But, my Lords, must we not be a little prudent? Must we not ask ourselves whether or not there is evidence of Russian intentions to seek such a genuine détente? Have we got that evidence? Has the post-Helsinki experience been such that we can confidently spend less money on our own security? Are we sure that when we speak of détente the 236 Soviet Union means the same as we do? I think that the answer to all those questions is uncertain, and in some instances rather more gloomy than that. I do not think that the Soviet Union means the same thing as we do when we speak of détente. I do not believe that they have given up, or will give up, their intention eventually to see Russian Communism as the dominant philosophy everywhere in the world. Generally speaking, they will abide by the strict terms of the agreements that they have signed, but no more. Détente to them does not mean abandoning the theological battle or the effort to undermine other systems.
Ought we not to ask ourselves what are the purposes of the enormous forces which the Soviet Union has and which it continues to enlarge and improve? What are they for? There are, of course, a number of perfectly reasonable explanations. Perhaps they are still frightened of a pre-emptive attack by the United States. To us here that may seem impossible—indeed, ludicrous—but seen through Russian eyes it may be still a credible and real threat, though I should have thought that American actions in the last few years dispelled any such belief. But enough capability, surely, is enough, and I do not believe that that explanation can tell us why there is this enormous build-up of Soviet armed forces, or why they are dispersed around the world. For example, I see from the paper today that the Russians have now gone into the Wheelus base in Libya. I do not think it explains the very modern and extensive naval capacity which they have built; nor the exercises which they are carrying out all over the world, designed specifically to deal with convoys. Perhaps the whole thing is a gigantic bureaucratic error. Sometimes one thinks that one's opponents are 10 feet tall. Perhaps there is in the Soviet Union just a sort of military momentum which goes on spending vast sums of money every year because it always has, and because the military are very important and nobody can stop it. I do not know; but for whatever reason the overwhelming military power is there.
I agree with the Leader of the House: I do not think it very likely that the Russians have any intention to launch an attack across the central front of Europe.
237 There are far too many uncertainties in that for them to do it. But prudence tells me that, while there is this enormous military capacity not very far away from where we are now sitting, it would be madness to put ourselves in a position in which we could neither defend ourselves adequately nor resist pressure because we are powerless to defend ourselves. If the West becomes so weak, if the resolution of the West becomes so frail, that we are obviously not in earnest about our own defence, then we are open to pressure and blackmail which it is impossible for us to resist. It does not need a war or fighting for the West to succumb; it needs only neglect and selfishness, the pursuit of materialism, and the collapse of our resolution.
Even now, it seems to me, far too many people, when they talk about defence, seem to think that armed forces are there to win a war. Of course they are not. They are there to prevent a war from happening. The success of a defence policy is measured by the fact that no war takes place. NATO has been successful in these last 26 years and has prevented war. Because of it, the foolish, the short-sighted, say that NATO is now useless and superfluous and that armed forces are no longer necessary. What is the point, they say, of keeping up vast and expensive paraphernalia? We have had peace for 30 years and the Helsinki agreement has brought with it détente. They have not read their history.
What does all this add up to? It should add up to a resolve on the part of the West not to go further along the path of disarmament and détente unless there is a solid bargain struck. I have, on more than one occasion, deplored the decoupling of the Helsinki talks from the talks on mutual and balanced force withdrawals. Since the Helsinki Pact was signed, there has been no progress of any kind in Vienna; and in paragraph 10 of the White Paper we can read for ourselves the Government's admission about this.
I do not suppose that there would be anything more calculated to reduce tension than a genuine agreement on force reductions in Central Europe which, as the White Paper says, would correct the imbalance between the two Power blocs. I believe that the decoupling of these 238 conferences was shortsighted and in the end will prove to be a serious mistake.
If there are any in this House who agree with what I have said, we should then ask ourselves how the Government are measuring up to these unpleasant facts. There are various strands of opinion about defence in Parliament and outside it. There are those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Soper, believe that any military resistance is wrong. They are pacifists. They are logical; and they have a point of view which to me is perfectly understandable, although I do not share it. There are those who, like the Tribune group, wish to see a drastic cut in our armed forces which would mean that they would become only a token. This again has logic; for that wing of the Labour Party does not on the whole believe that we have much in this country worth defending. Some of them, it seems to me, are more in sympathy with the philosophy of the East than that of a Parliamentary democracy. That has logic, too. Why spend a lot of money on something you do not much believe in or, alternatively, if you half believe in it, why not let the Americans spend the money and protect you for free? I do not applaud that; but I understand it.
What I do not understand is the attitude of the Government. In White Paper after White Paper, and more particularly in this one, they spell out in the strongest possible terms the increasing menace of Soviet militarism. Yet what is their answer?—" Cut defence. We are spending too much. We are spending more percentage of our gross national product on defence than our neighbours. We know they are doing too little, so let us do too little, too. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, merely reversed the order of things in the White Paper. In the White Paper we are told about the menace of Soviet militarism for the first half of the White Paper; and in the second half we are told how we are going to cut our defence expenditure. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, spent the first half of his speech telling us about how we are going to cut defence expenditure; and in the second half he talked about Soviet militarism.
At 1975 Survey prices, the cuts which the Government have announced in total over the years now add up to £6¼ billion. Yet it seems that there is abroad a general 239 impression that the Government have not really done too badly; that the Secretary of State for Defence, on the whole, has done a good job. Of course those who say that really mean that Mr. Mason has not done as badly as everybody expected that he would. They expected even worse cuts and that to some small extent he has managed to prevent Mr. Healey from his worst excesses.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer plays an extraordinary part in all this. We can recollect that in the days of the last Labour Government he spent six years seeking to salvage for the armed forces what he could from a Government determined to slash defence expenditure. He battled—I will not say he battled successfully because I inherited all the problems that he left behind; but he battled. For the last 2½ years he has devoted himself to demolishing what he managed to achieve in his six years as Defence Secretary. I do not know where his convictions lie. At one time I thought that they lay in our having proper defence forces. I doubt whether the Healey of 1968 would find much to admire in the Healey of 1976.
And so, my Lords, we have the Secretary of State for Defence saying that the situation is very grave; that we cannot ignore the military capability of the Warsaw Pact which has increased in numbers and in quality. He tells us about the improved quality. He tells us about the failure of the talks in Vienna. He tells us in paragraph 26 of how the Russians may be tempted to apply other forms of pressure and that this will succeed only if the West was so gravely weakened as to have lost its will to resist. The sterling answer that he gives to reassure the British public is to spend less on defence, to move out of the Mediterranean, to abandon our bases overseas, to cut our support and to cause our allies in NATO the gravest concern; for they, in truth, are appalled at what the Government are doing.
But fair is fair. There is one aspect of the Government's policy which I applaud. The recent Statement—it is not in the White Paper—about the manufacture of tritium, although it does not explicitly say so, denotes that the Government are intending to maintain Britain's independent nuclear deterrent. That should give us all reassurance. In an uncertain world, none of us can be sure in the future what 240 may happen to the groupings and alliances of the present day. I am sure that Britain is safer because in the last resort she is known to have a nuclear capacity, powerful and under her own command. But as we read this White Paper, we are asked to believe that no damage has been done to our forces; we are asked to believe that all the cuts are to come from the tail rather than from the teeth.
It is an illusion to suppose that the teeth can operate without the tail. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the complexities and sophistications of modern equipment and weapons knows that support is an essential part of a weapons system. If there are no spare parts, no technicians, no back up, the weapon itself is absolutely useless. I should be interested to hear from the noble Lord who is to reply exactly what is going to be cut in terms of support. Are we cutting spare parts? If so, are we sure that we shall be able to use the equipment sufficiently for our forces to be trained in its use? Are they cutting fuel to such a degree that training cannot be carried out? In the Supply Estimates there is the figure of a cut of £25½ million in fuel, a cut of no less than 10 per cent. What is the explanation of this? Are they cutting research and development in such a way that we are bound to be out of a number of fields of defence research and consequently compelled to buy from abroad at the expense of employment and of foreign exchange?
And what are they doing about standardisation? One of the means of saving money is standardisation; and apart from the vague generalities of paragraph 39 of the White Paper we are not told. For example, has the Eurogroup yet come to an agreement about the future main battle tank? Is it not perhaps time when all countries which are under economic difficulties should think of a more radical apportionment of duties in NATO? These and many other questions can be pursued at a later date in another debate.
There is one matter about which I should like to say two or three sentences; that is, the state of the equipment and capacity of the Ulster Defence Regiment. It has been said, and I do not know whether the noble Lord who is to reply can comment 241 upon this—and I have told him that I am going to say this—that they are not equipped to the standard necessary for the job. For example, I have heard it said that their radios are very inferior to those used by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I hope that any economies that are practised do not fall on that body of men who are on active service, whose lives are in danger and without whom the job of the Regular Army would be that much more difficult. But for today there can be no one in this House who is interested in the security of this country who cannot view the policy of Her Majesty's Government on defence without the gravest possible misgiving. No amount of whitewash, no amount of camouflage in the defence White Paper can make us believe that the Government are not reducing our capacity and capability to an unacceptably low level, and consequently failing the British people in the trust which they have given.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
My Lords, we on these Benches would like to be associated with the remarks of the noble Lord the Leader of the House, Lord Shepherd, and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in the remarks they made about the late Field Marshal Lord Montgomery. I find it rather difficult having to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, as he is rather more well versed in these matters than I am. Also, at one time in my career I had the great pleasure of serving under him. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for setting up the all-Party Study Group in the House of Lords. As noble Lords know, yesterday evening there was the first proper meeting of that group. It was extremely well attended by all Parties in the House, as defence debates should be, because they should be non-Party.
We all realise that when there is an economic crisis there must be public expenditure cuts. Unfortunately, defence always seems to be the prime and first target for these cuts. I wish that we could live in a world that could do without armed forces but, alas! in the present state of civilisationa it is not to be. It is an ideal world which at the moment is not here. I think that defence, unlike Gaul, which 242 was divided into three parts, can only be divided into two parts: local and worldwide commitment to NATO. On the local side, we have Northern Ireland, our oil rigs and subversive acts in the United Kingdom. I gather that since our debate on defence about a year ago, the forces looking after the oil rigs and fishermen are rather better equipped. I would reiterate something I said, and which was also aired by Vice-Admiral Sir Hugh Mackenzie, that we should seriously consider having a new force, a maritime defence force, on the lines of the United States or Canadian Coastguards, to look after our oil rigs and fishing interests, particularly in view of the fact that with the law of the sea and the 200-mile limit it may become even more important. In spite of the fact that our forces in this area are better than they were 12 months ago, it is still, I am afraid, like the country policeman on a pedal cycle instead of in a fast patrol car.
I do not think that our oil rigs are in danger of being attacked by the super-Powers from the East; but I think they are possibly in great danger from subversive activities anarchists or the IRA. if we go to the "big picture", NATO, we must be guided by what the chiefs of NATO say. If they are happy that our commitments are adequate, well and good; but I still do not believe that this leaves us room for any complacency. Détente is useful only if one can be a partner in it from a strong position. We must remember that it has taken Russia only ten years to become a super-Power. Their present leaders may have a policy of détente now, but what happens when they go and they have new leaders? The policy could be changed overnight.
I suggest that one method of letting us all sleep more safely in our beds at night would be if Her Majesty's Government could organise some meetings with the Heads of State, which will include our Prime Minister with the rest of the European Community countries and initiate a European defence force which would not be separate from NATO in any way but would be much more standardised, possibly more mobile and more efficient. We must not forget that at the moment France, who is still not back as a member of NATO, could not sit down round the table; but perhaps serious discussion with the President of France would help to 243 bring her back under the NATO umbrella. I do not believe that if this meeting happened nothing would come from it. We must remember, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, that the nuclear deterrent is still with us. But if we weaken our conventional forces, we are asking for trouble. The Russians know that they will not have a nuclear war, and maybe they do not want a conventional one, but we are sticking our chins out to be hit if we put ourselves in a weak position.
It seems incredible to me that we cannot have defence policies with other countries in the EEC, whereby we have standardised weapons, and also that we cannot collaborate in building these weapons, whether they be ships, areoplanes, guns or missiles. Incidentally, if we had a European defence policy it would certainly save this country many millions of American dollars by not having to import American weapons. I will not go into the details of all the different weapons that exist today. Several other noble Lords will do so and they are much better equipped than I am. But I will ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, two questions: first, has any decision been made on the minicarriers for Harrier aircraft? I should also like to ask the noble Lord whether the Government have considered exporting arms to China. I know that China is a communist country; but China and Russia do not get on very well together and, provided that we do not give China too powerful a weapon, it might well help to keep the Russians busy on the other side of the world.
My Lords, there are some 20 speakers to follow me this afternoon and I shall be brief. I will end in a similar way to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. The right honourable gentleman, Mr. Denis Healey, when Defence Minister, said on 5th March 1969 in another place:…I warn my honourable friends who agree with the Amendment on the Order Paper that once we cut defence expenditure to the extent our security is imperilled, we have no houses, no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders."— [Official Report(Commons) 5/3/69; col. 551.)The right honourable gentleman is now Chancellor of the Exchequer and when he is advocating further cuts in defence expenditure I only hope that he remembers what he said in 1969.
244 My Lords, let us never forget that for nearly 100 years the controversy on defence has raged between the Treasury and Service Departments; and I think the Treasury has always been wrong. I hope—indeed, I feel sure—that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, will be able to give your Lordships more than adequate answers and reassurance when he winds up this debate.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord CLIFFORD of CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, as one who has inflicted himself upon your Lordships' House in practically every defence debate since 1964, I fear I may have laid myself open to the accusation of riding my particular hobby-horse too often. However, following the first defence debate after the arrival in your Lordships' House of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, he came up to me and said that his big worry had always been our lack of reserves. So, encouraged from such an Everest height in the defence field, I venture to battle on.
Let us first of all examine the changing pattern of military tactics and strategy. Modern minds, shaped by memories of the first and second World Wars, have an almost entirely outmoded conception of things military. Military means of warfare are now being developed which, with scientific and nuclear armaments, introduce an element of confusion—an element which I hope to show can be cured only by the organisation of a strong territorial militia or, if you like, a national guerrilla force. For centuries mankind has dreamed of a world in which conflicts between nations would be resolved through arbitration and recourse to law, but all solutions have so far been found too unrealistic. Modern news media are inevitably pacifist and defeatist per se. They have become a non-military means of waging war. One has only to look at Northern Ireland to see what is meant by that. Our small Army rose to that challenge by running courses for offices and NCOs on how to cope with the "smart Alecks" of the interviewing media—but how pathetic it is that we should have to defend ourselves so! With every minor war brought into our sitting-room within the day, what a trap our advanced technology has set for us.
I know of a young lady from Londonderry who, in the early days of the current 245 troubles there, had left her car in a car park within the city walls. On returning she found a few youths stoning some police; so she went to a telephone box to ring up her father to tell him where the car was and where to pick her up. She was riveted to hear a journalist in the next telephone box—a journalist from one of our most reputable media—giving a very highly-coloured account of the "terrific battle" that was going on at that time. I may say that when I heard that particular journalist was to address our local university recently, I had great pleasure in pricking his particular bubble of self-esteem to one of his hosts. Again, recently there was a demand by an SDLP member for a public inquiry into the shooting by the SAS of a well-known Provisional thug. That makes news, but no mention is made of any such demand when a Provisional guns down a father in front of his family. This is the sort of thing I mean by "non-military means of warfare"; and as far as Northern Ireland is concerned it reached its peak in the Bloody Sunday schemozzle.
However, in Western Europe nationalist feelings have been largely abandoned as the standards of intelligence and education have risen. But they are strong in the Third World and the Communist bloc, which associate them with idealogical sentiment. In the same way, racist and religious sentiments are strong in the Third World, as exemplified by Black Power, anarchism, Arabism, and so on. But the Russians have a fundamental doctrine—one can read about it in Sokolowski's Military Strategy—which conceives war as a violent nuclear exchange from which the USSR must emerge victorious.
Nuclear deterrence and the mass media now dominate recent developments in war, but we have by no means returned to the conventional war of the pre-atomic period. The modern form of conventional war is the limited war as, for example, in the Middle East. We have to ask ourselves: how is the gap in the deterrence system to be filled? The intercontinental ballistic missile makes a nonsense of conventional anti-aircraft defence, and target observation satellites make a nonsense of a lot more of our preconceived ideas of war.
246 What answers have been put forward to the stalemate and the danger arising out of nuclear parity? First, there is the 1914–39 arms race concept—not a very good one. Secondly, there is the use of nuclear tactical weapons. No-one yet knows what the danger really is of excalation in this field and therefore we do not know how much of a deterrent that would be. Thirdly, there is the "Chinese formula" that is, a people's militia for general interior resistance. Such a militia is already established in various parts of Europe; for example, in Yugoslavia. One can see how effective it was in Vietnam.
As your Lordships may have guessed, this is what I am suggesting for ourselves and for NATO. Modern methods of mobility have outdated traditional defensive warfare. The attacker is always at an advantage, as we have seen from the Six Day War. He who reacts quickest generally wins, depending on the preliminary air battle and not forgetting the effect of surface-to-air missiles. To my mind, military conflict now plays an auxiliary role within the complete context of total strategy of a persuasive character. In Korea it was the Yalu River; in the Middle East the two great Powers contained the limits. Because of utilisation of space by guerrillas, these are now often the equal of conventional forces. There are countless examples I might give, but perhaps I might just quote from my own experience in the Appennines in Northern Italy during the War when half-a-dozen bands of about 15 to 20 men made absolute rings round a complete Volksdeutscher division.
From what I have said, I draw the following conclusions. First, highly technical and conventional forces are rare and costly. "Primitive" forces—for lack of a better word—which can be multiplied at will, are inexpensive. Secondly, with our frightening reduction, in the West, of conventional forces, the whole situation has become unstable to such an extent that we are encouraging the return of military adventurism at a time when errors in calculation are fraught with great dangers. Thirdly, in the sphere of conventional warfare the only deterrent now remaining is what I term a national guerrilla force. The pre-conditions for such a strategy are, of course, a large or comparatively large geographical area, 247 a difficult terrain and a tough and determined population with the necessary political and patriotic feelings throughout the country. I admit that the latter worries me a little, when I consider the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, on subversion, the possibility of Communist growth in Italy and, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the views of the Tribune group. I have already mentioned wartime in Italy—to come back to what I was trying to get across—and I may add another example. I am certain that from the wilds of Dartmoor the Territorial unit that I commanded many years ago could have made quite an impact on an advancing force.
With tactical nuclear weapons, the defence would have to be dispersal. That is the constant solution to the development of fire power. Thereby the efficacy is reduced; thereby the tactical effectiveness of conventional forces is brought to near zero without preventing the risk of rapid and unacceptable attrition rates. Because of this we no longer know how to use the ultimate weapon. Because of the insoluble problems that its use poses to both sides, it became in effect a deterrent. Russia's answer, it seems, is now the quick break-through, the quick thrust, to get in among the civilian population and so prevent the use of the tactical nuclear weapon. Is it wise, my Lords, to base our deterrent on the unknown psychological explosions?
Through an extraordinary increase in naval power, the Russians have been able to put their Cuban mercenaries into Angola, Somalia and Dhofar, without the rest of the world daring to say, "Boo". They were in Angola long before the MPLA were the Government there, and yet our Foreign Office excuses them by saying that the Government asked for them. The result of our attitude of not taking a stand anywhere in the world is that we have allowed our European, NATO, position to be outflanked before the contest ever begins. Remember, my Lords, that over 60 per cent. of our vital imports come via the Cape and the South Atlantic, and they are now cut by the Soviet forces in the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic.
The West may have nuclear parity with the Russians, and maybe that is what has prevented a war so far, but that is the 248 only parity we have got. Elsewhere the inequality is appalling and downright dangerous. We have no reserves, as has already been mentioned—Healey saw to that; our Regular Forces have been cut to the bare bones, and the equipment which was "top of the pops" 10 years ago is fast becoming outdated. I see on the list of speakers the names of two Members of your Lordships' House who have recently had experience of that.
Every year since 1965 I have complained of our lack of reserves. The Conservatives, to their eternal shame, abolished National Service and the consequences have been seen in our national life ever since. The Labour Party, in the person of the present Chancellor, as good as abolished the Territorial Army just when it should have been doubled and trained to take on the role that I have been referring to. We would never, to my mind, have had the Northern Ireland situation if that had been done. I realise that this is a debatable subject, and that it could well be confused with the arguments about the B specials.
The defensive solution consists of creating, in periods of peace, military institutions which lend themselves to successive reinforcement in response to the political situation without reorganisation—what the French General Beaufre refers to as "the inflatable Army". Only by some such system can we have adequate reserves for the comparatively small forces required for the first and second levels of defence, and for our national guerrilla force, or TA, to preserve our existence and be the new deterrent. We could learn a lot from the Swiss and the Swedes. We should adapt the TA and the Civil Defence, instead of which we obliterated the one and turned the Civil Defence Staff College, of which I am a graduate, into a forcing house for civil servants. In every Defence White Paper we squeeze our forces until they are no longer able to cope with a dissident Province, and the Navy are unable to cope with Icelandic gunboats. That is a war we shall never win. I am convinced that the majority in the country, and of the three main Parties, are now genuinely concerned with our lamentable defence position. Our friends and allies get more and more despondent with every cut.
We were not overrun after the war, because America had the bomb. Since 249 then we have not been buried, because the West has kept ahead. Now we are still comparatively free, because Russia has China to think about; and because China has a national guerrilla force it is too much of a hornet's nest for the Russian bear to stick its snout into. It is the third deterrent and we should learn the lesson. Reserves we must have for all our forces, and quickly. We cannot depend on America and China forever.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Viscount MONCKTON of BRENCHLEY
My Lords, first may I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for the excellent first meeting of the all-Party Committee last night. It was a useful meeting and there were excellent speeches. Secondly, I am glad to see that I am being followed by my friend the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I speak as a Christian soldier, not thinking these two to be incompatible. He, I suppose, will speak as a Humanist pacifist—also not incompatible. But I hope that he, too, will think that I have a right to speak as I do.
Once more, we have had an excellent White Paper, excellent in its production and lay-out. The last two have been good ones. This one is easy to read. The enormous Russian threat is there and the cuts are shown all too clearly in their amount, but not in the details of their effect. In another place, the Secretary of State shot down the article by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, on the possibility of a surprise attack on the central front, on the grounds that our intelligence would quickly pick up any preparations for such an attack. That is true; we would pick it up, perhaps weeks before rather than days. The preparations were picked up just before the attack on Czechoslovakia, but the Russians then turned left instead of going straight on. It is so easy, for such big-scale exercises which are held regularly by the Soviet forces and their allies, to issue ail the instructions to take part, and if they were mad or provoked, or thought it too easy to go straight on instead of turning left, the warnings to the West would be almost identical, and we should be able to do little about it. The more we cut the tail, which includes some of those things which we find out about 250 that type of movement, the less able shall we be to do anything about it. I honestly believe that a danger exists there that ought to be looked at.
Two years ago I criticised the German Army and was doubtful about its capacity to fill its role on the central front. I am happy now that they are well disciplined, well trained and with great facilities—greater than the British Army of the Rhine now has. In the opening speech from the Front Bench opposite, we heard the figure of 55,000. I am not asking for the true figure to be given; it would frighten your Lordships if it was. We know, and must accept, that some of those forces are being used in Northern Ireland, some are in transit being trained to be used in Northern Ireland and some are being trained to go back to the British Army of the Rhine. So we must at least be honest and say that the figure cannot be 55,000. It is therefore the Germans who have some right to criticise us, as I criticised them two years ago. They have now grown up into a most efficient army and, unlike me, they are far too polite to criticise us.
The British Services are in difficulties, particularly, as the Leader on my side of the House said, on the training side. We want assurances that the units in this country will also get a fair share of training "mileage" in petrol and oil, and particularly in ammunition. In training, we have always been used to firing the real round. The practice round is not the same, particularly in tank warfare. I fear that, if not already restricted, the real round may be restricted, and I hope that the Government will look carefully at this point. There is an enormous difference between the real and the practice round. We must be ready and able, and be seen to be able, to use the real thing.
So far as the tail is concerned, I am not very keen on it but we know that it is vital. The merceneries who went to Angola failed because there was no short, medium or long tail. We know that failure can happen if too many resources are devoted to the front for publicity purposes and not enough resources are devoted to the tail for fighting efficiency after the first few days—and, indeed, in the first few days. We are in honour bound to reinforce the British Army of the Rhine in the event of real trouble, but have we the capacity to do so, taking into account the cuts in 251 Hercules? Have we the helicopter airlifting capacity in the Rhine Army? This I do not know, but I fear that the capacity is not sufficient.
The people who have been and will be affected by the cuts are Servicemen. They are being sentenced to unemployment, and I wonder whether the difference between their pay as Servicemen and the pay that they and their families will receive as unemployed persons (which, unfortunately, is all too certain) has been worked out. Is it conceivable that there should be some other form of immediate reserve that is drawn from ex-Servicemen and others who wish to join a force to support the police? We have heard the commissioner of police say that he will need some form of additional support. Perhaps there should be an easier way for men to join the police force. Possibly ex-Servicemen could be encouraged to join the force on special terms. As my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh said, we need more reserves. Also, we could build up the Territorial Army. My own unit, the Kent and Sharpshooters Yeomanry, is over strength. We could form more units of that type—the small reconnaissance unit. That unit is devoted to the Rhine Army. There is nothing left with which to deal with trouble here.
Last night we had another interesting talk and the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, asked what would happen if, before the real alert, the Communists in France and Italy, rather like the IRA over here, tied down vast police forces and military units. Could not they block airfields and railways and interrupt communications? Therefore, will not we need more rather than fewer of the ordinary kind of forces? Above all, what the Services are longing for is a period, however short, of stability so that they can get on with the job and train for what they may have to do. It is agony for them. I am not saying that their morale is low. Strangely, their morale is not low, but this chopping and changing and doubts about the future is agony for them. You do not join anything if you think that you will be cut off midway. The Services want a period of real stability.
Finally, the prudent man hopes for the best and prepares for the worst. What I think is dangerous and what appears to have happened is that as well as hoping for the best we have prepared for the best.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, I am glad that this occasion has been taken to pay tribute to the late Lord Montgomery. I was a little surprised that a previous occasion had not been taken for that purpose. I had no knowledge of him except in this House, but those who heard his contributions to our debates—and, perhaps more, those who had social contact with him—must have been entranced by his personality. I was deeply impressed that, with his experience of war, he took the view that in the present generation we must seek to prevent the repetition of war, and I want to associate myself with what has been said on both sides of the House in appreciation of his Lordship.
In this debate I shall be expressing a minority view which will not be popular with many Members of this House, but in our debates I have learned of the tolerance which is shown when one is expressing, with some thought, an opinion which is sincerely held. May I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, who preceded me, that of course I welcome his statement of the position as he sees it, and I know that he will welcome mine. None of us has the truth; the truth will be achieved only if we show tolerance in our discussions.
Since the last world war this country has faced the immense task of adjusting itself to the fact that it is no longer a world Power. We no longer rule the waves. We no longer have a great Empire. A slow and perhaps belated adjustment has been made to accustom ourselves to that fact. There has been the decision of the Government to reduce their forces East of Suez. There has been the withdrawal of the bases in Aden, in the Maldive Islands, in Singapore and off Brunei; and in the White Paper which we are now discussing we have further acceptance of that fact by reducing expenditure over a large part of the world and concentrating upon Europe.
The basic adjustment which has been made in defence expenditure since we ceased to be one of the great Powers has been reliance upon the military aid of, and alliance with, the United States of America. This has involved, first, American bases in this country and the equipment of our Polaris submarines with American missiles and, secondly, the overwhelming 253 background support which the United States has given to NATO. I want to question whether in the present circumstances that reliance is best for our country. I believe first, that reliance by Britain upon American nuclear aid is suicidal for the future of our population. I believe also that it is becoming increasingly clear, by developments which we are not taking sufficiently into account, that in the coming years NATO defence in Europe will be unreliable.
I turn first to my view that reliance upon American bases, nuclear weapons and missiles for the Polaris submarines in this country is unjustifiable. If war were to take place between the West and the East, the first action of the Soviet Union would be to bomb our territory because the American nuclear bases here are nearest to Moscow and Leningrad. Seven hydrogen bombs dropped from the Soviet Union could destroy the whole of our population. When we speak of our own nuclear weapons, they are utterly irrelevant. They are insignificant compared with the might of the United States of America and of the Soviet Union. They are an additional reason why this country would be bombarded, in the case of war, to the death of all our people.
I want to depart from my argument for a moment to ask immediate questions of the Minister. I want to ask whether the Ministry of Defence statement on Tuesday that a contract has been placed with British Nuclear Fuels Limited in Dumfriesshire to produce tritium, to which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred, means that we are now to construct British hydrogen bombs. I want to draw the attention of the Minister to the statements of a technical correspondent in the Guardian this morning. He says:Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen which emits beta rays. It is an inseparable and untrappable by-product of civil reactors which contaminates the atmosphere, and which inevitably disperses throughout natural systems, where it behaves like hydrogen.The technical correspondent of the Guardian adds:Tritium may be much less innocuous than is at present assumed by both the Government and the nuclear industry".254 He concludes:It could be that Britain intends to become the European supplier in this field.I want to ask the Minister whether those statements are true, and to say to him that, if they are, they will be received with dismay by the great majority of our Labour Party and by a large section of the progressive population of Britain who are not within our ranks.
My second point is that the NATO Alliance is now becoming increasingly unreliable. It has been weakened by the withdrawal of the military association of France and Greece. It is now threatened from within by the imminent probability of communist participation in an Italian Government and the likelihood of early participation in government in France, which, despite its lukewarmness to the military aspects of NATO, remains a central pillar of the Western European Alliance. Communist participation in Western European Governments would make nonsense of the conception of NATO as a defence weapon against communism. It is no wonder that the United States of America are now becoming concerned and that the State Department is unlikely to continue its supply of arms to Western Europe in these circumstances.
But as we look at Europe we have not only to see this undermining of NATO; we have to see that in Eastern Europe there are now tendencies growing which will weaken the Warsaw Pact alliance—Yugoslavia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Poland. I do not believe that any of us who has knowledge of what is happening in Europe can look at the next decade without appreciating that the monolithic character of Eastern Europe will be undermined by the growing education of its people and the growing self-reliance of the States which are there.
I suggest that these considerations mean that not only for the hope of peace but for security we must seek now a new approach. A few weeks ago I put a question to the Government regarding Mr. Brezhnev's proposals for disarmament and peace. May I just remind the House of the Soviet proposals. First, ending nuclear weapons tests; secondly, the banning and destruction of chemical weapons and new types of weapons capable of mass annihilation; thirdly, 255 examination of ending the arms race in the Middle East; fourthly, a world treaty on the non-use of force in international relations; fifthly, the convening of a world disarmanent conference at the earliest opportunity.
In reply to my Question my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts endorsed those objectives but emphasised that they can only be realised by international verification. In that respect I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the communiqué which was signed by the British and Soviet representatives after the recent visit of the Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr. Gromyko. It was given little attention in our Press. The item to which I refer reads as follows:The Soviet Union and Great Britain are still convinced that effective steps must be taken to end the arms race and achieve general and complete disarmament, including nuclear disarmament, under strict and effective international control. The sides reaffirmed that the holding of a world disarmament conference would facilitate a solution of disarmament problems which await solution.I ask the House to note that in that communiqué the Soviet Union accepted international inspection of tests and nuclear development. They have since specifically accepted it. On 9th April there was a conference between the United States of America and the Soviet Union in Moscow on peaceful nuclear explosions, which made arrangements for on-site inspection of explosions at the time of occurrence. My Lords, I ask the Government very seriously to explore the great possibilities which now arise from the Soviet acceptance of international inspection.
There has been very much scepticism about the Helsinki Agreement, but it was of enormous significance. The President of the United States, the Heads of State from 35 countries, were all present in Helsinki, and all signed the Final Act, but there has been scepticism. I deplore the fact that although the Soviet Union has said it would accept human rights, it is still persecuting dissidents in that country. Dissidents today are the guarantee of progress tomorrow.
Nevertheless, there have been a number of achievements since Helsinki of which we do not take sufficient notice. The Soviet Union has given far greater facilities to journalists there; it has permitted the reunion of families across the frontier, and 256 it has permitted Western newspapers into the Soviet Union. It has allowed Western representatives to attend its manoeuvres. There has been the conference on economic co-operation in South-Eastern Europe, between the Communist countries and Greece and Turkey. Bulgaria has just had its conference and reached agreement with Greece. All these are acknowledged to be sequels to the Helsinki Agreement. There has been the recent decision in Vienna that the United Nations European Commission for Economic Co-operation should develop economic association, pollution association, trade association, and energy association between the two sides. These are all advances.
My Lords, I conclude by saying that the test of Helsinki will be whether disarmament takes place. The results of the Vienna Conference have so far been disappointing. I will not say that this has been entirely due to the attitude of the Soviet representatives—I think there has been intransigence on the Western side as well. I would urge Her Majesty's Government in their representations at the Vienna Conference to do their utmost to secure agreement, by concession if necessary, by compromise if necessary, on the reduction of the forces in Europe. I go beyond that and, in view of their endorsement of the proposals of the Soviet Union for disarmament and peace, ask of the Government that they should respond in an active, positive way, not merely by giving verbal acceptance. Take the proposals to the Security Council of the United Nations; place them on the agenda of world affairs. I believe an approach of this character is the alternative to the kind of policy which dominates the White Paper on Defence.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord CHALFONT
My Lords, I wish to associate myself warmly with the tributes paid from all quarters of the House to the late Field Marshal Lord Montgomery of Alamein. If I may be allowed to say so in passing, I thought it was unfortunate that in the course of his own warm and clearly sincere tribute, the noble Lord the Leader of the House saw fit to refer to the controversy which surrounded the life of the late Lord Montgomery. As the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, history will judge the Field Marshal, and will probably 257 judge him in the context of biography, of the history of war and of military analysis. I do not believe the dignity of this House is much served by introducing these controversies on this occasion. I shall content myself by saying that I, like many other Members of your Lordships' House, whether we served in the Western Desert or elsewhere, recognise the great contribution the Field Marshal made to the country, the Army, and to this House. I offer my deep sympathy to his son David, whom I am proud to count among my friends.
Anyone who still needs to be convinced that there is a grave and growing threat to the West now has available to consider a formidable array of evidence provided by a succession of witnesses with impeccable credentials. Among others, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred to Alexander Solzhenitsyn who has described, in the face of considerable scepticism and often derision, the appalling nature of the tyranny which will overtake the West if its people cannot overcome their present crippling paralysis of will. At another level, a succession of NATO former senior officers, admirals, field marshals, air marshals, from General Hackett, Graf von Keilmannsegg to Generals Steinhoff and Zumwalt, have scarcely waited to hang up their uniforms before issuing a series of grave warnings about the weaknesses of a Western defence system which is now faced by one of the most formidable military machines in modern history. A few journalists, a few academics, a few independently minded politicians have sounded the alarm bells as well, but possibly because they do not all look like Solzhenitsyn, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, the response has so far been one of scepticism and apathy.
But, now, a new and perhaps even more impressive voice has been added to this range of warnings; no less than the voice of Dr. Kissinger, the United States Secretary of State. As I think most who have studied the subjects now know, the State Department in the United States recently issued a telegram under the authority of the Secretary of State, a telegram of guidance to American diplomatic posts abroad. It had a certain immortality conferred on it in the form of a guidance telegram, because it started 258 as a dissertation by one of Dr. Kissinger's advisers to a gathering of ambassadors here in London. But it is clear that that telegram now represents the thinking of the Government of the United States. Therefore, I think it is a matter of some importance that the general lines of that thinking should be very widely known and clearly understood. It is not of a very revolutionary nature, but it has the enormous advantage of being lucid, logical, and furthermore of being realistic almost to the point of brutality.
Its basic premise is that the Soviet Union is emerging as a global super-Power, and that there is nothing anybody can do to prevent it. According to this doctrine, the Russians are the new imperialists, and their power is based entirely on military strength. At the same time, says the Secretary of State, Communism is making substantial advances in Western Europe as well. Dr. Kissinger, like most other people capable of reading and thinking, declines to believe that French, Portuguese, British or Italian Communists are fundamentally different from their comrades in Moscow. In other words he recognises—and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, himself, surprisingly, has recognised this in his own speech today—that if Communists begin to participate in and eventually to dominate the Governments of Western Europe, that will be the beginning of the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the signal for a radical and dangerous transformation in American foreign policy. I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, any further than that, because my conclusions from what Dr. Kissinger has said are very different from his.
You see, my Lords, faced with these frightening hypotheses of Russian intentions and the ability of the West to do anything about them, there are still those in the West who seem to remain totally unmoved. Anyone who postulates an aggressive or imperialist Soviet foreign policy is at once denounced, as Lord Carrington has said, as a McCarthyist, a reactionary or a cold war warrior. It is claimed still that the Soviet Union has nothing to gain from expansionism, that the policy of détente should be taken at its face value, as the expression of a genuine desire for world peace through 259 disarmament and international co-operation. So I think it is important perhaps for a few minutes to look beyond just the hypotheses of Soviet aims.
As I have said before in your Lordships' House, anyone who has been trained in the business of military assessment or intelligence knows that the likely actions of an enemy are based on two main factors, his intentions and his capabilities. So if those of us, like myself, who wish to warn about the dangers of Russian imperialism are to carry any weight, they must be prepared to demonstrate that the Soviet Union has not only the intention but the capacity too, the capability, to carry out its intentions, and furthermore that it has shown unmistakable signs of doing so.
Let us look for a brief moment at the Soviet military budget. It is, of course, notoriously difficult to make any confident or accurate assessment about what the Soviet Union spends on its armed forces. But in a very detailed and highly technical assessment of the problem recently given in testimony to the United States Joint Economic Committee, Mr. Andrew Marshall of the American Defence Department had a go at it, and it was a very informed and educated one because he has most of the facts that are available in the West. He suggested that the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, normally regarded as the standard bearers of the cold war, had in fact been consistently underestimating the extent of Soviet spending on defence. He pointed out, for example, that in the Soviet Union military research is always given clear priority over civilian research and development. They deploy all their best scientists, in such disciplines as applied mathematics, data processing, systems analysis, biochemistry and bio-physics. All the best brains are deployed in military research and development, not on the civilian side.
Their accounting practices tend systematically to underprice military, compared with civilian, research and development and production. Finally, there is the fact, perhaps not generally known in the West, that military activity is directly or indirectly subsidised from non-defence departments or even from society in general. For example, pre-military training, designed to prepare young Russians 260 for military service, is not paid for out of the defence budget; it is paid for out of donations, lottery proceeds and State grants.
All this evidence given to the United States Congress resulted in the conclusion that defence activities in the Soviet Union may account for anything between 10 and 20 per cent. of the gross national product, compared with approximately 6 per cent. in the United States of America and 3.5 per cent. in the rest of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. But, my Lords, it is not only the level of spending which is significant, it is the trends, too. The consensus among Western intelligence services, Western intelligence assessments, is that Soviet defence expenditure has doubled in the last ten years. That of the Western countries has remained virtually static on average. Last year the United States Defence Secretary, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, told the American Senate that in 1975 the Soviet Union spent 42 per cent. more on defence than the United States of America.
My Lords, the result of all this—and these, after all, are only statistics and we know what to think of those—has been a massive accretion of Russian military power. I think it is worth pointing out, for example, that ten years ago the Soviet Union had only 224 intercontinental ballistic missiles, while the United States of America had 854. Today the corresponding figures are 1,618 for the Soviet Union and 1,054 for the United States of America. I am not suggesting that pure numbers of ballistic missiles are a definitive argument. I am suggesting, however, that the balance has moved very perceptibly, very considerably, in favour of the Soviet Union.
Let us look for a moment at conventional forces. We have performed this exercise before in your Lordship's House. We seem to perform it every year and no one ever seems to take the slightest notice. But let us have another go. The Red Army, together with the air defence forces and the paramilitary units of the KGB and the MVD, now has a strength of 2.8 million. The total strength of the armed forces by most calculations is 3½ million. There are indeed some Americans who believe that it is much higher, anything as high as 4½ million. But let us take the conservative figure of 3½ million. The 261 comparable figures for the United States of America are 790,000 in the Army and 2.1 million in the armed forces as a whole. The Soviet Union has 40,000 battle tanks, the united States 10,000. One could go on like this endlessly. Of course, these raw figures, as alarming as they may be, do not provide the complete picture of the military balance. I think the much more significant comparison, which we have also made before, is that between the Warsaw Pact and NATO in Europe. And here, according to that eminently conservative and cautious body, the Institute for Strategic Studies, the balance is still very considerably in favour of the Soviet Union. I will not go through all the figures again; they are available for anyone to read, and they are, I think, to any military analyst truly frightening.
Of course, we have to take into account other factors as well. It is true that some of Russia's Warsaw Pact allies might not be entirely reliable in a crisis. It is true that NATO's equipment is technically better in many cases than that of the Warsaw Pact. But, on the other hand, NATO's forces are not where they would be needed in wartime. The Russians, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, have secure internal lines of communication across Eastern Europe, while the American home base is 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic. The Soviet Union can impose almost complete standardisation of equipment upon its allies, an achievement which has proved far too difficult for NATO to achieve. But if you take all the factors into account, cancel them out where necessary, and analyse them with care, instead of trying to make political propaganda out of them on one side or the other, it is impossible for anybody who has any knowledge of military affairs to resist the conclusion that the military balance in Europe is heavily in favour of the Warsaw Pact.
A recent NATO study pointed out that this superiority would become even more decisive if the Soviet Union decided upon a surprise attack in Europe. Not altogether surprisingly, that report and the publicity that was given to it was subjected to heavy attack from those who do not want these facts to be known. I gather that someone has recently said in a learned disquisition to Members of your Lordships' House that, in the event of a surprise attack, the 262 Warsaw Pact forces would not be victorious in a matter of days, but in a matter of weeks. If that gives anybody in your Lordships' House any comfort, I can only say you are welcome to it.
Most Western strategic analysts still believe, in spite of the great and growing superiority of the Warsaw Pact in the European theatre, that, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House said, a military attack there is still a very unattractive proposition for the Soviet Union, if only because of the risk of irrational response; the risk of nuclear retaliation. So we must turn for a moment to consider the massive accretion of Soviet naval strength. Here, under the very expert guidance of Admiral Gorshkov, who has been charged with the construction of this fleet, the Soviet Navy has been transformed in little more than a decade from a comparatively insignificant coastal defence force into one of the greatest ocean-going navies in the world. It has 236 major surface combat units (236 major warships); 265 attack submarines, and 75 strategic missile submarines.
The Soviet Union, possibly accepting the position of stalemate in Europe, has clearly decided to give an enormous priority to naval deployment. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, that navy constantly demonstrates its strength on a global scale. Its ships move freely and flexibly through its four main fleets: the Atlantic Fleet, or Northern Fleet as they call it; the Baltic Fleet; the Pacific Fleet; and the Black Sea Fleet, and from those to the Indian Ocean Task Force. In addition there is a research fleet which is larger than the combined research fleets of the rest of the world, constantly engaged in oceanography, intelligence collection, meteorology, and communication. There are Soviet bases and naval facilities all over the world: in East Africa, West Africa, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Somalia and in Aden. Some of those names may strike a chord with those in your Lordships' House who have served in the Royal Navy.
It is, then, demonstrable that whatever may be the declared intentions of the Soviet Union, and whatever complacent people in the West may say about them, the Soviet Union is rapidly acquiring a war-winning capability. The Government White Paper, Statement on the 263 Defence Estimates, which we are debating today, devoted four pages to an extensive commentary on the growing strength of the Warsaw Pact. It remarks among other things, that in the European Atlantic area the Soviet Northern fleet and the Warsaw Pact have a clear superiority in surface ships, submarines, naval aircraft, men, tanks, guns, and tactical aircraft—everything in fact that matters in warfare; outnumbering NATO by ratios ranging from 1.3 to 1 for soldiers and 2.7 to 1 for main battle tanks.
Yet in the face of all this there are still those who insist that this massive build-up derives from motives which need cause no alarm in the West—the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, mentioned some of them; there are others, and you can find them anywhere where the forces of complacency are at work—such as fear of China; the need to maintain Soviet dominance over the Eastern European Empire; the simple desire to be biggest and best as a reaction to years of psychological inferiority to the United States. But in my view it would be a totally irresponsible Western Government which ignored the possibility that it all might have a simpler and more brutal motive—the motive imputed to the Soviet Union in the Chinese analysis; namely, that these powerful forces are meant, sooner or later, to fight an imperialist war.
Of course, it is argued, as Dr. Kissinger has argued, that if this is so there is very little that can be done about it. The logical policy, the only intelligent policy, is that of d étente; attempting, as Dr. Kissinger has said, to affect the way in which Soviet power is developed and used. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, spoke of détente and of the three main areas of negotiation that have gone on within it. I, for my part, can only say that the progress of those talks so far does not furnish grounds for excessive confidence. The Strategic Arms Limitation talks have done nothing to prevent the further spread and development of nuclear weapons, and specifically, as I mentioned earlier in my remarks, they have done nothing to prevent the Soviet Union from shifting the nuclear balance perceptibly in its own favour.
The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said that there had been scepticism about the Conference on European Security and Co-operation. I will go further and say that in my view it was very little more 264 than a collection of pious declarations and empty platitudes. There was a great deal about non-intervention in the affairs of other countries, which did not seem to prevent the Soviet Union from intervening very actively in Portugal and later in Angola. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said, the talks on Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions, in which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, apparently places such great hopes, have achieved absolutely nothing in the whole time they have been sitting except to change their name from Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions to Mutual Reduction of Forces and Armaments and Associated Measures in Central Europe. So now, instead of having the MBFR talks, we have the MUREFAAMCE talks. This is not, I think, a world-shaking development.
The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has asked us to look carefully at Soviet proposals in all this connection. I would ask him and your Lordships to look closely at the proposals put forward by the Soviet Union and the United States in the opening session of the talks on MBFR, in which it is perfectly clear to anyone who reads with care that, whatever the changes, the Soviet Union intends to maintain (even in the unlikely event of an agreement to reduce force levels) a numerical superiority. Anyone who examines with care the proposals made cannot fail to come to that conclusion.
Of course, as others have said in your Lordships' House, it is clearly in our interests that we should maintain a dialogue with the Soviet Union. But we must maintain that dialogue from strength. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said, it is not our fear that these great Soviet forces are going to overwhelm us overnight in some massive surprise attack, it is only that one day, following the example of the Mafia, that if they become powerful enough they may be able to make us an offer that we cannot refuse, and this is what the geopolitical threat of the Soviet Union means.
I should have liked to say more about the strategy of NATO in Central Europe but I have already taken up enough of your Lordships' time. It seems to me that there is much we can do in the West even at our present level of defence to improve the effectiveness of our military preparations. I believe, too, that it is a 265 most pressing imperative that we should push ahead with political integration in Europe. The principal members of the EEC still seem to be behaving with appalling irresponsibility in the face of the growth of Communism in two of the major countries of the Common Market and two of the major countries of the alliance. The advance of the Left in European politics continues, and even if you do not believe me perhaps you will believe Dr. Henry Kissinger when he says that this will be the beginning of the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. If this trend continues, then I do not believe—I agree with Dr. Kissinger—that NATO can long survive. Nor can the present relationship between the United tates and Europe survive, not in its present form. I would go further and say—at the risk, once again, of being branded, as I have been in the past, an alarmist and cold warrior—that Western democracy is in greater danger today than it has been at any time since the 1930s. As the late Russian, Marshal Grechko, knew perfectly well, when the fruit is ready to fall there will be no shortage of people to shake the tree either in this country or outside. The Motion asks us to take note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1976. I for one have no difficulty with that Motion. I take note of it—with despondency and alarm.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Earl CATHCART
My Lords, I wish to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, for the opportunity he has given us to have a better understanding of defence matters by his proposal to form an all-Party defence study group. Certainly since the Government began their Defence Review in March 1974 the two subsequent Statements on Defence Estimates have shown a remarkable degree of continuity of aim and sense of purpose, so much so that I was almost tempted to repeat the speech which I made this time last year, but I will not.
The Statement on Defence Estimates for 1976 which we are debating today contains some reductions, a few changes, some rationalisation and some reorganisation. It also spells out very clearly two major changes which have taken place since last year. The first is that while our defence 266 commitments have remained constant, they must now be achieved with reduced expenditure since our defence budget has been reduced three times in the last 15 months. This must either mean that the most extensive and thorough Defence Review ever undertaken was less than thorough at the time and therefore left considerable reductions still to be made or else, and I think more likely, that the Government are taking a risk and are reducing our defence capability below the minimum that the national security demands. The other major change since last year is, to use the words of the Government's Statement:During the past year the military capability of the Warsaw Pact has increased in numbers and in quality.Again, on page 20, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said, we read:In conventional ground and air forces the imbalance in Central Europe has moved further in Warsaw Pact's favour.In particular, the Soviet capability both in sea and air power, and with ballistic missiles, has expanded tremendously and it is difficult to relate this expansion of military might with the spirit of détente on which the Government's defence policy already relies so much. I do not wish in any way to disparage the policy of d étente; indeed, it is our main hope. But I should prefer to see the fruits of détente ripen on the tree before we pick them. The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe which was signed at Helsinki in August 1975 was principally concerned with d étente and one of the principal military measures resulting from that Conference wsas the agreement to report all military manoeuvres involving more than 25,000 troops and to invite observers to those manoeuvres; 25,000 troops on an army manoeuvre is not a very large manoeuvre. This is clearly a highly practical way of reducing tension across the demarcation line which divides NATO from the Warsaw Pact countries and it must do much to achieve mutual understanding and confidence in that part of Europe.
It is interesting to note that in the first seven months since the Helsinki Agreement was signed, NATO has reported and invited observers to three major and five minor manoeuvres while in the same period the Warsaw Pact has reported and invited 267 observers to only one exercise, and presumably that was the exercise to which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, referred. Perhaps NATO trains harder than the Warsaw Pact Alliance. In any event, I hope that both sides in future will regard this measure as a practical method of reducing tension and a worthwhile way of demonstrating the allegiance that both sides have committed themselves to the spirit of détente. To return to the Defence Estimates, I regard the defence cuts being made at this early stage in the development of d étente as being like a man going off on a luxury cruise in anticipation that Ernie will automatically bring him luck in the Premium Bond draw at some future date.
At the risk of carrying out my threat of making the same speech that I made last year, I must express my satisfaction at the fact that the two points which I then made have now received better attention in the current Statement on Defence than they did in the earlier Review. In the 1975 Defence Review the defence and security of the United Kingdom received only a passing reference and scant priority, but this Statement says:In the United Kingdom, the main tasks of our armed forces are to reinforce the mainland of Europe and to ensure the security of the home base, whose defence is not only of the highest importance of itself but which is invaluable also to NATO as a base and as a staging point for reinforcement forces from the United States.This is a satisfactory statement which not only gives the defence of the United Kingdom a respectable priority but establishes the need for this priority as an essential part of NATO strategy. This statement is repeated in similar terms on pages 16 and 35 and in my opinion it cannot be repeated too often.
I do not want to involve your Lordships with speculation on the many and varied scenarios which might lead up to hostilities or in which our forces might have to contend. It is an alternative scenario to the one that was posed by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and I regard it as the most likely one to occur. That would be a fairly long and unpleasant period of rising tension during which time the will of the nation to stand by its commitments and policies would be put to the test. During that unpleasant period there would be acts of sabotage and violence throughout the country. All of us, the Government of the 268 day included, would be reluctant to admit that the danger of war might be imminent. During that period, the task of the civil police would be overstretched and at an early stage the Army, and the volunteer army in particular, would have to be brought in to assist the police by guarding the many vital points normally unguarded in peacetime.
Military aid to the civil police could be made a contentious subject, but I was particularly pleased to see mention of the defence exercises which have taken place between the police and the Army at Heathrow and Gatwick to ensure our greater security, and I hope that more of these exercises will take place in future. Much of the defence of the United Kingdom would fall on that part of the volunteer army which is not committed to NATO and I hope that the full strength of these units will be maintained. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, said that the TA unit with which he is involved and of which he is honorary colonel is overstrength. It would be interesting to know how the recent recruiting drive in the TA has succeeded and whether all the units are up to strength at which we would like to see them. I am also particularly glad that the Defence Review spells out the closer integration between the TAVR and the Regular Army, but I am sorry that the Defence Statement is so specific in saying that Group A of the TAVR will not be called out when, as it describes…warlike operations are in preparation or in progress…" until full use has been made of Section A of the Regular Reserve.In the scenario which I have depicted, Section A reservists will be required to fill the gaps in the Regular Army and there will be an urgent need at an early stage for the TAVR units to support the civil police in guarding key points in our public services and in protecting defence instalations from sabotage. Incidentally, although I should have become used to it during my service, I find it unnecessarily confusing when discussing our reserve forces to have to use the expressions "Section A", "Section B" and so on, as well as "Group A" and "Group B". Could not some better collective description be devised to describe the deployment of the TAVR than the expressions 269 "Group A" and "Group B", which tend to be confused with "Section A" and "Section B" which describe the reserves?
The other point of which I was critical in the last White Paper and which has been dealt with in a much more satisfactory way in this year's defence statement is our improved capacity to reinforce the Northern flank of NATO. With an additional commando group, we now have two commando groups trained and equipped for operations in Norway in all weathers. Even if nobody ever reads one's speech, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, felt—and I am sure that that is quite untrue in his case—it is satisfying to be able at least to think that one's views coincide.
I have no time to go into further detail on the Defence White Paper owing to the large number of speakers who are down to follow me, but I must say in conclusion that I believe the Government to be anticipating the success of d étente too soon. I feel that they have got their expenditure priorities wrong in imposing such frequent financial cuts on defence at a time when there is nothing to justify those cuts except our own financial difficulties, which are all too apparent to us all.
§ 5.53 p.m.
Lord SHIN WELL
My Lords, if Soviet military superiority constitutes a threat to world peace, and if, concurrently, the allegations about NATO's military weakness and lack of capability are accurate, the question which I venture to pose is quite a simple one. It is, what are we to do about it? To that question no satisfactory answer has been given in the course of this debate. The debate has followed its usual course. The Government have made the very best of a bad job. The economic malaise is responsible for what, on the whole, are minor cuts in defence manpower and equipment, the answer to which, ventured by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the Leader of the Opposition, was, "This is not good enough; in the world situation as it is and with the tension that surrounds us, we ought not to cut." The noble Lord might have gone a bit further and told us what he thinks we ought to spend in the circumstances.
270 It should be quite easy to find a figure provided it is appropriate and provided it can be accepted.
There is an organisation called the Institute for Strategic Studies. In association with NATO it occasionally produces publications on military affairs. Some weeks ago, a few Members of your Lordships' House accompanied me—or rather, I accompanied them—on a visit to NATO headquarters. We had discussions with notabilities. We learnt a great deal. We learnt many things which had previously been undisclosed to us. In particular we managed, perhaps surreptitiously, to obtain a document described as a statement of the military balance in 1975–76. I read it over and over again. What did I discover? It formed the basis of the articles which have appeared in The Times newspaper from the pen of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. That is where they come from. It is, at any rate to some extent, the justification for the agreement in your Lordships' House that a defence study group should be set up to probe and question in order to get the facts. Unless we get the facts, all we can indulge in is wild exaggeration about the situation.
Of course, there has been a threat from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries, but that threat did not come into being at the beginning of this or even last year. It began many years ago. Indeed, only a few weeks after I had become Minister of Defence in a Labour Government, we became aware of the threat. This was only a few months after the end of the war, and so great was it that we had to embark on a vast rearmament scheme based not on one year's requirements but triennially. This was an innovation, for such a need had never been known before. The scheme was rejected by the subsequent Government, headed by the late Sir Winston Churchill. This was probably done for very good reasons, such as that the country could not afford it, or perhaps it was unnecessary in the circumstances; but the threat has remained ever since and has become ever more powerful. We have known about it and it has been debated in my presence in defence debates in this Assembly for the past four or five years, and in the other place for the past 20-odd years. We are aware of it. We are also aware of the disparity of strength. However, we should be a little more accurate 271 and correct about this alleged disparity. There is disparity in several categories but there is equality in some other categories, and in yet others the United States is the superior power.
I am not suggesting that all the information is conveyed in documents produced by the Institue for Strategic Studies or NATO. For example, only the other day I received a publication from the United States from which I learnt that there was a place in some almost uninhabitable part of the United States in which the Americans had for several years been constructing a vast location—that is what they called it—capable of accepting a new Government in the event of nuclear war, with all the administrative ancillaries that that would require. There are protests about it just as there was a protest in the course of this debate by my noble friend Lord Brockway about the decision to produce some essential requirement associated with nuclear energy in the county of Galloway, or Kirkcudbrightshire, or somewhere in the Lowlands of Scotland.
I repeat that the threat has always been there, but let us be careful about it. Let me refer to what is believed by some elements on our side. When I use the term "our side" I mean the side that I support. It is the side which has the common sense to understand—as, indeed, every country in the world, without exception, and however large or small, understands—that some defence requirement is necessary. That is what I believe; I have always believed it. Incidentally, I have always listened to the speeches of my noble friend Lord Brockway. There is hardly any difference, though there are some variations. They are about the need for unilateral disarmament, détente, conferences of high ranking people who come together, talk about disarmament, then depart and forget all about it. We have had it all, and during all those long years in which my noble friend has been arguing so vehemently, so logically, so elegantly and so sincerely about the need for peace, or the search for or approach to peace, we have had nothing but wars, one after the other. That is how it has been. That is not the answer.
I wish that we could believe the Russians' regard for d étente. I wish in 272 my heart that I could believe what Mr. Brezhnev says. By the way, I noted that my noble friend Lord Brockway appreciated what the Russians were prepared to do in allowing journalists to roam about Russia for a change—I wish I could believe that it was as true as all that; yet he condemned what was happening in Italy or France: the emergence of Communism. So what we gain on the swings we lose on the roundabouts. That is the position. Let us have some common sense about it. The fact is that we need defence, but we must recognise that in isolation we are incapable of providing adequate defence in the emergence of hostilities. We have to depend on allies. What is wrong with that? We always have depended on them; there is nothing wrong with that.
So I come to the question which I have already posed. What are we to do about it? Get détente out of the way. Of course we can talk about it at tea parties, with the vicar in the chair, and in similar situations. That is all very well. We can talk about it also at women's institute meetings. I hope that noble Baronesses will forgive me mentioning that, and I must say that I understand that those who attend women's institutes are very intelligent. D étente can be talked about in institutions of that character, but we should leave it out as a practical proposition. With all respect to Mr. Brezhnev, Mr. Gromyko, and the rest, and with all respect to their intentions, however well founded or ill founded, I say forget about it, and let us deal with defence.
We have tried to find out a little more about defence. Some of us have managed to discover some things about defence of which hitherto we were not aware. One is that there are certain potentialities which we must not ignore; and I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who adopts a very sombre tone in matters of this kind and who tries to make our flesh creep. One is the recent election in Portugal. I do not say that because the Socialists sought to form a minority Government. There are the possibilities of reform in Spain, the Iberian Peninsula associated with NATO. And there is the situation as between Greece and Turkey; that is another possibility. This is all on the side of NATO; in other words, 273 strengthening NATO in every possible category.
Quite frankly, I do not believe that standardisation is the answer; I wish I could believe that it is. Frequently it is alleged that because of Soviet standardisation they have the capacity for mobility that is exceptional. But standardisation can also be a disadvantage. Therefore, my Lords, do not attach too much importance to standardisation, though obviously it would be better if there were more co-ordination and integration in the production of certain weaponry. I leave it at that. That is not the answer.
We have to find ways of defending ourselves. What is the means? First, let us consider NATO. I make a suggestion to noble Lords; I make it with the utmost restraint and, indeed, with a certain reluctance. But I make the suggestion because I believe that this ought to be said. Do not, my Lords, believe all that you hear about the weakness of NATO. It is probably much stronger than you think. But even if it is not strong enough. it is possible to strengthen our contribution. I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. It is not a question of finance, because I am satisfied that he would not have the answer to the question I have already posed; namely, how much would you spend on defence? Would it be another £1,000 million, or another £100 million? That is irrelevant. No, it is a matter rather of strategy, of allies, of co-ordination. This is what is required; but there is something more.
There is so much to say about this matter and I should like to go on for some time, but I come now to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh; namely, the question of reserves. This is not the first time I have raised this matter in your Lordships' House. I say this, which I know to be true: that the target of the TAVR has not yet been reached; and we have been talking about this for the past five or six years. No doubt recruitment has been better than before, and indeed recruitment to the regular forces has been better than hitherto, perhaps to some extent because of unemployment. But so far as the reserves are concerned, the position has not really been much better.
274 Here I interpose something which is rather strange. It was stated in the Press recently that the National Front—an organisation which is supposed to be ultra patriotic, though I am not sure whether or not it is—had received some support in training paramilitary people through a contingent from a territorial company somewhere in the Midlands or elsewhere. I do not know whether there is any truth in that; when my noble friend Lord Winterbottom replies to the debate perhaps he can tell us whether there is any truth in the allegation. However, never mind about that.
The point is, what about the reserves? I shall tell your Lordships' House what I should like to see happen. As my noble friend Lord Shepherd said, we have 250,000 reservists. But of course we know that this is nonsense; he was talking about reservists from the last war. He talked about reservists who have been untrained for many years, who probably would not know how to use a weapon and who would be disinclined to take part in any hostilities. I am talking about reserves being trained: not trained like regular forces, but trained in so far as our ability will permit of it. I should like at least 150,000 of them. I should like to be able to make that contribution to NATO—but I want something more than that. You can have your reserves—you can have 50,000, 100,000 or 150,000; you can have a million—but you have got to provide mobility so that they can be moved rapidly. I should like my noble friend Lord Winterbottom to reply on those two points. If he forgets everything else that I have said—and he will probably have very good reason for forgetting what I have said—I should like him to remind himself of two questions that I have put to him. First, what are we doing about reserves? Secondly, what about their mobility, so that they can be moved rapidly, expeditiously and usefully in the event of an emergency?
Finally, my Lords, I should like to associate myself, if I may, with the tribute that has been paid to the late Field Marshal Lord Montgomery. I knew little of him upon the battlefield; I knew little about him at headquarters. But I knew something of him at the War Office and when I was at the Ministry of Defence, when he became, to use his own words, an international soldier. He was, in my judgment, a transparently honest man; perhaps 275 too forthright; harsh when necessary; human nearly all the time. I paid my short tribute to him in the The Times newspaper; and I have received a letter from his son. Lord Chalfont referred to his friendliness with the late field marshal's son. I have received a letter from him, which I cherish because of its terms. I do not like anybody criticising Field Marshal Montgomery in my presence. I understand that sprats sometimes find disfavour with whales and sharks, probably with some justification. That is my comment about the people who have attacked Lord Montgomery. Let us pay tribute to a man who was a hero of sorts, if not the kind of hero we all want; to a man who was a human being, and a great friend. That is my tribute to the field marshal.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ The Earl of GLASGOW
My Lords, it is a rare privilege for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who probably knows more about defence than all of us, and over a longer period of time. I should also like to follow the noble Lord, as a sailor, in paying my personal tribute to the late Field Marshal Lord Montgomery, for whom I had the greatest regard. I would also extend my sympathy to his family.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Cathcart has already said, over the last year cuts in Defence expenditure have been announced, first in March 1975 in a White Paper, again in April 1975 and in February 1976, and now in the White Paper that we have before us today. I should like to speak to this series of cuts as one package. To say that I deplore them in general would be an understatement; and I fully agree with all that my noble friend Lord Carrington has said this afternoon. But nowhere do I think they are more damaging than in the reduction in our maritime strength. On this aspect of our defence policy I should like to comment briefly. The general public and successive Governments too readily forget that for 400 years the Royal Navy has been our first shield of defence, and that in two world wars we were within an ace of being brought to our knees—not, my Lords, on the battlefield, but on the oceans of the world, and rather particularly in the North Atlantic. We have never had enough 276 escorts or, more recently, maritime aircraft adequately to protect our convoys, whose cargoes are vital to the survival of an island people. The threat now is greater than it ever was.
There is one other aspect relevant to maritime strength that I should like to mention. If the worst ever came to the worst and an exchange of tactical nuclear weapons escalated into a nuclear holocaust, the Royal Navy and our Merchant Fleet, by virtue of their mobility and dispersion, might well have a better chance of survival than most other elements of our population. They might have a very important part to play in picking up the pieces.
My Lords, the Government's maritime policy, as I understand it, appears to be to withdraw all our maritime forces from their worldwide tasks and to concentrate them in the NATO area. The implication of this is that, despite our considerable run-down in ships and maritime aircraft, we have not significantly reduced our contribution to NATO. This, my Lords, is not the case, and I should like to make three points. First, defence of the trade routes. The smaller and less maritime nations of NATO have built up small navies to defend their own coasts and the adjacent sea areas. In return for this, they must expect the maritime nations—and by those I mean particularly ourselves, the United States and France—to protect their merchant ships on the wide oceans, on which they will depend almost as much as we shall on ours in time of war.
Are we in a position to contribute to this task? This last year has seen the withdrawal of our two frigates from the Caribbean. In the Indian Ocean, we have withdrawn from Gan, Mauritius and Singapore, and we have removed the frigate from Hong Kong. We have ended the Simonstown Agreement, which cost us virtually nothing. While all this has been going on, the Russians have established themselves in Angola and are likely shortly to do the same in Mozambique. This will add to their penetration of Somalia and the Aden area. They now stand astride the Cape Route, by which come supplies vital to all the NATO countries. South Africa—a very importtant ally in time of war—will be virtually cut off. This is a very serious situation indeed, for which no provision appears to have been made.
277 Secondly, the NATO area itself. We are assured in both Defence White Papers that our contribution to NATO has not been reduced on the central front or in the Eastern Atlantic Channel commands. Be that as it may, my concern is on the flanks. The Southern flank is going through a bad patch. Events in Cyprus have not improved relations with or between our two Southern allies, Greece and Turkey; and the political instability of Italy does not inspire confidence. It seems, therefore, an odd moment to withdraw all our ships from the Mediterranean (where we still have bases) and our maritime aircraft in the next two to three years.
Lastly, my Lords, the Northern flank. This has already been touched on by my noble friend Lord Cathcart. When I last spoke on defence in December 1974 I was very concerned about the amphibious force. Although I realise that this force is capable of being deployed anywhere in the world, I personally connect it rather particularly with the Northern flank. In view of paragraph 45a of the White Paper, I am not quite clear how matters stand as regards commando groups. Perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply could clear this up for me. What is clear, though, is that one commando carrier has been paid off and the other is being converted to another primary role. Only one assault ship will be in commission at one time, and neither of these two ships will be replaced. My Lords, this will be a very great loss to NATO, and one which it can ill-afford. This is a very efficient force, with mobility and quick striking power—a form of warfare at which we as a nation are particularly expert. I ask the Government seriously to think again on this question. I draw a little comfort from the knowledge that at last we have a Prime Minister who was once a naval officer.
My Lords, a very brief look at the wider issues. I know that a number of noble Lords opposite feel that I and others like me who tend to concentrate on conventional forces and old-fashioned but well-tried strategy and tactics are dismally out of date against the background of the atom bomb and the social changes which have taken place in the world over the last 30 years. I think that we were described in the last debate as political dinosaurs. I will accept that. I make no apology 278 for concerning myself with conventional forces and their deployment; for they provide the first line of defence in the NATO alliance and should there be an early exchange of nuclear weapons, there will probably be no second line. They are very important.
The whole of NATO strategy is bent on preventing war. The disposition of our forces is wholly defensive, unlike those of our potential enemies. As we are not in a position to match them gun for gun, tank for tank, ship for ship, aircraft for aircraft, our defence posture must be credible and formidable enough to deter them from direct military action against us. Any weakening in our position must be an encouragement to our potential enemies and it is for this reason, among others, that I am so opposed to these defence cuts.
Since Helsinki we have seen only too clearly what détente means to the Russians. The ideological war continues unabated. I agree with the White Paper that there is no evidence to suggest that the Soviet Union and its allies are contemplating attack on the West. They have no need to if they can get all they want without the risk of nuclear exchange. They continue to infiltrate the free institutions in all the NATO countries and indulge in military adventures outside the NATO area with impunity. All this is obvious to the most superficial observer. Why do the Government shut their eyes to it? Surely this is not the moment to lower our guard.
Finally, my Lords, perhaps the greatest deterent is the knowledge by the enemy that we have the will to defend ourselves and to support the alliance on which our safety depends. Are we showing this determination with sufficient force? The security of this country must be the first call on our resources and the prime responsibility for any Government. In these days of inflation, when public expenditure must be drastically cut, it seems to me that it is all the more important that we should get our priorities right.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Lord NEWALL
My Lords, we have heard a great deal of the word détente this afternoon. It is a foreign word which seems to have many different meanings not only to individuals but also to NATO 279 and perhaps to the Warsaw Pact countries. Whatever it means, I think we must agree that it is a bit of give and take, a fifty-fifty arrangement between the two sides. Regrettably, some interpretations are extremely wide to the extent of thinking that détente can mean that we can carry out a total reduction of our forces and an immediate expectation that the Warsaw Pact to do the same. All the information gathered points to that not being the case. In fact, the reverse is true. Our ability to provide a reasonable deterrent with our allies is all that is between us and a "Red Star" State.
No, my Lords, the dictionary tells us that détente means "a relaxing of strained diplomatic relations", but people who pay lip service to this and do nothing at all are not to he trusted. We are certainly playing our part and try hard; but the evidence so far makes it difficult to believe that the other side is even lifting a finger. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and others of how enormous are the forces arraigned against us. We are outnumbered vastly in every sphere. They are poised to attack us at will. I say "poised" specifically because a great deal of the equipment that they have is known to be able to be used only offensively rather than defensibly. No other conclusion can be drawn. Apart from the numerical strength, they have vastly improved equipment. And this improvement is going on at a very fast rate.
We have heard a great deal about the big picture. I should like to come rather closer home and down to earth. I returned six days ago from visiting Germany where I was able to talk to many soldiers and airmen and to see and use their equipment. Although I do not pretend to know it all, I have been brought up to date to a great extent. A great many of the soldiers and airmen have always complained about such things as pay, conditions, lack of recreational facilities and so on. But there is one subject which is now very much in the forefront of all minds. This is the universal complaint about the large amount of aged equipment the shortage of spares, the restrictions on mileage and ammunition which makes training very difficult.
I believe that the commanders at all levels do the best they can with the reductions that have been imposed on 280 them. They are dedicated, professional and efficient men. I do not know how they manage to keep up the morale, but they do so in a remarkable way and they deserve to be congratulated on the job they are doing. But it is evident to me, and, I think, to others, that it was not only that the tail has been cut, but that it has been cut so short that it is affecting the spine.
Despite the efficiency, determination and the ability of them all, they can go only so far. I have seen very many worrying instances of shortages in vital areas. I have documentary evidence of essential spares which will not be available until 1977 and I firmly believe that the lack of funds has already gone too far. I think that possible future manoeuvres that have been planned will evaluate this; but I would urge the Government to watch the position very closely in certain areas where our ability completely to fulfil our NATO role may be somewhat in doubt.
One message came through very strongly wherever I went. The noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, has already mentioned this. The Army, the Air Force and all of our forces are saying: "Leave us alone! Let us evaluate the cuts! Let us confirm whether we can live and work in the present situation. Let us be allowed to consolidate." The bones are certainly showing through in some places; there is no fat left at all. Luckily, there is a certain amount of muscle left. I do not think that any Department of Government has investigated itself with as much care as has the Ministry of Defence with so much devotion to the duty it has to the country. If only other Government Departments would do the same, I think we could save an enormous amount of money. I hope that the Government will see if this is possible. Let them make other Departments do the same as the Ministry of Defence has done. The forces must be allowed a period to examine the present situation. They have got to evaluate the theory, to try it out in practice and see whether the pruning really works. All they ask at present is just that.
There is one other factor which is severely influencing the majority of forces in Germany. We all know that service in Northern Ireland is sadly essential. Most of the forces going there come from 281 Germany. Although normally the period of service in Northern Ireland is four months, because of different arrangements where sometimes armoured regiments must turn themselves into infantry regiments and other factors like that, it takes between 7 and 8 months from when a regiment or unit starts to train for Ireland, to when it gets back and is ready for its NATO role again in Germany. This limits drastically the training time; it affects morale, pay and families and wives. Some units and some individuals have already done more than five tours of Northern Ireland and the duty comes round regularly every 15 or 18 months. It is a necessity which is recognised by our NATO allies, but it seriously weakens our ability to play our proper part. It is the cuts which make this so necessary. Our defence is surely a great deal more than an insurance policy. In itself, it can prevent the tragedy. Anyone who can sleep soundly without the knowledge we have of our efficient and professional forces standing between us and the Warsaw Pact must be either stupid or selfish. Many people have laid down their lives for the country we all love, and it cannot be right to put all we have here at risk.
We shall never initiate hostilities, but we cannot say the same about the others. At the present time we have serious shortages of spares and equipment. We have well-maintained but patched-up old equipment. We have reserves on whom we rely very greatly, but their shortages and the state of their equipment is even worse. Our soldiers often have opportunities to go and see our NATO allies. They compare equipment and talk among themselves and, in nearly all cases, our soldiers feel that they are in a second-class Army or Air Force. Many instances can be given, but I will not do that here because a lot of the information one gets from these trips is confidential. Suffice it to say that there are many problems, some of which can be overcome but all are connected with the lack of funds, and this is borne by the brave men who are doing the job. At present levels we have very difficult problems to overcome. We have many obligations and, from what I have seen, I can say that we have the most marvellous men, but do we really have the tools to do the job? We cannot win. We must not lose. We can only play for a 282 draw. My Lords, is this what we really want?
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord BOURNE
My Lords, first I should like to associate myself with the tributes which have been paid to the late Field Marshal Lord Montgomery. Although I never served under him, and only got to know him in your Lordships' House, I think that he was a fine soldier and a great man. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newall. He pointed out things that had not been pointed out before: that we were suffering from a shortage of spares and also, I think, a shortage of ammunition. Lastyear NATO was described as the linch-pin of our defence policy and as such a first charge on our resources available for defence and commitments outside NATO. Therefore to my mind Britain's forces now fall into two parts: our contribution to NATO and, secondly, our home defence responsibility and the legal and moral responsibility to defend the Colonies and, if necessary, the Commonwealth. I should also like to proceed on the assumption that our defence policy is based on defence grounds and not on Party grounds. Defence is too important to be decided otherwise. Last time I spoke on defence I quoted Mr. Nixon. He pointed out in a short quotation that defence was equal to freedom. I think he was right.
The House of Lords, through the political influence of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has set up an all-Party Defence Study Group. We are now level, I hope, with the United States of America who have had such a group for 100 years. In this group we went to Brussels in January led by the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom. We were told nothing that had not already been published in the Press. The visit revealed two central things: first, Britain and her allies cannot again reduce their contribution to NATO. We are very near the edge of the precipice and we had really embarrassing discussions with NATO in February 1975. Secondly, the North and South flanks are both very weak. Incidentally, Britain helped to weaken them. We not only took away the commander and an absolutely essential ship, but we also withdrew our warships from the Mediterranean for the first 283 time for 300 years. As a result, NATO is perilously weak.
My Lords, I ought to speak for a short time about détente because the first five pages of the Defence White Paper are based on the hope of d étente. Unless we raised the subject in Brussels, it was not mentioned to us. When we asked their leaders for a single example of successful d étente since the leading European statesmen signed an agreement about this in August last year at Helsinki, the only one which was given was the easing of conditions for correspondents in Moscow. It does not amount to a row of beans. On the contrary, at the MBFR—I am not fully up to date with new initials—in Vienna, their latest proposals from the Warsaw Pact, quoting the Defence White Paper, was apparently designed to preserve the disparities between the forces of the two sides. In other words, as I said in this debate a year ago, détente means nothing yet and we should pay no attention to it.
Now, back to our visit to Brussels. We were told by the NATO leaders and by the SHAPE leaders that US nuclear superiority has gone and that we now have strategic nuclear parity. This automatically puts greater emphasis on the conventional forces. Unfortunately, as a recent defence Statement spelt out for us, the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact have great superiority in these, not only in number but in quality, as was emphasised by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart. This automatically lowers the threshold of using our theatre and strategic nuclear weapons. Put another way round, we have to rely more on our deterrent nuclear forces.
Then we raised another point: from the Soviet point of view their conventional superiority, particularly their maritime superiority—which was emphasised by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow—is doing them very well. Look at Angola, for example In the old days-not so old, by the way, my Lords—the US navy and the Royal Navy would have said to the Cubans: "You do not land in Angola!" And they would not have done so. But, as we have heard, the Soviet warships were able to cover them. They have not only covered the Cape route but the South Atlantic and Angola as well, so we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Again, look at the 284 African littoral. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that the Russians have occupied Wheelus Field, which used to be a very big US airbase. I cannot think why they did not do that before. I imagine they have also got a free run of airbases in Syria, and, historically, land-based aircraft have always defeated carrier-borne aircraft.
When, on top of this knowledge, we were reminded that Finland in the North and Greece in the South could be occupied in three days—and there is nothing new or secret about that information—it is small wonder that when we asked the question: are not the Soviets doing well in peacsetime without firing a shot? the NATO and SHAPE high-ranking officers ducked and changed the subject as quickly as possible. We never got an answer. This was in line with the man from Mars who had not been here lately but who paid a visit quite recently and found that British defence was the same as, though considerably weaker than, it had been 25 years ago.
No one thinks that the Soviets are likely to attack the Central Front. Although the twelve German divisions are the key, they must have allies alongside them. A promise is a promise—and unfortunately we promised 55,000 men and a tactical air force of 4,000 or 5,000 to the Brussels Western European Union. We are keeping that promise. Of course, the Soviets have no need to attack—why should they? We have only to look at Vietnam as an example, where they waited for ten years. They are not in a hurry.
Under the present system, NATO will continue to live on the edge of this precipice, at the mercy of any of its fourteen allies. Therefore, I would propose that instead of a Government here sitting down to write a comprehensive review, NATO should do it. They have probably done it before; but they ought to do it in public and people ought to know that they are doing it. Of course, they will keep their conclusions secret until the Council have considered them. This review would pay special attention to the following two points: first, the problem of the Central Front and the flanks and, secondly, the question of Western Europe's sea routes, including those of the United Kingdom, and how they would meet the threat of the 330 Soviet submarines which are mentioned on page 5. All the allies should 285 be asked to subscribe to this NATO policy, and all would know if an ally fell down and could not, or would not, subscribe. The result of this system would be that any such allies would become publicly known and the weaknesses, if any, would be laid clearly at the right doors. Last year, I remember, I recommended that the Royal Navy should represent top priority to save us from starvation; and this year I recommend that NATO should carry out an appreciation.
I turn now to the second part of the problem—and there is not much left over, by the way—which concerns home defence and the defence of the Colonies. Sadly, in recent years, without resort to BAOR troops, we seem to have lacked the force. In present financial circumstances this can be well understood; and I agreed entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he said that we have refused to face the facts. But we also seem to have lost the will to fight. For instance, we cannot even send a brigade group to deal with an emergency—what the Conservative Government described as "countering the threat to stability in the world"; and this fact is simply not mentioned in the Defence White Paper.
Let us review the situation very quickly. The Navy is not up to its task, especially its anti-submarine task. It cannot even spare a ship for the Seychelles Independence celebrations. The Army is fully occupied in Northern Ireland, and we have heard about the diminution of BAOR, which I have worked out at about 4,000. That has had a very bad effect on BAOR training. The RAF has been so reduced that it cannot take losses at all in its first line. This Labour Government have reduced the Forces from 455,000 in 1964—and I am quoting these figures from the Defence White Paper—to 327,000 in 1977. I make that a reduction of about 30 per cent., in spite of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, having put back a certain number of battalions. in addition to that, the civil servants are being severely cut, and I understand the ammunition reserves, although they do not get a mention in the Defence White Paper, are also affected. Do we not remember World War H when the divisional slice was, at the very minimum, 50,000? Probably about 20,000 were fighting troops, but the remaining 30,000 were doing essential jobs, and they 286 were the civilians. We did not do it for fun: we were fighting the Germans, who were an extremely tenacious enemy.
Lastly, I come to Hong Kong in what is left over in the second part. We have reduced the garrison there, despite the fact that we have had conversations with the Hong Kong Government, who have promised to maintain 62½ per cent. of the garrison there. We have reduced the forces by a frigate, four to five battalions, an artillery regiment, an armoured reconnaissance squadron and goodness knows how many engineers. The same conditions prevail in Cyprus. Incidentally, the Hong Kong garrison is so reduced because it is expecting reinforcements. I should like to ask: Where from? If the answer is "Brunei", I may say that the Sultan of Brunei at the moment very much wants to keep his Gurkha battalions and he may not he able to spare them. We are already reducing very heavily in Cyprus, and the Navy seem to have withdrawn completely from the Far East, beyond the Suez Canal.
In addition to all these things, I think we ought to provide for anti-subversion in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, initiated a very good debate on this subject last February, and I came away convinced that we ought to provide for anti-subversion. I would say, in parenthesis, that special constables ought to have sections for electricity, gas, sewerage and the docks, but I should be shot down by the Government. To sum up, I propose that now NATO is the linch-pin of British defence we ought logically to accept its defence review-and it ought to carry out a review. So I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom: why not? If we are to be a good ally in NATO, we ought to do it this way round and not the other way round. In other words, it is with considerable misgivings that I take note of this Defence White Paper.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ The Duke of NORFOLK
My Lords, as the hour is getting late, I shall detain your Lordships for only a very brief time. I should first like to join all those past speakers in paying my tribute to Lord Montgomery. He became a great friend of mine, I served under him for a lot of the war and I think that this House is quite right in almost every speaker 287 remembering him. He did a great deal for our country.
I am delighted to see that there is no question in the Defence White Paper of tampering with our nuclear capability, and I am amazed that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who I am sorry is not here, should have said that one of the things he is worried about is that London is near to Leningrad and it therefore might have nuclear weapons on it. With the present means of nuclear delivery, everywhere is within everybody's range and he well knows that no Power would retaliate on the capital cities; it would retaliate only on the means of launching. We all live in nuclear glasshouses, and that and the fact that we have nuclear stones is probably one of the reasons why we have nuclear parity.
I should like to talk for a brief moment about the conventional forces, and in particular those in the central sector of Europe. I have some experience of this subject, because I commanded the mission with the Russian Armies for two years, I commanded a division in the Rhine Army, and I have seen both sides conduct their annual manoeuvres in the belief that each side might attack the other. Every year, the Russians have their exercises assuming that NATO will attack them and cross the Elbe, and their forces carry out a withdrawal action until stronger forces arrive from Russia. Every year, also, we see the Rhine Army, which is the finest Army of the central forces and long may it remain so, carry out similar exercises of withdrawal.
I should like to bring out just one point to your Lordships. In the d étente that may be taking place, we shall never see the Russian conventional forces reduced. The Russian conventional forces are there not because of NATO, but to hold down the Warsaw Pact. It is the tyranny of the Warsaw Pact, the tyranny of the Russians, that is the reason for their being there. If the 20 divisions of the group of Soviet forces were no longer in East Germany, then East Germany would revolt; noble Poland, that great country, would revolt; your Lordships have seen Czechoslovakia revolt and the others would revolt, too. So you will never see any reduction in the conventional forces in the Warsaw Pact, neither of the 288 Russian forces nor of the dragooned, conscripted forces of misguided youth who are made to join the forces in their own countries. I should be the first to tell your Lordships that we are in no way unwise in suspecting that this traditional manoeuvre of withdrawal that the Russians carry out indicates, by any means, what their plans are, because their plans might well be to use the capability of all those forces to invade Western Europe. So it is undoubtedly essential that we do not reduce the conventional forces of NATO opposite the Russians.
I should like to make only one point about the reserve forces. We in our country do not have conscription, but we have always had our auxiliary forces and, in particular, the Territorial Army. The Territorial Army and the auxiliary forces of the Navy and the Air Force are shown in this White Paper as costing £91 million, which is 2 per cent. of the Defence Vote. The Territorial Army, which is the chief component of the auxiliary forces—because the Navy, alas! and the Air Force, seem to have almost no reserves; this is said in this White Paper—is at the moment 24 per cent. under strength. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, asked for the figure, and that is it. As we know, it is a force that is immensely reduced from what it should be.
I should like to see it brought up to strength and immensely increased. How should this be done? It should be done by increasing its pay. A Territorial Army reservist gets a liability bounty of £60, and this has not been increased since 1967. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, is taking note of this, because I am not raising points that are beyond the ability of the Government to change. This money is not a big sum. The training bounty that someone in the Territorial Army gets is between £35 and £55. This was admittedly increased last year, but I suggest that the recruitment for these forces could be doubled if the bounty was raised, which would not cost much money. Let me make one other point about the territorial forces. If there was a mobilisation, the Territorial Army would compose 30 per cent. of our mobilised land forces and yet as I have said it uses only 2 per cent. of the Defence Vote. That is fairly cheap stuff, and it does not cost the country much. But, my Lords, 289 it is worth every penny and I should like to see a great amount of money devoted to it.
I would mention one other aspect. Like many of your Lordships who have been in the Services, I have travelled over much of the world and I have seen how—and I have also seen this in the Warsaw Pact countries—there is a lust for adventure in youth. This need of adventure was very often met by people being able to join the auxiliary services, but what have we done in our country? We have so cut down the auxiliary services that they give no opportunity for our youth to join them. They have nothing to join. Our youth now have to be content with going to football matches and, inevitably, they let off some of their high spirits. How much better if they could find adventure in the forces of the Crown.
In the other countries of NATO, and in the countries of the Warsaw Pact, one is able, by joining the forces, to take part in activities which cost money. If you are a French conscript and you want to ski or to climb mountains, you can do so. I saw a French conscript doing so the other day. But many of our countrymen do not have the money to take part in these activities. Why cannot they be allowed to join the Territorial Army and go to ski and climb mountains? Why should not the Naval Reserve be increased so that our countrymen can take part in seamanship? If you belong to one of the communities situated around our shores, you have no chance to take part in seamanship unless you happen to be a rich man who owns a yacht. Why cannot we have an increased Naval Reserve in all the seaports, with the youth there taking part in naval activities which are subsidised by the Government? I should call it the Naval Reserve, but I would not mind if they were called the municipal recreation centres of the port towns.
Why do the Government deny to the poorer people of this country the opportunity to take part in these adventurous activities? I take part in activities like gliding for the Air Force Reserve. Only the very rich can afford to glide, but the Air Force Reserve ought to give other people the opportunity to glide. I need hardly say that even the rich cannot parachute. But why is not there an opportunity for the youth of this country 290 to parachute? If you belong to the Freideutschejugend in East Germany you can learn to parachute, and if you are a Frenchman and you are conscripted into the Air Force you can learn to glide and parachute.
Not a great deal of money is involved in my suggestion, and if the Government say that it cannot be provided from the Defence Vote I would say in reply that they should cut down on the expense of the Ministry of Defence. Far more integration should take place. The only two integrated parts of the Ministry of Defence are Intelligence and the Signals. Other integration has not taken place. We have just added a Fourth Command. I for one would not support the continuance of the Chiefs of Staff as that is organised now. However, the Ministry of Defence is by no means the only place in Whitehall where there should be pruning. There are some far fatter alley cats, perhaps in the Home Office and parts of the Civil Service, which should be pruned first. I must not speak for too long, but I would make a plea that the Government should stop starving the voluntary effort of our nation by neglecting to give a chance to the auxiliary forces to be properly recruited and increased.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ The Earl of CORK and ORRERY
My Lords, I have little say. Indeed, I do not see how it could be otherwise, following, as I do, two generals and being followed by a field marshal. To find oneself in the midst of that kind of sandwich in the knowledge that one has never been any more than a rather ordinary regimental officer carries with it no comfort other than that of knowing that I share a somewhat similar position with my noble leader. That, at any rate, is something!
As usual, this debate is sprinkled with generals and admirals and it is almost taken for granted when we come to this annual fixture on defence that this shall be the normal state of affairs. I find this strange. Perhaps I do not find it strange because I am used to it, but I think it is a pity. It seems to me that defence is a matter of high national policy. I do not believe that people are talking sense when they say that the military type of person, whatever they may mean by that, is interested in defence and that others are not. It may be true, but I am quite certain 291 that it is wrong. If ever there was a subject which ought to interest everybody, defence must be it, for sooner or later, if we are unlucky—and certainly we have been unlucky in the past—it will affect every single one of us all too closely.
When he began his speech, the noble Lord the Leader of the House referred with approval, as have others and so do I, to the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, in setting up the House of Lords Defence Study Group which had a most successful inaugural meeting—if "inaugural" is the right word, though perhaps not—Slast night, to which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, also referred. It was addressed by Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Peter Hill-Norton, and enormously valuable it was, too. What is more, it was a very well attended meeting.
Looking at the list of speakers this afternoon, I find that with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, not one member of the Labour Party has bothered to attend. Noble Lords may care to look around the Chamber now and see how many members of the Labour Party are present. There are two on the Front Bench but none on any of the Back-Benches. This is the usual pattern. It is said frequently, on this side of the House in particular, that the Labour Party is not interested in defence. This charge is levelled against it as a criticism. I am not at all sure that the criticism is altogether just; nor am I sure that the statement is altogether just.
Generalisations usually are not just, but certainly there is something in the criticism. But how could it be otherwise? The Labour Party, after all, stems from only 1906. Originally it was an amalgam of the Trades Union Congress, the Fabian Society and one or two other bodies which have since left it—and one or two rather odd, strange people have since crept in. It was not, therefore, a national Party, even from the beginning. It existed solely for the purpose of bettering the social conditions of one minority section of society, albeit a very important one. Therefore it has never been a national Party. Its politics have been based on the socialism of the Fabian Society.
Perhaps I would not be out of order in reminding your Lordships that the Fabian 292 Society is named after the Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximus, better known to history as Fabius Cunctator, "the Delayer", for his determination never, if possible, to engage in a pitched battle with the enemy. Is it, therefore, reasonable or fair to expect such a Party seriously to be interested in defence? When the Labour Party arrived, as it was bound to do in the end, in a position of power and found itself engaged in national affairs and responsibilities and, therefore, in foreign affairs policies (which include defence as a first priority), it was bound to take an interest in defence, whether or not it liked it. In fact, I do not think that the Labour Party liked it, nor that it takes much interest in defence now: but there were bound to be men in that Party who, by reason of their appointments, were bound to take an interest in defence—sfor instance, Ministers of Defence and Ministers in other defence Departments. They could not help but cannot take an interest in defence. We have seen among them, as we do now, dedicated men who have taken defence to their hearts. We have also seen, as my noble leader has pointed out, what can happen to one of them when he becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer, so we may fairly be excused for wondering how genuine is the interest even of Labour Defence Ministers.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that he thinks that too much emphasis is placed on defence, meaning military defence. He would like it to be more economic defence than a military type of defence. However, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to this remark of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd:We have made serious efforts to plan the cuts in relation to real priorities".I think that I have got the noble Lord's words about right. What does the noble Lord mean by "real priorities"? Does he mean phasing out pay beds at the expense of the National Health Service, nationalising the ports, the aircraft industry and so on? Is this more important? Is it not damaging to have more and more costly public ownership? Will it not be for the benefit of a few people, or at any rate for a minority of people? Above all, it will be for the benefit of no policy of practical use, but pure Socialism as a dogma; nothing else. This is the spirit of Fabianism which is being set up and exemplified by—there is no need to be 293 personal about this because the names are only too well known—a few leaders
in the Party and a very large number of noisy people straggling along behind and trying to get to the leadership. Are those things to be set up as higher priorities than the defence of the nation? Apparently they are. In my view it is outrageous.
Rather less reference has been made than I expected to the recent speeches, utterences and writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. My noble friend and Leader Lord Carrington mentioned it and so, I think, did the noblse Lord, Lord Chalfont. But somebody else has mentioned him recently. My noble Leader said that no one could ignore what Solzhenitsyn had said; indeed nobody should ignore it. Whether or not he is open to critici personal about this because the names are only too well known a few leaders in the Party and a very large number of noisy people straggling along behind and trying to get to the leadership. Are those things to be set up as higher priorities than the defence of the nation? Apparently they are. In my view it is outrageous. Rather less reference has been made than I expected to the recent speeches, utterences and writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. My noble friend and Leader Lord Carrington mentioned it and so, I think, did the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. But somebody else has mentioned him recently. My noble Leader said that no one could ignore what Solzhenitsyn had said; indeed nobody should ignore it. Whether or not he is open to criticism on the grounds of exaggeration or lack of appreciation of the British character is neither here nor there. He certainly did state a large number of elementary and unpalatable truths about this country. But it is worth noting that in a recent debate in the House of Commons the Prime Minister of the day—and I happily add my small word of congratulation to him on his becoming a Knight of the Garter, which comes from the Queen and not from the country, of course—said that he refuted everything that Solzhenitsyn had said. One cannot do that without either being a total fool or totally dishonest. I defy anybody to do it. And this is the Prime Minister of Great Britain speaking in a debate in the House of Commons.
Can we not have a little more greatness? Can we not have somebody who will speak up with a voice which is recognisably British? There is no need to call for a Dunkirk spirit: all that is required is that we shall once more, if possible, be seen to be true to the ordinary standards of our past. It is difficult. With the leadership we are getting now it is exceedingly difficult. It is complicated by the fact that we have the Welfare State, of which we are justifiably proud and which to the Labour Party, above all, is a great source of pride; but there is a price to be paid for that. The price is that we have become, to some extent, a nation of takers. Nobody proposes that we should have guns instead of butter, but there is no 294 doubt whatever that we need rather more guns and we might well have them at the price of slightly less jam. A little resolution is required, and that is totally absent from the White Paper. Not only is it absent; in my opinion it is actually denied and counteracted.
"Will" is the word. My noble friend Lord Cathcart spoke of the will in a particular connection; that is, the dangerous period before a possible outbreak of war of testing, when we might be moving towards a state of war. He will correct me if I have got it wrong, but I think it is about right. Here is the test of the national will and the will of the Government to meet this test, to be ready to take all sorts of difficult decisions. Then the will comes into play, but if the will is not seen to be there then the process will come to an end with the going off of the guns. If the will is seen to be there, then the process may be arrested and that, as has been said several times this afternoon, is what defence is for; that is, to see that war does not happen, not to deal with it when it does.
My noble friend and namesake Lord Glasgow referred also to the same thing—the will. Where is the will? I deplore two things that I have not yet referred to; one is the insistence on—and this is my only reference directly to the White Paper—sthe lack of any likelihood of an attack in the Central Sector of NATO. They are safe there, say the Government, and in that I hear echoes of French remarks about the Maginot Line. Again, my noble friend Lord Glasgow has rightly drawn attention to the fact that the flanks are not defended. So we have a Maginot Line mentality with no will whatever to defend the nation, no interest apparently in the fact that any small reinforcement to the Northern flank has been done at the expense of the South; no interest whatever in the defence of anything South of the Tropic of Cancer; no interest whatever in the defence of anything that comes round the Cape and, so far as I can see, no interest whatever in the defence of our North Sea oil; and no will. The other thing that I deplore-and this is a change of note-is the departure of the will that we should have heard if we could have listened to the voice of my late noble and gallant friend Lord Montgomery of Alamein.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord HARDING of PETHERTON
My Lords, my thinking on our defence policy is conditioned by three facts: first, that the Soviet Union has now built up a massive global military instrument with which it can exert pressure at any level, at any time and anywhere; secondly, the world is still in a very disturbed state, particularly in Southern Africa and in the Middle East, where the United Kingdom still has most important interests; and thirdly, the Communist Parties in the member nations of NATO are making steady progress and it seems likely that in some cases they will be participating in the Government of some of our allies in the NATO organisation. Those three facts condition my thinking. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, that the threat from the Soviet Union has existed for many years. In fact, about 30 years ago I was hauled over the coals by the noble Lord for referring to that threat and allowing the fact that I had done so to be published in the Press. That is by the way.
In the debate last year on the Defence White Paper, I expressed my views on global strategy and pointed out that in the face of the situation that I have mentioned, which is a global one, the policy of Her Majesty's Government is to concentrate all our military resources on NATO and to leave the rest of the world to look after itself, and at the same time to cut down our own defence forces to the bone. I submit that this is taking too great a risk, but I do not propose to go over the whole question of global strategy again this evening. Rather I would address myself briefly to an assessment on the capability of NATO to carry out the role for which it was set up.
There are two critical factors in making that assessment. First, the comparative strength of NATO and the Warsaw Pact: and secondly, the comparative state of readiness of what one might call the opposing forces. There is no doubt whatever about the disparity between the numerical strength, both in manpower and weaponry, of the Warsaw Pact and the NATO Alliance. The figures are given in the White Paper and speak for themselves. There is no doubt whatever that the Warsaw Pact has a great superiority in numerical strength over NATO, particularly in the Central Front. In my 296 opinion, that superiority is not counterbalanced by a superior technology of the NATO forces or, as is sometimes claimed, by the fact that the NATO forces have wide operational experience. There are ways and means of adjusting that disparity, some of which have been mentioned in the debate this afternoon, but I will refer to them in a moment.
My Lords, next I should like to refer to the comparative state of readiness. Here, I think it would be appropriate for me to say how warmly I join with other noble Lords from all sides of the House who have paid tribute to Field Marshal Montgomery. I had the highest regard for him as a commander and as a comrade-inarms. When he came to the Western Desert, he restored the morale of the Eighth Army. He sorted out the muddle in which the Army found itself on its retreat to Alamein. He inspired us with confidence that we could fight back and win, and he led us to victory. I had the good fortune to be a student at the Staff College when he was a teacher in tactics and battlefield leadership. One of his teachings, among many of the splendid things he taught, was that to avoid being taken by surprise an army must always be deployed on its battle frontage when within striking distance of the enemy. The NATO forces on the Central Front can by no means be described as being deployed on their battle frontage. The forces of the Warsaw Pact are much better placed in that respect and there, too, they have superiority and an immense tactical advantage.
So I maintain that there is no question whatever that NATO, and particularly the Central Front of NATO, is highly vulnerable to surprise attack. All the same, I would agree with the statement in the White Paper that there is no evidence that the Soviet Union and its allies are likely to launch such an attack. However, that situation can change overnight, whereas it would take time, a long time, and would call for great efforts and considerable sacrifices on the part of the NATO countries, to reach parity in conventional forces. My real worry, my great anxiety, is the threat of political coercion backed by almost overwhelming military power, which the Soviet Union can exercise, coupled with a growing weakness in political stability and the lack, I think, of resolve and willpower referred 297 to by the noble Earl who has just spoken, among the NATO countries, including ourselves. I think that is the real danger at the present moment. That thinking is clearly supported by the recent disclosure of the thinking of the State Department, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred in his remarks. I ask the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government if he could say whether Her Majesty's Government are still satisfied that NATO can, to quote the words of the White Paper, preserve for all of its members "the right to pursue their own destiny"? That is the first question I should like to ask.
I mentioned just now the possibility of redressing the disparity in strength and in readiness between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact forces. Here, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, because I think that standardisation and rationalisation of organisation and function will go a long way to redress that disparity. It is nearly 25 years now since I had any responsibility in connection with the standardisation of equipment in NATO. Those were early days, and we were then full of hope that standardisation would become a reality. Slightly less than 25 years have passed, and so far as I can make out from the information at my disposal, there has been a total lack of progress in this matter of standardisation. There are certain pious hopes, expressed in the relevant paragraph in the White Paper, but I have the impression that they are only pious hopes.
I would ask the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government a second question. Can he say what have been the obstacles to progress in standardisation of equipment? What can the Government do to accelerate the process and so improve, in my opinion very greatly, the cost effectiveness of the NATO forces? Anyone who has had any practical experience of commanding Allied forces knows full well that all the great problems of differences in equipment, in supplies, in organisation and in armament stem from the lack of standardisation.
My Lords, there is another aspect which, as always, presents a difficult problem in the conduct of operations with allied forces; that is, the flexibility of the forces under one's command. It has now be 298 come known as "inter-operability", a clumsy word, but one which expresses what is meant. I am concerned whether the decision of Her Majesty's Government announced in the White Paper last year, to eliminate the brigade level of command, will not damage the inter-operability of our forces, the Rhine Army, with those of our allies in NATO. I ask the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government whether that is still the intention of the Government, as I think it is from what is written in the White Paper. If so, I would ask whether the Government are really satisfied, whether the General Staff is satisfied, that it will not damage inter-operability.
I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply a question affecting the future of the Brigade of Gurkhas, in which I have a close personal interest. It seems from the paragraph referring to the Gurkha Battalion in Brunei that Her Majesty's Government have finally decided to reject the offer of the Sultan to meet the total cost of that unit, I should like to know whether that is really the case, and if so, why.
Finally, my Lords, having had the rather bitter experience of being involved in the opening stages of two World Wars for which the Governments of the day had made totally inadequate preparations, I sincerely believe that Her Majesty's Gov ernment are taking too great a risk in reducing our forces further. They are already very attenuated, as has been clearly emphasised by many speakers this afternoon. Any further reduction of these already attenuated armed forces will, in my view, seriously prejudice our national security, and above all our ability to withstand coercion backed by superior military force. I only hope that Her Majesty's Government will reconsider the matter before it is too late.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord ORR-EWING
My Lords, at this late hour, for us, I shall not he too long, but I am going to make a rather political speech, because I think this is a political White Paper and no one has drawn attention to this aspect of it until now. I apologise if I am not here during the latter stages of our debate, but I did not know it was going on quite so long and I made 299 my arrangements. I am glad to see that the noble Lord who is to reply is wearing his Brigade of Guards tie. Another person under whom I served was Harold Macmillan, and he always wore that tie when he knew he was going to have to reply to a very sticky debate. I think the noble Lord is following a very good example.
The reason why I think this is a dishonest document is that it is perfectly frank in underlining the considerable and increasing threat from the Soviet Union, but it then goes on to say that, despite this, the Government are going to cut out of the Defence Vote 38,000 Servicemen and 40,000 civilians. Other nations and our NATO allies have also assessed the threat, but they have taken exactly the opposite view. We find the USA, France and Germany all building up their forces because they believe the threat is so considerable. I can see that this Government—and I believe this is the reason for it—have always found it necessary to appease what the last Prime Minister called "the Marxist wing". In a debate on 31st March, the Minister of Defence, in reply to some criticism from the Left Wing, said (Hansard, Col. 1338) that expenditure per head in dollars shows the following figures: Britain, 214, bottom; the Netherlands—not a great country-220; Norway—not a great country—228; France, 255; Germany, 332–50 per cent. more than ours; and the United States, twice ours. 416 per head. That puts the matter in perspective. We have, surely, an interest in spending as much as we conceivably can, alongside our allies, matching their sacrifices with ours.
The first excuse is that it was in the Manifesto. But we must acknowledge that only 28 per cent. of the people voted for the Manifesto, and the last survey I saw was that only one in every 1,000 people had ever read what were in any of the Parties' Manifestoes. When all the circumstances and all the factors in the equation have changed, I do not think it is right that the Government should feel bound not to make a parallel change. The situation has changed in other ways. The Government have not found it necessary, when these factors have charged, to stick to their Manifesto promises. After a period of wild inflation in 1974, with 300 30 per cent. wage increases becoming the norm and over 26 per cent. rise in the cost of living, they abandoned free collective bargaining.
I have just refreshed my memory of what the Manifesto said on this. After talking about the Social Contract, it said:The unions in response confirm how they will seek to exercise the newly restored right of free collective bargairting.In July 1975 Labour's incomes policy was produced—having derided ours, I may say—and we are now just coming to the end of Phase 1 and negotiating Phase 2. This is realistic; this is facing the facts. If we can face the facts on that important front, with the trade unions of such immense importance to the Labour Party, and, or course, to the country, surely we can also change direction on defence.
I suggest that the USSR, by its actions and by its speeches, has shown that détente is a hollow farce. We all hoped that there was a change of mind, but its strategy has not changed and in fact has accelerated. After the massive subjugation of the whole of Central Europe and the Baltic States right down to the Black sea, we hoped perhaps, in that early post-War period, that they might come to live in a mixed world. But that is not so. We had first the Hungarian revolution put down by massive Russian forces in 1956, and then later the Czech insurrection was also put down. After Helsinki perhaps we thought again that there was a change of mind. Lord Brockway was the first to say that once this was signed it would produce a change. It has not. The Soviet intervention in Portugal and their massive sponsoring of the Angolan invasion shows that they have not changed their strategy or thinking one jot. The speeches by my noble friend Lord Chalfont and many others have underlined this point.
What else has changed? The unemployment situation has changed immensely in this country. When the Manifesto was being written, when the policy was being worked out for the Labour Government, there were 650,000 unemployed. That number has now doubled. So why add to the unemployment by throwing useful civilians and usefully trained Service people out of work on to the scrap pile. In his speeches the Minister has said that not only are we going to see 38,000 Servicemen deprived of their jobs, and the 40,000 301 civilians I have mentioned, but these cuts would affect 60,000 extra in the defence industry. He has said that perhaps a further 80,000 job opportunities would be affected as a result of these measures. So again, with people idle, we are adding to that problem.
It has been claimed that this has come from the tail and not from the teeth, but the speeches this afternoon have shown that this is a hollow fallacy. You cannot go on cutting the tail. We have been told that it has already been cut to the bone in previous Reviews. I intervened when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, was speaking to ask, if it is only cutting the tail, how is it that in one of the most vital areas for this country, antisubmarine warfare, we have cut 25 per cent. off the Nimrod force? Incidentally, Nimrod is one of the best anti-submarine aircraft in the entire world, and we have been content to cut that. I do not think, either, that the Government can go on shrugging off the sad position—the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, drew attention to this—where our forces are increasingly using equipment which was designed in earlier decades.
It takes seven or 10 years from the initiation of the research and development to the start of a new weapon system, before it ever has a chance of reaching operational units. It then has probably a life of another 10 or 15 years in those units. But now we are beginning to run out, and we are using old equipment, and our allies are better equipped. So we are trying to save money. I think what is revealing—and I shall come to this later—is the very small amount of our defence budget which is now being spent on new equipment.
Another argument that sometimes comes forward is that we have to make these cuts despite the appreciation, which is honest and straightforward, of the threat from the USSR; we have to make them because of our economic situation. Here again, I cannot believe that this argument stands up. We have only to see the manner in which money is being spent by this Government in the public sector to ask why we have to save a few hundred million pounds here. and later make many more massive savings on defence. The Community Land Act 302 alone is costing our nation £400 million; the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill, £900 million; the National Enterprise Board between £900 million and £1,000 million; the nationalisation of aerospace and shipbuilding, according to Government figures (the Bill has not yet come to our House) £300 the abolition of paybeds, £40 million. There is a total of £2,600 million, and we are being told that despite the threat, despite everything we see of Russian expansion plans and imperialism, we have to make cuts in our defence forces. Like other noble Lords, I cannot help feeling that this is a result of the Labour Party, and particularly the Marxist Wing of the Labour Party—and I borrow that phrase from Sir Harold Wilson—demanding that their Front Bench and their Government should make these cuts.
If it is said that we are somehow trying to save manpower, may I say that r have been looking at some of the figures of our nationalised industries, and particularly one which really surprised me—and here T am quoting from an article in the Lloyds Bank Reviews of April 1976 by John Redwood, who is a Fellow of All Souls. There he showed that the British Steel Corporation (when Monty Finniston was head of this he was always complaining that they were overmanned) in the last year has recruited 7,900 extra people. The Post Office—and we all know how the services have been cut—added another 7,500 people. The National Coal Board—and we are almost saturated with too much coal at the moment, and too expensive—another 6,250 people. British Rail—and Richard Marsh is always saying that they are overmanned—another 5,800. Those are just four nationalised industries and they have added 25,000 to the number of people they employ. Yet apparently we are going to cut 38,000 Servicemen from our defence forces.
The noble Lord will no doubt deal with this in his wind-up, but we are told that there is now to be an economy in public spending, and particularly in local government spending. Any of us who have any knowledge, or eyes to see, will know how far this has gone. The figure I obtained from the Digest of Statisticss was that local government recruiting in the period June 1974 to June 1975 had gone up by 121,000 people, and according to the last return 303 from the Department of Employment, in the last nine months they have added another 25,000 to that figure. So that you see vast recruiting in every field for which the Government are responsible—and I include the nationalised industries—but apparently a need to run down our strength at a desperate time.
I should like now to turn a little to what I was saying about equipment. Only 36 per cent. of our total defence budget is now going on equipment. Every year—and I know that my noble friend when he was Minister for Defence had to face this same problem—our men and their support, and the hospitals, the schools, and their wives and their children, all cost us more, and there is less money for sophisticated and essential equipment. The interesting figure in the USSR budget, which of course is vastly greater than ours, is that 80 per cent. of it is spent on equipment and only 20 per cent. on their massive manpower.
New systems come in, and they take a long time to develop. We really must put more effort into standardisation. Here I should like to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Harding of Petherton. It is deplorable—and I echo his much greater knowledge—that in 25 years we have made so little progress towards standardisation. I believe that there are now some signs of standardisation, but it is deplorably thin and they are deplorably few. I say that where you cannot get standardisation and where we cannot afford to develop our own systems or our own weapons, then we have no alternative but to do a horse-trading job. We have to say to the French, "If you will sell this to us, we will be prepared to sell that to you". This we did with Exocet. My noble friend was keen on offset agreements, and in fact negotiated a general agreement with France on this weapon. We are to spend £150 million on this French missile. We have been paying for the majority of the development, and now of course the French are competing with us in its sale all over the world. No doubt it is an admirable missile, but where is the offset? What has France bought from us?
This is something about which I very much hope the noble Lord is going to reply. I have warned him in a note that I was going to raise this subject. Can he tell us, 304 when he replies, what France has bought from us to offset the £150 million we are spending with France for Exocet? We are told now that we are going to buy another French missile, the Milan—again, if we can get the right terms. May I suggest to the Government that the right terms are that the French honour the agreement first on Exocet, and then the Government make another watertight agreement that the French must buy some equipment from us if we are going to buy this from them.
Perhaps we can also ask France, while we are discussing these things with them, why they have not joined the Eurogroup. Officially they are not members of NATO. We get co-operation on exercises, I am glad to say. When you ask the French why they are not members of Eurogroup, why they cannot work towards the standardisation of general weapon systems, they tell us that it is because this is still dominated by the USA. This is barking the song which de Gaulle sang for so long. I really think that they should change their tune, or their excuse, because clearly the Eurogroup is not dominated by the USA.
I should have liked to say a word on reserves, but it has been so well covered by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, that I would want to add only one point to those that he and others made so ably. Here I speak having four sons, one of whom is a 22-year-old Territorial, and you could not have a more dedicated and more enthusiastic form of young service. The Territorials are prepared to go one weekend in every three, or sometimes one weekend in every two, at very little cost to our nation, to dedicate themselves to a rigid and rugged training. This is surely the best way not only to engage our young people in challenging experiences but to form ourselves a useful, very economic, and very worthwhile reserve. I would merely add that to the views of other noble Lords.
Lastly, I turn to a plea for all-Party interest and support on defence. I have spoken in every defence debate over 26 years, and I think in the majority of them I have believed that if we are to have an adequate defence for our nation, and people well informed in both Houses to discuss defence, we ought to have an all-Party approach. I welcome the initiative and the approach by the noble Lord, 305 Lord Shinwell. If at his age I am half as good as he is I shall be delighted by my performance.
If I have one criticism of the Minister for Defence, it is that I do not think I have ever read a more personalised speech than he made when he was introducing these Estimates on 3st March. I ringed round the number of times "I" or "My" appeared in the first three colums, and after that I rather lost courage. "I" appeared 32 times in three columns If he keeps up that average for the rest of the speech, there will be 270 uses of the personal pronoun.
I would remind the Government that this is not "my programme" or "my defence". It is the defence of the nation approved by the Cabinet of the day, backed by the Government of the day and, I hope, approved, although I have strong criticisms, by the nation. A little less of the personal pronoun and a little more of the "we" would be more appropriate. That brings me back to the thought that it is we who should try to inform ourselves; we should try to form an all-Party group. I should like to see our study group broadened to take in Members of the House of Commons, because the closer the two Houses work together on matters of national interest the better it will be for the safety of our nation.
§ 7.5 p.m.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak following the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, because for many years, I think for the same number of years, he and I took part in the debates in the other place. I found it rather easier to speak in the other House because possibly there were not quite so many knowledgeable people, those with personal experience, as there are in this House. I support what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Harding of Petherton, said about the Gurkhas; as he knows, I have been working with them and for them. In fact, they actually saved my life in the Far East.
have taken a great interest in their welfare and, particularly as he has been the only speaker to refer to them, I wish to support his remarks.
I would also mention the fact that we have two new Ministers, one for the 306 Royal Navy and one for the Royal Air Force, and I hope that they will be willing to fight for their Departments. They have two main tasks, one to see that the men arid women in their Services are given the tools with which to do the job they are supposed to do, and the other to see that their individual welfare is considered. I wish also to congratulate the chairman of the Expenditure Committee on the Second Report of 29th January of this year. It would be interesting if the all-Party group could read that document and go through it thoroughly because it contains some valuable recommendations; it would, of course, take too long to discuss them now.
If I were a Victorian lady I probably would, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and several others, have taken the smelling salts from my handbag, because their descriptions were so realistic and brought so clearly to mind the incidents they were describing. More people should have knowledge of what has been said in this debate, and I hope that some of the speeches will be widely reported. I was brought up to believe that peace depends on the balance of power. However, we seem once again to be in a 934 situation. It is astonishing that President Ford should suddenly have authorised 60 Minuteman missiles. Is this just election fright, or has he given up any idea of détente?
In the House of Commons on 3st March—it was reported at col. 33 of Hansard—the Minister for Defence boasted I think about the amount he had cut back, but as Lord Orr-Ewing mentioned the figures I will not repeat them. The noble Lord was perfectly right, and only yesterday, when we were talking about the social services, I suggested that we might delay the Community Land Act, which would give us another £400 million a year, and that we should seek to achieve the really necessary priorities. In that debate in another place the Minister went on to say:We commit almost the whole of our combat forces to the—[NATO] Alliance, and…a large tactical air force…in West Germany—[Official Report, Commons, 3/3/76, col. 332.]I suggest that the Russian bear could squeeze that force at any time, and as even the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, mentioned, one cannot have much faith in the 307 forces of Italy and France, with their tendency to have Communist Parties. It was also stated in that debate in the other place, at col. 333:Above all, we ensure that we can always maintain the security and territorial integrity of the United Kingdom…After all we have heard today, how can we do that? The Russians could march into Europe and in my view the European forces would collapse, as they did in 94 and 939.
I am saying this because I have served for many years on the Western European Union, and even there—it is a minor body compared with the NATO staff and so on —one has been unable to get any form of agreement in this respect. Lord Harding mentioned standardisation. When I mentioned it in Paris all that got from M. Debré, the then Minister, were some rather rude remarks; there was no chance of even discussing it or getting a proper paper on it. Brigadier Close and General Steinhoff have stated that with conventional weapons the Russians could reach the Rhine in two days and that the United States would hesitate for fear of starting a nuclear war.
We are told that this has been a most extensive Review, the most thorough in peacetime, and that it will give us the security we need. I am afraid that I cannot agree with what was stated in the other place. It seems to me that in the very near future we shall have to decide whether we agree to have an adequate defence force or resign ourselves to being, perhaps by the year 2000, a State in Europe of the USSR. In my view it is absolutely necessary to be independent. With Her Majesty the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth—and, despite all the difficulties, the Commonwealth States have remained independent with democratic Governments suitable to their countries—if we were to sink, then all those countries would sink, too. And we know that the tentacles of Russia are already in Africa. Only recently Malaysia was having trouble again, in the Kuala Lumpur area; this all happened in Malaysia before 958. We have these happenings in at least two continents and in Europe.
I would like to comment on the Roya Navy because it is rather sad to think that 308 we now have the smallest Navy since 895. When I was the MP for the Devonport area Sir Harold Wilson came down and promised us, as far back as the 'sixties, that we should have a larger Navy. In fact now, 20 years later, its ships have fallen in number from 772 to 266. Reference is made in the White Paper to the building of H.M.S. "Exeter," "Newcastle", "Glasgow" and "Coventry", and it is said that these will make an important contribution to NATO. I should like to know how far these vessels are in progress of building. As they are counted as a contribution to NATO, we should be told in what state of building they are.
We have now been asked by Iran to lease to them a hydrographic survey ship. Will this request be accepted? These ships are not being used, as we know from a previous debate, and we want more friends in the world. Surely this would be a very useful exercise for these ships. It is reported that the Brazilian Navy wants to buy the "o" class submarines. If this is true, how many do they want, and will we sell them? The Brazilians are very friendly with us and we have recently had some of their ships in Britain. In Devonport one of their commanders presented the workers with a plaque to express his thanks while he was learning there.
I come to the question of frigates. These are excellent ships, but are they the right ships for the cod war? I have seen the damage done to them. Their tinplate, if I may so term it, is, I suggest, too thin. We want a ship of the Belfast type; not as big, but of that type. Frigates are not made for that type of work, and certainly they are not made to be hit in that manner; they cannot stand it. What is the cost of repairing them and, of course, H.M.S. "Achilles"?
As I see my Leader sitting on the Front Bench, perhaps I should say a little "hurrah" for H.M.S. "Ark Royal". We had a terrific struggle to save this ship and she is doing her job well. During one Recess I remember sending a telegram to the then Minister, Mr. Healey, asking what was to happen about this ship, for several hundred people were going on her in the morning not knowing whether they were to lose their jobs in the evening. I asked for a reply by two o'clock because 309 I wanted to go out. The telegram came at .59: it said, "No decision, no cows are sacred. "I did not feel that that was exactly the way to refer to an excellent ship and I felt that it implied an unfortunate attitude in the Government of that time.
I should like just to mention the dockyards which have also not been mentioned and which of course appear in the Defence Review. A very interesting experiment has been made with the first and largest aluminium mould to be built anywhere in this country. It was completed in the new fabrication bay at Devonport. This is the laying up of the glass reinforced plastic for the hull of HMS "Brecon" and from this mould, which was designed by the Ministry of Defence and has been specially built and was to be finished at Woolston, Southampton, by the Vosper Thorneycroft Works, is to come the first of the new class of mine counter-measures. I hope that these will continue. These ships will be about 450 tons and 200 ft. long.
A further point in regard to the dockyards is that noble Lords may be interested to hear, as I am the only woman speaking in this debate, that the girl apprentice scheme is going well. One of these apprentices has now been on sea trials, engaged in work on water displacement, fuel system, domestic system, water boiler room and laundry compartment. Another was sent the other day to the Royal Marine barracks to put the electricity right.
We have competitions in all these dockyards and I believe that that has proved to be a success. I am glad that Mr. Chatten has been made the Assistant Chief Dockyard Executive and that there is to be a separate vote in future so that we can really keep an eye on what is happening there. I believe that that will be very beneficial. I should like to know what has happened about the Wages for the Workers pilot scheme which was started in Chatham. We want to know whether it is going to be satisfactory so that it will be able to be extended to the other yards. What is to be the present pay policy?—because, if it is a success in Chatham, I gather that it may be over the Government's future norm.
The Expenditure Committee recommended that Ministers should start planning the closure of one of the four United 310 Kingdom dockyards and suggested that in determining the location of major new dockyard facilities they should try to ensure that nothing was done to prejudice that objective. Then there was the Dockyard Trading Fund which was to have been established in April 974. I should like to know what has happened to that. Another point which the Minister can perhaps answer relates to the Seebohm Report. This Committee was set up to deal with the welfare of the Services, particularly the Navy, and it was stated that a report would be published shortly. I do not know whether anybody has yet been appointed to run naval welfare but I should like to see a report shortly.
I have two small points to end with: the first might be described by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, as a woman's point—in other words, Women's Institute. I notice in the Report of the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee dealing with Hong Kong—and I should like to suggest here that we ought to be very grateful to the Hong Kong Government for contributing towards defence—it said:We are satisfied that, although some individuals and families may not be adequately briefed,"—those are the ones going to Hong Kong—the need for this preparation is well understood and all reasonable efforts are made to prepare servicemen and their families for their life in Hong Kong. We believe that the time and effort devoted to this problem before departure and locally after arrival on station is most valuable and we recommend that arrangements for dealing with this…".I could perfectly well undertake that through the Women's Corona Society. We do a great deal of it at the present time for people going overseas and, if the noble Lord would like to get in touch with me, as president of the organisation, I should be willing to do this, which would save him some expense.
Finally, I should like to return to the question of the spirit of détente. I believe that the Western nations have made far too many concessions in their negotiations. The Soviets have violated the SALT treaties by stating that they are loosely formed and ambiguously worded. This suggests a need for a thorough reappraisal of the Western techniques of negotiation with Moscow. The Russians concentrate on the letter 311 rather than the spirit, whereas we may perhaps concentrate too much on the spirit. Any agreement should be judged on its merits and not, as in the past, on its supposed contribution to an elusive spirit of détente. This seems to be the only way in which the West can avoid dangerous self-deception in its dealings with Moscow which could undermine Western security and freedom from within.
§ 8.7 p.m.
My Lords, over the last few years, I have taken a modest part in our defence debates. have limited my contributions to the maritime aspects of defence and more recently I have concentrated my remarks on the increasing activities of Russian naval forces in the Indian Ocean and their threat to our oil supplies from the Gulf. This increase in activity has continued unabated and, indeed, it has been speeded up with the reopening of the Suez Canal and the establishment of fuelling and communication basis in Socotra, Mauritius and elsewhere. The recent additions to Russia's already large field of nuclear submarines and the coming into service of the "Kiev", her first aircraft carrier, have markedly raised the tempo of this activity. Here, let us take note of the fact that, whatever we may think, the Russians and the Americans still have a use for aircraft carriers. While Russian expansion has been continuing, we have been reducing the size of our fleet and cutting down our bases around the world until now our only naval base abroad is Gibraltar and our fleet is, according to calculations by the Press—which I have no reason to doubt—the smallest it has been since 1895.
The naval base situation abroad has been slightly eased by the decision of the Americans to build up facilities on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. This island, which is about 1,000 miles from anywhere, is well placed to support maritime forces in the area and, therefore, to a limited extent, to guard our substantial trade with Australia and New Zealand and all the rubber and tin that comes to us from Malaya. Despite our prospects of North Sea oil, we still have substantial trade passing through the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean and, apart from our own very modest fleet, now concentrated in the North Atlantic, we have few, if any, 312 ships to defend it. It is no use our thinking that we can rebuild our fleet when we are once more under threat. The next war will have to be fought with the fleet which we have today. It takes five years to build new ships and to recruit and train new crews. We must have numbers as well as quality in our ships, for a ship can only be in one place at a time.
I do not want to pursue the previous arguments regarding the inadequate size of our fleet, for they have borne little or no fruit in the past and I doubt whether they would bear any now if I raised the matter this evening. Instead, I should like to refer to two matters which have been well aired in the Press recently. One is the fighting quality of our ships. It is alleged—I believe with some reason—that too much attention and, thus, too much weight and space is being paid to habitability and comfort in our ships. We have always, I think rightly, designed our ships to keep the seas for long periods in all weathers, but here I think a balance must be struck, and I believe there is now a danger of our putting too much into habitability and too little into fighting qualities.
In what I am now saying, my Lords, I do not want for one moment to criticise the professional ability of the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors; far from it. Over the years I have known and had close friends among their ranks, and I have the highest regard for their skill and their achievements. But though our ships have always had a high reputation for battle worthiness, there have of course been exceptions. One's mind turns at once to our battle cruisers at Jutland, three of which, the "Queen Mary", the "Indefatigable", and the "Invincible", were sunk by the Germans with no more than five shells each. Compare this with the German battle cruiser "Seydlitz", which in the same action was hit by 2 large calibre shells, took on board over 5,000 tons of water, and though the water was up to her fo'c'sle and she was drawing 42 ft., she got back into harbour and, indeed, into dock. Twenty five years later off Iceland the "Hood", which admittedly was then over 20 years old, was sunk by two or three salvoes from the "Bismarck", and the "Prince of Wales", which was a brand new ship but not fully worked up, was put out of action by not many more. "Bismarck", on the other 313 hand, took innumerable shells, and at least eight, and possibly 2 torpedoes before she finally succumbed.
One can think of other examples, but those are sufficient, I think, to demonstrate my point. I cannot, my Lords, pretend to have any great knowledge or experience of ships in our fleet of today, but I have seen and heard enough to have some doubts as to the fighting qualities of some of them. I believe, in fact, that this is a matter that should be watched carefully.
The only other point I want to touch on this evening concerns the protection of our North Sea oil installations and pipelines. I have spoken about this before, but it seems to me to be a matter of such enormous importance that I make no apology for referring to it again. This is a matter that is occasionally referred to in the Press, but in general terms it seems to be regarded as a problem for civilian guards and policing, and although this is of course very important, I myself am much more anxious about attack by naval and air forces in times of war or strained relations. I do not know the details of the technique of protecting our North Sea oil, but I have little doubt that it presents a formidable problem which I should imagine is best taken care of by the Ministry of Defence. Perhaps it is, and if so, I shall be reasonably happy. Nevertheless, I am disturbed to think that Her Majesty's Government are satisfied with the plans put forward in the White Paper. To me it looks as if there are too many gaps in our defences.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Viscount MASSEREENE and FERRARD
My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I am equally dismayed at the run down in our naval forces. For 400 years our traditional role has been as the guardian of the oceans. When I was a young man doing my economics, I remember that it was Adam Smith who said that the first duty of Government was to protect the State from external enemies. But when we look at the White Paper we must decide whether the Government are upholding this duty. I have always taken the view that defence expenditure must come before any other public expenditure. No matter how 314 many free teeth are provided, how much cheap or subsidised food there is, or what is spent on housing, health or education, if the State is destroyed by force of arms all the free "everythings" go for naught. Therefore there comes a point when the nation must start to choose a few guns and forget about the surfeit of butter.
I realise the difficulty which the Government and the Minister of Defence are in. As has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, the Government have their Marxist Left-Wing, but I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence is a patriotic individual and therefore he lutist be a rather unhappy man. Irrespective of the Marxist Wing of the Labour Party, it is, repeat, the first duty of Government to protect the State against its external enemies. We were told that last year's defence cuts were the rock bottom, but now we have to stomach the present cuts.
The Minister for Defence has been ingenious. By letting the main body of cuts fall on the support services rather than on the front line forces, he is trying to have his cake and eat it, but that is a very difficult thing to do. However, he has made the best of a bad policy. In a short, conventional war of a week, a nation might get by, despite cutting its defence support forces, but in any protracted hostilities that would be quite impossible, as anyone who has been in the Services—as I have been, although only for a comparatively short time—knows. Without adequate support services, front line troops will soon run out of the essentials needed to keep them fighting.
My noble friend Lord Newall is just back from Germany after visiting the British Army of the Rhine, and I was rather concerned to hear him say that some of our equipment there is out of date. I thought that our equipment was excellent, though I do not have first hand knowledge of that matter. If only NATO could standardise—we have heard much about this in the debate—then the plan of the Minister of Defence to cut support services might have some credibility. We could then use the support services of our NATO allies. But to cut support service at present must weaken our contribution to NATO.
315 I have often heard arguments—I think we have heard them today—to the effect that we are providing more of our GNP to the Forces in NATO than are other members of the Alliance. But perhaps we have forgotten that our GNP, for instance, is not, despite our large population, as great as that of France, which has a smaller population. In fact, France is spending more on her forces than we are; so is Germany, as we have heard today. It is completely irrelevant to talk about what proportion of the GNP a country is spending on its forces, because all the enemy is interested in is how effective are those forces, and he is not concerned with what proportion of the GNP is spent on defence.
I fear that any weakening in the conventional forces of NATO must increase the likelihood of a nuclear war. This may have been said many times today, but I personally do not think that there is any question of Russia attacking the Central Front in Europe. To start with, I think she is far too wise. She has no need to; and she has, as we have heard today, such vast numerical superiority. I do not think she has superiority in quality, but I believe her quality is improving. But suppose the Warsaw Pact forces did overrun Western Europe in a lightning war owing to any weakness in NATO. The West would then be faced with the alternatives of either succumbing or of using tactical nuclear weapons, leading into strategic nuclear weapons; and the result is too horrible to contemplate. But, my Lords, Russia, as I have already said, has no need to attack the West in Europe. She can, I think, get everything she wants, or she thinks she can, by operating in other spheres and by other means. After all, you do not attack your enemy at his strongest point, and, of course, NATO in Europe is the strongest point of the West, certainly so far as conventional weapons and tactical nuclear weapons are concerned.
My Lords, what I deplore (and my noble friend behind me said something about this) is the withdrawal of our forces from all over the world—from the Far East, from the Indian Ocean, from the Mediterranean; to all intents and purposes, apart from Hong Kong, from every global sphere. It is no good bolting the front 316 door if you leave the back door open. We forget that Western Europe is dependent for the majority, anyway, of the imports essential to keep the wheels of industry turning, upon South and Central Africa. It is surprising that the White Paper does not mention Africa at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said that it was irresponsible to think that we could defend anywhere outside Europe, and he mentioned Africa, I think. With all due respect to the noble Lord the Leader of the House, I would say that I think the noble Lord himself was rather irresponsible in making that remark. As I say, the only time the White Paper mentions Africa is when it mentions the ending of the Simonstown Agreement, which I think is absolutely mad. It also mentions (and this seems equally mad) the provision of a 50-bed field hospital in Somalia. What on earth can that be for? I suppose it is to succour Russian mercenaries. It really does seem extraordinary.
There is no mention of Angola in the White Paper, although we have had it mentioned in this debate. Angola is one of the richest mineral areas of Africa. It has been conquered by a Soviet satellite, armed, equipped and instructed by Russia. It could be said that it has been a remarkable military operation if the very long lines of communication are taken into consideration. But, my Lords, why did the Russians go there? Mr. Brezhnev, in a speech the other day when speaking about détente, said that he did not consider that détente inhibited the Soviet from aiding any liberation movements. But, my Lords, you had black rule in Angola; you had no colonial problem. Why did they go there? They chose the smallest Party there, the MPLA. Of course, the whole answer why they went there is, first, to get control of a rich country and, secondly,eventually to expand their influence throughout the whole of Southern and Central Africa. Mr. Brezhnev's idea of helping liberation movements is, of course, to help only those movements that the Soviet can bend to their own advantage and for their own purposes.
My Lords, what is the West going to do about this? We cannot rely on Dr. Kissinger, evidently, because, to judge by his speech in Lusaka the other day, he 317 appears rather on the side of Communist influence in Africa. The Americans appear to have very little interest in Africa. They used to have an interest in it (rather, I must say, to our detriment) but they appear to have very little interest there now. I do not know what the West can do; but what they need not have done is to end the Simonstown Agreement. Russia, with her vast forces, will blackmail or subvert any moderate leaders in Africa and make them go along her course, and eventually any European leaders will he overthrown if they do not get help from outside. But I should point out that if this happens the Free World will be denied 50 to 75 per cent. of the raw materials which are necessary to keep the wheels of industry turning—copper, cobalt, chrome, platinum and vanadium, which is used for hardening steel, 85 per cent. of the world's diamonds and 65 per cent. of the gold. What will the West do then? She will have to accept Russia's terms. She will have to accept them economically and politically if she wishes these raw materials for her industry.
My Lords, I will not go on about this, but I should like to know whether Her Majesty's Government are going to bring this before NATO or whether they are going to consult with America. What are we going to do about this? The whole of the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean appear to be completely undefended from the point of view of the West, and if we get cut off from those raw materials the unemployment in this country, which is now bad enough, will become absolutely unbearable—3 million, 4 million or 5 million. It could destroy the whole economy of this country. I therefore urge the Government, especially where our naval forces and our air forces are concerned, not to deplete them any further and at the first opportunity to increase them. For instance, the 25 per cent. cut in Nimrod, used on anti-submarine work, is irresponsible. I really think this is absolutely irresponsible. I am very pessimistic about the whole position, and I must say that I find it very hard to welcome the White Paper on the Defence Estimates.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord WESTBURY
My Lords, I had the honour last week to be part of 318 an all-Party Parliamentary delegation to visit our armed forces in Germany with my noble friends Lord Newall and Lord Dormer. The former having said most of what I wanted to say, I can cut my speech. We visited the RAF at GÜtersloh, the th Armoured Brigade at Minden and also the Joint British Headquarters at Rheindahlen. There is no doubt that the morale and standard of efficiency of all ranks is very high and, slowly but surely, their accommodation in barracks and married quarters is being improved. We were told by the High Command that aeroplanes, tanks and armoured fighting vehicles were as good as, if not better than, those of the Warsaw Pact. Our Lightning aircraft are being replaced by the Harrier, a more up-to-date aircraft, and we were told also that in an emergency spares for all arms would he available immediately.
But for day-to-day training and maintenance, spares are in very short supply. There is not enough petrol for aeroplanes and vehicles to be used properly for training. The petrol ration is 300 miles per vehicle a year, and there is not enough ammunition for our airmen and soldiers to use to be trained to the proficiency and high standard that is required. Our commitment in Northern Ireland is a permanent drain on our army, one infantry battalion or armoured regiment in every brigade being permanently away in Northern Ireland on a four-months' tour of duty. This means that our land forces are always under strength and, therefore, I believe we are not honouring our NATO agreement.
My Lords, I believe it is wrong, utterly wrong, of Her Majesty's Government to allow our armed forces in the field to be faced by an ever growing threat, without the maximum support of up-to-date arms and equipment to give complete confidence to our small but highly efficient army and air force in guarding the safety of the United Kingdom and our NATO allies in the event of war.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
My Lords I should like, as a sailor, to begin by paying my tribute to the late noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein He was one of those few people who seemed to understand the 319 potentiality of sea power, and for that I am very grateful to him and was grateful in the early days when I had occasion to address your Lordships when I joined this House. One could always rely on him to say all the right things. Often there were others who did not.
I should like to start by congratulating the Government. They have not had many congratulations, so perhaps it would be kind to give them one. It is a bit of a back-handed compliment, but on the whole I think that this document, which could be described as an account of the stewardship of the Secretary of State for Defence, is a very good one. What it has in it leaves much to be desired, but the way in which it is laid out, the clarity with which the views are expressed—whether or not one agrees with them—are excellent.
I would ask the Government whether they would consider inviting the other Secretaries of State responsible for major Departments of State to produce annual reports of their stewardship on similar lines. I think it would give a very good basis for discussion and, possibly, a good basis for probing what the Government do with their other money in the same detail as we have to bother with the money of defence.
While dealing with the report itself, there are one or two points that I should like to make. One is a suggestion. Perhaps I may ask the Government if, when reporting the activities of the units of the forces involved (as they do at page 46) they could consider describing those units in the same detail as they have in paragraph 60 and not in the anonymous way in which they have described them in paragraph 58 on page 45. I would suggest that the mentioning of ships by name will perhaps be of value to the morale of the forces and perhaps also give more of a sense of reality to the report as a whole rather than just to say, as in paragraph 58, "A Royal Navy frigate and two infantry companies". Where do the two infantry companies come from? The report speaks of "detachments of Harriers and Pumas". What squadrons were they detached from? I think there could be in the Chapter II heading a great deal more about the detail; and it need not necessarily be in the operational sector only. One could 320 expand it on the same lines in the exercise sector and others.
That gives me the contrast between paragraph 60 and paragraph 58. There are other contrasts. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing mentioned the Nimrod. One finds on page 55, in paragraph 23a, that the Nimrod is so splendid that it is going through a long period of modernisation. One finds in paragraph 64, on page 25, that the Nimrod strength is being reduced. It seems to me that if you have a good weapon of war, it is not entirely wise to reduce the capability of operating it.
We now come really to the nub of the matter on which many noble Lords have spoken; that is the contrast between paragraph 2 at the beginning of Chapter I and the immediately succeeding paragraphs after it, and paragraph 6 in Chapter I and the immediately succeeding paragraphs after it. Paragraph 2 talks about détente and the hopes of, if I might so put it, the unrealistic members of the Government; and paragraph 6 tells us of the threat as it really is. I will not delay your Lordships by going into the details of that because so many noble Lords have done so, including, in particular, my own Leader, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. Both spoke—and it was interesting to me—about the confirmation of the concern that one may feel about our adversaries, to put it mildly, which is so endorsed by Solzhenitsyn. Whether one likes what he said, it really does bear thought and it bears thought for the Government.
The real point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who said, "Well, that is the form. What to do? "In fact, noble Lords on the whole have not been able to come up with what to do, or so I thought while I was thinking of what I was going to say to your Lordships, until I heard my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing who did show you what to do; because, surely, the problem is—and this is the overall consideration as put to us by the noble Lord the Leader of the House in his opening speech—that we must lick inflation. But in licking inflation, where should the economies be? The thing which seems to me to have been neglected by the Government is the fact that, certainly in naval forces and, I think in air forces and, I suspect, in military forces, there is one 321 essential difference between them as a Government expenditure and many others; that is—and we have known this for years —it takes from between 0 and 5 years to develop a weapons system. Now it also takes, regrettably, a longer period to build a new ship or a new tank, once you have gone through the development phase. And as for an aeroplane, we know about various aeroplanes which need not be mentioned in detail. So, my Lords, we cannot—as could our ancestors when Napoleon threatened—replace the material of our armed forces at the drop of a hat. This could be done 50 years ago. It could not be done today. Therefore if you do not keep up a steady investment in the material back-up of your fighting forces, when you require them you will not have them and, in the meantime, your potential enemy will not respect you one little bit.
By way of example, my Lords, in Annex D you will find, under the section which relates to ships in refit or building, very few names indeed. Twenty years ago, in similar columns—because in those days the Admiralty used to produce such columns, though I do not think they made them public to the Houses of Parliament then—you would find many ships of all shapes and sizes, from battleships, aircraft carriers, downwards. They thought ships could be put into reserve—I am talking about the early 950s—and brought out whenever the alarm occurred. We have since discovered that this is not practicable. Therefore there is the list of names in the refit column in Annex D. I strongly suggest the Government note the difference and realise that they have to invest. If I may suggest it to the Government, this is what they and their backers in Transport House have been saying to the industrialists of this country. When they get the opportunity they do not seem to exercise it themselves. But the important point is that a major weapons system cannot be produced in under 0 to 5 years. This point is absolutely vital if we are to feel that we are making a proper contribution to NATO. I do not think anybody would disagree that that is what we have to do. If we do not make a proper contribution to NATO, then we will find—as some noble Lords suggested—it will tend to disintegrate. The worst thing that can happen would be if the Americans lost interest, maybe imperceptibly. We are talking 322 about a long period of 0 years. But it could be that if the American "mums" felt the support forces for keeping their sons happy in Europe were not there, they would say, "We want our sons back in the United States. If that means we have to suffer in the wider sense well, so be it." The people who would suffer in the wider sense would be the United Kingdom and our other NATO allies.
So it is a serious point and a question of how do we lick inflation and match this need for producing a continuing backup, whether it be large pieces of equipment or spares, as was mentioned. How are we going to do this? The answer to it is that we can make economies in the area that my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing spelt out in great detail to the Government. And what is more they need to think about this now. There is not much time to put this right.
Finally, my Lords, you may say, "Why are you feeling so urgent about this?" The answer is—and I am sure this has come through to many noble Lords—I do not trust the Russians. Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, may say—and I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment—the Russians are not to be trusted. There is every evidence that they should not be trusted, and it is crazy to make your plans on the basis of the early paragraphs of Chapter I of this Statement.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Viscount BROOKEBOROUGH
My Lords, I must first apologise and ask the indulgence of the House for my absence at the beginning of the debate. I can assure you it was only a most pressing engagement which had been of long standing that prevented me from being here and hearing the early speeches. I feel sure many of the aspects that I should have liked to have raised in this debate have been duly covered, and at this late hour it would normally have been an impertinance on my part to keep this House sitting beyond the present time. However, I feel there is such a commitment on the defence forces to Northern Ireland that my own personal experience and knowledge of the situation justifies me in keeping your Lordships here.
May I say at the outset that I believe in the greatness of the United Kingdom as a 323 whole. I believe we must play our part in the world and our part in NATO. If what I say today is local, it is designed to enable this country to play its part in world affairs. I need hardly say after that how much I deplore the defence cuts. Like so many other noble Lords, I feel they are pandering to both a trust of Russia and to the Left of the Government's Party.
This debate gives me a personal opportunity of paying tribute to our Army in Ulster. I see it every day and I never cease to be amazed by their bearing, efficiency and deployment. I want to pay a special tribute tonight because I believe we can enable a relief of the Regular Army to be provided if we support the Ulster Defence Regiment. Therefore, I want to pay special tribute to the Ulster Defence Regiment; so many of my friends are in it and my daughter is in it. They guard us night after night, some of them four or five nights a week, and they have been doing it for year after year after year. I cannot tell you what my admiration for them is. It is a service which has been unrivalled in the history of this country.
Tonight we have been involved in a great debate and have heard some great speeches. But a small matter has arisen in Belfast today and I have to tell this House that the Government's credibility, so far as their intention to win is concerned, has received an enormous blow. There has been speculation in the past week or two about whether the Army were going to be withdrawn from certain areas. This was vigorously denied by the Secretary of State and, indeed, supported by Northern Ireland Command. But the Press got hold of the story and referred to a small post in Lenadoon in West Belfast which was abandoned. After these disclosures, it was then reoccupied at once. This calls very much into question whether the original decision to abandon the post was a military one. Therefore, was the decision to re-occupy a military or political one? It reminds me of the grand old Duke of York. It is not an important military matter, but it is an important political matter because the commitment of our troops in Northern Ireland depends so much on confidence.
I should like to ask the Government what is the ordinary citizen in West Belfast 324 to believe? I think the Government have to come absolutely clean on this matter, because the primary requirement for any Government in a revolutionary situation is consistency. However it starts, it must be consistent. I believe that the Government in Dublin have been consistent: at whatever level they have reacted, they have done so with consistency. If the truth is that the Government intend to decrease the Army's involvement after they have strengthened the Ulster Constabulary and the Ulster Defence Regiment, I personally would welcome that with open arms, if that is the decision. I do not know whether that is the decision, but it would be a terrible mistake to say that it is not intended to withdraw from a place, then to withdraw from it and later re-occupy it. This seems to me to be giving a further commitment to our Army which is quite unnecessary.
The past has shown that locally-recruited forces have been much more effective than Army regiments and squadrons which are coming in on tours of duty for four months, or even two years, because the key to all operations in Ulster is intelligence. It would be my guess—and I do not think it is far wrong—that 70 per cent. of the intelligence coming into the Army channels at the present moment is in fact coming in through the UDR. If we wish—and certainly I very much wish—to see some relief given to some of our regulars so that they may be properly committed to their proper task, which is NATO, the Government must decide now to act on what I believe they know in their heart is one of the methods by which the Army can be relieved—that is, to establish at once a full-time regular company of specialists in each battalion of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The reliability of the UDR has been proved to be every bit as good as any other collection of men in the United Kingdom. There are always black sheep in every collection of men numbering up to 0,000; but they have proved themselves. Let the Government show their confidence in these men and establish a full-time company in each battalion.
I should also like the Government to be flexible about that establishment, because I do not think the Army has been quite as flexible as ideally I should have liked. In my county we have a third of the Border. Perhaps we ought to have a bigger 325 establishment of regular full-time UDR people than some battalion up in Belfast. Let us be flexible, but let us start off by meeting that requirement. The equipment of the UDR requires immediate review. When they were formed, they were given a certain amount of civilian equipment. That has served very well, but it requires up-dating. They should get the most efficient equipment that there is, because the better their equipment the more troops they will be able to relieve and the greater will be their effectiveness against the IRA.
I should now like to get down to some fairly nitty-gritty local matters. With unemployment at the present high level in Northern Ireland, it seems to me inconceivable, with the right pay and career structure, that we should not be able to recruit a company per battalion. I was involved in the original formation of the UDR as a member of the Northern Ireland Government, and there was no question about establishing a regular company per battalion. There are full-time members and they are called "consolidated rate men" —known in our lingo as "con-rate men". Incidentally there is no question of confidence tricksters here, or anything of that sort. When the force was originally formed, the use of the con-rate standard was never on the present idea of possibly having a permanent, established company. The inhibiting factor on the part of the War Office, I believe, has been: "Will the pay structure of somebody who is doing 80 hours' duty in Northern Ireland affect somebody who is doing six hours a day in Plymouth on a con-rate operation in a Territorial battalion?" This must be forgotten: we must be realistic, because the UDR are at war just as much as any regular battalion. I would appeal to the Government to believe that, even if they do not at this moment set up these companies, which I believe would release an enormous number of troops, they must re-examine the pay scales of these particular men and provide each battalion with some structure to command these con-rate men, because such a structure does not exist.
The present battalion structure never envisaged that this was going to happen. The present position is almost ludicrous. A man I know is a con-rate officer, a 326 captain, who works in an operations room 80 hours per week. He is paid 9p per day less than the regular staff-sergeant whom he commands for those 80 hours. That is a ludicrous situation which should be looked at at once. The situation becomes even more curious when we find a con-rate captain on enrolment being paid 23p per day less than somebody on the same basis—a con-rate WOII. It really makes a nonsense of the whole matter. These con-rate people who are operating at the moment, the officers and the warrant officers, are doing it out of patriotism and I could not pay a high enough tribute to them. But even if the pay of the UDR was to be increased enormously—and I am not suggesting it should be increased enormously—these men would still be far cheaper than a regular soldier on the same level. There are no barracks, no travel warrants or educational facilities and no back-up of various kinds. Therefore, they are cheap, which is what we want, and they are terribly effective.
If we did that, I believe that the Ulster Defence Regiment could play a more effective role. I should like to suggest that these people should be trained specialists, because we have the SAS collecting intelligence in a very effective way and their influence is tremendous. We must train these people to be top intelligence people because it is on intelligence that everything is based. I appeal to the Government to take action as urgently as possible, because this is where savings can be made.
I want now to direct attention to what has hit us in Ulster in a very serious way: that is, the decision to close down defence institutions in Northern Ireland. The decision of the Government will have cut 2,200 jobs from Northern Ireland. It is all right to say that Northern Ireland should share its side of the economy measures. I absolutely agree with that; but this would be right only if its side of unemployment was fair in the first place. The facts are that there is no confidence for people to invest from abroad because of the security situation. Therefore, the pick-up which undoubtedly will happen in this country is most unlikely to happen in Northern Ireland, because our factories are closing right and left. Therefore, it should have been only in the direst necessity that the Government should have 327 decided arbitrarily to cut those 2,000 jobs. So far as I know—and there may be one that I do not know about—we now have no military establishment or defence establishment in Northern Ireland which is not totally involved in the maintenance of the forces at present there. So there is no question that the Government have demonstrated that they could withdraw and not be involved in leaving industrial establishments behind them.
It seems to me that this is a direct attack—and I hope that it is not deliberate—which is very foolish, because the first principle of the terrorist is to undermine the belief of the ordinary citizen in the Government's determination to win. It follows from that that the Government must never carry out any action which supports the terrorist in that way. What action could more compel the undermining of confidence than removing every defence establishment, except those involved in the direct maintenance of the troops in Northern Ireland? I say that with great sadness, because since this cut was announced I have been involved with so many level-headed businessmen and trade unionists, and one and all believe that this action has undermined the determination to win.
I shall not ask the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, to give me an answer, but I believe that if he were to whisper into the ears of his colleagues in the other place he would find that they did not greatly disagree with me, because they are very much involved and aware of the problem. I should be very surprised if they were not as dismayed as we all are. But I believe that if the Government pull themselves together and demonstrate an inflexible will to win, and reinforce the UDR as I have described, then the role that can be played by our forces in NATO will be re-established and we shall again be able to hold our heads proudly.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, at this stage of the debate, I should like to begin by associating myself with the very fulsome tributes paid throughout to the late Lord Montgomery. As your Lordships will realise, I am a trifle young to have served under him but I did two years' National Service and I read his memoirs, 328 so he is still very fresh in my mind. During this debate we have heard many notable speeches from many noble Lords, not least from the respected Leaders of the Government and the Opposition, and we have heard many comments on the detailed and informative Statement on the Estimates. The 974 Defence Review, and the Statements on the Estimates for both 975 and 976, contained much that was common and, I must admit, much that makes me and many others apprehensive. These three documents are littered with references to thorough reviews, to greater cost-effectiveness, to increases in man-teeth ratios and the like.
While all of us applaud such concepts, many of us in all parts of the House are concerned at the effectiveness of our defence forces and the systems, and I believe there is a limit to what we can ask of these forces. But it seems that the tasks we demand are in no way diminishing. We appreciate that economic factors concern the level of effectiveness of our defence forces, but it appears that over the last three years our forces have become leaner and leaner. Also, it must be apparent that further reductions in defence spending will diminish the credibility and effectiveness of our defences.
The Statement seems to be most interesting when it deals with defence and détente; and we have heard a lot of the word "détente" during the debate. It is also in danger of becoming the great clichéof the 970s. From my earlier French studies, it seems that it means relaxation from military, political and other forms of tension, which is very nice. But this one word was used consistently at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe which, as noble Lords will be aware, published its Final Act last summer. The Government of the United Kingdom played no small part in the proceedings, and we can look forward to a United Kingdom Government continuing the good work next year at the Conference in Belgrade. But at such conferences there is a danger of one or both sides at the negotiations seeking too much or too little from genuine negotiations based on mutual respect and trust.
As some noble Lords will be aware, I and other noble Lords here have the 329 honour of being members of the North Atlantic Assembly. My studies at that Assembly have been directed towards various aspects of détente, but mainly to the free flow of peoples and information between the NATO States and other countries in the West and members of the Warsaw Pact. It seemed to me, and apparently to other noble Lords, that there was a very wide divergence of opinion between the two sides as to what they felt able to do, and what they have done, to reduce suspicion, fear and mistrust over a very wide range of subjects.
For example, the Warsaw Pact members have given only grudging approval to any improvements in the flow of human beings and families across the frontiers of Europe, and there is even less progress in the passage of information both by journalism and by radio. The Warsaw Pact members continually jam some Western broadcasts, and from some simple and reasonably reliable surveys that have been carried out it seems that these broadcasts are the most effective and popular in the countries of the Warsaw Pact. Token gestures have been made to see that Western journalists have been more widely allowed to travel in the East, and that the products of their work have been more widely available. But, clearly, the concepts of what is so-called crude propaganda and what is acceptable differ greatly between the Warsaw Pact members and the NATO members.
Many of us would like to believe that the CSCE has been a success, but it seems that there is still fear and mistrust among members of the Warsaw Pact as to our attitudes and intentions. Thus, while we are delighted to help the cause of détente, its success must ultimately depend on other equally important negotiations. Two of these are the MBFR talks and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. The Statement that we have had before us this afternoon stresses, rightly, how all these negotiations are interdependent; but for any lasting success to come from any or from all of them, surely one emotion which has to be present is that of respect. Should a potential political adversary lose respect for the capacity and the will of those of us in the West to defend ourselves, then I can see less grounds for optimism than can the Government in 330 their projects for our defence, as outlined in the Statement. While the negotiations that I have mentioned take place from a position of strength, both political and military, I am happy to repeat that we support the concept of détente. It has to be part of an effective parcel of agreements binding all parties together.
While considering the need to negotiate at all levels from positions of strength and respect, the Statement considers the capability of the Warsaw Pact's military forces. There were the rudimentary studies which I noticed that my noble friend Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal suggested last year to the noble Lord the Leader of the House, whom I am pleased to see in his seat tonight. In his reply the noble Lord was at his most bland, and I am wondering whether the Statement this year is equally bland when it considers détente and then goes on to say that the West must look realistically at all the facts concerning the Warsaw Pact.
After paragraph 6 of the first Chapter there follows what I can only describe as a very chilling list of the new equipment and armaments available to members of the Warsaw Pact. New intercontinental ballistic missiles, new Delta Class submarines with ballistic missiles and improved nuclear-powered conventional submarines are being completed all the time at twice the rate that such submarines and missile carriers are made available to NATO. Equally formidable is the list of new aircraft and new missiles. There is also the reminder that Warsaw Pact ground forces are being provided with new and improved equipment. This, together with the possibility of swift reinforcement overland from Russia and the increased morale and training of the forces required to operate this equipment, must give NATO cause for added respect, if nothing else.
I do not believe that this list of improvements in Warsaw Pact forces or their equipment is so sudden or so critical. I believe that it is simply a gradual, remorseless process. In this debate, the one occasion each year when we can take the close and detailed view of our defence which it is so important to take, I feel that we simply cannot allow the Warsaw Pact to gain an increasing advantage. I believe that Warsaw Pact military improvements, which could leave the 331 forces of NATO and the United Kingdom further and further behind, cannot be allowed to go on unchallenged.
The Statement further details NATO strategy. Many other noble Lords who are more expert in strategic studies than I am have dealt with its effectiveness, but from all the information which can reach us, particularly that contained in the notable talk which was given yesterday by Sir Peter Hill-Norton, the so-called triad of NATO strategy of conventional theatre nuclear weapons, strategic nuclear weapons and conventional forces is, indeed, effective and, we hope, will continue to be so. However, as I have already stressed, the United Kingdom Government must consider that our own forces should he effective as a deterrent and as part of NATO, not merely good value for the money we may care or be able to devote to them.
I do not recommend that we should pour unlimited economic resources into our defence forces. To me, it is a matter of expenditure priorities. For this reason, I welcome the reference in the Statement to the Eurogroup and to the continuing desire to achieve greater standardisation of equipment and training. One of the advantages possessed by the Warsaw Pact members is the complete standardisation and interchangeability of equipment. While we seek a similar degree of standardisation and interchangeability among the NATO forces, seeking is all that we can do. We cannot and must not impose standardisation on our NATO partners. Indeed, standardisation is more likely to be imposed upon us.
The most encouraging part of the Statement that we are considering is that part which deals with Britain's contribution to NATO. In this Statement and in anything to do with defence the Government repeat time after time that NATO is our main defence and that our support for and commitment to it are paramount. The list of improvements in the equipment and forces committed to NATO is most impressive. Perhaps I may be allowed to pick out one item. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, who is to reply to this debate, will remember a memorable visit that we paid three years ago to a Royal Air Force station when we witnessed a Nimrod operation. The one 332 aspect that I am very encouraged by in this section of the report is the improved radio communications to be installed in the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, which will keep these outstanding aircraft in the position of excellence that they occupy at present. I and many more knowledgeable observers of maritime reconnaissance have always been very impressed with the work done by this force, yet we read in paragraph 64 that the Nimrod strength is to be cut, possibly by up to 25 per cent. Indeed, this point was forcefully and eloquently stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. It is very sad. The noble Lord the Leader of the House mentioned that there were to be Sea Kings, but nevertheless many of us would like to see the Sea Kings as a supplement and not just as a substitute.
The Statement took me, and, I dare say, other noble Lords, from the heights of ecstasy in this particular section, down to the depths of gloom in the passage concerning the economic and the financial framework. I noted with interest that our existing commitments were subjected to a close scrutiny and then there seemed to follow a list of the amounts by which defence establishments would be reduced during the years to 980. Many of us are concerned about the elimination of many valuable non-NATO commitments. There seems to be absolutely nothing more to be saved in financial terms which will not gravely weaken our much valued and worthwhile contribution to NATO. I believe that ultimately there will need to be further cuts in public expenditure, and I cannot see that our defences will be able to hear any further financial cuts in their sector without making nonsense of the Statement we have before us today.
I have mentioned briefly some non-NATO commitments and how these were the first to go under the plans detailed in the Statement. I have three questions to put on this: first, can the Government honestly say that the South Atlantic, the Cape route and the Indian Ocean are not as vital to us as our own contribution to NATO naval forces in the North and the East Atlantic? I believe that they are. Secondly, do the Government deny that two-thirds of our oil and at least three-quarters of our raw materials arrive in the United Kingdom, and indeed in Western Europe, via the Cape route? 333 Thirdly, is it absolutely wise to abandon this vast area to the Soviet Navy with the possibility—just the possibility—that the US Navy will keep the route open for our benefit and that of Western Europe? Be that as it may, I must pass on because the hour is late.
I now want to mention briefly the implementation of the expenditure review. Apart from the sums which have been mentioned earlier in the debate—it seems that there are to be reductions of £670 millions or so over four years, which is an impressive reduction—this part contains a depressing list of closures and amalgamations, and I find it rather difficult to understand why the Government feel it imperative to create further unemployment at this time. We heard a most eloquent plea from the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, in this regard.
When the noble Lord, Lord Winter-bottom, replies, I shall be glad if he can give some indication of how the estimated figures for recruiting into the armed Services compare with the actual figures, because the estimates which we have before us seem to show that recruiting is very healthy; but we should be glad of confirmation that the latest figures in fact bear out that optimism. It is gratifying to read that in general recruiting is satisfactory, but we should like to have the noble Lord's confirmation that it is indeed so.
Also we read that the defence budget includes some savings in equipment which will not impinge on the effectiveness of our essential contribution to NATO. I hope the Government will heed our warnings and those, albeit more muffled, of our NATO allies, that any further cuts in expenditure can only do just what the Statement wishes us to avoid. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, made this point very well.
I should now like to turn to the more detailed and operational aspects of the Statement as it concerns our combat forces. It seems to me that the Mediterranean is in danger of becoming increasingly under the domination of the Soviet Black Sea fleet and, with the reopened Suez Canal, with their Indian Ocean naval forces. Is it wise, or even compatible with the firm desire not to reduce NATO's overall effectiveness, to 334 withdraw all Royal Naval forces from the Mediterranean? Is it good enough to suggest that our navy will visit the Mediterranean—in the words of the Statement—"from time to time"? Can we expect our allies to cope with the increased Soviet naval presence? Noble Lords will not need me to remind them that in one non-NATO State in the Adriatic, Yugoslavia, President Tito is growing older day by day, and when he retires from the scene I believe it will be a wonderful opportunity for the Soviet Navy to put pressure on Yugoslavia from the Adriatic as well as to obtain superb port facilities there. If Yugoslavia does not give us cause for concern at first, I believe there is an equal risk in Albania. For both these reasons I am very worried that such a withdrawal of our Royal Naval forces from the Mediterranean could throw a serious additional burden on to the shoulders of our allies, or indeed could weaken the effectiveness of NATO on the Southern flank and in the Mediterranean.
Passing on to the other sections of the armed forces, we are told that the Army is committed as to approximately 70 per cent. in equipment and manpower to NATO in the form of BAOR. We have heard about that from other noble Lords this afternoon. Suffice it for me to say that r believe that BAOR—one British Corps, as it is called—is superbly led, superbly trained and equipped, and makes a vital contribution to the defence of the Central Front. It is encouraging that our allies also believe this, and we have a great deal of evidence to show that this is indeed so. The remaining 30 per cent. of the British Army forming the United Kingdom land forces are to be reorganised. It seems they are to be reshuffled, and apparently made responsible for a number of further tasks, including North-East Italy—I am interested to see this—and home defence, but North-East Italy could be very vital in the years to come with regard to Yugoslavia.
My Lords, we are considering the Defence Estimates, NATO force reductions, and the like, whereas there is one theatre which all of us dread, but which our Army regard as just another task. I am referring to Northern Ireland. Earlier this evening the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, referred to it at great 335 length, but I would just add that I believe this is a foul, nasty and thoroughly regrettable war, fought out in our own towns and cities in the United Kingdom; yet our soldiers remain steadfast and cool day after day, month after month, year after year. If we can take it at this stage of the evening, all of us are allowed on this one day to salute them, and assure them of our good wishes.
My Lords, one other aspect of the defence forces and the operations within the United Kingdom which deserves mention here concerns the search and rescue operations carried out at sea and on land, when the Royal Naval and Royal Air Force helicopters and their crews are available to search for and rescue civilians or Servicemen who are in any difficulty for any reason. I had the opportunity within the last few weeks of observing the last stages of what was unfortunately an unsuccessful mountain rescue, when civilian volunteers, the police and Royal Air Force rescue teams were involved in a joint rescue operation. This was a very impressive display of how the armed forces are able to provide very swiftly a highly skilled and much valued service to the public.
We are all glad to read that part of the Statement concerning the research and development of equipment. Much of what I said about standardisation is relevant here. It is gratifying to read of the various joint development of arms, aircraft and equipment carried out between different members of NATO. In particular, it is encouraging to discover that the maritime version of the Harrier is under full development and the continuing progress of the multi-role combat aircraft is equally encouraging. It seems that there will be a need for the air defence version of the MRCA, and on this version development is progressing well. The improvements to the equipment and communications of Nimrod are equally welcome. I referred to them earlier.
The Statement before us today is very full and highly informative, but there are some issues which are unclear—I will not say they are deliberately blurred—which concern items of equipment or research which are to come under threat of cancellation. Nevertheless, the Government are committed, apparently, to fulfilling 336 all of our NATO duties. As always, we have different priorities and different needs, and given our current economic situation it is interesting to note that among the NATO members, the United Kingdom pays a higher proportion of its financial resources in defence costs; yet in dollar terms during 975 our contribution per head was below that of other Western European nations, except for Belgium and Denmark. It was just on half of that of the United States of America. Of course, it is possible to claim that the United Kingdom cannot afford to do more than it does at present for defence, yet, as I stressed earlier, the Government are committed to a sharp upturn in the economy in order to maintain even the planned, leaner defence force, and should the economic strategy take longer than foreseen, defence is almost bound to suffer. We shall have to ask whether or not our arrangements are effective, not just cost-effective in providing superb value; they may even have a reduced tail in all the terms we have heard expressed by the Government since they came to power, but we must make sure that our defence forces are effective for the job we require them to do.
I am encouraged by the continuing firm commitment to NATO. I know that our allies rely on us to a very great extent. Some of us wish that extra commitments, which we believe to be as vital to the United Kingdom as NATO commitments, could be carried out. The Government believe that such burdens should be borne by others. I do not think this could be termed as flexible planning or as anything else. I think it is a great omission, and it is regrettable. However, there is an encouraging list of improvements in our equipment which we allocate to our NATO forces, and for that we are grateful.
When we come to discuss this Statement or a similar Statement at some time in 977 it is my earnest wish that we shall no longer read of farseeing and throughgoing reviews of our defence forces and of the expenditure incurred on them. After three years of this Government we are coming to the point that the chilling description of Warsaw Pact military strength may well concern us more and more. At present we do have a solid, effective, competent, well-trained, and 337 well-equipped and well-led defence force. Let us see to it that this defence force remains as effective as it has to be to meet any threat that arises, either to us or to our friends and allies, or indeed to any of our interests. If we have to tie our defence effort to our economic effort, then there cannot be any gamble, no mere hope. We have got to provide sufficient forces, in men and in materials and equipment, to maintain the security of our islands; nothing more, nothing less. We shall be watchful. We shall be defensive. We do not seek to impose our power on other nations, but merely to assure our vital needs and our supplies. I hope the Government are going to be able to assure us that they, too, put the same high priority on defence as everyone wants to see.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the tone of his closing speech. I am also grateful to him for his usual courtesy in informing me in advance that he was not going to try to reply to the debate, but was going to make his own speech and his own points. I am certain that he will agree with me if I follow the same course; he will not be too displeased with me. To reply to a debate of this size and scope really needs a speech equivalent to that of Comrade Khruschev on a major occasion, or it needs to be concise and short, and I propose to follow the latter course. I propose to follow it by stating my own defence philosophy. Where noble Lords agree with that philosophy I shall mention them; where they disagree—I am disciplined by the shortage of time—I shall write to them giving them answers to various points they have raised.
This is probably the most well-attended and perhaps the best informed defence debate that I have spoken in during the years that I have been in your Lordships' House. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I say that the scope is so great that I must reply to many points in writing. I will only try to make a coherent reply to the debate as a whole by basing it upon my own views on defence. My views go back a long way, really to the first of our great Puritan soldiers,Cromwell, who said that the good soldier knows for what he fights and loves what he knows.
338 I think this is what all defence policy must be built upon. The good soldier, who is the man in the street, the man in the field, must know what he is fighting for and must love it. We have seen examples in the recent past where the good soldier in the field did not know what on earth he was fighting for, and he therefore failed to perform in the manner which his country expected and which the equipment with which he was supplied should have enabled him to achieve. I believe that we are entering a very interesting transitional phase in this business of knowing for what we fight and deciding whether or not we love it.
My Party, in particular, but I think men of good will in all Parties, have for a number of years been trying to create a better society for all our people to enjoy, and within which they can develop all their gifts. It is on this that so many of us—and I am not speaking purely from a Party point of view but as from all the Parties—have concentrated. What sort of society are we building? Are we building a society which we can love? There have been great arguments, and I do not think that anybody has got round to the point of deciding whether our society, as it is today, is truly loveable. But, after all, we can talk about it, and when we suddenly start comparing it with the alternative it becomes very pleasant indeed.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who pointed out in his opening speech that suddenly out of Russia has come one great voice, Solzhenitsyn, and a number of equally important voices speaking less passionately but more rationally, who have pointed out that this paradise that is supposed to have been created on earth is no paradise at all. It is a hell on earth, and we had better realise it. I have known this for a long time, as I think many noble Lords who have been involved in defence have known about it, but it is going through to the younger generation. They are suddenly realising that Marxism is the greatest "con" trick in the book. This is now reaching the point when young people—I speak from a limited circle, but including my own children—have suddenly realised that they have been "conned" by the Marxists over decades. We spoke about détente, we spoke of Helsinki, and, of 339 course, we must try to reach some modus vivendi with this vast military machine. But suddenly, post Helsinki, the major Russian act is to support the Cubans in their occupation of Angola. It hardly restores people's confidence in Russian intentions. It is therefore true to say that suddenly the people of this country are waking up to the fact that our society, however imperfect, is worth defending, and that, quite simply, it is threatened.
I believe that the really surprising blossoming of my noble friend Lord Shinwell's Defence Study Group in this House is just an indication at this level of this fact. Our meeting yesterday was really the most surprising affair. We managed to fill a large committee room upstairs. I heard echoes of what was said yesterday—and what was said in various visits that other noble Lords have made—already starting to echo through our discussions today. I believe that the first thing that is going to happen is that your Lordships' debates, in which you have always been well-informed, and to which well-informed individuals have contributed, will become increasingly important, will be caught by the Press, and that we shall be able to start to influence public opinion. If we can start influencing public opinion, then we can get the public to pay for the defence that we require.
Let us face it, those of us who believe profoundly in defence have got less than we would like to see in this White Paper, but there has to be compromise. Many of us have a different balance of values, and what we have got is a very good compromise indeed at a time when, in a severe economic crisis, we have had to balance the requirements not only of the defence of our country but the requirements of the people living in it in the area of the essential services which all men of good will have been trying to create over many decades, and in which I think we are succeeding reasonably well, imperfect though they are.
That is really the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, who said that he could understand the pacifist view and the Tribune view but not the attitude of the Government. I have done my best to clarify the position, but if darkness still falls I cannot help it. Nothing has been done which has caused us to lessen 340 our support from the critical area, which we have defined as the Central Front. No major project has been axed and the armed forces, alone I think of all the NATO armed forces with the exception of the United States, still have a complete, balanced force of all arms, including a second strike capability. I think that this is of profound importance.
Having talked about the things for which we are willing to fight, we come to the question of will, and this is of absolutely profound importance. Soldiers will fight and nations will tight if they have the will to light. The most surprising and illuminating example of a nation with a will to survive is Israel; 3 million Israelis and X million Arabs around them. They have the will to survive and, by Heavens!, they have survived. I believe that this country has the will to do so, too. Nevertheless, the will—
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
But have the Government the will to do so, my Lords? Is that where the will is lacking?
Lord WINTER BOTTOM
My Lords, certainly the Government have the will and the House need have no worry about that. The Government have the will to do so. I was about to say that that will does not grow like grass; it must be cultivated, and I believe that it is cultivated by involving a very large proportion of our people in the total commitment to defence. We are talking about comparatively small armed forces, but in addition we have a very large civil manpower involved in the defence business, either in administration or manufacturing, and all of those individuals have wives and children. In addition, we have what are in fact really quite substantial reserve forces. I believe most strongly that the reserve forces which are available to us are of great importance indeed in this very sensitive area of the will to resist.
It has been said throughout this debate—indeed, it has been the thread running through the debate—that it is the volunteer reservist, giving up his spare time, risking his life in Northern Ireland, who really may be the tap root from which the whole will to defend this country comes. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, spoke on this subject and he has apologised to me for not being in his 341 place for the reply. People have been talking about the cost of the reserve forces being 2 per cent. In fact, it is rather less than that. The T & AVR, which is really the teeth of the reserve forces, costs only about per cent. of the defence budget and the current strength is about 54,000, which represents approximately 75 per cent. of its establishment. We are not up to establishment yet, but I noted that the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, talked about his area and the fact that he could recruit more intensively.
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, that is a point which I am sure my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will note when he reads our proceedings, because it seems a great pity that if we can get men in a sensitive part of England who are willing to serve in the volunteer forces, we should not tie them down to the fact that we cannot recruit an equal proportion in the Outer Hebrides. It is a question of getting them where we can find them. What we do with them then can be decided.
The Government have in fact started a recruiting campaign and have already received during the past few weeks 2,400 applications for information about the T & AVR. This is only what has come through official channels: clearly, many more inquiries come through friends and over a drink at the pub. To quote from my brief,Many requests have been made direct to units and associations.The noble Viscount can perhaps confirm this. I cannot now say how many new recruits we are likely to end up with, but I am certain that, with this changing attitude, we shall find that recruiting is becoming increasingly easy, not only in this country but in Northern Ireland where the gallantry of the Ulster Defence Regiment has been proved time and again.
One very important principle which was announced in the Defence Review and which noble Lords will welcome is the fact that the T & AVR is to be much more closely integrated with the Regular Army. We are working towards a concept of one 342 army. This, I believe, can only be valuable and helpful.
That concludes my statement of the philosophy of defence and the areas in which it touched on points made by various noble Lords. However, I should like to answer a number of points which were put to me in the debate and which go a little wider than those upon which I have already touched. May I go back to the Ulster Defence Regiment. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, raised the question of equipment, and it was also mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Brooke-borough. The present state of play is, as the noble Viscount said, that we are using several types of commercial equipment. This has been useful but it is reaching the end of its life. There is a wide-ranging review taking place in the communications area for the regiment, but I cannot say at this stage when that will be completed. However, it is clearly a most urgent matter and it will not simply be put in the pending tray.
The House has joined the noble Viscount in paying tribute to the Ulster Defence Regiment. I should like to associate myself with that tribute. The regiment has given its services unstintingly and with considerable self-sacrifice, and it has played what it would be no exaggeration to say is an essential part in our overall security operations. We hope to see it play an even more important role. It has been announced in another place that a Working Party is now looking at the forces and resources required to maintain law and order in Northern Ireland, and the use of full-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment on operations is one of the subjects which is being looked at by the Working Party. That is the regular company, as the noble Viscount mentioned. So the noble Viscount has raised a point which is receiving immediate, careful and sympathetic consideration. There is no doubt whatever that, however valuable the training which young soldiers receive in Northern Ireland may be in some areas—and the noble Lord, Lord Newall, has commented on this—it causes a vast amount of disruption. The training programmes of NATO forces as a whole are disrupted and there is "turbulence"—I believe that that is the word—among wives and children. The fewer troops we have in Northern Ireland, the better for the Alliance as a whole.
343 Several speakers, including my noble friend Lord Shinwell, mentioned standardisation, though my noble friend suggested that our salvation could not come from standardisation alone. Nevertheless, I believe that standardisation is something which is close to all our minds. I believe that we, as an Alliance, are moving towards it, though the pace may be excrutiatingly slow. I feel that I may also say that our progress is thanks to the initiative taken by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was Secretary of State for Defence, when the famous Euro-dinners were first formed. They developed into the Eurogroup, and are now moving towards a really integrated body of individuals dedicated towards getting standardisation. Real progress is being made. Noble Lords will perhaps remember that the long term thing is "Euro-long" group, when we try to agree to standard tactical solutions of military problems.
Then we have the recently formed European programme group. This is an attempt to create a European defence industry working towards commonality and negotiating with the United States in order to get a two-way street going between the supply of European equipment to the NATO Alliance, which includes the United States, as well as equipment flowing in the opposite direction. This is only just taking off. The first working meeting took place in Rome on 9th April—only a couple of weeks ago. At that meeting, in a determination to make progress, it was decided to prepare a schedule of nations' equipment requirements with a view to identifying potential co-operative projects, and then to set up ad hoc groups on specific subjects. That sounds rather "jargony", but the intentions are right. We regard these as important developments, and we will do all we can to press ahead with them.
Complete standardisation throughout the Alliance on particular items of equipment is obviously very difficult to achieve, but throughout progress has been made through collaborative projects and different countries buying common equipment. When we criticise what is not being done let us also remember what has been done. For example, on the collaborative 344 front there is the multi-role combat aricraft, the FH 70 and SP 70 artillery systems, which are coming into operation within weeks, the Lynx helicopter, and the Milan anti-tank missile. On the sales side the purchase by a number of NATO countries of Olympus marine gas turbines and Sea King helicopters from the United Kingdom, and the F6 aircraft and Sea Sparrow missiles from the United States, helps us to work towards a commonality of equipment and weapons which we all know is necessary if we are to match the Warsaw Pact advantages in this field.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred particularly to the main battle tank, which is perhaps the core to this business of standard equipment. We have been collaborating with the West Germans since 972 on a programme for such a tank to enter service in the late 980s. This is the time scale on which we have to work. It will replace the British Army's Chieftain. Concept studies are being carried out which we hope will lead to a common staff requirement being issued in due course. It sounds like Euro long-term working long-term, but what we are trying to do is get a standard concept.
As noble Lords will have noticed, in the past few months various tests on tank guns and tank ammunition have been going on at Shoeburyness. What is happening is that we are steadily coming together, and although we seem to be making slow progress this is due to the fact that all these main weapon systems take so long to develop. Ten years is the standard unit of time. When we discuss this matter annually it must be realised that although one has not much to offer noble Lords in terms of progress, nevertheless we are all working towards a solution which we all agree is necessary. But we must be patient because we are not alone in charge of what other nations buy.
This brings me, my Lords, to my final point tonight. It is simply this. No one who has any knowledge of the subject expects us to fight the Warsaw Pact forces alone; this is quite clear. We are fighting as a member of an alliance. We are one member of a 5-nation alliance. But I believe that we have a special responsibility, because, as my noble friends who 345 went with me to Brussels learnt, and as we heard yesterday, more is expected from this country by our allies than perhaps we expect from ourselves. Our reputation stands high as a country capable of producing balanced and professional armed forces. Anything we do, any sign of weakening, is much more damaging to the Alliance as a whole than we imagine that it may be. So, my Lords—and this is the last point I have to make—we must realise that people think a great deal more of us than we think of ourselves, and we must therefore behave in the way, and give the leadership, that the Alliance, I am glad to say, still expects of us.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.