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Lords Chamber

Volume 417: debated on Wednesday 25 February 1981

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 25th February, 1981.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

The Marquess of Reading—Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

House Purchase Schemes: Hm Forces

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider providing assisted house purchase schemes for members of Her Majesty's forces.

My Lords, the armed forces already have a few assisted house purchase schemes. As my predecessor explained in the defence debate on 3rd December, however, the need to keep defence expenditure within its cash limit has meant that proposed improvements to these schemes will not be introduced as quickly as we would have wished.

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, may I ask him to give high priority to an assurance that an improved assisted house purchase scheme will be brought in as soon as financially possible so that members of Her Majesty's forces may enjoy benefits similar to those of council house tenants?

To deal with the second point first, my Lords, it is not of course possible directly to compare civilian life with that of the armed forces, and in so far as part of the improvements we had intended to bring in involved the sale of surplus married quarters, that could clearly apply only to a certain amount of the property owned by the Services. To answer the first part of my noble friend's supplementary, about giving high priority, we certainly regarded it as a desirable scheme, but within the well-discussed necessity to keep the defence budget within limits we have had to postpone some of the non-essential aspects. The Armed Services Review Body takes account of all the differences between civilian life and army life in the reviews it makes in relation to pay, where our essential commitment stands.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the difficulties of implementing a scheme of this kind is the mobile nature of the Services—a man is here today and gone tomorrow?

That is true, my Lords, but part of the proposals had been to increase the advances which some of the Services already give on an interest-free basis for Servicemen to buy houses in the ordinary civilian market. But of course that requires extra public expenditure, quite unlike council house schemes where it is a question of the local councils gaining money.

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that things are very unfair to the Services, remembering that a man may be in Plymouth today, have to sell his house in order to go to Arbroath, have to buy another house there and then, maybe two years later, be told he must move back to Plymouth? Will the Minister bear in mind the way in which Servicemen lose on transactions of that kind, remembering the financial commitments involved in the men trying to keep a home and a decent standard for their wives and families?

My Lords, I am not quite sure I follow the thinking of the noble Lord in that supplementary question but I will read carefully in the Official Report what he said and write to him. I would however take this opportunity to say that what we will do is to introduce a scheme, in so far as the sale of surplus married quarters is concerned, whereby we shall give first refusal of certain surplus married quarters to Service families at market value, so they will get the first choice of any property we have to sell.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many larger and medium-sized employers already go in for such schemes? Is there not some obligation on the Government to keep level with at least the main front rank of the best employers?

My Lords, I do not think it would be right by way of question and answer to go into the degree to which, and on what terms, commercial firms give advances. As I said, there are major differences between civilian life and the armed forces and we believe they are all taken into account in our reviews of Service conditions.

My Lords, further to the comment of my noble friend about the mobility of the forces, may I ask the noble Viscount to agree that it would be a good idea to advise members of the forces, especially those nearing retirement, at least to register themselves with their appropriate local authority—because they all have roots somewhere—as that may possibly assist them to get housed in due course?

I thank the noble Lord for that suggestion, my Lords. We are already in contact with other Government departments and every step is taken to ensure that Servicemen look ahead.

My Lords, would the Government consider letting available Service accommodation to ex-members of the forces immediately after they have terminated their term of service?

My Lords, in so far as there is surplus accommodation—and we are constantly reviewing that—our priority is to sell it but to give first priority to Service families.

My Lords, can my noble friend say how much money is involved in the assisted house purchase schemes?

My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Earl in regard to the existing schemes, and since the proposed schemes were never in fact authorised I do not have figures for them.

My Lords, will not the noble Viscount agree that one of the major problems is that when a man leaves the Services he does not know where he will be able to get a job; so where is he to buy a house?

My Lords, I do not think that I can add to the answers I have given. Differences are involved. So far as the employment market is concerned, certainly even in present conditions a number of Servicemen are very valuable to civilian life, in particular those who have a craft.

Sunday Trading: Legislation

2.44 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will introduce legislation to relax the laws regarding the selling of goods on Sundays.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have at present no plans to introduce such legislation. Officials of my right honourable friend's department have been reviewing the operation of the restrictions which the Shops Act 1950 imposes upon Sunday trading and upon trading hours generally. This work is nearly complete, and the Government hope soon to be able to announce their conclusions on the matter. As noble Lords will be aware, however, a Bill to make changes in these laws, which was introduced by a Private Member in another place, failed to secure a Second Reading when it was debated there on 20th February.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is he aware that no fewer than 95 per cent. of the people polled in a private poll expressed a desire for Sunday and late hours trading? Would he not agree that local authorities might be empowered by means of by-laws to allow such trading in their own areas?

My Lords, I was not aware of the poll to which my noble friend has referred, but I am aware that this is a very controversial matter. The proposal that my noble friend puts to me was one of the proposals contained in the recent Bill before the House of Commons. I think it fair to say that the criticism of that proposal is that, whereas the power to make orders to exempt shops from the restrictions on weekday trading hours and on Sunday trading might have been attractive to local authorities, it could upset the pattern of trade between neighbouring local authority areas.

My Lords, can the noble Lord explain to me why, despite the present legislation, I, and I should think a great many other noble Lords, are able to find open on a Sunday in almost every district of London very useful shops catering for our needs?

My Lords, that is due to a combination of the shopkeepers' and the noble Baroness's ingenuity.

My Lords, in any consideration of this matter, will the Government bear in mind that Sunday is about the only day of the week when shopworkers can be with their families and friends? Will the Government also bear in mind that it is extremely likely that any general opening of shops on Sundays would increase the costs of distribution which would have to be reflected in prices?

My Lords, I would not comment upon the second point that the noble Lord makes. He speaks from great experience, and I would not seek to improve on what he has said. With regard to the first point, I think it important that I draw the attention of your Lordships' House to what my honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Raison, said when replying to the debate on the Bill in another place last week. He said he was sure that the House would agree that, if the Bill went ahead, it would be desirable that its provision for setting a limit on shopworkers' hours should be discussed fully with the shopworkers' union and with others with an interest in this important matter. That is yet another aspect of what is a very complicated subject.

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that for a Government who came to power on a promise to set the people free and to provide more freedom of choice for individuals now to say that they have no plans to relax the legislation, and that any change must be left to a Private Member's Bill, effectively represents something of a U-turn? Cannot the Government pluck up their courage, ignore the Luddites on the Left and the Lord's Day Observance Society on the Right, and press ahead with liberalising these laws, as the majority of the people in this country would wish?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will find that there is plenty of freedom to be able to shop as he wishes. If the noble Lord does not believe me, I suggest that he goes shopping with my noble friend Lady Trumpington.

My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that any measure which expands any opportunity of employment should be welcomed by him and indeed by noble Lords opposite?

My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. It was because I thought that a point of that kind should be made that I took particular care to repeat what my honourable friend the Minister of State had said during the debate on the Bill in another place about the position of employees in shops.

My Lords, is it not rather absurd that due to the state of the present laws, one is allowed to go into a chemist's shop, for example, late at night or on a Sunday and buy one particular article but not another?

My Lords, it depends on what my noble friend wishes to buy in the chemist's.

My Lords, in considering this problem, will the Government bear in mind that in British life there are many things that do not appear to be logical but which work, because they are based upon reasonable compromises?

My Lords, I would agree, and that is of course absolutely the basis for the running of your Lordships' House.

My Lords, is it not true that the present laws, restricting one from buying this while allowing one to buy that in different kinds of premises, are at present quite insane? The trouble is that any other laws which one makes on the subject are likely to be just as insane. Is not what is really needed, possibly, a debate in this House on the whole subject of these laws?

My Lords, I should not like the House to feel that the Home Office is flippant or neglectful of what is a very important but a very complicated subject, and it is because we realise that Government has a position in these difficult matters to do with trading and Sunday trading that we have been conducting a review within the department. That is not yet completed, but we hope that when it is we shall be able to reach some conclusions.

Nhs And Private Medicine Developments

2.51 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have been asked by any area health authority to restrict the growth of private medicine in London.

No, my Lords, we have not. Nor do we have powers to do so. I understand, however, that Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster Area Health Authority (Teaching) are engaged in local consultations on a possible application to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services for a designation order under the new power we introduced in the Health Services Act 1980. If granted, the effect would be to make private hospital developments in a specified area subject to authorisation by the Secretary of State under the procedures set out in the Act. Such authorisation would be granted unless my right honourable friend were satisfied that the development would significantly harm the National Health Service.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness the Minister whether she is able to say that her right honourable friend the Secretary of State is proposing to use the powers he has under the National Health Act to call in any such applications? May I ask her whether the Government are aware that in the health authority for the area in which your Lordships' House is situated, where there are two large hospitals, Westminster and Middlesex, one in seven of all posts in the various hospitals are vacant, amounting to nearly 1,200 jobs?

My Lords, as far as the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question is concerned, the arrangements for authorisation were set out in the Act passed by the former Labour Administration in 1976 and amended by the 1980 Act. This means that the Secretary of State has to be satisfied that there is a prima facie case that further private development would significantly harm the National Health Service, and he has to consult anyone likely to be affected by the designation. On the noble Lord's second point, about staff, we are aware that some training and education is carried out in the private sector, particularly for nurses, but we believe that the private sector could make a greater contribution and we have discussed with them how this might be achieved.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness the Minister for that reply, may I ask her, in view of what she says, whether it is not a fact that the area that we have both referred to has the largest number of private beds in the country—namely, 1,270-odd—and that in this particular area there are all the private facilities in Harley Street, Wellington Hospital and the Princess Grace Hospital? Further, is it not true to say that the competition that exists in this area, as in other areas, between the private sector and the Health Service is such that there is a considerable shortage of staff in our National Health Service hospitals, and that some of the intensive care units and the operating theatres, not to mention the nursing side, are seriously affected by the growth of the private sector?

My Lords, I recognise the figures that the noble Lord has given about this particular area of London; and, as he will know, the London Advisory Group report—and, of course, he was a member of that group—recognised that difficulty is being experienced in the National Health Service in London, both in recruiting and in retaining trained nurses and other staff. Indeed, the question whether private development would aggravate any such difficulties is one of the matters which can be looked at when an area seeks designation, or when an individual development comes up for authorisation.

My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that the delay in filling these vacant hospital posts is largely due to the Government's hesitation in coming to a decision as to the future of these hospitals?

My Lords, I think that is another question. In fact, I believe the noble Lord has a Question on that subject set down for answer later on, and I shall be very happy to answer it then.

Air Defence

2.55 p.m.

rose to call attention to the urgent need to strengthen the air defence of the United Kingdom and its air defence region; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are coming to the season when Defence White Papers are published. After having entered ballots over the past year for this short debate, I am fortunate in having won the opportunity for a debate on this subject at this particular time. The region we are discussing stretches from the Iceland-Faroes Gap in the north, 1,000 miles south, and from the middle of the Channel to the west of Ireland. It is an immense area which covers half a million square miles. For the next two and a half hours or so we shall be discussing the conventional defence of this area; and I think it is a very happy coincidence that my noble friend Lord Chalfont will later be initiating a debate on the deterrent and its possible effect on our conventional defence capability.

The defence of the United Kingdom region is of tremendous and vital importance to NATO, since the United Kingdom will be the reinforcement base for the massive United States forces flying and sailing across the Atlantic, and it is also the base for our reserves, which will be urgently needed in Western Europe. I plan to deal with the subject in three short parts: first, the changed and increasing Soviet threat; secondly, our current and planned capability to meet this threat; and, thirdly, to suggest comparatively inexpensive short-term actions which might be taken so as to help meet the immediate threat.

In the early 1970s the Soviets changed their tactics, and they switched from weapons of defence to weapons of attack. In 1974 the joint intelligence staffs became convinced that there was a likelihood of conventional attack on the United Kingdom, in particular, and on NATO, in general, and this led to changing the policy from what had been accepted, the "trip-wire" philosophy, to the graduated response. This change of emphasis is shown vividly in an analysis of the Russian defence budget. They now spend 40 per cent. of their entire budget on air power, compared with 24 per cent. on their army and 16 per cent. on their navy. The emphasis on air power also shows up in their equipment spending. Last year 27 per cent. was spent on aircraft, 10 per cent. on ships and submarines and 9 per cent. on land armaments.

A new generation in this phase of Soviet tactical aircraft—they are now known as the frontal force—have come into service. They are called the Fitter, the Flogger and the Fencer; and each type has been steadily improved and enhanced in performance since its introduction. The most formidable of these is the Fencer, which now has twice the range and three times the bomb load of earlier models. It is, of course, like the others, supersonic. It is roughly the equivalent of our Tornado.

At the same time the Soviets have been reducing the number of aircraft defending the Soviet homeland by 1,000, down to 2,500. There are 5,000 front-line aircraft in their frontal force. Of these, 3,000 could easily be deployed against Western Europe; and, of that number, 500 of these supersonic aircraft could be deployed against this country. In addition, of course, the Soviets have their long-range air force, their bombers. They have 100 of the Bear and Badger type and 100 of the far more formidable supersonic Backfire bombers. These are equipped with stand-off weapons, which can stand off 250 miles and still find their targets; and they, in their turn, have a nuclear, conventional or chemical head. All these aircraft are not only equipped but trained to carry conventional, nuclear and chemical weapons. Perhaps those who back the cause of unilateral nuclear disarmament could be reminded of how devastating an attack with conventional bombs and with chemical weapons could be if we had no possibility of a nuclear strike back.

How might this force be deployed? In the first few hours or days the primary task of the Soviets must be to attack the airfields, both military and civil, in this country and elsewhere, used by the British and US bomber aircraft. They will probably also attack our East Coast ports from which United Kingdom reinforcements would be leaving to enhance the European forces. They probably would leave such targets as power stations, broadcasting stations, power lines, waterworks, telephone exchanges and other vital establishments to the communists and moles in our country. Nor should we forget that help for these subversives might come from the crews of Warsaw Pact and Soviet ships in British ports. About six of these ships dock in or leave our ports every week. This is a total of 300 visits in a year. The mining threat also would be a formidable weapon to menace our reinforcements, both those coming in and those going out. Thus, the Soviets could concentrate a hundred long-range bombers and several hundred supersonic fences against our country.

The interest of the Soviets in the United Kingdom is shown by the fact that every week of the year our fighters intercept four or five long-range Soviet bombers coming mainly from the Murmansk area and round the north which probe our air defences. The majority of these are older aircraft but some Badgers have been intercepted. Some of these are in transit to their surrogate states, like Cuba and those in Africa. Soviet in-flight refuelling is practised. Therefore, some 225 Soviet aircraft are intercepted in the United Kingdom and NATO airspace every year. This illustrates the tremendous interest which that country is taking in our capability and our importance.

What have we to meet this threat? There are 70 front-line aircraft, mainly Phantoms and Lightnings, of which about 50 in normal circumstances would be serviceable and fully operational. By 1984 a further 36 subsonic Jaguars will be equipped with Sidewinders and could play a part, although they were designed for attack and not for interception. By 1984, in fine weather and in daylight, some 90 subsonic Hawks could provide some further help. That is the sum total. Our 70 front-line aircraft will be increasingly replaced by the air defence version of the Tornado. Unfortunately, while the Soviet current production rate of Fencers is about 100 a year, two every week, and the Backfires are being produced at 30 a year, our 165 Tornados which we have on order to counter them will not start coming into operational service until the middle 1980s, and thereafter about 50 will be delivered each year until 1989—unless financial restraint causes us further to delay even this programme. As each aircraft with its spares costs some £15 million, your Lordships will see how financial pressure could further delay them coming into service. By 1985, with the maximum help of our NATO allies, Britain, provided we have the political will and the guts not to make further delays or further cuts, should be ready to meet today's threat. But what will be the threat in five years' time?

It is a sad fact that the Soviets are now spending 12 per cent. to 14 per cent. of their GNP mainly on attack arms, and they are increasing their spend in real terms at 4 per cent. every year, so that the gap between their forces and our own forces, NATO's forces, is therefore every year getting wider and wider. All this has happened in the last 10 years in a period of so-called détente and while disarmament talks are bogged down.

In 1933, when I was studying physics at Oxford, the political and economic scenario had alarming similarities. We were suffering from a world recession; your Lordships will all remember that unemployment was very high. The Peace Pledge Union was collecting signatures against any war and eventually collected 11,666,000. The CND is doing the same today but it has some way to go. Hitler was re-arming rapidly; yet economies were called for. That great atomic realist and physicist, Lord Rutherford, came over from Cambridge, where his activities were renowned, to address us in Oxford. He said:


it was the beginning of the academic year—

"as money is short, we shall have to use our brains".

He might have added, and our ingenuity. I am making some constructive suggestions and I hope that many others will emerge during this useful debate. I will try to remember that advice and our financial restraints.

To begin with, short-term measures, because they have to be short-term. Having so few aircraft, we must use them intensively and protect them to the utmost. Our limited aircraft numbers surely deserve hardened shelters. The Soviets started hardening their shelters throughout the Warsaw Pact many years before NATO did. In the United Kingdom reluctance to spend on defence has postponed this action for too long. I cannot help feeling that if the Government are to prop up British Steel (as was announced yesterday) with another £1,500 million, surely a small portion of this money might be spent on substantial steel orders for such shelters. The construction firms, the steel suppliers and the cement industry are clamouring for work. Why not give them some in this area and get on with this job? With so few aircraft, our command, control and communications become ever more important. Our control centres are still not hardened; they are above ground. I believe that there are some delays because the exact size of the equipment which is to go into these control bunkers is still not decided and no work has yet started. I would remind the Government that 10 per cent. of extra space may be wasted; but costs escalate by 10 per cent. in 10 months. It is better therefore to take action now and not to go on postponing until we have exactly the right size and exactly the right design of building. The decision to place the contract for the automation of the air defence network was delayed for one and a half years while competitive NATO tenders were sought. Six months ago the consortium of Marconi, Plessey and Hughes was selected. Contracts and even instructions to proceed, I understand, have still not been issued. We must press on. It may be much later than any of us think.

Soviet air launched stand-off weapons, clever bombs, airfield denial weapons and ground-to-ground missiles, all conventional, could destroy all the soft targets. All our airfields and radar sites are pinpointed and targeted, so we must get on with their protection if we are to have realistic defence. It was sad to hear that the old but reliable Airborne Early Warning Shackleton force is to be reduced to six aircraft as a result of the last £200 million defence economies. Can we be assured by the Minister when he comes to reply that these will at least remain until the new Nimrods are fully operational?—airborne early warning is enormously important to the strength of our radar defences.

The vulnerable years are this year, 1982, 1983 and 1984. We shall be relying in that period on the same 70 aircraft. The basic designs of them are over 25 years' old, but improvements have been made. In recent years some squadrons of the USA Air National Guard have come to exercise in western Europe and, last year, in Norway. This volunteer force has 800 combat aircraft. They have 500 aircraft with an air defence capability. I see from a recent circular that eight Air Guard squadrons of this volunteer force are flying from New York to West Germany next Saturday for two weeks' exercises. The lists show that in all this volunteer force totals over 40 squadrons of interceptors and fighters. It is a bit late now to get this message to the Prime Minister because I think she is taking off at about this moment, but could we not open talks with the Pentagon now and invite two or three extra squadrons to come to Britain on a regular basis to boost our numbers? These would be additional to the Rapier surface-to-air missiles which the USA has ordered from the United Kingdom to help defend some of their bases. It is interesting that these United States airmen who fly in their spare time are trained to full operational standards, They were flying F102s and Phantoms, and they are now re-equipping with F16s. Surely this rejects the old argument that auxiliary Air Force pilots can no longer be of use to our country.

I turn now to manpower shortages and reserves. The RAF has an establishment of 16 air crew in squadrons of 12 aircraft. With so small a number of Phantoms and Lightnings, surely they will have to be flown, in a crisis, for as many hours in 24 as they can be kept serviceable? Currently, owing to fuel economies, they are not allowed to fly more than 17 hours a month. This is far too little. Ought we not to re-examine the use of reserve air crews? Even air crews well over 40 years' old can be used for the less demanding flying tasks, thus releasing front-line pilots to fly front-line aircraft to their utmost intensity. We were told in last year's White Paper that the Royal Air Force are experimenting with three RAF regiment auxiliary squadrons for the ground defence of three airfields. There is immense goodwill among people living and working within 20 miles of these RAF sites. Nowadays most of them have cars. Sabotage must surely be guarded against. The guarding is best done by locals with local knowledge. Surely we ought to form now extra RAF regiment squadrons. They are both effective and cheap. I joined the RAF's Civilian Wireless Reserve at the time of Munich. Should this not be resurrected, because on the 24-hour basis, seven days a week, a lot of extra manpower is needed for the operation and maintenance of all the radio and electronic equipment throughout the service?

In 1976–77 the Sixth Report of the Expenditure Committee of the House of Commons (which I have in my hand) dealt with reserves and reinforcements to all three Services. On page XV it says:

"We were surprised to learn that apart from the 800 men assigned to specific emergency duties, … none of the remaining 33,000 or so RAF reservists have any specified war time role. We were assured by the Ministry that the RAF could fulfil all its reinforcement commitments … without calling on more than 800 reservists."

Since then, the strength of the RAF has gone down and the threat has gone substantially up. Surely this position ought to be re-examined?

Now to summarise, because I do not want to speak for too long. There are many speakers and there is an interesting debate coming. The Soviet threat is great in numbers, its quality and sophistication are increasing fast, much faster than the allied response. Many informed commentators agree that in the next few years Britain and our NATO allies are dangerously vulnerable. The year 1984 is the time of the next presidential election and that is always a dangerous time for the free world. In the next few years our air defence is thinly spread and very vulnerable. Our front-line fighters, particularly those with all-weather and night capability, are all too few.

It may be that with our NATO allies we shall have to re-examine Britain's task and consider whether we can retain traditional and balanced forces for all three Services and all existing roles. Our capacity seems already stretched and we cannot afford to re-equip our forces fast enough. Any realignment as a result of such examination must take five or 10 years. In the meantime, let us scrape and borrow so that we can defend this base. From here 300 US bombers and over 100 United Kingdom aircraft—V-bombers, Buccaneers and Jaguars—will fly to help stop the 18,300 Soviet tanks if they start to roll from behind the iron curtain. Finally, I leave you with this slogan:

"When manpower is short, reserves are important: when money is short, reserves are essential.

My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.17 p.m.

My Lords, the whole House will be extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, for introducing this debate, and will furthermore be extremely grateful for the knowledge and work that he has put into his subject, and the dedication with which he has pursued it. I cannot match his knowledge but I can certainly match his fears for our country in this situation. The Minister must be completely frank—or as frank as possible, and certainly as frank as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has been—in giving the House the figures of the threat and of our defence.

It is quite extraordinary when one hears that we have 70 front-line aircraft; and when it is published in the popular newspapers it puts the fear of death into a great many people. It is all very well for people of our generation to look back and think of the days when, even though short, we had many squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes defending this country. I think that the Minister should tell us what the equivalent is because obviously the sophistication of radar, the weapons and indeed the enemy have all increased in that time. But what is a Phantom worth and what is a Tornado worth in terms of the reaction to the enemy? How many can they shoot down? I know that this is too simplistic but the country needs educating in the difference between the war now and the war they either know about or read about in terms of sophistication of weapons and their quantitative value.

For example, the figures I have been given from the Commons Defence Committee of the number of Backfire, Badger and Blinder bombers are slightly different to the figures that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has given. I think that the Minister ought to tell us what is the size of the threat and type of the threat and how great the concentration might be, and give us some real information as to the effectiveness of the number of lighters that we have against this potential threat.

I think also that he might reassure us of the capacity of the Bloodhound missiles, of how effective they are today and how quickly they will be replaced by the Rapier. It is frightening to hear of the number of orders going abroad and the slowness of the speed-up in the re-equipment of our own ground forces. Obviously, they will have a tremendous effect in the short distance defence of our aircraft. All this is information for which we should have the authority of the Government. I think, also, the Minister might say something to us about the morale of the forces. The morale, and the recruitment, improved—or perhaps one should say that the depletion of good men was stopped, by the recent review. But today the talk of cuts has again engendered some fears in the minds of key personnel that they are still at the mercy of a Government who will cut defence as much as a Labour Government would. In view of the previous attitude of the Conservatives, I think that it is a little hard that they now say that defence must take its share of cuts. Either defence is what we need or it is not, and I have heard Conservatives say this before they were in power. But we must have a minimum amount of defence, and, if there is anything surplus, then we must of course do without it. But I cannot see that defence should ever be in a position where it has to bear its cuts along with other Government services. Either we need it or we do not.

In this regard I think it is very important that the next debate is shown to play its part in this one. Whether we need to spend £5 billion on the Trident is very relevant to what is going on to this day. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and many others are voicing their tremendous concern at the lack of build-up of our conventional forces and of our first line of attack or our likely hope of survival. It surely must be relevant that we intend to spend £5 billion on Trident. I hope the Minister will give us straight answers, a lot of information and some reassurance over the conventional weapons; and we shall await the next debate with some interest.

3.22 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, for introducing this debate. It is timely. I think he set the scene well and brought home the fact that we do not have much in the way of aircraft and, if I may, I should like to touch on that further in a minute or so. He also, if we were listening closely, brought home to us that some of these enemy forces are going to get through and our nation and our land are not prepared to receive them. Our measures for defence against nuclear, against conventional and against chemical attack are virtually nil. Little is being done about it, even though we are conscious of the fact that the present Government put forward some money for civil defence preparation. But it was unwound, and it has to be wound up again.

I should like, if I may, to stick to some aspects of air defence during the next few moments. The first point I should like to make is that, when we talk about defence and the air defence capability of the Royal Air Force, what we must be very careful of is that we do not take away their offensive capability, because the sort of aircraft the Royal Air Force will be dealing with will have to be met way off the shores of this country. We are talking, as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said, of some 200 to 250 miles in the ranges of today. They will increase, and there is good information that the Backfire stand-off capability of a Russian aircraft could easily go up to 400 miles. Therefore we have to hit the enemy off the shores of this country.

Of course, anything we do in air defence has to be tied in with the NATO plans and the NATO arrangements, but there is no doubt that the key ingredient of any air defence system, as it directly affects Great Britain, has, in the timescale mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing—the timescale we are looking at, which is the next 10 years—largely to depend on the fighter.

I should like to look more closely at our present state with regard to the fighter. We have very few and, if you apply the simple rules of maintenance and of what is able to take off and fly—what is, in simple terms, being maintained or repaired on the ground—and even if you add the business of in-flight refuelling so that the aircraft and their aircrew can stay out on station longer, adding all this up, I do not think you will find we have enough for even a very limited—and I stress very limited"—battle. I would urge the Minister to look at the whole question of the state of fighter aircraft, however sophisticated and however good they are today.

It goes deeper than that. It is not just a case of bringing forward the Tornado into service. Perhaps the noble Minister would care to say something about whether we should have the Tornado before it is sold to Saudi Arabia. I think most noble Lords would agree that, although export is important, defence of the homeland takes first place. It is a question of whether the aerospace industry can cope with extra demand if such were to be placed upon it. I think noble Lords will find that the aerospace industry really does not have the present-day capacity to do more than it is doing at the moment. I believe this is an area where we have not made the right decisions, even if the finances were available to increase the numbers.

If I can return to the home base, which is Great Britain, we cannot deny that it is a prime target in any European conflict. It is the base from which everything emanates that we do in Europe or, for that matter, in the rest of the world. It is also going to become, in time of war and during the build-up for war, the major staging post for the United States. There are those who say: "As we are well to the left of the front line and behind it, we shall be dealt with last". I do not think you can apply that rule. I think we are known, as a nation, for fighting longer and harder than many and I feel that that makes it reasonable to believe that people would probably start to deal with us first, or certainly at the same time, if there were this onslaught that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, mentioned of 18,000 tanks coming at us across the NATO borders.

For that reason, I should like to pose a question which the noble Minister may perhaps feel is a slightly unfair one. As I understand it, a considerable effort, including financial effort, is being put towards the air defence of our maritime strategy; and I wonder whether we are not slightly overplaying that. The point is that much depends on how long you think this war might last. Are we talking 90 days, 60 days, 30 days or what? Though we need a maritime strategy—and we need one pretty badly—for the actual battle of Britain, I wonder whether national survival does not lie in the sky and not necessarily, for the short term, on the sea. It depends on your concept and it depends on whether the Government have made provision for proper stockpiling and the logistics of all the things that would be needed for a war on any particular time-frame you care to believe it might be.

I would turn now, if I may, to the agony of our development cycle and everything that goes with it: the design, research, manufacture and eventually the production, and the training of the aircrews in some new aircraft. I wonder whether we always have to go for the most exotic, which means the most expensive—and, with the most expensive, you have the very few. Do we not need, and could we not make more use, in this interim period that the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, mentioned, of what I call" cheap and nasties"—cheap for us and nasty for the enemy? There must be some improvisation that can fill this need for a stop-gap. We need not debate it at length today, but I am sure many noble Lords can think of a number of measures that would be useful for all three Services.

I say this also because the agony of our development is that it is always behind the threat. Your Lordships heard today that we are behind the threat and we may not be able to measure up to it. Furthermore, like the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, it is certainly my belief that the next three to five years could be the most crucial in our history. They certainly will be the most dangerous. From somewhere we have to get stop-gap measures and we must improvise and make use of every available device and—for want of a better word—concoction that we can get going in this country.

It has to be said that we do not have an air defence system today that contends with the present threat and we must do something about it. It could be—and I have no wish to encroach on my noble friend Lord Chalfont, who will lead us in our next debate—that we should look even more closely to the whole area of having, being responsible for and controlling our own independent nuclear defence force. It seems to me that, in times of national survival, you can have friends and you can have allies—and we have plenty of experience of that. But, in a matter so great as our national survival, the responsibility rests with us. We have to take our own decisions and our own measures, and I believe that we should have some form of independent nuclear defence for our own country. I can conceive of occasions when our friends would let us down and when we should have to use it ourselves.

Therefore, to sum up, I believe we are in no position to take on the threat that is against us with regard to the air defence of Great Britain. I believe that we have to have stop-gap measures, because we cannot have the agony and the wait of the 10-year cycle, as it could be argued that we do not have 10 years in which to get ourselves ready. Lastly, I believe that national survival is not a question of leaning on friends and using your allies. It is our responsibility and we must have the proper weapons—nuclear, conventional and, if necessary, chemical—to deal with it.

3.34 p.m.

My Lords, it is a coincidence that the ballot box has provided us with two short debates today, both of which enable us to consider two separate and very important aspects of our defence. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing for the opportunity which his Motion gives us to discuss the strengthening of the air defence of the United Kingdom and its air defence region. It is, itself, a most important subject and one which in recent years has not received the consideration which it deserves. I am particularly glad that the words of his Motion emphasise the urgency for improvement.

If your Lordships look at the list of speakers for this debate, I suspect you will find that they all speak with the same urgency and the same anxiety on this subject. Air defence has now become one of the most elaborate and complex aspects of our defence arrangements. Gone are the days when fighter aircraft took off from Biggin Hill and could carry out their air defence task without ever crossing Kentish airspace. In the last 15 years, the Soviet long-range bomber threat has been greatly enhanced with the development of high performance aircraft which are capable of long-range, supersonic speeds and low altitude penetration and, as has already been said, many of them will be equipped with stand-off weapons, which are capable of being launched at 250, 300 or, maybe, more miles from the target. Thus these islands can be attacked from any direction. To counter this, the threatening aircraft must be located at great distances away and engaged as far as possible from the target area. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, has already pointed that out.

In my supplementary question to the Starred Question of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, on 18th February, about the effects of defence cuts on our operational front-line training, I asked for an assurance that air defence exercises would not be limited. My noble friend the Minister, who will be replying to this debate, undertook to write to me on this point. However, I hope he will not mind if I again raise the question of that most important exercise which was held recently—Exercise Elder Forest. It was the most comprehensive and important air defence exercise to be held in the last 30 years and many valuable lessons were learned from it.

Because of the complexity and the great areas of airspace which are necessarily involved in modern air defence, it is no longer practical to consider the air defence of the United Kingdom in isolation. It is an essential part of the whole NATO air defence set-up and it must form part of that set-up. As I implied in my supplementary question, to which I have already referred, the most important conclusion from Exercise Elder Forest was the need for frequent air defence exercises, not merely to test our own air defences, but in conjunction with our NATO allies to test the integrated air defences of the NATO air defence region. I very much hope that current trimming of defence expenditure will not curtail this most important aspect of training. As my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said, with our very small air defence resources, it is essential that we train hard with them in order to produce the maximum effectiveness with the small amount that we have available.

The other firm conclusion from Exercise Elder Forest was the need for greater airborne early warning capability. If supersonic, low altitude hostile aircraft are to be detected over long distances, it can be done only by aircraft which can remain airborne for long periods and which carry all the necessary radar and equipment for locating the approach of those hostile aircraft. Currently, this task is performed by the ageing, but effective and long-serving, Shackleton aircraft. As part of the defence cuts which were recently announced, the Minister of Defence said that he proposed to bring forward the date of phasing-out the Shackleton aircraft, and my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing indicated that they were to be reduced to a total of six. The Shackletons are due to be replaced in the mid-'eighties in the airborne early warning role by the new, and obviously more modern and effective, Nimrod aircraft. I very much hope that the phasing out of the Shackletons in order to satisfy or help to satisfy the necessary defence cuts and the introduction of the new Nimrod will not create a gap or a temporary weakness in our essential airborne early warning capability at the very time when the Exercise Elder Forest has shown the need to enhance it.

A third anxiety one must have concerns the additional squadron of Lightning aircraft. Previous air defence plans had indicated the need for an additional squadron of Lightning aircraft in the role of air defence fighters. Again the recent defence cuts scrapped that additional squadron but said that in an emergency the pilots would be found from the training establishment. Presumably they would not be pilots undergoing training at that moment but would be the instructors who would be withdrawn from the training establishments to man these aircraft, thus leaving the training establishment so short of instructors that they would be unable to train further pilots.

Finally, as my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing emphasised in closing his speech, the importance of a sound air defence system for the United Kingdom cannot be over-emphasised, not only for the defence of this country—that is, home defence—but also because of the importance that NATO attaches to the security of the United Kingdom base as a vital staging post for reinforcement.

3.42 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to draw further attention for a few minutes to this question of the cancelled Lightning squadron. It was in July 1979 that the Under-Secretary of State announced that an additional Lightning squadron was to be formed. It was one of three moves to help fill a gap in Britain's air defence, along with the arming of the Hawk trainer with Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and an improved weapon control system for the Phantom interceptor.

As has already been pointed out, the gap in air defence was foreseen to be apparent until the late 1980s when the air defence variant of the Tornado comes on to the scene—and due to concurrent increased strength, and to some extent activity, of the Warsaw Pact air defence capability. The Lightnings were to be brought out of reserve to provide this squadron and their pilots were to be drawn from a central pool of retrained pilots in ground appointments. It is significant that however many planes may be rolled out of reserve, the shortage of pilots remains a key factor in whether the planes can be used. And it takes a long time, at a huge cost, adequately to train more of them. It would be interesting to know whether the shortage of pilots was the main reason for disbanding this new squadron and indeed whether the new squadron ever got off the ground.

Furthermore, are the Lightnings back in reserve now, or were they never taken out of reserve? The situation suggests that retrained pilots should be enabled to keep adequate flying hours so that in an emergency they are able quickly to man the reserve aircraft and to provide an aerial home guard. Do they get enough flying for this?

Furthermore, one can perhaps assume that since the announcement in 1979 of the Lightning squadron there will have been an increased intake into the flying schools of potential pilots to man them. Where will these pilots go now, or can they be absorbed into existing squadrons without overmanning them?

Arming of the Hawk seems particularly good sense as there are large numbers of these small if subsonic trainers, and their comparatively slow speed and performance can be made up for in local home defence by the quality of their missiles. With the cancellation of the Lightning squadron it would be a fair question to ask how the arming of these Hawks is coming along, and the supply of missiles to them, or whether this plan has gone the way of the Lightning squadron.

Also, considering the ability of the Lightning, Phantom and Tornado to have in-flight refuelling, will the Hawk, taking into account the problems of interception and the likelihood of runway denial, also be given in-flight refuelling ability? Will they also have a share of hardened shelters that are reportedly to be built for the main air defence aircraft?

It is a matter of great concern that this gap in our air defences has now to be left unfilled by the Lightning squadron which was pronounced necessary two years ago. I hope the Minister will be able to tell the House that in the event of an emergency there are adequate plans and provisions to pull the planes out of reserve and provide adequate pilots to man them.

3.46 p.m.

My Lords, I must apologise to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, in particular, that my intervention is not specifically addressed only to the air defence of this country. That question has been already well developed by him and by succeeding noble Lords. My intervention derives from the fact that towards the end of the last war I was for a time the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Chiefs of Staff, succeeding another Member of your Lordships' House, the Duke of Portland. In that job at that time the rule was: "I before O"—intelligence before decisions on operations. It is on that single subject that I am going to speak and make a single plea this afternoon.

It follows on what Lord Halsbury said in lapidary words—he is here this afternoon and will recall them—in a debate on aerospace and defence some 10 years ago. He then said that we had every right to be suspicious of every Government on major weapons projects for the reason that they take far longer to develop and bring into action than the passing phase of one Government followed by another. I trust that the Minister who is to reply will accept that a certain suspicion is fair, and it has been echoed in friendly terms this afternoon. We only hope for reassurance that it is not only the short term but also the longer term that is borne in mind. It is the short term this afternoon which has been chosen for most of the comments, on an assumption which may or may not be right.

It may well be—Mr. Henry Kissinger believes that it will and has said so—that the period of greatest danger is likely to be in the first five years of this decade. But when we discuss defence and weapons systems to support it, we can only make such assumptions about the future as are reasonable, things being as they are, or extrapolated therefrom. Some commentators on defence speak and write as if this were enough and the Minister, after hearing what has already been said, may feel that enough is already too much. But in my submission it is not so.

When talking of major weapons systems we are trying to look forward to a state of affairs in the world at large up to the end of the century. We are thus talking about a 20 year spell and in my judgment it would be rash in the extreme to assume that we can know the shape of things to come at that range. As was well said in the Goncourt Journals:
"The imagination of man cannot hope to match the improbabilities and contrasts of life".
If proof of these improbabilities and contrasts were needed—and surely it is not—we only have to look backwards to a similar period in the past. Who, for instance, would have ever dreamed in the time of Battista's rule in Cuba that within a very few years the first major confrontation between the United States and the USSR should happen over Cuba? Equally, at that time it was accepted doctrine in the United States, both by President Eisenhower and by General Marshall whose influence was still great, that the United States should never again, after Korea, involve herself in land war on the continent of Asia. Wait. Within two or three years' time they had massive forces deployed, and with results on which we now look back to see what happened with sorrow.

This is not of itself an argument for this defence posture or that, or for this weapons system or another. It is merely an illustration of the fallibility of human forecasting. No, more; but none the worse for that. It is an acknowledgment of the limitations of intelligence appreciations however well presented, and the acceptance of the unknowable factor X in human affairs. That is the argument for keeping open as many options as are within reach. What is within reach? Perhaps here we could do worse than recall in Adam Smith's dictum "Defence is greater than opulence" and the ruthless application of that doctrine by the Russians.

No doubt the Government weigh these matters, as they do other connected topics, when considering new weapons systems or what priority to give to immediate defence requirements over the next five years and what must be set aside for a longer period; the dangers which may then be greater or they may be less. One cannot sit down and decide off hand. Other things arise, such as a spin-off in certain systems, which may be of advantage in other ways. Other considerations clearly include how optimistic we are about the economic development of this country; whether we take an exceedingly pessimistic view and say—as I have heard it said—that the economic and industrial future of this country after a few years will be somewhat to be compared with South Korea's. That is a matter of judgment and I trust that the Government take a very much more robust view of our possibilities of industrial support for our defence system.

So my plea to the Government when they answer these debates is this. First, of course, they will wish to concentrate on the specific questions about air defence which have been properly put to them, but, bearing in mind what the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said some 10 years ago, I think it would be a comfort to many of us to know that they have very clearly in mind the longer-term requirements, weapons systems and defence postures, and acknowledge the fact that, although we may not be a world power in the same sense as we were when we could rely upon the Indian Army at the end of the war to supply some 2,500,000 troops to support our efforts, nevertheless we have world interests and these may have to be protected. Sitting here this afternoon, we do not know where and when that may be, but we shall have to have some means of responding to protect those vital interests, be it in Europe in the first place, and in our position, in my submission, we cannot exclude the rest of the world from our considerations.

3.54 p.m.

My Lords, we are indeed very fortunate today in having two short debates on defence initiated by my noble friends Lord Orr-Ewing and Lord Chalfont. As has been said, the subjects may appear different, but they are of course very closely related. I should like to start with a very short quotation:

"No one should be in any doubt about the crucial importance of air power in any future conflict. Soviet military planners have obviously come to this conclusion, as we can judge by the vast increase in their expenditure on new aircraft, well in excess of the more widely publicised 'blue water navy'".
It goes on to refer to the Soviet increase of 45 per cent. That was said by Mr. Geoffrey Pattie the other day in a speech to the Air League.

The airspace over the United Kingdom and its surroundings is vital, not only for the defence and security of our people but also for the successful defence of continental Europe. NATO's prospects of success against an attack by the Warsaw Pact would be in great jeopardy without a secure United Kingdom base. It is a plain fact that in the event of war the United Kingdom is where the vast majority of reinforcements must come, as the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, said. The area has been discussed already by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, from the North to the South.

The Air Defence Ground Environment improvement is very welcome although it is long overdue, but without sufficient interceptor aircraft and surface-to-air missiles which are capable of destroying Soviet Backfires, MiG 27s and SU-19 strike aircraft, which would attack us in force, our tracking ability is negated. All our airfields, naval bases (including the Holy Loch and Polaris base), ports and other military targets from the Orkneys to the Channel will be prey to very low level air attack with either nuclear or conventional weapons.

My noble friend Lord Cathcart mentioned exercise Elder Forest and I think that and other exercises show that perhaps our efficiency and effectiveness in this area is not as satisfactory as we would have hoped. It has already been said that 12 months ago an additional Lightning squadron was to be created from reserve aircraft and the Hawk Trainer was to be equipped with air-to-air missiles to help our rather meagre front line interceptor squadrons. But, as my noble friends have said, the Lightning squadron has been cancelled and the Hawk's capabilities, although it is a very fine aircraft, are perhaps, even with sophisticated missiles, somewhat limited against modern Soviet aircraft.

My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said that we would have 77 front line aircraft. I think he was being pessimistic, because I calculate that we shall have 78. We have a total of 108 and probably 25 per cent. of them will be out of action for various reasons. There is no doubt at all that the Lightnings and Phantoms (which these would be) would be more than fully extended just to cope with the Backfire.

When we look at the surface-to-air missile scenario, that is also rather depressing because there must be grave doubts that the old Bloodhounds would be really effective in a mass low level attack by modern Soviet strike and bomber aircraft. There are only two Rapier squadrons deployed in the United Kingdom at the moment and the US airfields are more or less unprotected; although when they get Rapier that will improve the situation, that will not be for a short while. Therefore, until the 165 Tornados armed with Sky Flash are operational in 1984, there is a very large hole in our air defence, particularly in the gap between Iceland and the North and West coasts of Scotland. I would mention here that the cancellation of Sky Flash 2 does not improve the matter or make it any easier.

In addition to the targets I have mentioned, there are many vulnerable targets for Soviet aircraft operating from the Kola Peninsula, such as ships in the North Sea and ships in the North Atlantic. If we think that by 1984 we shall be all right because we shall have the Tornado, do not let us forget that in all probability the Soviets will have improved their fire power in the next three years. An operational airfield at Stornoway would improve our interceptor capability because it would give a considerably longer loiter time but it too must be defended.

My Lords, we simply do not have the resources to do this. So I think we should look at the possibility of talking to our American friends, as was suggested by my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing. Perhaps they could come and deploy some F-15s and F-14s on some of their airfields and our airfields. Incidentally, both these aircraft can cope with the Backfire. This perhaps would help the suggestion made by the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, of "cheap and nasty". They might not be cheap, but they would be nasty and would be a considerable help to us. If they do not already realise it, I think we must impress on our NATO allies, and particularly on the Americans, the absolutely vital need to make the United Kingdom secure. Virtually all our radar detection and tracking systems are down the East Coast, but there is a very real threat from the west, because the Backfire does not need to refuel to attack from that direction. Here again our capability is severely limited.

I do have in the back of my mind a partial answer to this, and I have a slight vested interest in it, but it would not happen for three years. That is that there is an airship being built called the Skyship 5000 which could be available, and this airship would be perfectly capable of deploying all the airborne early warning equipment currently entering into service in the Nimrod. By using the aircraft and the airship our airborne early warning system would be greatly enhanced. This is particularly so because the airship would be able to remain on station for days rather than hours. Whether or not it would survive is another matter but at least it might give us the necessary warning time.

Command and control communications and enemy aircraft identification provide even more problems. In fact the other day a senior officer voiced the opinion that we might destroy more of our own aircraft than the enemy's, due to our identification and control system being unsatisfactory. This still has not been worked out through the rest of NATO. The Chief of the Air Staff has reluctantly accepted the recent cuts in defence expenditure, but with the warning that if we neglect our air defences it will be at our own peril. Let none of us forget that one of the main platforms of the Conservative manifesto for the 1979 election was to defend this country.

My Lords, I think we have to take a long, hard look at our priorities. We are about to have a debate on Trident, and without in any way wishing to pre-empt that debate, I wish to ask your Lordships a question which was similarly asked by one of my noble friends earlier. Does it make sense militarily or economically to spend £5,000 million, or probably nearer £7,000 million, on four submarines which, in the light of the Soviet's new "countervailing" strategy, could only be used as a last resort against Soviet cities, while the United Kingdom air base remans so inadequately defended? Since the current procurement programmes began 10 years ago over £4,000 million has been cut from defence expenditure.

My final, but I think extremely important, point is the lowering of morale in the Royal Air Force air and ground crews which lack of equipment and restrictions in training facilities must eventually produce. It would be a tragedy if conditions reverted to those of 1978, when all our armed services were at their lowest ebb at any time since World War II. Without adequate air defence neither of the other two arms of the Services can fulfil their roles effectively. I finish with a quotation, as I started, from my godfather the late Sir Winston Churchill:
"The only real security upon which sound military principles will rely is that you should be master of your own air".

4.4 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to echo the views expressed by other noble Lords who have stressed the importance and relevance of the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing. First of all, I want to concentrate on the adequacy, now and in the future, of our air defence radar network. This network, in conjunction with that of our allies in Europe and in Scandinavia, is the basis for identification of targets and the direction of fighters to counter them. There are, of course, obvious physical problems caused by the curvature of the earth's surface, which limits the effective range of radar and its ability to detect targets below a certain height. That is why it is necessary to use airborne early warning radar, presently in the ageing Shackleton aircraft using fairly old and unsophisticated equipment, but which in the mid-eighties is to be replaced by the airborne early warning Nimrod. This will enable us to detect aircraft at these greater ranges, particularly when they are flying low, below the surface-based radar horizon.

The sophisticated techniques now available to the Soviet Union and to ourselves in respect of electronic counter-measures and electronic counter-countermeasures point very clearly to the need to bring into service radar equipment which can meet this threat and deal with the jamming techniques which we can expect to be used against us, including the employment by aggressors of radar spoofs and decoys. Nimrod, I understand, will have this ability, but I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give us some indication about parallel and similar improvements in ground-based radar, which must come into service concurrently with Nimrod, if not before.

I hope, too, that, if this is to be the case, he will also be able to confirm that additionally the promised much more sophisticated infrastructure will be brought quickly into operation, using automated data link and other secure facilities, in order that the various electronic inputs can be properly collated, particular threats assessed, and the physical reaction to the threats controlled and directed. But, if this is so, we do seem to be left with profound weakness, as has been stressed, when it comes to meeting the threat.

I entirely endorse the views expressed by other noble Lords who have drawn attention not only to the lack of sufficient numbers of fighter aircraft but also to the inadequate stock of air defence weapons, airborne refuellers, pilots, navigators and airfields, particularly satellite airfields for aircraft to operate from or to, in the case of their main base being rendered unusable. It does concern me that at present there seems to be no means of reinforcing forward operating bases with all that they need in terms of ammunition, equipment and spares to re-arm and service deployed fighters as speedily as would be necessary, by using military transport aircraft. I should be grateful for my noble friend's comments as to whether that is in fact the case, and, if so, what is being done to remedy it.

The introduction of Tornado F2, the air defence variant, in the mid-eighties will be a significant improvement in the quality of our air defence effort. Its improved range, loitering ability and fire power, and its ability to use shorter runways—hence more airfields—will be a considerable improvement on existing Phantoms and Lightnings. One aspect which does interest me is the ability of aircraft of this type not just to acquire but to identify visually their targets at the ranges and speeds and in the conditions of poor light that will be required of their crews. Equipment does exist to enhance visual acquisition in this way, using, for example, low-light television, as is fitted to the American F-15 in the United States. I understand that the cost of equipping all the air defence variant Tornados would amount to less than half the cost of one aircraft. I hope that my noble friend will be able to assure us that consideration has been given to this problem, and that we shall not end up in the sort of situation which so often occurs with military equipment, which I have seen myself, when we spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar. What I do not want to see happen is for the aircraft to enter service, the need for some method of improving visual acquisition and identification to be re-identified, and an extremely expensive and extensive modification programme set in motion at a time when costs will have risen enormously and when the aircraft cannot be spared to be grounded for the modification, when the whole concept could have been sorted out in the development phase, as I hope has been the case so far as Tornado is concerned.

I endorse all that has been said in drawing attention to a rather gloomy picture. I am well aware of the difficulties, and the balances that must be struck in dividing the defence budget to give weight to perceived priorities. I believe that the position of the United Kingdom, not only as a base in its own right, but as a unique and vital link in plans for the reinforcement of Europe by the United States, is woefully weak, given our present lack of ability to safeguard our air defence region. The equipment to detect, assess and direct, exists and hopefully will be improved. However, it is no earthly good having this ability if we do not have the physical means of dealing with the aggressors over a suitably prolonged period. That is why I support entirely my noble friend's plea and that of others for an urgent strengthening of our air defences.

My Lords, I should like to be permitted to ask one short question of the noble Viscount before he comes to answer the debate. The Russians now have up to 200 SS20s already in position. We have no prospect of cruise missiles for at least three or four years. Will the Government bear in mind what that means as regards the defence of this country—civil defence, home defence and air defence—and also, in diplomatic terms, what it means as regards the question of any negotiations that we have with the Russians for a reduction of armaments?

4.11 p.m.

My Lords, the whole House is aware of the deep interest taken in defence matters by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, and I know, of course—perhaps more than some Members of your Lordships' House—of his interest because we share a place on the all-party Defence Committee. We are particularly grateful to the noble Lord for introducing this very important topic of air defence.

I should like to begin by reminding your Lordships' House that the Government's Defence White Paper of 1957 announced a new defence strategy known as the "Sandys Plan", after the then Conservative Minister of Defence. Also known as the "tripwire approach", that strategy opted for major cuts ill conventional weaponry which were to be offset by an increased reliance on nuclear weapons. War was to be deterred, rather than fought. If war came it was to be fought primarily with nuclear and not conventional weapons. None the less, despite the existence of nuclear armouries, there have been wars and the combatants have not been deterred by the existence of nuclear weapons.

This "tripwire" strategy has dismantled Britain's air defence to a degree well beyond the reductions made to any other forces. As a result, our strength in combat aircraft in 1976 was just 13 per cent. of what it had been in 1957—that is, there had been a 85 per cent. reduction. By "combat aircraft", I am referring to aircraft intended for attack, defence and reconnaisance.

The NATO exercise last April, code-named Elder Forest 80—referred to by other noble Lords—showed just how vulnerable our defences are, and a preliminary assessment of one of the most concerted exercises ever staged to test Britain's meagre defences against air attack shows that too many "enemy" bombers managed to dodge our defences to hit their targets. Without adequate conventional forces to maintain a high nuclear threshold, NATO might be forced to use tactical nuclear weapons at an early stage of a conventional conflict. Elder Forest 80 starkly exemplified the need for a better prepared air defence.

It is hoped that by the mid-1980s the RAF will be improved both numerically and qualitatively and that replays of Elder Forest 80 would be unlikely. There are fears, however, that the Government may be forced to make cuts in conventional forces including the RAF—to make room for the successor to Polaris. The Government maintain they can buy Trident without prejudice to Britain's
"all-round contribution to allied deterrents and defence".
In order to make allowances for the expenditure, do the Government intend to do that by piecemeal reduction in the scale of spending on conventional forces? That point has been made in a number of places and it has also been made on occasions this afternoon in this debate.

The first such adjustment was announced in advance of Trident. It implied that the Rhine Army was to abandon the originally envisaged scheme for development of a new battle tank, the MBT-80, specially designed for armoured warfare in North-Western Europe. In regard to the next generation of tactical combat aircraft, the Government will perhaps also be similarly inclined to take the lower cost option of stretching the service life of existing types or engaging in modest upgrading rather than embarking on major new developments.

The mid-1980s were expected to see peak spending on Tornado, and high spending on other major projects like the airborne early warning aircraft, Nimrods; improving the Harrier; and development of the new tactical combat aircraft. The suspicion is that one or more will go. Future discussions to avoid or to delay new equipment developments would, whenever possible involve employment and industrial considerations as well as implications for defence. In fact it has already been announced that it has not proved possible, to advance the in-service state of the Tornado F2 at a cost which is acceptable.

The dilution of the quality of the conventional forces seems inescapable, at least for so long as there is an insistence of keeping up the appearance of "all-round contribution to the alliances". This contribution includes the retention of an air force capable of undertaking the full range of tactical air missions.

My noble friend Lord Paget of Northampton expressed the trade-off between nuclear and conventional weaponry very succinctly in this House on 8th May last, when, at column 1846, he said:
"It seems to me that we have been moving further and further away from defence and relying more and more on deterrence until we have very nearly reach the point where, if deterrence fails, we have no means at all of defending ourselves".
The principal threat to the United Kingdom and to our interests in the adjacent waters is seen to come from Soviet air forces in the context of any general hostilities between the Warsaw Pact and NATO countries. With both sides avoiding the use of nuclear weapons, the United Kingdom would be exposed to attack by conventional weapons delivered by the Soviet long-range air force, perhaps backed by units of the Soviet tactical air force.

In terms of air defence, the United Kingdom is assessed as a high priority target for Soviet air attack. In the words of the former Vice-Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sir John Nicholls:
that is, the United Kingdom—
"is the base for about 40 per cent. in terms of numbers and rather more in terms of effectiveness of the offensive aircraft available to the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. It also contains vulnerable military installations vital to the conduct of operations on the Continent and the sea".
In recent years the Soviets have introduced into their armoury the Backfire medium bomber, to which noble Lords have referred, and advanced longer range tactical aircraft. The 1980 Defence White Paper mentions particularly the Backfire and Fencer fighter bomber and considers that the Soviets:
"are likely to introduce still more effective aircraft in the next 10 years".
Indeed, the USSR is now spending more on research and development than the whole of the Western world put together. The Soviet Backfire bomber, however, is the most troublesome threat. Remaining unseen below the detection cover of shore-based radars, it can launch missiles aimed from some 300 miles at key targets such as airfields, radars, ports and communication centres. The Phantom missile control system's own airborne radar can search for them, but it is effective only at ranges of up to 30 miles. The Shackleton AEW squadron's radar, which provides low-level reporting cover, is virtually useless for this task because when looking down for low-flying aircraft it cannot see them among all the echoes reflected from the surface.

This explains why the development of the new Nimrods is so important. With their modern look-down radar they would be able to see the low-level intruders and direct the fighters on to them long before they could release their weapons. The Nimrod's radar will be able to detect cruise missiles as well as aircraft, and should be able to direct fighters even when the enemy is using electronic jamming techniques.

The Government's replacement of the Jaguar force, in seeking a ground attack aircraft by 1990, has been discounted as not being a viable option for the 1990s. As an alternative, the RAF is beginning to look seriously at an improvement programme for the Jaguar strike fighter force. Both the Jaguars and Harriers are limited in their operations at night and in bad weather because they are not fitted with terrain-following radar; nor are they fitted with self-defence missiles. About 200 Jaguars are in service with the RAF and would require extensive avionics and weaponry updates to keep them operational.

The deliveries of the Tornado strike-interdiction aircraft, which are scheduled for 1984, will permit the RAF to reduce the number of operational aircraft. The Tornado is to replace three of the long-range strike aircraft now in the RAF inventory. However, with the deployment of Tornado, Britain will have to investigate an air strategy, given the ineffectiveness of scatter-area type weapons, such as the Tornado, which is deployed at high speeds and low altitudes and which is only marginally effective at hitting specific moving targets, such as tanks.

While Britain is developing an advanced tactical aircraft, one wonders whether such an aircraft will ever come into service in adequate numbers, given the cost overrun by Tornado. The limitations of the Tornado should be acknowledged. It should also be noted that Britain is further inhibited on the ground by the fact that she is the only NATO nation which does not employ forward air controllers to direct battlefield attacks. The lack of these controllers puts further burdens on the pilots in combat operations.

This trade-off between multiple and close attack aircraft has worried the United States. In fact, the United States' ability to supply wider support is limited by Britain's inability to adopt a close observer to direct US aircraft. Since Britain occupies the key zone, the argument that British pilots do not need them undermines NATO defence, because one must realise that American effectiveness depends on them. Basically, Britain does not have all the resources necessary to make Tornado credible in all her roles. For example, in air defence the nation lacks coordination aircraft, long-range IFF—that is, identification of friend and foe—and a look-down, shoot-down missile.

According to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Geoffrey Pattie, the Tornado will form the backbone of the RAF's front line in the 1980s. The other major and complementary component of our front line is the offensive support aircraft fleet, which is currently provided by Jaguars and Harriers. Given the facts of these aircrafts' severe limitations, this is not very reassuring. In addition to more improved strike and air defence, the RAF is also in great need of a more flexible transport capability and a greater air-to-air refuelling capability.

RAF fighters, moreover, lack the elaborate electronic device which misleads enemy missiles as they approach the aircraft and also feeds false radar information on their direction into the enemy's computer. Besides the fighter "gap", the RAF still does not have all of its main airfields protected by point-defence missiles. The fields that the United States Air Force occupies are also not protected. Britain has no long-range missiles at all in the United Kingdom. Our plans appear to envisage nothing more than bringing a few old Bloodhound missiles back from Western Germany in a couple of years. Indeed, extensive modernisation is needed for our ground operation centres, communication systems and surveillance radars, under the name of the United Kingdom Air Defence Ground Environment, which will considerably enhance the capabilities of our defence command and control system.

A major test for this Government is whether they will have the political will to carry through the strengthening of Britain's air defence, which was embarked upon by the last Labour Government. Control of British airspace is a first priority if Britain is to remain a secure base in the collective defence of Western Europe. The importance of the United Kingdom in the early days of a conflict cannot be overstated. Our airfields and control systems would be in the forefront, handling the reinforcements on the air bridge from North America. The greatest challenge facing the new Defence Minister is the implementation, with the minimum of delay, of that vital decision to strengthen and improve the air defences of the United Kingdom.

4.26 p.m.

My Lords, I need the indulgence of the House, being only a little over a month old in this particular job and having originally volunteered for political service only in terms of industrial knowledge, which I have had on a full-time basis for 30 years. However, I have already learned that there is perhaps an industrial contribution to be made to solving the problems of the enormous escalation of costs of sophi- stication, which is one of the problems about defence budgets as a whole. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Brooks, who has just sat down, that I very much hope that he and his party are prepared to face the consequences of the many improvements that he suggested should be made in this sphere of defence, bearing in mind—as this debate and, I think, the next debate will show—that we must maintain the kind of balance of defence for which the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, called and consider all defence aspects at the same time.

I shall not refer to the Trident decision in this debate because, clearly, the next debate is mainly about it; except to point out that the Tornado programme is bigger in capital costs and in absorbing a percentage of the defence budget than the Trident programme. Nor shall I touch on civil defence; and much as I should like, on another occasion, to follow the points which the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, has made, in the time available in a short debate I cannot obviously follow them now.

I do not think that there is any dispute between us on the enormous increase in the Russian threat in terms of its significance for the air defence of this country, particularly since 1970. The Government share the view that we probably stuck to the tripwire philosophy for too long and, as a result, to a degree our air-defence measures are lagging behind. But steps are being taken.

As I try to go through some of the main points which noble Lords have raised, I hope that I shall be able to leave your Lordships' House with a slightly less gloomy view than I feel may have come out of the contributions so far. I simply shall not be able to answer all the questions asked, and I shall write to noble Lords on those that I cannot mention. Yes, the Soviet Union has a million men in its air military component and 20,000 military aircraft; 80 Backfires facing the West and 30 more are being produced each year. The Soviet tactical airforce has 5,000 aircraft, three-quarters of which are dual capable. All those points made for me by noble Lords are indeed well and truly understood by the Government and by the experts who monitor their very formidable ability.

It is true that the strengthening of the air side of the armaments of the Soviet Union has been running at the fastest rate. It now absorbs some 27 per cent. of the procurement budget, we estimate, in 1980 for aircraft as opposed to 10 per cent. for ships and 11 per cent. for land armaments. I might mention that one of the big figures in reaching towards the 100 of course concerns missiles, 36 per cent. So there is no question but that we share that view. Indeed, the rate of growth of strengthening, although formidable in all arms, is probably nearly four to one in terms of strengthening of the air arm compared with the naval arm.

Noble Lords asked me to try to quantify the capabilities of modern aircraft in simple terms, for those of them who, like me, had a short period in the Services a long while ago; but one really cannot do that, because air defence today is not just numbers of aircraft. Greater sophistication and enormously greater power and greater cost mean that the battles must be fought with lesser numbers. The other thing I want to say is that it is not assumed—and some noble Lords made this clear—that we shall be fighting this battle on our own. We shall be fighting it in the context of the alliance. Although these numbers of Soviet aircraft are formidable, I must make clear that the percentage that they can divert to attack on this country is certainly not the majority; although clearly they could deploy large numbers and our numbers of aircraft are indeed thin, and, as has been mentioned, we have the area from Iceland to the Channel to defend.

But first I want to say that the figures in the 'seventies are really not correct. We have rather more than a hundred front line aircraft, Phantoms and Lightnings, and we do not accept that there will be 25 per cent. "off the road". We believe, particularly as we still believe that we shall get some indications of heightening tension, that that percentage can be reduced to a very small one. Nevertheless, this leads me to say straight away that I echo the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing—who has done us such a service by moving this Motion—in quoting Lord Rutherford. I was not there but I think the correct quotation, which is much quoted, is,
"We haven't got much money, so we must think".
Indeed, I believe that the experts in the Ministry of Defence and in the Services have been thinking very hard indeed, and a combination of their plans for the most sophisticated and invulnerable form of radar and communication systems, together with the refuelling plans using the VC 10s, will ensure that more than 100 aircraft can be used with enormous effect.

Defence is not just aircraft but is really three layers of defence as it stands at the moment. The first is of course radar. There are various points that have been raised here which I shall probably take in a not very logical order. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, that the movement on ground radar, both in terms of sophistication and in terms of the parallel movement with the Shackleton, will be on time. They have been broadly synchronised, and they are going forward as fast as possible.

So far as the whole scheme of things is concerned and Lord Orr-Ewing's emphasis on pushing it forward faster and building the concrete now, we are pushing forward as fast as we can and we are not being delayed by economy measures. We have to take note of NATO funding which requires the plan to be clearly set out and approved. But within that limitation, and within the huge limitations of the enormous costs of protection in terms of steel and concrete, we are moving as fast as we can. I note my noble friend Lord Kimberley's suggestion about airships. I shall pass it on to the experts. I should not like to fly one.

I have noted the emphasis on the possible threat from the West. We already have radar facing West, and the Services are planning to take account of that possibility. So radar is an early warning—and I shall come to improvements later—and is indeed the first line of defence, and the absolute essential if costly aircraft are to be used with effect. The second line is the fighters, of which I have spoken just now, with refuelling to support them; and in relation to the backup the availability of some 90 Hawks is indeed part of the plan for reinforcement, and they are to be armed with Sidewinder M9L missiles. The first of these modified aircraft should be available in about two years, unfortunately not earlier. We still have some Hunters.

The next line of defence is the medium range surface to air missiles. Although the Bloodhound is ageing we believe it still be to effective, and we shall be redeploying an extra squadron in East Anglia. Finally, there is the Rapier. We already have two squadrons of Rapiers deployed in the United Kingdom and four in RAF Germany. We shall push ahead with that protection as fast as we can. We are delighted that the Americans have decided to buy Rapier for their United Kingdom bases. This is perhaps a good moment for me to say that our industry, supporting not just aircraft but supporting advanced weaponry, clearly is still in good shape. With the size of the world in industrial and defence terms today, we can only be a part of it, but where we have leads we must try to keep them and plan to maintain them over the years, and that certainly is something that I hope to encourage. It was mentioned—and I make a note of it here because of the point about the effect of ever escalating costs on industry—that we had overrun our Tornado budget. I have not the percentage in front of me, but the Tornado budget has been controlled very closely to plan, despite a number of hiccups, which perhaps were partly produced by the problems of making international projects work more smoothly.

The Elder Forest exercise was very important, as my noble friend Lord Cathcart said. While it threw up a number of lessons and while as a result of that it is the intention to repeat something of the kind in 1982, nevertheless the general report from Elder Forest was surprisingly good and the degree of interceptions made with the equipment we had was surprisingly high. I take this opportunity to say, particularly against the background of the note of the daunting size of the USSR threat, that the general lesson from Elder Forest is that we can, and would, give a jolly good account of ourselves now and we shall certainly give an even better one in the future. We shall run a further exercise of that kind to draw more lessons and improve ourselves yet again.

I move from existing defence to improvements, and in doing so remind the House that 165 air defence versions of the Tornado are on order, that the trial aircraft are flying and that we are set for delivery in the mid-'eighties. I do not believe it is practical to consider, leaving cost on one side, a greater acceleration of that programme. But they are on the way and we shall be very pleased to see them in service. The tremendous power for long-range interception will of course be invaluable in terms of the next generation of Soviet aircraft and stand-off weapons and all those modern developments.

My noble friend Lord Glenarthur asked whether they are to be fitted with extending visual identification. That has not been included in the design and order of the initial aircraft. They have, of course, very advanced airborne intercept radar. The question whether to add extended visual identification is being studied, but I do not hold out to my noble friend any definite hope that the experts will decide that it should take the priority which he suggests.

It was mentioned that Skyflash Mark II had been cancelled. That was, of course, in the context of the general provisional agreement with the Americans for two new very effective air-to-air missiles, the AMRAM and the short-range equivalent, so I think the armament is moving on as well. And of course Nimrod, to which reference was also made, is vital. Some noble Lords suggested that we are leaving a gap between Shackleton and Nimrod. We are not leaving a gap. We are accelerating the phasing out of the Shackleton, but we are keeping a cover until the Nimrod comes in, and the Nimrod will certainly be an enormous addition to our air defence capacility.

We will arm the Hawk with the missile I mentioned. We have already formed three RAF auxiliary squadrons to protect airfields, and I would therefore point out to my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing that we are on that track, that the auxiliaries on air defence look a good use and that the early results look good, and we may well consider extending that further. We have it under active consideration to replace the Bloodhound in the longer-term. I must now wind up and in the time available go very quickly into—

My Lords, before my noble friend begins his wind-up, and as I would not wish to interrupt him during his peroration, may I ask whether he intends to answer the point about inviting American squadrons, particularly the volunteer squadrons from their enormous national airguard, to come and exercise here—perhaps the invitation could be extended to their regular squadrons as well—in view of the need for closer co-operation?

I was just coming to that, my Lords. The whole question of NATO reinforcements in an emergency is under renewed study at the moment. The discussions have to be with the United States Air Force because the auxiliary squadrons are there for support of their own air force. My noble friend's point will be taken note of and in the discussions we shall keep it in mind and see the degree to which that can augment the reinforcement measures which NATO will have to make sure are applicable to the current threat.

As for the third Lightning squadron, the aircraft are still there and will be kept in good shape. They can be manned not just by instructors—though partially by instructors—but also by RAF officers who are currently doing desk jobs and who have recently flown modern aircraft. We therefore believe that full utilisation of these aircraft in a time of tension will be able to be brought on stream.

I have taken too long already and have not been effective in terms of answering the many very interesting points that have been raised. I shall certainly follow them up. The overall note I wish to leave with noble Lords is that if we are guided, and continue to be guided, by Lord Rutherford's dictum, and if we realise that defence today is part of an alliance and is in several layers, as I described, I believe we need not despair; but against the growing threat we really must continue to discuss with the other members of the alliance how to be sure we can meet it and how to make sure that this country is adequately defended.

4.49 p.m.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Trenchard for the way in which he dealt with the matters raised in the debate, and I am sure we all particularly appreciate the way in which he individually answered so many questions from noble Lords in all parts of the House, I wish most sincerely also to thank noble Lords who took part in the debate.

We can take pride in the fact that we take a great deal of interest in the defence of our country. That applies to both Houses, Members of which pay a large number of visits to military establishments. We owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, and the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, who did so much to found the All-Party Defence Group which has prospered and kept us well informed. We also owe a debt to all those who take time to brief us, whether they be in the Ministries or industrial establishments, when we make those visits. By that effort and by their conscientiousness and patience we are the better informed, and that must be not only in the interest of this House but of the country as a whole. Again, I am most grateful for the participation of noble Lords and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

The Trident Missile System

4.50 p.m.

rose to call attention to the national and international implications of the decision by Her Majesty's Government to acquire the Trident missile system while seeking to make reductions in other planned defence expenditure; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, whom I wish well in his relatively new appointment, has had to work so hard for his living today. I think it is a little tough to be expected to reply to two debates in one afternoon, and I am most grateful to him for taking the trouble to do so.

Before I deploy my main argument, I want to make my position clear on two counts. The first is that I do not question either the seriousness or the sincerity of the attitude of the Government towards national security and defence policy. Within the unavoidable economic constraints imposed upon them, I believe that the present Administration are genuinely anxious to repair the damage that has been done over the years to our national defences. The second point is that nothing that I may say today should be construed as—

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord: who has neglected defences? Which Government is the noble Lord talking about?

I was not actually making a political point, my Lords. In my view, successive Governments have shamefully neglected our defences. I am not directing blame at one side or the other. I wonder whether I may now continue with my speech.

The second point is that nothing I may say today should be construed as any kind of support for unilateral nuclear disarmament. I proceed from the assumption that nuclear weapons will continue to be a part of Britain's military arrangements well into the next century; and for reasons which I have no time to elaborate today, I believe it to be prudent and sensible in the dangerous world in which we live that this should be so. My underlying concern is, and always has been, that this country should have the best and most effective defence arrangements available. Indeed I believe—and perhaps this might explain to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, the reason for my earlier remark—that the defence of the Realm should be the first charge on the resources and responsibilities of any Government; and I do not believe that it has always been so.

In this context, I am sorry that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton, is not in his place today. I know that he had intended to speak in the debate, but unhappily there has been a death, not in his family, but very close to it, and therefore he is unable to be present in your Lordships' House. I suspect that he would have taken a very different line from the one that I am going to take. However I am sure that most of us would agree that no debate on defence in your Lordships' House can be really complete without a contribution from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Hill-Norton.

I do not intend to become enmeshed today in the arguments, important as they may be, about such matters as theatre force modernisation, the neutron bomb, civil defence, and certainly not air defence, which has already had an extremely good airing this afternoon. My concern in this short debate is a single one: the wisdom of a decision at this time to acquire the Trident missile system as a replacement for the Polaris fleet. I do not say unequivocally that the decision is wrong. The arguments surrounding it are complicated, highly technical, and very often, rightly and understandably, based upon secret information. What I do say is that the decision might turn out to be the wrong one. If it does, the consequences not only for our national security, but for international stability, might well be disastrous. Most important of all—and this will be the main thrust of my remarks—I suggest that there is no need to take the decision at all at this moment; and indeed not for another five or possibly 10 years. In seeking to support that proposition, I should like to consider the problem under its main aspects—strategic, economic and political—and then briefly to propose to the Government an alternative course of action.

I shall in the course of my remarks be asking a number of specific questions, which I hope the Minister can answer when he replies to the debate. They are questions to which his department presumably provided answers before the Trident decision was taken. First, let us be clear what it is we are discussing. The Trident missile system, now known as Trident I, (or C4) in its present form, is a submarine-launched ballistic missile with a range of between 4,000 and 5,000 nautical miles. Each missile can carry up to eight MIRVs, or independently targetable reentry vehicles; that is to say, independently targetable warheads. Therefore, it differs from the Polaris in a number of important ways. First, it has a much longer range; almost twice as long a range. But the most significant difference is in the fact that it has independently targetable multiple warheads and that confers upon Trident an important capability which Polaris does not possess. Polaris is basically an area weapon, suitable for striking at large targets, such as cities or industrial complexes. Trident, on the other hand, is designed to strike specifically at pinpoint targets, such as enemy missile sites or higher command headquarters. In short, it has been designed to fit the current American strategic doctrine which calls for nuclear missile systems to have a war-fighting capability as well as simply a deterrent capability.

This is where I have my basic reservation in the strategic context. In my view it is doubtful whether anyone can ever fight a nuclear war in any credible sense of the word. Nevertheless, there are a number of powerful arguments which can be advanced to support the American deployment of Trident. They are complicated, often esoteric, arguments and I do not intend to deploy them here, partly because there is not time to do so, but more importantly because none of them is remotely applicable to the British case. There is, I submit, no conceivable contingency in which it would be necessary for the British independent nuclear striking force to be able to attack Soviet missile sites or other hardened pinpoint targets of that kind. Indeed, if in this country we demonstrated the ability to do so, it would take us into new dimensions of strategic confrontation and strategic analysis. It would raise profoundly important difficult problems about civil defence, ballistic missile defence, and crisis management which do not arise in the context of a counter-city missile system such as Polaris.

The only sensible role, it seems to me, for a British independent deterrent is to confront the Soviet Union with the strong probability—and though with a certain degree of uncertainty being left in its mind—that if it took military action, not of any specified kind, which threatened the United Kingdom, but which might not necessarily attract American retaliation, one or more of its major cities could be destroyed by British retaliation alone. That is the principal requirement for an effective British deterrent—a system which, even after a Soviet attack on the United Kingdom, is capable of retaliating against Russian cities; in other words, the doctrine of assured destruction. In my view there is no other doctrine that is remotely applicable to the United Kingdom acting independently. All that "city bashing" analysis might sound rather macabre, but I am afraid that nuclear strategy is a macabre business. This is what Polaris was designed for and what, in practice, it could still do if the worst happened.

Let us look briefly at the military economics of the decision to acquire Trident as a replacement for Polaris, because I believe this to be perhaps at the heart of the whole argument. The Government's own assessment of the programme is that it will cost between£4,500 million and £5,000 million at 1980 prices, over a period of 15 years. Rather more than half of that cost would fall in the 1980s, and according to evidence given to a Select Committee in another place, £700 million of that is likely to be committed between now and 1984, with about £4 million being spent this year and between £50 million and £100 million next year. The Government have calculated, and indeed have stated in one of their publications on this subject, that the total cost represents about 3 per cent. of the total defence budget between now and 1995, or about 5 per cent. of the equipment component of the defence budget.

I suggest, my Lords, that we must look at those figures with very considerable reserve. In the first place, there are few cases in the recorded history of modern warfare of an equipment programme being completed at its estimated cost. In many cases the escalation has been uncontrollable—and the noble Viscount has already mentioned in your Lordships' House this afternoon the case of Tornado, which has already exceeded its estimated cost—and I see no reason why Trident should prove to be any exception. Polaris cannot be taken as a precedent since it was a unique bargain-buy from the United States—a thing which will never happen again, I suggest.

Furthermore, another important point is that unless I am mistaken (in which case I hope the noble Viscount will correct me) these costings are based on the procurement of four submarines, each of small diameter—that is, something like the 30-feet diameter of the Polaris submarine—and each equipped with 16 missiles. Already, again according to evidence which has been given to a Select Committee in another place, the Ministry of Defence is considering substantial modifications to this programme, including the possibility of a five-boat fleet instead of four; a 40-feet diameter submarine of the American Ohio class instead of the 300-feet Polaris class; and possibly equipping each of these larger boats with 24 missiles instead of 16.

Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse, when giving evidence, was questioned about this, and he modestly said that there would be a substantial difference in cost if any of these variations were adopted—and indeed there will be. So one of the first questions I should like to put to the Minister when he comes to answer is: Is it true that the estimated cost given by the Secretary of State in his paper is based on a four-boat fleet; what other variations to the original Trident plan, as set out in the Defence Open Government Document 80/23 of July 1980, are now being considered; and has the Ministry of Defence made any estimate of the cost difference which would be involved in any such variation?

But even if the answer to that should be that the Government stick to their original costing, we are still dealing with a very substantial element in the defence budget; and I have to say that the suggestion that the Trident programme will cost only 5 per cent. of the equipment element of the defence budget is, quite frankly, misleading. A more relevant calculation, and the one that should have been made, is the proportion of the defence budget which is dedicated to the production of new equipment over the next 10 years. If noble Lords will look at the Statement on the Defence Estimates for 1980, there is an extremely illuminating table on page 88—it is Figure 22 on page 88—which looks forward 10 years to the deployment of equipment resources in the defence budget. On this basis, assuming that defence spending rises by, let us say, something like 3 per cent. a year, and assuming that the proportion of it dedicated to the production of new equipment remains more or less constant, Trident will be consuming not 5 per cent. of the resources dedicated to new equipment but, by the end of the 1980s, between 30 and 40 per cent.—and that is a calculation based upon figures produced by the Ministry of Defence itself.

I think it should be easy to deduce from this that there are a fairly limited number of options open to the Government in their defence plans for the coming decade and beyond. Either (these, I think, are inescapable facts) the defence budget itself will have to increase at substantially more than 3 per cent. a year (which in the current economic climate I would have thought unlikely) or the proportion of the budget devoted to new equipment will have to be increased at the expense of other elements in the budget (and the only other major element in the budget is expenditure on personnel, which is approximately the same as the equipment Vote; they are each something of the order of 40 per cent. of the defence budget). Alternatively,—and this seems to me by far the most likely outcome—other equipment programmes are going to be cut back or abandoned. It seems to me that this is inescapable logic, and I think we should face this issue rather more squarely than has so far been the case.

In the Prime Minister's letter to President Carter at the time of the Trident decision it was declared that the new Trident force:
"… should not prevent or emasculate continued improvement in other areas of our contribution to NATO".
However laudable this sentiment may be, I do not see how, in logic, it can be so. Mr. Michael Quinlan, the Deputy Under-Secretary of State for Policy and Programmes at the Ministry of Defence, gave long and (as it was characterised) brilliant evidence to a Select Committee in another place. He was repeatedly challenged on this point, and on each occasion he had to admit—indeed, he was frank enough to admit—that Trident would result in the fact that
"squeezes elsewhere in the budget may be more severe".
That is the Deputy Under-Secretary himself, "Mr. Trident", talking, and he makes it quite clear that if we buy Trident there is going to be an effect on other equipment programmes.

The Government's gloss on this is:
"To suggest that Trident pushes anything aside is no more accurate than suggesting that any other large project pushes anything aside".
Of course, but it is Trident that we are concerned with, not any other project; and Trident is a very large project indeed. We may make comparisons with Tornado, but I should like to make some other comparisons. The Trident programme is equivalent to the cost of 24 Invincible class cruisers; it is five times as great as the total estimate of the development and production costs of the Sting Ray torpedo; and it would buy 5,000 MBT-80 tanks for our armoured divisions.

I think the Government, with all respect, will do us a disservice if they fudge this issue. I ask the Minister: Is not the Trident programme bound to have an enormous effect on other non-nuclear equipment programmes? Is it not bound, in logic, to reduce substantially our military capability in such vital areas as the air defence of the United Kingdom, already debated this afternoon, our maritime capability outside the missile fleet and our contribution to the defence of Western Europe? I would be grateful if the Minister, when he replies, would address himself frankly and in detail to these questions, which are causing great concern to those of us who are by no means unsympathetic towards the efforts of the Administration to improve our defence capacity.

Before I move on to the last section of my remarks I should like briefly to dispose of a curious concept which arose in the course of evidence given to the Select Committee in another place and which has since gained some currency in circles where defence matters are discussed. It is the suggestion that if the Trident programme were to be cancelled or modified the money allocated to it would not necessarily be available for other defence purposes. I am not quite sure what this bizarre proposition is meant to imply. It seems to suggest a Lewis Carroll kind of world in which somebody somewhere—the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or both of them—say to the Defence Ministry, "If you decide that the Trident missile system is essential to our national security, you may have £5,000 million to buy it; but if you decide that something else is more important, you cannot have the money for it". Clearly this is nonsense, and in any event it seems to me that it is an irrelevant issue. The point is that if the Government buy Trident the defence forces will have to do without a large number of other things which, presumably, they would still be able to have if the Government did not buy Trident. I hope that we can get away from this curious argument that, if we do not have Trident, the £5,000 million is going to be spent on something as yet unspecified.

Why, noble Lords may ask—and I certainly ask—have the present Government, which is made up of extremely able men and women, presumably with access to the most sophisticated professional advice and the best intelligence, decided to exchange at substantial cost the perfectly adequate Polaris for the unnecessarily complicated and expensive Trident? There are four arguments which are commonly advanced for doing so. The first is that in the 1980s and beyond the Soviet Union may be able to defend its cities against our Polaris missile and so make the Polaris deterrent ineffective. I regard this, in the timescale in which we are discussing these matters, as so remote that it almost qualifies for the category of science fiction. It may be, as some people have suggested, that the Soviet Union, having abrogated a solemnly signed treaty on anti-ballistic missiles as part of the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement, will construct a system of area and point defences using such advanced techniques as lasers and charged particle beams which would make the present Polaris system ineffective. In theory it is possible.

Let me say at once, that whatever they may develop, I believe it inconceivable that the Russians or anyone else could develop a ballistic defence system so perfect that they would take the risk of inviting nuclear retaliation. If one warhead from one missile from one submarine got through those defences it could obliterate the whole of Moscow and practically everyone in it. I do not believe that anyone is going to rely upon a ballistic missile defence system to justify the launching a nuclear war. But even if—a very unlikely contingency—a perfect ballistic missile defence system could be constructed, the answer may not be bigger and better ballistic missiles at all; the answer might be a different kind of strategic weapon system, for example, the cruise missile.

The second argument is that developments in anti- submarine warfare might make it possible for the Soviet Union to destroy our Polaris fleet because a Trident force, as your Lordships know, can operate, given its range, in a much larger expanse of ocean than Polaris. I think it right to say that at present—and there is a great deal of science fiction going on about this, too—it is virtually impossible for the Russians to detect or to trail our Polaris fleet in its patrol area. But if it is true that dramatic developments might take place in anti-submarine warfare and that they might make the Polaris force vulnerable because of its restricted area of deployment, the answer may not be necessarily submarine-launched missiles with longer ranges. It might be necessary to change the launching mode altogether. It may be necessary to put launching platforms in the air or in space or on some other kind of mobile launcher.

The third argument is that, quite apart from doubts about penetrating ballistic missile defences, the Polaris missile would simply cease to be functional after a certain period. There is a good deal of knowledgeable talk about the shelf life of rocket motors, and it has been suggested that the United States might not be prepared to provide replacements for Polaris after their own Trident fleet is operational. I question very seriously the validity of this argument. As the Ministry of Defence well knows, the United States has not yet taken a final decision about the future of its own Polaris fleet. Two of the submarines are being dismantled, three are being converted to attack submarines; but five will remain operational as missile-firing submarines.

In this connection, I should like to put my next specific question to the Minister. Has the United States Government been asked if it would be prepared to provide the resources or technology to keep Polaris in operational service? And, if so, what was its reply? My own information is that there was no reason why, given a reasonable degree of co-operation from the United States and the scientific resources of our own Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Polaris, with improved Chevaline warheads, should not remain perfectly functional until well into the 21st century.

Finally, we come to the argument that the Polaris submarines themselves, the boats, will cease to be seaworthy. The original estimate of their life at the time of the Nassau agreement was 20 years. This has since been stretched by all Ministry of Defence assumptions to 25 years and many naval experts believe that 30 years is not an unreasonable calculation. But even if we need new boats, does that mean that we need a completely new missile system? Why can we not build new boats and install the Polaris missiles in them—a project which would be substantially less expensive than Trident? In fact, it would cost only little more than half as much as to acquire the Trident system.

I must bring my arguments to a close although many of the most complicated of them have to remain untouched. My firm conviction is that the case for Trident has not been proved. I could, if there were time, advance a number of alternatives. Many of them according to the Government's own publications, have been discussed at the Ministry of Defence; but they have been abandonded—I think, prematurely. The most obvious alternatives involve cruise missiles, possibly delivered from aircraft. There is, in passing, an interesting proposal from the United States which would not only enable us to prolong the life of our independent deterrent at lower cost but enable us to prolong the useful life of the Vulcan bomber; and I hope that the Government have examined that possibility too.

My own preferred solution is a prolongation of the Polaris system with the construction in due course of new submarines. This is something which would obviously need a great deal of supporting argumentation which I have not the time to deploy at the moment. I do not ask for any U-turns or sudden reversals of policy. Far from it. My most serious reservation about the Trident decision is that it has been taken prematurely. The present Polaris fleet of "R" class submarines has been in service between 10 and 12 years. "Resolution", the oldest submarine, was commissioned in October 1967 and "Revenge", the latest, in December 1969. Even on the most conservative forecasts of hull life, replacement need not begin until 1993 or, more realistically, in my view, until near the end of the century. Polaris was in service six years after it was first decided to acquire it; it took six years to acquire. Even with the increased lead times which may be involved in the Trident system, I submit that there is no need to begin a replacement programme, even if the need for it can be proven, until 1985 or possibly 1990. It seems to me therefore that by far the most prudent course for the Government would be to continue with the Polaris system for another five years at least before implementing the Trident decision.

By that time a number of factors affecting the strategic environment of the 1980s might be clearer than they are today, and the intervening period could be spent in repairing our seriously eroded conventional force capability and, even more important, in evolving for this country a defence policy relevant to the rapidly changing strategic context of the 1980s. As the Prime Minister will be able to confirm when she meets the President in Washington tomorrow, the Reagan Administration in the United States has not yet made firm decisions about such matters as the MX missile system, ground-launched cruise missiles, SALT 2, ballistic missile defence—all programmes and possibilities which will affect us vitally when those decisions are made. Furthermore, by 1985, if the Government's economic strategy succeeds, as most of us profoundly hope that it will, the economic climate may be more conducive to these substantial increases in defence spending.

The Trident decision is, in my view, fraught with many dangers. It has provided ammunition for people in this country whose interests it is to see that this country is weak and undefended; and they are using it ruthlessly. I believe, furthermore, that it is perpetuating outdated and irrelevant strategic concepts. The noble Viscount spoke of the "trip wire" concept and said that we had clung on to it for too long. The Trident decision may well mean that we shall have to go back to it. If we have this vast and complicated nuclear weapons system at the expense of our conventional forces, that is indeed the "trip wire" posture.

This whole thing is a classic example of the built-in momentum of technological innovation in military equipment. The unfortunate tendency for all Governments—not only this one or any other British Government—is to acquire new, advanced and complicated weapons systems because they are new, advanced and complicated, and then try to evolve strategic doctrines for how to use them. It has been done over and over again. It was done with the Minuteman in the United States, and I believe that is being done with Trident. I hope that the Government might even now decide to take time to think the whole problem through again. When the strategic context of the 1980s and the 1990s is analysed, it may well turn out that they will be convinced that a British Trident force has no part in it. I beg to move for Papers.

5.22 p.m.

My Lords, I must begin by saying that like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont—to whom we are so grateful for raising this matter today—I am in no sense a nuclear disarmer; very much the contrary, as my noble friends are aware. But unlike my noble friend, I believe that the proposal to go ahead with Trident is fundamentally and inherently wrong. I shall try to persuade your Lordships that is the case in the quarter of an hour—not more—available to me now.

Since the war we have made a number of very great mistakes. Most have been due to our instinctive feeling that our splendid victory over Nazi Germany entitled us still to act as the great power that we were before that fearful struggle drained us of much of our strength. Spending large sums, which we can ill afford, on the renewal of an allegedly independent strategic nuclear deterrent is the latest of these tragic errors. I only hope it will not prove to be the worst and the last. So first of all I shall once more try to demonstrate that Trident is either superfluous or inutilisable, and then I shall attempt, along with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to show that, even if thought to be useful, it necessarily involves a highly dangerous diversion of funds from those conventional forces on which our security primarily and increasingly rests.

If in the early 'nineties, when Polaris is phased out, absence of progress on disarmament or on arms limitation (which God forbid) results in the continuance of NATO with the Americans of course in the lead, it is obvious that we shall still be relying for our protection on their nuclear "umbrella". In the event of some major crisis, this will either work or it will not work. If it does work as a major deterrent—or even, in the worst possible event, as a weapon of war—it is clear that Trident—if in existence—will not have contributed much in either respect. That is obvious. But if the American umbrella does not work, then it must be equally clear that Trident will not work either. What is sauce for the goose must obviously be sauce for the gander.

In their justification of the project which they published last year, the Government do indeed admit, in effect, that Trident could only have an independent role—even as a deterrent—if we were left without American support. In other words, if US forces had been withdrawn from Europe, NATO had consequently been wound up, and we had been obliged for our defence to rely entirely on our own resources. In such distressing circumstances, it seems to be the Government's view (unless I have got it wrong) that we should have to inform the Russians—presumably still the only adversary in sight—that, if they did not cease any aggression, a Soviet town—or several Soviet towns—would be destroyed by volleys fired from our undetectable submarines—no one disputing the fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has said, that Trident must necessarily be what is called an "anti-city" weapon. My Lords, you have only to consider such a proposition for a moment to see that it is impossible, a fantasy—

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I think there was a slip of the tongue and it would be unfortunate if it found its way into the Official Report. He said that Trident was an anti-city weapon. I think he meant Polaris.

My Lords, I said that Trident would be an anti-city weapon. Does the noble Lord say it is not an anti-city weapon? It is my view that it probably would be an anti-city weapon, but I may be wrong. Anyhow, one only has to see that the threat which is made to employ Trident in whatever capacity is impossible to imagine. The Russians would in no way be "deterred" by such a threat, for they would know that, in view of the inevitable and total consequent destruction of our country, no sane democratic ruler in Westminster could possibly ever carry it out. Certainly the existence of Trident—as indeed the existence of Polaris—and the possibility of its use on a second strike would deter the Russians from bombarding the United Kingdom by nuclear means, or even threatening to do so; but in the presumed absence of any American support, there would be no need for them to threaten anything of the kind. For in that event, we should, to all seeming, be quickly starved out by a naval blockade even before the Russians reached the North Sea, as they no doubt would unless they were—most improbably—held up by the use of German "tactical" nukes which, in view of the come-back, would reduce the Continent to a shambles.

But should it still be thought that we ought to have some strategic deterrent when we are left on our own, then, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I think suggested, there are all kinds of ways and means of thinking what kind of nuclear deterrent we might have. Even a few cruise missiles would probably do. The possibility, as I think the noble Lord said, that even one or two missiles would reach the Soviet Union in the event of a first nuclear strike by them would make such a strike unprofitable as well as, for the reasons I have already given, quite unnecessary.

The second argument, though not mentioned by the noble Lord, is that unless we have Trident—and this has often been said by the Government—the French, by the early 'nineties, will be the only Western European nuclear power. But if they were, it would not make the faintest difference to the issue of any battle joined in Europe without US participation. For the arguments against the use of the Force de Frappe in such circumstances are precisely the same as those against the use of Trident. What it comes down to—this point I insist on—is, whether we like it or not, if the Americans really do clear out, and in the absence of some general settlement, we shall all have to come to terms with the Kremlin and have Governments which are prepared to do just that. For though the consequences of any such development would be horrible to contemplate, they are at least considerably better than national obliteration, even granted that—by that time for the most part in Paradise—we might hear that a large part of the Soviet Union had been obliterated too!

There are admittedly many knowledgeable and intelligent people prepared to rest the case for Trident as a valid deterrent chiefly, if not entirely, on the mere fact of its existence, no adversary ever being quite sure whether it would in any given circumstance be employed or not. Powerful enough to wreak enormous damage on the Soviet Union, "Mirved" and hence largely unsusceptible to ABM; undetectable it is hoped, though in ten years' time nobody knows what will happen; in any case maintainable at no great cost, Trident, it is suggested, will, like its French equivalent, hang as a vague threat over the heads of the Politburo and by this very fact, with luck, dissuade them from indulging in any hostile act in Europe or, for that matter, elsewhere, since it is only too likely that some conflict arising in, say, the Persian Gulf would quickly spread to Europe. A vague threat would seem to be enough. Trident, according to this way of thinking, might even be responsible for avoiding World War III.

I am conscious of the fascination of this type of argument, though for the reasons I have given I entirely dispute its validity. Besides, it comes very close to the Duncan Sandys argument of 1957 which, owing to primary reliance on our nuclear deterrent, resulted, as many of us would think, in an excessive and even disastrous rundown of our conventional forces. It comes very near to that. And it is precisely here that we find the chief reasons why, even assuming the vague threat has any validity, it cannot carry conviction. For unless you believe that the mere possession of Trident will in itself prevent war, you must feel that our conventional forces are an essential part of our defence which cannot be pruned beyond a certain point without grave danger to our nation. And if you do have this last belief then you must either feel that we are so rich that we can both afford Trident and fully meet our obligations under NATO or you must go along with what, in spite of their protestations to the contrary, I fear will almost certainly be the Government's position in a few years' time: namely, considerable further cuts in expenditure on defence, notably in BAOR, together with a prospective failure to go ahead with the production of the Centurion tank, or replacements for the Harrier and Jaguar aircraft and many economies for the Navy as well.

It is true that some cuts are disguised by rather mysterious accounting difficulties—more acceptable, it would seem, to Mr. Nott than to Mr. Pym—but the trend is nevertheless obvious and what will happen next year if the recession continues is anybody's guess. Or, rather, it is hardly a guess. What will happen is that the Treasury, still heading the fight against inflation, will insist on yet further cuts and that the Government, wringing their hands, will agree that deflation must take precedence over defence. It would not surprise me at all if there were then talk of repatriating all or part of the BAOR regardless of the fact that there would be nowhere to put it in this country and that there might be no alternative to many of our present excellent soldiers joining the ranks of the unemployed. Yet during all this period we should be increasingly pouring out money to feed the most sacred of all our most sacred cows. What I cannot understand is why the Treasury, so keen normally to contest any item of defence expenditure, never batted an eyelid, it would seem, when the little matter of £5 billion (and probably much more) was approved by the Cabinet. It is also somewhat surprising that the Chiefs of Staff were apparently so innocent as to imagine that a Tory Government would shoulder this huge financial burden and at the same time never indulge in cuts in defence expenditure that might normally appeal to a Labour Government.

Anyhow, as things are, I suggest that what is obviously necessary is a decision to cancel Trident while it can still be done without considerable financial loss—on the understanding, of course, that the Treasury, in view of the resulting large economy, would no longer press for further cuts in our conventional defences and would certainly raise no objection, inflation or no inflation, to our carrying out our obligations to increase our real defence expenditure by 3 per cent. over the coming three years. Unless that is done it is evident that the present situation, which is pretty miserable, will get steadily worse as regards defence. Noble Lords will perhaps have read the conclusions of the Sunday Times defence correspondent's article appearing in the 1st February edition of that paper. I quote it:
"It is one of the facts of life in the Rhine Army these days that lack of fuel has forced some soldiers off the firing ranges, to pass their time instead playing games like "Mastermind"—with questions and answers quarried out of ancient encyclopaedias by the regimental sergeant major. The British Army, once NATO's praetorian guard, thus risks turning into an immobile indoor force more expert at parlour games than war games".
It seems to me that the risk is indeed a grave one and the remedy stands out a mile.

My Lords, no two people have done more than my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to alert the country to the need to maintain forces and weapons which are necessary to give us security. I think those of your Lordships who have listened this afternoon to the two debates will realise that we have had a very educative time, and that they have given us a lot to think about.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, talked about the defence of the Realm as being the first of the duties of any Government, and I have heard him say many times, and always agreed with him, that in this dangerous world the first thing we have to do is to measure the offensive capacity of the enemy and then to mobilise that strength in manpower and weaponry which will carry conviction to that potential enemy that the risk of starting a war is too high. That is deterrence.

As I understand the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, he is not questioning this afternoon—indeed he said as much—the need for a British nuclear weapon, but he is asking whether Polaris, which we have, could not continue to be effective for 10 to 12 years. He has given reason which clearly reveal that he has made a deep study of this matter. I have talked before in this House about my own reasons for supporting an independent British deterrent. I must use "shorthand" just to repeat them, because this is a short debate. My reasons for retaining a nuclear capacity are these: we have got Polaris and we may have Trident, and as long as we have them we should not get rid of them unilaterally but they could be part of an international plan of disarmament. I see no point in our getting rid of our nuclear weapons until that can be part of a generally agreed scheme. I would not wish, either, even though I am a friend of the French nation, to see the French the only nuclear power in Europe; and unless there is disarmament I agree with my noble friend Lord Caccia, who was here earlier in the afternoon, that nobody in military affairs has foreseen anything more than five years or so ahead.

I remember that when we had to go and rescue President Nyerere in Nyasaland and send troops to quell a rebellion against him, I said to Lord Mountbatten—this was in 1964—"How many British expeditions have we sent overseas since the last war, and in how many cases has the situation been foreseen? "He said: "The answers are '48' and 'none'". These situations are not foreseen. We do not know how the situation is going to develop in the next 20 or 25 years: we have really no idea. But I am fairly certain that other countries will get nuclear weapons unless there is a universal scheme of disarmament. I am unwilling to expose this country to blackmail by some of the kind of gentlemen I see moving around on the world stage today.

My last reason for keeping the Polaris or the Trident is that—using the actual words which President Kennedy used when we made the Polaris agreement—if we were in a dire national emergency it could be a deterrent to an aggressor. I confess that I have some doubts about the noble Lord's proposition when he asks the Government not to take a decision about the nature of our nuclear deterrent now. I start from the premise that the weapon which we choose must be credible to the potential enemy. That is really the point. They must believe that we could, in certain circumstances, use it, and that the weapon would be capable of doing the job. Therefore, to fulfil that criterion it must be the best of its kind at the time.

In that context I recall that in 1971 we were advised that we ought to be thinking about replacing Polaris, because it would have to be phased out in the mid-1980s. That forecast, that forward estimate, was underlined when, I think I am right in saying, the factory producing the Polaris submarine was closed in 1976 or 1977. The Polaris weapon is now some 30 years old and it would, indeed, be very surprising if the American research and development programme had not come up with important improvements in design and performance since that time.

Indeed, I understand that that has happened. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, himself has said that there are improvements, and that the Trident is an improvement on the Polaris. It has a wider cruising range, it is quieter and therefore less likely to be detected and, as the noble Lord said, it can accommodate and fire a significant additional number of nuclear warheads.

I am not quite sure—I should like to think about it—whether I accept the distinction which he made about the Trident as applicable particularly to the military target, rather than to the city. I think that the Russians would be more impressed by the Trident than they would be by the Polaris. But, to my mind, there is a more compelling reason for going ahead with the Trident. If we were to stick to an obsolete model that is going out of production, we should be in danger of getting out of tune and out of time with the American research and development programme.

These weapons can change quickly. As long as we are in the business at all—and I agree with the noble Lord that we ought to be in the business for the foreseeable future, until there is disarmament—we must accept that we ought to be in a position to adapt our weaponry should the need arise. I understand the financial reason behind the noble Lord's proposition. I believe that monies will certainly have to be redeployed if the Trident is adopted. But in this case, when we are talking of this class of weapon, the second-best simply will not do and I do not believe that the Polaris now, at this time of day, is as good as the Trident.

I would stretch that. If the second possible attack from the Soviet Union were one with massed tanks, we must have the best weapon to deal with that, and we should have the weapon for which NATO is asking and which President Carter, unhappily did not phase into the ordinary weapons system. In other words, only the best in these circumstances will do. At another time—because one must be brief—I will join in argument with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, about nuclear weapons. I think that he poses an alternative that does not exist. If there were to be a full-scale offensive by Russia with tanks on the NATO/Warsaw Pact front, that would be total war and they could be stopped only by the tactical nuclear weapon. Therefore, again, we must have the best.

It is depressing that in this House, and in Parliament, we have to be talking in a nuclear age about the balance of power. This situation could be ended very quickly—there is a way out—if a disarmament programme could be accompanied by the processes of verification. I understand that President Reagan said that yesterday and it is true. Meanwhile, we have to do our best to deter aggression. That is the point. I have been enormously interested in the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and I shall be still more interested in the Minister's reply.

5.46 p.m.

My Lords, I am sure that we are all most grateful to my noble friend Lord Chalfont for raising this issue. Nobody can speak on this subject with more authority and with greater clarity than himself. I find myself in almost total agreement with him, except that I think he believes that an independent strategic deterrent is a good thing for the United Kingdom, provided that it is not improved, and I do not myself believe that. I am largely in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—certainly, in his conclusions, though I do not actually go along with him a great way in some of his military speculations.

I am glad to find that I am very largely in agreement with the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, gave, although I think that his later arguments did not lead to the conclusion that we should have Trident. He said that we have Polaris and that is a reason for hanging on to a strategic deterrent. To my mind, it is a reason for hanging on to Polaris. He also said that he believes that the right way forward is multilateral international disarmament, but he does not believe that we should give up weapons and get nothing in return. I would entirely go along with him, though I would not go so far as total disarmament. I am not in favour of the abolition of nuclear weapons altogether, but I am in favour of a reduction in their number. I am not in favour of giving up our existing weapons in present circumstances and getting nothing in return, which is what would happen.

His third reason was that the French have an independent deterrent. To my mind, it is no more independent and strategic than ours and, in my opinion, that is a reason for our having nuclear weapons, but not for replacing our existing Polaris system with a Trident system. He then talked about the unknown and I will come to that. He made a very important point about the danger of proliferation and I will come to that, because I believe that that is where going forward with Trident is far more dangerous than not going forward. His other argument as to why we should have Trident will come out of what I have to say.

In my opinion, the Trident system—the replacement of the Polaris system—is both unnecessary and undesirable. When one says that it is unnecessary, one has to ask: What does it deter and what is its function? A great many arguments have been put forward over the years and I shall not bore the House by repeating them, except just to deal with the one which is used by the Government now, and which was used in the paper produced by the Secretary of State for Defence in July. It really is—and I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was quite fair—that, although we believe that the Americans would use their nuclear weapons, yet we think the Russians might believe they might not, whereas the Russians would certainly believe that we would. If I may just quote from the paper, it says:
"The decision to use United States nuclear weapons in defence of Europe, with all the risk to the United States homeland that this would entail, would be enormously grave"—
and then—
"Modernised US nuclear forces in Europe help guard against any such misconception, but an independent capability fully under European control provides a key element of insurance. A nuclear decision would, of course, be no less agonising for the United Kingdom than for the United States."—
as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said, "what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander"—
"But it would be the decision of a separate and independent power, a power whose survival in freedom would be directly and immediately threatened by aggression in Europe."
But if it were threatened in such a way as to provoke a riposte by the Russians, we should not survive in freedom. We should not survive at all. When one comes to the credibility of our threat, it must be no more credible in those circumstances—in fact, a good deal less credible than an American threat, because the Russians can obliterate this country without using their strategic forces at all.

The risk to Russia of a clash with the United States is enormous, vast and obviously unacceptable. As long as the United States forces are stationed in Europe and as long as the United States is seen to be committed to the defence of Europe, that risk must be enormous. And if the Russians were prepared to take that risk, they would not bring into consideration at all the additional risk of a riposte by us. No, the first priority of our defence policy is to keep the United States in Europe—not to insure against doubts about the United States.

It has been made clear by successive American Administrations from the time of the Kennedy-McNamara régime when they were assessing the consequences of Russia being able to retaliate against American cities—and it has been repeated more recently by Henry Kissinger and just the other day in Munich by Mr. Carlucci—that what the Americans want from us to make certain that they continue to support European defence is a greater effort in the conventional field.

When the noble Viscount was answering a Question the other day, he used the figures which my noble friend Lord Chalfont has used. He said that this would cost only 3 per cent. of the defence budget. And 5 per cent. of the equipment budget is the figure quoted in this paper. As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, correctly stated, what really matters is the percentage of the new equipment budget. Figures were given in a memorandum presented to the Defence Committee in the other place by Dr. Ron Smith and Mr. Dan Smith which correspond very largely with the figures quoted by my noble friend Lord Chalfont: that on the assumption of a 3 per cent. annual increase in the budget, it could rise by the end of the 1980s to 41 per cent. of the new production part of the budget. And on a pessimistic assumption that there would be a 1½per cent. annual cut in the budget, which he arrives at by certain economic arguments, it would rise to 61 per cent.

I should not like the noble Viscount to think that I necessarily accept those figures, but when he answers I hope he will say what percentage of the defence new equipment budget he estimates that it will take. He surely cannot pretend that the Ministry of Defence is not at the present moment in great difficulty over its future equipment part of the long term costing. Today The Times has drawn attention to the problem of the Jaguar-Harrier replacement. Nor can he possibly deny that the Trident is, if not the principal cause, one of the causes of that difficulty in fitting it into a future defence budget which is assumed to be increasing, in real terms, at 3 per cent. per annum, but, let us not forget, starting from a much lower basis than the Ministry of Defence had reason to expect some years ago. It may be only 3 per cent. of the budget, but it is three per cent. wasted. It is 3 per cent. spent on something which is unnecessary, not upon what is necessary. The debate which preceded this one covered only one part of the air force's requirement and must demonstrate not only that there are areas of our conventional defence which need the money they would get—3 per cent.—but that they need more.

The noble Lord, Lord Caccia, used the same argument as he used before in a letter to The Times to refute my dislike of Trident. His argument is surely not for having a new system of ballistic missile nuclear submarines. It is for maintaining an adequate and flexible defence policy. There is nothing more inflexible than a nuclear strike ballistic missile submarine. Could it be used, for instance, for anything else than for attacking the cities of Russia? It could not.

How, may I ask the noble Viscount, do the Government propose to translate into actual forces those brave words of the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Pattie, in Munich the other day, presumably about ourselves, as part of NATO, doing more outside NATO's area? It is not only unnecessary. I am sure that the Trident system is undesirable. It is undesirable because it means that less money will be spent upon conventional forces. It is undesirable because it encourages proliferation. The same arguments used in this paper could be used by any country. If I may quote them:
"An adversary assessing the consequences of possible aggression in Europe would have to regard a western defence containing these powerful independent elements"
that is France and ourselves
"as a harder one to predict and a more dangerous one to assail than one in which nuclear retaliatory power rested in United States' hands alone".
But that could apply to everybody. It fuels the nuclear arms race.

We face a terrible dilemma. There is no doubt that the existence of nuclear weapons in the hands of the Americans and the Russians stops those two countries from fighting each other, and as long as both are committed in Europe it stops a war happening in Europe. But if they were used, or if only a tiny fraction of them were used, civilisation—and life, practically—in the Northern Hemisphere would cease to exist. What faces us is the challenge of trying to reduce the risks which are involved by this absurd and grotesque number of nuclear weapons held by the two sides while maintaining the existence of some nuclear weapons on both sides, which undoubtedly helps to preserve peace. We do not want to increase the numbers and the types and to add new weapons. We want to halt the arms race and then to begin to lower it. The recent statement of President Brezhnev, to which I am delighted to see the American Government have made a constructive response, could open the door to a more sensible attitude in the future.

Finally, may I give two other reasons why I think it is undesirable. First, it encourages the idea that we could go it alone. We could not. Secondly, the pressure to use it, if a war came, on a British Prime Minister would be so immense that that Prime Minister ought not to have it hanging over his or her head.

My Lords, I did not interrupt the noble Lord in the course of his argument because I thought it fairer that he should deploy the whole of it, but as he referred to me and to the previous correspondence which we had, may I be allowed to say that this particular weapons system is aimed at the 1990s. All I said was that I was confident that it would be idle to sit down now and predict what the dangers and risks of those years might be because intelligence appreciation would not be worth the paper that it was written on.

5.59 p.m.

My Lords, may I begin by acknowledging the indebtedness of the House to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for introducing this momentous subject and for expounding his views so ably and clearly. I hesitated to put down my name to speak in this debate because I well realise my own ineligibility to speak on a subject so specialised as that of defence. However, after some painful consideration, I decided to do so because, for one thing, these matters concern us all crucially. After all, it may take experts to be on the airing end of these weapons; it does not take experts to be on the receiving end, and I feel that the voice of a mere layman might not be out of place. However, I undertake not to keep your Lordships more than a few minutes.

On Friday of last week I went to a meeting of the Friends of the Earth in my home town of Rye, at which there was a showing of the BBC film "The War Game"—the film which it has been thought inadvisable for the public as a whole to see on the television screen. After the showing we had an informal discussion and one of the audience said something to this effect: "I am here tonight, not because I imagine any great results could come from our small meeting, but because if I had stayed away and remained comfortably at home I feel I would somehow have been silently acquiescing in the policies which will lead to the things we have seen in this film, whereas I wish to dissociate myself from them and to be able to feel that should the worst happen at least my hands would be relatively clean".

I found that very impressive. It drew applause from the small gathering of 150 people and, since an accident of birth accords me the privilege of speaking in your Lordships' House, I feel it no less than my bounden duty to echo that thought. I, too, am one of the many wishing to dissociate themselves entirely from the manufacture and threatened use of these weapons of indiscriminate and enduring destruction and pollution: weapons such as were utterly condemned by the nations of the world in the Final Document of the UN Special Session on Disarmament in 1978. I do not believe that any cause on earth would justify their use. I cannot imagine that their use could bring any conceivable benefit. I do not believe that any end, however noble, could justify those means.

I am well aware that all of us think this with part of ourselves, but it seems to me that we are roughly divided into those who feel that we have no alternative but to defend our way of life by developing and stockpiling ever more terrible weapons, and on the other hand those who think that the relentless pursuit of this aim is actually increasing our perils to the point of global destruction; in other words, that the arms race itself is far the deadliest enemy we face. Those who think this way are not cranks, they are not defectors, nor are they unrealistic fools. Which is more unrealistic—to imagine that the arms race can continue indefinitely without a catastrophe, whether deliberate or accidental, or to attempt to break the vicious spiral by confidence-building gestures, even at some risk?

The people I speak of, who think this latter way, are mostly young. They hope that they have their lives before them but fear they may not: young people with whom I, as a teacher, have had much association and of whom the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, spoke with sympathy in the debate on defence in December last. Many are young parents, whose children's lives are before them. To them, surely, we have sacred duties: to preserve our way of life, if we can, assuredly, but we have a duty which transcends that. That is the duty to preserve life itself, of insuring our survival, our health, our children's health and the health of the environment. That is what is threatened by the arms race.

I appreciate the essential difference, so skilfully expounded by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, between the capability of Polaris and the capability of Trident. The fact that the latter is more closely designed to attack specific targets makes it more credible as a weapon of war and is thus bound to give a great impetus to the arms race. Have we no alternative? Can we not find a way round? Would it not be possible to halt the project as a confidence-building gesture? At all events we must hope and pray that Mr. Brezhnev's proposal of a summit meeting and of an extension of confidence-building gestures will be treated with the utmost seriousness by the West. But caution, if I may so phrase it, will be tempered with a degree of trust. Our own Government will be able to make a significant contribution towards solving what the Leader of the Opposition has rightly called the most important question in the world—the halting of the arms race.

6.5 p.m.

My Lords, I must begin with a profound apology for having missed the earlier stages of this debate. It happened as a result of a foolish accident. My watch stopped; I was working on what I hoped to say and then found that I was lamentably behind time. I should like to express my warm agreement with the speech which has been delivered by the noble Lord who has just sat down. In a recent debate I tried to show that Trident would have no advantages over Polaris as a means of deterrent, if deterrence is a real policy at all. I examined the alleged advantages of Trident, its greater range, its greater accuracy, the greater yield of its warhead, and I think I proved to demonstration—reading my speech again it seems to me that I proved to demonstration—that Polaris would inflict such totally unacceptable damage upon any possible enemy if it were ever used, that nothing that Trident could add would increase its possible deterrent effect.

I quoted my noble friend Lord Peart, who said in 1977 as Leader of the Government in your Lordships' House—that is to say, with the approval of the Chiefs of Staff—that Polaris had many years of useful life before it and that the Government then had no plans to replace it. My speech provoked a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who was good enough to send me from the Foreign Office a long and argued statement of the case against what I had said. I respect his arguments but in substance they came to this, that Polaris, however its life was extended, would not be useful after the early 1990s and that therefore we must have Trident to maintain our deterrent for a longer future.

That answer filled me with consternation because it meant that the Government were perfectly ready to drift on with the present arms race until the early 1990s—one would not spend £5,000 million for less than 10 years—and then to continue the arms race for another decade after that; that is to say, until the year 2000. It may be that mankind could continue with the present situation until the year 2000 without a nuclear war. It is conceivable, and arguing that view people quote the banned film "The War Game", which the BBC have never yet shown to the public on their programmes. They say that "The War Game" predicted that we should have nuclear war by 1980 and it has not happened. The 'fifties, 'sixties and' seventies were all dangerous, but with great respect they were not so dangerous as the 'eighties promise to be. I can only say, with my noble friend who has just spoken, that our greatest enemy is the arms race, and, if we drift on with it, it is as certain as anything in human affairs can be that in the end it will lead to the nuclear catastrophe it is intended to avert.

But I must ask the question: Is our policy really deterrence? I submit that, with the production of what are euphemistically called theatre nuclear weapons we have thrown the theory of deterrence out of the window. If I am rightly informed, the former Secretary of State for Defence, the right honourable gentleman who was until lately the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr. Francis Pym, has said that if need be we must use our deterrent. In speaking that phrase he was guilty, I submit, of a contradiction in terms. If you use a deterrent it ceases to be a deterrent; it becomes a provocation. In reality the General Staffs now are discussing not deterrence but the fighting of nuclear wars.

My attention was drawn last night to a remarkable lecture by a professor in Edinburgh University, Professor John Erickson, who has made a special study of the planning done by nuclear General Staffs. He told his audience that in their planning the nuclear experts of the General Staffs never use the word, "deterrence", at all; they speak of the targets to be destroyed. And they never speak of a limited war; they speak of the on-going situation which will follow the destruction of the first targets. In other words, they speak of later targets that must be destroyed after the first round has been completed. That way lies utter disaster. No one has ever begun to answer the case made by the late Lord Mountbatten that any use of nuclear weapons will lead to a general exchange of nuclear weapons which will mean the collapse of civilisation and, in all human probability, the end of the human race.

What is the present price that we are paying for the arms race? Have noble Lords reflected on it? Lord Trefgarne said in his letter to me that Trident was not an alternative to the social services that were being cut; it was essential to maintain our way of life and to enable us to have social services at all. I recognise this point of view. But, in point of fact, we are now seeing extremely damaging cuts on social services, and most particularly on education, in order that we may keep the arms race going, in order that we may make marginal improvements in aircraft and frigates which will probably never be used in any future war.

What is the cost in education, if I may speak parti- cularly of that? Last week Government education inspectors, men who serve Her Majesty's Ministers, reported to their Secretary of State that the cuts were producing lamentable results. They said that many schools have reached an unacceptably low standard, too few teachers, too large classes, not enough school hooks, inadequate teaching equipment. Education is the future greatness of the British people. If we damage the education of our young people now in schools, we are deteriorating our hope of greatness 20 or 30 years from now. But it is not only the schools. The other day on the radio I heard vice-chancellors of universities discussing what the cuts are going to mean to them. They spoke of some universities closing whole faculties for lack of funds, and one or two vice-chancellors spoke of the closure of some universities altogether. Universities are the instrument by which education can give us greatness in times to come.

I conclude by a reflection on a speech which I heard in your Lordships' House last night. The noble Lord reproached my noble friend Lord Brockway for his idealistic approach to world affairs. The word, "idealist", is used by people who style themselves realists as a reproach, as an accusation that the idealist does not face the harsh facts of a cruel world. But, with great respect, the approach of my noble friend Lord Brockway to world affairs is a great deal more realistic than that of the militarists who trust in arms, who say with the ancient Romans, Si vis pacem, para bellum, which is in effect what the Government are saying today if they rely on the arms race to maintain peace. That ancient Roman adage has been disproved by the whole of human history. Preparing for war has brought war. If you want peace, you should prepare for peace; you should organise the institutions that are required, you should build up the law by which the institutions will work. You should make people understand that their vital national interests are not in conflict with the vital national interests of other nations. They are common national interests which they share, which they can only promote by common action through their common institutions and their common law. I would end by saying, with my noble friend who has just sat down, that our greatest enemy is the arms race.

Our greatest hope is the final document of the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1978. In my experience that was by far the greatest international conference that ever met. That document gave a categorical warning, seven times repeated, that another war might mean the end of man, that survival is the issue, with the assertion that, faced with total disaster, the nations must make a total change; that they must go in for the general and complete disarmament of all nations with any signatory power and that they must reallocate the vast resources so released to the ending of world poverty and the promotion of social justice in every land. That is really something, and that is the policy which can save mankind.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, told the House that his watch had stopped. Unfortunately, no similar facility affords your Lordships this evening because we are in the course of a timed debate. The remaining three speakers will, I regret, have only approximately 12 minutes each, so that my noble friend will have sufficient time to conclude the debate.

6.21 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has made a most compelling case against the Trident system. When he wrote in The Times last August that

"A British nuclear strike force, to be credible, needs only to create a reasonable assumption in Russian minds that it could inflict intolerable damage to the population"
he was right of course. This is the thinking at the core of the principle of deterrence. Reading that article and others like it in the Economist and for instance, Nature persuaded me—until very recently—that committing ourselves to Trident was a serious and expensive mistake.

The problem is that these opinions, the anti-Trident lobby so to speak, are so expert. But so was the thinking which resulted in the decision to go with the Trident system. Daunted by the idea of disagreeing with anyone, I read whatever I could find to help me make up my own mind. I found that I had to concentrate on three questions. The first was money. Trident is hugely expensive and the forward projections of its cost as a percentage of our total equipment expenditure are foggy, to say the least. The Polaris programme could indeed be stretched out for a number of years and Chevaline seemed an alternative that a war-gamer could reasonably accept.

With the Treasury in hawkish mood, the Trident decision meant vicious cuts in other areas, and revoking conventional military commitments to the point of absurdity. Just as important, several British R and D programmes had to be mutilated or wiped out altogether. The "ready to wear" attractions of Trident are bound to harm the technology content of several key British companies. It also struck me that there is a disguised cost in Trident which has not been talked through; namely, the double burden of maintaining Polaris while Trident is at its most expensive stage. Would it were possible to switch off one weapon system and instantaneously switch on another. But it is not, and the overlap period will be one of the costliest defence adventures this country has ever embarked on.

Leaving cost on one side, the second issue I struggled with was whether Trident was, as it were, the right weapon system. Polaris was a true deterrent, contributing as it did to the philosophy of mutually assured destruction. It is appalling, but true, that the greater sophistication of Trident makes it a tool of battle rather than a doomsday machine. Nobody in this debate so far has explained why. It is a by-product of the very much greater accuracy implicit in the Trident guidance systems whereby it can be aimed and exploded within, I believe, an accuracy of 500 metres. That means that it can be used specifically against hardened targets—namely; battle command targets. It brings that much closer the idea of the winnable nuclear war. But we know that Soviet nuclear deployment has already embraced that thinking, so it is all too understandable that we, the West, had to respond in kind. Trident is part of that response as, indeed, is Pershing. It follows, though, that the idea of the winnable nuclear war has to be accompanied by a realistic Civil Defence programme. To have one without the other is a cruel deception of a nation's people.

Alongside the issue of Trident itself, I needed to be persuaded that there was any purpose in this country having an independent nuclear capability. Emotionally, one instinctively feels the symbolism of sitting at the top table. There is a distaste at the idea of cowering under skies filled with titanic forces over which we had no command. But that is emotional, and for the reasoned logic to support the independence position I had to go no further than Sir Neil Cameron's superb lecture to the Royal Society last August: "Defence in the 1990s". Quoting from that lecture, Sir Neil said:
"Deterrence of any kind, and especially nuclear deterrence, is above all about influencing the calculations of an opponent before he makes a move. The fundamental argument for an independent British strategic capability is to provide advance insurance against a Soviet calculation or miscalculation that when the chips were down the US might hold back".
Sir Neil went on to say:
"Indeed it is more than an insurance; the real aim is not so much to give us a fall-back option if the Russians make the calculation but to prevent them from making it at all".
It seemed as I read more and more expert opinion that one had to accept Trident as a concept. The logical steps towards the decision were inexorable. Take the first, the independent nuclear posture, and Trident is at the end, whatever the cost. Our counter-strike capability must be from under the sea. We have lost, if we ever had it, the ability to design our own missiles. Trident exists as a working system with a lifetime to take us through the next 25 years. It had to be that decision. If Trident has to be, it has to be at maximum strategic deployment at the earliest: with the experience of Polaris patrolling, we must exercise the option of the fifth boat without waiting.

At the beginning I said that there were three issues that I addressed. First, the cost; secondly, the aptness of the system itself and the third issue is for me the most important and yet the most personal. I saw the decision to buy Trident as an affirmation of British will. It is a terrible weapon and we must pray it is never used. But by embarking on it at all we have shown a determination of our own, we have shown our faith in NATO, and we have confirmed a readiness to react that will give pause for thought to tyrannies anywhere. In a perfect world there would be no armies. In an imperfect world of a sort there would be all the defence funding we needed for total security. In the real world we have made a real choice. I think it is the right one. But, my Lords, our leaders must never lose sight of what such choices are. They are the choices between different keys to the doors of Hell.

6.29 p.m.

My Lords, I shall not keep your Lordships for long. I was about to say—and I do say—that I so thoroughly endorse all that was said by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel that I have very little to add to what he has said, except to underline a couple of points. However, having said that, I find myself completely in agreement with what my noble friend Lord Birdwood said with his very reasoned arguments and his very careful move towards the conclusion to which I, too, have come.

Before I underline certain points, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for not being present for his opening speech, except right at the end of it, because this debate came on earlier than I had expected. Therefore, I have to go on what I think he said rather than on knowing what he said. It seems to me that, while one respects the views of the disarmers, the fundamental matter that one must take into account is that the Soviets cannot be trusted today, and Heaven knows!, how can be we sure that they can be trusted in 30 or 40 years' time and in the intervening period? Therefore, as so many noble Lords have said, that forces one towards the concept of deterrent, and the question at issue is: what deterrent? I should have thought that history shows us so clearly that in order to have, what one might call—and what I think the noble Lord, Lord Home, called—sufficient and credible means of convincing one's potential opponent, one must, if one can—and we can—go for the best system at the top of the scale of power of counter-attacking capability.

Therefore, the question becomes: Does one agree with what I believe the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, that the Government are wrong in plumping for Trident; or does one, like my noble friend Lord Birdwood has just said, decide that, although the balance of the argument is extremely difficult, in the end the Government are probably right? I do not envy the Government their position in trying to arrive at that decision, particularly in these days of recession when the money argument is so very powerful. I should have thought that the first of the three factors is long lead times. Therefore, whatever decision you make, if it is the wrong one you have a situation where you have, as it were, mortgaged the future completely. The second one is that, quite apart from the lead times, we are looking such a very long way ahead; we are looking well into the next century. So we must be as sure as possible. The third one is that I would be very surprised indeed if the Government do not have information of a sort that they cannot share with us—and thank God they cannot—on which, when it comes to the final argument, they can make their decision.

One thing that I have learned is that when one leaves the defence world, it is so soon that one is out of touch with the latest information on which the final decisions can satisfactorily be made. So my argument is like that of my noble friend Lord Birdwood: there are balancing arguments on all sides, but in the end I would have thought that the Government are probably right.

6.33 p.m.

My Lords, this has been a fascinating and interesting debate. First, although I had a little argument with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I think that he made a first-class speech. He must remember that when he was Minister of State in the Labour Government of 1964 he was the Minister with special responsibility for disarmament. I do not know whether he achieved anything, but that is another matter. However, he made a powerful speech. The point he made was that the case for Trident was not proved, and that is how he wound up. I shall not waste the time of the House quoting every speaker—that would be wrong. We have had a short debate and a long debate, but we have had some fine speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, also came to that conclusion. I do not see any Liberal present tonight; I do not know what the matter is, but they seem to have faded.

The noble Lord, Lord Home, in his own distinctive way, made a speech of which I nearly approve, but I am afraid that I support the point of view of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I am in no way a pacifist, but I believe that we must find the best weaponry. I think that the thesis of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver—which he deployed in a previous debate to which I have referred—is right. Acceptance of Trident would mean harsh cuts in conventional weaponry, which is so important. I was going to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, on this point before he went out. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Home, put forward in defence of Trident, I think that Trident is a non-runner. Therefore, if necessary, we should come to the point of view which many people hold: that we must have another approach.

Again, I am rather tired of this business about Russia. We do not hear so much of it now because the Olympic Games have not been held recently. But we cannot go on like this; we must negotiate with the Russians. Brezhnev must meet our people. It is no good thinking in terms of Communists under the bed in this country and elsewhere. We must reach an agreement. From this Box I have always stressed that the strategic arms talks are important. I hope that with the new Reagan Government there will be no going back, despite some of the bellicose statements that have come from the White House in the last few weeks. We must negotiate. It is no good continually piling up arms. There must be a case for stopping. I believe that if something was done at a higher level, we could advance along this path.

I do not want to make that impossible, but I believe that we should have proper and capable weapons. I do not believe in the thesis of my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker. I admire his sincerity. He quoted—as he has often quoted—the speech of the late Lord Mountbatten of Burma. But on the back page of that famous document it says:
"The real need is for both sides to replace the attempts to maintain a balance through ever-increasing and ever-more costly nuclear armaments by a balance based on mutual restraint. Better still, by a reduction of nuclear armaments I believe it should be possible to achieve greater security at a lower level of military confrontation".
Then he went on to say:
"I regret enormously the delays which the Americans and Russians have experienced in reaching a SALT II agreement for the limitation of even one major class of nuclear weapons with which it deals".

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but I do not know what he was attributing to me when he spoke of my attitude. I have always stood for multilateral world disarmament and multilateral disarmament advocated in the Final Document of the Special Session of 1978, to which I have referred so often in your Lordships' House. May I add that with regard to Lord Mountbatten, he also believed in general and complete disarmament. If my noble friend will look at the document—

My Lords, my noble friend has spoken and this is a short debate. By "attitude", I mean that I believe that we must have multilateral agreement. I do not believe in unilateral disarmament. I believe that that would be wrong for my country and for other reasons. Therefore, I shall conclude on that note. I do not disagree with my noble friend about his idealism; he has a point of view. I was simply highlighting what Lord Mountbatten said in that document.

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, this seems to be rather interesting and, with the indulgence of the House, I should like to pursue it. Earlier on my noble friend spoke about the importance of reaching an agreement with the Russians, and he hit the Dispatch Box in the old-fashioned way to show how much he meant it. Does he not realise that every agreement that we have made with the Russians has been used by the Russians to advance their strength while we observe the agreements?

My Lords, that just proves that you must still try, and try hard to get negotiations and get them round the table. Otherwise, there is a bleak future for mankind.

6.40 p.m.

My Lords, I asked for the indulgence of the House in the previous debate. I ask for it even more in this debate, with the degree of knowledge of such formidable speakers as my wartime brigadier, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. Nevertheless, I will enter into this with gusto. I think that one has to start an answer on behalf of Her Majesty's Government on the note that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, has just struck. Of course we want arms control and disarmament. I shall not weary the House with our record, but I have it here in terms of test ban treaties, non-proliferation treaties, in chemical warfare and biological warfare, at Vienna, Geneva, New York and Madrid, and in terms of struggling for arms control in a balanced way, for which the late Lord Louis Mountbatten asked. So there is no question about that. But as a newcomer to this game one is beginning to recognise the array of people who are not unilateralists, but who nevertheless use the phrase: "We must multilaterally disarm". That, of course, as the noble Lord has said, takes the other side as well.

The only other thing I should like to say on this general policy for arms control is that, as a newcomer coming to it and looking at the detail as opposed to the press reports, which obviously like everybody else I have read over the years, I think we must defend the record of the USA in seeking arms control also. So let us not spend longer with the unilateral arguments which have been raised today by the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, and to a degree by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee. If we were to follow the unilateral line we would be wide open—and I say "we" at this stage, meaning the alliance—to blackmail, and forced to surrender. So that we could have peace through surrender if you like it, but I believe that this country wants peace with freedom through strength.

I believe that the lessons of the build-up to the last war were not those of arms races leading to war, but were those of weakness inviting aggression. Hitler did not think we would fight and was advised that we would not do so; and he thought that if we did, we should not be able to put up a worthwhile resistance. We must never run that risk again. The Government believe in a balanced defence effort, which they decide within the framework of the alliance and as advised by all the leading experts: Services, scientific, civilian and the like. We believe indeed that we have that balance; and we believe that the Trident decision comes within that balance within the context of the alliance—which I shall describe in a moment—and that it is good value for money.

It is common ground to most of those who have taken part in the debate that the continuance of deterrence for the alliance is absolutely vital. Those who listened to the build-up of Soviet forces in the air field mentioned in the last debate would also have heard me say that the biggest section of procurement today in the Russian budget, which exceeds our own, is in fact 37 per cent. for missiles, followed by 27 per cent. for aircraft. With the huge preponderence of conventional weapons, which is well known and has been set out and was again mentioned in the previous debate, there is no doubt that the deterrence of our possessing these weapons, at least in balance with the USSR, is vital for peace with freedom.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, as the mover of this Motion, will bear with me if I leave the main thrust of his Motion for a moment and deal with the argument advanced by more than one speaker, that we should leave the really unpleasant part of modern defence, the necessary holding of counter-offensive options as a deterrent, and the unpleasant and attackable part, the part most easily exploited by the sensationalists with films like "The War Game", to the USA, and that our part in this is unnecessary.

The alliance is solid now and it will remain solid, but to keep an alliance solid in the defence of freedom we not only have to share the costs but share the responsibility for the awkward bits. We have to put in our share—and I am going to use the words deliberately—of the necessary moral courage to produce these weapons, to have them, and to base them in our country. I believe that members of an alliance contribute best according to their history, geography and capability. Our history in these weapons is undoubted. We were the co-inventors of them. Our geography is such that of the European nations I think it fits us better to retain the stake that we have always had in them. And capability follows with know-how of their making, of their use, of their basing, as we have at the present time.

We have considerable civil nuclear capacity, which adds to our capability. It is worthy of note that the USA have not only been prepared to offer us Trident on what we believe is a fair and good basis, but have clearly been keen to see us have it. It is also the fact that the alliance as a whole in Europe has been pleased to hear that we intend to retain it.

My Lords, before the noble Viscount leaves that point, would he agree that there will be equal enthusiasm in America and in our NATO allies for our having Trident if it is obvious that we have to cut down on our conventional forces as a result?

My Lords, I shall come to the question of cost and the part that Trident plays in our defence budget in a moment. The next point in relation to whether we should not leave it all to the Americans, is the point of having a second decision centre, of course acting in virtually every situation of which one can conceive at the moment in liaison with the USA. Nevertheless, the existence of that second centre of decision does have a bearing on the Russian perception of what reckless gamble, as the aggressor, they might decide upon.

It has a hearing on whether, in situations unknown, they could think they might gamble on a quick victory, either conventional or conventional aided by theatre nuclear weapons, and face the United States with the agonising decision: "It is all over in Europe. Now what about it?" The existence of two decision centres, one of them European—which is welcomed by the Europeans and the Americans—is, in my view, a vital extra feature of effective deterrence, in that it must cause the Russians to cut out a number of gambles which, with the superiority of their conventional forces at present, they might otherwise be tempted to consider. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, suggested that our continued possession, having been the co-inventors, was a cause of proliferation to other nations. I have to tell him that those who advise the Government—and I find it a commonsense view—do not believe that has any bearing whatever on that particular argument.

I did not say that, my Lords. I said that going into Trident, which means increasing the number of warheads and producing a whole lot of new warheads, and bringing in a new system, encouraged proliferation. I did not say that keeping our existing weapons caused proliferation; in fact, I specifically said I was in favour of it.

My Lords, the Government still do not believe—for reasons which perhaps will become more apparent as I deal with the question of moving from Polaris to Trident—that the continuation of this country holding an effective independent nuclear deterrent will in any way cause further proliferation, though further proliferation is of course of concern to the Government.

I turn to the main thrust of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and in doing so I shall come to the question of cost. If I have it correctly, the noble Lord in summary suggested that we were moving by the Trident decision to a bigger and different form of nuclear deterrent, that we could not accommodate the costs without serious affect on other parts of our defence and that there was an alternative of a cheaper kind available to us in prolonging Polaris. We do not agree on any of those points. First, we do not believe that in the 1990s and into the next century, which is the timescale of the decision we are taking now, the substitution of Trident for Polaris is either very different, in terms of its independent deterrent effect, or bigger. We believe this because the Soviet Union, with a massive spend on research and development, is improving its defences against penetration all the time and is spending enormous sums on anti-submarine warfare methods to find, detect and be able to destroy the launch vehicles.

The extra range which the noble Lord mentioned is indeed necessary to ensure the continued invulnerability of the launchpad of this deterrent through the 'nineties and into the 2000s because with that extra range the whole of the oceans are open to hiding our essentially counter-attack potential—if such a terrible event ever came about. This is not a first strike weapon; its greater accuracy and multi-warheads (its greater accuracy should perhaps not be overrated) are not intended to make it a first strike weapon. The sub-marine launchpad shows clearly that the possible British use of the Trident missile is required as a potential counter in an invulnerable base.

I wish also to take this opportunity to say that the campaign—encouraged by the CND and encouraged by fear, scare and muddle—which alleges that the United States might be planning a first strike is simply not true. The whole of the alliance and the whole of its very sophisticated strategic nuclear thinking is designed as a deterrent and as a clear threat that if the Soviet Union gambled in using its ever-increasing stock of nuclear weapons, we have the ability and invulnerability of bases in submarines to hit back.

Coming to the cost question, the statements which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, quoted are correct as far as we know them at this stage. Over the 15 years, the capital costs of this system (the majority of it spent on the submarines, which we are well capable of doing) will come out at an average of 3 per cent. over the 15 years, peaking at 5 per cent. of the total defence budget. It is true that these estimates are at an early stage. They are based on a four-boat fleet.

I have of course read with care the evidence which the Controller of Navy gave to the House of Commons Select Committee which the noble Lord mentioned. I cannot give him cost variations for the different options on which the Americans are advising us at the present time and which we are studying. But our estimate on a four-boat force still stands where it was, at an average of 3 per cent. over the 15 years.

The running costs are on a par with those of Polaris. The Polaris capital costs at their peak were of the same order as a percentage of the defence budget—just under 3 per cent. as an average, on a much shorter period of years—as Trident is planned to be at the present time. One could go further back and talk about the days when Vulcan was a nuclear deterrent. What I want to make clear to the House is that this decision is to maintain and modernise the British independent nuclear deterrent and that it is not a new or even an extra expenditure. It is over a longer period of time, that is true.

When noble Lords have suggested that it is a much higher percentage of the cost of equipment, that is of course true. I shall read Hansard carefully as to the noble Lord's sums arriving at 30 to 40 per cent. of new equipment, which is not a section of equipment that is very easily discernible, but I am clear that they are wide of the mark.

Far more important is the question of phasing of equipment purchases. Of course it is true that at the peak of expenditure of a big and expensive part of our defence budget that particular project at that time will be absorbing a higher percentage of equipment. Thus Tornado will take about 9 per cent. of the whole defence budget at its peak, 20 per cent. of total equipment expenditure, and thus a higher proportion of new equipment expenditure. But those undertaking the long-term planning in the Ministry of Defence and the Services believe that in proper phasing those figures can be fitted in. One should point out at this time that it is not of course a question of displacing Tornado—a point which I think a noble Lord mentioned—because the timing is quite different, and Tornado will be declining when expenditure on Trident is beginning to mount. Therefore this phasing is vitally important, but it is planned. We are dealing with very long-term plans and phasing, with weapon systems that are designed and built with flexibility but with a view to lasting 30 years or more. In our view, the phasing-in of this programme at this time is vital. I would also say that I agree entirely with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel on fitting in with United States' timing and research.

The other suggestion regarding the cost aspect which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has made, and other noble Lords have supported, is that we could maintain the Polaris deterrent much longer, and more cheaply, and that it would be effective. I think that I have dealt with the question of whether it would be effective. I am quite clear that all the experts are cetain that such is the development of weapons, in particular in the Soviet Union, that the extra range and the extra penetration ability are almost certain to be necessary to maintain the existing degree of deterrence.

Polaris is ageing. One of the boats will have had four refits. In replacing Polaris missiles we would be putting the technology of the 1960s into next generation, indeed next century, boats. All the experts have advised against such a course. We could perhaps get old United States missiles, but they would all need new motors. They would all need converting to the Chevaline attachment to be any good at all today. Spares of units would be needed and that would require the re-opening of old production lines. The best advice that I can obtain is that that course would be ineffective and probably as costly in the years up to 1995—indeed, probably more costly after that period—as equipping ourselves with Trident to last right through into the next century.

I think that those are the main points that I want to make in trying to answer the debate. It has been suggested that there are still other ways. I think the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, suggested that a few cruise missiles would do. A few cruise missiles would be a total waste of money. As the American modernisation of the theatre nuclear deterrent clearly shows, because of their vulnerability one essentially needs by far a larger number of cruise missiles than ballistic submarine-launched missiles.

I started as a new boy. Many people with better brains than I have have travelled the road before, asking, are there no cheaper ways? Why could we not do it this way or that way? After a while the faces of the very serious, dedicated and peace-loving experts who have worked on this question with secret intelligence and secret information, began to bear an impression which suggested that they found it hard to win an argument with an opponent who was not handicapped by a knowledge of the facts. Those who suggest that we can do it with cruise or Vulcan—I hope that the Vulcans will not fall out of the sky in the meanwhile—simply are not living in this world.

In conclusion I would say that the object of us all is to prevent war. Your Lordships' new junior Minister standing at this Dispatch Box lost two half-brothers and a full brother in the last war, during which 50 million people died. No war is tolerable. All wars must be prevented. But we have to live in this world, and it is no good talking about "we", thereby including the other party without his agreement. If any of your Lordships do have his agreement, the Government should be very pleased to talk to you. We must prevent all war, and to do that we must have options for counter-offensives. We must have them because modern weaponry, using the third dimension of the atmosphere and the stratosphere, can always get through, even though anti-measures are constantly being worked on. Because that is so we must have all the range of options.

We welcome the American option of cruise missiles. We welcome it because it will be based in five countries—and not entirely in this country, as their bombers and our bombers are at present. With the increasing vulnerability of air bases, just as it is vital to have the independent strategic deterrent positioned in more and more invulnerable bases, so it is necessary for the cruise missiles and the theatre nuclear weapons to have a wider spread of geographical bases. So we welcome both the NATO decision and the United States' intention to place these in five countries, at their cost.

This is an area of enormous Soviet superiority at the moment and, regrettably, there is an enormous Soviet increase in the number of weapons, the SS-20s and the like. So we need this balanced force. To say that exactly the right decision is always reached in the United States of America, in Britain, or anywhere else is obviously open to question, and as the noble Lord, Lord Caccia, said, the future always holds surprises and unpredictabilities. All I can say is that I am deeply impressed by the massive brain power of the humane, very peace-loving, people who have worked to plan an alliance defensive effort which will make sure that the last 35-year period of no European war will lead to there being no war between the Soviet Union and the West for 100 years or more; and then we shall get arms control during that period.

My Lords, may I be permitted to ask the noble Viscount for clarification of the meaning of his words on a single but very important point? It concerns the meaning of the terms "first strike" and "second strike". In the first part of his speech he referred to the fact that the Soviets have a considerable superiority in conventional weapons so that our own defence could be ensured only by countering a Soviet attack using conventional weapons with nuclear weapons. That is my understanding of what he said concerning the importance of a second centre of decision-making. In the second part of his speech he said very emphatically that neither this country nor the United States envisages the use of nuclear weapons in any circumstances as a first strike weapon, as distinct from a second strike weapon. By that I understood him to say that they would not be used except in response to a nuclear attack, and would therefore act as a deterrent to a nuclear attack. I only want to know which of these meanings he intends. You can use the words "second strike" to mean using nuclear weapons to counter an attack with conventional weapons, or is the noble Viscount restricting it to mean a counter-attack to a nuclear attack?

My Lords, perhaps I can try to answer the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, shortly. "Deter" is the operative word. Our intention is to deter war. To deter a potential aggressor from war we need all the feasible options. In that part of my speech when I was referring to certain weapons not being first strike weapons, I was referring to a suggestion made by, I think, Lord Chalfont that Trident, with its extreme accuracy, looked as though it was a weapon to take out the enemy's nuclear sites. I have pointed out that in fact it did not have that accuracy, and that it was in no way intended to change the nature of the British deterrent—submarine-based, an invulnerable base, so that they know we have got it and so that they know that if they adopt first strike we can reply to it. So far as concerns the use of nuclear weapons of different kinds within the various options, I can do no better than say that we have to have, and be known to have, the capability of using all those options if we are to deter the aggressor.

7.13 p.m.

My Lords, I burdened the House at the beginning of this debate with a long speech, and therefore I would not wish to keep your Lordships much longer. Indeed, I would have closed matters in three or four minutes had it not been for the noble Viscount's most recent remarks in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor.

My Lords, I fear that the noble Lord will have only about six minutes. I hope he will restrict himself to that period, because this is a timed debate.

My Lords, the noble Lord need have no fear; I shall do it in five minutes precisely. First of all, I would say that I must really contest the noble Viscount's statement—and I think I do so on the highest authority—that the Trident missile has not the accuracy and penetration needed to strike at pinpoint targets in the Soviet Union. That is what it is for.

I should like, finally, simply to thank the House for being so constructive and for allowing us to have such an interesting and, to my mind, valuable debate. I was interested to hear once again the film "The War Game" brought into play; and also, once again, to hear the late Lord Mountbatten misquoted out of context, as he now frequently is by those who want to create the impression that he was in some way a unilateral disarmer. He was not, and those who read his speech very carefully will know that he was not. What the noble Earl, Lord Mountbatten, was doing was to point out the horrors of nuclear war. The argument is about how we prevent such a thing happening. Some people think we can prevent nuclear war by acts of faith and by showing weakness in the face of a ruthless enemy. I believe we do it by showing resolution and strength in the face of that enemy; and the only difference, I think, between those of us who believe that is how we achieve that strength.

The noble Viscount who answered for the Government presented the official case admirably. He answered the unilateralists' argument. I fear, however, he did not answer mine. But I hope we shall be able to return to this on some future occasion, and as time is short I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Marriage Enabling Bill Hl

7.16 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill, as many of your Lordships are aware, has had a somehat chequered history. It was first before this House for a Second Reading just two years ago, in February 1979, when there was a majority of 15 in favour of its Second Reading, out of a total vote of 101. It then passed to Committee stage. Though a number of amendments had been set down, many were not moved and those that were moved were withdrawn. It therefore emerged from its Committee stage in exactly the same form as it was in when it begun its life, and the wind appeared to be blowing fair.

But then came the Dissolution of Parliament, and with the Dissolution of Parliament all Bills that have not completed their course are swept away in the flood. So we had to wait until Parliament reassembled in June; and I re-introduced the Bill in its original, unaltered form on the first day it was legitimately possible to do so. Then, shortly afterwards it came up for Second Reading, and on this occasion it was defeated by a majority of six in a vote of 100. It was not the case that your Lordships had changed your minds with great suddenness in those few months between February and June. I subsequently analysed the vote, and I found that only six noble Lords had voted one way in the first debate and the other way in the second debate, and one of those admitted to me afterwards that on the first occasion he had gone into the wrong Lobby by mistake.

I then analysed the vote further, and if you discount those six as having cancelled themselves out and you assume that all the Lords who had voted for the Bill or against the Bill either on the first or on the second occasion, or on both, had all been assembled together at one time with one vote, the Bill would, I calculate, have been passed by a majority of seven. That is its chequered history.

Now what does the Bill say? First, it looks very complicated when you look at the list of prohibitions to be abolished, down at the bottom of the first page. The Bill is on the face of it complicated for two reasons. The first reason is that everything has to be said twice, first as it appears on the woman's initiative and the second time as it appears on the man's initiative. It is also very complicated because it takes account of rather remote relationships—grand-paternal relationships; what relationship you might wish to have with your grandparent's former spouse, or your grandchild's former spouse—and these are not very likely cases. That makes the Bill look complicated but it is a very simple Bill. What it does is to provide that any two persons of marriageable age who are not currently married may marry any other person who is not related by blood more closely than a first cousin. There is one exception; it is that of an adopted child.

That is the essence of the Bill. When you have worked out all the complicated tables at the bottom that is what it amounts to: that you can marry any marriageable person who is not blood-related except your adopted child. It is important to emphasise that this has nothing to do with incest. I have been accused by people who ought to know better (since they are apparently in charge of a local radio station) of doing propaganda for the legalisation of incest. There is nothing in this Bill which affects the present law about incest. Incest, as your Lordships know—and it is apparently something that some people ought to know, but do not know—is a crime carrying a very heavy penalty. It is only applicable to persons having sexual intercourse with persons who are blood related. Persons who are not blood related, even if they were step-father and step-daughter, and who engage in sexual intercourse are open to no legal action whatever; and they can go on like that (as the law now stands) just as much as can any two persons who are totally unconnected in any way by matrimony or otherwise—total strangers. And, as we know, many people do so. I emphasise this point because obviously it will be used in publicity against my Bill and it is totally unfair and has nothing to do with this Bill.

I regard this Bill as the logical conclusion of a long process of liberalisation which started with the Deceased Wife's Sisters Act 1907. As a small child of 10 at the time, I just remember the fuss and controversy aroused by that Act. I wondered what all the fuss was about—not understanding very much of what was involved. Since that time—and I will try to shorten the history since some noble Lords will be hearing it for the third time—there have been three landmarks. The first was when the right to marry non-blood-related persons connected by marriage—and this is shortly called affinity—the right to marry certain affinities, was extended by the Act of 1931. That extended the liberty to the spouses of one's own deceased uncle, aunt, niece or nephew—but not, in any case, son or daughter. That remained and still remains forbidden.

The next landmark, and an important one, was on the recommendation of the majority of the Morton Commission on Marriage and Divorce. The Act of 1960 gave the same rights to all persons whose marriages had terminated by divorce as to those who had been widowed. That was, naturally, the subject of considerable controversy at the time; but it went the whole way in treating the widowed and the divorced alike in regard to marrying affinities. The third landmark occurred last summer when your Lordships, without Division, for the first time on this issue, permitted the marriage of Mr. Berry and Mrs. Ward who were related as step-father and step-daughter—persons of very mature age who promoted a personal Bill. They had been on my file awaiting the success of my unfortunate Bill. Eventually, in despair—because they were of mature age and thought that the change would not come in their time—they very reluctantly went to the trouble and expense of promoting a Bill to make it legitimate for them, and them alone, to marry.

Your Lordships accepted this without Division and, I might say, with acclamation, thereby admitting that the principle that it is a mortal sin that ought to be a crime or ought, at any rate, not to lead to any legalised union did not hold, and that there were circumstances in which it was right for persons who were related as step-father and step-daughter to be united in matrimony—or any rate, that there were two such persons. That was all that that conceded; but the principle was involved.

All through this long period of liberalisation the opposition had always taken the same point of view: that this would lead to licentious unions, that it would lead to the seduction of innocent people and that it would lead to complications of relationships that were intolerable. All these liberalisations have been granted and the consequences which were foretold have not, I think, resulted. That has gone on through three-quarters of a century since the first Deceased Wife's Sisters Act. But the current image which is mostly put forward is that of the lascivious husband who now sees an attractive daughter of his wife by a former union and thinks she perhaps is to be preferred to the wife to whom he was already married; and takes steps to get rid of that wife in order to marry her daughter. That is the image.

I want to say emphatically that this Bill has nothing to do with that. This Bill has nothing to do with the risk involved in that. If you introduce into the family a pretty young woman, be she your wife's daughter by a former marriage or be she somebody else, you take a certain risk and the risk is inherent in the existing situation and occasionally results in an attraction resulting between the step-father and the child. But the Bill does nothing except to say that if this happens there may be occasions when it should end in marriage.

The Morton Commission, when thinking whether for "deceased wife" you might substitute "divorced wife", argued about this and argued the case that the possibility of ultimate marriage cuts both ways. They had witnesses who said they had seen and known of cases in which this lascivious husband had been encouraged by the fact that there was a prohibition on marriage and where he said to himself: "If I take a few liberties with the girl or seduce the girl, she cannot make me marry her; and neither can her family". It is arguable that it would work both ways if there are cases of seduction of this kind. But the Bill has nothing to do with seduction. If seduction occurs, it is because the opportunity for it is there in the shape of a step-father and an attractive step-daughter.

It is always said that in this way the stability of the family would be undermined; but I think that a far more serious way in which the stability of the family and the institution of marriage is undermined is when there are serious and lasting attractions—as revealed by the personal Bill your Lordships granted in the Berry and Ward case—because great stability sometimes is maintained by the couple and they stay together for many years. What undermines the stability of the family and, certainly, the institution of marriage, is the fact that these couples will be driven to living together outside matrimony and they have a very strong inducement to beget children who are illegitimate. These children are illegitimate in a sense which applies to no others because they can never be legitimated except by the marriage of their parents, and the marriage of their parents is forbidden by law.

I wonder how far this image of the lascivious husband is real. I should like for a few moments to look—my own experience. I served for nearly 20 years (most of them as chairman) on the metropolitan juvenile court, whose "clients"—if I may so call them—came from the district of Soho to the district of Fulham. Over that area there is a wide range of marital stability and instability and family complications.

In the whole of that time, and hearing many thousands of cases of one sort or another, I often had cases in which children were brought before the court as being in moral danger owing to the improper approaches, the sexual approaches, of their own natural fathers. It is a very curious fact that in all that time I never had a single case of an indecent or sexual approach by a step-father. That is one person's experience, but it was rather remarkable. Fathers are more common than step-fathers. We all have fathers but do not have step-fathers; but that hardly accounts for the rarity in this one wide area over a considerable period of time of no cases of this kind for which obviously the police and social workers would be on the lookout since they detected the fathers but apparently not the step-fathers if they were there.

I then thought that perhaps it was my duty to look round the world and see whether I was asking the House to introduce a measure that was quite out of keeping with the normal practice of western nations or nations who share in some aspects our type of culture. Looking round the world at their marriage laws is an extremely difficult process even if you have the assistance of your Lordships' very able Library staff. But I made some progress. I decided to concentrate outside Europe on English speaking peoples and, inside Europe, mainly on the EEC, these being perhaps in their different ways the nearest to us.

I did not find one certain case—but I am pretty sure of one—in which prohibitions go all the way unconditionally in the same way as ours. Regarding the one case where I think they do, I still have to get confirmation and that is the Republic of Ireland. I found at the other extreme quite a number of cases where the law was what this Bill would make it. For instance, in the whole of Australia. Until a few years ago, Australia made marriages with affinities, particularly between step-parent and step-child, subject to the approval of the court. Then they found that this was unnecessary and they took against it and repealed that. Now these are unconditionally valid.

In New Zealand where, thanks to the kindness of the High Commissioner in London, I was put in touch with the authorities on the spot, the condition still remains. You must get the permission of the court. Whether that will last or not we do not know. I asked what use was made of it and I was told that it had been in operation for five years, and they were able to find me two cases, both of which had been successful. But they did of course say that as the records were distributed all over the country a complete search would be very difficult. Coming a little nearer home, there are several states in the United States where these affinity marriages are universally valid and unconditional. They tend to be rather towards the western side of that continent, which is not perhaps very surprising.

In Europe, so far as I know, there are two countries where there is total freedom to marry any affinity. Those two are France and Sweden, for rather different reasons in each case. I shall not elaborate the reasons in order to save time. But there are a number of others in which they are permitted on condition that they have the approval of the court. Those include Denmark and I think Belgium, Holland and West Germany—but I still have to confirm those—Norway and Italy. I mention those two last because they have peculiar arrangements of their own.

In Norway, you have to get the permission of the court. If you do not get the permission of the court and nevertheless get yourself tied up, your children are still legitimate. That raises a rather curious question of when is a marriage not a marriage? In Italy they have a sort of sporting arrangement. You must get the permission of the court. If you do not and nevertheless behave as though you were married, you have six months during which any person can challenge the marriage. If you get by that six months, then your marriage becomes valid. Great ingenuity has been shown there.

I must admit that this is cursory—I do not have all languages and all time—and the civil codes of a number of countries are incredibly difficult to unravel. But I have come to the conclusion that prohibitions as rigid as ours are not widely in operation. Indeed, I thought that they were extremely unusual as I had been able to locate only one case.

We are always having talks and images of what might happen. I should like to conclude this discourse by giving a short summary of a few cases of what actually does happen under the law at present. I should like to begin with the first couple who called my attention to this matter. The man was widowed 30 years ago. He was left with two children of his marriage and one step-daughter of 19. After trying various composite households with various in-laws, he and his step-daughter set up home together. She looked after the children of the marriage and ran the house and he went out to work, though he was was very seriously disabled and had been so since childhood. This has continued for 30 years and they are now approximately 49 years old and 65. Now that he is coming up to pensionable age he is faced with the problem that the woman with whom he has lived all this time, and who has helped bring up his children, cannot claim any benefit as his wife. She too has a further deprivation, in that they did not think it right to produce children and she has been thereby deprived of the satisfactions of parenthood.

My second case is also a step-parent case, though those concerned are slightly older. She is 60 and he is in his '70s. They have also been together for 30 years, and I think—although I am not certain—that this originated in widowhood. They have produced children: two sons, now grown up. They speak of the trouble they have—partly a burden of guilt—and, as many of my correspondents say, the horror of living a lie. There are practical difficulties with taxation which all people in this position have. Also, they have feelings of guilt and concern about the illegitimacy of their children, who have not been told of this. But, after all, it may well be that they have found it out for themselves, as so often happens.

My third case is unexceptionable beyond belief. He is a bachelor in his '60s and he wishes to marry a stepmother, two years older, who has been widowed for 20 years and has no children. Unless all such marriages are immoral, I hardly think anyone could object to that. My next case is that of a public servant. This is not a step-parent case, but a case of in-laws. There are not only step-parent cases, there are also cases of in-laws. This is the case of a man living with his daughter-in-law. They are both divorced persons. They both say that they tried to make a success of previous marriages for the sake of the children but they failed. They are now living together and I received a letter the other day to say that their second child has just been born to them. It is admitted that in his divorce case the daughter-in-law was co-respondent.

I want to add a couple more examples which have rather peculiar features. One concerns a man who in 1963 at the age of 25 married a divorced woman with a daughter who was then aged 13. He had never known the woman's husband and he had no part in the divorce. When the wife died five years later the step-child was at boarding school and in the care of guardians. Later on, when she had reached the age of 20 and her step-father was 32, they decided they would like to be married. Her actual father had left the country and married abroad, and she had had no contact with him since the age of two. In total ignorance of the legal bar, they approached the local vicar, who was equally ignorant. He consulted the diocesan lawyers and apparently they were also unable to see any bar. The church was booked and the wedding announced, and no doubt presents had been received and the invitations issued. Then, at the last minute, the legal bar was discovered and the whole thing had to be called off. I think that your Lordships may not be surprised to hear that they took a decision: they said they would behave as though their marriage had been sanctified in church. They now have two small sons.

My last example is different again. This concerns a widower in his sixties who wishes to marry his step-daughter, who is five years younger. When his wife was dying she apparently conveyed to him that she hoped, after her death, her daughter would take her place with her step-father. This, in all senses of the word, she did; and they have lived together happily now for a number of years. If I may quote their own words, they say that they want to express their thankfulness—
"… to have had so much love and happiness but regret that it was nevertheless under a dark cloud."
If your Lordships will set this Bill on its way today, these are the kind of people whose problems you will solve and whose burdens and distress you will relieve. Surely, in an age when so many couples are deliberately choosing to live together outside matrimony, it is ironic that these couples who have lived together or who have wished to live together for long periods, earnestly desiring to be married, should be denied the opportunity. You may say that this is a very small reform in exceptional cases; but if a handful write to me there must be a few hundreds or thousands of people in the country in like case. In that sense it is a small reform, but it is no small reform to those who are affected by it, and those who are affected by it feel very deeply about it. It is on that account that I believe its importance is far greater than the number of persons affected. My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a —( Baroness Wootton of Abinger.)

7.44 p.m.

My Lords, I feel I must start by apologising for not having taken part in any of the previous debates on this Bill or in the Committee stage. Bishops have to cope with many conflicting demands on their time and, especially when one lives a lone way from London, as I do, the difficulties of doing all that one might want to do in this House are almost insuperable. However, there are some advantages in being able to approach this subject afresh.

I have read through all the debates and the whole of the Committee stage and in doing so I have formed a growing admiration for the noble Baroness for her persistence and determination to help those unfortunate couples of which she has given us some examples this evening and on whom the present law seems to bear with unnecessary rigour. I share her concern for some changes and I accept the implicatons of your Lordships' decision in the case of Mr. Berry and Mrs. Ward. I believe this points to the need for some simpler procedure to ensure that similar cases do not expose petitioners to the same degree of complexity, publicity and cost.

But I have also asked myself why it is that the Bill has drawn such vigorous opposition, not least from two of the right reverend Prelates who have spoken before me in previous debates, including such a redoubtable figure as the Lord Bishop of London, whom I am sure would have been here this evening had he not been recovering from flu, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, had he not been spending all day defending a major report in another assembly over the road.

However, having read this through, I asked myself why I too find myself uneasy about this Bill. It is not just because of Christian tradition in these matters. Traditions, even traditions as old as those of the Book of Leviticus, can and do change as understanding develops and the world changes. Nor am I uneasy just because there are the kinds of dangers to personal morality to which the noble Baroness has already called our attention. Obviously, anybody ought to hesitate before creating fresh temptations. The Christian conscience ought always to be sensitive on such matters; but one must be equally sensitive to the needs of the individuals to whom the noble Baroness has referred and whom this Bill aims to satisfy.

It is not just that people may be led into sin, incest or anything else: it is not that at all. It is not just tradition or personal morality which are the points at issue. It is, I believe, something to do with deep-rooted assumptions which seem to give shape to and hold together the institutions of our society. Bishops have no monopoly of wisdom in these matters but our job forces us to be sensitive to them. Indeed, one meaning of "religion" is that it is about the things which bind us together and bind us to God. So it is no coincidence that in the other assembly over the road this week we should have been agonising over similar questions—marriage, divorce, unity and so forth—the things which bind us together and help us to be social beings.

Constantly, when dealing with such matters, one has to be aware of the conflict between individual needs and wishes and the maintenance of the general framework which helps to define and stabilise social realities. One can put it in very simple ecclesiastical terms and say that it is the conflict between upholding standards and exercising effective pastorial care. The general wisdom in approaching such conflicts has been to say that it is better to work with a set of norms and to allow exceptions to them than to sweep away the norms altogether. It is this latter sweeping away that, it seems to me, this Bill is about. That, I take it, is what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was saying in his speech on the case of Mr. Berry and Mrs. Ward. He put it in almost precisely those words. This is where I would myself want to stand, and this is what I believe the two right reverend Prelates, who spoke in the two earlier debates, were also saying.

Let me very briefly summarise the main argument for the benefit of any who, like myself, were not able to attend those earlier debates. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford spoke of the family as a
"complex network of different kinds of relationship within which children develop, within which they mature and within which adult people live securely. But within that network there are necessarily inhibitions on sexual activity".—[Official Report, 14/6/79; col. 734–5.]
He went on to describe how in different ages, and in different cultures, too, those restraints have been expressed in different ways. But around the primary group of mother, father and children others are drawn into the network who share the same sense of belonging, who share the same intimacy of relationship and the same freedom with respect to one another, precisely because they acknowledge the same limits and the same inhibitions.

The so-called affinity restraints, which is what this Bill is about, clearly do not have the same biological force—they do not have any biological force at all—as the consanguinity restraints. But I believe that some sort of affinity restraints are no less desirable in defining a context in which there can be closeness between people, without explicit sexual activity. This does not mean that if it is defined in this way there will not be explicit sexual activity, but one is defining a context by the law. One is defining a context where people can belong to one another, without the question of possible marriage—and I say, deliberately, possible marriage, rather than possible sexual activity—giving a different complexion to their relationship.

Freedom and constraint, as we all know, are two sides of the same coin. I believe that families are free to develop a unique set of relationships between their members, because it is recognised that these relationships are different in kind from those with people outside the family. This is why, in all sorts of contexts, we say "It does not matter what you do. They are family. They will understand." This freedom exists, as I say, within the context of restraint.

The use by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford of the word "restraint" was taken up in the second debate on the Bill by one noble Lord who twisted it into the word "repression", and the right reverend Prelate was accused, as no doubt I shall be, of being more concerned with institutions than with people. But, with all due respect, restraint is one thing and repression is another, and what we are talking about is a set of structured relationships, a set of stable expectations between people, at present given the support of the law which allowed certain freedoms to develop—the freedoms of family life.

I do not want to overstress this point. Of course, there are some people who abuse the freedoms and ignore the restraints, and they are not likely to be persuaded otherwise by reading the table of kindred and affinity. I take that point. And, of course, there are other restraints besides legal ones. If this Bill is passed, we are not likely to see queues of step-fathers hurrying to marry their step-daughters. But I do not think it is wise to underestimate the importance of laws, even fairly obscure laws, in establishing social norms; and I believe it is even less wise to under-estimate the effect of abolishing laws as part of the process of undermining social norms. I think that this needs to be stressed, particularly at a time when the number of cases to which this Bill might apply—

My Lords, might I interpose to ask the right reverend Prelate to be precise on these matters? Would he apply the same arguments to defend the prohibition, which his Church defended, against marriage with a deceased wife's sister?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising that point to which I shall be coming in a moment. But may I, just for the moment, reiterate the point that I was about to make; namely, that present circumstances have to take into account the enormous widening of the scope of this Bill, as a result of relatively easy divorce; that when such legislation was first contemplated in the Deceased Wife's Sister's Bill, the number of cases to which it could apply would be pretty small. Nowadays, the field is many times larger. But, of course, the question of the deceased wife's sister has been raised in earlier debates and noble Lords have had some fun with the Bill; particularly the prophecies of ruin, which were emphasised, if the Bill were to be passed.

The noble Baroness, in introducing the Bill, has repeatedly made the point that the present Bill is only the final step in a long process, but I suspect that it was precisely this—the sense that it was the first step in a long process—which worried those who first fought the battles in 1907. The slow chipping away of the customary legal framework of family life may not matter very much at first, and may, indeed, even bring advantages and improvements, as quite possibly happened in the case of the Deceased Wife's Sister's Bill.

But there comes a point at which one has to ask whether the process has not gone far enough. It seems to me from the previous debates, with their concentration on the relationship between step-parents and step-children, that the really decisive point comes when the people concerned are not just members of the same family in the extended sense, but also members of the same household, and to have conflicting marital interests within the same household does, I submit, strike at the root of family life. The noble Baroness surely recognises this. Twice it has been pointed out to her in previous debates that her Bill, rightly, will not affect the prohibitions applying to adopted children, and twice I believe she has failed to take the point that, psychologically and socially, if not legally, exactly the same considerations apply to step-children—

My Lords, if the right reverend Prelate will give way for a moment, think that the mention of adoption of children was intended to make the position of an adopted child as nearly as possible that of a natural child, and that is not true of a step-child.

My Lords, with all due respect to the noble Baroness, it may be true of a step-child. Having myself been brought up in a family with step-children, I know how close and intimate the relationship can become.

Furthermore, both of the prelates who spoke in previous debates made the point that Church-State relations have a bearing on this Bill, in that canon law at present affirms the prohibited degrees. I do not want to make too much of this point beyond saying that much of importance hangs on the fact that civil law and canon law have so far managed to keep in step in matrimonial matters and that a certain sensitivity is required on both sides if this state of affairs is to continue.

In summary, let me repeat my main objection to this Bill. I believe that it would lead to a further erosion of the concept of the family as a stable set of structured relationships extending beyond husband and wife and beyond blood relations. Within that structure certain freedoms are possible because certain other freedoms are denied. I do not want to deny the freedom which the noble Baroness is concerned about—the freedom that some might marry in instances where a reasonable case can be made for it. That is why I should be perfectly happy to support a Bill along the lines of that proposed but not I believe yet read by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. But this Bill would I believe contribute to the erosion of the norm. That is why I must vote against it.

8.2 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to address your Lordships mainly because I have great depths of feeling about the matter. First, however, with other noble Lords, I must congratulate the noble Baroness on the persistence she has shown over this Bill. I am afraid that she has failed to convince me, although I have read through her speeches a number of times. I was the only noble Lord who in fact opposed the Bill of Mr. Berry and Mrs. Ward. I did not oppose that Bill because I did not sympathise with them. I did. I wished them well as the Bill went through, but I had the feeling throughout that the case of Mr. Berry and Mrs. Ward was going to be used as the thin end of the wedge. During the course of the debate I think I indicated this, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said to me that perhaps I was being a little too rigorous. So it is no surprise to me that we have this Bill again, supported, as the noble Baroness was earlier, by the case of Mr. Berry and Mrs. Ward.

I believe that we should be discussing another Bill altogether. I feel, with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, that we should be discussing a Bill to ameliorate the difficulties confronting what one might call the fringe. I cannot believe that we ought to pass a Bill which has as its basis the disintegration of the concept of the family.

From a very young age I was brought up to believe that the family is a unit. My mother remarried a number of times. When she remarried on the death of her previous husband we still remained a cohesive unit. We were a family. We were built round something. We relied on each other. If a person with children comes into a family, I believe that they all become part of that family. I cannot bring myself to believe that a complete family unit, with all its relationships and interlocking lives, its intimate knowledge of what goes on and the help that each member of that family gives to the other, should be broken. But that I think is what this Bill does.

I find myself in great difficulty over the Bill because the noble Baroness continues to talk about legalities. It is not the legalities that we are interested in. We are interested in a principle. This Bill introduces a tone which is entirely wrong. The noble Baroness said that she had been accused of promoting incest. I can appreciate that it is not incest which she is promoting; but when somebody looks at a family and sees what the result could be, morally and mentally it is incest, though legally it may not be. I am afraid that I do not like it.

I have not yet been convinced by the noble Baroness. I shall listen with interest to a number of other speakers who no doubt will support her, to find out whether I can come into closer touch with her. However, I must confess, with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, that if the bulk of your Lordships accept this principle—which I hope they will not—a far better Bill would be that of the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, which has not yet been read.

8.8 p.m.

My Lords, as one who took part in earlier debates on this theme and was convinced then of the rightness of this Bill, and who does not find that time has withered that argument or that the years have condemned it, I rise to support what has already so eloquently and convincingly been said by the mover of the Bill and would begin, as I think is only proper for one such as I, by a reference to the moral basis upon which I believe it is surely founded.

It is in no spirit of creating division among the Prelates that I would remind your Lordships that it was no less a person than the Lord Bishop of London who said at the last Second Reading that the debate had revealed that there was no great ethical, moral or religious objection as such to the marriage of those who were related by affinity. That I believe is a true representation of the basic Christian position.

I will not weary your Lordships with quotations from the Book of Leviticus. I would only say that those who would select particular passages should take the precaution of reading the whole document. They would find what a constricting effect it has on almost every legitimate as well as illegitimate practice. I believe that the Old Testament is an excellent guide and a servant of the good but that it is an intolerant master. Therefore I am not in the least concerned to quote particular passages from dubious documentary evidence to support what, after all, is the spirit and intention which I believe to be found consummated in the teaching of Jesus Christ.

I can see no reason why this Bill should not commend itself to those who are concerned with the moral stability of the community as such and wish to recognise that the institution of marriage is an entirely desirable norm. But if I may break a gentle lance with my right reverend friend of Durham, who unfortunately has had to go, I would remind him that to make the case that we are to respect norms entirely depends for its validity on the question as to whether they are the right ones. There are a great many norms which in my judgment are rather ridiculous taboos, and certain others which have grown up in the realms of superstition and have no validity at a time when we have to examine them more critically.

I am of course concerned with the restraints that belong to any freedom, because after all freedom is a form of ordered restraint, but I very much object to the concentration in this particular debate hitherto on the more sexual elements in marriage and I will delay your Lordships a little, if I may, to remind myself that in as much as people tend to live longer than they did, the promise "till death us do part" carries with it many more complications than it necessarily did for those in earlier ages. The longer you live, the more the problems that face you and the more the complications you have to deal with.

It is interesting that in the 1662 Prayer Book the first of those reasons for which marriage was ordained was the procreation of children and the second reason was the remedy for sin—or against sin. The third—and a poor third—was the mutual respect, comfort and love that the one ought to have for the other, both in prosperity and in adversity. With great wisdom my friends in the Anglican communion have now altered that introductory statement before people are married in church, and the one that was third now reads as the first requirement. There is a vague omission—I think we might call it, if we can refer to omissions as being vague—of the second, and there is a more mature suggestion as to the procreation of children. But the first consideration is that of the mutual society, help and comfort that the one ought to have for the other, and it is that to which my noble friend has attached the kind of emphasis which I believe is irrefragable.

May I add my own experience, long if not necessarily very deep. I cannot remember any practical case that has been advertised as almost a necessary consequence of the passing of this Bill. I find myself in complete accord with the noble Baroness in her insistence that it is not so much in the realm of sexual activity but in the more mature realm of people who have lived a long time and acquired all kinds of new circumstances, that the true basis of marriage for them is mutual society and help and comfort, and not the procreation of children and indeed, in many cases, not even the continuation of sexual activity. It is in this regard that I believe we have to face a sense of distrust, not only of the Church but of the law, when it appears that it is so geared as to frustrate proper and normal and health-giving associations among those who are mature and have necessarily in their maturity acquired greater relationships with a greater number of people.

I am not going to weary your Lordships with a long speech. I would emphasise, as I sit down, that only that law which appears to be compassionate as well as just is a law which commends itself; and if it is argued, as it was argued in previous debates, that few people have concerned themselves very deeply with this issue, may I finish by saying something about the kind of contacts that have come my way. Where people are aware of this law they regard it as stupid; if it is persisted in, they regard it as malevolent. What they believe is that the law should represent genuine and decent desires. Here I would support the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, who, in the previous debate, got himself rather lambasted for saying this, but I wish to repeat it because I believe it is true, that anything that can support and dignify the role of marriage at a time when so many things seem to be against it, seems to me to be of the nature of enlightened and civilised conduct.

This is a bad law. It is a bad law because it discriminates; it has no moral basis which is generally acceptable, and I firmly believe that with certain reservations that I have—for instance, I would not object in principle to an age limit under certain circumstances—a Second Reading of this Bill is the right and proper attitude for not only the Christian but also the civilised member of society now in order to safeguard and not to imperil the family. I believe that so long as this Bill is not on the statute book an Act of the kind as it now exists is detrimental to those interests which I believe can best be served, in part at least, by the acceptance of this Bill and its Second Reading.

8.16 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for his understanding speech. This Bill causes me great concern, for I fear that as it stands it will undermine the whole fabric of family life by creating an atmosphere of distrust between people and their in-laws which is by no means the norm, despite the perennial old jokes about mothers-in-law. If we may take just one example, page 1, line 14 enables a man to marry his mother-in-law. Now take a hypothetical case—an ambitious, unscrupulous young man, married to a wife who has a rich mother with a penchant for younger men. The wife goes into hospital and her mother moves in to keep house. That wife would never have a moment's peace of mind. Her husband could start an affair with her mother and eventually divorce her and marry the mother. Now, as things are he could only "shack up" with her, to use a revolting but expressive modern phrase, and without the prospect of marriage would probably not do so or even be tempted to do so. Where grandparents-in-law are concerned the possibilities may be fewer, but none the less they are there. In all cases, they are there.

Of course there are occasional hard cases and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, has given us some very heart-rending examples, but I still think it better, if more expensive and time-consuming, that they should either be dealt with by special legislation so that they are very carefully scrutinised individually, or that the courts and judges should have power to grant dispensations, where they are satisfied that all is above board. After all, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, has told us this is done in some other countries and here divorce is dealt with by the courts, so why not these marriages? Could the Bill not be amended or another introduced to that effect? Also where there is poverty could not legal aid be available? On 29th February 1980 The Times said in a leading article:
"The House of Lords has shown that it will entertain relief in deserving cases. Promotion of private legislation is a high hurdle to clear. But a high hurdle is appropriate …"
There is another aspect of legalising marriage between close relations by affinity. I think it will put ideas into people's heads which otherwise might never have entered them. I mean, for example, that a man who would never now consider having an affair with his daughter-in-law might very well be tempted to do so if the "incest taboo" were removed. In 1940 Professor Malinowski said:
"The main sociological reason for marriage taboos and prohibited degrees is the elimination of sex from relations of the family type. A group leading a joint life with the intimacy of daily concerns, with the need of an organised authority and unselfish devotion, cannot tolerate within its framework the possibilities of sexual approaches, for these act as a competitive and disruptive force, incompatible with the even tenor and stability of the family".
The moral teaching of all the Churches (as well as of Judaism and Islam) is clear on the seriousness of incest and the extent of the prohibitive degrees. It proceeds from the basis of the consistent teaching of the Bible. Affinity and consanguine relationships are listed on a par with each other in Leviticus and also in Deuteronomy, as they are in the lists of the established Church. Both Old and New Testaments allow for the few exceptions already made in 1907 and 1921 in English law, marriage to the deceased wife's sister and the deceased brother's wife. Family life is at a low enough ebb these days without our helping it down a bit further. This House starts its deliberations by praying for God's blessing on its work, and I do not believe it to be consistent with those prayers that we should give this Bill a Second Reading.

8.21 p.m.

My Lords, this evening I shall be even briefer than I usually am. I have read the speeches in the previous debates on this subject and I am impressed by the care and thought that many speakers have given to the subject. It seems to me, however, that the only real argument against the Bill is the possible effect on the family as an institution and similarly on marriage. Ten years ago I might have thought that those considerations would outweigh the merits of the Bill. Today, however, I do not believe that either the family or marriage will suffer from the liberalising effects of the Bill.

The people who suffer most from the existing restrictions of the law are those with high moral and religious principles, and the children; but there are, of course, others who lose financially and, in the main, need the money. The plain fact is that in most cases couples will ignore the law and simply live together, and that is what we have to face today.

Some of the prohibited restrictions are extremely bizarre; for example, a wife's father's mother. There could hardly be a sexual connotation in such a union, if that is what is worrying. I suggest we can safely sweep these aside without detriment to society in the cause of those where hardship does occur. I would therefore suggest that the Bill should not be amended, and I give it my full support. My Lords, this intervention has taken two minutes.

8.23 p.m.

My Lords, I think we all have a great respect for the noble Baroness's persistence and clarity, but the old adage that hard cases make bad law kept coming back to me when she was giving those very moving and human but highly specialised cases, which must be few in relation to the matter that she hopes to deal with. The phrase which the noble Baroness used, the logical conclusion of a long liberalising policy, would lull us into the sense that this was but a little Bill and would only really be a tidying-up operation in the liberalising attitude of 1907, 1921 and 1960. I would not agree.

When one reads the actual Bill, and discovers that when one personalises it it comes straight down to one's own mother-in-law as the first person mentioned, it really does make one realise—and I hope that your Lordships do not feel that I am exaggerating this point—that we are by this Bill opening doors which are so wide as to be quite intolerable in relation to the slow movement of thought concerning family life.

We may be at fault in the Church of England here. One of my brother right reverend Prelates has recently given his children a copy of what in this House I have heard known as "Ye little superstitious bookie"—I am referring to the Alternative Services book which has just been produced. My brother Bishop gave three copies of that new alternative book to his three children, and the three children all rose as one and said, "But where is the table of kindred and affinity?", which has whiled away many a happy 10 minutes waiting for a service to start. It is not in the new book. It is still in the old book, and the old book is still annexed and firmly, therefore, part of Church of England policy and tradition.

I think it is important, though, not to draw a false distinction between the Church being illiberal and standing on old traditions while the rest of the nation moves forward into a new warm-hearted humanity which the Church is out of touch with. If we were to give approval on Second Reading to this Bill we would in fact be driving a pretty smart wedge between the whole consanguinity aspect of marriage and the whole affinity aspect of marriage. So it is a very big thing the noble Baroness is asking us to do, very big indeed. It is saying in effect that only the consanguinity relations matter and that the affinity ones do not.

But the family is the sphere of de-sexualised effective ties—parenthood, the brother and sister relationship. This I know to be so. I happened to be the only child, and I happen to know that in our family our sons and daughters have such a deep relationship, the one to the other, that to say that there is a difference between the consanguinity relationship and the affinity one is, I think, to draw a conclusion which is a false one. Now a couple of them are married; as the family grows and develops one finds that the wider family, and especially the larger family, is a new network of in-laws, a family network established by marriage, and it is a non-competitive, de-sexualised, affectionate, warm complex of people. It is in fact a little tiny society within societies, and I have a feeling that where the health of the developing family is strong the health of the nation will be stronger. As I see it, this particular Bill will drive a wedge between the two halves of the family.

Of course, it does drive more than a wedge, a whole coach and horses, through the Church's list of prohibited degrees. It seems to ignore the fact that in our Christian country, the established Church is not a church of privilege but a church of opportunity; and today in another place, from 10 o'clock this morning, the General Synod of the Church of England has been giving the most careful thought to how in covenanting the main line Churches can come into a newer and closer relationship. So that it is not just a Church of England and state relationship; it is a Church and state relationship.

In this relationship there has always been general agreement concerning the prohibited degrees. So far as I know, no approach has yet been made to the General Synod of the Church of England, for instance, concerning the de facto changes that would be necessary in Anglican law and practice if this Bill went through. So far as I can see—and maybe the noble Baroness will mention this in her reply—one of the fatal defects in the Bill is that there is no conscientious clause whatsoever in it, which means that a clergyman of the Church of England would be put into an impossible conscientious situation in relation to such a marriage when the kindred and affinity still remains in the Prayer Book. That is, I think, an important area. But in general one feels that this is a down-grading of the importance and the social ramifications of the whole family unit.

Having said that, let us consider at this rather late stage of the debate what positively we from these Benches—which I represent for the moment—have to offer? Indeed, my brothers have been working hard since 10 o'clock this morning in another place, so they need some refreshment. What do we from these Benches have to offer? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, whose retirement is soon coming and whom we shall miss tremendously on these Benches made a very liberal speech, but it was not a speech concerning the derogation of principle; it was a speech seeking to raise the particular opportunity of a special need. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford said in this House on 14th June 1979, at column 733:
"I cannot help feeling we ought to have presented to us in this matter a different type of Bill which would not make the sweeping destruction of the affinity restraints but would be directed to the removal of particular injustices in particular cases".
In fact, of course, events have overtaken that prophecy because since that time the Berry-Ward special Bill has been brought in and passed and that special case has been dealt with.

The magisterial way in which The Times refers to the matter—and I shall conclude my speech with this quotation because it is a good summary—is as follows:
"No general legislation in this matter should be approved which does not preserve the unambiguity of that parental relationship for as many years as are required for its unambiguous preservation".
It is referring particularly to the step-father/step-daughter situation. But it then says—and this is its final phrase—
"In the meantime the House of Lords has shown that it will entertain relief in deserving cases. Promotion of private legislation is a high hurdle to clear. But a high hurdle is appropriate".
I believe that a high hurdle in special cases is a right, proper, humane and compassionate approach to the fairly small handful of very special cases, rather than the dropping of not just a bad law—to quote the noble Lord, Lord Soper—but the long centuries of law which have been both law of Church and law of State, which have held that the affinity relationships as well as the consanguinity relationships are part and parcel of that gift of family life which is still one of the great and precious gifts in our nation.

My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate sits down, I wonder, as a matter of interest, whether he thinks it would be all right and the family would be safe if the father's father's wife or the wife's daughter's daughter were allowed to marry? Are not these things a bit far-fetched in themselves and surely to have them associated together is a bit odd?

My Lords, it is true that the original Prayer Book lists, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, reminded us, are based on the Levitical pattern, are broadly drawn, but I think that they were broadly drawn for the sake of parity and fairness as regards all the people concerned. But with the development of divorce and with people marrying at quite widely different ages, some of even these slightly—I think that this was the noble Lord's phrase—"odder" or "way out" ones may soon be possible. This is an attempt to be fair across the board and that is how I think it has been read. That is why we all enjoy reading them before church begins each morning.

8.35 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to begin by supporting the remarks made by two earlier speakers: first the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham who remarked that we are not concerned here with the question of sin or otherwise, or morality in isolation; and secondly, the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Soper, that what we want to see as regards any law is that it should be just and compassionate. I am sure that the New Testament teaches us that the rigid application of moral principles without love and compassion and without regard for the welfare of members of society is invalid. What we are concerned with here is what will work to the best result for the welfare and happiness of the members of our society. I should also like to add that when we talk about "the family" we are talking not so much about an institution as an institution that consists of actual people—men, women and children—individuals with whom we are primarily concerned.

I freely acknowledge that this Bill would bring genuine happiness to a few people, if only by relieving them of the complicated and costly procedure of having to win Parliament's approval to have an exception made in their case. But I believe that, without proper safeguards, it will bring unhappiness to a larger number of people by introducing potential conflicts of interest in the family. This is most clearly seen in the provisions that affect step-children.

The totally new factor that would be created by the Bill is that a man would be enabled to marry someone who had grown up as a child in his household—namely, his step-daughter, someone to whom he had acted as parent. That would be totally alien both to Christian tradition and to our own country's customs and culture. Of course, no one would suggest—and certainly no one appears to be suggesting—that a person should be allowed to marry his adopted child. That perhaps shows that the objections are based not just on blood ties, but on the very nature of the parent-child relationship. Family relationships, especially that between parent and child, are based on a type and degree of confidence, trust and intimacy that simply is not compatible with a relationship as lovers. Furthermore, a child is physically and emotionally dependent upon its parent. We do not want to open the door to a situation where abuse can be made of that dependence, and made legally.

It may be said that the temptations to indulge in filial abuse already exist, only that the situation cannot be rounded off, as it were, by marriage. But when we pray about temptation we pray that we should not be led into temptation, rather than that the object of temptation should be legalised.

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way for a moment? Surely there is nothing here that increases the temptation. The temptation, as the noble Lord has himself said, exists in the presence of an attractive young woman in the family and the possibility that the head of the family, the father, may be tempted to make a liaison with her. There is nothing in saying that marriage at the end is possible that increases the temptation. In fact, as I pointed out, in some respects it diminishes the temptation.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. I think that this is a matter of judgment. I believe that to pass this Bill would, in effect, not only make this kind of filial abuse legally possible, but would imply some measure—

My Lords, it does not make it legally possible; what the noble Lord called "this kind of abuse" is legally possible at present. Perhaps it ought not to be, but it is.

My Lords, again, I thank the noble Baroness. I am not thinking only of the sexual kind of abuse. One can also imagine cases where a step-father has a relationship where the child is obedient and expects to obey the parent; when it comes to the question of marriage, the step-father may well abuse that obedience on the part of the child in order to persuade the child into marriage. It is that of which I am thinking, not just the sexual side. I believe that to pass this law implies some measure of society's approval of that sort of conduct.

The overriding requirement is not to change the law in such a way that young people would be exposed to the results of these conflicts of interest. At the very least safeguards for young people should be provided. Your Lordships will remember that in the last Parliament various safeguards were considered, but none was found acceptable. I think that we are entitled to know from the noble Baroness whether she thinks that safeguards are not necessary or whether she has investigated possible safeguards and not come up with one that would be satisfactory. In this respect I think that we shall look with interest at the Bill which may come before your Lordships' House and which is to be introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran. But as this Bill has no safeguards at all, I, personally, have no hesitation in opposing it.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask him one question. He said that he finds it alien for a man to marry his stepdaughter. Would he still find it alien for a man to marry his step-daughter if his wife was deceased?—and I am not thinking of the cases concerning obedience.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to emphasise the point. I did not say that it was alien simply to marry his step-daughter; I said that it was alien for a man to marry someone who had been the child of his own household, who had grown up in his household and to whom he had acted as parent.

8.43 p.m.

My Lords, in view of the lateness of the hour I shall be extremely short. Of course, no Member of this House would be expected to vote for this Bill if it is against his religious convictions. Nobody would expect that. I am not an authority on contemporary religion. Rightly or wrongly, I had understood from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London that there was no moral or religious objection. Indeed, when we discussed the case of Berry and Ward I think it was the same right reverend Prelate who was almost enthusiastic about the Bill going through, in which case it is not a question of opening doors. After all, it is about 70 years since the deceased wife's sister provision died. It is a bit late to start talking about opening doors.

The one thing with which I cannot agree is the suggestion—whether one relies on the Old Testament or the New Testament—in view of the whole history in the area of social welfare, that, of all Governments, this Government should allow legal aid for cases of this kind. In a way it seems to me extraordinary that under the present law one has to come to this House with a Private Member's Bill. We are rather back in the situation of the middle of last century when one could get a divorce but, apart from other legal proceedings, one had to have a Private Member's Bill passed in your Lordships' House. I know a little about this because one of my great grandfathers did this himself and when I was Lord Chancellor I was interested to find that all the records and the evidence of the case had been carefully preserved and are still in the Victoria Tower. But for many years he could not get the divorce because he simply could not afford it.

At that time the result of those laws was, as we all know, that there were two laws about divorce. There was one law for the rich and there was another law for the poor. I understand that the recent case of Berry and Ward, when everyone—including the right reverend Prelates—said what an eminently correct case it was and that it would be wrong in any way to oppose it, and when not one Member of your Lordships' House voted against the Bill at any stage, cost them about £1,000. I think that this is an intolerable position. When we have already removed so much of the law of affinity, it seems extraordinary that we should not finish it altogether and I, personally, strongly support the Bill.

8.46 p.m.

My Lords, first, I should like to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and others of your Lordships in congratulating my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger not only on her tenacity and, indeed, the compassion that she has brought to this matter again today, but also on the new dimensions that she has brought to this debate; for she has not merely repeated speeches which she has made on earlier occasions, but in fact she has brought the results of her quite extensive research to this particular debate and also has presented to us new cases which I think have been most helpful to us all, on whichever side our view lies.

I should also like to follow what my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner has just said. Since the last occasion, on 14th June 1979, on which we debated a similar Bill introduced by my noble friend, a significant event has occurred which cannot be ignored by this House; that is to say, the passage of the Edward Berry and Doris Eileen Ward (Marriage Enabling) Act 1980. I shall come to the particular reasons why I consider that of special significance in a few moments.

No doubt many of us, when confronted by a problem or a proposal for legislation, try to answer at least two questions at the start: whether there is really a problem here, and whether it is something that Parliament can and should try to solve. If we did not know before the Berry and Ward Act, we certainly know now that there is a problem here. We also know that it is a problem which Parliament can and should solve, at least in some cases, as we did in that specific case.

I do not intend to go over again this evening the general arguments on both sides of the question of principle here—they have been covered, to some extent, again tonight—that is to say, whether marriage should be permitted between persons related only by reason of affinity, as proposed in my noble friend's Bill. We know well the sort of problems which can arise under the present law, and we have had especially in mind cases involving a step-daughter and her step-father who would wish to marry if they could. We know the hardship that can be caused—as has been indicated by my noble friend and others tonight—under the present law, and the heartrending sadness and anguish that may arise. Surely we cannot fail to sympathise with those couples; nor fail to be moved by their sad situation.

But on the other hand, many of us—perhaps all of us—also have sympathy for the view that the relationship of husband and wife is such, is so close, and ties between their two families are so close, that that itself needs to be protected, because the relationships formed are such special ones. Some would not be able personally to contemplate the marriage of step-parent and step-child in any circumstances. I confess that I am in the unfortunate position of being able—as I dare say we all are—to see both sides of this argument and to sympathise, to some extent, with both of them.

But the fact remains that there is a problem. We have had a recent example of that. The fact remains that there is broad acceptance within Parliament that it is a problem which Parliament should solve in at least some cases. It was clear during our debate on 22nd May last year on the Second Reading of the Berry and Ward Bill that the power of dispensation to allow a step-parent and step-child to marry has existed for a very long time. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor himself mentioned that. It exists now, as has been mentioned tonight, through the promotion of a personal Bill and its passage through Parliament.

We are bound to ask ourselves in discussing my noble friend's Bill, is that the system we intend to retain? We know that it is a very costly system, as I indicated and as has also been mentioned by my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner tonight. The total cost of presenting a Bill of that kind, covering the printing costs, which are the main elements, and the House fees, which are comparatively small, was then in the region of £1,000. That does not include the fees of Parliamentary agents. Inflation, no doubt, has had its inevitable impact since then. So that course will not be open to some couples because of the cost.

If we intend to retain that system, based upon our exercising our discretion in favour of or against particular parties in the future as we did in that case, how do we intend to exercise that discretion? That is another question which I feel, with respect, we are bound to ask ourselves. Mr. and Mrs. Berry were just about the most perfectly deserving case one could imagine, but what if another couple should come along, perhaps deserving, but seemingly to some less so than Mr. and Mrs. Berry, as they now happily are? Would we reject them? Would we really turn them aside after they had subjected themselves to perhaps the most public of all scrutinies here under the searchlights of Parliament itself, and after they had declared their love so publicly? After they had perhaps made such financial sacrifices and shown their determination in wanting to be married instead of just living together?

If we did reject them, on what basis would we do so? What criteria would we use? Where would we draw the line? People surely have a right to know. I bear in mind, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich reminded us, that in that article which he quoted there was reference to "a high hurdle". But the difficulty is, how can people know in the present situation how high that hurdle is that they are expected to try to overcome? Can we really see ourselves rejecting a couple who had tested themselves? Because that is what they are doing when they come so far as to your Lordships' House.

Although these considerations were not spelt out during the debate on the Berry and Ward Bill last year, I suspect that they were among the ones in our minds when the general view emerged here that the present system was unsatisfactory, as indeed the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor indicated. So if we scrap the present system, what do we put in its place? Do we replace the parliamentary scrutiny of a couple by some other form of scrutiny as some have suggested, or accept the simple, straightforward, general dispensation offered under this Bill?

In previous debates, as we have heard again tonight although not in detail, we have considered the possibility of a provision requiring a couple to apply to the court for consent to marry. I have looked at this idea again since our debate last year, and despite its attractions at first sight I am bound to say that I still remain as unconvinced about its practicability and indeed its desirability as I was when it fell to me to spell out some of the disadvantages when we discussed it in Committee on my noble friend's Bill on 15th March 1979. Those were difficulties which were also endorsed by, for example, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and others.

I do not intend to go into them in detail, but perhaps should make just a brief reference to one or two. There was first the problem that we would be imposing on the courts a difficult and complicated task with which they are not equipped to deal, and which it would be unsuitable for them to undertake. The fact is that they are accustomed to hearing and testing evidence from opposing sides and that here there would be no opponent, unless, say, the court was required to consider whether either party had contributed to the breakdown of an earlier marriage, in which case a former spouse may appear or be called to give evidence, or oppose the proposed marriage with the need, perhaps, to be legally represented and the additional costs that that would involve. An examination on such a matter would also run counter to the modern practice to avoid apportioning blame on the breakdown of a marriage—the concept of a matrimonial offence—and would possibly also reopen old wounds.

Again, would the court be required to examine financial matters? And how should that be done? There is the possibility, too, that that would involve additional witnesses, and perhaps opposing parties also legally represented. There would also need to be provision for appeals. There were other objections which I shall not go into, not least the costs and delays involved in such applications. Of course the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in our debate last May indicated the difficulty of leaving matters of this kind to the judiciary.

So, my Lords, before returning to the solution proposed in my noble friend's Bill, let me ask whether there is any other form of scrutiny that might do instead of Parliament or the courts, and which did not amount to a requirement to seek consent, for I do not feel that there is anyone other than Parliament or the courts to whom we would be prepared to give power to grant or withhold consent to marriage: whether there is anyone, in other words, the couple should be required to consult before marrying.

I had in mind here the provisions under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, that before a hearing on a petition for divorce there has to be filed a certificate stating that the party's solicitor has discussed with the party the possibility of reconciliation. In mentioning that, one also bears in mind that it soon became clear that in practice that was, in most cases, little or nothing more than a formality, at least by that stage of the proceedings, the marriage itself.

I suppose it would be possible for provision to be made for the couple to be required to consult, say a social worker of some kind, or a marriage guidance counsellor about the circumstances of the marriage, and to obtain a certificate to that effect which had to be presented to the clergyman, or registrar of marriages, before they could marry. But I think there would be formidable practical objections to even that. Certainly there could be no question of such a person withholding a certificate, still less any power to prevent the marriage other than by means of an objection which is open with marriages as they are now.

In the first debate I took up a neutral position for the then Government; and in the second, while maintaining that neutrality on the merits of the Bill, I felt that as the House had so recently then given a Second Reading to the Bill, it should do so again, and I was in favour of the Berry and Ward Bill. Since our earlier debates, I have given a great deal more thought to this whole matter, as we know your Lordships have too from the speeches made tonight.

I cannot, of course, commit my noble friends, but I am bound to say that the more that I think about this matter, the more I become convinced that the question of a marriage between a man and a woman related by reason of affinity only is a matter for them and who-ever they may choose to consult—their religious advisers, their families, or whoever—just as with any other permitted marriage. There will always remain the moral, social, family constraints upon an unsuitable marriage and they will influence a couple, I think, far more than anything else. If they wish to be properly and legally married rather than just living together—I confess I am still old-fashioned enough to prefer couples to marry—surely that will itself enhance the status of marriage.

For the reasons I have given, I believe that in passing an Act like the Berry and Ward Act we have indeed acknowledged that the basic problem exists and should be dealt with, in some cases at least, and that because of the practical problems involved, the only fair, effective and civilised and compassionate way to solve the overall problem is through my noble friend's Bill, and I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

9.1 p.m.

My Lords, the policy of the marriage law as to capacity to marry has been debated in your Lordships' House on four occasions in the last two years. Two of those debates were in the first part of 1979 on Bills in the same form as that now before the House—and indeed on the first occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, replied on behalf of the Government—and more recently many of your Lordships took part in or heard the debate on the personal Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, which was subsequently passed into law. Today we have another opportunity to express our views on the present restrictions in England and Wales on marriage between persons who are related by reason of a previous marriage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, has had her disappointments in seeking to advance her proposals to the point of acceptance by both Houses, but nothing daunted—and perhaps encouraged by some of the speeches made in the debate on the personal Bill in May of last year—the noble Baroness has set before the House her original proposals for a general relaxation of the law. This debate has shown again how a united concern for the welfare of families and of the wider community can yet lead to differing views as to what should or should not be done on this matter, and certainly this is not an issue on which I should seek to try to put forward a single Government view, and I shall not try to do that.

The noble Baroness at the end of her speech described the circumstances of a number of people who, under the present law, cannot marry the partner of their choice but who nevertheless would like to do so. The sole impediment, as I understand it, is that at least one of the parties has previously contracted a marriage, now ended by death or divorce, which brought the party within a degree of affinity to his or her new partner. Had the previous marriage which created that relationship of affinity not taken place, there would be no legal obstacle to marriage between the two people concerned.

I thought your Lordships might like to hear what evidence I have from the Home Office of the interest in and concern for this matter so far as statistics are concerned. Over the past 15 years, the Home Office and the General Register Office, the two Government departments concerned with the working of English marriage law, have come to know of 25 such cases as a result of the receipt of inquiries by or on behalf of couples who wish to marry but who are prevented by the present law on affinity; 17 of the cases are of step-parent or grandparent and step-child, and eight of parents and children in law.

So far as the wishes of the community at large in the current climate of opinion are concerned, in practice the representations we have had all come from or on behalf of people who have an immediate or direct personal interest in the possibility of a marriage within the prohibited degrees of affinity. That supports the conclusion of the view expressed in 1970 by the Law Commission in its report on the law of nullity that no significant public interest had been expressed about amendment of the law in this respect. But, of course, that does not deny the assertion by the noble Lord, Lord Boston, that there is clearly a problem here, and of course it does not diminish the personal interest and in some cases (one can say from the noble Baroness's speech) the personal anguish of those personally affected.

The case advanced in favour of the Bill is based on the hardship caused to those whom existing law does not allow to marry. On the other hand, the need to preserve the stability and integrity of the family leads some of your Lordships who have spoken this evening into expressing anxiety lest it might be undermined by the development of inappropriate personal relationships between members of a family, in particular where people of different generations are involved.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham—I do not think I misinterpret his words—spoke of the general importance of the marriage rules on affinity in support of the stability of family life, and in essence, as I understood him, he and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said the Bill was too sweeping. In addition, I think it is fair to say that there are serious arguments to support the contention that the complete removal of the rules about marriage of those related by affinity could in some cases threaten that stability. However, clearly there is a broad measure of agreement about the desirability of making some standing arrangements to relieve hardship in particular cases; that is, standing arrangements other than the procedure, both cumbersome and expensive, of a personal parliamentary Bill.

The noble Baroness spoke of the statutory procedures which were started in Australia and still continue in New Zealand, and of course there are the procedures of the Roman Catholic Church, which for many centuries, I believe, has had its own internal arrangements for the grant of ecclesiastical dispensations, but these are available, as one would expect, only to members of that Church and in circumstances where the proposed marriage would be valid under the secular law. In principle there may be, indeed I think there is, something to be said for having a special procedure. But there remains the problem, which was so clearly brought out in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, of affording sufficiently precise guidance to the courts so as to make the issues justiciable.

It is clear that the important issue—namely, the effect of the Bill on family life—has as its focus the possibility of marriage between step-parent and step-child. At Committee stage of the first Bill of the noble Baroness in the closing weeks of the last Parliament proposals were put forward for the introduction of a special age limit to govern marriages to which the Bill would apply; although the only mention of this matter was I think by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge. An amendment of this kind might go some way to meet the concern which has been widely expressed in relation to the case of step-parents and step-children, although of course it could not provide complete assurance to those who feel anxious on that matter.

Finally, I should like to refer to the drafting of the noble Baroness's Bill. There may be an argument that in a matter of this kind the law should be consistent throughout Great Britain. As drafted, the Bill does not extend to Scotland, and if it makes progress the House might like to consider amendments to amend the law of Scotland as well as that of England and Wales. I am told that it would be necessary to amend the Scottish law of incest, which is somewhat more extensive than that obtaining in England and Wales.

There would also have to be technical amendments designed to cover the circumstances of marriages where one, or both, parties had a domicile outside Great Britain, or where the marriage was celebrated in another country. If the Bill is given a Second Reading by your Lordships, I shall be ready to co-operate with the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, in seeking to draw up appropriate amending provisions for submission to your Lordships' scrutiny during later stages of proceedings on it.

9.10 p.m.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for his very kind and co-operative speech, and should the Bill be given a Second Reading this evening I shall indeed be very grateful if I have an opportunity to co-operate with him in drafting amendments that may be desirable to make it more effective and more precise. I find it exceptionally difficult to reply to the debate because, as far as I can see, for the most part there has been no meeting of minds on the main issues, except in regard to certain things which I shall mention in a moment. There has been no meeting of minds in the sense that practically no attention has been paid to most of the positive arguments that I have put forward in support of my Bill. These were ignored. There was, for instance, the fact that the prohibitions of the present degree of intensity are not widely scattered through other countries that have more or less a common culture with ourselves.

I find that there has been a common agreement that we are all interested in the institution of marriage and that we all have a regard and a respect for the institution of marriage and for the maintenance of what has been called the integrity of the family. However, I think it was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich who said that the Bill would lead to the degradation of the family. I tried to point out that the present situation injures those de facto families, many of which after all have maintained stability for very long periods, indeed in many cases for much longer periods than are observed by a good many marriages broken by divorce. Those de facto families are ignored. One matter about which I spoke but to which no subsequent reference was made is that of the position of the children of such marriages. That point seems to me to contain one of the most important arguments for allowing the relaxations to become general.

I think that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich referred to the fact that not everybody is a member of a particular church, or certainly not of the Church of England. As my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner said, it is of course obligatory for any person who belongs to a religious denomination which holds certain acts to be against that religion to refrain from those acts. But I do not think that we are now in a state in which the fact that some, not necessarily all, spokesmen for the Church find all affinity marriages that are now prohibited to be contrary to their religious belief justifies the imposition of a similar prohibition on the rest of the community, and I hardly think that in this day he would claim it.

The only solution that seems to be suggested to what is recognised as a real problem is that there should be some special investigation. As my noble friend Lord Boston has pointed out, special investigations must be done by someone, and whoever they are done by they may involve, and probably must involve if they are to have any significance, very detailed inquiries into the personal history of the particular persons involved; and I know that many of the couples with whom I am acquainted would shrink from that kind of private investigation into matters which are, after all, their private concern. That is one difficulty. Of course, if the law became general probably younger couples would be asking for permission, and they might be less resistant because there would be a less long history to inquire into; but I still think that they, too, would object to detailed investigations into what their sexual and familiar relations had been. That is one difficulty about it.

Another problem is that we have to decide, as my noble friend Lord Boston said, who is to make these investigations. I think the experience in Australia, which tried them and threw them away, and the experience in New Zealand (which could find me only two instances, both successful, and, although I have no particular details of them, I was given the impression that they were rather like the ones we have had here) does not encourage us to experiment along those lines.

I can only repeat that there have been many references to compassion but, if I may say so, I think very little compassion has been shown by the opponents to this Bill to those persons who really suffer from the situations with which it attempts to deal. Certainly such compassion has not been widely shown in this Chamber tonight, and nothing really effective or positive has been suggested by those on the opposite side—and I do not refer to the Benches. Nothing effective has been suggested which would really give vent to that compassion among these people and among younger generations in similar situations who are following in their footsteps. Therefore, I can only beg your Lordships to take the Bill as it stands at present. I will say now that I would not myself propose an amendment as to age but I am not convinced that I should oppose it, largely because I think it is a great pity to have too many ages of adulthood. We have one or two already, and we have tidied some up; but that is a question which will arise, I think, if at all, at Committee stage. I therefore ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I, with your Lordships' permission, take up the use of the word "degradation"? It was the word "deprivation" in relation to stability in the family that I was using, not "degradation".

My Lords, I apologise if I misheard the right reverend Prelate.

9.17 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Bill be now read 2a ?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 49; Not-Contents, 20.


Airedale, L.Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Ampthill, L.Lovell-Davis, L.
Aylestone, L.Mackie of Benshie, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.Monson, L.
Birkett, L.Northfield, L.
Boston of Faversham, L.Oram, L.
Brockway, L.Peart, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Craigavon, L.Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
David, B.Raglan, L.
Davies of Leek, L.Ritchie-Calder, L.
Dowding, L.Robbins, L.
Evans of Claughton, L.Ross of Marnock, L.
Gainford, L.Segal, L.
Gardiner, L.Soper, L.
Goronwy-Roberts, L.Stamp, L.
Hale, L.Stedman, B.
Hanworth, V.Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Hughes, L.Stewart of Fulham, L.
Jacques, L. [Teller.]Teviot, L. [Teller.]
James of Rusholme, L.Tweeddale, M.
Jeger, B.Underhill, L.
Kilmarnock, L.Wells-Pestell, L.
Kirkhill, L.Wootton of Abinger, B.
Listowel, E.


de Clifford, L.Morris, L.
Durham, Bp.Norwich, Bp.
Gormanston, V.Orkney, E.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.Robertson of Oakridge, L. [Teller.]
Halsbury, E.St. Davids, V.
Harvington, L.Saltoun, Ly. [Teller,]
Hylton-Foster, B.Strathclyde, L.
Lauderdale, E.Sudeley, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E.Torphichen, L.
Lyell, L.Winchester, Bp.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly: Bill read 2a , and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.