Alan Lee Williams – 1978 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by Alan Lee Williams, the then Labour MP for Hornchurch, in the House of Commons on 1 November 1978.

I warmly welcome the Gracious Speech. Although it is not one of the most exciting Queen’s Speeches that we have heard for a number of years. It is an immensely practical speech. I think it indicates that the Government will give priority to the fighting of inflation, so I welcome that very strongly.

I should like to make a brief reference to the paragraph in the Queen’s Speech which calls for an improvement in the Atlantic alliance. I draw attention to this item because I think that an opportunity has been missed by not giving higher priority to the question of standardisation. It is a missed opportunity, because President Carter made a very notable speech in March of last year on this subject. Both the Congress and the Senate have made their position clear. That is that they are very interested in pushing the standardisation of weapons within the Atlantic alliance, which, incidentally, would bring great economic benefits to Britain.

Therefore, I am very disappointed that there is no particular reference to it in the Queen’s Speech, although, perhaps, proposals will be brought forward to the House. However, as there will not be a debate about defence included in the debate on the Loyal Address, the House will not be informed about that.

I very much regret that during the debate on the Loyal Address, in which we shall be devoting a long time to a number of other subjects, there has been no demand from either the Opposition or other quarters of the House—apart from ​ myself and, I hope, others too—for at least some discussion about defence.

Standardisation brings great benefits to us, but it also raises another subject of which I should like to give notice rather than attempt to debate tonight, because no Defence Minister is present. I am really just putting down a marker. In my judgment, one cannot discuss standardisation of weapons without dealing with the question of specialisation within the Atlantic alliance itself. One goes with the other. I should like to see the Government giving some priority to this matter in the coming Session.

What I mean by specialisation is that further thought should be given to the proposition which has been discussed within the alliance for years—that is, that individual members of the alliance should be encouraged to concentrate on producing those forces that will not be copied or repeated elsewhere within the alliance. For example, there is a very strong case for having an air force composed of Dutch, German and United Kingdom elements, so that we have a tactical air force which is truly Europeanised, and one could extend that argument—I do not intend to do so this evening—to the naval forces.

I do not think that enough attention has been given to this subject, and it is part of the argument for standardisation and the proper effectiveness of the Atlantic alliance to allow nation States to concentrate on the provision of the arms and services in which they have particular expertise. I believe that an opportunity has been missed by not giving proper priority to this subject. This will cause some disappointment, but perhaps my disappointment can soon be overcome if at some stage—perhaps my hon. Friends will pass this on—some reference is made to this subject by the Government.

If it is not, disappointment will be felt by those who have been pushing this matter for a long time and asking the Government to give top priority to standardisation. I hope that, once the Government have accepted that, they will go on to look at the implications of specialisation so that we can increase the effectiveness of the Atlantic alliance.

I welcome the Gracious Speech, but I ask the Government to make a statement at the earliest opportunity on the matters that I have raised.