Defence

Part of LONDON COUNTY COUNCIL (GENERAL POWERS) BILL [Lords] (By Order) – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1959.

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Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper 12:00 am, 27th July 1959

What the soldier is now receiving is not good for the job. What Ministers say he will have in the future, if it is as good as they say it will be and it comes forward in sufficient quantities, will be all right. Our point is that they said, several years ago, that what the soldier would have by now would be good and would be all right. Perhaps, because I am not a Conservative Member of Parliament, it is easy for me, but I am not as willing as the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely to assume that Ministers' promises about the future will necessarily be any better than what they promised in the past for today. As at this moment, as I shall try to show, they have not delivered the goods.

I am glad that the Minister of Defence has sat through the debate. We are, naturally, sorry that he is not to address us. On the other hand, the fact that he has not come down here with a speech already made out probably means that he is in a better state of mind to take into account what we are saying. How much good that will be I do not know, because he will not be Minister and will not be able to do anything about it in a very short time.

The Minister of Defence is very much like a man who keeps two sets of books. Again and again, he has come to the House, and has authorised his Service colleagues to come here, to put before us one set of books just like some business man might put one set before the accountants employed on behalf of the public to look into tax matters. He has presented us with a state of affairs which seems to be compounded as to one part of optimism—a genuine hope that things will improve—as to another part of wishful thinking—this is what he would like to do and would like to have—and as to a third part, frankly, of misleading aspersions. I think that his public presentations have included all three parts. The whole lot have been founded, as I think the hon. Member for Torrington said, on a policy changing all the time.

I rejected the Minister's White Paper in 1957 because of what I regarded as the central fallacy that, by taking up Mr. Dulles' idea of massive retaliation, we were bound to achieve some streamlining of forces and save vast sums of money. I have never been one to claim that we could run defence cheaply, and I do not think we can today. From our point of view on this side, we should not have had a static or declining national economy, so that we could have had expanding resources and, therefore, would have had a larger share available for defence.

The Minister of Defence thought that he could save a lot of money at that time. He founded himself on that idea, but, gradually, he has been pushed off it, because, for instance, N.A.T.O. would not stand for the reduction he made in British troops and he had to make a partial recantation on that account, because the Air Force Chiefs of Staff ran "Operation Prospect", or because Admiral Lord Mountbatten managed to run a great effort about the rôle of the Navy. The Minister's policy has been changing all the time, and these changes of policy have meant that his presentation of the situation have never at any stage shown things as they are. Not until this year did Ministers come to the House and confess openly—not as well as to earn them complete absolution but, at least, to a limited extent—that the situation in the Services was not at this stage satisfactory or even very encouraging.

Anybody who thinks that it is sensible to make the kind of speech that the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely made really ought to re-read the debates of this year when Ministers all came clean fairly well about what was at present wrong, especially as regards the Army, and said that they all now realised it and were going to put things right in the years ahead. They have not done it in the past, and I really do not see why we should believe that they will put things right in the future.

This has been the Minister's public presentation—optimism, wishful thinking and misleading assertions—claiming credit for things which are not even in the pipeline, claiming credit for aeroplanes which are no more than a gleam in the eye of the man who hopes to help on the conception in the future, claiming credit for the T.S.R.2, which, heaven knows, is æons away, and claiming credit for transports when they have not even settled what they want. I could give a host of examples.

There is another set of books. No doubt, we shall find them in November. This set of books which the Government keep very close to themselves really shows the situation. One can but speculate now, but information does from time to time find its way out because every now and then somebody wants his particular grouse to be heard. On such information as one has, I join my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley in asserting that it suggests a very unhappy situation indeed, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) says, it suggests that we have not anything like value for the £1,500 million a year during the years that the Government have been spending it.

The priorities have all been wrong I still do not go along with my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley about the place of the thermo-nuclear deterrent I still believe that it was required, and I still join in the declaration which was made. But I never did believe that it should occupy the place it has come to occupy in our thinking, and I do not believe in committing ourselves, for example, to £200 million for Blue Streak and other future delivery systems. Nor do I necessarily believe that it called for another race of manned bombers. I am not at all sure that the present V-bombers with the stand off bomb would not have made that deterrent credible and relevant for as long ahead as we needed to cover ourselves, until we could see that we were to have a solid fuel rocket which could be delivered by other and much more mobile means.

However, let us accept that the thermonuclear deterrent exists. I thought I understood my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington to say that he did not believe that there was such a thing.