Orders of the Day — Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st August 1961.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 1st August 1961

Now he does not propose to take the engineers into his new Army. He does not propose to allow the agricultural workers or the miners to go into the ballot. He will, therefore, be left with hairdressers and tobacconists. When the hon. Gentleman's argument for conscription is reduced to its inevitable analysis, the result does not help one to understand either the military or the economic situation.

The House owes a debt to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) for raising the question of Kuwait. It is interesting to know that this is the first opportunity which my hon. Friend has had of raising what I called at the time one of the most remarkable military adventures in recent history. We were told that it was urgent to rush this Army out. It was rushed out to Kuwait, but it did not find an enemy.

A constituent of mine, Brigadier Fergusson, wrote an interesting letter to The Times. He said that this was an unopposed operation. It was an unopposed operation, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley asked certain questions which demand answers. We are now told that the operation was a triumph for the organisation of the War Office. The War Office is to show similar powers of organisation by bringing these men back again. As I said before, it is the most wonderful military excursion since the days of the Grand Old Duke of York.

The noble Duke of York,He had ten thousand men,He marched them up to the top of the hill,And he marched them down again. Now we are told that, once having landed soldiers in Kuwnit we axe to bring them back, presumably because the menace which we sent them to fight no longer exists—or does it? General Kassem is still there. The presumed threat to Kuwait is still there. We still have many British soldiers there, living in a temperature of 120 degrees in the shade.

The hon. Member for Dudley asked about the tanks of the Army of Iraq. He said that the troops could not operate in tanks because it was too hot. At the same time, however, he told us that Centurion tanks have been sent there for our troops. Presumably, British soldiers are to operate in Centurion tanks in weather which is too hot for them. All I can say is that when the Ruler of Kuwait ended his message by saying "May God preserve you" it would have been literally true if there had been any Army there to face us in the desert.

This was a remarkable military adventure, and the Government have still to tell us a little more about it. They still have to answer the searching questions of the hon. Member for Dudley and a few more. I want to ask a question which is always regarded as an indecent one in this House. What is this costing? I was told yesterday that our soldiers were operating there under the customary lavish hospitality of the Arab Ruler. What does that mean? Who is paying the Arab Ruler? Presumably he is getting his money from us. Nobody yet knows whether this operation is a military operation, or is meant to humour the Ruler, and make him keep his £400 million in the City of London.

At the time the Government embarked upon this operation they must have been aware of the problems to which the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire has drawn our attention. The must have known about Berlin, and about the possibility of trouble in other parts of the Middle East and also in Africa. When the hon. Member left the war Office he did not take its problems with him. They are still at the War Office. We want to know how the Government can possibly handle the situation. How cam they continue to spend these enormous sums of money in foreign lands and, at the same time, keep our economic and financial crisis under control? How can they possibly operate in all the different spheres which we were told earlier this year were absolutely necessary for them to operate in for the defence of this country? I stress now what I stressed them. If the machinery of this House was better adapted to make searching investigations of military expenditure in the early part of the year we should not have a financial crisis aft the end of it.

I now turn to the question of Berlin. Here again, we are told that we are faced with a formidable problem. I have little in common, ideologically, with Lord Montgomery, but in a recent article in the Sunday Times he drew our attention to the inescapable realities. Lord Montgomery argued that we could not possibly defend Berlin or Western Germany unless we were prepared to use nuclear weapons. Everybody knows that the use of nuclear weapons would mean suicide.

I have been to Berlin on many occasions since the war, and I have been in Western Berlin with the people who run the Fellowship of Reconciliation and other Quaker people in that part of the city. I have seen the developments. I remember Berlin just after the war, when the streets were masses of rubble and young women were wheeling bricks about in wheelbarrows and putting them into dumps for use in rebuilding the city. I was in Berlin during the time of the airlift and during the June rising.

Some times hon. Members accuse me of being too sympathetic to the Soviet Union. I remember being in Berlin during the rising and I tried to get into East Berlin. I passed the West German police and was then confronted with the Russian tanks, which were the final argument. I remember writing an article in the New Statesman in which I said that Russian tanks in Berlin were enough to make Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibnecht turn in their graves and I was denounced on Moscow Radio. But in Berlin to final reality is the Russian tanks. They are the final reality in the whole of Germany; the fact that the Germans are faced with the tremendous power of Russian military force which, in the ultimate resort, can be defeated only by a similar organisaton of the West, plus nuclear weapons.

I submit, therefore, that we are in an inescapable dilemma. We have to face the possibility of war, or nuclear war, or we must have an entirely new foreign policy. I want to see the Russians out of East Germany as much as anyone. I want to see them out of Hungary and Rumania and all the countries. I do not believe that an occupying army in any country is likely to help to persuade the population to believe in Communism, Socialism, or anything else, because the political thought is directed to getting rid of the occupying arm. I believe that Lord Montgomery was right and that we must have a five-year plan for the evacuation of the armed forces from East and from West Germany and from the Continent of Europe. The argument is powerful and I have seen no reasonable answer to it. If we are to avoid nuclear suicide we must be prepared to have a phased withdrawal of troops from all military bases in all occupied countries, and for that to take place by 1965.

I suggest that this is the right line of approach, from which there would be hope for Berlin and for East and West Germany, for the rest of Europe and for humanity generally. I certainly hope that Berlin will cease to be a city over which the shadows of destruction still loom. I hope that the time will come when we shall see Berlin the capital of a neutral, disarmed Germany, which would mean that our problem was beginning to be solved in a realistic manner.

The hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire referred to the speech made by President Kennedy. It was an important and interesting speech and I read it very carefully. What interested me was the last two paragraphs. After talking about the need for spending a greater sum of money on the armed forces of America, President Kennedy proceeded to deal with the question of civil defence. He spoke of a very big programme with the enormous expenditure of 230 million dollars upon air raid shelters for America.

If we want to see that argument carried a little further, and what it implies, we have only to read the article by Mr. Alistair Cooke in today's issue of the Guardian, in which he points out that the plumbing vested interests and the cement vested interests are greatly interested in the policy of making increased profits out of the plumbing and cement which is proposed for air raid shelters. If air raid shelters are so very important for the preservation of the United States of America, are we not entitled to ask: what about the air raid shelter programme for this country?

The Leader of the House of Commons has not a programme—he has not the time. What President Kennedy thinks is so important for the. United States is regarded as something that the Leader of the House of Commons cannot give us half-an-hour to discuss. Surely, we are geographically a little nearer the rockets than the United States of America. I am as much interested in the preservation of our cities and in the preservation of Cambridge in this country as I am in the preservation of Cambridge in Massachusetts, and I am as interested in the survival of the historic civilisation of Britain as I am in the society of the United States of America.

We should be telling President Kennedy that if this kind of strategy, this kind of policy and this kind of war that he envisages means that a very large percentage of the American population is to go underground that is not the sort of policy that should commend itself to our people if we have not the air raid shelters and no defences of this kind at all.

So we have to be prepared to rethink our whole policy in regard to our commitments with the U.S.A. As long as we are content just to accept the ideas of Mr. McNamara and his band, the people who are in charge of American defence policy, and to follow that line of policy, the two things that we are faced with are the possibilities of getting involved in a nuclear war, or, if we escape that, of being involved in an economic crisis which is absolutely insoluble.

At present, we are thinking of realigning our whole foreign policy in order to go into Europe. There is to be an important conversation between President de Gaulle and the Prime Minister, and we are told that the Prime Minister will tell President de Gaulle that unless we can come to some agreement about the economic conditions of the Common Market we shall withdraw our military support from Europe.

What is that but unilateral action? It is a curious state of affairs that the Prime Minister should try to solve his military and economic difficulties by going to President de Gaulle and saying, "We are going to take unilateral action which will weaken N.A.T.O." It is quite natural that people of this country should ask questions which are not being answered and which I am trying to put to the Government tonight.

We are in the middle of an economic crisis which we shall not get out of in the conventional way. As we find the new measures of the Government cutting into the standards of working life, the Government will be met by revolt in every industry in the country. In leaving the House for the long Recess I am not at all happy at the thought of having such a long holiday while realising that the Government do not seem to have any capacity, plans and ideas, but are running away and going from one subterfuge to another. They have come to the end of the road in which a crisis is inescapable.

I disagree with one point made by the hon. Member for Dudley. He said that we are better educated than the Russians. When I asked if he thought we were better technically educated than the Russians, either for peace or war, he said that we were better technically educated. I ask him to think about that again. I know that he is open to statistical argument. I ask him to read the speech of the Minister for Science. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire, who knows a little about the Soviet Union, will agree with him. One of the inescapable things in our dealings with the Soviet Union is that there is a new technical generation there, thinking in terms of all the technicalities of a nuclear age. I do not see the slightest possibility—