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In introducing the Air Estimates I will not attempt to cover all the ground surveyed in the Memorandum. I want, instead, to try to restrict myself to those points which have been the subject of controversy, or to those which are new.
The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), in his speech in the defence debate the other day, urged us to abandon the independent deterrent in favour of an increase in our conventional forces. The right hon. Gentleman was frank enough to tell us that he did not know the facts about the build-up of the V-force, but it is rather important that we should put a little more precision into his views on this subject. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the tapering off of the V-force, but I am not sure what he meant. Would he cancel the V-bombers at present on order and not yet entered into service? Would he cancel Blue Steel? Would he contract out of the Skybolt programme?
I know the difficulties in answering these questions when one is not in office and one has not the information, but I hope, all the same, that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) can enlighten us a little on this subject, for the policy of tapering off the deterrent is, I understand, only one leg of the policy. The other leg is the reinforcement of our conventional forces, and unless we can have a rough idea of the time-scale in which the right hon. Gentleman is speaking it is difficult to know what he means.
The V-bombers that we have on order, the Blue Steel that we have on order and our present plans for Skybolt will carry us well into the 'seventies. If this is something that the right hon. Gentleman accepts, there is not much difference between us. If, instead, he is urging cancellations or contractions, this is a very different story.