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Vote a. Number for Air Force Service

Part of Orders of the Day — Air Estimates, 1962–63 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th March 1962.

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Photo of Mr Richard Collard Mr Richard Collard , Norfolk Central 12:00 am, 12th March 1962

I think that I can say that I disagree with just about every word that the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) uttered, together with practically everything that he quoted and, I think, everything that he implied. In so far as he was talking about the British deterrent, I shall follow him to some extent in the course of my speech.

Perhaps I may declare an interest, which I have declared before, in that I am connected with a company which manufactures aircraft. I am not sure whether I should not declare another interest, because during the defence debate the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), in an interjection, implied that no Air Force officer could possibly say anything sensible about defence. It was also said from those benches—I have forgotten who said it—that the Royal Air Force had a vested interest in the deterrent.

If, for a moment, either of those rather extraordinary statements could be taken seriously, I must declare an interest in that I was an officer in the Royal Air Force for about twenty years, and that is an interest of which I am proud. I shall be brief, dealing with only one aspect of the Air Estimates and one aspect of my right hon. Friend's Memorandum, that is to say, the British strategic nuclear force comprised by Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force.

The objections to our having a British strategic nuclear force can be put into three categories: first, the moral one, which, in order to be coherent, would have to follow the argument that it is wrong to defend oneself at all; secondly, the political one, which is based on the rather strange idea that one gains political influence by retreating; thirdly, the operational one—the one I wish to deal with—which is based on the view that our deterrent force is no use operationally.

It is quite clear from the three speeches which came from the Opposition Front Bench during the defence debate, and it was made quite clear by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) this afternoon, that the defence policy of the Labour Party is now unilateral nuclear disarmament. There was a certain amount of hedging. It was said that Labour would not at once dismantle or throw away our nuclear deterrent; it would let it run down or decay and then abolish it. One might well say that the policy of allowing something to run down until it was useless and then abolishing it is probably the worst solution of all and is not quite honest. I am tempted almost to believe that, perhaps for electoral purposes, the party opposite is trying to face both ways.

However, leaving that aside, the reasons for the view advanced by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) were the worst possible reasons. Speaking of the Western nuclear deterrent, he said: As I have said, we on this side take our attitude to the British deterrent on grounds of cost, use of resources, and the effect on our alliance and our influence in the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1962; Vol. 655, c. 70.] On those considerations, according to him, his party takes its stand. But the first consideration in these great matters of defence is surely the safety of our country, and this is not one of the factors to which the right hon. Gentleman referred.

However, we can be quite clear at least about this, that the Opposition do not support our nuclear strategic force. I suggest, with respect, that it might be more honest to come out clearly and say that they would abolish it straight away rather than say that they would let it run down and then abolish it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Aubrey Jones)—I am sorry that he is not in his place