Armed Forces

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th December 1964.

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Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton 12:00 am, 14th December 1964

One or two of the points made by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), are worthy of further consideration, particularly the one she made about the situation which exists between Malaysia and Indonesia. One hon. Gentleman said that 9,000 troops were involved. I have been informed that the number is much greater and that about 20,000 troops are at present engaged in this security operation.

I do not want at this stage to get involved in any arguments about the rights or wrongs of this conflict, but I suggest that while we have troops in Malaysia—while our men are dying there; and the hon. Lady told us that in reply to a Question she was informed that 49 of our troops had been killed, and 82 wounded in that area—it is obviously our duty to ensure that they are given the fullest protection.

The interesting and important question is, ought they to be there at all? The only solution to this problem is a political one. No military operation will solve it. It seems to me that the time has come for some definite initiative to be taken by our Government to find a solution to this problem.

Earlier today I referred to a statement in The Times of 2nd November. The representative at Kuala Lumpur said While Dr. Sukarno has continued to call for new efforts to 'crush' Malaysia, some diplomatists in Jakarta were convinced that Indonesia would welcome a new formula that would permit both sides to accept a settlement without obvious loss of face. If that is true—and I think that the matter should be probed—some new initiative ought to be taken by the Government to try to find a peaceful solution to the problem.

Mr. Julian Critchley, in an article in the Spectator of 28th August this year, said: This is a war that may well last for ten years. Such was the view of a senior British officer in Borneo. If his forecast is only partially correct, then the consequences for British policies in South-East Asia will be immense as well as unforeseen. Confrontation in Borneo is a euphemism for a bitter little war, sustained largely by Britain at the cost of a million pounds a week and over a hundred casualties. What is worse is that it is a war in which "victory" is impossible, and to which we seem indefinitely committed. Although his figures may not be absolutely accurate, the point made by Mr. Julian Critchley is a very important one. We cannot allow this situation to go on indefinitely. Sooner or later there must be a solution. Some initiative must be taken to bring this conflict to an end. I am intervening primarily because this point must be stressed. The hon. Lady made a valuable contribution to the debate when she stressed its importance.

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden). He asked a series of questions which seemed to me to add up to the demand that we should keep all our bases and should redevelop a policy which is based—no matter what is said to the contrary—on the assumption that Britain is still a major imperialist Power, living at the back end of the last century. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) pointed out that we had to decide whether we had a moral right to be in any of our bases. Experience over the years has proved that although we have conducted last-ditch fights to maintain some of our bases, step by step and base by base we have been forced to give them up and to retreat, at considerable expense and loss of life which could have been avoided.

We are now in a serious economic situation which has been brought about by the policies pursued by the previous Government. I say quite categorically that one of the answers to the economic crisis is undoubtedly a drastic cut in our military expenditure. This is not only in respect of our nuclear deterrent; equally, it involves a serious examination of our bases throughout the world and an honourable withdrawal from those bases where this is considered to be practice- able,either immediately or over a period of years, until we have got rid of our military commitments overseas and can pursue a policy similar to that pursued by Sweden, which has the highest standard of living in the world and has no military bases anywhere. If Sweden can do this, surely we can follow her example.

If we are going to be great again it will not be in the military sense; that is no longer a possibility. But we can be great in giving the right sort of example, by pursuing a policy which will eliminate, stage by stage and in a sensible and practical fashion—and here I do not suggest that we can give up Singapore tomorrow, or even next year, or the year after that—