Orders of the Day — Military Expenditure Overseas (Estimates Committee's Reports)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th January 1965.

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Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton 12:00 am, 19th January 1965

I think that the hon. Member did not hear me correctly, but there is no point in going into the matter at great length. We can read in HANSARD what I said. I shall be interested to read whether I overstated the position.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife. West pointed out that it cost £1,000 to keep an Alsatian dog in the Services. I am sure that this is rather worrying to us all, but what worries me even more—and this, too, he underlined—is that Singapore costs us £100 million a year. This is far more worrying than the fact that it costs £1,000 to keep an Alsatian dog. The Singapore base is not staffed by Alsatian dogs.

This cost is vital in our balance-of-payments crisis. Can we afford to continue these expensive overseas bases? We cannot discuss this question in isolation. We cannot divorce the question of military expenditure on our bases from the political situation; we cannot divide ourselves into two and deal with these matters in separate departments.

This expenditure of £100 million a year arises because we have our forces based in the Far East defending what I feel to be almost an impossible political situation. Certain gentleman in Indonesia have been making statements which are obviously different from those which they were making a fortnight ago. If we are to cut our military expenditure, then I appeal to the House and to the Government, as I did on the last occasion, that we must take initiatives to bring about a peaceful political solution to the confrontation between Indonesia and Malaya. If we do this, we can seriously talk in terms of cutting our military expenditure on the Singapore base. This would meet the objections of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West, who pointed out how restricted he was in discussing these problems of policy as Chairman of the Estimates Sub-Committee.

We have this fantastic expenditure in Singapore. Our total expenditure in Hong Kong is £15 million a year and in Libya it is £9frac12; million a year. We cannot get the total cost for Gibraltar. For various reasons we are told that the cost of maintaining forces in Gibraltar is heavy; we are told that the cost of maintaining personnel in Gibraltar is considerably higher than in the United Kingdom. But that is far as we can go in discovering the costs.

If we look at the situation as a whole we realise the fantastic sums of money which are being spent on our overseas bases and overseas commitments. This country is no longer the workshop of the world, although it certainly ought to be a better workshop than it is at present. To digress, I discovered when going round a rubber factory in my constituency during the Recess that the only way they could get modern automated machinery was to get it from Western Germany.

We are no longer a country which can afford to carry this type of cost and we must, therefore, find a political solution to the problems facing us in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Far East generally. We must stage by stage withdraw our forces from these areas and give up our bases and concentrate on building up the country as a great country in a way dif- ferent from that expected by the maintenance of the bases.

Finally, I should like to comment on the check-off system which one hon. Member was concerned about and thought had something to do perhaps with Communists infiltrating into the unions in Aden. I as a trade unionist very much dislike this check-off system. I have always believed that it is important for each individual trade unionist to pay his dues individually to his organisation without having them stopped out of his wage packet. This is the basis of the trade unionist movement in this country. It is a voluntary effort and nobody is forced to pay a trade union fee. He must take it out of his own pocket and give it to his trade union secretary.

Although I would dislike such a system and would object very strongly within my organisation if it began to negotiate such an agreement—and I know that the National Union of Mineworkers have such an agreement with the Coal Board —if it is the desire of trade unionists in these other countries that this should be done then obviously we should go out of our way to meet that desire and reach a quick settlement with them.

The check-off system is accepted in the United States, particularly in the steel and automobile industries. Most of the C.I.O. unions have negotiated check-off systems. I want to underline the point already made in the debate that in the twentieth century if we are not to turn these workers away from us and make them adopt an anti-British attitude we should meet their just desires by recognising this simple system if they so want it.