Navy Estimates

Part of Defence (Navy) Estimates, 1965–66 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th March 1965.

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Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East 12:00 am, 11th March 1965

I have it in mind to say, before the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) leaves, that it is my purpose to deal with his speech, but I would prefer to deal with it in my own way. There is no need for the hon. Gentleman to worry about the time. To my wad of thinking, the debate has only just started.

There is nothing worse, after a long speech in which an hon. Gentleman has dealt with several subjects, as the hon. Member for Henley did, and of which I make no complaint, than for a succeeding speaker to try to be a telephone fisherman. A telephone trawler skipper is someone who hears that fish are being caught by other fishermen 100 miles away. He goes to that place, but by the time he arrives there the fish have gone. I would have preferred to take up the points made by the hon. Member for Henley in my own way as I went along.

These Navy Estimates of £544 million which the Committee is being asked to approve today, showing an increase of £56 million on last year, must be considered against the background of the vast and incredible total annual defence expenditure of £1,692 million. Fortunately, this year we have a Labour Government, who have reduced the total by £306 million on last year's Defence Estimates and by £146 million on those for 1963. Admittedly, there is a further undisclosed Navy addition for works, which is now the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Building and Works and which, in 1963, was £21 million. There is no question that we shall not be able to increase our annual national product and our exports to correct our balance of payments crisis while this vast expenditure on the Navy and the other two Services is spent largely on unproductive work.

As the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) said two years ago: …we may lose the cold war on the economic front."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 67.] My argument is that the only way to make a serious reduction in the Defence Estimates in general and the Navy Estimates in particular is for the Prime Minister to issue an edict to the Secretary of State for Defence, "Cut by 25 per cent." This would reduce the total by nearly £340 million and the Navy Estimates by £100 million.

Our naval commitments are either allied or Commonwealth commitments. There is only one possible naval enemy—and this the Minister has practically admitted today—and that is Russia. On our side we have practically all the other worth-while navies in the world. These include those of America, the largest navy today, and, in the European Atlantic theatre, France, Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, and Western Germany, all allies or friends.

We also have all the Commonwealth navies—those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the other smaller navies, which total a larger number of ships than the British Navy, though, admittedly, not in the largest size of ships, but in the smaller ones which are the most useful today as stressed by the Minister in his opening speech.

Why, then, this huge and largely unnecessary British naval expenditure? The answer is, "Simply to keep up with the Joneses—the Americans". Only a few years ago, in the Navy Estimates debates, we had the argument from the Tory Party, "Polaris submarines or a large aircraft carrier". But the Tory Government, throwing away not millions but hundreds of millions of pounds, decided on both Polaris submarines and a large aircraft carrier.

The last Government, with the hon. Member for Henley, who today leads for the Opposition, as Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, decided to go helter-skelter down the slippery slope of unlimited expenditure by ordering five Polaris submarines at £60 million each, rising to £500 million.