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 Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 11th March 1965

I think that I can put forward a certain point of view, but I cannot improve on the attack on some of the institutions of the Navy which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend.

I always come to these debates as an unofficial representative of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask whether we are getting our money's worth, whether the country can afford it and exactly how the security, safety and economic welfare of the country is affected.

The first speech which impressed on me the great importance of keeping an eye on the Navy was made by Sir Winston Churchill, in 1948. He made a very devastating criticism of the policy of the Labour Government. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East will remember it. Nothing that I could say and nothing that he could say could improve on the devastating attack on the Admiralty made by Sir Winston when he was speaking from the Opposition benches.

I always look it up before I come to these debates and I remember the passage in which he said that what had happened at the Admiralty had been an enormous growth of civilian officials of all kinds who had been superimposed and who made work for themselves and their descendants every day they sat in their office chairs. The whole presentation of the Admiralty staff, he said, was a scandal which any House of Commons worthy of its financial responsibility should probe, scrub and cleanse. I am here tonight to carry on the humble work of probing, scrubbing and cleansing these Navy Estimates, realising that this exceedingly large sum of £560 million cannot be disposed of by a gathering of old Navy comrades, but is a huge sum that has to come out the national Exchequer at a time when we face a great financial crisis.

I am not alone in this view. A considerable number of people who do not belong to the same political party as myself, or are not of the same viewpoint as mine, are critical of the expenditure of the Navy from the standpoint of the other Services. For example, Sir Roy Dobson, a great industrialist, the chairman of Hawker-Siddeley, to whom hon. Members opposite listen and pay respect, expressed an opinion about the reductions when the cuts were made.

In an interview reported in the Evening Standard, which I cut out and preserved for suitable occasions, he talked about the cuts and said: They are all in the R.A.F. Not one in the Navy. The Navy is spending money like a drunken sailor. Not a half-drunk sailor, but a drunken sailor. That is a rather picturesque exaggeration, because I would never associate my two hon. Friends on the Front Bench with any kind of insobriety.

When I look upon these sums, however, there is something to be said for the idea that the Navy is getting too much. When I hear all these rhapsodies about the Navy and all these nostalgic excursions back into the past, I wonder not that the Navy demands only £560 million, but that it does not want a great deal more. Fortunately, however, this is the House of Commons and we must examine some of these expenditures rather more meticulously.

I certainly approve of the Government cutting out the extra Polaris submarine. Although I am a pacifist, I have never believed that we could dispense with the whole of the Armed Forces overnight, or in a year. I have always believed in a five-year plan for disarmament. If the Government's proposal is to lop off one Polaris submarine out of five this year, and to go on lopping them off next year, the following year and the year after, I will not criticise it. I am, however, afraid of the tremendous power behind the scenes of the Admiralty establishment and I believe that the Labour Government will have to take a strong, tough line with the Admiralty and make up their mind that we are living in the year 1965 and not 200 years ago.

Very little has been said about the Polaris submarines requiring a base. Unfortunately, that base is to be situated on the west coast of Scotland, not far from the Holy Loch. I do not know whether there will be any sort of cooperation between the two bases, but I remember the great protest in the west of Scotland when it was proposed to establish a Polaris submarine at the Holy Loch. Now, we are to have a British Polaris submarine at the Gare Loch, which is to cost a tremendous sum of money and which is also open to criticism that this part of the west coast of Scotland is being made one of the most dangerous places in the whole world.

I look upon this from the point of view of a Member of Parliament in that area who fought the election on a programme that if a Labour Government were returned, we would have more advance factories, more houses, schools and hospitals and that these were the political and social priorities.

What is going on at the Polaris base at the Gare Loch? Hon. Members may remember that I raised this question in an Adjournment debate, when an hon. and gallant Member opposite spoke for the Government. Then, the figure was given that the cost of the base would be between £20 million and £25 million. Now, so I have been told by the Minister of Defence in answer to a Question, this sum is estimated at £45 million. There are 800 building and construction workers engaged on the site. There are electricians, builders, joiners, plasterers and plumbers, all the kind of people employed on this base whom we need for our housing schemes, our advance factories and our hospitals, building and construction workers who, we maintain, should not be on that project.