Defence Policy (Northern Ireland)

Part of Railway Superannuitants – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th March 1965.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 25th March 1965

I mean suggestive in the economic sense. I hope that my hon. Friend will not take out of my mouth words which I did not mean. I used the expression in the Dr. Johnson's dictionary sense of the word.

Take the appeal for a new aircraft carrier. When a new aircraft carrier is mentioned, immediately there is interest by shipbuilders in Belfast, on the Tyne and on the Clyde. It opens out a very good prospect of employment, because I understand that a new aircraft carrier costs £60 million. But then the aircraft have to be considered afterwards. The hon. Member referred to the Phantom aircraft, and he wants the aircraft also to be built in Belfast. The total sum for an aircraft carrier amounts to £200 million—for a vessel which could be sunk within a few minutes in the event of a rocket war.

I can understand that people who are unemployed will take jobs on anything. I quite understand the constituents of the hon. Member in Ireland and people in Glasgow saying that an aircraft carrier would bring them work. What we want, however, is productive work which is in line with the economic development of the country. If we go on building aircraft carriers, we will lose the great opportunity of building up a rational and intelligent shipbuilding industry.

The cost of an aircraft carrier is £200 million. I even heard it suggested in the debate on the Navy Estimates that we wanted at least four of them—£800 million. We could solve the problem temporarily by saying, "Glasgow, you can have an aircraft carrier. Belfast, you can have an aircraft carrier. And Tyneside, one for you, too". Would not everything in the economic garden be lovely then?

But we would then be faced with a gigantic increase in Government expenditure, the state of the £ would be precarious and probably action would be needed to save it. So instead of getting permanent employment in Belfast, we would get an economic crisis. In such a crisis, what would any Government do? They would immediately start to cut down, and one of the first things on which they would consider cutting down would be the aircraft carrier. I have seen it happen at Clydeside when a Conservative Government were in power. When forced to economise as a result of their improvident policy, the Conservative Government cut down on the then "Queen Mary" and it was lying idle on the stocks for years and the people were out of work. So I cannot imagine that an aircraft carrier would be a solution of what is, indeed, a difficult unemployment problem in Belfast.

I look upon the demand for this kind of shipbuilding with some alarm, because it is not the kind of shipbuilding that the country needs. Everybody knows that people concerned with shipbuilding are greatly concerned about Japan. Japan is not building aircraft carriers. The result is that the Japanese yards are concentrating on building tankers. While we are engaged on building submarines, aircraft carriers and other warships and frigates, Japan will be able to build tankers, and we shall have considerable additions to the Navy to protect a shipbuilding industry which has practically ceased to exist.