Orders of the Day — Arms Expenditure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd August 1965.

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Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West 12:00 am, 3rd August 1965

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) for intervening and underlining the point that I was making. We appreciate that the Government are in the process of a detailed cost analysis of arms expenditure, and cuts have been made already. But we do not want to see some of the cuts replaced by other expenditures, particularly if the Government decide to buy the American F111 in place of the TSR2, because that would prejudice our balance of payments position and our dollar exchanges with the United States.

However, I do not think that cost analysis in itself will solve the problem. It is more a question of our overseas commitments, our rôle east of Suez and the chain of bases which we have throughout the world. I do not believe that in the present economic situation the country can afford to try to maintain a world rôle and, at the same time, put itself back on its feet economically. Therefore, the Far East is absolutely vital for us, and I want to say a few words about the Indonesia-Malaysia position.

The Government should take some very strong action to bring the situation there to a rapid conclusion. Fifty thousand troops are tied up in Malaysia at the present time, in an area of the world which is highly dangerous. It is not in the British interest, and I feel that some urgent steps should be taken. An immediate reduction in arms expenditure could be made in that region.

It is said in the Middle East that one cannot drink oil. The people there want a higher standard of living, and they want the goods that we can provide. It is absolutely idiotic for us to maintain bases throughout the Middle East that became out of date many years ago and, in any case, are not now viable. That is why my hon. Friends and myself feel as we do about the need for arms cuts.

When I was in my constituency at the weekend I was made well aware of the feeling of the party there and the people about the Government's economic measures. They are prepared to support those measures, but they want to see other forms of drastic action to convince them that there is reality in the situation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has said, we have had these crises before. We had a crisis in 1931, and again in 1950–51. Now we are faced with another economic crisis at home and a heavy arms expenditure.

I therefore hope that the Government will move much more quickly, and will not only proceed on a cost-analysis basis but will have a general review of the whole of our arms expenditure, which obviously overlaps into foreign policy. We have to do that this year. We have to turn our attention to making Britain into a viable industrial nation, and one in which we can put our skills to productive uses for the benefit of the nation and to help other people in the world. The day of sending arms to help people has passed—they want goods and food now.

That being the situation, I hope that the Government will take heed of the pressure that we are putting on them even at this late hour because of the urgency of the case. I tell the hon. Gentleman opposite that we on this side are united in wanting something to be done. It will be at your peril if you do not recognise that it is what the people want.