Clause 1. — (Issues from Consolidated Fund for Purchase of Military Aircraft and Related Purposes.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Military Aircraft (Loans) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th May 1966.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 17th May 1966

I beg to move, in page 1, line 16, to leave out "four" and to insert "one".

This is an entirely different kind of Amendment from the one we have just discussed. It is fundamental. Those supporting me are not in favour of spending this very large sum of money on military aircraft to be purchased from the United States. Since there are some new hon. Members present, it might be as well to consider the background of the controversy.

Quite rightly, the Government cancelled the TSR2 project. We entirely supported them in doing so, agreeing that the astronomical cost made it imperative for the Government to reduce this kind of expenditure. The Opposition say that the Government acted wrongly in that they should have continued with the TSR2 and are therefore not justified in ordering military aircraft from America. We, however, take the view that, having cancelled the TSR2, the Government should have carried the matter to the logical conclusion and not bought any military aircraft at all from abroad. This is the vital difference between the Opposition's approach and that which I and some of my hon. Friends take.

If the Government intend to spend £430 million, the Committee is entitled to know exactly what it is for. It is an enormous sum and we are entitled to have it broken down so that we may have an idea of the different kinds of aircraft involved and how much is needed for equipment and spares. I hope that the Government will give us a detailed "shopping list".

We are entitled to ask what these military aircraft are for. What rôle are they to play in the years over which the money is to be spent? What use is a bomber to this country to solve any particular political or international problem at the present time? The F111A is not a conventional bomber. It will carry nuclear weapons—meaning atomic and hydrogen bombs. Some of us think this wrong from many points of view. Hence our opposition to the project.

5.45 p.m

This is not just a matter for technicians and chartered accountants. We are entitled to know how this bombing force will operate but we have yet had no intelligible answer from the Government. Is it to operate in Europe? Are we to use nuclear weapons in Europe? I do not see how the use of a nuclear weapon in Europe will solve any international problems.

This question was posed four years ago by Lord Montgomery in another place, when he said that it was impossible to solve the problem of Berlin by dropping an atom bomb on the city. Nuclear bombs will not solve the problems of Berlin or Germany. We are, therefore, entitled to an idea of what this bombing force will do and how it is to operate. If it is not to do anything, and if it will not operate, we are not justified in calling upon the people to spend such a large sum at the present time on such a force.

At this early stage, the Government's priorities have gone haywire. In the middle of a financial crisis, in which we are told that the £ is in danger and that we must economise and tighten our belts, one of the first Measures of the new Session is a Bill to provide £430 million for the purchase of military aircraft and equipment in America.

Many people would prefer to see that money spent on education, on advance factories, on the modernisation of industry and on hospitals. To use the money for military aircraft means that it will be a burden on the economy and all these desirable things will suffer. In my constituency, we do not know what good we will get from a bombing force bought with this money. This is still an important current controversy. In The Times today, for example, there is a report of a speech by a very well-known admiral.

The argument is based on the assumption that we are going to have some kind of east of Suez strategy. If these aircraft are to be used east of Suez, we are entitled to know something of the circumstances under which they will operate. In The Times today Sir Peter Gretton, a vice-admiral, formerly Fifth Sea Lord, criticises the proposal to operate the F111A aircraft from bases in the Indian Ocean. Sir Peter said in an article in the Royal United Services Institution Journal, quoted in The Times, that deployment of the F111A is based on wishful thinking rather than practical possibilities. The Times says: After studying the Admiralty charts for the area the Admiral concludes that an airstrip at Aldabra would be astronomically expensive and of great inconvenience … If the implication of that is that these aircraft are going to be astronomically expensive then this is a repetition of the procedure which took place when the Conservatives were in power. I do not know where my hon. Friend the Paymaster-General is this afternoon, but I remember the speeches that he used to make criticising the then Government about the waste of money upon aircraft, Blue Streak, Skybolt and the whole list of projects that turned out to be useless for the safety of the nation. One of the last actions of the Labour Party before the Conservative Government fell was to move a Motion of censure upon the Government. We said that they had wasted £20,000 million during their term of office. We have only been in office a few months, but £430 million is a very good instalment.

We are afraid that we are going to see the escalation of costs, the continuation of the arms race and the inability of the Government to remain below the £2,000 million ceiling which they have set themselves. The bombing force cannot operate in Europe: if it ever did, it would be the end of this country. If any of these expensive aircraft ever go into operation there will be immediate retaliation. These are suicide aircraft and we are spending £2,500,000 per aircraft on a suicidal policy. That is one of the premises upon which I base my argument. I do not want the TSR2; I do not want the F111A. I do not want to see this country sink to borrowing money from the United States Government at 4¾ per cent. in order to buy something from the American armament firms which may turn out to be ineffective.

I am fortified in my belief by the opinion of others who understand the strategic ideas behind these projects rather better than I do. I have been reading a book by the military correspondent of the Sunday Times, an eminent authority on military subjects. The Book is called "The Broken Wing". As I have read this my doubts have grown and grown and I cannot conceive that this sum of money can be justified by anyone who thinks out the implications involved. Mr. Divine said that the precise nature of a war in which a first strike of 15 aircraft—even aircraft as sophisticated as the F111—will significantly affect the issue is obscure. He does not know how these aircraft would be employed in any significant way in any future military operation.

Referring to the previous expenditure of the Government, he deals with Blue Streak, which was one of the achievements of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Government. Mr. Divine says about Blue Streak: It would be unjust to say that with Blue Streak Britain was sold a pup. It might not be unjust to say that Britain bought a pup". Who sold us the pup? The very same people who are now selling us the F111A.

These pups are very expensive if they are going to cost £3 million each. That is as much as it would cost to build a great big technical school, and we are to have 50 of these aircraft. We have heard the word "escalation" and we think that there is a prospect that this Government will do exactly the same thing as the previous Government unless they are strongly criticised in the House.

Mr. Divine goes on to say: The R.A.F.'s standing over what may approximately be called the decade of the F111 may be simply delimited. It is in process of abandoning finally all pretensions to the strategic nuclear rôle. It will provide—since even the Anglo-French Jaguar project will not come to fruition until the very end of it—a diminishing tactical capability resolving eventually into the potential of the truncated Phantom project and the 50 F111s. I do not think that it will be difficultt to translate this military jargon into comprehensive English. Mr. Divine comes to the conclusion that this is not a sound strategic enterprise and that this aircraft cannot take part in European operations. Nor can it take part in operations in Asia. It is difficult to understand how we can justify the size of the Royal Air Force including 88 air marshals, 157 air commodores, 500 group captains and a grand total of 131,300 officers and men. This is the big vested interest behind the idea that we can continue to use manned aircraft in the nuclear age.

6.0 p.m.

The position has been clearly expressed by Mr. McNamara. American strategists say that the missile age has come and that the days of the manned bomber are numbered. Mr. McNamara says that the weapons used in the next war will be inter-continental ballistic weapons carrying nuclear warheads.