Defence

Part of Ballot for Notices of Motions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th February 1967.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 27th February 1967

I should sum up the speech of the Secretary of State for Defence by employing the famous comment which was made from the back of the audience in the course of a bad film—"Do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best." My right hon. Friend did his best to get the support of hon. Members on this side by explaining that the White Paper is an exercise in gradually decreasing defence expenditure.

There was, on the other side, an attempt at analysing this by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). The fatal mistake in his speech was that he failed to give us any indication of what the Conservative Opposition consider to be a reasonable amount of expenditure on national defence as an alternative to the White Paper.

So we have been treated to an exercise of irrelevancy on both sides. It has been the usual thing, with one Front Bench taking the rôle of a kettle and the other the rôle of the pot, dodging the realities that underlie the White Paper, and ignoring the fundamental principles of so-called national defence.

The assumption behind the White Paper is that we must prepare to defend ourselves against somebody. This is not just a matter of a year or so. We are told that we must prepare for enormous expenditures on into the 1970s and 1980s, and the assumption is that our eternal enemy is the Soviet Union. This is a fatal fallacy. If all we have heard and read about the comings and goings and conversations between Mr. Kosygin, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister is to be accepted, the moral of those conversations is that relations between the two sides are improving. This is what we are told. It is said that there is to be a new peace treaty, and so on, yet we are called upon to accept a White Paper providing for enormous expenditures, on the assumption that we must continue the arms race and prepare for a nuclear war with the Soviet Union which every commonsense person agrees would be suicide.

I deny that assumption. I do not believe that there is any need for the people of this country or the people on the other side of the Iron Curtain at this time to proceed with their ruinous arms race, which can only be suicidal. My right hon. Friend failed lamentably to understand or answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), when he asked: if there are 7,000 nuclear missiles or nuclear weapons in Germany already, what is the purpose of our going forward with our Polaris submarine programme? Of course, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West praised my right hon. Friend for his part in the launching of the Polaris submarine. Naturally, it was part of the Tory programme. The only apology for it that we have heard from the Secretary of State for Defence is that we have cut out one of the five submarines, so that our policy is four-fifths of the Tory policy.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence must have forgotten the demonstration which he made when Mr. Macmillan stated from the Dispatch Box that the then Government would allow the Americans to come to Holy Loch. My right hon. Friend jumped up in great excitement on that occasion and challenged Mr. Macmillan about it. saying that it was a danger to this country. That was to be one depôt on Holy Loch. We have got an improvement on that now and we are to have a base for four submarines on the Gare Loch in the west of Scotland, a project which was denounced by the leadership of the Labour Party at the time because it was so near to a populous area.

I shall leave other hon. Members to talk about east of Suez. My main purpose is to deal with the west of Scotland. We have the prospect there of a great submarine base which will be an outstanding menace and danger to the west of Scotland. It has been planted there in opposition to all the wishes of the local authorities in the west of Scotland. I prophesy that it will be one of the most expensive white elephants in the history of post-war military expenditure.

When sitting on the opposition benches, I heard my right hon. Friends move a Motion of censure on the last Tory Government, saying that £25,000 million had been wasted on weapons as a result of the stupidity of Tory policies over the previous 13 years. Not only did they say that, but we went into the Lobby on it. I wonder what we shall be able to say when this Government have been in power for 10 years—in spite of our differences, I hope that they will—and I wonder what our record will be. How many thousands of millions of pounds will we have spent in all parts of the world on aircraft costing vast sums of money, on the F111, the project with the French, and so on? When we come to add it all up, if the present policy is continued for 13 years under a Labour Government, will we have done any better than the Tories?

There is in this country today a critical attitude towards the Labour Government demanding to know why they are so much like the Tory Government, carrying on Tory ideas, mouthing the same platitudes, but ultimately coming to the same conclusion on the Defence White Paper and deciding that enormous sums of money must be borne on the shoulders of the British taxpayer at a time of economic crisis.

Let us consider the Polaris business, the microcosm of our expenditure. When the Tories were in power, they did not tell us that there was to be a base in the west of Scotland. That came out only when the Labour Government came along. Now, we understand that this base in the West of Scotland is to cost about £45 million. It is a great military operation within 30 miles of Glasgow, a place which has the biggest and rottenest housing problem, probably, in the world.

Some of my hon. Friends have been with me and had opportunity to study what is going on there. At a time when there was a shortage of cement for housing, there was plenty of cement for the Polaris base. There were plenty of bulldozers, plenty of cranes, plenty of modern construction equipment. Yet, at the same time, we were slowing down on the work most needed for the social welfare of the people who voted for the Labour Government, thinking that they would do better than continue the policies of a previous Tory Government.

As I say, this base is a microcosm of wasted effort, wasted men, wasted scientists and wasted labour at a time when all our building and construction effort should be diverted to schools and hospitals, to advance factories and the other things which the Labour Government promised the people. I do not know what the answer is, nobody does, but it is a microcosm of wasted effort.

What about the submarines? We are told that we are to have the Polaris submarine. Will the Admiralty spokesman pledge that, by the time they are delivered, the Polaris submarines will not be obsolete? That we do not know. There has been controversy in the United States of America and in other parts of the world, but we know that the leading strategist spokesmen of the United States do not think that the Polaris submarine missiles can now get through on to the territories of the so-called enemy. The Americans are no longer building them. They are building an expensive thing called the Poseidon. By the time these submarines are to be delivered, the authorities say, the missiles will not be able to get through the anti-missile defences of the U.S.S.R.

So we shall have over £350 million scrap iron and junk in which an enormous amount of energy, labour, scientific work and manpower of this country has been invested. If we go on with this kind of thing we shall not be able to fulfil the commitments which I think are the most solemn commitments of all, the commitments to the British people to lead them forward to a new society with a higher standard of living.

It is, therefore, with regret that I say I cannot vote for this White Paper. I cannot vote for its expenditure or for its underlying assumptions. If the Government proceed on these lines, and do not make any drastic change of policy in their expenditure this year, and they come forward for this huge expenditure next year they will be no better in their achievements than the discredited Government we voted against in order to get something better which would mean more to the people of the country.

Although there may be theoretical arguments about percentages and decimal points, and so on, and splitting hairs between the two Front Benches, the people of the country will want someone in this House to say clearly and determinedly that we challenge the whole of this policy, that it is against our election pledges and a betrayal of the people and that if the Government do not do much better than this they will deserve the fate of the Government they defeated.