Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 1967.

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Photo of Mr Michael Hamilton Mr Michael Hamilton , Salisbury 12:00 am, 27th November 1967

We always enjoy listening to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), and we are all conscious of his interest in defence. Not long ago he came to my constituency and visited the establishment at Porton. I can never find a single point on defence on which I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I agree with his strictures on the Government. What they said in 1964 bears no relation to what they say today.

This has been a curiously unhappy debate. The only ray of sunshine is that we are delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden) back in his place on the Front Bench, because there are few people in the House with so long a personal experience in dealing with the Army.

The Secretary of State for Defence put the House this afternoon into a very unhappy mood. I could not make up my mind which side of the House was left more confused and unhappy by his speech. In the two-day debate on devaluation last week I noticed that the Secretary of State for Defence hardly put his nose inside the Chamber. It is true that he dutifully appeared for the Prime Minister's speech and came here during the last minutes of the final stages of the second day. We all had to do that, however, because both sides had a three-line Whip. Certainly, I gained the clear impression of his being totally unconcerned by the fact that devaluation had necessitated further savage cuts in his Department.

This attitude shown by the Secretary of State for Defence has prevailed for too long. We know that the Government lurch from one financial crisis to the next. During the past summer we had the £100 million cut in overseas expenditure, and now we have this most recent package. On every occasion, the same charade is enacted. The Secretary of State for Defence comes to the House and tells of further cutbacks, cancellations, rephrasings and slowing-down. Then he tells us with a bland smile that the changes are only peripheral and that the Government's defence policy remains basically unaffected.

It seems to me that either the cuts are bogus, designed to appeal to what the Minister himself described earlier this afternoon as the sea-lions—his Left wing—or they are designed to hoodwink Britain's creditors into believing that something is being done. If the cuts are not bogus, it is about time that we had a new Secretary of State for Defence. It is clear, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles) has said, that the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to stand up to the Treasury Ministers in defence of his own Department.

If essential spending has to be cut, that is something which I can understand, but as long as we continue to recruit tens of thousands of additional civil servants, as long as we continue to dish out free medicines to those who can well afford to pay for them, as long as we continue to lavish public money on the arts or on buying up provincial bus companies, I shall remain disappointed that the Secretary of State for Defence is not prepared to stand his ground on a point of principle.

It is true that last year one of his Service Ministers—and I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) present—and the First Sea Lord resigned in protest against proposed cuts, and I respect them for it, but the Secretary of State for Defence is clearly made of different stuff. He prefers to continue with this same humiliating round of charades.