Number of Air Force Service

Part of Orders of the Day — Defence (Air) Estimates 1968–69 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1968.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 7th March 1968

There is talk in these careful and elaborate prospectuses of what a wonderful output of aeroplanes there is likely to be in the next few years. That is completely out of touch with reality and is certainly out of touch with the basic economic situation. We are approaching the time when we will face the fact that we are in a financial and economic crisis, but there has been no sign of it in this debate.

There has been no sign that the Government realise that, far from these economies being great economies, we are now being asked to vote for a sum of £537 million. This is at a time when we are told that the country is so short of money that it has even cut the milk to secondary schools. We should bring a touch of reality into this. The Chancellor, and those responsible for the economic future, are telling us that we must reduce public spending, but I see no practical sign of this. We hear of all these aircraft coming into play in 1969–70–71 and the hon. Gentleman for Rutland and Stamford talks about celebrating the R.A.F.'s centenary in another 50 years' time.

It is time for someone interested in the country's economic future and the possibilities of our development towards Europe to bring the House down to earth. Listening to the very able, very technical speech of my hon. Friend, which would have been applauded by the Institute of General Dynamics, I felt that it was certainly not a speech of a Socialist Minister looking forward to the future from a Socialist point of view, or a peace point of view. There has been no realisation in the debate of the policy of the Government, which is calling for this big sum and this substantial number of men.

The idea that we are hard up as a nation has gone, and we are talking about enormously expensive aircraft coming into operation in a few years' time. If this goes on, the economic crisis will continue for the next five years. I protest at the very idea behind this Vote. Why do we need these men and this gigantic sum? There is this lame apology put forward about the humanitarian work that can be done. I quite agree. Good things are being done. Earlier I expressed my thanks to the Minister for the help given by the R.A.F. in rescuing by helicopter some sheep in my constituency, caught in the snow- We recognise what the Royal Air Force has done in the floods and off the Cornish coast, but that is not what the Royal Air Force is for. The Royal Air Force is a continuation of war policies. This £537 million is for building up an enormously powerful destructive force with modern nuclear weapons, about which the Minister has been strangely reticent.

What is the purpose? I am glad to know that we are reducing our expenditure in the Far East. The present Government have no intention of repeating a Suez-type colonial expedition. What is this powerful striking force needed for outside Europe? It certainly cannot be used in Rhodesia. The Government rightly have no intention of using it there. I am not one who believes that we can use the military power of the Royal Air Force in Rhodesia. If it is not to be used in Rhodesia or the Far East, and I do not know how it could possibly be used in the Middle East, we are forced to ask what is the rôle of this powerful bombing, reconnaissance and tactical force for which we are asked to raise this sum of money tonight.

If those responsible are thinking in terms of military power and striking, they must be thinking of striking somewhere. The only enemy which I can see is that our strategical experts and our military leaders are thinking in terms of an air strike against the Soviet Union. That would be suicidal. Nobody can say that if the Phantom, the F111 or whatever the heavy bomber is called went into reconnaissance into the Soviet Union, it would ever come back, because there would be immediate retaliation, and, I believe, with nuclear weapons.

All this expensive paraphernalia and catalogue of bombers which are coming into existence, costing enormous sums of money, is completely outside the realms of reality of modern technological developments in war. The reality is that if we are to get war with the Soviet Union, it would be decided by intercontinental ballistic weapons and nuclear weapons, and about three or four of them would wipe out this country in a few hours.

Those are the realities that Mr. McNamara and his fellow thinkers in the Pentagon are enunciating. Mr. McNamara has been telling us that America has four and a half times more nuclear power than the Soviet Union. As the years go on, as we go into the 1970s, it is not likely to be a development of the Royal Air Force. It is likely to be the development of nuclear weapons and the megaton bomb.

Last summer, I had the opportunity of visiting Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Two flashes wiped out two great cities. If we get the megaton bomb again, however, it will wipe out countries and continents. Therefore, if we do not think in those terms, we are not facing the realities of modern scientific and technological development. We are thoughtlessly, wastefully and uselessly spending money which would be better spent in raising the standard of the technical education of our people. If one is to get the technical staff behind these powerful weapons, one will have to improve technical education. The secondary school in the town in which I live is short of five science teachers at present, but at the same time the R.A.F. is going to the school to recruit the younger and more intelligent people to what I call a blind alley occupation.

It has been said several times that the pressure of the Left wing has several times made the Government decide on certain economies, but I do not flatter myself about that. I do not think that anybody ever listens to me in the homilies I address to the House, but there is a march of events, of economic and scientific development in the world.

We are wasting our money, and the Government is not realising that, nor the pressure of events. If this country is not to be bankrupt, if it is ever to emerge from the financial and economic crisis, it will have to revise its ideas, and will have to stop spending these enormous sums, and reduce the number of men in this force.

Lonely voice that I am, I will continue with this warning. I believe that as the years go by, they will not see another 50 years of the R.A.F., but either world peace or this country and the world annihilated. It is my duty in the House to impress this on the House and I hope to do so at every opportunity and on every possible Vote.