Naval Policy

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th March 1968.

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Photo of Mr Emrys Hughes Mr Emrys Hughes , South Ayrshire 12:00 am, 11th March 1968

No. I remember my history as well as my economics. I remember how the last Conservative Government left us with a deficit of £800 million. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West gave the impression that if the Conservative Party were returned to power they would implement a huge defence programme. I do not believe that. If, for economic reasons, they had to choose between the City of London and the Royal Navy, they would sacrifice the Royal Navy. They have done it before. I am old enough to remember the economic cuts of 1931. The national or coalition Government of that time cut down naval expenditure to save money. They overdid it, and we had the Invergordon mutiny.

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West would be far too wise, if he were Minister, to precipitate another economic crisis by introducing a big defence budget which would make the gnomes of Zurich wonder if perhaps they would have been better off under a Labour Government. It is in this connection that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence argues on a false point when he says that if the Tories had been returned to power they would have spent £500 million more than we are spending on defence, so that we are saving that amount. I do not believe that even a Conservative Government would undertake that expenditure and have to face the economic consequences.

We have heard a lot about Russian submarines. This argument has been paraded in defence debates for the last 22 years. Perhaps the first time we heard about a horde of Russian submarines—I think the figure given at the time was 300—was when my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) introduced a Defence White Paper some years ago. Since then a picture of a growing number of Russian submarines has been painted in each defence debate.

Whatever the number, the Russians are building too many submarines. Indeed, every nation is. I am looking forward to the time when Britain, Russia, the United States and every other nation will reach agreement to reduce their naval and other defence budgets. Some hon. Members have argued that, because of the number of submarines possessed by the Russians, we need hunter/killer submarines to chase away their submarines. If that is so, when our Polaris fleet, such as it is, goes into the oceans of the world, our Russian counterparts will say, "Britain has deployed four Polaris submarines. We need more killer submarines to counter theirs." So this mad race will continue, impoverishing every nation and, what concerns me, impoverishing especially this nation.

Exactly 11 years ago this week I had an opportunity to visit the Soviet Union. I was a fellow traveller with Mr. Harold Macmillan and his mission. The party included the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) who was then Mr. Macmillan's P.P.S.—he has risen in the world since then. We visited Leningrad, and one of the establishments we visited there was Frunze Naval School where Russian naval personnel were being trained.

I always remember that day. The ice was breaking on the Neva, and it was a very interesting spectacle. But to me the most interesting spectacle was Mr. Macmillan reviewing the sailors of the Red Fleet. I stood there in admiration, shivering in the cold, as Russian sailors—some of whom were presumably to sail in the Russian submarines—shouldered arms while Mr. Macmillan reviewed them and said how glad he was to see them.

I had never before been in a naval academy. I watched with interest all the V.I.P.s—I was only a rank-and-file journalist. Mr. Macmillan and his staff went through this academy and talked, presumably affectionately, about the respective merits of the Russian Navy and the British Navy. If no one believes me, I can show a photograph of Mr. Macmillan in his Russian fur cap—