Part of Orders of the Day — Defence (Navy) Estimates 1968–69 – 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

I beg to move, That the said number be reduced by 1,000 men. I move this Amendment not because I wish to prolong the debate but in order to exercise the traditional Parliamentary right of challenging this Vote and the policy of the Government towards the Navy. We are asked to vote 98,000 men and the expenditure amounts to £655 million. This country cannot afford such a very large sum at a time when we are faced with a severe economic crisis.

The arguments deployed on both sides of the House do not convince me that this sum is not excessive and that, if the House goes on spending at this rate, we shall ever get out of the financial crisis. My hon. Friend has told us of the warships which are to come into existence in the next decade or so, and this leads me to think that we are not going to get any real, substantial reduction in expenditure on the Navy—and if we do not get such a reduction we shall have a perpetual financial crisis.

Hon. Members have argued that this sum should be exceeded. I want it reduced. A strength of 98,000 men in the Navy is a drain on the nation's manpower. I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who speaks for the Royal Marines, and with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), who speaks for dockyard workers. I do not want to reduce the standard of living of the people who are necessary in the Armed Forces, but 98,000 is a very large number and the old, threadbare arguments of 50 years ago thrown about the Chamber tonight are quite irrelevant to the present situation.

I would welcome an independent inquiry by some unprejudiced businessmen and economists into the use of this manpower. I represent here an industry which has been inquired into often. The word "redundancy" has been used in the debate. I want to apply to the Navy the same argument being applied to the mining industry—that the time has come when we have so many men in the industry that it should be reduced to meet changed circumstances. I argue that the same applies to the Navy and that the number of men in it should be reduced.

I do not want to see these men made redundant in the sense of their being unemployed. I want their energies and abilities to be used in other directions. I would welcome some independent inquiry into how this manpower is used, and whether the sum of £655 million is excessive and whether the number of men involved is necessary. I want to apply this particularly to the Polaris submarine programme. There has been a marked tendency by the Government completely to ignore the arguments about the programme. As I have pointed out before, it amounts to £350 million a year. Mysteriously, it has gone down this year from £370 million to £350 million, and we have not had an adequate explanation of how the £20 million difference has come about.

This programme is strongly criticised in Scotland because, during the last three years, we have had there a very expensive Polaris base, costing £45 million and taking up the labour of construction and building workers and engineers at a time when they were needed on the home front for hospitals, schools and advance factories to deal with changes in industry.

Are we to have a repetition of the tests during the last fortnight by the submarine "Resolution"? The trials of two missiles which have been exploded have cost £1,500,000. Is that to be the end, or are we to have perpetual trials costing this large sum of money? Is it not time that there was some economy in Gareloch, in Faslane? We have a school there which has cost more than £11 million, at a time when we have no money for secondary schools or science education.

A big missile depôt has been carved out of the hill at Coalport for the storage of atomic weapons. When the Polaris submarine issue originally arose, there was strong criticisms from the Labour benches because missiles were to be stored near a large industrial centre like Glasgow. If there is no danger of an explosion at this storage depot, why should so much have been spent cutting a hole in a mountain, and why should there have been this enormous expenditure on concrete and so on?

We are told that, when complete, these submarines will operate in the South Atlantic, but much more powerful American submarines are already in the South At antic. How will these four submarines—the Labour Government cut one of the original five—increase the power of the deterrent when the Americans already have 41?

The time has come for a special inquiry into the expenditure on this base, an inquiry as thorough as that into the Hawker-Siddeley deal. This expenditure alarms me, for it seems to serve no useful purpose. The Admiralty is a powerful institution, but I hope that we can have some attempt at a rational explanation of how this expenditure on the Polaris submarines can be justified.