Orders of the Day — Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:09 pm on 6th July 1982.

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Photo of Dr David Owen Dr David Owen , Plymouth, Devonport 6:09 pm, 6th July 1982

Time is pressing, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way.

It is extremely difficult to take seriously almost anything said by the Labour Party in this debate. There have been some robust and splendid contributions from the Labour Back Benches, arguing almost without exception for increased defence expenditure. The Labour Party itself and its Front Bench spokesmen, however, argue an incredible policy. This has never happened before. If there is anything on which there has been agreement and broad consensus in the House, it has been over defence policy. The positions of the various Opposition Front Bench spokesmen in defence have had a great deal of continuity and inner coherence. That is no longer so. It is time that some Labour Back Benchers refused to go through the Lobbies with their Front Bench colleagues and the Tribunite lobby. It is no longer credible for Labour Members to come together, as they will tonight, to vote against the Defence Estimates. They dare not vote for the only proposal for which they should vote—our amendment. They are to vote against the Government on the Defence Estimates. That is the minimum programme on which they can agree, because it says nothing. It is simply a negative vote.

Labour Members are incredible. They tour the country promising that every dockyard and every establishment being cut back would be maintained, paying their Danegeld to the Transport and General Workers Union, forgetting that at every TUC conference that same union moves resolutions calling for a severe reduction in defence expenditure. Moreover, such a reduction is also usually part of a composite at the Labour Party conference. The whole procedure is dishonest and it is no longer possible for it to continue,

Labour Front Bench spokesmen are effectively putting the argument contained in those resolutions. In the old days, the Labour Front Bench completely disowned the lunatic Left, but they now say that they want a non-nuclear defence policy, the removal of all United States nuclear bases from this country and a substantial reduction in the defence budget—one may argue about whether it would be one-third or one-quarter—while at the same time they want every job saved, no redundancies and no closures. The whole thing is rubbish. Indeed, it is not just rubbish—it is serious rubbish.

The fact that the Labour Party is no longer credible was demonstrated throughout the Falklands crisis—half its heart was in the right place but the rest was unable to say what needed to be said. This cannot go on. The Labour Party is in an incredible position. One cannot have a party claiming to be the official Opposition with no policy on defence and what is more, allowing its shadow Cabinet to go along with it. I hope that there are some hon. Gentlemen in the Labour Party who know in their hearts that the Labour Party's defence policy is rotten and that they will at least not vote against the Defence Estimates, even if they feel unable to vote for our amendment.