RE-ARMAMENT (MINISTER'S SPEECH) (Hansard, 4 July 1951)
HC Deb 04 July 1951 vol 489 cc2314-7
45. Mr. Blackburn

asked the Prime Minister whether the speech made by the Minister of Defence at Belle Vue, Manchester, on 1st July, to the effect that at the slightest sign His Majesty's Government would be only too willing to curtail re-armament, represents the policy of His Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

His Majesty's Government have consistently sought the co-operation of other countries to a policy of reducing armaments. When these countries show genuine evidence of willingness to be associated with us, we for our part will be very willing to reconsider the size of our defence forces. Meantime—

Mr. Churchill rose

The Prime Minister

I think the right hon. Gentleman might wait until I have concluded my reply.

Mr. Churchill

On a point of order. We cannot hear a word. Mr. Speaker, might I ask you to intercede with the Prime Minister to read this statement a little less rapidly and a little more plainly?

The Prime Minister

I will read the answer again.

His Majesty's Government have consistently sought the co-operation of other countries to a policy of reducing armaments. When these countries show genuine evidence of willingness to be associated with us, we for our part will be very willing to reconsider the size of our defence forces. Meantime we have no intention of relaxing our efforts to strengthen our defences.

Mr. Blackburn rose

Mr. Churchill

Was it at all necessary for the Minister of Defence, who is by way of animating the general effort and sacrifice required from this country demanded by the Government, to make a statement of this character at this moment; and does the Prime Minister associate himself with that statement or not?

The Prime Minister

It is, of course, very easy to pull a phrase or two from a speech. My right hon. Friend was explaining the necessity for our defences, and for increasing the defences of the freedom loving nations. It is perfectly relevant to suggest to people that our whole end is peace and that we do not want to spend all our efforts in piling up armaments. I would say that, when there is a genuine acceptance of the need for peace and genuine co-operation by others, we shall certainly join in. I think that it was a perfectly reasonable and sensible thing to say.

Mr. Churchill

The actual words that the Prime Minister has to deal with are: at the slightest sign His Majesty's Government would be only too willing.

Mr. Henry Strauss

Only "too" willing.

Mr. Churchill

What precautions are taken to make sure that this slight sign, if any, that is given is not a means of deceiving the Allies?

The Prime Minister

I do not think there is any danger of that. Of course, it is easy to be meticulous about phrases. I could be meticulous about other people's phrases. The general tenor of my right hon. Friend's remarks is perfectly clear.

Mr. Blackburn rose

Mr. Churchill rose

Mr. Speaker

I think it is time that the hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn), who asked the Question, was allowed to put a supplementary.

Mr. Blackburn

Is it still the Government's policy that re-armament is urgent and essential, and is a pre-condition of peace; is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is not the only statement which has been made, either by the Minister of Defence or by other Ministers. which has conflicted with the policy the Prime Minister himself and the Foreign Secretary are constantly putting forward; and will the Prime Minister see that Ministers of the Crown do not, at this delicate stage of international affairs, make statements on foreign policy which conflict with his own policy?

The Prime Minister

I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. I think that the policy of the Government is perfectly clear.

Sir H. Williams

Except at the weekend.

The Prime Minister

It has been fully expressed, and was expressed in this speech. It really is doing an ill-service by taking one phrase from a considerable speech to try to impugn the motives of a Minister.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does not the Prime Minister realise that there is a growing feeling in this country that rearmament is a racket, and that the only people who have any reason to grumble about this speech are the racketeers in re-armament?

Lord John Hope

The fact remains that equivocal statements have been made in widely reported circles, and in view of that will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of urging a joint declaration now, by himself and the President of the United States, that nothing will be allowed to deflect the two peoples from their declared joint purpose of peace through strength?

The Prime Minister

The statements made by the President and myself are perfectly clear on that point. We want strength, but we also want peace.

Mr. Churchill

Does the Prime Minister not consider that this particular statement which has been made is likely to weaken the efforts which are being made at his request, and the request of His Majesty's Government, throughout the country, by people of all parties to sustain and develop the defences of the country; and does he not think he would be better employing his power and authority to get some discipline and order among his principal Ministers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—than in flinging across the House insulting insinuations that the party on this side of the House is not as devoted to peace as he is?

The Prime Minister

I have flung no insinuations across the House. I do not think that anyone thinks so but the right hon. Gentleman. I flung no insinuations. I was pointing out, and I thought the right hon. Gentleman agreed, that we are increasing our defences for the purpose of preserving peace. I think that a statement of this kind is quite useful, because there are people who think that because we are piling up defences we are solely interested in piling up defences to make war. It is just as well to counter that kind of propaganda.

I was not suggesting that it came from the party opposite. I should have thought that right hon. and hon. Members knew that there was a bogus peace campaign being carried on by the Communists, and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not realise that. They seem to think that anything that is said is directed against them. It is just as well to point out that the earnest desire. I believe, of everyone in this country is for peace through strength. It is equally wise to point out that, as soon as we can get that position of strength and as soon as that threat is removed we shall all be very glad to turn all our energies to building up the peace of this country.

Mr. Blackburn

On a point of order. In view of the evasive nature of the reply —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment?

Mr. Speaker

I have laid it down several times that hon. Members must not make imputations when announcing that they want to raise a matter on the Adjournment. One must only say, "Owing to the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment."

Mr. Blackburn

I beg to give notice that in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.

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