HC Deb 09 March 1944 vol 397 cc2203-5
The Prime Minister

I must trespass for a moment more upon the indulgence of the House. Questions have been put on the Paper for the next series of Sittings by two hon. Members—the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) and the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby)—in regard to the future of the Italian Fleet, and as this has a certain degree of urgency attached to it, I venture to make a statement on this occasion, with the permission of the House.

As President Roosevelt has said, the question of the future employment and disposal of the Italian Fleet has been the subject of some discussion. In particular, consideration has been given to the immediate reinforcement of the Soviet Navy either from Anglo-American or Italian resources. On these discussions, I have no statement to make other than to say, that at present no change is con- templated in the arrangements with the Italian naval authorities under which Italian ships and their crews take part in the common struggle against the enemy in the theatres where they now operate. It may well be found that the general question of enemy or ex-enemy fleet disposal should best be left over till the end of the war against both Germany and Japan, when the entire position can be surveyed by the victorious Allies, and what is right and just can be done.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

Could my right hon. Friend arrange that when announcements of this importance are made, they should, if possible, be made in a concerted manner rather than that one should read them as replies to a question put in a particular country, quite casually? Would it be possible to make them, in the manner in which my right hon. Friend has just made the announcement, as concerted statements from Washington and London simultaneously?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, I certainly should not give any undertaking of that character, and I think the complete and close agreement which prevails, not only in principle, but on methods, between Great Britain and the United States is of the highest importance to all our affairs at the present time.

Earl Winterton

I think that the Prime Minister must have misunderstood what my right hon. Friend said. Does he not think that it is highly desirable—we all appreciate what he has done in that direction—that when statements of the greatest importance affecting the whole future of the world are made, they should, as far as possible, be made simultaneously by the heads of State in this country and the United States?

The Prime Minister

It is not for me to lay down rules on these matters, which affect many countries all over the world, and which are governed by circumstances and conditions prevailing in them.

Mr. A. Bevan

Is it not a fact that the method chosen on this occasion to make an announcement has been to the great disadvantage of the British public, because, following the statement made in America, all the newspapers in Great Britain were asked to make no comments, if possible, on the matter, although newspapers in every other country of the world have been discussing it for the last six or seven days? We in this country have had no opportunity, because the Press have loyally carried out the request of the authorities concerned. If the statement had been made in a more concerted fashion we would not have been under this disadvantage.

The Prime Minister

I think it was very good of the Press to help in that way.

Mr. Bevan

Yes, but it leads to abuse, too.