HC Deb 12 March 1947 vol 434 cc1325-6
48. Mr. King

asked the Minister of Defence whether his attention has been drawn to a speech made by the Australian Minister of External Affairs on 26th February, calling for common defence action between members of the British Commonwealth; and whether decisions taken by the 1923 and 1926 Imperial Conference imposing responsibility for all Imperial defence other than local defence upon Great Britain, still stand.

Mr. Alexander

As regards the first part of the Question, the answer is "Yes, Sir." His Majesty's Government welcome Australia's readiness to undertake increased defence responsibilities. As re- gards the second part of the Question, the Resolutions of the Imperial Conferences to which my hon. Friend refers, do not state or imply that the responsibility for defending the routes which connect the self-governing countries of the British Commonwealth rests solely upon the United Kingdom.

Mr. King

Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the defence burden now resting on this country is intolerable, that unilateral disarmament has an unfortunate history and that the only proper solution lies in the way of merging sovereignty whether achieved through the Military Staffs Committee organisation, or in any other way?

Mr. Alexander

There is an arrangement now for greater co-operation between the Military Staffs Committee and the liaison officers of the Dominions. I am grateful to them for the assistance they have given already, and I hope that it will be greater still.

Mr. Usborne

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the opposition to General Smuts in the Union Parliament in September, 1939, was largely based on the assumption that under the Statute of Westminster the United Kingdom was responsible for protecting sea routes of the Empire, and would thereby protect South Africa?

Mr. Alexander

If that was the background of the Members of the South African Parliament, I can only say that they would be wrong in relation to the answer I have just given.