HC Deb 26 February 1948 vol 447 cc2094-5
10. Air-Commodore Harvey

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what arrangements have been made with the Governments of India and Pakistan for the sale of British naval vessels; and what price has been paid.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker)

An agreement has been reached for the purchase of H.M.S. "Achilles" by the Government of India. Negotiations for the transfer of three destroyers to the Government of India are going on. The Government of Pakistan have asked for two destroyers and it is hoped that an agreement with them may shortly be made. It is not in the public interest to disclose either the price or the terms and conditions of the sale of ships of war.

Air-Commodore Harvey

In bringing about this arrangement will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the economic conditions in Pakistan, and see that the Dominion gets a fair deal in this matter?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Yes, Sir, certainly.

Earl Winterton

Would the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that if India leaves the Empire, and Pakistan remains a Member of the Empire, priority will be given to Pakistan, because there is no precedent for selling warships to foreign countries?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Unless I am misinformed, there are many precedents for selling warships to foreign countries, but in any case I will consider what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Thomas Reid

May I ask my right hon. Friend if these ships will he paid for out of sterling balances?

Mr. Noel-Baker

That is a question which in every case has to be decided on its merits. In general, things from current production are paid for on current account.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

But, as large sums have been made available to current account, will the Minister give an assurance that in no circumstances will His Majesty's Government sell assets of the British Naval Fleet against wartime sterling debts, which, in fact, should have been cancelled?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will put down that question.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Before selling any more warships to India and Pakistan, will my right hon. Friend remember that these warships are badly needed for scrap iron on the Clyde?

Mr. Keeling

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a strong feeling in Pakistan that she has not had her fair share of the military equipment of the old Indian Empire available for distribution between the two Dominions?

Mr. Noel-Baker

Yes, I am well aware of that feeling in Pakistan, and I know also that there is a feeling in India that they have not had their fair share of certain military stores which happened to be in Pakistan. There have been great transport difficulties. The Governments of the two Dominions have been working together very hard to overcome the difficulties, and I think fair arrangements have been made and are being carried out.

Mr. Hector Hughes

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether there is the slightest ground for the suggestion made in one of the supplementary questions that either Dominion may leave the Commonwealth?

Earl Winterton

They said so.